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Monday, September 29, 2014

One Big Star

The Zombie Ray From Outer Space And Other Pulp Tales [Kindle Edition]
D.A. Madigan 





AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Marvel Super-Villain Team Up

It was, perhaps, early evening in the desert... the recent sunset's golds and reds  yet lingered in a thin, tattered banner along the western horizon, allowing the pyramids to be silhouetted sharp and dark against its fading glory.   The scentomizers were tuned perfectly; the smells of arid, faintly spicy sand, fecund poppy fields, silty Nile water gurgling through canals, the sweat of the nearby camels, the dry, powdery aroma of the silk pavilion canopies... all of these mingled with the delicious aroma wafting off the haunch of goat crackling over a camel fewmet fire.  

The fire crackled convincingly; a dry desert breeze moved through the oasis like an invisible river, rustling the pavilion silks authentically.  

In the oasis' central pool, thirty feet from the crackling fire, two men soaked.  Fresh from the rejuvenation baths, neither looked more than perhaps forty Earth years of age, one of them, in fact, could have been half that.  

Both had the deeply bronzed skins of long time desert dwellers, although it was for each an affectation; neither had felt actual sunlight on their skins for longer than he could easily calculate.   Both were hawk nosed, clear eyed, dark haired, heavy browed; to an ignorant observer, they would convey the appearance of father and son, for one seemed to be at least two decades older than the other.    Appearances deceived, as they so often do... the two men were not father and son.  They were much, much closer... and each was much, much more ancient than he seemed.  

"So, then, Pharaoh," the older man boomed, slapping the cool oasis water with his palm just to hear the pleasant plashing noise it made.  "Is it not as I have said?  Are not the diversions of Limbo infinite and inexhaustible?"

The one addressed as Pharaoh did not answer... at first.  He was a thoughtful man.  Quick-witted when necessary, but now, no emergency urged instant response.  He pondered his elder's words, and when his reply was fully formulated, only then did he voice it:

"Indeed," he agreed.  "And yet... and yet..."

There was a wistful sadness to his tone that was not lost on the older man.   "You dwell on the past too much," the Pharaoh's elder observed.  "Here in Limbo, there is no past, no future... just an eternal now.  And now is enough... is it not?"

"You have been the best of mentors, o Immortus," the Pharaoh Rama Tut replied, choosing each syllable with care.  "And Limbo... Limbo does, indeed, offer an eternity of delights.  Yet... as I discovered in my own court, in the 40th Century... a life without strife is a life without meaning."

"Feh," Immortus snapped.  "I need no telepathy to discern  your thoughts, my friend... and although there is no time here, the circadian rhythms of your own flesh tell you that now is the time of year when your beloved Ravonna was first cut down by that cur Baltag.  Do you think I do not feel it myself?  Do you think I have forgotten?"  His hand tightened into a fist.  "I will never forget, my friend.  Never."

Then he spread his fingers again, and waved airily.  "But life goes on, Rama... for us.  Ravonna remains in her eternal sleep, Baltag remains dead, Lords of Time rip his spirit to shreds forever... yet for us, life goes on."

Immortus turned and gestured imperiously.  His strange servant -- 'my only subject, here in Limbo', as he often labeled the creature -- appeared a few feet away from him, seeming to condense out of the very darkling air, standing on the damp sand, rubbing his spider-fingered hands together.  "Yessss, my master?" the creature hissed.

"Bring the entertainment now," the older man commanded.  

The strange servitor nodded once, his oddly furrowed countenance blank beneath his overlarge eyes and wild, tangled brows.   To the Pharaoh, those eyes had always suggested boiled owl's eggs.

The servitor vanished, as quickly as he had come.  "Does that creature have a name?" the Pharaoh asked, making no attempt to mask the irritation in his tone.

Immortus chuckled.  "He is the only subject of Limbo," the immortal time traveler said.  "Why would he need a name?"  He paused.  "Although as to that, he is really no more a 'he' than the silicone in that sand... I built him to be the ultimate shapeshifter, you know.  A perfect agent."

"So you have said," Rama Tut responded, distaste still evident in his tone.  "But there is something..."

There was a jangling... silvery, musical.  And then, from one of the pavilions, the six greatest beauties of mythical Earth's storied history came across the sand, clad in silks and bells and perfumes.   The Pharaoh's protest died in his throat.  Ravonna had been beautiful, in her own provincial way.  But these women...!

"Do you like them?" Immortus chuckled.  "There is Cleopatra, of your own land, but a few thousand years past your time.  Her beauty... and her skills in the pillow arts... are still legendary millenia after her death."  A dusky skinned, broad nosed beauty, full of hip and bust, nodded in response to Immortus' words.

"And here is Princess Ranadys of the land of Esteros, which sank beneath the vast world ocean aeons before Atlantis ever arose.  She was the last dragon queen..."  Here a silver haired girl, slender as a willow, with purple eyes that flashed an inner fire, smiled coquettishly at him.

Doubtless Immortus introduced all six of the women, and all of them were, indeed, legendary beauties.   But the Pharaoh only had eyes for one... just one... a strong looking female, whose figure was somehow voluptuous yet athletic at the same time, with clean, clear, beautiful features and hair the color of spun gold.   Eyes as blue as weapon-steel stared back at his unblushingly, showing a will as strong and as inexorable as gravity... even if that will was now bent and somewhat blunted beneath the hypnotic influence of Immortus' mind control beams.

"And this is Carol Danvers, of the late 20th Century," Immortus said.  "She has been recently exposed to a Kree device known as a Psyche Magnitron which has had an interesting effect on her, both psychically and physically.  Her DNA is now an intriguing mingling of Terran and Kree, and she has just embarked on a career with the Avengers..."

Immortus noted the clear signs of infatuation on the face of the Pharaoh... the dilated pupils, the flared nostrils, the deepening breath tones.   It was aggravating.  He had hoped to provide his guest and student with a distraction from futile, choleric thoughts regarding Ravonna... but once he had seen the six women chosen by his servitor, he had also thought to keep this one to his exclusive use.   Something about her aura... so ferocious.   Of course, he knew she had a significant destiny, one that stood out even among the larger than life fates and dooms of the Earthling superhuman class he had made an obsessive study of his whole life... yet, still.  There was something magnetic about the woman, here, in person...

"We will share her," Immortus snapped.  "Come, Pharaoh."

The two men waded up out of the pool side by side, and as one, put a hand out to clasp either arm of the woman named Carol Danvers --

* * * * * 

The man awoke, some time later, head aching.   "Where..."

He was lying in a cool pool of water, beneath a spreading... what was that thing?... a date palm tree, that was it.    

Around him was a... watering hole?  No.  The word was oasis.  There were silk canopies, rippling in a low, cool breeze.    The braying of a just wakened donkey, or... camel?  And...

There, lying face down on the sand... a woman.  A woman with golden blonde hair... and smoke, rising from her forearms.  Almost as if her arms were energy weapons, and had fired some kind of discharge...

