The Abcronxuddlern grinned with needle tipped poisoned teeth. A drop of milky poison was licked from its thin lips with much relish. It extended a massive hand on the end of one of its almost skeletal arms, towards me.
With a noise like a switchblade opening, a stumpy, black splintered claw sprang out from its index finger.
"Here, allow me!" It growled.
A year ago, I would have fainted dead away with fright, but now I just smiled and handed over the green crystal bottle. With a pop of gases, the Abcronxuddlern levered off the stainless steel cap from the beer bottle and handed it back.
"Thanks," I said.
"No problem." Its claw never made a sound when it sprang back in to its fleshy home. Someone told me that the 'Crons don't need to make a noise when their claws spring out. When they are feeling comfortable, the claws slip out in a noisy manner. When they are feeling aggressive, the claws slip out quite a bit slower, in total silence.
The worse thing to watch for in a 'Cron is when they lose control of their claws. When they start to slip silently in and out in a seemingly absent minded fashion, you are in trouble. That's a sign that violence is not far away.
To make matters even more confusing, they seem tense when they are feeling relaxed. If they look relaxed, then something is bothering them and you better watch out.
This Abcronxuddlern was so happy and comfortable that an Earthman, who I'd just noticed sitting on a stool at the other end of the almost empty bar, mistook its body language for aggression and drew a large gun. "Put that away, bud!" I laughed at his nervousness. "There's a beam nullifier operating! Directed energy weapons don't work in here."
"This isn't a beamer. It's chemical," He said. His voice was high pitched, almost feminine, and nasal with it. He sounded like that woman on the Channel 18 Newszine, but with a cold.
His clothes looked as if they belonged in the 1990's but his manner seemed out of another century. He had an air of sadness and femininity that seemed to be very out of place with his bad skin and mousey features.
"Even more reason to put it away then. There's a selective friction field in operation as well. You'll blow your hand off if you try to use it." This bit was a lie.
No matter what you may have heard about friction fields, they are total garbage. If one was operating, I'd need to spoon out the drinks with an ice cream scoop. Folks would choke trying to drink their favourite tipple.
It had been very quiet in the Tavern today. The rest of the bar staff was around the back, pretending to be tiding out the stores - but actually sitting with their feet up gossiping.
Thursdays were usually quiet. At least, I think it was Thursday. Sometimes it's difficult to keep track of time when you work in a bar at the edge of space and time.
"Are you male or female?" Growled the 'Cron good-naturedly.
"Why?" The Earthman started to put the gun back under his coat.
"Tell it, Tony." It gave a long throaty grow and wandered off towards one of the dark sleeping booths in the far left hand corner.
"It was laughing at you. Abcronxuddlern's are hermaphrodites! They've got both sets of organs under that black fur. They choose their sexual roles by combat. The loser assumes the role of female. Their society is built on consenting rape!"
"There's no such thing!" The Earthman gave a disgusted look and crossed his legs.
"It was implying that you'd already lost a fight. Haven't you ever met an alien before?"
"From Earth? I'm of Earth decent, but I was born in orbit. I'm an L5 Trojan baby." This seemed to puzzle him. He didn't answer.
I took a long suck from my bottle of beer and wondered for the umpteenth time where all the bottle openers had gone.
"What's your poison?" I asked, wiping froth from my lips with the back of one hairy scarred hand.
"You stock beer? I really need one." I got the impression that he was deeply distressed about something.
"Do we stock beer! Only over four hundred and twenty varieties. From 23 different planets and 16 major time zones.
"Time zones? You mean, I'm not the only time traveller that's been in here?"
"Oh, no. Not by a long chalk. We get them now and then. One in last week from 2039. Think he was called John Brendan. He claims to have been a good friend of mine in one of the alternates. Says that I died when I was 21 in an accident with a parabolic asteroid smelter. I looked identical to the Tony Wheelbough from his Universe except that that Tony had a middle name and I've none. Creepy, huh? When you from?"
"Been living in the 1980s for about the last six years. Originally from 1901. Scotland."
"Bloody hell! We've never had a record breaker in here before. This calls for a drink on the house. Time travel's only existed officially since 1995."
"So I gather." He gave a deep sigh.
I fumbled under the bar and triggered the auto-chooser. It was a partially organic computer that used comparative subliminal telepathy to deduce which drink the customer would get the most pleasure from. It was hardly ever used. Most customers didn't like being told what they wanted.
"Can you prove you're from 1901."
"No and I don't want to. Just want to forget about everything. Time travel has ruined my life."
"You're in the right place to get things off your chest."
I took the bottle that had appeared in the hopper of the auto-chooser, brushed the thick dusk off the label and poured him out a large measure into a heavy, transparent plastic cup.
"This isn't beer?"
"What do you want for nothing? Drink it."
He gave a shrug and poured the whole measure into himself without stopping.
"Oh, boy is that good. You can feel it doing the harm as it goes down! Scotch?"
I poured him another large one and then showed him the label.
"Thought so. Glen Lowtil 1850? Never heard of it, but what a year!"
"Think it comes from Alternative Universe 4. It's very rare. We don't get much trade with the Alternates. Too much power expenditure to open a Vinculum for long."
He downed the second glass in another long swallow.
"Slow down a bit there! What grieves you?" I put the bottle down and he helped himself to another. I was relieved when he didn't drink it straight down. Just cradled it in his small delicate hands and gazed sadly into the golden liquid.
"Huh! What doesn't?" He spoke quietly and gave a deep sigh.
"Woman trouble?" I said.
"Isn't it always?" He took another mouthful. For a second, I thought that he was going to cry.
"Who's the dame?" I asked. It had been a quiet day. If I could encourage him to talk, maybe I could kill an hour.
I know what you're thinking, I must have picked him up wrong. You're right. That's what I did think for about 5 seconds, then I remembered that he was a time traveller.
Ever since creatures first thought up the idea of time travel, they've been writing fiction about time travellers who fall in love with one of their Great Grandparents or their future descendents. In fiction, this is always shown to be dangerous. The writers always assume that such actions would be harmful to the space/time continuum.
They always give very complex reasoning as to why this would be bad for the space/time continuum. But, as any time traveller would tell you if they were allowed to, this is utter rubbish! Time cannot change. Every eventuality that is possible is happening somewhere right now. A myriad of alternate universes exists like a tapestry of tangled, not quite infinite, spaghetti.
I realise that the phrase, not quite infinite, is like saying, slightly pregnant, but it's the nearest to an accurate description that I can manage.
Time travellers can't change time. Their current actions make them jump uncontrollably between alternate realities, so that it looks to them that history has changed.
Say that you did the old, going-back-in-time-and-killing-your-Grandfather- before-your-own-birth routine. When you got back to your own time, it would appear that history had been changed. You'd be wrong.
History would always have been that way. You'd just be in an alternate universe where your Grandfather had been killed by a time traveller from another alternative universe. Your original reality would still be there.
Knowing this means that you could get back in your time machine and jump back into the reality where your Grandfather didn't get killed, to find nothing had changed.
Unfortunately, for time travellers, reality jumping is an inexact science. They often slip sideways in time and never notice it for weeks; until the differences show up and then it becomes really difficult to find their way back to their original reality. Everything will look the same until they realize that, say, their favourite colour was once red and now their possessions show a predominance of blue. At other times the changes may be so subtle that they never notice at all. This sort of thing happens to them all the time.
Time travellers are crazy mixed up people.
The only reality jumping that is totally safe is the mini secured inter- dimensional vinculum. To you and me, that means a black hole. Nearly impossible to find, there are only a few in the known universes, and they are ridiculously expensive to open.
"Safe" is not exactly the sort of word one would be tempted to bandy about in the vicinity of an gravitational force of interplanetary strength which is the size of a squashed melon.
The word "safe", when connected to black holes, means less than one chance in a ten of being squashed to the size of an atomic nucleus. That brings the odds of completing a two way journey down to one in five.
Not bad odds if you're getting paid a million credits per jump. It's rumoured that the owner of the Tavern made the jump 12 times before quitting and investing the money in the business. It's also rumoured that the man who took the next jump that he was thinking of going on, the 13th jump, never came back.
