Nothing Sacred…

21 Jun

The two releases from Scarborough on the GSP Legends Promo, Nothing Sacred and it’s sequel Last Refuge.




In a world where unemployment is obliterated by putting all jobless people in the military to maintain the endless ongoing warfare, Warrant Officer Viveka Vanachek finds herself in a weirder place yet. Captured, raped, and interrogated she is finally exiled to a remote snow-bound prison camp where she is placed in solitary confinement. It seems like the end of the world when she also becomes too sick to eat and starts seeing ghosts and hearing mysterious chanting within the noises of the camp. But her dreams tell her there is more to her prison than there seems to be and soon her delusions and reality start trading places.



                                                KALAPA COMPOUND, TIBET.
                                                                Late September,
                                                                     DAY 11?

     The guards gave me this paper with instructions to write about my career as a war criminal, starting with my life at age eight. This is fairly standard practice in these places, according to what I’ve read, and to what the Colonel told me when I first got here. He also said they “haf vays off” not only making you talk, but making you believe it after a while. So before my brain gets too well washed, I am saving out some of this paper to keep a true record of what happened, just to keep it straight in my own mind and give me something to fill up the time. The Colonel and the others told me some of the jargon the interrogators like to have included in a confession and I think I get the drift. It behooves the smart prisoner to indulge in a lot of verbal self-flagellation before the authorities decide to flagellate said prisoner in a more literal sense. There’s a very strict prose style involved. No problem, though. I’m a good mimic and can write the most incredible bullshit as long as I don’t have to keep a straight face.
     My name is Viveka Jeng Vanachek. I am currently, albeit reluctantly, a warrant officer in the North American Continental Allied Forces, 5th Cobras, attached to the 9th New Ghurkas at Katmandu. I was captured September 15, 2069, following a plane crash near the Kun Lun Mountains while on a mapping mission. Not that I am this great cartographer, but I do know the section of the file in the program that allows the computer to reconfigure existing maps while scanning the countryside from an eye in the bottom of an XLT-3000 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Anyway, I’m trained to use that knowledge, although that flight was the first actual mission I’ve been on. Right up until the crash, I’d been having the best day since I sold out and joined the military.
     Major Tom Siddons was a very nice guy, and I think he must have enjoyed working with me as much as I did with him. I suppose he got as far as he did in the military just by being relatively good-natured and an exceptionally good pilot. Unlike the other pilots, he could express himself not only in words rather than in long strings of symbols and numbers, he could even express himself in words of more than one syllable. He also liked poetry, and I think he liked me chiefly because he was impressed with my ability to recite dirty limericks in Middle English and translate Chinese verses.
     I hadn’t been in Katmandu very long, but I had already told him over a beer how much I hated the monotony of knowing one section of one file of one program. Each of the other warrant officers in Katmandu with the same rating knew another section of the same file of the same program. If anyone was transferred, died or committed suicide, he or she was replaced by a brand-new specialist in the same section—specialists were never cross-trained, so the left hand never knew what the right hand was doing. It made me feel like a not-very-expensive microchip. Here I had spent almost twenty years, off and on, studying the humanities and what do they do with me? Stick me in computers, because I’d once taken a class to fulfill a math requirement. My art history background and the one drafting class I’d gotten a C in qualified me for the mapping section. I told Siddons all of this and he sipped his beer slowly and nodded in most of the right places.
