White Knight, Black Queen
Jay got up from the floor where she’d been sitting. CaraBelle looked at her and raised an eyebrow slightly, not wanting to ask, but obviously dying with curiosity. Jay closed her eyes and stretched arms out to each side of her, turning around slowly, breathing deeply. A smile grew on her face. Two revolutions and she was grinning widely with eyes shut tight.
“It’s wonderful CaraBelle. Its like I’ve been living my life with my head in a bag and here I am finally experiencing it for real, the bag gone. I can see for real now. I dont need to spaz out on you or anything!”
Jay kept turning until she was facing CaraBelle and opened her eyes. There was something different about her, for sure, an inner glow of life and health; a laptop computer on battery trying to conserve power finally plugged into mains power.
“We have to go out, I cant just sit around here.”
“But…” CaraBelle started, but was cut off.
“You remember how we used to do it, dont you? This time we dont have to go out of a window or anything!”
They both laughed. CaraBelle opened her mouth to speak but Jay was already moving, going for CaraBelle’s backpack, searching through it, finally coming up with her wallet. Moments later Jay had CaraBelle’s driving license in her hands.
“No, this wont do at all!” Jay said with a wicked grin, “It says here that you’re 17. You need to be at least 21 to get in…”
“Uhhh, Jay, what are you doing?”
“Just a minor tweak to the license. See, in the green, it all makes sense now. Your license exists with a bond to you, and carrying some data about you. All I need to do is…” Jay closed her eyes and stroked her fingers over the surface of the license, as though reading braille.
“… there!” she said with a flourish, handing it to CaraBelle. Sure enough, all of the data was there when she looked, it still said her real age, but there was something about the license that urged her not to believe the numbers, to believe that she really was “old enough”.
Jay was already repeating the activity on her own license.
“What did you do?” CaraBelle asked
“It was you that helped. I looked at you earlier when I was turning around, I saw a hint of disbelief, and how that affected you. I added disbelief to the data on your license. I think it will wear off. Let’s go shopping, then screw the pancake house, I want to go dancing!” CaraBelle found herself swept up in Jay’s buoyant mood.
While CaraBelle drove Jay lay back in her seat and closed her eyes. The world around her was dark but the green was only a short distance away. It felt like when she was trying to see the magic eye pictures, a purely 2D image leaping out into 3D just by defocussing her eyes, now she could defocus and see the extra dimension around her even when her eyes were shut. Data impacted her senses from all sides: the speed of Cara Belle’s driving, a projected route through the maze of one-way streets downtown, other cars zipping past them … and a hovering presence.
In the green the presence looked like a swirling cloud, always just in her peripheral vision, somehow blocked from being known fully. The swirling resolved itself as complex streams of structure the more she concentrated on it, an ever changing structure that gave occasional glimpses deeper inside. It reminded Jay of pictures of Venus, roiling clouds over a toxic atmosphere. Swirling, shifting patterns of green texture enclosing a fiery heart. The more she thought of fire, the more distinct the presence became, moving out of peripheral vision into better view. Between swirling streamers of green there were gaps, allowing Jay to see the internal fires, and also allowing sparks to escape.
The sparks came at random intervals. They shot out like little bullets from a gun, as though the fiery presence was waiting for the gaps to take advantage of them. One passed close to Jay and without thinking she reached out and caught it on her palm, expecting to be burned. It exerted a force, an urgent little need to be somewhere, that she was holding up vital business. She remembered the soda machine and how reality wanted to maintain itself in some measure of order. The clock on the treadmill had given her the sense of an orderliness, of progressing in a particular direction and fulfilling a function. This little spark clearly had a function. It clearly knew it needed to be somewhere and being about business all its own.
“Its own?” Jay thought
She concentrated on the spark, watching its insides, “Where do you want to be, little spark?”
She could feel it getting more urgent about wanting to be about its business, a constant fluttering force, trying to escape. It was just like when she’d picked up the class canary. She’d been careful not to hurt it, used a loose grip, but it had twittered and flapped its wings trying to get away and fly around the classroom. Could the spark be a good little carrier pigeon for her? She reached down and cupped her other hand over the spark feeling it start to move around inside her hands. She concentrated on knowing where it was going to, on it somehow telling her when it got there. Then she opened her hands and released the spark. It skimmed off through the green at high speed leaving something like a dust trail behind itself. Jay giggled, it looked like a cartoon character who’s feet had been spinning on the spot and suddenly released … Road Runner zipping off down the desert road with a cloud in his wake.
