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I went through and corrected things today. I fixed all the errors I found and a few a friend found in my printed proof copy that he read. So that's done.

I haven't changed it on Lulu yet, though. Going to hold off for a few days, probably over the weekend in fact. It's going to be a busy weekend. I also expect there might be a few more problems reported. But by next weekend I hope to have the text in final form. Or at least "abandoned" form.

As part of proofreading I had to read the whole thing myself, straight through. And I hate to say it, but.. you know, I've read worse books. :)
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...sort of.

[livejournal.com profile] tephralynn is a genius. We were having trouble getting the cover image, the text, and the black bands above and below the image to our liking in Lulu's good but rather inflexible cover creator wizard. She came up with the obvious (in retrospect) idea of creating one image including text, picture, black bars.. all of it.. and putting that across the entire cover. This is a fine example of my favorite definition of genius-- something that is intuitively obvious AFTER somebody else first thinks of it and points it out to you.

I batted together the rest of the cover in Lulu's wizard.

It's at http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=933815

The hardcover selling for twenty-odd bucks and the .pdf download for $2.50. Actually, I've got the costs marked up so I get $2.00 per copy. $2.00 for the hardcover. $2.00 for the download. By this weekend I'll probably have a paperback edition offered too, and I'll set the price so I make $2.00 on THAT. AAAAAAAAAND remember that once http://www.flankers-tale.com is fully operational, I intend to have all the stories available to read for free there also. I hope that nobody will ever HAVE to pay for reading my stuff unless they want to.

Now, be warned-- I have ordered the first copy of the book myself, and it's going to take fifteen frikin days to print it out and get it here. So I have not yet been able to go through it looking for problems and mistakes. What's out there now is the rough, raw, rude, crude, disgusting and probably bug-filled beta test version. I'm flattered if you think you really MUST have a hardcover copy, but it might be wise to wait a bit.

I had enough fun beating my head against the word processor that if there are three letters of Times New Roman in amongst all the rest of the text, they can stay there forever, far as I'm concerned now. But anything major I find, or you find for me, I can fix easily enough. So don't hesitate to let me know if something's wrong.
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Chapter 16


“Another year has passed already?”

“You know it has, Brother. It's the equinox. You knew I was coming.”

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(And yes, I am fully aware of-- and enjoy-- the irony of describing Hilltown as looking "otherworldly.")


Hilltown Chapter 15


Maggie couldn't even feel the wind on her cheek, it was so faint. And yet Dawn Treader still sailed forward, nosing into the Passage.

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Chapter 14
She woke to the warmth of the sun on her neck. The fire had gone out. Hill lay curled on his side, breathing evenly. His forehead, where the boom had hit, looked as if the accident had happened a week ago. It was hard to believe it had been just last night.

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Chapter 13

Maggie held Hill's pocketknife, with its built-in flashlight, in her teeth. She reached for another fallen branch. Then she saw what was on the ground before her. She flinched and stumbled backward, scattering her armload of firewood on the redwoods floor.

There wasn't anything that looked dangerous to the untrained eye. There had been little scurrying sounds in the underbrush, there had been small animals whose eyes glowed in the light from Hill's pocketknife, but they all ran away, more afraid of Maggie than she could be of them. There were weird plants, trunks segmented like bamboo, some with nasty-looking curved thorns. They looked dangerous, alien. Maggie had moved past them without fear. But now she was terrified by little flowers that looked like the most harmless thing here.

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Chapter 12

The ship rolled as a wave, larger than usual, took her in the starboard quarter. Maggie shifted with the roll, then grinned quietly to herself. How easily she moved aboard ship, without even thinking about it! Admiral Blood would have been proud of her, maybe, if he could have seen how well his descendant had adapted to shipboard life.

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Chapter 11

Dawn Treader floated motionless in her anchorage, sheltered from any danger the Sea could bring. The glory of the stars of the cluster shone down on her. The ghostly light made her look like a ship built of spun silver. It made her look like a ship built of dreams.

Which, of course, she was.

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Maggie's knuckles stopped in mid-air, a fraction of an inch from the wood of the aft cabin's door. She was afraid to knock. Silly! She'd been through so much in her life. She'd seen so many dangers and faced so many desperate fights, suffered so many injuries. And now she was afraid to knock on the door of Captain Hardy, a woman she thought would soon be her friend!

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One more to go-- all I have to do now is come up with a Big Kick Finish.
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In which something is terribly wrong with Maggie, and the world...

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Hilltown Chapter 8


Dean stopped for a moment to settle his backpack more comfortably on his shoulders. His headlight threw back sparks of gold, glittering in the black stone of the lava tube's walls. It was fool's gold, of course. Real gold was so rare on this world that the gold-nibbed pen he'd sold to The University Museum on Captain Hardy's behalf had fetched a reward that surprised even him. Radio? Sonar? Ship's supplies? Hades be his witness, Hardy could have bought Hilltown with the reward for that bit of gold.

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We sailed onward, ever onward, seeking the Southern Lands we knew lay just beyond the horizon; always just beyond the horizon.

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A few background facts, in case anyone is interested.

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Hilltown Chapter 6


"Is the Citizen Captain displeased with our progress in refueling?"

Captain Nathaniel Blood flicked a speck of wood dust from the sleeve of the khaki-colored uniform jacket. Say what you might about them, Republican uniforms were practical. The Royal Navy's black, glittering with their ribbons, braid, medals, and silver insignias, had been gorgeous. But they were impossible to keep up in heavy use.

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In the darkening sky, above the glow of the sunset, the galaxy was becoming visible. She strained her eyes to make out the details of the ghostly shape. "Daddy! I see the Hole!"

Father chuckled. "Make a wish, Margaret. Make a wish."

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Maggie Blood looked as ominous as her name as she came spinning down Royal Route One that fine Spring day. In her black road armor she came, the big black bike-- a Valkyrie, of course-- sucking down mile after mile of the smooth pavement in a fine high whine of motor, tires, and gears and the thunder of the wind of her passing.

