Springingtiger's Blog


Steampunkery and Politics

dscf2167

Steampunk Superhero’s Cosplay

I think it is fair to say we live in strange and troubling times, what with the decision by the English to turn their back on Europe and drag their neighbours also into a new parochial rejection of the outside world, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA who appears also to want to turn his back on the world whilst at the same time plundering its resources. I accept this is somewhat of an over simplification, but the political details are not really my concern here, but rather how people respond to them. I think it is fair to say that that feelings are running high not only in The USA and the UK, but in Europe and throughout the Middle East, look further afield to Africa, Asia and Russia and it looks as if the whole world is on the edge of some sort of emotional cataclysm. So what, if anything, has any of this got to do with Steampunk?

I know that Steampunks like other folk hold political opinions, some are guided by political and religious beliefs so why, when countries are bitterly divided within themselves and from their neighbours, are Steampunks from all around the world still bumbling along together cheerfully? The answer is not ‘Gin’…at least not entirely. I would like to postulate that there are several reasons Steampunk is not dragged into the political morass in which the world now wallows. I have to confess at this point that my reasoning is based upon my observations of British Steampunk, it may be that some countries Steampunk differently, however I suspect that what is true for a British Steampunk is as true for others around the world.

fb_img_1464539054462.jpgThose who know my personal political beliefs to be extremely socialist, republican, and nationalist may find it strange to see me including Scottish Steampunks in the umbrella term ‘British Steampunk’. The truth is that apart from some details of expression there is little to distinguish the attitudes of Scottish Steampunks from their southern neighbours…when in Steampunk mode. And I think that is my first point: Steampunk as a way of thinking occupies a place that is meta to ordinary political thinking. Some Steampunks live in a permanent attitude of Steampunkery, for others Steampunk is more of a cosplay that they put on and off. However as I have said, when in Steampunk mode Steampunks relate to the world differently from other people.

DSCF2074I remember being startled when I realised that in a whole weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln I had heard not one swearword nor a raised voice. There is something about being a Steampunk that induces courteous behaviour. A Steampunk uses politeness like a shield to parry the unpleasantness of the world and wit the blade to return the blow. I will not pretend for one moment that Steampunks do not insult each other, but we do so with wit and humour, perhaps some buffoonery so that there is almost as much enjoyment of defeat as pleasure in victory…when the other side scores a try (or a six) we applaud and enjoy the moment for its own intrinsic artistry. What is saddening about politics at the moment is the depths to which people have sunk in their interactions with each other, people have become nastier, xenphobia, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and abuse have become commonplace. People have no embarrassment at being caught in a lie. Respect for the rights and opinions of others is no longer considered important or even desirable, there is no place for old fashioned courtesy. Except in Steampunkery where old fashioned courtesy lies at its heart (we do like old fashioned or even an Old Fashioned).

dscf2059

One might expect a strong conservative streak in Steampunk because of its embrace of old fashioned courtesy and dress. However Steampunk cherry picks what it takes from any era and so while embracing the virtues of the past it rejects its vices. Strong women are very evident in Steampunk circles, frequently armed to the teeth with customised Nerf guns and they’re not afraid to use them! Steampunk is undoubtedly trans cultural as can be seen in its Facebook groups, but also at major Steampunk gatherings that attract attendees from all over the world. Our Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society is not only associated with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee, but has scheduled a jolly day out with the North East Steampunk Society from England (now that is true internationalism!). I haven’t noticed religion entering the Steampunk conversation except as a costume, we have Steampunk monks with goggles and Victorian Bishops with gaiters at one end and goggles at the other. Given the international nature of Steampunk, I assume that it contains folk of all faiths, but they don’t let it come between them or get in the way of the fun.

Conservatives may not be very evident in Steampunk, but conservation is. Steampunks have a respect for history especially, as the name suggests, for its technology. Nothing sets the Steampunk blood racing more assuredly than polished brass, well oiled pistons, smoothly turning gears, and the ecstatic call of a locomotive whistle. “Ah but,” I hear you say, “Steam engines run on fossil fuels and pump carbon into the air!”…don’t expect a clever argument from me, although I would argue for balance and responsibility. However the Steampunk embrace of steam should be interpreted rather as an embrace of the best of contemporary technology, which in Victorian times was steam. I think we should note that Steampunks are equally enamoured of clockwork. The essential thing about the Steampunk attitude is that technology is employed for the good of society. You may object that Steampunk has its evil villains india94-070and mad scientists with their death rays and killer robots, but they only exist as villains in opposition to the positive technological vision of Steampunk…besides they are playing a role (or possibly over playing in the case of Kenneth Brannagh’s Dr. Loveless) we all come together in the bar at the end of the day. In Steampunk science is treated with respect and so is scientific method and evidence, some (many) of our inventions are fanciful, but they can be so because we are aware of the difference between science and superstition and so are free to play with both. More importantly in Steampunk the urge to conservation manifests itself in an abhorrence of waste, or more accurately a love of recycling and up-cycling. Steampunk is not part of a disposable society; where civilians dispose, we reuse and re-purpose.

I think what sets Steampunk apart politically from much of society is that it is cooperative and sharing. In victory there is little inappropriate triumphalism whether in cosplay competitions or a tea duel…okay there may be a little (I’m not sure ‘little’ is entirely the correct word.) triumphalism in tea duelling, but there’s none of the vicious denigration of the losers that has marked the conduct of Trump supporters and Brexiteers, nor the bitter resentment we have seen from the other side. Steampunks are building a better future for all based on the best of the past and that means magnanimity and mutual support. You will rarely find a Steampunk rubbish someone else’s work, but they will be generous with suggestions for improvement. Steampunks help each other, they share their skills and insights, they encourage each other. I think it is safe to say that wherever you observe someone indulging in selfishness, discrimination, misogyny, xenophobia, abuse, or any form of discourtesy the person you are observing is not a Steampunk. Steampunks are building a future on the foundation of the most noble values of the past. To put things more simply: If they ain’t nice, they ain’t Steampunk! Now it’s Time For Gin!



Chapter 22: Puritans, Perversion and Pharmaceuticals
wpid-20120216_124001.jpg

Not New Plymouth, but looks like it…a bit!

I think the correct term to describe New Plymouth would be ‘austere’. Its sombre undecorated architecture seemed to embody my preconceptions of puritanism. The pinch faced puritan women kept themselves covered from the tops of their heads to their feet in undecorated grey or black dresses. I cannot in all honesty claim that none of them looked happy, but the majority had a gloomy look upon their make up free faces.If the women were unappealing the men were every bit as unpleasant. I think the most positive thing I can say about the good men and women of New Plymouth is that they were unfailingly polite in a stiff and formal way.

