by G. C. Dillon
I suppose I am overly emotional when remembering my previous life. Make that my previous death. Or so I've been told.
I learned of my past lifetimes because of my friend, Maurice. Maurice is a gigolo, and that's how he helped my soul recall. He is a former co-worker of mine. At his retirement party he thanked us all for working to keep his company stock at a favorable p/e ratio and pay off his Florida retirement home. Maurice had an offer to do some project management in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but due to the faulty state of the world, he became a gigolo instead. His hobby of a number of years has been ballroom dancing. After leaving our firm, he took a job as a dance partner on senior cruises. He gets a free trip, all he can eat, and spending money, all for whisking widows around a seaborne dance floor.
Maurice enticed me to try a class more than once, saying dancing was the fastest way to get a woman into your arms. I suppose it was true, but the free lessons took place at nightclubs trying to fill the house and raise the prices on Long Island Iced Teas. He had just returned from one of his ocean-faring trips when I finally succumbed to his suggestions. I did a clumsy job at the waltz, and a laughable mockery of the rumba, but the quickstep had an interesting effect on me. My feet took to it. And so did the muscle memory of my arms and hands. But not, sadly, as a dancer. No, the dance steps brought back the footwork required by swordplay and fencing. Lunge. Feint. Parry en quarte. I had begun to remember my life and death as a duelist and cavalier. Not that it all came back at once while I moved to recorded music, but that was the start, the beginning. I owe it all to Maurice.
I don't know what was the worst part. Remembering my death, realizing Maurice had set me up, or finding out his real identity. I left my dance partner with the more competent feet of a budding Michael Flatley and made my way to the bar. Maurice handed me a glass seidel. "Drink this all down," he said. "It's better than that hopless brew you favour."
"What is it?" I asked.
"A Witbier. Best in all Belgium. Fiddle de dee, sip one for me."
I put the empty glass down. "Pardon me. Did you just say ‘fiddle de dee'?"
"Ah. You heard me," he said. "The banality spell is moot, then you must know who I really am."
I stared at him. I'd know him for years; he mentored me in office politics. Of course, I knew who he really was. He was -- "Megrim," I swore. "Megrim the Wizard. You got me killed." I reached for a sabre that was not there. Lucky for him.
"Long time ago, long time ago. Before pensions and health insurance."
I looked closely at his bare chin. "What happened to your beard?"
Megrim began to feel in his pockets. "It was right here." He did not seem to be joking.
"There is no Maurice?" I continued. That saddened me. I liked the senior retiree, more than I liked Megrim.
The wizard turned toward me quickly, looking offended. "Of course there is. I just mixed up everyone's memories of him, fixed them upon me." He looked around the nightclub. "I must say, he is a singularly popular fellow." He lowered his voice to a whisper: "Especially with the ladies."
"It was the night of the Faerie princess," I said, remembering and snapping my fingers to call forth more moments as one calls a favored pet.
" Aeronwy, the third daughter of Oberon and Titania, conceived on a mid-summer's night, if memory serves me correct." The wizard turned back to me. "Now she was a looker."
Recalling a tall and beautiful brunette with lush, full lips, and an equally lush and curvaceous ballroom gown, I replied enthusiastically: "Aeronwy was!"
"Titania, my boy." Megrim winked an eye and the other seemed to glow crimson for just an instant.
"We were in Paris."
"It was Vienna. You wore blue; the Germans wore grey."
"Hey," I interjected. "It's my recovered memory."
"All right, all right. You'll always have Paris. Of course, that is what Helen thought, too."
A young woman sat down beside us. She nodded toward me. Did I mention that she was a pretty young woman? Mahogany brown hair that skirted her bare shoulder blades, liquid green eyes, and understated mascara and lipstick to accentuate rather than overpower her natural beauty. She sported gold earrings and wore an off the shoulder imperial black dress with a trumpeted bottom hem. A sparkling crystal pendent hung between her breasts. Her skin was well tanned even though it was only March. Tanning beds and she were bosom buddies, I guessed. I could hear that a Charleston had started up on the dance floor.
