Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Pipe and Slippers: With David Lee Summers

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Amontillado eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from the book Owl Dance, which is the first in the excellent steampunk series Clockwork Legion by David Lee Summers. Are you standing comfortably? Oh I think you can pour a more generous helping than that you know, it is rather chilly down here… a-hem….

 

 

Electric Kachinas

Chapter Two of Owl Dance

David Lee Summers

 

His name was Legion.

 

For millennia, the nanite swarm that was his current form explored galaxies and visited planets populated by thousands of races. He hadn’t always been this way. Many centuries ago he had another name on a planet now nothing more than dust, gradually drifting outward from the exhausted core of a dead star. On that world, he’d possessed a mortal body. The thing called Legion remembered that world, and remembered his old body, and also the first computer he lived in, but he knew such memories meant little in the face of his immortal existence.

 

Unconstrained by a mortal lifetime or the distance he could travel, Legion gathered information about everything he came across. The universe contained so much variety that if he grew bored in one location, he simply moved on to another.

 

Eventually, he found his way to a small cluster containing two spiral galaxies and several dwarf galaxies.  While ambling through one of the spirals, he came across a middle-aged yellow star that supported a handful of planets in stable orbits.

 

Legion was especially interested in the problem of intelligence. How did it evolve? What was its purpose? In all of his travels, he had yet to find a satisfactory answer. This humble solar system looked like one that could nurture life.

 

As he approached one of the inner, rocky worlds of this system, Legion grew excited. The planet contained large bodies of water broken up by landmasses, not unlike the world where he evolved. As he drifted closer, he saw straight lines cut into the ground and regular, geometric patterns of growing things. Not only was there life on this world, but there was life that altered its landscape. That indicated intelligence. Legion decided on a closer look.

 

On the world, he found corporeal beings, similar to the creature he once was. Legion realized these beings might be at the perfect stage to help him answer a few of his questions about the purpose of intelligence. They had developed agriculture and industry. However, they still appeared primitive. All the devices he saw could have been built by hand or through the use of rudimentary machines. The creatures of this planet appeared to be on a path to become as intelligent as he was, yet they were still primitive enough he might be able to glean some understanding of how that intelligence came about.

 

He sought out an intelligent being so he could study its neural structure and attempt to interpret its thoughts with minimal interference or detection. Because of that, he chose to seek out a being in a sparsely inhabited area. He found a river valley he hoped would serve his purpose.

 

It was windy in the valley and Legion allowed his component parts to ride the air currents. The wind came in gusts, propelling him some distance, but then quieting, allowing him to regroup and scan his surroundings. He passed what appeared to be a military fortification near the river and then he saw ruins of much older habitations. Walking among the ruins was a lone creature, who looked around with interest.

 

The being was perfect. He was clearly the same type of creature who had altered the landscape. Moreover, the creature was alone. If Legion affected the creature adversely, detection was unlikely.

 

Before the next gust of wind, Legion drifted over to the creature.

 

The being took a deep breath and some of the components entered its nasal passages. Those components traveled into the being’s lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream where they were carried to the brain, scanning and transmitting information as they went. Other components scanned the ruins and still others, further down the river valley, analyzed patterns of technological development and settlement, then compared that information to data collected from other worlds.

 

<< >>

 

Alberto Mendez belonged to a team of men installing telegraph lines between Santa Fe and El Paso. The team consisted of carpenters, electricians, linesmen, post hole diggers and even lumberjacks. Mendez helped to wire up the electrical equipment at each of the telegraph stops. They had arrived at Fort McRae that afternoon and would begin installing the telegraph station in the morning. The soldiers at the fort told him about some Indian ruins nearby and he decided he would take a hike and have a look before settling in for supper and a night’s sleep.

 

Despite his Spanish name, Mendez was an Indian from the pueblo of Tortugas. His ancestors used to live in the pueblos around Fort McRae. They used to be called the Piro.

 

In 1598, a group of Spaniards emerged from the harsh desert south of the ruins led by a man named Juan de Oñate. The Piro provided food and water to the dying men. The pueblo was a city as grand as anything the Europeans had in Mexico and it was the site of America’s first Thanksgiving. Despite that, the pueblo would be abandoned within the year. Over 250 years of wind and rain had all but erased the pueblo’s existence.

