by Michele Dutcher
"I need to remember to live farther away from the stockyards next time," said the entity in the mansuit to the satyr sitting beside him. The human was maybe forty sol-years old, and wore a beige, cloth jacket. He was heavy in a sturdy, muscled kind of way -- the kind of man who would gladly accept a duel of arm wrestling.
The satyr, on the other hand, seemed to be a little older and a whole lot frailer. His top human half was graying although attractive, and his equine bottom half wasn't as muscled as it had been several centuries ago. He sat comfortably on the floor with his hoofed legs passing through the counter's oak façade'.
"Go ahead, Kriss, tell me all about it." The satyr was certain the man would ramble on and on whether he wanted him to or not. But they were friends, and the Miller Time - Miller Lite sign hanging over the pair seemed to unite them, bathing the human in a bright neon glow."
"I was riding on public transit..."
"I think it's called a bus..."
"...when I saw a pig being taken to slaughter. It looked right at me through the slats on a truck, we were eye to eye. It had the same wild and dazed look that some humans had on Wiessem 3 last time I visited there. I think any animal gets that blank stare as they're being led away to be eaten." Kriss waited for the satyr to say something reassuring.
"And there-in lies the moral of your sad tale: always be at the top of the food chain, no matter what planet you slide into."
Kriss snorted a little before chugging the last of his White Russian. "You are such a cynic, Shaeler."
"Au contraire, my old friend. I am a realist." The human half of the beast bowed just a little, as if introducing himself.
Kriss looked at the bartender, who seemed to be keeping his distance at the far end of the bar. "And a fine realist you are, too. Let me buy you a beverage." He began to hold up two fingers, but Shaeler stopped him.
"Remember, I am un-embodied at this moment." His image blinked off and on as if to impress this point.
Kriss skimmed his palm over the top of his spiked haircut. "Just one White Russian down here," he shouted over the heads of the three other patrons in the Tavern. The barkeep looked at him for a moment, not moving. He said something out of the corner of his mouth to another customer. Kriss picked a ten off the top of the stack of bills lying in front of him and he received his drink. After a quick slurp, Kriss launched a statement towards his friend. "You talk about humans as if they were the top of the food chain on Earth."
"They believe they are," answered Shaeler, stroking one of his horse-like ears. "It enables them to sleep at night."
The human snickered. "But how do they explain people disappearing from the back of injury transports?"
"Yeah, those. It has to be alarming to have a guy in front of you getting ready to die, and then he's just gone, tooth and nail."
"Well - number one, you need to do better research before you slide into a planet, but, beyond that...the authorities code it DOA -- dead on arrival -- and after juggling some papers, they hand the family some wood ashes. The humans left behind usually seem satisfied with the ashes." The odd pair snickered together, laughing loudly though briefly. "I guess the way the Quintrass take their victims could be confusing because it all happens so quickly. The Quintrass stop time for a moment before harvesting their dying food."
"Hey! I'm a in a human body this time. Don't call me food."
"You're far too sensitive my friend. Soon you won't even be attached to this body. And the Quintrass do it all in the twinkling of an eye."
"That 'twinkling of an eye' thing; did you say it first? These Earthlings have that phrase in some religious book or another."
"Really? Humph. Maybe they copied it from my visit a few millennia ago. I always picture myself as being quotable." The satyr swished his tail and it would have made a thump thash sound, had he actually been in the room. "When does the event you came to see occur, Kriss?"
"The storm happened tomorrow at midday. I can't wait to see it."
"I don't understand why you continue to put yourself in harm's way."
"It's the thrill of the elements on your face. It's the way an environment can explode and reclaim its power -- whether it's a thunderstorm on Sol 3 or an ion storm in the Horseshoe Nebula. And when the creatures I inhabit are finally face-to-face with their mortality -- it's an awe inspiring event, no matter if the beings are made of crystal, or silicon, or meat like this one."
"Will you need me to help you phase out, or do you want to try it alone this time?"
The human didn't even need the twinkling of an eye to decide. "I'm going to do it myself this time."
"Good for you," said his friend, slapping him on the back, though his arm went right through him. "That's the difference between being a rider and remaining a slider: actually concentrating enough to pass from one dimension into another. That way you're in charge."
As Kriss left the Tavern that night, a few hours before the dew fell, he was surprised there was only one moon in the navy-blue sky. "That's right; I'm on Earth -- only one satellite and one sun." He began to slide away, just thinking about his homeworld, but he drew himself back when he felt the buildings begin to phase and walked on contentedly towards his rented rooms.