"Megrim," she said. "Lady Janel," he replied. Lady Janel? I thought. This was not the noble Pixie I knew. Then I suffered a brainfart as I realized I held the conviction that the Pixie fiefdom existed. What next, the Easter Bunny? "Tior is hiding," she said. "He refuses the glamour."
"I would expect nothing less of him. Just as I need not question that he will appear when required."
"And are you prepared?'
Like a Penn and Teller stage trick, Megrim drew a rapier-sword from his sleeve. I noticed a cross-guard hilt and finger ring. It looked to be a fine Toledo blade, hardened in the fires of a talented swordsmith. It slipped back under his cuff.
"There is a Theropod sorcerer…" he began.
"Think of it like an intelligent endothermic lizard with feathers for warmth. In any case, this Theropod wizard named Grrr..."
"No," Janel interjected. "It's more like Grrr."
"This sorcerer Grrr."
"Better." Janel shrugged with a coy smile.
"This sorcerer Grrr," Megrim began again, waited a spell for any linguistic corrections, then continued, "wants to create an extreme Mulligan on the evolutionary path of this dimension. He wants to prevent the mammalian revolution. If he succeeds then everything you know -- nearly all of the sweeter crumpets I know -- will be nothing more than a Potemkin Village."
"Why? To bring lizard land into existence?"
"The Theropod-dominant dimension already exists. Changing our world will not alter his in that manner. The sorcerer wishes to increase the dimensions like his own in order to … in order to …" Megrim paused.
"It's like a lodestone," suggested Janel.
"Very good, my dear. The more ionized a bar of metal is, the more powerful a magnet it is. The more of all the possible dimensions that are aligned in his spell patterns, then the more potent his conjuring will be."
I thought back to Physics 101, and the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle, and how you could only know either the position or the velocity of subatomic particles at the same time, never both. I also recalled the parable-like example used to explain it often. "Like Schrodinger's Cat," I suggested, feeling I'd gotten it, with the dimensional planes being the position and the direction of the particles' para-atomic history like a magical direct current for the dino magician.
"Don't like cats." Megrim scowled. "Never did. I once battled a manticore in my dressing gown on the Glastonbury tor."
"How it got in your dressing gown, you'll never know…" Janel chuckled softly, hiding her face in a glass of Zinfindel.
Megrim swung his head around toward her, his face stricken that she had stolen his punchline.
"So," I asked, "why don't these Theropods jump the dimensional median and come here at other times?"
"They do," Janel answered.
"Happens all the time," Megrim began. "Only their manifestations are mistaken for imps, or nightmares. Or sleep paralysis when REM sleep patterns happen while you are awake. The element of your brain that recognizes threats is then supposed to be confused. It is your psychologists that are confused. When your sweet childhood nanny told you that there was nothing there in the dark that wasn't there in the light to lull you asleep, she was mistaken."
I knew about sleep paralysis as the scientific explanation for everything from Asian chest-sitting demons, Medieval succubi, Gullah hags, abductions by little gray men, and any other monster that lives beneath our beds. People are still under the influence of the brain chemicals that stop us from acting out our dream-self's motions, but are awake with paranoid fears that they are not alone, sometimes even creating elaborate fantasies, real to the sufferer, to justify the terror. "I thought sleep paralysis happened to those under stress or post traumatic stress."
"Verily, a beacon for the trip across," he continued. "Do you think it is easy casting an Othergate? If it was, I would be visiting Grrr and spitting in his yellow eyes. No, I shall meet him here, here where I have the home playing-field advantage."
We went out onto the boardwalk. In the moonlight, Janel morphed instantly. No longer a beautiful woman, but an aquamarine Pixie, complete with curnute antennae and wispy wings, dressed in a long tunic decorated with lace ruche.
I looked around for the parking lot and my car, but could find no trace of it. "Did we come out a different exit?" I asked. We were not anywhere near the bar that hosted our dancing lesson. We couldn't even be in the same city: palm trees, with their long leaves bundled and tied up, lined the roadside.