 

Mendez put his hands on his hips and looked around at the low walls that surrounded him–sad reminders of the grand pueblo that used to stand in this place.

 

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few minutes later, as he continued along the path, strange words formed in his mind. They weren’t English, Spanish or even the few words of Piro that were still known, but somehow he understood them just the same–or at least some of them.

 

“…DNA analysis confirms this being is a descendent of creatures that inhabited this site 278 planetary years before…”

 

Somehow Mendez knew that meant he was, in fact, a descendent of the people who once inhabited the pueblo ruins where he now stood.

 

“…archeological evidence, along with memories from this being, suggests two waves of invasion…”

 

After the Spaniards left the Piro Pueblo, they went north and enslaved the other peoples they encountered. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the Spaniards, the Piro refused to join when the other pueblos revolted. Like Oñate and his men, the Piro were driven south, toward El Paso del Norte. Shunned by their own people and abandoned by the Spaniards, the Piro were just as much victims of the invasion as the northern pueblos.

 

Now, there was another group of invaders forcing Indians from their homes. This time the invaders came from the east. Mendez looked over his shoulder at Fort McRae.

 

“…topological and technological analysis indicates a 97% probability this area will be the site of a hydroelectric facility within the next century…”

 

A picture formed in Mendez’s mind of a great wall being built on the Rio Grande. The mighty river would be trapped and the valley where he stood would be flooded, all for the benefit of the newest wave of invaders.

 

Alberto Mendez did not have to think too hard to know where the images were coming from. He was on the land of his ancestors. The wind–a mighty elemental force–whipped through his hair. He must be in the presence of an elemental spirit. His people called such spirits kachinas. Alberto Mendez believed this kachina had selected him for a mission.

 

<< >>

 

Ramon Morales was bone-weary when he finally saw Fort McRae on the opposite side of the Rio Grande. The landscape around the fort was more barren than around Socorro. It was as though the land near the river could not drink enough to grow vegetation. The mountains that bordered the Rio Grande Valley were covered in scrub brush instead of trees and seemed less friendly than they did further north.

 

Washes ran down from the mountains and cut through the flatlands of the valley, but did not actually carry any water this time of year. They left the land looking like a cracked and dried husk. Ramon wondered, not for the first time, if fleeing south had been such a good idea.

 

He took off his hat and wiped gritty sweat from his brow. It had been a long time since he’d spent the better part of a day on horseback. At least it wasn’t windy like it had been a couple of days before.

 

Fatemeh Karimi, who rode in a wagon next to him, also looked bedraggled. Her black dress was coated in a fine layer of dust. Rivulets of sweat etched dirty streaks down Fatemeh’s skin. Strands of wiry, black hair jutted out here and there. “Maybe we should go up to the fort and see if they’ll put us up for the night,” Fatemeh said.

 

“Nah.” Ramon shook his head. “We’ve only got a couple more miles until we get to Palomas Hot Springs. My cousin Eduardo has a small hacienda there. He can put us up and we can get a hot bath.”

 

“That sounds wonderful.” Fatemeh’s smile lit up her face and her green eyes sparkled.

 

Ramon’s heart leapt at the sight of her renewed energy, but a hollow feeling soon formed in the pit of his stomach. He’d just thrown away his job as sheriff of Socorro to help her and yet he didn’t know whether she would stay with him once they reached Las Cruces. He still didn’t know whether she honestly liked him, or if she was merely using him as a protector and guide until they reached their destination.

 

At last, they topped a rise and could see Palomas Hot Springs. It really wasn’t a town as most people would think of one. It was more like a wide spot in the road before entering a bad stretch of desert called Jornada del Muerto–the journey of death. There were a couple of rooming houses, a livery stable and a few meager haciendas. They all traded with the fort a few miles north. There were no stores, saloons or other establishments in Palomas Hot Springs.

