All That We Are (The Commander Book 7)

BOOK: All That We Are (The Commander Book 7)
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All That We Are

Book Seven of “The Commander”

Randall Allen Farmer

 

Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by Randall Allen Farmer

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work, in whole or in part, in any form.  This is a work of fiction.  All characters, events, organizations and products depicted herein are either a product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

 

 

All That We Are

Book Seven of “The Commander”

 

“The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage.”

– Thucydides

 

Part 1
Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas

 

“I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Chapter 1

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”

– The Buddha

 

Carol Hancock: December 21, 1968

I ran to clear my head, a wonderful night run through my current hometown and territory of Houston.  At the far end of Memorial Drive I stopped for a breather before I turned around to run back to my house.  Here, beyond the end of the suburbs, I could smell the distant Gulf, the stubble of cotton and cane fields, the fallen leaves of a late fall, and mold.  Tomorrow I would run through downtown and into the industrial district south of the Houston Ship Channel, a place of a million different chemical reeks that added up to a great deal of petrochemical money.

After two harrowing months, I had finally won the fight with my personal nemesis, Focus Tonya Biggioni.  Then, when I held her in my grasp, I found she had been a tool of Shirley Patterson, the shadow boss of the Focuses, the white witch.  She had tagged Biggioni, controlled her, and partly enslaved her.  With the tag gone, Biggioni was now on my side, at least for the moment.  I didn’t trust her, not at all.

I paid a price for my triumph in blood and pain, mostly to my Arm boss, Stacy Keaton.  I paid another price to my psyche – people called me the Commander now, and I didn’t know how to escape the name.  I wasn’t good at being a piece on someone else’s game board.  It made me cranky.

I heard a bicycle rattle to a stop just outside my metasense range, an uncommon occurrence after 1 AM.  The stopped bicycle had
that
feel to it, though, so I waited and focused my hearing.

“Arm Hancock,” a gruff male voice whispered from just over a quarter mile away.  “I am Crow Snow, and I would like to talk to you.”

I went stone-faced and prepared myself for an attack.  Snow was a
suspect
, a senior Crow of immense power and talent, with a decent chance of being
the
enemy, Rogue Crow.

Just the usual deep deep shit that was my life.

 

My name is Carol Hancock, and I’m an Arm.  If this sounds like a cadence from an AA meeting, you’re partly right, as being an Arm, a victim of Armenigar’s Syndrome, does have many similarities to being a substance abuser.  We call the substance in question ‘juice’, the set of chemicals all Transforms produce and which keeps Transforms alive.  Arms are Major Transforms, as are Crows, Focuses and Chimeras.  I get my juice by taking it from Transforms of the non-Major variety, and they don’t survive the process.  This would make all Arms socially unacceptable parasites, save there aren’t enough Focuses to keep even a quarter of the Transforms alive (after their transformations caused by a disease cunningly labeled ‘Transform Sickness’) and what happens eventually to a Transform without Focus support is not pretty in the least.  So the Transform Community tolerates us Arms.  Sort of.  Right up there with hawks and the more noxious insecticides.

I had been an Arm for two years and four months, and I felt like I was coming into my own as a mature and important Major Transform.  Houston was my territory and the center of the extensive organization of people I had recruited to help me, serve me, or just plain work for me.  There were those who would have liked to see me dead, such as nearly any law enforcement officer in the country, the leader of the Hunter Chimeras we had named Rogue Crow, the Hunters Enkidu and Odin, and a few members of the nasty clique of old Focuses who secretly ran the Focus community (Patterson included).  But I abided.  Mostly.

My strength was that I had found a way, as a nasty predatory Arm, to ally the few existing Arms with the much larger community of secretive Crows.  Contact with new Crows often went down like this, a nighttime meeting, and was always tricky.  Nearly any senior Crow had the ability to take me down if he wanted, but Crow psychology worked in my favor.  Most Crows would never start a fight.

 

“I’d love to talk to you,” I said.  I kept my voice to a trained whisper, designed to carry long distances, at least if you had Major Transform ears.  I had dealt with enough Crows to learn the trick.  “Here or anywhere else.”

“Here is where we’ll talk,” Snow said, barely louder than the armadillo rooting at the edge of the shoulder beside me.  Meaning he wasn’t going to show himself, meaning he might be someone masquerading as Snow.  This sort of behavior didn’t throw me, not any more.  Crows were impossible, from the most cowardly to the bravest.

