The day was drawing to a close and the light was failing. As the glow of the night lamp receded, Jenny was filled with a terrible sense of dread as she realised that it would return to plague her again that night, attacking her with its awful visions once more as it attempted to swamp her senses and confuse her mind long enough to take it over as it had all those years before, when she was eight years old.
That time, she had only the words of other people to tell her what had happened, the three days being blanked from her own memory. Apparently, her younger body had killed two people. Two ordinary, innocent people had died because Jenny had been unable to resist the advances of the thing which, she now knew without any doubt, was to return to plague her this night.
Jenny's parents were dead. It had killed them, using her body as its weapon. She had no idea what it was, or where it had come from, but she somehow had the knowledge that it wanted to kill again, this time making use of her older form for its purposes. Jenny began to sweat.
Three hours later, it struck. Jenny was reaching across to her bedside table for another mug of coffee to help her remain awake, when she felt its presence. The five senses heard, saw, felt, tasted and smelt nothing, but some more primitive ability knew that it had arrived. The coffee. piping hot and still in its flask, wafted its scent to her nose, but that sense was ignored for the moment. She turned her head slowly to the left, away from the flask, and it was there that she saw it.
The room had faded, not into blackness but into non-existence. Her blind spot had expanded to fill her entire field of view. To find your own blind spot, put two dots close together on a blank sheet of paper and hold it at arms length. Focus on one dot, then move the paper slowly toward your eyes and, at one point, the other dot will seem to vanish. This is your blind spot. Now try to imagine that blind spot growing until it is all you can see - or, rather, not see.
Jenny stared at it. Not because she wanted to, but because she could see nothing else. Her mind simply refused to see anything outside of the creature's form. If she moved her head, it still filled her entire view. Either its form was very distorted, or the blind spot was simply absorbing her vision and stretching what little she could see - the creature - to fill in the blanks which her mind refused to see. In either case, what Jenny saw was an oddly proportioned cat. The Cheshire Cat's grin would have been positively comforting beside that face.
"Hello again," it grinned, "Are you ready to play again?" The words were not spoken. Neither did they echo in her mind. Rather, the grin somehow conveyed something to her. The thing did not bother with speech, or even telepathy. It seemed to think that such activities were beneath it, preferring to rely on this more direct form of communication instead.
"No." The force behind this single syllable astonished Jenny at first, shocking her that her hatred of the cat-like form before her could be so vehemently and graphically expressed in a single word.
The thing (Jenny could not bring herself to call it anything else - to give it a name would be to accept its existence, and she wanted nothing more than for it not to be) grinned at her. No message this time, it simply grinned. I hate to abuse an old cliche, but this grin was Evil. With a capital 'E.' It seemed to be unsurprised at the woman's defiance. Perhaps it had known that she was expecting it, and ready and willing to fight. That grin disquieted Jenny: it seemed to know the future, and burned into her mind as a hot poker into net curtain. The message spread like wildfire in Jenny's brain: "Give up. You cannot win."
Jenny stared at it - not that she had a choice - and glared defiance at its mind with all her power. Did it flinch? It seemed to. Though perhaps it was her imagination. There - that was no imagination. The thing recoiled from her, as though stung by her mind. Quickly rallying, however, it attempted to leap toward her. Not toward her bed, which she could not feel or see, nor toward her body. But, rather, toward the very her of her. That part of her which religious people might call her 'soul'.
Jenny's mind stayed, unflinching, against the onslaught. The last thing she saw before unconsciousness claimed her was its grin fading into disbelief, then the entire cat vanishing with a surprised expression on its face...
"Yes, but does it work?"
"We can't be sure, nurse, but it certainly appears to. Not a single patient given this treatment has showed any symptoms of mental disorder again. You are familiar with the theory?" A nod from the nurse, but an encouraging nod - perhaps he would ask if she was doing anything that night. "Well, we hypnotise the patient, and encourage him or her to personify their disorder. Then, there is a showdown between the conscious mind and the - in this case, paranoid - mentality. The conscious wins, and expels the illness. Simple, but effective. The patient sleeps for a day or two, then returns to society cured."
"But, doctor, what happens if the illness wins?"
"I can't win. The conscious mind always has more power." A puzzled frown, creeping across his forehead, the doctor turned to the one-way mirror to look at the sleeping Jenny. "It can't win," he repeated, as if to reassure himself, "Yet, there was something odd about this one..."
Jenny woke up, screaming. Darkness lay about her, and - somewhere Out There - she could sense the thing, gloating. Its grinning visage swam into view, filling her heart with dread. The grin was saying, "Now who is master and who is slave?"
Written April 18th 1990.
A story inspired by the heavy fog that surrounded my flat one lost Autumn weekend. Also, the legendary kingdom of Avalon comes to mind...
That morning the strange light coming through my bedroom drapes revealed to me the fact that the fog had come at night. I opened the curtains and beheld the sight that I love so much; the fog lying over the land like a thick blanket, lazily swirling in the soft breeze. It was powerful that day, lying in thick layers, shutting out the sun that was already bleak in late Autumn.
Yes, Autumn. It was already fading into Winter and the trees had shed all but a few leaves, forming thick layers of dead leaves on the ground, preparing it for the coming spring to provide nutrition for life that was to spawn from it after Winter has gone. The dazzling colours were muted by the mists, like a faded painting of old. Some of the leaves that still clung to the branches stirred in the breeze, and one by one they would submit and fall to the ground, disappearing into the haze, swallowed by the fog.
I kept the torch next to my door on all day, its light casting a hazy glow on the trees outside my window, making them look like gnarled giants, looming shadows in a world of mystery.
During that day, I would sometimes stand in front of the window and gaze into the mists, wondering what lay beyond the veil of shadows and whispering sounds that were carried from far through the fogs. I went through the day dreaming, the furnace alive with burning logs so I felt warm and secure inside my house while the fog rested upon it.
In the afternoon I felt it for the first time. I looked up from the book of magick I was reading and walked over to the window, the smoke of incense swirling around my form. I stared out the window and into the woods that lay beyond, shrouded by the mists. The feeling was strange and eerie, like there was something inside the woods, concealed by the trees and the heavy mists, that was beckoning me to come, almost to join it in its unspoken purpose. For a long time I stood there, motionless, staring, waiting. The cloaked and huddled forms of travellers passed in the distance, mere shadows on the trail that wound itself past my little cottage, hurrying towards their destinations, eager to free themselves from the grip that the fog seemed to have on them.
The day passed unnoticed, like time slipped away noiselessly into the fog, and in the evening it became even darker. The air that was laden with moisture all day finally became satiated and a slow, lazy drizzle began to fall. Soon the windows were streaked with water, blurring the visions from the outside. I was preparing a beef and vegetable stew when I felt it again, stronger this time. I dropped the wooden spoon in the pot and quickly walked over to the window and looked out, expectantly, eager to see what was so tempting, to discover the source of these strange beckonings. But nothing was revealed to me; the trees were the same, black forms standing there in silent resignation. The little clearing in front of my house was empty, the torchlight glistening off the small table I used to sit at during the warmer times of summer. But I felt it still and I wheeled around, went for the door and ran outside, stopping in the middle of the clearing, looking around.
Then I saw it, a faint movement just beyond the line of the trees, a hint of long, black hair that blended into the darkness, seemed to float in the mists. It was there only for a split second, and then it was gone. I started after it, but I was already beginning to get cold and I could feel the dampness starting to creep into my clothes. So I turned around and went back in the house, feeling foolish, as if I had missed something important.
Back inside the house I sat down in the large stuffed chair next to the fire and picked up my book again. But the words meant nothing to me. I could only think of the apparition I just saw, a presence in the woods around my house. Curiosity haunted my mind; what could it be that lived in these mists? Why had it come to me and what was I to do with it? The magick had long gone from the lands and I quickly dismissed the strange thoughts that welled up in me. It was probably nothing - visions induced by the fascination and perhaps even silent fears I had for this fog. I should give it a rest, and divert my attention to the things that mattered.
I had devoted my live to the study of the history of the lands, a task that was both huge and troublesome as much had happened in the past. I would often travel to one of the large cities and spend time in the libraries there, reading the books of old, the chronicles of the ancient kings, I wanted to know how the land turned out to be what it was today. Sometimes my questions were left unanswered and I had to go out by myself to find them. I had travelled a lot, and my knowledge was respected amongst the wise that ruled the courts of the kings. Sometimes they would come to me and ask my advise, to ask my opinion on things that were not well known amongst them.
Some months ago I stumbled upon a small collection of books hidden in the Shadow Moors a few days south of here. Local legends and stories told of them and I finally decided to seek them out and succeeded. The quest was not easy since the moors were hardly ever travelled. There was only one guide available and I had to be extremely persuasive to get him to lead me across the swamps and desolate plains that form the Shadow Moors.
The books were books of magick, whose purpose was not yet known to me. I always took great care when it came to this kind of thing, because I knew there was a lot of dormant magick hidden in these lands. True, only very few people possessed magick and they used it with great care. They dwelled in the old lands far beyond the borders known to most people because they knew they didn't fit in here. I had visited one of them a long time ago and she taught me how to read books of magick, how to interpret their meaning and how to reveal their purpose. But she also warned me that magick was nothing to play with, it was not there to be used by those that were ignorant and unworthy, for the powers of magick were almost unlimited, enough to destroy any mortal man if not used correctly.
The food and wine I had with my dinner made me drowsy, and soon I felt myself slipping away, thoughts scattering, sleep taking over my mind. But I wanted to finish a particularly interesting part of the the book, so I did not go to bed yet, and I defied the sleep that was trying so hard to claim me.
Then, suddenly, I found myself standing at the window, staring outside again. The torch had almost died, its remains faintly glowing, casting a soft red haze in the mists that coiled endlessly around the house. I felt it again, this time the urge to go outside was uncontrollable and I quickly fetched my thick winter cloak and a lantern from the cupboard in the little hallway of my house.
Wrapped in my cloak I went outside, and started down the trail that led towards a larger path that wound itself south through the Barren Hills, and into the Shadow Moors. A few moments passed and already I found myself completely surrounded by the peristent fog. My lantern wasn't of much use. Its light, normally enough to light most of the trail before me and the trees around, now barely enabled me to see the ground. The light coming from it seemed to be absorbed by the white veil that was draped over the land. When I passed the tree line, my disorientation became complete, and I concentrated on following the path. Where I was going I did not know, nor did I know why I was doing it. But I walked with a silent determination; something or somebody was guiding me towards my obscure goal.