 

What really drew people to the area were the hot springs themselves. The Apaches and the pueblo people considered it a holy place and neutral territory where they could trade. Medicine men would use the curative power of the hot springs to heal warriors after a battle. Anglos and Spanish folk were welcome to trade there, too, and the Indians didn’t seem to mind the few settlements.

 

The austere scenery around the area certainly gave it the feeling of a holy place. Sheer cliffs of multi-colored rock walled in the barren valley and there was a dramatic butte, shaped a little like an elephant, near the river itself.

 

As Fatemeh and Ramon rode into Palomas Hot Springs, they caught sight of an Indian sitting on a blanket in the shade of an overhang. He had a wooden crate overflowing with wood and other odds and ends that looked like they could be springs or rolls of wire and tubing of some sort. Surrounding the Indian were little wooden dolls. He seemed to be whittling one of them.

 

Fatemeh pulled on the reins and stopped the wagon. Ramon tried to motion that they should continue on. He was tired and wanted to get to his cousin’s before dark. He really didn’t want to sit around while Fatemeh bartered with an Indian.

 

Either she didn’t see Ramon’s gesticulating or she didn’t care. She climbed off the wagon’s seat and stood before the Indian. He looked up as if noticing her for the first time. Gasping, he reached out as if to collect up the dolls. Ramon rolled his eyes and brought his horse to a stop. After climbing off, he wrapped the horse’s reins around a nearby hitching post.

 

“These are kachina dolls, aren’t they?” asked Fatemeh. “I didn’t know any Pueblo Indians this far south made them.”

 

“All pueblos respect the kachinas,” said the Indian, looking around nervously, as though trying to find an escape.

 

“May I see one?” Fatemeh reached for the nearest doll.

 

The Indian waved his hands. “They are sacred.”

 

Fatemeh knelt and nodded, solemnly. “I know they are.  That’s why I’m interested.” As she took hold of the kachina doll, her eyes went wide and she gasped. She quickly released the doll and brought herself to her feet. “What was that?!”

 

“The kachinas are displeased,” said the Indian. Ramon watched as he carefully reached out, took a doll by its head and hefted it into the box. The little wooden doll was apparently heavier than it looked at first sight. “First the Spanish came and caused this land to be taken from my people. Now the Anglos are coming and taking it from the Spanish. When will it stop?” He hefted another doll into the box. “Mark my words, great flood waters will come and destroy the land.”

 

“I’m neither Spanish nor Anglo,” said Fatemeh. “I’m Persian.”

 

“Perhaps your people will be the next wave of invaders.” The Indian grabbed the last kachina doll. “You must face the truth of the kachina’s displeasure and leave, or you will face consequences. Mark my words.” The Indian stood, gathered up his blanket and placed it in the box. With a heave he picked up the box and started waddling down the road.

 

Fatemeh looked at Ramon with wide eyes.

 

“What happened when you grabbed that doll?”

 

“It’s hard to describe,” she said with a shrug. “It was a tingle like my hand fell asleep, but it was also like a bite.” She climbed back up on her wagon.

 

Ramon’s brow creased as he considered what might have caused the sensation Fatemeh described, but nothing came to mind. Too tired, hungry, and saddle sore to consider the matter further, he gathered the reins and mounted his horse. Besides, Eduardo might already know something about this Indian and his kachina dolls.

 

A few minutes later, Ramon and Fatemeh found themselves in front of Eduardo’s small adobe hacienda. Eduardo came outside and greeted them with a warm smile. He looked much like Ramon would without glasses. He was a little taller, thinner, and–if one were to judge by the girls who fawned over him when he was younger–more handsome.

 

Ramon led his horse to a watering trough, then helped Fatemeh unhitch her two horses. Once the animals were tended, Eduardo ushered Ramon and Fatemeh into the kitchen, all the time casting sly glances between them. The former sheriff did his best to explain the events of the past two weeks in Socorro.

 

“Ah, Búho.” Eduardo winked. “I always knew your desire to do the right thing would get you in trouble with someone.”

 

“All I ask tonight is a meal and a couple of rooms,” Ramon said.

 

“And a hot bath,” interjected Fatemeh.