“What can I do for you, Guru Snow?” I said.  The only rank the Crows recognized among themselves was ‘Guru’, meaning ‘teacher’, ‘trendsetter’ and ‘celebrity’.  Snow was – by the estimation of my more reasonable Crow contacts, and my Crow partner, Gilgamesh – a senior Guru, a Guru of Gurus, a position without an official name.  Or, at least an official name us peons knew.

Snow had a distinctive voice: low pitched, gravelly, with a hint of a deep South drawl.  Many Crows weren’t skilled enough to disguise their voices, and many of the remainder had no interest in such things.  Of my Crow associates, only Sky could do such a trick.  I decided I was hearing Snow’s real voice.

“First, let me apologize for bothering you this way,” Snow said, still hidden and outside my metasense range.  “I wouldn’t be accosting you at night, excepting that secrecy is absolutely necessary; because of my protections only us two will know this meeting ever happened.  I also need to apologize to you for what I don’t know regarding your situation: I know you’ve gotten yourself into some sort of contest between yourself and Crow Wandering Shade, who you’re calling Rogue Crow.”  When stressed, Crows grew formal in their speech; when they got formal, they were long winded.  Sky would go on for an hour this way, but he was the worst of the bunch.  Snow?  Snow got into parentheticals.  I practiced my patience and watched the armadillo consume an unlucky grub.

“We believe Rogue Crow is behind the kidnapping and murder of a few Crows and Focuses, as well as many Transforms,” I said.  “We have ample evidence of this.”  If Snow wanted, I could give him the presentation.  I had given it, what, seven times now?  It was a
good
presentation.

“I understand,” Snow said.  “You’ve convinced Shadow of the truth of what all you’re claiming, but this isn’t what I’m worrying about, excepting I am, as are a lot of folks, greatly perturbed by the actions of the Beast-Men supported by Wandering Shade.”  Beast-Man was Crow-speak for Chimera; my enemies, the Hunters, were a variety of Chimera.  “My worries are two: first, you have someone in your organization who is leaking information to your enemies, and second, you and your cabal have agitated the first Focuses to the point where they’re edging back toward Crow-hunting behaviors.  Excepting for such dire worries I would never dream of such a meager person as myself bothering a Major Transform of such eminence as you.”

I repressed my Arm urges to bark at this nonsense.  Crows cheated, you see.  Common wisdom stated you didn’t push Crows if you wanted to get along with them.  That never stopped them from pushing
you
, although they were unfailingly polite about it.  “Sir, I do hope you’re not attempting to tell me this in order to convince me and my allies to back off.”  His revelations weren’t a surprise, and I and my boss Arm, Keaton, had anticipated the first one.  I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that the first Focuses were able to hunt down Crows, either, and had done so in the past, as Snow implied.

“I judge such an action to be both futile and in opposition to my own goals,” Snow said.  “Instead, I wish to offer you a deal.”

This was better, and more in keeping with what I understood about Crows.  “I’m listening.”  Light rain began to fall on my head, carrying along the smell of warmer air.  Although the temperature was in the low 60s now, I had a bad feeling we were in for another bout of so-called-winter weather with highs in the 70s tomorrow.  Thankfully, I was leaving town tomorrow for a visit with Focus Rizzari, who had invited me and mine to come for Christmas and ogle her newborn baby.  I trusted they would have some real winter weather for me in Boston.  If they didn’t, I would pitch a fit.

“There is no need to be angry,” Snow said.  Damned Crows, able to read people’s emotions.  I wiped drizzle off my face and banished my annoyance at Houston’s weather.  “I want to trade information on who is likely infiltrating your organization, and how.  If you pardon my forwardness, I’m looking in return for protection from Crow-hunting.”

Thankfully, Keaton had assigned me the task of dealing with the Crows.  Otherwise I would have to refer this to her.  She had become a stickler about protocol.  I didn’t blame her.  I wouldn’t want my underlings making deals without my say so, either.  Nor could I blame her for not wanting to have to deal with Crows in a diplomatic fashion.  Every time I negotiated with a Crow, I got so aggravated I had to do an extra-violent workout afterwards.

