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    Volume 12, Issue 1, February 28, 2017
    Message from the Editors
 The 'aiei of Snow by D.A. D'Amico
 Quintessence by David Bowles
 The Improbable Library by Kathryn Yelinek
 Crawlers by Jay Barnson
 General Notice to Off-World Visitors by Dana Martin
 Author Interview: Laurence MacNaughton by Nikki Baird


         

Quintessence

David Bowles


       
       It was the dawn of the very last day, and Dr. Anayeli Morelos had no regrets.
       She stepped from her depa complex in the heart of Puebla--Angelópolis to its native-born--and squinted at the harsh glare of the sun. Even this early on a Monday the sidewalks bustled with a mix of working-class poor and 'toothed avatars of the middle class, plus the occasional municipal afandroide, cleaning or patrolling with impassive diligence.
       Ducking out of the way of a motorized food shack that pulled to the curb and tilted solar panels to optimal, Anayeli subvocalized and turned on her e-lenses. Instantly, a virtual interface flickered to life, layering itself over the real world. Pinned labels popped up over key features of the cityscape, certain buildings glowed to indicate strategic importance, and individuals of no calculable significance were grayscaled and faded so she could focus on her biggest concern.
       Am I being followed?
       As she scanned the crowd for possible threats, she muttered a few commands and a window opened up before her, appearing to hover on the left. With a quick flick of her hand, she scrolled through messages, mail and feeds. Nothing had been tagged. For the moment, it seemed she was safe.
       Nodding to herself, she gestured her GPS on, and her lenses laid a glowing strip of arrows across the cracked and uneven sidewalk. This was the only sort of alteration she allowed herself. Guidance. Others were not so disciplined. It was the vogue to transform the world. Bigots erased the color and ethnicity of their fellow citizens, homogenizing their surroundings. Progressives filtered out ugly truths of human nature. Extreme religious types imposed piety and excised sin. Whether using e-lenses in physical form or viewing the world through an avatar's robotic eyes, people preferred illusion.
       The younger set went even further. Skinning, they called it. Their environment became a medieval landscape, a teeming hell, an interstellar paradise, an underwater demesne. Humans were draped with the forms of animals, demons, merfolk, naked demi-gods, inscrutable aliens.
       Anything not to see.
       And so the world fell further into decay. As climate change ravaged the environment and technology put pleasures within arm's reach, lives were lived increasingly within a few dozen square meters. Architecture had simplified, become functional. Now, in the latter half of 2065, afandroides maintained the major metropoleis, but small towns atrophied, as had Anayeli's native San Juan Bautista Lo de Soto in Oaxaca State.
       Ten billion people, deliberately blind.
       Not Anayeli. Oh, she had once refused to see, but then everything she loved had been taken from her. Now it was her duty to see. Not just the visible symptoms of the moral sickness that ravaged the globe, but the underlying spiritual afflictions as well.
       Steeling herself, she sprinkled ash into the palm of her hand from a small phial. Then she spat on it, using her fingers to mix up a blot of muddy paste which she smeared at the center of her forehead.
       Here it goes.
       Taking a deep breath, she enunciated the Nahuatl spell. "Mā itto moch."
       Let all be seen.
       Twining lines of fiery force shimmered into existence all around her, revealing a reality that undergirded the world much like the world itself underlay her virtual interface. It streamed down in waves from the sun, webbed between the few plants along the streets, ebbed from patches of soil and the brains of passing folk.
       But much of the city was dark, devoid of the essential glow. Avatars and droids were free of its glittering intaglio. Entire blocks yawned blackly, bereft of the substance.
       Quintessence.
       It was a form of the dark energy Anayeli had been researching most of her adult life. The Aztecs had called it teotl. God-stuff.
       The new layer of data was essential to her mission. Immediately she noticed patterns of quintessence around certain pedestrians--there went a shapeshifter, her animal soul writhing eagerly in golden spirals; along came a sorcerer, hands and mouth smeared with god-stuff.
       Then there were the ghosts, tethered to tragic places where they shambled and shook or glided aloft on currents of teotl.
       And slumbering beneath her or looming in the mountainous distance were the gods: vast and quiescent, their non-baryonic bulks glowing like suns.
       Keeping her eyes focused on the earth itself, Anayeli made her way toward the neighborhood garage, on the lookout for the emergence of those complex spiritual patterns that her rivals generated. It was highly unlikely that her mission had been discovered by agents of the present obsolete and decrepit order, but she was sworn to a fanatical vigilance. The future of the cosmos depended on her actions today.
       No human or supernatural interference. Time to move.
       Taking the dusty, long-abandoned stairwell, Anayeli climbed to level six. Her vehicle hummed to life at her approach.
       "Omega Lambda Center," she subvocalized as the hatch hissed open. She ducked inside, ensconced herself in the couch, and dialed the top hemisphere transparent so she could keep an eye out for possible threats. "Use the Tube."
       The little ovaloid vehicle wheeled its silent way out of the garage and along the streets of Puebla till it came to the nearest Tube tower. It then slipped into the next available pod and was hoisted to the Tube. The vacuum initiated, and the scientist was soon speeding down the maglev rail toward her destiny.