“What’re you laughing at?” Cara Belle asked.
“Oh, I was thinking about Road Runner cartoons.” Jay said.
“What, you think I drive that fast?” CaraBelle joked.
“No … but I might drop an anvil on you if we dont get to the club soon. Have you ever been there? I heard some folks talking about it – The Jade Room – it’s in the sub-basement with 2 levels of clothing and music stores above it. Open 24 hours from what I’ve heard.” Jay explained.
Soon they were looking for somewhere to park, Jay spotted the sign first, “Jurong public parking, 324 spaces free”. CaraBelle pulled in to the public parking lot, surrounded by buildings with a distinctly oriental feel. The club was meant to be only a short walk away but both girls felt uneasy. They waited for traffic to clear, finally cutting between a black Lexus and a dark blue mid-sized SUV. After a short walk past dilapidated doorways the pathway began following the edge of a canal. Every few hundred yards an ornate bridge allowed access to the other side. Jay and CaraBelle soon found themselves standing under a sign proudly claiming to be a Chinese Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine clinic, looking across the water into an open courtyard with the club on the far side. Pigeons cooed and wandered around in the middle of the paved area, reminding Jay of the little spark she’d released. She wondered where it was going and hoped it would be there soon. “Fly away little spark, be free!” she thought.
The building housing “The Jade Room” wasnt well maintained from the outside, typical for all of the other buildings in the district of Jurong. Jay guessed that it had, at one time, housed a Chinese laundry before being renovated and turned into one if the leading clubs in the International Quarter. The clothing stores leaned toward the mainstream end of the fashion range, reminding Jay of an extended and more in-depth version of “Hot Topic”; the store directory indicated that the 1st sub-level contained sections dedicated to “Vampires”, “Fairies” and “All things furry”. She grabbed CaraBelle’s arm and led her downward at a fast walk.
Jay soon found an outfit quite quickly, the clothing brand XtraX underground fashion1 simply leapt up and begged to be bought. She picked out a black velvet shirt labelled “Mystic Lady”2, black leather pants with side lace-up flared leg3 and opted to keep her own Doc Marten boots. CaraBelle was harder, not happy with any of the options in the “gothic beauty”4 section of the store.
The store were more crowded than the two girls expected them to be this late in the evening. Shoppers were milling around in small groups; goths of all flavours, everything from the clearly underage to the ridiculous over-dressed. One couple looked to be dressed for a wedding, him in grey frock coat with spider-web embroidery, tons of lace and ruffles and top hat. His partner was dressed in a black wedding dress with lace-up corset and white lace collar. Both wore white foundation and black lipstick and too much eyeliner, though Jay was no expert on such things. The female goth carried a black lace parasol, while he sported a cane with a silver dragon handle. They caught Jay’s eye and held it, demanding to be seen. Inside her mind Jay could feel a warning that started small and quiet but raised in intensity the longer she focussed on the goth couple. At the last moment she broke off from watching them and caught a glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd passing the door of the shop.
“Hey CowBell, I think I just saw my shrink.” She said in surprise.
“Didnt you say she was some corporate big-shot, dressed to the nines each time you’ve seen her?” CaraBelle answered.
“Yes, but …”
“I wouldnt worry … I’m sure even doctors have to let off steam sometime. Now, let’s go find me something to wear.”
It didnt take long to locate the section of the store dedicated to fairies – a five foot wingspan set of wings hung from the ceiling. There seemed an almost unlimited set of options for buying different shaped wings with airbrushed designs on them.
CaraBelle giggled like a schoolgirl at the prospect of walking around in the open with the real thing on display. It seemed decadent, like walking around in public wearing nothing but bodypaint, painted to look like clothing. She eventually settled on a lilac and white skirt made from a number of layers of shimmering petals5 and a silvery halter top that left her entire back bare. She slipped into one of the fitting rooms and called Jay over in a few moments for her opinion.
Jay nodded and said, “Ditch the shoes, looks far better with bare feet. Overall though, looks great. How’s it feel to come out in public with your big secret on display?”