Sometimes as I glanced around and saw the ghastly shadows of trees, I could hear the dripping sounds all around me. The mists condensated on the leaves and droplets of water fell down, pattering on other leaves or the ground below. A steady downpour streamed down on my cloaked figure and I was glad I was wearing my cloak that the smith at the village had made waterproof just a couple of days ago, using animal fats. The sound was almost hypnotising, and combined with the eldritch glow of the lantern on the wet branches that loomed out of the mists in front of me, it completed the illusion of wandering through a world of dreams, a shadow-filled reign of haunting shadows and twisted images of leaveless trees frozen in the endless fog.
Then I saw it, a huddled form a bit further down the path, probably a man, standing there, watching me. I froze and strained my eyes trying to make out what it was exactly. Cautiously, I approached and a faint smile formed on my lips when I discovered that it was but a gnarled tree stump, its surface slick with green mosses. It was rotten to its core, and a large piece came right off as I as I tentatively pulled at it. My mind, tired by the constant stream of hazy images thrown at it, was getting confused and I started seeing things. I squatted down next to the stump and rested a while, trying to straighten out my thoughts.
I nearly dozed off when I was startled by the distant cry of a forest animal, a cry sounding muffled and twisted by the fog. I straightened myself and continued down the trail.
I don't know how long I walked there, following the trail that coiled through the woods. The familiar trail that I had travelled so much, I knew every landmark from the Kings Oak (legends have it that one of the old Kings was slain there and in the same spot, a mighty oak had sprouted from the earth, it had been there as long as people could remember) to the Silver Spring Falls. But none of these I had noticed yet, I realized with a start. I stopped and squatted again, this time to examine the trail I had been following for the last hour or so. It was still there, but nothing more than a faint mark on the forest ground. The trail I knew was broader than this, and a silent fear crept into my heart. A lot of smaller trails branched off the main trail, some of them leading to the secluded houses of wood workers, some to the various springs and wells to be found in these woods, and some disappeared into the woods, leading to unknown destinations. I knew I had wandered off onto one of these and that I would have to be very, very careful not to get lost now. These tiny trails were hard to follow at daytime, and hardly possible to keep to under these circumstances.
For a while I considered going back, trying to find the main trail and head back home, to the warmth of my house, to find shelter under the soft blankets of my bed. But the feeling was still there, more a premonition of things to happen, a whisper in my mind that I was still on the right track so I continued. The trees around me became more dense, and more often I stumbled into low branches, their wooden fingers grappling at my face, scratching it. I drew my cloak tight around me, my hair wet with the air's dampness, but it was thick and warm enough to ward off the chill of that cold, wet night.
After a while I heard the soft sound of water lapping against a shore, and I stopped. I had to be a lake of some kind, or maybe one of the many pools to be found around here. I continued towards the source of the sounds, and soon I found myself standing at the shore of a lake. There was no way to tell how large it was, since the shores at all sides quickly disappeared into the haze, but the curve of the shore around me told me that it had to be quite large.
I searched my mind for any lakes in the vicinity, I tried to recollect images of the maps that I had collected for so long. But I failed to find any reference to this lake; the nearest waters of this size were to be found deep in the Shadow Moors. I stood there for a while, trying to think of what to do next. The trail ended here. I searched the area around me, but it seemed to run off right into the lake. I glanced into the lantern; the stout candle in it was burned down halfway, indicating that I had been walking for some three hours. So what next? Turn back and go home? I failed to see the purpose of all this. Worse still, the feeling was gone. I no longer felt anything, and a despair came over me. I sat down heavily and drew my knees up to my chest and laid back against a tree. The soft sound of the waters calmed me down a little and the everlasting fog closed around me, cushioning my thoughts, penetrating my mind. I breathed deeply the cold, crisp air and watched my breath blend into the haze as I exhaled. The waters rippled subtlely in the soft breeze and the everlasting drizzle softly tapped on the hood of my cloak. Sitting there in the soft grass I felt completely at peace, utterly isolated in the deep woods, next to this mysterious lake. I felt good about coming here, yet the its purpose still puzzled me. What did the strange feeling mean and why was it gone now? It had guided me all along the strange trail and now... I must have reached my destination! Somehow, this lake was the place where I had been guided to! But what was to happen here? I stood up, feeling excited. Something was definitely going to happen but what and when? I sat down again, extinguished the candle of the lantern and decided to wait.
I awoke with a start, the echoes of a strange sound sounding in my head. I listened intently for a few moments, and heard it again. A soft, barely audible creaking of wood somewhere around me. The fog made it hard to pinpoint the source of the sound and I wondered how a noise this faint had managed to wake me up. I heard it again and this time I was sure where it came from - the lake. I stood up, quickly lit the lantern again and peered into the mists curling above the lake. I was prepared but startled anyway when the dark shape appeared out of the mists. For the first time I felt frightened since I wandered out into the ethereal fog, and I wished I had brought some kind of weapon to defend myself against what was coming out of the mists. It came steadily closer and I was amazed to see an empty boat glide towards the shore, out of the mists. It drifted towards the shore at a slow but steady pace and came to a halt when it slided up the shore. Slowly, I started towards it and had a closer look. It was an ordinary boat, made out of wood and painted pitch black. It had no oars or other means of moving it yet I had seen it move across the silent waters. It was obvious what I had to do, enter the boat and try to get to wherever it came from. Maybe there I would find the answers to the questions that haunted my mind. Determined now, I entered the boat, fastened the lantern to its stern and pushed myself from the shore.
Immediately, I felt a force tugging at the boat, like an invisible hand, pushing it towards its destination. I should have been alarmed by what was happening, but I just laid back and stared out into the mists, trying to see beyond the circle of light cast by the lantern. But I saw nothing but dark waters looming from the mists. The shore had long since disappeared when I could heard the faint tolling of bells, carried across the surface of the lake. But these sounds faded and after a while land appeared out of the fog in front of me, and I knew that I was close to where I was meant to go. Moments later, the boat hit the shore and I got off, glancing around me while I unfastened the lantern. The fog seemed even more intense here and I felt strange, like I had entered a place forbidden, trod on holy grounds.
The ground sloped softly upwards, and after a while I reached the top of what seemed to be a small hill. I peered into the mists, but saw nothing of the lands that lay beyond. They were obscured from sight by the mists, and I wondered what to do next. I did not know these lands and I was afraid to get lost, separated from the boat, the only link between the world I knew and this strange, eerie place. So I sat down again, placing the lantern in front of me and decided to wait once more, to let whoever brought me here reveal their purpose.
The darkness and quiet around me soon affected me and I started drifting off once more. Strange feelings haunted my mind, my thoughts becoming a frenzy of images, excerpts of things I experienced before, faces of people I knew. I closed my eyes and drifted off into a world beyond this one, the realm of dreamers. I could feel my spirit detach itself from my body and I slowly drifted upwards, the air crystal clear, no sign of the mists. I stared at my crouched body in wonder when, quite suddenly, I saw her.
I awoke, scrambling back at what I saw in front of me. A shape suspended in the air just above me. It was a girl, dressed in long flowing robes that were raven black, fading into the mists like whisps of smoke. Her hair was thick, black and streaming around her head, blending into the fog. Her face was stunningly beautiful, pale white like the full moon on a cloudless night, delicately formed. She looked at me with deep, dark eyes that seemed to glow in the night. I sat there, spellbound and gasping for breath as I beheld the frail form of this wondrous girl sway softly before me in the air. The expression on her face was kind and loving; I felt no fear for her, just curiosity and a strange fascination for this beautiful creature. I started to speak but she brought a finger to her lips before I could utter my questions. She beckoned me to follow her and I stood up, following her as she moved away from me, into the mists.
I do not know for how long I hurried after her fleeting form, across a landscape that was completely unknown to me, like I was venturing into a maze I never was able to get out of. Trees appeared suddenly from the haze and I had to be careful not to stumble over the many rocks and boulders that lay cluttered on the hills I crossed.
Then I realized she was gone and I stopped, exhausted, confused. What to do now? I was hopelessly lost, shadows all around me, the world a place I felt alien in, like I was never meant to tread on these grounds. I walked around aimlessly, not knowing what to do next, desperate. Where had she gone? Why was I alone in these mists that numbed the very meaning of my existence?
A sense of relief came over me when I discovered the entrance to the temple that lay partially hidden behind the long streaming branches of gnarled willows. I prudently ventured through the portal, awed by the ambience that enveloped me. I approached the altar that was in the middle of the small confinement of the temple, partially lit by the eerie moonlight filtering through the mists and the cracks in the ceiling of the small structure.
When I saw her again, the recollection of sweet memories of times I once had was almost too strong to handle. Why I hadn't recognized her earlier I did not know, but she was there now, solid, present, the girl I had known so well, loved all these years.
I had many questions to ask but I could not speak as I gazed into her eyes that told me the stories of long ago, and also told me of what befell her after our parting. The loss, the longing, the loneliness. The pain I felt that moment was agonizing, my eyes grew hot with tears when I remembered the nights alone, longing for her presence, the soft breathing beside me, the pain relieved.
Then I realized what I had to do.
A soft glimmer of metal caught my attention and I looked up, our eyes met one more time and it looked like she beckoned me. I took the dagger in my hand and all the fear I had once had for Death was taken away from me. With one swift stroke I sliced my left wrist, the blade changed hands and I cut my right wrist also.
I staggered, sank to my knees and looked up into her brilliant smile. I realised then I had done the right thing.
Blood spilled on the floor and I closed my eyes to the onrushing darkness; I knew we would be together again, forever...
Written somewhere in autumn 1990, most probably. Ever so slightly rehashed May 1995.
With thanks to Craig Shaw-Gardner and, of course, Gard, for a lot of inspiration.
Cronos Warchild stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down. What he saw was depth. The kind of depth that could make your head spin, the kind of depth that seemed to call at you, building up an urge to hurl down little stones and count the seconds that would pass until they would hit the ground below with a soft, barely audible 'thud'.
For a moment the sheer depth of the whole thing baffled him. Of course, not much was needed to baffle the mercenary annex hired gun. Only earlier that day, for example, he had been rather baffled at the changing of the colours of a traffic light.
