Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chapter Three of Gottesland

STERN SAT at the end of one of the long communal tables. The dragoons were busy with the horses and Birgit was nowhere to be seen. A few travelers nodded at him and then turned back to their food. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do and felt a bit disoriented after his two months in a coma.  He noticed several indio women moving in and out of the abobe house carrying trays of food and pints of beers but he didn’t know if they took orders at the table or if he had to go inside, order and pay. And then he realized he had no money to buy food; all he possessed were the clothes on his back. Birgit and the dragoons had given him no opportunity to pack. Suddenly, the momentous undertaking he had made when he followed Birgit out of the hospital came to him; and, as the magnitude of what he had done became clear, he felt stupid and afraid at the same time. In a momentary panic he ran the past few days’ activities through his mind. He was dying and in a coma and then a woman forced an elixir down his throat and he was no longer in danger; instead, within hours he was feeling better than he did before he was attacked and growing demonstrably stronger, fleeing across central Mexico with a beautiful French woman and a squad of dragoons.
He placed his hands on the table palm up and sighed. A white moth settled on a splash of spilled beer between his hands and unnaturally arrested his attention. Diverted from his confusion for a few moments by the beauty of the moth, he suddenly felt a sense of calm. As he wondered at this instant change of mood he realized there was something familiar about the moth. Then he remembered, like one remembers a forgotten dream: when he was in the library, looking for the Grimoire of Shadow, hundreds of moths filled the lighted circle during his conversation with the demon. It was clear to him that the demon and the moth were connected; and, as he made this connection, the moth fluttered its wings and lifted off the table and hovered before his face, as if to confirm his suspicions. It was as if it and he were now in communion with one another. Then the moth spoke to him, as a cone of silence and brilliant white light that extinguished all other sounds formed over him and the moth. He could see the people talking and eating outside the cone but he could not hear them and he suspected that they could no longer see him. He had the impression, and this was something that the moth seemed to impart to him, that he had disappeared and entered a pocket world adjacent to but not part of the everyday world he just inhabited. His understanding from the moth was that this pocket world was a type of portal into another sphere or realm; a place where time and space did not exist and he and the moth or its master, the demon, could communicate freely. And then to emphasize his understanding of this alternate reality, the moth said, “This realm or ein Bezirk is the one you entered when you read the Grimoire of Stone. It is here that we will communicate until you seek me out. They will want you to find the Grimoire but it is neither in your realm nor mine. It is in Okeanus and it is in peril of being found by those who would misuse it.”
            Stern did not understand a word the creature spoke or the significance of its message so he asked: “I don’t understand what this all means?”
            But instead of his receiving an answer, the bubble of light and silence burst with an audible pop and he returned to both time and space: he could hear the people around him talking and laughing; he could smell the food and feel the cool humid breeze emanating from the rushing stream on his face; and he could sense a tingle in his head and a steady vibration of his body. After effects, he suspected, from being transferred from one Bezirk to another.
            He thought he chose the word “Bezirk” because it felt more alien to him and yet more precise than the word “realm;” however, the truth was that the word picked him. The concept was placed, inserted really, in his mind, to work on him through a subconscious process to build a semantic structure in which a framework of magic could emerge; it was an idea, he knew, originating from the moth, an idea growing organically and exponentially as he sat quietly among these people and that explained through this process first the uses and power of the Bezirk to him and then how he could use it. He suspected it was the demon, Kokabiel, that had planted the knowledge of the Bezirk and he now intuited it was part of his task to unravel it and control it. But then he thought this explanation too was just another form of manipulation, like a key left in a lock. Birgit, Bleak, and the demon were all attempting to instill some sort of understanding of the task or quest on him. He was aware and somewhat angered by the knowledge that he was not currently acting from his own volition; instead, he was being pushed or carried along into the fantasies and agendas of other people. And then an idea struck him; perhaps, he was still in a coma and this adventure was nothing but a dream. He laughed at this theory and pinched himself to reassure himself that he was alive and in the hills west of La Ciudad.
            “Why are you pinching yourself?” said a tall, thin Argyll woman with a laugh. He looked up and smiled sheepishly; his blue skin darkening in embarrassment. She wore the blue skirt, red apron, and white peasant blouse of the other servers and she was speaking to him in his mother’s language, not lingua of the Middle Kingdom but in Argyll.
            He cleared his throat and sat up as he formed his answer. For some reason it was important he explain himself to this woman. “I have been sick and I felt as if I were not truly here.” He stopped and checked her face to see if she were truly listening. “I wondered if I was dreaming this.”
            She turned her head a bit and a tendril of her thick, dark blue-black hair fell away from her face. “What do you mean by ‘this’?” she said.
