Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Issue 47
Stories
Fixe
by K. C. Norton
What the Blood Bog Takes
by Barbara A. Barnett
I Was Her Monster
by Jessi Cole Jackson
Intertwined
by Kate O'Connor
Antique
by Jared Oliver Adams
IGMS Audio
Antique by Jared Oliver Adam
Read by Gabriel Jaffe
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
The Topaz Marquise
by Fran Wilde
Bonus Material
Updraft
A Novel by Fran Wilde

Writing Fantasy

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

Fixe
    by K. C. Norton

Fixe
Artwork by Andres Mossa

The boy's name is Japetus Fixe, and he has run all the way to the Society office. When he pounds on the door, a voice inside says he should let himself in, but he stands in the doorway for a long moment gasping for breath. Deciding what to say.

"Use your words, boy," says Captain Pearce, not unkindly.

"There's there's there's --" Japetus stops himself, closes his eyes. He has been teaching himself how to keep control of his voice, how to move from one word to the next so that the stammer will be overcome by momentum, but sometimes he forgets how. One deep breath. Two. "There is a monster on the beach."

Captain Pearce sits up straighter in his chair. He is quite young, which should make him less intimidating; but he is also foreign, and very clever, which make him more so. He stares so intently at Japetus that the boy can feel himself turning inside-out and shrinking to the size of a pinhead.

"A whale?"

"No," says the boy. "Nor nor nor nor a sea lion, neither, sir."

"Clever lad," says the Captain. He rises at last, lifting his jacket from the chairback. He shoves his feet into his knee-high gleaming uniform boots. Japetus is aghast to observe that he is not wearing socks.

The Captain pauses at the door to wave Japetus out, stepping back to let the boy lead even though he knows full well where the beach is. Japetus is aware that he is being provided with a formal but largely meaningless position of authority, and is simultaneously resentful and proud of it. He leads the way, while the officer follows with long unhurried strides, one to the boy's two.

"Did you find this creature, then?" asks Captain Pearce. He is Australian, but his Danish is perfect. Some foreigners come through speaking their formal classroom Danish, which is nothing like the way locals speak. Pearce has mastered idioms; only his accent gives him away.

Japetus shakes his head. "There were people gathered out -- out on the beach." Another deep breath -- he tries to think what he will say before he says it. "My sister Nano heard the shouting. We went out out to see."

"Out to sea," murmurs the Captain.

"I was only thinking you'd want to see it before . . ." he trails off, but this time he is simply not sure what to say. Before what? "I thought you'd want to see first, sir. Since you're with the Society and all."

"Clever lad," says the Captain again. He does not ask any more questions, and Japetus has nothing left to say. Any further description, he feels, would be pointless. He does not know how to describe the monster, and he is certain the Captain knows better, anyway. The boy prefers to let his tongue lie still. It is so often treacherous when called to action.

The crab-like monster lies on a sandbar in the middle of the beach. The tide laps at its belly, but surely it must have crawled partway; it is so enormous, it cannot have floated this far.

Even seeing it for a second time, Japetus cannot quite come to grips with its size, its bulk, its alienness. A French scientist recently published his description of the Martian landscape; Japetus has read it several times, and he thinks this is what something from another world must look like. Surely such a thing cannot live along their own coastline? Surely this cannot be a representative of a larger population?

A few other people, mostly children but not all, stand with their feet sinking into the wet sand. They point at the creature, and chatter like sandpipers among themselves, but they do not come close. Japetus knows that a few have thrown rocks and sea glass and knobs of driftwood. No one throws anything in front of Captain Pearce.

The Captain, for his part, seems delighted. He walks right up to the beast, rubbing his hands together and grinning. He is so careless of the great legs, stepping over them as if they pose no threat. He peers into its great glassy eyes without fear. When he walks around the back, seawater fills his boots and soaks his trousers. Japetus has never seen a man with such a fine uniform who is so cavalier with regard to its upkeep.

The others look at Japetus for answers, as if he has taken on the role of adjunct. Perhaps he has. He speaks for all of them when he asks, "What is it, sir?"

