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Unseen Perils   1520.08.07  
Creators: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Ellen Million (Inspiration)
Ren is a simple builder, bewildered by the unseen perils that beset both his personal life and the City of Lights.
Posted: 10/04/12      [No comments yet] ~ 2234 words.

"Sure, we can live in the most beautiful city ever!" Lithra was out of sight in the bedroom, packing their clothes and loudly cursing his name. "It will be one of the wonders of the world. There will be time-crystal lights on every bridge and in every public square. They'll have the best schools for our children. You didn't say anything about towers falling down on people's heads, or perfectly normal people going crazy for no reason."

Ren ran his finger along the concrete blocks that made up the kitchen wall. He had built this house, block by block, in the mornings and evenings before buying the licenses needed for Lithra to marry him and join him in the City of Lights. The lines were as straight and true as the lines of the towers he'd helped to build, before the anomalies. Every block was as perfect as when he poured it.

Lithra had loved it at first. The mountains were beautiful. Neither of them had ever lived anywhere where they could look down and see so much of the Empire, or look up at night and see the stars so bright you felt you could almost touch them. The air was clean and sweet smelling. They'd dreamed of raising their children here, living in a house in this beautiful new city designed by scientists and built by Ren and his peers.

Ren was proud of his work. He'd stayed when many of his company left for other projects, certain the scientists would discover what was going wrong and fix it. He thought he'd be rewarded for his loyalty to the company and the project. He laughed quietly. He and his family were being rewarded--to a degree. Unlike the people who abandoned the project early on or those who lacked travel licenses and would be evacuated by the Empire, Ren and his wife were getting a free trip back to Affamarg, all licenses paid for, and their belongings would be packed onto one of the company's gravel transport trucks.

It wasn't fair--and it wasn't his fault. Lithra was still reciting the tally of all their lost dreams, blaming him for each promise unkept. He did his best to tune her words out; they made him feel angry and guilty on top of his dismay that his dreams had come apart like the faulty concrete.

That was the foundation of it, really. Despite every investigation that showed no fault in the concrete, he still believed there had to be one. At heart, he believed in the things he could touch and manipulate. Invisible menaces, angry ghosts or whatever you might call them, were nonsense.

Efficiently, he packed the pots and pans, layering Lithra's grey rags between them, folding or crumpling the paper to fill the hollows in the box. He had stopped wondering why Lithra read so many rumor-rags long ago. If they made her happy, that was good enough for him.

He paused at the announcement that her favorite female role actor was marrying his childhood sweetheart, a license inspector who was getting licensed as a woman so the couple could adopt children. What rubbish--but they would be selling tickets for the wedding party. Maybe he could buy tickets for Lithra and her sisters. He set that paper aside for future reference.

He squared up the box automatically, brushing a line of paste onto it and laying the tape over the paste to seal it neatly and efficiently. He looked again at the wall. Walls made sense, unlike women. Unlike people, to be fair--gender really had nothing to do with it. He glanced back at the wedding story and the fine, perfectly normal looking male faces depicted under the headline.

Lithra came in, hugging a box of underwear and socks to her swollen belly. "Didn't you hear me? This box is ready to tape shut, and if I do it, you'll say it's crooked and tear it open to tape it straighter. So here!"

"I'm sorry, dear. I didn't hear you." He took the box, squared it, and taped it firmly shut. "I would have come in to get this."

"Well, sure, if you were listening." She waved her hands, fingers clenching almost into a fist.

"I--" Ren stopped. No matter what he said, it would be wrong. "I'm sorry," he said again. You never had to apologize to wood or stone or concrete, though he sometimes wondered if he should apologize to the concrete walls of the towers that had fallen apart for no apparent reason. The problems that had forced the abandonment of the new city made just as much sense to Ren as the mood swings Lithra had suffered since her pregnancy started.

Lithra picked up the rag from Affamarg. "It should be some party." She sounded wistful. "So many beautiful women--and beautiful men too." She picked up a fold of her practical housedress and turned in some dance step.

"I could buy you tickets," Ren offered. "And-and a gown. I have enough luxury tokens for a gown."

"Are you crazy? My belly will be out to there by then!" Lithra gestured toward the wall Ren had been contemplating. She stalked back out of the room. "What did I ever see in you?"

Ren stared after her for a minute, then put an empty box on the table and started packing their plates and glasses, wondering if he should be packing half of each into separate boxes. The thought made his chest hurt, so he ignored it. He knew that some people just didn't suit each other; a marriage needed the right blend of ingredients just as concrete did. There was no point in trying to insist a mix work when it didn't.

He could see one of the broken towers from the kitchen window; those walls had been poured by a rival company. He had been certain they'd used the wrong mix until he'd served on the committee that tested the damaged concrete. Chemically, it was perfect--the elements had just, somehow, not cured right, or somehow been sundered at the molecular level after the concrete cured.

It was impossible, he'd have said, except it had happened.

His thoughts turned to Lithra. They'd known each other since second form, and they'd always been fast friends. She had waited more than a year for him to build a house and send for her. Their relationship was as solid as the concrete he poured.

But one of his own walls had fallen, several months after that first tower. And then another. Two different concrete mixes, a portion of each destroyed by an invisible menace of some sort. He knew the mix for each had been perfect. Before pouring, he had checked the ingredients himself, as had three separate co-workers. The walls had been perfect when the forms were removed. He had inspected them himself. Further, part of each wall was still perfect; only part of each wall had failed. It made no sense.