            He smiled at her in an attempt to convey his feelings. He had not spoken to a woman of his race since he entered the military academy and her presence was eliciting all sorts of feelings he could not accurately interpret. Of course, the image of his mother came unbidden into his conscious mind, as well as sexual feelings that he kept tightly tapped down while he was in the academy. Unlike his fellow cadets he did not patronize prostitutes, who were mostly indios or Mexicans, nor did he have any family connections that would have brought him into contact with young women of a particular class. The cadets, for the most part, were either members of nobility or sons of middle-class bureaucrats or merchants. His case had been unique; he was the son of a Black Robe engineer, who had proven himself invaluable to the progress of the Empire. It was only an accident of fate that he also happened to be half-Argyll.
            “I mean this lovely spot,” he stuttered, lying to her.
            A slight pout crossed her lips and she said, “I hate it here.”
            His feeble response was to ask “Why?”
            She looked around her to see if anyone was listening and then she whispered. “I was indentured to the owner, Carne, for one year for a fee of five gold eagles; the amount of money my father needed to get the rest of my family to Veracruz.”
            His mouth opened a bit, a sign he was shocked and saddened by her father’s betrayal of her. Stupidly, the only thing he thought to say was: “How long ago?”
            “Seven months,” she said.
            At that moment a short man exited the cookhouse and stretched. His apron stained with blood hung loosely around his neck. Beneath it he wore a white sleeveless shirt and a pair of black linen pants. He walked toward them, pulling a cheroot from his shirt’s pocket and stuffing it into his mouth. “He is angry,” she said quickly. “I must go.”
“But I want to order something to eat,” Stern blurted out, as she hurried away from the table and her boss.
Stern turned his attention the man. He noticed his thick dark forearms covered in curly black hair first and then his scowling face partially hid under a heavy black beard. Stern was inexperienced with young women but he could spot an angry man a mile away from him and this man was very angry.
The man stopped a few feet away and pulled the cigar from his mouth before asking, “Who are you?”
Stern wondered if he should stand or continue to sit. If the man attacked him, he would be at a great disadvantage, his legs trapped under the table.
“Are you Carne?” he asked to buy a time while he thought what to do.
The man blinked and opened and closed his fists, somewhat confused by the question. “Why do you ask?” he asked.
“I was just asking the server what to order and she said I should ask Carne, the chef.”
The man’s demeanor changed: his face relaxed and a slight smile gathered at the corners of his mouth; his shoulders hunched and ready to receive and give blows straightened and broadened; his clenched fists opened and he wiped them on the dirty apron before extending his right hand to Stern to shake. “I recommend the chili relleno. I make it Ciudad style,” he said, holding Stern’s hand.
“Then I will have that and a cerveza,” said Stern with a grin.
The man snapped his fingers and one of the indio women rushed to his side and took the order. Carne, satisfied that nothing untoward was going on between the Argyll woman and Stern, moved on to other tables greeting his guests and Stern sighed in relief.  He felt strong; the dragon skin was evidently a miracle drug but he still felt a residue of uncertainty in his ability to defend himself. Lurking in his memory was traumatic pain and agony. Just the thought of being hit unnerved him.
As these thoughts surfaced he began to worry about Birgit; she had disappeared shortly after they arrived at the caravanserai. The dragoon, too, had been in the barn for a long time and he was beginning to feel deserted. Could something have happened to them?
Just as these thoughts surfaced, the squad began to emerge from the barn and head toward the tables. Munoz saw him and waved and then the men changed course and swaggered toward him.
They had cleaned up a bit, he noticed. Their tunics were buttoned and their hair combed. Some wore their brown sombreros, while others carried them in their hands. The dust had been knocked from their cavalry boots and he noticed the regimental pins on their collars for the first time; the silver hand, identifying them as Sans Main. Odd, he had not seen that the night before when they rushed him from the hospital and then it struck him: they had not worn any service pins or patches because they did not want to be identified.
The Sans Main regiment, he remembered, were descended from the French Expeditionary force that supported the Pope in the war of 2212 against the Anglo mob fleeing the North and crossing the wall at Juarez. Those captured had their hands cut off and left for dead in the desert south of the Juarez ruins.
Munoz was the first one to sit, choosing a spot opposite Stern. The rest moved in around him. He had not yet learned all of their names but he was beginning to recognize them.
Twelve in all, they all seemed to be older; seasoned veterans, he guessed. They probably volunteered for the mission.  But to do what: rescue him or kidnap him? This he didn’t know.
Munoz called out to one of the indio serving women and she nodded and moved toward them. “Starving,” he said with a grin. Several of the other men agreed.
“So where is the good doctor?” asked Munoz.
Stern shrugged and answered, “I have no idea. I thought she was with you.”
One of the men they called Oso said, “She headed off to the main house as soon as we arrived. I thought she was arranging food for us.”
Stern looked toward the house and he asked the serving girl if she had seen the woman that accompanied them.
“No, I haven’t seen anyone but you men,” she said and then headed toward the cook house to fetch beers for them.
“She wouldn’t have gone far,” said Munoz, looking over his shoulder.