She must look like onrushing death. It made her grin, thinking about it.

Once she had cruised through the traffic of Disraeli and past its outskirts, traffic fell away almost to nothing. It was just her, the bike, the highway, the sea to her right, the pine woods to her left, and the sky above, pale blue patched with ragged springtime clouds.

Somewhere a few miles short of the Linden River she stopped beneath the awning of an unmanned fuel station, letting the bike sip a bit of single-H while she bought hot coffee and two donuts from the stasis machine. She sat on the planks of a weathered picnic table, watching a spring shower mist the world. But it passed quickly enough, and she was on her way again, on damp pavement this time.

And here, finally, was the Haunted Coast. The trees retreated away to the north, leaving miles of sand hill and scrub to her left. There was nothing but sand, even drifted across the pavement in places.

A crescent of golden beach stretched horizon to horizon on her right. With the sun nearing the western horizon, the tide was out, but the beach would have been broad even with it in.

She felt naked in a place so open, so barren. In such a waste of sand, it was easy to imagine you were back in the early days, when the Redwoods covered the continent and humans were merely a few castaways, living in fortified settlements, trying to survive on a world that wanted to kill them. Even the Redwoods wouldn't have grown in this sand, she thought. The Haunted Coast looked now as it must have then, as it must have forever.

Perhaps that was what really haunted it; the fact that it didn't change. It couldn't change. Time didn't seem to pass here.

But the sun was definitely setting. She'd better find a place to settle in for the evening.

She spotted a forlorn little patch of cedars between the road and the sea. She eased off on the throttle, downshifted through the gears, and finally let her bike creep behind the cedars. This would be enough to hide the bike from the road. This might be the Haunted Coast, but her life had taught her to fear the living more than the dead.

Did the dead walk here? With nobody to see into her thoughts, she could admit to herself she imagined-- rather liked to imagine-- that they could.

But there was nothing here, nothing but the wind in the branches of the stunted cedars and across the sands, the rushing of the waves breaking gently on the beach, and the faint whirr of the bike's gyros. She could hear it behind her, balanced on its two wheels, as she walked down to the edge of the water.

"I'm here!" she shouted. "Where are you? If you're going to drive me mad like the Lady Linden, do it now! I'm a busy woman. I need my sleep!"

Nothing. Just the wind, and the rush of the waves. She looked west, back toward the life she had left. There was no mirage, no swirl of sand, no hint of someone or something half-seen trapped in a shift of light that was of this world, and not of this world, nothing but the red ball of the setting sun. She looked the other way, east into the purple of the oncoming night. Nothing there either, except on the horizon, nearly invisible, a dark point that might be a mirage, or a bit of cloud, or the very top of a distant hill.

She smiled and walked back to the bike. Dinner would be a pouch of soup, heated over her tiny camper's stove. And then she would sleep, the sand beneath her sleeping bag for a mattress, the stars for her ceiling tonight. Right now she wanted nothing more.

#

Cal looked up from his sweeping as something stepped into the doorway, blocking the reflected sunlight from the windows across the street. He looked up and squinted at the dark figure who stood there, surrounded by a halo of glare. "Morning," he said.

"Morning," the stranger replied, and stepped through the doorway. She was short, with red hair and freckles, but she wasn't cute. Nobody ever looked cute in road armor. "Do you have anything to eat in here? Your place seems to be the only one open." She dipped her head toward the glowing clock in the window. Even from behind, you could read it; its hands were reflected in the window glass. Its hands pointed to 5:30, in a glow of pink and green 'neon.' "I didn't realize it was so early."

"I have candy and some snacks. This is a pharmacy, not a restaurant. Sorry."

"No problem. A bag of nuts will hold me over until the coffee shop opens. I would have sworn it was later than 5:30, though. I guess it's as they say, time is always a bit strange at Hilltown."

Cal laughed, glancing at this motorcyclist's left armpit while she was looking through the snack racks and, presumably, wouldn't notice. Yup, there was a seam for a hidden compartment there, just where you'd hide a gun. "Don't believe everything you hear about this place," he said. "Don't believe any of it, in fact. It's not that time's funny here, it's that we're at the eastern end of the continent. We keep time about two hours behind the sun. We keep Disraeli time, in fact. And they're a bit behind the sun themselves."

"I'm glad it's not the ghosts, dragons, sand devils, whatever you call them." She picked a bag of mixed nuts and turned toward him. Then she saw the look on his face. "What's wrong?"

"I'd rather you didn't mention them. Those, those I believe in."

"Oh." She waved her ring at the cash register, and it beeped as it recorded the sale. "I don't suppose you'd tell me where I could see one, then?"

He shivered in spite of himself. "You'd better hope you don't. You planning to stay around town for a while?"

"Yes."

Cal waited for more information. More information was not forthcoming. Finally he said "You'll want to talk to Duke, then."

"Duke?"

"Duke Lansen. He's the real-estate baron around here. Got a stranglehold on the market. I don't like that."

"Monopolies are bad. How bad does he gouge people?"

"Well, it's not that he gouges. Rents are cheaper here than nearly anywhere on the Continent. It's just wrong, that's all."

The stranger nodded. "Well, where do I find him?"

"Head back down the Scenic."

"The Scenic?"

"The Royal Route. The old road, the abandoned one, ran a few miles in from the Sea. The locals here still call the Royal Route the New Road or the Scenic Highway. Why not? It's only been there for about a century and a half now."

"Oh."

"Anyway, head back south down the Royal Route. A ways before you get to the corner, where the Royal Route turns west, you'll see the barber shop on the left-hand side, between the road and the harbor. Red brick building."

"Got the traditional octagon windows in front? The barber pole?"

"Of course. Duke's office is upstairs, in back. Just walk right in. He won't mind."

"He'll be there at this hour?"

"He's the only person in town more of an early bird than I am. He'll be there. The Duke is never late."

"Much obliged."

