Oh, You Pretty Things

 

 


Despite what you might think, I'm not a love 'em and leave 'em kind of gal. I was with Aþkðn Tanrica for most of her life, and despite my dalliances with various winged creatures whilst I'd been in Atlantis, I'd never spurned any of them. However I was kinda startled when one of my genuine one night stands - Jicarilla Elkhorn, tracked me down.

I was inspecting the organ culture rooms at the Izee site, pouring fondly over the latest batch of human uteri in their glistening glass incubators. They sat like little horned cushions in their pink media bath, bubbles gently cascading over their blushing contoured surfaces.

"As sublime as the shell from which sweet Ishtar stepped," I said to myself, "spawned from a spumy sea."

In the background, chimes from the Clock of the Long Now sounded whilst zest-scented zephyrs stole through the labs. I was daydreaming of a colony of beautiful connubia, all in blissful control of their bodies, all birthing comely babies and all beholden to me.

My reverie was shattered by a buzz from my earpiece.

"What?"

"We have a Ms. Elkhorn here," said the gatehouse, "asking to see you."

You could have knocked me down with a hammer.

"I'll come down," I said.

We had had to build a new road and new car park just to cater for the casual visitors who had turned up without an appointment hoping to get admitted to the Lunar County faculty. I employed a whole team of people to police the traffic jam, to hand out literature and to ask people to (politely) go away and contact us either by phone or online. I realised, of course, that it was the poor and the stupid who just arrived out of the blue, and that it was the poor and the stupid that I had to reach the most, especially if I wanted to be a successful politician. So I had instructed that the drop-ins each be giving a "certificate". I had designed the certificates myself; I was inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and had used an identical design, only with the phrase "Wonka's Golden Ticket" replaced by the single word "GOODNESS™". Although the tickets didn't entitle the owner to anything that wasn't already on our website, they made people go away smiling, with our contact details grasped in their sweaty hands.

"Greetings to you, the lucky recipient of GOODNESS™, from Ms. Jackie Natla!

I shake you warmly by the hand for now I do invite you to come to my clinic and be my guest. I, Jackie Natla, will supervise your treatment myself, giving you everything that your heart desires. Afterwards, when it is time to leave, you will be escorted home by large trucks carrying all of the medicines that you need and with a voucher for a free ride to the voting booth on Election Day.

Until then, Jacqueline Natla, your Gubernatorial Candidate."

I passed Das in the foyer. He was looking at one of the certificates with a bemused expression.

"Do you like them?" I said, draping a hand around his narrow shoulders.

Das held the ticket up to his nose as if sniffing it. "They're shiney," he said. "I was just wondering if they were legal."

"Legal?"

Das shifted uncomfortably. "Isn't this a poltical bribe? As well as possibly false advertising?"

I smiled and kissed his cheek. "Do feel free to get it checked out, darling. I suspect it's more unethical than illegal. Besides I'm sure that I've slipped enough weasel words in there to confuse the most learnéd law professor."

"Yes, Mama Jackie," murmured Das, allowing me to straighten the front of his lab coat.

Outside I had a momentary vision of a Nascar rally driven by a herd of sunburnt pink elephants. The sun beat down whilst the heat and smell rose up, and there was a constant trumpeting of vehicles and people.

The chief of the security guards was gazing out through the bullet proof glass at the mob.

"They're looking a bit ugly, Ma'am," he said.

"They wouldn't be here otherwise, would they?" I said.

"It's no laughing matter, Ma'am. What if they riot?"

"Don't worry, my good fellow. If things get out of control turn the water cannon on them, or lob out a few stun grenades. They'll soon disperse. You just have to be firm."

"Wouldn't that be a bit of a publicity nightmare, Ma'am?"

I laughed. "If you know a pleasant way of driving off an unruly mob, I'd be pleased to hear it," I said. "What do you want me to do? Reason with them?"

He gave me a long look. "No, Ma'am," he said.

"I'm sure it will be fine. Just keep your nerve. They are no more threatening than a flock of hungry sheep."

And saying that I indicated that they should allow Jacarilla inside the compound.

* * * * *


Jacirilla was wriggling and giggling because of the ice cream that I had spooned onto her belly.

"Lick it off!" she said. "It's cold!"

"No, let it melt a bit first," I said.

Jacirilla, or Jak as I'd started calling her, tasted like strawberries and coffee. It was all very yummy.

Afterwards we lay in each other's arms and I was dreamily thinking how odd it was that we were 'Jak and Jackie', and wondering if the voters of New Mexico would accept as gay couple in the Governor's residence. Probably not.