His mind was filled with a name; the name that represented everything beautiful, all the flowers in the world, gorgeous red roses fragrant with love, dew-covered spring mornings, the soft scent of green grass below her dancing feet. That name, of course, was Klarine.
The name brought an instant feeling of a thousand megaleeches sucking their way through his abdomen. He sighed a profoundly deep sigh.
Her name had been written in delicate handwriting on the name tag that he had managed to glance at in the fraction of a millisecond he had seen her. It had been located strategically on top of her left breast, and for two seconds afterwards it had utterly taken his breath away.
Of course, like with so many true loves, he had never seen her again. All he had seen of her was a tiniest glimpse when her oncoming space craft had flashed by his at half the speed of light.
At that instant he had forgotten all about Loucynda and the rusty lock between her legs with which she still roamed somewhere in the universe. He had even forgotten all about Penelope Sunflower, the one woman who had gotten him engaged in something else than the obliteration of sentient life forms.
Klarine Appledoor had been her full name. Her eyes had been blue, her hair long and blonde, the movement of her hands resting on the steering wheel exciting and utterly on-turning. Her lips had been cherry-coloured, her ears had had the perfect shapes for nibbling and sucking.
All this had been seen by his highly trained senses within that utterly small bit of a fraction of time.
Once again, Cronos had found himself deeply and wholeheartedly in love, something he had previously considered a no longer attainable state of mind.
Now the depth of the abyss gaped at him, luring, inviting, as if its bottom was filled with luscious nymphs beckoning for him to join in an orgy even Hugh Heffner would never even have dared dream of.
His life had no further cause without her, without the woman he had but seen for a figment of a nanosecond, without the woman he knew would be the True One for him for the rest of his current life. During that short but meaningful pseudo-encounter, he seemed to recall, she could conveivably have winked her eye at him, or blowed him a fleeting kiss. He firmly believed this. He believed that she loved him, too. Passionately - just like he needed it. Women had never as much as looked at him, let alone bother blinking their eyes when passing him by a half the speed of light.
This was true love; love at first peek.
He looked down the chasm again, not quite knowing whether or not he could actually muster the courage to step forward and do it. Life had no contents for him any more, that was obvious. But why did he find it so difficult to do so?
So he took one hesitant step towards the egde, causing a few small stones and some dirt to plummet towards the ground below. Then a small movement besides his ear caught his attention. He swung his head to the left and was baffled once more by a small version of himself sitting on his shoulder. It was dressed in a small white robe, with tiny sandals on its feet. It was idly plucking the strings of a minute harp and its feathered wings quivered slightly in the breeze.
"Hi", it exclaimed when it noticed the gaze that was cast upon it, "I am thy guardian angel and I am here to stop thee from making a serious mistake."
"Huh?", Cronos said.
"I know what thou art up to, thou wants to end it all, right? I mean thou art planning to jump into this fissure in order to end thy life or am I wrong?"
"Errr...", Cronos muttered, displaying more than usual his eloquence.
"Yes, admit it, thy wert actually intending to commit an act of suicide!", the little angel smirked.
"So what?", Cronos said, "what's it to you?"
"Well, I am supposed to make sure thou dost not die or anything. I've been pretty busy lately, I can tell. Anyways, I strongly suggest abandoning these silly girl-thoughts and get back to normal, wouldst thou?"
"Err...but Klarine is my true love, and I will never see her again and that's why I want to die. Life has no meaning without her presence, I mean I haven't even ever made foot-love to her! I love her, she is everything, I love her, I love her...I..."
"Now, now, if thou startst crying I will have to take some drastic measures. Please think about this. Thou hast only caught a glimpse of this child. What makes thee think that thou art in love with her? And why art thou so sure that she is in love with thee? This is madness!"
Cronos swallowed and thought about what the angel just said. True, he had only seen her for a very, very short while. He wasn't even really sure that she had seen him. But her face, her eyes...
"Yes, what about her face, and what about her eyes?", the angel yelled, "I dare say that they were very, very ordinary and that you have no reason whatsoever to be so hung up on this female."
Cronos was confused. Now it is not difficult to confuse good ol' Cronos, we all know that, but now he was confused quite astoundingly.
The angel did have a point, Klarine's face wasn't that special and he really didn't know her at all. She might have silicon breasts or she might even be a 92 year-old transvestite with an equal number of face-lifts and the breath of a hung-over desert-lizard. Hell, she might even be a reincarnation of Betty Ford.
Cronos' mind started to clear.
Suddenly, the abyss seemed threatening. He took a step back, gasping for breath, swaying his arms, trying to regain his balance.
"What in the name of the armpits of Miss Fragilia Franatica, the second Princess of the Zantogian Empire, am I doing here?", he asked himself, "What is this strange obsession I have gotten so hung up with? What strange female can make me this hysterical about things?"
A puff of smoke arose next to his right ear.
"Yo...hey, hold it right there, just wait a minute here. What's all this jive about not taking the big plunge?"
Cronos looked at his other shoulder and there was yet another version of himself. This time it was wearing a shiny nylon jogging suit with enormous white Nike Airs on its feet. On top of its red, horned head it had a Public Enemy cap and it had an enormous gold chain around its neck, to which a chronometer was attached.
"Yo Warpchild my main honcho, what's up my brother?", it inquired.
Cronos was totally unable to speak due to severe bafflement. Then again, it didn't take that much to baffle our dear anti-hero as we know by now.
"So I hear you've gotten stuck on some bitch you saw while you was cruisin' thru space."
"Er...yeah, I saw this really nice girl. Her name is Klarine."
"Cool. So you love the sister right?"
The good angel on Cronos' other shoulder was getting noticeably upset.
"Say, my dear man," it interrupted, "I am in the middle of a heatly discussion with my protege here. Wouldst thou mind removing thyself from the scene? Get back to the dark realms of thy wicked master, the Dark One. I repell thee, foul spirit!"
"Yo, get real dude," the little evil thing retorted, "what's with the mumbo-jumbo here? You tripping or sumthin'? Popped a few pills or what?"
"Cronos, please do not pay attention to this rude gentleman. He is nothing but a nuisance. Now about Klarine...."
"Hey Warchasm. Tell me about the bitch. She got good tits?"
The most delicate of curves drifted back into the somewhat limited space of Cronos' brain. Slowly, the camera panned up, to her more than lucious lips that were moist and red like the most voluptuous cherries growing on the soft sloping hills of sun-clad California.
"Cronos? Cronos! Get a hold on thyself my dear man!"
"Shut up, yer white-assed shithead. I'm talking to the dude now. Why don't you take a hike, huh?", the devil interjected. Addressing Warchild, it continued, "Think about it man. She was the finest. Think of her face, think of the body below it. Wouldn't you like to share a hot tub with that?"
Cronos slowly relapsed into a state of love-sickness that made him take a step forward towards the gaping chasm that appeared to form the sole answer to all his troubles. Protruding spikes of rock at the bottom seemed to call him, offering salvation and a soothing cradle of comfort in which he could mend the frayed ends of his sanity that had endured so many ruptures after that fateful encounter with the Lady Klarine.
The little angel seemed to get really agitated now.
"CRONOS!", it yelled with all the force it could muster in its fragile throat that normally only uttered soft prayers and muttered hails to the One Above, his True Master. Cronos, however, did not harken the small figure on his left shoulder. He could only gaze down, towards the bottom of the plummet that seemed to lead to the very core of Lucifer's dwelling place itself.
"Yeah right. Face it man, you lost. Now scram before I kick a mudhole in your venerable ass," the little devil advised the angel.
"OK, I can recognise defeat when I see it," the angel mused, beaten, "Well, I have other souls to salvage. Better be off then. Cheerio. Amen."
A small puff of heavenly smoke signalled the departure of the pious angel.
"Right", the little devil chuckled, lovingly stroking his own barbed tail. "Let's get down to some serious business here."
Cronos had ignored all of this for he was totally occupied with staring at the shimmering apparition of his true love that seemed to be draped across a large boulder at the very end of the drop.
"Yo, Charwild my man, how would you like to meet the ol' reaper himself? I heard he is quite a wild dude, bound to get you some action. Just do it man, step across the razor egde and feel what it's like to be in my hood. You will get to meet all the people you greased in this life - they're all down there waiting to party with you man. Do it man, forget about that silly bitch, she ain't worth shit."
Cronos made up his mind. No more of this. He would end it right here and now. No more hesitation.
He jumped, faintly hearing the evil angel mentioning something about them all floating down there...
The feeling of the air rushing past his body as he plummeted downward made him feel giddy for a moment. The freshness cooled him down. He felt young again, and virile. He was willing to accept death.
The bottom closed in on him. It looked strangely beautiful; soil with a faint picture of his greatest of loves projected across it.
"Yo!" he yelled, his powerful voice echoing off the crevice.
He fainted before he hit the ground with a 'thud' that made someone else, far away, look up with a befuddled expression on his face. This particular someone adjusted a cap with a ridiculously erect thingy on top of it, lifted off the ground the loaf of bread that he had dropped, and plodded on.
Everything turned around Warchild. Colours he had never known existed came at him, as did scents he had never hoped ever to smell. Unrecognizable figures reached out at him, offering drinks and food. Music drifted through the air, but it did not have the power to please him. Beats shuddered his being.
And then everything he saw was her, HER.
This was not what he had wanted. He had wanted to die and disappear. He had not wanted to go to some place where her vision would be burned on the back of his eyes perpetually, haunting him like a rabid tax collector. He did not want to be where he was. He gazed into the image of her eyes, drowning in their depths like he had drowned in the depth of the chasm but moments before.
Or had they been minutes? Or hours? This was all getting really crazy and he wanted to get out. He cried for help but his voice produced no sound. He tried to swim away, or fly away, or whatever. He succeeded in neither. He wanted to turn around - but whatever he did the world seemed to turn with him. All he could see was the portrait of Klarine, and it was getting bigger. Bigger and immensely more beautiful. Lovely. Sensual. Just, well...Klarine.
This obsession had to stop. He already felt little crawly things ascending his legs. Ants. He smelled something familiar. A large glass thing, a jar or something, was taking up the place of his Great Love's portrait. He had thought it would make him feel better when it happen. But now it happened and it didn't make him feel better at all. It made him feel miserable, lonely, battered.
