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There's a kind of hush all over the world tonight: the sound of lovers in love. The rosy fug of it is so overpowering that I can't hear the special kind of silence I'm listening for; the one that will tell me I'm about to die.
It's long past midnight. From my premium vantage point on the top of the Syndicated DC Building I can see the whole of Manhattan before me, stretching north towards Central Park. Hoboken's bricktown lies over the water to my left, the brownstone weight of Brooklyn to my right, a rain-washed splendour of light and concrete. Its electrified pizzazz fades very suddenly into the murky gaslights and pillared mansions of Gotham. Gotham, seeded by trees in permanent winter coats of ice, shrouded eternally in mist seeping from the ground, ruled by wolves.
Staten Island simply does not exist. The rotting piles of an enormous, abandoned shipyard stand in its place, every stanchion and plank half as big again, in its way, as any human structure. I can smell the pitch on their vast timbers. The copper has long since oxidized to green on the signs that tell of ferry journeys to the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Congo, the Styx. No ship has ever moored there. They say that ghosts come and go over the water from its silent terminals, so in this world at least one charm is missing.
If charms ever had such power I'd be chanting charms like a machine gun spits bullets.
Behind me the wind blows fitfully from Gotham's worm-riddled Germanic spires. It smells of incense and twisted passions. I like to visit but I couldn't live there, although some of my best friends do. It's popular with everyone young enough to play with death.
Two witches pass high over me on the way to Fifth Avenue. I can hear them chattering excitedly about some new restaurant down there. The wind abates after they've gone, as if someone flicked the switch on a fan. I'm glad it's stopped, it was making my flesh crawl.
I can't see anybody I'm looking for but I can feel them moving through the hidden walls of this world, searching for me. They're very close: one breath out of place and they'll taste my shadow, come swirling around the edge of the hydrogen atoms and sink their neutrino teeth right into me. My flesh is still crawling. So, not the wind--maybe they're actually under my skin.
I wish someone would hurry up and commit some felonies out here. Breaking and entry, robbery with violence, gang fights, pimps beating on their girls or boys--I'm not fussy, any of the standard moves would do. Anything to create a diversion.
A Batmobile cruises along Avenue of the Kryptonites. It's one of the early models, all white-wall tyres and fins. There's no rush for him: he's obeying the traffic signals and his jets aren't lit. I wonder where he's going to that he couldn't go as a Bruce Wayne. Maybe he's off to that bar the witches wanted to get into, where the good guys and the bad guys drink together, roll their sleeves and complain about the price of Active Spandex.
I've drunk with them plenty of times. We all get pleasant jaw ache recounting how many years you can go on getting beat up day after day before you have to retire and go home to Earth to watch your rocket boots gather dust. Of course I was lying to fit in, but that's not the point. Ennui is the fashion for heroes. Every fantasy loses its lustre in the end and nodding sagely about it is the consolation prize. Glory and approval are for neophytes, for whom every bar goes quiet and faces turn away. Old boys and girls are beyond that. They want something bigger, deeper without knowing what it is. They want to taste immortality and feel its cold fingers close around their hearts, but the hearts themselves don't want to know.
I don't drink in those bars anymore. Whiskey isn't my drink and besides, they made me cry all night. Come to think of it, I really have listened to too much country-fusion since I've been here.
Ten million people live here and over 20 percent are heroes. They have to pay triple whack to get anyone to be a civil servant, and the service industry has created more millionaires than the stock market.
Two blocks over I can hear one of the Daredevils fighting some drugs gang. I tune in. He's being assisted by a Nomad, who seems more at home here than he ever was in his comic book. They're both tough guys. Very noble. I like their ideals, but we haven't got much time for each other. Eastside nobility are all trad. They don't trust those of us who were created from mongrel imaginations or primal source mythology. I'm supposed to despise them in turn as either old fogies or Johnny-come-latelys, depending on who they are, but I'd rather just watch them have their fun. I like to imagine that I belong, that we're all on the same side, whatever that is.
The drugs gang they've come to tackle are a bunch of Stuf- fie patsies moonlighting from their day jobs to provide a large enough criminal element to keep everyone happy. Nobody in Metropolis actually needs drugs for their highs. They've got the Engine.