I wondered if I need to find a token man from somewhere, someone from 'central casting' whom I could claim to be engaged to. If there was one piece of so-called 'right wing' legislation that made me uncomfortable it was the next door state's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. I was all in favour of ensuring that only the correct people could be allowed to breed. I was all in favour of measures that ensured that lovers from vastly differing stations in life didn't marry. But ... I was vaguely baffled as to why marriage between opposite genders should be allowed a status that marriage between the same genders was not. There was a religious element of course, but as yet the USA was not a theocracy, much as I might desire it. May as well ban blood transfusion just because Christian Scientists disliked it, or pork just because the Jews thought it unclean.

The thing is - I'd always assumed that underneath the greedy bluster and the fake sentimentality that characterises the North American population, there was an inherent sense of fair play and an acceptance of different life styles. Therefore Proposition 8 left me confused. What was I going to do if the voters of New Mexico called for a similar proposition? I was comfortable with judicial executions and even some types of judicial xenophobia, but judicially sanctioned sexual prejudice? Even for me that was just a bit too weird. It was as if the cool figure of Justice had lifted her blindfold and had been embarrassed by the sight of two boys kissing.

Jak broke into my reverie by sticking her nose into my ear.

"Are you thinking about another woman?" she said.

"Why would I be thinking about another woman when I have you in my arms?" I said.

Jak snorted. "Grandfather is right. You are a natural politician. Everything you say seems to mean one thing when it could mean another."

"Coming from an old crook like Chief Elkhorn I can only take that as a compliment."

"He is worried."

"About what?"

"The huge crowds of people flooding across our lands to the hospital."

I leaned on one elbow and smoothed the hair from her face. "I'm surprised he hasn't taken advantage of it," I said. "Can't you guys sell them beads or pots or peace pipes or something?"

Jak made a moue. "We're Chiricahui, not the Amish. It's not as if we run around half naked scalping people with our tomahawks."

"I'm sorry baby," I said, kissing her. "Even if I'm sure the sight of you running around half naked would be most excellent."

Jak giggled. "Your contempt for my people knows no boundaries," she said, but smiled to show that she didn't mean it.

"No pots then. How about a used car dealership next to a casino instead?"

She kicked me out of the bed onto the floor.

I was semi-smothered in sheets and being submitted to some sort of tribal tribadism when my ear piece buzzed.

"What?" I gasped.

It was Das in the clinic. He had something to show me.

* * * * *


I don't know if Das had arranged the room with a view to theatrical impact, but there was something about the way that the sunlight that beamed down from a high skylight above to the figure standing in the middle of the floor that was almost Wagnerian.

Das stood calmly to one side, the whitest of white lab coats buttoned up to his throat, rimless spectacles glowing, the single silver pen glittering at his lab pocket. In the background the icy coldness of Apollon Musagete was playing from the flat chrome hi-fi embedded on the gloss white lab wall and in a steel vase a bunch of flawless white lilies turned their heads towards the patient. The whole scene shone; the blonde hair and the shiny skin, the glint of the glassware, the twinkle of the surgical tools ... I immediately thought "sungodchild".

"This is Alexander Icarus," said Das, indicating the man in the sunlight with a slight movement of his fingers.

The man had been facing away from me as I approached. I noted the dark valley down his spine between his lean back muscles, the curve and dimples at the top of his buttocks, his long limbs. He turned his head to show a profile as clean as that of a cartoon, his long hair swaying like a golden fleece.

He turned to face me - he was dressed only in a short towel that revealed one smooth thigh and suggested the bulge of a penis - and looked into my eyes.

"This is my mother, Jacqueline Natla."

The sunlight from above threw his eye sockets into shadow but despite that his pale blue eyes shone out from the darkness. His pupils seemed dilated despite the light and his gaze ... somehow it smote me.

"Pleased to meet you at last, Jacqueline."

Being Atlantean I am sensitive to overtones and echoes and musical notes, in the same way as a perfume maker or a wine connoisseur, and I could hear the alpha maleness in his timbre. He had the voice of musician. I felt commanded.

He held out a seemingly huge hand - as delineated as that of a Da Vinci sketch - and enfolded my fingers in his. He placed his other hand behind mine so that I felt enclosed in a warm iron cage.

I could feel the heat from him - the heat of a sunbather - and his scent overwhelmed me.

"Pleased to meet you Alexander," I said, simply.

I was drifting. Somehow I was ... leaning ... towards him, my eyes on his lips. My rational mind was spluttering in astonishment, but the rest of me wasn't listening.

Fortunately at that moment I felt Das' cold hand on my forearm.

"May I have a word in private, Mama Jackie?" he said.

The next thing I remember was smelling salts under my nose. I was lying on a chaise longue in Das' darkened office with a cool cloth on my forehead.

