The Dream of Mythraea
"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. It is possible to believe that all the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening."
"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."
Mythraea, the dark star, transited past the depleting goblin corona of her helium roasting, blue giant. The sun only burned for 9,000 years in geologic, Earth time, and when it went, the blast was more incandescent than the galaxy itself. The world was born yesterday, literally, and it defied the sciences. No cartography, no nomenclature--no radio telescope, no thermal ionic spectrometer, no amount of trimethylaluminum--no malodorous bore with an opine could extrapolate on why the planet had existed for only twenty-four hours.
The universe hands us a gourmet feast, and we respond by serving jug wine. This is the way of things.
Drifting by in apolune, and 200,000 nautical miles downrange of a body that was Jupiter Plus Three--high atop the panoramic triad of the Main Mission auditorium, frowning, and cursing (with respect to the unknown, and those who do not believe in underarm deodorant)--amidst the solar, windswept gale of decaying sunspots, a lone figure stood in the easternmost, observation window. Controller Paul Morrow never seemed to tire of seeing nothing/his own reflection. Planet Mythraea was a black, obsidian marble. It's surface was an analysis resisting smoked glass--a pillar in the metaphorical palace of Susa that didn't care if the controller impatiently, and obnoxiously drummed his fingers against the sill. Here was a domain of the impurest limestone, and a double team melvin. Morrow could gawk, and transude his reek to his heart's content.
For his pains, there would be a sore neck.
"Sandra." He gave up, turning towards the rail, and gripping it with both hands. "What were the results of the revised, micrographic scan?"
Below, and to the right of him, the data analyst ignored Umberto Garzon's toothfulness as she set her clipboard between her coffee, and gooseneck lamp (The useless laser mass report stared back at her--empty, like the head of deputy controller Mark Winters.).
"Same as ten minutes ago." She said, studying the devices tab of her workstation monitor. "Nothing. But heat." She ameliorated. "And rocks."
"Care to let us in on what you know, Paul?" Winters bleated. "Share the Ouji Board. From where I'm sitting there's diddley out there."
"Still no signs of life." Emma Black added--in toto more professionally from her position at the mainframe desk.
"Continue monitoring." Morrow instructed with sullen ascertainment. It bothered him that the inner, and outer rings of ice were only visible on the big screen.
The amphitheater was almost filled to capacity. The music was synthesized, as there was not enough of a musical contingent to create an orchestra. In the rear of the auditorium, high on the balcony, Victor Bergman held his clipboard and studied the lighting, indicating to Truman Starns, his 'production assistant' that spotlight number 3 would need to be gradually dimmed in approximately 30 seconds, as spotlight number 2 was brought to bear on the stage.
Bram Cedrix was dressed in somewhat convincing 16th century nobleman garb. He was no longer the Chief Eagle Mechanic but Don Quioxote, the Man of LaMancha. He gazed tenderly, at his 'lady', Dulcinea, who was actually Aldonza, the village prostitute: aka reluctant Moonbase Alpha resident Caroline Kennedy. She had asked him, in an unusual moment of gentleness, why he was so 'good', so virtuous in such an evil world.
"To dream, the impossible dream," Cedrix sang in strong and smooth baritone as Bergman cued the music. "To fight, the unbeatable foe. To bear, with unbearable sorrow. To roam, where the brave dare not go."
Angelina Carter, clearly swept away from Moonbase Alpha by the performance, sat next to Captain Alan Carter. Melita Kelly-Geist sat on the other side of her, equally entranced, next to Phil Geist whose expression was unreadable. It could be interpreted as complete boredom or disappointment in the performance; or, perhaps just simple fatigue. Behind them, Helena Russell and John Koenig, arms crossed over chest, appeared to be enjoying the musical presentation.
"This is my quest! To follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far! To fight for the right, without question or cause...to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause!!"
In the small forensic crime lab, Velma Hill stared at the computer monitor. Central computer had confirmed the match. In a way, it was no surprise, knowing the perpetrator. When she reconsidered the circumstantial evidence, the murderer of Edgar Bayleton and Dave Reilly was as plain as the back of her hand. The forensic evidence though, incriminated him 100%. He should have never committed the third murder. He should have stopped at Bayleton and Reilly.
Velma Hill speed dialed her boss on her comlock. Truman Starns was not answering. She remembered he was in the theater assisting Professor Bergman. It could not wait. Velma quickly gathered the conclusive printout and stepped through the hatch, heading toward the theater.
In Main Mission, the man had been covertly monitoring Hill's activity on computer.
"Hey," he mumbled somewhat nervously to Mark Winter. "I'm headed for the Cantina for some fresh coffee. You want anything?" He asked, though he had no intention of bringing it back to him.
"No thanks," Winters only half paid attention.
The man quickly moved out through the left archway.
"And the world, will be better for this...that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove, with his last ounce of courage..." Cedrix's voice reverberated throught auditorium as Hill stepped toward Starns, whispering into his right ear as he flipped through the flimsie.
Starn's expression immediately became grave then determined.
