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Authors: Ty Beltramo

Eden's Jester

BOOK: Eden's Jester
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The novel Eden’s Jester is science fiction. The characters are completely made up. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or eternal, is entirely coincidental. The events of this book never really happened, at least not in this universe and certainly never in a gravel pit—though the multiverse is a large place and you never can tell.

Copyright © 2012 Ty Beltramo

All rights reserved.

Cover Art: Josiah Tasch

To Laura and Jennie and Rebecca Sue


There is a man I know, in the Emperor’s employ, who is the royal alchemist. He makes the best tea. For many years his assignment has been to discover and administer to the Emperor the fabled Elixir of Immortality. His name is Qiaou Xia-He. He’s a friend of mine.

I found him in his lab, hunched over a table, asleep. Hundreds of jars lined shelves along the walls. I walked around, trying to be quiet, and examined the contents of several dozen before I found the three I wanted. I took them from their shelves and put them down hard on the table right next to Qiaou’s ear. He jerked awake.

In China, the Tang Dynasty was a mess. For nearly two hundred years the emperors had done a pretty good job of providing peace and prosperity. Now, it looked like they had stalled, or perhaps were even in decline. Generations of success had made them soft—at least that’s how Aeson would see it. He was here now, working with the current Emperor to instruct him in the finer points of being a ruthless-mass-murdering-despot. Or, at least, not a nice guy. That’s how Aeson fixes things.

That wouldn’t do.

Not that I have a problem with despots, or even an evil dictator here and there. But Aeson-made rulers tended to be over-the-top bad. The Chinese people didn’t need Aeson’s kind of help. Frankly, at this point, they were probably the most advanced civilization still standing.

And they make good tea. I love tea.

“Greetings, Qiaou. Are you well?”

He blinked his bleary eyes clear. Lines had grown across his face since I had seen him last. I couldn’t remember how long it’d been. His skin was ashen, his hair thinner.

“Ah, Elson!” He got up to bow. “Be welcome! It has been a long time. It gives me joy to see your face.” He looked at a burning candle he used to tell time. “I see it is tomorrow. Early though. The sun has not risen, so there is still time.”

“Time? Time for what?” I asked.

He waved a frustrated hand and turned toward his stove. He spoke over his shoulder as he prepared some tea. “Tomorrow, I mean today, is the first of the month. Each month I must bring a new formula to the Emperor. It is always the same. Emperors are always the same. But that is my burden. Tell me of yourself. Of your travels. What have you seen since we spoke last?”

We talked for an hour or so of Vikings and European knights. He loved to hear me tell of the design of armor used in battle and how the British made arrows and siege defenses and how the Vikings overcame them. Military technology fascinated Qiaou, though he never got to experiment with any of the stuff we talked about. His job was to invent life-giving potions, not life-taking engines of war.

“So, Qiaou,” I changed the subject. “Show me your latest formula. Maybe I can help.”

With a broad smile he brought over a jar and handed it to me. It was heavy. I opened the lid and looked inside. Quicksilver.

“Ah. Hmmm. Well Qiaou . . . This stuff won’t get the results you’re after.” Actually, they would get the results
was after, but not in the timeframe I wanted.

He shook a finger at me. “Do not believe your eyes, Elson. This water-metal will do just what I like. It is quite exotic. The Emperor will be satisfied for one more month.”

I looked back into the jar. Yeah. That would be about right. One month or so and the Emperor would be staring immortality—or at least eternity—in the face.

“Your problem, Qiaou, is that the Elixir of Immortality is not a liquid. It is a gas.”

His brow furrowed as he considered this. “I see. One of the finer airs, perhaps.” He came close. “And do you know the formula, Elson? For a sacred air that will satisfy the Emperor, at least for one more month?” He smiled.

“Better. Let me show you. You need to combine earth, air, and fire, but no water. The human body has plenty of water. What you need is earth, air, and

I dumped the contents of the three jars on the table. The powders were all coarse. One was black, one was yellow, and one was white. “These must be carefully ground together in just the proper proportions. Like this.”

After separating the proper amounts, Qiaou ground them in a mortar and pestle until they became a fine, black powder.

“Now,” I said, “add fire to unlock the sacred air.” He sparked a flint and the powder erupted in a yellow flame, then was gone. A cloud of blue smoke remained. “Breath the air, Qiaou.” He inhaled deeply.

He smiled a little. “It smells nice,” he said.

“Yes. It smells nice. But one part is still missing.” I walked over to a table that held some of Qiaou’s personal items, including a clay pipe for tobacco. “The Emperor should be the only one allowed to inhale the sacred air. So fashion a large pipe, like this one. Put a large amount of the powder in the bowl—perhaps you can use a large jar as the bowl—and seal it
.” I handed him the clay pipe. “Oh, and leave some air in the jar. That’s important.” I got up to leave. “Oh, and don’t experiment. It’ll ruin everything. This has to be unique. No prototypes. And make sure you’re not close enough to smell the gas. You don’t want to anger the Emperor. Be way back.”

Qiaou nodded, but he was already enthralled with his new formula.

Boy, was Aeson going to be surprised.


