We trade back decks, tuck them safe and sound. With one hand on one knee (familiar sight and pose) we rise to face each other, examining. Our hands are laid carefully at our sides, this time - no threat in activ or in null.
I start. "How long have you been in the lanes?"
"As long as you, I expect. Subjective forty-five, I think."
I nod. "That matches well."
"It would. Are your cards the same from when you made the jump?"
"Then we've never met."
"It would seem not."
"And yet - despite our similarities - our lanes are not identical in form. How then are our stories so alike? How did we choose such kinship means to slide beneath the storm and make our way?"
I shake my head. "I wish I knew. I have to ask, though - 'making the jump,' in your parlance, does it involve the slough of labels and of name?"
"Of course. As step one and major."
"And there are others like you?"
A searching gaze. "Perhaps we shouldn't speak of that. Not yet."
I grimace understandingly. "Fair point. The war goes on."
"What then shall we do?"
"Are all oppositions then like ours, do you suppose?"
I shrug. "That would seem a natural question. Of course, you've just answered mine."
A startled look and grin. "If one assumes I'm truthful."
"Again, fair. Very well, I'll continue, you need not reveal more than you already have essayed in this conversation. If we seal our truce at the end of it, I'll risk the outcome until we next meet in whatever lane."
He looks at me, head cocked. "Agreed."
We sit again. "There are many of us. There are constant reports of harassments and of murder, of chases and of duels. None have ever admitted to me knowing the nature of the enemy, and all of these encounters have been across gammashine or warp and left no identity behind - only fools would think to see more than ash after a lane knits whole or left gammablind."
"There are those who hate, and those who treat it as a game. Some ignore the signs. Some few do quest for answers, true - but very few, and usually they end up slain. Or so we would assume, for we do not see them back again. Perhaps- " - I stop, considering suddenly, "- perhaps they come to realize and leave the lanes?"
He too looks arrested by the thought. "I do not know. I will admit, yes, the situation is much the same for us. I have not heard of those who have disappeared; no sign of them returns to us not soon or in later years."
I shake my head. "Then it could be deliberate suppression of the truth, or simple blindness of the fog of war. No way to tell."
"Of course, it would be wise to assume the former. The latter is less likely to take offense or become nervous at our chat, and cause us to meet with unhappy ends somewhere far-off and cold. As far as I know you're the only one I've ever chased, and the same holds true for you, if I might be so bold?"
"Then if we see any other hostile warp, the odds must be quite high that our conversation - or at least lack of combat - has been witnessed by someone or -thing, and that an interest has been vested in our silence."
"Certainly a disturbing thought."
"Perhaps we should test the waters. Meet at a later time."
"Of course, to those years of experience, that sounds much like a trap left best unsprung."
He spreads his arms, activ curved out of line. "What have I to gain?"
"Witnesses to your destruction of me, for one, to save you from any such vested interest. If I might presume to theorize."
"That is quite true." He is silent for a time. "Of course, if we arrange a place and time to meet, we would be able to avoid the rendezvous if any others were detected there. You could then simply decline to show. I might do the same."
I consider. "Fair enough."
We stand again. "Here?"
I shake my head. "No. At the Stone. Do you know it?"
He grins widely. "Yes I do. When, then?"
"One week subjective."
He reaches out his hand, and with surprise I see his deck. Almost automatically, I trade my deck for his. Before the shock of it leaving my hand (constant companion these years) can settle, we bow, and with a flash of quivered space he's gone. I almost follow him in habit of these long years, but choke it back. The timer clicks inside my brain and 604800 seconds begin to slide away past my eyelids. I spread my arms, look up at the stars which shine above the roof above the smog above the clouds, feel the solid structure of the lane around me and give up my name again.
I vanish into the universe's imagination.
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