CaraBelle grinned and blushed.
As they left the fitting rooms the gothic wedding couple entered passing close by the two girls. Jay shivered. Something was definitely not right about them!
While they were paying for the outfits Jay thought she saw a cascade of green light scanning downward initially flashing above, then down around the edges, finally under the bottom of a door in the fitting room area. She frowned and signed the credit card slip. They left the shop and she shot a quick glance backward. Was that the dark-haired stranger who’d been in her house coming out of one of the fitting rooms? She shook her head chiding herself for being paranoid.
They lost themselves in the flow of people letting themselves be carried along like authumn leaves on a swolen stream. Jay was reminded, strangely enough, of the end of Sesame Street, “This show brought to you by the colour black and the letters S and M”. They descended stairs and had to turn a sharp right into the main dance-floor of the Jade Room. To their left was a well stocked bar with a pair of shaven-headed barmaids working to keep with demand. Green lasers projected the club name onto the wall by the bar. Their beams scattering in the smoky atmophere reminding Jay of the connections she saw in the green to her parents and brother. Across the room lights painted coloured pools of light on the dance floor. Spotlights picked out a band on the stage. Two more trained on the ornate banner hanging behind the drummer, proudly claiming the band to be none other than “Talïsman”, an Icelandic darkwave6 band Keisha had initially suggested Jay listen to.
The crowd carried both girls forward into the room but the pressure abated quickly as people spread themselves between bar, dance floor and various alcoves around the room containing low tables and couches. A number of the tables were occupied by a middle eastern hookah being smoked by groups as they enjoyed the music, their faces hidden in the shadow of the booth. With the crowd thinning CaraBelle felt free to open her wings. She’d kept them deliberately folded close to her body while people jad justled them down to the bar. She couldnt help but smile at the sensation of stretching them in public and not having anyone stare at her. She and a dozen other women wore wings but none were her equal, unsurprisingly. She turned to Jay and found her scanning the room intently. There as a look of concern on her face again.
“Dont tell me you saw someone again?” she asked.
Jay shook her head, “No, just checking to see if they’re still here.”
“Are they?” CaraBelle asked.
“I dont know. I dont know if I even saw them the first time. Im just feeling freaked out.” Jay replied.
“You’re feeling freaked out? Who’s the normal looking one here?” CaraBelle asked, eyebrow raised.
“Uhh, no-one, not in this crowd.” Jay said, being deliberately obtuse.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, but still, that goth couple were all wrong. I dont know what it was but it was like they werent really alive. Felt like death walked past me.”
CaraBelle laughed out loud, “Take a look at this place, half the people here idolize the dead. They count death as one of their myspace friends. Sounds to me like those two got their look, their fragrance and makeup just right. You’re still probably freaking out from the confessions and sneaking in here tonight.”
Jay shook her head, “No. It went beyond the normal senses. It was like reality was crying out in pain when they walked past me. I’ve felt that pain each time I change something. Reality wants to be a certain way and I know I am violating it. It pushes back and the hard thing with making changes is enduring the icy pressure long enough to finish what needs to be done. Since you helped me out I’ve been faster at the changes, can get more done in the same time, but it’s still a fight to exert my will over that of the world system. Those two in the fitting room radiated waves of that iciness. It made me shiver. I dont know how but they were violating reality somehow.”
CaraBelle pulled Jay by the arm over to an empty alcove, waiting until they had descended into its shadowy depths before speaking, “Why dont we keep watch here a little while. If the coast is clear we can enjoy the rest of the night. Sound good?”
Jay nodded, her eyes on the dancing masses.
The band finished a set of six songs before she finally relaxed. CaraBelle was agitated the whole time, reacting instinctively to the dark tone of the music and to Jay’s unsettled feelings. Eventually Jay decided to give her friend a break, a chance to come to terms with her own feelings without hers to muddy the waters.
“How about I get us a drink from the bar?” she asked, sliding out of the seat and stepping past the table.
“OK. I’ll be here.”
The bar was packed 4 people deep when Jay got there. Folks at the front were served and pushed their way back through the bodies with their spot at the bar filled before they’d gone more than a couple of steps. Jay was amazed how long it took her to get to the bar and then to catch the eye of one of the bar-staff.
“Want a hand?” a male voice asked next to her.
