Plugs

Read Rudi’s story “Detail from a Painting by Hieronymus Bosch” at Behind the Wainscot.

Jonathan Wood’s story “Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” from Electric Velocipede 15/16 is available online.

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Running on Aether

by Jonathan Wood

Once it was fun to courier packages through Orphir’s confluxes of alien architecture. This was a city of shadows and politics. But things are changing—now the knives emerge from the shadows, and tonight they point at me.

The assassins emerge from an Aethergate. A hole in reality opens and they dash forward from another where, another plane. The slash at me, my package. I see a keyhole tattooed on one palm. The Order of the Silver Key. A few hours ago I would have called them the most enlightened of the cabals skulking around the back halls of power. But things are changing in Orphir.

I make for the roofs, climbing something that may be a drain pipe or a feeding tube for a piece of sentient stonework. My feet pound over slate and silica.

My lead narrows and I descend to the streets, crashing down fire escape stairs. One assassin has flanked me. He slashes with his knife as I dance backwards. His blade catches the package, unseals it.

It goes without saying that I do not know what I carry. You do not open the package. That is the rule. But now the package is opened, and a blue-bladed aether knife falls free, spilling from its scabbard. It spits and crackles in the night.

I catch it before it hits the floor, slash the assassin’s knees. He screams and falls.

I run, they pursue and corner me in Flex Plaza. Five aethergates–one on each side of the space. I eye them, expecting fresh assailants. The assassins close. I lash out, and my blade severs theirs. Steel hits the floor. I slash again, hands join the blades. Three drop. One—holding back—remains. He run for a gate and vanishes. I smile.

Then the gate behind me opens and the assassin steps through. He has navigated the space between realities in a blinking. He is Aetherblessed, and I am screwed.

I run, but he’s always before me, stepping out of one gate, then another, outstripping all the speed of my feet. Eventually I am exhausted, cannot run from his approach, only wheeze.

The blow doesn’t come.

“This is not death,” he says. “This is rebirth. This is recruitment.” He holds out a hand, a silver keyhole tattooed there.

I pause then accept the hand. It feels right. Feels smart. After all, things are changing in Oriphir.

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