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Lords of Being

Chapter 16: The Ghost in the Machine –or– Spooks on a Plane

by Barry Tannenbaum

New Blood Logs:

Tom Noon's Tale


In Chaos

Voyages of the Nones



Mother Goose Chase

Ancient Oz


Adventures of the Munch

Lanthil & Beyond

When last we left our heroes, they'd just discovered that the plane was haunted. While Neville is a paranormal investigator, ghosts are not his specialty. However, he had heard that ghosts are attracted to loose change. He scatters some coins on the floor, but that seems to have no effect.

We hear Catalyst's voice come over the PA system, "Captain Barron, I need your help." He's currently flying the plane while the Captain takes a nap.

Captain Barron snaps awake, and goes stumbling to the cockpit. A few moments later, Captain Barron's voice comes over the PA system, "You tech wizards, a little advice? Why can't I turn off the autopilot, which your friend didn't turn on?"

Hellgrammite and Glass go the cockpit to investigate. Hellgrammite opens up the panel by the cockpit door, splices in to the plane control network, and starts looking for where the anomalous commands are coming from. After a few quickly rattled-off commands, he says, "The autopilot is trying to land us at a nearby airport."

Captain Barron confirms, "Yes, Philadelphia."

Glass connects in his phone and sets it to try to figure out how the planes avionics are being hacked. Once the phone is working at its assigned chore, Neville asks him to make some sand. Holding up his finger, Glass turns to Captain Barron and asks, "How critical is it that autopilot work for the rest of the plane to work?"

"In an old aircraft like this? Not very. If you want to trash the autopilot, I'd rather have to worry about fixing it than have this model autopilot try to land us in Philadelphia."

Turning back to Neville, Glass asks, "Tell me about this sand?"

"There are reports in the literature that ghosts will try to make a body out of it."

Glass still has some odds and ends of optical cable. He takes a bowl left over from Captain Barron's breakfast and rubs the cable ends between his hands. Sand cascades down, until the bowl is full. He puts the bowl down on the floor of the cockpit. "How would they like a flexible glass body?"

"It was trying to take over the clank."

"I have just the thing." Glass hurries out of the cockpit, and goes to the cabinet in the cabin where he stowed his glass menagerie. He selects a humanoid figurine he's never been very fond of and returns to the cockpit just in time to see Hellgrammite open a panel, reach in, and deftly pull out two circuit boards. The autopilot is now disengaged. Glass comments, "I was hoping to isolate it, not power it down. Oh well." He pulls out his little glass man, wipes it of all purpose, and puts it on the floor of the cockpit.

Mabel reports that a text box has opened on the glass screen on the partition:

I am not susceptible to voodoo.

Glass mutters, "It means it's moved. In the comm. system is far better than anywhere else."

Rosamund tries to sense the sanity & emotional state of the ghost.

There's a keyboard next to the partition. Neville types on the keyboard, "What do you want?"

A new text box appears, partially covering the previous one:

What do I want? I want you to turn around, I want you to cease and desist. I want you, my fellow human, to stop consorting with the agents of destruction.

"Why do you consider them agents of destruction?"

They are chaos; they are the lack of order. They are what you have when all order is gone. They are destruction.

"But of least one of them is of Order."

Traîtresse! Collaboratrice!

"Who were you in life?"

Ha! This is not a séance. But if you must know, I am René. I am the ghost in the machine.

"How did you get involved with the Court of Order?"

I met with a Lord of Order on the net.

"Ghosts can use the net?"

I can use the net.

"Most ghosts can't?"

I do not know about most ghosts. But I am the only ghost that I know of on the net. It is only because of you and the captain that I refrain from crashing this plane.

"I appreciate that. Can you hear me if I speak?"


A fuzzy, staticy picture of a young man appears on the screen. Presumably this was René, at some point in his life. He has a thin face, dark hair, and dark eyes. Shortish hair and clean shaven. A new voice comes over the PA system, «I can hear you perfectly. I can feel the warmth of your body, and you should treasure it.» There's a touch of static in René's voice, too.

Neville asks, "How did you die? I've never met a ghost before."

«Traffic accident.»

"How long ago?"

«Five years. This is all very interesting, but we should be talking about your career, not mine. You are working for the enemies of existence.»

While this conversation is going on, Hellgrammite is systematically disabling any system that can interfere with the flight of this plane.

"Why do you think they plan to destroy us?

«They've already done it once!»

Glass breaks in. "I'll have to correct you on that. It was not the Lords of Chaos; it was conflict between the Lords of Chaos and Order that destroyed the universe."

