Read The Artifact of Foex Online
Authors: James L. Wolf
Tags: #erotica, #fantasy, #magic, #science fiction, #glbt, #mm, #archeology, #shapeshifting, #gender fluid, #ffp
Journey nodded. She was crying, Chet noticed.
Just a tear or two, no noise. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “What
just happened reminds me so much of the bad old days.”
“Don’t know if you’ve noticed, lovely one,
but it’s still the bad old days around here. Chet, can you get our
Chet nodded. “She’ll destroy your things if
she finds them. She’s vengeful like that.”
“Is it true that she owns this dig site?”
“Outright. She bought it from the city for a
huge lump sum of money. They closed this spring, which is why we
The Flame exchanged a significant look, then
dug faster. They’d long ago reached the body’s torso. Chet didn’t
want to accidentally hit—and damage—the hands, still covered in
dust. There was movement from the corner of his eye, and he glanced
One of the younger graduate students was
stepping between the pits and headed in their direction. He called,
“Chet, do you mind if I—oh, Pantheon. Oh,
everyone! A body! They’re uncovering a human
Journey rolled her eyes and sat back on her
heels. “That’s done it.”
Knife shot Chet an exasperated look. “You’ve
been digging here how long, and you haven’t even found a body,
Chet shrugged, nonplussed.
Journey put in, “They haven’t even found a
live ceros yet. Told you they were going slow. Archaeologists,
It became a mob scene. Graduate students
gently tugged at the legs and discussed the style of clothing.
Lively debate and more digging determined that the hands had to be
above the body’s head, like those of a diver. Fenimore LaDaven,
Chet realized, hadn’t fallen into the lucid mud—he’d dived. From
the angle of the body, it hadn’t been a shallow dive, either. Had
it been a scramble, sheets of monsoon rain coming down and
engulfing everything, even rational thought? He could imagine the
scene so clearly... the dive was not the act of a timid man.
There were silences behind Knife’s words, so
many significant gaps. Chet wondered how many details had been left
out for the sake of the story, and how many had been left out
because of delicate information.
Knife is a spy,
he thought abruptly.
And he’s been a spy since forever
The graduate students uncovered the head,
replete with lots of hair. The arms were still missing, shoulders
clearly articulated above his head. A dive, indeed. The body still
refused to be removed from the soil, as if it were stuck. Graduate
students who normally spent hours—days, even weeks—uncovering
artifacts, scrambled into action. Rope was found and tied to the
body’s ankles, then people formed a line as if they were in a
contest at a country fair. Caught in the moment, no one pointed out
how illogical their actions were. They tugged once, twice. Tthe
body shot out of the ground as if pulled by the roots. Fenimore’s
arms were whole, Chet noticed thankfully. He had long, bony
fingers, beautifully articulated.
“Get his mouth and nose clear," Journey
No one was listening. Knife put two fingers
in his mouth and whistled; Chet covered his ears reflexively.
Silence followed. Knife opened his hand to Journey, who repeated
herself and added, “He’ll need to breathe.”
," people murmured to one another, momentarily
Chet had to do something. “Someone get me
Water was found. Chet held his breath, eyes
wide, as he washed LaDaven’s exposed skin, then began trickling
water into his open mouth. The moment stretched. In the breathless
silence, Chet studied the man’s face. Beneath the dust, Fenimore
LaDaven was... Chet gulped. Beneath the dust, LaDaven was a
romantic dream. His closed eyes were set wide apart with lashes a
girl would envy. His mouth was full and sensual. An arrow-straight,
aristocratic nose. He, too, was fallow skinned: the race of
superiority and colonialism on Uos. Chet imagined his long hair,
once clean, might be golden brown and puffy, like a cloud. Holding
his limp body was extraordinary—though not precisely alive, it
wasn’t corpse-like either. Chet had never realized how beautiful a
man could be.
No, that wasn’t true. Chet had always admired
men from ancient etchings, painted vases, marble statues and oil
like an oil painting. His bone
structure was not of this century.
The body—twitched. Fenimore LaDaven coughed.
Chet caught his breath, his eyes round.
