Authors: Randall Farmer
Love and Darkness
Book Two of “The Cause”
Randall Allen Farmer
Copyright © 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.
The living Arms in the United States as of August 1972,
with the year they transformed in parentheses.
Stacy Keaton (1963)
Carol Hancock (1966)
Amy Haggerty (1968)
Sylvia Bass (1968)
Florence Rayburn (1969)
Rose Webberly (1969)
Christine Naylor (1970)
Mary Sibrian (1970)
Grace Billington (1970)
Elizabeth Whetstone (1971)
Meredith Bartlett (1971)
Dorothy Kent (1972)
Theresa Maynard (1972)
Dolores Sokolnik (1972)
Love and Darkness
Book Two of “The Cause”
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Mighty Heroes Return Triumphant
“Never was anything great achieved without danger” – Niccolo Machiavelli
Gail Rickenbach: August 18, 1972
“Reach for infinity,” the Madonna signed. “Open yourself up completely.”
Gail nodded, and leaned back against one of the old oak trees in her Dreaming garden. Her subconscious mind patterned her mental construct on the Moross House walled garden in Detroit, and whenever she found time to get away from her Focus responsibilities, this is where she came, both in the daylight and in her dreams, a place of love filled with flowers and fountains. A carefully formal English garden in some places, in others, the elegant peace of a Japanese garden. She had found a quiet rock garden in her Dreaming garden once, and once, she even found a place that seemed almost like the Garden of Eden. She had searched for that place many times since, but never found it again. At times, she just sat in her dream garden, engrossed by the rippling water and the peaceful flowers. Other times, she visited – loosely speaking – with her friends, those able to act in the Dreaming themselves instead of being mere observers.
Across the way, a group of uniformed children from a parochial school examined a mound of rose bushes. She didn’t try to understand whether these children mirrored reality in any way. The Dreaming world was always screwy.
Gail triggered the opening with a simple juice pattern. In the daylight world this pattern opened her senses to allow her a better feel for one of Dr. Hank Zielinski’s repeatable juice patterns. The Dreaming world, though, fractured around her into a million broken images. Following the Madonna’s instructions, she didn’t panic or fight the fractured images. Instead, she waited. After a burst of chaos, the images coalesced around her, quickly to start with, but slowly toward the end. The rebuilt Dream vision remained the same garden as before, but now with more details. In addition, Gail heard bird songs, crickets, bees, and the whispers of the children. Before, all sounds had been the
sound and faded when Gail paid attention to other things.
“Can you hear me?” the Madonna said. A classic Madonna today, dressed in the robes of ancient Israel. She sat on a weathered stone bench and held a child in her arms. Today, the child looked around him with wide eyes.
“Yes!” Gail said, or tried to say. No words came out. She sighed and signed with the sign language used by the deaf and expropriated by the Focus community. “Yes, but I still can’t talk.”
“Be patient,” the Madonna said. “Let your mind acclimate itself to the changes. Being able to talk is the next step, but progress may come without warning, or via extensive practice. Each Dreamer develops in a different manner.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Gail signed, sitting down on the bench beside the Madonna. She smiled at the baby. The baby smiled back.
“You are most welcome, but my help was at best minor,” the Madonna said. “Next, you need to learn how to defend yourself in the Dreaming. Counterattacks are too showy, and reveal too much of your capabilities to our enemies. You can’t…”
Gail held up her hand, and a butterfly landed on it. Strange. “Why the rush, if I may ask?” Offended, the butterfly flew off and landed on the big toe of Gail’s sandaled left foot.
The Madonna sighed. “Your Arm teacher penetrated the mystery of her hidden enemy yesterday. Because of the ruckus this will cause, both in reality and in Dream, we may not be able to meet again for many months.”
“You see this?” Gail signed.
“I don’t see the future,” the Madonna said. Gail nodded. “The present, though, contains plans and unfolding events that can look like the future to those I speak to. For one, I fear your teacher’s enemy may strike at you directly, and I fear this formerly hidden enemy is a threat far more insidious and dangerous than the threats you and Tonya spoke of earlier today. Worse, the hidden enemy, an Arm, is someone we thought an ally or a neutral, and this person’s opposition to the Cause reveals weakness in the Cause, a weakness others will attempt to exploit.”
