Thursday, May 13, 2010

Decker #25

Aida and Coxli, brought together by their shared disinterest in the technical aspects of Tut's explanations, occupied a small table strategically placed at the greatest distance from Tut's work station and conversed over a light lunch that she had brought back from the cafeteria.
"The device, described in the instructions as a chronospace projector, is designed to operate in a stable space/time matrix," Tut said. "With the level of flux as it is, I'd strongly caution against using any of its features other than surveillance."
"But we could bring Furge back with it, right?" Decker eyed the open case hopefully.
"Under ideal circumstances, I would postulate it had that capacity. I am somewhat dubious that it will even serve its virtual functions within the parameters of the current disturbance. Additionally, it draws a rather significant quantity of energy for even its simplest operations. With the additional strain on both the projector and our generation capacity, I am less than hopeful regarding our ultimate success."
"So you're saying it's risky."
"That is one potential permutation of what I am saying."
"There seems to be little to lose," Degren said, "and a lot to gain. Bringing Furge back and returning us all to our proper places could go a ways toward healing this rift, don't you think?"
Tut sighed. "It's impossible to speculate as to the cause or effect of our current situation without significantly more information. It is much more likely that your displacement was a minor side effect of some greater disturbance."
"Well, let's investigate, then!" Decker pointed at the machine. "Get that thing fired up and we'll go on a fact-finding mission or three. In the process of investigation, we'll look for Furge."
"If it's all the same to you guys," Coxli said, "I'll stay here and take notes. My dear mother, rest her soul, told me I was allergic to chronospace projection. I'm not ready to find out if I've outgrown my sensitivity."
"As far as I can tell, no one will be doing any actual traveling when we engage the initial function of the projector," Tut said. "According to what I've been able to discern from the instructions, the subjects find themselves surrounded by a complete sensory virtuality of the target event sequence. The subjects never actually leave their origin modality. So, if the projector is operating optimally, there will be little risk. However, given the overlap we are experiencing, it's difficult to hypothesize as to what mode of reality will be represented within its field."
"Sounds sketchy to me," Coxli shrugged, "so if it's all the same to you...."
"Yeah, yeah." Decker shot the lizard-man an impatient glare, then turned to Tut. "Let's get this show on the road, Professor!"
"Very well." Tut pulled a pair of gossamer-thin, almost invisible suits out of the case and handed one to Decker and one to Degren. "Put these on. They are designed to form-fit to most known sentient somatypes. They provide a locus for the chronospace projector, as well as generating a simulacrum of the target events for the wearer. In the actual travel mode, they become the vehicle for the subject, able to transceive energy from the projector and real-time data from the subject's current locus. As long as you are in the surveillance mode, you will remain here where we can see you. Should the 'travel' mode be engaged, our only contact with you will be aural. It should be a reciprocal link."
"So we'd be able to talk with you, but that's all."
"Yes. Should we decide to use the 'travel' function, I'll send a few recording devices with you so that we aren't only relying on your perceptions."
"Alright," Decker said, "let's give it a go."
"I'll start with a locus that's familiar to all of us," Tut said. "Target A: House Thure on Cradsell 4. Let's see, spectrum blue, phase shift at the seventeenth harmonic factor...yes, that should approximate the locus.....ready, gentlemen?"
The two men gave the thumbs-up.
"...and off you go!"
Suddenly, Degren felt a breeze and the warmth of the sun on his face. The random angles of House Thure loomed before him, seemingly returned to normalcy since the last time he'd seen it on the screen of Tut's hastily-assembled, now-defunct time/space contraption. He thought he caught a glimpse of Aida in one of the house's upper windows; he blinked and shook his head, knowing she'd come through the old device with Tut. When he looked back up, she was gone.
The water of the pond seemed to be boiling as it overflowed its boundaries. It cascaded across terraces, spreading down the hillside as he pond welled, impossibly mushroom-like, above its stone boundaries, seeming to defy gravity. There was a sort of slow-motion feel to things as he followed Decker toward the side door of the house. He sensed that Decker, too, had glimpsed Aida in the upstairs window, and was going to investigate.
Tut's voice rang from nowhere in his ears. "What do you see, gentlemen?"
"Thought I saw Aida in the house," Decker said. "Going to check it out."
"I'm not certain how the projector will handle your change in elevation," Tut cautioned, "Kindly attempt to keep up a running dialogue so that we can monitor your situation. For some reason, you are not visible to us at this time."
"OK. Degren, maybe we should stick together, huh? Seems like they always split up in the stories to cover more ground, and it's always a bad idea."
"Will do. Who's going to be the jabberer first?"
"You asked, you got it. Remember which stairs led to Aida's room?"
"Nope. Never came in or out this door, either. And things look different in here anyway. More halls."
"More halls?" Tut sounded perplexed. What do you mean?"
"I mean more halls," Degren said, "like you could go a bunch more different ways at every turn now than the last time we were here. It seemed weird then how there were no right angles, but now it's like, I dunno, four-dimensional."
"Disturbing," Tut muttered. "Four dimensional tessellation? Tesseract effect? I don't like it, gentlemen. Perhaps you should return to the projection site."
Degren glanced out a window toward the pond. "I don't think that's going to be possible, Tut, unless our projections can walk on water. The spot we started from looks pretty flooded."
"Flooded? What?"
"Yeah, the pond is acting weird, overflowed its walls like a floppy souffle. Getting pretty crazy out there. Water is turning kind of glow-y turquoise, blopping around like slow-motion gelatine."
"Water! It's not just the river anymore!" Tut was in a panic. "The river has suffused into the normal water supply on Cradsell 4! Things are decaying faster than I had anticipated. Gentlemen, I am going to bring you back now."
"Wait!" Decker raced down a narrow corridor, with Degren hot on his heels. "That's Aida's room right over there. She was here, Tut. This won't take long."
"Decker, the paradox effect..."
"Just a sec, Tut!" He swung the door open, and there she was. "Aida! Quick, come with me!"
"Do I know you, sir? What are you doing in my-"
"No time!" He pulled open his suit, stretching it as far as he could from his body, and dived over the flustered duck. "Okay, Tut, bring us back!"
"I'll try, Decker, but there seems to be an extra strain on the projector. Perhaps due to your spatial displacement. Engaging parallax"
The twisted Medieval lines of House Thure wavered and faded, and Degren found himself standing on the comfortingly solid floor of the hyperbaric chamber. Decker was sprawled on top of the vigorously protesting Aida, who calmed as she caught a glimpse of Tut.
"My dear Tut, you look so old! What in the seven moons is going on? Who are these men, and where are we?"
"This is highly irregular," Tut said. "The projector was definitely in surveillance mode, but..."
"But we were really there, weren't we, Tut?" Decker extricated himself from the suit and the duck, stood in front of the befuddled turtle. "The projector's fucking up, isn't it? Shit shit shit SHIT!"
"Perhaps it's not the projector, Deg-er, Deck...ummmmm-mm? Well, I suppose it doesn't matter. I'll call both of you Deckren. Anyway, I wonder if the barriers between realities are attenuated enough so that the projector no longer has a capacity to merely survey. This may ultimately make our task easier, though perhaps more dangerous. Of course, we merely engage in speculation at this point. I'll study the manual further."
"Tut, do you think we have time for caution? Let's keep this ball rolling, or we'll run out of time."
"Darling, you haven't answered me," Aida number two whined. What's going on here? And who is that other duck?"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Decker #24

The coat was pale blue silk, perfectly tailored to his now-gaunt form. The pants, also silk, were bone-white. His sand-colored huaraches were Italian-made, and caressed his feet as he strolled through the bustling casino, martini in hand. He noted the way the floor staff watched him; watched his drink to ensure it was never empty, watched his movements at the blackjack and roulette tables. He was a "high roller" in this casino, and in most of the other casinos on the Strip. Everywhere he went in Las Vegas, he was treated like visiting royalty.
He barely remembered how he'd gotten here, only that it was toward the end of a long debauch; cocaine lifted the alcohol's haze, and a stiff drink took the paranoid edge off the coke. A blur of motel rooms and torrid rendezvous, each more opulent than the last, had drawn him to "Sin City" along a crooked line from the Arizona desert where his memories began. It seemed as though fortune must favor him; he'd started off destitute and ill-versed in the system of exchange that these people used, but at every turn a new boon would fall on him. The jaded blonde time-share sales woman who'd picked him up on the roadside in her tall, rectangular vehicle (she'd called it an SUV, he'd since learned what that was) and offered him money to be her companion for the night, and taught him what this "money" was; the two floozies who'd come to sit at his table at the diner where the blonde had left him, who'd spent the next night in a seedy room with him, "teaching" him about sex, and next morning talked him into spending all his money on scratch-off tickets, then left him with one un-scratched ticket (it had been a ten thousand dollar winner, but they were long-gone by then); Brian, the trucker who'd befriended him and taken him into Scottsdale to get him some decent clothes and a shower; by the time he'd found himself in Las Vegas, he had a bank account that would have supported him in luxury for the rest of his life.
The days and nights of a high roller were very entertaining, he'd learned, especially when it didn't seem as though he ever lost. As he learned more about the games of chance that treated him so well, he'd begun to wonder where his luck could be coming from. Though the casinos scrutinized his every move, there was never so much as a hint that he might be cheating them, so they let him play. Through the advice of various other gamblers, he'd learned to "spread it around", going from one casino to another, only staying long enough to pocket ten thousand or so from each.
He'd developed a reputation along the Strip; there were always hangers-on who'd watch him carefully, looking for his "system", and no shortage of beautiful women willing to ply him with their "assets" to let them in on his "secret". He'd gotten to the point where he didn't even care to know it himself. As long as the money, the drugs, the drinks and the women kept coming like iron to a magnet, he'd ride the tide.
He'd called himself Decker Quall, for the purpose of opening a bank account and such things. Some papers and plastic cards he'd found among the clothing and detritus in the caved-in Arizona shack he'd woken up outside of had that name on them, written in a language that seemed unfamiliar but that he could somehow comprehend, and other information that he'd later learned was important to surviving in this land. Brian had taught him how to use the information. Now it seemed that, every time he looked at the little rectangle of plastic on which Decker's name and address were embossed, the image of the man the card had belonged to came to resemble him more and more.
Sometimes he'd have dreams in which he was someone else entirely, living in a totally different world. He'd always wake up in a cold sweat. In that other world, there were no casinos, no endless stream of attractive women ready to do his bidding, no raucous, glorious nights full of flashing lights and alcohol. Just a sparse desert with nothing to do but look for food, pray, and make love to...another man? He was repulsed at the idea, but it somehow pulled at him, too. It was a frightening idea, much like standing on a cliff edge and wondering what it would be like to....just leap. He vowed he'd never try it, and when such thoughts breached his consciousness, he shoved them frantically back into the depths. He'd occasionally been approached by other men, and at first he'd tried to be polite in declining them, but recently he'd started unleashing scorn and vitriol on those who offered such affront.
Here in the heart of organized chance, there were very few manifestations of the strange occurrences that were happening elsewhere. He was not one to listen to the news, but he'd catch an occasional snippet when he was riding in someone else's car; outside of Las Vegas, the laws of physics seemed to be unraveling and becoming fluid. Even here, every now and again, out of the corner of his eye, he'd see something coming out of nowhere that obviously didn't belong there. Well, no big deal, as people here liked to say. As long as he could keep on partying, he'd play "Decker Quall", and nothing was going to stop him. This, he thought, is the life!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Decker #23

"I, er....well, it's kind of a long story, fellas," Coxli said, leaning back on his tail and scrutinizing various patches of ceiling, "maybe there's not really time for me to tell you about it."