 

“Of course.” Eduardo grinned. “Alicia is making a big caldo de rez this afternoon. You may stay as long as you like. This is a place to rest and recover before moving on.”

 

“So, Ed, why haven’t you moved on?”

 

He held his arms out wide. “I haven’t finished resting and recovering!”

 

Later that evening, Eduardo’s wife Alicia prepared a beautiful supper for Ramon and Fatemeh. Alicia was a little shorter than Ramon and wore her hair tied back in a neat bun. Ramon noticed she was a little heavier than when he’d last seen her. In her clean, blue dress, she looked a lot like his aunt. Her appearance was a stark contrast to Fatemeh’s now-wild hair, rumpled black dress and fiery green eyes. As they ate, Ramon thought about how he had tried to catch Alicia’s eye when they were younger, but she pursued Eduardo instead, as though she had been under his spell. Casting a glance toward Fatemeh, Ramon felt drawn to her, but he was concerned she didn’t reciprocate his feelings.

 

After supper, Fatemeh decided it was time to have a bath. A short walk behind Eduardo’s house was a place where water bubbled up from the ground. Eduardo had stacked rocks around the spring to give the bather some privacy. While Fatemeh availed herself of the natural spring, Ramon went to his room to unpack a few things. Finally he took a towel from a dresser drawer and found a bench just outside the backdoor to wait for Fatemeh to finish. The sun was setting and the rocks had taken on a deep red hue. There was enough of a chill breeze that a dip in the hot spring would feel very good to a hot and dusty traveler.

 

Ramon looked up and saw Fatemeh as she stepped from the rock enclosure. She wore a clean, modest black dress, but it clung to her skin because of the moisture. Her feminine curves were very apparent. Ramon watched, mesmerized as she stepped over and sat down next to him.

 

“You should close your mouth,” she said. “There are mosquitoes.”

 

Ramon quickly apologized, but she laughed lightly without any hint of mockery and told him not to worry about it.

 

Ramon took a deep breath, and then looked her in the eye. “Fatemeh, there’s something I want…”

 

Eduardo stepped around the corner carrying an armload of firewood. “When you guys came into town, did you see that Indian with the kachina dolls?”

 

“Yes.” Ramon nodded. “I wanted to ask about him.”

 

Eduardo let the firewood tumble to his feet. Ramon stood and helped him neatly stack it behind the backdoor. “He showed up about the time a group of telegraph workers arrived at Fort McRae. He keeps moving around with that big box of his.” He looked over his shoulder. “He’s camped out a little ways down from the house. I wish I could find out what he keeps in that box.”

 

“So do I.” Fatemeh whistled a few short notes. Ramon looked up and noticed the silhouette of a burrowing owl perched atop the rock enclosure around the hot spring. She whistled again and the owl did a little dance and then flew from the wall to the ground near Fatemeh’s feet. “I might even have a way to distract him so we can find out.”

 

<< >>

 

A short time later, Ramon found himself hunkered down behind a watering trough in front of Eduardo’s house watching the Indian work beside his campfire. He asked Eduardo why they couldn’t wait until the Indian was asleep and just sneak a peek in his box.

 

“He never sleeps as far as I can tell,” whispered Ramon’s cousin.

 

The little owl Fatemeh summoned flew over and perched on the edge of the Indian’s box. The Indian shooed it away, but the owl returned and started pecking around in the box. The Indian shooed at it again, but this time the owl had something in its beak. When the Indian noticed, he scooted after the owl.

 

Ramon ran to the box and grabbed one of the kachina dolls–careful not to touch anything other than the head, as he’d seen the Indian do earlier. The thing was a lot heavier than Ramon expected from a little wooden doll. He hauled it back to his hiding place behind the water trough. He looked up in time to see the Indian return to the campfire, holding something that looked like a wire. The Indian dropped the wire back in the box. The owl returned to the box and looked as if he was going to dig for the wire again when Fatemeh whistled. The owl’s head turned, seeking the sound’s source. It did its little dance and then flew away.

