Note his is a work-in-progress, folks. Kyagtshagg use to be “Yu-Ping Chang.” I realized that language form was some 22,000 years ahead of her first introduction to the story hence was invalid and went with a similar meaning in the earliest Tibetan dialect I could find.
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Fire, it seemed, was the humans’ answer to everything. Didn’t like the people? Burn them. Didn’t like the place? Burn it down. Didn’t like the ideas? Burn the books.
Oh, Kyagtshagg had seen it so many times she was sick of it. Sick of it, do you hear? Sick, sick, sick.
Even their celebrations were ceremonies of fire. New Year’s Eve in Montreal was, yes, a gala celebration, and oh, yes, the midnight sky was alight with the nomads’ fireworks. Big booming bangs of every shade and hue shuddering and shaking the ground far below.
She laughed and looked away from the key to some children holding their parents’ hands beside her. So long ago.
Or no, it wasn’t.
She couldn’t remember. She’d either been a child or had a child.
Which was it now?
Another booming blast of light obliterated the full moon and hid the cosmos behind a veil of specters dancing in the midnight sky.
But the humans did this. Not spirits. When she was young, yes, she remembered, when she into a demon changed, the Dancing Skies came down and danced with her. Yes. She remembered and smiled.
A little girl holding onto her grandfather’s hand looked up and smiled back.
Kyagtshagg lazily raised a gloved hand to her face and felt whiskers there, but not the demon kind. No, now a mustache and beard, both straggly and worn, like the face and body she wore, she’d allowed herself to show some age — Not too much, though. No. Not too much — since she’d run away from the last life she’d led.
That was a good thing about a society moving so quickly while standing still; you could escape whatever prison you imagined yourself in by simply walking faster than a camera-eye could follow. So, when there was nothing more to be gained from where you lived, just walk away. People were flooded with so much information they could see your face on milk cartons, breakfast boxes, soda pop bottles, buses, trucks, garbage cans and every five minutes depending on which screen they were watching, and they’d let you be unless they had a reason not to.
Say boo to their dog when it took a pee on your foot and they’d sell you for the price of your skin, but ignore whatever they and their foolish nomad kin did and they’d keep you around just for the sport of it, just to have a place for their dog to pee.
And, oh, how she hated things that peed.
But no dogs peed on her boot this cloudless, full mooned, cold, Montreal New Year’s Eve night, no Dancing Skies came down to tweak and twizzle her demon whiskers. Tonight only this little girl smiled up at her as she, Kyagtshagg, deserter of wives and husbands and children and nomads all, smiled back down.
The booms piled up on each other, coming like rocket shells raining fire down on villages, towns, and people in wars past; the finalé. She wished it were the Dancing Skies who the humans recently renamed The Aurora Borealis.
Such a name, Aurora Borealis. Not romantic. Not even as much a carrier of the truth as the other foolishness she’d heard, The Northern Lights.
Humans had no sense of their history, of their origin. But honor their pasts? Revere their ancients?
Screaming drew her attention. A disturbance where Rue de St. Catherine met the Old Quarter. Several police tanks came fast, their psychecannons aimed high, the radiators cool.
They don’t want people to get out of the way?
She stood, hesitating, the cold masking her unsure twitches as shivers from the code.
Move closer? Find out what the rush is all about?
Or run because just this once the damned nomad technology found her out, her face hadn’t changed enough and been seen by someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew.
She’d killed all who knew. She’d killed all who even guessed. Even if they hadn’t guessed, even if only once their eyes glistened with some intelligence, an intelligence bringing their eyes back to bite her in their thin moment lives, she killed them.
They were nomads. You could do that with. Kill them, be gone, and they hardly registered the loss unless somebody owed somebody or someone failed to line up their next pawn in the game.
The man holding the hand of the little girl lifted her into his arms.
“Where are we going, Poppa?”
“It’s okay, Resa. We have to be going now.”
Kyagtshagg, hearing the brief exchange, focused on the man and child just as the man stared back.
Poppa? Certainly you are too old to be her “Poppa”.