He wasn’t the only one. Everyone surrounding
the twitching body was
. It was pandemonium. “He’s
alive!” people yelled. Students were running around in circles,
bumping into one another and babbling nonsense, while others sat on
the ground and hyperventilated, apparently overtaken by shock. Chet
didn’t move. He cradled LaDaven in his arms, overcome by
Professors Tibbets and Clementina arrived,
along with the promised policeman. The officer had a bored, acerbic
expression and seemed unimpressed with the dusty man in Chet’s
arms, but Tibbets and Clementina were immediately enveloped by the
chaos. Fenimore LaDaven groaned, his eyes still closed. Chet almost
forgot to breathe.
“Call an ambulance!” Tibbets said to the
officer, his spindly arms flailing with enthusiasm.
Even Clementina seemed to have forgotten why
the authorities had originally been summoned. She hovered right
beside Chet, poking at LaDaven with a proprietary air. She probably
felt that—this being the dig of the century taking place on her
private property and all—the excitement should belong to her. Chet
didn’t want to be the one standing between Clementina and her, um,
target. Despite a twinge of regret, Chet awkwardly handed off
LaDaven’s body to her and backed away. He joined the Flame at the
back of the crowd, feeling glum as he brushed himself off.
“Medical intervention is entirely
unnecessary,” Journey said, arms crossed. The only reason Chet
heard was because he was standing right beside her. “People have
been surviving lucid mud for thousands of years.”
She was ignored. In fact, both Flame were
ignored, standing apart from the action. Curious, he studied their
reactions. Journey was calm and watchful. But Knife... Chet thought
he’d be cool as a cucumber, but the Flame was jittery, agitated.
Knife nearly danced in place and jumped to see over heads, though
he was currently over six feet tall.
Chet touched his arm, and Knife jerked
around, startled. “Sorry,” he said, shooting Chet a rueful grin. “I
haven’t seen Fenimore in three hundred years. I never got a proper
chance to say goodbye.”
When Knife had been telling his story, he’d
referred to the man as
. Now he was
It was as if... Chet frowned. Normally, he
wouldn’t have even thought they could be, um, involved. Two men and
all. But Knife was
a god affiliate known for being
homophiles with bizarre sexual perversions beyond the knowledge of
normal folk. Knife could become female, too, Chet realized
abruptly. Neither Flame had changed sex yet, but it was what they
were known for. Maybe Chet was seeing things where there were none.
Maybe they’d just been friends.
The ambulance arrived just as the police
left. More chaos ensued, spreading outwards like ripples in a pond.
Fenimore’s unconscious body was strapped down to a gurney and
hauled up the dusty grade by ambulance techs. Chet’s shoulders
slumped, and he gazed at the ground. They were taking Fenimore
away. He turned to find Knife watching him closely.
“You want to go with him, don’t you?”
Chet nodded, ashamed for no reason he could
he was fascinated by this potential
glimpse into the past. The man was three hundred years old!
Knife assessed him with a measured look. “I
would be there by Fenimore’s side, but everyone at the hospital,
from the secretaries to the chief physician, would bar my way. I’m
Flame; I might as well be leper in their sterile ward. But
has to ride with him in the
ambulance. If you ask first, Tibbets might let you. Besides us,
you’re the only one here who knows anything about him. Ride with
Fenimore. Answer his questions about this century. Don’t leave him
alone! And Chet... be careful. I’m only going to say this once, so
listen closely. I’m fond of Fenimore LaDaven, but he is a scoundrel
and a rake. He is a libertine who will lie, cheat and steal to meet
his ends. He will swallow you whole if you let him. Do you
“No, not really.” Chet felt bewildered.
Knife patted his shoulder. “Just remember,
okay? Now run.
He reached the top of the
grade and scrambled around other students to Professor Tibbet’s
side. Professor Tibbets seemed utterly bowled over by this course
“Professor, it occurs to me that the man will
be disoriented when he wakes up. He won’t know what century he’s
in, so someone should ride with him. I’d love to help out the team
with our new... find.”