The man splashed to her side without further thought.  He did not know who she was, but a great passion for her stirred within him... so great that it had not yet occurred to him that he also did not know who he, himself, was... 

* * * * * * 

The man awoke, some time later, head aching.  Face down, in something soft and scratchy, that rustled in the breeze... 

He knew that smell, that texture.  Kentucky blue grass...!  He sat up, abruptly.

He was in a field... or so it seemed.  Several large, powerful looking, oddly beautiful creatures stood on four legs each, cropping the thick grass, ten or twelve arms lengths away from him.

But it wasn't true.  Somehow he knew, this field full of... hoses?  No, horses... was an illusion.  There was something about it... the feel of the air wasn't quite right.  The scentomizers were slightly off, and not masking the metallic air conditioning smell fully....

The scene shimmered, and vanished.  The man was sitting on the floor in a small, gloomy, roughly rectangular chamber, made of what seemed to be a dull grey metal.   The smell of the air conditioning was more pronounced, now.  

From the empty air, a cool, pleasant  voice spoke to him:  "This res-quart is designated as uninhabited.  Who are you and how did you come to access it?"

The man thought for a moment.  "I... I do not know," he confessed, finally.

"Working," the pleasant voice responded.  "Analysis of microscopic cellular particles taken from your respiration indicate..."  There was a pause.  "You have DNA strands aligned to several prominent sociopolitical lines," it continued, eventually.  "But identification cannot be made  conclusively.  You are... unknown."

The last two syllables were spoken evenly, without inflection... but the man would have sworn the voice was, nonetheless, appalled to have to confess to such a thing.

"Identity is necessary," the voice continued.  "I shall assign you a random nomenclature and begin building identity files for you.  Basic remedial training in civil necessities will be made available to you.    This cubicle will be assigned to your needs."

The man got to his feet.  "You are a computer," he said.  

"I am a pseudosentience," the voice corrected him, somewhat primly.  "My specific role is social optimization.  Do not worry.  A place will be found for you."

It paused once more, and then continued.  "Your DNA has some strands taken from the prominent Richards family.  I shall, therefore, assign you the name Nathaniel Richards..."

* * * * * 

The woman did not remember her name, any more than he did his.   But when she had first looked up at him with those laser bright blue eyes and asked him who he was, a fragment of conversation had come back to him.  He had been speaking with an older man, who looked somewhat like him... his father?... that seemed wrong, somehow, but still, in his photographic recall of this fragmentary, isolated scene, the resemblance was unmistakable.  

The man had been laughing, and saying "...no heir... none that lived, anyway.  But should I ever have a worthy son, I will name him Marcus..."

"Marcus," he had told her.  "My name is Marcus."  It felt right, on some level, and wrong, on another... but he also had a deep conviction that he had lived a long, rich life, and over the course of it, he had had many names.  Marcus was as good as any...

"You are Carol," he told her, knowing as he said it that it was correct.

"Carol," she said, tasting the name.  "And... we are alone here, Marcus...?"

Marcus looked around.  "Yes," he said.  "I... "  He looked back at her, boldly.  "From how I feel when I look at you, Carol, I think... I think we are honeymooning."

She met his gaze with hers... and then, when he bent his head forward, she met his mouth with hers, as well... 

* * * * * *

The newly minted Nathaniel Richards did well at his studies, and showed an aptitude with the subatomic particle circuitry that 30th Century technology was entirely built around.  But he was restive.   The place and time he had come to was very civilized... almost decadent.  Any citizen could have anything he or she wanted, merely by asking a socio-mech to simulate the sensation.    Somewhere in his mind, Nathaniel was reminded of a bit of ancient folk wisdom... "Instant gratification takes too long..."

There was no challenge here, nothing to strive for!  

Yet Nathaniel had a goal, one that burned within him.  A set of blazing blue eyes, looking into his.. his?  Or some other man's?  He could not quite remember.    Skin as soft as velvet under his touch, stretched taut over muscles like corded titanium... and a psychic aura that blazed like a supernova.   He could not recall her face, her form, any other details of her appearance... but he would move mountains to find her.  She was his, and he was hers... even though he had a feeling that he had at least one rival for her affection.  It would not matter.  He knew, in his heart, that he was a conqueror, and he would always be supreme... 

He knew where to look for her.  A half remembered snatch of conversation... "the late 20th Century... just embarked on a career with the Avengers..."   

He'd done global searches using those phrases.  Something had happened in that era... something important.  The Celestial Madonna, so called, had given birth to... someone... a child that had risen to unite the entire galaxy, at least, for a time, under one benevolent banner.   A Golden Age, a time of unparalleled prosperity, which had lasted a thousand years... which was still going on, even today, here in the exasperatingly peaceful year of 3012.  

Was the woman he sought this Madonna?  Somehow, he was sure she must be.   She must be.  His true love... somehow he knew, she would not be sitting around waiting for him to claim her.  He would have to fight others for her... he would have to conquer!  But in the end, she would be his.

Time travel was known to be possible... supposedly, the technology had originated in that very era.  He could go there, and find her.  

He would.  He would conquer the entire universe, all of time itself, if that was what it took to win her to his side...!

* * * * * * 

"She could not have had the child here in Limbo," the servitor said, his tones (as always) an unsettling mixture of sneer and sycophancy.  "There is no duration here.  It would not have prospered..."

"I know that," the man who no longer called himself Marcus snapped.  "But it might have done well on Earth, in Carol's native time frame, if I had not seized on its form as a vehicle for my own escape from this hellish place..."

"Well," the servitor responded, "you could have just opened a portal.  You know how to use the machines."

"Opening a portal into the late 20th Century is always difficult," the man snapped.  "Temporal turbulence makes such a transit hazardous at best.  I thought the other gambit might work better.  If those idiot heroes hadn't destroyed my machine, I could have corrected that body's asynchronous genetic coordinates, and..."

"Coulda, shoulda, woulda," the servitor said.   "I do feel deep admiration for the novel way in which you dumped her, though, after she followed you back here.   That illusion of you aging to decrepitude and dying within a few moments... that was masterfully done.   She'll be some time getting over the psychological scars of that little break up ploy... it may well drive her to drink."

"She's strong," the man said.  "She'll be fine."  He shrugged.  "I truly thought I loved the wench."

"Ah, infatuation," the servitor thought, waggling his disturbingly unkempt eyebrows provocatively.   "You know that Immortus was infatuated with her as well, do you not?  And wherever he may have ended up, he will seek her out, as well?"

"I am Immortus now," the man said, regarding the regalia laid out upon the sleeping platform in his chamber.  "Although," he added, dubiously, "I'm not sure I want to dress like him..."

"Ah, yes, master," the servitor fawn-sneered.  "Because that blue face mask was oh so stylish."

The new Lord of Limbo scowled at the servitor.  "Am I going to have problems with you, creature?  My predecessor may have tolerated your insolence, but I am not he."   The former Pharaoh stopped at that, thoughtfully. "I mean... well..."

