Awake and Alive
Ray had been thinking. He wasn’t sure for how long, he just noticed he was doing it. Not so much thinking, really, as watching random thoughts skitter through. He wondered if he had fallen asleep during meditation. It was either pitch black or his eyes were closed, he wasn’t certain. It was silent, save for the low, steady pulse in his ears. He couldn’t determine whether the buzzing was in his head or in the rhythmic oscillations of a starship drive. He settled into the comforting idea that he was aboard a Parthi vessel that had finally come to retrieve him. He stretched his neck and discovered the focs of the dull ache throbbing through his forehead. He wanted to rub the pain, but found his arm unable to move. He jerked his arm again to confirm it wasn’t sleep paralysis lingering long after its welcome. He decided his arm was working fine, and the pressure against his wrist suggested he was restrained. He tried his other arm, then his legs to no avail. There was no doubt he was restrained. He cracked his eyes and blackness gave way to a grey cloud, like he was trying to peer through fog. Multicolored hues began flooding the fog, now obscuring, swirling, blinking, creating a garish scene. His breath quickened and his fists clenched. Dagon had found him; Ray was a captive.
“Abby?” he said, but no words came out, just an undefined moan.
He gazed into the florid lights as he struggled against his restraints. Shapes began to emerge from the vivid technicolor blobs. A face began to resolve. An ecstatic face, crowned by wild hair gushing from his top chakra like a raging fountain of thick black water curling over on itself in discrete waves.
“Yaldabaoth,” he squeaked out in an inaudible wheeze.
He bore into his enemy’s visage with his narrowed eyes. But the face wasn’t Yalda’s, it was human. And it was static, just an image. An image of unnatural brightness. Ray surmised that the colors were being stimulated by a nearby, electromagnetic radiation in the low ultraviolet range. Stabbing hot yellows and reds, deep greens and blues he wasn’t sure he could even see. The face belonged to a man who appeared to be a monk in the throws of nirvana, standing before a vibrating mandala. He was holding what appeared to be an elaborate boat oar. He was gazing down at the oar as if it was his direct connection to his Dharmic ecstasy. There was script at the bottom, but it was difficult read, in bulbous, exaggerated lettering that bent and swelled. It was dripping with ornamentation that favored aesthetic joy over comprehensibility.
“Jigh my hen dry x?” he mouthed as he read.
His head lolled back. He scanned the room to find it was covered with similar images and iconography. Curtains of beads acted as doors and tapestries of vague religious imagery were hung as curtains. The ceiling was covered in crude, glowing representations of stars, suns and waxing and waning moons. There was low table in front of him. On it sat a strange, conical aquarium that was lit from below. In it were crimson, bioluminescent creatures and swimming and dancing with each other. When they touched, they merged and when they stretched they broke into several more like a mating dance followed by a quick consummation and subsequent reproduction. Beyond the table, he saw Abby, laid out on a sofa, also restrained, by what appeared to be fur lined handcuffs. In the corner, Cletus was strapped to what looked, to him, like a reclining chair.
He looked at himself to find he was splayed, in a star shape, strapped to a cushioned, concave disk. Perhaps he was to be sacrificed in some strange temple. Maybe he would be fed to the creatures in the jar. He yanked at his restraints; they jingled. They were also handcuffs, but the pair on his right wrist had a gauzy scarf tangled in them. The ones on the left had little bangles hanging from the links. His legs were bound by lacy, elastic straps. Whoever had him wasn’t prepared to take prisoners.
He became aware of the rhythmic thumping in his ears. The thumping was accompanied by a plaintive caterwaul and grinding electrical distortion. He could make out the words the person was wailing, but the English was strange.
Hey now baby, get into my big black car.
Hey now baby, get into my big black car.
I just want to show you what my politics are.
The beads hanging over the room’s one and only portal were parted by slender fingers. A woman with black hair hanging down over her brow poked her head in and smiled.