"Oh my," I gasped, fanning my burning skin with a fluttering hand, and felt obliged to loosen my suddenly restrictive blouse. "Mr. Icarus is a more affecting gentleman. I feel quite flushed."

"Quite," said Das. He held out a glass of iced water and a pill.

"I can hardly see," I cried, laying the back of my fingers across my eyes as I lay weakly sprawled, my bosom heaving. "It's as if I have stared into the sun. I'm literally dazzled. What is this medicine that you are giving me?"

"It will make you feel better," said Das. "I'll explain exactly what it does when I explain exactly what we've done to Alexander Icarus."

He flicked at his remote control, and a green laser light beamed from the end as various computer screens burst into life and the room lights dimmed.

"This is what we started with," and a shot of pre-op Alexander popped up. He resembled one of the shorter Mexican mice from the Speedy Gonzalez cartoons. "He wanted not just to be handsome and strong, but also irresistable to women."

A screen showed a number of artworks such as Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man, Michaelangelo's David and Mapplethorpe's Ajitto.

"Our computers have all of the psychometric and psychological data for what is considered attractive in modern Western society."

Chemical and peptides structures were appearing and I recognised GnRH, androstadienone and the copulins, amongst others.

"We analysed the receptors in the human nose and engineered his scent glands to emit what we hoped was an hypnotic cocktail of odours."

There were slices of brain and spices of nerves, cross-sections of neck and onion peeled eyeballs.

"We combined tweaks of the hypothalamus and the periaqueductal gray of the midbrain with a carefully constructed facial design based on that of the golden eagle so that Alexander Icarus has the attitude and appearance of a sexual predator, and we altered the voice box with a larger larynx and thicker vocal chords to stimulate trust in the female."

The final product - Alexander Icarus in all his glory - appeared on all the screens, revolving around and around. Alexander turned his head to follow the "camera" and winked.

"Awesome work, Das," I said, hand to my mouth.

"Thank you, Mama Jackie," said Das.

"So what was the pill that you gave me?"

"When we had finished we found that we had a bit of a problem. Nobody could go near Alexander Icarus without being reduced to a drooling idiot."

"I see."

"I quickly threw together a cocktail of inhibitors to switch off human receptor/stimuli pathways, especially those of the sense of smell. Once we'd dosed ourselves, we could finally work with him."

I looked at Das closely. "You mean you have to take the cocktail as well?"

Das' eyes held mine. "Without it I'd be content to lie at his feet in chains, abused in every orifice and covered with his seed."

I hugged his head to my breast. "Poor baby," I said. "Well, you'll be relieved to know that the pill seemed to have worked for me too."

"That is a relief," said Das, straightening his tie. "I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with the concept of either of us behaving like simpering Southern belles."

Surely you say we should have shelved him and his siblings on the spot? Sadly, however, then I had one of my bright ideas.

* * * * *


It was moments after Alexander Icarus had left the room. I had just introduced him to the family as my new ersatz "fiancé".

"Fuck," said Amanda.

"Darling!" I said, irritably. "That's not the sort of language that I expect from a member of what will undoubtedly be America's first family."

"Fuck," said Amanda, again.

Nas looked vaguely confused. "I don't know what the fuss is about," he said. "He's got a firm handshake and looks good in a suit, but basically he reminds me of an Aryan version of George of the Jungle."

I kissed. "My dear son. You're so deliciously vanilla. But you don't hate him on sight? Das had a theory that people hate beautiful boys."

Das - who was sitting neatly on the end of my Manhattan couch finishing an entire book of Sudoku - looked up for a moment. He was absently tapping his teeth with a titanium fountain pen.

Nas shrugged. "He's pretty. Can he keep his mouth shut, though?"

"What could he possibly say?"

Bea and Amanda, both the colour of beetroot and with arms crossed tightly over their breasts, were banging shoulders and giggling.

"Well girls," I said. "Would you vote for him?"

They just burst out laughing.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Natla," said Bea. "I'm a bit lost for words."

Amanda whispered in Bea's ear and they had to go outside before they covered the floor with mirth-induced vomit.

"You'd better give them their medicine," observed Das.

"So do you think it is OK to make an announcement through the press office?" I said. "Take him to a few official functions?"

Das and Nas conferred.

"It's worth a try I suppose," said Nas. "But you must be careful Mama Jackie."

"We wouldn't want you to be embarrassed politically," said Das.

"My darling boys," I said, embracing them both.

