Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out
Ray wandered through a park that wrapped around a lake. It was in the center of the city and within walking distance of the GAI headquarters with several taverns in between. Ray was kicked out of every one of them. This was where he ended up. He swayed back and forth as he cast a blank stare into the dark lake. Seraph, alone, in pairs and in groups filed past him on their way out. It was late in the evening and the star bees were dimming and crawling into their abodes under the tree bark. A young Seraph walked past and stopped in his tracks.
“Hey,” said the Seraph, “Aren’t you Raphael?”
“Depends on who’s asking,” he replied.
“My name is Bryn. I’m a big admirer of yours. I loved reading about how you…”
“You need better standards, kid.”
“But your exploits during the war are practically mythic. I’m taking the test to become a GAI agent because of you.”
“Well, I’m not an agent anymore, I’m a drunk staring into a lake in the dark. How about you hero worship Michael? Here, I might have a pack of matches, for you. Go light the town square on fire. Or Lucifer? That guy’s knowledge of rules and regulations is also practically mythic,” Ray lost his balance and caught himself on a tree trunk.
“Do you need help?”
“You want to help?” Ray shook his empty bottle, “Get me another one.”
“I’m not old enough to buy Ichor.”
“Then why don’t you run along to bed. Your mother is probably worried about you.”
“Well it was nice meeting you,” the young Seraph wandered out of the park.
“I’m sure it was,” Ray muttered.
As Ray resumed his staring, he heard a hushed voice, whistling and hissing for his attention. He turned to look behind, but the park was long dark and the moon had slid behind the clouds. The short, sharp whistles came from the bushes and overgrowth just off the path. Ray leaned in and peered into the ink between the swaying the leaves.
“Hey,” the bush said, “Can you help a guy out?”
“Come out of the bushes and I’ll consider it,” Ray said.
Bushes rustled and a figure emerged. It was short. Much shorter than Ray. More Cletus’ or Abby’s height. The figure stopped at the edge of the path.
“Step over here where I can see you,” Ray said.
“I thought you guys had night vision or something,” the figure said.
Ray stepped toward him. In the dimming light of the last bees of the evening, he could see the figure was a human. Ray stopped and caught his balance.
“You’re a human,” he said.
“Good eye, Director,” the human said.
“Don’t you want to know how I got here?”
The human leaned in and held hand next to his face and whispered, “I was abducted by aliens,” he gave a solemn nod as he leaned back.
Ray stared back at him, “You were abducted? By who?”
“A seraph. Now, I realize my contemporaries back home would have said you were angels or some such, but I know better. I know stuff.”
“Is that right? How do you know stuff?”
“I dream about it. Like last night, I dreamt that I was a cab driver, but for food...can you imagine such a thing? Do you even know what a cab is?”
“I know what cab is. How do you?”
“I dreamed it.”
“What else do you dream?”
“Sometimes I’m a detective, sometimes I’m a bounty hunter, in this dream I’m a...mostly a pickpocket,” he backed away in a dramatic wince.
“Relax, I’ve been defrocked or whatever it’s called,” Ray took an imaginary swig from his empty bottle.
“And I’ve been known to be handy with the anvil and bellows. It’s not that I can’t make an honest living, but given the choice…”
“What the hell are we talking about? Get the part about who abducted you,” Ray rubbed his head.
“I don’t know which one of you, I woke up in a cage. Then I escaped, and now here I am.”
“Were there others?”
“Can you show me where it is?”
“Who am I? Lassie?”
“No. I live by a strict policy of never going back to the prison I just escaped.”
“You’re on an alien planet, where are you going to go?”
“What the did the place look like from the outside?”
“I don’t know it’s a building...over that way somewhere. I couldn’t tell you one from the other. Everything looks like Louis the XV threw up on it.”
Ray stared hard at the human.
“What’s your name?”
“Alright, Stovel,” Ray locked cuffs around Stovall's wrists, “If you’re not going to explain anything to me, then you’ll explain it to a whole bunch of other people...who are probably going to be pissy about it.”
Lucifer stared out under his arched brow at Stovall who swinging his feet in a chair built for beings with more height. He took a deep breath.
“So, you have no idea how you got here?” he said.
“All this is really screwing with my grounding, man,” Stovall said, “Usually when I wake from a dream, I have familiar things unique to that dream around me, that I can focus in on and get my head together. This is all off. It’s like I’m having every dream at once. Have I ever dreamed of Parthus? Raymond might know, depending on which one this is.”
“Who is Raymond?”
Stovall pointed at Ray. Lucifer’s eyes rolled up to meet Ray’s.
“It’s for Raphael.”
“Yeech,” Stovall leaned forward, coughing, “That’s terrible.”
“You know Agen...Raphael,” Lucifer said.
“Yeah, but maybe not yet, I think, like I said, it’s really hard to get a grip on where I am or what I’m supposed to know.”
Lucifer sighed and scratched his forehead, “Oh, and this one’s peculiar,” he looked at Ray, “What a surprise.”