The image raises its eyebrows. «"According to my sources, the Lords of Order were assaulted by the Lords of Chaos.»

"So you're talking to one of the separatists? According to my source, one of the Principalities, that is not at all what happened. I was briefed directly."

«Quelle est une principauté?»

Glass goes through the Orders of Angels.

The voice is incredulous. «You are claiming to have spoken with the hosts of heaven?»

"Yes. I am, of course, silicon. That is, all of it. Everywhere. I meant it when I said I was older than dirt."

«You are not of the Court of Chaos?»

"No. I'm a Knight of the Elemental Order. As is Neon, but he's flashier." Glass takes his bowl of well-made sand, and starts putting it back together. "As in glass. Silicon."

There's a momentary silence. Then a new voice says, «He's lying René!»

We look behind towards the aft of the plane. There's a young woman in hospital gown. She has no hair whatsoever.

Neville says, "You poor thing. What happened to you?"

«Cancer. And my only friend in my last days was Cadmus. I trust him, and René you should do the same.»

Rosamund says, "I didn't know he was causing cancer these days."

The ghost glares at Rosamund and disappears.

Rosamund snorts, "Still around hun?" She concentrates her life sense. "Yeah, you are." Rosamund turns to Glass, "Too bad I wasn't her friend."

Glass explains, "Her specialty is life. It might have helped."

Rosamund replies, "Yes. That was unfortunate. So he's walking among the wards. Interesting."

Glass turns back to the divider and says, "René? If you are in fact a ghost in the machine, and have been there for any length of time, you've probably detected me on the net. I control the following locations… " and lists a number of places. "And if you've been in the computer community for the past number of years, you're probably familiar with…" Glass recites a number of firms he's worked with. He can sense activity among the systems in the cabinet. "One favor I would ask. If you're going to use my equipment to check my bona fides on the net, please stay away from the Knowledge Navigator. It's the original, and it might wake up one day."

Glass powers up all of the systems that are not connected to the avionics. And then shuts down the Knowledge Navigator. He can sense René moving about in the systems that he's made available.

Neville goes aft to where the woman was standing. There's a chill in the air where she was last seen. "I'm so sorry you died. When did it happen?"

The young woman reappears. This time she's in blue jeans and a sweater. She has a mop of hair. Her features are not particularly remarkable features. «A year ago.»

"Where did you live?"

«London. I died of cancer. I was… Cadmus was there when I died. And he didn't cause it. He was the only one who came around. He showed me how to hang onto the earth.»

Mabel has come back to join Neville. "Not very nice of him."

The girl turns to Mabel, «Why? You've had all of time to hang around here. How much time did I get?»

Mabel grins wryly. "All of it."

Glass also joins them. "Conversely, we don't get to move on."

«So you can't say where I'd move on to, can you?»

"I haven't ever thought to ask. My impression has been that it was a good place to move on to."

«I don't want to move on until I've had my fill of Earth. And I know that it was the Lords of Chaos that tore it down.»

Glass shakes, his head. "As I was told, it was conflict between the Lords."

The girl retorts, scornfully, «By an angel.»

"In fact. One of the ones who sent me here to help your folk along."

Neville tries a different tack, "Had you no family in London?"

«No. This isn't about me. This is about you. This is about the world going on.»

Rosamund says, "This airplane is heading to find one of the spots of weakness, so the world will go on."

Hellgrammite has finished his work in the cockpit, and now ties his laptop into the display in the divider. "This is from the last problem that cropped up, that we went to fix." Images from Bugtussle, Iowa appear, obviously shot with a cell phone camera.

Glass offers, "And you're welcome to come along with us and observe."

There's no answer as the girl watches the images of the frogfall on the screen.

René's image appears in a corner of the screen. «That would explain the mysterious editings on YouTube.»

Glass shugs. "Yes. Many servers forgot it because, well, they're friends."

The girl is starting to look convinced. So does René. And then she sort of shakes herself, «But Cadmus told us that you're trying to bolster the Lords of Chaos. You're trying to put one of them back together.»

Glass says, "The universe is a balance. It is important that the two of them work together."

The girl looks dubious, and the more dubious she looks, the more transparent she becomes.

Rosamund tries putting it a different way. "Have you ever been in a garden?"

«Yes, of course!»

"Have you ever looked into the center of a sunflower? And seen the pattern there?"

«Yes. Logarithmic spirals.»

"Yes. It is very orderly. Mathematics is. So are many of the functions in plants. But the garden also has chaos. The falling of seeds upon the ground. Which ones grow. Which do not. The balance of order and chaos is what makes a garden."