“You’re awake,” she chirped.
The beads slapped against the flowing hem of her blue dress. Some of the curtain strands tangled themselves in the bow she had slung across her back. She did a little twirling dance in a futile effort to free herself, then resigned and abandoned her bow.
“I guess now I know how you feel,” she giggled.
Ray stared back.
“Right, that was inappropriate,” she looked at the floor and shuffled. “They said you’d know who I was.”
“I don’t,” Ray said.
“I thought that seemed weird.”
“Where am I?”
“Aboard the Starcrossed.”
Ray returned a blank stare.
“Luna and Wolfram Jones’ ship,” she said.
Ray supplemented his stare with a slow shake of his head.
“They’re bounty hunters from the future.”
Ray jiggled his bangled cuffs. “Bounty hunters?”
The woman shrugged. “My grandson and his wife have eccentric tastes.”
“Your grandson?” Ray looked askance.
“Great great great I forget how many…”
Ray continued with his incredulous face.
“I said they were from the future, didn’t I?”
“Time travel is impossible,” Ray sighed, dropping his head back onto the cushion.
“You want to talk to my grandson?”
“What did you do to us?” Ray asked.
“It was a concussion bolt,” the woman replied. “You’ll be fine.”
“Why are we here?”
“We needed to talk to you and you were flipping out. The Joneses say they know you.”
“I don’t know them. In fact…”
Abby began mumbling as she stirred, “Ray?”
“Hey,” Ray whispered. “You’re fine.”
“Why can’t I move?” she said, groggy.
“What,” she exploded. “Why? Where are we?”
“You’ll be fine, miss,” the black haired woman said. “We’re trying to help you, but we need you to calm down.”
“Who are you?” Abby growled.
“My name is Sophie Fischer. And what’s yours? I’ve already met Director Raphael.”
“Wait, why do people keep calling me ‘director’?” Ray shouted.
“I don’t know,” Sophie replied. “I don’t know any of you. I just met the Joneses like a day ago this is all new to me. But from what I gather, you, whatever Raphael, are a very important person to them.”
“Important how? What do they need me for so bad that they attack me to get my attention?”
“I don’t know. You’re like a family friend. Which I guess makes you my family friend too, but I just met you. I’ve only read bits and pieces about you.”
“I’ll tell you my name,” Cletus said, stirring awake. “You touch one hair on my granddaughter's head and you can tell everybody you meet in hell the name of the wizard what did you.”
“That’s dramatic,” Sophie said. “I’m not trying to hurt any….”
“Tell them, Cletus Wensleydale sent you,” Cletus bellowed.
Sophie’s face dropped and went pale. Her head spun and she stumbled backwards onto her rear. She didn’t know how long she was staring at the faces of the red haired girl on the couch and her grouchy, old friend in the Lay-z-boy, but when she finally latched onto a coherent train of thought she was holding her breath and going dim.
“What’s got into you, dear girl,” Cletus said.
“Cletus Wensleydale,” Sophie muttered, under her breath. She pointed to Abby, “That makes you Abigayle Rosenkreuz.”
“Sorcery,” Abby gasped and raged against her restraints.
“No, wait!” Sophie leapt to her feet and darted from the room. She returned with her favorite ragged, leather bound tome. “Look.”
Cletus and Abby eyed the book, their mouths opening and closing on lost words as the uncanny realization crept up through their guts and into their hackles. Cletus looked at Sophie, his eyes shaking.
“Thief,” he barked. “You went through my satchel. What have you done to it? It looks like it was used to fight a war!”
“This book is 600 years old,” Sophie said. “The one in your satchel is probably a lot newer. I think this looks like it held up pretty good after being passed down through the generations.”
“What witchery is this?” Cletus said.
“Okay. I don’t know if this is after effects of the concussion pulse or not, but the soft touch isn’t working so I’ll be direct. I’m pretty certain you guys travelled 600 years in your future to my present. And you are my distant grandparents.”