Personally, a million credits isn't enough. What does that buy these days? Maybe a really nice car or a third hand time machine?
Not even enough creds to buy your own house.
I could understand someone being tempted to do the trip once or twice, but 12 TIMES! Time travellers are not the only crazy people about!
Enough of this banter. I've digressed enough for the time being. It's time to get back to the main story.
"The woman who's mucked up your life is you?"
"Well I've time to kill. Tell me your story." I joined him on his side of the bar, opened an extra large bag of Dodo flavoured crisps and pulled over a stool.
"Time to kill. How appropriate." So saying, he took another mouthful of Scotch and began to talk.
"It was 1985. I had been making a living for sometime as a gambler.
Nothing big, you understand. Not the football pools or anything like that.
Just small bets spread throughout two dozen betting shops. I'd jump forwards a week, buy a paper with the racing results, jump back and put the bets on. Now and then I'd lose sizeable bets deliberately so no one would get suspicious.
I'm led to believe that the time police monitor all famous gamblers, so I'd get different trustees most times to put on each bet for a part of the winnings.
I had to be very careful. All it would take was one mention of my amazing luck in a newspaper and the time police would be down on me like a ton of bricks.
That never happened. Never get greedy, that's the secret.
Life was as perfect as it could be. Good food, everything I wanted - including enough money to pursue my scientific interests. The only thing that was missing was the love of a good woman. That was not really missing because I didn't need anyone else in my life.
Or so I thought.
It was a Saturday when she walked into my life. It was the Grand National. I had just personally put a hundred and fifty pounds on the nose of Last Suspect. With a name like that, I would have bet on it anyway. On the way out of the betting office, I bumped into her.
"Sorry!" I started.
"Oh, there you are. Thought I'd gotten the wrong place." Her voice was high pitched but rough, as if she had a sore throat. I started to tell her that she must have mistaken me for someone else when I was bewitched by her smile.
It was a case of love at first sight. She was not what you'd call a looker but to me she was an angel.
A love so strong out of the blue like that was frightening. Bam! It was like a firework exploding inside me. A wibbly wobbly feeling under the ribs and a coldness of the skin as blood drained suddenly from the extremities. A fluttering pain in the stomach. A lightness in the head.
From the beginning, everything was strange about her. I felt as if I'd known her all my life. Her plain curveless body excited me with an intensity that I would previously have found impossible to believe could exist in our ephemeral sphere of existence.
Her legs incased in sheer black nylon were lumpy and too muscly. A small swell of a bosom and a manly square jaw. Her short, dark hair was sexless and her skin had that roughness that only those who have had a lifetime out of doors can acquire.
There was a vigour and strength about her that emanated from her totally feminine smile. When she smiled, she smiled not only with her entire body but with her soul. A soul that reached out of the one part of her body that could be conventionally called sensual. Her eyes. Blue flecked, grey pools of tangible eroticism.
I fell into those pools and came out of the other side a weaker man full of an arousal that must surely have been sent straight with a blessing from Satan's dark loins.
Why I felt this way about this stranger froze me to the very core of my marrow with terror. Yet, there was a bitter sweetness to the terror that complemented the very fabric of this sudden and total devotion.
One thing only softened the fear. Her reaction to me was the same as mine to her. Hot and passionate, our bodies came together like lovers that had been long parted. We kissed long and hard before coming down to earth with a sharp jolt.
"Eer, you's should be ashamed. Behaving like that in public. Yide think you were teenagers!"
It was an old woman clutching a betting slip. She pushed past us and out into the quite coolness of the street. Laughingly, we followed hand in hand, soul in soul, behind her.
That week became an awakening dream that hurt to remember. A single long explosion of primitive orgasm. An intercourse of souls. Two sweating, straining, intertwined creatures of pure sexual instinct. A single organism agape in its obsession. Needing. Demanding. Burning. Eating. Hurting. A passion of infinite depth. A fiery universe of lust.
And then, with a strange suddenness, the madness was over.
The talking began.
As the story unfolded, the intensive fear came back. It deepened and slowly turned into disgust and hate.
She was also a time traveller. More precisely, we were both the same time traveller. She was me. I was her. We were one and the same person.
I had been born with the XX chromosomes of a woman. The hormones of my body were all wrong. I never grew facial hair and my voice never broke. These things never bothered me. I was a man who never cared for body things.
Some time in the future, in a far off century, a drug was created that would develop the sexual body of an individual to the pattern contained in the genetic structure of the chromosomes.
No more would there be unhappy macho women with muscles and a moustache. No more men with smooth, shapely legs and feminine graces. The individual was free to develop their real self in a physical way that had never been possible before. A lot of sad people had been freed. I was not one of those sad people. I was from a century that knew little about chromosomes. She only came looking for me to warn me.
Sometime in the near future, I would commit the unforgivable crime of murder and go on the run through time. Taking the chromosome corrector was just an extreme method of disguising myself from the time police. Time is a one way street, but crime is still crime. Murder is still murder.
She came back for me with the impossible idea of changing time so that the murder would never happen.
It was unfortunate, but inevitable, that we would fall in love. Mankind's animal herd instincts make us search for those most like us to breed with. Who is more instinctively and hormonal suitable than a sexually opposite exact copy of one's self?
Exact fitting chemical pheromones provide the strongest of aphrodisiacs. An instinctively perfect understanding of each others body language and sexual desires are a time bomb. Animal lust can be the only outcome.
I felt so angry. So dirty.
In the society in which I was brought up, the worse thing that one could do was to be caught touching one's self in a sexual way. I had sex with a female version of myself. What had occurred was an incestuous, masturbatory, homosexual act of obscenity! It was a crime of morality that could not be forgiven.
How could she do such a thing to me?
The truth brought me to the edge of madness and over into the red cloud of rage.
When the mists of hate had cleared, I was standing over her body holding the handle of my old revolver. Blue sulphurous smoke drifted from the barrel and my ears rang with the deafening silence that followed the penetration of another human being by two killing projectiles.
Two almost black holes in her side leaked her life away into scarlet pools of betrayal and waste. There was movement in those sexual eyes. A question unanswerable.
Then nothing. That fragile spark, that we call life, was gone for good. She didn't live there any more. Oh, my God! What had I done? I had killed her!
I had killed my self?
With my gun still smoking, I ran from that place. Must go into time and...what?
I set the time machine adrift without any coordinates and drifted into a morbid flux of despair. A long time later, I became aware that the time machine had stopped.
I got out and found my self outside of what appeared to be a drinking establishment and wandered inside."
He finished the tale, took a long slug from the bottle and suddenly began to sob uncontrollably. He slumped across the bar. The bottle was knocked over. Most of the remains spilled out before I snatched it up.
"What am I to do? What am I to do?" He said quietly over and over again.
He was lucky to be alive. Every so often, a time machine with unset coordinates turns up here at the edge of time and space. Sometimes, the occupants are dead from starvation or dehydration. Some, the luckier ones, end up in here in the Tavern.
"Have another drink," I said, putting the bottle back down beside him.
I went into the back room and called the time pigs. Like the man said, murder is still murder. When I got back he was just finishing of the final remains of the bottle.
"The worst of it is, I can't stop it. Its going to happen again. This time I'll be the one who gets killed. And then It'll happen again, and again and again! Round and round in time until the killing time comes around again!"
He took a pocket watch out of a coat pocket and put it on the bar.
"Here. Payment for the drink. I must go back and try and stop it before the cycle gets properly started."
He left in a hurry. I didn't try to stop him. Video cameras by the doors take pictures of everybody who comes in or out. The time pigs would get him unless he did something drastic, like disguising himself by changing his sex or hiding out close to the scene of the crime.
I had a look at the watch.
Just as I expected. Crappy Victorian junk! I threw it straight in the bin. I wouldn't see him again, at least, not in this reality.
Like I said, time travellers are crazy mixed up people!
Just then, one of the far doors was kicked open and a noisy group of bright green feathered Arcturan army conscripts breezed nosily into the Tavern. They would be itching to spend their monthly pay checks. There would be many more arriving after that lot.
It was time to call up some more bar staff.
