Hysteresis
by Nancy Brown
nancy@tooloud.northco.net
Copyright 1998, 2001
PG-13


The characters and corporations named in this story are the property of
the Walt Disney Company, Buena Vista, and the Creators Weisman, Paur et
al. No infringement on their rights is intended or should be inferred.
Tara Schaeffer is the property of herself. Anyone interested in using
this character should contact the University of Missouri - Rolla, where
her soul is currently being held in a jar in the basement of Parker
Hall. Otherwise, for better or worse, this story is mine.

***
June 5, 1987
***


"Dr. Renard, the next applicant is here."

"Thank you, Gladys." Anastasia put on her most pleasant smile,
hoping her face wouldn't crack from the effort. She hated
interviewing people, hated it with a passion, but the Personnel
Manager had taken a sick day because her daughter had the flu, and
they did need to get these finished. But dammit, she'd been in the
middle of a project, and Halcyon could just as easily have handled
the interviews, and had a rest besides.

The door opened. A slim, bespeckled man entered the room. For
one moment, she thought Halcyon's young new assistant Preston had
dyed his hair for a lark. Common sense reasserted itself; Preston
did nothing on a lark, and as the stranger approached, she could
detect minute differences between Preston's face and his. Could they
be brothers, perhaps?

"Please sit down, Mr ... "

"Burnett. Thank you, Doctor."

His solemn voice held a hint of music. And his eyes were not
those of a mortal man. Unless she had vastly misjudged Preston, they
were assuredly not brothers.

"You ... "

"I?" he replied with some confusion.

"Clever disguise, but I know who you are."

"Madame, my name is Owen Burnett. Yours is Anastasia Renard.
It is a pleasure to meet you." His face betrayed no emotion. So
he was at a game. She complied with it, wagering with herself that
he could not maintain the stoic facade until the end of the day.

"Likewise, Mr. Burnett," she said around a smile. "May I see
your resume?"

He handed it over her desk. She paged through, noting the
schools he'd supposedly attended, the references, the placement
company which had ostensibly sent him. They were pretty lies but
lies nonetheless.

"You'll forgive me if I doubt the authenticity of these
documents."

"I assure you, Madame, that if you contact anyone listed, they
will find the proper records for you."

"Records are only half. The position will be
management-based, but you will be expected to have a working
familiarity with our research. A heavy scientific background would
be preferred." Not that I've had the chance to use mine lately.

"May I refer you to my undergraduate studies?" She glanced
down, noted that he'd supposedly graduated summa cum laude in a
dual business and biochemistry degree.

"And telophase is?"

"A phase of cell mitosis in which the chromosome pairs have
separated, and the nuclear membrane reappears. The cytoplasm
begins to divide as the spindle disintegrates."

"What is a Bayes network?"

"A means of representing relationships between variables, even
relationships involving uncertainty or unpredictability." He answered
her with the patience of a sphinx. Not bad for someone who had once
delighted in teasing sphinxes, she mused.

She picked up the phone and pressed the fourth button on the
Speed Dial. After one ring, a smooth, deep voice answered her:
"Moonrise Management. How may I help you?"

"Mark, it's Anastasia Renard. Is Diana available?"

"Hello, Doctor," he replied, warmth radiating back through the
phone line. "Ms. Mathers has someone in her office, but I'm
expecting her to be finished any time now. Would you like me to
have her call you?"

"That would be lovely. Thank you. How have you been?"

"Can't complain. Scott just landed a position with the D.A.'s
office, so he's been busy. But he's happy doing something good
with his degree."

"Congratulate him for me."

"I'll do that." She heard a noise in the background, and then
a mumbled comment. "Doctor, Ms. Mathers is free. I'll put you
through."

"Thank you, Mark."

She heard a click, then a ring, and then a woman's voice:
"Mathers speaking."

"Diana, it's Anastasia Renard."

"Let me guess. You want to exchange Halcyon for something in
the young executive type."

"Not precisely, although I'll keep it in mind. I have an
erstwhile young applicant in my office who says he was sent by
you."

"Which one? We sent you five today."

"Owen Burnett."

"Stuffy fellow? Blond? Glasses? Personality of a dead
trout?"

"That's the fellow. What can you tell me about him?" Still
he sat quietly, not a flinch to betray himself.

"He's good. Excellent references, went through our training
course with the highest marks on everything but personality. He
has no apparent sense of humour, but he's sharp. If he loosens up
a bit, he'll make superb upper management material."

"So you recommend him."

"With no qualms."

Anastasia glanced back to the Puck, dressed in his tasteful
navy suit. Could this possibly be a trick of Oberon's, to upset
the delicate balance of the life she'd created? Yes. Could this
be a means of Puck's relieving his own overwhelming boredom? More
likely. Either way, it would be an interesting diversion, and she
admitted, having a friend nearby was never completely inauspicious.

"I'll send him over with the paperwork this afternoon."

"Lovely." Her tone changed completely. "How is Halcyon?"

The word "Fine" died on her lips. "Adjusting."

"Good. Send him my regards. Perhaps we can have lunch
sometime next week."

"That would be nice. I'll have Gladys call Mark."

They said their good-byes and she hung up the phone.

"May I make the assumption I've been hired?"

"You may so assume. I will be watching you."

"I will endeavour not to disappoint you." He stood and
offered his hand. She took it, found his handshake to be firm, but
not too strong, and of just the right duration. Utterly unpuckish.

"Welcome to Cyberbiotics, Mr. Burnett."

She escorted Puck, no, *Owen* into the outer office.

"About time you were done." Janine sprang impatiently from
the tailored leather chair. She did a double-take when she saw
Owen, then smiled coyly at him. The wild child turned instant
debutante once again.

"Janine, this is Mr. Burnett. He's going to be assisting your
father. Owen, this is my daughter Janine."

He inclined his neck. "How do you do, Miss."

"I do a lot of things," she replied, smoke in her voice. Then
she laughed and ignored him. "Are you busy?" she asked Anastasia.

"For a moment longer. Gladys, will you please start the
paperwork for Mr. Burnett? Score another hit for Moonrise."

"Yes, Ma'am," said Gladys, and waved the young man over to
her. "I'll need some information from you."

"*Now* are you free?"

"Yes, dear. We'll go into my office." With a last glance to
Owen, she led Janine back through the door.

"Now, before you get mad, I want you to know that it wasn't my
fault."

Anastasia watched her beautiful mortal daughter, and as she
often did in these situations, felt the beginnings of a headache.

***

"How did you manage to flunk *every* class?" His calm tone
was edged with fury.

"I didn't flunk every class. D is for done."

"Not in your major," Anastasia said. Three F's, delineated in
red, stared up from the grade report. A pair of D's huddled
beneath them. "How could you have failed Biology 101?"

"The instructor was an idiot, Mom. Besides, I know this
stuff. I don't need to prove it to anyone."

"You need to finish college," said Halcyon.

"I'll speak with the Dean," Anastasia said, folding the paper.
"Perhaps she'll accept putting you on academic probation."

"I don't want to go on academic probation. I don't want to go
back. I've learned everything I need from that place. Another
year would just be a waste of my time."

"And you have so many better things to do with your time than
get a degree?" Halcyon's hands clutched at the arms of his chair.

"Yes I do. I'm moving to California."

"Janine ... "

"You are doing no such thing. You and your mother are going
to see the Dean on Monday and ask politely that you be allowed to
continue." Anastasia tightened her mouth. He knew perfectly well
that telling Janine what to do was absolutely the wrong way to
handle her. What was he thinking?

"I am not. I'm moving. I've got some friends in LA. I'll be
staying with them. It's already settled, and you can't stop me."

She grabbed her purse and stalked out of the room.

"Get back here!" he thundered, but she was already halfway up
the stairs.

"Let her calm down," she said. "She's upset. When she's had
a chance to cool off, we'll figure out something."

"No we won't." He wheeled back to the window. "If she wants
to go to California, let her go. When she calls in a month asking
for money, we can remind her that she would have had money of her
own if she'd stayed in school."

"There's not much of a call for professional philosophers
these days." Nor for professional gymnasts who'd been banned from
the U.S. Olympic team, and at twenty-one, she was already old for a
professional actress breaking into the business.

"Did we force her into that? No. A mind like hers, and she
fails Biology." He shook his head.