* * * * *


I'd never experienced a cult of personality such as that which grew around Alexander Icarus. If one is the God-King of a worldwide empire then it's understandable - even holy - that people worship at one's feet. If one is a talented athlete or musician, then one expects young men and women to dream of lying in one's arms. But Alexander Icarus - or "XC" as he became known - was merely pretty and famous. Maybe people responded to him as some sort of embodiment of the Platonic Ideal.

Wherever we went, it wasn't me that the new crowds came to see; it was him.

"I wouldn't worry Mama Jackie," said Das, drily. "Every lovedrunk Maenad will lead to a punched chad."

"Smooth allusion," I said, "but remember Ikarios. Let's hope that our man fares better with the Bacchae."

Everywhere I saw boys and girls with XC jewellery, XC tattoos, XC shaved into their hair. My ratings in the polls rose and rose, ratings already high from the wunderkind that my clinics were spilling onto the streets, to the rage and jealousy of rival candidates and rival states.

The glossy magazines portrayed us as a new Michelle and Barak, a new Ronald and Nancy, a new Marilyn and JFK. We were invited onto chat shows and somewhat to my relief the hosts and the audiences seemed more interested in the clothing that "XC" wore than my plans to unite the world under my theocratic rule. I began to think that the American people didn't really care how they were governed, just as long as it was by somebody beautiful. If Hitler had turned up looking like a cool blonde surfer dude recently retired from the Marine Corps he'd have been a hit, no doubt. Which suited me just fine.

One afternoon I flopped down in the living room at Parajito Mesa and ordered a cold mojito. I thoguht that I was alone, but then I noticed a small movement in the corner.

"Hello?"

It was Bea Bartak, who - reading a book with Slipknot blasting into her headphones - had not noticed me come in.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Come over here and have a Long Island iced tea," I said. "Tell me all about the book you're reading."

Bea did as she was told and we sat and looked out at the desert. She visibly relaxed as the liquor hit her bloodstream and she realised that today wasn't her day to die at my hands.

I thumbed through the book, which was Gibbon's Decline and Fall Of The Roman Empire.

"I didn't know you liked history," I said.

"I love it," said Bea. "It's so full of ... blood." She pronounced the last world with a Transylvanian pout.

"The Romans were big fans of blood."

"So dark and romantic. The witty way in which it is written."

"Is there any particular emperor you like? Most people go for Caligula or Commodus or Caracalla - one of the camper Caesars. Or so I've heard."

Bea looked thoughtful, twirling the stud in her nose.

"I think," she said eventually, "that I like the Third Century. All of those little emperors, all those generals raised up by their soldiers. They rule for a few years and then they are assassinated and then a new favourite. Each because of the threat from the barbarians. It makes you wonder - why did they volunteer for the job, when it was obvious that they would only rule for a short time and then be murdered by the people who elected them? It is insanity."

My eye fell on the opening of Chapter Seven; "Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule," it read.

"Did you know that Edward Gibbon died from swollen testicles?" I said.

* * * * *


I awoke suddenly, sucking in the drool from my lips and half sitting up in bed. Parajito Mesa is in the middle of the desert and there are no street lights. All I could see at first were the tiny red LEDs from various devices scattered about my room.

I found myself listening, trying to distinguish the faintest whisper above the roaring of blood in my ears and thump of my cardiac valves. The sockets over my shouder blades ached, whilst the rest of my body felt as if it had been suddenly unwrapped from a cocoon of cotton.

I levered my legs out of bed and reached for my silk robe.

"Hello?" I said, but my voice was too croaky to be understood. "Lights."

I'd ben suffering with a slight headache before sleep and so the illumination was set to a twilight level, but suddenly, I saw her.

"Gods save us!" I said, starting violently.

The figure was althletic and I could see a hunting rifle tied across her shoulders, resting on a small high rucksack. Her hair was twisted into a vicious ponytail, and she was dressed in shorts and desert boots. All I could see of her eyes was a glint and they seem to be narrowed and fixated on my face.

"This is it," I found myself thinking. I took a deep breath, never taking my eyes from her.

"More lights," said a familiar voice.

It was Jak.

I angrily poured myself a glass of ambrosia and gulped it down.

"What do you think you're doing, sneaking around my bedroom unannouced like that? You could have been ... anyone."

Jak was expressionless. She had been running and she was covered with sweat. "Am I not welcome in your bedroom any more, Jackie?" she said.

"What?" I said, putting down my glass, caught by the unexpected curve ball. I went to embrace Jak but she twisted away. "Of course you are. Why wouldn't you be?"

The anger was beginning to flood into Jak's face, despite herself.

"I've seen you and him on the television. Swanning around at openings and galas and chat shows. Like a king and a queen."

"Me and who?"

"You know perfectly well. I'm just not good enough for you anymore, is that it? A little bit too ethnic? A little bit too female?"

