Sound & Fury
Martin M. Clark
Oh, wherefore art thou, Damocles?
"How is she? Any change?" Pygar walked across the bedchamber to stand by my shoulder. He sounded genuinely concerned for the young woman lying fully-clothed on the divan before us, as if our overall situation meant nothing.
However, I managed to produce my usual sardonic grin. "Well, if she dies I'm sure we'll be the first to know."
He glared at me. "Must you always be so flippant?"
I shrugged. "It's just the way I'm made. Incidentally, Library has reported a new access event. The information obtained is in the special annex, if you ever bothered to look."
"And does it impact directly upon our plight?"
"No, not exactly."
"Then why bother to mention it?"
"Well, apparently I'm based on an actor called Clark Gable."
Pygar frowned. "An actor? Some music-hall swell?"
"Close enough. Whereas you, my fine semi-feathered friend " I slapped his muscular shoulder," are from a tale entitled 'Barbarella'."
His wings quivered in obvious irritation. "A story-book character? What nonsense - angels exist, of that I am certain."
I gestured to my horns. "And what of devils?"
Before he could reply a Servitor entered the bedroom; an androgynous young woman clad in the simple grey dress of her calling. She approached us and dropped to one knee, head bowed. "My Lords Arbiter, Constable Fain requests your presence to rule in a dispute."
Day-to-day civic strife held no appeal for me. "You attend, Pygar. You always see the best in people."
He smiled, somewhat ruefully. "And yet I fear it is you who truly appreciates the human condition. What was it you said last week - 'a plague on both your houses'? Most apt, as it transpired."
"Still, walk amongst the populace, they find your presence heart-warming. Me they merely fear."
The angel inclined his head by way of acknowledgement. He left with the Servitor following a deferential three paces behind.
I made a mental note to watch my turn of phrase, but this new 'Shakespeare' I'd been reading seemed to worm his way into one's very substance. Library could not regulate the information acquired during these ever more frequent contacts with an entire universe somehow separated from our own - and the more I learned the less certain I became of our world and my place in it.
Alone, I turned to glare at the sleeping form of Aurelia Havisham. Although resting for a few days at a time was commonplace it was now five weeks since last she stirred. Aurelia was the axis around which the great city-state of Haven revolved; a benevolent mistress, immortal and ageless. Pygar and I were her stewards, her conscience, her dispensers of justice. The world may change but we did not.
And it was all a fraud.
Yes, Gable, I am here.
"Have you been able to learn anything more concerning Aurelia? Anything at all?"
Unfortunately nothing beyond the original reference to 'biomorphic dissonance'. However I have determined that the technology of our world is classified as 'late Victorian', and while the significance of that epithet escapes me, in context I would seem to be an obvious anachronism.
I frowned. "Meaning?"
Meaning that, as we have come to suspect, this world and everything in it is the product of an outside agency.
My scalp crinkled with fear. "Are you saying Miss Havisham is, is God?"
Everything is relative, Gable, but I fear she may be the keystone in our particular vault of heaven.
Inarticulate rage made me snarl and clench my fists.
"Should I be worried?"
A voice from behind made me start. I required a moment's composure; time to force a smile into my voice. "It's nothing that I can't handle, Stephanie."
Stephanie Collins was my current paramour; over the years I'd watched her grow from gangly child into voluptuous womanhood. She was possessed of a keen wit and an intelligence to rival my own, choosing the role of Infernal consort over that of social matriarch. I almost felt flattered, but our liaison was obviously the product of enlightened self-interest, nothing more.
She swept forward in a rustle of skirts to stand by my side; one hand on hip, the other resting on my shoulder. "No change in our sleeping beauty, I see?"
"None, but I'm sure she'd be touched by your concern."
"Pah! I'm well aware of the intimacy the three of you share when she's awake, so you'll forgive me for enjoying her continued absence. I'd just as soon see an end to her."
"We're in danger. All of us. Everything." As soon as the words escaped my lips I regretted uttering them, but nothing is as corrosive as knowledge you cannot share. And if anyone could appreciate how precarious our situation had become it was Stephanie - for Pygar seemed possessed of a wilfully anti-intellectual bent that drove me to distraction.
I felt Stephanie stiffen. "I did not think her prone to jealousy."
Her self-centred concern made me laugh, despite everything. "Aurelia turns to Pygar for tenderness, myself for debauchery, and others for general lassitude. I very much doubt she harbours any resentment at our dalliance during those times she absents herself."
Stephanie pursed her lips. "Dalliance? Is that all I am to you?"