Whereas the buildings in New Palestine tended to follow the general style of Colonial Utilitarianism the buildings of New Plymouth were obviously designed to recall the architecture of the Georgian period of Britain and her American colonies. The civic buildings were imposing with pillared porticoes, the churches not dissimilar, but generally having a spire. there was not a trace of stained glass to be seen. It was only when I realised that the court building lacked the statue of justice that it occurred to me that the town was devoid of statues, even the most worthy were celebrated only by occasional plaques upon the walls of the buildings. The nearest thing to a building devoted to leisure were the coffee houses, but there were no public houses or bars, no cinemas or theatres. It went without saying that there were no brothels in the town. The towns were for the Elect and Outsiders might only visit them during the hours of daylight.

At some distance from the settler’s austere towns could be found the settlements of the Outsiders. These settlements were looked upon by the Elect as veritable sinks of iniquity and every sort of vice. Periodically the Elders would order the settlements to be cleansed, but they inevitably grew back like the social cancer the Elect believed them to be. Because the Outsiders performed all the unpleasant work of the planet, that is to say all the manual work – other than horticulture which was considered holy – their settlements were tolerated. It was here that the respectable burghers cane stealthily after dark to indulge their baser desires, entertainment, sex, alcohol and drugs were all available provided by the smugglers who found it surprisingly easy to sneak past the planet’s defences.

We had been instructed to seek out one William Honesty Goodlove to arrange the disposal of our cargo of Astarte. Obviously we had believed the most likely place to find him would be in the Outsider settlements. However when we enquired we were directed to speak to a Madam known as ‘Sair Flaps’ Peggy. She seemed pleased to see us and produced from her desk a sealed letter.

I read the letter and passed it to Anya, “It would seem we must attend Mister Goodlove at his law offices in the morning, this evening belongs to us.”

We bought some fresh meat for the cats and left them in command of the Bug. If anyone tried to enter the cats merely had to hit the call switch on the communications console to recall us. We could also monitor the hull cameras from our communicators. We had an enjoyable dinner in a traditional pub called the ‘Mucky Duck’. I have to say with all my experience of Earth’s cultures I am at a loss to determine what tradition the ‘Duck’ belonged to. The meal was excellent, I suppose after Compo Rations you could argue anything might have tasted good, but this really was good and set us up nicely for an evening in the Music hall.

It was during the show at the Panopticon Music Hall that my communicator alerted me that the Bug’s proximity alarms had been triggered. We left immediately and Anya scanned the buggy for bombs and trackers before we set off at speed back to the ship. Triggering the alarm had turned on the Bug’s exterior lights and the cameras showed several men outside the ship. I spoke into my communicator and my voice was relayed through the ship’s speakers.

“Stand away from my ship or I will open fire. Stand back and state your business!”

One of the men replied, “We are here to search your ship for contraband.”

“And who are you?”

“New Plymouth Customs and Revenue.”

“Very well, come back in daylight and you’ll be welcome.”

“We require access now.”

“Then you’ll have to wait. We’ve called for city officials to come and secure the area.”

As I spoke I ordered BG 784 the Bug’s computer to open the anti personnel cannon and fire some warning shots. The gun dropped muzzle first from the Bug’s belly, levelled off and fired several shots into the ground between the men and the ship. They returned fire. One of the men aimed a rocket grenade at the Bug, but I had the gun lay down fire at him and the other attackers and they all dived for cover. Unfortunately as he turned to try and avoid the gun fire the man managed to fire the rocket grenade into the ground killing himself and several of his comrades. When we barrelled into the clearing in the buggy the remaining men ran which was just as well as Anya had readied the Gatling gun, as it was she fired off a few shots to encourage them to keep running. As we settled down for the night the cats went to investigate.

The next morning after the cats had reported the results of their investigation we searched the pockets of the bodies then covered them with brush and leaves before heading to the town to meet Mr. Goodlove. His offices were in a well appointed and imposing three story office building round the corner from the Courthouse. As Outsiders we drew some attention as we walked through the streets. Even though Anya had exchanged her usual slacks for a long skirt neither oh us could be taken for a local.

As we entered the building a guard in frock coat, britches and hose stopped us. Only the Alliance Webley Blaster in his holster showed he wasn’t a character from an historical drama.

“Can I help you?” He demanded with a contemptuous sneer which betrayed his opinion of Outsiders.

I responded, “I am Cain.” He dropped the sneer and inhaled. Anya added,

“Mr. William Goodlove is expecting us.”

“Please follow me. Sir, Ma’am?” He escorted us to a lift at one side of the marble hallway, rather than take us up the magnificent staircase. I noticed the badge beneath the control panels – Otis Elevators – if it was genuine the lift was an antique, but it worked well enough.

Goodlove’s office was on the top floor with views towards the Courthouse rear and across the roof of the adjacent building, to the main square. Like the rest of the town the office was devoid of figurative decoration, but its carpet was sumptuous and reached from wall to elegantly panelled wall. Goodlove was obviously a man who both appreciated and could afford luxury.

As we entered Goodlove came from behind his huge mahogany desk. He bent to kiss Anya’s hand – an action that surprised me – then shook me by the hand. He showed us to two armchairs, as luxurious as the rest of the room. When we were seated he called for coffee and until it was brought chattered about the weather and the dangers of space travel in the Outer Planets. At last he said,

“I gather you had some trouble last night?”

I took a sip of my coffee before responding. “I would like to know how you knew about that.”

“It’s my job to know things.” Goodlove replied.

“So it’s nothing to do with the two men who came back to the Town last night while the others went to the Outsider settlement?” I asked.

“You also seem to be well informed.”

“I am Cain, I also know things.”

“I could hardly have grown up here without knowing about Cain, but your reputation makes the scriptural account pale into insignificance. So you are immortal?”

“No.” I replied, “I am not immortal, I just haven’t died yet.”

“You have the cargo, obviously. Perhaps we should discuss delivery and payment?”

“We can bring it here.” I said.

“Now.” Added Anya. “This planet is dangerous after dark.”

“It is only after dark that this planet becomes truly alive!” Smiled Goodlove. “After dark when the sanctimonious hypocrites who call themselves ‘Elders’ creep off to taste the pleasures they pretend to deny themselves.”