"By all means, Mr. Coxli," Tut said, "regale them with the details. This is not a device I have had the instance to familiarize myself with; in fact it is technology entirely beyond my ken. We shall hope that the instructions included will provide me with the necessary familiarity to utilize it, but I will require some time to peruse them." With that, he adjourned to a chair and immersed himself in the thick pamphlet.
Both men gazed fixedly at the lizard-man; his throat sac puffed in and out and blushed tangerine. "Well, um, it's kind of like...look, liver lickers, lose the litigious leers; life has likely laid me low already, lousy Limburger- "
"Coxli. Hey, Coxli!" Decker interrupted. "Relax, man. Nobody's gonna eat you, or beat you. We're just curious about where you've been for the last couple, days, I guess."
"Right. Well, er...when that 'Lizzy' person came with her little army, I didn't figure you-um, we had a chance, so I decided to wait for my moment to slip out the door. They were concentrating on the two of you, which left me free to grab the thingie in the box, which I figured you wouldn't want them to get, even if they got you. And it did cross my mind that you'd get killed or captured, in which case the thingie wouldn't be worth much to you, so....I, you know, figured it might be worth something to somebody else. Hey, a guy's gotta look out for his own interests, right?"
"Anyway, I wandered around in these halls for a while, took a look at the river a couple of times- which, by the way, is getting a lot higher- and had a little nap and a snack here and there, and I was just starting to feel pretty lonely and lost when I run into Tut here. He tells me you guys are alright, and I get this really happy, tickly feeling in my belly, and even though I was raised to be a good, honest thief, I find myself wanting to bring your thingie back to you. So here I am!"
" My faith in lizard-kind," Degren exclaimed, "is restored."
Decker noticed a cool, damp sensation on the pads of his feet. "Guys, I think we're going to have to move up a level. Coxli is right; the river is coming up fast." The water was puddling in from the door, oozing through the carpet and rilling over the tile. Odd little whirlpools formed and vanished; a variety of fins, plants, periscopes, fountains and other assorted spectral anomalies appeared and faded before the two men's eyes. Decker tried to write them off as river water-induced hallucinations, but he noticed Coxli's curious downward glances and realized the lizard-man was seeing what Decker saw.
"Might be a good idea, too, to find ourselves a room that's hard to break into," Degren said. "Even though the river's probably not very navigable, our friend Lizzy seems like the resourceful type. We shouldn't count on her to get discouraged."
"Good point," Decker replied. "Let's grab Tut and move on up."
Tut seemed irritated by the interruption, but when he noticed the now-ankle-deep water around his scaly, purple-green feet, he acknowledged their concerns. "By Romulus' milk-sopped beard, this is most disheartening!" He carefully re-packed the device back into the case, slipped the thick pamphlet back into its slot, and strode for the door. "We shall give ourselves a bit of time by ascending to the fifth level; I think the hyperbaric chamber will provide the necessary security, and perhaps will serve as a last defense against the rising water, should it continue to defy cosmic laws."
"Cosmic laws?" Decker sneered. "Seems even scientific legislation is subject to the whims of criminals. What do you think is happening out there, Tut?"
"Whatever is happening isn't just 'out there', friend Decker, or Degren, or whoever you are. It's in here, over there, down there, up there, and everywhere along the stretch of cosmos connected to this temporo-spatial flow-way you know as 'the River'. Let's try the elevator, right over there. I couldn't begin to form conjecture as to cause, but it appears that a significant percentage of the normal phase barriers that prevent singularity intermix has been attenuated. The laws of chance, the laws of integration, and the laws of entropy would seem to be waltzing a tango polka, thrash-worm-style. My surmise is that events within each existential singularity, for instance the reality surrounding the place you came from, Decker, are intermingling with events taking place anywhere along the River. Event nexuses appear to be losing their integrity, thus generating plausibility overlaps. Normal entropy for each nexus has been disturbed. Down this hall, gentlemen. Rather than having a tendency toward the random, by agglomerating all timespace in a given area, one might surmise a tendency toward eventual crystallization. Leading up to that, however, my hypothesis would tend toward the illusion of chaos as possibility fields repolarize before coalescing."
"Could you give that to me in layman's terms?"
Tut cast an exasperated glare at Decker, then raised a webbed finger and blinked his eyes rapidly. "Er, the toilets of our individual realities are being flushed onto an iceberg."
"Left at this juncture.As the possibility fields of all the singular realities along the river intermingle, the dimensional planes of all possibility will have to fold in on each other into a single space/time variability grid. The number of possibilities, after churning together as the fields intermix, will be divided by the number of individual space-time webs that intermix. Randomness and entropy will attenuate accordingly. The multiverse will organize."
"What's that gonna mean for us?"
"Hard to say."
"Why did I bother asking? No way we can do anything about it, right?"
"Up these stairs. I wouldn't assume that to be the case. Given that we have seen no other instances that we can identify of personality intermingling such as you have experienced, there is the possibility that, by locating the third member of your reality intermix and bringing the three of you into near proximity, we might mend the phase ruptures between the nexuses. Probabilities are slim, but we have little other recourse. To the right, the large hatch on the left side of the hall."
It looked like the entrance to Nemo's submarine, but with an LCD display and a control pad at the center instead of a sight glass. Tut handed the case to Degren and went to work on the keyboard. His clumsy-looking fingers were a blur of motion; there was no way Decker could decipher what Tut had input to the panel. There was a long, loud buzz and a mechanical hum, then a whoosh of air from a pair of floor vents that bracketed the hatch; a series of metallic "snicks" orbited the hatch twice and it swung smoothly inward. Tut beckoned them inside.
They found themselves standing in a cylindrical room, about thirty feet in diameter, which extended upward like a missile silo to a domed ceiling that was dwarfed by perspective. At the apex of the dome was a circular hatch, served by an open metal ladder that was bolted to the center of the floor. Built into the walls of the chamber were various instrument and control panels, each with a high, swiveling chair mounted on a pneumatic tube in front of it. There were three long, curved tables that formed a dashed circle halfway out from center. Tut took the case to the table most distant from the hatch.
"Occupy yourselves as you will, gentlemen," he said, "but I shall need a modicum of peace as I attempt to decipher these instructions. The green lever to the left of the hatch, when raised, will open the door, provided there is no pressure differential. When lowered, it will close the door. Down the hall to your left, right at the first corridor and three doors down on your left, there is a cafeteria and facilities for your, er, ablutions. I recommend you go in twos, leaving one behind with me to open the door on each group's return. I have programmed the door so that it may only be opened from the inside; we must protect the device from Lizzy and her minions at all costs. Now kindly leave me to my research."
"I'll be happy to stay here," Coxli volunteered, "if you'll bring me back some water and a nice snack of some bug salad."
"Chickenshit," Degren laughed, "you just don't want to risk leaving your new 'panic room'!"
"Well, let's go grab a snack and a shower," Decker said, "and decide along the way if we're brave or stupid."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Decker #22

"Holy shit. Holy triple shit!" Decker wasn't sure if he had said it, or just thought it, or if Degren had said it. "We are in a heap of fucked."
"I completely agree," Degren replied, and both men felt hysterical laughter surging in their bellies.
They dragged Tut out of the epicenter of destruction and used the recesses that his limbs had retracted into to roll him onto the flat of his shell. Only the tip of his beak-like nose protruded.
"I wonder how long he'll be in there," Decker said.
"Probably doesn't matter much," Degren replied. "The machine doesn't really look repairable, and even if Tut could fix it, I doubt there's enough time. Have you looked around recently?"
"Yeah, the walls melting and all that. I'm starting to wonder if I'm still on the same peyote trip as when I met you!"
"Fucking quadruple shit," Degren muttered despondently, causing Decker to wonder further as to who was thinking and who was talking. "I'm about to throw in the towel and start looking for something to get drunk on!"
"There's always the river water."
"What the fuck? What does it matter?"
They stared into each others eyes for a moment. Both men were still hesitant to give up completely, but what could they do? There was no way to get upriver at this point, and even if they could find their way back to Degren's world, the way was impassable where the bridge had collapsed, nearly beneath their feet. Furge was a fading memory for both of them now. Reality as they knew it, it seemed, was about to become a hodgepodge of incongruous possibilities, most from times and places neither of them could probably find familiar or even survive in.
"River water it is. Grab a cup, we'll take it 'to go' so we can come back and keep an eye on Tut."
They didn't have to go far to collect their hallucinogenic cocktail. There were six inches of water on the first landing of the stairs to the "boardwalk" level; the river had risen halfway to their floor. With a sinking feeling, they each filled their cups from the bubbling, glowing blue-green water.
Tut was still out cold when they returned, though they could see his nose move slightly in and out of his neck cavity, and an occasional flash of finger- and toenails.
One raised his cup. Throat quivering, he said, "It's been a helluva ride, and even though we've really barely met, I feel like we've known each other all our lives. There's nobody I'd rather go out with. Let's go out with a flash!"
"Pretty much what I was going to say. Bottom's up!"
They flung their empty cups at the wall; away from the wreckage of the space/time machine, just in case Tut could do anything with it. One of them sat on Tut's shell, the other dragged a chair over.
"I remember hanging around with friends, getting high in the wilderness or in someone's basement. We'd always end up laughing our asses off about the stupidest shit. Then we'd say even stupider shit, and pretty soon we couldn't stop laughing. It was weird, because I always thought, at least partly, that life generally sucked, like all that happened was you grew up and went off to spend the rest of your life workin' your ass off and having kids that were just going to do exactly what we did. Maybe it was hysterical laughter even then, you know? Like maybe there really wasn't anything to laugh about at all."
"This is getting way too much like talking to myself. Did we have the same childhood? In different realities? Oh, hey, look...the walls are changing color. The water's working."
"Water works."
Somewhere very near them, a line of Can-Can dancers in rainbow feather boas kicked and smiled while hypno-swirl-eyed koalas smoked corn cob pipes and rode carp-shaped high-speed trains over cherry jello La Brea pits where jabberwocks swam; just behind the infield wire, a gaggle of animated blue cacti cheered enthusiastically for a leprechaun pitcher who had just struck out his third seven-armed orangutan in a row, even though they swung three bats and shot eucalyptus candy laser beams from their hip-mounted anuses.
"I think it's working."
"Either that or the universe is turning inside out."
Deep melancholy came over them, and the scenes around them settled in to the end of the night at Rick's Café Américain, in shadowy black and white. Bogie was sad-eying women as they left in groups of five and six, partner-less and desperate. Nazi penguins, outraged that last call had come so soon, were shooting at the lone, slowly spinning ceiling fan, spraying clouds and shards of plaster over the remaining, depressed barflies, half of whom had their heads on the bar and hardly seemed to notice. Lizzy stood behind a potted palm, talking on a cell phone that looked like an open oyster; she still stares hatefully at them, though her eyes seemed somehow blurred and cartoonish. The gendarmes had no mouths, and they were rushing in the door, pistols drawn. Both men reached for their whiskey glasses, only to realize that they had none.