Birgit had not turned up by the time their food was served and Stern was beginning to worry. He knew no one in this group but the woman who called herself a doctor. He had no money and he had no real understanding of why he was fleeing toward Veracruz, except the woman who had said he was in danger. He was at their disposal.
The men finished eating and then ordered another round of beer. They were beginning to grow boisterous and loud and the serving women were eying them nervously. Twelve drunken dragoons was not a pretty tableau. Stern was beginning to feel tired and the men bothered him. He asked Munoz what their plans were. The man looked up from his beer and slurred out an answer. “Stay here the night and let the horses rest and then we are off to the east tomorrow morning at dawn,” he said.
Stern needed to get away from the soldiers. Drunken humans always scared him because beat the Argyll would be the next thing on their agenda. Let them drink themselves silly, he thought, as he stood up and asked: “Where are we bedding down?”
“The loft above the stalls,” Munoz answered. “Find some hay and make yourself comfortable.”
The tables were now in shade; the mountains and the forest blocked the sinking sun. As he walked toward the barn, he heard bells and turned toward the trail he and the dragoons traveled from the main road earlier in the day. A large group of Aztecas in ceremonial garb emerged from the shadows of the forest. Bells on straps tied to their their ankles tingled as they walked. ‘What the hell?’ he asked himself. He stopped and watched fifty or so Aztecas, men, women and children, filter into the clearing. Behind them two men on tall black horses entered the clearing. They were not with the indios. He recognized the Black Robe out riders immediately. “Damn,” he said out loud as he scurried for the barn and hoped they had not seen him.
He climbed a ladder to the loft and lay down on the hay-covered floor, and then crawled to the open doors to watch the Black Robes ride their horses up to a hitching post near the well. The shorter one stepped out of the saddle and tied his horse off, while the taller of the two, the one with a thick black beard, stood in his stirrups and surveyed the people sitting at the tables eating. He wanted to believe their being here was a coincidence but he quickly overruled that bit of magical thinking. He could almost read the man’s mind as he checked each person at the tables. The younger one pulled off his thick black woolen robe, his symbol of office and authority, and folded it carefully before tying it with leather straps to the rear jockey behind the canticle of the Mexican saddle. He wore two Navy colts on his hips, guns that Asa’s father might have made for the military order, which he slid partially from the holsters, loosening them to ease his draw, and then reached over the saddle and pulled a sawed-off double barrel shotgun from a boot designed for the weapon.
Asa looked to the dragoons who were laughing and drinking, unaware of the danger they were now in. “Where the hell was Birgit?” he wondered out loud. When he turned back to the Black Robes, it was clear to him that the taller one had spied the dragoons, as he, too, stepped out of the saddle and pulled off his robes.
The dragoons were unarmed and half-drunk. Any protection they would provide him would be minimal and quickly over with if the Black Robes decided to fight.
Suddenly he heard the ladder creak. Someone else was on their way up.
He slid away from the trapdoor toward the shadows looking for a weapon, a hay hook or fork, to skewer one of the Black Robes.
Hiding in the shadows he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the wild thick thatch of blue-black hair appear above the edge of the loft's floor. The Argyll woman peered over the edge of and looked around and then smiled when she saw him crouching in the corner. “It’s just me, Akna,” she said softly. 
“What is it?” he blurted out and she frowned, disappointed and a bit wounded by his greeting.
“I wanted to talk to you?” she said, now a bit shy and hesitant.
He was afraid someone would see her standing on the ladder so he urged her to join him in the shadows. “Hurry up,” he said, hurting her feelings further.
“Why are you being so rude?” she asked bluntly. Now she was becoming angry with the officious young man.
Before he could answer the first shotgun blast erupted and then the screams. She looked panicked and started back toward the stairs. “No,” he yelled and grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. “Do not go out there.”
She struggled against him and then a second blast convinced her to stay with him. He told her to get down and he crawled to the wide doors and looked out. People were running into the woods away from the communal tables. Four or five dragoons were down, while the rest held their hands up in surrender to the two Black Robes who leveled their shotguns at them.
“Jesus,” he whispered and backed away from the door. He had to get out and away from this place.
Suddenly she was next to him, looking out on the carnage. “What do they want?” she whispered.
“I think they are looking for me?” he said.
She looked at him and asked: “You, what did you do?”
“I don’t really know,” he said and that was the truth. He really didn’t know why the Black Robes were coming for him. Yes, he thought, he had read a book of black magic and cast a spell for his own protection but did that make him such a dangerous character. Maybe he should give himself up before someone else was hurt but something held him back. The demon wasn’t talking to him now and Birgit was nowhere to be found but he had a nagging suspicion that if he gave himself up to the Black Robe he would never to be heard from again.
“You need to get away from here, now,” she whispered into his ear.
He turned toward her and asked: “How do I get past them?”
“I know a place for you to hide. Go there and I will come for you when it is safe. We can leave together.” She said firmly. She took his hand and he could see she was as desperate as he was to get away from the clearing.