It's almost 1:00 a.m. The traffic lights on Seventh and Kryp- tonites are changing red to green and back again, slashing the wet streets with liquid colour. As a Humvee of Nordic gods crosses the intersection, the signals all light up at once and Odin laughs, drunk as a skunk. He bellows a word and every lightbulb explodes in a great pop of sparks, showering the divine with plastic particles as they hoot and holler. Thor swings his hammer wildly and all the glass flies out of Tiffany's front windows. The gods swerve by, reach in for an armful of diamond trinkets, and then burn rubber all the way to Central Park. I watch them briefly, then follow a Spiderman as he slings his way casually over to the rooftop gardens on the Time building for a meeting with some Maryjane. She's going to break off with him again because she's being blackmailed by a Joker who doesn't mind a bit of cross-world devilry. I just can't watch that. I can't bear to feel that lurch in his heart. It's so painful it makes me feel sick and the vertigo will pitch me into a fall.
Instead I make a desperate mental lunge and latch on to Vicky Vale #24 as she's building up the nerve to go into Arkham Asylum. She has a nice car, a Buick eight. And she's easy on the eye. She has augmented sensorimotor skills and, to help her nerves, she keeps on mentally building and rebuilding her Bulgari watch, using a bunch of imaginary tools small enough for leprechauns. The MekTek that's made her such a sharp little martial arts model has overwired her cortex, and she can never stay cool. She knows she's going to fumble her lines, and then looking like Veronica Lake isn't going to be enough to stop people from laughing slyly at her. She fears that more than a bullet.
I cut a few of the bad neural connections in her head. She stops what she's doing and looks down, trying to visualize those nonexistent cogs in her hand: the little diamonds she imagines on the watch mechanism are just like the diamonds Odin's wearing on his fist. She feels better, doesn't know why, only better. She thinks she might be okay. She says, "Is someone there?"
I have a little starburst of a heart with an arrow through it that I can use as a kind of calling card on these occasions. It came free with the body and the powers but it's so cheap and nasty I wouldn't soil her with it. I let her feel my presence, touch her. Her smile is as beautiful as a new day and more than I deserve.
She casts her eyes to the skies and prays to some god in thanks. I don't mind.
My kindness towards her relied on a lot of seven-dimensional trickery however, and it draws my pursuers directly to me. Helping Vicky was bound to have that effect though, I wasn't just making nice. I wish they'd hurry--the waiting is the worst part, so they say. Anyway, hard to class it as a kindness, more like a selfish interference. I'm sparing myself the pain of her suffering.
Plus, as long as I look at Vicky I don't have to see the fifty thousand human beings in my immediate area, their electromagnetic aural patterns, the shifting flows of their blood and hormones, the nonstop growth and change and juicy, potent bubbling foam of life's primordial forces pulsing through every last one of their cells in all its multi-molecular, transconscious glory. All that irrelevant shite is tasering my acuity.
The people, the Unity agents I'm interested in, don't have biocellular energy matrices. Within the 7-D they're less than shadow--empty vessels, owl silent and venom quick. They'll only assume shape and mass when they have to. But I'm forced to listen to romance and all that kiss-me-deadly drama, because it goes with the job and the material universe and the 4-D I'm hiding out in. I'm locked into it, just like Vicky here is locked into her chosen role as a plucky journalist with a weakness for men in armoured rubber. Unlike Vicky, I never wanted to surrender to the inner conflicts of my personality in full Techni- color, but in the 4-D of Metropolis there's no choice: you don the cape or you're out.
I'm trying to listen to the rain that washes the darkness where the Tiffany windows used to be. I can hear it trickling over the black casing on the broken traffic lights, two hundred metres down. I can hear it running off my night-black, frictionless and shiny polymer skin. Freak Heroes, as we're charmingly known, don't do costumes--physiology is enough.
Hero may be the wrong term.
My hunters are so close in the 7-D that I know for sure I'm sharing space with one of them, that they're moving through me in that tricky way they have of sneaking through matter. If I try to find out for sure, that's the end, because I'll have to look into the 7 and that would give it all away. Pretend I don't have any Seven-senses for this moment, and they might miss me. It's hard though, when they're inside. The itch is driving me crazy.
I stare around, desperate for distraction. To my left the slightly taller tower of Marvels Inc. shelters me from the prevailing wind. Multiple bomb holes have laced it uninhabitable from the twentieth floor upwards. It only stays up out of bloody-mindedness. Some of the holes go through into other universes, and I'm watching those carefully. Unity controls them all.