The man stared back, crushing the child to him. “Poppa, you’re hurting me.”
He looked away, holding the child close still but relaxing his grip a little. “It’s because I love you so much, my little one.”
He glanced back at Kyagtshagg and, catching her eye, glanced away.
Does he recognize me?
“You have a lovely daughter, Sir.”
The child smiled as the man turned away. He froze. Kyagtshagg watched steam rise from him, evaporating in the streetlights. He turned back slowly and met her eyes. He held the child close but away from Kyagtshagg, protecting the child from a sudden grab. His eyelids lowered and his lips barely moved when he spoke. “Thank you, sir.”
What are you seeing? Does you recognize me? Do I have to kill you, too? Is that what you want? Here, in this crowd, in front of your daughter? Really? Do you want me to kill you?
The New Year’s Even wind shifted slightly, blowing out the old year, blowing in the new. Kyagtshagg breathed deep the midnight Montreal cold and caught a scent of fear.
From this man holding so dearly this little girl.
Fear of Kyagtshagg.
Well, yes, of course. But how? Why?
The little girl wrapped her arms around her father. He pulled her coat and scarf and mufflers tightly around her as his gaze wandered through the crowd. “Rose?”
An elderly woman two people over waved and nodded at him. Two boys, older but each dressed warmly and snuggly much like the little girl, were attached one to each of her arms.
Broadcasters on the police tanks called to the cold midnight crowds, repeating and sending their message in every direction in Quebeçois and English, “Ayez votre Carte de Santé OMS en main. Have your WHO Screen Card ready. Ayez votre Carte de Santé OMS en main. Have your WHO Screen Card ready.”
The man carrying the little girl, the woman and her two boys, stood shaking, their eyes darting, evaluating, flight or fight, an island of fear in a sea of civilization, even as Kyagtshagg’s hand reached into her coat, even as a thousand hands reached into a thousand coats around her, even as each hand pulled out its owner’s WHO Screen Card. The lights of the last booming false fire in the sky faded, the echoes ran down streets and alleys, fleeing into the St. Laurent on either side as the crowds stood still in the streets, each face basking in the broad, pale New Year’s Eve moonlight, a city of zombies waiting for passage to humanhood.
Except for the man, the woman, the little girl and the two little boys. The man took his eyes off Kyagtshagg’s but now other eyes stared at him. His eyes came back to Kyagtshagg’s. “Monsieur – ”
“Je parle l’Anglais maintenant ici, s’il vous plait , ” Kyagtshagg answered.
“I beg your pardon, sir. ” The man held the little girl close to him, closer than Kyagtshagg had ever seen a father hold his child.
Kyagtshagg handed the man her WHO card. Tears came into the man’s eyes. His chin quivered. He kissed the little girl he held, kissed her fiercely, holding her face against his and rubbing his cheeks against hers as if he were a cat marking her as his own. Then he said, “Get down, Resa.”
“But why, Poppa?”
“Just get down, Resa. You’re such a big girl now, you’re a little too heavy to hold. ” The man released his grip but the little girl held him tight.
“But Poppa — ”
“Get down, Resa. You, Momma, your brothers and I. We told you this day might come.”
The little girl’s face iced in the Montreal moonlight as she slid down from her father’s grasp. Somebody bumped into Kyagtshagg from behind and she felt a rude hand search her pockets for her WHO card. “Excusez-moi, Pardon me, Pardonnez, A’scuzá a’scuzè , ” came a voice after the hands, the body feigning drunkenness as the hands searched through the next person’s pockets. Crude. Someone else, another immigrant, another nomad who came for solace and comfort and instead found a land in the throes of panic over a disease no one knew how to combat.
She noticed but thought nothing of it. Sloppy. Weak. Let her guard down like that again and the nomads would be at her throat; She was the oldest — ha! she chuckled at that — looking person she’d seen in the crowd. For someone with gray hairs to be out on this cold a night, under a full moon and where others could see you? Such a person must have a WHO card with them, upon them.
