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!"

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