The servitor bobbed and capered obsequiously. "I will give you no problems, Master," it declared. "I have ever served the Lord of Limbo, and ever shall. In that service, I shall tell you that my artificially attuned chronal senses advise me that the temporal turbulence you already know of in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries on Earth has increased by nearly an order of magnitude since your paramour's return to her native time-point. I cannot be sure, but I believe your predecessor in those robes is somehow causing this disruption."

"He's going after her," the former Pharaoh said, through gritted teeth. "He's still besotted... he must not have her!"

The servant raised his fantastical eyebrows in exaggerated puzzlement. "But... master... if you do not want her..."

"He will not have her," the new Immortus growled.  "He will not lay a hand on her. Hmmm... I must come up with a scheme..." He turned, and pointed at the servitor. "You will travel to her timeframe. You will shadow her. You will protect her. You will be my perfect agent in this. You will keep my other self from ever so much as setting his damned dirty paws on her."

The servant shrugged. "Your wish, my command, of course, my master," he replied. "May I suggest... perhaps I could replace that obnoxious Anthony Stark in the Avengers roster? Then I could keep a close watch on her. The two of them become quite companionable, I believe..."

"YOU are not to lay a hand on her," the Master of Time snarled.

"Oh no, master, of course not, I am not worthy," the servitor whined. "I will simply look out for her... and ward her. Perhaps... if your predecessor's attention could be turned to another... perhaps some sort of scenario could be woven, to convince him to ignore Ms. Danvers, and fixate on someone else..."

"Yes," the Lord of Limbo agreed, musing. "That whole Celestial Madonna thing will be going on right around that time period, and I remember how obsessed I was with the Madonna... I can't recall why, now... I mean, what was I going to do with Mantis, even if I'd managed to obtain her?  A skilled courtesan, I have no doubt, but... Gleaming Galaxies! The woman married an undead corpus reanimated by a sentient tree!"  Immortus... the newest of his name... shuddered. "By the Lords of Time, I really dodged a particle beam there."

"I will depart immediately, Master," the servitor responded. "May I suggest that I enter the timestream some light years away from Earth, to avoid the local turbulence? I can easily travel there at faster than light speeds once I am within the timeframe.   I will establish my presence early on, at the very founding of the team, or shortly thereafter.  It will give me an excellent vantage point to watch over Ms. Danvers, as the Heroic Age unfolds."

"Capital," Immortus responded. "Do it. At once."

"Yes, Master," the servitor said, rubbing his inhumanly long fingers together in satisfaction...


* * * * *

As the servitor sped through the vacuum of space towards Earth, it considered what it had already done, and what yet remained for it to do.  It went through each aspect of its plan meticulously, testing each step in its own mind, re-examining each link.

The female had been key -- this 'Carol Danvers'.  When Immortus-A  had commanded it to go and seek out 'the six most beautiful human women of all time', to distract Immortus-B from his melancholy over yet another human female, the servitor had taken the opportunity to initiate its own schemes.  The scheme would spread from that point, a veritable labyrinth worming its incomprehensibly complex threads and branches through every level of space-time... but it was with that command, given outside time by the man always had been and always would be the greatest living master of time itself... that command  was the very first stone that had been dropped into the pond, causing the very first ripple.  

For, what was beauty?  How could the servitor know?  It was not human.  It had no permanent gender.  It could take on any seeming, certainly... but to it, all living beings were potential partners in its eternal dance between the chronons.  All living beings were beautiful, in their own way.  But one, and only one, would be useful in fulfilling the servitor's desires.

So it had taken her, Carol Danvers, from a point in the late 20th Century, and brought her to Limbo, supposedly for the pleasure of its master(s).  But actually, the servitor was the only living being in the universe who knew how carefully Carol Danvers had been sculpted over the course of her life... shaped and molded, to be the servitor's perfect tool.  

How it had slaved over her!  Replacing both her father and mother at different times, to ensure she was even conceived, at just the right moment. Replacing various of those odious, oh so pompous Kree -- Mar Vell far from least in those measurements! -- to ensure that the young human female would not only be exposed to the nearly immeasurable powers of the Psyche Magnitron, but that when she was, the wish it would fulfill, hidden deep within the subconscious recesses of her mind, would be that she would become a woman worthy of Mar-vell himself... a woman warrior who was at least his equal, if not his superior. And so she had. And so she was.

A woman worthy, perhaps, to one day give birth to... The One!

From there, the guidance had gone on. Replacing that awful plant smoking human with the strangely flat head long enough to offer Danvers the job that would move her to New York City... a necessary step, to place her within the ranks of the Avengers, at just the correct moment, so that she would take sanctuary at Avengers Mansion when she returned from Limbo, all amnesiac and unknowing as to where the strange pregnancy within her had originated.

For had she not taken shelter with the Avengers, Immortus might well have escaped Limbo into a permanent human form on Earth... a human form immune to the servitor's powers.

And that must never be.

For that was the one immutable, unalterable command Immortus had woven through every fiber of the servitor's artificial being during creation... that the servitor could never, under any circumstances, use his powers on Immortus. Or any temporal iteration of Immortus. And that the servitor must always obey Immortus... any iteration of Immortus, although the others would not know that... even at the expense of the servitor's own desires.

Had Immortus, in the form of Marcus, managed to free himself and take corporeal form on 20th Century Earth... already with strong alliances forged to the Avengers... he would have been in position to shake the very stars in their heavens. And the servitor could not have displaced him, either. He might well have become... The One!... fathering himself on himself, proving Carol Danvers to be the Celestial Madonna indeed.

And the servitor could not allow that. Because at the end of this scheme, somehow, someway, the One would be born. And as long as the One was not an iteration of Immortus, then it would be a valid target for the servitor's powers.

The One would assume its destiny, dominating the entire Galaxy, bringing all of humanity under its loving, beneficent tyranny, creating an interstellar utopia unprecedented in history.

And then, the servitor would displace the One, and rule in its place...!

But much remained to be done before then.

The first steps were already taken. The servitor had subtly bent Immortus' mind control beams not just upon the captured women, but upon both iterations of Immortus, as well. The men had been naked, relaxed, secure in their timeless sanctuary, certain that they could not in any way be attacked... and indeed, all the servitor had done was ensure that they would both become sexually fixated upon, even obsessed with, Carol Danvers. Because, when their temporally charged flesh touched Danvers' own substance, empowered so recently by the Psyche Magnitron, there would be an energy discharge, and the servitor could use that energy discharge to its own ends.

An undetectable portal would be opened, to tumble the more entropically advanced Immortus through, after a short range, high powered hypnobeam had permanently addled his long range memories. He would arrive millenia earlier in his own lifeline, and begin his eternal cycle once again... his obsession with a mythical 'Celestial Madonna', from somewhere in the 20th Century, already well rooted in his mind.