     I forgot all about griping to him until one morning when he strode into the hangar office, decked out in a silver suit with so many pockets he looked like a walking shoe bag.
     “Grab a flight suit and your kit, Ms. Vanachek,” he told me. “We have us a mission.”
     It didn’t occur to me to bring a weapon. I’d been in what was technically considered a combat zone for the best part of six months and had yet to see more than a fleeting glimpse of an indigenous civilian, much less an enemy.
     I gawked through the canopy as we climbed to 19,000 feet, then settled down to the keyboard and punched up my section. Siddons had explained that the plane’s computer would do just as mine did back at the hangar, except that while the computer in the hangar usually had to make do with adjusting data, inputting new topographical information from a graphic mock-up to existing map data, this one had a special adapter that translated the terrain passing through an eye in the bottom of the plane into a graphic image and instantly altered the corresponding map data accordingly.
     We need map updates frequently because the terrain constantly changes so that it no longer conforms to earlier maps. And while our hangar-bound graphics adjustments are fine for recording the changes our own side wreaks on the local scenery, our allies and our enemies are not so conscientious about informing us of all of their destructive activities. Furthermore, the war precipitates natural disasters; earthquakes, avalanches and floods that also make unauthorized and, worse, undocumented alterations.
     We overflew the pass, into the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The more heavily populated areas had been kept up to date, but the whole central plateau was still a battleground. New valleys are dug daily and mountains of rubble make strategic barriers that need recording.
     The problem with fast travel through or over any country, of course, is that it so thoroughly objectifies what you’re seeing that you might as well be looking at a holovid screen. The landscape of Tibet, vast plains with mountains pinched up all around the edges like a fancy piecrust, seemed highly improbable to me and I returned to my screen after about fifteen minutes of admiring the view.
     Siddons wasn’t about to let me ignore it. His voice crackled into my headphones saying, “Nah, don’t bury your nose in your goddamn graphics yet. Take a gander out there at the real world.”
     I stared down over and through a swath of cloud. The tail end of the cloud snagged on the ragged snow-splattered tops of raw-rock mountains, but beneath it spread a lake covering—I checked my screen—twenty square miles. It cupped the plane’s shadow in waters that looked like a huge opal, milky with shots of blue and red fire reflecting off the surface. “Gorgeous,” I said. “What makes it look like that?”
     “Poison,” he said. “Check your coordinates. This is where the PRC dumped its toxic wastes before some of our forces helped India shoo the bastards back behind the border again. The lake’s Tibetan name is Lhamo Lhatso. It was sacred. The holy men saw the birthplace of their last spiritual leader in it.”
     With an innocent-looking twinkle, the lake passed under our starboard wing and away.
     “We’re going to veer over India way now, toward Karakoram Pass. Between the avalanches the saturation bombing triggered and the floods this spring, the area is useless to ground troops.”
     “Not to mention a little tricky for the local inhabitants,” I said.
     “There aren’t a hell of a lot of those left, except guerrillas,” Siddons said. “And they’re tough bozos who play their own game and don’t kiss anybody’s ass.”
     “Sounds like you admire them.”
     “Well, hey, when you have been in the service of our beloved organization as long as I have, little lady, you too may come to admire anybody who doesn’t basically sit back and leave all the fighting to our troops wearing their patches. The Tibetan guerrillas have to be about the only people on the face of the planet fighting anything worse than a hot game of Parcheesi who don’t have NACAF allies specifically assigned to them, evening up the odds manpower and firepower-wise.”
     “Major, I had no idea you were such an idealist.”