~

       The first time Anayeli saw the Dance of the Devils, she was just four years old. Her grandmother held her hand as they walked to the center of town on All Souls' Day. The music started, syncopated drums and whistling flutes, and twenty dancers shuffled into the plaza, taking widespread and stomping steps, bent at the waist, arms swaying rhythmically. They wore boots and furred leggings, capes of many colors that swirled when the dancers spun.
       Young Anayeli gasped at their faces, not understanding that these were masks. Red and leering, horns twisting and spiraling from their heads.
       In loud, terrifying unison, the dancers roared a single word: "RUHA!"
       The girl drew breath to scream.
       "Don't be afraid," her grandmother whispered in her ear, kneeling beside her. "Tata Terron is coming, and so is Nana Minga. They'll guide the spirits. Nothing bad will happen."
       A demoness threaded her way seductively through the troupe, an infant clutched to her breast. Though she tried to distract the dancing devils, an older figure came rushing toward her, wielding a whip as he gyrated. Between them, Minga and Terron managed, seducing and scourging, to herd the troupe toward the cemetery, where Anayeli lost sight of them at last.
       It wasn't until she was much older that her grandmother, a renowned folklorist, began to explain.
       "Our ancestors were brought to Mexico from Africa. All parts of it. While this country was still a colony of the Spanish crown, we worked fields and ranches. Some revolted, fled here to the Costa Chica. They encountered Zapotec tribes, found common ground with them. In time, slavery was overturned. Our grandmothers and grandfathers forged a new identity: Afro-Mexican, steeped in the indigenous and African cultures."
       "So the dance is from Africa?" Anayeli asked.
       "In a way. The Catholic priests wouldn't let us worship our native gods, and when we were slaves we weren't seen as human enough to worship the saints. So we dressed our gods up like demons and danced for them instead. Now they help us stay strong, resist evil. They guide the souls of our loved ones back to their resting place during the second Day of the Dead. They remind us of our debt to our ancestors."
       Pushing aside her loose, dark curls, Anayeli squinted thoughtfully. "And what is Ruha? Why do they yell that name?"
        "He's the fierce Lord of the Desert, my child. Before being enslaved in West Africa and shipped to the Caribbean, our grandmothers and grandfathers had already begun to hide the names of their gods due to the spread of Islam. So the name of the jealous and wrathful Creator, chief among gods, was obscured. Al-Ruha simply means 'the spirit.' The dancers clamor to him for freedom. Freedom from slavery. Freedom from the crumbling rule of civilized order. Freedom from the injustice that has twisted our world."
       A sense of hope and dread fluttered in Anayeli's stomach at the thought. "Does he hear them, Grandmother?"
       The older woman smiled wistfully. "Yes, dear. Yes, he does."