"Good day gents! What's your poison?"
Original version written July 1991, (c) Bryan H.Joyce.
Note: A rather complex and certainly experimental thing written as part of the ST NEWS magazine software review of Logotron's "Star Ray".
A part of its original introduction has been left almost intact, which might serve to help you a bit. The actual thing contains three stories that end up as one. Well, sortof.
A very cold and hard autumn wind is blowing outside. Gusts of rain smash into the window panes and make me feel even more lonely and melancholic than I feel (if you know what I mean). It's dangerous to go outside now; only in last Saturday's papers could be read that the rain had the pH of vinegar...
Sweet thoughts about Miranda - the lady of my heart - are floating through my brain, together with the fondest wish to be with her now, keeping one another warm while listening to the violent weather outside. If only that could be true...
Tomorrow, I will have to perform a heavy zoology test - which I will probably not make successfully since I haven't done anything for it so far. As usual, at times like these, I get sudden enormous amounts of inspiration and then I just have to write. Whether it's any good for my academic future or not. You shouldn't feel too guilty now (I already doubted you would), since I couldn't think of anything else but Miranda anyway. She is now present in every cell of my brain - even the whole rest of my body. She's gorgeous, sensual and adorable, nice, understanding and lots more that is none of your business. She's THE girl for me.
Isn't it strange? It is as though, outside, the clouds are gathering to form a large circle in the skies. A circle out of which purple light appears. It is raining more viciously by the minute.
But listen to me now, again talking like a raving mad about girls, girls and nothing but girls. This here is no medium created for the sole purpose of spilling forth my oral diarrhoea, is it? So I will now continue with that what we are all here for, somethint called "Star Ray".
I'm just wondering what the plot of this will have to be. I can't seem to come up with a decent one.
The Growing Pains of Cronos Warchild (Part II)
(For those of you that hadn't guessed it already: This is where the whole thing really starts)
Location: Kryptium, a small and remote planet somewhere in the Universe. Further details not present in database.
Atmosphere: Almost entirely carbon monoxyde and sulphuric acids. High water concentration indicates large seas covering its surface.
Lifeforms: Only minuscule creatures still alive in the seas.
Remark: Formerly inhabited by humans. Now automatic production plant.
"What the hell are we here for?!" murmured Cronos Warchild, mercenary annex hired gun, when he checked the readout on his machine's plasma computer screen.
His fist smashed against the control panel, causing his craft to make some rather unusual movements through the damp and quite dangerously acid sky.
Had he known that a computer freak had once been down there, hundreds of years ago, being sad and lonely and staring outside to the gusts of rain smashing against the window pane, Warchild might have felt a bit comforted.
Then again, he might have not at all.
He murmured a bit more, turned some knobs on the panel and pushed some buttons. The sterile readout screen vanished, to be replaced by the even more sterile face of the Home Base Android.
"Good...." (the Android check its watch) "...evening, sir. What might I do to make your day a better one?"
At a location quite near to Warchild's, only way back in the fourth dimension, a lonely computer programmer sat in his room. He was also watching the night sky solemnly, listening to gusts of rain smashing against the window pane. Yet this man was completely unaware of any such problems as those that occurred with Warchild - nor for those that occurred at a relatively minute distance eastward that mainly involved a stunning girl whose name shall not again be mentioned here as well as the writing of a good sort of story with a decent kind of plot.
He was playing with his moustache, much in the way his father had always told him not to, when, suddenly, he bent forward and typed some code in an assembler program. To an outsider it might have appeared like he was momentarily freakin' out. He looked at the lines, assembled the code and executed the program.
"S(censored)t!" (Warchild just uttered an, unfortunately commonly used, synonym for an animal's excrements)
"Pardon me?" the Android on the other end of the line stammered. "The word you just utilized is on the list of banned words, as specified during the Gore Convention, July 1994, and I am therefore authorized, yes, actually obliged, to ban YOU from this intercontinental support network. Thank you for having us attempt to make your day a better one. Don't bother to do so again. I wish you a good..." (the Android checked its watch and shook his head at his own lack of memory) "...evening. Have fun being left on your own accord."
The screen went black again, and after a picosecond pause the planet's status readout reappeared on the screen.
Warchild's only reaction to this fact was the utilization of an, unfortunately also quite commonly used, synonym for the process through which most higher organic lifeforms (especially those with a backbone that live on dry land) try, and indeed often succeed, to multiply themselves.
Had the Android not immediately disconnected the line, Warchild would probably have tried one of his Kill-O-Gadgets on him, electrocuting him at distance, or something likewise.
But the Android had, so Cronos couldn't.
An extremely violent gust of rain smashed against the computer programmer's window again. He looked up from the keyboard, realizing that the weather wasn't particularly improving.
The phone rang. He took the receiver without hesitation; this new game of his wasn't coming anywhere, anyway. No good plot. Answering the phone wouldn't hurt whatever fragment of inspiration that might or might not be lingering somewhere deep within him.
"Hello? Steve here."
"Yeah. Herbert here," the voice on the other end said, "is that new game of yours coming anywhere, anyway? Remember that the deadline's not far off, please, Steve!"
"But, er...Herbert, listen, I've got this...."
"No time to chat now, Steve. Must be goin'! Be hearin' ya!"
Before the line went dead, the programmer imagined hearing a sound as if two connected plungers were taken apart. There was also, so it seemed, some sighing and moaning.
Warchild's trigger finger was getting itchy. Something BAD had better turn up soon so that he could get rid of his frustrations. On second thought, something GOOD might also suffice.
He lowered his craft so that he was now below the thin layers of purple mist that normally kept the planet's surface from sight. Relatively small production platforms could be seen on the planet's surface, regularly distributed.
His lasers spoke. One platform was blasted into thousands of tiny fragments. A smile appeared on Cronos' lips. He liked senseless violence.
If he would have looked in his rear view mirror, Warchild would have seen the purple mists transforming into a disc-shaped appearance, that seemed to draw matter to its centre.
A message appeared on the on-board computer screen.
Steve, the computer programmer, was sitting back in his chair, relaxed. Or, rather, seemingly relaxed. His mind was working overtime. He simply had to come up with a decent plot, or concept, or whatever, or he could kiss this Logotron job goodbye. Permanently. He was not even disturbed by the clouds outside, that now seemed to regroup themselves around a centre out of which a soft, purple light came.
He closed his eyes and thought deep, completely unaware of what was happening outside now. If Steve had been an Android, his current state would be reffered to as Total Sensory Perception Shutdown.
A name suddenly popped up in Warchild's mind. A name that he had never heard before. Together with that name, a vision came. A vision of a girl of utmost gorgeousness, niceness, sensuality, adorability, well...everything a guy could possibly want. For a moment, her fawnen eyes met his. Although this never happened in his particular plane of reality, it was as if Cronos' heart suddenly melted. As if, unlikely though this sounded, a crust fell off.
By then he had already been sucked in by the tornado of purple mist that had been gaining behind him.
Silence, only if it was for a microsecond.
BAM! (A very loud 'bam', by the way)
"Miranda?" the programmer suddenly wondered as he opened his eyes again. He must have been dreaming, as he now saw a gorgeous, nice, sensual and adorable girl walking over the surface of a planet he had never laid eyes on before now. A small craft was hanging in the air, having just wiped out what seemed like a small production platform on the surface. It was now no more than a shapeless heap of garbage.
Everything seemed covered by purple light now, something that even Steve found extremely weird (him being a game programmer, that should say something about the weirdness of it all). And where, for heaven's sake, did this girl fit in?
Warchild spotted an alien spacecraft, soaring closer and closer to the girl. Who was that strange chap down there, the one with the moustache and the baldening head?
No matter what, the alien craft had to be zapped utterly. Evaporized exceedingly.
Steve sat stunned in his room, his eyes wide open. The window had broken, the rain was staining the carpet dark wet. He stood up and looked outside, only to see more rain. He thought he saw a small purple cloud disappear into nothingness in the distance. He felt the rain on his eyes. It burnt a bit.
"Damn it! Feels like vinegar!" he cursed.