Cal smiled. "That's Dunworth custom-fitted motorcyclist's armor, isn't it? Expensive stuff, and rare. They say most of it goes to the Continental Police."

"That so?" the stranger said. "See you later." She walked back out onto the deserted street, pulling a few nuts out of the plastic bag and tossing them into her mouth.

Cal watched her go. Once she was out of sight he picked up the phone handset. "Lansen real estate office," he said. The phone beeped at him, and then he heard the sound of a phone ringing.

"Hey, Dean? Cal. Listen, someone's coming to see you. And I think she's packing a gun. No, no reason to think she's trouble, she wasn't looking for you by name, just wants a place to stay. But I thought you'd want to know. OK, Dean, you're welcome."

Cal hung up the phone. A cop, going to see Dean Lansen. Were the police finally onto the old scoundrel? This could become interesting, very interesting. Picking up his broom, returning to his sweeping, Cal smiled.

#

Not that she thought about it, but her footsteps up the steep, dark stairway were silent. Her armor's foot pads saw to part of that; the building's heavy construction saw to the rest. But the man in the office knew she was there. He had his back to her, as he stood by a picture window in the brilliant sunlight, looking out at the harbor and the passage beyond, but his head turned just a tiny bit as she entered.

"Morning," Maggie said. "Are you Duke Lansen?"

He laughed and turned toward her, and his desk, which sat in the middle of the office, between them. He was a rather undistinguished man, of medium build, with brown hair, dressed in the jeans and plaid shirt that seemed to be the uniform of this part of the world. She would have said he was young, but it was hard to tell; his eyes looked experienced, like those of an old man who had seen it all. And yet that face was unlined.

"No, I'm not Duke Lansen. The name's Dean. You've been talking to Cal Redfield."

"You know because I called you Duke?"

"That, and of course the fact he phoned me and told me you were coming." He grinned. "Cal's one of our civic leaders, you know. He's on all the volunteer committees, he's on the Chamber of Commerce, the Welcome Home association, he's an activist for all the good causes, he's on all the charitable boards and has a part in all the collections for every good cause. In short, he's the biggest pain in the rump in Hilltown. But I don't mind. He's amusing."

"Ah. A kind of busybody, or control freak, you're saying."

"Sort of. I'd guess he hopes you'll take a shot at me, assuming the holster compartment of your armor isn't empty. If I got shot, he'd probably say I have it coming to me. I don't think I deserve it, myself, but then I wouldn't, would I?"

She blinked. "Does my being armed bother you?"

"Why should it? Everyone's armed around here. It's traditional, ever since the days of the Redwoods. Except me, of course. I shoot a bit from time to time, but I don't need guns, I don't carry them, I don't fear them."

"A man who doesn't fear guns is a fool."

"I suppose so. But you came here to ask about a place to stay, didn't you?"

"Of course. I presume you have places to rent?"

"I do. But could we wait on the business for a few minutes? I have to say goodbye to some old friends." He turned back toward the window. The whole back of the office was walled with windows; two broad picture windows side by side facing east toward the water and the dark island beyond, a third in the north wall, a fourth in the south.

"What's happening?"

He waved to her. "Step to the window and see."

The view of the harbor was perfect. There, in the middle of it, floated a sturdy-looking schooner, at anchor. Her sails were bent on, but furled. A last boat was alongside; the crew brought a few last items, a few small wooden crates, aboard and were carrying them belowdecks. Perhaps thirty people stood on the docks and the shore, watching.

"They're heading out to search for the Southern Lands," Dean Lansen said. His voice was dark with grief and... guilt? "They always do. They come here, I bring them here, and in the end they sail away to the southeast. They vanish beyond the horizon, and they never come back."

She felt a strange need to comfort this man she didn't even know. "It's not your fault," she said.

His head snapped toward her. "Isn't it? Isn't it my fault? I could destroy this town, you know. I could return it to the empty wasteland it was before the first humans came here. But I don't. I let them come here, and in the end they always destroy themselves, chasing an impossible dream. And I know they will, but I need them, so I let them keep coming."

She shrugged. "Everyone has to earn a living. I don't blame you for making yours by renting homes to people who would have come here anyway, whether you believe it or not."

"You think this is about money?"

"Well, it is, isn't it? What else could it be?"

"What do you call it when a protector fails in his mission? When somehow, he doesn't even know how, he makes a terrible mistake and by it destroys those he was meant to protect, and everything they had? Casting a blight on his whole world, marking himself with blame he can never wash clean. And the to top it off, he needs someone to protect so badly that he summons others to replace the ones he lost. Never mind that most of them will die, thrown on a hostile shore they're not equipped to survive."

"What are you talking about?" What he said seemed to make sense, but there was something hidden in the words, something that made her shudder.

He turned and smiled at her, and there was nothing so deep and wonderful as the smile in his eyes, his glittering eyes. "We were talking about the Dawn Treader, down there, and how I'll miss those who sail with her. And you were asking me about protectors, and about the name Duke."

She blinked. The sunlight on the water made her head spin. But of course he was right. "Just why does Cal call you Duke anyway?"

"He figures it would annoy me. Duke's a title, and he thinks I'll get angry at you when you mention it to me."

"You're saying you're titled?"

"Maybe. I'm the Thirty-Third Duke Lansen, Lord Protector of Hilltown, Land's End, the Olgraffa Archipelago, and the Southeast Coast. Or sort of. The line of succession isn't clear. We Lansens never had large families; in fact, I'm only a Lansen by adoption. I never met my Uncle Carl until he called me here and adopted me as his heir, and I was full-grown even then."

"The Lord Protectors," she informed him, "are gone. The title is only honorary."

"Ah, but personal title to the Ducal Estates remains, and my family's estate is rather large. From the top of Odin's Peak, I have sole title to all land, sea, and bottomland within a radius of twenty-seven and one-third miles. So I rent parts of it out to anybody who wants them. It's a living."

"That's bizarre! Why would your estates be so large, and why a circle of.. whatever odd number of miles you mentioned?"

