Authors: Ada Palmer
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This book is dedicated to the first human
who thought to hollow out a log to make a boat,
and his or her successors.
TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING
of the year 2454
Written by MYCROFT CANNER, at the R
Published with the permissions of:
The Romanova Seven-Hive Council Stability Committee
The Five-Hive Committee on Dangerous Literature
Ordo Quiritum Imperatorisque Masonicorum
The Cousins' Commission for the Humane Treatment of Servicers
The Mitsubishi Executive Directorate
His Majesty Isabel Carlos II of Spain
And with the consent of all FREE
Qui veritatem desideret, ipse hoc legat. Nihil obstat.
ERTIFIED NONPROSELYTORY BY THE
Gordian Exposure Commission Content Ratings:
S3âExplicit but not protracted
; references to
of real and living persons.
V5âExplicit and protracted scenes of
; explicit but not protracted scenes of
praised; historical incidents of global
crimes of violence
committed by real and living persons.
R4âExplicit and protracted treatment of
without intent to convert;
of real and living persons.
O3âOpinions likely to cause
to selected groups and to the sensibilities of many; subject matter likely to cause
distress or offense
to the same.
Ah, my poor Jacques! You are a philosopher. But don't worry: I'll protect you.
Jacques the Fatalist and His Master
You will criticize me, reader, for writing in a style six hundred years removed from the events I describe, but you came to me for explanation of those days of transformation which left your world the world it is, and since it was the philosophy of the Eighteenth Century, heavy with optimism and ambition, whose abrupt revival birthed the recent revolution, so it is only in the language of the Enlightenment, rich with opinion and sentiment, that those days can be described. You must forgive me my âthee's and âthou's and âhe's and âshe's, my lack of modern words and modern objectivity. It will be hard at first, but whether you are my contemporary still awed by the new order, or an historian gazing back at my Twenty-Fifth Century as remotely as I gaze back on the Eighteenth, you will find yourself more fluent in the language of the past than you imagined; we all are.
I wondered once why authors of ancient days so often prostrate themselves before their audience, apologize, beg favors, pray to the reader as to an Emperor as they explain their faults and failings; yet, with my work barely begun, I find myself already in need of such obsequies. If I am properly to follow the style I have chosen, I must, at the book's outset, describe myself, my background and qualifications, and tell you by what chance or Providence it is that the answers you seek are in my hands. I beg you, gentle reader, master, tyrant, grant me the privilege of silence on this count. Those of you who know the name of Mycroft Canner may now set this book aside. Those who do not, I beg you, let me make you trust me for a few dozen pages, since the tale will give you time enough to hate me in its own right.
We begin on the morning of March the twenty-third in the year twenty-four fifty-four. Carlyle Foster had risen full of strength that day, for March the twenty-third was the Feast of St. Turibius, a day on which men had honored their Creator in ages past, and still do today. He was not yet thirty, European enough in blood to be almost blond, his hair overgrown down to his shoulders, and his body gaunt as if he was too occupied with life to feed himself. He wore practical shoes and a Cousin's loose but comfortable wrap, gray-green that morning, but the only clothing item given any care was his long sensayer's scarf of age-grayed wool, which he believed had once belonged to the great Sensayers' Conclave reformer Fisher G. Guraiâone of many lies in which Carlyle daily wrapped himself.
Following his parishioner's instructions, Carlyle bade the car touch down, not on the high drawbridgelike walkway which led to the main door of the shimmering glass bash'house, but by the narrow maintenance stairs beside it. These slanted their way down into the little man-made canyon which separated this row of bash'houses from the next, like a deep, dry moat. The bottom was choked with wildflowers and seed-heavy grasses, tousled by the foraging of countless birds, and here, in the shadow of the bridge, lay Thisbe's door, too unimportant even for a bell.
“Who is it?” she called from within.
“Carlyle Foster. I'm your new sensayer. We have an appointment.”