Graduate students began volunteering loudly
to accompany the unconscious man. Although their words were more
sophisticated, they sounded like children yelling,
Professor Tibbets took off his wire-frame
glasses, rubbed them on an embroidered pocket square and focused on
Chet, ignoring the others. “You found him, didn’t you, Chet? You
and Journey, along with her friend.”
“I see. Seems to me you have the right. Quiet
down, you lot! Chet found him first, Chet gets dibs. Clementina and
I will follow in her automobile to meet you at the hospital. Though
it seems to me, my boy...”
“Thank you, sir!” Chet didn’t wait around to
hear what Tibbets had to say.
The ambulance technicians had loaded Fenimore
into their double-tall, station-wagon like vehicle, the tiny light
on top twirling around and around. A sour-faced nurse stood to one
side, supervising her patient’s transfer.
“Excuse me, but I’m to ride alongside him,"
Chet told them, expecting another argument.
The techs barely shrugged. “Don’t get in my
way,” the nurse grumbled at him.
“Yes, ma’am.” Chet scrambled inside, and the
door was slammed behind him.
The station wagon was roomier than it looked
on the outside. Chet hovered anxiously while the nurse checked
Fenimore’s pulse and blood pressure, but she seemed bored. In fact,
after hooking up an IV, she climbed up to the front seat to smoke
and gossip with the techs. Someone turned on the radio; the
top-hits station had a crackle of underlying static. Chet hated
that kind of music. Of course, he didn’t like any cultural artifact
under a hundred years old, and even that was pushing it.
The medical personnel weren’t looking back at
all. Chet swallowed. He was very nearly alone with the unconscious
man. He studied Fenimore’s gear with a historian’s eye, anxiously
trying to ignore the breathtaking beauty of his face and hands.
Fenimore was dressed in what had once been a white cotton shirt,
puffy and romantic as Abyss, with a wide crocheted collar. It was
half unlaced, revealing dusty chest hair. He had a sword scabbard
at his side. Empty, Chet noticed. He did have a long hunting blade
strapped to his chest, filthy as the rest of him. Chet wished he
had a magnifying glass so he could inspect the piece more
thoroughly. Instead, he leaned over it, squinting, trying to
ascertain its origins. The scabbard was intricately woven leather,
the pattern of the most artisanal, skilled Tache
There was a flurry of movement. Chet was
grabbed and dragged downward by a powerful grip. Cold steel touched
his throat. A pair of feral, bloodshot eyes bore into him. “Tell me
why I shouldn’t cut your throat, yellow-skinned pumpion.”
Chet froze, the blade at his throat—the very
one he’d been admiring a second ago—sharp and real. Very, very
sharp. He gazed directly into the snarling face of Fenimore
What plea, what reasoning, would Fenimore
understand? “Knife sent me!” Chet choked out.
The blade was reluctantly removed from his
throat. Fenimore settled back onto the gurney, his snarl
transformed into a wary frown. “Knife sent you?”
“He did.” It was the truth, after all.
“He?” Fenimore raised the blade once again,
his eyes so intent they seemed to burn.
Anytime a Flame was not in
visible sight, they were always assumed to be female. Chet couldn’t
remember where he’d learned the rule; he’d never needed to know it
before. It was just one of those cultural things you learned by
never tease a doedicu,
which Chet knew even
though he’d never seen one of the enormous, hump-backed animals
outside a zoo.
“She, she!” he said hastily. The blade did
not retreat. “Um, Knife said you were a rake and a scoundrel, and
a, a libertine, and a liar, and a cheater, and not to trust
anything you said!”
Fenimore lowered the blade with a snort. “She
say that,” he murmured. “It’s true, you know.”
Chet dared to breathe. He looked at the
driver’s seat, but no one had even glanced back. They were still
smoking and talking, the radio belting out a contemporary song with
lots of silly “do-wap do-wap" harmonies. While the attack had
seemed all-encompassing to Chet, he realized belatedly that
Fenimore had kept his voice down. Chet reached up and touched his
throat. His hand came away with a thin trail of blood. Fenimore had
him. This was real. The man was a killer.
course he is
. The century he came from was a bloody one, even
within one of the most cultured civilizations on Uos. Even now
Fenimore’s eyes took in his surroundings, darting this way and
that, as if... as if he were a prisoner.