A Gathering of Evolution Engineers is the most boring two hours I can endure.

Aeson called this Gathering. I always come to Aeson’s Gatherings.

His Discipline is Society. I could see him winding his way through the crowd as if floating on air. Maybe he was. I couldn’t tell. A social Engineer, go figure. Aeson was good-looking, tall and thin, with short curly black hair that was oiled (or greasy, depending on your disposition toward the Discipline of Society). He had fashioned a charcoal pinstripe suit with a blood-red shirt and a black bow-tie.

Creating nice clothing is hard and takes years of practice to get it right. That’s why in ancient times we kept to robes and hoods. I still keep it simple: blue jeans and a black tee shirt.

While Engineers are immaterial beings, Gatherings are always in the flesh. They are, after all, just big parties. And parties need bodies. Trust me. It works better that way. A body makes one feel more alive and connected to the world. The funny thing is that we can’t choose what our bodies look like. We can’t choose whether we are male or female, white or black, red or yellow, good-looking or ugly. No one understands how this is. It just is. Me? I guess my face has more than its share of character. I’m told my unkept, dusty brown hair goes well with my slightly bulging eyes, and that I could pass for Steve Buscemi’s brother.

This Gathering was in a penthouse high above Hong Kong, facing China’s mainland. Aeson chose nighttime for the meeting. The darkness hid the dirt of the city, but boasted an impressive show of lights.


I leaned against the wall in a corner with my hands in my pockets, watching the few dozen others huddle in groups of three or four, making small talk. I was glad I couldn’t read lips. The drone devolved into a calming white noise by the time it filled my corner. Most of the Engineers were dressed in formal wear common to the domain each called home. A few donned many-colored robes patterned with intricate designs. Most sported sharp business suits like Aeson’s. No one else wore jeans.

Aeson flitted among the guests. Many were happy to see him. Some were obsequious. I guess the pools of taste and dignity were at low tide.

Diomedes, one of the few Engineers still on speaking terms with me, quietly slid into my corner. He could have passed for the English butler in any Bogart film. He was tall and dignified, his posture perfect. Cary Grant would have envied the cut of his suit.

“Hello, Elson. It is good to see you. I did not think you would come.” His voice was deep, but soft. He radiated confidence and comfort. I trusted him. He was one of the few friends I had.

“Me? Why wouldn’t I come? I always come.”

Diomedes smiled. “Because you do not support Aeson or his work. That is why. In fact, I believe you may be actively opposing his efforts, now that I think about it.”

He was hard to fool, being of the Discipline of Reason, a sub-discipline of Thought. He didn’t miss much. And he was old, which meant he was powerful. But still, he had few enemies, even among those of Society, who needed but feared Thought.

I took a glass of something from a passing waiter and turned to face Diomedes. “Hardly,” I said.

“So, tell me about Detroit,” he said. Someone called to him from across the room. Diomedes smiled and raised his glass.

“That was an accident,” I said. “Besides, Aeson made Detroit, not me. I don’t do that kind of work,” I said.

Diomedes’ eyes narrowed slightly.

“And Aeson does. I see,” he said. Another Engineer called a greeting to Diomedes. “But you keep going back there. Your home is, I believe, only a scant distance to the north of the city.”

A twinkle touched his eyes. He was messing with me.

“Yeah. You know full well why I’m there. And it has nothing to do with Aeson’s Detroit or my alleged and completely unproven role in its current state.” I lowered my voice. “So, did you have a chance to take a look?”

“Oh yes. I have managed just that. Very interesting indeed. I have not seen its like before.”

“Make anything of it?” I asked.

“Indeed. But that is for another time, I think,” he said. Before I could press him further, Aeson noticed us in the corner. “Here comes our host now, it seems.”

Aeson arrived instantly with a moist, friendly smile.

“Ah, my friends Diomedes and Elson! It’s so good you could come. Your journeys were not unpleasant, I trust?”

Diomedes spoke first, since he was older, and because I was choking on my drink. The idea that Aeson and I were friends was nothing short of psychotic delusion.

“Not at all, Aeson. And thank you for hosting this Gathering. I’m interested to hear what you have to say.”

Gatherings called by Society were not unusual. A competent Engineer interested in one was.

“And you, Elson? How was your travel? You were in America, correct?” He half turned to me as he spoke, with eyes only for Diomedes.

I spoke loudly. “Yeah, you know, just hanging out in the Midwest. Mostly back and forth between Chicago and Detroit. Avoiding Cleveland like the plague. The usual.”

There was no sense being evasive concerning my whereabouts with someone like Aeson. He had contacts in every domain and, if he wanted, would know where I was before I did. Still, I didn’t like him and I didn’t like him paying attention to me. Society felt that their Discipline was responsible for the highest expression of development in this world. Which was odd, since it was only recently making a marked difference in the evolutionary landscape. But I couldn’t argue with the fact that they had become very influential.

“Honestly Elson, I don’t understand what makes that region so important to you. Chicago aside, the whole area is an antiquated dead zone of human disaster. Don’t you agree, Diomedes?”

BOOK: Eden's Jester
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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