~

       The ten-minute Tube trip took Anayeli over swathes of denuded land, spiritually benighted, teotl drained. Technology, pollution, botanic homogeneity and robotic strip mining reshaped the terrain into something unnatural.
       Even a decade of seeing could not numb her to the violence humanity had done to the world. Tears flowed. She refused to look away. Orizaba loomed massive and pristine, glowing hale though climate change had stripped it of its cap of snow. Beside it stooped Sierra Negra, its slopes and summit glistening with steel and concrete, home to the most ambitious projects conceived by the National Institute of Astrophysics.
       It was a vast dead sinkhole in the metaphysical fabric of Mexico.
       Soon Anayeli slowed to a stop, her vehicle eased down onto the sensor-crammed blacktop. Unprompted, the onboard navigation daemon drove through automated checkpoints and along access tunnels to a massive lift on the mountain's western face that shot the scientist up toward her workplace.
       The gleaming halls of the Omega Lambda Center were simultaneously familiar and menacing as Anayeli greeted receptionists and coworkers, bending face to biometric locks as she traveled deeper into the complex.
       Susana Rivera, the systems engineer on Anayeli's team, stood as she entered their spacious circular office. A look of confusion with a hint of annoyance flushed the younger woman's light skin.
       "Dr. Morelos! I thought you weren't coming in, either. Ignacio and Dr. Palomo kind of gave me that impression."
       "Sorry, Susana. I know you wanted to clean up code before the next deployment. I just had a bit of a brainstorm. You know the drill. But, hey, you keep working on whatever you're doing. I've got simulations to run. Could just be a dead end. I'll tell you if we ought to actually try out my idea."
       "Alright. Let me know."
       The two worked all morning in separate cocoons of sounds and images, their e-lenses 'toothed into the government servers via highly encrypted short-range connections. Taking great care not to alert the systems sentinels, she began cobbling together in her virtual workshop all the disparate elements she'd developed over the past year or so. Once she had assembled the routines, she would shunt them into place and move as quickly as possible.
       The Milky Way came over the horizon just after sunset. Anayeli would be ready.

