Lords of Being
Chapter 44: Evacuees
When last we left our heroes, we were approaching our airbase in rural Michigan, when Captain Barron started swearing and then asked, “Can you do anything to get these mammoths off the runway?”
After a bit of discussion, Captain Barron elects to try for a vertical landing. Unfortunately, the switch from horizontal to vertical flight is less than his usual, smooth performance. Once the plane has stopped shuddering, the Captain’s voice comes over the PA system. “Sorry about that, folks.” Hellgrammite will have to take a look at the electroballast after we’re on the ground. Perhaps to make up for the in-flight conversion, the Captain makes a very gentle touchdown, in a spot that’s free of mammoths, which seem to be avoiding the aircraft.
Hellgrammite examines the mammoths with his metaphysical senses. They’re ghosts, like the children the angel brought to us to escape the conflict. The angels are probably responsible for the mammoths too. We told them to bring the refugees here instead of presenting them to us on the plane.
Hellgrammite opens the rear exit and invites our guests to deplane. They’re in no hurry to take him up on his invitation. The mammoths are big. And redder then Neville would have expected. There also appears to be “litter” walking around on the tarmac. That one over there looks like animal-shaped origami with a body made of an old cereal box. You might call it possessed cardboard. There are also bundles of twigs wandering about. Rosamund focuses on the twigs. They’re deadfall from local trees.
Neville notices a swarm of plastic bags floating about sort of like jellyfish. He picks one up and there appear to be other bags folded up inside it as… organs? They’re beating. He drops it and wipes his hands on his jeans.
Rosamund notes that these “litter pseudo-animals” don’t feel like they’re dead. In fact they’re trying to begin. We (and they) don’t seem to be sure what they’re trying to begin.
From overhead there’s a whop-whop-whop sound. It’s Chopper and Peri. Hellgrammite calls her and warns her that the mammoths are ghosts.
“Don’t spook the ghosts? You people are a real riot.”
“Can you see if there’s anyone doing a ritual around the perimeter?”
“Sure.” The chopper sweeps around the field. Peri calls back a few moments later. “There are a bunch of people among those buildings. But they don’t look like they’re doing any rituals.”
“Thanks. We’ll go check on them.”
Hellgrammite approaches the buildings. There are about three dozen people waiting, as if to be let in.
Hellgrammite calls Mabel. “I’ve encountered people at the entrance to this building. You should probably go check the other buildings.”
Mabel calls over the dogs and heads out. She sends Hookie to one end of the row, and she and Roper head to the other. They don’t find anybody, and head over to sort out the group by Hellgrammite.
Meanwhile, Hellgrammite approaches the crowd. “Hello. Can anyone understand what I’m saying?” Most of them raise their hands. “Can any of you tell me how you got here?” There’s a babble of voices. He points at one at random and says, “You first.”
The man he pointed at is heavyset and brick red. He’s supporting a companion who looks the worse for wear. In fact, the companion is holding his detached arm. “We were brought here by divine intervention.”
“Can you describe their dress?”
“Royal blue with gold piping.”
Hellgrammite nods. It was a guardian angel. “So where are you from?”
“We were in one of the peripheral realms. We had been on a trading journey through the void and there was some sort of storm and we sent up a prayer for help and were answered. This fellow showed up and said come with me, and we did.” He turns to his companion. “My brother needs attention.”
Rosamund offers her services as a healer and they’re accepted. She leads the two ruddy beings to the building that the mortals had been using as “the barracks”, and passes Mabel on her way to aid Hellgrammite. When Mabel arrives, Hellgrammite is surrounded by a mob of people telling him their stories. Mabel immediately starts organizing the refugees to setup the building as a shelter and asks who’s familiar with modern cooking and sanitary facilities.
