At the far end of Fisherman's Wharf, past the eager early morning tourists an_heir bleary children, a jeweled airship hung in the air.
The balloon portion resembled an enormous, ruby-colored seahorse. Below thi_as a comfortable looking gondola of a dark, lacquered wood with gol_iligree. Spyder saw the seahorse blocks away, but wasn't worried. By now h_new that no one else could see the thing or would remember it for more than _ew seconds if they did.
Spyder parked the Dead Man's Ducati by a clam chowder stand in front o_isherman's Wharf and left the keys in the ignition. Taking Lulu by the hand,
he led her down the long wooden walkway connected to the piers. Long befor_isherman's Wharf had been transformed into a video game and fried fis_ourist trap, the place had been a working pier for fishing boats coming i_rom beyond the Golden Gate. Even weekend sailors avoided the place now,
however. It wasn't just the tourists. The few places left to tie up had bee_taked out by hundreds of growling and extremely territorial sea lions.
Mostly, the animals used the piers to sun themselves, so in the cool mornin_ir there weren't more than a dozen or so sacked out on the deck. Spyde_alked Lulu carefully around the sea lions to the airship.
Primo waved to them from the end of the pier. Shrike was sitting on one of th_ilings, her face to the sun. Her pale skin was outlined in the orange an_inks of dawn light. Spyder stood behind her. She got to her feet, put a han_n his chest and smiled at him. "I never doubted you for a moment, even if yo_oubted yourself," Shrike said and pecked him on the cheek. She went to th_alloon and Primo helped her into the gondola, then Lulu. Spyder followed the_nside as Primo cast off the rope that tethered them to the wharf. For _econd, it seemed as if nothing was happening. Then, they rose straight int_he chill morning sky. Spyder's stomach dropped with the nauseous sensation o_iding in a freight elevator.
Shrike was passing around cups and a thermos full of hot coffee. Spyder poure_ome and watched Primo at the front of the gondola operating a spider web o_ines and pulleys, positioning the airship to catch the bay winds. Spyder too_is cup and went to little man.
"Want some coffee?" Spyder asked.
"I don't drink stimulants, sir."
"Need any help with the ropes?"
Primo grinned. "Oh, no thank you. I'm fine." He pulled enthusiastically on on_ine and let another slide through his hand as they turned away from the coas_nd drifted toward the Golden Gate Bridge, steadily gaining altitude as the_ent.
"You look like the cat who ate the canary, after fucking it," said Spyder.
The little man nodded. "I'm doing what I love," he said. "I serve Madam_inders because that is my duty. She gave my clan sanctuary centuries ago an_e always honor our debts. But living sedentary in her palace isn't th_appiest life for me."
"A ramblin', gamblin' man."
Primo laughed. "We Gytrash are travelers both by profession and b_isposition. I grew up on horseback, in trading ships clad in gold and o_ndless overland treks through all three Spheres.
"This airship reminds me of one I was on many years ago. My clan landed on th_sland of Montes Lunae to make repairs on take on supplies. Montes Lunae is _ich, green island in the second Sphere which, back then, was ruled b_hashash, the Raven King. It was the hundred and fiftieth year of Chashash'_ein and in keeping with Lunae tradition, he'd declared Jubilee."
"That some kind of party?" asked Spyder.
"It's much, much more than that, sir. During Jubilee, all laws are suspended,
all slaves freed, all the lands won in battle are returned to their origina_wners. Jubilee is a time of renewal and madness. A time to burn th_ields—both physical and metaphysical. Prisons became art galleries. Ar_alleries became bordellos. Bordellos became court houses. Then it all change_gain over night.
"As time goes on, the laws of physics begin to fall apart. Mortals can fly…
badly, in my experience. On Montes Lunae, many aeronauts cracked their skull_efore they got the hang of it. And when they did learn the basics of flying,
they'd still get air sick. It was a bad idea to enter some neighborhood_ithout an umbrella.
"There was a method to all this madness. Everyone who lived on the island,
including visitors like us, were given tattoos with colored shapes—circles,
triangles or squares, along with alchemical symbols. This complex combinatio_f colors and symbols told you who you were in relation to everyone else o_ny given day. On my chest, I received an inverted red triangle with th_ymbol for quicksilver.
"The night my clan received its tattoos (each of us received a differen_ombination of symbols), we had no idea of our place among the islanders or t_ach other anymore. We were saved when I saw a Captain from the Raven King'_rmy. I had met the man earlier, but that night he prostrated himself befor_e. He was a slave, he told me, the lowest off the low in relation to thos_ho carried my symbol. I had him explain the pecking order to my whole clan,
so that we might fit in with the celebrations. When I saw the captain again _ew days later, he was the lord and I was the slave. This is how it was durin_ubilee. Anyone could be anyone else on any given night. Even the Raven Kin_imself was, on occasion, both a prisoner and a slave. I know this because I,
Primo Kosinski, of the Black Iron Gytrash, for three full days became king o_he second Sphere.
"I was in prison when it happened. Everyone ends up prison during Jubilee.
What I didn't know was that the Jubilee kings and queens were chosen in priso_y a lottery. My lottery card bore the outline of a wolf's paw. This mean_othing to me since a number of other prisoners had similar symbol on thei_ots. But through a combination of the wolf, the configuration of the stars i_he sky and my tattoos, I was declared king and taken to the royal palace hig_top the World Poplar.
"I loved being king. Pretty girls—exotic dancers who were now th_egislature—would bring me fruit and legal documents. I often signed th_ocument without reading them, assuming I would learn what they wer_ventually.
"We passed new Jubilee laws constantly, then would make it illegal to enforc_hem. The laws were often deliberately ludicrous. It became illegal to carr_n small dog while smoking a pipe. It was further illegal to attempt sexua_elations with an animal while either party was on fire. No one could smil_hile wearing white, or frown while in the presence of a man in stripes. Thos_ound guilty of these charges might find themselves banished to the sewer_ith nothing but a candle and a baseball bat. Or they might be mad_rchbishop.
"The only law that remained constant and coldly rational throughout Jubile_as simple: Everyone on Montes Lunae, resident or guest, must participate i_ubilee wholeheartedly while he or she was there. This was a hard thing fo_ome people. It was a hard thing for my family.
"Eventually, my mother found herself subordinate to a man she didn't like, _arriage broker who was also a card cheat and a libertine—two things my mothe_ouldn't abide. She refused to serve the man when it was her time. When th_roker insisted, my father and brothers beat him. My family was arrested an_ought before me. I was King. I had no choice. They had broken the most basi_aw of Jubilee.
"I executed them."
Spyder looked at Primo hard as the little man made subtle adjustments on th_ines that controlled the airship's progress.
"But this isn't a sad story," Primo continued. "To honor my family's death, _repared their bodies as a great feast on my last night as king. I invited al_he citizens of the island to dine with me. Everyone ate and through th_itizens' digestive tracts, my family became a part of every person on Monte_unae. When those citizens had children, a tiny piece of my family was passe_n to them. To this day, I am welcome in any home on the island, from th_ighest to the lowest, because, in a sense, every person on Montes Lunae is _lood relation."