Authors: Gene Doucette
Immortal Stories: Eve
is about a character from the
Immortal at the Edge of the World
. This story takes place following the events in
Immortal at the Edge of the World
Reading the novels prior to reading
is recommended, but not mandatory—the story stands on its own.
Please refer to the conclusion of this book for more information on the
novels and on the ongoing novella series
The Immortal Chronicles
The man asking the question had three visible piercings—ears and nose—and a tattoo that ran down his right arm, with a hint that it continued beneath the shirt and up to the shoulder. He wore a close-cropped beard and had long hair tied back by a rubber band.
He was an echo of a half-dozen warrior cultures, and this made him difficult to look at directly.
“My name?” she asked.
“Yeah, for the order.”
He held a paper cup aloft to help her understand, as if she perhaps didn’t speak the language. A black marker was in his other hand.
I mean to inscribe your name on the cup
, he was saying.
It wasn’t that she didn’t comprehend the question, it was that she didn’t know how to respond. Handing over her name—any name—was an unexpected complication, because she had not yet decided what she was going to be calling herself. The purchase of a beverage was supposed to be an anonymous transaction, one that didn’t require her to make such an important so soon.
What was the name they gave me?
she thought. Perhaps that would do for the moment.
“Eve,” she said. “Write that. I’m sure I will remember it.”
He frowned, scribbled the name, and then passed the cup down to a busy-looking woman. He then recited a number, which Eve took to be a declaration of cost.
She pulled a bill from her pocket and handed it over, in exchange for which she received several other bills and some coins.
It wasn’t really as mysterious to her as all that. She understood the number system involved, and the notion of currency as recompense for goods and services was an idea almost as old as society. It was only that the numbers had no objective reality behind them. The specialty drink she had requested could have been associated with any number; she had no real-world connection to it as a value to compare to another thing. That same amount could have also been the cost of a house or a bicycle or a piece of gum.
It wasn’t that she had no perspective on the expense of a cup of coffee either; it was that she had too much. She knew the cost of an equivalent cup when the drink was exotic and rare, and also when it was a mundane afterthought.
In this instance, the value associated with what she had purchased appeared to have less to do with scarcity or novelty, and more with assumptions made regarding the uniqueness of its preparation. This, too, was almost as old as society.
Our fire is the better fire
, she thought.
Our wood burns warmer
The man behind the counter caught her smile, and responded positively. Eve had the kind of smile that could do that to other people.
“You look like you just thought of a good joke,” he said. This was not a part of his rehearsed patter. It had no commercial intent.
“I was thinking of a very old political campaign.”
“Oh.” He looked a little bewildered, then snapped back into his role as a corporate extension. “Your drink will come up over there. They’ll call you.”
“Yes of course, thank you.”
She stepped aside so the next in an overlong line could proceed.
There was an approximately equal balance between the service region of the shop and the clientele space—a seemingly haphazard collection of tables and chairs, with a temporally discordant fireplace/leather chairs arrangement against one wall.
It was moments like this that reminded her why she found the modern world so dizzying so often, and why it was easier to simply step away for decades at a time. Being fully present in this reality meant resigning herself to a perpetual dull ache. Here was a modern twenty-first century coffee shop with a decorative piece that belonged in a hunting lodge or a wayside tavern from centuries past, when men were always armed and that armament was always a sharp piece of metal. The fireplace was there, she supposed, to connect the patrons with a sense of welcome, a
home and hearth
ethic, but it was so artificial, and ignorant of the unlikelihood that any patron legitimately associated their childhood with a fireplace, it had no meaning.
It also had no function. The building had its own internal heat source, no doubt, and even if it hadn’t, it was summer and the sun was unrelenting, warming the room through the windows.
Of small consolation, all the occupants—the room was half-full—were still armed with sharp bits of metal. It was only that those bits of metal were electronic devices and not knives or swords. Weapons of a less literal sort.
Eve took a seat at a table near one of the windows. The shop was adjacent to a busy street, on the other side of which was a grassy bank beside a narrow river. She could see oarsmen on the water, skipping a scull along the surface and mimicking voluntarily an act that would have only been performed by a slave for most of human history. But then that seemed to her like the definition of most sporting events: a deliberate, competitive parody of feats historically accomplished unwillingly by the lower class or the owned.
Next to the river, some people walked gently, together or alone, while others ran.
, she corrected herself.
Not fleeing or hunting. Running to run.
This, at least, she could support. Humans were meant to run.
Then there was the road, which was a relentless blur of cars and trucks racing by with a kind of fury that reminded her of a stampede.
We slew the mammoths, and then we became the mammoths
She shut her eyes and tried to refocus. It was too much, too fast. The world was an overwhelming onslaught of stimuli. She was getting dizzy.
I should have started smaller
She turned at the sound of the name. It would always ring unfamiliar, she decided. But it had been centuries since she had used
proper name, so the possibility was real she would never find one that adequately summed up who she thought of herself as.
Her coffee drink was ready. She retrieved it, and returned to the table.
The drink was a thing whose name she dimly recognized as Italian: Latte. It was actually Turkish, but she liked to imagine the Romans having their hands on this sort of drink. Knowing the Romans, they’d have erected statues and developed a minor religion to honor it. Or perhaps they would keep it secret and for use only in ceremony or for their Emperors, like chocolate in the Americas.
It was bitter, and too hot, but she appreciated it from the perspective of a mandatory ritual. It was what one did when joining—or rejoining—society: find out where the people congregate, and go there. Partake in their customs. Acclimatize.