The rag doll, bloody, lascerated corpse-horror from legend's past suddenly had a hundred kilowatt bulb to candent its gruesomeness (like the pale light that appeared above the faux, 16th century dungeon where Bram Cedrix prepared for his next refrain--a tune that was entitled, with unknowing acuity, "The Combat").
"Don Miguel de Cervantes." Assembly expert Yul Ostrog beckoned in evil tonus from stage left, where he felt less dumb. This was his only line in the production. Originally, he was to open the cell door, and enter the torture chamber wearing a fake-ass, van dyke beard, and a doublet, but his embarrassment persevered. "Prepare to address the Holy Inquisition."
"ONE DAVID TO ALL ALPHA UNITS." The detective blated while ruining the performance by violating center stage. "THIS IS EMERGENCY, CODE 100. THE COMMAND TOWER IS CLOSED, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. LOCATE AND DETAIN OPERATIVE KLAUS ROTSTEIN.
"HE'S TO BE CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS."
Commander Koenig, followed by a bewildered Dr. Russell, bounded up the access ladder, the shortest route to the balcony. The rest of the crowd, abruptly brought back to the harsh light of reality, murmured with questions and rumor mills afire. The two Carters followed Russell up the ladder.
"Acknowledged." Harness Bull Coldaryn responded, unmoved over the link to the security cube. "Recommending Red Alert."
Bram Cedrix realized that fame was fleeting when the claxon began to pulse.
"Starns," Koenig assessed while questioning, "what's going on?"
The detective reeled. His rondeau only lasted a tenth of a second, but it seemed imperatively wrong considering the nature of the situation. As the pulse blazoned, the occupants of the cracker box theater--which multi-tasked as humanity's last planetarium--began to empty through the forward exits. John Koenig could see that the wake-up call had also reached the other establishments in the attractive, glitzing, silver reflexing Recreation Dome. In the narrow, ellipsoidal corridors outside, patrons of the spa, and the game room rushed by--some still towelled; some urging thier slower counterparts along with a rough shove of the palm. The vertically challenged got the heel.
Melitta Geist was leaving the conservatory--the blissfully sweet, eau de blossoms still in her mind, and if she had left two seconds earlier she could have added the pulverizing, calf love of Ed Malcom on her back.
It was furor. It was discontinuity.
It was the end of slaughter.
"Rotstein?!?" Angelina blurted, glancing at Carter. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Are you sure?" Russell queried, attempting to find the slightest possiblity of innocence before the security lynch mod commenced. She knew that Security would take particular delight in exacting revenge on Rotstein, since the last seemingly unsolved murder of one Harness Bull Amar N'Dole occured less than a month ago. One of their own had been murdered in cold blood and they had been hell bent on finding the perpetrator.
"Oh yeah, doctor," Hill responded, moderately irritated at being second guessed by a non-detective,"thanks to medical science, the DNA matches perfectly." She nodded. "He's our boy alright."
"SECURITY TO ALL SECTIONS ALPHA." Coldaryn commandeered the ether again as Rotstein tumbled down the stairwell, and shook the bars of his symbolic prison as he encountered the impasseable chain link fence at the bottom. The route was a dead end. Death occured quite frequently on Moonbase Alpha--especially when he was around. "SEEKING, OPERATIVE KLAUS ROTSTEIN. PLEASE REMAIN AT YOUR DUTY STATIONS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. ANYONE WITH KNOWLEDGE OF THE SUBJECT'S WHEREABOUTS SHOULD CONTACT DIVISION HEADQUARTERS IMMEDIATELY."
But the panting, dry gulching, junior controller--blood easing from warped tear ducts--was back on level one before the the remainder of the message could be heard.
"COMMANDER KOENIG." Pierce Quenton interrupted the olympic sprint down Corridor-G. His commlock image rattled up, and down on Koenig's right hip like a piston. "HE'S BEEN SIGHTED NEAR FIREX SYSTEM CONTROL. WE THINK HE'S HEADING FOR LAUNCH PAD FOUR."
"Send a patrol immediately to the area," Koenig acknowledged into the comlock. He dialed another number. "Coop. Klaus Rotstein is suspect number one in the unsolved murders. He's headed toward Launch Pad 4. Lock down procedures for standby Eagle 4."
Stellar Cartographer Carroll Severance never stood a chance. As soon as the hatch to Travel Tube-B opened, Truman Starns and Alan Carter made cornmeal mush out of him.
Rather than sitting, Koenig paced in the moving travel tube. "Harms! Do you read me?" he called standby Eagle pilot William G. Harms III. He did not answer.
It was a liposuction on the universe.
"!!!PAUL!!!" Sandra Benes--as calcimine, and picket as a sheet of computer paper--tried to deliver the warning, but the polyphasic disaster heading towards them was inclement on the big screen.
Morrow looked up from the controller's station, his headset plugged into Winter's jack in an attempt to assist in the pursuit. In the split second that resided between sang-froid, turning upside down, and finally, landing on his ass, he could see another feature of the planet Mythraea that he had overlooked. A delta of culbutering unreality spiralled away from the planet's ionosphere, and engulfed the Moon.