"Let me talk to the Dean. Maybe there was a mistake."

"There was no mistake," he said. "And we're not going to the
Dean. We've coddled her too much already."

"Preserving her future is not coddling."

"If she's not going to work on her studies, it is. She's
spoiled, lazy, and she has no work ethic."

"If she doesn't go back to school, she'll also have no
degree."

"Then she won't have a degree. Let her scrub floors for a
living if that's what she wants."

She closed her eyes. She remembered her first sight of her
baby: a misshapen red wrinkle with a tiny birthmark over one eye
like a bruise. The birth of the Three, far less painful, had
yielded three strangers whom she loved but with whom any profound
connection that might have existed severed with the tripartite
umbilical cord. This child had to be different. Janine was her
chance to restore amends. And she'd failed.

"Let her go," Halcyon repeated.

"I can't believe you're willing to let her discard her life
like a tissue."

"Considering what she's done with it, that's not a bad
comparison."

Defensive words sprang to her lips. With an effort, she
stilled them. They didn't need to argue tonight. Considering how
things looked currently, she thanked her lucky stars she hadn't
told him in the lab. "I'll find something for dinner. What would
you like?"

"I'm not hungry."

"You need to eat something."

He ignored her, continued to stare out the window. In its
reflection, she could see the rigidity of his jaw, the gaunt lines
making an inexorable march across his face. Three months in a
wheelchair had aged him in ways she could not fathom, and Janine
was not helping matters.

"If you change your mind, let me know." She went to the
kitchen. The housekeeper had gone to live with her son in Denver
not a week past, and they hadn't yet hired a replacement. The
kitchen seemed darker and more foreboding for her absence and for
the dying sunlight streaming in through the curtains over the
double sink. Anastasia hated the hour before sunset. The quality
of the light pointed out the years on her own face, reminded her of
friends long gone.

She blocked the sun from her eyes with one splayed hand. Fine
wrinkles, evidence of human growth and decay, crisscrossed the palm
and fingers. Her wedding ring glinted dully, itself too tired to
shine in the late afternoon light. Her form was aging, and she
herself was older than Time.

Only with a will did she tear herself from thoughts of Autumn,
of what always followed afterwards. She made a slapdash sandwich and
fled to the dim safety of the dining room.

***

She tapped at Janine's door. "May I come in?"

"It's not locked."

As she'd feared, the room was a mess, though not in the
typical mess of the college student who'd never been much for
folding her clothes. This was the mess of someone who had
meticulously emptied every drawer and hanger in the process of
deciding what was to be packed and what discarded forever.

Janine sat cross-legged on the floor, haphazardly folding a
creamy angora sweater, which she then shoved into an overlarge
duffel bag. She grabbed a black leotard, balled it up tightly, and
popped it in afterwards.

"You don't have to do this."

"If I don't, I'll be running around naked. That would be
illegal." She threw in a pair of socks.

"That's not what I meant. Why do you have to leave? Can't
you do what you want to do here?"

"No." She looked up from her packing. Slight imperfections
on her makeup said she'd been crying earlier. "I need to do this.
For me. I was never cut out for college. I need to see what life
really has to offer." She waved her arm. "If I stay here, I'll
turn into another ornament on the wall."

"Is that how you see yourself? An ornament?"

"Isn't it the truth? You and Daddy want a perfect little girl
who will grow up to be exactly like you. I'm not perfect by a long
shot, and I'm not a little girl anymore, and I don't want to be
just like you." Once upon a time, she'd heard another child
whisper much the same thing to her like a dirty secret, trembling
in fear that his father might somehow overhear.

"Whom do you want to be?"

"I don't know. But I need to find out, and I can't do that
here." A shimmery blue blouse crumpled in her grasp.

Anastasia knelt down in the ruin of her daughter's room, and
touched the sides of her face. The smeared makeup revealed the
slight darkness around her right eye. It had faded a few weeks
after her birth, but the lingering discoloration, faint though it
was, bothered her enough to disguise it with foundation and powder
whenever possible. The mask had slipped, and her child stared back
at her alone.

"Then go," she said. "Find out who you are, what you want,
and when you do, tell me."

"I will."

She pulled her daughter close to her, held her against her
heart for as long as she dared. The girl had to find her own path,
just as she had found hers. Vassar had not been the proper
environment; perhaps Los Angeles would be.

Janine pulled away first, and wiped at her eyes. The action
dislodged more makeup. "I'll give you Dingo and Tara's number.
I'll be staying with them."

"Dingo?"

"His real name's Harry. It's a long story."

"Of course." Truthfully, she was far less concerned about the
man's name than the fact that her youngest daughter was moving in
with him. "How well do you know them?"

"Well enough. I know Tara from school. Dingo's her
boyfriend. Weird guy, but nice."

"Just promise me you'll be careful?"

Janine gave her a peck on the cheek. "Aren't I always?"

Anastasia wondered idly if her mortal body was prone to
ulcers.

***

Life settled into routine without Janine's presence. She
shouldn't have been surprised, considering the upheavals she had
suffered in her life, nevertheless she often found herself standing
outside her daughter's room, lost in old daydreams.

She spoke to Halcyon, and he agreed that she needed to spend
more time in the lab and less on paperwork. Their exec board
needed someone competent to chair it, but whom? Preston seemed a
likely choice for the position, and Owen, despite her earlier
misgivings, showed strong business acumen. She could see him in
upper management, and the thought scared her. Moonrise sent over
a few likely candidates for the executive fast track. Most came
from old money, with business degrees from Yale or Harvard. She
found them equally stuffy, but perhaps not so much as the Puck's
newest facade. She was an hour from extending the offer to one of
the Yalies when a belated applicant arrived, also from Moonrise,
with a personal note from Mathers: "Watch this one. He's fire."
The interview with the young man went quickly. His references were
first-rate, his charisma a nice change from the pervading geekiness
of the rest of the staff. His name was David, and Anastasia liked
him instantly. With Halcyon's approval, she hired the man, and
gratefully returned to her work.

She came into contact with Owen on a regular basis. Unsure at
first of how to relate to him, she tried being friendly, then
polite, then aloof, then stern, and finally back to polite. He
made no visible change in his behaviour no matter what she did, and
he adamantly refused to be drawn into a discussion of things
immortal. Had she not known, could she not see the wilderness
hidden deep within the cool blue of his eyes, she never would have
guessed his true nature. She did know, and she could see, and she
wondered what amusement he was at, and if he would allow her to join
him.

Janine sent letters and called collect at least once a month.
She'd been trying to break into acting, had found the process
harder than it had first appeared. Despite Halcyon's wishes,
Anastasia sent money, and prayed that her child would come home
soon.

Halcyon refused to speak to Janine when she called. His
condition stabilized, although Dr. Tribbut told them bluntly that
it would never improve. Rest would help slow the deterioration of
his nerves. Halcyon was too stubborn to rest, not when he was
certain he could find his own damned cure and run his business
while he did so.

Unwilling to watch him run himself down, unable to prevent
him, Anastasia found refuge in her laboratory. She'd had some
remarkable insights on artificial intelligence as modeled on insect
patterns rather than human patterns, and she spent long hours
designing models and testing her theories. When she pulled herself
away from the lab, he would already be in bed if the nurse had been
by, or in his study reading if she had not. Sometimes she would
crawl into bed beside him and wrap her arms around his shrinking
body. Sometimes she slept on the couch. She was never sure he
noticed either way.

There had been nights, long before, spent lazing beneath a
gibbous moon with this lover or that. The kings would have brought
her perfumes and jewels, the poets their songs, the most earnest
only their devotion. She had been a goddess to them, worshiped and
beloved and feared. She'd taken gods to her bed, and the only king
before whom she would kneel. Now she slept in flannel pajamas with
a mortal who had lost most of the feeling below his waist, who rarely
spoke to her, and whom she loved more than she could say.

Perhaps this was the humility of which Oberon had spoken. She
thought of him often, wondering where he was, if he also thought on
her from time to time.

And life continued.

***
June 13, 1988
***

"Hi Mom." The voice on the line was an enthusiastic as ever,
which was to say not.

"Hello, dear. How are you?"

"I've got a problem."

"Have you been arrested?" She blinked away images from her
sight: her child, a gun against a woman's head, everywhere the blue
of policemen, the shush of wings.

