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 of...um, 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, Deg...um, 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 over...here."
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 that...um, 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 handy....no, 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 these...men, 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!"