~

       Karima Morelos had been a botanist; her husband Francisco, an energy engineer. They were collaborating on an alternate energy project in the waning years of the petroleum age when a strange industrial accident claimed both their lives, leaving their ten-year-old daughter in the care of her grandmother, Nicolasa. Children are resilient, and Afro-Mexican communities tightly knit, so with the help of family and friends, the girl managed her grief well, healing quickly and moving forward.
       However, when she got dizzy with love during her high school years, neglecting her studies and ditching class, Anayeli was confronted by her grandmother with a brutal truth.
       "Your parents' death was no accident, child. Men with deadly resources at their disposal were determined to keep ripping open the Earth, sucking the marrow from her bones though they damned themselves in the process. And those men had my son killed, my son and your brilliant mother. Don't dishonor them. Take up the burden they laid down in death. Find the hidden energies that make the heavens spin."
       The revelation transformed Anayeli. She broke up with her girlfriend and poured herself into school. Her grandmother encouraged her interest in physics and astronomy, using her academic credentials to get the teen unusual access to resources and experts. Anayeli blossomed. Aced her college entrance exams. Was accepted into the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. Graduated summa cum laude. Immediately began her doctorate.
       It was during those postgraduate years that she met Itzayana Tuz, a brilliant woman from Yucatan whose profound understanding of physics was matched by the sensual beauty of her black eyes and hair, her soft chocolate skin. Their shared research grew into friendship, edged into passion, deepened into love. Their dissertations intertwined as did their souls.
       At their joint graduation party, they announced their engagement to family and friends. All were delighted, except for Nicolasa Morelos, who gave a superficial smile but clearly had concerns.
       "Grandmother," Anayeli muttered, cornering the folklorist. "Can't you at least be happy for me? You may not approve of my lifestyle or my wife, but I'd hoped you would want me to find joy and fulfillment."
       "Not approve? Nonsense. Forgive me if I've made you feel that way, dear. The reluctance you sense in me has nothing to do with your marriage. I can't explain what unnerves me--I simply intuit a wrongness, like something's waiting in secret to attack you. Please, ignore me for the time being. I'm a silly old woman. Let me give you a kiss, and we'll forget my foolishness."
       The ceremony was simple but beautiful, a score of folks on a beach of the Costa Chica, white linen and plumeria blossoms, vows in Mayan and Spanish, benediction sung to the goddesses of yore. Among the many gifts was an oddity--a gorgeous pre-Colombian urn in which some of the ashes of Anayeli's parents had been sifted together.
       "It's morbid and gross," Itzayana complained during their honeymoon in Huatulco, "like your grandmother wants to ruin things for us. She obviously doesn't like me, for whatever reason, and now she gives us a memory of death on our wedding day. Please, I know you can't return it, but I don't want to see it. If you love me, you'll keep it out of our home."
       Though having a reminder of her beloved parents would have been comforting, Anayeli agreed with little hesitation, placing the valuable gift in a safety deposit box.
       Soon the newlyweds were both teaching at the Astronomy Institute of UNAM and living in a high-tech depa in Mexico City. Their co-authored articles disproving lambdavacuum solutions garnered them global acclaim, and they found themselves presenting at conferences around the world.
       Anayeli saw little of her grandmother during those first seven years of her marriage. Even setting the matter of the ashes aside, Itzayana hadn't responded well to the coldness from the older Dr. Morelos, and Anayeli had gradually distanced herself from her remaining family to keep her wife content.
       During Easter Week of 2052, Itzayana learned one of her dearest aunts had fallen seriously ill, so she took a flight to Mérida, insisting that Anayeli remain behind to wrap up work on an important grant proposal. Mere hours after her wife's departure, Anayeli received an unexpected dinner invitation from renowned physicist Eva Andrade, with whom she had taken several courses as an undergraduate and doctoral student. Honored and confused, she took an autonotaxi to the professor's home in the upscale suburb of El Pedregal.
       An obsequious criandroide ushered her into a sort of parlor, where she found not only Dr. Andrade but also her grandmother, white hair cropped close to her mahogany scalp, looking older and wearier than ever.
       "What is this?" Anayeli demanded.
       "Ana, I'm not trying to ambush you," Nicolasa began.
       "No? Then what the hell are you trying to do? And you, Dr. Andrade? What would possess you to get mixed up in our family issues?"
       Andrade motioned with a pale, age-spotted hand. "Sit down, Anayeli. This is more important than personal squabbles. There are things you must know, now, before it is too late."
       Taken aback by the ominous tone, Anayeli slumped into a chair, locking her gaze with Andrade's sea-green eyes. "Alright. I'm listening."
       The physics professor folded her hands together on her lap. "Your grandmother and I belong to a. . .group, you might say. A very ancient society of learned folk seeking to right the imbalances of this world. Armed with science and age-old lore, we have attempted for centuries to preserve the inherent wildness of the cosmos, the unruly beauty that abides where man's crippling order has not siphoned necessary chaos away.
       "Sadly, we have been unsuccessful. Evolving, ubiquitous technology has uprooted diversity, spread sameness to every nation, leveled our lives to patterned mediocrity.
       "So the time for drastic measures has come at last. That is what we must discuss."
       Anayeli shook her head, turned to her grandmother. "Drastic? What exactly does that mean?"
       Nicolasa Morales sighed. "Do you remember Ruha?"
       Andrade sighed. "Nico, wait. We have to ease into that."