"Jak. Jak!" I tried to touch her but she wasn't having it. "You're being ridiculous."

"I've seen you holding hands and you saying how he's the love of your life."

"It's just a charade!"

"How you're going to have a lovely wedding and all the magazines will be there."

"A lavendar wedding!"

Jak glared at me. "Is it true that you have to take a tablet to stop you flinging yourself on him like some sort of bitch?"

I spluttered. "Well, yes. But it's not personal. I'm not even sure it's sexual."

Jak snorted derisively.

"It's ... he's been designed that way. In the lab. He taps into the deep subconscious. It's more like he triggers a very strong aesthetic appreciation ... it's more like saint worship than ... what you and I have."

"Had."

We locked gazes.

"You're finishing with me?" I said.

"Unless you finish with him."

"I'm not ... can I keep him around until after the election? You know how important ..."

"No. Now."

* * * * *


I've purposely left out most of the details of my gubernatorial campaign - the fund raisers, the interviews, the rallies - in order not to bore you, my faithful reader. However there is one rally, the last rally, which I do have to bore you with.

The boys had hired the Albuquerque Convention Center, finding a three day slot (against the odds) just after the Annual Meeting of the amusingly named American Vacuum Society. Apparently it was the venue of choice for politicians on the make; even the unfortunate Obama had spoken there just before winning the Presidency.

Naturally the security was handled by the Mauro Nero Company, overseen by the estimable Nas.

"Are we sure that Alexander Icarus is good enough at sky diving to pull it off?" said Nas, doubtfully.

"He must have done ... I dunno ... a hundred jumps by now?" I said. "He and that Cessna seem to be buzzing over the house every hour of the day."

Nas pointed at the map on the screen in front of us. "I've instructed the pilot; he's one of my best men. We've been given clearance for the plane to approach the Center from the east along Martin Luther King Avenue and then Alexander will paraglide over the building and land in the Plaza."

"And I hear he's planning to operate some smoke canisters on his ankles."

"I imagine he'll be highly visible, Mama Jackie. I've stationed snipers on the rooftop of the Convention Center and other overlook sites. The APD will be handling crowd control in the Plaza."

"Sheriff Arpaia isn't linked to the Albuquerque police is he?"

"No, Ma'am. And if he was, I'd have my men scattered even more thickly through the audience."

"And what about ... shall we call it the 'entertainment'?" I asked Das.

Das sighed. "We have a massed choir of Alexander Icarus co-patients to sing an 'Ode to Goodness' specially commissioned from Ted Nugent; we picked the blondest singers. And we have a sixty foot 3D display."

"How will you be able to see it in broad daylight?" interrupted Amanda, who had been sulkily thumbing through a magazine about bondage wear as we spoke.

Das smiled faintly. "I think you'll be impressed," he said.

"You truly are a reincarnation of your Uncle Tihocan," I said.

"Maybe a pale shadow of him."

I turned to Amanda.

"And how are you going to dress, my beloved family member and campaign supporter?"

Amanda looked started. "I didn't think I was going to be there."

I sighed. "Darling. You really are going to have start taking more interest in your manifest destiny."

"So I have to be there?"

"I want you next to me on the podium next to Nas and Das. One straight arrow American family. Big smiles. Mom's apple pie. That sort of thing."

Amanda had gone rather pale.

"What's up Sis?" said Nas, roughly hugging her round the shoulders. "Shy?"

"I guess," said Amanda.

"Darling." I touched her arm. "You look terrified. Don't worry - you can be as high as a kite provided you stand up straight and wave a lot."

Amanda nodded and her pupils re-dilated somewhat. "Can't I wear my normal clothes?" she said, eventually. "I promise to put on a gingham dress and have a preppy hairdo for the Presidentials if I can just be myself for this."

Das giggled. "Gingham," he said. He squeezed Amanda's hand.

"It'll make you look magnanimous," continued Amanda. "In with the kids, that sort of thing. Besides, you wouldn't want people to get us confused."

We all turned to look at her.

I drew her over to a mirror and we stood there. I noted the same triangular face and the high forehead, the same bobbed blonde hair, the same mouth, the same nose. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or not.

I relented. "O.K., darling." I said. "If it'll make you happy."

* * * * *


Amanda and Bea had opted for identical outfits and to my job they were not only feminine but they were excellently tailored.

"Maybe I've been a little short-sighted in my perception of how you emo types dress up," I said, handing them each a glass of champagne from the limousine minibar.