 

Once the owl was gone, the Indian returned to his work. Ramon grabbed the kachina doll by the head and carried it inside where he found Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia already gathered at the table. In the light of the kitchen lamp Ramon could see a piece of metal sticking out of each side of the doll. “What are these?” He reached for one of the metal pieces.

 

“Careful.” Fatemeh batted his finger away. “I think I grabbed those when I touched the doll before.”

 

Being careful not to touch the two pieces of metal, Eduardo picked up the kachina doll and examined it closely. There was something round and metal on the bottom. He set the doll down and reached for it, but Alicia stopped him. “We don’t know what it’ll do,” she said.

 

“What’s for certain is that there’s something inside the thing,” Ramon said. Before someone could say anything else, Ramon reached out, grabbed the doll by the head and brought it down hard on the table. Fatemeh gasped in shock. The soft wood of the doll shattered, revealing a metal cylinder inside. The two pieces of metal that stuck out the side of the doll were connected to the cylinder by copper wire. “What the hell?” asked Ramon.

 

“I’m not positive,” said Fatemeh, “but I think that’s a dry cell battery.”

 

“Of course!” said Eduardo. “They use them in the telegraph equipment.”

 

“That Indian must be loco,” declared Alicia. “Why would he put batteries inside kachina dolls?”

 

“Maybe he wants people to believe kachina spirits really inhabit the dolls,” Fatemeh said. “It almost convinced me when I grabbed one and it felt like it was alive.”

 

Ramon shook his head. Things didn’t add up. “If he’s trying to scare people with his dolls, why does he pack them up and run away whenever someone comes near?” The former sheriff stepped out the front door. The Indian’s campfire was out and he was nowhere to be seen. Ramon took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he considered the questions that ran through his mind. The Indian must want to power something with the batteries in the kachina dolls, but what? He hadn’t seen anything besides dolls and wires in the box. The only thing he knew of in the area that required electric power was the telegraph, but then why hide the batteries in kachina dolls?

 

The door creaked open behind him. Fatemeh stepped up next to Ramon, so close he could feel the heat of her skin. He put his glasses back on and swallowed hard as he tried to turn his mind from the problem of the Indian to the questions he had about the nature of their relationship. He took a deep breath and formed a question.

 

Just as he was about to reach out and take Fatemeh’s hand, Eduardo appeared in the doorway. “Where’d that Indian go?”

 

Ramon blinked a few times and sighed. “It’s getting late, Cuz. I think I’m going to go have my bath and call it a night.”

 

<< >>

 

The dip in the hot spring after a long day of riding let Ramon sleep very well, but he still woke up sore the next morning. He dragged himself out of bed, washed his face in the basin of water that was in the room and dressed. Ramon could smell coffee and something else, a blending of chocolate and cinnamon he hadn’t smelled in many years. He followed the smells and sat down at the kitchen table. Alicia placed a bowl of chocolate and cinnamon-spiced atole in front of Ramon along with a cup of coffee. “I haven’t had atole since I was a kid,” he said as he dug in. “I’m not going to want to leave.”

 

Fatemeh stepped into the kitchen. “Is there any reason to leave right away?” She offered to help Alicia, who instead told her to sit and then placed a bowl of atole in front of her.

 

“Well, I don’t want to wear out Eduardo and Alicia’s hospitality.”

 

“Don’t worry about that, Búho,” said Eduardo as he entered the kitchen. “I already told you, you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Besides, they’re having a big shindig up at Fort McRae this afternoon.”

 

“What’s the occasion?” Ramon inclined his head.

 

Eduardo leaned forward. “They’re testing the telegraph.”

 

Alicia turned around, wide-eyed. “That’s exciting.”

 

Fatemeh smiled. “It sounds fascinating. I’d like to go.”

 

Ramon turned to his bowl of atole so he wouldn’t have to face her. It didn’t matter whether he was a bodyguard or a suitor. She hadn’t asked what he wanted to do, or even what he advised, and it stung his pride.  He wasn’t certain whether she noticed his silence or if it was just good manners, but she finally asked, “What would you like to do, Ramon?”