       Narrowing her eyes, Anayeli leaned forward. "What, the desert god? From the dance?"
       Her grandmother nodded, ignoring Andrade's warning. "Yes. You see, he is an avatar of chaos. The Aztecs called him Tezcatlipoca. Your wife's people named him Juraqan, Raging Hurricane, nature unfettered. He has had enough. He wants to crack open the heavens and remake the world. And you, my dearest one, have been chosen to work his will."
       For the space of several moments, Anayeli couldn't find any words. Then she clenched her fists and stood. "Are you two out of your fucking minds? What sort of strange hallucinogen have you been ingesting to come up with this shit? I mean, I know my grandmother indulges in that sort of thing, like a lot of the wackos in the soft sciences do. But you, Dr. Andrade? Shame on you."
       She turned to leave.
       "It's your wife," Eva Andrade called after her. "You must be careful of your wife."
       Anayeli drew up short, spun around to face them. "Shut up. Don't you dare talk about Itzayana."
       "She's not who you think she is," Nicolasa interjected. "My intuition was right. She's an agent of the other side, those who would pave the world, replacing nature with artifice. They know who I am, whom I serve. They've been tracking you since your parents' death, and they got you to fall for one of them, someone who can keep an eye on you, prevent you from your mission."
       Anayeli felt nauseous bile rise, burn the back of her throat. "You joyless fucking hag. You never wanted me to have someone else to love. After Mom and Dad died, you wanted me for yourself, and it tears you up inside that I can live and thrive without you. Well, we're done, do you hear me? Don't ever contact me again."
       "Listen," Dr. Andrade insisted, getting to her feet with a wobble. "Feel whatever indignation you must. But look to your wife. When the time comes that you suspect, take a pinch of your parents' ashes, mix it with saliva from your own mouth, and smear it on your forehead. Then repeat the word 'see' until you are able to. There's a spell that works faster." Here she spoke three words in Nahuatl.
       Anayeli said nothing in reply to this almost sacrilegious suggestion. She simply left the residence with a lurching stomach and racing heart.
       A week later, Itzayana returned. Her aunt's health had improved, she said. Life resumed its normal routine, though a part of Anayeli subtly analyzed her wife's behavior for traces of betrayal. There was, of course, nothing to detect. In fact, their conversations began to turn toward the idea of broadening their family, of motherhood.
       Then the job offer came from the National Institute of Astrophysics--a chance to get in on the ground floor of the new Omega Lambda Center.
       Itzayana responded with feigned indifference, clearly jealous of her wife's career opportunity.
       "I suppose you should take it, but there are a lot of students who'll miss out on your great teaching and guidance. And you'll just be a very junior member of one of many teams. Hard to shine when you're surrounded by stars of that magnitude."
       Anayeli drew the shorter woman into her arms, kissed the top of her head, rubbing palms against the tense muscles of her back. "Oh, babe, don't worry. I'm sure that after I've been there a while, I can vouch for you. You know government officials. A judiciously given bottle of expensive tequila here, a serenade by mariachis there. . ."
       Itzayana pushed her away. "I don't want your goddamn sympathy or help. I'm a better scientist than you, and I'll get where I'm going just fine on my own merits, thank you very much."
       "Whoa. You're pretty pissed off."
       "We had plans, Ana. What about taking a couple of years off, having a baby? You get this offer and suddenly it's all about you and not us, huh? That sucks, love. Really sucks."
       Despite the arguments and misgivings, Anayeli ultimately accepted the position even given the considerable commute. Construction on Tube towers had begun, and she knew that soon this inconvenience would be resolved.
       A few months into her work at the center, she began to notice something strange--a shaggy dog of indeterminate race, glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, always at the periphery of her vision. At first the animal seemed a stray that lived off refuse near Sierra Negra, but then she happened to see it on the streets of Mexico City, too, in clear defiance of the Animal Control droids.
       Impossible. Can't be the same dog.
       But she kept noticing it, though the black hound seemed to deliberately avoid her. She managed to capture images of it with her personal data device. It belonged to no breed on record. Its size was impressive, nearly that of a small human.
       One day, on a whim, she called Itzayana from work, shortly after spotting the canine. There was no answer. Punching up the Astronomy Institute, she learned that her wife had cancelled classes for the day because she was sick.
       Inventing her own sudden illness, Anayeli returned to their apartment. Itzayana wasn't there.
       When she did finally arrive, the couple had the ugliest fight of their eight years of marriage. Anayeli accused her wife of sleeping around and all sorts of other vices. Itzayana offered feeble excuses about working on a secret project for a private sector firm, but she refused to give any evidence.
       Anayeli stayed the night in a hotel, heartbroken. She slept uneasily. Her dreams were full of darkness from which she was watched by a massive hound with her wife's eyes.
       When she awakened, a strange impulse overcame her. She made her way to the bank, unlocked the safety deposit box, took a large pinch of ash in her hand.
       An hour later, standing before the door of their depa, she spat into her hand, rubbed the paste on her forehead. "See," she muttered angrily. "See. SEE. SEE."
       A blaze of fire seemed to wash across the world. She palmed the door open with a slap. Her wife stood in the kitchen, holding a spatula and talking to someone through her earpiece.
       "Call you back," Itzayana muttered. She lifted her eyes from the frying pan to look at Anayeli. "So, are we going to talk this thing out?"
       But Anayeli couldn't reply. There, writhing golden and eager in the center of her wife's being, was that beastly dog.