“You should turn a good profit from your cargo then.” I ventured.

“Oh I don’t need money,” Goodlove replied, “I want them to reap the reward for their debauchery.”

“Karma!” Exclaimed Anya.

Goodlove frowned, “We don’t use language like that on New Plymouth…but you are correct, they will reap what they have sown! I need you to deliver the shipment to Peggys and she will pay you and supply you with a cargo to be taken to Brunswick Station.

“How did Peggy get the name ‘Sair Flaps’?” Anya asked.

“She made her fortune by putting the comfort of others before her own and she worked very hard.”

There was a slight pause then Anya covered her mouth with her hand, “Oh!” She exclaimed.

Goodlove picked up his telephone, “I shall call Peggy and tell her to expect you.”

“Remind her we will be armed.”

“Don’t worry. No one’s going to try anything stupid a second time.”

“I didn’t live this long by not worrying.” I muttered as I got up to leave.

It was obvious to me that Goodlove was up to something, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out what. Anya suggested that Peggy might give more away. So we loaded the buggy and drove to ‘Peggy’s Gentleman’s Club and Spa’. From outside it exuded a level of class unmatched by the rest of the Outsider’s Settlement. As Anya suspected she was more willing to talk than Goodlove had been.

Peggy had had a few drinks before we arrived and although as in control as ever was in a chatty mood and ready to brag about her son’s plans. We were surprised that such a pillar of the establishment as William Honesty Goodlove had a mother who ran a brothel, no matter how classy it may be. Peggy had as so often in these tragedies been a governess in an Elder family. The father of the family had forced his attentions on her and William was the result. William’s father denied his paternity and had Peggy whipped and thrown out of town. Unable to get respectable employment she turned at last to whoring and discovered a natural talent which coupled with her intelligence which William inherited and business acumen enabled her to build up a sizeable empire in the Outsider settlements and a substantial fortune. She had engaged the finest tutors for William, there were many men of ability who were happy to tutor the boy for considerably more than the Elders – notoriously parsimonious – were prepared to pay. She was content to use a little discreet blackmail to ensure her son received a scholarship to the University of New Plymouth. His mothers wealth had brought William the identity of a son of a respectable rural family and the surname of ‘Goodlove’ which his mother thought a witty touch. He graduated with a First in Law in half the time of a normal student and by the time those with whom William had gone up to University were graduating he had received his Doctorate.

Tonight William was holding a dinner in the Club for Peggy’s elite clientelle whose decanters were to be laced with Astarte. After spending the rest of the evening with her girls, many of the leading men of the town would be under the control of the only man who could supply their new addiction. It was only a matter of time after that, until he brought the planet under his sway and there would be changes. Once William could control Parliament he would introduce a bill to give citizenship to Outsiders and another to extend the right to vote to all citizens both male and female.

I observed that he would need to secure a regular supply of the drug to maintain his position. However Peggy said that once William’s reforms had become law there would be no further need to feed the addiction of his colleagues in Parliament. She took great pleasure in the prospect of those who had ill-used her succumbing to the insanity of Astarte withdrawal. I had thought earlier that I might have to take measures to prevent Goodlove’s plans, but when I heard them I felt it better not to interfere in the internal affairs of the colony and Anya agreed.

Peggy transferred a large payment of credits to my account. Anya’s account had been frozen after the robbery, but for some reason the cameras failed to catch a single image of my face. However I have several accounts and the payment would be dispersed among them as soon as I could reach the terminal in the Bug. Peggy then handed over the ‘cargo’. I prefer to call them passengers. They were two men and a woman all wanted for revolutionary activities within the Empire, including the assassination of the Emperor’s father. They were fleeing Imperial space and at the moment were hiding by keeping on the move.

##

The Bug was going to be cramped. The three fugitives would have to share a cabin and the cats would have to bed down anywhere they could, which was no hardship as that is what they did anyway. The first thing to do was to find out where our fugitives wanted to go. I left that to Anya while I removed ourselves from New Plymouth Space. She came into the cockpit and told me they wanted to go to Los Alamos, New Texas.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” I exclaimed, “that’s the first place the Empire will look for them!”

“Apparently they were already on New Texas. A couple of marshals found them and told them to get to New Plymouth until the Empire had swept the planet. The Imperial fleet is headed for New Plymouth now to try and capture them.”

I called up the navigation charts of the space between New Texas and New Plymouth. To see which route the fleet was most likely to take. I reckoned we didn’t have a day before the fleet hit local space so I decided to dogleg my route. I headed away from New Plymouth keeping the planet between me and the route the fleet would take if it was in a hurry. We skirted the system’s sun close enough to feel its heat, but so close it would be impossible for even the trackers of the Empire’s Cruisers to detect us.

We had burned up more fuel than was useful breaking from the sun’s gravitational field and so I plotted a course for the Silas Deep Space Way Station for refuelling.

Tomkin Arupa the leader of the fugitives objected to going to Silas, “It’s an Imperial Station, you might as well shoot us here!”

“You’re not going to Silas,” I replied. “The bug carries four life pods so you three will use them. We shall leave you hidden in the debris field. Take the Bug to Silas, refuel and come back for you. It should take less than thirty six hours, the pods contain oxygen for forty eight hours, if you suit up that’ll give you another eight. On the fuel we’ve got the only places we can reach are under Imperial control. This is the only one where we’ll be able to hide you off ship. If you stay on board their scans will pick up your life signs.”

Eventually Tomkin and his associates, Mika Bulgaram, and Sula Canut agreed. What else could they do it was agree or be captured?

Space is full of junk, it wasn’t, but wherever humans go they leave rubbish. The Silas station originally was built to provide salvage facilities for salvage teams after the Battle of Silas. The planet Silas sat at the junction of several intergalactic trade routes and its people were fiercely Independent. The Alliance had thrown everything at the planet and the federation of Independent Planets had thrown everything into its defence.

The debris field was the wreckage of the two largest war fleets ever seen and the battle left both sides near to collapse. When the Koch Imperial fleet arrived on the side of the Alliance the Independents evacuated as many people from the planet as they could. The evacuation was cut short by the surface fighting which was brutal, frequently hand to hand and continued for weeks. Although the Alliance now controlled the air, they had no wish to destroy the facilities they had been fighting to capture. Gradually the last of the Independents fell back to the Castro Deep Mine and processing plant. When the fighting reached the outer buildings of the facility Sergeant Ramirez who by surviving was in sole command gave the order to engage the final option. A bomb using Dilithium as its propellant was released down the deep shaft to the planet’s Dilithium core. The resulting explosion shattered the planet and destroyed the besieging fleet within a minute.