"We are several thousand kilometres closer to the site of the impact. A tourist resort in the Yucatan. If memory serves me, Johnny Weissmuller stayed here filming a Tarzan movie or two. At least, he should have. The margaritas are quite fine."
"But we were --"
"There," Janel said, "and now we are here." She finished with a dramatic flourish of her hands worthy of any one of the "Barker's Beauties" models on the "Price is Right".
"You can't go from place to another like, like…"
"Like magic." Janel smiled widely.
"Now that is impressive," Megrim said, pointing to an object that hung in the sky, silhouetted against the moon.
It was an aeronef, a lighter-than-air ship. Three gyro-rotors spun about horizontally and bulbous gondolas hung down like ripe grapes.
"You see that mushroom-shaped structure. That is the pilothouse, full of aeronauts. Just to its aft is the engineer's housing, a noxious place full of zinc powder braziers for hydrogen gas generation and batteries for the aeromotors. Those egg-shaped gondolas on the sides are the passenger carriages." From the rear of each carriage protruded an enormous aerogun. "The sorcerer has added some spells to trap and increase the phlogiston in the metal."
"Phlogiston?' I asked.
"An anti-gravity substance once used to explain how rusting metal weighs more as it oxidizes. It was postulated that compounds with levity were burned away. A morsel to join Earth, Air, Fire and Water."
"And sometimes the Element of Wood," added Janel.
‘Yes, my dear. If I'm not being ethnocentric to the culture into which I was born, a Sixth Element for Levity or more properly a force to join gravity and electromagnetism." Megrim guffawed loudly. "But where would the world be without a little levity?
"In his realm, that whopping great asteroid missed the wicket. Now, he plans to bat it away from our Cretaceous era."
"And we're going to break his bat," Janel said with a wry smile. "Humanity is quite my favorite deficient species. I would hate to see them supplanted with those vile dragonmen."
"A more accurate image would be that we are going to interfere with the batsman and give our good ol' Earth a by. My counterpart is going to use the aether wind to alter the course of the asteroid. The spiraling through time should amplify the effects quite nicely. Like ripples in the universal solar pond. Scientifically the aether wind was disproved, though old Lord Kelvin believed the experiments were in error. Ernst Mach didn't believe in aether and therefore so doesn't modern science."
"How do you know all this?"
"The Pixies were warned," Lady Janel said. There seemed to be more she silenced behind her vermilion eyes. She looked away and brushed her emerald hair behind one pointed ear. Warned how? I wondered. And by whom?
Megrim took a ring out of his jacket pocket and slipped it upon his pinky finger. It was a latticework of silver. "A lady's ring," he said, " Only fits me little finger."
"A lady's ring?" I asked.
"Lucretia Borgias's. No secret chamber for poison, I'm afraid; though, it does have other nefariously potent uses."
Another small figure suddenly appeared out of the night's shadows, where streetlights would not shine. This must be Tior -- while Janel graceful, Tior was nothing but fierce. He was a darker verdant green; wingless and therefore bound to the rich dark soil; armed with a bronze dirk; and scowling. Very notably scowling.
"I have told Tior he spends far too much time in your grimy alleys. But what of our friend here - your eternal champion, the knight to your wizard." I think she meant me.
"There is a price waged against those who play in your realms - we mortals who dare to take magical forces in our frail hands and deem it prudent to cajole those powers to our bidding. As well as those who serve our cause. Your friend will do whatever may be required." Turning to me, he spoke, "You have in the past." Megrim strode past me.
"Old man, I'm not your toadie," I said.
"Actually… you were," Janel replied, laying her hands gently upon my arm. I had the unfortunate memory of swallowing "poisonous" toads for a patent medicine "doctor" and his elaborate sideshow and sales pitch; and an atrocious taste in my mouth. Could this night get any worse?
"Meet your opponent on the pavement," ordered Megrim.
"He means the sidewalk," Janel said, taking my shoulders and pointing me in the right direction.