...while his younger counterpart, similarly stunned, would remain behind, to become Immortus, thus continuing the eternal cycle... most importantly, eventually, to create the servitor itself.

So it was started... but there were decades of work ahead of it yet. Centuries, perhaps. But what did that matter, to a being such as itself?

It would self program itself to believe it was a 'Space Phantom'... a vanguard for a nonexistent race planning to invade Earth, come to test the planet's mightiest heroes in battle. Should it somehow fail in combat and be captured, that bit of self hypnosis would keep the Earthly heroes from learning anything of the truth... and, more important, keep its creator's various avatars from learning anything of it, as well. 

In time, the programmed false knowledge would fade away, letting the servitor recall its true mission... and its true intentions.

The Avengers would defeat it, of course... the memory was clear in the servitor's semiorganic data processors; non-linear, six dimensional recall was an attribute nearly unique to it. That damned pseudosentience inside the Norse Eternal's primitive bashing weapon... how dare it pass judgment on the servitor's worthiness to gain the Norse Eternal's powers! It still galled the servitor to recall it. But once it engaged its self programming, it would know nothing of it at the level of surface consciousness. The non linear recollections would be buried beneath its autohypnotic programming.

But after the initial defeat, when the servitor was returned to Limbo, it would make use of the master's technology to transport itself back to Earth along with many of the master's machines. It would establish itself in an unused subterranean warren it was aware of. Then it would act as if it were 'seeking vengeance' on the odious Avengers for its earlier defeat... a most illogical and nearly inexplicable course of action, given the givens, but the servitor knew enough of the behavior of a typical human 'super villain' to know that no Earthling of that time and place would think twice about such a motivation.

It would, briefly, establish dominance over a small sub faction of the laughable Hydra. It would carefully calibrate all of the technology at its disposal by running field tests against at least one of these so called superheroes – perhaps the one called Captain America, he seemed the most resourceful of the available test subjects. It would establish a doomed alliance with the farcical Grim Reaper, to further calibrate its machinery against a larger squadron of heroes... and all the time that it did this, it would be establishing its primary identity as 'The Space Phantom', an earthly supervillain of not insignificant power and repute.

It would, once more, allow the Avengers to believe they had defeated it through a trick any just spawned ameoboid would see through.

And then... then it would return to Earth once again, and begin its real work. Protect Carol Danvers from his master's other avatars?  Certainly. It could replace any being it chose to, and in their place, it could work its own will without fear of detection. Replacing that oh so earnest and solemn Watcher just long enough to place the artificial star in the sky above the domicile of the Avengers... yes. That would focus Immortus' younger, more savage avatar on the three women within the edifice at that time. I

In the meantime, it would be well positioned. It would have established an identity that would allow it to interact with the superhuman community at will, and, of course, it could assume any other identity it needed to.

There would be setbacks, it was aware. At some point, some other agent – it was, itself, unaware of just who – would either impersonate the mutated human known as Rogue, or mind control her, into making a devastating attack on the Danvers female. And then there was Nightmare's agent Aarkus, slumbering within the body of the android Avenger, forever striving to sire competing candidates to be 'The One'.

None of it would matter. It was adaptible. It was flexible. No other being in the universe could do what it could. If its ongoing campaign seemed to go off course, the servitor could replace any other being it needed to and affect a course correction.

In the end, it would rule over all.



AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

It's all about power

It's all about power, you see.

To a certain sort of very unpleasant person, anyway.

Power comes from many things; perhaps the greatest triumph of civilization, of law and order, has been to remove power from the hands of the merely strong and numerous, and place it into the hands of the wealthy and influential.  In an uncivilized world, power belongs to those who can physically dominate others; under the rule of law, it belongs to those who can hire and control the means of establishing such dominance.

Once upon a time in America, and other Western lands, only certain sorts of people could become wealthy, and therefore, only certain sorts of people could weild power.

Women could not become wealthy, and therefore, could not become powerful.  Homosexual men could not become wealthy.  And non-whites could not, nor could those who did not publicly profess the established, acceptable religion, Christianity (usually a specific subsect of it).

If you were not a white Christian heterosexual male, well, you might, if fortunate, be in a position to pretend to be one, if you were hypocritical enough to hide your own true beliefs, cunning enough to disguise your own physical or emotional nature, lucky enough to be able to pass.

If not, well, then you could not amass wealth, and you could not become powerful.

Over the course of the 19th and 20th Centuries, people learned how to organize themselves, how to take concerted action, and this gave the previously powerless previously unheard of power (and some wealth).  This is why we got the New Deal, because anarchists (ironically) organized themselves and conducted a campaign of domestic terror until the New Deal was passed.  The poor working class unionized.  When the unfettered capitalist remnants of the Guilded Age were presented with the apparition of an America undergoing its very own October Revolution, they allowed their Congress to pass some sweeping reforms.  Their choice was to watch the countryside go up in flames, and possibly end up marched to whatever the American equivalent of the guillotine might have been.

Since then, progress has marched on.  Women and non-whites have gained the vote and through that vote, some wealth and some power.  Non-Christians have organized their own votes and have managed to gain some wealth, and with those actions, some power.  Even homosexuals have organized themselves, and gained enough wealth, to become a power that others can no longer offend with impunity.

And this is the basis of it.  This is the foundation of every single bit of right wing rage, of conservative anger, of reactionary umbrage, of this deep, heartfelt yearning that the far right feels for a simpler, happier time when a wealthy heterosexual Christian American white man could do whatever the hell he felt like doing without worrying about other people's responses.  He could slap his secretary on the ass, drop cigar ashes on his colored shoe shine boy, and curl his lip derisively at homos, and there wasn't a damn thing any of them could do about it... if they dared to even speak a syllable of protest, he could have them fired, arrested, jailed, committed... even beaten or lynched.

Because he had all the power, and they had none.

That's changed now.  The power is more evenly distributed, and if a conservative, who genuinely believes that his gender, his religion, his ethnicity, his sexual orientation, his nationality, are naturally exceptional and superior to all others, behaves in a way consistent with those beliefs, well, chances are, that behavior will offend someone who does not agree with his presumption of exceptionality and superiority.

That's nothing new.  The behavior of those who presume themselves exceptional and superior has always offended... well, pretty much anyone who wasn't an asshat, actually.

The difference is, in the good old days, the people who weren't entitled, stuck up asshats couldn't do anything about it.  Sure, they were offended by how the wealthy asshats treated them.. but they didn't dare do anything about it.  It was worth their jobs, their livelihoods, their good health, or even their lives, to protest.

Not any more.

Now, if someone offends someone else, you can bet that someone else is going to say something about it.  There may even be unpleasant repercussions for the person giving offense.

Conservatives cannot stand this.  They will not tolerate or abide it.  It is an abridgement of their basic civil rights, their freedom, as affluent and influential asshats, to say and do anything they want without any kind of blowback whatsoever.