~

       Susana jerked her head up, startled and befuddled, trying to unfocus from the virtual world that blinded her to her physical surroundings.
       "Sorry, Dr. Morelos! Kind of freaked me out there."
       "No problem. I should have pinged you first, given you a heads-up. Look, I've got an idea I want to try out. I could use your help in the Bubble."
       Making small gestures that minimized her workspace, the tech nodded. "Of course. Let me just wrap something up real quick. Meet you at the lift."
       They were soon traveling up through the heart of Sierra Negra. Anayeli thought of the supercollider spiraling around them, of the millions of muons trapped, decaying, of the trillions more that would be generated as she initiated the end.
       Joy was not what she felt. No, the emotion was more akin to satisfaction or vengeance. Grim. Righteous.
       The lift stopped at the Bubble, a domed work area at the summit containing the computer systems for multiple massive instruments, including the aging Large Millimeter Telescope and the Neutrino Beam Array. Anayeli unlocked the control bay for the latter, and the two women ducked inside its familiar contours.
       The door cycled closed and locked behind them.
       "Okay, boss. What's the plan?"
       "I've got a new routine I want to upload that should optimize muon collection. Here, let's both log onto the system, then you can help me shunt the code over."
       Two team members were needed for such an operation. It was the only reason Susana was there. That, and to keep her from interfering remotely. The woman was formidable when it came to systems.
       The control console processed their biometrics, granted them access.
       "Perfect," Anayeli said from behind Susana, dusting her palm with her parents' ashes, letting spittle dribble silently, her DNA blending with theirs, her teotl triggered by the traces of fiery death. "You'll find my code waiting in the queue."
       Susana drew a sharp breath as she glanced at the subroutines. "Holy shit, Doc! You can't. . ."
       Anayeli slapped her hand against the younger woman's forehead.
       "Mācamo ximolīni," she rasped.
       Susana went rigid, immobilized by sorcery, the quintessence in her flesh freezing her where she sat.
       "Yes, I can," Anayeli whispered in her ear. "I'm the only one who can."