Carter was hurriedly accessing the Reconnaisance Hub when the compression wave hit. The double doors were opening just as the ceiling became the floor. When he looked up again, his commlock was lying beneath Marilys Sing's desk. Koenig, Starns, and Bergman--throttled, and indifferently Mix Mastered, struggled to stand.
They barely divined the barrier of white snow that engulfed every compartment, and accessway on the base.
Alpha was there, and then it was gone.
The Moon was a fantasy.
They were joyously non-existent, but then it all came back and they had to suffer space again.
As the streaming tachyons flooded compact space like pirannahs heading south to dine, Victor Bergman paused from his recoupe. In degrees, his salt, and pepper, receeding hairline lengthened. His thick, blocked sideburns began to turn dark brown again as his biological clock was sent into a tailspin. He was approximately thirty years old again when the effects of the field showered the commander. The deep, frown lines on Koenig's forehead, and around the mouth began to fill with the collagen of youth. In seconds, he grew twenty pounds heavier whilst the iron, deadweights of bad living, and the aura of desperate decisions dissipated like a dark cloud in a wind tunnel.
Carter was suddenly sporting a grumous beard with red highlights.
Then the aftershock of the immerse arrived not long after, wiping away the effects of the torrent.
"MAIN MISSION TO COMMANDER KOENIG." Morrow thundered over the link. "WE'VE ENCOUNTERED SOME FORM OF OCCULT ENERGY FIELD. LOCATION: THE PLANET'S SURFACE."
"Secure all sections!" Koenig ordered on rubber legs. "Ouma, what does computer have to say? Is this an isolated hit or should we expect more?"
"Unknown, commander," Ben Ouma's voice over response emanated over the commlock speakers. "Computer does not have enough information. It is still analyzing data from the planet."
Of course computer is useless, the commander thought sarcastically. He cut the link. "Willet!" He shouted into the link to the newly returned (again) Technician from his Service section kitchen duites. "Bring down Eagle 4 on Launch Pad 4!"
His frustration was answered. Bergman, Carter, Starns and Koenig stepped through the door of the Pad 4 control room. Velma Hill, Helena Russell and Angelina, who had outraced them by minutes via access corridors and ladders, were in the room and Hill and Russell were giving CPR to a prone and electrocuted Hugo Willet.
Angelina Carter had the access panel to the pneumonic control circuits for the Launch Pad 4 elevator, shaking her head in despair.
"Whatever it was that hit us, Commander, fried every circuit," she pulled out a charred PCA and realizing it was stil hot, dropped it to the floor. "Damn. We can't drop the elevator into the hangar."
Rotstein had achieved the pad four firing room, and found it extremely disappointing to find that Harness Bull Duncan, and VAB Manager Gordon Cooper were awaiting him. 'Coop dove first, but the murdering traffic controller was too, heinously graceful. With an adrenaline-powered, rotation of the hip, he was able to thwart being sacked, but the resulting Foxtrot sent him careening backwards into the bull. Duncan choked him out with both hands whilst 'Coop grappled for the unholstered laser.
Rotstein was purple, and on the verge when the security guard made the mistake of leaning too close. The malefic operative aimed his left elbow squarely at the cartaledge of Duncan's nose. There was a gruesome, greenstick crack which was followed by a discharging splatter of blood. The harness bull toppled over unconscious, just as 'Coop was taking aim with Duncan's laser.
Then the voluminous energy tide struck yet again. Cooper lost his balance, and fell backwards against the yellow light panels.
He managed one, unable-to-hit-the-broad-side-of-a-barn, shot before Rotstein disappeared down the accessway that led towards the pad four Ready Room.
Koenig, Bergman, Starns, Alan and Angelina Carter came upon the human carnage of the firing room. Angelina stopped to aid Coop, his head still spinning from his direct hit with the now shattered light panel, to a sitting position. She ripped a section of her zippered, rust color sleeve, ironically the color of dried blood, to stem the hemoglobin river coming from the nose of a moaning Duncan.
"He can't fly, can he?" Ang asked as she eyed the Ready Room accessway.
They didn't answer her. There was no time for talk. They were headed to the Ready Room.
Angelina continued compressing Duncan's nose, the torrent of blood easing and darkening her sleeve.
"What?" the downed Harness Bull groaned.
"Be still," Ang soothed. "Help is on the way. Your nose is busted up pretty good. Looks like you'll finally get the nosejob that you..."
She paused. Her bare forearm caught her attention. She noticed as an aside that the freckles were gone but she was most attentive to the fact that the scar she had gotten as a 7 year old when she accidently fell through her grandmother's glass storm door was...gone. The room was suddenly filled with the scents of her grandmother's house. The aroma of the meat sauce for the polenta filled the air. Just as unsettling, she almost 'felt' like she was 7 years old.
She blinked and the old scar returned and the smells of yesteryear receeded in her memory. It was stress. She was exhausted and hallucinating. There could be no other explanation.