"Twenty-seven and a third. I'll be glad to show you why some day soon. And we have so much, and nobody's ever challenged the title, simply because nobody else wants this ill-omened stretch of sand, pine forest, and angry sea. Except Cal Redfield, of course, and I don't know why he does. I'm not sure even he knows."

She shrugged. "The Haunted Coast is the last place on the Continent. Doesn't have a good reputation as a place to raise a family. That does lower property values, I suppose."

He chuckled. "Indeed." He turned back to the window, where the Dawn Treader was putting out, under motor power, into the passage. Her crew was unlashing the sails, getting ready to hoist them.

"Farewell, my old friends," Dean whispered. "May the gods of your green Earth, lost to your ancestors so many centuries ago, lead you on. Though your dream be impossible, may you find it."

"Amen," Maggie said. She didn't know why. She walked to the window, and she and this strange Dean Lansen watched the schooner set sail, heel in the brisk breeze, and head south across the glittering water.

"Do you think they'll find another continent?"

"No. But they have a chance. Perhaps they will. Someday, somebody will." He turned away from the window, visibly forcing himself, and sat down at his desk. "It's bad luck to watch them out of sight. Well, to business, then. What do you want of me?"

"A place to stay, that's all."

"Ah, but you will want to do something here, no doubt? Work on building ships? Teach? Preach? Study? Patrol the midnight streets, fight crime, arrest evildoers? Something. Consider what you want to do. Perhaps I have a property that would suit your needs better than the average plain-old place to stay."

"Well... perhaps something in town, near the center of action."

"Ah. There's a very nice apartment three doors down from here. It's above the bank, and the Bank Presidents used to live there, once upon a time. Very solid, quiet, but you can keep an eye on the harbor, and the tavern across the street. And the bank, and the businesses in town, of course."

"Um.. that would do."

"It's too big," Dean apologized. "Got two bedrooms, a huge living room overlooking the harbor, bathroom, office in front overlooking the street, kitchen, dining room. So it's not cheap. Two hundred Bux a month."

That was half the rate for an ordinary two-bedroom apartment in New London. Indeed, her pension would go very far here! She'd been right to come here. "It sounds delightful."

He walked to a pegboard beside the door and pulled a key off one of the pegs. "Here's the key. Take a look at it and let me know what you think. Do you have furniture and things coming by autofreight?"

"They should be here in a day or two. You know how it goes; the truck never comes in when they say it will. You don't want a deposit?"

"If you like the place, sure. I think you're good for it, though. You seem trustworthy, and I can usually judge people well enough."

"Thanks, I think."

"Any time. Oh, yeah, City Hall's two blocks north on the west side of the Scenic--"

"Big field-stone place with the flagpole? Why's it flying the white star flag, by the way?"

"That's the place, and the Carpathia Lines flag is traditional here. Which means there's no reason for it, that's just the flag we fly. Anyway, our town constable's named Ralph. He's got an office there, right beside the entrance. You can always find him there around lunchtime, if you have any business you'd like to transact with him. 'Course, he's a busy man; always complains that he's got more hours of work than he can handle."

She grinned and mock-saluted. "Thanks."

"Any time."

The apartment was breathtaking, with lovely woodwork everywhere including bookshelves enough for her entire collection of paper books. The woodwork seemed to be solid walnut. The windows facing east were picture windows, smaller than the ones in Dean's office, but with fanlights of stained glass above. In the distance, on the horizon, she saw a flash of sail, but she quickly turned and looked the other way. It was bad luck to watch a ship out of sight, she'd heard.

Dean. He was a strange one. For all his warmth and seeming openness, she knew there was something to him that he was trying to keep hidden from her, and from everybody.

She didn't quite trust him, although she didn't know why. And yet she felt he meant no harm to her or to anybody else. Perhaps they could become friends.

If she could just get over that strange twinge of fear she felt when she thought of him.

Hilltown 3

May. 5th, 2004 11:12 pm
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Excerpts from the Journal of Charles A. Wills
(unpubl. ms. preserved at Southeast Regional Archive, Hilltown)



(Archivist's Note: All entries date from year 133 AC)


Friday, October 32

Course still 090 magnetic. Fix 22:45 at 25° 28' 45" E, 44° 45' 58" N. About 5 nm off low sandy shore still running e out of sight, sand bottom. If nothing else we have proven the continent runs e at least 300 nm farther than anyone expected. I hope they know, back home in New London, but with Griffin sick nobody here knows radio well enough to be sure. My own Morse is terrible, my knowledge of radio maintenance and repair is worse. I try to send position reports, but we haven't picked up any replies in three weeks now.

We have light wind, Morning Star is making 3 knots. All seems well there but we are on a lee shore, and if we get caught in another blow like the one that took Endurance the best we can hope for is to make it ashore alive before the boat is pounded to pieces in the surf-- and what happened three days ago tells me how short a time we'd survive there, if that happened.

I still don't understand what happened. There was SOMETHING on the beach-- we all saw it-- but how could it be so beautiful, or what power could it have, to make three of our best crewmembers go mad and run to it? I got us offshore as fast as I could, our water tank only half-full; we fired guns, we anchored offshore for a day longer than we dared, and nothing. No sign of our lost crewmembers; Jim and Cathy Linden, Sam Pulowski. Nothing except, maybe, a faint scream, somewhere far away on the wind, at sunset. And every so often, something moving in the heat shimmer on the beach. Surely this coast is haunted. Surely this is the Devil, or the Devil's work.

The three dead may be the lucky ones. Even with them gone, we're still overcrowded with three Albion survivors still aboard, and we don't have enough supplies for half our number.

Half rations. Scurvy. Thirst-- with streams of fresh water in sight on the shore, and we dare not go ashore for it. They're coming from the woods, those streams, and we know there are snakewolves in the woods. And Burke, that ass, armed us with M1 carbines whose puny cartridges don't have enough power to punch through a snakewolf's scales! Hardly any ammunition left anyway.