Thursday, May 22, 2014


What god spelled me with sadness?

Mother Crow blames Alligator

Chase him into the waters
And command him to un-spell you
She caws in the night

At her command
I swim into the river

But its current is strong
And I cannot resist it
In my weaken state

So I float south

At times I cry
For my impotence
And my shame
Looking for Alligator
Who has fled my will

I reach salt marshes
Before the middle sea
And find him waiting
His beady black eyes
Just above the gray water
Where mosquitoes buzz
In unison above green sludge

This reptilian god
Older than my young god
Is one of many

Crocodile is his brother
Their kingdom sadness
And melancholy
And their knowledge
Dark and dank
Like the alluvial mud
In which they reside

Crow mother says
From a low hanging limb
Of a cottonwood tree
Feed them your sadness
Ride them to the darkest depths
Reside in their mud
Sing the crocodile song
Sleep the sleep of alligator
Dream the dreams of crocodile.
Bear witness to their wetness
Testify to their darkness
Marvel at their fecundity

Inhabit their imaginal world

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Prologue to Gottesland

GUILLERMO HARPO awoke to the strident rant of the digital clock built into the ceramic headboard of his sleep alcove and vigorously scratched the dried skin on his chest and stomach before kicking off the bed’s synthetic sheet and swinging his legs onto the faux floor of the cold, illuminated plastic frame of his cubicle. The refrigerated air of sub-level seventeen far below the central dome of La Ciudad chilled his naked body and smelt of fried onions, cabbage, cigar smoke, antiseptic spray and raw sewage. Harpo, responding to the temperature, the odor, and the chemicals sneezed, not once, but three times. Snot rolled freely from his sinuses onto his Nietzsche-like mustache, and he coughed, choking on the phlegm that drained into his throat. He grabbed a corner of the sheet and blew his nose loudly, clearing his nostrils, before taking six baby steps to the toilet.
Glancing up at the low ceiling as he relieved himself, he remembered today was his sixtieth birthday. He was born on July 24, 1999, in Hobbes, New Mexico to illegal immigrants, who worked as agricultural day workers for AN Corporation. As he flushed the toilet and stepped beneath the shower nozzle embedded in the ceiling above the room’s single drain, he recalled the day the Anglos expelled his family from the North; he was a senior at the University of New Mexico, twenty-one years old, and home on Spring Break. A day or two after he arrived home, the University of Chicago notified him he had been accepted to study economics and political philosophy in the graduate school; he had applied there because he admired Leo Strauss, a 20th century professor, who had taught at the university, and whose followers still dominated the political science department. As the postman pulled away from their adobe house on a quiet, tree-lined street in Hobbes, near Carlsbad Caverns, the only home he had ever known, the emigration police arrived in three shiny black SUVs built in Shenzhen by a Chinese affiliate of the AN Corporation, the same company that employed his parents illegally. Without warning, they knocked the front door down and pointed their submachine guns at his family before handcuffing them and parading them out through the back yard to an idling Japanese van in the alley. Although born in Hobbes, he was not an American citizen: a recent amendment to the Constitution took that right away from him and his siblings.
Harpo never saw his home again; he spent the rest of his twenty-first year in a dirty, overcrowded detainment camp in a reserve on the Mexican side of the Great Wall. The camp, although government owned, was run by a subsidiary of AN Corporation.
The shower switched off at the end of his water allotment and the dryers commenced.  Dried and nude, he examined his close-cropped hair in the mirror; a few strands of gray seasoned his sideburns and his burgeoning mustache, warning him it was time for his bi-annual injection of nanobots and hormones. Shrugging off the memories of the camp, he brushed his teeth shaved his chin, combed his hair, and dressed in his usual attire--black single-breasted suit, white cotton shirt, and black boots. 
He checked himself one last time in the mirror on the door and noticed his green eyes were sparkling; a sign he was happy. He had a date to celebrate both his birthday and finishing the book later in the day with Carmelita Guttmann, his translator of his last book into German, and a lunch appointment with his agent to handover the flash drive with the final draft of his new monograph: Doctor Dee and the Machinicians, the book his agent presold last year to a German publisher, Wolf Verlag, GmbH, in Munich. This book, he hoped, unlike his others, might win the Vatican’s approval and garner a small but select readership; something he had never had before in his writing career and something for which he most earnestly yearned. If so, if he were correct, he harbored the silent hope that not only would he have readers but the Mandarins under the Dome would offer him a professorship at the university.