The company's carriage came for their boxes and furniture while Lithra was napping. He held his finger to his lips at the door, and he and the driver carried the couch outside in silence. Out by the carriage, Ren said, "My wife is napping. I'd rather not wake her."

"We have to load the bed, don't we?"

His wife had been complaining that the bed was too small. He made a sudden decision. "I'm buying a bigger one once we get back to Affamarg."

"Oh. I guess that's all right. I'll have to check with the boss."

"If they don't want you to leave it behind, it can go to anyone who can use it."

"Sounds good." The man shrugged.

They were loading the last box when Lithra came out of the house, yawning. "You should have woken me!"

"You need your sleep, Lithra."

"But the bed!"

"I'm buying us a new one."

"But I'll need it when I--" She looked at the workman who was studying the ground at his feet. "I don't want to leave it behind," she said, firmly.

"I'm sorry." Ren said.

"It's no problem, ma'am. Sir, if you could help me shift a few boxes, we'll get that bed loaded right away."

His chest hurting again, Ren nodded, and they got to work. They had to unload nearly half of the carriage, and then load everything again. It had to be putting the poor man behind on his schedule, but he never complained. "You let me know, if you need some help someday," he told the man.

"It's all right. Less paperwork." The man shrugged and shook his hand before driving off. "Have a good trip, ma'am."

They had several hours before they were due at the train station. Lithra turned and headed into the house. Ren followed, wanting to hold her, but she shrugged his arm away, so he went back outside to sit on the steps and look out at the city he and so many others had worked so hard to build.

Ren heard a cracking noise, and he turned his head in time to see part of a tower tumbling to the ground. There was nothing nearby, or at least nothing he could see. It was as if the gentle breeze had knocked the top of the tower down. It was a good, solid concrete tower, gleaming slightly pink in the sunset. Ren shook his head. It made no sense.

Just like his life. What did his wife need a bed for, unless she was leaving him? A tear slid down his face, and then another.

A soft hand fell on his shoulder, and Lithra slowly sat down next to him. "This place meant a lot to you, didn't it?"

"Yes. I mean--no. I mean--" Ren desperately wanted to say the right thing, but had no idea what that was.

Lithra laughed. "Of course it meant a lot to you, Ren. You're a builder, that's your passion, and this was the biggest, most prestigious project ever, at least in our lifetimes."

"It doesn't matter."

"Of course it does. See? You're doing it again. You've been closing me out." Lithra looked away from him and laid one hand protectively on her belly. "Do you--do you have a lover?"

"What?" Ren started to stand, but let the pressure of her other hand on his shoulder keep him seated.

"That first tower fell, and you stopped talking to me, Ren. Who is it? One of the scientists?"

"I--you think I--" The pain in his chest doubled. "No. There's no one. No one but you." He ran his hand along her cheek.

"I wish I believed that." She closed her eyes, her face drawn tight with pain.

How could he convince her? "You never saw me with anyone, I know it because there wasn't anyone, there's never been anyone but you."

She gestured at the city. "No one's ever seen what's destroying those buildings either. But it's real."

"I--I don't know what to say about that. It doesn't make any sense, even to the best scientists in the Empire." He spread his hands, feeling helpless. "I know I'm not as smart as Emeroma or even that kid, Oranaan. But it's my job to take care of you, and I--I didn't want to worry you."

"You think not talking about it means I wouldn't see the fallen buildings and hear about the people who died?" Her eyes flew to his face, and he saw her anger, her fear. "Of course I worried! I dreaded every time you climbed a damaged tower to take samples or went up the scaffolding on a new tower to pour more concrete. I'm sorry you've lost your dream, but I'm glad we're leaving. The only question is do you want to stay with me or go with your lover?"

"I don't have a lover--except for you." Realizing his words were useless, Ren leaned in toward her, bracing against an anticipated slap, and kissed her tenderly.

She looked at him with the first smile he'd seen on her face in days. "You really mean that?"

"I do."

"What if I want to go live somewhere else? Affabreidalam, or Tiffijimi?"

"Anywhere--well, anywhere I can get a license to work."

Lithra beamed at him, and he kissed her again. "Anywhere at all," he repeated, "just name it and I'll fill out the license applications as soon as we get to Affamarg."

She gave Ren a mischievous look, and the pain in his chest started to ease. "How about you take me to that wedding party--unless you'd be ashamed to be seen with my big belly?"

"You only get more beautiful to me." It was a line out of a play, something he'd laughed at as a child, but it was true. Lithra's current shape was perfect, like the shapes of his hammers and measures. She was bearing his child, a fact made possible only by her ability grow such a wonderful big belly.

Lithra laughed to show she didn't believe his words, but she was obviously pleased. "So you'll come to the wedding with me?"

Trying to find a job in Affabreidalam sounded more pleasant than going to a crowded theatre party, but he just smiled. "Only if you tell me what to wear."

"Deal." She leaned against him, and they sat and watched the doomed city together until it was time to leave.

Author's Notes

This was inspired by Ellen's request to see people being evacuated from The City of Lights during the June, 2012 Muse Fusion.

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City of Lights

Characters Featured:
Lithra, Ren,

Referenced Articles:
City of Lights

Story collections:
Installing the Unicorn
All Empire Stories and Art
Darkening Skies
Winning the Game
Muse Fusion, June 2012
Nomess Mithoirarv

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(These stories may be unrelated)
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Installing the Unicorn
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A Nap Under the Stars

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