"They're sweet little rifles," she told me, a day or two out of New London. "I got a great deal on them." Did she ever stop to ask WHY they're cheap? Fine for crows and bunnies in the Fenced Lands; fine for police work perhaps, but useless out here among the native species.

Of course I didn't know they were useless either, but I'm a sailor. I'm not the one who claimed to be an experienced redwoods hand. She did, that ass! Burke. Another slang word for 'ass,' you'd think they'd coined that slang for her. How did she ever convince the Survey to let her lead this expedition? Rifles that don't work, no ammo, not enough food, and no vitamins in the medical kit, with scurvy making our teeth loose in bleeding gums. Redwoods hand she is NOT. She's a reformed flower-sucker, so they say, but once a flower-sucker, always a flower-sucker. I wish she'd died of flower juice years before she ever met me.

More fool I for ever listening to her. But she's so convincing she convinced me she knew more about sailing than I did, I who charted the Apostle Islands without losing a man. "Let's leave in the first days of autumn. We'll avoid the summer doldrums that way. Good fresh breezes all the way around." Fresh breezes, all right. A gale. A fire at sea. Twelve survivors in a ketch designed for nine.

The crew have whispered of mutiny. Gods forgive me, the only reason I haven't thrown Burke in irons myself is that it wouldn’t help things.

Yesterday, after the memorial ceremony, I asked her if we shouldn't turn back. She looked at me with that sincerity she can put on, that even now seems impressive. "We'd never make it," she told me.

"So we keep going onward?"

"What else can we do? We're already off the map. True, we had only the vaguest notion where the continent ends-- those who reported seeing its position were certainly too busy to take good measurements at the time! But they had to be more or less right, didn't they? And if so, if we were at the end of the continent now, it would be half as far to Pittsburgh Landing along the north coast as it would be to go back the way we came."

I gently pointed out to her that we hadn't rounded the end of the continent. "But it has to be there," she repeated.

Hell of it is, she's right. It has to be there. And it had better be. If it isn’t, we're all cooked.



Saturday, October 33: Halloween

Wind freshening from S; overcast. No star sights but by ded. reckoning appx. 66 nm E and S of previous position; speed 5 knots. No bottom. Shoreline angling 15° S of E and turning more to S ahead; on horizon a bald hill that may be an island or not. If it's on shore, the shore must turn to SE. All aboard are excited because of the famous statement in Second Officer Lightoller's flight log that the continent ends in a SE-trending point with islands along the shore north of it. After so many struggles, so much suffering, we can't help but hope this may be the land's end. We hope for it all the more because thanks to Burke's excellent provisioning skills, rounding the last point and heading for the outpost at Pittsburgh Landing is probably our only hope of survival. Certainly our only hope, if the radio is as broken as I think it is. Why didn't we bring spares?

At least we'll be the first to see it, the first to know exactly where the continent ends. I keep trying to send signals to the Coasties' radio complex at Londonport, on the faint hope they can hear us even if I can't hear them. If they can, then even if the rest of us die halfway to safety-- as seems most likely-- at least the Survey will have that bit of vital information, and at least our sacrifice will be remembered.

Burke wanted us to stay close to shore to map it better, but I command in shipboard matters, and with nightfall coming on I have ordered the boat to put off shore. We can't afford to lose our last boat, and with that rocky hill ahead it's likely the shore ahead is rocky too-- which means there may be unexpected reefs miles off shore. On the other hand, a rocky shore means there may be inlets to hide in, or offshore islands to hide behind. And shelter would be a very good thing to find just now. All I have to do is stick my head abovedecks to understand this. The wind is backing, and although the clouds are still cirrus, there are more and more of them. I don't need a barometer to know what that means.



Sunday, November 1: Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead. And we might as well be!

With the wind astern and the clouds threatening we sailed back northeast toward the bare hill I spotted yesterday. We saw it was on the continent, the shore coming in low from the northwest to that solitary rock almost at the very end of the continent.

We saw something else too. I couldn't believe my eyes. The red forest didn't cover the point. Instead, it was another color entirely.

"Is that green?" I asked Livingston, who was at the helm.

He squinted. "By damn, it IS green! He shouted. "Plants! Earth plants!"

All this way. All the suffering, all the death. All this distance to be the first to find the land's end, and we find someone had reached here, fenced the end of the point, and planted crops! More than that, as we approached we saw that the low limestone rocks right at the very end of the point weren't rocks at all, but concrete. It took me a few minutes, studying it through my binoculars, to see what it was. A fort, a bloody concrete masonry STAR FORT, classic Napoleonic military architecture. Gods damn us, not just a few miserable pirates or shipwrecked fishermen planting some corn and beans and praying for rescue, no. A major settlement! It had to be!

I told Burke. She didn't take it well. What's to justify her now? What accomplishment for the history books will make the fifteen lives we've lost along the way seem like a reasonable price to pay? She's gone into her cabin-- or closet, really, it's hardly more than that-- and I haven't seen her since noon.

We came in carefully, but this fort didn't look as if it were intended to be hostile to such as us. Oh, it could have shot us all to hell and back in an instant; there were M2 machine guns in quad power mounts up there, and what were probably flamethrowers, and want looked like naval rifles, probably the standard 5" x 45-calibers-long dual purpose design out of the historical archives, mounted in some kind of a carriage that looked more like Civil War tech. But the fort's walls were only about five feet high. That wouldn't keep a human out. It would be hell for a native species, though.

And above it all, a flag snapping in the strengthening wind. But not the flag of the New London Assembly. Oh, no. One white star on a red swallowtail banner. The flag of the Carpathian Line.

But there was nobody in the fort. No hail on the short range radio. Nothing moving. No smoke.

The water stayed deep in close to shore, so I went west of the point, west of the fort, that being the side sheltered from the coming storm. We were lucky for once; half a mile from the fort, within sight of it across the fields, we found a narrow inlet. It led us to a cove, as well sheltered an anchorage as I've seen in all my years at sea.