"No, nothing like that. Tara and Dingo broke up, and she's
kicking us both out. Can we come home? It'll just be until we can
get a place."

"Of course you can come home." The joy suffusing through her
suddenly dimmed. "We?"

"Dingo wants to see New York. The only place he's been in the
States has been California. I think you'll like him. Thanks,
Mom." She heard a kissing noise from the phone. "We're driving,
so we'll see you Saturday." *click*

Anastasia sat back and placed the receiver in its cradle. The
circuit diagrams on her desk pleaded for her attention. She ignored
them and dialed her husband's extension. After three rings, Gladys
picked up. "Gladys, where is Doctor Renard?"

"He's in his office."

"Are you certain?"

"I saw him go in not ten minutes ago."

"Thank you," she mumbled and dropped the phone, already out
her door and down the hall. She opened his door without knocking,
expecting the worst.

Halcyon sat at his desk, Owen at one side, David at the
other. All three heads bobbed up simultaneously at her flustered
entrance.

"You're all right ... " she said.

"Shouldn't I be?"

"I called, but you didn't answer."

"I turned off the ringer. Gladys was supposed to be taking my
messages." He looked vaguely annoyed at her interruption. "As
long as you're here, you might as well take a look at this." He
pushed the file he was inspecting towards her. Still upset, and
embarrassed at being seen in such an emotional flurry by two of
their employees, she grabbed it and held it closer to her face than
she needed.

"It's Anton," she said. The next page had a photograph of a
cat. At least, she was fairly certain it had been a cat.

"Yes," said Owen. "It appears Dr. Sevarius is engaging in
some unauthorized experimentation." Her stomach rolled once.

"I'll have a talk with him," said David smoothly. "Perhaps a
vacation might be in order."

"I'll go with you," she said.

Halcyon asked, "Was there something else? Or did you just
feel like flying into the office for no particular reason?"

Once more, she squelched her immediate reply. "Janine called.
She will be returning home on Saturday. And she's bringing a
friend."

Several emotions passed over his features; she was relieved to
note that one was happiness. "I see," he said. "I knew she'd come
crawling back eventually."

"She's not crawling. They're going to get an apartment as
soon as they find jobs."

"Of course they are." David looked politely puzzled. Halcyon
smiled. "Oh, yes. You haven't met Janine yet."

"I'm sure I will," he replied. Anastasia felt a chill. She
glanced at Owen, but he remained as impassive as ever.

***

"Anton, can you please explain this?" She placed the file in
front of him.

"I see you've met Sylvester. He's a prototype. Do you like
him?"

"He's a monstrosity," said David. "What did you do to him?"

"Not much." He walked past them into his lab. He opened a
cage and pulled out the scrawny subject of the photograph. "Isn't
he a good widdle puddy-tat?" he cooed.

Anastasia approached the doctor and the cat. A metal cap sat
over half of Sylvester's head. Two legs and a tail had been
replaced with metal prosthetics. He looked like a cross between a
cat and an Erector Set. She held out her hand. The cat didn't
move or flinch or blink.

"What's wrong with him?"

"A side-effect of the integration process, I'm afraid. In
order to study his nervous system, I needed to sample the responses
directly." Sylvester continued to stare blankly.

David asked incredulously, "You gave a lobotomy to a cat?"

"Not intentionally. I had much better luck with the next
subject." He put Sylvester back and pulled out another cat, with
much the same gear as its predecessor. "Meet Mr. Jinx."

The cat miaowed and nuzzled his hand. "The trick is to know
where to make the incision."

"That will be enough," said Anastasia. "There will be no more
incisions. This part of your research has just ended."

"But Doctor! I've gotten some very positive results. Would
you care to see?"

"No I would not." She *almost* fired him on the spot. His
mind was sharp, and she needed him. There was the matter of a
certain personal project which she was certain he would undertake
if given just the right inspiration. "No more cybernetic implants.
You're a geneticist."

"But this could revolutionize the study of genetics *and*
prosthetics. Within a few generations, I could breed a species
dependent upon implants. They'd be smarter than us, faster than
us, and easily adaptable. Think of the potential."

She did. "Drop the project, or you will be seeking new
employment." She left without waiting for David to follow.

***

When the doorbell rang, Anastasia pretended that she had not
been watching as the car pulled up, nor as Janine, clad in a blouse
and ripped jeans, her hair in a loose knot, strolled up the
walkway, her friend in tow. She inspected the curio cabinet in the
hallway, an heirloom from Halcyon's mother of glass and wrought
iron and mirrors, filled with little china hummingbirds sipping at
little china flowers.

When she'd calmed herself, she opened the door in a dignified
manner, was besieged by an armful of daughter. Halcyon came up
beside them, his only noise the squeak of his wheels.

"Mom, Dad, this is Dingo." Halcyon craned his neck up to see
the large man beside their daughter. Anastasia extended her hand.

"It's nice to meet you. Janine has told us so much about
you."

"She has?" asked her husband. A ponytail and mohawk had most
likely not entered his mind when Janine had mentioned her friend.

"Erm. Nicetameetcha." Dingo flushed, then inspected his
booted feet. Halcyon's gaze followed his to the antique carpet
covering the polished wood of the hall floor.

Janine set down her duffel and hugged her father. "Like I
said, we won't be here long. We just need to find a place of our
own and we'll be out of your hair." She pulled back and Anastasia
took her chin.

"I like."

Janine grinned and winked her eye. The glittery blue makeup
over her birthmark shimmered. "I did, too. Figured hiding the
thing was too much trouble. Emphasizing it takes even longer, but
I love the way it looks."

"Yes," she said quietly. Why had she never noticed the shape
before? Had she buried herself so deeply in her role that she
could not recognize the simplest sign? "Welcome home, dear."

Dingo mumbled, "Thanks fer lettin' us stay with ya."

Anastasia caught his reflection in the cabinet. Through the
glass, he was large and dazzling, an uncut diamond.

"I was sorry to hear about Tara," she said.

"Well, you know. Given a choice between Mel Gibson and my
ugly mug, I'd have to choose Mel, too."

"Stop it," said Fox sweetly, and put her duffel into his
hands. "My room is the third door on the left upstairs. The guest
room is the first door. That's where you sleep."

"Gotcha." He nodded to Anastasia and Halcyon, and went up the
stairs. She went back outside, presumably to get another load from
the car.

"I don't like this," said Halcyon.

"She's home," said Anastasia. "That's all that matters."

"She's been living with a man. She's brought him to our
house. His name is Dingo."

"She's an adult. And they're just friends. I think."

Janine came back in with an armload of electronic equipment,
just as a shout came from upstairs: "Hey, Fox! Where's the dunny?"

"Between our rooms!"

"Thanks!"

"'Fox?'" asked her husband dourly.

Janine shrugged around the stereo. "Tara always called me
that. It's a little joke. Dingo picked it up, and I kinda like
it."

"Your name is Janine."

"Yes, Daddy." She bent over and kissed him on the cheek. The
light caught the peacock sparkle of her makeup.

"Janine," she had almost said "Fox", "we're have a little get-
together this evening with some of our business associates. Do you
have anything semi-formal with you?"

"I can find something." She frowned. "I think the most
formal thing Dingo owns is a black t-shirt without holes in it."

"That'll be fine," Halcyon said, and turned towards his study,
ending the conversation abruptly.

***

Anastasia had changed into a simply-tailored sky-blue dress.
As she pinned her hair up, she noticed silver threads peeking
through the auburn mass. She dropped the hair and the pins, stared
at the stranger in the mirror. Rarely had she lingered anywhere
for time enough to grow grey hairs. The Queen of Faerie always
sought youth and spring, always fled before the snow and what it
meant. She had been a maid long ago, and she was again a mother.
For mortals, the last age came at fifty. Her own given age was
forty-seven; three years of late summer remained to her.

She picked up her hairbrush, struck at her hair with broad
strokes. As she did, she bid the hairs revert to their darker
shade, the fine lines around her eyes to fade. A touch here, a tug
there, and she was physically thirty-five.

"Just this once."

"Did you say something?"

"No." She turned. "Let me help with that." She assisted her
husband as he struggled into his dress slacks, then brought the
wheelchair beside him.