“Oh, right, Iâ¦” Thisbe's words limped half-muted through the door. “I called to cancel. We've had a security thingÂ â¦ problemÂ â¦ breach.”
“I didn't get any message.”
“Now isn't a good time!”
Carlyle's smile was gentle as a mother's whose child hides behind her knees on the first day of kindergarten. “I knew your previous sensayer very well. We're all saddened by their loss.”
“Yes. Very tragic, theyÂ â¦ Shhhh! Will you hold still?”
“Are you all right in there?”
Perhaps the sensayer could make out traces of other voices through the door now, soft but fierce, or perhaps he heard nothing, but sensed the lie in her voice.
“Do you need help?” he asked.
“No! No. Come back later. Iâ¦”
More voices rose now, clearer, voices of men, soft as whispers but urgent as screams.
“Pointer! Stay with me! Stay with me! Breathe!”
“Too late, Major.”
The door could not hope to stifle mourning, a small child's sobs, piercing as a spear. Carlyle sprang to action, no longer a sensayer but a human being ready to help another in distress. He pounded the door with hands unused to forming fists, and tried the lock which he knew would not succumb to his unpracticed strength. Those who deny Providence may blame the dog within, which, in its frenzy, probably passed close enough to activate the door.
I know what Carlyle saw as the door opened. Thisbe first, barefoot and in yesterday's clothes, scribbling madly on a scrap of paper on the haste-cleared tabletop, with the remnants of work and breakfast scattered on the floor. Eleven men stood on that table, battered men, strong, hard-boned and hard-faced as if reared in a harder age, and each five centimeters tall. They wore tiny army uniforms of green or sand brown, not the elegance of old Europe but the utility of the World Wars, all grunge and daily wear. Three of them were bleeding, paint-bright red pooling on the tabletop, as appalling as a pet mouse's wound, when each lost drop would be half a liter to you. One was not merely bleeding.
Have you never watched a death, reader? In slow cases like blood loss it is not so much a moment as a stretch of ambiguityâone breath leaves and you wait uncertain for the next: was that the last? One more? Two more? A final twitch? It takes so long for cheeks to slacken and the stink of relaxing bowels to escape the clothes that you can't be certain Death has visited until the moment is well past. Not so here. Before Carlyle's eyes the last breath left the soldier, and with it softness and color, the red of blood, the peach of skin, all faded to green as the tiny corpse reverted into a plastic toy soldier, complete with stand. Cowering beneath the table, our protagonist sobbed and screamed.
Bridger's is not the name that brought you to me. Just as the most persuasive tongue could never convince the learned crowds of 1700 that the young wordsmith calling himself Voltaire would overshadow all the royal dynasties of Europe, so I shall never convince you, reader, that this boy, not the heads of state whom I shall introduce in time, but Bridger, the thirteen-year-old hugging his knees here beneath Thisbe's table, he made the future in which you now live.
“Ready!” Thisbe rolled her drawing up into a tube and thrust it down for the boy to take. Might she have hesitated, I wonder, had she realized that an intruder watched? “Bridger, it's time. Bridger?”
Imagine another new voice here, at home in crisis, commanding without awe, a grandfather's voice, stronger, a veteran's voice. Carlyle had never heard such a voice before, child of peace and plenty as he was. He had never heard it, nor have his parents, nor his parents' parents in these three centuries of peace. “Act, sir, now, or grief will swallow up your chance to help the others.”
Bridger reached from beneath the table and touched the paper with his child's fingers, too wide and short, like a clay man not yet perfected by his sculptor. In that instant, without sound or light or any puff of melodrama's smoke, the paper tube transformed to glass, the doodles to a label, and a purple scribble to the pigment of a liquid bubbling within. Thisbe popped the cork, which had been no more than cross-hatching moments before, and poured the potion over the tiny soldiers. As the fluid washed over the injured, their wounds peeled away like old paint, leaving the soldiers clean and healed.