     “Doesn’t mean I won’t blow the little buggers off the face of the earth if I get a chance, you understand. There’s no need to get sentimental about it. If we blow up our fellow AmCans who are working for the PRC or the Soviets, I see no particular reason to extend professional courtesy to anyone else.”
     I watched the high wild mountains sweep past our belly and noticed how often the bomb pocks and avalanches showed up on the screen as a major change in the landscape. I remembered that before NACAF entered the three-sided conflict among China, India and the USSR, with all the territory in the middle, including Tibet and the Himalayas, as the battleground, Mount Everest had been the highest mountain in the world, instead of the fourth highest. I told the major, “I once took a course in myth and folklore. Did you know that in the old days, Tibetans never climbed their mountains much? They were afraid of disturbing the demons of the upper air.”
     “Well, we got those demons good and stirred up now,” he said.
     Soon we were past one range and once more flying over a vast flattened plain, flyspecked with the ruins of villages and monasteries, the jagged hills bursting from the plains at times like the work of some giant gopher. The flatlands were as pocked as the mountains, the earth blasted and sickly tan, the whole thing treeless. NACAF-made planes, NACAF pilots or pilot trainers, NACAF defoliants and NACAF bombs made it all possible.
     “Hey, maybe they meant us,” I said to Siddons. “Maybe they foresaw us.”
     “The old-time Tibetans with those myths. Maybe we’re the upper-air demons.”
     “Don’t let the scenery give you an attitude now, Warrant Officer. We didn’t do all of that by our lonesome, you know. This little old country’s been a stompin’ ground for a good hundred years now for all kinds of people who didn’t like the way the local pope ran things.”
     “Dalai Lama,” I corrected, remembering Comparative Religion and Central Asian Soc.
     “Yeah, I knew that,” he said, grinning back at me. His grin was as jerky as a stop-motion film clip as the aircraft hopped from air pocket to air pocket in a series of stomach-churning dips and bumps. I took a deep breath. My digestive tract preferred ground travel.
     “Anyhow,” he continued, “one thing good ol’ NACAF does do is keep it all a clean fight. You got any idea what we need all these updated maps for?”
     “Making sure whichever rock the enemy hides behind doesn’t move before our side finds it?” I asked.
     He ignored that. I think he began to feel at that point he was setting a bad example for a junior officer. So he said, “Nope, so we can still locate any possible covert nuclear devices, no matter when or where they were hidden, and send crews to disarm them. Fighting for Peace, just like the recruitment ad says.”
     I would like those words to be remembered as the major’s last.
     The XLT-300 model aircraft we were in flew very far, very fast and changed altitudes with very little difficulty. Ask a pilot why and how, or an engineer. All they paid me to know was that my Ground-Air-Geocartography program, or GAG as it was affectionately called, was specifically designed to keep up with the plane. We covered the plateau within about an hour and when we took the hit, were on the far side of the Karakoram Pass, headed east for the Kun Lun Mountains. Radio transmission this far from base was damn near impossible, satellites or no satellites. The mountains didn’t get in the plane’s way, and they didn’t get in the satellite’s way, but they sure got in Ground Control’s way.
     The wind was fierce that day, and blew the little jet around as if it was a paper airplane instead of a real one. So when we took the hit, I thought for a moment it was just another gust of wind.
     Siddons caught on quicker, and I saw his hands fly across the switches and buttons on the control panel.
     Suddenly the canopy popped and all those upper-air demons I’d been thinking about roared in and snatched us from the plane. Something kicked me in the rear. My seat bucked like the barroom bull-riding machine they keep in the Cowboy Museum my grandparents once took me to in Tacoma. Except that this bronco didn’t come down again but blasted me through the shrieking wind, up and over the body of the jet. I screamed, not of my own accord but as if the scream was ripped from my vocal cords by the velocity of my plunge to earth.