From 'round the back of the creature, Pearce calls, "What do you think it is, lad?"

Japetus has never studied monsters before. He is as uncertain as his neighbors, and at least as superstitious. What is the creature? Bad news. An omen. Trouble, is what. He would just as soon stand right there and wait for answers.

But Captain Pearce has asked him. So the Captain must trust him, must respect him, must like him a little. Or perhaps he thinks the boy will not know and wishes to make an example of him in front of everyone.

Either way, there is only one thing for it. The boy takes a step closer.

Overcoming the stammer is all about momentum. Once you get going, you can't let up or you'll find yourself stuck. Japetus Fixe knows this, so after that first step, he keeps going. Even though his skin prickles at the sight of the creature; even though it turns his stomach and weakens his knees. If Captain Pearce does not fear it, then neither will Japetus.

He looks down at the claw as he passes, making his steps small so that he can look without stopping. It is hoary with barnacles, a rusty seaweed green. Something about it strikes the boy as odd. But the whole thing is odd, and he can't yet place what he's seeing. The body is smooth, the same color as the arms, mottled and encrusted with grime. He isn't sure what it looks like underneath.

He does not stop until he is looking the creature in the eyes. They are lifeless. Hollow. Empty.

No. Not eyes.

Windows.

"It it it is a machine," squeaks Japetus.

"Clever boy," says Captain Pearce.

In his twelve years on Earth, Japetus Fixe has only met two officers in the Society. The first was rather old and rather fond of drink. He did not think much of other people, and the people here did not think much of him. They tolerated him, and accepted his money when he deigned to spend it. Japetus assumed that the whole Society was like that, old and drunk and belligerent. The old officer stayed only three months before being called off to another part of the world. Nobody seemed to know where, or to care, so long as he was gone.

"The Society is a dying breed," joked Dane Fixe, Japetus's father. "Soon they'll be able to study themselves!"

That was before Captain Pearce arrived. People speak differently now.

"If if if . . ." Japetus's brain is whirring so fast his tongue has no hope of keeping up. He doubts it would keep up even if he did not stammer. Impossible as it was to imagine that the beast was once alive, it is stranger still to think that it was built. Who would conceive of such a thing? And why? It serves no obvious purpose, and yet Japetus is already enthralled by it -- imagine climbing inside such a thing. Piloting it.

"If it's a machine, does that mean there could be someone inside?"

Captain Pearce places one damp hand on the boy's hair. "You've a quick mind, lad. Why don't we find out?"

One problem: there are no obvious doors. Another problem: the layers of salt and barnacles and seaweed are so thick that even when they run their hands across its surface, they can find no seam. It is as if the main body is formed of one smooth piece of metal -- unlikely, but not impossible. Nothing is impossible today.

"Perhaps the door is not in the side," suggests Captain Pierce. He begins examining the creature's legs, several of which end with various pincers and clamps. Japetus suspects that these are for dealing with all the different sorts of problems that might crop up along the sea bed.

But Japetus is not interested in the legs just now. He is climbing up to get a better view through the windows, which are made of a thick, cloudy glass. The longer he looks, though, the more it seems that the glass is only clouded on the inside. He has pressed his own face against a cold windowpane enough times to know what might cause that.

There is someone alive in there. He is sure of it. He is also sure that they are in trouble. Why else would they have let their ship run aground?

He taps gently on the glass with his knuckles. "Hello," he whispers. "Hello?"

"See anything?" asks Captain Pearce.

Japetus nods. He does not trust himself to speak. Beyond the glass, something moves.

Pearce pounces up beside the boy and they stay there, peering into the window like beggars at Christmas trying to catch a glimpse of the feast. Japetus's heart hammers in his chest. He has so many questions that he is sure his tongue will tie itself in knots trying to ask them.

A shadow moves inside, but it is too dark to clearly discern what cast it. Japetus thinks there must be only one person -- two would be a tight fit in the crowded space. Beside him, Captain Pearce's breathing shallows out. His shoulder, just brushing the boy's, is quivering.

Above them, there is a grating scream of metal against metal. Both jump back; the man laughs to show that he is not afraid, but the boy does not dare. Both crane their necks upward to see what will happen next.

What happens is this: a flap pops up, folds back. A thin body, almost skeletal, emerges. Japetus cannot see more than an outline against the sun, but still he bites the inside of his cheeks and clutches his stomach. This is what starvation looks like.

When the woman's body falls, he expects it to float down like a sheaf of paper or an autumn leaf. Instead, it crumples and plunges like any other body. The boy steps back, but Pearce moves in fast, lifting his arms as in in prayer.

She falls into his grasp, her limbs unfolding around her. It seems to Japetus that she is already dead.

Japetus has never met anyone like the captain of the beached monster.

Captain Pearce may be a foreigner, but he looks, more or less, like everyone Japetus has ever met. He has never met a woman, met anyone, with such dark skin or with such copious amounts of black hair. She is rail thin, and her skin is pallid for all its darkness; but that hair flows around her, thick and soft.

The boy has seen photographs of mummies, and when he looks at her, he cannot help but remember. It pains him to touch her. Just looking at her makes his stomach ache.

"Pull the ship up to the shoreline," orders Captain Pearce, lifting the woman in his arms. She stirs, pulls her limbs in close to herself like a dying beetle. Japetus wants to cry for her, and he's never even seen her eyes.

A small army of children scurry to obey the Captain's command, knowing he will likely pay in copper pennies and hoarhound later. Japetus almost joins them -- but he is tethered to the Captain now. When the man strides up the beach, saltwater sloshing in his regulation boots, the boy follows.

The Society station is small, meant for one man. The Captain lowers the stranger gently into his own bunk, then draws the sheet over her.

"No," squeaks Japetus.

Pearce looks up.

"She's not not not . . ." He silences himself. She's not dead yet, he meant to say, only it seems obvious now that the Captain was only tucking her in, and would not have pulled the white sheet up across her emaciated face. The bones stand out beneath her skin like knives. Japetus can't look away.

While the Captain gathers blankets, Japetus gathers his thoughts. He must do something for her; surely, she must eat. When Japetus was little, and his mother still lived at home, she used to feed him beef broth if he was too sick to chew.

He goes to the cupboard, carefully turning his back toward the stranger. Either he must be looking at her full on, or he must keep her altogether out of sight. It is too disquieting to glimpse her from the corner of his eye. She looks like a ghost of herself.

There are bouillon cubes in the cupboard. Japetus builds a small fire in the grate and fills a kettle from the barrel. The outpost, he realizes suddenly, is built like a ship, with the same economy of space. In a way, that makes him feel more at home here. Suddenly he knows where he will find everything, as surely as if he had spent years of his life in this place.

Captain Pearce stays out of his way. He is mixing something from the medicine cabinet, which Japetus knows is full of all sorts of strange things. Didn't Pearce produce a tonic that cured Evlyn Moll's jellyfish stings this very spring?

If knowing some of everything is what it means to be a member of the Society, Japetus would join in a moment.

If it means caring for dying curiosities, he isn't so sure.

"Have you ever seen one of those ships before?" he asks. See? When he's focused on an answer, the question can roll off his tongue like birdsong.

"Nothing like that," says Pearce. "I mean, not the design. There are ships like fish, we call them submersibles, which dive and swim. Never seen a crab before. Nothing that walks along the bottom like that. Wonder what she needs it for? Who are you, lovely?" He speaks as though he's talking to a small child, dripping tonic into her mouth one drop at a time.

When the broth is ready, Japetus brings it to the bed. Pearce takes the bowl, relieving him of this duty. The boy is glad; he doesn't know if he could bear what comes next.

Pearce brings the spoon to her lips, dribbling broth between them. Some of it runs down her cheek. Pearce wipes the spill away, then repeats the process once, twice, thrice. A little always escapes.

Japetus isn't sure she's swallowing, or if she's even still alive, until all of a sudden she sits up, coughing, gasping for breath. She leans over and spits the brown liquid onto the thick blue rug of the station. She says a word he doesn't recognize, asks it like a question.

Pearce speaks that strange language, too, and answers her. She spits again, then drags the back of her hand across her face. The boy realizes she's wiping her tongue on her sleeve. She mutters something else and slumps back against the wall.

Pearce laughs.

"What what what --"

"She won't eat the broth," he says. "She won't eat beef. It's against her religion."

Japetus stares down at the bowl, then back up at the woman. She's too weak to move -- even now her eyes are fluttering closed.

He is annoyed, that she expects him to find something else for her.

He is impressed, that she is so fervent in whatever it is she believes.

The crab-monster's captain's name is Canth. She tells them this is short for Coelacanth, but will not give her surname.

The boy goes to find plain bread and fresh milk and a ripe apple. When he returns, she is sipping water from the barrel and answering Pearce's questions with crisp, brief replies.

Japetus tells Pearce, "I brought milk, but I don't know if she'll drink it, as it's from a cow."

"I will," she says, looking right at him.

"Apparently the lady speaks Danish," says Pearce, leaning back and eying their guest.

"Apparently," she replies.

Japetus brings her two slices of bread, a quarter of the apple, and a cup of milk. She nods her thanks and accepts them, setting them to the side.

"Where are you from, then?" asks Pearce. There are no extra chairs, so Japetus sit on the floor, his back to the wall, watching her.

Canth tears a bite-sized piece of bread off one slice and dips it in the milk. "India."

"But where?"

She puts the bread in her mouth and sucks on it. She does not answer.

"Alright." Pearce nods. "Then I suppose it's fair to tell you that I'm an Aussie myself. From Melbourne, I don't mind adding. Michael Pearce. I'm stationed up here to --"

"You're observing the whales." Her voice is hoarse. He hadn't noticed, before, since she spoke so little.

Pearce raises his eyebrows. "How did you know?"

She nibbles her apple. "I read the missives."

"Miss --" It seems as though Pearce has developed a stammer of his own.

Canth smirks at him, turning up the collar of her ragged jacket. A small patch is sewn there, depicting a strange flying lizard. The stitching is faded, but it is an insignia the boy knows well. It is stamped on the letterhead lying on Pearce's open rolltop desk. It appears on the sign out front. It is sewn on the Captain's own lapel.

It is the insignia of the Society of Cryptic Biology, of which Coelacanth is, apparently, a member.

Japetus has seen pictures of India before. He has read a few translations of the Englishman Burton's travels. In his mind, he has always imagined the people there as something less than human. It is as if that part of the world is so far away, and so exotic, that it is closer to the alien lands of Mars than to Greenland.

Now, in Canth's presence, his toes curl and his face burns with humiliation. Perhaps it is because of her restraint with the broth; perhaps it is because of her fantastical vessel; perhaps it is because of her membership in the Society; perhaps it is because Pearce speaks to her as if she were anyone else; no, perhaps it is because starvation has put her most elemental components on display . . . well, he doesn't know quite why, but he is disgusted with himself. He wants to apologize to her, but he doesn't know how he would explain it.

Canth tells Captain Pearce, "I was doing some fieldwork. Off the Irish coast."

"Selkies?" he asks.

She shakes her head. "Atlantis."

The Captain sucks in his breath. "And?"

"I don't know what to call it." She finishes the slice of apple.

"But you found something?"

She tilts her head from side to side. Maybe, maybe not. "Something. The government didn't like it, that's for sure." She says something in another language, scowling and shaking her fist in an impersonation of an angry official. Pearce laughs.

Japetus asks, "What does the Society want in Atlantis?"

"There's speculation about what might have happened to survivors. Some think they might have become mermaids. Selkies." She nods toward the Captain. "But even if it's just the city that's left, everyone wants to get their hands on it."

"It's a long way, even underwater," says Pearce, "between here and Ireland."

Canth's face is hard. "Not everywhere is so welcoming."

Canth stays in the station for three days. When she is not eating, she's sleeping.

Japetus feels strange going home; it feels as if the whole morning took years to pass. When he arrives home, just before supper, he is transformed back into a boy with chores and duties and growing up to do.

He visits Canth every morning, bringing sweetbread and local treats. In the evenings, the locals flock to his house, passing him things to deliver to the station -- somehow he has become the messenger between the neighborhood and the Society folk.

Canth is willing to answer all the boy's questions. She is patient with his stammer -- or perhaps not patient. Tolerant. It's a more active version of what he's come to expect, and he likes it. Not that he stammers so often with her. The next questions are always waiting, pushing each other forward so they don't have time to dawdle.

She tells him about the history of the Society. She knows everything; even Pearce is sometimes surprised by what she tells them. There are only two kinds of questions she won't answer: questions about her, and questions about the ship.

The crab-ship lies half a mile away, beached well above the tideline. In the afternoons, Japetus goes to examine it. He touches every inch of the outsides, but does not dare go in.

On the fourth morning, Canth is gone. Japetus knocks three time before opening the door; the outpost is empty.

His first impulse is panic. He turns toward the beach, walking at first, then running. He does not know which he fears more -- that she is dead, or that she is gone.

And Captain Pearce? Where is Captain Peace?

Japetus finds them both beside the crab-ship, scraping her clean. Already a segment of the hull is revealed. Now Japetus can see that there are seams, but they are hammered flush and held in place with three sizes of nails. The boy runs his fingers along the curve of the ship in wonder.

"Did did . . . you build it?" he asks.

Canth grunts. She is more like a man than any woman Japetus has met, but he does not think of her as manly. She is not much like the men he knows, either.

"You did," he tells her. "She's beautiful."

"Glad to have your approval," she barks, but she is smiling.

"It's a fine craft," agrees Pearce, scraping a layer of dried muck away. It spatters his trousers with black slime; he doesn't seem to notice. "What do you call her?"

"Don't," says Canth. "No name."

"What do you think, boy?" asks Pearce. "The lady has offered to give us a ride in her machine when it's repaired."

Japetus's breath catches. "You mean -- inside?"

"Where else?" asks Canth. She has one of the great claws in her lap and is focused on repairing the joint.

"She's going to show me the whales," says Pearce. "For my report."

Japetus has never seen a live whale before, but he's seen their meat hanging out to dry on the docks, and their blubber being rendered into lamp oil. He knows what they're like.

"You're spending a lot of time with those Society folks," says his stepmother.

Nano steals a slice of cheese off his plate. If he wrestles her, she'll give it back, but tonight he doesn't mind.

"They need me," he tells her.

"So long as you aren't bothering them. Eat, lad, or you'll come out looking like that new friend of yours."

His stepmother has relieved him of most of his chores, except for things that count toward his own upkeep: making his bed, sweeping his half of the room. It is as if his family is preparing for how they will get on without him. The boy is not yet sure what this means.

The inside of the ship is bare: no carpets, no couches, only canvas blankets on the bed. Cloth would moulder down here, of course. Japetus folds himself into a corner where he will be most out of the way.

Pearce sits on the bunk, his back ramrod straight. The boy can see that he is looking at everything, so the boy looks, too. There are a lot of gears and levers, buttons, keys. The boy doesn't know what to make of them.

The cabin smells salty, like a fresh boiled crab. It is so different from the clean, plush Society office, but when Japetus looks closely, he realizes that the layout is nearly identical.

There is one chair beside the windows -- no cushions -- where Canth takes her seat. "Ready, boys?" she asks.

Japetus thinks the Captain will not like being called a boy, but he does not seem to mind.

Canth reaches up, pulls a lever over her head. Either it is heavy, or she is still weak from her ordeal, Japetus can't tell which. She strains, the cords in her neck pulling taught. He can hear her teeth grind together. Overhead, the hatch creaks into place. Watertight, or at least the boy hopes it is.

After that, her hands seem to fly over the controls. He can see how complex it is, though his fingers itch to try for themselves. It is beautiful just to watch, her certainty, the assurance in her motion.

It is a language. Japetus can see that. She is speaking the language of the ship, and the ship is responding. Her fingers never tremble, never stutter.

His tongue has never been that sure. But could his hands be?

Beneath them, the vessel creaks to life, unfolding its limbs, rising on shaky legs. The noise is almost unbearable, a heavy rusty strain, interrupted only by the popping of joints where sand has snuck in. Japetus clamps his hands over his ears. Even Pearce groans.

He can feel as their lumbering steps carry them toward the sea. He does not know how much of this he can bear, the creaky rocking back and forth. How could Canth have stood this for months on end?

And then: silence. The rocking eases. Japetus looks up.

Pearce stumbles to his feet. "Careful," says Canth, "the ship compensates a bit, to make up for the current. It takes some getting used to."

Pearce bends his knees. His walk is almost crablike. He moves toward the bowed window, where Canth is looking out to maneuver.

"Boy," he says, "come here."

Japetus does not want to move. He's comfortable in the corner, where he can't see much. Who knows what's out there? The window is dark. There's less light every minute, because they're moving deeper.

We're not meant to live down here, the boy thinks, shrinking away from the glass.

Captain Pearce kneels down beside Canth's chair, his jaw slack. Japetus can see that the Captain has not shaved in days; now his mouth hangs open, his eyes wide. That is how someone would look if they caught a glimpse of Heaven, the boy thinks.

One step. That's all he needs, one step to get him going.

In the end, he has to crawl toward them. He can feel the ship's engine shuddering beneath his hands like a living thing.

When he finally brings himself to look, his breath goes. He has seen nothing like it. There is nothing like it. The whole world is blue-green, but unlike the air, it is alive. Transparent jellyfish bump against the glass; weeds and coral cover the bottom, and the boy can see tiny fish and crabs darting in and out of their little homes. They hide from the shadow of the ship as it passes. A huge eel, with a head the size of horse -- so it seems to the boy -- winds past them. The world outside is warped, like looking through a fishbowl, but this time Japetus is on the inside. He feels suddenly trapped, limited by his own body. Is there any place on land like this? Where you can feel that your body is insufficient?

Japetus has always been certain that humans are the best kind of animal to be. Now he is not so sure. There are whole vast sections of the world where their bodies are revealed to be frail and finite.

"Whales to five o'clock," says Canth. "A few miles off, though."

"How deep can she go?" asks Pearce, who seems to have forgotten all about whales.

"Deep as deep," says Canth. She raps her knuckles proudly on the window. "Mind you, after a certain depth the air can't keep up."

Man and boy keep their faces pressed to the window. Neither one knows how to explain what is happening to him, looking out into that endless cloudy blue. They are trembling with the same emotion, one that Canth has learned to live with. It is something like fear, and something like wonder.

They are falling in love with the sea.

Japetus thought he knew whales. Now, he cannot imagine how he ever thought that. Whales, when they are alive, are not merely large -- they are giants.

Canth has found a whole pod of them, leviathans loping through the sea. There are four, of which one is a baby, merely as long as a fishing boat.

Japetus would do anything to touch them. Their skin is ribbed, pocked with barnacles. Would it be smooth or rough to the touch? He wants to smell them, to speak their language. He wants to know what they dream.

He can see Captain Pearce's reflection in the bowed glass. This is why the Captain does what he does.

"Can you follow them?" asks Pearce.

Canth laughs. The boy has never heard her laugh before; he tears his gaze from the whales to look up at her. "I could," she says. "For miles. But we don't have any supplies with us, boys. I'm afraid we'd starve."

How can she say the word like that, as if it means nothing? She knows what it means to starve.

But the boy can see on her face that she's put that behind her. She's here, now, in her ship, looking out at this forbidden world. This is what matters to her.

She thinks no more of her body than Captain Pearce does of his suit. Perhaps all Society folk are mad.

Pearce watches the whales, his hand pressed to the glass. Yes, Japetus thinks, it's madness to long for adventure when you have a safe home to return to.

He presses his own smaller hand to the glass, too. He would do anything to touch those whales.

That night, in his own bed, Japetus dreams of the pod. He dreams that he is one of them, a behemoth in blue. He moves slowly, deliberately; instead of forcing himself to run, to push, he only glides. There are no such things as first steps or next words. Everything is organic.

He wakes to his father's hand on his shoulder. "Get up, lad. The man from the Society wants you.