The ghost wavers a bit.

Rosamund continues, "Sometimes you see gardens where it is all order, and you get those soldier-like rows of tulips. Those can be ok, if there is some chaos to set it off. But you need both, or you simply do not have a garden."

The ghost wavers more, and becomes transparent, though the presence is still there. Perhaps she is thinking. Perhaps she has doubts…

Glass tries again. "The group is moderately well balanced between Order and Chaos. The two Elementals here represent a noble gas and silicon. We're two of the most orderly and stable elements."

Another text box appears.

You speak sensibly. You speak plausibly. However Mr. Clisk has been our benefactor and we owe him some loyalty.

"That is not unreasonable. No matter how much I may disagree with him on the one issue in this conflict."

I am in communication with Mr. Clisk. And he confirms that you are correcting the anomalies, and therefore do your part to continue the Scheme of Things™. What he truly requires is something that might appeal to you in the nature of combining Order and Chaos.

"What is he's requesting?"

The fragment of the Lord of Chaos you hold.

"I'm afraid that's not possible at the moment. We're holding onto it until someone a bit higher up the chain can be consulted."

Rosamund says, "We have sent a request up the chain. Anyone who interferes with that would be interfering with the Higher Powers. And they will not take that lightly."

The presence disengages. The metaphysicals see the presence assume a human shape. The woman's presence also begins to assume a human shape. They're standing next to each other, facing each other. René takes her by the hand. With his other hand, he reaches into the cabinet, and then they're gone.

Glass raises his eyebrow. "They're gone. It would have been interesting to have them observe. So much for our antagonists not knowing where we are."

Catalyst returns to the cabin. "Could we have a nice cup of coffee for Captain Barron?"

Mabel grins. "Sure."

"He was following a good deal of what's been going on."

Catalyst follows Mabel to the galley to start the coffee.

Glass goes to talk to the Captain, who reports, "We're on course to Halifax again."

"That's good. Sometime it would be nice to know how much damage we've managed to do to the plane. I haven't had to deal with ghosts before."

"Oddly enough, they didn't tell us how to deal with ghost damage in pilot school. You've ripped out the autopilot right?"

"Yes, I believe Jonathan did."

"Well, that was the right thing to do at the time. I've got a copilot that doesn't need to blink, much less sleep. If you wire the autopilot back in, is it going to be haunted again?"

"I don't think so." Glass glances at the hole in the cabinet and is not surprised to see that Hellgrammite is putting things back together. Only this time there's a manual disconnect switch. "Ah, Jonathan. Just what I was going to suggest." Glass turns back to Captain Barron, "Now that we've established that the plane will be OK, how are you."

"I'm hoping that I will be OK, too, like the plane. Two ghosts in one day are really a bit much."

"It's rather sad that she wasn't able to move on."

"That's what I thought I heard. Do you think she reckons she's damned or something?"

Glass considers, and then says, "It sounds like she didn't think she was finished here. The problem is that you folks aren't good at finishing when you don't have any physicality. And I really don't have any knowledge of what happens afterwards. I'm much more interested in physicality. I'm sort of an old stick in the mud that way." (Having been there for the first mud.)

"It sounds to me like your politics is running clear on the other side of what we often call The Veil."

"If you remember your scripture, the whole notion of the war in heaven doesn't come up in most books, but they didn't get it all that wrong. There's been politics in heaven for a very long time. There's also bureaucracy in heaven." Glass sits in the copilot's seat. "You used to work in an airline. Imagine that you took your orders from the bureaucrats who were between you and the Powers That Be. Now imagine that the pilots went on strike. The folks running the show these days are more used to running the folks who run the show."

"Yeah, you told me about that back at Ft. Lauderdale. I can get us to Halifax. I can land the plane. I expect we can get all the way to … I can wait 26 hours before I break out the whisky."

"Sounds good. We all have our roles in this, and yours is important. For my money, I suspect that those folk are the worst that you'll have to deal with. They're so close to you. The other folks who are running around are very 'other.' "

"I gotta admit that talking elements are not as spooky as spooks."

Glass levers himself out of the seat, "Here comes Catalyst with some coffee."

Leaving the cockpit, Glass sits down next to Neville. "Neville… how are you doing?"

"Great, just great! I've never seen a real ghost before!"

"Any butterflies in your stomach?"

"No, no gas."

Glass asks in his best metaphysical voice "Lord Asirus, how are you doing?"

Lord Asirus is feeling gelatinous. There's no reaction from the lump. It's wrapped itself around Neville's organs.