“I know this game,” Ray said. “Disorientation. You don’t want us get our bearings. Because you know you’re in trouble if we do.”
“Looks, guys I really need you trust me…”
“You just told a yarn about time travel. Trust will never figure into this.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Time travel doesn’t exist. Nobody will ever figure out time travel, it’s a physical impossibility.”
“Yaldabaoth has. He figured it out. 300 years from now. Which is…” Sophie tapped her fingertips on her thumb, “900 years for you…”
Ray, Cletus and Abby gave Sophie stoney glares.
“Yaldabaoth?” Ray said to Sophie. “Is that who put you up to this? Is he making you do this against your will?”
Sophie dropped her arms and sighed, looking around the room, “Where’s your goddam satchel? Is this it?” she lifted a crumpled, leather bag off the bar.
She rooted through the bag, past all the vials and syringes, the feathers and the stones, the little brass and wooden gadgets, and crumpled bar tabs and inn receipts. At the bottom, providing a solid base for all this nonsense was the book; The Principia Arcanum. In near mint condition. She pulled it out, dragging all the bric-a-brac with it, like dumping the kitchen drawer. She stomped over to Cletus and held up Wensleydale’s young, crisp version of the tome.
“Yours,” she said holding his book closer. She switched her hands and held up her, more elder manifestation, “Mine. Which is still really yours but in relative context…”
Cletus furrowed his brow and looked at Ray. Ray returned an uncertain shake of his head. Sophie assessed their faces as they exchanged glances.
“At least you’re not yelling at me anymore,” she said.
“May I be unbound, to study the books?” Cletus asked. “I’d like to compare them side by side. I’ll be able to tell the difference between my book and this forgery.”
“Okay. I’m going to trust you. I just ask, please return the favor.”
Cletus sat on the brown and orange afghan spread on the floor in lieu of a throw rug and laid the books in front of him. Page by page, he scanned each book. Sophie sat in Cletus’ former reclining prison and failed to make nervous conversation with Abby. Ray regarded Sophie clinically, only giving short answers to her attempts to chat.
“I don’t remember writing any of this,” Cletus said.
“Whoa,” Sophie popped up and yanked her book away. “I can’t let you read anymore.”
“It’s time travel stuff. Causal loops. Like that.”
“What do you think?” Ray asked Cletus.
“If it’s a forgery, it’s stunning. I’d have been fooled.”
Ray looked at Sophie, his eyes narrowed to thin, dark slits.
“Where do you think you were flitting around out there today?” Sophie asked Ray, “This is Earth. 2016. And I really hope you can find a way to trust us because we could really use all the help we can get.”
“Well, there’s a malevolent shapeshifter on the loose and Yaldabaoth’s puppet is about to be elected to the most powerful office in the world. Wow, that snuck up on us quick.”
“That sounds like a pickle.”
“It is and I don’t think any of us knows what we’re going to do.”
Ray sat silent, then said, “Okay, Sophie Fischer. Asking for assistance has been the most sincere thing you’ve done so far.”
“Hey. I’m sincere.”
“I believe you when you say you want our help. As far as trust goes, we’ll see, but I think we can take care of ourselves if you turn out to be trouble. So we won’t cause a problem if you don’t.”
“Finally,” Sophie groaned.
“If I’m your grandmother,” Abby mused, “And you said you have grandchildren on the ship, that means I have more grandchildren to meet?”
“Right. Thought I feel as though I should brief you first.”
“Barring anything unbelievably shocking,” the man in the smart suit said, “You’re on track to be the next president of the United States, Mr. Vyx.”
Vyx gave a shallow nod and a weak smile.
“Of course, he is,” Blaylock said as he looked out on the city from Vyx’s office window. “My boy couldn’t fail.”
“Better start getting your cabinet together,” the man smiled.
“I’ll take care of all of that,” Blaylock waved his hand.