Then he disappeared completely into a thick, yellow, sticky fluid together with about five hundred ants that, oddly, all considered it necessary to say "eep".
The voice that had uttered these words echoed through his brain. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but yellow. He rubbed his eyes, succeeding in removing most of it. As soon as he looked again, he decided he had probably been better off with the goo still in his eyes.
He looked into two terrifically huge facet eyes that must have belonged to an insect the size of a somewhat sizable freighter. They did not radiate hospitality. Cronos' brain cell instantly knew this mean beastie was not one that would like to be friends.
"There's a human in my meal!" the gigantic ant thundered.
Indeed, it did not take long for Warchild to realise that the human the large ant talked about with disgust was, as a matter of fact, himself. This thought discomforted him somewhat.
An enormous, extremely hairy paw stretched out to him. The end of the paw was occupied by things that looked like toilet plungers. They connected themselves to his head and chest, lifting him out of the swampy, yellow stuff rather inconsiderately.
"Would you mind getting rid of this, woman," the large ant thundered, apparantly addressing another of his kind, "and give me another bowl of honey?"
Next thing he knew, Warchild was being submitted to gravity above a large cylindre that was filled with trash. It could very well be a trashcan.
As our friend was paid to fight instead of to think, he did not see the two red eyes that gazed at him from aside the large cylinder - nor did he see the several dozen of shiny white, pointed fangs that surrounded its black depth.
For a fraction of a split of a picosecond he saw a female smiling at him from the depth - or at least he thought he did. Was that a wink of an eye?
The vision, however, ceased almost as quickly as it had manifested itself, much to Cronos' sorrow.
All he now saw was a terrifyingly huge uvula that was dangling in what prey generally considers to be quite a threatening way. The fangs radiated white light, the pulsating red tongue licked in what its owner probably considered to be an inviting fashion.
With a bit of a gulp, the mercenary annex hired gun disappeared down a long and winding tunnel that was quite slippery to the touch. He didn't want to touch it but the thing seemed to want to touch him. Powerful peristaltic muscles squeezed him further and further down to a place of which the foul stench was incomprehensible to any mortal being - even to Cronos himself, who had once been the toilet cleaner of the Ambulor Eight Thai Boxing school! Distinctly, it made him think of the many hangovers he had had, that had resulted in laughing at carpets a lot.
With a splash, he suddenly lay still in a shallow pool of some sort of repulsive liquid. Some hard bits ran into him as if directed by an invisible force.
Then everything was utterly silent once more, though not for long.
Green light started to be emitted from the wall of the cavity he was in. Large green drops of some substance were being excreted and started submitting themselves to Newton's will.
Some of them attached themselves to Cronos' body. They clung to it and seemed to start eating inwards. His skin started burning all over. He was getting slightly aggravated now. His heart started to beat slightly quicker, pumping blood to the muscles that needed it most. He did not like being submitted to the decaying powers of gastric acids. He started to pound the wall. It budged with each bang of his fist, but just retracted to its initial position as soon as he would hit another spot. He started kicking as well. His Industry Quality Army boots started to corrode whenever they came into contact with the foul fluid.
He would not survive long if he didn't resort to some drastic measures. However, he hadn't any killer gadgets on him and his killer fingernail had been broken somewhere when the plungers had come into the story.
Damn! There was something touching him without prior written permission!
He looked around instinctively, seeing a bony hand resting on his schoulder. He followed the bony hand and saw that it was connected to a corpse that looked at him balefully. The lipless mouth seemed to form words mutely, crying in agony about an untimely death.
He felt himself being drawn towards the skull. Some way or another he felt a strange obsession for the left eye socket. It was oddly dark and inviting, like an abyss.
For a moment he saw her again in the darkness of the socket. He forgot the general severeness of the situation he was in and studied her face, the cherry lips, the beautiful eyes, the long blonde hair that fell graciously around her milky white face.
Then the light went out.
The green fluid seemed to disappear to somewhere and the walls of the cavity he was in stopped pulsating for a moment. The next moment, havoc struck. Warchild, the corpse and assorted other hard bits were being sucked down rapidly, disappearing in what probably was the monster's gut. Darkness enveloped him, now truly something palpable. He could feel the gut cover crawl around him, pulsating, probing.
He landed in an enormous load of thin stuff that smelled quite awfully. He had smelt that smell several times before, years ago, and it was this particular smell that had caused him to resign at the aforementioned job at the Thai Boxing school.
He was trapped inside the digestive system of a giant Mutant Maxi Mega Monster of Multifizzic Omega!
He felt tugging at his legs. He was being pulled down even more, and simultaneously the muscles above him started pushing. The monster's guts were trying to get rid of him. He passed through various layers of foodstuff untill finally he thought he could see light in the distance. There was a small round thing there, like the diafragma of a camera. It was getting closer quite quickly. He was sent towards it head first.
Fresh air enveloped his head.
Once upon a time there was a rather stupid mercenary annex hired gun who had the misfortune of having landed in the feeding bowl of a giant ant, which resulted in him consequently being fed to the ant's pet that turned out to be a monster notorious for the intensity of the foul smells arising from its anal excreta.
His name, of course, was Cronos Warchild. He knew that himself. What he didn't know, however, was that he had ended up in the Eastern Forest and was now the subject to the ruthless will of Mother Duck, real-time fairy tale concoctress extraordinaire.
He found himself walking down towards a river. The river could not be waded through, but someone had obviously found out about this fact and had decided it wise to erect a bridge across it. That same someone had probably also realised that people who wanted to stroll across that bridge might not totally be against paying a modest fee.
That particular bridge erector had selected a somewhat broad looking warrior to enforce the paying of said fee.
"Doom," the somewhat broad warrior intoned as Cronos drew closer.
The warrior was really awfully huge. Cronos was quite big, but he found the toll enforcer towering above him as if he was but an infant held by the pope himself, being frowned upon by said Holy Father after having farted during baptism.
To add to the general threat of the whole situation, the huge warrior carried an enchanted warclub. An idea leapt at Cronos' head that conveyed to him that this was the dreaded Headbasher, reaper of memories. It bounced off.
"Doom," the warrior droned in a flat voice.
At that very moment a purple demon in chequered pants arrived on the scene, momentarily surrounded by the proverbial puff of smoke.
"Doom," the warrior said, apparently surprised. He started moving the dreaded Headbasher with a hint of nervousness, suspiciously eyeing the purple demon.
"Might I interest you in a used weapon?" the purple salesdemon asked Cronos. Our lovely anti-hero looked at him befuddled. Not much was needed to befuddle Cronos, we know that. That very morning, as a matter of fact, he had been zealously befuddled when a traffic light...but you know that already.
The salesdemon, trained to recognise hopeless cases of doing business averted his attention to the toll enforcer now.
"Doom," the toll enforcer interjected.
Obviously, neither of the two potential customers were interested in anything he had to offer. The purple salesdemon in the ridiculously chequered outfit disappeared in another one of those proverbial puffs of smoke.
When the smoke had lifted, both people present were somewhat amazed at beholding a large shoe that muttered "Indeed". Behind the large shoe stood a girl with long hair who constantly attempted to kiss another fellow who stood next to her. Behind them, a green being completely surrounded by robes seemed to discuss something with a tiny person in brown clothes.
Cronos was losing control over the situation. Never before had his senses been overkilled this much.
"I wish I was out of here," he sighed, more to himself than to someone else in particular.
"Granted!" a little voice coming from the small person in brown piped.
Just before he completely disappeared from the scene, he thought he saw a huge, green, ugly, dancing dragon with a top hat.
Next thing he knew, Cronos has a somewhat large microphone shoved under his nose.
"Soooo... Mr. Warchild. What do you think of our new and improved 'Bubl'? Did it manage to remove the stains that other detergents didn't get out of your underwear at only 40 degrees?"
"And what do you think of our new formulae, ozone friendly and with biologically decomposable thingies?"
Cronos, a bit unsteady on his feet, glared at the smooth, well-dressed interviewer. He wondered how someone could look so silly.
"Now we all know you traded mark X against our brilliant product, just for you to try for a week," the ad man continued, "please tell us all about the results you have undoubtedly achieved. Tell me about the pizza stains on your children's shirts that have so miraculously disappeared."
Cronos was once again totally baffled - and stupefied too, by the way. He had fleeting visions of clowns dressed in bright colours, people floating around in hot air balloons and little children spilling insane amounts of hot cocoa and strawberry jam on their ludicrously white garments. He had smashing figments of nature-loving phosphates.
Cronos, remembering all the times he had been very pissed off with his TV, usually causing utter annihilation of the aforementioned household appliance, sighed deeply and stared at his broken fingernail with sad eyes.
"Geez, I wish this guy would drop dead," he muttered.
"Granted!!!" squeaked a tiny voice from somewhere.
The air crackled in a sizzling way and a bolt of lightning struck the interviewer in a rather non too subtle fashion, leaving only two smoking shoes with bits of bone protruding from them.
"Holy shit," Cronos enthused.
This time the bafflement became too much for our poor, blundering hero. His minute brain gave up reasoning and he fainted rather dramatically.
He had dreams of pillows, of the soft sloping hills of Wales, and of a certain pizza-covered planet.
The next thing he knew he had an erect nipple thrust in his face.
"I like deep conversations with intelligent men," a female sighed down his ear, "In fact, I have a degree in literature and have won several prestigious literary prizes. I also play blind chess against several people at once when I feel like it."
The girl removed another piece of cloth that seemed to cling to her voluptous body.
She was posed on a couch, wearing very tiny pieces of clothing, squirming in a way that seemed to him like she was in intense agony - or as if she was being mind-fusioned by the Sagratean Zen-Dude of Phalletica VI of course.
Cronos, still being totally dumbfounded, stared at the writhing female, not knowing he had materialized in the middle of a Playhouse photo-session of the utmost erotic meaning.
A tall, thin man armed with an enormous photo camera was dancing around the couch, making suggestive comments to the girl, uttering the odd little cry now and then.
Cronos did not know what to think of this. The pinkness of the girl aroused certain hormones in his body that he didn't really know of, he felt like an American tourist in the Amsterdam red light district, seeing so many things he hadn't even dreamt of in those dreams that made his sheets quite uncomfortably moist.
Believe it or not, but in the highlight of his ecstasy, the girl assumed a rather metallish color and slowly transformed herself into a blob of mercury- like stuff that oozed off the couch like a T-1000 would squirm itself trough a shotgun-blast-sized hole in an elevator ceiling.