As Rosamund helps the injured being to the barracks, she notices that there’s no odor of hot blood. Instead the odor is of wine. Red wine. The two appear to be wearing heavy brick red makeup, and some sort of burlap-ish clothing. She had thought that they were wearing silvery spectacles, but when she looks closer, she realizes that those are their eyes. The injured one has red lids partially covering the… eyes. She extends her life-sense. They are alive, so she should be able to help them. As she settles the injured being on the bed, she asks, “What manner of creature are you?”
“We are golemim. I am Tubal, and this is my brother Zacar.
“So that is why your brother is not…”
“Were you animated? Or do you create your own?”
“We were animated by the Tzaddik of the Nine Wonders. But we do create our own.”
She examines the injured golem’s shoulder. Through the hole in the burlap shirt she can see raw red clay with bits of bronze that might be “bones.”
As Hellgrammite and Mabel are dealing with the refugees, Simon rises into the air to act as sentry.
Hellgrammite continues his questioning. Most of the refugees were in some variant of a storm. But not a natural storm. It felt like the Wild Hunt was passing though. All of the refugees were rescued by angels.
Sylvia goes to what once was an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. All that’s left is a thick concrete pad. All that sand is exactly what she needs. She reaches down and pulls, and starts to create a new anti-aircraft gun out of the silicon in the cement. Of course she’s updating it a bit. When she’s done it will be a laser anti-aircraft gun.
From his position above the airbase, Simon sees a small flock of bright red lights heading towards the airbase. He pulls out his phone, calls Captain Barron in the cockpit and reports them to him. The lights come swirling in, homing on Simon and circling him. Now that they’re closer he can tell that there are five lights, and each appears to have an anxious faces peering out. One of them stops in front of him. The light appears to be spinning, though the face inside keeps facing him. Simon cocks his head and says tentatively, “Hello?”
In place of the light there is now a human figure hanging in mid air in front of Simon. It asks, “Is this the refuge?”
“May we land?”
“We are five brothers and sisters who are red djinn.”
“You may land, but know that there will be no conflict among any who are here as refugees. Go to the main building and ask for Mabel.” Simon points at the building he means. The other 4 lights assume human form and head that way. As they depart, he says into the phone, “Barron? In coming. Five genies. Let Mabel know.”
There’s a strangled sort of laugh, and then Barron responds, “Why not?” He hangs up and passes the word to Mabel, who goes to the door to greet the new arrivals. The djinn land looking frightened and tired. The one who spoke with Simon asks, “Are you Mabel? May we stay here?”
“Yes.” She leads them inside the building and gestures. “You can have this corner.” Turning to the other refugees, she asks, “Who eats?”
About half raise their hands. “Preferred food group? Animal? Mineral? Vegetable?”
One of the refugees raises his hand and asks, “Halal?”
Mable mutters, “I think vegan is the safest way to go.”
One of the short, muscular, bearded fellows grins and says, “We’re not fussy.”
Mabel calls Catalyst and requests a vegan meal for twenty.
Rosamund determines that the golems have wine in place of blood, bronze bones, clay in place of flesh and clay powder in place of skin. “I take it the wine is Kosher?” Tubal nods. “We’ll need to order some of that.” She calls the Catalyst and asks that he procure some kosher red wine.
Having gotten all that he can out of the refugees, Hellgrammite heads outside to call Dealer and Decker. As he sorts through his Deck he sees a vaguely pig-like thing coming out of the shrubbery. It has a body made out of a two liter soda bottle with forks for legs.
Dealer and Decker appear. Hellgrammite asks, “How were you planning to masque the base?” He grabs one of the plastic bags that thinks it’s a jellyfish. “We returned and found these things all over the place.”
“These are the refugees you expected?”
“No. They’re over in the building. We were wondering if these are a manifestation of the masque.”
“No… we handed that over to a client who owed us a payment. Maybe it’s the dead birds.” They point up. Circling the base are ghost birds, one of which is lining up to land on Simon’s head.
Hellgrammite sighs, “If you don’t know…”
“We will inquire…”
“Only if you have a moment.” He tosses away the bag.