Then, his face brightened up. He had just envisioned a great plot. In his new game, the player would have to guard the priceless energy cells of a new and mysterious planet, somewhere in an obscure corner of the Universe. A modern-day version of the good ol' arcade game "Defender". He decided to call the planet...er...Kryptium would do nicely.
He felt a definite urge to introduce a gorgeous girl into the plot but, remembering all the quarrels he had had with his wife during his married life (including the three major ones, the ones other people refer to as 'kids'), he decided not to do so.
He dialled a number on his phone.
At the other end, a click could be heard, some sighing and groaning after that, and then a tired: "Herbert here..."
Warchild looked around. Not even the battered remains of the alien spaceship were there to be seen. The mysterious chap and, what was worse, the mindstaggeringly exquisite girl had disappeared, too.
His presence here was useless, after all. He decided to go back and kick some ass. His physician first, for he seemed to have life-sized daydreams recently, and his analyst next. Last, but surely not least, he would try out one of his Kill-O-Gadgets on the guy that sent him here. The Behead-O-Axe? Or perhaps his Blood-O-Sucker? He would see.
Where had all that purple mist gone?
As he left Kryptium's unhealthy atmosphere, he casually glanced at his rear view mirror. He adjusted it so that it no longer reflected the alien spacecraft that suddenly popped up from all directions, which started destroying the planet's production platforms. Instead he now saw his own hair. He combed it.
He smiled to himself. Er...on second thought, he'd better hop over to his dentist instead of his analyst. Quite some work to be done there.
Was it not yet too late to get involved with females?
Way back in the fourth dimension, and at a relatively minute distance east of our computer programmer, a computer freak looked outside and noted that it had stopped raining. He had almost forgotten all his worries with regard to a certain girl as he looked at a small purple spot in the night sky, high above him.
"I think I've got a nice plot for my introductory novelette", he thought, "But let's hope the readers won't find it a bit too complicated..."
He got up from his chair, now putting aside all thoughts about the lady of his heart. He turned on his computer system and started typing.
"The Growing Pains of Cronos Warchild (Part II)" he spoke aloud, as he typed the sentence on his keyboard.
Original version written October 1988. Rehashed July 1993. By the way, I did pass that zoology test. As a matter of fact it was the only test I ever passed during my Biology studies, that I was to quit less than five months later.
The jungle was dense and even slightly foggy. The cries of exotic birds littered the brainwaves of Sir Richard 'Rick' Jones. He wiped some sweat off his brow, preventing it from dripping in his eyes and obscuring his sight.
A rather exotic (though rather precarious) gnat had the somewhat irritating tendency of flying around his head. With a carefully aimed prod of his stick, he ricocheted the little invertebrate into the lurking womb of some kind of carnivore plant.
"Oh no. Shit." the gnat thought to itself.
The plant didn't take long to react. It quickly closed its womb into a little prison out of which no living beings smaller than a mouse would ever be able to escape.
The unfortunate gnat made a sound like that of an air particle colliding with another, and ceased to exist.
Sir Jones looked around him with a rather pleased look in his eyes.
Something caught the attention of that rather pleased look. It was a small plant, struggling to get up through the dense, damp jungle soil.
"Interesting," Sir Jones muttered to himself, and bent down to examine it more closely.
As he did so, he saw something shining underneath that particular little plant that was still, almost visibly, struggling to get up and behold the warm rays of the afternoon sun.
An eager look replaced the pleased one.
"Oh no. Shit." the little plant thought to itself.
Guessing that there might be some kind of archaeological treasure hidden under the little greenie, Sir Jones tore away the little sapling and uncovered a small thing with some shining parts on it - as well as a piece of skin-coloured plastic that seemed to have been shaped like the inner part of an ear.
A hearing aid.
The sprout made a sound like a drop of water falling on an immeasurably large piece of desert sand. After having done that, it simply ceased to exist.
Now what was Sir Jones to do with a hearing aid?
Nothing, you may think. And that, by some extraordinary coincidence, was Sir Jones' thought too.
So he tossed it away with an air of nonchalance, thereby killing a tiny little bug that was eating off the remains of what used to be a fresh and young sapling struggling to get through the dense and damp jungle soil to have a look at what the warm sun rays would be like.
Just before the tiny little bug saw the hearing aid on collision course, it felt a strange kind of nausea.
"Oh no. Shit." the tiny little bug said to itself.
The hearing aid, no bigger than a man's inner ear, was of formidable dimensions in comparison to the tiny little bug.
It had no chance and died quite instantaneously.
It didn't even make a sound.
"HA! There it is!" Sir Jones cried triumphantly.
He saw the jungle growing less dense before him, and a large cave could be seen beyond the branches that hung there, partly obscuring it.
Finally, he had reached the goal of this journey: The uncharted caves where Incas had one day dwelled. A place, so he had heard, of immense wealth and immeasurable treasures. "Stacks and stacks of 'em," his museum director had quoted before he sent Rick off on this archaeological treasure hunt.
He carefully pushed aside the branches, and brushed the spider webs from his forehead (also making sure that the sweat kept on not dripping in his eyes).
A gasp of breath came from him when he now saw the cave entrance in all its full glory before him. It was several times a high as him, and perhaps just a tiny fraction less so in width. Around this arch, there were texts written in all kinds of strange dialects of equally strange and possibly very obscure tongues. "Hakkitakkiwegballezakki!" he decyphered aloud, as well as "Wie dit leest is gek", "Scott me up Beamie, A.L." and "Durex is the best...you know what to do with the rest!"
There was a faint ring in his mind that told him the latter one was perhaps not genuinely authentic.
Then he saw something that was even more important.
There was a door in the arch. It was made of thick stone and didn't look like it would open easily.
"Oh no. Shit." Sir Jones muttered to himself.
"Hey chap! That's my line!" a little, happily flying butterfly said before this momentary distraction caused it to fly equally happily into that very same, thick, stone door and to cease to exist.
Sir Jones scraped the dead butterfly remains off the door and carefully scanned as much of the door as he could, by touching every inch of it, and at times knocking and listening to the lack of echo.
The sun was already setting, and Sir Jones realized he had to set up some kind of camp quickly if he didn't get in before soon.
It was at times like this, when the melancholy of a setting sun struck his being, that he started wondering about certain things of nature. For example, why the sun was there during the day and not at night - during which its light would certainly have come in handy.
And that just among many other things.
He discarded these thoughts rapidly as he noticed that the door seemed to open when he touched some kind of oval that was vaguely visible in the door.
He stepped aside.
The scent of centuries of death, damp stone and urine struck him like a ton of bricks.
He staggered for some seconds, then regained his composure and walked in.
He did this while carefully prodding with his stick in all directions. He kept his revolver handy as well - just in case.
It was at the moment that he totally unexpectedly bumped into something utterly huge when he remembered that he had forgotten to take with him something like a torch. So everything was now pitch dark around him - which was only logical, for even the Inca torches that hung silently on the cave walls, probably having been left lit many centuries ago, had by now ceased to cast off their eerie, dancing light.
He tore a piece off his trousers, wound it around his stick and lit it.
The bright light sufficed to show him that he had bumped into a leg.
A leg of formidable dimensions.
Attached to the top of that leg was what seemed to be like a giant. A giant of gigantic giantish proportions, even (quite big as far as giants go, actually).
The giant looked down at the pathetic little human with a pleased look in its eyes, and gave forth a wicked laugh.
"REVENGE." it said.
Something inside Sir Richard 'Rick' Jones made him assume that he was in some shit of the deepest conceivable kind.
"FINALLY, THE TIME HAS ARRIVED." the giant of gigantic giantish proportions further proclaimed.
Yes. Something now even told Sir Jones that he was absolutely right in his aforementioned assumption.
"AFTER DEATH UPON DEATH, I AM NOW DECIDEDLY IN THE DISPOSITION THAT ALLOWS FOR SOME INDUSTRIOUS RETALIATION." the giant related.
Sir Jones was beginning to wonder about what life after death would be like - and if there indeed was any. He also wondered what 'retaliation' was.