The substance moved itself across the floor, clearly exciting the photographer who dropped to his knees, wielding the camera like it was the one item keeping his soul together. It moved towards Cronos, and when it arrived at his feet, slowly started to upheave itself, assuming humanoid shape. When it reached full height, it formed a rather eerie face and stared at him in a sort of silent lucididty that Queensryche would be jealous of.
Cronos sighed deeply and considered the stupefaction that had taken over his reasoning at that point. The urge to faint crossed his battered consiousness, but he quickly set aside the idea as being a way of letting the authors getting away with things too easily. The photographer had fainted already, and the way this guy lay prostrate across the floor made Cronos feverishly reject the idea of any fainting or whatever.
As his mind had no power over his body whatsoever, however, he fainted anyway. Whatever.
After the usual twirling colors and strange sounds and smells and all other sensations that accompany inter-dream travel, he suddenly materialised in mid-air.
Normally, materialising in mid-air would mean the start of a very painful sequence of events leading to a 'thud' of varying intensity, and painful feelings directly proportional to the intensity of the aforementioned sound.
This time, it didn't and he was once more slightly baffled (...).
Then he noticed the fact that all his limbs were gone, and he felt not entirely like he used to feel whenever he wasn't suspended in mid-air. He then felt a slight tugging sensation just above his head, as if he was dangling from something short and thin.
He looked around himself and noticed the large amount of enormous tree leaves surrounding him. He also noticed the beautiful blue air, the soft smells that usually permeate the air of scenic orchards, the gentle breeze and his own, lovely, reddish color.
He also felt that his time had come. He felt like he was old enough for the big fall, old enough to spread the seeds so to speak. Why he felt like this, he couldn't explain. It wasn't a thought humans were supposed to have.
Also, he had severe trouble coping with the fact that he no longer seemed to be suspended in air, but was actually travelling downwards at an ever increasing and highly alarming speed.
He looked down at the rapidly approaching earth and saw a head of a young man that had nice, curly hair covering it. He also found that this head was approaching him at what he suddenly considered to be lethal speed.
To his surprise, he bounced off the head and landed in the grass at the man's feet. A bit bruised in places, but still quite alive.
"Ouch!" a voice yelled.
"How most unpleasant, apples falling on your head like that", the voice continued.
Cronos saw a very, very large young man rub the top of his head, looking thoughtfully as if pondering over something very...er...serious.
The young man assumed various facial expressions indicating a complex train of thoughts making its way through his conciousness.
Suddenly, this man jumped to his feet and looked very aroused, as if he had just found the answer to all his problems.
"YES!" he exclaimed.
"YES! YES! YES!" he added.
"E=MC square," he completed.
The young man sat down again with a very content expression on his face.
A puff of smoke next to the young man failed to baffle Cronos this time for he was already in such a state of befuddlement that any extra impulses of confusion did not matter much.
A rather bewildered young man now appeared; he had unkempt gray hair, and a rather intelligent look about him.
"Say, dear chap. I am afraid that you have discovered the wrong formulae. The Relativity Theory will be invented by me - you are supposed to find out about gravity."
The first young man looked at the second one just like Cronos would stare at a traffic light that had just changed colour.
"I just thought it appropriate to point this out to you," the apparition of the second young man added, "I mean it would severely upset the course of science to come. So remember about gravity, it's very important."
Then it disappeared again in another puff of smoke, the likes of which we know so well.
"Right", the young man said to himself, "gravity it is then."
After this, he reached for Cronos and studied him a bit.
"Hhhm.., looks OK to me," the young man mused, licking his lips, "I quite fancy a refreshing apple, just from the tree."
Before Cronos had time to process these words, he was unceremoniously rubbed against a sleeve of rather rough material. He was getting a bit worried now. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Then he felt a distinct motion again, and when he looked up he came to the conclusion that he was about to be eaten by the young man.
The mouth opened, revealing a row of healthy, shiny white teeth that would undoubtedly chew off a nice piece of his body. He was almost inside the mouth now, and the sight of the glistening, saliva-covered tongue once again almost succeeded in making our unfortunate hero panic.
Then the pain came. It was excruciating, as if someone was tearing him apart with blunt equipment. The pain concentrated around his rear area. "Most famous scientist eats rear end of mercenary annex hired gun in one fell swoop." Now that would look odd on the young man's track record.
Cronos considered the time appropriate to give in to his brain cell, that gently advised him to lose consciousness.
For a while, the uttering of this sound within the immediate proximity of his right ear caused his entire aural apparatus to malfunction, resulting in the sending of assorted pulses of white noise to his brain for some seconds in sequence.
When he succeeded in turning around his head to face the source of the temporal cacophonic mayhem, he found a male double-eyed fig-parrot (Psittaculirostris diophthalma) sitting on his shoulder. Of course, he was not aware of this precisely, and just reckoned it was a disgruntled blackbird.
He had to do something about his reflexes. He had seen the bird opening its bill but had neglected to avert his ear or cover it with something. This lack of prophilactic measures resulted in assorted impulses of random noise being sent to his brain for a prolonged time.
The bird looked around, as if gloating. It nodded its head up and down like birds generally tend to do often.
The reason behind birds doing this has been cause for pangalactic scientific debate. It is still quite unresolved, but there have been some interesting theories. The one documented by Charles Loaca, himself a bird/lion halfling residing at the second planet from the left in the Dinophthalma Milky Way, is now commonly believed to be true - though not because of its logic but because of Mr. Loaca's descent which gives him some authority.
His theory is based upon birds trying to listen to longwave radio broadcasts, which requires them to bob their head up and down with the waves. It is believed that this is the way birds learn to sing. Pigeons are even thought to tune in to their favourite radio station to find the way home. Most non-hibernating birds are believed to listen to Radio Free South Africa on the way.
End of note (in case you wanted to know).
"Don't you ever do that again," he warned the parrot. He wielded his index finger threateningly in front of the animal.
It took a while before Cronos had discovered the sudden absense of the double-eyed bird from his shoulder. For a moment he was relieved. The animal was gone from the zone near his ear. He listened to the random noise in his ears gently wearing off. Finally.
When he tried to poke in his nose, which resulted in a bird being inserted in it, he had second thoughts about relief and other sensations along that line.
Now Warchild's nostrils are quite big. As a matter of fact, his wide flaring nostrils with the odd black hair sprouting forth from them had quite often effectively reduced potential soulmates to get an interest in him.
The parrot, however, was large enough not quite to fit comfortably. It started to try and get out. This resulted in most of our hero's senses being switched off in favour for full priority to one particular nerve that ran from his right nostril to a lesser brain cell labelled "sneezing, farting, crapping, sweating, urinating, ejaculating, spitting, bleeding, coughing, burping, crying, drooling and vomiting (i.e. excreting)".
Through an intricate process of ions and assorted little things that make sure synapses work, a number of pulses from the right nasal cavity ended up in the lesser brain cell. It started screaming hell and blood, not quite being used to such signal intensity. It gathered all power its host's metabolism would care to supply and used it to block the signals out.
It was a battle to which, on a synapsic scale, there had never been an equal to - nor would there ever be. Minute particles with positive and negative loads crashed into each other like a true clash of the Titans. Tissue was torn, nerves were severed, and generally a lot went on that was quite irregular.
Then the anti-particles started winning. They gradually began to gain ground, pushing back the itch ions.
Warchild was relieved for a moment again, when not sensing anything in his nose. Had the bird disappeared?
Then the anti-particles really started to gain ground. They coarsed through the nerve, all but flying off at corners. With a speed close to the speed of light, they ran and flew and scrambled, aimed directly at a powerful muscle somewhere in the mercenary annex hired gun's body.
The muscle had been having a relaxed week. It was sitting in the sun, smoking a cigarette and drinking Jack Daniels. It was about to have another nicely soothing swig when it heard a bit of turmoil around the corner of the left lung. It had heard this before, but couldn't quite recall when it had been or what it had been for.
It quickly recalled when, for but a moment, it saw the rabid expression in the glowing red eyes and the wrinkled mouths of the ions. They spelled horror and death, for they spelled A.C.T.I.V.I.T.Y.
Before he could put down his Jack Daniels he had to contract. It was a contraction any muscle would have been proud of; a contraction that Arnold would have wanted to buy the licence to, a contraction that tore ligaments and had the label "world record" attached to it.
Cronos felt the sensation of feeling returning to his nose, but it was entirely different now. As a matter of fact, it seemed to move to his chest at a speed that was, even to Warchild, close to frightening.
He breathed in.
It was a breath that would have made any pair of lungs proud; a breath that would have caused them to get a ludicrously lucrative contract with the makers of tropical cyclones, a breath that could split ribs.
For a moment an enormous amount of wind churled in his longs, rotating, growing; the kind of wind that would have swept leaves, bent trees, moved mountains and shipped continents if only any of these would have the displeasure of being present in a certain mercenary annex hired gun's breathing apparatus.
Then all muscles connected to his breathing-out mechanism started to work overtime, red lights flashing, sirenes wailing, Civil Defence committees gathering. Draining every milli-unit of nourishment, from the tips of fingers to the utmost extremeties of toes, they contracted.
It was the kind of contraction that would cause all other contractions' licences to be revoked; a contraction that could tear asunder the most powerful bones, a contraction that could practically be certain of getting a Nobel Prize and getting invited to Dame Edna's.
Air started flowing out of Cronos' wind pipe, exponentially gathering power within a time that would have made the Super-Inter-Galactic Ferrari Sub-Etha Turbo-Booster built in the below-the-nanosecond-across-the-universe-car-of-the-future designers jealous.
Some lesser muscles opened Warchild mouth. There was no stopping it now. The terrifying amount of compressed air could no longer be thwarted from fulfilling its vile goal.
Cronos sneezed the Mother of all Sneezes.
His entire poor body was hurled back until it collided with the first mountain it encountered, dozens of miles in the opposite direction. The parrot, that happened to have been the last male of its kind, miraculously survived but was deafened and consequently turned impotent for the arousing mating calls of the females - resulting in the extinction of the species.
A hole 986.54 square miles in size appeared, barren eternally. The drifting of the continents on this particular planet was set in motion. The dust that arose from this whole thing sufficed to block out the sun for a decennium, causing the global extinction of the dinosaur race.