"Can I kiss you?"
"Will it hurt, do you think?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I don't know if I love you...not that way, I mean."
"That's okay. Gotta do something."
And shades of gray became as flesh, as blood, as tangerines and honey, as fireworks, as tropical canopies, as Aegean shores and olive groves, as rainbows touching, weaving, as kaleidoscope tapestries and June tulip beds, and it didn't matter if they loved; they were one and it was good.
Some eons or minutes later, they rolled apart on a wet, sandy shore as the last rumbles of thunder shook great warm drops on them from a lightening sky.
The cafeteria came sailing back to them with laser-woven sails gently luffing; the walls breathed color and the bits of broken machine were a carousel, a calliope, a gently dying firework fountain. Let this be the eternal moment, they both thought as they once again became two.
It was hard to tell if the walls were breathing harder or if the river water still had a grip on them. They looked for Tut but he was gone. They staggered to the cafeteria door, looked down the undulating hall, which was much longer than they remembered. At the vanishing point, bobbing like the tip of a kite tail in a wind tunnel, was Tut, and....someone else.
They stood waiting for half an eternity, until the two figures stopped oscillating in their eyes.
"Coxli!" They both shouted, and indeed it was, and he was carrying something that looked suspiciously, inspiringly like a futuristic suitcase.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Decker #21

"I can only speculate that the spatial and temporal boundaries of a great number of causality matrices have warped, or lost integrity," Tut explained as he dug through the pile of tools and instruments. "I have seen minor temporo-spatial anomalies on occasion, but never anything of this magnitude. Deck-, ah,, would one of you take the back panel off the protein modulus assessment unit? The big orange device on the end. This will defeat the mag-latches." He tossed Degren a clear, hot-dog-sized cylinder full of colored wires with a button on the side and a pencil-eraser-shaped gray protrusion at one end. "Hold it over each red dot and press the button once. Don't press the button unless you are directly on a red dot, or it may degauss the molecular degradation inhibitors. There are records of a similar disturbance in the Pentrax Cluster three galactic revolutions ago, but the causality grid there is at least three factors denser than here in the Spiral Arm Sector. While he's doing that, will you lay out all the small equipment we brought from the apartment and organize it by shape and size? Use that table, but drag it right"
Tut kept up a constant flow of instructions and speculations as he bustled from device to device, rewiring circuits and stringing wires. They gleaned from his discourse that their odds of success were not very good, and that cataclysmic events involving a large part of the universe could be the result if they failed. Tut bemoaned the loss of the "temporo-spatial grid monitor", as he called the device they'd brought back from the shipwreck, as, apparently, it offered them a much better chance of success.
"My hypothesis is that we are witnessing an extreme example of the 'butterfly effect', in which the permutations of one small occurrence stimulate phase reverberation throughout the cosmic fabric of an area, sending out ripples that amplify as they recede from the point of occurrence. I am operating under the assumption that your, er, friend, Furge, is the nexus of this event. Hand me that oscillation inhibitor, would you? Blue oval with a yellow filament cluster at the narrower end. Thank you. If my hypothesis is correct, we will find that the reality matrix of Decker's world is as yet relatively undisturbed, as the amplification only begins compounding after the third return. Ah, good; the tesseract redundancy detector is intact. It's the octopus at the top right in the case, next to the large gold sphere. Carefully pinch each snake tip to disconnect it, then reach underneath and toggle the release mechanism set in the bottom, then gently....gently...slip it out and bring it here. There's no way we can be certain regarding calibration of our extemporaneous assembly, but we will hope that I can open a window onto your...Earth, do you call it? Yes, open a window to the site of the disturbance, hypothetically where Furge will be, and surround him with a time-space insulation bubble until we can find a reverse harmonic that rectifies his field."
"What if it isn't Furge that's disrupting the um, temporo-spatial grid?" Decker asked, "What if it's somehow connected to Lizzy and her people?"
"That possibility did cross my mind," Tut answered, "but I find it unlikely that they would need the device if they were able to generate such a causal disturbance without it, and have knowledge of it in the first place. It's existence must have been revealed to them during your exploration for it; they do have a rather sophisticated espionage network for their state of advancement. It would worry me greatly that they have discovered this survey locus if there weren't much larger concerns at hand. I haven't ruled out the possibility of their culpability in this catastrophe, but given my interpretation of the data, I must pursue the Furge line first."
"Then why do they want the device, and what if they have it?"
"It is likely that they wish to defeat the causality reverberations generated by Furge, too, but we have studied their development more closely than yours, and I calculate our chance of success to be better by several factors of ten. The screwdriver, please, Phillips head number two. Additionally, my assessment of your recount of the skirmish indicates that Lizzy had little opportunity to abscond with the device. Something else must have happened to it. Spilled milk at this point. Several trillion cattle's worth, but spilled milk nonetheless."
After several hours of work, Tut indicated that their services were no longer necessary. "It's just a matter of circuit tracking and tweaking now," he said. "I'll need to apply my full attention to the rest of the process, so kindly excuse yourselves to an hour or two of leisure. Browse the stasis pods and the freezers for refreshment if you like; the blue-labeled storage should be within your digestive parameters. The radiant cooker is a veritable antique, very likely acquired from "Earth" as you call it. Its workings may very well be familiar to you. Decker, you can be proud to know that your people made a tangible contribution to the cosmic culinary arts."
Decker was amused to find a chrome-and-black, ceramic-topped Kitchenaid electric range among many less familiar devices in the galley. They dug around in the various coolers, freezers, and other storage units for blue-labeled items, ending up with a selection of snacks that most resembled the packaged junk food of Decker's home. Degren found himself oddly comforted by a bowl of smooth, creamy, red-orange soup that Decker muttered "mmm mmm good" over.
It amazed both men how accustomed they had become to such fantastic environments. "In my world, we have authors that write books about such things," Decker said. "This is like Castenada meets Clarke, with a twist of Laumer."
I recall nothing like this from where I lived," Degren said, "but these names sound somehow familiar to me. I'm beginning to doubt that Taruan was my home in the first place. I am finding more affinity to your world, Earth, than to Taruan, and more memories that align with yours of Earth as well. Shit and shit, Decker, who am I?"
"You're starting to sound a bit like me, pal."
They sat silently for a while, each lost in his own thoughts as they snacked on chips and cakes, candies and compartment-ed dinners. Occasionally they'd note a brief flickering of the lights or a wavering of the walls, and a general sense of displacement tickled the edges of their senses, as though the ground under them was moving imperceptibly in every direction at once. They were both starting to feel sleepy when Tut appeared.
"Gentlemen, I believe we are ready to make our initial test. Kindly bring a few of your food items with you; we'll use those to determine the efficacy of my alterations."
They gathered up a selection of processed meats, chips, cakes, and bottled beverages and followed Tut to his impromptu work station. He had transformed their mess of assorted parts into something that most resembled Decker's idea of a miniature, futuristic metropolis, with lights glowing and pulsing everywhere and tubes coursing with holograph holographic images up and down the tower-like elements of the tiny city. At the center of it all, at the junction where two broad tables had been pushed together to accommodate the circle of interconnected devices, was a bulls-eye of tubes similar to the ones that ascended the sides of the devices, overlaid with a thick, circular disc of bluish, transparent material some four feet in diameter.
"Place your food items in the center of the circle," Tut said, "and then come over here and stand with me." He was behind a small console some six feet away from the main cluster. The console was connected to the cluster by a braid of cables and tubes, along which light and holograms pulsed to and fro from the console to the cluster. Once they stood on either side of him, he made a brief explanation of the console.
"The three central dials govern the temporal nexus location. As far as we have discovered, time seems to operate in three dimensions, much as perceptible space tends to. The lever below those, oriented side to side, is a linear representation of the river, which is, as far as we've come to understand, the operating parameters of our matrix of conjoined realities. Top right, top left, and bottom center are the dials for spatial coordination in the singular reality we will attempt to enter. The video screen above will, hopefully, offer an image of the physical location we home in on; the side slider under the screen is for magnification, which controls not just the view size but the transmission window size. The three vertical slide levers at the lower left control the percentage of power we apply to each function: Time, space, and river position. The large red button, lower right, is the power. Beside that is the actuator lever, which is pulled down slowly to finalize the transmission. For our first test, we will attempt only to move your food items in space within the parameters of this reality. I intend to place them back on the table where you were eating."
He pressed the red button and the miniature cityscape pulsed bright blue, while the screen lit up in static snow. He brought the center vertical slide up to 10% and green undertones pulsed in the tubes. He centered the three middle knobs on zero, then moved the bottom one clockwise a half degree or so. An image of the cafeteria emerged from the fuzz, with a black circle outline at the center. He fiddled with the side slider below the screen, adjusting the circle size to accommodate the volume of the items in the center of the apparatus.
Tut adjusted his glasses, then rubbed his hands together and turned to look at the two men. "Of course, this is all based on unproven hypothesis, in fact uncollaborated hypothesis. Flusteun's First Law of Parallelity does seem to lead one to assume that temporo-spatial multiplicities can be aligned with non-cosmotic force, which has been proven to exist outside the plaxo-bubbles of all reality dynamics, so-"
"Push the goddamned button, Tut!" Decker put his palms up and shrugged his shoulders. "Prove your hypothesis pronto, 'cause if it fails, we've got to try another tack."
The turtle-man gave Decker a highly magnified glare, then pushed the button. There was a soft "pop" and a whoosh, and the items disappeared from the center of the apparatus. Tut watched the screen, but Decker and Degren gazed over at the table where they'd been sitting. Something wavered there, then all the items popped into view.
"Hooo-eee, sweet shittin' Jesus Tut, you did it!" Degren looked more surprised than either of his friends when he realized the string of epithets had dropped from his lips.
Decker laughed, "You took the words right out of my mouth, bro!"
"It isn't time for celebration yet, gentlemen," Tut said. Let's inspect the subjects of our little transportation experiment before we get too excited." He rushed anxiously to the cafeteria table and began taking small samples from each container and bag.
What're you going to do with that stuff?" Decker challenged.
"I'll take it up to the cosmotics lab one floor up for some chromatic assessment."
"Do we have time for that? Here, lemme." Decker stuffed one of the chips in his mouth. "Tastes just like it did before." He grabbed for the chip bag on the table. "Matter of fact, I'm feeling a mite pecki-" His lips slapped shut as he tried to pick up the bag and found that almost a third of it was imbedded in the table. "What the-" He tugged on the bag, then his face collapsed in dismay as he realized, "You transported the chips into the table! Fuck!"
"I'll have to realign the phase shift inverter relays," Tut said, dropping the items he'd gathered and heading back to the apparatus. "If you gentlemen would care to nap a while, I'll get this done in as few hours as possible."
"Wait a minute." Degren's face was a stone mask. Just set the thing to a little higher plane. It's like firing a mis-sighted rifle, you've just gotta adjust."
"Are you talking out of my side of your mouth, bud?" Decker stared at his friend. "Things just get curioser all the time, don't they?"
Tut shook his head vigorously. "No, no, the risks are too great. That much error over the time, distance, and singularity flux factors could put you at the core of a planet, or in orbit. I need to work these bugs out."
"Okay, wake us up in three hours no matter what, Tut," Decker demanded. "Whatever shape that thing is in, we'll need to roll the dice and go for it. Look around, professor! The walls are barely walls anymore!" Decker was right; there was an eerie, wavering blue-green glow to everything, just at the edge of perception.