"...just a little, seizmic disturbance...let's not make a federal case of it." William Gregory Harms, III finished telling Professor Shir Demskey. It was a strident, tantalizingly brief story--one to squelch the overbearing silence that is attendant on any trip to the coffee machine. "But anyway, that was how I defeated twenty Ethiopian terrorists with only my wit, my ingenuity, and an imported can of Moolatte." He chuckled, indicating the scar on his right temple which at one time, held a sniper's bullet, fired from an AK47 in Tel Aviv. "It wasn't a cake walk, mind you. I knew from the minute that I was transferred from the OSS that I might be placing myself in a precarious position.
"A virtual cauldron of genocide, and political unease.
"Madmen with suitcase 'nukes...and Dirty Bombs.
"I-" 'Cryo Specialist Demskey started.
"However." Harms bombasted with a sacred finger. "I've always felt that it was my duty to be a gadfly. I didn't think twice about charging aboard that bus even if the odds were I'd be tossed aside like some old chin pump. It was time to make doughnuts, my friend, and if I was to ever be an effective member of MOSSAD, I would have to come to terms with the strong-arming hoodlum who had his semi-automatic shoved up the nostril of the old lady sitting in the back seat. There she was, all ready to have her brains turned to red applefritters."
"I-" Demskey prehended uselessly.
"Let me tell you, it's tough to be old." The pilot lectured, his forgotten coffee turning ice cold. "It's also tough to be alone. This woman was old,and she was alone. Don't forget--I was the one who suspected that this touchwood was the same guy whose photo I had in my briefcase; an attache working for the covert, Party of Democratic Kampuchea--no, don't let the name fool you--who, at that time, were attempting to blackmail the west with a stolen superformula that would allow rivalling nations to yield natural gas from cows.
"Say, why are you staring at me like that?" Harms self-consciously degressed.
"!!!LOOK OUT!!!" Professor Demskey yelled, and grabbed the pilot by the tunic. He pulled him safely out of the way as the Tazmanian Devil of blood and perspiration broke past them and dashed through the open airlock into the brightly lit passenger module of Eagle Four.
The next railroad car was Truman Starns, whose 200 pound magnitude slammed into the closing doors of the boarding tube just as the status panel switched from green, and NORMAL, to red and COUNTDOWN.
"DAMMIT." The detective reviled angrily as the others were arriving.
"OUMA." Koenig was determined.
"WE CAN'T DO ANYTHING TO STOP IT FROM HERE." The mainframe specialist told him over the emergency channel. "THE ONBOARD COMPUTER IS ALREADY OUT OF SAFE MODE."
"PAD FOUR BLOCK HOUSE, THIS IS CARTER." The pilot vociferated into his own commlock. "THAT SHIP CAN'T TAKE OFF. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? DELETE THE ROLL PROGRAM. BLEED THE HYDRAULICS. DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO. IF HE GETS OUT OF HERE WE'RE GOING TO LOOK AS STUPID AS A CUT SNAKE."
So be it.
In the command module of Eagle Four, Rotstein slid into position behind the CPN's panel, and hurriedly fired the mainstage boosters.
"Eagle Four." GNC Kate Bullen declined from the tower while Koenig and the others listened. "Eight nautical miles downrange."
With deep encumbrance, the commander looked over his shoulder at Bergman and Carter.
Planet Mythraea gave her the seeming evil eye and Angelina Carter, leaning on the sill of viewport #3 in Commander Koenig's office, reciprocated with a glare of her own. Behind her, the command conference had begun with everyone taking their seats except for Pierce Quinton, who continued to pace on the deck in front of Koenig's desk.
The big doors to Main Mission rumbled to a close, silencing the backround noise of computer and operators moving about the auditorium with tense purpose. The Commander opted for more privacy as the subject turned into the bizarre range. Pierce Quinton continued to pace.
"I felt something too, Commander," Angelina turned toward the conference table. "When I was helping Duncan, I noticed a scar on my arm I've had since I was 7 years old...gone. I could have sworn too that I was in my grandmother's kitchen. The smells were so real. Then, it was gone and the scar had returned."
She took her seat and shrugged, though Quinton's pacing was starting to get on her nerves. "It was really weird."
"The Argument Of Perihelion has brought us closer to Mythraea." Victor Bergman said, engrossed in his methodical unscrewing of the utiltiy module from Koenig's commstation. Alan Carter stood behind him--ready with a three quarter socket wrench. "And...." The professor trailed, pulling away a bunch of red, and blue solid state wiring. "That's much closer than we initially thought."
"Too close, professor." Truman Starns lamented from his position on the bookcase setee. The coach had arrived just in time. Rotstein made good his escape, leaving behind faces, and egg, and an immodest pile of mutilated cadavers.
"It's a fair crack of the whip, alright." Carter deliberated neutrally.
At the round table, Security Chief Pierce Quenton lowered his head into red, blood pressure filled hands.
"I must admit I'm finding this hard to accept." Lorna O'Brian said nervously. She had been in space as long as anyone on Moonbase Alpha, and still her three doctorates were as useless as canned Kleenex. "The planet is emanating waves of pure time?"