“Thank you sir. Best of luck.” The two enterprising pages disappear.
After completing the patrol of the airbase perimeter, Chopper lands in front of the hanger. Peri and two other people descend. The strangers are Mr. Hengist and his wife. They seem to be relieved to be out of the helicopter, but are quickly fascinated with the things scuttling around. Which is probably a good thing, since they don’t see Chopper’s metamorphosis into a giant dragonfly which darts into the hanger.
Rosamund is still examining the stricken golem. “How is the wine run through the body?”
Tubal shrugs. “This isn’t supposed to happen. I guess intravenously.”
“You don’t eat and drink, do you?”
“What happens if you do?”
“It lies in our stomach and rots. “
“One of my skills is the transformation of living flesh. I do want to make sure that everything is lined up correctly, and then I’ll shape it the way it ought to be, following the pattern of how the rest of your brother is. You don’t manufacture more wine as humans would make more blood, do you?”
“No. The magic preserves it, as it keeps the clay from drying out. Within limits it allows us to heal.”
“The wine should be here in about an hour. Do you need anything until then?”
Tubal shakes his head. “Zacar?”
Zacar’s eyes open, and he shrugs with one shoulder. Then red lids cover his silver eyes again.
Sylvia has completed her gun, and is working on photon traps to provide the charges for her lasers when a grey, listless voice says, “Nice job. Good placement.” Sylvia turns around and sees a figure in a dark grey trench coat with a hat pulled over his face. “Silicon isn’t it?”
“Yes, Glass in fact.”
“I meant you.”
Sylvia shrugs. “Very well.” She takes a closer look at the grey figure and grins as she recognizes Lead.
“What exactly were you thinking of fighting off?”
“The last round of fighting was against Tyndale Hounds. There’s also been the occasional rampaging goddess. But we haven’t had to fight them.”
“That’s a stroke of luck. What is a Tyndale hound?”
“Temporal magic and very dangerous.”
“And you fought and won?”
“Not me. My brother.” She gestures at Simon, who’s still on station.
“This close together? Isn’t that dangerous?”
She shrugs again. “What brings you here?”
“I was sent.”
“Sent? By whom? Why?”
“I had dealings with an alchemist who contacted me, and asked for help paying off his debt. I was considering it, when Shinnaniah, our angelic contact, asked me to lend a hand.”
“We had contracted with parties unknown to masque the area.”
“Yes. I expect my alchemist is unknown to you. We’re installing lead shielding.”
Sylvia calls Hellgrammite. “It appears that our shielding has arrived.”
“It has? Good. Where is it?”
“It’s an old friend. Lead. Very good at shielding, as it were.”
“He contracted with Dealer and Decker?”
“Not exactly. But he’s here to do the job.”
Sylvia asks Lead how much territory he’s covering.
Lead asks, “How much do you own?”
“Then I’m covering it. How long a siege can you withstand?”
“We weren’t planning on a siege. Things don’t seem to be going very well.”
“They certainly are not.”
“Refugees seem to be pouring in from just about every adjacent realm.”
“Yes. The opposing forces are on the move.”
“Who are they?”
“On the celestial side you’ve got the angels of the Dominations. I assume that the opposing side is of the Maskim; the angels of the fallen Dominations.”
“Before that came up, there was an earlier conflict between the collaborationist courtiers and two sets of separatists who are after us. It seemed like the conflict was greater. One of the separatists claimed the Maskim were afoot.” Sylvia pauses, and then adds, “By the way, there’s another instance in Silicon Valley.”
“Three instances on one planet?”
“It’s an interesting time.” Sylvia grins, and is distracted, perhaps by some inner thought or something that Sylvester is doing. Eventually she pulls herself together. Or apart.
Lead watches her. “Separation anxiety? It will be interesting to see how long you can maintain this.”