"Oh, my!" Tut was horrified. "Perhaps you'd better not sleep after all. I'll just make a few quick tweaks and we'll make our next test."
Tut's hands were a blur over the control console, then he moved to the apparatus itself, twisting wires, bending tubes, shining odd lights in dark crevices, almost seeming to play the device like a musical instrument. Degren marveled at the odd grace the turtle-man possessed, and the bliss-filled look on his face. This was a maestro of science, he thought. There were odd movie scenes playing in the background of Degren's mind; images from films Decker had seen as a young man; mad scientists amid wild arrays of tubes and wires, dials and levers. None of these crazed-looking, babbling, white-frock-ed posers could begin to rise to Tut's level.
Suddenly, the graceful dance stopped. "Very well, it is time for the next test. We'll try sending a bag of chips again, and if we are successful, one of us will have to be the subject of a similar transport."
The bag went over perfectly. Decker, quivering from head to toe, volunteered to go, and the experiment went off without a hitch. Tut, after giving the apparatus a thorough going-over, aligned the video screen on the House Thure, Aida's ancestral home on Cradsell 4. "Now, my friends, for the real test. Someone has to test the inter-spatial efficacy of my apparatus. The trip may as well serve a dual purpose; I will make a brief visit to my darling Aida. I will align the coordinates and one of you will engage the red button. When you see me on the screen, you will know I've made it. Then you must watch the screen until I return to the exact spot I arrived at, and push the button again. If everything goes according to calculations, I will again appear in the center of the apparatus. Now, I'll just be a moment." He twiddled the power levers and the magnification slide until he was satisfied, then carefully clambered onto the tables, placing himself on the clear disc and orienting himself to face the console. "Ready," was all he said. Decker pressed the button.
A much larger "pop" and "whoosh" ensued, the draft of which jiggled some of the less rigid aspects of the apparatus. Decker glared at the machine nervously.
"Decker, look!" Degren pointed to the screen. "It worked! Tut is there!"
Both men raised their hands over their heads and danced from toe to toe. "Holy triple shit!" reverberated simultaneously from their mouths, then they watched Tut toddle off toward the randomly configured manse.
"I wonder if there's anything like a beer in these, er coolers," Decker said. "Deg, you watch the screen while I do a little on my own, er, research. I'll relay the results of my investigations momentarily." He wandered up and down the aisles of the storeroom, opening doors and drawers, until he found a blue-labeled cabinet containing a rack of what looked invitingly like wine bottles. The cabinet door had a hook on the inside, where there was hung a device not at all unlike a corkscrew. "Aha!" he cried, taking the corkscrew in his teeth and grabbing a likely bottle in either hand before head-butting the cabinet door shut. "Methinks, brother Degren, that we might celebrate just a smidge."
"Perhaps we'll wait just a bit," Degren replied, "Tut is returning, and he has Aida with him."
They watched Tut take Aida to the spot where he appeared, then give the "thumbs up" signal. Degren pressed the button and Aida flashed into the center of the apparatus, stunned and flapping.
"Aida, STOP!" Decker waved to her. "Aida, STOP FLAPPING OR YOU'LL BREAK THE MACHINE!"
She did, and luckily nothing seemed to have been disturbed. The two men helped her out of the circle as she expressed her surprise at seeing them, and her gratitude for their assistance. She continued chattering, but Degren spotted Tut on the view screen, waving frantically; the scene behind him was one of utter chaos as the house began shifting shape, the trees grew and shrunk, the gardens morphed, bloomed, un-bloomed, died, resurrected themselves in rapid succession. Tut somehow remained centered in the screen, but Degren could tell he was having trouble staying there. He pushed the button.
Tut obviously had come a little off his mark. When he appeared on the tables, he was off-center to their right, and the edge of his shell brushed against one of the pulsing towers of the apparatus. It teetered, but Tut seemed paralyzed. Decker rushed to prop it up, barely grabbing it in time, carefully standing it back on its spot.
Tut still hadn't moved. Behind his big, thick glasses, he looked dazed and unfocused. His shell still touched the nearly-stricken tower. Decker reached up to grab his hand, try to lead him out of the circle. When his fingers contacted the leathery wrist, Tut began jerking and whooping like a fence-zapped ostrich. His arms flew out, he spun, twitching and flapping; every twitch took out another segment of the apparatus. Parts went crashing off the table and onto the floor. Decker and Degren rushed about madly, trying to rescue the glowing, tumbling towers as sparks flew and shards tinkled. Tut's eyes suddenly came clear and he looked around just as the last tower fell, then his knees went limp and he followed suit.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Decker #20

The river continued to grow louder and wilder, the colors in it brighter, more varied and chaotic. Bolts of lightning, mostly in an emerald hue but occasionally in another color, shot more frequently out of the roiling water; wherever they struck, an image of some strange scene wavered, each image image fading a little more slowly than the last. Decker even thought he saw a few random Earth scenes.
He was leaning against the stone rail of the balcony, letting the chaos and noise wash over him. It was almost soothing to his tortured mind. The wild, rising waters swirled and spumed, tossing luminescent spray into his face, soaking his fur. He didn't know if it was the blur of tears, the river water in his eyes, or some cosmic force at play, but the upper reaches of the river canyon that he could see seemed to waver slightly, like desert dunes in noon heat.
Degren had tied and gagged the two remaining goons, and had been standing in the fractured doorway for some time, watching him sob and shake. Decker glanced back at his friend, whose strobe-lit face was strained with concern for him. What an amazing companion he had turned out to be! Decker almost felt as though he had befriended his own long-lost twin.
Seeing that Decker's reverie was broken, Degren approached him, putting a hand on his shoulder and shouting in his ear, "We should find another room where we can discuss what to do next."
Decker agreed. They walked through the battle-scarred room and looked out into the hall. The floor and walls seemed to undulate ever so slightly and the light had an eerie, barely perceptible flicker. To the left, its slow arc obscured further view beyond a hundred yards or so. To the right, it terminated less than a hundred feet away in a split staircase that went up on the right and down on the left. They decided to go right, in hopes that they could get down to the level Tut's apartment was on.
Visions of the fray played back in Decker's mind; the the kinesthesis of simultaneity he had felt while Degren and he fought their mirror-image battle, the strange sense that they had passed through each other during the battle, the odd sense that the room had mirror-phased at that point. "Degren, during the fight, when we crossed paths near the door, did you feel, I don't know....that we should have collided?"
"I was certain we were going to. When it seemed that our heads were going to meet, it was as though I passed through a ghost, and then I was looking at the wrong side of the room."
"Almost as though we traded places. Very weird." Decker looked at his friend, suddenly noticing that the wounds from their previous battle with Lizzy seemed already half-healed. Degren, too, gazed at Decker and his eyes grew wide.
"Decker. Your face, your arm."
There was a half-healed gash across Decker's bicep. He reached up to touch his brow, finding a similar scab there. "Holy multi-shit! What the hell is the deal?"
"I've been having dreams and reveries in which some of the memories might have come from your mind, your past. I've had mental images that could be of you in your youth, many on a river, some where the ground was covered with little white bits of frozen water and the river was partly covered with ice."
"Degren, I've been seeing memories that look like yours in my mind! None from childhood, though. What the holy shit-cloud does all this mean?"
Degren frowned thoughtfully. "It seems I don't have any childhood memories. The furthest I can travel back in my mind is perhaps half a hundred moon cycles, to just before I met Furge. Those days are blurry and confusing, too. As though I may have suffered amnesia. How disorienting!"
They reached the stairs. They could hear the soft lapping of water from below. Decker dashed down to the landing, closely followed by Degren. Looking down the next flight, they could see that the water covered at least one step and was partway up the next.
"Not too deep to wade through," Decker said. "Should we see if we can locate Tut's place?"
"He might be able to shed some light on what is happening here, and what is happening to us. I hope we can beat the rising water out of there, though."
"Degren, I fear that's a chance we'll have to take."
They waded down into the calf-deep water. The hall stretched out ahead of them. There was another hall that teed into it from the right just a few steps ahead, but they decided to pass that one; they both remembered more hallway to the right of the double doors they'd entered the first time, and they'd landed a little ways upriver, so they splashed along down the hall. They'd only gone a hundred feet or so when they came to the doors.
They noticed that the water ahead was moving along at a pretty good clip, whereas the water behind them was fairly still. They could see it bubbling and churning directly in front of the doors, which were vibrating, nearly shuddering in the frame, as the water jetted through the weather stripping.
Careful not to let the current yank their legs out from under them, their feet finding little purchase on the smooth granite of the floor, they made their way down the hall to the turn they thought was the right one. Their memory was good; it wasn't long before they were at Tut's door. The water here was only ankle deep and not moving as rapidly as it did nearer to the river; Tut's place was two halls in from the outer passage.
Degren banged heavily on the French door frame and the latch, obviously not caught, let loose; the door floated open an inch or two. The two men glanced at each other and came to silent agreement; Decker pressed through the door into the foyer. "Tut! Hey, Tut, are you here?" He got no reply. Stepping further into the apartment, he shouted. "Yo, TUT!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming," came the Turtle's distressed reply. "Wait in the foyer please, good sir! I shan't be a moment."
Both men let out a sigh of relief as they stood in the waterlogged foyer. True to his word, Tut appeared less than a minute later. "Gentlemen! Good to see you, though I fear the situation will not allow me much latitude in expressing my delight at your presence. Come, come, you must help me rescue some of the more valuable possessions; I am preparing for a move to higher ground. I trust you've returned in my little launch?"
"Um, we did," Decker said, "but it was stolen by the same woman we think made off with the device we were supposed to use to straighten things out."
Tut's face nearly telescoped down into his shell, peering out from the center of leathery, concentric wrinkles. "Dear oh dear, this is a devastating turn of events!" He wrung his webbed turtle paws together spastically. "Oh gods, this is really terrible. What to do, what to do?" He let his head emerge just far enough so both paws could wrap his bony skull, and his fingers interlocked and played over its surface.
"Well, there's nothing to be done but move upward. Quickly then, allow me to burden you with a few indispensables. Follow me!" He stepped into his study, which was an immaculately organized warren of metal shelves surrounding a computer desk of a design that resembled the control panel of a science fiction space shuttle-craft. He began plucking items from the shelves, muttering to himself as he vacillated on what was most valuable. "No, no, the quasiform plidscreen projector will serve that function and a few others,,,,ah, yes, both of the multitang zid tool kits will come in, maybe just one, we can only afford to assume one trip...." The monologue went on as he piled the two men's arms with books and gadgets, meters and tools. Finally, when they were loaded to the point that they couldn't see over the piles, Tut lead them to the doors.
"What about food?" Decker asked."
"Oh, demons and desiterati, I quite overlooked that! Well, we shall just have to set up near a cafeteria. Let's see....this way then! It won't be ideal, but the Health Inspector's laboratory will have to suffice. Quickly, men! The water is rising!"
He led them one hall closer to the river, then up two flights of stairs to the next level, where he navigated them to the outer hall. The scene here was very familiar, though they'd come at it from the opposite direction. They approached the door to the room where they'd gotten in to the complex, where they'd battled Lizzy and her men.