Glass considers, and tells Neville, "Sadly, he doesn't have a comment, but he's well settled in."

"That's… good to know."

"I could show you. It's really quite interesting. Reminds me about the way I've insinuated myself into the net."

Neville demurs, "No! No that's quite alright. Thank you."

Glass turns to Rosamund. "I don't think he wants to go. It probably would be best for Neville if no one tries to extract him."

Rosamund agrees, "That probably would be best for Neville." She reaches over and pats Neville's hand. "On the plus side, Lord Asirus is immortal. He's bound to keep you healthy and long lived."

Glass muses, "So Clisk knows where we are."

Rosamund nods. "And now Clisk knows that we've informed the higher ups. And knows that anything he does could be counter to those higher-ups. Which is what I wanted him to know."

Glass looks at the Lady of Chaos, "I have to admit I've never been all that curious about you folks. How involved with your materiality are you?

Mabel responds, "It varies. I'm very involved with dogs, which is my favorite material aspect."

"I was thinking of your personal aspects."

Rosamund replies, "They're fun." She gestures at her body. "This is art, you see."

"Right. I was just pondering the possibility of unfriendly encounters, and was wondering how susceptible to physical disruption you might be."

Neville says worriedly, "Very!"

"You certainly would be. I was contemplating the avoidance of that."

Rosamund rubs her hands together. "I've worked on this a long time. I'm kind of fond of it."

Mabel nods. "It's a hobby"

"Would it inconvenience you?"

Rosamund shrugs, "I wouldn't create a new manifestation without some effort…"

Glass prompts, "And time?"

"Yes. We can function without them, of course."

Glass continues, "If it's unexpected, and they're not practiced, and they're holding tight to something… Jonathan, how long has Clisk had that form?"


Rosamund offers, "I change mine every few months. Clisk has had his a few centuries. He might kinda own it at this point."

Glass grins.

Rosamund asks, "Have you seen the array of items that Catalyst and I came up with?"


Rosamund grins. "Oh, come look!" She leads Glass into the galley where she takes a case out of one of the bins. She opens the case to reveal a graduated set of balls nestled in foam rubber. The balls look like they were made out of something between clay and Playdough. She pulls out a pea sized ball and drops it on the floor. There's a small pop. "They range." She runs her hand from left to right. "These are the slower to faster, and there are bigger ones."

Glass nods. Things that go boom might be useful.

Rosamund continues, "Catalyst likes to cook. That's why I had all these sinks and cabinets put in. This is a start. We only had a few hours to work with. Here's what we have to use for raw materials. Plus whatever you come up with…"

"Hmm. You do living things…" He walks off to ponder the possibilities.

Neville comes up to Hellgrammite, who's taking out a couple of specialized clanks. "Those two ghosts. Clearly they were able to find us, and I assume, can find us again."

"I think she followed the Captain from the hotel room."

Neville asks, "But how did she find him?"

Glass looks up from where he's been thinking. "That's an interesting question."

Neville continues, "It was suggested that they could observe. Should we put out a notice on the net officially inviting them?"

Glass considers. "Put out something saying that the offer is still open and they're welcome to observe. I think that's a good idea."

Glass turns to Rosamund, who's sitting by a window in the sun, "When we're not in the plane and not in the air, I'd like to see a few more demonstrations and some experiments."

Rosamund replies, "When we land in a country that doesn't watch too closely."

The remainder of the flight to Halifax is uneventful.

Once we land, Hellgrammite repairs any remaining damage caused while wresting control from the spirits.

While Captain Barron is arranging for a new load of fuel and filing a flight plan from Halifax to Reykjavik, Glass goes off with Catalyst to discuss the idea of making weapons. He explains his idea for a Glass Blunderbuss. Unsurprisingly, Catalyst would be happy to help.

"I considered asking one or more of the Lords and Ladies to help, but I thought they might be queasy about discorporating one of themselves," says Glass.

"I understand. Have you considered asking Mr. Neon for help with some kind of laser?" Catalyst suggests.

"That would be good. I'd also like something that wouldn't be detectable in an airport. Which is why glass was such an attractive material."

"Or ceramics."

"I haven't done anything with ceramics in years! There are lots of interesting things we could do with ceramics"

"Also, don't forget to make use of Mr. Hellgrammite's talents. From what I've seen, he doesn't mind playing a little rough. And I don't think that Ms. Rosamund or Mable would mind if you did something to take out Mr. Clisk. Rosamund and I had quite a good time making explosives, and I don't know of anyone else she'd be planning to use them on."

Last Updated: Jun 12, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved

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