Somewhere between the third and fourth mountain between which Cronos was bounced, he once more gave in to his rather distressed main brain cell.
When he opened his eyes again he found a nurse making rhythmic movements on top of him.
"Oh, er....." the nurse stuttered when noticing she was discovered, quickly hopping off him and pulling up her panties, "er...excuse me, sir...er...I though you was being unconscious or something. You know, coma and all. Not waking up any more, vegetable, that sort of thing."
Cronos had a distinctly odd feeling around his lower abdomen.
"If you don't mind, sir," she added, uncomfortably, "I will go and attend to another patient. Thank you."
She disappeared through the door that she closed carefully so as not to discomfort the patient.
Nine months later, nurse Laverne Todd of the Ambulor Eight Hospital for the Very Very Splattered was granted maternity leave. She gave birth to a healthy son, whom she called Garp.
Original written February 8th-9th 1992. Slightly rehashed and frowned upon May 12th 1995.
It was over a month since Rodney had started his new job on the outskirts of town. For years he'd worked as a Technical Salesman, driving anything up to 200 miles a day as he travelled from town to town. His employer was a manufacturer of medical electronics equipment and Rodney had had a fairly cushy number - as his company was virtually the only supplier to the various Health Boards.
Over the years Rodney had made quite a few business friends but it was unlikely he'd see them again. The job had become increasingly difficult due to competition from the far east. 'Why is everything made in Taiwan?' he had often wondered. His boss put more and more pressure on him to sell the equipment, but although Rodney was a Technical Salesman he wasn't really very technical. Also he was too honest to be a very good travelling salesman. When the firm announced it wanted redundancy volunteers, Rodney decided he'd had enough and put his name forward.
His new job was at an out-of-town garden centre, one of those 'mega' complexes where they have everything from a kiddies' play area to a computerised Landscape Design Centre. It was here that Rodney worked, mostly behind a counter, selling expensive garden machinery such as lawnmowers that you sit on and drive. He also operated the Apple Mac and Roland Plotter to try and sell 'Complete Landscape Solutions' to the wealthier customers.
He didn't miss the driving at all, really. Once in a while he was allowed to demonstrate the 'ride-on' lawnmowers. His new job paid less and no company car was provided. He didn't mind as he was very contented here - and lucky to find employment in his late thirties. He no longer had the hassle of searching for a parking space near his flat in town. These days he got the bus to work and now he'd had a week or two to get used to public transport, it was OK, mostly. After an embarrassing first morning when he offered the bus driver a ten pound note, holding up other passengers (and the following traffic), he bought himself a season ticket. He caught the same bus every morning and after a while began to recognise quite a few of his fellow passengers.
The bus he got on was always mobbed with hordes of schoolkids. 'Precocious young brats' Rodney would think to himself as they chatted loudly and squirmed about in their seats. Thankfully they all got off two stops after the one Rodney got on at. Rodney had reached that time in his life where he felt threatened and insecure near young people, particularly adolescents. He observed that all the schoolkids had designer-label clothes, bags and trainers. 'Must cost their parents a fortune...' he mused. 'Probably all made in Taiwan anyway...'
He never spoke to the other regulars on the bus, but he observed them slyly. There was the businessman who always read the Telegraph and opened the paper out wide, presumably to discourage fellow passengers from sitting next to him. There were some rather attractive female office workers of different ages, but they never sat next to Rodney, even if the bus was crowded. People mostly kept themselves to themselves, looking glum and preoccupied. Occasionally he was disturbed by someone with an 'impersonal stereo' as he called them.
This morning, as Rodney's bus approached the stop where the schoolkids got off, Darren was waiting to board the bus. Darren, like Rodney, had a job on the edge of town. He was 19 years old, wore a black leather jacket with a crudely painted logo across the back, and had one of those aggressively short haircuts which Rodney used to associate with old cloth-capped men - the 'short back and sides' look as imposed by Rodney's parents when he was young. Darren sported a personal stereo and played it at a level which blotted out any risk of having to communicate with his fellow human beings.
As Darren came upstairs on the bus Rodney heard the dischordant 'TSSSH, TSSSH' noise and glared pointedly at the perpetrator. Darren seemed oblivious to the accusing stare and sat down two or three rows in front of Rodney. A few stops further on, the bus became quite crowded but amazingly nobody complained about the insistent 'TSSSH, TSSSH, TSSSSH!' emanating from the earphones plugged into Darren's ears. The business types stared blankly ahead into space and one or two others halfheartedly rubbed at the condensation on the windows. 'How the hell can people put up with this?' Rodney asked himself. He'd had rather a late night the previous night and wasn't feeling very tolerant. He wished he was a more physically threatening figure, or knew martial arts. He lacked the confidence to tap Darren on the shoulder and say something like 'I say, would you mind awfully turning down your personal stereo...?', or perhaps just plain 'Shut the fuck up!'.
By the time Rodney got to his stop, he was seething with rage but feeling helpless. His journey to work had been ruined by this cretin. 'Noise pollution is the worst form of pollution...' he muttered to himself as he got off the bus at Q & B's Mega Garden World. 'You can shut your eyes or look away, but you can't shut your ears!' He said out loud as he crossed the footbridge over the bypass. By the time he'd had his second cup of coffee he felt better. In the mail there was a letter of acceptance from Major Ponsonby-Smythe with regard to the computerised landscape design tendered by Rodney. Rodney stood to receive 1% commission on the sale - which meant �300 bonus on his next salary cheque.
Rodney smiled peacefully as he lunched in the staff canteen. The muzak which played softly in the background actually soothed him as he ate. He had no dessert but had a cup of tea, declining the alleged coffee and Diet Pepsi. The muzak changed to Herb Alpert And His Tijuana Brass. Rodney hated the tinny trumpet noise, made worse by the fact that the sound was distorted. It was at times like this he wished he hadn't given up smoking. He couldn't half do with a fag. He gulped his tea, burning his tongue in the process, and left.
The afternoon at work was very quiet and Rodney had plenty of time to daydream. He was fascinated by technical things but didn't have more than a passing interest in how they worked. What they could achieve was much more interesting. He liked to impress the customers with the Apple Mac and Roland Plotter. For a while he'd bought electronics magazines and tried to build one or two gadgets. After the incident with the soldering iron and the Persian carpet he lost interest. He began to wonder if it would be possible to design a 'personal stereo zapper'.
In the evening, after his meal, he dragged a cardboard box out from the back of a cupboard and looked through the old electronics magazines he'd never been able to bring himself to throw out. He paused briefly at an article in Elektor which gave constructional details of an anti-parking ticket device. This involved fitting magnetic sensors to the hinges of the windscreen wipers. The idea was that when a traffic warden lifted a wiper blade to attach a parking ticket, the sensor would detect this and trigger a circuit to switch on the wipers at maximum speed in an attempt to frustrate the forces of Law And Order.
Rodney then found a copy of Alternative Electronics, a USA publication which had been banned for giving circuit designs for stun guns. These gave a severe electric shock to the victim, powerful enough to paralyse the poor unfortunate for minutes. He flipped over a page and found an article about Kirlian photography whereby, it was claimed, it was possible to photograph the 'aura' or electrostatic field round a person. He turned a few more pages over and found an article entitled 'Focussed Electro-Magnetic Pulse - CIA Secret Experiments (part two)'. He read on with interest. There had been various magazine articles about 'EMP' a few years ago, Rodney remembered vaguely. According to this it was possible to induce sound (undetectably) in a loudspeaker from a distance of up to five yards, without any wiring whatsoever, if you had the right equipment. 'Hmmm..' he pondered, 'maybe I could zap personal stereos with this!'
Unfortunately Rodney didn't have part one of the two-part article. He was rather sceptical of the reference to the power source for the gadget. Dilithium crystals were, as far as Rodney knew, mere fiction. 'Trekkies', or Star Trek freaks might think differently. Part two of the article did however give details of a suggested circuit. A 200 watt car stereo booster amplifier was 'utilized' (sic) for the driver for the output device. The left and right channels were connected in a bridge configuration to double the strength of the focussed magnetic pulse sent out. Rodney didn't really understand all this but continued reading anyway. He poured himself another glass of Southern Comfort and settled back in his easy chair.
The 200 Watt amplifier was greedy on electricity and a car battery was obviously not portable. The amp was no problem, he had one spare, now that he no longer drove a car. He found it in a cupboard and noticed it was made in Taiwan. The magazine article referred quite seriously to dilithium crystals but further information was in part one - and unavailable. Rodney put down the magazine and looked on a bookshelf for scientific reference books. He sat down, poured himself another Southern Comfort (it was his day off tomorrow, after all) and thumbed over pages looking for mention of dilithium crystals. His search was in vain; all he found was plain old lithium. 'Lithium - a silvery white metal. Lightest of all metals.' was all it said.
He decided it was a waste of time pursuing this idea and instead browsed at a copy of Computer Shopper he'd bought that morning. Amongst the ads for peripherals and accessories he kept noticing ads for lithium batteries. Then he remembered that his broken digital watch had a 7 year lithium battery. Actually, the watch still worked but the black rubber strap had split apart soon after he'd bought it. Rodney poured another drink and recalled that his old Amstrad computer had a lithium battery in it, too. He robbed the computer of its battery and sat down again, turning the battery over in one hand, as he sipped his drink with the other.
Rodney was rather drunk by now and not thinking very clearly. He was convinced there was a way of turning lithium into dilithium crystals, but he had no idea how. He wandered unsteadily into the kitchen and wondered what would happen if he put the lithium battery into the electric coffee grinder. He dismissed such a notion as dangerous (he wasn't stupid, after all) and instead put it in the microwave cooker. Not wearing his glasses, he misread the digital display and set the timer to 11 minutes, rather than the minute he'd intended. He pressed the 'cook' button and the microwave thumped into life. The battery pirhouetted slowly as the turntable revolved and the fluorescent display counted down.
Rodney suddenly realised that he'd been dying on a pee for ages and stormed off to the bathroom. 'Aah, the relief!' He was zipping his fly when suddenly a very loud bang rattled the bathroom door. 'HOLY SHIT!' he exclaimed when he saw the shattered remains of the kitchen. The microwave had been completely blown apart and shards of ragged metal hung over the worktop. Bits of metal and plastic had embedded themselves in the walls and broken dishes lay scattered on the floor. He decided he'd clear up the mess in the morning and switched off the light. Then he noticed an unfamiliar green glow coming from the centre of the former microwave cooker. What's more, the green glow was pulsing slowly, getting bright and dim, bright and dim.
