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!"

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