This is the ninth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I publish a new chapter each week. To read other chapters, click on the category Ainadamar.
From the Sacromonte to Víznar
“Are you sure you are sufficiently recovered?” Weekiebye asked, back on the bridge.
“I’m fine, Mr. Weekiebye.”
“Because, you know, we can easily delay one day.”
“We cannot,” he disagreed. “The Order has found us even here.”
Slim snapped his fingers. “That’s why they blew the network They needed the full bandwidth of the system to ‘broadcast’ the Crown Prince here,” said Dem. Slim nodded.
“They did that with the communications system?” asked Mona, incredulous.
“Signals are instructions,” said Dem “This was just a particularly complex set of instructions.”
“We’ll go ahead,” said the captain, as Patches walked onto the bridge and took up his place at the rarely-used engineering station. He usually preferred to run things from the engine room, but this time he wanted to see what was happening at piloting and navigation in real time. “We’ll pop and land,” continued Stratsimir, “then the disembarkation team will assemble in the hold and the stay-behind team will camo the ship.”
“Never having done this before, I recommend we prepare for the worst,” said Patches. “Inertia to full and everyone strapped up tight.”
Stratsimir nodded and buckled his x-strap. “All stations, report ready.” They did. Patches juiced the plotting appliance and the temporal node, fed them their instructions and fired up the slip engines.
Anyone who’s done much slip travel knows the feeling of an engine building up the fold charge. There is a momentary sense of expansion before space snaps back to the fold point. First timers usually wind up responding to this with a shockingly quick transmogrification of their stomach’s contents into an air-bound foam. Everyone on board the Madrugada, with the exception of the prisoner, were old hands.
As the temporal bubble built, it expanded with greater energy than Patches had anticipated. The temporal and spatial folds amplified one another and the slip field bulged out alarmingly in all directions from the Madrugada, giving everything a faint orange cast. He made some largely ineffectual adjustments to the field and braced himself.
Just as the fold was about to pop, right as it rode to its furthest extent and teetered for a millisecond before collapsing into the singularity that would propel the ship through time and space, a foreign ship flashed out of a slip just outside the field. Its momentum brought it just within the field verge.
“Space banditos!” yelled the doctor, clacking his beak as the field collapsed.
It turns out that, although the sensation of a temporal fold is different from a spatial one (the feeling of years’ worth of seconds damming up behind your eyes then turning inside out), the results are startlingly similar. Anyone who has not been in a modest sized room with four humans, a vampire, a faery, an outsized cat, a giant squid and a shape shifter all hosing down the walls, floors and ceilings at once would do well to avoid the situation should it arise in the future.
The Madrugada popped out of the film just beneath the crest of a hill. Twilight was darkening the olive groves on its slopes. Because they entered the slip with zero velocity, they exited stock still. The Tu Madre, on the other hand, had hit the fold while accelerating. They had yet to hit maximum velo when the fold took them, and the pitch was shallow, so they didn’t go up like a pot of flaming oil, but they still came in fast and hot, into the rocky arroyo east of the Madrugada, engines flaring and sparks shooting up through a wake of dirt.
“Slim, Mona, Weekiebye, take a couple of grav-sleds and see if you can find any survivors,” ordered the captain. “Patches, Dem, load and site plasma incendiaries on that ship. If we can’t hide it, we’re going to have to burn it.”
“Won’t the inhabitants notice, Captain?” asked Dem.
“This place is a war zone,” Nimue said. “Hopefully, they’ll think an ammunition dump went up. At any rate, what’s more noticeable, an explosion or a space ship?”
The cowboy, the faery and the mountebank hit the ground in two, Slim and Weekiebye pushing the sleds over the uneven ground and Nimue humping a mobile med kit in a sling around her shoulder. It was all she could do to keep Dded in the ship. She promised him bodies to fix soon enough.
The twilight was growing deepening into night, but the moon had yet to rise. A few lonely lights shone through the trees from the windows of isolated houses. Slim looked again. Caves. But the gully they walked and slid down was thankfully bereft of people. The olive trees flipped their multitude of silver-green semaphores in the light breeze. They threaded their way through prickly pear and agave to where they could see a few small fires centered on bits of burning wreckage.
They turned a corner from the gully to a shallow watercourse. The wreck of Tu Madre had dug the channel deeper, snapped off tree limbs and uprooted bushes for a quarter mile. The ship, minus its wings and with great chunks of the fuselage bashed in sat in the middle of the narrow cleft in the hills. The main hatch had been sprung and figures lay about groaning as others tended to them or brought others out from the increasingly incandescent vessel. One of the men, who had been leaning over a prone crewmate helping him drink, spotted them. Dropping the water bottle on his now-sputtering friend he reached clumsily for his gun.