And there, standing on the shore, a young man. A human, sure enough, of medium height, wearing the blue pants and jacket, the white turtleneck, and even the blue beret with the white star banner embroidered on it. The whole crewman's uniform, right out of a history book. He was jumping up and down and shouting "People! Oh, people! Thank you for coming. I saw you a day ago, I saw you from the observation post on top of the Hill."

"Who are you?" I shouted across to him.

He looked at me as if he didn't know his own name. Then his face cleared. "Dean. Andrew Dean," he shouted across. "You are so tired, and so sick. Come ashore. I have Earth fruits to cure you. There are warm beds, the bot will make parts to fix your broken machines--"

"Bot?" I shouted back. "You have a buildbot? What is this place? Where did the buildbot come from?"

"This is Land's End," he told me solemnly, as if I didn't know that. "And this is where Lifeboat 1, First Officer William Murdoch commanding, came down. Do you think I walled off this point, built that fort, all of it, by myself? Of COURSE we had a buildbot, of course we had an archive computer!"

"Wait a minute. By yourself?"

He looked terribly sad. "Yes. I have been alone. I have been alone for a long, long time."



Monday, November 2

At anchor in Sackport. Gale from the east, snow.

We had no choice but go ashore. I'm not happy with it. I don't like Andrew Dean.

He seems harmless enough, but there is something about him that alarms me. There is a terrible hunger in his eyes. Whenever you're near him you can feel his attention, his concentration; it's like some kind of parasite latching onto your very soul, feeding on your words, your attention. I have never seen anyone who so desperately needs company.

Perhaps living most of his life alone, save for a library computer, can do that. And yet somehow I feel he is as haunted as the rest of this accursed coast. If he weren't a perfectly healthy man, I'd think he was one of the demons who lured our comrades away to their deaths.

"Murdoch flew well," he told me as all thirteen of us-- twelve from the Expedition, and Dean-- sat over dinner in the fort's mess hall. Built to standard designs from the computer archive, of course, it was big enough for about five hundred troops. "He flew well, but Lifeboat 1 was a Class A. Too big, too unmaneuverable to pull out of a dive at such high speed."

And indeed, that's the first fact in our history. It was amazing to find that another Class A, besides the one that founded New London, managed to land well enough to leave any survivors.

"So he crashed here?" I asked, between bites. Whatever else he is, Dean is hospitable; he'd pulled fish and earth greens out of stasis and made us all huge fish salads, with tomatoes and carrots and everything. Even croutons. I don't know when I've tasted anything good.

He nodded. "Well, near here. Northeast of here, to be precise; in the north end of the passage between here and the island."

"Burke Island," Burke said. The look in her eyes wasn't healthy.

Dean just looked puzzled. "No, it's called Old Grandfather."

"Old Grandfather?" I asked. "That's a strange name. Why?"

"I couldn't tell you."

"Burke Island!" Burke said. "The discoverers always get to name what they find!"

"But everything around here already has a name. It always has," Dean said.

I think that's when Burke finally understood. Something broke inside her. I think her spirit died. And as big an ass as she is, I feel sorry for her.

"What happened to the survivors aboard the lifeboat?" I asked, keeping an eye on Burke. I had no idea what she might do.

Dean looked sad, and I swear I felt his sorrow in my own heart. I'd almost think he was a telepath. "There were only a few, only a very few. Two dozen or so. The buildbot survived, well enough that it could repair itself to partial efficiency anyway. The computer archive survived. So those survivors who were crippled at least had comfortable homes for the years they had left. They lacked for nothing. I.. I know that what lived took good care of them, and loved them as long as they lived, and mourned them when they died, and buried them with the full customs listed in the database. Of course my parents... I mean, grandparents... weren't hurt in any crash. There weren't enough human survivors to establish a population, but I remain."

"How old are you?"

He gave me that blank look, as he had when I asked him his name. "I don't know. I don't keep track. I guess I must be old, because I've been alone a long, long time. But time is funny here. It doesn't always pass at the same rate."

"I bet it has something to do with the demons."

"Demons?"

"Things that move half in the shadows. In the mirage. They called some of my crew away. My crew died."

"They're dragons," Dean said, firmly. "Not demons."

"Dragons? Do they have wings?"

"No. But they're dragons all the same. Or that's the closest thing to them you'll find in the archive."

"They're dangerous. They want to destroy us."

He looked like I'd kicked him in the gut. "They don't want to destroy you. They're your... servants. Your friends."

"But you didn't say they're not dangerous."

"Oh, that would be a lie. Yes, they're dangerous. Very." And when he smiled, and leaned back in his chair, I thought I saw fire glowing in the depths of his eyes.

He is a young man, and I think perhaps he means well. But he is of this place. I do not trust this place, or him.


Tuesday, November 3

Burke is dead. We tracked her into the red woods, and found her clutching the blossoms of a trapflower, frozen in the blizzard. Once again I see the Devil's work in this place, in this world; a plant for which our chemistry is so alien it doesn't recognize us as food, doesn't attack us, and yet the drug it uses to lure and disable its prey is even more effective on us than it is on a snakewolf.

I have been too hard on Dean. The little cemetery where the survivors of Lifeboat 1 await the resurrection is on the east side of Dean's peak, facing the dawn. Here his parents softened the rock to bury the lifeboat's survivors, as those aged and died; here Dean buried his parents. They are in solid rock now, and safe from the creatures of this hell world for all time.

He softened Burke's grave right next to his parents', and spoke the obsolete religious funeral service from memory, word for word as it is written in the Book of Common Prayer. He wanted to sing hymns, but it was very cold, so we left.

I do feel sorry for her now.

Dean was weeping. The tears froze on his face.


Undated

The demons walk in the blizzards. I can hear them calling me in the wind.

