Neither Blade Nor Bullet

Mneme skulks amid the putty colored microfiche cabinets in the Chicago Public Library, tugging open drawers at random, listlessly riffing her short fingernails over the little transparent cards packed into neat rows, trying to wrap her head around what’s happened to her sisters. She’s finally gotten used to the feel of these shrunken pages, like plastic djinn in bottles, waiting for a magic lantern to release them from their flat cages.

“Don’t be silly,” she thinks, “they call them projectors now...or used to, anyway.”

She actually despises the sharp edges of microfiche, but she doesn’t have much choice in materials these days, not since most of the libraries dumped their print periodicals in favor of online databases. She longs for an early folio on rag paper, or even better, a manuscript on parchment--nothing like animal sacrifice to put power behind your words--but things like that are difficult to get close to in the States, and she is terrified to show her face in Europe.

Her sisters had made some sort of deal with the Gorgons--what they were doing with the Gorgons was part of the puzzle--but it was supposed to be a truce. Sounded good too, at first blush, an end to the battle against online catalogs, digital books, smartphone apps and computer games, but then Melete vanished. She didn’t go missing, she simply faded away, each day wearing her a little thinner until you could see the bookcase through her, and in the span of the moon’s cycle she was gone. Aoide went the same way, her voice melting to a whisper, then...silence.

Neither seemed particularly concerned about their growing insubstantiality.

Which worries Mneme. She always thought being a Muse conveyed immortality. Maybe she didn’t get to hurl lightning bolts, tote the sun across the sky on a golden chariot, or drown sailors with a flick of her trident, but none of that appealed to her anyway. She could walk unscathed across a battlefield, had stood in the middle of many, face-to-face with Hoplites and Confederates and Mujahadin, and feared neither blade nor bullet.

This was different.

She picks at a yellowing tag on one of the metal drawers, feels the time stacked in each cabinet like layers of mica, deceptively solid, yet slippery and fragile and thin.

“Getting even thinner these days.”

Mneme closes her eyes and lets herself slip into the slow dance of information quietly twisting around her. She talks about payphones with J Paul Getty, dines with Charles and Anne Lindbergh (before that ugly business with their son), and watches Benjamin Harrison shout into a funnel so Giuseppe Bettini can record his voice on a wax cylinder. For a moment she considers dissolving into the slick sheets and letting the world go about its business without her, but she knows someone will eventually come and empty the drawers, and she’ll just end up shuffled like so many cards in a game of cosmic canasta.

“Get on with it, Mneme” she reminds herself.

She twirls through the dance, stepping in rhythm farther and farther from the center, feeling the currents tugging and jostling, until they flow out into a deeper stream with one general direction. Now she’s profiling a serial murderer in Elm Hurst, now she’s designing a powered wheel chair for paraplegics, now she’s baking chapati, now she’s adjusting the points in a 1953 Healey 100, now she’s buying a foreclosed duplex...

“Focus, please.”

Concepts coalesce around her ankles. She stirs them with her left foot until she sees what she’s after, then she reaches down and pulls hard at it until it surfaces as a bright block of marble.

The dance falls away abruptly, and she looks around at the field of closely trimmed fescue and perfectly aligned headstones of Arlington cemetery.

The End

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