From the busy skies over Central Park a figure detaches and arrows in on me directly. She's got feathered wings and they work without mechanical support, so it takes her a while as she carefully dodges the big gusts coming in off the sea. She goes higher to get some vantage point on the way, and I can feel her gaze on my back like sunshine. Ardent glances are always hot. Hateful ones too. Temperature is a measure of how much energy a thing holds. She holds one hell of a lot.
She comes in to land beside me on my chilly ledge. The warmth, the smell and the white feathers are a dead giveaway, even though I recognized her immediately, and can't help the rush of gratitude and pleasure at seeing her. She comes to the edge and squats beside me, her wing-tips tickling me intentionally.
I'm immediately swept away into the heavenly blue of her gaze. She possesses an actively radiant goodness I've only ever come across in a very few heroes, and only once in a regular human being. You can't get away with all that grungy Han Solo shit in Tribeca, where she's from. It's an aspirational neighbourhood. Right now her considerable glamour is all directed at me, and I can tell she's here hoping for more than a friendly hello.
Angel #5 only measures six-foot-seven including the halo. Next to her I feel colossal and automatically protective. I can hear the divine vibrations of her chakra system whirling, fuelling that halo with the power to bring out the best in anybody she wants to charm. She's the only one of the Angels who isn't a moronically righteous son of a bitch, and if I weren't on watch for my life I'd sweep her off the building and take her out of this miserable spot and somewhere beautiful with no questions asked. I should tell her they're gunning for me and that therefore she's in mortal danger, but her halo power is too strong for my conscience. It lets me believe I am good, and then my sudden overconfidence makes me believe I can save her.
I curl my tail around her waist and tickle her in a private place with the tip. She licks the rain off my triceps. Because I'm frictionless, she can only feel me via pressure, and so she applies quite a lot of it. I can feel every taste-bud on her virtuous tongue, and so for her I make myself taste of honey, sweeter than wine.
"Hello Eros," she says, bathing me in her dizzying perfume of pure grace. There's nothing about her that isn't sinless, even her lust.
"Angel, you have to go." I grip her more tightly. I can feel Angel #5's love all over me, all inside me. Even if it weren't a casting rule of the Metropolis Universe Engine that I personally cannot act against any loving intent, it would be impossible to throw that adoration off, and nothing in me wants to do it. I want to stay here, inside her, forever.
The gnatlike itching at the edge of my awareness goes quiet.
Fuck, why now?
Out of pure fear I tear my face away from her regard and look around. Disoriented, my mind fishes the undertow of the world. In that instant I'm aware of all the billions of people who ever had the misfortune to come into contact with Unity. It and I are related, and I can hear their lost voices in its swirling depths. They rise and crash to nothing like waves on an endless shore.
If I want to have them, all their memories are mine, all their knowledge, all their hopes and dreams. Two-billion-plus spe- cies. Eighty-plus-thousand star systems. Eighty-plus teratonnes of knowledge and experience, tears, passions, joys and deaths. I can have it free, gratis and for nada--if I only let go and drop into Unity, if I let it eat me up. I will become one of those waves then. There may be moments when I return to myself. But if you do the maths, you can see how unlikely that is, and for how long it will last.
Excerpted from Living Next Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
In Metropolis on Sankhara what existed yesterday does not exist today as every night the world is remade based on the dreams of those who reside there. For instance in a short period of time, Jalaeka has lived several lives from a prostitute, to a pilgrim, a pirate, a princess and a physics student. Through all his nightly transformations, he believes he deserves better though his dreams speak otherwise. Still he is determined to find a mage or God or something stronger to help him because his creator is coming for him.----- Teenage runaway Francine removes her identity chip and flees the emptiness of her AI sub world for Sankhara. Instead she finds a bone castle containing a scientist searching for the seemingly vanished light of the universe by mapping the human mind. Francine and Jalaeka meet are attracted to one another. However, instead of him having been chased by the minion of Unity, she serves as the focus of a war between the Gods that only she can prevent from destroying all who live in Sanhara by displaying love to others especially Jalaeka.------ LIVING NEXT DOOR TO THE GOD OF LOVE is not an easy book to read. The changing perspectives mostly between Jalaeka and Francine, but also including others like an intriguing female warrior is difficult to follow and the subject is complex. However, those who prefer a deep science fiction cerebral yet action-packed tale will want to journey to this odd world where change is more than the norm, it is life. With NATURAL HISTORY and now this thrilling tale, Justine Robson has carved out a niche starring her creative realms. Readers will want more works set in the Robson universe where physics does not necessarily repeat each time the experiment is run.----- Harriet Klausner
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Posted November 1, 2011
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