It was many generations before the salvage and clear up began. What had been the main trading hub for all human space had become its greatest impediment. Eventually as the Empire swallowed the Alliance the resources floating in space at Silas became worth salvaging and hopefully as the debris was dealt with the Silas trade routes might reopen. Trade did pick up somewhat, but it never reached pre-war levels as the area was still hazardous to large vessels. However it was popular with smaller ships carrying urgent cargoes.

As we approached the station the scanner alarm sounded. The only life signs they found were two humans and two cats. We got permission to refuel and I paid from one of my legitimate accounts. While the Bug was refuelling Anya and I went shopping for supplies. Had a meal and returned to the ship to take delivery of our purchases. As we were beginning to load them three men in Imperial uniforms stopped us and asked to see our papers. They handed mine back, but the Lieutenant looked at Anya and asked

“Rahima Suleiman?”

“Yes,” replied Anya, “can I help you?”

“Please remove your headscarf and glasses?” Requested the Lieutenant. As Anya hesitated the Lieutenant’s hand moved to the holstered blaster on her hip.

“Rahima?” I said.

Anya did as she was asked. The Lieutenant looked at her communicator and then said,

“Anya Jog, I am arresting you for the murder of Private John Timson on D18X and the theft of thirteen crares of fragmentation grenades.” The Lieutenant said before continuing with an explanation of her rights that has remained almost the same for many centuries.

“Rahima,” I said sounding shocked, “is this true?” I turned to the officer, “Are you sure I have seen her papers, she is Rahima Suleiman. I checked them when I gave her passage at New Plymouth.”

“I am sorry, Sir,” the Lieutenant said, “but I need you to come with us too.”

“Of course. Am I under arrest?”

“No, but we will need to ask you some questions.”

“Anything to help, However I am on a schedule, would it be okay to make a call from your office. I’ll let you place the call if you like.”

The Lieutenant agreed and as we reached the office I noticed the clock on the comms screen, we were running out of time already we had reached over the thirty hours. I gave the Lieutenant a comms code and she keyed it into the terminal. After about a minute a voice barked from the speakers and the Lieutenant snapped to attention

“Sikorsky here, is that you Cain?”

“Afraid so, General. I had to put into Silas for fuel and the security staff have arrested my co-pilot Rahima Suleiman. It appears she is the fugitive Anya Jog. I can’t afford to hang around just now lives depend on it.”

After a couple of minutes the speaker barked again. “Officer give me your number!”

“DSS 47977” She replied.

Another long pause and then the General’s voice spoke again, “Lieutenant Jaswinder Dhillon, yes? I’ll tell you what to do. Release Cain immediately. Keep Miss Jog behind bars until I can arrange for her removal.”

The Lieutenant saluted towards the speaker and responded, “Sir, yes Sir!”



Chapter 21: A Life of Crime (part one)

wpid-20130919_091930_1.jpg

Naturally we monitored the Imperial comms. Within hours the order for our capture had gone out. Later the news broadcasts played the security film of Anya shooting the guard followed by an emotional appeal by his mother begging for someone to bring her son’s killers to justice. Anya watched and chuckled, I was horrified.

“It’s not funny!” I snapped.

“It is when Sergeant Maggie Muill is pretending to be a boys mother, she’s the most hardened lesbian in the fleet!”

“Lesbians have children.” I grumbled.

“She hates kids.”

“It makes you look bad, very bad”

“Only because I’m so infatuated with you and you seduced me into your life of crime. That’s obvious from the report. It’s all your fault!” She laughed then added, “perhaps we should carry on building our cover.”

“There’s no one to hear you out here.” I said.

“No, but in case anyone asks awkward questions I think we should know every inch of each other’s bodies…besides what else are we going to do for three days?

I liked Felix Colony. There were as many cats, perhaps more, as humans. Since human to animal communication had been perfected in the Twenty Second Century it was not unusual to find joint human and animal projects. Most worked between a limited number of species because there weren’t that many species capable of equal cooperation or anything like it. Also as each species had its own language it was impractical to work with more than a couple at a time. The Militia planets still treated animals as something to kill and eat, but as they still rejected full human status to non whites that was hardly surprising. Felix was the most ambitious and complete of all these projects so much so that when we were there the President was a large cat. By his coat I would have assumed he was descended from the Highland Wildcats, he explained to us that the presidency was held jointly between humans and cats, However hi human co-president had died last week and so the process of electing a replacement was ongoing. I was surprised to learn that both species voted on both presidents, on reflection it made sense. I wondered whether because of numbers cats had an electoral advantage.

“Technically, yes.” Agreed Doctor Shadey Grey – the President, “but I suppose you could say that we’ve ruled humans since Ancient Egypt, now they get a say too!” The human secretary providing the translation seemed as amused as the President. Grey continued,

“At least the humans don’t take as long to select their candidates as we do. It takes far to long for a cat to commit themselves. Whereas humans are eager to throw their hats in the ring with cats its always, ‘I am going to stand…no I’ve changed my mind…on second thoughts I will stand…but wait, no, I don’t think so..” and so on. The moment a candidate actually confirms we start the election campaign just to push the switherers into committing!”

Doctor Grey had been Professor of Politics, Philosophy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Felix prior to standing for the presidency. He explained that the cats – unlike their human companions – didn’t have political parties.

“We’re cats,” He explained. “We tend to each do our own thing, but when one of us decides to stand for office we vote for whichever candidate we like. It works because we can each be trusted to look out for our own best interests and generally what is good for one cat is good for all. I don’t suppose, Miss Jog, you’d mind scratching my head while we talk? Oh yeeah!…” he purred.

I have to say it was the most unusual negotiation I have been a part of and I’ve been involved in many over the millennia. However I don’t think I can remember any I have enjoyed as much. The Felicians wanted the grenades for onward shipment to selected Feline revolutionary groups on the Militia planets. I asked about Alabama but Grey responded,

“Our people there don’t have an organisation, I don’t suppose you’d mind having a couple of cats along on your trip would you? They’d be no trouble, okay you’d need to clear their trays because you’ve got opposable thumbs, but otherwise you’ll find them good company. When you get to Alabama they’ll jump ship and see if they can’t move things along for our people and animalkind in general.