"Your hair ... "

"What about it?"

"It looks lovely down. I just noticed." He blinked, as if
trying to clear his vision. Then he smiled. It had been a long
time. "Let's go greet the guests."

***

The airy strains of "Vienna Woods" floated through the parlour
from Halcyon's vintage record player. Light conversation sprinkled
the room, as scientists and businessmen met on the unsteady common
ground of small talk. Halcyon held his position near the door, in
deep discussion with Mason and Martens. Janine had not yet deigned
to appear, leaving Anastasia to be both charming hostess and
fluttering nag as she hurried back and forth from the kitchen. The
cook's assistant for the evening was also her niece, a plump,
pleasant, and clumsy girl who was singlehandedly delaying the meal
by half an hour.

Back from yet another brave foray into her own kitchen,
Anastasia spotted Mathers and her escort for the evening. "Diana!
How nice that you could come."

They chatted idly for a few moments, while Anastasia strained
to hear any possible sounds of anguish from the direction of the
dining room. Mathers' date, a handsome man with curly dark hair who
couldn't have been older than Janine, remained quiet as they talked,
nodding in the right places. Anastasia had already forgotten his
name, thought it might be Richard something. When Diana excused
herself for a few minutes, Anastasia took the opportunity to ask him
what he did for a living.

Instead of responding, his eyes moved past her. It took her
several moments to realize his attention had been drawn to a
specific point, as had that of most of the males in the room.

What concerned her most, when she pondered the scene much
later, was her daughter's utter absence of magical ability. Not
once in her life had she demonstrated the least tendency towards
the arcane. Had she shown some interest, some outward talent other
than her remarkable gymnastic ability, Anastasia would have easily
categorized her striking effect on the room as a result of a
simply-cast glamour. As she had no such interest, in fact laughed
at crystals and fortune-telling and never mind true magic, the only
explanation possible was that her precious child could at will
summon the sex appeal of a goddess.

Janine wore a deceptively simple silk dress, emerald green
with a scooped waist and spaghetti straps accentuating her delicate
shoulders, which hung demurely well-past her knees. Her hair,
tossed into a loose "I didn't spend more than a minute on this"
style that had probably taken an hour or more to complete, burned
against the cool green at her back. A single green stone nestled
like a teardrop in the hollow of her throat. Anastasia heard
several intakes of breath, and not just from the men. In Diana's
eyes, frozen as she had been exiting the room, In the eyes of several
other women present, there was awe, and a little fear.

The moment did not shatter so much as fizzle when Dingo entered
the room behind her. Somewhere, he'd found a dress shirt that
almost fit his heavy torso. He had not been as fortunate on the
trousers, and wore black jeans with no visible holes. The poor man
resembled the proverbial deer in headlights as he glanced around
the assembled guests. Anastasia felt her first warm emotion
towards him, pitying what Janine probably had thought would be a
good experience for him.

"Are we late?" her daughter asked mockingly. The guests
reluctantly returned to their own conversations, some stealing
glances to the couple. Belatedly, Anastasia sought out Owen's
reaction, found him impassively discussing finance strategies with
the head of the accounting firm they patronized.

"Only by a little," she said. "Come meet everyone." Janine
floated rather than walked through the room, Dingo a pace behind
her. She was beginning to see a pattern to him: he was not so much
trying to show respect as trying to keep up with the girl on her
breakneck pace through life. Unintentionally, Anastasia cast her
thoughts forward, and knew that he might love her daughter or not,
but that Janine would never take him as a mate. Relieved, she
introduced them to Mathers, who had quickly turned heel to place
a protective hand on her date's arm.

"Stockbroker," said Richard. The rest of them stared back
blankly. "You asked what I do. I'm a stockbroker. My company
deals mainly with marginal sales on oil futures."

"Must be a hell of a warehouse," mumbled Dingo. Janine
laughed, while Richard and Diana looked on, puzzled.

"Nice to see you decided to join us," said Halcyon, wheeling
up to their little group with Parker from Webster Scientific and
David close behind. Mason and Martens had joined the finance
discussion. Other knots had separated and reformed in the
continental drift of party guests. Only Preston stood alone, and
he seemed to be busy inspecting a potted plant.

Janine bent over and gave Halcyon a proper kiss on the
forehead. "Sorry we weren't here sooner. I had to take Dingo
shopping."

"Right lot of good that did," her escort replied, all either
would give as an apology. Halcyon frowned momentarily, then
settled into a fake, comfortable smile as the others laughed
politely.

"Anne, may I present my daughter Janine. Janine, Anne
Parker." The two shook hands almost pleasantly; Parker's husband
across the room had been especially open in his initial admiration
of Janine's outfit. The other woman was visibly relieved when
Janine introduced her companion.

"Charmed, I'm sure."

Halcyon nodded to his young assistant. "And this devil is
David Xanatos. I don't believe you've met."

"Miss Renard." When she held out her hand, he took it, and in
a smooth motion, brought it to his lips with a smile.

Taken off-guard, she said only, "Hi!"

Dingo smirked. "Lost yer tongue there, eh Fox?"

Mathers scolded David: "You know better than that. No hitting
on the boss's daughter."

He laughed, and still holding her hand, shook it firmly.
"Never hurts to try. Nice to meet you, Fox."

"Her name is Janine," said Halcyon.

"But you can call me Fox." She had completely recovered, and
was now playing along, continuing what was becoming the longest
handshake of the evening. "A pleasure, David."

"Dinner is served!" The cook's announcement caught the
attention of the entire room, and Anastasia remembered that she was
still hostess.

"Everyone, if you'll please follow us to the dining room,
Amanda has fixed a lovely meal I'm sure you'll enjoy." She placed
her hands comfortably on Halcyon's shoulders as he led the way,
then looked back for Janine.

With some disquiet, she noticed she still had David's hand,
and only when they turned to follow the rest into the dining room
did she let it go to hang at his side, millimeters away from her
own.

***
October 31, 1988
***

She was elbow-deep in paperwork when the phone rang. She
picked it up, muttering silently that Gladys could at least screen
her calls when she requested. "Yes?"

"Is this Anastasia Lisle Renard?" A male voice, unfamiliar.

"Yes." She rubbed her forehead. It had been a long Monday.

"Dr. Renard, are you familiar with the works of William
Shakespeare?"

A smile spread across her face. Her headache slowly faded.
"I've read one or two of his plays. He was astoundingly inaccurate
on some details."

"That he was." She heard a covered snicker in the background.

"Shall I come through the line and find you, or do you simply
want to tell me who you are?"

She heard an answering howl from the other end. "Coyote! How
on earth did you get this number?"

"I asked Vivienne what name you were using these days."

Vivienne? "You're in New York!"

"And I'm not alone," he said mysteriously. She heard the
laugh again.

"Is that Raven?"

"Yep." Mumble. "He says hi. Look, we thought that since
we're here, and this being Samhain and all, perhaps you'd be
interested in joining us for a night on the town. Viv says the
Puck's somewhere around. We'll track him down and have a little
get-together."

"You won't have to track him far. His office is down the hall
from mine."

Dead silence, broken by: "Office?"

"It's a game." She sighed. "I'll let him know you're in
town. I wish I could join you."

"Why can't you?" She nearly reprimanded him, then recalled
that she had no right. She was not, technically, the Queen,
although there was not one among their kind who still did not treat
her as such.

Why *couldn't* she? Janine had already made plans with some
friends. She herself had planned on convincing Halcyon to leave
early, and welcome the new year snuggling in front of the
television. They'd probably nod off before ten, and he none the
wiser for the true significance of the night. She knew he would
never understand if she told him about the Quarters and the High
Holidays and the walls between the worlds. Those were relegated in
this modern world to neopagans and rebellious Catholic
schoolchildren, not respected scientists.

"I have a great deal of work to do," she hemmed.

"Which can wait until later," said a new voice, Vivienne.
"Lady, with all due respect, you have spent too much time walking
among the mortals. Join us for one night and remember who you once
were."

She heard a shuffle, then Coyote said, "What she said. It'll
be fuuuuuun."

"All right, all right. I'll meet you, and I'll bring the Puck
with me."

"They're coming," he said away from the mouthpiece, then to
her: "Great! We'll meet you by Cleopatra's Needle at six."
*click*

She checked her watch. Ten past five.