"Seems that way." Bergman said, and politely indicated for Carter to hand him the wrench. "Our analysis was fairly useless--then along came that unexpected parabola. Now everything is different.
"The planet appears to be like some immense battery." The professor said, looking up from his work to address the others in the command yoke. "Somehow, through a process we can't begin to understand, it's harnessing the gravitational core of the surrounding stars...pulling it all in.... The distortions that we felt were the resulting overflow--the biproduct of superfluous time.
"Have a look at this." He motioned, turning the module's face towards the group. It was the unit that tracked the analogue, and digital lunar time. "This is just one example."
"On the one hand it's 09:00 hours." Sandra Benes agreed, leaning back in her chair with her arms folded. "That was ten hours before the first upsurge."
"But the other chronometer says it's 10:00 hours...AM." Helena Russell coalesced with Benes and Bergman. "Is that one hour later?" She quizzed eloquently. "Or three hours from now?"
"We are not exactly sure," Angelina answered from behind her laptop. The Microsoft time in the lower right hand corner of the screen read 11:19PM. "None of the clocks on the base read the same time; at least we haven't found any yet. Even the master time keeper in computer is screwed up."
"Ironically, the analog clocks," she motioned to the round module with the big and little hands,"are probably the closest to the real times. We are resynchonizing the time in 15 minutes to 1000 hours, though, if you are obsessed about keeping track of time, you might want to take out your old fashioned alarm clock and keep it wound up. We don't know when we will experience the next time distortion wave, just that there is over a 99% probability that it will happen again while we are in range of Mythraea."
"THAT'S A NAFF." Quenton blurted aloud, his anguish fracturing like plastique. "IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WE'RE MISSING THE POINT. COMMANDER, THAT NUTTER ROTSTEIN IS DOWN THERE, AND WE'RE UP HERE--A BUNCH OF PILLOCKS WITH A MORGUE FULL OF DEAD BODIES.
"PLAIN AND SIMPLE, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?"
Ang jumped in her seat, startled from the loud outburst and accidently hitting the Enter key, prematurely sending an IM response to Technician Chris Potter before completing the sentence.
She glanced with annoyed at Quinton, her left ear ringing slightly from the verbal thunderclap.
"Why should we do anything?" Sandra offered. "He is going to a barren rock. So far, we have not found any signs of life on that planet. He has limited resources, Commander." She sat back, petite arms crossing over chest, dark eyes blazing. "As far as I am concerned, his fate is sealed. Let the elements deal with him."
"We can't just leave him," Russell intervened from the humanistic side. "I will not dispute that the evidence suggests he murdered three times. But John, we must deal with him. We can't leave him out there to die, if not because it would be inhumane but because we can't just dump our problems out in space and hope they go away."
"Paul?" Koenig surveyed, unkneading his fingers, moving from person to person.
"I agree with Sandra." The controller verified while acknowledging Russell only remotely. "His crimes were unconscionable. If he's obviously guilty, what would we gain by bringing him back? Pretending to be the filth does nothing to promote our day, to day survival." He regarded Ang' docilely. "We would be bringing him back to execute him.
"Is that the way of it?" Winters jawed with antipathy and disrelish. Behind him, the Gorski rubber tree plant splayed fake leaves on either side of his head like green, Dumbo ears. "The law of nature, Paul?"
"No." Morrow spat back. "It's about not having the resources, nor the interest to reform some macabre bastard who makes us all want to chunder. I saw N'Dole and the others.
"They were unrecognizable." He reminded Koenig who did not need reminding. "No one on this base would be safe as long as Rotstein was here--even if he was locked away in irons for the rest of his appalling life. Commander, he's not worth the drain on our life support.
"Let it be."
"Although I want to agree with Sandra and add to the fact that we have never dealt with a murderer before, I am much more concerned about any possible effects Rotstein's presence would have on that planet." Angelina closed the lid on the laptop for emphasis.
"Why should the planet care?" Mark Winters scoffed. "Its just a planet."
"Haven't you been listening to anything that has been said in the last 10 minutes?" Angelina retorted with supreme irritation. Her generous reserve of patience for arrogant idiots was quickly running dry.
"Interesting point, Angelina," Bergman piped in after setting the time unit module on Koenig's desk. He stepped into the pit and took his seat next to the Commander, leaning back in the moduform white plastic chair. "Of course, we are not sure exactly what effect he could have...if any."
For some reason, all eyes fell upon O'Brian, the unawashed. Their's curiously. Bergman's advisably.
"Well...I don't know." The phycisist conceded, on the fence. "I suppose it's possible...." She allowed, glancing towards Ang,' and Bergman for support. "The phenomenon is causing a precession--marked solar effects. I suppose this 'frame dragging' could become more pronounced....
"We really need time to launch an RXTE to make a more thorough study."
"Ouma?" Koenig consulted quietly.
"Don't have it." The mainframe specialist informed them. "We're closer, but if anything, the Moon's velocity has increased due to this peturbation of gravitational fields. In less than thirty hours, Mythraea will be behind us."