The Madonna’s words brought an unseasonable chill to Gail’s Dream garden, and for a moment, snowflakes drifted by, wafted on the wind. Gail had called Tonya today, at Lori’s insistence, as Focus Rizzari believed Gail needed to upgrade her household security. Focus Biggioni turned out to be Lori’s teacher in matters of security, much to Gail’s surprise. Tonya had spoken of advanced patrol coverages, techniques for examining your own people to see if any were traitors or turned by enemy Focuses, how better to protect household assets, and methods for uncovering hidden political games. Among many other things. For four hours!
Tonya had never talked so long to Gail before. Nor had she asked for or implied any form of payment for this instruction. Both were new, and both appeared to be benefits of Gail’s new commitment to the Cause.
“Who else might be coming after me?” Gail signed. Tonya had warned of bitch patrol politics and senior Crow conspiracies, but beyond the usual vagueness, no specifics. And certainly nothing about Arm-level dangers.
“I wish I could tell you, but I can’t,” the Madonna said. She put the baby on her shoulder and turned to face Gail. Gail’s Dreaming companion Focus smelled of rich perfume and bath powder. “Don’t forget that much of what we communicate in the Dreaming involves filled-in details. Despite your progress in the Dreaming, your information transfer rate hasn’t markedly increased. In fact, the amount of detail you fill in, in your version of the Dreaming, is increasing much faster than the amount of information you’re picking up from outside. This is a hazardous stage in your development, as to some the Dreaming becomes more real than the real world, inviting a dangerous solipsism. Never forget that what you think I’m telling you is not what I’m actually telling you.
“Also, I need to confess to you that I don’t know what I know. I can’t even explain what such a silly comment means. My obtuse hints, however, nearly always work better than my straight declarations. Everyone always ends up putting more work into them.”
Gail smiled. “I’ll take obtuse hints. Anything.” Enemies dangerous enough to worry Teacher, the Arm Carol Hancock, terrified Gail.
Out by the fishpond and its lily pads, the misshapen polar bear who occasionally followed the Madonna around slapped one of the Koi out of the pond. Gail pointed and the Madonna frowned. “Strange,” the Madonna said. “I wonder why Beast is interested enough to interact here. It must be your changes.” She turned to the misshapen Monster. “Hey! Beast, that’s a person, not dinner. Put the fish back.”
The polar bear turned to the Madonna, grunted, and flicked the Koi back into the pond. She lay down with her head on her scaly lizard-like front legs and whined.
“The bear’s a speaker?” Gail asked.
“Only of a sort,” the Madonna said. “Beast can’t speak words, but can still convey sound in the Dreaming. A mere distraction.” The Madonna put her left hand on Gail’s forehead, and closed her eyes for a moment. “Stalked by a discarded abomination, you must trust in your household’s bodyguards. The day of Transform ascendance approaches due to Gilgamesh’s inspiration. The true enemy is she without family.” The Madonna leaned back and took a deep breath. “I hope those help.”
“Well,” Gail signed, “if the purpose is to make me think, you succeeded.” The Madonna’s words didn’t make any sense to her, but Gail did suspect each sentence dealt with a distinctly separate issue.
“That is all I can ever ask for.” The Madonna stood. “Back to defending yourself. Do you see anything in your Dreaming world that looks like a place of power? Something able to protect you…”
Carol Hancock: August 22, 1972
Five goddamned days.
Bass’s lair in Texas? Deserted. All my years of information on Bass’s operations? Useless. Bass had discarded everything. It was as if she had vanished off the face of the planet.
Strategically, this would be a perfect time for her to strike at my holdings, physical and otherwise, in Chicago, Detroit or Boston. Nothing. No armies, no squads, no sign of any activity at all. Why go to all the trouble to piss me off if she didn’t have a follow up plan? Did she expect me to miss the fact that the army of flunkies was hers? Had she actually expected to defeat me or kill me?
Unlikely. Senior Arms aren’t that stupid. They wouldn’t be senior Arms if they were. I suspected I missed something important.