##

So it was we left Felix with two furry spies and a cargo of Felician gold and minerals for delivery to Ezekiel Boult on Astarte Two the capital of the three planet Astarte Federation. The Capital had moved to Two when it was discovered to be much more congenial than the other two planets. The Astarte system was unusual in having three habitable planets out of its seven. We landed, as we had been instructed by Solomon, some distance out of town. We off loaded our cargo and concealed it in the woods one the cats mounted guard, the other watched over the Bug while we went in search of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel resembled his brother facially, but was taller and sparer. Unlike his brother Ezekiel had political ambitions and had a hand in most of the affairs of Astarte both legal and illegal. It was obvious our cargo was to finance his political ambitions. We were talking to Ezekiel in his fine town house when one of his men came in and whispered to him. Ezekiel smiled and turned back to us.

“Where is my cargo, it’s not on your ship?”

“Your brother Solomon, advised us not to give you your cargo until after you gave us his. We will give you the location of your gold when we are loaded.” I replied.

“It’s a terrible thing when you can’t trust your own brother!” Said Ezekiel, but there was no sorrow in his voice. “We’d better get on with business then.”

Astarte’s most profitable export was the drug that bears its name. It was also illegal throughout the Empire and on every civilised planet. It shared the one quality of illegal substances, it commanded a high price. It was a load of this narcotic that we were to ship to New Plymouth possibly the most conservative of the Independents, it had been settled by extreme Puritans seeking as in so many previous ages a place where they might practice their religion without interference. As in every previous age the supposed purity of the colony had been adulterated by its inevitable contact with outsiders. Trade is always connected with greed for profit and even the puritans were not exempt from that particular cancer. Although the colony was still administered by the New Plymouth Presbyterian Church, its population contained many of more liberal persuasion. In any colony that sought to legislate away vice there was money to be made by providing the occasion to sin. Every town on New Plymouth had its brothels and drinking dens supplied by smugglers who were as content to smuggle girls and boys as drugs and alcohol. Nothing was as valuable in the New Plymouth underworld as Astarte. Astarte provided a few hours of bliss that left a craving like an unscratcheable itch. It heightened the senses, provided a sense of euphoria and was reputed to provide a sexual potency and orgasm that lasted for hours, each second more intense than the last. Control of the supply of Astarte gave control of the minds of those who had tasted her. It caused no lasting physical damage, but completely enslaved a person’s will. For days the craving would build until there was nothing they could do but satisfy it by any means. Astarte had brought the crime to New Plymouth that her founding fathers had tried so hard to escape and in order to fulfil our mission we were going to fuel that vice. Neither Anya and I were too happy, but for now there was nothing we could do.

We took possession of Ezekiel’s cargo of poison. Once Anya was safely on the Bug I took Ezekiel and his men to the treasure. They dug up the boxes and I turned to leave. I had walked a few paces back towards the large tree behind which I had tethered my horse when Ezekiel spoke,

“Stop right there!”

I turned and saw that he had his blaster trained on me. Feigning surprise I took a step backwards. I was almost next to the tree.

“You’re a fool,” smiled Ezekiel, “so’s my brother if you thought I was going to just hand over a cargo. I can’t imagine that sweet girl of yours leaving without you so she will surrender to save you and I’ll have the gold, your ship and a pretty girl who’ll fetch a good price in the brothels.”

I merely replied, “Now!”

From the tree beneath which the treasure was buried a gunmetal grey ball fell attached to a long string. Long before it hit the ground the string tautened and pulled the pin from the fragmentation grenade. As Ezekiel’s attention was caught by the falling object I threw myself behind the tree. After the explosion I cautiously crawled out, my blaster in my hand. From behind the tree where the treasure was, one of Ezekiel’s men stepped. He was bleeding profusely from multiple wounds down his right side, but in his left hand he held a blaster. He fired, he missed, on my belly I didn’t present much of a target. I didn’t miss.

The Feline spy, Little Fluffy, climbed down the tree and joined me. One of the few Feline phrases I had managed to learn so far was, ‘Thank you!’ I used it, ruffled his ears then called Anya to come and get us. We left for New Plymouth considerably richer than we had planned.

##



Chapter 17: Hitching a Ride
November 17, 2016, 23:22
Filed under: Justice, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

 

Tweed and I walked down to Sung’s office to to see what happened next. Sung came in with his tablet and compared the photographs of the dead men with the details on the wanted bulletins on the database. He dictated a short account of what had happened and uploaded it to the Office of Corrections.

The McGuinness twins arrived about half an hour later. Sung had insisted they organise the disposal of the bodies. Sam was about to make introductions, but Brian said,

“No need for introductions. We know Brigadier Tweed by reputation and Cain is a legend even among our people.”

Brianna added, “Our ship is outside town. If you wish passage Cain you will be welcome.”

I knew the twins belonged to one of the old races on Earth, their ancestors had arrived with the Old Gods and made their base in Europe. While the twins were centuries younger that I, they would still remember Earth and I longed for an opportunity to reminisce so I accepted their offer.

Sung ordered food from the Cantina. He explained that Pilar would bring it to the office as the townsfolk were a little uneasy after the mornings events. He expected acknowledgement of his report soon after which he’d be grateful if the twins left quickly.

Dinner was enjoyable as we recalled some of the better moments of the rebellion as well as lost comrades. Los Alamos was a cow town so Pilar brought both steaks and chilli, cornbread, peas, potatoes, creamed corn and a large cake. After she set down the cake she took a bottle of Bushmills from her aprom pocket and handed it to Tweed.

“Unless we get a new shipment soon,” Pilar told Tweed, “you will have to drink local whiskey.”

“Oh Jeez, No!” Exclaimed the old man. He looked thoughtful and then said, “It is curious how after all these years shipments are still arriving. I wouldn’t have thought they’d still have distillers on Earth. I certainly wouldn’t expect shipments to find their way to this godforsaken end of the ‘verse!”

“I have heard it said,” said Sung, “that the seat of the Imperial Government is actually Earth and not Mu Two. I had a group of techies through here about a year ago who told me that the Mu Capitol was nothing more than a huge server farm and comms relay station. According to them the end point was Earth.”

“Well I don’t know much about the centre,” declared Brianna, “but as far as I can see things are pretty much as they’ve always been. Although when I think about it the Empire seems more enlightened than some human governments I’ve known.”

Before the sheriff could ask the question that had obviously presented itself to him she quickly added, “We’ve travelled a lot.”