The weirdness and undulating rollercoaster of invisible displacement appeared to be returning from Angelina Carter's point of view. Her husband now appeared markedly younger, sporting a much fuller head of hair and appeared to be much blonder. From Carter's perspective, the fine lines around Ang's eyes were gone and she appeared not the minimal weight cited on Liberty Mutual life insurance weight tables but fairly close to the maximum. Her face was rounder and her hands were smoother.
Young Ang of Christmas pasts became Older Ang of the present.
Young, barely post adolescent Alan Carter of yesteryear became mature astronaut in his late thirties.
Professor Bergman was a nearly unrecognizale graduate student again as John Koenig appeared to be a tall, lanky and dark haired lad, years away from gray and receeding hairlines, and looking more like a high school basketball team star center than the Commander of Moonbase Alpha.
"I think its happening again," Lorna O'Brian, her face riverting to the peaches and cream complexion of her youth.
"I think you're right," Ang mumbled her ascent.
"Captain," the familiar man, but one who had not been seen in years, waved from the open auxilliary door of the office. "Captain Carter. Sir, I have a question."
Angelina looked at Carter, the color draining from his face. "That looks like..." she spoke to the Captain then swallow uneasily. "Steve Abrams."
"Oh no...." Victor Bergman blurted with heart rending sympathy, and commisseration for the dead--particularly those who aren't aware that they have kicked the bucket. Unwilling to face the human stain, and the force majeure of it all, he looked away and took to rubbing his dogging forehead.
"Hello, Steve." John Koenig offered his felicitations in a weary, chapfallen voice. He wasn't exactly surprised. And it wasn't an illusion. No Svengali's coin. It wasn't a hologram, or a clone of Abrams, produced by aliens with no moral pretext, or by a psycho scientist in a laboratory filled with lightening bolts. The commander realized that this person, no other, died in space, but now he was back and seemed timid for the interruption. The pilot, beyond all bounds these many years, stood firmly--a breathing human being amongst other human beings. His blood was as real as theirs as was the actuality of his soul.
"Make like a tree." Carter swelled--angry at a shadow (which lacked the deacency to be a figment of his imagination) whose ignorance he could not allow; angry at the planet, for picking the wrong time to do it's imitation of Solaris; outraged at himself for being made to succomb.
"Yeah." Abrams apologized, blushing. "O'kay. Sorry for barging in."
Following a wave of contrition, the maintenance panel closed behind him.
Truman Starns walked immediately to the door, and opened it with his commlock. Holding both sides of the bulkhead, he peered into the auditorium, looking cautiously from left to right. Paul Morrow could make out the back of Zed Astrin's tunic as he stood before the controller's workstation, with one hand on his left hip, and with the other holding a green-flimsied PTR Report. It was obvious that things were as conventional as could be expected, given the circumstances.
In Main Mission at least.
Starns turned and shook his head at the group before closing the door again. It appeared that the ressurrection of Steve Abrams was brief, and bittersweet. No one outside of the command conference had noticed anything unusual. He was back to being dead again, his question yet unanswered.
"You said something about the effects worsening?" Koenig said satirically to Angelina.
"Yeah," Ang nodded, wondering how much worse it could get. "It seems that these aberrations are confined to the past though which is..."
She stopped abruptly, ready to eat her words. For sitting on the steps, Ang saw another version of herself, apparently 10 years older. The preteen next to her was clearly her son Nicky, as evidenced by his white hair. His face was no longer a cherubic toddler but changed in the shape of emerging manhood with the light acne and the pronounced peach fuzz on the upper lip.
They were both immersed in an Algebra text, he the student and she the teacher.
"If I know what X is but I don't you what Y is," older Nicholas Carter asked, "how can I solve for Z in the equation 2xy + 3zy = 30?"
Behind them, the orange sleeved pilot with burning red corneas lurked in the shadows.
"GET AWAY FROM HIM!!!" she cried out, bolting to a standing position.
She blinked and the time to come retreated back to the future.
"I..." she stammered, slowly reseating herself. "I'm sorry. I saw something..." She stopped and took a sip of coffee.
"We saw it too." Truman Starns stated numbly--his inborn, 'canuck ability to face the cold 'vamoosed.
Pierce Quenton groaned forever.
"Well," The commander said standing. "Obviously this is not a good situation."
"No, it isn't." Bergman concurred. "We can thank our lucky stars that we 'shant be spending much time with Mythraea. Prolonged exposure to these upsurges could cause us to lose all reference to what we consider normal time."
"What do you mean?" Carter balked while Koenig paced. "If we hang around long enough we won't have the brains to give ourselves a headache?"
Pursing his lips, Bergman nodded a slow, but incontrovertible affirm.
"We've hit the jackpot." The commander said deprecatingly. "This is a bad, BAD region of space.
"I know--that's an understatement.
He was about to suggest that they forget all notions of bringing Rotstein to justice, though it would mean the loss of Eagle Four--a commodity more crucial to thier existence than her pilot.
"Commander." Carroll Severance's face appeared on the commstation panel that was minus a clock. "Professor Bergman. We have the results of the advanced interferometer series that we took of the eastern hemisphere. It would appear that the planet is inhabited."