He commanded the lights off, closed the door, and thought about the book in which he placed so much hope. His thesis was simple. In 1583, Doctor John Dee, after receiving a revelation from angels, joined Adrian Gilbert and John Davis to form a corporation to exploit and develop the resources of New Atlantis in the North before the Spaniards, who were exploiting the South, turned their attention toward them. The corporation they formed by authority of Queen Elizabeth in 1584, he argued, still operates today under the name: AN Corporation; the very company that employed his parents in New Mexico and subjected him to imprisonment and forced labor in a maquiladora. AN Corporation’s original mission statement was to influence and control the world for the financial benefit of the Queen and its multi-national shareholders. AN’s mission statement continues to be its current mandate and the conclusion is that corporate man, not Universal History, as Hegel proposed, is making the world.
As he turned left and walked down the narrow corridor toward the elevators that would take him to sub-level ten and the tube station, his cubicle door locked behind him. Except for a swarm of nanobots scouring the underground, cleaning it of all debris, the corridor was empty; it was too early for children to leave for school and his neighbors, bureaucrats like him, who worked in government offices within the dome, pushing electronic mail through the web, had already departed.
When he reached the grimy elevator, covered with graffiti, it too was empty. His journey to the tenth sub-level to his surprise was fast and uninterrupted. The platform for his train, however, was crowded and he pushed his way through the workers toward the edge. As he man-handled his way roughly through the commuters, he noticed more Policia Federales (PF) on the platform than usual. He counted six quickly without really looking; his two stints in detainment camps had made him sensitive to their black uniforms and balaclava masks. However, once he reached the edge of the platform, he let out a long sigh of relief. No PF had grabbed at him or looked at him menacingly. He was without reproach, he thought, returning to his good mood and high hopes for the day. He would make the next train and be at his cubicle in the basement of the library within half an hour.
He leaned over the edge of the platform and felt a warm, electrical breeze emanating from the tunnel’s mouth, an intimation of the train’s arrival. He rocked forward on his toes and shook his arms, readying himself for the onslaught of the exiting commuters, hurrying to make a connecting train, and the frantic rush forward by the people behind him. He turned once more to the tunnel. Light filtered through its vague grayness and he inhaled a deep breath, readying himself to move, when a hand grasped his arm forcibly and pulled him back into the crowd. A curse slipped spontaneously from his lips, as he tried to shake off the grip that dragged him inexorably toward the back of the queued pedestrians. He balled up the fist of his right hand preparing to swing at the brute that seized him, when he saw the black mask, the body armor, and the Taser.
The PF was stout and short, somewhat square like a washing machine. His eyes were dark black and his skin brown. An indio, thought Harpo, as he relaxed his body and allowed the man to guide him through the crowd toward the plastic seats screwed into the cement walls, where a woman, wearing a PF officer’s uniform, waited. Her face and head were uncovered but she wore the black body armor that was de rigueur for the PF and carried both a sub-machine gun strapped to her protective vest by a nylon cord and an automatic pistol in a leather holster on her left hip.
Bueñas dìas, Señor Harpo,” she said, extending her right hand for him to shake. “Please sit down while I explain why we delayed you this morning.”
