In the first time of chaos, as the old empire crumbled, the corporations and networks of wealthy landowners who formed the underlying power structure began gobbling up infrastructure and elements of the security apparatus. Already dependent on these powerful forces for everything from healthcare to sustenance to entertainment, people in many areas relied on them to build roads and enforce peace while other areas were left to their own devices, forming self sustaining communities and mutual aid networks both permanent and temporary. Then came Fremont and the Second Republic, the last attempt at old school statism, the disastrous attempts to compromize, and the demise of the nets – first global, then regional. After the Bubble was cloistered and the siege of Sacramento began, the northern half of the republic fragmented once more into a shifting sea of independent farmsteads and agrarian communes, religious paramilitary orders, road gangs, experimental utopian societies, wanderers, cults of media memory.
The south avoided most of this chaos, cemented under the control of a handful of corporate microstates that had shifted into an uneasy peace with each other. Of these, the most powerful was Mouse, once a massive media conglomerate, now a spansive templar realm. Their influence had long gripped the globe, but now they pivoted with ease into the liquid world, their gods numbered in the thousands. It was within the shining walls of Glendale and glowing halls of Burbank that old titles were shorn of capital’s euphemisms and monarchs wore crown and seal under bright sunlight. This spread through every hill and valley and well beyond, while others resisted the old forms, abandoning hierarchies and developing new communal structures. A shifting patchwork of pockets. The time of the Hundred Californias had begun.
Rafael Hernan Cuesta, a real estate developer from Escondido, had acquired the last functional Barnes & Noble store remaining on the Auric Coast, the only one which had survived into the time of Second California, as well as the ruins of sixteen others scattered up and down the coast. No longer a bookstore, the place specialized in advanced technological products that became disconnected and then banned during the cloistering. Around the time that they disappeared from the store, Cuesta declared his Baronial title and his loyalty to the newly established, Mouse-led High Council of the Southern Realms. These seventeen lots that he had acquired would extend the reach and right of the Council along the coast.
All this time Milena was listening quietly to Ant along with the rest of us. When he finished, she provided a bit more detail. The Barón himself was unlikely to arrive for at least a year. In the meantime, a convoy had already been dispatched. Those who lived in and around the village were welcome to stay, so long as we worked for the improvement of the domain.
That night I dreamed of a tall thin and leafless tree standing in front of the lot. Out of the sky descended a dove the size of a small dog. The dove landed on the top of the tree and the tree bent, slowly, under its weight until the dove reached the ground and the tree formed a loop.
For the next three months Ant moved about the place with an almost impossible lightness. Isobel said she had not seen him like that since early in the days of Lorr, or maybe even years before in the time of the old store.
Then the fortifications began to arrive. In earlier years, the first walled towns and cities of the Hundred Californias were haphazard affairs of shipping containers, truck parts, and crude hasty brickwork. Then came the Realm of Glendale and the construction of a massive 18th century Bavarian castle around and atop the Galleria, followed by imitation and iteration all throughout the Southland. Now there were specialists in the art of the keep and the town wall, plying their services up and down the coast to king and commune alike. Prefabricated watchtowers and gate structures on flatbed trucks rode the widening way of the Five.
It was a family named the Gasparyans who were contracted by the Barón to build our walls and fortify the keep. This family had a matriarch, a Duchess who lived somewhere in the southern part of the valley, but the project would be overseen by her daughter – Milena herself.
During these same days, change rippled outward from the site of the D____ Collapse. The dust blew out to sea and back again. As the age of paper unfolded it cracked and peeled – the world beneath was raw and pulsing. The names of places, ideas, and organizations began to bubble and froth, to split open and melt. A society of wanderers emerged collecting these names of the past on huge necklaces of old dominoes.
It took about a month for the fortifications to come together, made all the faster by the guidance provided through my sight and flow, the great stones seen from all angles as they clack together in neat lines, the artful etchings in the steel plate cladding of the library itself, now become a proper keep, at least on the outside.
The interior looked, as Isobel put it, “like a time warp”. On my own I had already organized the books before this business with the Barón. Carefully, I had arranged them in order of the amount of truth within and the severity of their tone. Now, under the guidance of Ant, I reorganized them according to the ancient traditions of the bookseller, divided neatly into the real and the unreal, the literary and the genre.
