The butterfly stirs on the forest floor. Its precisely-coloured wings twitch. Soon they will thrash. There will be a storm, the promise of death.
* * *
Five years ago.
* * *
The world swaying back and forth, upside-down. Everything I see comes blurred and in bursts. A thin black strap holds me in my topsy-turvy, out-of focus, fragmented world.
- Torn metal sculpted into new, crumpled shapes.
- Fire burning, black charred patches, intense stench of burning.
- Flesh too, cold and Eragile, red-wet.
- A woman screaming ceaselessly, hysterical fingers scrabbling at her eyes.
Automata in green overalls are cutting into my metal-flesh. They take slices from the door, carefully working through the layers towards my soft heart. Blood (hydraulic fluid?) pounds through my skull, headache-pressure making it difficult to think. My legs (rear wheels?) feel distant and empty, the bone sucked out. I can see a face through my smashed windscreen-eye. Something has happened to me. Something car-tumbling, fence-ripping, tree-smashing, glass-tlying, ending-in-a-ditch bad.
There is blood falling from my mouth.
There are screams.
There is death in the air.
And I smile, my head-lamps shining full-on through the gloom smiling and shining because I understand, because I know what I must do.
* * *
The man was waiting on a balcon, hands gripping at the rusted railing, head turned towards thc city. He was an indeterminate man, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, young nor old. Everything about him was elusive, nothing definite. He was superbly ambivalent.
Mirabilis loved him. She prayed to him in secret, hoping to catch a sign of his love. She held back, watching him in silence. He knew she was there. He knew why.
"I'm happy to see you, Mirabilis," he said, his voice smooth and undisturbed. "Join me."
She stepped forward graciously to join her lord and maker on the balcony, her cloven hooves clacking against the worn stone floor. "It's the Set that brings you here, as ever?"
He half turned his head, as if distracted, as if anything could distract him. His eyes were hidden beneath black glass, which was a confort. Mirabilis smiled, both grateful and ashamed.
"They keep me occupied; I would come otherwise." She sighed. Yes I've a message. It concerns the gauging of the arcana."
"I wish the Set would not put so much trust in statistics. They're not truths, merely indicators... They would have me fight, you know?"
Mirabilis nodded grimly and spoke without feeling.
"Three of the minor arcana are flooded, M'Sire. Entropy consumes them."
"I am not your M'sire, Mirabilis, please don't title me such."
"It pleases me," Mirabilis whispered slyly, continuing in a calmer, louder voice. "The Ace of Swords is besieged. And of the major arcana, the World is flooding."
Her lord started, staring upwards to meet her gaze.
"That is disturhing" he said. His face had grown weary and lined. Mirabilis moved closer, close enough to feel the cold from his body.
"The message is this: These agents grow fullshaped and their power touches the world. Negative they are, programme-threatening with their corruption. Demand that you seek them out, that you root them out, we do."
"Fools," the man spoke without kindness.
"They ask that you be reminded of the war with the Snake."
"Yes... You weren't made when we fought the Eldest Shadow Mirabilis. We fought it to the walls, no funrther. We fought it because it was us, and we were our enemy. Never has such a narcissistic war been waged! Fight? No. Not for the Set I might better beat upon the gates of the forbidden city, demanding the return of my throne." He shrugged, offering her a weary sigh. "Tell the Set Iwill go, look, and then decide what must be done."
Mirabilis made a curt nod of her head and spoke softly.
"M'Sire is wise."
Perhaps he laughed then. Perhaps he kissed her as he swept away, grey coat whipping into the darkness. Whatever she found herself alone, nodding sagely and trying not to cry.
Death's Dream Republic.
* * *
It's a fine summer day, she's sitting at a table at a pavement cafe overlooking the sea There are people milling round her, young people with lithe or muscular torsos, dressed so briefly that she seems well-covered in just jeans and jacket. She's wearing something under her arm and it's hurting her, chafing her flesh and making it sore. It's the truth that keeps her sepatate from the cattle, the sheep the abattoir-bound herd around her. They're clad in their ignorance, not knowing what is coming for them on a pale horse (but we don't have myth here, thank - you!).
Last week she burned a church in Liechenstein. She poured petrol on a corpse she had made and set light to it. She burned the half naked god gloating on his cross. She locked the doors on the way out. They were screaming inside and she called "You're going to die! You're going to die!" Someone beat her up then. Men in uniforms with sticks. She wears no uniform. Liechenstein was a bad time for her, there's a buzzing in her head now and she feels nauseous and tastes the blood again. She sees a couple kissing at the next table. That will end. They deceive themselves with their tongues and their lips and their flesh which will - which must - rot. There's Jack sitting beside her telling her about the man with no legs, in the house, in the north. There's gratfiti on the wall behind him: WELCOME TO INTERZONE. EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED. What a waste of precious freedom, I fought in the revolution for them! There's an icecream cone in her hand. She licks.
Jack knows the truth but doesn't care. He's been made cynical by his methods and his fortune. She cares. She's made her people free. She didn't betray her love. There are no labels in her clothes, no name tags, she is as anonymous as I am.
Will this be your first time since Europe? Jack asks. No, she tells him, the second. She stands up now taking the heavy thing from under her shoulder and poincing it and, with a gesture, she makes a hole in him. He falls back and people start to scream. Now, turn and walk away. She had shown them the truth and made them afraid. And the truth is this: I am she and she is me, and I decide to give myself a name now. I haven't been Jane before. I will become Jane.
Jane dances an impromptu Hopscotch pattern along the seafront, cone in one hand, gun in the other, leaving behind her a body, a token of death.
The butterfly's wings switch. A boot stamps down on it, crushing it into the foretc floor.
"Doctor!" a woman calls. "You're going the wrong way!"
"Wrong way? Me, go the wrong way? If everywhere leads somewhere then logically, there can be only one path, and that path is the right way... hmm? Isn't that right, K9?"
"Geographical paradox not demonstrated, Master. You have said, 'all places are one, and that place is very big'."
"I have? How clever of me! Anyway, this way!"
He moves away leaving behind him a crushed butterfly, the promise of death.