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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


And Of a Steel But Slimy Stealth

    Space is very cold.  He cannot feel it.
    His ship is old, but no one hijacks it
    for sale as an antique.  Its evil
    is legend; unwarranted, he thinks,
    he who is no 'he,' for steel
    is surely neuter.  After all,
    it plays a vital role.

    His white-gloved android hand
    dusts the museum shelf.
    By mere inches, it avoids
    giving Ur of the Chaldees
    an 'earthquake' today.  He stole
    Noah's city from the earth
    as the Flood struck with wet death;
    the sinners God would not spare --
    or their posterity -- are here,
    eternally on display
    for eyes without sympathy.
    To long forgot gods they pray,
    but it is their vile captor
    who provides for them,
    who sees that drink and food
    and essential services
    are synthesized for the peoples
    whom he has trapped forever
    in his metropole-bottles.
    His ship is very cold.
    He needs no atmosphere,
    though he must create many,
    in miniature, for his dear
    pets.  For Kandor, the former
    capitol of dead Krypton:
    an artificial red sun
    to orbit the bottle
    and make day, arc on a track
    under the shelf for night,
    then make its way all the way back;
    it is a clever contraption.
    He was programmed well.
    The scavengers of Colu
    molded the crossbones-and-skull
    ship and its piratical captain
    to terrorize whole quadrants
    while they collected specimens
    of great cityscapes.  A vital
    role, they thought, that the extinction
    inevitable in urban
    centers might somehow be stalled,
    their cultures allowed to escape.
    The natives don't see it that way.
    To them he is like unto death,
    the Ravager of Worlds, and they,
    the computer-proud Coluans,
    they must all be mad maniacs
    who could conceive a fetid
    metal evil like Brainiac's.

    His chalk white face does not grin.
    The sunsets of mock Krypton,
    though he views them,
    hold no beauty for him;
    he knows only his duty,
    his essence, his ethos:
    Capture the lost, floating city!
    Find and bottle Argos!
    And from across half a cosmos
    Kara can feel his approach.
    For weeks the reports have haunted her.
    They encroach upon her sleep; she can't keep
    her eyes closed for fear of the dream of him,
    of his shrink-ray freezing them,
    his white-gloved hand squeezing her
    and the colonists until they all burst!
    She thirsts for a plan.
    Tomorrow she will pray:

    --    O, Thou who congeals the divisible,
          O, Rao, reveal'st to me
          the invisible way.

    May it end her disquiet,
    may paths beyond his grasp be seen
    in the embers of Rao's diet!

    For now she tosses and turns,
    tosses and turns.  Her bed is warm
    but the leader sleeps as she leads,
    that is, alone.

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