     When I haven’t had worse things to dream about, I still see the bolus of flame spewing from the underside of the geometrically precise angle of the starboard wing, and I spin to face a maw of rock and snow yawning like a fast forward of some boa’s jaws as it swallows prey. I bolt awake as once more the feeling of the automatic chute opening reminds me of being plucked from midair by a giant bird and I try to come fully awake before Siddons’s body, twisting beneath a burning chute, plummets past me.
     But my actual landing must have been a testimony to the parachute maker’s technology. For though I had a bad case of vertical jet lag, my mind skipping a few beats between ejecting and landing, when I came to myself enough to take inventory, everything was intact—no broken bones or missing teeth. Encouraged, I attempted to stand, but the force of the wind complicated matters, billowing my chute against me so it molded to my face, blinding and smothering me within a wave of blue, red and white silon. I yanked the suffocating fabric from my head. The stench of burning metal, wiring and flesh pricked my nostrils before I focused sufficiently to visually locate the smoke.
     Pulling off my helmet, I divested myself of the yard or so of chute attached to it and scanned the horizon for a telltale plume, but it was as if I was still swathed in some larger, grayer fabric, a bolt of wildly swirling gauze that obscured everything.
     The ground on which I stood was indistinguishable from the air in front of me. I was standing on some mountain plateau then, shrouded with cloud. Vaguely, near the toes of my boots, ghostly tufts of grass emerged and vanished as the wind whipped the ground cover. But I saw no sign of Siddons.
     I’ve dreamed of his death since then, so I must have seen it, but I honestly don’t remember seeing him die other than in the dreams. Shock probably. I tried calling to Siddons, but my words vanished in the cloud before they were out of my mouth.
     As I gathered up the chute and uncoiled it from my legs, the wind whipped away a corner of the mist and I saw four people jogging down a mountain path toward me, carrying rifles. They all appeared to be Asian but I wasn’t alarmed by that, since many of our NACAF troops are American or Canadian of Asian origin, or Asian allies. I even felt a small surge of relief, thinking perhaps we were being rescued. The rifles didn’t alarm me either. There’s a war on. Of course they carried weapons.
     I waved a cautious greeting and would have shouted at them but they didn’t return my wave. That was when I began to realize that the crash might be more than a temporary setback. Even if these were our people, I didn’t know any passwords. They pointed their guns at me and one barked an order. He must have been used to talking over the wind or else the wind had died down because I heard him very well. He was speaking in Han Chinese, of which I had learned a smattering in Intro to Chinese Dialects 101. Before I could try to puzzle out exactly what it was that he’d said, the man who’d spoken pushed me down while a woman rapidly scooped up my helmet, then gathered the rest of my parachute. When she finished, the first man prodded my ribs with his rifle, forcing me to stand again, while a third covered me with another rifle, presumably to make sure I didn’t overpower the guy with the gun in my ribs. A fourth man trotted through the mist toward us carrying two winter kits, slightly charred and smoky around the edges. A pair of jump boots were slung from his shoulder by their laces and bounced in rhythm with his gait.
     Siddons’ helmet—I could read his name in black block letters across the front—dangled from one hand.
     The woman tied my wrists together. I stared at them stupidly. Right then the tangible evidence that I was a prisoner cut through the shock of the crash. We had had a frightening little lecture about enemy torture in basic training, but the only advice about getting captured I was able to recall was “Don’t.” Each of us knew so little about each piece of equipment that almost everyone was expendable. People in my grade who got captured fell into the category of “acceptable losses.”   