She went to Owen's office, tapped lightly on the glass. "Come
in."

He sat at his desk, a small lamp shining over the neatly
organized contracts he perused. His glasses caught the reflection
of their light, making his look as if he had two large white spaces
where he should have eyes. "Yes, Doctor?"

"I just received a most interesting telephone call."

"Indeed."

"It appears that two young gentleman of our acquaintance have
come into town, and are requesting our presence this evening."

"I see. May I ask their identities?"

"Coyote and Raven. They found my name from Vivienne."

He did not smile; Owen never smiled. However, his face became
slightly less dour, slightly more puckish. "What response did you
give them?"

"I told them that Titania and Puck would meet them at six
beside Cleopatra's Needle."

"Have you mentioned this to Renard?"

"Not yet."

Neither spoke for a moment. Then Owen clicked off his lamp,
slid the top stack of papers into his briefcase, and shut it.
"I'll be leaving now. Good evening, Dr. Renard."

"Good evening, Owen."

***

At quarter past six, the twilight sinking into darkness,
Anastasia was hurrying through Central Park, swearing at herself
and wishing she'd left sooner. Her flats left dark stains as they
bruised the grass beneath her and scattered the leaves, apple-red
maples and crispy brown oaks. She was late, and she disliked being
late.

She thought briefly on Halcyon's response to her quick excuse,
of two old friends suddenly come to town. The truth tasted like a
lie, and she'd not met his eyes. He had not even raised his head
from his work, so intent was he. He'd nodded, told her to have a
good time, and been drawn back into whatever he was doing. Prestom,
ever at his shoulder these days, had paid her more attention than
he.

As if it didn't matter to him that she was going out without
him. As if he expected her to go. As if ...

She heard a *snap* of branch behind her, and stopped dead.

Half-expecting Coyote, she looked behind her. The man's face
was unfamiliar, but that meant nothing. Faces were worn and discarded
like gloves among their kind. "Yes?" she asked politely.

He smiled, not in a friendly fashion. "Gettin' a little late
for a pretty lady to be walking all by herself."

"And speaking of which, I'm late for an appointment. Unless
you're one of the people I'm supposed to meet, I really must be
going." And she turned back towards the Needle, which she could
just see over the tops of the trees.

Another sound came from behind, the slick snap of oiled hinges
on a sharp steel blade as a hand like iron clamped across her
throat, cutting her air off. "You're going to be a little later
than you thought." The knife flashed.

She transformed.

Over twenty years bound to one form, one body that grew and
aged and faded as mortals were wont to do, and her instincts were
back in an eyeblink. A yellow, slitted eyeblink.

Her would-be assailant found himself holding a squirming
armload of naga. In terror, he dropped her, as she writhed on the
ground and slithered her form upright. He stepped back, and she
hissed threateningly, beckoning him with her eyes.

"Sssstay." She coiled around him suggestively, undulating
around his arms and knees. "Ssssuch a sssssmall thing. What did
you want from me?"

"Please ... Please let me go ... "

"Ssssilenssssse!" He closed his mouth, moaned as she flicked
the forks of her tongue at his chin and placed needle-like fangs
against the loathsome scent of his throat.

~Kill him,~ whispered the savage voice within her. She
pressed her fangs, indented the sweaty skin, tightened her coils to
strike and crush at once. ~Yes.~

"No," she said, drawing her head back. She relaxed the coils,
let him slide limply to the ground. "If I ever ssssee you again,
you will die." He scrambled backwards, crying like a scared babe,
scratching his hands on sharp stones and twigs. When he looked back at
her, she hissed. Yelping, he ran as she watched, disgusted.

When the noise of his departure had faded, she closed her eyes
and transformed again. Her tail split into two shapely legs, her
torso sprouted arms, and her face elongated, became more pointed.

Titania, once and future Queen of Avalon, went to keep her
appointment at Cleopatra's Needle.

***

Bare lights showed in the remaining streetlamps, highlighting
the debris filling the gutters of the alleyway. Titania stepped
over something gooey, tried not to think about what it might have
been.

"When you said we were doing the town, this wasn't what I had
in mind." Puck, wearing the form he most often had during his
three thousand years of life, pouted as he walked beside Raven.
Coyote, dog head poking incongruously from a black leather jacket,
was several paces ahead, had waved the rest to stay back.

"We'll only be here for a few minutes," Raven replied. "This
is why we came to town."

Vivienne chuckled. "I thought she threw you out again."

Raven glared at her. "She *didn't* throw me out."

"Of course not," said Titania, in what she hoped was a
comforting tone. A less likely couple she'd never known than Raven
and Grandmother. She was a Guide, he a Trickster. She was
dedicated to preserving the old ways, he to disrupting them. He
was fire, she a cool mountain river, and somehow, they had stayed
married and living together for the better part of two millennia.
Their frequent tussles had always been a source of amusement for
the rest of the family, mainly to see who was winning.

"Shhhh," called Coyote, and waved Raven forward with him,
indicating the rest of them should stay back and observe. As she
watched, curious, the pair transformed into young human men. Raven
pulled two grimy bottles from under his jacket and handed one to
Coyote. They began talking loudly, guffawing from time to time,
and making suggestive comments about Titania and Vivienne.

"This had better be good," Vivienne whispered, and took Puck's
arm. The two were of a height, their matching white-blond hair
making them appear to be siblings.

Four teenaged boys crossed the street, heading towards them.
Titania heard one of them mutter something about a shortcut. Two
of the boys were Black, two nominally White, all with the air of
suburban kids trying not to look like suburban kids lost at night
on Halloween in Manhattan.

Coyote took a swig from his bottle and belched. "Derek!" One
of the boys turned his head.

"Wha --- ?"

"Yeah, dat's him," said Raven unsteadily.

"We met at Rob's party," said Coyote. "'Member?" The other
three boys gave the two apparently drunk males a wide berth.
Coyote slapped the boy he'd called Derek on the shoulder. "How ya
doin'?"

"Okay," said the boy. "I remember now. Your name's Brandon,"
he said to Raven, who waved his bottle in reply. "And you are ... "

"Call me 'Bozho," Coyote said, and belched again. "Glad we
ran inna you. Wanted to tell you, what you said at the party,
'bout college 'n all, you were right. Goin' to college, man,
that's no place for people like us. We need to live! We need to
experience! Suck the ... something out of life!" He hit Derek's
shoulder. Derek rubbed it. "You and I, we gotta be out there
doing, not learning what some old White fart wants us to. Y'know?"

"I know," said the boy, and rubbed his shoulder again.

"I knew ya would." Coyote enveloped him in a sloppy hug.
"Me? I never wenna college, 'n I turned out great. I'm happy, got
my buddy here," Raven managed a respectable burp, "life is sweet if
you know where to find it."

"We really have to get going," said Derek. "It was ... nice
seeing you."

"Bye! Don't be a stranger!" He waved his bottle and laughed
until the boys had hurried around the corner, shooting glances back
at the pair and whispering amongst themselves. Titania barely
caught a "You actually know those guys?" and they were gone.

Raven wiped a hand over his face, restoring his fay features.
"Are we done now?"

Coyote continued to laugh.

"What's up, hyena boy?" asked Puck.

"I was just thinking," said Coyote, keeping his human face but
cleaning it with a whisk of his hand. "Sad thing is they probably
won't even invite me to his graduation." He flicked the bottle
away to crash and gurgle its contents onto the sidewalk. "Now
let's party."

***

" ... This is Arnie in the sky, watching over the
Halloween festivities in midtown Manhattan. If you were planning
on driving in, forget it. Fifth Avenue has been closed down and
opened to party-goers. In fact ... " Defying logic and physics,
a bird the size of a full-grown grizzly bear hovered outside the
window, two black beads for eyes looking hungrily at them.

Arnie stared. His pilot, Harry, also stared.

The bird was joined by a dog in a leather jacket and a little
man with pointed ears and long white hair, who grabbed the bird by
the neck. They zipped about a hundred yards away, were joined in
midair by a normal-looking woman but for the fact that she was
thirty stories above the street, and a woman with skin the colour
of the sea. The five of them waved, then disappeared in a flash
of green light.

"Did ... Did we get that on camera?" Arnie pried his fingers
from their death-grip on the mike.

"Nope."