I squeezed her heavy rear. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
She frowned. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that regardless of how I refer to you, you will always be as dear to me as you are now."
She snorted in a most unladylike way, but a slight smile played on her lips. "Always one with the silken tongue, Gable. But if not jealousy, what threatens us?"
So much for deflecting the impact of my ill-judged outburst. I took a deep breath. "Have you never questioned why Haven is the only remaining city on Earth?"
Stephanie looked at me askance. "Everything beyond the Ring Mountains is gone. But you ask me of history? You who lived through it?"
"I'm merely immortal, not infallible. I forget names if not faces, dates if not experiences. Yet when I think back to the Fall, the foundation of Haven, my memories are always the same. Incomplete but unchanging, like a stage play repeated again and again, always following the same script."
"And this troubles you?"
"I believe " I stroked my thin moustache, " I fear that this world of ours was created little more than four decades ago."
My paramour stepped back. "My parents were no mere figment of my imagination, I assure you."
"No, no, they were real enough, but their memories, everything they knew to be true, that is another matter."
"What arrant nonsense, Gable, have you lost your mind? Or do you believe that God intervened to preserve us within this mountainous ark?"
"No, not God." I gestured towards the sleeping form of Aurelia Havisham. "Her."
Stephanie stood with hands on hips, chin tilted in defiance. "Her? The Lady Eternal is no deity. She does not command the birds to sing or the rain to fall from the sky. The way she takes her earthly pleasures is not the stuff of worship, even amongst those young men she favours."
"No deity? Certainly, but still I believe all this was fashioned to a design of her choosing."
Anger darkened her face. "A sham? Worlds within worlds? And what then are we save actors on a stage of dreams? No, Gable, no - I'll not be gulled by anyone, not even our Lady." Stephanie drew a slim blade through a slit in her overskirt and raised it above her head.
I seized her wrist as she advanced towards the bed, pulling her close so that our lips almost touched. "Be not so hasty, my love. We may all wait upon sweet Aurelia's pleasure in one way or another, but she's no tyrant to be cast down by a petticoat assassin. Not even one as beautiful as you." We kissed, even as I squeezed her wrist until the stiletto dropped to the floor.
Stephanie glared at me with eyes of wet stone. "What then are you, Gable? A body-slave sworn to protect her? Do we live or die at her whim?"
I seized her roughly by the upper arms. "Think on it, damn you. Without her what use does the universe have for us?"
Gable, this is important.
"Please forgive me for interrupting this lover's tiff, but perhaps somewhere less public would be more appropriate?" It was the voice of Aurelia Havisham.
Stephanie twisted free from my grasp and curtsied. "My Lady. We meant no disrespect."
I took a moment to compose myself then turned, smiling. "My Lady."
Aurelia was sitting up in bed, clearly amused by our little tableau. "Kindly leave us, Mistress Collins. Gable will be along presently to smooth things over, whatever the cause of your, ah, disagreement."
Stephanie curtsied again and withdrew, giving me a baleful glare as she passed. I responded with an exaggerated bow that provoked a defiant toss of her head.
Despite having laid undisturbed for so long there was no sign of atrophy as Aurelia rose from the bed. "In many ways she's the ideal match for you, Gable. You should not antagonise her so wantonly."
I toyed with my moustache. "And yet, my dear, you remain the mistress of my heart."
"You're a rogue and charlatan, Gable. Which is why you'll be forever at my side." Aurelia walked over and opened the doors to her Juliet balcony. It was late May and scent from the rose garden filled the room. She breathed deeply and smiled. "Oh, how I've missed this."
I stood close behind, fingertips resting on her shoulders, and kissed the nape of her neck, her shoulder, the lobe of her ear. My voice was a low growl. "Oh, how I've missed this."
In response she turned to face me, but placed a diminutive hand on my chest and 'pushed' me away. "Was there something you wanted to ask me?" Her face was bland, seemingly devoid of guile.
Ignorance may not have been bliss but it had its appeal. However I knew this uncertainty would fester within me. I cleared my throat. "Is this world a lie?"
Aurelia arched an eyebrow. "A lie? It's no mass illusion for your benefit, if that's what you mean."
"You overheard us, you know damn well what I mean."
She sighed. "You no longer believe that Haven is a refuge designed to survive the fall of a once-great civilization? You no longer believe that we-three are its guardians?"
"I think it artifice, a folly, if one constructed on a gargantuan scale."
"What first raised your suspicions? For forty years you've accepted this version of events. What changed?"
"Ah, yes, Library. He was always going to be a necessary evil. The serpent in my Eden, if you will. What happened?"