She turned and found herself looking at a reasonably normal guy wearing black tshirt and jeans without a hint of makeup.
“Sure. We’re drinking 2 cokes.” She didnt mean it to come out quite like that, like she was asking him to buy, but it did.
He didnt seem to mind either, extending his right hand, he said “Im Chris.”
Jay shook his hand. His skin felt cool, his grip firm but not painful, the duration calculated to be polite but not outstay his welcome.
“Im Jay, the other coke is for a friend of mine.” she answered.
Chris smiled and elbowed himself to a spot at the bar and very shortly had the attention of one of the barmaids. She quickly took his money and returned with two glasses and two long-neck beer bottles.
As they turned to head back to CaraBelle, Jay didnt notice Chris drop two small white pills into each of the glasses of coke, or him nod toward a woman seated at the far end of the bar. The woman known to Jay as “Doctor” Pomona.
Jay arrived back at the table she was sharing with CaraBelle empty handed but with a man in tow. CaraBelle couldnt help but grin whe Jay introduced him as “Chris, the pack-mule”.
“Who’s the extra beer for?” She asked him.
Chris ignored the comment and waved to another man on the crowded dance floor. He came over and Chris introduced him, “This is Ian, a fellow corporate turd herder.”
Both girls burst out laughing. Jay almost snorted her drink out of her nose. Somehow the prospect of making a good first impression with a guy didnt square with the vivid image of coca-cola spraying from her nostrils. She wiped her mouth and offered Ian her hand to shake, narrowly beating CaraBelle to the target. Ian picked up his beer and slid onto the couch next to CaraBelle. The band chose to start back into their next set of songs and Jay didnt hear the whispered comments that he made to CaraBelle, she only saw the slight blush and shy smile the comment caused.
“So what did you mean corporate turd herder?” She asked Chris.
“Which would you prefer, that or human resources, grade III?” he answered.
“I dont know.” she found herself giggling at nothing in particular, “I just wondered what you do is all.”
Chris nodded toward her empty glass of coke, “Hey Ian, your turn to buy. 2 cokes, a beer for me, and whatever you’re having.”
Ian grudgingly disentangled himself from CaraBelle who had been leaning against him, his arm around her shoulders. He returned quickly with the drinks, even more efficient than Chris had been.
Chris pushed the new glass of coke in front of Jay, “My job is easy. Some people are focussed on the hiring and recruitment process. I am the opposite. As a corporate turn herder, it’s my job to ensure that those who’ve been scheduled to be terminated, ” he paused briefly, then corrected, “whose employment has been scheduled to be terminated are processed in an expedient manner. Someone else might, uhhh, push the flush but it’s people like Ian and myself who do the legwork to execute their request.”
Jay nodded sagely, only bearly taking it in. The world beyond their table had a comfortable soft-focus to it, the sea of dancing people a slow-motion blur, the music a wall of elecronic sound. Across the table CaraBelle was happily coo-ing with pleasure, a rosy glow in her cheeks. Ian was whispering in her ear, his hand lazily stroking her back and the first few inches of her wings. Next to Jay, Chris was talking about something but she’d lost track of it. She smiled and laid her head back on the couch, closed her eyes and let the moment wash over her.
There was a moment, a flash of clarity, while she had her eyes shut. Her “carrier spark” had reached its destination and called to her. She was in a college dorm room watching her brother Eli studying for a chemistry mid-term. A faint green overlay covered everything and a yellow spark circled Eli’s head. It circled twice before darting inside him and lighting up parts of his brain in sudden stimulation. She instinctively knew the epicentre of the stimulation, seeing its connection to his ears in the green. With the last of the yellow fading from the brain she made a move to superimpose her own self over him. She urged herself to hear the echoes of that moment and his response.
“It’s alright.” the Voice whispered to him, “Dont panic. Feel your purpose swelling within you. Trust me and I’ll guide you.”
The Voice! It had been silent for so long now that Jay had almost forgotten it. What was it doing speaking to her brother?