Sylvia snaps brittlely, “I’ll be fine!” Then blinks out and steps out of Neville’s phone in the barracks, where he’s helping Rosamund tend the injured golem.
She walks to the plane, grabs the clever glass menagerie member. Blinks back to the gun emplacement and puts the menagerie member on the gun. Without a word to Lead, who’s still standing where she left him, she blinks back to Neville’s phone and bends over the golem. “Shouldn’t that clay go together?”
Rosamund replies, “Yes. It will. We’re waiting for the wine.”
The Hengists find Hellgrammite, who’s still walking the grounds. Peri greets him. “Hi. You wanted us to sort things out here?”
“We wanted… locals here to help any refugees who showed up get settled in.”
“You want us to help some dead elephants get settled in?” Her mother is heard to mutter something about LaBrea Tarpits.
“No, there are living beings in the buildings. They were brought here by angels.”
The Hengists stop and stare at Hellgrammite, who continues walking on. “And there are some ghost children. They’re on the plane.” He turns to Peri, and then realizes that she’s fallen behind. “Please come along. We should get inside and help Mabel.”
The Hengists look at each other, and then follow Hellgrammite into the building. Where all the people are opaque. The dwarves look dwarvish, and have a couple of brownies apiece in attendance. The other people look superficially human.
Hellgrammite continues, “Refugees from bordering realms are being dropped off here and we felt that locals should be here to help them. And you’re the only ones that came to mind.”
Mrs. Hengist closes her eyes and starts laughing silently.
On the plane, Captain Barron says to Sylvia, “If you want me to put the plane in the hanger, you’re going to have to get that bug out of there.”
“That helicopter landed, turned into a bug, and went into the hanger. Is this some kind of an attack situation?”
“One of the separatists claimed that he was going to be saving the world from a bunch of fallen angels. He appears to have been more right than we believed. And in the midst of all this we may have to go deal with more trouble.”
“So there’s no reason to put the plane in the hanger.” Captain Barron sounds relieved. Saving the world from fallen angels is clearly better than going into a hanger full of giant bugs.
“No.” Sylvia considers for a moment, and then adds, “I built a gun. Do you have any artillery experience?”
“No. I was in the Air Force.”
“Pity. Know anybody who might?”
“That I want to drag into this?!”
A voice behind them says, “If you’re talking about guns and bullets, I’m something of an expert.”
Sylvia turns and replies, “We’re shooting photons, not bullets. Captain Barron, allow me to introduce Lead.” The Captain rises from his seat.
“Call me Mr. Plumber, if you think I need a better alias.”
“The Captain here is in on the gag.” She turns to the Captain. “You’ve met Neon and my family. This is Lead. He’s one of the Knights.”
Lead inclines his head. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Sylvia continues, “He’s here for shielding.”
Captain Barron grins. “Good. Even less reason to put the plane in the hanger.”
Neville and Rosamund come into the main room.
Mr. Hengist greets her. “Ah. Lady Rosamund. My wife, and of course you know my daughter.”
Rosamond takes his hand. “We thought you might help out in an unusual situation. And you did ask to know about unusual situations.”
Mrs. Hegist grins. “Be careful what you wish for.”
Rosamond grins back at her. “You’re right ma’am. But we do need your help. There are people who are frightened and away from home. And they need somebody who’s stable and, um…”
Peri fills in, “Can roll with the punches?”
Peri asks, “Do you know what you’ve got out there along with the ghost mammoths?”
“I think you’ve got odradeks.” She makes it sound like we should spray or lay down traps.
“What are those?”
“They’re a minor form of Unbegot.”
“They don’t come from the same place as the Hounds, do they?”
“Who can say? They’re things waiting to be born in the next universe.” She picks up a paper cup with toothpicks wriggling in it. It must have come in with the refugees. “We think they’re some sort of Unbegot animal. They’re trying to embody.”
Neville asks, “Are they confined to this airbase?”
“I kind of expect they’re forming here.”
“I would love to know.”