"New information, impossible information, which I now see has somehow leaked in from the real world."
"Haven has endured far longer than anyone thought possible, but nothing lasts forever."
I drew myself up. "Is that why you returned, for a final visit? You wished to deliver our death sentence in person?"
"If it were the end of the world, and nothing could be done to avert it, would you really want to know?"
"The true test of a man is how he faces the inevitable."
Aurelia prodded me in the chest. "But you are no mere man, Gable, you are the Devil incarnate. The embodiment of mankind's venal pursuits, just as Pygar represents his spiritual side."
"Words, words, but I hear no salvation in them. May the condemned man at least know the capital crime of which he is guilty?"
She did not answer directly but turned away to stand at the balcony, leaning on the wrought-iron railing. "Do you know why I chose the name Aurelia Havisham?"
"So your identity is another falsehood? I suppose it hardly matters now."
"Oh, the 'Aurelia' is true enough but 'Miss Havisham' is a literary character, a young woman who becomes a recluse after being jilted at the altar."
I heard the catch in her voice and said nothing.
"In my world, in the real world, I was an heiress. The beauty barbers did what they could but I knew it was my wealth that lent me allure. I could have accepted that, enjoyed the company of young men, then younger men, but ultimately I'd become a figure of ridicule. Some double-standards never die, apparently."
"But then I met Simon. He was young, ambitious " She glanced over her shoulder, " vigorous, and made no secret of wanting my fortune to further his grandiose designs. And still I loved him. Our wedding was a lavish affair, even by the standards of the day, and the Patriarch himself agreed to officiate."
"You do not have to continue, Aurelia, I believe the outcome is clear."
"I reached the cathedral to find only the groomsman waiting. He handed me a letter from Simon, hand-written at least. I have it still, unopened."
"I could not face the congregation, I could not face society. Like Miss Havisham I retreated to my country estate but even that was not enough. I needed to escape my world and everything, everyone, in it."
"And so you created Haven, by means I cannot begin to understand."
She laughed, although it was bitter-sweet at best. "This is the mote in God's eye. A fraction of the universe folded in upon itself, hidden even from divine scrutiny."
"Your world seems one of many wonders."
"My world? My world is ailing, Gable. It is exhausted, overcrowded, devoid of hope. It is run by desperate men contemplating desperate measures."
My mouth moved soundlessly for a few moments while my mind floundered for a reply. "They, they would come here? Occupy our land, enslave us?"
"Heavens, no!" Aurelia sounded genuinely amused at my naivety and I felt my face burn with embarrassment. "Haven only exists as a reality-bubble within the event horizon of an artificial singularity."
"I do not understand what that means, but I know that bubbles always burst."
"Yes, bubbles always burst, but the pioneering technology I funded, the way in which Haven was created, bought me a place at the top table, so to speak. That same methodology will now be used on a vastly greater scale to transmute all this " She spread her arms as if to encompass the world outside the window," into a second Earth, a virgin canvas."
"Man would now rival God in his creation?"
I could hear the frown in her voice. "It's based on 'dark matter manipulation', but do not ask me what that means." She hesitated for a moment, "I understand that the process is not without risk."
Ah, so there it was. The open cell door that leads only to the scaffold. Only with great effort did I keep the anger from my voice. "I did not think you this cruel, my sweet. You could have watched from afar and only explained matters after our miraculous transformation. Or mourned our passing."
Aurelia sighed, "I am old, Gable, old beyond my time. This body, this Aurelia, offers an escape from my decrepit carcass back in the real world. In any event our fates are intertwined. Haven sprang from my imagination and now it is I and I alone who must imprint that vision onto the raw chaos of creation." She turned to face me, "Imagine, I am to be the architect of a new world. My sisters in the Eastern Star will venerate my name in ages to come."
I seized her, took her in my arms. "How long do we have? Is there yet time enough for love?"
"The process is imminent, but you were always opportunistic."
I caressed her cheek. "And should this grand enterprise of yours come to nought, what then?"
"Then God blinks and nothing."
I laughed. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more."
She stared at me in obvious surprise. "Macbeth? Shakespeare at his most pessimistic. However I would say The Tempest is more apt, given our circumstances."
"The Tempest? Enlighten me."
Now it was Aurelia's turn to laugh. "O brave new world, that has such people in it!"
"And shall there be room for all, on these virgin shores?"
"Well, I'm unsure what humanity in general will make of Pygar, but it certainly isn't ready for the Devil himself."
I grinned, leaning in to kiss her. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
© Martin M. Clark 2016 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 11:13 Sun 28 Aug 2016
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