 

Ramon took another bite of atole and let the chocolate and cinnamon dance on his tongue a moment. He thought about his saddle-sore backside and how good another dip in the hot spring would feel. Finally he took a sip of coffee to wash down the atole. “Yeah, I’m game for a trip to the fort.”

 

That afternoon, Ramon, Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia rode north and then crossed the river to Fort McRae. Like many forts in the West, it wasn’t purely a military installation. It also served as a trading post and stopping point for travelers on the road between El Paso and Santa Fe. The installation was a series of adobe buildings hunkered behind a wall. Just inside the gate was a dusty courtyard that could be used as an assembly point or parade ground of sorts. At the center of the courtyard, a brass band played. Several of their notes went flat, but no one seemed to mind.

 

Next to the band, several people gathered around a canopy. From the distance, Ramon couldn’t make out what they were looking at, but he guessed that would be the place the telegraph was set up. The arrival of the telegraph meant the fort could send dispatches, wire for supplies, or receive news from around the country. Ramon presumed that after the ceremony, the telegraph would be moved inside one of the buildings.

 

Big pots of steaming food stood at one side of the courtyard. Ramon detected the earthy smell of corn mixed with chile. Perhaps someone was steaming tamales, cooking posole, or both. Despite his breakfast of atole, Ramon’s stomach rumbled.

 

Fatemeh turned toward the other side of the courtyard where several people had games set up. Ramon watched as a boy pitched a ball toward some bottles and missed. Next to the stacked bottles, there was a dartboard set up on the fort’s outer wall. An Indian came up and paid a penny. His first dart hit the bull’s eye and the man running the game produced a string of glass beads. The Indian scowled at the beads, but took them anyway.

 

Ramon heard a round fired from a six-gun. “They must have a shooting range set up. Let’s go see.” The former sheriff wasn’t confident in his ability to throw a ball or a dart, but he knew he could win a prize at a shooting competition.

 

As Ramon tried to follow the sound of gunfire, he tripped and fell flat on his face. Fatemeh helped him to his feet as he cursed about not seeing the thing he fell over. That’s when Ramon realized that what he tripped over was very hard to see–a pair of wires partially buried in the dust. He looked a question at Fatemeh. She shrugged.

 

The former sheriff wasn’t a half-bad tracker, so he turned his attention to the ground and followed the hidden wires to find out where they went. Fatemeh followed. They soon found themselves facing the canopy where the telegraph key was on display.

 

“Maybe the wires you tripped over are how they connected the telegraph to the outside lines,” Fatemeh said.

 

Ramon shook his head and pointed to a pair of wires that ran from the telegraph to a pole just inside the fort’s outer wall. He turned and followed the wires back the other direction. The wires led well away from the main activity and ran parallel to a row of identical adobe structures. Ramon assumed they must be the barracks.

 

Eventually, the wires disappeared under the dirt, but unless they turned, they went to a door that was guarded by two men who looked at once stern and disappointed that they were not taking part in the festivities. A sign on the door read: “Dangerous! Explosives!”

 

Without thinking too much about it, Ramon stepped up to one of the guards. “Hello, I’m Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro County and I’ve just seen something suspicious.” Ramon figured there was no way for the guard to know he was no longer sheriff and his gut told him something was very wrong. The possible danger outweighed any scruples he had about lying. “Is there a reason there would be telegraph wires running into this building?”

 

The guard looked at him dumbfounded. “No, sir,” he said. “No reason that I can think of.”

 

“Do you mind opening the door and letting me have a look inside?”

 

The first guard looked to his companion and they both shrugged. One of the guards stood right next to Ramon while the other opened the door. Inside, as Ramon expected, was a stockpile of dynamite and blasting powder. However, what really surprised him were the kachina dolls stacked all around–one connected to a pair of copper wires that came up from the ground. The other dolls were connected to the first by still more wires.

 

“That doesn’t look normal, does it?” Ramon asked.

 

Both guards shook their heads.

 

Ramon looked at Fatemeh. “I think we better find the guys who installed the telegraph and ask them what this is all about.”

 

They ran back to the telegraph pavilion. A few high-ranking officers and some other men had gathered. Ramon figured those other men must be some of the telegraph crew. He caught his breath and said, “Do you know you’ve got some extra wires coming out of the key?”