The giant was now obviously all set and prepared to execute the retaliatory actions it had announced in one of its earlier statements. It lifted its enormous foot (the one at the lower end of the enormous leg into which Sir Jones had bumped) and carefully aimed at putting it back at precisely the piece of floor that was currently being occupied by the zealous archaeologist.
All Sir Jones could do was grab his revolver and aim it at that foot.
And he shot again.
There was no deafening cry (or not even anything remotely similar) to be heard, but the foot halted in mid air.
A chuckle could be heard. Well....it was more like the onset of thunder, but relative to gigantically giantish proportions it was probably indeed a chuckle.
Sir Jones shot again.
The chuckle (or onset of thunder, whatever relation you prefer) transferred in some laughing quite unheard before by any mortal. It actually sounded like a whole host of Thunder God football hooligans were clashing their clouds and throwing hammers around.
"NO. NO. PLEASE DON'T DO THAT. PLEASE DON'T."
The giant had difficulty pronouncing the words in between its violent fits of hard-core laughter. Obviously, the bullets were doing something to its foot that caused it to laugh its head right off.
If it would continue like that, it would...
Just before a loud 'pop' preceded the falling of a giant rounded object on the floor (causing the giant to cease to exist), it sighed sadly:
"OH NO. SHIT."
The way was now free for Sir Richard "Rick" Jones to proceed deep into the innards of the temple - his torch shedding light on the dangerous halls he was about to enter.
A little exotic (and, indeed, precarious) gnat flew with him into the dark, unknown halls.
It had the nasty (and, indeed, irritating) tendency of constantly flying around the archaeologist's head.
Original version written Spring 1990. Rehashed July 1993 (not a lot, though).
It was early morning in the local High Street, as it was everywhere else in the neighbourhood, and the roads were deserted except for the odd van or truck, speeding around the empty streets on their way to deliver their loads before the emptiness was spoiled by the daily rush of traffic, at what passed for a rush hour in this town whose name, if I told you it, would probably be forgotten before this tale is through.
The story begins with one truck in particular, not an exceptionally unusual truck but one whose contents were, comparitively speaking, slightly less ordinary. The lorry was, as most are, filthy. The dirt of aeons had apparently gathered on the sides and tail of it in the days that it had been since the last cleaning, and primitive life was starting to evolve. It is doubtful that the truck had any thoughts on the matter, but if it had then it would probably agree whole-heartedly with the legend emblazened on its tail gate by some youth's wandering fingers, "Clean me". The youth in question obviously had other things on his mind when the opportunity for wit had glanced its way through his rather tedious life.
The vehicle in question was of the refrigerated variety and bore a load of various meats for all the butcher's shops in the area. It is fortunate that the article in question was unloaded at the first stop, at least for you the reader, because the whole journey was rather uninteresting and was otherwise the kind of thing that happens every day in unremarkable towns all over the country. The axles groaned as the vehicle mounted the pavement as if to announce the fact that the driver was well aware that the town was empty, and that if he had flattened an innocent pedestrian then it was their own fault for being up so early anyway. That's the kind of driver he was and as it happened that was precisely why he did it.
The gang of lifters jumped out of the cab, donning their gloves as they had done so many times before and began the process of moving so many hundred-weight of meat and offal in as short a time as possible. This they managed without any major problems although one of them had somehow managed to cut his finger whilst carrying a crate of offal. "Strange", he thought because he was sure that he was wearing his gloves.....
The lorry drove on, leaving the butcher's shop to await the arrival of the shoppers on which its life, such that it was, depended. The sun rose, cars came and went and slowly people that got up at a sensible hour of the day began to drift in and out of shops. Those that got up at a less sensible hour slowly staggered in and out more than drifted but in and out they went nonetheless. At first all seemed well, the occasional pork rib, chicken breast and even some tongue was purveyed to customers with appropriate degrees of daring. But then, an oldish lady, of indistinguishable age somewhere between 70 and 103, pottered into the shop and asked for some liver.
"Certainly madam," said the butcher, "Is this piece big enough?"
"Yes, that'll be fine," came the wavering reply. The butcher placed the liver in question onto the scales but when he announced the price to the old lady she muttered forth, "Oh dear, the prices have gone up again haven't they?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so luv, there's been some trouble with the lorry drivers goin' on strike. Apparently a pedestrian was run over during one of the deliveries - of course the union didn't agree with sacking the driver, they said it wasn't his fault. I'll cut a bit off for yer shall I?"
"Yes, if you would," came the innocent reply. The butcher turned around and selected his favourite knife from the rack behind him - is was this kind of thing that made being a butcher worthwhile. It gleamed an unnatural gleam in the light from the single "Fly-o-zap" lamp on the wall. It was making a strange buzzing noise that he hadn't heard it make before - he made a mental note to fix it later. He turned back to the counter but just as he was about to slice through the meat he was mildly surprised to find that it leapt off the scales and ran off into the corner of the store. It wasn't the actual event that threw him of balance, more the crushing disappointment that he wasn't going to have to slice through blood red flesh after all. He knew instantly that it was going to be one of those days.
"I bet it's a Wednesday," he said to himself. As it happened it was in fact a Tuesday but it is perhaps comforting to know that when Wednesday did indeed arrive the butcher contracted food poisoning from one of his own meat pies, and as a result was closed down by the Health and Safety department.
"Well, how about this piece then luv," he said pointing vaguely to the vast array of liver which he proudly arranged each morning so as to maximise the vagueness of his pointing.
The liver wasn't stupid, at least it didn't think it was. It had just managed to grasp the principle "I think therefore I am liver" when some great creature had come along with a pointy sharp thing and it had had the overwhelming feeling that it did not want to be friends. So here it was on the floor, covered in a fine layer of dust. It was quite fond of its colour, kind of greyish but with a definate tint of deep red throughout its form. It glanced back up at the wall, for although it had no eyes or other immediately obvious sensory apparatus, no-one had told it so. The blue light of the fly-o-zap seemed to beckon it somehow and for a moment it became entranced by the dull gleam. The liver couldn't help feeling somehow attached to the object responsible for that dull buzz and strange sensation that had made its body tingle when it had been placed onto the scales. It was at this moment that the butcher grew tired of the incessant buzzing behind him and thumped the thing on the wall. It flickered for a moment and then went out. The buzzing had stopped and the butcher was satisfied that this act of mindless violence had been a job well done.
OK, what next? The liver wasn't without instinct, after all it had managed to flee the butcher's knife without too much difficulty, so it decided to explore. Moving was a little difficult, lacking in the limb department as livers so often are nowadays. Its movement couldn't be described as walking as such, but instead it moved in a kind of strained wriggling, like a worm but with the added ability to raise itself up slightly on what it had decided was its hindquarters. It slowly pushed itself along into the back of the store, leaving a trail of drying blood behind it.
It was getting pretty confident now and moved with a grace that only a liver could possess. Outside the liver had its first experience of sunlight. It vaguely remembered being surrounded by a dull red glow but that now seemed to be ages ago, almost in another life. The light beamed down into the alley, down onto the liver's back and seemed to give new energy and vigour to the organ. If a liver could dance then that would be a fair description of what it did as it travelled down that alley, indeed it would be quite a good description as its movement closely resembled one of the recent dance trends in one particularly tacky night club in the area. Of course the liver did not know this and neither did the people who had started this dance trend, which is rather a shame really.
Suddenly the liver heard voices coming from just around the corner. It pricked up two nodules on its front end which had probably been arteries in its previous existance. The voices were getting louder which, it reasoned, meant that they must be getting closer. It decided to play dead.
A gang of 3 or 4 youths careered down the alley making counting their actual number rather difficult. They had obviously been drinking and moved somewhat less graciously than the liver had done. One of them had an extremely dirty finger.
"Hey, wassaden!" offered one.
"Dunno....wasswaden?!" offered another.
"Datodair, i' looks lika, o i dunno. Hey Gav, wassaden!"
"It's a liver isn't it chaps?" replied Gavin, the intelligent one of the group which doesn't say much for their collective IQ.
"Sa footy innit?" said the first and kicked it at Gavin. If there's one thing he hated it was a smart-arse. It missed but Gavin tried to return it and quite a game started up. Well, quite a short game started up because after a few kicks up the backside the liver had decided football wasn't its favourite sport and proceeded to scramble off down the alley as quickly as its rear haunches could propel it.
