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.

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