"Good. Buy you a drink?"

"Buy me a lot of drinks."

"Me too."

***

After the spitting contest off the Empire State Building,
which Puck won, and that unintentional encounter with the poor
fellows in the helicopter, they found a nice restaurant and bar
that wasn't holding a costume party, and hijacked a table lit with
guttering orange candles near the back. Titania handed over a
credit card in the name of Anastasia Lisle to the waiter, and the
drinks flowed.

"So there I was, minding my own business ... "

"And everyone else's," added Puck.

"Everyone else's business *is* my business. Anyway, so
there I was, and this guy," Coyote chucked a thumb at Raven,
"pulls up on a bike and asks me if I want to do a roadtrip. I
figure, what the heck. I got people here I want to look up, and
it's been a good century since I've been to he East Coast. I
say 'Sure.'

"We get stopped in Texas. I zap up some i.d. no problem,
but Raven still thinks he's in Canada."

"Texas police officers don't like Canadians," said Raven.

"You know," said Vivienne, "you wouldn't run into problems
like these if you'd just transport, or transform and fly."

Coyote replied, "Spoken like someone who's never been on the
open road. Viv, you gotta get out of your lake more often."

"I am quite happy where I am. I have had enough of the
World; it is for mortals, not for us." While the comment was
directed at Coyote, Titania felt it strike home within her.
Vivienne disapproved of too much contact with mortals, wishing to
spend her own banishment quietly awaiting the Gathering. Once
she had been active in mortal affairs, but the death of her
halfling daughter had changed her, saddened her. Vivienne
mourned Nimue, and Titania mourned the Vivienne who used to be.

"So what happened?" Puck prodded.

"What could we do?" said Coyote. "He had us on speeding,
and Raven without a passport.

"I pulled out a portable hole. We stepped through and
watched as the poor guy tried to figure out where we went. Raven
poked his head back out the hole, waved at the cop, told him his
shoes were untied, and popped back out again. Cop kept trying to
jump in the hole. We took the bikes and split."

There was laughter, and the waiter refilled their drinks.

"So," said Coyote, looking into the golden depths of his
muscatel as he leaned back on the hind legs of his chair, "have
you heard from him lately?" There was no doubt as to whom he was
referring.

"I haven't seen him since Prague, 1873." She sipped at her
wine. "When he's ready, he may find me."

"Don't make it too soon?" asked Raven. "I rather like this
world, myself."

"I'll see what I can do."

"It won't be soon," said Puck. "*Somebody* married a mortal."

Coyote's chair slammed to the floor. "You remarried?"

"There is a child," said Vivienne.

Raven and Coyote shared a glance. Puck remained silent.

"The answer to your question is yes, she's mortal. No, she
doesn't know."

"It's better that way," Vivienne said.

"Is it?" Janine had apparently calmed down much since her
homecoming. True to her word, she and Dingo had found an
apartment in Queens. She still swore they weren't sleeping
together, and Anastasia tended to believe her. Halcyon had
reluctantly agreed to make Dingo a security guard at
Cyberbiotics, and Janine had returned to school. She'd changed
her major to history, and expected to graduate in May. Anastasia
was proud of her, but wondered in the back of her mind if this
was the best destiny for her daughter, if it wouldn't have been
better to raise her in the knowledge of her own potential, make
her a sorceress rather than an historian.

"And speaking of the devil," muttered Puck. "Don't turn
around, but guess who's here."

She looked anyway. Janine, who'd said she would be out with
friends tonight, had just been seated at a booth not ten feet away
from their table. Her skintight bodysuit was orange, white and
black, and she wore matching folded paper ears in her hair. A
black velvet mask covered the eyes of her escort, a black cape
disguising his body. Anastasia knew his face and form, with or
without the mask, and was suddenly very glad to be in her own true
form. It was the perfect costume, the perfect disguise. Janine and
David would never recognize her.

"They're certainly ... cozy," said Raven.

"Stop staring," admonished Titania, and stared into her own
drink. How long had this been going on and why hadn't she known?
She turned to Puck. "Did you know?"

"Not before this moment." He cast another glance over.
"Boy have I missed a lot."

"As have I."

"You know what?" asked Raven.

"Chickenbutt," answered Coyote and Puck automatically. The
three of them chuckled. Tricksters.

Vivienne said, "We need music."

"Music for our Lady du Lac!" shouted Coyote, too loudly.
Janine looked over. He offered her a slow wink, and she looked
away again. He found a jukebox in the corner of the room,
something which Titania, not to mention the staff, would swear
hadn't been there before. Jerry Lee Lewis filled the air.

~You're worried.~

~Yes. Look at them.~

Puck casually moved his head towards Janine and David. They
watched as she idly brushed her hair behind her ear and laughed at
something he'd said. Titania noted the casual fit of his arm to
her waist, the amorous sparkle in his eyes and voice, the way he
touched her and she him. If they were not already lovers, they
would be by the end of the night.

~Not to be indiscrete, but it isn't like he's the first one.~

~No.~ There had been others, she knew, some Halcyon would
have liked far less than Dingo had he been aware of them. The
flavour of their spirits had been different, wild in some aspects,
dull in others, and she trusted Janine to realize they were for
play and experimentation only.

~But this one is different. She could bond with him.~

~She's only twenty-two. She shouldn't be thinking about
taking a life-mate yet.~

~I doubt she's thinking in terms of life-mate right now.
Looks to me like she's thinking in terms of getting ... ~

~Thank you, Puck.~

He smirked at her over the rim of his glass. He'd been
ordering water all night; she had the feeling he was converting it
to cider.

"Raven," she asked, "how is that charming sister of yours?"
Puck lost his smile and grew suddenly interested in the tablecloth.

Raven snorted. "As if she speaks to me. I haven't heard from
her in a good fifty years, and that by accident."

"Give her my best if you do see her." In her mind's eye, she
had a sudden clear, sharp image of the Puck, sticking his tongue
out at her. In real-time, he continued to scowl at the table as
their conversation turned to other things.

Janine and David stayed until eleven-thirty. As they left,
Titania watched and worried. She could not hear them as they walked
away, would not dare to slip inside her daughter's mind simply to
reaffirm what she already knew from the movement of her body.

How long had it been since she had played such games of
teasing and enticing, of reluctant submission when in reality she
had controlled the chase and the pursuer from the first glance?
Halcyon had been her last great conquest. She who had taken
hundreds of lovers to her bed during her marriage to the Fairy King
had remained faithful to a fragile mortal for twenty-three years.
Their lovemaking, once fiery, had been sporadic over the last five
years, and due to his illness, non-existent in the past two. She
watched her daughter with both concern and envy.

"He's too old for her," she said quietly, but if she was
referring to Janine or herself, she did not know.

At midnight, to the confusion of the other patrons, the group
of them led a rousing chorus of "Auld Lang Syne." Titania
pretended to recover her good mood, allowed the ebullience of her
friends raise her spirits or at least her glass for toast after
toast. In her true form, or as close to her true form as mortals
could see and still live, she metabolised alcohol as it touched
her tongue. Several bottles into the night, she was entirely
sober and on a sugar rush.

Vivienne surrendered first, claiming fatigue. Coyote teased
her about having to get up early to drain the pond, then hugged
her. Titania took the opportunity to bow out as well. She bade
Raven deliver her best wishes to his wife, gave Coyote a friendly
scratch behind the ears, and admonished Puck that she still
expected him to be at work on time in the morning. With a last
wave, the boys returned to their drinks and their bragging contest.

The two women walked back through the city, and then the Park,
each wrapped inside her own thoughts. Only when they reached the
lake in which Vivienne currently made her home did the younger
woman speak to her.

"As a halfling, she would be forever caught between two
worlds, neither of which can she have. Let her be mortal, my
Lady. Let her think she knows who and what she is, even if she
is mistaken. She would be unhappy pretending to be someone she
is not." She placed her white arms around Titania's neck, then
pulled away and slipped below the murky waters.

Titania walked home alone, casting inconspicuousness about
herself like a robe. Her key slid into the lock as always, and she
let herself inside.

Her reflection shone in the curio cabinet like a beacon of
aquamarine and coral. She watched herself as she transformed, saw
her skin become pale and bland, her vibrant hair darken, her wasp's
waist swell, her breasts sag, her face reshape from an immortal
goddess to a woman of forty-eight. Anastasia stared back at her
from the glass box until she moved her eyes.