Amazing more nomads hadn’t picked her pockets.
The man, the woman, and the two boys vanished into the crowd. Only the little girl remained, sniffing back dry tears at his feet.
A policeman came up and held out a gloved hand. “Certificate.”
Kyagtshagg lifted the little girl up in his arms. “Show the nice man your card, Resa.”
The little girl stared at him.
“Go ahead, sweetheart. He’s not going to hurt you. ” Kyagtshagg smiled at the policeman who didn’t look back, simply continued holding his hand out for the card.
The little girl handed the card over.
The policeman lifted his Reader from his belt and put the card through. The screen blinked then came up with garbage. “Damn. ” He banged it and put the card through again. Still garbage. He breathed hard into the chip reader and tried one more time. “Sucre-Deiu.”
“Damn fools sent us out on the coldest night in years and expect us to gather up HLPs. They know these Readers are only good to Zed.”
Kyagtshagg smiled as the policeman whacked the Reader again and waited for the screen to clear. “Maybe you got some Anglos in command who think zed is zero-Fahrenheit, eh?”
The policeman kept his eyes on his Reader but laughed. “You got any other papers, sir?”
“Sure. Hang on a minute. ” He put the little girl down. “Go find Momma, Resa, okay? Tell her I’ll meet you all at Chez Temporal in ten minutes for drinks and then we’ll go home, okay?”
“But — ” Resa protested.
“Shh. Hush. Do as I say or there’ll be no wine in your glass, little girl. ” She spun Resa in the direction her family fled and patted her bottom to hurry her along.
The policeman lifted the WHO card. “Hey!”
Kyagtshagg took it and pocketed it quickly. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure she gets it when the family gets together later. Now, as for something else to show you… ” She took her wallet out of her backpocket and appreciated the absurdity of it all: money, wallets, watches, identity via drivers’ license and what-have-you, a;; all now safe. Pickpockets wcouldn’t bother with them. The new exchange de franca were WHO Screen Cards stating sometime within the last sixty-eight hours you were tested free for HLP III prions. Laser tagged and smart, the industry forging the cards was almost as preumptuate as the industry performing the tests. But forged cards were costly to make and expensive to buy and had to be renewed at sixty-eight hours from their initial use. Talk about industries spawning industries! By the time most immigrants bought their way here from wherever they couldn’t afford new cards, hence the roundups like the British cattle culls of the mid-1990’s.
Kyagtshagg intentionally let her wallet pop open to her McGill University WHO Lab pass, photo ID showing her mature, whiskered, male smiling face.
The policeman glanced at it long enough to know he shouldn’t piss her off; someday either his or his family’s test might be in this man’s hands and a slight misreading of some strip of paper or some computer screen would send the WHO guards to his house, to burn it down while they stood about cold and hard behind their environmental shields, talking amongst themselves in their environmental suits, asking did the family have any pets? Asking were there any others recently with the family? Was there anyone else recently in the house?
The policeman turned quickly away, holding his Reader like a shield over his breastpocket nametag. “Thank you, Monsieur. Sorry to take up your time.”
“Not a problem. ” Kyagtshagg smiled at the nomad’s retreating form. “We all make little mistakes, yes?”
The policeman stopped. His shoulders slumped. He hurried on.
Kyagtshagg shook her head. She evaluated hundreds of tests per day and what happened to individual nomads was of little concern to her. What was happening to them all, however…
Evaluating forms was a different power than the Demon Kyagtshagg possessed long ago. But it suited her none-the-less.
She looked around her. The little girl, gone. Her family gone longer still. The impudent fool who sought Kyagtshagg’s card in her pocket?
Ah, police already surrounded him, guided him with their tasers and not their hands, each protest met with a mild tzzzng followed with a yelp, the sound of a little dog kicked while taking a pee.
It made her smile, the sound of the tzzzng followed by the yelp and then followed sometimes by the smell of fresh, hot pee on this cold Quebeçois night..
How she hated things that took a pee.
But without things that took a pee, would she not be in the lab and so close to understanding what the BrainStone had done?
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