"Hey, wessaballgone?!" - the chase was on.
It wasn't a particularly fast chase, the liver kept its lead ahead of the tailing bunch, more because of their falling over themselves and the occasional molecule of air than its outstanding sprinting ability. Unfortunately the liver hadn't had any experience of finding its way through back alleys and it didn't take long for it to run into a dead end. One of the youths who clearly fancied himself as the leader of their clan stepped forward.
"Yer a norty little footy intcha?!" he mumbled in what obviously passed for his most authoritative voice. The liver was scared. It most definately did not like being stuck in a corner and threatened by a mumbling moron. Not many people know how dangerous a liver can be when threatened and this goes doubly so for this particular mumbling moron, so it came as a great surprise when his "little footy" raised itself onto its hind quarters and leapt into the air towards him.
The pounce was carefully calculated and aimed and hit home right on the youth's throat where the creature stayed, fixed more firmly than by any glue, and sucked. A searing, agonizing pain burnt through the youth's upper chest and neck as the blood was absorbed through the very pores of his flesh. For the liver had no teeth to bite through the flesh nor claws to rip open the veins so all it could do was to suck, more powerful than any leech. Of course the victim screamed to his 'pals' to get the footy off him but by the time they had realised that it wasn't another drunken game, thought for a while, gawped at Gavin after he had calmly informed them that this was 'jolly odd behaviour for a liver', and looked with great curiosity at the strange colour that their 'pal' was turning, it was rather too late for them to do anything about it. He slumped lifeless to the floor, his hands still clutching at his throat as a reminder of his last efforts to remove the thing that had drained his very life-sap from his body.
Two of the remaining three turned and ran which given the circumstances seemed to be the best immediate course of action. The other youth just stood there, open mouthed at the scene of horror that he had just witnessed. His friend lay there, his flesh an unnatural shade of pale several tones lighter even than corpses are usually imagined to be. The liver was just finishing its meal, draining the last traces of colour from the empty husk lying on the floor. It was now several times larger than it had been and had obviously enjoyed the nourishment it had discovered inside its aggressor. It was aware of being watched and slowly turned around to face the remaining stooge. Perhaps it was just his imagination but before he turned and ran after his friends he could have sworn that the liver snarled at him.
It was quite pleased with how things had turned out. Not only had it fought off its attackers but it had also had a pumping hearty meal. It felt quite strange now, partly because it was unaccustomed to its new, bloated size but also because the source of its food had been slightly more than a little drunk. The liver wobbled off into a storage shed it had found to digest its meal and, unbeknown to it at the time, become the first liver to discover what the word 'hangover' meant.
Several hours passed before the liver became aware of its surroundings once more. A figure was moving around inside the shed with it. It backed further into the shadows so it could observe the figure unseen.
The tramp shuffled around, looking for a clear spot in which to spend the night. Having found what passed for a clear patch he crouched down into a sitting position and took yet another swig of whatever was contained in the brown paper bag he held in his left hand. He thought he heard movement in the opposite corner of the shed but he had got used to rats in this neighbourhood and anyway, he had learnt that they didn't think much of his particular flavour. Unfortunately he hadn't learnt that livers hadn't got such delicate palates. The sound of breaking glass rang out as the bag fell to the floor.
Early the next morning the refuse collectors began their daily rounds. They were used to unusual trash of all sorts but they were not prepared for the discovery of a blood-drained corpse lying amongst the piles of rotting vegetable matter, empty food packets and assorted dregs so it wasn't long before the area was sealed off by the police. Various indeciperable messages were shouted to the general public through mega-phones which obviously conveyed a sub-conscious message telling everybody to gather together in groups and murmur a lot because this is the only noticeable effect that they seemed to have. It wasn't long before the tramp's paled body was also removed from that alley, covered by a regulation police corpse-covering blanket of course.
There was a reporter around the place somewhere but everybody ignored him and so will I. The police officers didn't seem too sure about what exactly they were supposed to be doing so most of their time was spent pretending to talk into their walkie-talkies, pacing around authoritatively and look worried as they had been taught to do in their training, and of course repeatedly shout to the crowd to stay back and to move along as there was nothing to see. Apart from the dozens of police, the ambulance (just in case), the official police 'Keep Clear' signs and barriers and the liver which had grown to the size of a small to medium sized dog and crawled under the chief superintendant's car, this wasn't too far from the truth. Of course nobody saw the liver, at least nobody saw the liver and thought it important enough to say anything about.
This was one seriously hungover liver. Whilst people are said to have had a skin full when they are drunk, it would be an understatement to say that this organ had had a liver full. Both its victims had been intoxicated at the time it had taken a dislike to them and now it decided it had taken even more of a dislike to them. At least it was quiet where it was now, no people marching around over its head, poking and prodding amongst its makeshift bed for clues as to what had happened the night before this morning after. All it wanted was to be left alone. Some chance.
To say that the police were bemused would be the biggest understatement since someone said that Atilla the Hun had a personality problem. The first rumour to go around was that the victims had been attacked by some wild dogs but when it was pointed out that the skin had not been broken the theory had changed to them being attacked by wild dogs that had lost all their teeth and so had gummed the unfortunates to death. Funnily enough, a headline to this effect appeared on the front page of only one newspaper. The coroner recognised the markings on the bodies as resembling those left by a leech but when asked how big leeches grew in this area of town he merely gesticulated as vaguely as possible. Surprisingly enough, 'Wanted' posters of a 15 inch leech did not go up in too much of a hurry. It is doubtful that they would have helped much recognitively anyway because by now the liver had grown to almost 2 foot in length.
Later that day, when most of the police had left and the Chief Super was left loitering around looking bemused at the total lack of clues the team had collected for him from various angles, the liver was recovering from its sufferings. Feeling a little peckish it raised its head and immediately lowered it again when it came into sudden contact with the hard metal of the car. Naturally, it tried to eat it. Some strange tasting fluid came out of the car but the liver felt it was lacking something.
When the Chief tried to start his car, the same thought crossed his mind too. He knew nothing about cars but like most people was not willing to let on about this so he got out of the car, raised the bonnet, shook his head and let forth several tuts, tsks and various unhappy noises. He had seen mechanics do this whenever he had had the car serviced so he thought he must look pretty darn knowledgeable to anyone watching.
Eventually he tired of this game and it was at this point that he noticed a pool of redness slowing growing out from underneath his car. He was sure that petrol wasn't red so he hazarded a careful look and saw a reddish brown blob filling most of the space under the car and moving gently, as if breathing. Now he was sure that it wasn't there when he had parked because he was sure that he'd have noticed driving over such a thing. In no time the area was a hive of activity again but this time one or two of the cops were armed.
They waited, and looked at the car as if expecting whatever was underneath it to do something. One thing was for sure and that was that if it was a toothless wild dog then it was almost certainly skinless as well judging by the color of...well, 'it'.
The liver awoke from its post-hangover doze to realise that there were a lot of eyes looking at him. This didn't worry it too much, but what did worry it was that the eyes were attached to men holding metallic objects which gave it the same feeling of extreme danger as the knife had done the day before.
The Chief was getting a little bored with just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Heck, that was his car in there and he hadn't even finished paying for it yet. He barked an order for someone to go and prod the thing with a stick or something stick-shaped. After the regulation wise-crack had passed through the ranks, a sticks-person was nominated and dispatched by a shove in the direction of the car.
The liver felt something prodding its rear end. At first it tried to ignore it but after a couple more pokes, it decided it was rather painful and tried to think of something to do about it. It gathered its bulk together and started to move forwards, away from the source of the discomfort.
"What is that thing?!" called policeman number one.
"Beats me," called policeman number two.
"My car!" called the Chief.
The car was now travelling along the road, its wheels raised several inches off the ground. The liver was tiring already with the great load on his back so, much to the Chief's disappointement it gave a sharp muscular push and sent the car flying across the street, landing on its roof.