Their long dresses were mostly white silk, with strapless halter tops, the dress figure-hugging, with a Morticia Addams aesthetic. The fronts were covered with filigreed black lace panels, whilst the backs consisted of leather straplets criss-crossing between D-shaped metal hoops. The sleeves were long but made of a light material, with ruffled cuffs. The lace was embedded with tiny black stones, possibly adamantine and Brazilian onyx, which glinted in the sunlight and emphasised every feminine curve.

"We dress like the Moravian Royal Family," said Bea, proudly.

"What she said," said Amanda, gulping a couple of pills with her champagne and reaching for more."

"What are those, darling?"

"Ecstasy. You said you wanted me to smile and wave."

"Just don't get dehydrated. It's a hot day."

"No shit," said Amanda. "If I get too hot I'm stripping off."

Bea giggled. She held up her foot wear for my inspection. They were white velvet shoes with four inch Mary Jane heels, open topped and held on with thin bondage straps.

"Can you walk in them?"

Bea tossed her head. "But of course."

They had raised up their hair into improbable bird nests pierced with rods of steel, decorated with precious stones and the odd feather. Their bare shoulders were tattooed with what looked like multi-coloured bruises and the skin glittered from the application of some cunning cosmetic or another. They looked like the Black and White Queens from a Gothic chess set, both just back from a hot night out with the denizens of the underworld.

A tear sprang to my eye. I suddenly saw them as Atlantean Princesses.

"Good grief, Mother!" said Amanda as she spied my tears. "Have some more champagne."

"I'm very proud," I said.

I myself had chosen an outfit that matched with that of Das and Nas , more specifically Nas, who was in his dress uniform. We all wore a variation of white shirt, blue tie and belted blue trousers. Nas had his gold braid and his combat service badges, all topped off with a blue beret. Das looked very similar, but with a discrete Natla Tech set of badge, tiepin and cufflinks, and a very NASA looking gold pen in his top pocket. I had allowed myself the addition of a very short jacket from an evening dress - titanium white - with long sleeves and slightly padded shoulders. In my ears and at my throat twinkled Mozambique tourmalines of an imperial purple, set in African red gold.

As we were helped from the limousines all five of us donned identical aviator sunglasses, Bea and Amanda additionally raising two chichi umbrellas so that they, like Chinese royalty, could be shielded form both the sun and the gaze of any uncouth peasants that might be lurking nearby.

As we appeared here was a roar from a crowd, a wall of sound, the voice of a tsunami. The cameras clattered like crickets.

"If it is not obvious to all watchers that we are born to rule," I said to myself, smiling gravely and circling my right hand like Queen Elizabeth, "then the earth has tipped from its axes." I offered up a quick prayer to the Lords of the Sea and the Sky.

Projected on sky screens all about us, the choir of Das' sonnenkinder burst into a cappella song, their blonde hair and azure eyes glinting in the sunlight and their right arms raised in salutation;

That Jacqueline Natla, New Mexican Queen
She lookin' so clean, speci'lly in between
She's so sweet in the Governor's seat
Down on the street you know she can't be beat


You better cross your way (Better come and see)
You better cross your way (Jackie N and XC)
You better cross your way (Our destiny)
To GOODNESS!


"Jackie N!" screamed the crowd in Pavlovian fashion. "GOODNESS!"

We had processed to a garlanded dais at one side of the Plaza, bedecked with balloons and campaign posters of myself, when the sound of the Cessna became audible over the howling electorate.

Delicately clearing my throat I leaned into the baroque Neumann microphone and said "Hello there Albuquerque!"

I introduced the family; all stepped forward and bowed slightly with the exception of Amanda who started jumping up and down like a victim of St. Vitus' Dance and had to be restrained.

"And of course there is one person missing," I said, throatily. "My beloved fiancé - Alexander Icarus!"

I mimed turning and raising a hand to shield my eyes, indicated with my body language that the mob should follow my gaze skywards.

"XC!" they began to roar. "XC!"

A few hundred feet up - I'm not sure exactly - Alexander Icarus had tipped out of the plane. His wing was bright yellow and had in its centre a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions, the Zia Sun Symbol from the New Mexican flag and from the Atzlan Confederacy. From the ground it looked as if he was flying closely to the flames.

The crowd roared and began to chant "XC!", their right hands raised in a straight armed salute. My eyes began to swim, and for a second it seemed to me that the face that I had seen in the sun looked very similar to Alexander Icarus' face. A shudder went through me, un-noticed by anybody else.

Then as he was rapidly descending - blue and red smoke trailing from each ankle, lining up on the Plaza in front of us - something seemed to punch him on the shoulder and there was a spray of red. He spun, his lines tangled, the foil folded and he began to fall like a teardrop. The last lift of his wing took him to the front of one of the orange adobe blocks of the Convention Center and into an unoccupied painter's cradle. His arms became draped over the cradle rail, splaying him out in a pose of crucifixion, his dying legs kicking the empty air.