~

       "What the fuck are you?" Anayeli shouted at her wife, raising a trembling hand to point at her. "What the fuck is that thing doing inside you?"
       Itzayana clicked the stove off, tossed the spatula into the sink. "Goddammit, Ana. You had to go and listen to them, didn't you?"
       She took a step away from the kitchen, toward Anayeli, who eased out into the hall and held her hand above the palm plate, ready to slam the door shut and run like hell.
       "Stay away from me, Itza. Or whatever your name is. Answer the question. What. Are. You."
       Her wife lifted her hands, stopped where she was. "Okay, okay. Calm down. I'm a way pek, a shapeshifter. What you see is my animal self. A dog."
       An ache pierced Anayeli's head and heart. She wanted to disbelieve, but the evidence was right in front of her. "You. . .you spied on me? You turned into a dog and followed me?"
       "I had to, baby. Your grandmother--she's a fanatic. Wants to bring about the end of the world. We've been fighting her kind for centuries, Ana."
       "We?"
       "Agents of Light. Order. Children of the Feathered Serpent."
       Almost doubling over with the nausea that flooded her, Anayeli groaned. "A lie? Us? It was just a lie? They sent you to keep an eye on me?"
       Itzayana's face softened, her eyes reddened with tears. "Oh, sweetie, I know the way it looks. At first, yes, I was your watcher. But I fell in love with you. I --"
       "No! Shut up!" Anayeli gripped the door jamb, her vision coruscating with strange energies and grief. "All these years, all this time--and you're the enemy!"
       "You don't understand!" her wife pleaded. "This dark god Nicolasa worships, Ruha or whatever she wants to call him, he is evil and so are his daughters. Bleak, fallen angels. Sealed away for eternity in a prison beyond the sky, another dimension. But there's a crack in the heavens, Ana, and your grandmother wants you to tear it open."
       Anayeli drew a ragged breath. "So?"
       "So? Don't you get it? Everyone will die!"
       Heart thundering with betrayal and broken rage, Anayeli managed to whisper. "Maybe that's what they deserve. Raped the world. Killed my parents. Ripped away my love. To hell with them and their goddamn machines."
       The hound at the heart of Itzayana seemed to surge in a paroxysm of fury, and the woman's flesh burst asunder as it clawed its way out, howling and gnashing its teeth.
       Anayeli shut the door and ran.
       Ran and ran and ran.

~

       A decade later, her running was at an end. Every attempt at stopping her had been thwarted. Itzayana was long dead, along with every trace of compassion Anayeli had felt for all those blind human beings with their parasitic tech. They had betrayed their sacred stewardship. If this stunted, tamed and toothless world was to be renewed, made savage and green and whole again, chaos must run wild.
       The wheels of the cosmos forever turned. Life. Death. Rebirth.
       It was time to complete the cycle once more.
       She executed the subroutine. The supercollider hummed to life beneath her feet, accelerating particles at an unprecedented rate through its 40 kilometers of spirals. Smearing the last spit-moistened handful of her parents' ashes across the console, Anayeli muttered her final incantation.
       "Mā tlapōhui tēilpīlōyān."
       Let the prison be opened.
       As the Milky Way came over the horizon, she adjusted the Horn, aiming it for the black cleft in that profusion of light. Seen with sorcery, the scar glowered with sputters of teotl, sign of the unspeakable forces that had struggled down the vast ages to get free.
       With an audible roar, the neutrino beam burst from the summit of Sierra Negra, pouring into that rift at a spiritual level, buttressed by black magic and Anayeli's despair.
       The cataclysmic clash created a loop, replenishing the muons and pions dying at the mountain's heart, feeding the beam.
       The crack widened.
       Without a glance at Susana, Anayeli left the control bay, palmed open the emergency exit. The shrill alarm meant nothing to her. Neither did the thin, keen winds that whipped around the mountaintop.
       Turning her face to the heavens, Anayeli watched the cosmos rip open. Her limbs trembled in dread anticipation. She could not fathom what would come next, but it would be better than this nearly dead world.
       Cyclopean talons thrust through the gap. She caught a glimpse of behemoth wings.
       "Nana Minga!" she cried, overcome with horror and awe. "I'm ready to dance!"




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