Rosamond breaks in, “We have some of your specialty on the plane. “
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“They’re not from around here.”
Rosamond leads Peri to the plane, where she introduces her to Rene and the children. After chatting with the children for a bit, Peri comes back to Rosamund who’s rummaging in the galley and asks, “What do you want me to do about them? They’re in much better shape than any ghost that I’ve dealt with. They either had a good death experience, or had a lot of time to heal.”
“They were dropped off by an angel.”
This is the second time that some has mentioned angels. Peri lets it slide for now. “What about Rene?”
“He wasn’t dropped by an angel. He came to help us with the children.”
“He’s about as well put together as one can be and be dead.”
“He travels through the computer system.”
“That’s what he said. He’s kind of stuck on himself about it.”
Rosamond shrugs. “He’s French.”
“If an angel brought them here… What I did with the dead crooks in Chicago was interview them and get a lot of history from them. I could do that with the children. I bet they’re very old. I managed to convince the ghosts in Chicago to move on. If the angel brought the children here… if he wanted them to move on, he would have moved them on.”
“A lot of the people were brought here by their guardian angles.”
Peri is looking at Rosamond with large eyes. All this talk of angels if finally getting through. “You really mean that?”
Rosamund nods. “At least you know you’re on the side of the angels.”
“I try to fly under the radar, and it’s not working.”
“Peri, you fly around in giant bug.” When Peri doesn’t respond, Rosamond snaps, “Pull yourself together. Don’t go all weird on me.”
Peri takes a deep breath. “I’ll be happy to do anything I can to keep the ghosts happy and safe.”
“We’re going to have to move them off the plane in case we need to go someplace.”
“They’re up to level 11… I have an idea.” She goes and talks to Rene, and then comes back to the galley, where Rosamond is putting pouring cookies from a container into a paper bag. “Is there a spare laptop on board?”
“We do have the one we got from Hanuman’s pet hacker. If anyone can clean it off, Rene can.” Rosamond puts the empty container in the sink and crimps shut the bag. “It was stored back here somewhere… Ah! Here it is.” Rosamond fishes out the laptop and carries it to the front of the plane and hands it to Rene.
Rene considers the laptop for the moment, then the laptop on the table, turns to the children and says, “Come children, this will be fun.” He disappears into the USB port, followed by the giggling children who are calling for him to wait. Rosamund pastes a sticky note with the word “Occupied” on the laptop, picks it up and hands it to Peri with a grin, saying, “That will make it easier to get them off the plane.” Peri then looks at the other occupants of the plane.
“Yes, we need to get them off too. Let me introduce you.” Rosamund introduces Peri to the Armenians. Unfortunately, Catalyst isn’t around to translate for the elves. After the introductions have been made, Rosamond says, “We have many other refugees and have set up rooms and bedding in the building and there will be people who will help organize.”
The Armenian spokesman asks, “So we can bring the plappergeist?”
“As long as the plappergeist will not cause trouble.”
“We will try.”
“There are people of many types. All are refugees here. We need to keep the airplane available for missions.”
“Yes. Thank you very much. You have been very generous. I will try to tell the plappergeist. He is not our property, you realize.”
“Do you speak the language of these other folk?”
“No, but I will try to invite them along.”
After much pantomiming and discussion, they manage to get the elves, the Armenians and the plappergeist off the plane.
Peri and Rosamond shepherd the two groups into the building. The djinn are immediately focused on the bag that Rosamond is carrying, though nobody else seems to notice it particularly. She distributes the cookies among the five and is thanked with cries of “Generous Lady!”
“We may need your assistance later. You haven’t noticed anyone else who are of your ilk and mine?”
“No, Generous Lady. Most of the others here eat other food.”
Meanwhile, the other food, vegan meals for twenty, kosher wine, and some sundries, is arriving at our gate, where Catalyst is receiving it.
Last Updated: Apr 16, 2010
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved