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Xenolith, Page 25

A. Sparrow


  They retreated to a tiny park: a few benches and plantings surrounding a fountain. People came there, it seemed, for the sole purpose of letting small dogs defecate. Canu growled at one that sniffed too close at his heel, prompting an elbow jab from Ren. He sampled the red, dimpled berries weighting the hedges but spat them out immediately; mucilaginous and bitter, more pit than fruit. No wonder no one picked them. He hoped they weren’t poisonous.

  “Don’t you ever sit still?” said Ren.

  “Can’t help it. Being in a whole new world and all.”

  He and Ren alternated going to the shop, but never found it open. The sun had long peaked and was well along its descent before Seor finally appeared on the sidewalk, trotting breathlessly, no longer cradling the xenolith. Ren caught her attention with a clipped whistle. She doubled back past the hedges.

  “What are you both doing here?” said Seor, her face flushed. “Why aren’t you at the shop?”

  “Ren’s idea,” said Canu. “One of us checks. The other lays low. That way we rouse no suspicions.”

  Seor backed away down the sidewalk.

  “Come along. We need to get there, now,” she said. “The fragment was acting up. Something may be happening.”

  Ren took off after Seor. Canu bounced to his feet and trotted to catch up with the women as they hustled down the sidewalk.

  “Where’s the other stone?” said Ren.

  “Don’t worry, it’s secure,” said Seor. “I found a better place. Secluded, behind a burial ground. We should consider moving the relay there.”

  “Is that allowed?” said Ren.

  “Can’t very well put it back where it was,” said Seor. “Considering it’s already been discovered.” They maneuvered carefully around an elderly pedestrian using a metal frame to help them walk. “I presume the keeper never came back?”

  “That’s right,” said Canu.

  “Maybe he’s only open in the morning, said Seor, sighing. “We can come back tomorrow, I suppose.”

  “The walls are only glass,” said Canu. “We can break in easily, grab everything and go before anyone could stop us.”

  “Don’t be foolish,” said Seor. “We need time to search, preferably without alarms and constables pressing us.”

  “But if all else fails,” said Canu.

  “Listen,” said Seor. “If a convergence is coming, as I suspect, we may be able to pinpoint exactly where it’s hidden in the shop. Then simply purchase it in the morning, with no commotion, whatsoever.”

  “Another convergence?” said Ren.

  “Possibly,” said Seor. “When I hid the fragment, it was already turning cold. Let’s have a look at the shop, but Canu …” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Keep your hands off the windows.”

  As they came to the block of commercial buildings, a small, red vehicle cut them off on the sidewalk, surging so close, Canu could feel its slipstream. The troubled eyes of its young driver haunted Canu and snuffed his anger before it could swell. Canu knew that look. He held reservoirs of empathy for fellow tortured souls. He watched the vehicle careen through an alley, into the back lot.

  Canu reached the front door of the shop first, finding it as dark and vacant as before. Seor studied the interior carefully, moving between vantage points, holding her hand up to cut the glare.

  “Nothing,” said Ren. “There’s nothing happening in there.”

  Seor let her hand drop. “Back to the loft, then,” she said, and started down the sidewalk. A thin, metallic squeal halted their progress before they had passed the next shop. The noise made the hair on Canu’s neck rise. Seor’s blade had made the same sound when she had plunged it into the collapsing portal.

  The young man who had cut them off, burst from the alley on foot, hair disheveled, shirt-tails dangling. He carried a filmy bag of the type that littered almost every corner of town. It billowed in and out, as if breathing, misty tendrils trailing from punctures, the metallic screech emanating from within. Extending the bag as far as possible from his body, he bustled to the door of the shop and rattled its handle.

  He squeezed out a cry of frustration and smacked the glass. His eyes shifted nervously to Canu and his comrades. He bolted back towards the alley.

  “Come!’ said Seor, with purpose in her eyes.

  They walked quickly but discretely, breaking into a sprint only after they turned into the alley. Upon entering the lot, they saw the young man hesitate near a large, overflowing trash receptacle, and then veer towards his red car parked askew the neatly painted grid work of the sparsely populated lot.

  “Look at his face!” said Seor. This man has witnessed a convergence.”

  “And he’s about to see another!” said Ren.

  “We need to take him,” said Seor. “Gently.”

  “We can’t let him drive off,” said Canu. “We’ll never catch him.” He looked for a way to barricade the alley.

  “Block his wheels!” said Seor, heading for a heap of shattered masonry piled against a back wall.

  Canu ran over and grabbed an armful of bricks mortared together in small clumps. He lurched towards the red car, where the young man stood with the back hatch open, tossing in the now howling bag, mists gushing from ever widening rents. The young man shut the hatch and started to walk away, not intending to enter his car until he saw Canu charging towards him with the bricks.

  The young man dashed to the front, opened the door and hopped in. As the door slammed, setting off a series of beeps and clicks, Canu chinked the back wheels forward and back while Ren and Seor finished the job in front.

  “I can see the bag in the back,” said Canu, pulling on the hatch.

  “Just keep him in the car,” said Seor. “The stone will handle everything.” She displayed her dagger and leered at the young man, making him cower on the bump between his seats.

  Every bit of glass in the car fogged over. A shrill wind hissed between crevices along each window and door. The man wiped at the condensation with his bare hand. Strands of long hair plastered against his forehead. He had a hopeless look, like a fawn in the jaws of a wolf.

  “Get back!” shouted Seor. “The convergence is coming, and it’s a strong one.”

  A heavy man emerged from the back of a shop, wielding a bright red cylinder.

  “Behind you Ren!” Canu shouted. “A man … with a weapon, I think.”

  Ren whirled about, reaching for the blade she did not bring. The heavy man pointed a flared nozzle, not at her, but at the car and the storm of mist and leaves raging in its interior. He depressed a lever on the cylinder. White dust blasted out, and covered the car, and a large swath of lot.

  With a gargantuan belch, the convergence arrived full-blown. The bog appeared, then sedges, and a whole copse of firs. The car shuddered and jerked backward, its wheels scraping along the pavement, dragging the bricks with them towards the portal. It disappeared into the blur like a rat being swallowed by a snake. Once the entire vehicle was consumed, the portal sealed shut with a rumble that rippled the pavement and shook the air with a muffled explosion, like a massive sail bursting in a gale.

  A fragment of xenolith, sackless, spun like a top where the portal had been. It skittered and rolled, settling to a stop by the feet of the heavy man, who dropped the cylinder and backed away from the stone as if it were a viper. Sirens grew in the distance. Canu surged forward, scooped the fragment up, the frigid stone stinging his flesh as he sprinted towards the alley.