When Milena entered the keep for the first time she was furious. “Why,” she demanded to know, “do you have all these books?” She was expecting to see a recreation of a medieval great hall – long tables, tapestries and taxidermy – and cozy living spaces for the Barón and his inner circle. I took her gently by the hand and led her to a region of soft fluffy sofas encircling a small stone fireplace. I wove through the aisles and chose carefully, then returned to her thick tomes of Penman. The rest of that week she dwelt in the deep and drafty halls of Cymru and Albion, feasting with John Lackland and Eleanor D’Aquitane. When she finished she merely nodded, satisfied, then retrieved her horse and rode off to the south. The Barón would arrive soon.
We had not seen the Wolves or any others like them since the walls went up. But the explosions continued, either I nor Ant nor any of Milena’s crew could find a source.
By day the gates of the castillo were always open, and we worked to expand the fields and decorate the walls. People began to arrive unto the village again, and as I grew vine over stone a community grew around the place. Ant began once more the tradition of Readings. I and others took our turns as tellers and scribes, and the notebooks filled up again. This was to be the cause of the second fury of Milena. But first we were struck by a shockwave from the south.
The army of Mia Marisol had consolidated at the southern end of the valley, just above the mountain pass known as the Grapevine. As we learned from Lorr’s first postcard, they began building a massive chain of fortifications that spanned both sides of the pass. The valley side of this structure became the city of Wall. Ostensibly built to protect the agrarian communes of the valley from both northern banditry and southern expansionism, the project was responsible for one of the largest population shifts of the period, employing millions from across the Southland, Mexico, the Desert Kingdoms, and beyond. In the end it could not be built without compromise, and the project began to include agents and resources of the Mouse, sending waves of suspicion and resentment through the communist sections of the valley. Meanwhile the road gangs and fascist militias who had been pushed into the Sierra licked their wounds and coagulating, mixing with new groups of religious warriors crossing the deserts from the east. Opinions are still divided over whether this was an organic movement or part of a scheme concocted in Austin. These combined forces led a prolonged siege of the Grapevine structure during the height of the winds at the end of a long drought, starting fires in the mountains and valley itself. While the wall did not technically fall and the fascist army was unable to penetrate into the Southern Realms proper, several outlying towns were destroyed. The communes were the hardest hit. Marisol was brought before the High Council put on trial for her pyrrhic victory. A spectacle held in the Coliseum of the Rose, the trial concluded with Marisol kneeling before the southern corns and swearing into an oathquest of vengeance, becoming an arrow that would send her deep into the heart of Texas.
It was a second postcard from Lorr that brought us much of this news. Lorr also indicated they would be joining Marisol on her absurd quest. Ant fell back into depression, though he tried to hide it at first. But we all knew it would be complicated even if they were to return. The tales once spun around the fire of adventure and discovery were replaced by tales of recovery and perseverance. The days when Lorr and their column of overloaded trucks and cheering armed cyclists arrived back at the village after weeks of roaming began to be seen in a different light.
Amid these changes, Milena Born Free returned this time with no entourage, poet warriors and source channelers from around the Southern Realms. With excitement and pride Milena led her friends into the keep, set them down among the cozy sofas, then wove among the shelves and tables picking out books for her friends. I noticed that some of these included our filled notebooks from the Readings. For tour hours they sat and read around the fire. Then abruptly two of them stood and drew Milena aside. I watched from across the room as her eyes widened in shock and anger. Then she beckoned to Ant and I. As we approached she introduced Nikola of Oranje and Dmetar of Pasadean, both powerful, known, and aligned with the Mouse.
Nikola spoke first: “Do you know not what we do? We are the speakers of story, the arbiters of cannon, the servants of character woven and channeled. We are the other side of the mirror. What gives you the right to set pen to page and birth new beings into this reality, without our process or approval? Who watch over them and guide the sense of humanity towards them?”
Dmetar spoke thence: “And many of the characters in these texts exist already – not only this, but there are some among these pages to whom we have alter, temple, mirror, and line. How have these stories been confirmed and canonized? We do not know them. And yet, all the world will see us in their shadow. The responsibility for their words and actions may be thrown by enemies unto our doorstep.”