Sung smiled and said, “I know all about Cain. I’ve seen things on New Texas that turned every think I knew upside down. I’m not easily surprised any more, But I know better than to pry into secrets that don’t concern me. However you should perhaps be careful, people may find references to ‘our people’ coupled with the length of your memory a little suspect.”

“Thanks, Sheriff,” responded Brian, “we’ll try and be more careful!”

The Comms terminal bleeped and Sam looked at the screen. “Right, let me just type in my verification code…and that’s you Twenty Thousand Imperial Credits better off. If you need any of it in hard currency I can have a word with Mr Collins at the bank.”

“No we’re good.” Said Brianna,

“So Cain, are you ready to move?” Asked Brian.

“Sure. I just need to pick up my stuff from the boarding house, get my saddle from the livery and see if I can sell my horse.”

“If it’s a good one, bring it along if you like. You can stable it in the hold with ours.” Said Brianna.

And so it was that I found myself travelling the Outer Planets on the ‘Sword of Dumgoyach” with two of the most dangerous people in the Universe.

The crew were all technically Imperial employees, but you wouldn’t have known it. They certainly didn’t go in for uniforms. Tommy Ireland was the pilot and navigator, but both the McGuinnesses were pilots, as was Jackson Cody the engineer. The medical officer – a requirement of Imperial ships – Isha Malhotra, was introduced to me as an air gunner and weapons expert. When I expressed surprise Brianna explained that everyone on board need to cover a number of functions. The cook, an attractive girl called Ranjit Kaur Rai, told me she doubled as the intelligence and liaison office. She said the men just told her things, she smiled as she told me and I thought I could understand why. She also cooked the best food I had had in centuries, but then I had been on service rations for most of them and when not on rations, as often as not cooking for myself which was worse.

After travelling alone for a long time it was a pleasant change to part of a group. Of course I had travelled in company many times over the centuries, it never lasted, but it was fun while it did. The twins seemed to function as a unit and share the same mind, they worked so well together it was as if they were telepathically linked. However the whole crew was a closely knit team well used to working together and relying on each other. I felt very much like a passenger at times, but they made me very welcome.



Chapter 16: Bounty Bar

wpid-captured_by_snapseed_2_2_1.jpg

I was in Josie’s Cantina in Los Alamos New Texas when I first hooked up with the McGuinness twins. They were ostensibly Independent Marshals working for the Alliance – or as it was called at that time the Empire. Independent marshals were really nothing more than bounty hunters. Although the Empire claimed sovereignty over the Independent Colonies, in reality it had little control over them. They paid the salaries of the local sheriffs – occasionally – in reality the sheriffs were a law unto themselves. The peculiar status of the Independent Colonies made them attractive to fugitives from Imperial Law. That the colonies still used the title Independent after the Alliance victory shows how little sway the Alliance, then the Empire, held over them.

Sheriff Sung had a drawer full of reward posters, he rarely acted on any of them. Sung kept the law his way and as long as someone caused no trouble he left them alone regardless of the rewards. Sung made a few exceptions foremost among them being child abusers, but for the most part that the Empire wanted someone locked up was enough to let them live free. This meant Los Alamos was a good place to find fugitives, however Sam Sung didn’t like trouble and he was as likely to shoot a bounty hunter as a fugitive, even licensed marshals became a legitimate target the moment they pulled their guns.

Sung had fought for the Independents in the Rebellion as it was called in official circles. However he kept order in his corner of the universe so the Empire left him alone. Given the Sheriff’s war record it was easier and more expedient to pay his wages and keep out of his way. The only Imperial law officers who ever landed on Los Alamos were the marshals, the official services had been advised to avoid New Texas as far as possible and Los Alamos in particular. So Sung was technically an Imperial Sheriff and effectively independent of any authority, that’s the way Sam sung liked it. His reputation was well known in law enforcement circles and Marshals only went to Los Alamos if they could see no alternative.

In law enforcement circles the only people with as deadly a reputation as Sung were the McGuinness twins. Like him they had fought on the ‘wrong side’. Like Sung the Empire ignored their past because they were too useful to interfere with, besides interference was too costly…it had been tried.

They had landed their ship “The Sword of Dumgoyach” in the hills outside town and rode into Los Alamos on horseback. Unusually for bounty hunters they tied up at the Sheriff’s office and went in. Sam rose as they entered and directed Brianna McGuinness to a chair, her brother Brian pulled up another and sat.

“I heard you’d become bounty hunters.” Said Sam without expression.

The girl smiled as she spoke, “Nice to see you too, Sam.”

“This is a quiet town and I like to keep it that way. What do you want here?”

Brian passed over a bundle of posters. Sung looked through them and asked,

“Again, what do you want?” Asked Sam.

“Just for you to keep out of the way, Sir.” Replied Brian.

The sheriff pulled half a dozen posters from the pile and said,” These you can’t have. As for as I’m concerned they are model citizens and family men.”

He pulled out several more, “As for as I’m aware none of these are in Los Alamos county.”

He indicated the remainder and demanded, “Tell me why I should let you have any of these.”

Brianna spoke first, “Walford Enders was a sergeant in the Imperial Rangers, he and these three deserted their posts in the Coelix Line. They joined up with the Cornet Gang and raided the Convent of the Holy Mother looking for loot. They spent three days raping the nuns then locked then in their cells before torching the convent and absconding with the altar vessels and several valuable pieces, some irreplaceable.”

“If you can take them without collateral damage, go ahead. If you can’t, don’t try.”

“We don’t expect to take them anywhere,” said Brian, “I doubt they’ll let us.

When Brian McGuinness walked into Josie’s Cantina he walked to the far end of the bar so that the clientelle were all between him and the main door. I was leaning on the bar talking to someone I had served with during the Rebellion. We both noticed the long brown coat the young man wore and turned to observe events. When he opened his coat the Marshal’s badge on his shirt was clearly visible. Slowly he surveyed the room and the room watched him as he pulled a bundle of Wanted Posters from his pocket. My companion slipped the loop from the hammer of his gun with one hand, the other went to hilt of his knife.

Six men at one of the tabled near the door stood up it looked as if they might start something, but it was a given that you didn’t disturb Tweed – my companion – when he was drinking so they backed out of the door. McGuinness followed them.

“If you go out there they’ll be waiting for you, son.” Warned Tweed, but Brian just smiled.

The shooting started before Brian had even reached the door so he leapt out through the window drawing two army Blasters as he went. He turned in the air and fired twice, missed once, hit the ground, rolled and as he came back to his feet in one seamless movement fired again, without missing.