Monday 8 AM
A table-tent at D'Nallys on 3rd Street advertised a bacon and sausage breakfast, but Kriss still couldn't shake his aversion to dead pig. "I'll take a small stack of pancakes and a coffee," he told the plump waitress, handing her the menu. He was pleased with himself. He had ordered food successfully, without even indicating there was a woman sitting in the booth across from him.
"Is my look pleasing to you," she asked, winking.
"I don't know," he whispered.
She took off her blouse and then unsnapped her bra, laying it on the table by the salt shaker. Her firm, full breasts bounced playfully before they settled into place.
Kriss shrugged unimpressed.
The light-shape across from him twinkled, phased-out, and reformed in the shape of beautiful young male, nude from the waist up. Kriss was strangely stirred. "That's hilarious," he chuckled. "As a human -- I'm gay."
The light-form began to shift again, subsiding into the familiar body of the satyr. "That's not funny, my friend, but I heard a joke that is -- while I was on Azoviton 6."
"Which planet is that?"
"You know, Kriss, it's the artificial intelligence planet in the outer arc of Coma Berenices."
"Oh yeah, right, I know where that is." Kriss rolled his eyes. "Go ahead and tell your joke. I know I can't stop you."
"It seems there were these two automated lifeforms talking. One was an Artificial Intelligence and the other was a toaster. The AI says, 'Life is so complicated, always searching for some meaning, some reason for being.' And the toaster says: 'Bread please.'"
The person in the human body laughed shamelessly while gobbling down the flapjacks set in front of him. Eventually he looked across the table at his friend. "I saw a statue of you at the public library at 4th and York."
"Nice to know they still remember."
"Really, it was just a bust -- but it had your curly beard and horse ears and that devilish look of yours."
"I'll try to take a look before I phase out."
"It's over the double stair-case on the west side. I couldn't believe it when I looked up and there you were. It was re-assuring on some level."
"You know it's rough down here: Earth, this time period, this city. Watch out for hooligans -- even though you're just on an excursion."
"Thanks mom, but that's why I waited for this body type." Kriss puffed himself up. "It's 195 lbs of pure muscle. I'm built like a tank."
"What's a tank?"
"It was just a phrase left in this body's brain cells. It must be big and tough."
"Just be careful my friend." The satyr looked concerned before softening a bit.
There was an unwatched 19 inch television sitting on a corner table. It was tuned into the weather more by neglect than design. "The storm that produced rains, mudslides, and flooding along the West Coast has roared into the Rockies, leaving up to 18 inches of snow in its wake."
Kriss looked at the screen. There was a bright green blob over Iowa and Missouri with pretty pockets of red and orange. He smiled when a future map of the United States was shown and a dot labeled 'Louisville, Kentucky' was at the base of a huge yellow line.
"It won't be long now," he sighed as the satyr rose to his full height of nine feet, and walked through a wall, disappearing into the atmosphere surrounding the small diner.
The 2nd Street Bridge had been built in 1929 to span the distance between Louisville Kentucky and its Southern Indiana suburbs at a cost of 4.2 million dollars. It was opened on Halloween 1929, two days after Black Tuesday began the Great Depression. One could only imagine the number of residents who looked spitefully at the expanse, thinking of all the meals that could have been bought with its multi-million dollar pricetag.
Many things had been thrown off the bad news bridge since then: Bill Murray had tossed a set of keys from its pedestrian walkway in the movie "Stripes". Mohammed Ali had thrown the gold medal he won in the 1960s Summer Olympics into the Ohio River below. Many a wayward lover had thrown their bodies over the side in a last desperate effort to ease the pains of love refused.
If the being inhabiting Kriss Troxell's body had been born in Kentuckiana, he would have known some of this. If he had been born on Earth he might have known some of it. As it was, he knew nothing about its history as he doggedly trudged up the western walkway, heading towards the exact middle of the bridge. In a gray and black backpack, Kriss carried all the gear necessary for a slider's complete stormchasing experience. He smiled as he noticed the sky beginning to cloud over. Stopping in front of a v-shaped set of baby-shit-green metal beams, he unpacked a ten-foot-long rope and tied it around his ankles and then around the beams. Thus being anchored, he unpacked a battery powered short wave receiving device, and placed it on the concrete beside him.
He clicked it on. "Reports are now coming in: two more tornadoes have touched down outside of Tell City, Indiana. At least six people are known dead. The tornado watch has been extended into Meade and Jefferson Counties until 9 PM."