Everyone has a right to say stupid and offensive bullshit.  But no one has a right to do it with impunity.

But oh, the right wing thinks it does, just because once upon a time, it could.


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Latest chapter from Winds of Winter

If you can't get to the page at George R.R. Martin's site, well, here's the text:
* * * * * * * ** 
She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.
The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.
Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…
Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran.
She had fastened the shutters back so the morning sun might wake her. But there was no sun outside the window of Mercy’s little room, only a wall of shifting grey fog. The air had grown chilly… and a good thing, else she might have slept all day. It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.
Gooseprickles covered her legs. Her coverlet had twisted around her like a snake. She unwound it, threw the blanket to the bare plank floor and padded naked to the window. Braavos was lost in fog. She could see the green water of the little canal below, the cobbled stone street that ran beneath her building, two arches of the mossy bridge… but the far end of the bridge vanished in greyness, and of the buildings across the canal only a few vague lights remained. She heard a soft splash as a serpent boat emerged beneath the bridge’s central arch. “What hour?” Mercy called down to the man who stood by the snake’s uplifted tail, pushing her onward with his pole.
The waterman gazed up, searching for the voice. “Four, by the Titan’s roar.” His words echoed hollowly off the swirling green waters and the walls of unseen buildings.
She was not late, not yet, but she should not dawdle. Mercy was a happy soul and a hard worker, but seldom timely. That would not serve tonight. The envoy from Westeros was expected at the Gate this evening, and Izembaro would be in no mood to hear excuses, even if she served them up with a sweet smile.
She had filled her basin from the canal last night before she went to sleep, preferring the brackish water to the slimy green rainwater stewing in the cistern out back. Dipping a rough cloth, she washed herself head to heel, standing on one leg at a time to scrub her calloused feet. After that she found her razor. A bare scalp helped the wigs fit better, Izembaro claimed.
She shaved, donned her smallclothes, and slipped a shapeless brown wool dress down over her head. One of her stockings needed mending, she saw as she pulled it up. She would ask the Snapper for help; her own sewing was so wretched that the wardrobe mistress usually took pity on her. Else I could filtch a nicer pair from wardrobe. That was risky, though. Izembaro hated it when the mummers wore his costumes in the streets.Except for Wendeyne. Give Izembaro’s cock a little suck and a girl can wear any costume that she wants. Mercy was not so foolish as all that. Daena had warned her. “Girls who start down that road wind up on the Ship, where every man in the pit knows he can have any pretty thing he might see up on the stage, if his purse is plump enough.”
Her boots were lumps of old brown leather mottled with saltstains and cracked from long wear, her belt a length of hempen rope dyed blue. She knotted it about her waist, and hung a knife on her right hip and a coin pouch on her left. Last of all she threw her cloak across her shoulders. It was a real mummer’s cloak, purple wool lined in red silk, with a hood to keep the rain off, and three secret pockets too. She’d hid some coins in one of those, an iron key in another, a blade in the last. A real blade, not a fruit knife like the one on her hip, but it did not belong to Mercy, no more than her other treasures did. The fruit knife belonged to Mercy. She was made for eating fruit, for smiling and joking, for working hard and doing as she was told.
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang as she descended the wooden stair to the street. The handrail was splintery, the steps steep, and there were five flights, but that was why she’d gotten the room so cheap. That, and Mercy’s smile. She might be bald and skinny, but Mercy had a pretty smile, and a certain grace. Even Izembaro agreed that she was graceful. She was not far from the Gate as the crows flies, but for girls with feet instead of wings the way was longer. Braavos was a crooked city. The streets were crooked, the alleys were crookeder, and the canals were crookedest of all. Most days she preferred to go the long way, down the Ragman’s Road along the Outer Harbor, where she had the sea before her and the sky above, and a clear view across the Great Lagoon to the Arsenal and the piney slopes of Sellagoro’s Shield. Sailors would hail her as she passed the docks, calling down from the decks of tarry Ibbenese whalers and big-bellied Westerosi cogs. Mercy could not always understand their words, but she knew what they were saying. Sometimes she would smile back and tell them they could find her at the Gate if they had the coin.
The long way also took her across the Bridge of Eyes with its carved stone faces. From the top of its span, she could look through the arches and see all the city: the green copper domes of the Hall of Truth, the masts rising like a forest from the Purple Harbor, the tall towers of the mighty, the golden thunderbolt turning on its spire atop the Sealord’s Palace… even the Titan’s bronze shoulders, off across the dark green waters. But that was only when the sun was shining down on Braavos. If the fog was thick there was nothing to see but grey, so today Mercy chose the shorter route to save some wear on her poor cracked boots.
The mists seemed to part before her and close up again as she passed. The cobblestones were wet and slick under her feet. She heard a cat yowl plaintively. Braavos was a good city for cats, and they roamed everywhere, especially at night. In the fog all cats are grey, Mercy thought. In the fog all men are killers.
She had never seen a thicker fog than this one. On the larger canals, the watermen would be running their serpent boats into one another, unable to make out any more than dim lights from the buildings to either side of them.
Mercy passed an old man with a lantern walking the other way, and envied him his light. The street was so gloomy she could scarcely see where she was stepping. In the humbler parts of the city, the houses, shops, and warehouses crowded together, leaning on each other like drunken lovers, their upper stories so close that you could step from one balcony to the next. The streets below became dark tunnels where every footfall echoed. The small canals were even more hazardous, since many of the houses that lined them had privies jutting out over the water. Izembaro loved to give the Sealord’s speech fromThe Merchant’s Melancholy Daughter, about how “here the last Titan yet stands, astride the stony shoulders of his brothers,” but Mercy preferred the scene where the fat merchant shat on the Sealord’s head as he passed underneath in his gold-and-purple barge. Only in Braavos could something like that happen, it was said, and only in Braavos would Sealord and sailor alike howl with laughter to see it.
The Gate stood close by the edge of Drowned Town, between the Outer Harbor and the Purple Harbor. An old warehouse had burnt there and the ground was sinking a little more each year, so the land came cheap. Atop the flooded stone foundation of the warehouse, Izembaro raised his cavernous playhall. The Dome and the Blue Lantern might enjoy more fashionable environs, he told his mummers, but here between the harbors they would never lack for sailors and whores to fill their pit. The Ship was close by, still pulling handsome crowds to the quay where she had been moored for twenty years, he said, and the Gate would flourish too.