The rescue party, as judicious as they were generous, was armed to the teeth and the scene was covered by a host of bladed, projectile and plasm-based weapons.
“Don’t be pendejos,” said Slim. “We’re here to help.”
“Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!” boomed Captain José Maria Ormaetxea-Ametxazurra, stomping bare-chested from the bowels of the burning ship, his smoldering mustachios leaking wisps of smoke and spark. Still smiling, he fell over without bending his knees and splashed facedown into the stream
“Well, well, well. Captain…whatever,” said Stratsimir.
Ormaetxea struggled against his captivity with a noteworthy enthusiasm, pacing, gesturing, testing the strength of the aluminized webbing, from more of which Patches had jerry-rigged a second, only marginally more capacious hoosegow. Even Stratsimir was slightly nauseated by his super funk and stood well back from the cell. It was at the far end of the bottom hold, at a right angle from the alcove where they had confined the Crown Prince.
Nine had survived the wreck. Dded was still ministering to one of the more severely wounded and another was recuperating chained to one of the two beds in the surgery.
Three of Tu Madre’s crew members had died in the crash and one was unaccounted for. Ormaetxea had admitted three of his crew had jumped ship on the Schmurkly Ring after they had come out of the previous tangle with the Madrugada a bit worse for wear.
“Who sent you?” demanded Stratsimir.
“Sent me?” Ormaetxea laughed again. “No one sends José Maria Ormaetxea-Ametxazurra, undisputed thief-lord of the systems bordering the Sculptor Void, captain of the GDI space bandito ship Tu Madre! You coño, you cabrón, you…”
“Shut it,” said Stratsimir and, as he had used the Voice, shut it he did. “Who are you working for? The Order? The Exegetes? The Glyphomancer?”
“Glypho…What in the hell are you talking about?” roared Ormaetxea. “I am here to take back my skiff and to relieve you of your bookish burden.”
Stratsimir looked over Ormaetxea and his crew with a discomfiting intensity. “And who exactly wants this book I am alleged to be carrying?”
“Who doesn’t want it? A dealer on Triangulum told me he’d pay 12,000 Fornaxian zlotys for it. Gimmee. Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee. Hey, we’ll split it.” He smiled. Everyone tasted spoiled bacon. “Uh, where are the women?”
Stratsimir had kept them away due to the effect of Ormaetxea’s super funky space machismo. Dem too, just in case.
“My close, personal friend,” he continued, “Captain. Just let me go. I’ll take my crew and we’ll be out of your perfectly combed hair, never to bother you again. You have my word as a space bandito.”
“He doesn’t know,” said Slim, pushing his hat back on his head. He laughed quietly. “He doesn’t have any idea.”
“You are in the past,” Stratsimir clarified.
“Oh, I don’t know, Captain,” smirked the bandit. “I think there is still room for the occasional bandito in this universe of ours.”
“I mean that you have traveled back in time, you lainó,” said Stratsimir, exasperated. “You wound up inside our bubble when we went into a temporal slip.”
“What!” cried the Crown Prince from his cell.
Ormaetxea reared back, arms akimbo and roared with laughter. “That’s impossible!” he yelled. His crew joined in the mirth, wheezing and slapping their knees.
“You have just made that statement to a vampire and a cowboy on a space ship,” Slim reminded him.
“We’ve gone back in time!?” yelled the Crown Prince from his cell. “I don’t want to be back in time. You wad of freaks!”
“Who is that?” asked Ormaetxea.
“And what is that nauseating smell?”
“Considering the strain put on the node, we’ll be lucky to get the Mad back at its original weight,” Slim said to Stratsimir.
“That seals it then.” The captain pressed the wall com. “Do it.”
Several seconds later, the Madrugada shuddered and a whistling hiss was audible, followed by a boom they could feel through the deck plates.
“Nooooooooooo!” thundered Ormaetxea, dropping to his knees. “Captain Stratsimir, how could you, as a captain? That was my ship! We could have fixed her. We could have rebuilt her, made her stronger. We had the technology…”
Ormaetxea’s eyes brimmed with tears like one of the Big-Eyed Kitty paintings of the Carina Dwarf diabolist school.
Stratsimir sighed. “I know, Captain. I regret it. But it was you and your crew who put me in this position.” Stratsimir reestablished his frostiness. “You will remain behind, while we do what we’ve come here for. I already take it personally that you have jeopardized an extraordinary mission, one that, even if it goes right, will not make us one coin. If you even attempt to relace your boots my crew has permission to make you a permanent part of the Spanish landscape.”
Stratsimir walked briskly away, followed by Slim.
Spanish, eh? thought Ormaetxea, thoughtfully, using his mind to think the thought, mentally.
