THE ENGINEER - defined by logic and ruled by routine, she helps keep the lights on for the teeming millions. She craves nothing but anonymity. But her quietly ordered life is about to fall apart.
THE VOICE - highest servant of the Mothers, he incarcerates and executes at will. He revels in the void eating him from the inside out. But his privileged and carefully controlled existence will change forever after an apparently chance meeting.
THE DARK RIVER - a troubled wanderer, inside whom impossible forces rage, she has seen the hidden inner life of the Citadel. She knows that another world touches this one, and the barrier grows thin.
THE FINDER - with deep insight and startling visions, he is familiar with unusual investigations. A new case will send him on a journey that unlocks a forgotten past, a revelation that will change his world forever.
In the black and winding alleyways of the Citadel, industrial metropolis and home to ten million citizens, anomalies stir. Things that should be impossible, show themselves to those few who are vessels of the Great Power.
The Mothers, immortal rulers of this vast city-state, are desperate to die. Through stirring the world into chaos, they hope beyond hope that despite the miraculous healing that condemned them to an eternity of misery, they might be granted oblivion at last.
"Things are only deities if you let them be..."
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As Lena peered down the steep flight of stairs, a nameless existential fear took hold of her, as if she stood on the threshold of a void into which she might easily spiral as the ground crumbled away. She almost lost her footing and would have done had her father’s hand not steadied her.
The cellar lamps lit the way down as far as the eleventh step, beyond which the darkness appeared so absolute that the steps might have extended into space, and anyone who stepped beyond the eleventh and possibly final stair would fall forever through the nameless void that so frightened her. Lena tried to comfort herself by considering all the special properties of the number eleven, but the juxtaposition of absolutes transfixed her and made any mathematical recall impossible.
“It calls to you,” he said, and she heard a wonder and inexplicable sadness in her father’s voice. “It calls to you, but I’m not sure you can answer.”
“What is it?” she whispered plaintively. “I don’t understand. What is it?”
He placed his arm around her shoulders but didn’t answer. Did his hand tremble a little?
“I often imagined what lay behind the door.” At last Lena dared to look away from the void and up to her father. “You would never open it for me. I think you wanted to, but something always stopped you.”
“Had I shown you when you were a child, you might have rushed thoughtlessly into the gloom to be lost forever. Do you remember those headstrong days, when you embraced the unknown without thinking?”
“I remember,” Lena admitted reluctantly.
“And now you think all the time but embrace nothing. This is the right time to show you, or it should be- but maybe it’s already too late.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Perhaps too much of the Citadel exists inside you now that you’re a part of its… system. I trust you, Lena- but what if I have nothing left to trust you with? What if you walk away?”
Lena stared at him and wondered if her father had asked her to solve a complex riddle or equation. “Are you ready?” he asked, and his voice sounded as if it came from far away. Momentarily cast adrift from reality, Lena felt with her other hand for reassurance that her father still held onto her, even though she knew he did.
He continued, still in that oddly distant voice, “There are places where another version of the world touches this one. Threads of that touch persist in some hidden places, and this is one such place. Men and women of science would refer to it as an anomaly. Certainly it was a cosmic embrace that can’t be readily explained. I didn’t expect to find it when we came to live here, but perhaps I should have done.”
“I don’t believe in mysteries and miracles,” Lena said with sudden, reactionary ill will. Nevertheless, she looked down again and kept her eyes fixed on the bottom stair as if it might suddenly be stolen by the blackness and wink out of existence.
“I don’t ask for belief Lena. I’m not sure what to ask for.”
Lena shook her head. “I don’t understand. Why show this to me now?”
“Because you had to be shown. What you do with it is up to you, but we must do it together. We can’t let it react. Not without taking measures to hide ourselves from discovery.” Suddenly he seemed frightened.
“Do with it?” Lena was nonplussed. “What have you done?”
“Nothing,” he admitted. “If we’re less than certain, we should go back and close the door on it.”
“Do you know what’s down there?”
“No. I’ve kept all knowledge of its existence to myself, which is the one thing that you must do. I don’t even know if I’m doing the right thing, Lena. I only know that there’s reason to this. It isn’t coincidence.”
Lena said nothing but tried to imagine how it couldn’t be anything other than simple mathematical coincidence.
“It has changed slowly over time,” he added quietly, “and I think it’s responsible for other things that have changed.” A distant smile creased his lips for a moment. “Perhaps you ought to do nothing other than be its guardian. Then you can pass on the fact of its existence, as I did…”
“No,” she said forcefully. “I won’t have anyone to pass it down to. Anyway, it’s just a dark cellar. It’s part of the house. Bricks and mortar and measurable dimensions. There’s a wall somewhere down there.” As she spoke of comfortable certainties, Lena found her confidence return and the odd sense of an indefinable other place recede swiftly. “You shouldn’t have shown it to me. Shut it away forever, like you said.”
He knew better than to argue. His fourteen-year-old daughter had vociferously denied that she might ever find someone to spend her life with. I don’t need anyone else, she had defiantly declared, more times than either of them could count.
They left the cellar without speaking. Lena felt uncomfortable and frustrated by her father’s silence, as if she had disappointed him without quite knowing why- but she couldn’t think of any questions to ask. Nor could she find any words to lessen his disappointment.
Her father locked the door to the cellar, and they never spoke of the matter again.
From time to time as the years went on, she would observe in his expression a strange yearning, as if he had wanted to fall into that blackness or walk with her hand in hand to open a world beyond their understanding. But fear and protocol kept him tethered to the ordinary, and Lena knew that nothing stood in the shadow of the stairs but a brick wall.
Even then she understood the boundaries and constraints of form, shape and structure at an intimate level- to Lena this was the mathematics of the real- and it was from that world that she would draw temporary comfort over the ensuing years.
And so she could never explain why she averted her eyes on the rare occasions when she passed by the door to the cellar.