Despite her human form and the late hour, she was awake,
thrumming with life as the climbed the stairs. She undressed
quickly, slid into bed with her husband, attempted to waken him
with the tips of her fingernails. It had been ages since she'd
felt so young, and she longed to share.

Halcyon opened his eyes, said something unintelligible, and
used his arms to roll himself over. She curled up behind him,
contented herself with cuddling against him, tried to block behind
her eyelids the thrill of soaring through space without wings.

***
June 20, 1989
***

*tap tap tap* Three precise, clear knocks at her door.

"Yes, Owen?"

"May I come in, Doctor?"

"Of course." For a man who apparently had no emotions, Owen
looked positively pensive as he stood forlornly by her desk.
"Please sit. Now what is it?"

He paused for a moment. "I have been approached with a most
unusual proposition."

~Is she cute?~ she sent out teasingly, but received no reply.

"What kind of proposition?"

"I've been offered three times my present salary to work at a
newly-formed corporation."

"What would your new duties entail?"

"That was not made apparent. However, from what I can deduce,
I would effectively be third in command, so to speak."

"I see." She did not see. Had Oberon approached him? Dear
gods, had he finally gotten sick of her after all and taken another
wife? This could upset her plans considerably.

"I don't believe you do. The young corporation is named
Xanatos Enterprises."

She sat back in her chair. "Do tell."

"I cannot. As I said, I was offered three times my salary.
That is all I know for certain. I can presume I am not the only
Cyberbiotics employee to whom this offer has been made."

"Are you going to take it?"

"I had no such plans. I thought you should be informed, in
order to take whatever steps you felt necessary to quell any losses
on the part of the company."

She stood, faced away from him into the city. "Does Janine
know?"

"I believe so."

The early evening was still sunny on the crystal faces of the
surrounding buildings. Their tower, just finished this past May,
looked out over them all. She remembered the old lab, the first
lab, and found this new steel and glass construction to be too
tall, too sterile, too wrong. "I have a question for you, and I
must have an honest answer, the most honest you can give. Do you
understand?"

"Ask."

"To whom are you ultimately loyal?"

"I believe you know the answer to that question." She studied
his blue eyes, found them clear of deceit.

"Do this for me. Find the price of Owen Burnett, whatever it
might be, and let David pay it. When he leaves, when *they*
leave," she amended, "I want you to go with them."

"May I ask why?"

Because I have been watching them for months, and I have seen
her eyes when she looks at him. Because they are not as clever as
they think. Because I nearly walked in once when they were ...
together in his office. Because I believe she loves him although
she does not know that yet, and if he breaks her heart, it will be
forever.

"Because I cannot."

"I cannot interfere."

"You can watch, and guide. That is all I ask." She asked not
just for herself and Janine. She had also observed him in his
game, saw that the daily boredom of his life grated on him,
although he would never say so. She understood, as each day tugged
her farther from the hot-blooded dance that was her other
existence.

He inclined his head. "As you wish, Madame." He stood. "If
you'll excuse me."

She nodded, and did not watch him go. Her eyes went to the
city, and to the boundless sea beyond its reach.

***
June 30, 1989
***

The air was hot and sticky in the boardroom. Thousands of
dollars for a state of the art cooling system, and it had broken
a month after the building's completion. Fans were stationed to
circulate stale air around the room; the windows had been designed
not to open. Anastasia fanned herself with a folded paper and
hoped for a short meeting. She was not likely to get her wish.

"Would you look at these expenditures?" Halcyon slapped the
file to the table. She jumped at the noise. He surveyed the group
gathered at the table. In the years since she'd first joined
Cyberbiotics, they had grown enormously. Fifteen young executives
now did the job that once Halcyon had done alone. Each one had a
staff to oversee her or his branch. Their head of security had a
larger office than she'd had at the old lab. Her husband called it
bloat, David called it progress, and she was simply glad they didn't
have to personally oversee every detail of the business anymore.

Preston cleared his throat. Halcyon silenced him with a wave.

"I had Mr. Vogel go through the files. The experiments
undertaken by Dr. Sevarius and his staff were dully approved and
sanctioned."

Grumbling, shifting noises came from the assembly, as each
person in the room tried to determine which of the others was the
guilty party. Anastasia remained still. Her part in Anton's
continuing research could not have been detected by Preston or any
other. He sickened her, but at the same time, he had the potential
to create what she needed.

"Mr. Xanatos, can you please explain for the rest of us how
you possibly believed that Cyberbiotics was interested in
biological warfare?"

Every head in the room turned towards the most upwardly mobile
executive on the Board. David smiled easily at Halcyon. "I had no
such intentions. Anton is very close to making a breakthrough on
his research into genetic recombination. He needed several pieces
of equipment which he used while he worked for a certain Government
agency. In exchange for their loan, he perfected a few small
strains of bacteria. If you'll look to this report," he handed
over a thick manila file, "you'll see that the deal is netting us
a substantial profit. I was going to tell you when the check
cleared."

Halcyon glanced through the file, unsmiling. Janine, who had
taken a silent perch near her father's chair, covered her grin with
her hand.

"This does not excuse the fact that you did not clear the
project with this Board. You knew very well that it would have
been rejected." He found another file. "Neither would this.
Smart weapons manufacture?"

"A sub-contract of our A.I. research. We've just received
a substantial grant from the Army, for technology we've already
developed and would merely need to modify."

"We are *not* accepting funding from the military." Halcyon
sat rigidly in his chair.

"We already have." David remained calmly in his own. Like
two chess masters, they played their pieces one by one, with the
rest of them relegated to audience members. Halcyon's resolve would
never slip, but his control over the situation was skidding away
from him like a smooth pebble over water. He played his last card,
surely thinking it a trump.

"Don't you think I know what you've been doing? I'm not
blind." She saw more than one person suddenly find something
interesting in the pattern of the ceiling tiles. "You've been
slipping underneath my command for months, authorizing projects,
convincing the rest of my employees that you would be the
perfect choice as my replacement. You've gone as low," he
swallowed, "as to seduce my daughter to advance your career."

So he did know.

The attention in the room shifted to Janine. Her daughter
laughed. In the hot air, it fell like an ugly slap. "You really
*are* blind, aren't you, Dad? Screwing's a two-way street, or
don't you remember?" She stood, moved next to David. Halcyon
watched her, shock aging his face even more.

His voice shook. "See what you've turned Janine into?"

"*Fox* was already who she wanted to be," David replied
quietly.

"Get out. Never come back." The words came on thin breath.
They were directed squarely towards David. He was not, however,
the only one to heed them. Anastasia closed her eyes.

The shuffling began. Bodies moved past her, faceless shapes
in her self-imposed darkness. The stifling heat lessened with
their passage. Only when the door closed did she allow herself to
see. David, Janine and Owen were gone, as she'd expected. Of the
rest of the Board, nine remained. Preston, his face gone quite
pale, stood beside Halcyon's chair.

Her husband stared into space. She went to him, took his
hand, but he did not look at her. "Please go," he said quietly.
"I need to be alone now."

"I'll be in my office," she whispered, and filed out with the
rest.

When she reached her desk, she found twelve resignations
stacked neatly on it. By five pm, the stack had grown to sixty-
three. They had lost executives, Ph.D.'s, security guards, lab
technicians, secretaries, and two kids from the mailroom. Sevarius
had tendered his resignation, which did not surprise her. His
research staff went with him, from the grim postdoc to the
maintenance crew. Dingo came by personally to hand in his two-
weeks' notice, and had the decency to look embarrassed as he did
so. She asked him to keep an eye on Janine, as he would expect
her to ask. He mumbled agreement and fled.

Her daughter was gone, under the protection of Dingo, whom she
had no reason to trust, and the Puck, who had many reasons to hate
her and only one for obeying her. Had she been in her true guise,
she would have laughed, but she was mortal today, and so could
afford herself the luxury of tears.

***
February 3, 1990
***

Flames licked at the rooftops, devouring children and
shrieking women, the lucky ones. Unwashed soldiers, the grime of
ten years' sweat and dirt ground into their beards, grabbed young
girls and lithe boys for their later amusement on the long voyage
back to Mycenae. Menelaus' men had already taken the palace, were
spitting infants two and three to a sword. None of Helen's
children would survive, save the one spirited away long ago by
three midwives. Above the smoking tumult, Hera smirked in cold
satisfaction.