It was the remains of the lithium battery. The rush of adrenalin had sobered Rodney up somewhat and he had the presence of mind to use a pair of tongs to pick it up with. He put it on a saucer and carried it (somewhat shakily) through to the living room. He filled up his glass, dimmed the lights and sat staring at the eerie green glow, pulsing rhythmically. After about an hour, when the bottle of Southern Comfort was empty, he finally went to bed. Tomorrow he would go and visit his old chum Jack, the technical whizzkid.
Jack was a self-employed electronics engineer Rodney had known for years. His workshop was a shed attached to his house, a sort of home extension.
'What's all this nonsense about dilithium crystals?' said Jack as Rodney sat down on top of an enormous TV set.
'Here, take a look at this then!' replied Rodney as he handed him an old tobacco tin.
Jack pulled off the lid and looked inside. Sure enough, the eerie green glow continued to pulse and throb. Jack went to pour out two mugs of tea and Rodney's gaze wandered round the interior of the workshop. There were TV's, video recorders and audio components everywhere. Rodney was puzzled by a home-made looking gadget with multi-coloured LED's. Jack came back and put the hot mugs of tea on the Pacman arcade machine which served as a table.
'What's that?' asked Rodney, pointing at the home-made gadget.
'That's a dry joint simulator.' answered Jack.
'What's it for?' queried Rodney.
'It's for testing dry joint testers.' said Jack.
'Oh..., I see' said Rodney.
Jack studied the dilithium crystal closely, not touching it. He noticed that the crystal was slightly different shades of green at opposite ends. He reached over for his new Fluke digital multimeter, switched it to voltage and carefully applied its probes to either end of the crystal. 'Hmmm, thirteen point eight volts exactly...' he muttered. 'That's the same as you get from a car battery. I wonder how much current this baby can deliver...' He dug around and found an old car headlamp and wired it up to the crystal which he'd fitted in a battery holder. The headlamp shone brightly. Impressed by this, Jack got an old starter motor which still had its heavy cables attached. The motor turned briskly. 'Good God!' gasped Jack, 'These things take hundreds of amps!'
Rodney handed Jack the tattered copy of Alternative Electronics and said 'Could you make one of these ...?', pointing to the article. 'I want to be able to zap those impersonal stereos on the bus.'
Jack said he'd give it a try and Rodney left. A week later he returned to see if Jack had made any progress.
'It works.' Jack confirmed. 'I used the enamelled wire from this old degaussing coil, and these S-correction capacitors to tune it to the right frequency. See that loudspeaker over there; no wires connected. Now listen... I'll just turn the power up slightly.'
Jack clicked the trigger switch and the speaker emitted a short sharp high-pitched pulse of sound. 'That's a sine wave at about ten kilohertz' Jack informed Rodney. Jack fitted the device into the body of an old Weller soldering gun and presented it to Rodney. 'Just pull the trigger to activate it, keep this knob turned well to the left. You won't need much power just to make someone think their personal stereo is knackered.' advised Jack.
'Didn't you need the booster amp then?' asked Rodney.
'Just the output chips' said Jack. 'You don't want to carry a big box around, do you? The crystal is in the handle. There's no need for heatsinks as the power cuts off after a hundred milliseconds.'
Rodney was very impressed and grateful and promised to buy a secondhand microwave from Jack as soon as he got the bonus he was expecting. He caught the bus home but there were no passengers with personal stereos.
Back in his flat he had a closer look at his new gadget. It felt and looked rather like a ray gun. It was satisfyingly heavy and Rodney felt strangely powerful holding it. He kept the power turned low and clicked the trigger. A short piercing blast of noise came from the transistor radio at the other side of the room. He increased the power and tried it again. The speaker made the same noise but louder. He tried it on the TV set and somehow managed to make a purple blob in the corner of the screen. It was later that day that he found that his databank calculator's LCD display had turned black all over. He thought he'd save the lithium batteries and when he turned it over he saw a tiny label saying 'Made in Taiwan'. The next time he tried to withdraw cash he would find that he had also erased the magnetic strip on his Cashline card.
When Rodney got ready for work next day he put the gun in his coat pocket. He left for work at the usual time but had to run for the bus as it was early, probably because it was a school holiday. He went upstairs and chose a seat near the back of the bus on the left. As the bus approached the next bus stop, Rodney could see Darren getting on, wearing his personal stereo. 'TSSHH - TSSHH - TSSSHHH!' it went as Darren sat down several rows in front of Rodney.
Rodney looked around at the other passengers and found that they were all apparently preoccupied. Confident that nobody would know what he was up to, he pulled the zapper out of his pocket, aimed it it the back of Darren's head and squeezed the trigger. Sure enough, Rodney plainly heard a short pulse of high frequency sound. Simultaneously, Darren gasped and yanked the earphones out of his ears. Rodney slid the zapper back into his coat pocket and tried not to smirk as he stared down at his knees.
Darren was puzzled. He unplugged the earphone jack and plugged it in again. He whacked the personal stereo violently then shook it. He re-inserted the earphones in his ears but with the volume turned much lower. He blamed 'feedback' for the painful blast of noise; he'd heard feedback before with rock groups.
Rodney was satisfied. He had punished the reprobate who had invaded his privacy and was no longer disturbed by the noise of 'thrash metal' or whatever that so-called music was.
Several days passed and Rodney's journeys to and from work remained undisturbed. Meanwhile Darren was looking for a new personal stereo. His old one still worked but he'd been talking to his mate Drew who had a much fancier personal stereo. This one had light-action touch buttons, a radio with a tuning memory and a very impressive LCD display. Darren looked through his mother's new Argos catalogue and saw the one he wanted. It had all the features of Drew's one but also had 'Mega Bass' and even a remote control built into the earphone cord. It was made in Taiwan.
The following Monday Rodney observed Darren boarding the bus. 'TSSZZ! - TSSZZ! - TSSZZ!' went the earphones as Darren sat down only two rows in front of Rodney. Darren admired the LCD display. When the machine was switched on, a flickery scrolling message appeared saying 'Conglations on owning this Minimedia� Pelsonar Sterio'. He played with the sliders on the tiny remote control and watched the bargraph display. Rodney noticed one of his fellow commuters grimace in discomfort at the invasive noise.
'Right, here goes' thought Rodney. He slipped the zapper out of his coat pocket and rested its business end on the back of the seat in front of him. Failing to notice that the power control knob had somehow got turned right up to maximum, he aimed at Darren and squeezed the trigger. A particularly loud pulse of high frequency noise, followed instantly by a loud 'POP!' reverberated round the upper deck of the bus. Darren wrenched the earphones from his ears and smoke was plainly visible, curling out of his earringed ears. He was in considerable pain and was furious to find that the LCD display on his pride and joy had turned totally black. Furthermore, the earphones had melted as their speech-coils had burned out.
He whipped around in his seat and noticed that one of the passengers was smiling and looking across at Rodney. Darren turned further round in his seat and saw a rather frightened-looking Rodney gazing unconvincingly out of the window. Darren stared at Rodney for a moment then turned round again, facing the front of the bus. Rodney's heart stopped pounding after a while and he prayed that Darren didn't suspect him. When the bus approached Q & B's Mega Garden World, Rodney didn't notice Darren getting off the bus behind him.
He was half way across the footbridge over the bypass when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He was turned violently around to find himself face to face with Darren. Rodney looked in vain for help from other pedestrians. There was no-one else on the footbridge, and not likely to be until the next bus came.
'You done that!' shouted Darren as he thrust the damaged stereo under Rodney's nose, 'Didn't ya!'
'I beg your pardon...' responded Rodney.
'You fucked my Walkman, you yuppy bastard' rasped Darren.
'No I didn't' replied Rodney.
'You fucking-well did!' shouted Darren, simultaneously smashing Rodney in the face with the Walkman and kneeing him in the groin. Rodney fell down amongst the broken glass and litter on the footbridge, doubled up in pain. Then he blacked out. He was only very vaguely aware that he was being bodily lifted into the air. He thought it was a bad dream. When he felt weightless he knew it was a bad dream; he'd had the same dream before - falling off a cliff or a building and he knew he'd wake up, just before he hit the ground. Only he never did hit the ground.
Darren had heaved Rodney's semi-conscious body over the bridge parapet, seemingly intent on murder. By sheer chance one of Q & B's pickup trucks was passing under the bridge and Rodney landed on it, cushioned to some extent by the bags of peat on board. The driver turned into the garden centre unaware of what had happened. Darren ran back along the bridge and disappeared.
Later that morning the pickup driver found Rodney's body lying comatose on the peat bags in his truck. The ambulance driver confirmed he was still alive (just) and raced off to the hospital, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing. Rodney was wheeled into Intensive Care and put on a life support machine. He was in a deep coma. Consultants and nurses came and went but Rodney was unaware of all this.
Days passed and finally he began to approach consciousness. The electroencephalograph indicated increased brain activity, and the heart monitor showed a faster pulse. He felt awful as he awoke and very cautiously opened his eyes a little. 'God, what a weird dream...' he thought. He thought he must have dreamt about dilithium crystals and the exploding microwave. He sat up a little and rubbed his eyes. He focussed blearily on the life support machine, which he recognised as the type he once sold. Loss of memory had made him forget that he no longer sold medical equipment. He was startled to find that this particular machine was connected to his body by wires and plastic tubes. Had he woken up yet? He wasn't sure... He had experienced this feeling once before, dreams within dreams, when he'd been ill with gastric flu. He flopped back onto his pillow and fell asleep again.
His activity had been enough to trigger an alarm, however. A nurse came into his room, made a brief phone call and a consultant arrived. The nurse gave him an injection and he woke up to see friendly concerned faces.
'How are you, Rodney?' asked the nurse.
'What happened?' asked Rodney.
'You had an accident' said the consultant.
'My microwave blew up' confirmed Rodney.
'Your microwave blew up?' said the nurse and consultant in unison.
'I was making dilithium crystals' explained Rodney. 'I sell these for a living' he added, pointing to the life support machine.
The nurse and consultant withdrew to the corner of the room and conferred before returning to Rodney's bedside.