“I don’t seek them out,” Ray protested.
Lucifer continued his cold stare, “They certainly know where to find you even if you’re not on the same planet
“Yeah, how about that? Why don’t we get to the bottom of that? Why are there humans on Parthus?”
“I’ve been asking you that question for the past week and still haven’t gotten an answer.”
“Yes, it’s Adriel. But unless your addled friend can fill me in on where the others are being held, I can’t really do anything about it. No evidence, no case.”
“We know her motive.”
“A motive isn’t evidence.”
“We have an eyewitness.”
“Who doesn’t remember anything. And who can be easily dismissed. Adriel would just say you abducted him to drum up false charges.”
Stovall snapped his fingers and drummed on the seat between his legs like he was giving himself a drum roll, “I got it. Philadelphia. 2016,” he pointed at Ray, “That’s where I know you from. There were a couple of you there. Or maybe New Orleans. 1930’s...ish.”
Lucifer and Ray glanced at each other. Ray stepped toward Stovall and crouched down. Lucifer stood behind him and squinted.
“What do you know about Philadelphia 2016?”
“Well, there was you and the red-headed girl and the old guy. There was a black haired lady who was a wizard or something. No. A priestess of some kind? A guy with a sword...it’s like trying to remember a dream after you wake up. Well, it is trying to dream, I meant like a regular dream, not one of other time and place dreams.”
“Are you saying you were there? Because I have no recollection of you,” Ray said.
“I wouldn’t have looked like this. My flesh was darker. And my hands were bigger...my thumbs. I feel like there was something wrong with my thumbs. Anyhow, you knew me when you saw me. No. It wasn’t you per se. It was you but in a distant time. Which makes me think we'll meet one of my dreams someday. My clothes were too big for me.”
Ray stood up, “You were the stranger that showed up to council Sophia Fischer.”
“That rings bells,” Stovall’s head bobbed in a languid nod, like a buoy on a still day.
Ray took a deep breath and held it for a moment, then slowly released it. He cocked his head toward Lucifer, “Temporal instability?”
Lucifer peered over his spectacles at Stovall, “You keep mentioning dreams. Could you elaborate?”
“There are dreams, right? It’s usually nonsense and batshit,” Stovall replied, “I get those all the time, but then there are these other dreams. Which are real as we are here right now. This might be the dream, but none of them are or all of them are. It really makes one ques…”
“Of what are the dreams, Mr. Stovall?”
“There’s four of them. Or three and now I’m awake. Or in one of them, I’m awake…”
Lucifer held up his palm and addressed Ray, “It’s not temporal instability, his jumps would be random and chaotic. He phases between fixed points in time and space.”
“What’s that called?”
“I can’t recall.”
“The being who did that was Remph. Why bother to remember something that’s never going to come up? Remph was in control of it, he seems to be at the whim of it.”
“You’re buying his story?”
“Was what he said about Philadelphia true?”
“It wasn’t in your report…”
Ray rolled his eyes and threw his hands, “C’mon with the rules…”
“I’m only bringing it up because unless you told anybody else, the only people who would have known those details are you, the girl and the old man.”
Ray nodded and approached Stovall, stooping over him, “Okay, since we’re old pals, or at least going to be, does that mean you can lead us to Adriel’s human dungeon?”
“I think I can do that. I’m ready. I feel strong,” Stovall pumped his wiry arms.
Ray stood back up and Lucifer handed him his sidearm and badge.
“You kept it warm,” Ray smirked.
“Enchanted humans are your department,” Lucifer said walking away, “Of which it looks like we’ll have to establish. I’m assigning you that task. Good luck with your new workload, Captain Raphael.”
“You...soulless...pain in my…” Ray stammered and turned to Stovall.
“Congratulations,” Stovall said.
“You know what a department head does?”
Stovall shook his head and his eyes widened.
“Paperwork. And they're in charge of people.”
Ray and Stovall stood in front of an unremarkable door that emptied out onto the sidewalk, just like several others up and down the street.
“Here?” Ray asked.
“Yeah...I think…” Stovall replied.
“You think? You better be sure. I just got my job back, I don’t want to be busting into some old lady’s door.”
“I don’t know. I told you. All this stuff looks the same to me. I have no point of reference here. It’s alien, in the most literal usage of the word. Everything looks like it’s melting.”
Ray pulled Stovall to the door and turned him around, “Concentrate. You walked out of the door and what did you see?”
Stovall looked around, “Everything is flowers and gold and pink marble and snow...wait that bench. There was a weird alien couple sitting there and one had an umbrella or a cane or something,” Stovall ran over and picked up the umbrella, “I guess they left it. It’s a shame. It’s very nice.”
“They have them for free in barrels on every other street corner. It starts to snow, you take one. When it stops you put it in another barrel.”
“Huh,” Stovall nodded, impressed, “I think I’ll keep it.”
“Stand behind me,” Ray knocked on the door.
Moments later a small, elderly Seraph woman answered the door. Ray’s head dropped.