Harpo hesitated. He was very familiar with both the brutality of the PF and their underlying sarcasm that emerged during moments like this, moments of courtesy that quickly morphed into horror, torture, and mayhem. He cleared his throat and then moved toward the plastic bench and sat next to the woman, who smelled of musk, gun oil, and jicama. He didn’t say a word, knowing from experience that opening his mouth could easily be seen as an opportunity for one the PFs to close it with a nightstick. He placed his hands in his lap to show he intended to cooperate, to follow their lead and instructions. Finally, she smiled and said casually: “I am Lieutenant Sanchez and I have been asked to escort you to level five and turn you over to some colleagues. Consequently, I would appreciate your going with us. Any display of revolt or hesitancy will result in personal pain.”
He looked into her dark black eyes and knew she would happily strike him with the black baton on her right hip or stun him with the plastic Taser, secured in a breast pocket of her vest. He nodded and waited for her to stand. When she moved he followed her because his role in this matter was quite clear: he was to obey her every command. They marched together toward a small elevator in an alcove on the platform. Sanchez punched in a series of numbers on the key mechanism and the doors slid open and they entered the car to stand close together. Someone said “cinco” and the doors closed with a silent sibilant slide, then the car shot up fifteen floors to a small, intimate, and very clean governmental pneumatic station five stories above the surface, where a four-passenger robotic vehicle waited. Sanchez pointed to the car and Harpo climbed in with her close behind him. The five other PFs remained on the platform as she ordered the driverless craft to the Swiss Guard headquarters within the walls of Vatican City. It automatically lifted from the tube surface and hovered within the vacuum; he felt pressure building in his ears, as they shot through the tubes with a whoosh.
The pneumatic station under Vatican City was adjacent to the Swiss Guards’ militarium. Their car stopped and its glass, gull-wing door opened automatically, as two Swiss Guards, dressed in pseudo armor, reminiscent of that worn by the Conquistadores, approached, carrying traditional Roman pila in their right hands.  Sanchez climbed out first and then extended a hand to help Harpo exit. He wrinkled his nose, showing his irritation, and then grasped her hand, which was dry and warm. Against his will, he felt a slight sizzle of frisson and then chastised himself silently for being such a fool; this woman would strike him down at a modicum of provocation.
One guard led them to another bank of elevators, while the other followed. The platform was clean: its walls painted eggshell white, without a scratch of graffiti; its refrigerated air odorless; the overhead lights bright. The elevator doors of the militarium were stainless steel and the floor of the elevator carpeted. One of the guards said “fünfzehn,” and after just a few moments the doors opened onto in a large space filled with light. One man stood in the center of the space, wearing a black cassock, and fingering a black rosary in his right hand. “Leutnant, I will take it from here,” he said in German, and then addressed Harpo in Spanish. “Señor Harpo, please follow me.” The priest set off across the open space toward wooden double doors, where he paused and then knocked. Without waiting for an answer, he pushed the door open and entered a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and several long library tables. Harpo paused before crossing the threshold and gawked at the floor covered in a dark red carpet, the walls of leather-bound books, and the arched stained glass windows that contained illustrated scenes from Book of Revelation.
The priest, sensing Harpo was not behind him, turned and waved him forward with a scowl on his face.  The library contained only one man, who stood with his arms crossed across his chest, leaning against a library table. Light from the windows framed him in a penumbra of white, obscuring his face. Automatically, Harpo raised his right hand to shield his eyes to better see the man. The room smelled of incense.
The man, seeing Harpo shade his eyes, moved to the right out of the direct light of the window and shifted into the shadows, near the bookshelves. He was tall and very thin; clean-shaven, with pale blue eyes and thick blond hair, parted on the right; coincidentally, he wore, like Harpo, a black suit and a white shirt open at the collar, which somehow calmed the writer. The priest began to introduce the man in the shadows but the man held up his hand, palm open, and said: “Thank you, Father, I will take it from here.” The priest sputtered and he continued: “Please close the door on your way out.”
The priest nodded and then left the room. The man gazed steadily at Harpo, and Harpo wondered if he should speak. Finally, when he could no longer stand the weight of the silence, he asked: “May I sit down?” The man smiled and nodded in the affirmative.