Ant approached them and forcefully grabbed the notebooks from their hands. I put my hand on his shoulder before he did more. I could feel him vibrating under my touch. He stalked off into his office. From its mount in the wall I retrieved the slender stone spear Isobel had given me. In the kitchen I mixed sediment of river with sediment of sea, an equal blend, then returned to the fire. In countercircle the sediment was poured, spiraling into the center of the fire. Then with the spear I began digging and poking among the embers until it began to glow. One of the embers near the center began attracting the others and they merged, lumping together into a glowing stone that rose and thinned and stood and etched into the form of a human that stood one foot high. It was Xavier.
To me he said: “This is a time of Schism. There are things you and even Ant don’t know. About me, about Lorr, about Mia – our binding and unbinding. Wrap yourself like vine around the cracked and aging trunk of the oak that dwelt here, grow and cover these walls.”
To Dmetar and Nikola he said: “You pull at the threads of your own making. Your mirrors have become doors. Those whom you have made real in the crossing watch and hear and hold and feel us. You do not contain them, they contain you. Return now to the south and tell the Baron it is time.” And in silence they left.
That night I dreamed of my arrival and of the pit which had once held fire. Now it was filled with a dark and still sea, waters frigid to the touch and bottomless. I stood before this sea and breathed in circles until a heat grew within me, and as my ocean churned so churned the sea before me, a small maelstrom emerging in its center. The center of that spiral was at first pitch black but as it widened, tiny points of light appeared and then grew bright, a shimming field of stars and dust.
In those days, Isobel and Elena were too old to walk. They dwelt together in a giant wheeled bed that the Fresnians had built for them. They rolled around the town overseeing plantings and giving notes on defenses. After the visit of Nikola and Dmetar, their bed began to rise above the ground. At first it was just a couple of inches but soon it grew to a foot, and clouds began to form in their wake. Readings continued to be held at regular intervals but Ant seldom appeared. The town slowly became more visible and people began arriving from further away.
About a week before the Baron’s arrival, Ant pulled me aside and took me into his office. I had not actually seen it before. Like the keep itself, it looked as though from another era. The clean raw wood surface of his desk held nothing other than a set of ten notebooks. “Historia de los Cien Californias” they said on the spine, in Ant’s neat hand.
I looked up at him and he was covered in sweat, thought it was not hot. He moved out of the office towards the door of the jeep, even at that age still moving his large body through the aisles with grace and lightness, his skin shining in the glow of the fires, his heavy black leather trenchcoat falling into my hands. As he stepped through the door the liquid on him began to pool and rise into the air and fly up into the clouds. He cut the middle of his robed with thumbnail and unwrapped and unwrapped and the clothes fell upon the ground and Ant disappeared into fog and sky in millions of tiny fleeting drops.
Over the next few weeks there were more new arrivals. Older people who carried instruments and ancient weapons and piecemeal armor under long dark robes I had not met them but I knew who they were, that some had been blue helmets or members of Xavier’s band.
The day of the Baron’s arrival we formed a line in front of the keep, we wore finest robes of gothic, we waited in silence with palms facing the sky, and we felt the first drops of moisture falling.
By the time his column rolled up outside the gate it had begun to rain. His entourage remained under cover of vehicles while he approached alone Under falling skies, in the sinking soils of our courtyard, he knelt. I approached and handed him an empty notebook, a pen, and a rolled map of the passes and crossings that might lead him through the Sierra and into the twisting Nevadas beyond.
It would be a year before his return by boat. The rain fell and the earth shifted and the waters came into the valley and they rose until they reached the level of the bed on which Isobel and Elena lived and floated. And so the waters carried them as they floated out of the gate and off to the west to seek the great glowing current that had once been the San Joaquin and to dwell among the flowers, vines, and watchers who rode that wild stream.
The years rolled on. We fall in and out of visibility with the tides. From up and down the coast, you come. Landless or landed, named or no one, you flow into our gate all the same. Our notebooks empty and waiting for you. You gather yourself and that which has come into you through senses, mind, and heard and pour all of this into the vessels that await. We shift and stir and let it pass through us and into clay jars with cork lids that float perfectly and drift outward and outward as the winds push them towards every direction on the horizon.
from 8. The Historian,
released February 11, 2022
Written by Jon Bernstein
Narrated by Valerie Monique Evering
Music composed and performed by Jon Bernstein
supported by 5 fans who also own “A shifting patchwork of pockets”
Spooky as HELL AND LOVING IT
And I love that they included different actors playing the poor doomed intern...It just comes to show how the very same script is unique in every performance and every single person on the role MarlaHectic