In NOTHING SACRED, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough took a detour from her humorous classic and contemporary fantasies to write her “obligatory science fiction writer’s end-of-the-world book.” The bad news is the world has ended. The good news is LAST REFUGE is the sequel.

Why does the end of the world seem so much more dire than the end of our own lives, since, according to modern non-theology based theory, we won’t know the difference one way or the other. Using the Tibetan Buddhist background of NOTHING SACRED, the answer to that was, if the Buddhists are right, when the end of the world comes not only will our own present lives be ended, but there will be no life forms left into which we may reincarnate. 

The children of Kalapa compound, safe from the war and the aftermath as it is felt in most of the world, discover that the problems work in reverse in Shambala. Babies are born there at a deliberately amazing rate but no one dies within the borders. Consequently, in time, there are no unembodied spirits in Shambala left to inhabit the babies, cursing the poor children with a spiritual birth defect.

Heir to the duties of Ama-La, young Chime Cincinnati, as the guide to Shambala, cannot rest until she leaves the safety of the compound to lead refugees to it. She is helped in this by Mike, a young man who has always been like an older brother to her.

These two face all of the standard fantasy characters, but with a Tibetan twist——there is an evil wizard who is king of his own compound, a hideously evil demon who is enough to give anyone nightmares, a yeti, an American princess, and far too many ghosts, not to mention Mu Mao the magnificent, a reincarnated wise man who was good enough to finally be allowed to ascend to life as a cat

Section One KALAPA

     On the morning of the last birthday Mike would ever celebrate, the first changeling was born.
     That day, Mike was officially twenty-one years old and an adult. He awoke before dawn and slipped out of the communal housing compound. The soft gray light of morning outlined the onion-shaped dome of the chorten against the snowy backdrop of the horned peaks of the guardian mountain, Karakal.
     Prayer flags fluttered from lines strung between the chorten’s dome and nearby buildings, the wind carrying the prayers to the heavens. Mike bowed to the chorten, in memory of the heroes it represented, and turned to walk down the steep path winding from the uppermost point in Kalapa—the chorten—through the compound built on the ruins of the ancient mystic city. The old city and the current compound were located on a small mountain set within a valley ringed by ranges of larger mountains, the largest of which was the horned guardian Karakal.
     From the dining hall and kitchen issued muffled cooking noises and the aroma of baking bread and yak butter tea. Farther down the path the open walls of new stone buildings being constructed from the boulders of the Great Avalanche waited for the day to begin and workmen to come and add more of the raw-cut boulders and boards lying nearby. Beyond the buildings, the lushly planted terraces of the communal garden stepped down the mountainside.
     Mike loved this time when the moon, as if waiting for the sun to give it permission to set, hovered just above the mountains. Even on ordinary days, when he was not having a birthday and had no momentous events to look forward to, Mike usually rose early to enjoy this quiet time and take long walks before the paths were thronged with people. He loved feeling the wings of Karakal rising behind his back, even when he was not looking at the mountain. He savored the sweet damp smell of the mist rising from the waters of Kalapa’s sacred lake, the sight of the lake’s blue-green waters lapping the lower garden and nourishing the roots of the rhododendron jungle.
     Mike stood by the lake for a moment, watching the water shimmer and listening to the breeze in the branches of the rhododendrons, making them clack softly like tiny looms at work. The lake was fed by artesian springs and hot springs, and bled off down the valley in a pretty stream winding through the grove. The trees foamed with pink, purple, and white flowers snowing petals into the stream and carpeting the ground beneath whenever the softest breeze tickled the air.
     His ears picked up the cry of the eagle owl and the distant grumbling of one of the snow lions musing to itself as it retired to the den for the day. And always, any time of the day or night, if you listened closely you could hear the cracking and creaking of snow and ice shifting on mountainsides, punctuated every so often by the boom of an avalanche.
     This morning there was another sound as well, a low murmuring that had a distinctly human note to it. Rounding a bend in the stream, Mike saw the source, sitting cross-legged by the bank, dark fingers describing little O’s as they poised against bony knees, tight black curls thrown back as the childishly rounded golden-brown face sought the dawn through the upper branches of the trees. “Ooooom,” she said one more time, closed her eyes, lowered her head for a moment, then calling him by his childhood name said, “Hi, Meekay,” and sprang to her feet, brushing away petals that had fallen onto her face. “Happy birthday. Are you on your way to see Nyima too?”
     “Yes, of course. She’s supposed to give birth to her new baby any time now. Have you heard anything, Chime Cincinnati?” he asked, hiding his dismay at her unexpected interruption of his journey.
     “Not yet,” she said.
     He accepted her company with as good a grace as he could muster. She was a weird kind of girl, but his sister Nyima seemed to like her, and more important, so did her beautiful friend Isme. Thoughts of Isme had kept Mike lying awake nights, thinking of things he could say or should have said, things he could do or should have done, presents he might yet offer to convince her that she should take him as her first husband.