Harpo pulled out a leather chair from one of the long oak tables. He was nervous and intimidated by the situation but he was also intrigued and awed by the ancient, physical books, the space, and the light of the room. He placed his hands, palm down on the table, and scanned the walls, trying to read the titles. The strong odor of the incense, burning in a golden censor, irritated his sinuses and he held back a sneeze, as he read the titles of the books on their leather spines. For a moment, he forgot about the man and his nose; his passionate interest in books overcoming the fear he felt.
The spell was broken when the man slammed a book down in front of him. Harpo jumped, almost wetting himself, and turned toward the man with a curse. He hated to be treated like an idiot or a pawn and he suspected that was what was happening. The man, however, simply smiled and pulled out the chair next to his. “Take a look at the book, Herr Doctor Harpo,” the man ordered in a mixture of German and Spanish.
Harpo gingerly picked up the leather-bound book, opening it and turning its thin, onion-skin pages to the title page. “I should be wearing gloves,” he said, as he read the title out loud—“Liber Mysteriorum, dated December 22, 1581, by Doctor Johannes Dee and edited by Doctor Meric Causaubon.”
“Correct,” said the man. “Did you have this available to you when you did your research for your new book?”
Harpo, startled by the man’s reference to his book that he had yet to turn into his publisher and embarrassed because he had not read the Dee book, blushed, knowing that one of the fatal flaws of his latest work was the paucity of available primary texts in La Ciudad. Most of Dee’s important works to the extent they still existed were in the libraries of the Anglo-American Empire and unavailable to him. So, to answer the man’s question, he simply shook his head in the negative; and, in response, the man cleared his throat, as if to say: “I thought as much.” But said instead: “Herr Doctor, I have access to many of Dee’s works, as well as secondary sources on both Dee and the AN Corporation. If you intend to truly expose its workings to the world, you must go back to the beginning, to Dee and his alchemical work. You must understand what he did at the University of Louvain and his relationship to the alchemists.”
Forgetting for a moment where he was, Harpo shot back. “But I did discuss that. I have an entire chapter on Dee’s alchemical preoccupations, as well as his experiments in the occult.”
The man, unfazed by Harpo’s defense, responded: “But you did not have this book or any others like it when you composed your work.”
            Wondering how he knew what texts he consulted in the writing of the book, he answered: “No, I did not read this book.”
            “But you would like to read it?” the man asked softly.
            Harpo nodded and touched the book, as if to claim it.
            “Right,” said the man, walking toward the door. “Let’s take a little trip.”
Harpo stood suddenly, startled at the suggestion, fearing that “a little trip” really meant back to prison or the work camp.
“I have a lunch meeting with my agent,” he stuttered.
“Oh, we’ve canceled that. Your book is not really finished is it? I mean you still have a great deal of research to do before your work is complete.” He held the door open and gestured for Harpo to follow him. “Where are we going?” Harpo asked as he passed through the door.
“Up,” the man answered with a grin.
They took the elevator to the roof where, on an elevated landing pad, a silver and gold two-man ornithopter, designed to resemble a giant cicada, idled. Harpo, experiencing a slight vertigo, licked his lips, tasting the air of the dome. It was different from that of the under city, not rancid or bitter, but still artificial. He gawked at the buildings under the dome and marveled at the hive-city from this altitude; the vision caused a mild dizziness, as he shuffled across the roof following the man.
At the ornithopter the man removed his coat, handing it to a Swiss Guard, who appeared from a door on the far side of the roof, and extracted a leather jacket from the pilot’s seat of the aircraft and pulled it on in one fluid motion. “Herr Doctor,” he ordered: “Please take your seat.”
As the man inserted an electronic communication bead into his left ear, he turned to Harpo, extended his hand, and said: “My name is Antonius Bleak, and I have been sent to initiate you into the category.” Before Harpo could respond or ask what he meant by “the category” the man pushed on the throttle and the wings hummed as the sparkling ship made out of steel and glass and shaped like a cicada rose from the roof and headed toward the heliostat and its open storm doors.