Tut's knees sagged when he saw the wreck of the inner door and heard the roar of the river through the broken balcony door. "Cicero's bejeweled lead cup! What transpired here?" His eyes traveled to the scorched walls, the blistered corpses, and finally to the two bound, armored men who were trying to reach each other by scootching across the tile.
"This is where we were attacked, where the case and your boat were stolen," Degren replied. "We came in through the balcony doors after we tied the boat off to the balcony. The leader of, a bare-skinned female who called herself Lizzy, fled with the case and your boat before we could catch her."
"They appear to have done some significant damage to the protein centrifuge and a few other instruments," Tut complained. "Additionally, having the balcony door open presents some tension field issues if we were to try to utilize any of the equipment here; those doors are Arugulate glass, impenetrable to most of the randomizing effects of the river. We'll have to set up shop somewhere else, and bring some of the equipment from here. But where to go? Oh, the choices get more compromised at every turn, and we have so little time!" He scuttled over to the balcony and was aggrieved by the view. "The temporal-space integration flux is proceeding far more rapidly than I'd projected. There must be mitigating factors."
"Well, we'd best decide soon, because Lizzy, or whoever she is, didn't seem very pleased with the notion of leaving without seeing our brains spattered," Decker said.
"It will have to be the cafeteria itself then," Tut declared, "though we won't be able to use the high-resonance molecular exciters to thaw or cook any food. The lingering fields, although declared harmless to living beings by the Societal Protection Agency, will certainly disrupt any attempts to ameliorate this time/space breach." He proceeded out the door and down the hallway, then turned into a nicely furnished dining hall, at the back of which was a futuristic-looking kitchen facility. "Gentlemen, please bring your loads to the kitchen and lay them-very carefully!- on the long white table, then we'll return to the Health Lab to retrieve some essential equipment."
Tut set a grueling pace for the two already-tired men, though he carried only a few of the most delicate items himself. It was at least three hours of hard labor to carry and drag the heavy devices to the cafeteria, set them up on the appropriate tables, and arrange all the peripheral equipment to Tut's satisfaction. By this time, Decker and Degren were so exhausted that they were reeling. Tut finally noticed their distress.
"Faust and flatulence, I have been an imperceptive boor of a taskmaster! Sit, gentlemen; I shall return shortly with some rejuvenating potables and a healthy snack."
Barely conscious, seated in the comfortable cafeteria chairs, they listened to the clatter of Tut's activities in the kitchen. The turtle man actually sang as he prepared their repast; little erudite ditties of physical laws and famous scientific quotations that blurred into nursery rhymes to the two men. It was only fifteen minutes or so before he returned with two platters of steaming food and beverage, the aroma of which brought them instantly awake with their mouths watering and their stomachs growling.
"Tut," Decker asked, "how did you manage to thaw and cook if we can't use the, er, molecular exciters?"
"Oh, they still keep a couple of antique radiant ranges available for the odd historic recipe," Tut replied. "Some of those old dishes don't quite seem to turn out the same with high resonance, much to we scientists' vexation!"
The food was delicious and vaguely familiar, though neither man could identify what it reminded them of. The beverage was a bracing hot tea that brought a rush of energy and alertness as it passed over the tongue. Upon completing their meal, both men were vibrating with vitality and ready to get on with the task at hand.
"I will require that you both assist me in reconfiguring this equipment," Tut said, "but you will need to do only and exactly as I say. Our chances of success in creating a dimensional flux resonance channeling field depend on absolute precision!"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Decker #19

The rasping of metal on stone brought Decker swimming up out of his swirling, cracked-prism dream. The glowing reds, deep-thrusting violets, and myriad rainbow colors between were slowly suffused with and then eclipsed by pale cobalt radiance; the cornucopia of dancing aquatic life shimmered into nothingness. Squinting into the glare of the now-angry and rapidly rising river, he waited for his eyes to adjust.
Degren was also coming around. The sight of him brought more confusion to Decker' still-foggy brain; for a second it seemed as though he was looking down at himself, and he wasn't sure if it was Degren looking at him or vice versa. Shaking off the eerie sense of displacement, he clung to his tenuous hold on the Decker memories and went to help his friend up.
Degren's sloppily-applied bandages were oozing blood around the edges, so he helped him get them better applied after a cursory inspection of the wounds. Coxli began making odd chirruping noises and his inner eyelids began nictating rapidly as the brightly glowing river, more agitated by the minute, commenced to banging the boat against the rock ledge to which it was moored.
It was time to get the boat moving. Decker shouted over the roar of the river, "Degren, can you untie us when I give the nod?"
Degren, holding on to the rail, staggered to his feet on the bucking deck and reached for the line, awaiting Decker's signal. Decker slowly eased the throttle up until he felt the boat surge gently forward into the current, then nodded. As soon as Degren had the line free of the shore, he eased the bow into the current and notched the throttle up until the boat surged away from the ledge and slapped ahead over the angry rapids. The boat lurched and bucked in the confusion of hard eddies until he was finally able to guide it into the center of the river, where the deeper channel allowed the water a free, steady passage. At full throttle the little boat surged ahead strongly, though not nearly as rapidly as it had in the gentler current of previous days.
"I wonder what's happening with the river?" Decker yelled to Degren, who stood next to him at the wheel. "Seems strange that there'd suddenly be so much more water in an underground river."
"It is a river of time and space," Degren shouted back.
"Time and space, it is a river of time and space!" Degren bellowed hoarsely.
Decker pondered his friend's statement. So the connections between all these realities were surging? Time was rushing faster? The substance of the realities was rushing together, or apart? What? He hoped Tut would have some answers. The river seemed to be rising fast, and judging by the bright glow of it, the energy in it was stronger, too. He wished he could coax more speed out of the boat.
By the time they'd got near to where Decker thought Tut's place should be, the river had gained at least five feet of head. He knew the stone shelf that they'd been walking on when they found Tut's place must be submerged. He hoped the doors were watertight.
Coxli had finally come fully conscious.. He clung to the riser that housed the wheel, chittering meaningless, frenetic alliterations and shaking like a kite in a cold crosswind.
He spotted the oval windows of Tut's double doors off the port bow. The current churned and boiled against the doors, less than a foot from the iridescent glass. "Christ eating shitburgers!" We're not getting in that way!"
"What?" Degren stared at him quizzically.
"I said.... oh, never mind." He eased back the throttle until they were just holding their own against the current, looking for a way to get in. There were the inset balconies above; perhaps they could reach them from the deck of the boat. He eased the boat, bit by bit, closer to a smooth-cut section of the wall until the side of the boat grazed, pressing forward until they were directly under a balcony. He pointed to Degren and then to the rope. He saw the light of comprehension in Degren's eyes, watched him take an end and tie it to a cleat on the deck, then loop the other end over his shoulder and reach for the edge of the balcony. Finding that he couldn't reach it, he put one knee, then his other foot, on the boat rail, and pressed unsteadily upward until his hands caught the stone lip. He pulled himself upward and over the edge, disappearing into the shadows. A moment later Decker saw the rope go taut, then Degren appeared and gave him the "thumbs up". Decker shut off the boat and tapped Coxli's shoulder, shouting, "Want to get on dry land?"
Coxli looked confused, then glanced up at Decker, then the wall. In a flash, the lizard man had scaled the stone and disappeared behind the balcony wall. Decker followed carefully, wobbling as the current and the waves made the boat bob and lurch. He nearly lost his purchase just as he was stepping off the rail; he imagined sensations of being tumbled in the current and crushed between the boat and the stone. A surge of adrenaline thrust him up and over the wall, to tumble onto Coxli, who lay quivering against the inside of the wall.
"Ouch! Obstreperous ogre, our obtrusions occupy opposing outlines!"
"Sorry, Coxli." Decker nearly laughed in relief, climbing off the red-necked lizard man. Glad you're back with us!"
Degren had the door open and was waving them inside. Decker stopped, remembering, "Shit to the twelfth! The case!" He banged his palms against the sides of his head. "We've got to bring Tut the case. Fuck-pimples!"
He remembered how easily Coxli had scaled the wall. "Coxli. Buddy. Pal. We really need you to do us a huge little favor."
Coxli cringed uneasily. "Reprehensible, recommending ridiculous risk for respectable reptile!"
"Dude, look at us. We're clumsy baboons compared to you here. Show us what a big, er, lizard you are. We'll be eternally grateful."
After they'd agreed to lower him by rope onto the deck (there was plenty of slack in the mooring line), Coxli agreed to fetch the case. He skittered easily back down to the lurching deck, grabbed the case, and leaped up into the balcony. "Now you owe me big," he glared as he screeched over the roar at the two men.
Degren checked the mooring line to the boat, and glanced out at the river. Were there emanations of green pulsing in the electric blue? Glancing upstream, he noted an almost strobe-like effect to the light, like an overcharged dynamo or a lightning storm. The river itself reminded him of storm clouds, the thick, boiling-pea-soup kind; he almost expected reverse funnels to spin upward from its eerily unsettled surface.
"There is something strange happening to the river," he shouted. As if to punctuate his statement, a single, pink-tinged emerald green bolt of electricity shot from the river's surface into the blackness above, leaving a red streak across his vision. Where the flash illuminated the gorge wall, just for a split-second, Degren thought he saw the stone go liquid, transforming into a wavering scene too alien for his mind to grasp.
"What the hell was that?" Decker yelled uneasily as he turned to look at Degren, who was blinking off the effects of the flash. Coxli had sprung through the doorway and out of view.
"I do not know," Degren answered, "but I think we need to find Tut as quickly as we can. If this is a river of time and space, I think time and space must be in flux."
As soon as they got inside and closed the heavy glass balcony doors, the lights came on in the room. It was hard to tell where the light came from, and it seemed dim in comparison to the blue ambiance over the river; in fact, the river's glow still shone visibly on the ceiling near the doors. Degren looked around the big, near-barren room, noting a single door centered in the gray-painted wall opposite the balcony. To his left and right, the walls were rows of brushed metal doors of various sizes in a black framework from waist height, and wainscoted in a dark wood below. There was floor-to-ceiling open shelving on the river wall, which appeared to be carved smooth from the living rock of the canyon. The shelves all stood empty. On either side of a six-foot-wide swath of tile that stretched the twenty or so feet between the doors, centered on wall-to-wall, deeply-padded low carpet, was a twelve foot long, six foot wide polished black stone table on two red-granite, cylindrical pedestals. There were no chairs.
The quiet in the room made Degren feel he'd lost his hearing. The river offered only a muted rumble through the heavy glass doors. Degren spoke, mostly for his own reassurance, "Do we need a plan?" The hoarse, loud words that came out of his mouth startled him.
"Well, first, I guess, is what the hell happened to Coxli?" Decker shrugged and glanced under the big tables, then to the heavy wall shelves. "You wouldn't think he'd have gone far."
Some of the doors on the end walls looked big enough to conceal a frightened lizard-man, so they took opposite walls and started investigating. The doors had pressure latch mechanisms; pushed on the correct edge, they sprung open slowly and smoothly. Behind the larger doors they found what looked like some kind of electronic scientific apparatuses, mounted on sliding drawer beds, but no sign of Coxli.
"Crazy shit," Decker commented. "Like a bad sci-fi movie. Where are the aliens? Wait, that's right; we are the aliens."