"John," Russell turned insistently, ignoring Morrow and the others, "if that planet is inhabited..." She trailed off.
"If he has such disdain for life that he would kill his own kind, what's to stop him from killing other life forms?" Angelina Carter reinforced.
Sandra Benes sighed deeply and threw down her pen. It was apparent she was rethinking her position.
Bergman stretched, leaning back in the plastic chair, hands kneading behind his head. "I don't see any other choice now, John," Bergman shook his head, not particularly liking the situation or the lack of options. "We have to go get Klaus Rotstein."
Koenig stood at the commstation, not facing the group, but not quite addressing the expectant cartographer either. He was somewhere in the turgid middle ground between safety, scrupulousness, and ethical responsibility. It would be easy enough to let Rotstein abate. And given thier meager resources, this was probably the preferred choice. As long as the ass in the sling was not theirs--who gives a damn? The Moon would be out of range by the time the inhabitants realized that their population had increased by one, and that the new guy on the block was a cold blooded killer. However, if this was intelligent life in the balance; not just beasts of the field chewing thier alien cud--and considering the operative's yen for torture, and evisceration--they would be leaving behind Klaus, The Ripper as Earth's only, permanently ensconced dignitary to the planet Mythraea.
On the screen, Severance shifted slightly off camera--waylayed and bored.
"Alright, keep me updated." The commander said and terminated the link. "Quenton, put together a security patrol. We leave within the hour."
"Your hesistancy to act is not understandable," the witch with the torch berated the leader while scratching the mole on her nose.
Eagle 4 fired its landing thrusters, generating billowing clouds of deep purple dust.
"The earth creature is deranged and slaughters his own." The hag continued. "The portal is in danger. We must protect it."
Images of the acts of Rotstein flashed in the portal, as the screams of his victims echoed through the dark canyon. The wizard, known as Eyes, broke down in a torrent of sobs.
"Despicable creatures," Torchbearer went on. "It amazes me how they have survived this long." She cackled hideously. "Surely you know what is about to happen. I have seen it. We have all seen it. What is the point of it?"
"Alpha to Eagle one, you are cleared for lift off," Paul Morrow spoke into the comm system as she passed the green flimsie to Lars Manroot.
"Eagle One to Alpha," Commander Koenig's image appeared on the right monitor under the big screen. "Lift off in 10 seconds."
Angelina Carter glanced at Alan Carter, manning the capcom then returned her gaze to the intimidating planet of Mythraea on the big screen. The base had reverted to nightmode, with a skeleton crew. The illusions and hallucinations of time rippling out of place and out of control was taking its toll on the majority of the crew. Russell and Mathias concurred putting the crew on a forced sleep would minimize the psychological chaos. Mathias, having given the last of the sleep inducing medications, walked briskly under the left archway and switched the blue and white monitors to medical mode and life signs of all members of Eagle one, Koenig, Russell, Bergman, Quinton and his crew replaced Koenig and Bergman's images in the pilot and co-pilot's position.
"Five seconds...." Morrow said expectantly from the tower.
"I read IMU realignment and optical calibration as go." Umberto Garzon accepted a cup of coffee from Bill Addison, and nodded to Carter who was scanning Eagle One's projected Delta-H at his own workstation. The tension beneath the goosneck lamps was thick enough to cut with a knife. A pity, really. Rotstein would have loved it.
"Computer shuns the probability of navigating the ice rings." Ben Ouma castigated them again, ostracized, and irate.
"...three, two, one...." Morrow ignored him, and watched.
Hypersonic propellant exploded from the RCS engine bells beneath Eagle One's passenger module.
The spacecraft lifted off with it's bowsprit at a forty-five degree angle while the rest of the stack followed suit with astronomical deft, and lissom. A huge expanse of dust whirled like a vortex beneath the ascent engine jets. The white room was buried in a prehistoric sheath of powdered breccia.
In the command module, John Koenig waited for the inertial guidance display to come up before leaning forward in his harness for the throttle-up controls.
"Let's hope they have an understanding way about them." He told Victor Bergman uncertainly. "Here we go...."
The Professor tightened the strap of his harness. "Understanding? Or a willingness to let us be heard?" he offered. "I don't fancy them welcoming us with open arms, given the fact that their first encounter with us is likely to be with one of our worst."
"But if we can get Rotstein before he does any harm," Helena Russell started then stopped, realizing she had better grab a seat or be tossed about the cabin during lift-off. She quickly existed the command module.
One hundred nautcal miles downrange of Moonbase Alpha, the planet Mythraea was corpuscular--virtually subatomic, and unseeable in the field of black--the portier of covert space. The halo of orbiting icebergs was the only viable thing in Koenig's telescope during the first star check. Water, frozen, and compacted over the eons; imprisoned in static revolutions over the onyx dark star.
Compared to Security Chief Pierce Quenton's blood, theses sheets, and growlers were as hot as the Sahara Desert.