Tweed and I walked slowly through the door. All six men were down, four dead and two who looked about ready to join them. The Sheriff was standing outside his office watching, he nodded to Tweed and went back into the office. The men had backed into the street where Brianna McGuinness had been waiting for them. Now she knelt beside one of the wounded men. I couldn’t see what she did, but he began to scream and then fell silent.

She looked at her brother and the two walked towards the hotel and House of Comfort. In front of the hotel Brian turned and cupped his hands in front of him. Brianna stepped into his hands and with a quick boost she landed silently on the first floor balcony drawing her sword as she landed. Brian drew his blasters again and went in the front door.

“After that racket they won’t be taking anyone by surprise!” Said Tweed.

As he spoke Brianna moved swiftly to one corner of the building as a large man dressed all in black leather carrying a hand cannon tiptoed round it only to find the girl’s sword point at his throat.

“I do wish they wouldn’t do that!” Tweed complained.

“Do what?”

“Stereotype themselves,” Tweed replied, “A guy robs a bank or two, kills a few people; next you know he’s dressed up in black leather and making a nuisance of himself,”

Enders suddenly swung his cannon towards the girl only to find his wrist held in a grip of iron as she pushed her sword through his throat and with a quick twist severed his head from his body. It rolled to the balcony rail and stared out into the street with an expression of such terror on its face that even I found it upsetting. From inside the hotel came a scream. Moments later a man naked except for his socks came out of the front door prodded forward by one of Brian’s blasters.

Brianna picked up Ender’s headless body with one hand and threw it into the street quickly followed by his head. Joey Cornet fell to his knees and vomited as he simultaneously lost control of his bowels.

Sam Sung’s voice came across from the Sheriff’s office. “If you’re thinking of bringing him in here, you can damn well hose him down first!”

Brianna wiped her sword and sheathed it as Brian pushed the sobbing Cornet towards the pump.

“Stop whining” Brian snapped, “If you hadn’t surrendered you wouldn’t be going though this!”



Chapter 12: I See The Darkness
November 12, 2016, 23:40
Filed under: Health, Justice, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

(A shorter piece today, I have been travelling all day)

 

wpid-20130808_170110_2.jpg

Sitting alone in the cockpit looking out into the darkness playing Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen and pitching my smallness against the vastness outside the window. The music reminds me that however the empty and dark the void between galaxies nothing can be as dark, as empty or as lonely as a human soul. I have been in this place before, not physically, but emotionally. Sitting alone in the desert answering the howl of a lone wolf with the mournful note of my shenai.

As ever, regardless of the slaughter, I survived. I have fought Mongols and Moghuls, Tatars and Terrorists, and men of all colours and faiths. I watched the Crusaders rape and murder their way to Jerusalem and Aurangzeb glorying in the slaughter of holy men and innocents. It may not have been part of my curse, but I seem to have had a gift for being on the losing side of every conflict. I have looked into the darkness of the human soul and rarely found a soul that was as dark and cold as mine.

In a normal lifespan it is impossible to avoid actions that leave a man feeling guilty of ashamed. In a hundred thousand lifetimes imagine how many more regrettable, shameful deeds I have committed. I have made more mistakes and suffered more mistakes than most people have seen sunrises.

People feel that there is nothing worse than feeling guilt, shame, and embarrassment. The think that their life will be happy if they can look back from their death beds at their lives without feeling regret. I think the worst day of my life was when the guilt and shame died.

Perhaps I had killed once too often. Perhaps too many years of living among men. Perhaps an understanding that every ‘war to end all wars’ is nothing more than a prelude to the next. Perhaps a realisation that in the scales of history every single life carries very little weight, even the greatest historical figures – worth a book or two and perhaps statues – eventually fade into an undistinguished past and unconscious dismissal by later generations to whom they are irrelevant. I knew that shame had died and I shed not a tear of regret.

I was helping clear rebels from a village in the Congo. In one hut I found a terrified woman and her small daughter. I shot them because it was easier than trying to keep them alive. I was just about to torch the hut when our corporal Arnie Janssens asked me what I’d done. I told him and he was angry,

“Why did you do that?” He demanded, “We could have had some fun with them first!” I shot Janssens and felt no more than I had in the hut. I had become a monster. I had not become evil, evil requires a degree of malicious intent. I had become indifferent. The evil man is aware of the difference between right and wrong and chooses the darker path. Me, I just ceased to care and my choices based upon arbitrary expediency. The evil man feels malice…I felt nothing. It would be many lifetimes before I felt again.



Chapter Two: Nod.

Yesterday Cain remembered his childhood and how after killing his brother he fled his home, cursed to wander the earth. Today he remembers how he thought his wanderings had ceased.

wpid-2013-05-24_15-32-35_HDR.jpg

The next day, as always, the sun rose bringing with it light, warmth and hope. It also brought hunger and I became very aware of how ill provisioned I was for a journey. Fortunately as I travelled I saw plants I recognised and foraged as I went along. As I picked and ate a little here I found myself missing my fields. Yes farming is hard backbreaking work, but at least it is ─ to some extent ─ predictable. That day the sun reached its highest point and I was still unsatisfied. That night I slept hungry and unhappy.

I travelled for several days. Always hungry. Too busy foraging by day to curse my stupidity, but at night I would weep over my lost family until I fell asleep. I did not sleep well. Every sound would wake me. The fire that warmed me made the dark impenetrable and so my mind saw demons and wild beasts lurking beyond the firelight.

Every morning the sun rose again and I went on. I knew not where I went, but I could see the land was fertile and often thought to stop and sow seed. However I was alone and lonely and went on. Grandfather had told me that the parents he made me were the first people. Logic should have told me that if that were true I would meet no one else. We humans fortunately have a gift for ignoring logic and so, in hope, I went on. Besides my treatment at the hands of Grandfather and his willingness to favour my brother had introduced me to the concept of lying. My logic told me that if Abel could lie then why not Grandfather?

There were fewer people in the world back then, but after many days further down the fertile valley through which I walked I saw people. I was torn between my fear of the unknown and my need for company. If it were true, as Grandfather said that my family were the only humans, then what were these? I stood watching them, trying to decide what to do.

Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and turned to see a man with an animal across his shoulders looking at me. He looked surprised. Startled, I stepped backwards, tripped and fell. I may have lost consciousness, I’m not sure, but when I sat up I found myself surrounded. They were speaking, but then I could not recognise the sounds they made as speech. They were equally at a loss to understand me.