'Actually, old chap' said the consultant, 'you were found in the back of one of Q & B's pickup trucks. That's who you work for. The police think you were thrown from the footbridge over the bypass.'
Rodney remembered none of this.
'OK, you'd better go back to sleep now' said the nurse and gave Rodney another injection.
'Better keep him hooked up to the hardware' advised the consultant to the nurse. 'He's not a well man.'
Rodney was alone when he woke up again. He felt confused but physically stronger. He sat up on the edge of his bed, taking care not to disturb the tubes and cables attaching him to the machine. Rodney had an amazing memory for numbers and recognised the model number of the life support machine. He pulled one end of the trolley supporting it and had a peek round the back of the machine. He was slightly surprised to find that he had sold this actual machine. He actually remembered the serial number - but still couldn't remember much else, though.
He pressed a buzzer and the nurse returned with the consultant.
'We found this in your coat pocket' said the consultant. 'What is it? It looks like a soldering gun that's been modified.'
Rodney remembered. 'It's a personal stereo zapper' he replied.
'Really?' said the consultant. 'How does it work?'
'You just point it and pull the trigger' Rodney answered.
'Like this?' said the consultant, not really believing Rodney and pointing it at the life support machine.
'No - Don't!' said Rodney, but it was too late. He saw sparks coming from the life support machine, followed by a cloud of smoke and that was all he saw. He passed out into a deep coma and dreamt more dreams within dreams. Eventually he awoke again to see a shiny new life support machine. He didn't recognise this one; it was a type he'd never seen before. In one corner he saw a label. It said 'Made in Taiwan ROC'.
The war raged on for many centuries, a tide of desolation engulfing the ravaged plains of the Taims's home planet.
No single Taim was quite sure how the War had started, nor precisely why the two religious factions - Mao and Kao - had found themselves locked into a life-or-death struggle with each other. Each faction, after all, was equally as holy as the other, and their religious and social beliefs were identical - each revering the near-legendary Mother of their races, known only to them as Homet, the Holy Mother.
But fight they did, and a bloody fight it was.
Our tale begins as the Mao sect all but faces extinction at the hands of the Holy Kaos, and prepares for one last attempt to save their threatened race - the leaders of the Mao are trying to contact their worshipful Mother, Homet.
"And I say that Mother Homet is best reached using the Rite of The Unborn Calf!" shrieks the leader of the Taimish Mao sect, "So let us attempt the ceremony."
Unconvinced, but with no better ideas, the Maoish priests gather into a huge circle, better to perform the Rite of The Unborn Calf. The incantations begin, a low chanting providing the backdrop to the bizarre actions performed within the circle. Slowly, a blurred window appears in the circle, and a wizened face comes into sharp focus within that window. The Holy Mother!
"Please, oh Mother of Our Race, come to aid us in our need," requests the High Priest. All fall silent as the revered Mother speaks.
"This is Mother Homet. I'm afraid that I'm not in just now, but if you would care to leave a message after the burst of heavenly music...CLICK Sorry about that - Hello? This is Mother Homet, I'm afraid that I cannot be seen to show any preferential treatment towards any of my children. However, if you would care to visit me, then maybe we can work something out. Sorry - must dash, I've left the iron on...CLICK"
The window disappears, the chanting ceases, all is quiet. The priests and congregation turn to face their leader: "What are we to do?"
"Well," says the leader, "If Ma Homet won't come to the Mao Taims, then the Mao Taims must go to Ma Homet..."
Roy Stead is a major force in fourth world metaphysics research, holding - as he does - a masters degree in Pan-dimensional psycho-dynamics. There is, unfortunately, some debate as to whether such a degree exists, but - in the words of a small, pink pussycat which Mr Stead encountered one day, "Miaaaoooow..."
Mr Stead's solicitors have asked me to add that the small, pink pussycat, mentioned above, could - no doubt - have written the story attributed to Mr Stead, had the feline not had other, more pressing engagements.
His wet footsteps echoed slowly through the darkness of the night as if subconsciously trying to fence off invisible threats. Slow and deliberate his steps sounded, as if he was heading for somewhere specific where no person in the world could talk him out of.
Little pairs of lights gleamed in various corners of the alley. Red ones, green ones, purple ones, eyeing Warchild with attention as if waiting for the grim certainty in the wet thuds to disappear, waiting for a moment of hesitation so their owners could strike with lethal accuracy.
A sudden flash, like some large metal thing catching the light of a great sun for a moment, blinded the mercenary annex hired gun for a couple of dangerous seconds. He rubbed his eyes in mute frustration. Damn! His built-in reflexes were slowing down. His head ached. He must be getting old. Tired. Battered. In other words, he was more likely to die. The little lights, the gleaming eyes, gained on him.
Then followed the sound of thunder.
Warchild staggered, nearly fell. He took hold of his ears, trying to shut them off from the rolling sound that seemed to echoe through his very body - but too late.
He was sent reeling, staggering against a wet wall, slipping, falling. This was what the eyes had been waiting for. They closed in on their prey.
It is believed that the future will see weather control.
For years meteorologists from all over the world have tried to gain control over rain and sun, clouds and winds. Apart from developing new ways of moving their hands when forecasting the weather on TV they have not made much progress.
When Warchild woke up he felt wet throughout. A sad, miserable drizzle descended upon his head and the rest of his body. The rain echoed through the streets, dripped off walls, fell in ever deepening puddles, made clogged sewers burst.
When Cronos had stopped discovering the wetness that seemed to envelop his body like a cold blanket, he started to notice that he was entirely (and quite offensively) nude. He was starting to make a bad habit of getting mugged all the time. This particular time it had reached an all-time high (or low) by leaving him without any of his clothes - let alone his killer gadgets and, indeed, his American Express Traveller's Cheques. The dark alley seemed even darker than before. If its wet, dark walls could have laughed at the ridiculity of the mercenary annex hired gun's situation at present, they would no doubt have done so quite enthusiastically.
When Warchild stopped noticing his rather disgraceful nudity he saw a man standing before him.
The man was eyeing him suspiciously, the expression in his face showing doubt as to whether perhaps this offensive piece of human wastage he was eyeing should be accordingly dealt with or perhaps not. The rather resolute way in which this man eventually took a pair of handcuffs showed that he had made up his mind. Cronos, who was desperately trying to hide some of the more private parts of his anatomy, was roughly pulled off into a van that had blue flashing lights strategically positioned on its roof.
The only good thing about the cell he found himself in after a rough half hour of being transported and manhandled was the fact that it was dry. Fungi stained the wall in colours he had never considered his eyes capable of ever seeing. Assorted smells arising from an improvised chemical toilet invoked a likewise experience on his nostrils. The rain pelted viciously against a barred window.
He vouched to subject himself to another commando training when - if - he would get out of this mess. Thank God one of the police officers had had the decency to hand him an improvised set of clothes. Although he hated stripes, it beat hell out of the sortof-pink-with-tufts-of-hair-here-'n'-there look.
Before he could start thinking further about his present situation, he heard booted footsteps closing in through the corridor outside. The person halted before Cronos' cell door. There was a short sound of keys and a couple of clicks. The door was being opened and in stepped an officer with a pencil and a piece of paper.
"Warchild? Cronos Jehannum Warchild?"
The mercenary annex hired gun considered it decent to nod, which he did.
"Come with me," the man said, "you have been selected." The voice seemed to carry with it a tone of sympathy.
An eerie sense of deja vu struck him when he was handed a metallic uniform and a helmet the likes of which he vaguely recalled having seen on some US television network back on earth. He seemed constantly to get mugged, and equally constantly he seemed to end up in some kind of underground game that involved lots of aggression. Would he get out of this new ordeal unscathed?
After he had put on the padded uniform and helmet, a sturdy looking officer led him into a van. In the van sat several people whom he first mistook for himself. They were all fairly rugged looking, wearing that typical metallic uniform and, indeed, the helmet that was obviously designed to supply the face with some rudimentary protection against things the wearer of said helmet would rather not think of.
He was the last one to get in the van. The door through which he had entered was closed and locked. The van set itself into motion.
As soon as the van left the building in which Warchild had been held prisoner, the clamour of a busy city surrounded him and the other convicts. He peeked outside through the barred windows and saw sushi parlours, people huddled in raincoats, cars flying to and fro through the air, huge Coca Cola adverts illuminating entire office blocks. The rain did not seem to affect dayly life of whatever city he was in - it seemed part of the city, something without which it and its inhabitants would cease to be.
After about half an hour's drive, the van turned onto a long lane that looked like the driveway to a huge, almost ill-matching arena as though teleported directly from ancient Rome. Warchild saw the building's huge shape at the horizon getting more immense as the van closed in on the structure that lay silently, almost as if lurking, grotesque amongst its surroundings.
"That's it," one of his fellows in distress muttered, his voice carrying awe, "the arena."
"Speedball," another man said, his voice shivering with fear.
"Death," yet another spoke solemnly.
There was a dramatic silence that lasted long seconds that crept by like extremely ordinary and not very heroic turtles with a nourishment deficiency.
Cronos felt a most peculiar sensation. He felt as if he was waking up from a long, detestingly boring sleep. Now he was enveloped by reality - reality of life and death.
"Certain death," the man next to Cronos said, swallowing something.
"Horrible death. Slow and agonising. Excruciatingly painful," the man closest to the locked door whispered, "a way to die I would not wish upon my worst enemy."
"Sounds like heaps of fun," Cronos said, causing the others to look at him in surprise, "as a matter of fact I believe this might very well be the best day in my life ever since...since..."
The others were listening intently. What horrendous things had this obvious barbarian been through, in heaven's name? This poor man should be pitied!
Another couple of seconds crept by, like dead tortoises.
"Well, I dunno, really," Cronos said finally. He had never been good at memorising events. He did have a fleeting sensation of a crushing pain in his groin for a moment. Luckily, it quickly disappeared like breath in the wind.
When the van finally stopped at the arena's back entrance, about a dozen men stepped out of it. All of them looked beaten, ill, sad, as if they expected the scythe of death to take them there and then. All of them, that is, except for one that strode proudly, his senses aware of everything around him, adrenalin leaping through his veins. An almost insane smile lay frozen on his lips.
In his mind he read next day's headlines.
Original written April and May 1992. Rehashes so little that you can't really call it a rehash at all, May 12th 1995.