We are safe, and warm, here in Land's End Fort. With the radio working the Survey knows our full accomplishments. Such as they are. But winter has come. The sea is freezing. Morning Star is in perfect condition. Ships wait to come to our relief right after Spring Breakup. Ships, and even settlers to build a new town here, where the last feeble strength of a buildbot remains to build them a small empire. Only a month, maybe two. Only a month.

But they're out there in the snow. I can't hold out another month. I hear them call my name. I must go to them, I must see their form, I must see the beauty and wisdom in their eyes.

I must see. Even if it kills me.

Hilltown 2

May. 2nd, 2004 03:16 pm
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It wasn't that nobody knew what they were. Everyone knew exactly, deep in the soul, with a certainty that would brook no argument. But no two could agree.

They were a strangeness that lived in the land near Hilltown. It seemed they had been from the beginning, or perhaps even from before the beginning.

For example, when Burke and Wills arrived, they recorded in their journal that they met strange creatures with eyes like the fires of Hell, creatures of unspeakable horror who mocked them in their misery. But of course Burke and Wills were mad; everyone knew that. Mad to attempt their voyage so soon AC, in a time before there were enough spare resources on the Continent to properly equip them for it. Mad to plan it so poorly. Mad and more mad because of the unspeakable, completely unnecessary suffering they and their men suffered on the voyage due to that poor planning. Mad, hopelessly mad, because all their travails were made a mockery by what they found when they and their few survivors rounded Land's End in their last surviving boat, still believing they were the first humans ever to reach this place.

Burke and Wills were mad, and all sane humans ignored the warnings in their journals. And yet, as people came to Land's End and founded Hilltown, they reported again and again meeting something... other.

What were these things? Were they mere animals, or were they intelligent as humans were? Or more intelligeht? Did they serve good or evil? Or were they indifferent to such human concepts, serving only themselves? Were they, perhaps, angels, devils, both and neither, even as humans are?

What were they to be called? Most called them Dragons, although hardly any of the widely divergent descriptions mentioned the wings, mighty size, and fire-breath of the BC legend, the legend from distant Earth. They were known by a thousand other names; Sea Angels, Sand Devils, Old Ones, Wise Ones, Bright Ones, Dark Ones, or Hidden Ones. They were the Wavedancers, the Whisperers, the Muses, the Saviors, the Destroyers. They were the Sea People, the Dream Riders, or Jack Cray's Crew.

They lived in a swirl of beach sand in the wind. They walked in the mirage when the summer sun hammered down on the sands and addled your mind, when on the horizon land became water, water became sky, sky became land, another world floating upside down above this one; and things half-seen moved upon it. They lived in some indescribable place between universes, forced by some unknowable, horrible tragedy, thousands of years before the humans came, into a dreamworld half in space and time, and half outside of them. Or they lived in the bottom of a bottle, in the dark, horrible twistings of minds gone mad in winter's darkness and solitude, or in faith, hope, love, and the genius of creation.

They ate the sparkle of the waves, they lived on the honey scent of Everwhite blossoms, they sucked the blood of babies or consumed the souls of men. Or they could live on nothing at all.

They were lizard people with jeweled scales, or dragons, or mermaids-- not harmless mermaids, more like the mermaids sailors feared in the centuries where monsters lived at the edge of all maps; beautiful young men and women who would drive you mad with love and lust with their warm eyes and soft smiles, while all hidden, their slimy tentacles awaited you, and the fangs like a snakewolf's which would rend you as they dragged you down to drown. Some said they could take on any form they wished, anything at all. Or perhaps they had the form you yourself gave them; the way your heart, your hopes, or your fears saw them made them what they were.

Most believed they were nothing at all except the delusions of drink, fever, or heatstroke; yet these non-believers would see something in the corners of their eyes on the beach on a bright summer day, and quickly look in some other direction as ice clutched their hearts, out of pure terror that there might, after all, be something watching.

They came to destroy, to lead, to inspire, to teach, or to feed. They had been here a million years BC, or they were ghosts of the evil men who had drowned when the battleship of the last great pirate-king, Black Jack Cray, rolled over and sank into deep waters twelve miles southeast of Hilltown, victims of a land they had thought defenseless.

Their eyes were red with the fires of hell. Or they were blue, or catlike and golden, or they were faceted and, like prisms, sparkled in all the colors of the rainbow.

So there were no end of ideas-- no, of certainties-- as to what they were. Yet no two humans could agree about any of it.

Except for on two things:

Somewhere out there, in the waves, on the beach, or perhaps in the forests of the Isle of Olgraffa, lurked a dragon who knew you. He knew your hopes, your dreams, he knew the depths and heights of your soul, he knew your true name, the name you shared with nobody.

And when he found you and called your name, and you gazed for the first time into those horrible, wonderful eyes, you were changed. You were doomed forever. Nothing in the Universe could save you then.
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"Another year has passed already?"

"You know it has, Brother. It's the equinox. You knew I was coming."

He sighed and slumped deeper into his soft leather armchair, staring at the fire inside his woodstove. "I don't want to go."

"You must."

"Why? What would happen if I didn't?" Finally he turned to look at her.

Val stood with the dawn-lit sky behind her, one hand on her hip, wearing jeans, hiking boots, and a gray-green short-sleeved sweatshirt. She had a worn russet-colored leather utility case slung at her right hip, hanging by a strap over her left shoulder. She grinned at him. "You always have all the questions."

"And you never have any answers."

"Answers are not my nature, only endings. Perhaps you seek an ending now? But you won't find it. You'll go. You can't refuse."

"Because going there is my nature?"

She smiled, and for a moment it dazzled him. "One answer at least you have, Brother. Shall we go?"

He sighed and tossed the blanket aside. Together, they walked into the chill autumn air and out to her car. It was in perfect condition, that car, even though it was so old that the average citizen wouldn't be able to tell what make it was, unless they could recognize a Ford by its vaguely unnatural not-quite-turquoise metallic blue.

