| a Namedropping story
Three Lanejumps further on, the gravsled left behind atop the newlaid ice, we rest a time and talk. Three comrades we, in conjugated cotemporal conspiracy; awaiting shock of discovery or of misstep, either one to throw us from the precipice of presupposing cleverness and control.
"Since seeing you, I've killed a man. In a Lane that Jester knows, which bears resemblance to the one which birthed your starting key. Jester tells me that the mystery that I left in our wake in fact is how the story has come to be, and that whatever changes that I might have made have in fact come to 'take' into the fabric of the Lane itself. What is, now, is what I did. Have I changed? I do not know, but I know this: I killed, in surprise and fear, not in plan, and flung the carbon corpse between the Lanes."
Beater nodded thoughtfully, chewing on a stalk of grass. We sat in triangle around a small and homely fire with the sounds of wilderness at our backs, the crackle of burning twigs between us and the silent feeble light of stars above. Out past distant crags some unknown creature lowed. "What had startled you?"
"We were meeting, after I last left you, when we were attacked. Someone- or thing- hit us with activ torch and gamma flame. We jumped in reflex flight; landed there, and this man was at that moment firing a long arm in localtime. I reacted to the shot, and torched him where he stoood." The story has not grown less painful with the short passage of personal time. I fall silent at the end, looking into the white and orange mutation of carbon compounds in the pit before me, calories leaking into the empty sky.
Jester stirs. "In truth, I didn't see what happened; I was not facing 'round, but I do know I would have done the same. I was in activ when we jumped; had I been startled coming into the Lane, there is no doubt that whatever sourced the sound or light would have not survived my reaction."
Beater chewed on. "But move back one step. What drove you off? And where had you met?"
"In any case, we were there when the attack came in."
"But as you say, they missed. Obviously."
"Did you have any warning before the bending that it was coming?"
"No." I frown and think, but come up blank. "Jester, you?" He shakes his head.
"No, neither, then."
"Then," says Beater quietly, "without attempting to seem ungrateful on one hand or morbid on the other, dextrous one and sinister, why did they miss?"
"They-" I am brought up short. It is a fair point. I look at Jester, and from his startled face I can see that he too is caught. "-I don't know. There's no reason they should have. Unless they were hurried in getting the attack off."
"But you didn't know they were there. In other words, they hadn't just jumped in, you would have felt the gammashine. They had to have been waiting or to have approached from within the Lane itself in order to reach you without that telltale sign. And yet - and yet they missed. Blew the wall open, you say?"
"What part of the wall?"
"Why, I do not know."
"Did they in fact destroy the Stone itself?"
Horror at the thought grips me. "They might have, brother. They might have."
Jester, too, seems shocked at the notion. "Destroy the Stone? Why?"
"I- don't know. It is a hypothesis alone, at present, but you say the wall was struck and not either of you. No pursuit is seen. The strike misses you both, in circumstances whence it would be difficult to credit such a mistake - what is left? The wall is the target. What is special about that wall? The Watchman's Stone."
By force of will I restrain myself from jumping, there and then, to the Stone to determine if this is true, if it is really gone. In my personal timeline, I will perforce jump in after the strike, and so will know; but of course, this is not safe. Beater sees me twitch, and raises a hand. "No. Not yet. Not until we know for what we search."
"No." I agree, unhappily, and settle back. Jester looks as if he too is shaking off the urge to flee into the Lanes to verify. I wonder if this compulsion to see with one's own eyes is a part of us we share, brothers, mirrors. Beater is speaking again.
"So now. We've spent time in the DETOUR Lane, could you find it straightaway?"
"I could. Jester does not know the progression."
Beater turns to him. "My apologies. I must trust you; you are my friend, one I have known for years subjective, though we've never met." He stops a moment. I recognize the involuntary hesitation, security and safety warring with intellectual need to change the rules and then he takes breath inside him deep and tells my twin the peculiar sequence of tensors that will provide the pseudorandom shift. "Will you remember that?"
"I will." Jester looks determined, slight far-off glaze in his eyes speaking of a man communing deeply with his memory.
"To the good, then. I will travel some jumps further down and await you there, after I make one sideways journey to test a hypothesis which you have suggested."
Try as we might, he would not divulge on what mission he had set himself, and Jumped away with enigmatic smile. Jester turned to me. "What then is our task? Where shall we go?"
I had been thinking of this throughout. "We need to know who. We need to know why. One will most likely give us the other. We need to know their actions - by what they do mayhap we can determine who; by identity can we tease out their plans, perhaps. Or from actions thence to intent and reason, on to Names."
His eyes lit. "Are you saying that if we Name them...?"
"I do not know, but there can always be hope."
"What if, as in our case, their Names turn out to be only descriptors? Then will they fail as anchors, necessarily; serve no purpose but to label our torment."
"I do not mean to settle for description, brother."
"Nor I. I take your point. We seek not to describe, no, but to Name; to bind as we ourselves have once been freed."
"An ancient magic, this, as some might say in Lanes scattered here and there, from distant past to present day."
"And yet perhaps rooted in sands of truth. Look how we came to be."
He took my hand. With opposite hands reached out, we felt for the underground of space and time, unhooked the arras that kept the Lanes from mortal eyes and stepped within. A slight storm of microwaves battered the spot where once we stood, but we were gone, mere ghosts of unease and might-have-been.
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