     Although Isme and Chime Cincinnati were the same age, both nearly eighteen, they were as different as night and day, and not just because Isme was gracefully tall and blond like her mother, the mountaineer Tania Enokin, while Chime was short and dark. Isme was already a desirable grown woman, with gentle, womanly ways, and Chime—well, Chime just got odder all the time. She didn’t go to school with the other kids, or play the same games. Instead, she studied and meditated and mumbled to herself and made odd remarks.
     The other kids had not ever been unkind to her, but they hadn’t wanted much to do with her either. Mike, who was three years older than Chime, had tried to look after her when they were both younger, before he went to work with his father in the underground excavations of the buried portions of Kalapa. He’d always felt kind of sorry for her, but he’d felt perplexed too. How could anybody grow up in such a great place as Kalapa, lucky enough to be one of the last surviving people on earth, and seem so—well—unsettled? Dissatisfied. He couldn’t figure her out.
     “I didn’t know you meditated here,” he said.
     “I don’t usually,” she told him. “My favorite place is just beyond the chorten, facing Karakal, but I thought this morning I’d wait and walk with you to Nyima’s. I knew you’d want to check and see if the baby might be coming in time to share your birthday.”
     “Yes, she promised to name the baby for me if it’s born today,” he said, pleased but a little daunted by the thought of having a niece or nephew born on his birthday, carrying his name. This child would have a special bond with him and would require a special gift from him. The only thing he possessed that was special enough was the set of hand-copied books he had hoped to trade for a bride gift, a certain silver necklace with blue enameled birds, and a length of blue silk that would reflect blue eyes.
     “Isme’s already there,” Chime teased, with a sly note in her voice and laughter in her sideways glance up at him.
     “What are we waiting for?” he asked, prodding her to her feet. “They’ll be needing someone to help keep my other nieces and nephews out from under foot.”
     “It’s good to see so many new babies after all the years of destruction,” Chime said, falling in beside him though he had quickened his pace a little to keep the heat in his own face from betraying his thoughts. She sounded as if she personally had witnessed the world’s destruction, although he knew she had lived her whole life in Kalapa, as he had. It was one of the things that he and everyone else found so strange about her. Some of the adults, including his own parents, treated such remarks with respect—but then, his father at least treated every utterance of every resident of Kalapa with respect. Other people found Chime’s pronouncements strange and a little frightening, sometimes annoying. Mike tried not to be annoyed, to ignore the implication and just respond to what she actually said.
     “Yes, and more are being born all the time. It’s a very good thing, of course, all of this new life, but I’m worried about the haphazard way new families are filling up the valley. We need to make plans so that people don’t cut into the rhododendron grove to make room for more houses. After all, people can live in the next valley over too, can’t they? Everybody doesn’t have to live right here in Kalapa.”
     “The elders were so busy coping with having our generation,” Chime mused, “that they didn’t think ahead enough to what would happen when their children grew up and started having children. Since any woman who comes to Shambala before her childbearing years are ended may continue to have children here, between our mothers and ourselves we have been doing a good job of repopulating at least our small corner of the world.” She took his hand and swung it back and forth in hers, as if they were still children. “Don’t worry, Meekay. I remember when Kalapa was much more crowded than this.”
     Oh boy. There she goes again, he thought.
     His thought must have showed on his face because she quickly added, “I mean, I don’t remember exactly, but that’s what your father tells me that my previous incarnation told him anyway.”
     “Chime Cincinnati, you’re just thinking of the story Auntie Dolma tells the children.”
     “You’ll hear a different version tonight, Meekay, at your birthday celebration,” she said, suddenly very serious. On a person’s twenty-first birthday, after the general festivities were over, the adults held a private initiation ceremony. During it, Mike knew, the elders retold the story of how Shambala, Kalapa, and the world came to be as they were now. In the ceremony, however, they added all of the personal memories, histories, predictions, and insights that pertained particularly to the person being initiated into adulthood, sharing all of the information they possessed about his or her heritage and the circumstances of his or her birth. More than the presents or the special meal, Mike was looking forward to this ceremony.
     What would they add about him particularly to the basic story?
     “Know, O best beloved, that you are privileged to be the children of Shambala, which connects heaven and earth and which is located at the precise joining of the two.”
     Auntie Dolma, who was the one who told the story best and who loved the works of Rudyard Kipling, insisted on the “O best beloved” part. Mike thought it added something reassuringly cozy to the story, which was otherwise rather too sweepingly grand and timeless for comfort. 



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