“Don’t forget you have the rally on the art museum steps the weekend before…”
“Spenser. Hit the road. Me and Vyx-y need the room.”
Spenser turned on his heel and left.
“Don’t call me Vicksy,” Vyx mumbled.
“Why?” Blaylock grinned.
“Don’t,” Vyx leaned in.
“Fine, fine, jeez. No Vyx-y,” Blaylock leaned in as well, his tone, mocking.
Vyx looked away.
“Why the long face, Vyx? See how I didn’t say ‘Vxy-y’? The big day is next week and you played your part perfectly. You kept those little weasels in their bathrobes distracted, it all just happened while they were chasing a bone. You heard the man, unless any serious shit goes down, you’re in. I’m in.”
“The thing is, serious shit is going down,” an uncanny and familiar voice said from the doorway.
“Who the fuck are you?” Blaylock shot to his feet.
“Don’t ya recognize me, Mary?” Yalda replied.
“I don’t know who the fuck you think you are…”
“I’m you, idiot, 300 years wiser and a whole lot more prepared.”
“C’mon, not funny, take it off.”
“It’s not a mask, shitwit.”
“Are you a bounty hunter? An assassin here to kill me?”
“That would be suicidal. And I don’t think it would work. I don’t know, the scientist I’ve been lazy about murdering keeps going on about causal loops.”
“How about I kill you right where you stand?”
“I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t, but right now I need you to listen to me. That idiot samurai gang is going to crash the rally. You lose that one big time.”
“This is where I know you’re full of shit. There is no way that freakshow can bring me down.”
“And that’s where you fucked up. You told Vyx-y over there…”
“I told you not to call me that,” Vyx yelled from his desk.
“I don’t care,” Yalda replied. He continued, “You told him to keep them distracted. But what he really did was train them. Galvanize them. Didn’t you, Vyx-y?”
“What?” Blaylock turned to Vyx.
“I only did what you asked,” Vyx replied.
“Sure, but by degrees. Giving them just enough resistance to get stronger, then upping the challenge,” Yalda said.
“Okay, how about benefit of the doubt? For some reason you were pulling your punches. Maybe you got sentimental for whatever reason.”
“Like maybe after they saved your ass from Tabula Rasa,” Blaylock said.
“You might not have even known you were doing it,” Yalda said. “Whatever. The point is, it’s the same net effect. And that’s on you.”
“I will kill you as soon as you’re not useful,” Blaylock said to Vyx, “But in the meantime, play your part.” He turned back to Yalda. “I’m...we’re ready this time. It’s not happening...again?”
“Try not to get bogged down in the grammar. Anyhow, it will happen again. You are going to let it.”
“You know your big plan? Well, this jumps it ahead by three centuries.”
“I can’t argue with those kinds of results.”
“I also invited a couple bounty hunters and their irritatingly precocious daughter to watch. And Ray from back when he was still just an agent and he predictably brought along his pets. And Ray from my time.”
“Why the fuck would you do that?”
“After the rally goes south, Ray from this time shows up and busts you. But now, I have a Draconian contingent waiting for him.”
“Good plan, good plan, but why do you need a bunch of different Ray’s and some future bounty hunters to be there?”
“What’s a master plan without a little revenge thrown in to sweeten the mix? Listen to me. You kill two of them, just two- and you wipe them all out. Not just dead. Removed from fucking existence. I want them to see me doing it. Watching someone carving into the throat of a direct ancestor or one’s younger self should just be the level of existential dread I’m looking for.”
“Do I start doing a lot of coke in the future?” Blaylock asked.
“No. You just get really, really pissed off.”
“What about him?” Blaylock gestured to Vyx.
“Like you just said,” Yalda handed Blaylock a small black device, “He’s still useful. Just in a different capacity.”
“What is this?”
“The remote control.”
“Simon Vyx. He gives you any static, just change the channel.”