It turned to face the shouts that were now aimed straight at it and discovered that wasn't all that was now aimed straight at it. It cautiously looked around for a way out of this newest predicament. It seemed that it was surrounded but those on its left seemed rather ill at ease. With a grace that defied its current size and shape, it pounced without warning in that direction and wiped out 2 officers in one go. There was no time to feed properly, but it had enough time to kill since its power had grown along with its size. The bodies were hardly recognisable as human. Shots rang out. The liver was hit once and then again, and again. It reared up in pain, blood gushing from the wounds torn in its flesh and painting the street with gore. Energized by the pain it bounded into the alley once more.
The armed police advanced slowly after it but it was dark in the alley now that the sun had passed over behind the buildings on the west side. They could no longer see their prey. Flashlights were brought out and a slow search of the alley began but there was no sign of the liver anywhere. At least, no-one reported seeing it but several did, for an instant at least. The liver had learnt that its pursuers did not look up, and quickly took to searching the dark corners of the alley so it wasn't too difficult to make a quick kill by hiding above the line of sight.
But slowly the liver was moving further and further down the alley and it soon ran out of places to hide. The line of guns kept what was thought to be a safe distance away from the organ although no-one had actually recognised that this is what it was. The flashlights spotted it, crouched as compactly as its new bulk would allow it, in the same corner it had been trapped before. It was a pathetic sight indeed and the order to kill was delayed while the onlookers tried to ascertain what exactly it was they were facing. The guns lowered their aim but were immediately instructed to point back at the 'thing' for safety's sake.
The liver was more scared than it had ever been in its all-too-short life. It was bleeding heavily, albeit not its own blood. It was heavily wounded by the shots that had been fired and was trapped in a corner once more, hardly an ideal position for a liver who just wanted to see the world. It heaved its bulk forward to stretch out its torn body. Every movement sent a searing pain through its entire form but the sensation of danger seemed to fade. A feeling of intense anger welled up inside it as it turned once more to face the aggressors before it. It shifted its weight slowly back onto its rear haunches once more - the pain seemed to be fading now and a numb, warm sensation seemed to be spreading. Without any warning, the liver let forth on a last desperate bid to escape those who refused to leave it alone. It leapt towards the brightly lit line of people several yards before it. Shots rang out. The liver was forced backwards by the impact of the bullets but it was beyond pain now. As it hit the ground it bounded forward once more, digging deep into its remaining energy, but as shots rang out once more the liver fell in a motionless heap inches from the feet of the marksmen.
Only theories were ever proposed as to what the creature was, although many of those who studied the remains had remarked on the uncanny resemblance to an internal organ of some kind, vastly enlarged, although this was obviously impossible. The actuality of what it had been had died along with it since no-one could find any evidence that what was left had ever been alive. The liver was no more, it had ceased to be.
Darkness was already spreading across the country when Eriol raised his eyes upon a small inn, still at a couple of minutes' walk distance from him. He sighed deeply, for he had travelled long and his feet were aching - and so was his stomach as he had been eating rather little lately. Behind the small windows of that shelter for the night he saw the flickering of candles. A strange feeling tainted his heart as he slowly came near. He closely examined the fair surroundings of this place; he saw the high elms and oaks on the hill to the west, and witnessed the sun laying itself to rest behind these immense trees - until dawn, when it would proudly rise once more. Coloured orange and red as the sun set, the exterior gave him the impression of a faerytale. Again he sighed deeply, and went down to the front door.
He read the sign hanging outside the doorpost. 'Cottage of Lost Play' he spoke aloud. Where had he learned that before? He was about to knock on the heavy wooden door, garmented with skillfully manufactured metal ornaments, when the door opened and the face of an old man - probably the inn-keeper - appeared. He looked old, though not as old as Eriol himself, his hair correspondingly grey, but his eyes seemed aglow with youth. Eriol looked over the man's shoulder and saw various folk sitting around a cosy fire, laughing and chatting merrily.
The old man said nothing but his eyes smiled. He made way for Eriol to enter the candle-lit room. When the old man closed the door, it seemed like all fatigue dropped off Eriol, he who was amongst his kindred called the Tale-teller of Old. An inner voice told him this was one of the kindest places he had ever been to - and this seemed most rightly so.
His gaze swept around and carefully noted everything in the room. The bar seemed made of the same material as the sturdily built door, probably very old and inherited from times and places before the history of modern man. The people present spoke in different tongues, yet they all seemed to be able to understand the otheres perfectly. Some small tables were present on the eastern wall, under a window where he saw the two moons of Mandos rising, star glittering.
"Sit down, please," said the old man, "I am Orom, keeper of the 'Cottage if Lost Play' inn." Orom's eyes seemed now not merely to glow with youth, but with friendliness also. He offered Eriol a cup of heavenly scenting juice, which the Tale-teller of Old did not refuse as his throat was very dry indeed.
Apart from some a vague kind of dizziness after drinking this fluid, Eriol suddenly noticed that he could now understand what the other people present were talking about. After having seen the look of surprise on Eriol's features, the inn-keeper called for a silence. Everybody looked at him, instantly keeping silent.
"This, my dear folk," pronounced Orom, an inexplicable pride warming his voice, "is Eriol, the Last Tale-teller of Old. Finally, fate has brought him here - though probably together with some good luck!" He added this last part with a bit of a blasphemous smile, glancing fleetingly at the ceiling.
Eriol wasn't concerned about the fact that the old man seemed to know him, and was soon talking intensely with the gathered people. The others turned out to be Tale-tellers themselves, gathered from all directions - the dark countries of the Swamps of Threat, the bright lands where the Empress of Everything ruled, hunters from the Plains of Mysticism and folk from the ancient tribe now living on the Forgotten Isles over the Great Waters. They had all been directed to Orom's inn as if by a kind of mysterious force. Perhaps it was fate.
Nobody knew anything about Eriol's past, nor from the past of anyone else present for that matter - except perhaps for vague recollections of their own. Orom was the obvious exception. Everybody had known him as long as time itself, he had always been part of the Cottage and the unique ambience it harboured.
"Let him who came in the latest be the first to speak forth his Tales!" so proclaimed Orom, who had now lit a pipe and made himself comfortable in a lowering of the floor near the hearth. The others quietly sat down near Orom, waiting for Eriol to start his tale.
It went thus.
"Many years ago, when the planet was still fair and no Swamps of Threat nor any other dark countries existed (while saying this, he carefully observed one of the aforementioned Tale-tellers, who just sat and kept listening), mankind lived happy and prosperous. There were no wars to be fought, no battles to be won, and 'tis now known that people then were foolish enough not to bear in mind that but a small interference in the balance of power would cause global warfare. However, nobody had expected that this interference would come from planets formerly unknown, even from creatures not earlier seen by man's eyes..."
He glanced around the illustrious group of men listening to him, occasionally sipping their drinks. They now looked at him with incredulity in their deep eyes. Never before had they heard of life amongst the stars other than their own. Normally, Eriol would not have been listened to any further, as there was one unspoken rule between the Tale-tellers of old: True stories only. But somehow, because of reasons seemingly not known to any of them, they kept listening. Eriol's presence and voice filled everybody's minds with a sense of truth. Only Orom seemed to know why, as he smiled self-sufficiently, inhaling deeply.
"It was spring," Eriol continued, "and the trees were full of boughs ready to show their newly created leaves to the bright light of the sun, the birds sang songs of love and mother nature nursed the newly born with care and warmth.
The whole planet was paradise for the harmless, the innocent, the naive, even the powerless. There was no exorbitant richness nor poverty, nor did any of the bad virtues of mankind prevail. Every day, the sun would rise and set and yet another day of joy and merriment would have passed. Every morning there would be shady layers of soft mist and honeydew over heatherclad meadows.
Alas! This joy was not to be for long, as a dark shape obscured the sun on one of those merry days, frightening the people and animals dwelling there. As no harm was forethought by this peaceful people, it was no problem for these extraterrestrials to enslave them all, slaughter their cattle and turn the once fair country in a desolate plain where only rough grass would grwon henceforth. Dark clouds gathered above the lands, clouds that would grow more immense by the day. Dark clouds that mankind had not seen since the Ancient Wars of Old.