They had worked their way down to the smaller doors that held little promise of concealing Coxli when the inner door of the room sprung open. Both men turned, expecting to see their scaly companion, but they were sorely disappointed; It was Lizzy, in some sort of light battle armor, leading a looming crew of six similarly-armored goons; they swarmed into the room behind her and the door swung closed.
"Fuck me green!" Decker exploded, looking around frantically for an escape. He and Degren both tensed for a leap toward the balcony door.
"Oh, I wouldn't try that," Lizzy commented snidely, brandishing a nasty-looking black device that resembled a button-covered flashlight with a gaping, round hole at the business end. "Josh, cover the one on the left. Seth, Evan,tie them up," she commanded.
Two of the goons produced hanks of heavy black cord and closed with Decker and Degren, staying clear of Lizzy and Josh's line of fire.
"You don't have to do this, Lizzy. We just need to use the, uh, device once, then you can have it." Decker's voice was a quavering plea. "You don't know what we've been through. Please, be reasonable!"
"Save your sniveling for someone who cares, fuzzy-boy," she replied contemptuously. "You have no idea what you're playing with. Cooperate and you might survive. Piss me off any further and your chances of seeing tomorrow are slimmer than a runway model."
As Seth was about to slip a loop around Decker's wrist, the door burst open. Coxli stood silhouetted in the frame, a look of horror on his scaly face. "Simmered sardines, send for security!" He dropped to the carpet and flashed away down the hall on all fours, drawing a barrage of pulsing purple beams from the goon squad's weapons. The door burst into flaming splinters.
Decker let his reflexes throw him behind Seth in a forward roll, driving his knees into the back of his assailant's legs as he tumbled; Degren mirrored his action identically. Time seemed to slow as both their opponents dropped backward onto them. Lizzy and Josh fired simultaneously, strafing purple rays across the carpet and melting their compatriots' armor, bringing forth screams of agony from the men. Degren and Decker, still in perfect unison, flung the screaming men in the direction of the beams, sandwiching Lizzy and Josh and sending them staggering toward the still-glowing door frame. The three remaining men, buffeted by the figures stumbling into them, fired wildly at Decker and Degren, who dove under the opposing tables, which were unaffected by the rays. Each man let his dive carry him between the double pedestals, rolling to his feet on the other side of the table and thrusting a shoulder into the gut of a bewildered goon, driving them into the wall and then arching their backs, lifting them over their shoulders and flipping them backward into the spray of purple death.
Making a quarter turn toward each other, they dove to cross paths in another forward roll. Degren thought he'd miscalculated his lunge; he was sure he'd crash headlong into Decker. As he tensed for the impact, he felt a strange tingling sensation, then a bright emerald light went off like a giant flashbulb in his mind; his head, then his shoulders and the rest of his body passed through Decker's! A wave of disorientation eclipsed his consciousness for an interminable period. When his senses returned, the room had reversed itself, though the positions of his enemies had only shifted by a little. Everyone wore a look of bafflement, including Decker, but both men's reflexes carried out their spontaneous battle strategy, once again driving shoulders into the midsections of the two remaining goons, who fell backward, each one's head cracking smartly on the tile.
Lizzy's weapon had been knocked from her grasp in the tangle. Stunned, she cast about frantically for it, nearly grabbing it before Decker got a bear hug on her from behind. She managed to lift a heel into his groin, causing him to let go and curl forward in agony. She spun, casting a look of such hatred at Degren that he froze for a second. A wild, panther-like scream issued from her lips and she lifted both elbows over her face and dove at the plate glass balcony doors. They crashed outward in great shards and the roar of the stormy river blasted in. Degren dove after her, but it was too late; she'd leaped over the balcony and onto the boat. He rushed the rail, but she'd already loosened the mooring line and pulled the throttle to maximum, skipping the little craft over the chaotic chop with expert skill.
Decker was moaning and trying to straighten up. Degren scanned the room quickly, then exclaimed, "The case! Decker, it is gone!"
"Shit.......unh....shit.....hnnnn....shiiiit!" Decker collapsed to the floor, letting the agony in his groin and the desperate pain of hope disappearing envelop him. "Whaaaaat.....the....unnnnh....Fuck!"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Decker #18

Degren took the first turn piloting the boat. The river was different than he remembered it; the water was higher and flowed more swiftly, and the occasional, eerie glow that he remembered was now a throbbing luminescence most of the time. There was more traffic, too. The riverboat they'd seen near the 3rd tributary passed them on its way downriver, as well as a variety of craft ranging in appearance from canoes to luxury yachts to barge tugs. Sometimes a passing craft would trigger a vague bit of his last dream, and he'd shake his head in confusion; flashes of Decker when they'd met in the old desert shack would invariably ensue, giving Degren the sense that there was something of his own past that felt fragile and superficial.
He caught Decker staring at him and they each spent an eternal second in the others eyes. It was too much right now; too much for both of them, this sharing of minds. He knew Decker felt the same way. He wondered what was going on. He vaguely remembered some moments of deep communication he'd had with Furge, but those only came in soft flashes, and only once in a while. Strange, too, how less and less of Furge remained in his mind, and more and more of Decker seemed to crowd in, as though they were sharing one head.
His reverie was interrupted as he was forced to swerve around a small punt with a dead outboard motor. The occupant was waving his arms and calling for help.
"Just keep the nose upriver and mind your own business, that's what I say," Coxli urged. "You never know when one of these guys will turn out to be a pirate or a crazy, or worse!"
Decker was unconvinced. "Degren, let's toss a line over and see if we can get that motor going. I used to play around with stuff like that as a kid, and I've got a few little tricks we could try."
Degren slowed the boat and turned it downstream toward the distressed craft, while Decker pulled out a line and looped it for throwing. Coxli skittered fore and aft along the edge of the deck furthest from the little punt, muttering alliterations and thrusting his tongue in and out nervously.
The stranger caught the rope and began hauling as soon as Decker secured his end to a deck cleat. When the punt heaved up alongside and the two hulls met, they saw that they'd come to the assistance of a young woman dressed in what looked like the sky blue coverall of a fiber optic cable company; in fact, the logo on her back appeared to be in English, though for some reason Decker couldn't seem to make sense of the letters. She had mirrored wraparound shades and a yellow plastic hard hat, and her long red hair nearly glowed in rippling torrents to the small of her back. Even through the coverall Decker could tell that she had the sort of look that was plastered on calendars distributed by high-end tool manufacturers back in the good ol' USA. A small part of his mind assessed her appreciatively, but it was quickly censured by the personality he had become.
"Oh, thank god!" She waxed effusive as she expertly tied her little boat to theirs and her gaze swept their deck. "I've been drifting back downriver for, oh, it seems like hours! You guys are so sweet to stop and help me."
"So what did the motor do before it quit?" Decker was all business, as memories of his last encounter with a flirtatious, attractive female dropped like lead from his throat into his belly. "D'you think you might be out of gas?"
"I thought I had plenty of gas, but we could take a look if you think that might help. Ooh, you two are so big and strong, and I looove your fur!" She reached out to touch Decker's arm, but he drew back. A look of minor frustration chased the languorous invitation from her eyes, replaced decisively by a more frank, comradely gaze. "Do you know anything about boat motors? I'm ashamed to say I'm completely ignorant on the topic."
Decker slipped past her and stepped down into the little punt. "I've puttered around with them a bit. Do you carry any kind of tool kit?"
"Um, yeah, here's my cable kit." She pulled a small canvas tool bag from the bow of her boat and handed it to him. He opened it and glanced through it; a variety of pliers, cutters, and screwdrivers lay neatly arrayed in loops and pockets, all seeming to be brand new.
He checked the flat-bottomed red oval gas can first; the sight glass read well over half full. The shape of the motor was just like many he'd seen on the Rum River, and the logo was maddeningly familiar. His hands reached almost instinctively for the latches that held the hood on; it popped free easily. He unclipped the fuel line from the carburetor, saw an instant trickle from both, smelled the fuel, and clipped it back in.
He popped a spark plug wire off the plug and rolled back the rubber hood, revealing the metal sleeve that clipped to the plug. He lodged the wire so the sleeve lay near the engine block, then pulled the starter rope; a bright, blue flash arced from the sleeve to the block, "Got spark," he said as he reconnected the plug wire. He checked to make sure gas was getting to the carb, then put the cover back on the motor, set the throttle to "start", and gave eight smooth, rapid pulls on the starter rope.
"Hmm. Got spark and fuel, still won't pop. Not even a little cough. You sure it was running before?"
She gave him a quick glare, quickly replaced by a comradely, self-effacing grin. "Well, it took me up the river a ways, so...."
"We're heading up the river for about a half day. We can tow you that far-" He looked to Degren for agreement, not bothering to include the still-nattering lizard man. "-then you'll have to work out the rest of your trip another way. I don't know what's wrong with your motor. It should run."
"That's fantastic of you. I don't have any money, but-"
Decker interrupted, "Never mind that. Happy to help."
"-But," she insisted, "I do have some really excellent wine that I was going to drink alone a little further upriver. I insist on sharing it with you." She dug around in the pile of oddments she had stowed in the bow of her punt, producing two elegant bottles that appeared to be hand-blown and a Swiss army knife. She proffered them for Decker's inspection as they stepped back up on the larger boat. "You're not going to refuse me this, are you?"
Degren spoke for them. "We'll bank the boats and then we'll share your wine, um..." He steered for the near shore, only a few yards to port, and looped the loose end of their rope over some crags in the rock while introductions continued.
"Lizzy. And you are...?"
Decker laughed. "Lizzy, huh? That's what I wanted to call Coxli here." He pointed to the lizard man, who still paced, now precariously close to the edge of the boat. "This is Degren, and I'm Decker."
"Coxli. Decker. Degren." She lingered over Degren's name, giving him an assessing eye and a coquettish wriggle. Seeing that he seemed as uninterested in her feminine attributes as Decker, she grumbled, "I see. Well, maybe you'll like the wine, at least." Setting one bottle down, she unfolded the corkscrew from her pocketknife and drew out the cork. She offered the bottle to Decker first; he took a sip. It was quite delicious.
"My god, at least drink like a man," she scoffed.
"You first."
She accepted the bottle and tipped it back, eliciting a long, burbling stream from its mouth, letting the last few drops drip down her chin, then threw him a challenging leer before she passed the bottle to Degren. "You're not going to let a little girlie outdo you, are you, boys?"
Degren took the bottle. "Where I come from, the 'little girlies' could crack your skull like an egg in one hand." He tipped the bottle back and duplicated her performance, then handed it to Decker.
"Fine." He finished the bottle. "Now whaddaya say we slow down and enjoy the other bottle? That's tasty stuff, meant to be savored." He could already feel the first whiffs of steam warming his brain, oozing sweetly into all his anxieties and doubts, suffusing him with a sense of good humor that felt necessary and divine. "Coxli, you have to try a little of this. Good for what ails you."
"Lascivious Lothario lady loves loosening losers like you!" Coxli continued his circuits of the starboard deck.
"Take it easy, Coxli!" Decker grabbed a scaly ankle and pulled Coxli over. "Lizzy, get Lizzy a little bit dizzy!" He put the lizard man in a half Nelson and pointed to the now-open second bottle, then to Coxli's mouth. Degren caught his meaning and took the bottle from the woman and dripped wine over Coxli's lipless mouth. His tongue reflexively forked out and caught a drop or two, and his mouth gaped thirstily. Within a few seconds, Decker felt Coxli's muscles un-tense, and he let him go.