She felt a force pulling at her, urging her to return. At first she could resist it but soon it was impossible and she felt herself dragged back along the line of their connection in the green, back to her own body. Chris and Ian were there, were alert. CaraBelle was glowing with all the attention Ian was showering on her, not to mention the stimulus being applied in the form of fingertip caresses along the sensitive wings. Jay saw herself sitting with head lolling back on the couch and with a start realized that her awareness was floating three feet above the table. For a moment or two she hesitated, pondered the situation, which was enough time to catch a look that passed between Ian and Chris. Ian nodded, never breaking the rhythm of fingertips on CaraBelle’s soap-bubble wing. Chris pulled out a cellphone and speed-dialed, trusting the music and Jay’s prone state to cover him as he spoke.
“You’re certain the suppressants are active?” a female voice said
“Absolutely. As you predicted, two was enough at her level of ability.”
“Then we’ll proceed.” she said and terminated the call. Chris closed the phone and picked up his beer, keeping a watchful eye on the apparently sleeping Jay.
Jay felt connections in the green vibrate, the strong ones, the ones to family. She couldnt be three places at once, though she suspected that her father and mother were probably together so that only made two, but even so … two places at once was impossible. She wished she could ask CaraBelle to check one and she’d take the other. On impulse she launched herself down the connection to her brother. The laser-like line through the green vibrated with greater intensity the closer she got to him. She stopped before she’d gone all the way, aware that she wasnt alone. Her bother’s dorm room door was open and he was with a girl. She was short, barely above 5 foot nothing, had waist-legth dark hair and piercing eyes. Her outfit was straight out of an S&M catalogue, all PVC and clingy. Her fingers entwined him Eli’s hair and her mouth pressed to his in an urgent kiss. In the green Jay could see a flow of fiery sparks passing between her and Eli. From nowhere a seething cloud appeared and sped toward him. Occasional fiery sparks were released from between the roiling clouds of green texture, the sparks travelling through the PVC girl and into Jay’s brother. Eventually she broke the kiss and spoke. Jay couldnt her the words but the intent was clear once the woman produced two shiny pills – one red, one blue – offering Eli a choise. His hand hovered over the blue before finally settling on red. The pill went down into him and caused a brief green flash that the churning cloud homed in on. It moved close to Eli and his fingers reached to part the clouds. A steady stream of liquid flame poured out and fused with him, leaving the green cloud a discarded shell. Eli reached and pulled PVC-girl into a passionate embrace and Jay moved away, unable to watch any more.
The connections to her parents were still insistently calling her. When she responded she found herself watching their flight plummeting toward the ocean. Flames licked around the edge of the underside where a hole had been blown out of the cargo area. It looked to Jay like the explosion had been from inside given the shape of the torn metal.
Feelings of Keisha’s death rose in her. She screamed. Why? If she’d arrived sooner, maybe she could have done something. Jay immersed her awareness deep into the green that surrounded her. She could see the flow of it across the skin of the plane. There was no grumpy old lay to ask for the treadmill this time, just the imminent death of her parents to contend with. Jay concentrated and the billowing smoke slowed to an absolute crawl. The it froze in mid-air. In front of her outstretched hands she had the plane frozen in mid-air. The air itself was still. Icy pain washed over her as reality exterted its will. The fight was on and Jay pushed, pushed hard making the plane climb back up the steep gradient, reversing the flow. Fragments of debris were drawn back into place. Smoke billowed back into the cargo hold. The plane leveled out and the metal underside of the plane sealed itself shut.
Jay knew she only had moments of concentration left as she pushed herself inside the frozen plane. She could feel her hold on reality slipping like icy fingers trying to hold the hand of a fallen comrade. There! In the luggage she found the case containing the explosives. She read the label, “Yochanan Sachsmann”. Inside she could see the small package that had been delivered to them. Could see the brown paper wrapping had been opened and another package inside was labelled to another person. Her father was only the courier. She had to do something, had to warn him. She raced upward through the plane’s interior to the passenger cabin but is was already too late. Reality had reasserted itself. Time was flowing again. This time she got to watch the explosion from inside the cabin. Watched the plane plummet, watched her parents cling to one another in terror. At the last minute she saw her father reach to the back of his neck and squeezed.
Jay abruptly found herself back in the Jade Room club, eyes shut, with the clear double sensation. The deep connection to her parents had been severed. They were dead, in the midst of the flaming wreckage of the plane. Lost at sea. Overlapping that was the distinct impression of reality crying out. A piece had been bitten off again, the piece containing her father. She curled up in a fetal position on the couch, sobbing.