It was merely a few days after the brutal and unprovoked act of alien aggression that the Federation Council heard of it. It was them who sent Drak, the last of the Obliterators, to fight the battle nobody had wanted, to claim the victory nobody had sought. Drak was the sole survivor of an elite team of warriors that had fought many a battle, and survived. Drak carried with him the hopes of all the population with him as he entered the hostile territory, now known as the Lands of Enslavement..."
Eriol now took a draught of his beer, and went on: "Drak met no resistance. He was disgusted by the foul creatures now living there and didn't even dare to prey upon them for fear of being poisoned, but there were no apparent invaders in the dark lands anymore. Nor were there people, for that matter. Drak felt an evil presence, however, and felt worse than he had ever felt before when fighting for whoever paid the most - like he had done so often. The black mists around him seemed to grow heavier and heavier as he penetrated deep into the Lands of Enslavement. After many an hour of walking he noticed light just ahead of him. As he came closer, he clearly realized that what he saw was a tall tree with fresh green leaves, bathing in light of the sun that shone from high above. It was like metal chains falling off his heart when he saw this sight of beauty in the middle of darkness.
But he had not yet fully entered the circle of light when he felt a queer sensation running through his veins. He felt giddy for a moment, and next thing he knew he was in surroundings completely different from all he had ever seen before. It was more frightening than the submarine empire of the Sorcerer of Death, technically more highstanding that the dungeons of Zerostein the Professor of Retrogation and it felt more evil than the very depths of Hell! By a means not known to Drak or to mankind, his molecular structure had been moved from the planet's surface to the heart of the Alien battleship. It was as if sorcery and wizardry prevailed here, and Drak felt uncomfortable right into his bones..."
Eriol again looked around the men that sat listening in silence, their eyes filled with wonder. He emptied his mug. There was a deafening silence in the room. The fire had gone out and the coals were only glowing now. The faces of the men looked grim with the dark red glow on their faces, some covered with heavy beards.
The hunter from the Plains of Mysticism, known as Valor the Impetuous One amongst his kin, was the first to break the silence. "What did happen? Was it the Gods' will for Drak to survive? Please do tell more!" While saying this, he signalled Orom to fill Eriol's mug to its rim.
A look of sadness settled itself on Eriol's face. "The rest of the story is too sad to tell. If have not come here to tell tales that will make your hearts feel weary. I would rather tell faery tales of happiness but alas! I know them no more."
After having said that, Eriol erected himself, putting down the mug. For a moment it looked as if he was going to reveal the end of his tale after all, but he merely sighed from deep within his torso, turned around and left the 'Cottage of Lost Play' inn. The sound of crickets entered the inn for a brief moment, after which the door was closed again, sealing it off from the outside world once more.
The man from the Swamps of Darkness cleared his throat and, to Orom, said, "Who is this man? Who is Eriol, Tale-teller of Old?"
Orom remained silent for a while. "Eriol," he added, "is the only descendant of the last of the Obliterators. Drak's son."
The men fell silent.
Under the light of the two moons of Mandos, both equally pale, Eriol walked, sad and lonely. On his way to the next inn to tell his Tale of old, the tale of the destruction of his home planet...earth.
Original version written in Spring 1988. Rehashed July 1993.
When he closed his eyes he saw a moonlit stair. It just stood there, amidst of triviality. It seemed to be the only object of importance, the only object his eyes seemed willing to register.
It stood in a mysterious way, not supported by anything except nothingness. It led up, up. Far up to beyond his sight. Yet atop the stairs he thought he saw light.
The sound of wind gathered in his ears - a storm was building up somewhere beyond his vision, beyond the stairs.
Then, from the light, a man descended the stairs. When he had come sufficiently closer, it could be seen that he was old, battered, worn, clad in a tattered robe. He came down slowly, as if he had all the time in the world - indeed, as if the very world and all time and space on it were his in the first place.
The young man felt an urge to flee, but a power held him in place - as if in a dream where you want to run but you can't. Your feet move but your surroundings don't. Nowhere to go to.
The old man seemed to see him now. From somewhere, as if summoned by him, clouds had come. The clouds lingered like fog, but instead of revealing everything, peculiarly enough, they seemed to bundle the young man's vision on the stairs and the old man. It all seemed very unreal.
The old man's gaze did not leave the other's, did not waver from its tired concentration as he went down to the very bottom. His eyes were intent on something noone could fathom, strangely unfocused.
He spread his hands on the multitude, as if trying to cast a spell of which the words were forgotten, the chants no longer remembered.
The young man felt as if he was falling downward, a giddy feeling that was completely out of place. Something in the old man's face and expression brought him back. He regained his senses.
Then the old man was suddenly close to him. The young man had not heard the whispered shuffle of the old man's feet on the floor, nor the soft sounds of the flowing of his robes.
"Beware the storm that gathers here," the old man said. His voice was scarred by age but the underlying power was enormous. He seemed like a man void of purpose, whose love of life and the world had gone stale. A desolate man. The ice cold hearts of bare charity seemed to tear mutely from the tips of his fingers. He slowly lowered his hands.
"I see no day," he said, much of the power in his voice suddenly lacking, "so grey is the face of every mortal."
The word 'mortal' seemed to echoe through the young man's mind as the old man heaved his eyes skyward, sighing profoundly. Then the lash of the old man's cold, penetrating glance caught him once more - merciless, compelling.
"Listen to the warning," the old man said, his voice heavy with doom and some ancient sense of regained purpose, "for soon the cold of night will fall."
Only then the young man seemed to become aware of the coldness around them. Only then did the see his own breath form small clouds in front of his face - the old man had none. The mists had intensified, and so had the cold. He looked around him for something to concentrate on. Once more he felt like falling, flailing down towards the earth, helpless, inescapable. The mists turned black, the impenetrable black of death, doom, lack of purpose, desaster, cold night. He shivered.
The moon had vanished.
The scenery changed. It seemed to melt but it was a process unlike melting altogether. He wavered, he had difficulty remaining on his feet, had to use his arms to keep his balance.
Then he stood eye in eye with the bone white haze called death. A scythe glimmered unearthly in the darkness. Death's eyes were hollow, like screaming mouths to deaf gods. His teeth seemed to smile, but it could also have been but a grin of anticipation. Under his bony feet lay a crushed white dove and green boughs - freshly cut but dying. He stretched one bony hand, and at its end the young man now saw the vision. The gaze of death had not been on him, but on a dream-like vision of people fleeing, kings of beasts hurling agony upon mankind, estranged sons wandering 'round. Wretches running, beyond help or hope. A baby, the reaper's hands just releasing the tight, choking grip on the little creature's neck that had snapped. The earth under their very feet broke in two. The dead fell in a chasm unlike any one can imagine, beasts, kings, mothers, sons. The abyss was bottomless, eager to receive. It showed a dow'ry of death, sadness, mystery, and more death. There was rain. Not just any rain, but a torrent that seemed alive, intelligent - a torrent that seemed to be evil incarnated. Or maybe good incarnated in a fight against evil - it was impossible to tell from the vision.
It was impossibly real, almost as if he was standing there. Life was nothing but some abstract thought, death a palpable reality.
A strange laughter filled his ears, echoeing, vast, filling his being. Many colours seemed to fly by. Blue, pink, yellow. Then white. Black. The colours turned around, flipped, transformed to beings that seemed human, then melted into a bleak lack of features.
Death. Running. Genocide. The utter purging. He felt it was a vision of thruth, a glimpse into the future. A vision of death to be, the fires of hell taking mankind. Mankind who heeded him not would be made by all their treasure. The bone white haze would get to those who would not mark his words, the people who would call him mad, deranged, taken by lunacy. Those who dared laugh at the Madman, those who feared him.
For one last moment, the old man reappeared in the vision.
"Listen to the Madman!" the ragged figure cried, once again spreading out his hands as if summoning the heavens. Then everything faded away, the mists seemed to conquer the entire image until everything was all but a blur.
When Noah opened his eyes, it had started to rain. The sound was strangely comforting to him. His heart felt heavy but he knew what to do. At last.
He hoped his wife would like the idea.
Written November 25th 1991 (the day Freddy Mercury died). Not rehashed.