* * *
A cloud passed over the sun and darkened the firmament long enough for the lights inside the shop to out-perform the outside light, and then Eve was eye-to-eye with her reflection for the first time in ages.
She had a striking face. Her skin was desperately pale, her eyes a bright blue, her hair a tangled, vibrant mess of red. She had high cheekbones and a narrow, flat nose that—in times when noses were an important feature—stood out as unfortunately petite.
In most cultures, in most histories, she was beautiful. In a dozen or so, she was the literal paragon of beauty. In five or six, she was an actual goddess.
But it was also just her face. It was the one she always saw staring back in mirrors, in pools of water, in the eyes of lovers. Sometimes it looked a little different, but it was always the same face to her. Which was to say that although it had been decades since she’d seen her own reflection, there were no surprises.
This is not where to look for something new
, she thought, turning away from the window and toward the crowded shop.
A Chinese girl sat at a nearby table. She had a round face and bright eyes and a shy smile. Her shoulders were hunched as she leaned over her coffee and spoke to a companion—a white male with blond hair and the kind of facial scruff children have before they can grow full beards.
The girl’s posture was alarming.
Eve imagined a wood switch slapping the girl across the knuckles as an angry teacher with perfect posture and perfect make-up chastised her.
Straighten your back
The geisha is elegance and strength and smallness.
Where is your honor?
“Where is your honor?” Eve repeated quietly.
The girl ignored the phantom’s chastisement, and didn’t hear Eve’s.
As the Chinese girl spoke to the European conqueror at her opposite, her hand described precise characters in a notebook. Numbers, perhaps, or letters, or that odd combination of the two that constituted advanced mathematics. Knowledge, in either case.
The boy sat back in his chair and waited for her to finish speaking, and then responded with a question, prompting her to speak some more. Eve realized the Chinese girl was the teacher and her European friend was the pupil.
At another table, a distressingly rotund man sat alone before a computer device and typed in sporadic rapid bursts. He wore black pants and boots and a large blue t-shirt. A vague sweat odor came off of him that was detectable from half a room away, possibly because the day was warm but his apparel didn’t reflect that reality. He had some sort of dirt or grease in the creases of his joints—his neck, his elbows—and under his fingernails.
She could see him manning a carriage with a slew of equipment—buckets, shovels and lamps, an overcoat, a mask—and riding about polluted London in the dark, his lantern bouncing in time with the nag that pulled his shop.
He’s a night soil man, surely.
But no, the smell was not quite so bad as that, the filth on his person not all that filthy, and the profession itself no longer of use. There was still an interest in this world for the geisha, but the night soil man’s time had passed.
He was still an oddity. The computer was supposed to be an indicator of some affluence, but—and this was always so, even when mankind was no larger than the sum of the persons in this shop—the affluent were always cleaner, and healthier. If the man with the laptop wasn’t a professional filth aggregator, his appearance indicated that he was a beggar.
He looked unhealthy.
The last observation could have been extended to nearly everyone there, though. With only a few exceptions, this odd collection of humanity was full of the sick and the damaged. In the corner near the inactive fireplace a woman with a mole on her face and two missing teeth was complaining to the man she was with about her job. Eve could pick up no more than a word or two, but understood already that this was as close as the woman would ever get to happiness. She had been damaged, possibly at a very early age, and that damage—whatever it was—would hold her short of fulfillment for her entire life.
A man near the door stood only with the help of a brace and a crutch. He had a crippling disorder of some sort. Looking at him triggered no historical counterpart for Eve, because there were almost none to draw from. When children were born like this, they didn’t live to adulthood except if they were by chance also royalty. Most of the deformed were dealt with upon delivery, with a rock. And adult males who couldn’t hunt or run served no use except as bait, or only very occasionally as a font of wisdom.
This was how the world used to work. Eve didn’t make it that way, but she knew how it was.
She closed her eyes again.
This isn’t why you’re here,
she reminded herself.
These were observations she’d been making of the human condition for century upon century, most times at a safe remove. It was possible to extract herself from the daily reality the rest of the world was forced to slog through, to watch from afar. She wasn’t there to watch, though, she was there to experience.
But being in the middle of it was so much worse than she remembered. It was noisier and smellier than it should have been. Everything was too heavy and the clothing itched. She wanted to leave.
This is your world, not mine
, she thought.
I have no part here
She sipped her coffee, and didn’t go.
* * *
Her opinion on the quality of the coffee changed for the positive as it began to cool. Also, someone was staring at her. This had no impact on how she felt about the coffee but it improved—marginally—her opinion regarding the people sharing the room.
He was a tall, ebony man with no hair on his head, dressed simply in a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts, with the bright rubbery shoes of an athlete. Normal convention would indicate he was either preparing to perform a physical feat of some sort or had just returned from one. She assumed he would be sweaty if the latter was the case. Then she imagined what he might look like glistening with sweat.
He wasn’t the only person in the shop to steal glances at her. The large man with the laptop looked her way every tenth heartbeat, and there was a woman next to the emergency exit who not only kept looking at Eve but had twice taken her picture with the camera on her cellular phone. Mostly, Eve ignored this kind of attention. People had been telling her exactly how beautiful she was since the invention of language. It may have been immodest to recognize this to such a degree, to take it so entirely for granted, but she was also older than modesty. Recognizing that she should wear clothing in public places was the extent of her interest in social norms in this regard.