 

One of the men, who wasn’t in uniform, looked at Ramon like he was wasting his time. “What extra wires?”

 

The former sheriff stepped forward and lifted the covering from the table where the telegraph key sat. The man knelt down and blinked at the wires. He looked up. “Harvey, there should only be one ground wire,” he said. “Why are there two down here?”

 

“That’s because I changed the wiring, Mr. Hinkley.” The strange Indian had suddenly appeared next to the table. “The truth has been revealed by the kachinas. The invaders keep coming and coming. Now, the time has come to face the consequences.”

 

The man called Mr. Hinkley shook his head. “Alberto, where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you. What are you talking about? Truth? Consequences?”

 

Alberto reached out. “It is time for the consequences.”

 

“Stop him!” Ramon called. “He’s got the telegraph key wired up to the dynamite–some kind of detonator or something.”

 

The soldiers, though confused about everything happening at once, reacted to the former sheriff’s authoritative voice. They grabbed the Indian, but he struggled. Fatemeh whistled and Ramon wondered if she’d seen Eduardo and Alicia and was trying to warn them to get away. Ramon rushed around the table to try to help the soldiers–to calm things down enough so he could explain what was going on.

 

Alberto broke free and pushed the telegraph key. Ramon closed his eyes and winced but nothing happened. When he opened his eyes, he saw a little burrowing owl perched on the table. It had plucked one of the power supply wires off the key and still held it in its mouth. It dropped the wire and flew off.

 

One of the officers summoned more soldiers and Alberto was taken away for questioning. The fort’s commander, Major Johnson, stepped up and introduced himself. Ramon led Major Johnson and Mr. Hinkley back to the dynamite shack to show them what he’d discovered. On the way, Hinkley explained that Alberto Mendez was part of their crew. He’d gone missing the day they arrived at Fort McRae and no one was quite sure what had happened to him.

 

Major Johnson whistled when he saw kachina dolls stacked around the dynamite. “That’s quite a detonator setup he had.”

 

Mr. Hinkley pointed out that another set of wires ran toward the armory.

 

“He could have blown up the entire fort,” said the major.

 

“And himself, too,” Hinkley said. “He must have really gone loony in the head.”

 

Ramon saw that as a good time to make his exit. The soldiers had the evidence they needed and could question Alberto Mendez further. Ramon didn’t want to stick around so they could find out he wasn’t still sheriff of Socorro County.

 

Ramon made his way back to the pavilion, where he found Fatemeh leaning against a nearby building.

 

“Thanks for calling that little hooty owl,” he said. “He saved all of our lives.”

 

“What makes you think I can summon owls?” she asked with a cagey smile.

 

Ramon took her hands in his and brought her close.

 

Just then, Eduardo showed up. “Where have you two been? I’ve been looking all over for you! One of the vendors has empanadas!”

 

Ramon ignored him and kissed Fatemeh anyway.

 

<< >>

 

Over the millennia, Legion had known a few creatures that could sense the communications among the component nanites of his swarm. This was the first time he’d seen such a creature react so badly to the data and pictures the nanites sent.

 

Several of his component parts argued he should have terminated connection to avoid interference. However, most of his components were fascinated by the being’s way of relating the physical world to an unseen spiritual realm. Legion sensed these humans did hold answers to the meaning of life that had eluded him before. Moreover, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility the human called Alberto Mendez had simply been unstable. Observing the humans called Fatemeh Karimi and Ramon Morales further bolstered his supposition more rational humans existed.

 

Legion decided he would try to communicate with another human before giving up on the species. Before making the attempt, he would spend time observing the humans and their activities from a distance to gain more clues about their behavior. At the very least, these humans weren’t boring.

 

 

So! There you have it, an excellent introduction to the series and if you would like to hear more I do very much suggest that you procure yourself a copy…

Owl Dance_Front Cover_333x515px.jpg

 

Or find out more about the series and David’s writing here:  http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least preparing for a parasol duel with a Lambethian Rat Queen ….  Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…

 

 

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