None of my junior Arms had any new information on Bass. After I escorted Duke Hoskins and the Crows back to Detroit, the men went off together to New England, for some sort of Crow-Noble confab, safely out of my reach. I split the Chicago and Detroit guard duty more evenly between Webberly, Sibrian, Whetstone, and myself, and scheduled some time in Boston for Whetstone so my favorite Focus could toughen up Betsy. I put everyone on high alert.
My bosses were worse than useless. Bass’s treachery sent Haggerty backsliding into hyperactivity, and I nearly needed to challenge her to get her to slow down, think, and stop barking contradictory orders. After doing some of her patented mental analysis, she headed off to squeeze her FBI contacts about Bass. Keaton? “I’m not talking about this over the phone.” Click.
Five goddamned days of hunting, private investigator work, self-examination, pointless rumination, self-blame and a molehill-mountain of angst left me in a rotten mood. Which you should thank me for sparing you.
I stopped my rental car in the parking lot of the local K-Mart, a half-mile from Keaton’s house. K-Mart. Consuela, my slain house-manager, had loved the local K-Mart back in Chicago, and once shopped there every chance she got. The stray thought brought forth the ache of territory loss, and I pushed the pain away as best I could.
I exited the rental and sneered at the odor of hot pavement in the still blistering hot Pasadena evening. The Los Angeles area was a former territory of mine, and I still felt some remnant of affection for the place. I needed to control my emotions better. Lust for an old territory was a dangerous thing to feel, especially when this was now Keaton’s turf.
Visiting Keaton was never easy.
For years I visited Keaton once a month, and those visits had always been difficult. I won my freedom from the visits when I supported Keaton after she killed Arm Svensen in a fit of psychotic anger, after everyone but Rayburn deserted her.
Today, for some unknown reason, this felt like the bad old days, before I won my freedom. Keaton was the oldest Arm in the United States, tough and strong and meaner than sin. I wore her tag on my own juice structure the same way Webberly, Sibrian and Whetstone wore my tags. The tag meant I followed her orders, I gave her respect and loyalty, and I accepted her authority. It also meant that she took some responsibility for how she treated me, and couldn’t indulge her cruelty on me just for the hell of it.
Bass’s treachery was a failure on my part as well as an enemy attack. I shouldn’t have fallen for her lies. Her treachery left me feeling more open and vulnerable than normal.
Being open and vulnerable wasn’t something I would ever recommend around Keaton.
My name is Carol Hancock, and I’m an Arm, one of the eight known varieties of Transforms, and as all Transforms, a victim of Transform Sickness. I’m a military specialist, having led the Major Transform community in two major victories, in Detroit and Chicago, both victories against the Hunters, the beastly Chimera-variant civilization that refused to die. Those victories were the past, though. I had recently been demoted to the number three Arm, my two Arm bosses weren’t on speaking terms, the number four Arm, Bass, had suckered me into revealing too many of my tricks, and I had gained thirteen pounds on my latest mission, to pay off a restauranteur Focus’s help to my major ally, the now Crow Guru Gilgamesh. The last irked me more than I would admit to anyone else, prompting my realization that I needed a new combat methodology, one based on speed and quickness, and giving me a good excuse for some extra physical training.
The sixth anniversary of my Arm transformation, when I became a Major Transform, was in three weeks, and I didn’t think I would be doing much celebrating. For one thing, Arm Bass was now a new enemy of mine, and for a second, to survive as an Arm I needed to kill a Transform about once every two weeks. Repetitive murder didn’t lead to a life worth celebrating. I was working on a project to fix the latter issue, but I hadn’t met with my student, Focus Gail Rickenbach, in nearly a month. Last time through she was a long long way from being able to pass me juice. These days I held Detroit as my main territory and kept a shallow hold on Chicago, which I planned to move back to as soon as I extricated myself from my juice moving project.
I missed Chicago.
I metasensed Keaton and her student Arms about a quarter mile out. She had three now, the most ever, and she was down in the basement harassing one of them as I came close. Probably the newest Arm, from the piss poor way the student handled the harassment. Another student worked the weights and I found the third up in the kitchen cooking. I checked extra-special for Bass, and didn’t find her within range. I shook my head at my own silly fears, drove the rental car into Keaton’s driveway and walked right in. Keaton didn’t interrupt her activities for my arrival, nor did any of her students come greet me.