Wherein Thou Art a Stranger

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     The moon had not yet risen and the night was starry. A party of foot-travelers paused beside the trail to gaze through a spectacular opening in the trees. A young couple walking arm in arm behind them also stopped to look.

     The stars alone would have been spectacle enough. But with the naked eye they could see it: passing one quarter of a million miles from the Earth, the comet Harbinger.

     Other walkers strolled by in the darkness, northbound along the side of the mountain, some carrying candles or lanterns, talking quietly and murmuring greetings as they passed. But these seven stood a long time, gazing.

     "So it's beginning at last," Sylvan said, a small pale woman wrapped in a faded quilt, whose long braids shone silver.

     "What began over a century ago, you mean," said the other elder, a tall and broad and very black man whose long dreadlocks hung indistingushable against his long white robe, "has finally almost finished beginning."

     "Well the real beginning was the sixties, wasn't it? Your generation?" said the teenager, Squirrel. His skin was golden in the starlight beneath his overalls, his ponytail as black as the spaces between the stars.

     "Fifty years now. Goddess, it seems like last summer sometimes!" Sylvan said.

     "God," said Rhea, a crewcut woman with Asian features, almost as tall as the dreadlocked giant but thin as a young yellow birch. "It's about time it ended. All the suffering and stupidity it's taken to reach this point . . ."

     The fifth in the party had not yet spoken, and now the silence seemed to fall into a respectful waiting, as if nothing remained to do here but complete the circle of conversation and move on. Margarita was wide and sturdy as a boulder and as patient, a dark brown woman with a quiet smile and a strong shoulder. She carried her bag of tinctures and crystals there now, along with a small flask of water.

     She lifted the water-pouch into the starlight and declared, "To the Harbinger, and to the change!"

     "To the Harbinger, and to the change!" they all chimed together in their various voices, lifting their water-pouches and sipping together. Sylvan picked up her food basket, Squirrel picked up his bedroll, Rhea shouldered the strap of her padded table, and the dreadlocked one led the way with his ceremonial staff and the low-hanging lantern.

     North. To the gathering-place.


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Book I: Code Blue


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