Stratsimir, Mona, Weekiebye, Stanislaus, Slim and Nimue gathered at the far end of the hold near the main hatch. They had dressed in plain, dark clothing and each wore a small backpack, except for Slim, who carried the pylons for the fence in a field pack slung across one shoulder. They were kitted out with minimal weapons. Stratsimir carried two flux lasers and a cinqueada in his boot, Mona her broadsword and a plasma pistol, Weekiebye a pocket charge-gonne, his rapier slung under his cloak in a baldric and a Browning 9 mm Hi-Power in his sash. He was stopped by the captain from slinging his baldric around his shoulder.
“You half kill me one of us every time you pull that damned thing out,“ said Stratsimir. “It’s noisy and it’s inefficient. This is a stealth mission.“
“But, captain!“ said Weekiebye, with a face like a lonely Sasquatch beating an abandoned kitten beaten with a Sadness Baton.
“But nothing. You can’t keep that thing in is scabbard, so you keep it here.“
Slim wore two Colts holstered low and Nimue carried Slim’s Winchester and Caledfwlch. Despite repeated offers, Stanislaus refused to carry a weapon.
The most dangerous part of the trip was turning in from the corner of the Sacromonte to pick up the Ainadamar watercourse in the Albaicín.
Even in wartime, the city of Granada was beautiful, with its hills and valleys, studded with caves dug into the earth and whitewashed, its cacti and the late summer smell of spent blossoms, it verdant vega, pregnant with the fruits of the approaching fall and the stony peaks of the Sierra Nevada overlooking it all, its eternal snows glowing in the dark, catching the promise of a moon.
But there was a smell of cordite and blood and a black tension in the night air, the scattered fires an unholy tablature, the night itself strings of shadow stretched tight across the mouth of death. The heart, gravely wounded by five swords.
They walked in silence, boots crunching on gravel and slithering in the humus underneath the olive trees. Only once in the suburbs of the Sacromonte district did they come close to discovery. Three Gypsies came along the deer path carrying contraband, almost invisible, hair like raven’s wings and skin color corinto. They hid behind a stunted stand of pine until they passed. Slim turned back to the Sacromonte, a dark blot, a ragged pit in the starry sky. Atop the ridge stood three ancient olive trees.
“Sobre el monte pelado, un calvario,” he said.
“Slim?” asked Stratsimir.
“I looked up the poet’s work.”
Words can burn the heart, he thought, or free it.
They cut slightly west and walked along in the shadow of the cyclopean walls that described the border of the Sacromonte and Albaicín barrios and formed the original defenses of the city. They found their minds working in concert again and halted, without external sign, twenty yards from the Carretera de Murcia, according to the map, the main road northeast from Granada. Stratsimir cocked his head and listened, nodded invisibly, and they walked carefully on, coming out from the shadow of the wall. The crossed over an alleyway and walked out from the lee of a small building into the edge of the road. They were brought up short. When they smelled cigarettes they knew they’d made an error. The little building had three-foot-high green letters spelling out, “Policia.”
“Que tenemos aqui?” asked the first of the three cops who had been leaning against the front of the police station. He was unshaven and wore a light blue uniform a size too small with stripes on the sleeve. To each side of him stood a man holding a machine pistol. One of the machine pistols indicated the circle of light the dim street light cast. They moved into it.
“Rojos, yo pienso. Y pendejos internacionales tambien.” He laughed and tossed his smoldering cigarette into the road.
“Armas,” demanded the other machine pistol, “en el suelo.” They began to take out their weapons and set them on the ground.
“Where’s Weekiebye?” thought Stratsimir. Then he knew. “He did not bring that damned thing with him.”
Weekiebye stepped out of the shadows behind the police station. With a musical ring and the twist of a moustache, he drew his rapier and socked the fat man in the back of the head with the basket, pulling it back hard and cracking the second one in the temple with the button. Both dropped to the ground like sacks of onions. The last one turned and Weekiebye slashed him across the cheek. He opened his mouth to yell and the mountebank slashed his throat.
“Pig,” he said quietly.
“Mr. Weekiebye, as I live and breathe,” said the captain, doing neither, “I will kill you for bringing that stupid thing. And, well done, of course.”
Weekiebye doffed his plumed hat to the captain and they gathered their weapons, disappearing into the darkness at the far side of the road. The captain lingered for a moment, watching the blood spread. Well, what do you want? He’s a vampire, not a Care Bear.
As they made their way north through the close streets they could hear the occasional glassy music of a courtyard fountain. Opposite the moon, now hanging low on the horizon, the stars shone brighter as the night deepened and their unspoken understanding grew of how the second volume of the book could wind up in such a place. Only someone not from the earth could believe it to be remote. It was the center of the universe, and Granada the most logical place on it for a book written in the language of the universe itself to reside, a bowered library of living texts of which the College on Pandema was only a dead statue.