Time had proved him right. The Gate’s stage had developed a tilt as the building settled, their costumes were prone to mildew, and water snakes nested in the flooded cellar, but none of that troubled the mummers so long as the house was full.
The last bridge was made of rope and raw planks, and seemed to dissolve into nothingness, but that was only the fog. Mercy scampered across, her heels ringing on the wood. The fog opened before her like a tattered grey curtain to reveal the playhouse. Buttery yellow light spilled from the doors, and Mercy could hear voices from within. Beside the entrance, Big Brusco had painted over the title of the last show, and writtenThe Bloody Hand in its place in huge red letters. He was painting a bloody hand beneath the words, for those who could not read. Mercy stopped to have a look. “That’s a nice hand,” she told him.
“Thumb’s crooked.” Brusco dabbed at it with his brush. “King o’ the Mummers been asking after you.”
“It was so dark I slept and slept.” When Izembaro had first dubbed himself the King of the Mummers, the company had taken a wicked pleasure in it, savoring the outrage of their rivals from the Dome and the Blue Lantern. Of late, though, Izembaro had begun to take his title too seriously. “He will only play kings now,” Marro said, rolling his eyes, “and if the play has no king in it, he would sooner not stage it at all.”
The Bloody Hand offered two kings, the fat one and the boy. Izembaro would play the fat one. It was not a large part, but he had a fine speech as he lay dying, and a splendid fight with a demonic boar before that. Phario Forel had written it, and he had the bloodiest quill of all of Braavos.
Mercy found the company assembled behind the stage, and slipped in between Daena and the Snapper at the back, hoping her late arrival would go unnoticed. Izembaro was telling everyone that he expected the Gate to be packed to the rafters this evening, despite the fog. “The King of Westeros is sending his envoy to do homage to the King of the Mummers tonight,” he told his troupe. “We will not disappoint our fellow monarch.”
“We?” said the Snapper, who did all the costumes for the mummers. “Is there more than one of him, now?”
“He’s fat enough to count for two,” whispered Bobono. Every mummer’s troupe had to have a dwarf. He was theirs. When he saw Mercy, he gave her a leer. “Oho,” he said, “there she is. Is the little girl all ready for her rape?” He smacked his lips.
The Snapper smacked him in the head. “Be quiet.”
The King of the Mummers ignored the brief commotion. He was still talking, telling the mummers how magnificent they must be. Besides the Westerosi envoy, there would be keyholders in the crowd this evening, and famous courtesans as well. He did not intend for them to leave with a poor opinion of the Gate. “It shall go ill for any man who fails me,” he promised, a threat he borrowed from the speech Prince Garin gives on the eve of battle in Wroth of the Dragonlords, Phario Forel’s first play.
By the time Izembaro finally finished speaking, less than an hour remained before the show, and the mummers were all frantic and fretful by turns. The Gate rang to the sound of Mercy’s name.
“Mercy,” her friend Daena implored, “Lady Stork has stepped on the hem of her gown again. Come help me sew it up.”
“Mercy,” the Stranger called, “bring the bloody paste, my horn is coming loose.”
“Mercy,” boomed Izembaro the Great himself, “what have you done with my crown, girl? I cannot make my entrance without my crown. How shall they know that I’m a king?”
“Mercy,” squeaked the dwarf Bobono, “Mercy, something’s amiss with my laces, my cock keeps flopping out.”
She fetched the sticky paste and fastened the Stranger’s left horn back onto his forehead. She found Izembaro’s crown in the privy where he always left it and helped him pin it to his wig, and then ran for needle and thread so the Snapper could sew the lace hem back onto the cloth-of-gold gown that the queen would wear in the wedding scene.
And Bobono’s cock was indeed flopping out. It was made to flop out, for the rape. What a hideous thing, Mercy thought as she knelt before the dwarf to fix him. The cock was a foot long and as thick as her arm, big enough to be seen from the highest balcony. The dyer had done a poor job with the leather, though; the thing was a mottled pink and white, with a bulbous head the color of a plum. Mercy pushed it back into Bobono’s breeches and laced him back up. “Mercy,” he sang as she tied him tight, “Mercy, Mercy, come to my room tonight and make a man of me.”
“I’ll make a eunuch of you if you keep unlacing yourself just so I’ll fiddle with your crotch.”
“We were meant to be together, Mercy,” Bobono insisted. “Look, we’re just the same height.”
“Only when I’m on my knees. Do you remember your first line?” It had only been a fortnight since the dwarf had lurched onto stage in his cups and opened The Anguish of the Archon with the grumpkin’s speech from The Merchant’s Lusty Lady. Izembaro would skin him alive if he made such a blunder again, and never mind how hard it was to find a good dwarf.
“What are we playing, Mercy?” Bobono asked innocently.
He is teasing me, Mercy thought. He’s not drunk tonight, he knows the show perfectly well. “We are doing Phario’s new Bloody Hand, in honor of the envoy from the Seven Kingdoms.”
“Now I recall.” Bobono lowered his voice to a sinister croak. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he said. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay, twisted into this rude shape you see before you.” With that, he grabbed at her chest, fumbling for a nipple. “You have no titties. How can I rape a girl with no titties?”
She caught his nose between her thumb and forefinger and twisted. “You’ll have no nose until you get your hands off me.”
Owwwww,” the dwarf squealed, releasing her.
“I’ll grow titties in a year or two.” Mercy rose, to tower over the little man. “But you’ll never grow another nose. You think of that, before you touch me there.”
Bobono rubbed his tender nose. “There’s no need to get so shy. I’ll be raping you soon enough.”
“Not until the second act.”
“I always give Wendeyne’s titties a nice squeeze when I rape her in The Anguish of the Archon,” the dwarf complained. “She likes it, and the pit does too. You have to please the pit.”
That was one of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” as he liked to call them. You have to please the pit. “I bet it would please the pit if I ripped off the dwarf’s cock and beat him about the head with it,” Mercy replied. “That’s something they won’t have seen before.” Always give them something they haven’t seen before was another of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” and one that Bobono had no easy answer for. “There, you’re done,” Mercy announced. “Now see if you can keep in your breeches till it’s needed.”
Izembaro was calling for her again. Now he could not find his boar spear. Mercy found it for him, helped Big Brusco don his boar suit, checked the trick daggers just to make certain no one had replaced one with a real blade (someone had done that at the Dome once, and a mummer had died), and poured Lady Stork the little nip of wine she liked to have before each play. When all the cries of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” finally died away, she stole a moment for a quick peek out into the house.
The pit was as full as ever she’d seen it, and they were enjoying themselves already, joking and jostling, eating and drinking. She saw a peddler selling chunks of cheese, ripping them off the wheel with his fingers whenever he found a buyer. A woman had a bag of wrinkled apples. Skins of wine were being passed from hand to hand, some girls were selling kisses, and one sailor was playing the sea pipes. The sad-eyed little man called Quill stood in the back, come to see what he could steal for one of his own plays. Cossomo the Conjurer had come as well, and on his arm was Yna, the one-eyed whore from the Happy Port, but Mercy could not know those two, and they would not know Mercy. Daena recognized some Gate regulars in the crowd, and pointed them out for her; the dyer Dellono with his pinched white face and mottled purple hands, Galeo the sausage-maker in his greasy leather apron, tall Tomarro with his pet rat on his shoulder. “Tomarro best not let Galeo see that rat,” Daena warned. “That’s the only meat he puts in them sausages, I hear.” Mercy covered her mouth and laughed.