"Setan Blith wine, third dynasty," Coxli breathed softly. "Nectar of the gods!" He turned to Lizzy. "How in the cosmos did you get your hands on it?"
She accepted the bottle from Degren, taking a small swig and then fiddling around with the mouth of it while she replied. "That's a lady's private business." The suggestion smoldered in her eyes. She handed the bottle back to Decker, who couldn't help pulling a significant draught into his mouth. Degren did the same, then Coxli duplicated their earlier feat of killing a third of the bottle in one long pull. He passed it back to Lizzy, who raised it to her lips and dropped it quickly, passing it again to Decker.
Half an hour later, Decker was comfortably high. The second bottle was empty. Lizzy watched the three of them as she leaned on the port rail.
"Bezooooooo..... bladdle boop boo ba doo...." Coxli let loose with a little scat tune. "Wow. Nice. Pretty flying fish, glowing and twirling...."
Decker was starting to see things with a little extra glow of color, too. He turned to Degren, who seemed equally enthralled. Lizzy, on the other hand, was looking a little anxious as she turned into a lasciviously swaying, curvaceous rainbow eel. She pulled out a silver watch on a long gold fob and let it dangle in front of her, coaxing a pendulum motion out of it.
"The pretty colors are pillows for your brains," she said soothingly. ""Opalescent fish are swimming in your eyes, rocking you gently, gently, making you feel luxuriously tired, and your eyes are starting to close, the lids are very heavy...."
Degren was slowly submerging in a pool of color. It felt absolutely wonderful, but something was wrong. As he sunk, another consciousness rose; it was the mind of Decker, taking the fore!
Decker was a little confused, but only slightly affected by the drugs Lizzy had obviously slipped into the second bottle. He grabbed for the glittering watch, yanking it out of her hand as she reached into the back of her coverall, drawing out a wicked-looking diver's knife."You tried to drug us. Why?"
"Give me the case you got from the shipwreck and I won't have to hurt anybody."
"Wha-how did you-huh?"
"The case, dip-shit! Give it to me and I won't have to show you your guts!" She brandished the knife at him and he stepped back. A quick glance showed him that Decker (Decker?) was laying on the deck with his arm draped around Coxli. Both seemed quite inert. He slid between Lizzy and them, trying to put his brain back in gear.
"I-I can't do that. I-"
"Then DIE!" She lunged at him, bringing the knife across in a wicked arc intended to disembowel him. He danced to the side, narrowly avoiding Coxli's head, and the knife barely grazed his elbow. He saw her look down at the two unconscious forms; saw her instantly changing her plans. She thrust the knife straight toward his eyes, then attempted a leg sweep on him. Somehow, he anticipated her intent and slipped a straight right under her guard, landing a fairly solid punch in the center of her chest. A scream of frustration tore at his ears as she nearly fell backward, barely recovering as her butt hit the rail.
He had the initiative, but there were two minds trying to motivate his body now. He lurched toward her, the Decker personality going for her knife wrist, the Degren mind intent on crushing her face with a fist. The result was a blow that struck her forearm feebly, almost causing her to drop the knife.
She saw his distress, and a victorious grin lit her face. "You should have just gone to sleep, fur-boy. Now I'm going to make you hurt." As he backed up, confused, twitching with conflicting impulses, she raised the knife for him to see. "Pretty knife. Shiny knife. My little razor sharp tooth is going to tear you in a hundred places, Fido." Lightning-quick, she lashed out and gashed his brow, and the blood trickled immediately into his eye, painting his vision red. The two minds struggled against each other for dominance, and she edged in closer, triumph plain in her eyes. She feinted at his face again, then slashed his bicep, opening up a long slice that felt like it grazed muscle.
The Decker-mind fought to take control, but their wills were too evenly matched. Realizing this, he sought the drug-laden part of their mind and tried to dive into the narcosis. At first, the immediacy of that bright blade wouldn't let him stop struggling; she got three more nasty gashes in before he was able to close his mind's eye and submit.
Degren, in full command, leaped out of the path of a blow that was intended for his heart. Catlike, he brought down an overhand chop to her wrist, dislodging the knife and bringing out another frustrated scream. She dove for and grabbed the knife; he kicked her in the ribs, sending her flying into the starboard rail. Realizing she was defeated, she sliced the line holding the two boats, flipped a switch on the side of the motor, and gave one tug on the starter rope. It roared to life and she sped down the river as Degren stood gasping.
He found fabric to bind his wounds, stopping the bleeding just as the pretty colored fish swam up and over his head, taking him into a world of technicolor fantasia that he just could not ignore.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Decker #17

"Coxli," Degren asked, "we were wondering if you would see fit to let us have some water and food rations from, er, your boat. We would be happy to offer some of the treasure." He pointed to the small pile of coins and gems they'd gotten from the larger chest.
"Oh, we'll certainly need a bit of water and food on our journey," Coxli replied, "won't we?"
The two men looked at each other, then shrugged simultaneously. "You want to come with us?" Degren's tone reflected Decker's incredulity. "Traveling with us is probably not your safest course."
"Yeah, and what will you do with your boat?"
"Easy come, easy go," the lizard-man said. "I've been 'flying solo' for longer than I care to remember. If you fine gentlemen will have me, I'd be delighted to share your adventure. Haven't been spelunking since I was a child. Ah, the old cave, where my Glag-tui egg-mates and I all tore free and entered this harsh world! Only a few of us survived that adventure, that's how it is for we reptiles, you know! I was one of the quick and anxious ones, always looking for a nice tight crack to slip into, or a handy rock to crawl under. You two can be my 'rock', if you know what I mean; big, strong fellows! And to have someone to talk to again, well-"
"You'll have to pull your weight," Decker cut him off. "We won't expect you to be the 'pack mule', but a third of our cargo can be strapped to your back. And don't expect us to 'have your back' if you don't have ours, lizard-lips!"
With the small chest (re-locked, and the key safely back around Decker's neck), water, food, Cletus' side iron, and a knife for each, they headed for the cave. Each member of the party had taken a couple handfuls of gold and gems in case a situation that called for barter arose.
They entered the cave and went down; down past the cement sidewalk, down into the darkness where the bare light bulbs were dead or nonexistent, down into the low-ceilinged, slippery-shale darkness. Coxli kept up a running banter most of the way, grating on Decker's nerves. The lizard-man had far better night vision than they did, though, so Decker was hesitant to ask him to be quiet; among Coxli's reminiscences were a smattering of observations regarding the twists of the stream, warnings about stalactites and low-hanging outcroppings, and other bits of information that occasionally saved the two men from painful missteps.
They made it to where the lights returned occasionally, where Decker remembered a stiff climb up the slippery rocks as the stream took a precipitous dive into the depths. Coxli, with his clawed feet and quadruped dexterity, was completely in his element here.
"Oh, the joyous memories of youth!" Coxli waxed rhapsodical. "Hide and seek on mossy cliff faces, frolicking along waterfalls in the warm Cradsellan sun! Snuggling at steam vents in the comforting dark closeness of Tith Cave, where I hatched....I wish you could see it, gentlemen!" He skittered in circles around them, occasionally extending a hand to brace them as they slipped and slid down the treacherous stone.
"Coxli, I hate to cast a pall over your narration," Decker shot through clenched teeth as he navigated an especially difficult descent, "but I kind of need my whole brain right now. Plus, we may not be the only ones in this cave, and not everything we encounter is likely to be friendly. Could you please, um, save the life story for a better time?"
"Oh dear; you're quite right, Decker!" Coxli's voice was contrite."I'll try to hold my tongue, it's difficult you know, being that it's forked and all, and there's been no one to talk to for so long-" He caught the glare both men were giving him. "-um, right."
They reached the signpost and decided to continue to the stairs before they took a break. Decker's legs, accustomed now to long stretches of exertion, were still on the verge of cramping, but the stairs seemed attainable. A bit of walking on a less treacherous path might ease the tension in his calves, anyway.
At the signpost, fatigue and memories of Cletus caught up with him; he was deeply grateful for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. He closed his eyes and leaned back against stone, noting the slow pulse of yellow-orange on his eyelids mixing with a soft, aching blue; images of the lanky miner in comic scenes, in difficult times, overlaid the dull flash of stress. He concentrated on just breathing, letting the slow pull of his diaphragm and the rise of his chest dominate his consciousness, pressing the painful glow into the darkness of his subconscious. Every now and again, he'd let his eyelids crack open. Degren was doing the same thing he was. Coxli was staring; first at one, then the other, mouth opening and closing as though he wanted to say something but was restraining himself. All in all, Decker thought as his eyelids got heavier, it seemed like a good time for a little nap.
Degren was dreaming; vignettes of life scenes that were familiar, snatches of scenes that seemed strange and distant, vague remembrances that didn't seem to fit at all. The dreams started with scenes of he and Furge, then recessed into the past, to times before he'd met his mate.
Most strange were some of the dreams of childhood, in which he seemed to be a completely different person. He saw himself playing on the lush, green banks of a river, diving and splashing, riding a long rope swing in a great arc, letting go and being flung far out into the current, paddling hard back to shore and running up the bank to do it again. In this scene, and in some others, he wore blue shorts, tattered and frayed at the lower edges. He had no fur; his lightly freckled skin was tan on his face, arms and back, but pale and pink on his legs and belly.
Now his dreams began following his life forward, in sporadic flashes between himself with fur and then more without, between the desert lands of Degren and the now-green, now-icy white scenes of another homeland. More and more, he saw himself as this new person, this bald pink denizen of temperate climes, riding around inside rumbling metal monsters in huge villages where the paths were replaced by hard, smooth roads of gray and black, where impossibly tall towers rose in the middle of brown-skied cities that sprawled across miles of land like brittle scabs on the wounded earth. The stranger he dreamed himself as was somehow familiar, and the further up his lifeline the dreams ranged, the more familiar the person became, until, in a kaleidoscopic whirl of color, he met himself; the bald, alien self met Degren in an old, dilapidated shack tucked into mirror-image foothills of their two worlds.

The two men awakened almost simultaneously, each wanting to tell the other about the dreams they'd had, both deciding to mull over the dreams for a while first. As is the way with dreams, they faded quickly because they were not spoken. They had barely reached the bottom of the stairs before neither man could pick a solid recollection from their minds regarding the strange scenes from their recent slumbers.
Coxli was quick to remark that they were both noisy sleepers. "The two of you almost seemed to be having a conversation as you slept," he said. "It's a good thing we Glag-tui only require meditation to refresh ourselves!"
Degren and Coxli took up stations to watch for other beings while Decker fumbled around for the pressure plate that opened the door to the concealed "boat house". They got inside without spotting anyone, immediately loading their gear onto the boat. Coxli was quite impressed with the high-tech little launch, nattering on about the seemingly magical properties of it. They showed him what they knew about its operation, then took their chances on opening the door and motoring out into the inlet. Moments later, they were thrumming along up the river; with any luck, they'd be back at Tut's place in half a day or less.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Decker #16

The little boat was still moored to the quay wall. Decker and Degren, bleary and stiff after a wine-dulled morning's rest in the over-warm carriage, stretched their legs on the marble flagstones. The satyrs had left them with several jugs of water and a few spare meals of bread, cheese, and citrus fruits.