Before they reached the doors, Harpo repeated his question-- asked first in the militarium— and shouted above the mechanical clatter of the wings: “Where are we going?”
Bleak pointed toward the heliostat and said: “Teotihuacan.”
Harpo repeated the word and then sputtered: “why?” But the man did not answer; instead, he piloted the ship through the open doors and out of the protective dome of the central district into the hot dry air of summer. Waves of heat roiled off the doom and produced turbulence that shook the tiny craft. But Bleak calmly guided the ship, turning it toward the northeast, toward the ruins of Teotihuacan.
The man said nothing as they flew, but once the ruins became visible, he shouted over his shoulder: “Professor, there lies the road to the gods.”
Through a heat haze rising off the ruins, Harpo could make out the three pyramids. It had been years since he had traveled to the ancient city and he wondered what madness brought him here today. He took a deep breath and tried to relax. Surely, Bleak would not bring him here to do mischief; he could have easily done that in the basement of the militarium.
Bleak throttled back on the engine and turned the craft toward the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and said: “We will land there near the Temple.” He then pointed off the starboard side and laughed. Harpo turned to see a blue-back dragon soaring on the heat waves and thermal currents maybe five kilometers north of the ruins. “I didn’t know they had migrated this far,” said Bleak absently. “They appeared in Mexico maybe five years ago,” answered Harpo, “the blue-backs entered our world through Patagonia maybe twenty years ago and slowly worked their way north.”
Once they landed, Bleak hopped out of the craft and helped Harpo unbuckle his harness. The heat was dry and almost unbearable and Harpo peeled off his coat and left it in the seat. As he walked away from the craft, he rolled up his sleeves and unbuttoned his shirt, exposing his chest. Standing in the sun, sweat oozed from his pores, wetting his head and running down his back. “This heat!” he said, rubbing the flat of his hand over his forehead and flicking away the sweat. Bleak was not sweating. Harpo didn’t notice it at first but then he did and it troubled him.
“Why aren’t you sweating? Aren’t you hot?”
Bleak did not respond; instead, he pointed to the top of the temple and said: “Let’s climb. I want to show you something.”
They climbed up the crumbling rock in their polished black, lace-up shoes and their wool pants. Half-way up Harpo panted like a dog, his tongue hanging out and his eyes bulging. He cursed Bleak and the Pope under his breath and imagined him killing the man by crushing his skull with a loose stone.
When they reached the top Bleak strolled toward the center of the building and signaled for Harpo to join him.
“Professor, as I said at the militarium, I have come to initiate you into the category. If you are chosen, then you will join us in our work to balance the world and satisfy Moirae.”
“Have you lost your mind?” asked Harpo. “Satisfy the Moirae?”
“Fates, if you would prefer.”
“Prefer? I would prefer to be left alone to write and study. Is this some ruse of the Vatican to drive me into a mental institution?”
“No, Professor, I don’t work for the Vatican. I’m a representative of a category, just as Edward Kelley was a member and leader of a category.”
Harpo sputtered and spat: “Edward Kelley was a scoundrel and a charlatan.”
“No, Professor, Edward Kelley was one of us and the magic he performed was real.”
“His magic was real? So you’re saying that Dee actually talked with the angels and the spirits?”
Bleak nodded in the affirmative. “Professor, if you join us I will introduce you to Kelley and Dee and others like them.”
“I’m leaving. This is too much. You’ve really lost your mind, Bleak.” Harpo started back toward the edge of the pyramid but suddenly he felt a hand on his left shoulder and then a tremendous pain in his right side where the silver blade entered his back. The pain was sharp and exquisite and he coughed up blood and fell to the ground, where he died slowly in a widening puddle of blood.
Bleak waited an hour for the sound of the Valkyries flying in from the far North. When they arrived, Harpo, having passed the first test of the category, was waiting for them; his immaterial self, barely visible in the hot Mexican sun, hovered over his now rotting body, covered with flies. Vultures circled on heat waves emanating from the hot stones and crows cawed from a ragged mesquite tree that had grown up through a crack in the crumbling stones. The Valkyries did not speak; they simply enfolded Harpo into their arms and lifted.
As he rose above the ruins in their bronze covered arms, Harpo heard Bleak say: “When you return, we will begin.”