With Fate Conspire

Marie Brennan

Tor Books


February–May 1884

I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God!
—William Blake, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion

Oh City! Oh latest Throne! where I was rais’d
To be a mystery of loveliness
Unto all eyes, the time is well nigh come
When I must render up this glorious home
To keen Discovery: soon yon brilliant towers
Shall darken with the waving of her wand;
Darken, and shrink and shiver into huts,
Black specks amid a waste of dreary sand,
Low-built, mud-walled, Barbarian settlement,
How chang’d from this fair City!
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Timbuctoo”

A great town is like a forest—that is not the whole of it that you see above ground.
—Mr. Lowe, MP, address at the opening of the Metropolitan Railway, reported in the Times, January 10, 1863
Given enough time, anything can become familiar enough to be ignored.
Even pain.
The searing nails driven through her flesh ache as they always have, but those aches are known, enumerated, incorporated into her world. If her body is stretched upon a rack, muscles and sinews torn and ragged from the strain, at least no one has stretched it further of late. This is familiar. She can disregard it.
But the unfamiliar, the unpredictable, disrupts that disregard. This new pain is irregular and intense, not the steady torment of before. It is a knife driven into her shoulder, a sudden agony stabbing through her again. And again. And again.
Creeping ever closer to her heart.
Each new thrust awakens all the other pains, every bleeding nerve she had learned to accept. Nothing can be ignored, then. All she can do is endure. And this she does because she has no choice; she has bound herself to this agony, with chains that cannot be broken by any force short of death.
Or, perhaps, salvation.
Like a patient cast down by disease, she waits, and in her lucid moments she prays for a cure. No physician exists who can treat this sickness, but perhaps—if she endures long enough—someone will teach himself that science, and save her from this terrible death by degrees.
So she hopes, and has hoped for longer than she can recall. But each thrust brings the knife that much closer to her heart.
One way or another, she will not have to endure much more.

Copyright © 2011 by Bryn Neuenschwander