"Damn, we should've stopped after the 3rd bottle," Decker rasped. "I feel like shit!"
"Maybe the water will feel good," Degren replied, rubbing the base of his skull with both thumbs.
"S'pose it's worth a shot. Rest didn't seem to help much." Decker eyed the heavens, remembering the circling silhouettes and the carnage of three weeks ago. He noted, thankfully, that the broad blue sky was empty of everything but a few slender ripples of cirrus clouds.
Degren was already untying the painter from the stone cleat on the quay. Decker grabbed the boat gunwale at center and nodded for Degren to embark, then carefully stepped in himself. Degren manned the oars while Decker looked over the charts.
"The rest of the wrecks are all further apart than the ones we dived last time," he observed. "There's a grouping of three within swimming distance just south and a little further out. Wanna start there?"
Degren grunted his affirmative, obviously struggling with a bit of a headache. Decker felt his pain, literally; he'd drunk just as much as the slightly bigger man. But not much bigger, Decker noticed; in fact, there were striking and disconcerting similarities between the two men now. Maybe the genetics of Degren's race were such that everyone's physical characteristics were more alike, he thought.
A sudden curiosity struck him. "Degren, are there females of your, uh, species?" Strange he'd never thought of it before.
"Of course," his friend replied, "though they are larger and stronger than the men, and hardly ever, um, 'pair bond', with other females. In fact, they rarely have any sort of long-term relationships. When their, um, 'natural urges' find them, they seek out a male and spend a few weeks breeding, then generally go off on their own and raise their cluster of children."
"Cluster? How many do you-er, they- have?"
"Three to seven is the general rule. If they have more, they'll find another woman to adopt all but six. If only two are born, it is common for the woman to seek out another woman who has had four or less and create a larger cluster. Six is deemed the ideal cluster. If only one is born, a man is selected to raise the child as a shaman or a musician. That child is not allowed to breed."
Decker had many other questions, but they had come to the area where the three wrecks were charted to lay. He dropped the anchor, counting out the depth by twists in the rope. The water was about thirty feet deep here. He tied it off to the gunwale with a few feet of slack to account for tide, then donned his gear and slipped over the side.
The water did feel good; slightly cool, softly massaging, and buoying him up, it was a nice relief from the somewhat steamy air. The pressure was a bit uncomfortable as they neared the first wreck, but overall it was an improvement.
It had the feel of a Chinese junk, with its barge-like hull and broad prow. Its main mast stood slightly fore of center, and it had a smaller fore- and mizzen-mast; all remained proudly perpendicular to its broad wooden deck. It was less decayed than most of the wrecks they'd already investigated, and sat almost perfectly upright on the rocky bottom.
Decker pointed to the fore, indicating Degren should start there, and then swam aft. The cargo doors yawned open, and he dove into the hold.
There was little of interest. The cargo must have been something quite perishable, or there had been none. A few bits of pottery, a handful of odd, verdigris-ed metal objects, and the tattered remnants of a few bolts of cloth were all he found. His chest was starting to burn, so he swam out and made for the surface.
Degren wasn't far behind. When both their heads breached, Decker saw the look of excitement on his friend's face. He'd found something!
"A chest within a chest!" Degren's voice shook; he made to dive again.
Decker grabbed his arm. "There's enough anchor rope to drop to the chest. No way we'd be able to swim to the surface carrying the chest. Is it in a spot where we can pull it up without hanging up on things?"
"Um, no. It's inside what appears to be an officer's cabin. We'll have to haul it out on deck first."
"Okay, you take the end of the rope and swim to the best spot to haul it from. I'll bring the boat directly over you and lower the anchor, then we'll dive together and get the chest on deck. Once it's tied off, we'll both get in the boat and haul it in by the rope. Sound good?"
Decker's heart thudded heavily in his chest. Excitement mixed with apprehension sent rolls of tingling heat down his spine; his head felt light and foggy. This was it! Why was he as frightened as he was happy? Well, nothing to do but do it.
They decided to bring the whole thing up, not just the small chest; there were other items of interest and value there, too; coins, gems, nautical devices, and other more inscrutable objects. Just getting the big chest onto the deck required three dives. Hauling it up was a precarious affair; they learned that they'd have to counterbalance the boat by wrapping heavy objects in the anchor rope and suspending them from one side while they reefed away at the chest rope on the other. It was nearly sundown by the time they had the chest in the boat.
Rowing back to the quay, in short shifts, took the last of their energy. They tied the boat off and collapsed to the boat bottom, too tired even to seek a more comfortable resting place. Tangled in each others arms, they fell asleep.
a slight rocking of the boat awakened them. Decker's eyes were slow to open and he was afraid to move; the evening's exertions and the skewed position he lay in made for dire assumptions as to the comfort of motion.
A shadow crossed his face. He squinted up into the sun and was startled to stare up at a lime-green, iguana-like breast, from which jutted two skinny arms that spanned the boat and clutched the gunwales. He couldn't see above its shoulders without bending his neck, so he tightened his muscles tentatively.
The head was generally saurian, but the face was disquietingly human. It was nosing at the chest, trying to shove the lid open. Shit and mega-shit! What to do? He tried to assess his situation with peripheral vision, hoping some handy weapon would present itself. Where had they stashed Cletus' knives? Shit again; the dry storage locker in the bow. No way to get to that without alerting the lizard to his wakeful presence.
The creature was muttering under its breath. He could make out the occasional bit of monologue.
"Flippus fornicatus, my foggy phrenological philosophy!" It was trying to get one arm, or front leg, in action to aid in lifting the lid. "It's a suspicious scatology that skates such slipshod schemes...wait, I think we've got it...." Then in a deeper, more theatric tone, ..."By Jove, I think he's got it! No...."
Decker's back itched, and the morning sun was cooking fat beads of sweat from his brow. His heart beat arrythmically, and his knees were starting to twitch. The creature's odd garble of conversation was grating on his throbbing skull. He had to do something. With as much force as he could muster, he drove a fist into the yellow-green belly above him, painfully banging his other elbow against the hull. "Get the hell off our boat, you freaked-out fucker!"
It flopped over the side with a wheezy tenor, "Ooof!"
Decker scrambled to his feet, cursing at the popping in his joints and the twanging of his calcified muscles. The lizard-man was back-floating, clutching its gut, trying to take a breath. Degren leaped up, groaning as he straightened, grabbed an oar; and brandished it at the intruder.
It had its eyes clenched tightly. One popped open a bit, then both went wide as it saw both men holding oars over their heads. "Unh, nuh-nooo...," it gasped, still in the throes of diaphragmic paralysis, juddering out the words as it could, ""
Decker stood, frozen. What if it was? They were the thieves, the interlopers then. "Um, how do we know you're telling the truth?"
" the...dry the front....of the boat," It was slowly gaining its wind. "You will perceive a pair of piscatory procurement apparati. Notice the notation on their nether nubs; Nimus Novulo, my name."
"Watch him," Decker said, and made his way to the little door. Pulling the fishing rods out, he did not that name engraved at the base of the two poles. "He...he seems to be telling the truth."
"Obviously my observations occlude obfuscation, oaf!" the lizard man's gill area turned from pale green to bright orangey-red. "I swiped this simple skiff some seasons hence, cementing its presence in my possessions thence!" It made to approach, puffing out its throat sacs menacingly.
Decker sprang to his oar. "Back off, Jack! You might have stolen it fair and square, but so did we! We saved it from your gross neglect after that horrible storm swept it into these waters!"
"Negate your nagging of neglect, nattering ninny!" The lizard man shouted threateningly, but dog-paddled backward out of striking distance. "Salubrious self sailed skiff since storm struck!"
Decker glanced at Degren, whose face bore the same slightly confused but incipiently mirthful expression Decker had. He glared at the lizard-man. "Do you always speak in alliterations?"
"Consonant conjugation occurs with confrontation."
"Well calm your scaly ass down, lizard-boy! We're not gonna hurt you. We might even give you back this boat. We've got a much better one waiting for us elsewhere. Just lizard-stroke over to the pier there, and wait for us to get our stuff landed."
Its cheeks fading from crimson back to yellow-green, the creature did as Decker asked. "Please don't take my fishing gear," it pleaded, "I-I'm not as good a diver as the other Glag-tuis, I'd starve if I couldn't use them!"
"Don't worry about that, er, can I call you Lizzy? Don't worry about that, Lizzy, you can definitely keep the fishing rods. Degren, help me get the chest out of here."
"My correct cognomen is Coxli, confounded cad!"
"The two men burst out laughing. "Okay, okay Coxli," Decker replied,. "Don't get your, er, scales in a twist!"
Heaving and sweating, they finally got the heavy chest onto the stone flags of the quay, then the rest of their items. Coxli watched from the water until they were safely ashore, then scrabbled up onto the quay wall and watched the two men going through the contents of the chest.
"You found that out among the wrecks?"
Decker glanced over at the lizard-man, who appeared to be basking on the rail. "Yup."
"It was my understanding that most of those wrecks had been thoroughly scavenged."
"Lucky us." Decker's attention was mostly drawn by the minor hoard that surrounded the deep, briefcase-sized, plastic-bound matte-aluminum-looking case that was their main objective. There were a few hundred bright gold coins of various sizes and shapes, and dozens of red, green, and blue gemstones. There was an ancient-looking sextant and seven or eight other navigation devices, some looking nearly as old and some Decker thought might rival American technology of his time. There were a dozen or so opaque globes in shades of polished gray, ranging in size from a thumbnail up to a cereal bowl.
"So what should we do with all this stuff?" Decker scratched his head.
Coxli piped up hopefully, "You could give the excess to me as boat rental."
Decker ignored Coxli. Okay, time to see if the key fits." He reached down for one of the knives they'd salvaged from the remains of Cletus and cut the key free of the fishing line thong around his neck. He tipped the small case this way and that, looking for a keyhole; none presented themselves. He fumbled at the bindings, frustrated. He couldn't even tell where the damned box was supposed to open. Where were the hinges? "Fuck me green!"
"What was that?" Degren asked.
"I can't find the goddamned keyhole!"
"Maybe you should look on the bottom," Coxli observed.
Decker cast an angry glance at Coxli, but tipped the box completely over. "Well I'll be fucked!" Dead center in what they had assumed was the bottom of the case was a keyhole. Decker slid the key into the hole and turned.
The case hummed slightly, then split just left of the key and the top levered open in two halves. There were slots in either lid that held what appeared to be instruction manuals. In the case itself rested an object that looked like a crystal ball on eight stainless steel spider legs, and a rectangular remote with a smaller crystal ball embedded in its center. There was a keyboard of indecipherable characters on one side of the small crystal ball, and a group of variously colored rectangular buttons arranged in a circle around a larger, circular red button on the other side.
"Better glance at the manuals," Decker said. He pulled one out and leafed through it. The language was entirely foreign to him. He handed it to Degren, who just shook his head. "C'mere and take a look at this," he asked Coxli, whose curiosity was obviously getting the best of him.
"Er, not a script I am familiar with, I'm afraid," he said.
They all glanced at the other pamphlet, with the same results. Decker was disheartened, though some part of him reveled in the idea that their quest was hopeless. "What the quadruple-shit do we do now?"
"Go see Tut," the two men uttered simultaneously.
Coxli asked, "Are you gentlemen twins?"