Maybe there was flammable material in the painter's cradle. Maybe his ankle canisters exploded. Whatever the reason, he burst into flames. A cloud crept over the sun so that his burning body, like a KKK cross, shed light over the watchers.

I didn't see any of this personally - I reviewed the tapes later. Just as Alexander Icarus was twisting in mid air, a bullet caught me in the back.

The last things that I saw were Nas, sheltering Bea and scanning around with furious eyes, and Amanda, her face decorated by blood, staring at me in expressionless shock.

* * * * *


It actually took me a few days to regain consciousness, and by then the election for Governor was over.

The first face that I saw was Das, who was holding my hand in his cold fingers and gazing into my face intently, like a puppy watching its master. As I focussed on him relief flooded his face and he attempted to hug me, his tears falling on my skin.

They wouldn't give me any news initially, although I noted the extra security outside the door of my suite.

Then Nas came to see me, and wearily sat down in the plastic chair next to my bed, waving away the other occupants of the room.

"What the hell happened?" I croaked furiously as soon as we were alone.

"You're not to over-excite yourself, Mama Jackie."

"The hell with that! Someone tried to kill me."

Nas laid his hand on mine and spoke quietly and reasonably. "The bullet came from across the plaza from a raised bank behind some bushes. We have the bullet and we have identified the rifle. We brought in Jicarilla Elkhorn and questioned her, but she was out of town at the time and the bullet was not fired from her hunting rifle. We've examined the CCTV and amateur videos, and found nothing. The F.B.I. are still on the case."

"I want to know."

"You will."

My rage dissipated somewhat.

"Asides from that, everything went like clockwork. Governor."

I sat up in bed.

"I won?"

"You won. You already had them in the palm of your hand but the assassination of your fiancé on primetime sealed the deal. The first independent Governor since some professional wrestler or other won in Minnesota."

"I didn't know you could win an election from a hospital bed.

Nas laughed. "I checked it out. In the 19th century some guy called Goebel who was standing for Governor of Kentucky was shot. They swore him in on his death bed."

I started to get up. "They're not swearing me in on my death bed." I was weak and in pain, I discovered. "Get me drugs, bionics and cloned organs - whatever. I'm out of here within 24 hours."

Nas grinned. "At once, Madam Governor. "

I sat down again as a thought struck me.

"What about our man? You say the F.B.I. are investigating."

"I think the confusion after your shooting actually helped us. We got him away from the roof of the Convention Centre before people realised what was going on. We left nothing behind."

"What about the bullet?"

"You're not going to believe this, but it's gone missing. When Alexander Icarus burned, he effectively disintegrated. Bits of him were showering down for hours and the fans were fighting over the remains. As trophies. Or relics, maybe. The guy's been practically canonised. No doubt the evidence will turn up in a few years encrusted in jewels and on display in a reliquary in The Church of the Sacred Bullet."

I gaped at him. "So we not only got away with it, but now Alexander Icarus is turning into some male version of Eva Peron?"

We "high-fived" and continued laughing for a very long time.

* * * * *


At my swearing in, I was escorted by Jak, who was hanging onto my arm. I was dressed in mourning black but she was dressed in exultant white. She looked like a supermodel. Let people think what they liked now, I thought. Was she my nurse? When asked I just described her as a "close friend". Jak was glowing with happiness, which made both me and the cameras love her even more.

We had a slight constitutional crisis, apparently, in that I hadn't put forward a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, but it was agreed that the previous incumbent, one of my rivals, should stay in post until someone came up with a better idea. It suited me fine. She had far more experience running the state bureaucracy than I even wanted to gain.

The State Capitol of New Mexico, the Roundhouse, wouldn't have looked out of place in Atlantis. The building when viewed from above was designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol, with four entrance wings that protruded from the main cylindrical volume. My beautiful office on the fourth floor looked out into a central space above which was positioned a ceiling skylight designed to resemble an "Indian" basket weave, with blue and pale pink stained glass representing the sky and the earth, respectively. I felt as at home as if I'd been in a palace on the shore of the Inner Circular Sea.

I gave a couple of interviews, donated my entire Gubernatorial salary to health care insurance for local government employees and then announced I was taking a couple of week's leave to recover further from my gunshot wound. In actuality I was as fit as a flute, but I needed time to try and come to terms with the fact that some malefactor had tried to murder me.