Half an hour more walking, ducking around the occasional cluster of whitewashed houses, brought them to the watercourse. The area was more of a village, houses clustered around the white stone of the canal that carried the water its last paces into the city. The houses grew fewer still as they followed it north out of the city until there were only the occasional farm house.
Here people, especially the poor, still relied upon the canal for its original purpose, using its water for cooking, drinking and cleaning, gathering around it to talk and exchange news in the wake of its cooling current. But they encountered almost no one in the streets. The clash between elements in the city was recent and no one ventured forth who had a door to lock.
The canal began to climb, hugging the wall of the valley to Víznar. A narrow track of a road ran between the canal and the valley wall. Myrtles and poplars leaned over them with a funereal intent. At intervals military trucks and cars roared up the narrow road, several carrying prisoners. They could make out the hands of several, clutching at the rushing air as thought to pull themselves to freedom.
As they climbed, they passed the small village of El Fargue, a ghostly pile of white cubes in the moonless night. Below them, Granada lay like a carpet of foam at the edge of sea. Above El Fargue they passed a cave cut into the steep hillside. Light leaked out around a striped blanket strung across the doorway and a man’s voice sang, unaccompanied, each word a dagger of ice that pinned them to the chalky rock of the earth. The song was slow, its rhythm elemental and the ragged gasps of the singer, the long ladders of the vowels, teased their own breathing higher, begging it to keep pace with him.
“Dile osté a mi mare
Que no yore más,
Sino que ande los míos pasitos
Pa mi libertá.”
Slim saw their faces turned toward him, but not for an explanation. They needed no translation. They had heard it in through his mind, but even that they did not need.
As they walked in the dark they fell into a shared rhythm, partly the pace of their breath, part remembered siguirillas. The union of mind they first found so strange was becoming second nature. They began thinking others’ thoughts, like a polyphonal choir of memory, impression and senses. There was a house made of light in a forest of light where Nimue dreamt, which melded into the steppes of Mona’s tribe, the smell of meat roasting on spits giving way to the dust of the Llano Estacada, alive with horses in Slim’s memory, which grew colder with the sadness of Baba Vida yielding in turn to a summer’s day outside Dijon where Weekiebye once took off his boots and drank a bottle he’d parted from a fat prelate with his bare feet dangling in a cold stream; fears also took hold, hopes, differing hierarchies of sounds and odors and other senses.
A large ornate building, the one-time palace of a bishop, lay ahead on the road. Electric torches lit the building’s ornate entrance, where heavily armed soldiers stood guard. Stratsimir called the halt without speaking.
Can everyone…hear me?
I have an idea. It will require some discipline to pull off. It is not comfortable for any of us. But it could provide a tremendous advantage. From now until we secure the ‘crier at the fountain,’ we do not speak if it is not absolutely necessary. Agreed?
Anyone watching the group would have suspected brujería, and perhaps they would not have been far wrong.
They broke out into a line again, hugging the back side of the wall that ran down along the road from the palace. One of the clashing parties in the local war had appropriated the buildings for a regional headquarters. It was the destination of the military trucks they had passed on the road below. One drew up and a soldier jumped down, exchanged a word with the guards and came out a few moments later with a piece of paper, then the truck started moving again, further into the valley.
They passed behind the palace. Following another animal trail they dropped down and followed the bottom of a hill. High up on the palace a suite of windows opening onto a lit room looked out over the valley. Soundlessly, the crew of the Madrugada arrayed themselves in a semi-circle facing out, taking care to stay out of the line of sight of any guards in towers. Stanislaus, who had night vision second only to Stratsimir’s, stood furthest out from the wall, keeping an eye at the valley floor and the road below.
Stratsimir stood, arms to his side, eyes closed, then began to rise. Like a piece of tissue paper over a heating vent, he floated slowly up, over the edge of the slope and along the windowless strip of stone that ran between the corner and the center of the palace. As he rose he grew difficult to see, not only due to the darkness and his clothing. He came to rest on a corbelled rim of stone that held the window sill, flattening himself out along the wall. Inside the room, a captain and two lieutenants worked, responding to the occasional guard report and once to a runner who came in from one of the military vehicles. Stratsimir watched and listened. A quarter hour later he floated back down to the base of the palace wall.
Several hours before, the crier, along with another man, a local school teacher named Dióscoro Galindo Gonzalez, had been driven up to La Colonia, a building further up the road that had been turned into a prison. The men in the palace puzzled Stratsimir. They were violent, but the violence was choked with fear. They had the unpredictability of zhoni miners on an amber binge. And it was change they feared, as though it were an aberration and not the potent eternal force upon which the whole enterprise of life depended.
Philosophy, Weekiebye spat. Philosophy was for scholars and priests. Men facing battle could ill-afford it.
Public domain photo of the Huerta de San Vicente by Alimanja via Wikimedia Commons.