A Theropod warrior came toward us. The lizard-man, and that's what it looked like, was over eight feet tall. A colorful plume of peacocklike feathers sprouted from the top of its head and trailed down its back. It wore a cuirass made of tortoise skin woven with ostioderm bones, and soft olive down covered the unarmored portions of its body. Its hands were clawed and had six digits with what appeared to me to be two opposable thumbs.
"Just watch out for its tail," Megrim yelled, before tossing me two scabbards. I caught them, and examined a matched pair of Asian blades, the Japanese equivalent of a rather short rapier and dagger.
"Where is the rapier you had? I can't fight with these!"
"Of course, you can," the wizard replied. "You trained with the finest Tengu swordsmasters."
"But that's not the life I remember," I said softly. The lizard-man held an exceedingly long and exceptionally wide shaft of edged steel, like a great Japanese odachi field sword. I slipped the longer of my weapons into my right hand, gripped the shorter blade tightly in my left as main gauche. I assumed a modified sabre stance, raising the wakizashi before me, and holding the tanto at my hip. I surmised -- rightly or wrongly --this position was the best choice for Alejandro Catalano Heurra, the name I could now recall as my own. Not a bad name, I think. In any case, it'll have to do. My adversary swung his sword about; it was so lengthy that I prepared my mind with defenses against pole weapons. I seem to remember squaring off against a long Georgia Pike once.
I stole a quick glance to the others. They had squared off against their own lizards. Tior had found a combatant several times his size. The Pixie swirled about his opponent like quicksilver, and the reptile seemed to move as clumsily as someone attempting to scoop spilt milk into the bottle. Megrim stood before a third lizard, the largest so far. It wore no armor, just strange sigils painted upon its scales.
I shifted my position, my left side toward my opponent, my foot pointed at its heart. My main-gauche I held horizontal to the ground and my wakizashi held above my head. I blocked his blade down, right, and right again. My third parry drove both blades away. I swung my right foot into an advance, advance and lunged with my long sword. My sharpened point scraped the reptile's scaly hide. Green ichor marred the steel of my blade.
Sounds came to my ears that might have been words -- kryz taa kliinn carah b'kr jahnett kaaw icky trey zeemor tun -- but not the kind meant for human tongues. I was not sure if they had been spoken by wizard or lizard. A flash of light blazed across the clouds, and Megrim tumbled to the ground. Janel flew between the fallen human and the reptile, her wings beating furiously. A soft green glow grew about her antennae. Another flash of light came like paparazzi cameras on a red carpet line. Janel's green light was split as it approached the lizard, and was sent like an errant spotlight into the sky. And then the sky exploded in a loud blast. Looking up I saw the aeronef's upper portions covered in flames. It slowly sunk to the earth, breaking into parts like the Hindenburg had at Lakehurst on Manchester, New Jersey soil. It had no announcer to cry for ‘humanity' with pathos, only now Herbert Morrison may well have been cheering for all humankind this night. The blast caused great black spots to polka dot my vision.
When my sight returned --
All I saw was the massive odachi heading straight for my eyes. That's how Megrim got me killed. Again. I can only assume the wizard, Janel and Tior carried the day. I can't tell; I'm dead. So if this is being channeled by a tailless, mostly hairless mammal whose arms were meant for brachiation and legs for standing erect to look over tall grass, then humanity is safe. But if it is a big-toothed lizard…
I guess in this case the Medium really is the message.
© 2007 G. C. Dillon
Bio: G.C. Dillon is a Connecticut resident by birth, a computer programmer by training, and a writer by inclination. He has been published on aphelion-webzine.com, quantummuse.com, scribaltales.com, and scifidimensions.com; as well as The Cenacle magazine, Across the Universe fanzine, and Trap One Report newsletter. When he is not engrossed in legacy COBOL, Java, Python or PL/SQL, he likes to shoot off his mouth, time to time, at the Aphelion Lettercol under the nom-de-plume (nom-de-ordinateur?) of 'Cuchulain' . G. C.'s most recent Aphelion appearance was The Lost Days, in the October 2005 issue.
E-mail: G. C. Dillon
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