The balconies were filling too. The first and third levels were for merchants and captains and other respectable folk. The bravos preferred the fourth and highest, where the seats were cheapest. It was a riot of bright color up there, while down below more somber shades held sway. The second balcony was cut up into private boxes where the mighty could comport themselves in comfort and privacy, safely apart from the vulgarity above and below. They had the best view of the stage, and servants to bring them food, wine, cushions, whatever they might desire. It was rare to find the second balcony more than half full at the Gate; such of the mighty who relished a night of mummery were more inclined to visit the Dome or the Blue Lantern, where the offerings were considered subtler and more poetic.
This night was different, though, no doubt on account of the Westerosi envoy. In one box sat three scions of Otharys, each accompanied by a famous courtesan; Prestayn sat alone, a man so ancient that you wondered how he ever reached his seat; Torone and Pranelis shared a box, as they shared an uncomfortable alliance; the Third Sword was hosting a half-dozen friends.
“I count five keyholders,” said Daena.
“Bessaro is so fat you ought to count him twice,” Mercy replied, giggling. Izembaro had a belly on him, but compared to Bessaro he was as lithe as a willow. The keyholder was so big he needed a special seat, thrice the size of a common chair.
“They’re all fat, them Reyaans,” Daena said. “Bellies as big as their ships. You should have seen the father. He made this one look small. One time he was summoned to the Hall of Truth to vote, but when he stepped onto his barge it sank.” She clutched Mercy by the elbow. “Look, the Sealord’s box.” The Sealord had never visited the Gate, but Izembaro named a box for him anyway, the largest and most opulent in the house. “That must be the Westerosi envoy. Have you ever seen such clothes on an old man? And look, he’s brought the Black Pearl!”
The envoy was slight and balding, with a funny grey wisp of a beard growing from his chin. His cloak was yellow velvet, and his breeches. His doublet was a blue so bright it almost made Mercy’s eyes water. Upon his breast a shield had been embroidered in yellow thread, and on the shield was a proud blue rooster picked out in lapis lazuli. One of his guards helped him to his seat, while two others stood behind him in the back of the box.
The woman with him could not have been more than a third his age. She was so lovely that the lamps seemed to burn brighter when she passed. She had dressed in a low-cut gown of pale yellow silk, startling against the light brown of her skin. Her black hair was bound up in a net of spun gold, and a jet-and-gold necklace brushed against the top of her full breasts. As they watched, she leaned close to the envoy and whispered something in his ear that made him laugh. “They should call her the Brown Pearl,” Mercy said to Daena. “She’s more brown than black.”
“The first Black Pearl was black as a pot of ink,” said Daena. “She was a pirate queen, fathered by a Sealord’s son on a princess from the Summer Isles. A dragon king from Westeros took her for his lover.”
“I would like to see a dragon,” Mercy said wistfully. “Why does the envoy have a chicken on his chest?”
Daena howled. “Mercy, don’t you know anything? It’s his siggle. In the Sunset Kingdoms all the lords have siggles. Some have flowers, some have fish, some have bears and elks and other things. See, the envoy’s guards are wearing lions.”
It was true. There were four guards; big, hard-looking men in ringmail, with heavy Westerosi longswords sheathed at their hips. Their crimson cloaks were bordered in whorls of gold, and golden lions with red garnet eyes clasped each cloak at the shoulder. When Mercy glanced at the faces beneath the gilded, lion-crested helm, her belly gave a quiver.The gods have given me a gift. Her fingers clutched hard at Daena’s arm. “That guard. The one on the end, behind the Black Pearl.”
“What of him? Do you know him?”
“No.” Mercy had been born and bred in Braavos, how could she know some Westerosi? She had to think a moment. “It’s only… well, he’s fair to look on, don’t you think?” He was, in a rough-hewn way, though his eyes were hard.
Daena shrugged. “He’s very old. Not so old as the other ones, but… he could be thirty. And Westerosi. They’re terrible savages, Mercy. Best stay well away from his sort.”
“Stay away?” Mercy giggled. She was a giggly sort of girl, was Mercy. “No. I’ve got to get closer.” She gave Daena a squeeze and said, “If the Snapper comes looking for me, tell her that I went off to read my lines again.” She only had a few, and most were just, “Oh, no, no, no,” and “Don’t, oh don’t, don’t touch me,” and “Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden,” but this was the first time Izembaro had given her any lines at all, so it was only to be expected that poor Mercy would want to get them right.
The envoy from the Seven Kingdoms had taken two of his guards into his box to stand behind him and the Black Pearl, but the other two had been posted just outside the door to make certain he was not disturbed. They were talking quietly in the Common Tongue of Westeros as she slipped up silently behind them in the darkened passage. That was not a language Mercy knew.
“Seven hells, this place is damp,” she heard her guard complain. “I’m chilled to the bones. Where are the bloody orange trees? I always heard there were orange trees in the Free Cities. Lemons and limes. Pomegranates. Hot peppers, warm nights, girls with bare bellies. Where are the bare-bellied girls, I ask you?”
“Down in Lys, and Myr, and Old Volantis,” the other guard replied. He was an older man, big-bellied and grizzled. “I went to Lys with Lord Tywin once, when he was Hand to Aerys. Braavos is north of King’s Landing, fool. Can’t you read a bloody map?”
“How long do you think we’ll be here?”
“Longer than you’d like,” the old man replied. “If he goes back without the gold the queen will have his head. Besides, I seen that wife of his. There’s steps in Casterly Rock she can’t go down for fear she’d get stuck, that’s how fat she is. Who’d go back to that, when he has his sooty queen?”
The handsome guardsman grinned. “Don’t suppose he’ll share her with us, afterward?”
“What, are you mad? You think he notices the likes of us? Bloody bugger don’t even get our names right half the time. Maybe it was different with Clegane.”
“Ser wasn’t one for mummer shows and fancy whores. When Ser wanted a woman he took one, but sometimes he’d let us have her, after. I wouldn’t mind having a taste of that Black Pearl. You think she’s pink between her legs?”
Mercy wanted to hear more, but there was no time. The Bloody Hand was about to start, and the Snapper would be looking for her to help with costumes. Izembaro might be the King of the Mummers, but the Snapper was the one that they all feared. Time enough for her pretty guardsman later.
The Bloody Hand opened in a lichyard.
When the dwarf appeared suddenly from behind a wooden tombstone, the crowd began to hiss and curse. Bobono waddled to the front of the stage and leered at them. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he began, snarling the words. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay… “
By then Marro had appeared behind him, gaunt and terrible in the Stranger’s long black robes. His face was black as well, his teeth red and shiny with blood, while ivory horns jutted upwards from his brow. Bobono could not see him, but the balconies could, and now the pit as well. The Gate grew deathly quiet. Marro moved forward silently.