"No," she said.

The she-naga held her attacker in her coils, sunk her venomous
fangs deep into his throat, ripped sinew and muscle as she
withdrew. He convulsed in her grasp and died, and the naga
laughed.

"No," she said, louder.

There was a squeal from the bundle, as Puck rocked it gently
back and forth. The Queen issued her decree. Oberon's servant
balked, was held in place as the Three gleefully pulled the babe
from his arms and pulled the boy-child to shreds. The blood stained
the royal carpet, but Titania did not notice as she walked past the
shocked assembly back to her rooms.

"No! This is not what happened! This is not who I am!"

A woman, dark hair tied back, dark eyes hidden behind glasses,
watched as Halcyon Renard introduced the sparkling Anastasia Lisle
to the rest of their colleagues. His eyes were on the new woman
alone.

"No ... "

Squealing, a girl of five, red hair in loose braids, threw
herself into her mother's lap, then looked up at her, grinning.
The gaping hole where her first baby tooth had been yawned like a
passage out of toddlerhood and into the mysteries of school. Her
mother clasped to her, trying to press her back into the clump of
cells she had once been, keep her forever innocent of all that was
to befall.

"I was here."

Mulberries, too ripe, stung her mouth as she crushed them past
her lips. Her companion, her first and truest friend, grinned at
her, his own blue mouth stained black by the sweet juice. They had
not one care in the world, here in the endless summer.

"I was here."

Anastasia looked into the mirror. Fine wrinkles covered her
face and neck and hands. Her head was a mane of silver and snow,
her eyes still green as the sea. From behind her reflection,
Halcyon walked to her, placed a chain around her doughy neck. Iron
and glass and mirrored crystal. "Grow old with me," he whispered,
and fastened the necklace with frigid hands.

"No! It's not like that!"

"Who are you?" asked Coyote. He sat at the table with Raven,
playing poker with Tarot cards. He set The Empress before her.

"I am your queen."

"The queen was cruel," said the Puck. "Mortals were there to
be used and discarded." He dropped an empty blanket at her feet.

"I'm not like that anymore."

"Who are you?" asked Halcyon. Brittle as a leaf in November,
he curled in his chair.

"I am your wife," she said, from within the box.

"Who are you?" asked Janine, five years old and heartbreakingly
beautiful. Three little girls stood behind her, their overlarge
eyes of pale blue watching her in silence. She bent to take the
four into her arms, found only shadows.

"I am your mother."

"She would be unhappy pretending to be someone she is not,"
said Vivienne, and took Janine's unresisting hand. "Who are you?"

"I am your queen."

"Who *are* you?" asked Oberon.

"I am your queen!"

"Who *ARE* you, child?" asked her mother.

"I am Titania!" she shouted, and woke.

It was Saturday. She'd been napping in the late afternoon
like an old woman. She stretched, got to her feet, went to her
mirror. Outside the lace at the windows, wet rags of snow fell
from the sky. Shivering, she recalled her dream, Halcyon coming
up behind her. But he could not walk, and he would not chain
her. That was not his way. He would bind her with his kindness,
his slow emotions, his devotion to his work, his moral code which
had grown tighter at David and Janine's betrayal. He would bind
her by being the man he was becoming, as ice bound roses.

She fingered a silver frame on her bureau. She'd told Halcyon
the woman behind the glass was her mother, when in reality, the
picture had come with the frame. She had not thought on her true
mother in more years than he had been alive. Why had she been
there in the dream?

~Who are you?~

She folded the frame, trapped the not-mother inside the silver
and glass cage, left it on the bureau as she swept the jewelry into
its box, which she also closed and left. So that there could be no
doubt, she placed her wedding ring beside the box.

It did not take her long to pack. Quietly, she took her light
suitcases down into the hallway.

"Anastasia?" His voice came from his study. Even when he was
not in the lab, he worked. They had hired new personnel, better
security forces and systems, and Halcyon personally oversaw the
entire thing. Xanatos Enterprises had stolen away minds, and with
the minds went knowledge. The young company hit the ground running,
and even well-established corporations such as their own were
struggling to keep pace. From the hours following that final
meeting last June, he had pledged his every waking moment to keeping
Cyberbiotics afloat and ahead. The effort was killing him; not
quite fifty-six, he appeared to be in his seventies. Winter had
come.

"Yes, Halcyon?"

"Are you going out?"

"Yes, Halcyon." She set the bags by the door.

"If you're going to the lab take a warm coat. The weatherman
said the temperatures tonight will be in the twenties."

"Yes, Halcyon." She selected a slim blue jacket lined with
down. San Francisco would be chilly but not cold. She stared at
her reflection in the curio cabinet: sea-blue and sea-green and
brown. She taped the note where he could reach it.

"Will you be back soon?"

"No, Halcyon." She ushered her bags outside, and closed the
door behind her.

***
April 30, 1996
***

Anastasia politely applauded the speaker as he collected his
overheads, tried not to yawn as she readied her own slides for the
projector. The conference was going as well as could be expected,
but she longed to be in Australia, cleaning up the last of the
Matrix work, or better, in New York with Fox. The baby was still
two months away, but the pregnancy was taking its toll. If she
hadn't agreed to co-chair this thing, she would not have even attended.

The other chair, Dr. deKanter from Lisbon, went to the podium.
"Our next speaker is Dr. Anastasia Renard. Dr. Renard received her
Bachelors in Biology from Smith College, and her Masters and Doctorate
in Biochemistry from Wooster. She has worked in both industrial and
academic circles, teaching from time to time at Berkeley," some light
cheering peppered the room; this *was* the U.C. - Berkeley campus, "as
well as her alma mater. She helped to found Cyberbiotics, one of
today's leaders in artificial intelligence research. She has published
over one hundred and fifty papers, and has seventeen patents in her
name.

"For those of you visiting here today from Stanford, that's a
lot." A chuckle went through the room. "The title of her talk
today is 'Controlled Interactions of Multi-Unit A.I.'s.'" Dr.
deKanter led the applause, and Anastasia stepped up to the podium.

She began by thanking her colleagues and the source of her
funding, in this case Xanatos Enterprises, then gave a quick and
undetailed summary of the Matrix project, without mentioning its
near-takeover of Australia.

As she moved into a functional diagram of an individual
nanite, she glanced into her audience to test their interest. She
saw several bored faces, several more interested ones, and one ...

She stopped speaking. For fifteen seconds, twenty, nothing
happened, and then she remembered who she was supposed to be and
what she was supposed to be doing.

The rest of her talk happened on autopilot, as her mind
tried to digest what she had seen. At the end, she asked for
questions, received only one, which she answered with no difficulty.
The audience's attention was already on the coffee and cookies
awaiting them in the lounge.

"If there are no more questions, let us thank Dr. Renard and
then take a fifteen-minute break." She accepted the applause, and
collected her slides in a haze. When she finished, she went into
the lounge, but not for cookies.

He stood at the far wall, observing her. She moved through
the crowd without haste, nodding politely to the people who greeted
her, hearing their voices only as the low murmur of the sea.

~How did you find me?~

~I searched for a very long time. I have been thinking of
you, wondering if you were content.~

~I have thought on you as well. More than I should.~

~We should speak. There is something I would ask of you.~ In
her mind, she saw the pure streams and verdant green hills of their
homeland. ~The Three have come to me with concerns, but we may
speak of them later.~

~Later,~ she agreed. She stood next to him now, had to tip
her chin upwards to meet his eyes.

~I have missed you.~

~And I you.~

He lifted his hand in their old way. She took it, as
gracefully as were she already in her true form again. Surrounding
her, she heard talk, idly wondered in the back of her mind what
they would make of her departure, discovered she did not care in
the slightest. He had come.

Still holding hands, they walked out of the lounge, out of a
great building of steel and mirrored glass, out of the World
itself, leaving behind them only a dim echo of laughter, gentle and
warm as Spring rain.

***

hysteresis - (n.) a physical phenomenon in which the thermodynamic
path to a new energy state differs from the return path.


Lit. "an end unlike the beginning"

***
The End
***