When Japetus opens the door to the office, he finds Captain Pearce emptying the drawers. "We're leaving," he says. "We're going. What do you think of that, boy? Living in that ship of hers, eh? What do you think of that?"

Japetus cannot put what he thinks of that into words.

"Well don't just stand there, boy, come on! Can't take much, you know, it's a small ship even for one, but we'll make do. Only necessities. That means food, boy! Things that will keep in that hold, you've seen what it's like." He shoves a fistful of bills into Japetus's hand. "Now hurry!"

Japetus's feet seem to have taken wing. "Yes, sir!" He is already out the door and down the road before he begins laughing, but once he starts it is impossible to stop. Going! To live with Canth in her ship, and to see all the things one might see through that little window into wonder. He flies through the bakery, collecting flour and salt, to the butcher where he buys a small barrel of salt pork -- not beef -- to the greengrocer who sells him pepper and potatoes and limes. He brings preserves and pickles, too, for flavor; oh, but he is careful of size and weight. Only what he can carry, he thinks, the ship is that small. Oh, to be gone already!

At last he staggers home, carrying everything with him, where he heaps it on the floor and begins to rifle through his things. What should he take?

He can't think. What will he wear? What will he need down there? It must be small. He takes only a satchel, stuffs it with clean socks and a blank journal and a spare shirt and a canvas jacket that his mother made him. It's all happening so fast, there's no time for anything else.

"Good-bye, Nano!" he calls. "Papa! Good-bye, Mum!" He collides with his stepmother, gives her a kiss on her plump smiling cheek.

"Where are you going, child?" she calls after him.

"To join the Society!" is all he has time to tell her.

He heads right for the beach. They are both there, lifting a barrel of fresh water into the hold. Canth is still thin, but she looks healthy now and vibrant after all their care. Her hair is pulled back into a long braid. A few sprigs of white show through the black.

"Here," says Japetus, "here here here." He hands things off to them and they nod their approval, hoisting them one by one into the hold. At last he holds only his satchel.

It is all he needs. He is ready.

Captain Pearce rests one hand on the boy's head. "I've something for you." He fishes in his pocket with his other hand, holds something bright and silver out to the boy. "Clever lad," he says.

The boy takes it. He does not understand.

But understanding does come, as he watches them climb into the ship, as they wave good-bye, as the hatch screams closed. They do not mean to take him. They never did.

The ship unfurls its legs and staggers to the water. Even from here the sound is horrible. He watches them go, watches the waves lap around the creature's belly. "Good good good good," he whispers, but he can't quite say good-bye, not yet. He keeps hoping they'll come back for him.

The ship disappears below the waves. They're gone, he knows they're gone. "Good good good," he stammers. Good-bye, good riddance, good luck.

At last he falls silent, choking on salt spray that might be the beginnings of tears. His fingers clench, and the thing in his palm stabs at him.

It is not a coin, as he thought it was. It is a key.

A key stamped with a familiar seal: the archaeopteryx of the Society of Cryptic Zoology.

Japetus moves into the empty Society office. His sister Nano comes on Tuesdays and Saturdays to bring him food. Sometimes she stays to read. She tells her father she is doing housework there, but there is no housework to do. Japetus keeps the office neat as a pin, tidy as a ship.

His thirteenth birthday is not for months, and he has no formal schooling in the subject, but no one comes to remove him.

In late August, a package arrives, addressed simply to "The Society Officer" -- the address follows, but no name. Japetus reads the letter, files the forms away, and notes the return post. He is compiling a paper on whale migration patterns.

And then, on September first, there is a knock at the door. When Japetus answers, he finds a middle-aged man on his stoop. His balding head gleams in the sun. Japetus knows him; he runs the bakery two blocks away. He sold the boy flour and salt not so long ago.

"Master Fixe," says the man, "we hoped you might come. There's a strange bird as is stuck in the chimney, and we don't know what to call it nor how to get it free."

Japetus nods and fetches the book on avian identification. He slips the Captain's second-best jacket on before they leave, the one he didn't take.

The sleeves are a little long, but the boy doesn't mind rolling them up. It's worth it, to have the Society emblem gleaming there on his lapel, beside his heart.

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