Stand Against the Light 11

The novel is now out at readers and kibitzers. The readers who have answered gave some specific suggestions that can be carried out. The novel should appear sometime next month or so. There has been real progress in getting scientific articles out the door. And now a bit more of Stand Against the Light.

Chapter Three Persona Ethics

The distant patter of raindrop on leaf and the slow drip of water cascading from branch to branch were the only sounds.  Star and Cloud sat under an enormous fir tree, their gifts keeping their clothing dry, listening to the forest around them.  Neither wanted to speak. Only the pressure of an approaching meal drove them to conversation.

“I used to daydream about camping.  I’d dream about being out in the woods like this,” said Cloud. “Camp sounded almost as frigid as having a base.  You didn’t need to be a persona to camp, either.  Except when I became a persona, I never tried to get a base.  None of us did.  I lived at home.  I never even went camping.”

Cloud returned to listening to the tip-tap of the water. 

“Except Eclipse,” Star said. “She got herself a base and everything.  All by herself.” He sank into quiet again.

“You know,” Cloud said finally, “Changing time sounds real hard.  Putting back what the Time Pirates did sounds harder.  We’re not doing it overnight.  Are we?  Figuring we won’t get lucky, I mean.”

“All we have to do is find them,” said Star.  His voice was almost flat. “Find them, and I’ll blow them to pieces.  Teeny-tiny pieces.  Pieces so small they don’t exist.  Then we’ll fix everything.  Put it back right.”

He stared ahead.  The depths of the woods were a study in brown: ground covered with needles and bark, sepia tree-trunks, light faded to rust by passage through layer after layer of twigs and branches. 

“I’m with you, Star,” Cloud agreed quietly as he stared into the trees. “First I have to find them.  I need time.  We can’t stay here with Pickering.  He’s not a relative.  He’s not part of our League.  He puts up with us because we have gifts.  So we can’t stay.  Staying is taking something from an ungifted by using our gifts.  You can’t do that!  It’s wrong!”

“I know.  I know!  We absolutely positively must leave!  Soon. Where?  We can’t go home.  It’s not there!  We checked that ourselves.” Star combed his hair, straightening brown locks curled by spring damp, letting the activity distract him from the reality of the situation. 

“No.  We can’t go home.” Cloud told himself not to be frightened.  He was a persona, and personas chased menaces, not the other way around.  He paused before announcing his great idea. “There aren’t any personas until we fix history.  There must be lots of places ‑ desert islands, mountain ranges,  Mount Everest, Kapitan Mors being gone ‑ where no one goes.  I just choose one.  We go there and build a base.  That’s absolutely first.  We build a base.  Our base. Festung Greater Medford.  Then we save the world.”

“Now that’s frigid!” Star’s native enthusiasm finally bubbled to the surface. “Build a base.  A real base?  With armor and radium engines and robot defenses and all that great stuff?”

“Sure!” agreed Cloud.  The slightest hint of doubt nagged at him.  If this world had no personas, they probably didn’t have chandlers supplying persona bases. Robot defenses sounded a bit tricky to install by yourself.  Mayhaps he could ask Aurora.  After all, base construction was all detail work, so a girl should be able to do it, once a boy told her what to do. “Keep it simple?  We won’t need it long, just until I catch the time pirates.”

Star nodded assent. “Hey. Cloud?  We’re the ones putting the world back, right?  Can we put it back so we keep the base?” Possibly, thought Star, possibly in the end everything would turn out utterly frigid. 

“Why not? All we need is a place and some plans and a pile of cash to pay for it,” said Cloud. “We for sure have a pile of cash. We should ask Comet about a place; she sees all sorts of things.  And have her and Aurora write down everything we should put in the plans, like automatic minefields and tesdri-controlled thirty-seven-inch-guns.  After all, ‘everything’ is a whole bunch of details, and girls are real good at details.

“Just so we do the final plans.  And count all the money.  That’s outlines and numbers, so that’s for us boys to do.” Star told himself that his older sister and her math books didn’t count.  Girls didn’t do math, he knew, even if when you paid close attention there seemed to be a terrible lot of girls who were real good at math, better than lots of the boys he knew.

“So where do we find all this money?  Is what we salvaged on that island enough?  Ask Eclipse?” The air seemed swiftly colder.

“Eclipse?  Why not?” Cloud felt uncertain. “She built a base.  If you ask her a straight question, not about the Namestone or where she hides out, she gives good answers.  Or tells you she doesn’t know.  She won’t pretend to know what she doesn’t, when she could brag herself up.”

“She’s a girl.  She misses obvious ways to brag herself up.” Star shook his head. “I just wish I could help Eclipse look for the other Doom.  But how?  I can’t read minds or fly.  They have model builders here, wood and plastic, but there are only so many different woodworking tools.  These people seem to know all the ones that I do, so there are no clues there.”

“History’s completely different,” Cloud added. “I found out what happened to the IncoAztecans.  They got conquered by Spain.  No personas.  Spain had gunpowder and steel.  Aztecs had swords with obsidian edges.  Incans hadn’t invented edged weapons.  They could have won, but they lost.”

Star tapped his left wrist. “That’s my watch,” he announced. “Time to go back and get taken to Comet’s island to eat.”

“It’s a nice island,” Cloud said, “just way too small and low to build a base.”

About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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