Kriss could feel his excitement rising. He tightened a rope around his thighs, further binding him to the metal behind him. The wind began to pick up, its whine became a dull roar and its gusts became blasts of air that pushed him backwards. As the wind blew across the river's surface, it whipped the water into six-inch peaks that raced upstream in chaotic rows.
A car raced past and blew its horn at him. It was the first vehicle he had seen in ten minutes.
"Funnel clouds have been spotted over Clark and Floyd Counties," squawked the radio. "Residents are urged not to evacuate. You are advised to seek cover at once."
There was a boom -- boom -- boom now, echoing down the corridor of the river valley. The shrubs and trees on the north and south banks of the river were bending under the force of the brewing storm.
Suddenly it was upon him. What had begun as a hard rain was now icy pellets that dug their way into his skin. A shock of lightning cut through the sky, dividing itself into five forks as it descended. The blast of thunder that followed made him deaf momentarily so he missed the police siren as a cruiser pulled up behind him. A spotlight from the patrol car, however, drew his attention away from the storm.
"Stay where you are. We will assist you," blared a policeman using a foghorn.
Kriss held up a set of handcuffs and shook them at the men in the vehicle before cuffing his wrists to the four-foot-high railing in front of him.
The atmosphere around the bridge crackled before another white hot lightning strike tore the sky into four parts. "That motherfucker's crazy," shouted the cop from the passenger side. When Kriss looked up again, the car was gone, its tail lights disappearing quickly into the freezing deluge.
"Are you ready to leave yet?" asked a familiar voice beside him.
"Shaelar. I'm glad you're here. But not yet, amigo. Not yet."
"Do you want me to take you when its time, Kriss?"
"No, let me do it. A rider, not a slider -- that's what I want to become."
During the continuous lightning show, Kriss could see the water level beginning to drop in the Ohio. He knew the Three Sisters were coming now. His backpack and radio blew away. Part of a white picket fence flew past him before hitting a beam and shattering into enough stakes to impale a small army of vampires.
Kriss could see the funnels now: the Three Sisters dancing back and forth across the Ohio River basin. The sky behind their black silhouettes crackled with bolts of electricity that flashed teal and purple and red. Their tiny feet burst with light as they flattened power stations and houses.
A truck slid past with sparks flying from its roof, bouncing off the beams of the bridge like a silver ball in a pinball machine.
"You just tell me if you need any help," coaxed the satyr.
"Just long enough to feel the earth move..."
And then, as if on cue, the bridge began to vibrate violently. He could feel the fluids in his body being thrown from head to foot, like a baby playing with a rattle. Even through the sheets of falling ice, Kriss could see the top of the 59-story Museum Plaza building hop twice before beginning to sway. Whether it was one of the tornadoes or the earthquake that ripped six buildings from their foundations would never be known -- not even to Kriss Troxell. A stray limb from a dismembered tree riding the rapids below shot upwards thirty-six feet, instantly separating his head from his torso.
Two days later, Shaeler sat with four female fauns at a discothèque on Rumina 4. "Shots of absinth for all my lovely ladies," he ordered. As the drinks were delivered, he looked down the row and noticed a pig waddling towards him on all fours.
"Kriss Troxell, you old dog, I hope you're bound for Wiessem 3."
The pig looked up at the half-man/half-horse and smiled, as much as a pig can smile. "I am indeed," he squealed happily.
"Uno Margarita, por favor," he shouted to the barkeep before looking back upon his friend.
"Top of the food chain, Kriss. Top of the food chain."
The pig put two front hoofs on the satyr's hairy thigh as the satyr began pouring the frozen liquor down his friend's throat.
© 2008 Michele Dutcher
Bio: Michele Dutcher was new to writing science fiction, although very much at home in the science fiction universe. Having grown up with an older brother who was a Star Trek fanatic (complete with 3-D chess board), going where no one has gone before seems quite natural.
Having a Bach of Sci from Indiana University with minors in Sociology and Art, her creative paths have been varied. She lives in a carriage house in the Midwest with two cats and a five-foot iguana. One of the cats moved into my kitchen cabinet with the iguana, but I don’t hold out much hope for this relationship: he’s a reptile and she’s a mammal. But you never know. Her work has appeared in Bewildering Stories (source for most of this bio), and twice in Aphelion (most recently Murder In A Fishbowl, March 2008).
E-mail: Michele Dutcher
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.