I noticed they were naked, their bodies covered only in their own hair. I had about my waist a sheep’s hide. Grandfather had told my parents to be ashamed of nakedness and to cover themselves. When Abel cultivated his flocks our bark garments were quickly substituted for hides, they were more practical and far more comfortable. These people were utterly unashamed of their nakedness and seemed to be heedless of the nakedness of others. Amongst them was a beautiful girl with smiling eyes and when I looked upon her I discovered, for the first time, desire.

I stayed with those people and with the girl with the smiling eyes. And in time I learned their language. In return I taught them how to cultivate crops, how to gather seed, prepare it and sow. They called their Goddess the Queen of Heaven and prayed to her in the Moon each night. Unlike Grandfather the Queen of Heaven didn’t speak to her people directly, but through the girl with the smiling eyes whose name Hecate. Hecate took me as her mate and bore me children. Our family and her people flourished.

One day one of the men, Naboth, came running from the fields in a panic to warn the village of attack.The raiders came from even further east every few years to carry off women and children for sacrifice to their God Moloch. Children of Moloch were big hairy men, savages with teeth filed to points and – like their God – they enjoyed the taste of human flesh. Our people had stone axes and clubs as did the Children of Moloch. I had years of practice at keeping animals and birds from my crops and so I quickly gathered a pile of stones the size of a child’s fist and carried them onto the roof of the house dedicated to the Queen of Heaven. The children went inside and the people with their clubs formed a circle around the house. I stood on the roof with my stones and as the first of the Children of Moloch entered the open space that surrounded the house I threw the first stone. It struck him above the right eye and he collapsed, unconscious. Several others entered the area, I felled two and the others retreated, bruised from my missiles. In the past the Children of Moloch had raided with impunity, but now they approached more cautiously reluctant to rush into the path of my stones. Suddenly Hecate gave a shout of “Ashtaroth” and the villagers charged the invaders. The Children of Moloch, unused to encountering resistance broke and ran. They left behind several men felled either by my stones or by the clubs of the villagers. The villagers dug deep pits for the bodies and buried both the dead and the living captives.

That night the villagers were exultant and celebrated, but I was anxious. Hecate asked me why I was so quiet after our victory.

“I fear we have taught the Children of Moloch a new way to fight,” I replied, “the next time they return they will too hurl stones.”

“They may not return.” Said Hecate.

I shook my head, “Now they will hate us. They have to return.”

It was some time before the Children of Moloch returned, I expect they found easier targets elsewhere. I, however, chose not to wait and had a tall fence built around the village to protect the villagers had our enemies – as I expected – adopted the art of stone throwing. Around the base of the fence and several yards from it I planted a hedge of thorns. By the next time the Children of Moloch came the villagers had also made spears with viciously sharp stone heads. After that it was generations before they returned.

During those generations I learned again to sorrow. Hecate died an old woman. Our son Enoch and in turn his son also grew old and died. It was true I had great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren, but Hecate was gone and so was our son. I have to admit I did enjoy watching the young growing up, but that pleasure was tempered by the realisation that I would also watch them die. Worse still the village that had once taken me to its heart saw me as something other than human. I only saw one more attack upon the village and it was the last I ever wanted to see. If I had been horrified at seeing men buried alive, that horror was nothing to the slaughter of my last battle for the village.

My great whatever it was grandson Tubal one day discovered among the ashes of the fire a strange substance. He was a curious boy and set about learning what it might be. He reasoned, eventually, that if it was born of fire fire might be used to work it. So it proved and soon he was producing bronze. It was his father Lamech who had it turned into weapons. Stones may be made into knives and axes, but bronze into a sword. By the last time the Children of Moloch attacked the village the fence had become a wall of stone closed by a gate of wood covered with bronze. On one attack the fence had been burned and so the wall was made, but the hedge was replanted as the thorns still slowed any attack. Less so since our enemies learned to cover their legs and bodies with leather armour.

The Children of Moloch attacked wearing their leather armour, their wooden shields raised against the barrage of stones they expected. Whereas stones and stone spearheads had been deflected by the shields, the bronze spearheads pierced the wood and leather. Before the attackers had time to understand what was happening Lamech led the men of the village out from the gate. Each man had a bronze helmet, breastplate and shield. Each had a bronze sword and a spear tipped with bronze. The stone spearheads of the Children of Moloch were useless against the bronze shields of the men of Ashtorath-Cain as the village had begun to call me.

Lamech with his sons Jubal-Cain, Jabal-Cain, and Tubal-Cain led the charge that broke the besiegers. Lamech was not content this time with driving off the Children of Moloch. This time he and the men of the village pursued the retreating enemy and slaughtered them all. Those who were not killed as they fled through the fields were brought back to the village where Lamech cut their throats on the threshold of the house of the Queen of Heaven. Inside the house I saw the slaughter and wept. I heard the cries of Hail Ashtorath-Cain and despaired.

Lamech was exultant and shouted his boasts to heaven,

“My wives and my people bear witness. I have destroyed my enemies, I have killed men for merely challenging me. If seven men must pay for raising their hand to Cain, seventy times seven will pay for opposing me. I am Lamech and in all the world there is none like me!”

That night I dreamt of the Queen of Heaven, but she looked like Hecate.

“It is hard to be a God,” she said, “the more so if you are but human. The people fear you because you have lived too long among them, and what people fear they ultimately will destroy. Why do you think my people never see me face to face?” She asked.

“I do not know.” Said I.

“Because it is impossible to be in awe of the familiar. Your childrens’ children are around you every day, you are Cain and no great mystery whereas because I am not seen every clap of thunder, every earth tremor is attributed to me. I will have no rivals.”

“What can you do?” I asked.

She smiled and said, “Your Grandfather’s word will not protect you here. This is my land and these are my people. When they realise you are not a god they will turn upon you.”

I awoke from the dream and gathered my clothes and weapons, some food – actually quite a lot of food – and some few things I valued. I loaded them upon a couple of donkeys, put a blanket on my horses back and left my house quietly. Whether it had been the Queen of Heaven in truth or just my anxious imagination I knew it to be true, I had lived too long among my wife’s people and people will fear what they cannot understand. Besides my reputation had travelled from the west many years ago and people whispered my name to avoid bringing evil upon themselves. Although I had sought to bring nought but good to the people, I had taught them war. That night Tubal was in charge of the guard and he let me out of the gate. I rode towards the south.

Alone again, Cain the murderer, Cain the wanderer, Cain the accursed.