His cottage, the door still open, slumped casually beneath the dark firs. His dock and boat lay ahead. Most mornings he'd motor the hundred feet across the mouth of Sackport; he parked his truck in a shed on the other side. But he'd kept the boat on this side last night, so Val had been forced to drive in around Sackport on the truck trail, nearly a mile of rough, nearly-abandoned two-track. It would have been polite to send the boat across to the other side so Val could have used it, but he didn't feel like making things easy for her.

They jounced down the two-track, running counter-clockwise around the eighty-acre lake, or bay, or whatever it was; Sackport's mouth was so narrow that all people agreed on was it made a heck of a small-boat harbor.

"It wasn't like you to rebel, once upon a time," Val commented, steering around a boulder in the path. "You've been living with them for too long."

"Or not long enough. I should have rebelled long ago. But that's not important."

They bumped on ahead. The trail met Sackport Road, with the Sea and the distant curving shoreline vanishing away to the west. Val turned right and headed toward Hilltown. You couldn't see it from here, because of the trees, except for the Hillcrest Manor apartment house which, despite its name, was only a bit more than halfway up The Hill. Or Odin's Peak, as it was called on the old maps. Not much of a peak, a weathered rocky hill less than two hundred feet high, but since it marked the very end of the narrow peninsula at the southeastern end of the Continent, people tended to notice it.

"I don't know why you like them, Dean. They're silly."

He smiled, looking at the sun. It showed behind the black pines of the Isle of Ographa, across the passage from Hilltown. Now that they were coming into town he could see everything, the crescent of white wood and red brick buildings huddled around the base of the Hill, facing Hilltown Cove and points east. In the cove three fine new ships floated at anchor. Most people would favor the square-rigger, but he liked the looks of the schooner better. She wouldn't be fast, but she was built tough, and her smaller size should let her turn quickly if something unexpected should appear dead ahead. "They're gallant," he told her.

She took a hand from the steering wheel and waved it at the ships in the harbor. "They keep building those. That proves my point."

"And mine."

Val snorted, and turned to the right just past the drug store, heading for the ferry. The lighted clock in the pharmacy window glowed, but its hands had stopped at 6:04:22.

Val stopped the car. "Doesn't look like he's awake."

"He will be," Dean growled, getting out. He walked over to a shack's door and kicked it. "Come on, you lazy old.."

The man who came to the door was rather horrible; gray-haired, with a skin color that was vaguely disturbing, and only one eye. "What the hell do you want?"

Dean waved his hand toward the Isle of Ographa, across the black water of the Passage. "What do you think I want?"

"Oh, aye, keep your pants on. Come on. Why do you want to go across so early on a Sunday?"

"Personal business. My personal business." He pulled a silver coin out of his pocket and gave it to the ferryman. "This, on the other hand, is yours."

"Aye. All I ask. Get your car on." But Val had already driven the ancient Ford onto the ferry.

The ferryman switched the motors on. Val and Dean stood at the bow, watching Ographa get closer, each silent and alone in private thought and memory.

The road up from the shore was broad and smooth, but saw so little traffic that the grass had grown across all but its center. "Why don't they live here?" Val asked. "It's the best agricultural land within a hundred miles."

"A few do. Only a few though, and you know why."

"But that doesn't have anything to do with them. What's past is past."

Dean laughed, bitterly. "If only that were true! No, the past is now. The past is what the present is made of. And the past... marks things. Yes. Some places are marked forever by what happened there."

"Nonsense."

Dean shrugged.

An even more overgrown road branched off, heading north. Val followed it for five miles, until it vanished beneath the underbrush of a dark forest. "We walk from here."

"You think I don't know that?" He got out and headed north. The smooth strip which had once been a road continued beneath the bushes. Once they were through, under the shadows of the tall trees, they were in a vast gloomy cavern of pine woods, and he could see that the ancient road went on, a mighty pine growing through it here and there. As they walked ahead other level traces came in from the sides at right angles, at regular intervals, marking out a gridwork. Between the lines of the grid the earth rose up in irregular mounds. Here or there a bit of stone protruded, or brick.

Three miles in a flat-topped stone, perfectly circular, a foot high, rose from the forest floor. "This is the place," Val said.

"You have a profound grasp of the obvious. Let's get this over with."

Val nodded. Dean knelt in the center of the stone, facing the sun, which rested on the horizon to the east. She walked to him then, blocking the sunlight, opening her utility case, pulling out a silver dagger. She presented it to him with both hands. He bowed and took it, and she stepped aside.

Staring into the face of the sun, Dean took the dagger and slit his left wrist. He held his hands toward the sun, left one pouring his blood upon the stone, right hand offering the dagger.

Tears rose in his eyes, but not tears of pain. They dropped on the stone like his blood.

"I'm sorry," he whispered to the sun. "I'm so sorry."

#

They drove the Ford back through Hilltown. The clock in the pharmacy window glowed, hands frozen at 6:04:22.

"Let me out here," he asked Val, where Sackport Road met the truck trail to his cottage.

She looked at him, concerned. "You'll be all right?"

He smiled and glanced at the bandage on his wrist. "Am I not always?"

"I guess." She smiled and suddenly leaned across the car to hug him. "We should see each other more often, Brother. Not just on these.. formal occasions."

Dean smiled. "I will, Sister. I'll come see you. I promise."

He got out of the Ford and stood by the road, watching her drive away. Soon she'd be down the highway to the west, to the great cities, to her own life, and her own purpose.

Smiling a little to himself, he walked the two tenths of a mile to the end of Sackport Road, past the shed where his truck slept, and down to the public dock on this side. He reached into his pocket for the remote and pushed the button to summon his boat across.

Not long after, he stepped into his cottage, closed the door which had stood open while he was out, and sat down in his chair again. He picked up the blanket, wrapped it around his shoulders, and sat there for a long time, listening to his clock ticking in the quiet room.

The sun rose over the horizon to the east, a stray beam reaching all the way from the Passage side of the point, through the firs, to shine into one of his windows. He sat in his chair and looked into his stove, watching empires rise to glory and crumble away again in its flames.
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