One of my favorite weapons had always been the "biogenic weapon" that had allowed me to shoot fireballs from my wrist. The bioelectricity generated by a mutant Electrophorus that I wore around my waist was used to ignite the semi-sulfurous saliva from a mixotrophic Ascidiacea. My belt was studded with trillium crystals to store the electrical charge and peridot phials to store the expectorate, the whole connected by peristaltic trachea made of gold and fiber. This device, combined with my wings, had once provided quite a good battle get-up, especially in Atlantean times. However as I recalled it hadn't proved particularly effective against a pair of well-aimed single-action 9 mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic handguns.

And so I had commissioned armour, an amalgam of light-weight chitin, shape-shifting cartilage, self-camouflaging chromophore cells and heat-retardant chlorinated cactus skin. I'd road tested it once and it had saved me from a fall into sub-zero Eitr. The armour was thin-enough and body-conforming enough to be worn under a not very flattering asbestos pyjama suit which the Techies had christened "The Straightjacket".

I got all of the gear out of storage and practiced with it. I was fit enough - I had to remain fit enough for my annual bull dance - but I saw no harm in being fitter and quicker. Until I knew who was after me, I had to be prepared to defend myself. I had copies of my battle gear stored in every office and every vehicle.

I retired to Parajito Mesa after giving them instructions to beef up the security.

I was seated at the back veranda, sipping on a cold glass of ambrosia and listening to "Java Jive" by the Ink Spots. I was vaguely admiring my new toy parked on my private runway; my brand new Learjet 85, one of the first few out of the factory. I could hear the throb of a tanker pump as the pilot refueled it, ready for a moment's takeoff. The setting sun silhouetted its sleek shape, a swift steel shark of the sky.

"I love java, sweet and hot", I sang softly.
"Whoops! Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot
Shoot me the pot and I'll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!"


I guess I should have wondered why exactly they were refueling the jet so late at night. I should have realised that there was one person that no amount of extra security could keep out.

I stood up and stretched. It was early November but in the desert it was warm and dry. I breathed deeply of the perfume of the plants and listened to the whispers of the nocturnal animals emerging from their burrows.

I had the house to myself. Das had business in Bangalore, whilst Bea and Nas were romancing in Vientiane. Amanda appeared to be spending her time in London getting out of low slung cars without any underwear on, as far as I could tell. The attempt on my life seemed to have driven her into an intoxicated panic, and I hoped that she would manage to get it all out of her system without doing a River Phoenix.

I waved my hand to close the shutters and told the house system to lock down for the night. I put the kettle on whilst I stepped into the shower. I gently soaped the healing scars and tried to condition some bounce back into my tired hair.

I sat for a while in front of the television, sipping my lemon tea. It seemed to me that the more news that I watched the more it began to repeat itself, like a tired drama that had jumped the shark.

"Soon all that will change," I said to myself. "I'll shake your windows and rattle your walls."

I tried to read some more of my Encyclopedia of Myth but my eyelids failed me.

"Lights," I said, and went into my bedroom. I sat in front of my dressing table mirror and looked at myself. I suppose many people look for signs of advancing age or enumerate their perceived flaws, but I merely smiled at myself. "I'm alive," said my ocean blue eyes. "I'm happy," said my lips.

Only vampires should be able to creep up behind you when you're looking a mirror, but suddenly I found an arm around my throat, choking me. My cry was strangled and I knocked the light onto the floor.

I could feel the body of my assailant and the breath jetting out of their nostrils onto the back of my neck. I gurgled but couldn't speak or stand and I could see a trembling in my peripheral vision as I grew faint.

I had thought the choke hold was hurting me, but it didn't compare to the pain that suddenly flared from my mouth. My attacker had rammed something cold and hard into my lips, and I could feel blood spurting from my ripped flesh. A hand jabbed insistently with the object, forcing my jaws open so my mouth was filled with metal. My teeth felt as is they were being damaged as I was forced to chew on what I had realised was a gun. Some sharp protuberance had scraped the skin at the roof of my mouth, and the long hard barrel was being forced into my throat so that I gagged.

I started to thrash my arms and the chair on which I was pinned turned in a quarter circle, teetering on one leg. My attacker merely tightened both their hold and the pressure of the gun in my mouth.

Then in turning I caught sight of the two us in a wall mirror, and as I did my eyes met hers. I can't quite describe the sensation but it was as if a stream of information crackled between us. I recognised her and was astonished. She saw my astonishment and seemed momentarily shocked herself. My eyes widened in a pleading expression, a glare for mercy. Her eyes hardened and a nasty smile crept over her face.

As I watched, she cocked the pistol, loading a round into the chamber under my nose. She watched my reaction as she did it.

I stared at her, indicating my panic and pleading wordlessly that surely she didn't mean to do this?

Her smile faded.

"Absolutely," she said, and began tighten her finger on the trigger.

* * * * *