Eleven



"Call me Charlotte," she says.

We're in a small, rustic cottage. I am lying on a couch. She stands over me, waving a baroque something reminiscent of a tennis racket over my body. I feel a jolt, like a very strong cup of coffee too early in the morning. The interior walls have been painted yellow. Something like a bear has been stuffed and mounted in one corner. Its muzzle twists into a frightening growl.

The main window opens up on a beach, and a large body of water. It’s day, and the purple-blue gas giant shines in the sky. When I bolt up to take a closer view, I can see its reflections.

"We're safe," Charlotte says. "You can relax." She sounds like somebody's grandmother, transplanted to a much younger body. "Earth is not."

"Where....?"

"Where the Blemîn can't find us. The great machine..." She gestures to an anomalous, though not inelegant, bank of buttons at the center of the room. "It had a reserve, just enough to take us to a safe and habitable world."

My mind reels as I think back, through a haze a recollected pain which, I realize, I no longer feel. "Gospherus," I say.

"Your friend?" I nod. "Your friend is still there. We'll be returning shortly after we left. But I don't know if your friend can be rescued."

"We have to try."

"If we can. What we have to do is stop them. If we do this right, he’ll be spared interment in the vannderjhee. Or life as a heffa. Though I think they had enough heffas for their purpose." She states these things as though they are supposed to clarify anything to me.

I look out the window again, at the orb in the sky.

"Doesn't that surprise you? That we are light-years from the sun?"

"I read SF. But, yeah. A little." My voice sounds weak to me.

"I'm sorry for your loss. I wish I'd known you existed. But you're who I need right now. Who our people need."

"Your people?"

"Our people."

I wonder how she can be certain. She seems human, but I cannot feel her past sorrow, as I've done for others in recent weeks. "But Gospherus….."

"Yes. As I said, the situation will be little changed when we return. But we can be ready. You and your friend, I presume, lived in Yellow Ostrich I?"

"Buh?"

"The house at the end of Cathedral Road?"

"Yeah. Yes."

"It was mine, once. I lived there. After those Blemîn captured us. They killed Claudia—- my partner, my associate. I escaped. I needed to live elsewhere. They would have looked for me. So I built"-- she indicates the cottage around us—"Yellow Ostrich II."

"Blemîn. Those"— I can barely handle the memory—- "things living in the farmhouse."

"Living." She scowls. "They are a desecration of life." She pauses for a while, and shivers. Certainly, I am not inclined to take up a contrary argument. "We built Yellow Ostrich to exist between realities. Even when it settles entirely into-- this world and time, it can receive transmissions from others. But this business of you seeing pain. Your telepathy. That I cannot explain."

Slowly, painfully, I recount recent events, since my encounter with the Horsemen. She whistles, nods in agreement. But I have questions, as well. "You have the ability to teleport a house several light years. You can't take down a couple of big bugs armed with handsaws and pokers?"

"Mark me. The Blemîn do not think, as we do. But they can recreate any technology they find, by a process of imitation. Like wasps building a nest. They mimicked Yellow Ostrich, for example, when they built their farmhouse. The Tazi Fields. Somewhat imperfectly. They've been phasing in and out of our world since the 1880s. But that breeding pair have been here longer. Fortunately, they don’t understand. They can’t properly use what they’ve built. When they phase, they just jump ahead. It’s given me years of advantage. But Claudia and I were overconfident. We were captured. They fed her to the vannderjhee.” She pauses, again. “They will die. Here, and everywhere, and forever.”

A whistle interrupts us and she goes to the stove to get the kettle. She pours green tea and gives us each a cup.

"I do not wish to give them more technology they can use. If we fail, others will come. They must not find them more powerful. But I fear some of the eggs near their larval stage." She drinks her tea, and smiles, a strange and not wholly pleasant smile. "You need a history lesson, young man."

Charlotte settles into a rocking chair and adjusts her shawl. A flock of something passes by outside, something blue. I can see their shapes pass in front of the gas giant.

"They overran the earth on July 1, 1834. Millions of them. Only some islands, for a time, remained unoccupied. Not untouched. They must have been there, hidden, for centuries to develop such a force. The stuff of foul legend.

"They established their capital in upstate New York. Käm Dey Koré." She says the words and I can see a building, something made of hard stone and brown brick, like an early industrial factory, built by a lunatic. "The home of the Great Vannderjhee" The term makes me shiver. "The vannderjhee are connected with the Blemîn life cycle. We're rather uncertain about how that works. Once they've glutted on that misery, softened the body and mind, they give the remains to the vannderjhee. It can preserve a person for years before the body gives out. Those interred experience their worst fears and nightmares. Over and over. Then they experience the fears and nightmares of others who've been interred. Lives of suffering. When their bodies finally expire they provide more conventional nutrition for the Blemîn larva."

"Why?" ask I.

"They feed, in part, on misery. Human despair."

"Feed?"

"That is the closest word. They also take nutrition, of course."

"Feed?"

She smiles. "It took to 1897, but we destroyed them. In the span of a lifetime, the remnants of the human race rose up. We stopped being fodder for the vannderjhees. And we destroyed them. The world we built was a world for humanity. The best in humanity. Far superior to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries you know."

"Where did they come from? The Blemîn?"

She looks at me, her ancient eyes sad, set in a face that seems younger. "Bred. Planted."

"Bred?"

"I cannot talk about it. They were bred. To devour humanity. Do you think it's just coincidence they look like our worst nightmare? But we destroyed them and they returned. From elsewhere. From other timelines. Time travel is not easy, even a thousand years in the future. A handful went to uproot those that remained. I am one of that handful.

“When I failed, I abandoned my house in the city's south end. Yellow Ostrich.” She gives me a significant look. "I built this new one, Yellow Ostrich II, even less entirely in this reality. I hid from them, a short distance away. Gathered my strength. Until the time passed when I could bring some force against them. Your experiences have made you the person I need. Our people need. And none too soon.

"I've been following other timelines by their broadcasts. We've succeeded, save for this breeding pair. We can't just, as you say, nuke them from orbit. Their farmhouse and road would simply retreat into another reality. By the time we found them…." Charlotte shook her head. "This may well be the final breeding pair, and they must be exterminated, in their own home, within their mimic-Tazi Field."

"You're talking about genocide."

"I am. Yes. Absolute and total. Where they can be prevented from coming into existence, so much the better. Otherwise, every single Blemîn must be exterminated, everywhere in the universe, in all possible timelines. Now and then and forever. You must help me."

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