My local Focus contact, Focus Laswell, still hadn’t found a supplier able to provide a punching bag I couldn’t ruin in a week.

“By protection from Crow-hunting, do you mean active opposition to the Crow-hunters, or passive protection for the Crows?”  I stared out over the dark Texas prairie but didn’t see the Crow, or even his bicycle.  My night vision was good, but not sufficient.  Off to my left a maze of roads crossed an empty prairie, soon to grow houses and become a subdivision.  Presumably, he was in there somewhere.

“The latter, of course,” Snow said.  The tremor in his voice told me he hadn’t even considered active opposition.  I wasn’t surprised.  Crows dealt with danger by running, not by fighting.

“I’d be willing to provide cover for any hunted Crows willing to relocate to Houston,” I said.  The rain fell harder, and I predicted I would be drenched by the time I got home.  “Wouldn’t this cause a problem in the long run, though, because of lack of dross?”  ‘Dross’ was what Crows consumed, their equivalent of Arm juice consumption.  Dross was a byproduct of juice use.  Crows were scavengers.

I listened to the rain patter on the tall grass.  The armadillo wandered off.

“Yes,” Snow said.  After a minute.  From a different location.  I guessed it was one thing for a Crow to know in theory that other Major Transforms knew some of their secrets, such as what dross was, and a different thing to deal with the fact in person.  “It is a concern, but a lesser concern than Crow-hunting.”  He sounded panicky.

“I understand,” I said, now putting work into being less Arm-like.  I had gotten a lot of mileage out of my willingness to protect Crows and I wasn’t going to stop now. “I can provide food, shelter and safety without any difficulties.  I’ll let you Crows work on the problem of lack of dross.”

“For providing such shelter I thank you, and hope this shelter is never needed,” Snow said.  “About my end of the bargain: the mind behind the espionage is Guru Chevalier, his operative is named Echo, and Chevalier is providing Echo with tricks good enough to fool nearly any Major Transform into believing that Echo is a normal.”

I grimaced.  I had heard of this sort of behavior and technique from Gilgamesh.  But Chevalier?  “I’m aware of the fact that Guru Chevalier is no friend of what we Arms are doing, but I thought he was equally opposed to what Rogue Crow is doing.”  Note that I didn’t bother asking for proof.  Unlike the Focuses, I trusted Crows, at least until they proved otherwise.  None of them had so far.

“He is,” Snow said.  “In fact, his missives to Wandering Shade, or Rogue Crow if you like, are more strongly worded and much fiercer than even his missives to Guru Shadow.  Wandering Shade shows all the signs of being clinically insane, at least according to Chevalier, and because of this Chevalier believes Wandering Shade threatens Crow society in more ways than just his interference in non-Crow affairs.”  Ah.  Snow knew that Wandering Shade, although likely a Guru, was operating in a non-Guru identity.  This was the first I had heard about ‘clinical insanity’, though.  I would have to consider this in my planning. “However, or maybe because of this, evidence has come to my attention that the information Guru Chevalier is collecting is being passed along to Wandering Shade.  I’m thinking maybe one of Chevalier’s Crow students is also in the employ of Wandering Shade.”

“Such as Echo himself,” I said, guessing.  Gilgamesh’s read on Echo was that Echo was a Crow of low character, as duplicitous and mercenary as a Focus with a starving household.

“My guess as well,” Snow said.  “I have no proof, though.  This is a troubling situation, and painful to contemplate, as it implies a movement from words to deeds among us Crows.”

Yark!  I practically dropped into a stalk.  “I thank you greatly for this information, Guru Snow,” I said.  Now he had me spooked.  The ‘words to deeds’ comment ached with juice and resonated strongly with my Arm instincts.  I had seen Sky do his ‘Crow crow’ thing just once, where he used some big Crow trick to create thousands of dross illusions of crows, the illusions in some way potent enough to chase off a demonic bear projection of Rogue Crow himself.  My instincts said this was what Snow implied with the ‘deeds’ comment, and, no, I didn’t want to be alone anywhere near a senior Crow willing to aim such tricks at me.  As one of my least favorite Crows, Occum, once said, buzzards would be picking at my bleached bones from here to Albuquerque.  “You’ve given me much to think about, Guru Snow, and unless we have further business, I need to complete my run and head back home.”

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