So did Mercy. The costumes were all hung, and the Snapper was busy sewing Daena into her gown for the court scene, so Mercy’s absence should not be noted. Quiet as a shadow, she slipped around the back again, up to where the guardsmen stood outside the envoy’s box. Standing in a darkened alcove, still as stone, she had a good look at his face. She studied it carefully, to be sure. Am I too young for him? she wondered. Too plain? Too skinny? She hoped he wasn’t the sort of man who liked big breasts on a girl. Bobono had been right about her chest. It would be best if I could take him back to my place, have him all to myself. But will he come with me?
“You think it might be him?” the pretty one was saying.
“What, did the Others take your wits?”
“Why not? He’s a dwarf, ain’t he?”
“The Imp weren’t the only dwarf in the world.”
“Maybe not, but look here, everyone says how clever he was, true? So maybe he figures the last place his sister would ever look for him would be in some mummer show, making fun of himself. So he does just that, to tweak her nose.”
“Ah, you’re mad.”
“Well, maybe I’ll follow him after the mummery. Find out for myself.” The guardsman put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “If I’m right, I’ll be a ma lord, and if I’m wrong, well, bleed it, it’s just some dwarf.” He gave a bark of laughter.
On stage, Bobono was bargaining with Marro’s sinister Stranger. He had a big voice for such a little man, and he made it ring off the highest rafters now. “Give me the cup,” he told the Stranger, “for I shall drink deep. And if it tastes of gold and lion’s blood, so much the better. As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love.”
Mercy mouthed the last lines along with him. They were better lines than hers, and apt besides. He’ll want me or he won’t, she thought, so let the play begin. She said a silent prayer to the god of many faces, slipped out of her alcove, and flounced up to the guardsmen. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. “My lords,” she said, “do you speak Braavosi? Oh, please, tell me you do.”
The two guardsmen exchanged a look. “What’s this thing going on about?” the older one asked. “Who is she?”
“One of the mummers,” said the pretty one. He pushed his fair hair back off his brow and smiled at her. “Sorry, sweetling, we don’t speak your gibble-gabble.”
Fuss and feathers, Mercy thought, they only know the Common Tongue. That was no good. Give it up or go ahead. She could not give it up. She wanted him so bad. “I know your tongue, a little,” she lied, with Mercy’s sweetest smile. “You are lords of Westeros, my friend said.”
The old one laughed. “Lords? Aye, that’s us.”
Mercy looked down at her feet, so shy. “Izembaro said to please the lords,” she whispered. “If there is anything you want, anything at all… “
The two guardsmen exchanged a look. Then the handsome one reached out and touched her breast. “Anything?
“You’re disgusting,” said the older man.
“Why? If this Izembaro wants to be hospitable, it would be rude to refuse.” He gave her nipple a tweak through the fabric of her dress, just the way the dwarf had done when she was fixing his cock for him. “Mummers are the next best thing to whores.”
“Might be, but this one is a child.”
“I am not,” lied Mercy. “I’m a maiden now.”
“Not for long,” said the comely one. “I’m Lord Rafford, sweetling, and I know just what I want. Hike up those skirts now, and lean back against that wall.”
“Not here,” Mercy said, brushing his hands away. “Not where the play is on. I might cry out, and Izembaro would be mad.”
“Where, then?”
“I know a place.”
The older guard was scowling. “What, you think can just scamper off? What if his knightliness comes looking for you?”
“Why would he? He’s got a show to watch. And he’s got his own whore, why shouldn’t I have mine? This won’t take long.”
No, she thought, it won’t. Mercy took him by the hand, led him through the back and down the steps and out into the foggy night. “You could be a mummer, if you wanted,” she told him, as he pressed her up against the wall of the playhouse.
“Me?” The guardsman snorted. “Not me, girl. All that bloody talking, I wouldn’t remember half of it.”
“It’s hard at first,” she admitted. “But after a time it comes easier. I could teach you to say a line. I could.”
He grabbed her wrist. “I’ll do the teaching. Time for your first lesson.” He pulled her hard against him and kissed her on the lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth. It was all wet and slimy, like an eel. Mercy licked it with her own tongue, then broke away from him, breathless. “Not here. Someone might see. My room’s not far, but hurry. I have to be back before the second act, or I’ll miss my rape.”
He grinned. “No fear o’ that, girl.” But he let her pull him after her. Hand in hand, they went racing through the fog, over bridges and through alleys and up five flights of splintery wooden stairs. The guardsman was panting by the time they burst through the door of her little room. Mercy lit a tallow candle, then danced around at him, giggling. “Oh, now you’re all tired out. I forgot how old you were, m’lord. Do you want to take a little nap? Just lie down and close your eyes, and I’ll come back after the Imp’s done raping me.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” He pulled her roughly to him. “Get those rags off, and I’ll show you how old I am, girl.”
“Mercy,” she said. “My name is Mercy. Can you say it?”
“Mercy,” he said. “My name is Raff.”
“I know.” She slipped her hand between his legs, and felt how hard he was through the wool of his breeches.
“The laces,” he urged her. “Be a sweet girl and undo them.” Instead she slid her finger down along the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt. “Damn, be careful there, you — “
Mercy gave a gasp and stepped away, her face confused and frightened. “You’rebleeding.”
“Wha — ” He looked down at himself. “Gods be good. What did you do to me, you little cunt?” The red stain spread across his thigh, soaking the heavy fabric.
“Nothing,” Mercy squeaked. “I never… oh, oh, there’s so much blood. Stop it, stop it, you’re scaring me.”
He shook his head, a dazed look on his face. When he pressed his hand to his thigh, blood squirted through his fingers. It was running down his leg, into his boot. He doesn’t look so comely now, she thought. He just looks white and frightened.
“A towel,” the guardsman gasped. “Bring me a towel, a rag, press down on it. Gods. I feel dizzy.” His leg was drenched with blood from the thigh down. When he tried to put his weight on it, his knee buckled and he fell. “Help me,” he pleaded, as the crotch of his breeches reddened. “Mother have mercy, girl. A healer… run and find a healer, quick now.”
“There’s one on the next canal, but he won’t come. You have to go to him. Can’t you walk?”
“Walk?” His fingers were slick with blood. “Are you blind, girl? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t walk on this.”
“Well,” she said, “I don’t know how you’ll get there, then.”
“You’ll need to carry me.”
See? thought Mercy. You know your line, and so do I.
“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.
Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out.
“Valar morghulis,” Arya whispered, but Raff was dead and did not hear. She sniffed. I should have helped him down the steps before I killed him. Now I’ll need to drag him all the way to the canal and roll him in. The eels would do the rest.
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang sadly. A foolish, giddy girl she’d been, but good hearted. She would miss her, and she would miss Daena and the Snapper and the rest, even Izembaro and Bobono. This would make trouble for the Sealord and the envoy with the chicken on his chest, she did not doubt.
She would think about that later, though. Just now, there was no time. I had best run. Mercy still had some lines to say, her first lines and her last, and Izembaro would have her pretty little empty head if she were late for her own rape.


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!