"You don't much fancy the 'direct' approach do you?" Pierce Quenton harrangued Helena Russell as she sat at the passenger module workstation. The statement was made in pleasant, melodic tones, but it was quite clear that he had taken a respite from his inventory of the security arsenal for the sole purpose of beating the physician across the head. "The way you 'yapped it up during the command conference, I dare say you're worried about Rotstein's health.
"You feel sorry for him because he wasn't a happy bunny? Isn't that right?" He sneered in his charming, Pierce Quenton way. "I too feel that way. I figure there must have been some terrible conflict going on inside him. That's what drove him, time, and time again, to march right into someone's flat and murder them.
"It couldn't be because he's off his fucking trolley."
The chief tsk'ed, tsk'ed, tsk'ed.
"We have no idea why Klaus Rotstein behaved as he did," Russell responded cooly, ignoring the Chief of Security's tone. "I understand your anger. I performed the autopsy on Reilly and Bayleton. But without even a trial, you have already condemned Rotstein to death." She shook her head. "I do not deny he is dangerous. However, I do take exception to imposing the death penalty without considering other alternatives, in the height of vengefulness."
She looked him in the eye. "Does that make us any better than Rotstein, Chief Quenton?"
"More of them come," Eyes looked up toward the heavens, contemplating.
"Danger. More danger." Torchbearer shook her head with mangled dreadlocks.
The leader glanced at her impassively then returned his gaze to Eagle 4 as Rotstein emerged and stumbled down the steps of the passenger module.
John Koenig looked over the yoke, and peered left and right through the rendezvous window. It was one layer of black, gaseous vapor after another. If a god could be said to hold things precious, then this world was but an armoire. Here there was a socket but no bulb. A forgotten closet adjacent to a mudded, dripping crawlspace. A mason jar, buried beneath a euglenid creek.
At the poles, pale and futile solar flares transformed the topography--it went from being dirt to being hot dirt. The solemn mockery of ice caps--like the BOMFOG seas--were confervoid as Eagle One coasted towards a gangrene terminator line. Rose colored blains began to appear following the spacecraft's fiery exit from the ionosphere.
Truman Starns was standing by the weapons rack next to the starboard airlock. He passed Harness Bull Duncan a HEAT beam, while selecting a single barrell, rocket blaster for himself. The shoulder strap fell over his civilian sleeve like a gird of destiny. Coldaryn closed, and latched his polymer travel case. It contained Brain Banger Prisms, and a perfume bottle filled with Tetrodotoxin spray--first it would ruin Rotstein's day...then he would croak. There was a dart gun filled with a Botulinium derrivative--the champagne of modern torture devices, which wrought paralysis first, and ultimately cardiac failure. There was nothing in Helena Russell's medical kit that could forestall this method of execution.
Rotstein would have approximately one minute to plead his case before being loosed from this vale of tears. This was the moment that Pierce Quenton waited for.
Take note of this item: the case also contained Blind Man's Bluff. This was not a game that involved searching for one's tormentors while blindfolded. It was an opthalmic irritant, delivered as a powder, or as a liquid. After being exposed to it, destruction of the retina soon followed.
It also led to an agonzing inflammation of the nervous system. During the war, gaoled test subjects likened it to the sting of a Black Widow spider.
And then, they died.
"Commander's orders." The chief reprimanded Harness Bull Judge, and then gave him back the reset laser. The safety was off, and the function selected was ATOMIZE.
The prime recovery zone for Eagle Four was in an arid archipelego of fragmented islands. Eagle One descended into the maroon alongside her stolen sistership. She airbrushed the surrounding boulders with jet spray before the landing pads made secure contact with the ridge.
Fifteen steps in the wrong direction would lead to a screaming, sky dive of a demise.
"According to computer, we're in the winter season." John Koenig commented, rolling backwards in the pilot's couch with a strip of register tape. "And still...it's one hundred and twenty-five degrees."
"But the downside of winter is the prevalence of violent dust storms," Bergman went on, reading a long print out of the local climate. "This world is not very hospitable, that is a certainty."
"Whoever lives here must be fairly hardy," he nodded as he stretched and stood up from the co-pilot's couch.
Bergman followed Koenig into the passenger module. He immediately cocked an eyebrow toward Koenig when he assessed the excess arsenal.
"You must believe Rotstein is a extraordinarily formidable man to be packing so much power, Pierce," Bergman commented to Quenton.
"We're not taking any chances, Victor." Koenig interceded as he reached for the clear shoulder strap of his red, and white utility case. "All of you are well aware of what happened to Bayledon and the others. We're here only because we have no right to turn our backs on an unknowing civilization. We have nine hours to conduct the search. Stay with your group. Watch your backs. We'll rendezvous back here at dusk. Rotstein is no doubt armed, and he's to be considered extremely dangerous. Give him one opportunity to surrender, but only one."
"And after that?" Helena Russell wondered, morally and judicially confused.
"I had Technical program this scanner to detect human life signs," Bergman unsnapped the small black satchel and passed it to Dr. Russell. "Heart beat, respiration, temperature and the correlating and appropriate normal ranges. Of course, if the other life forms on this planet have similar life sign ranges, it won't do us much good, but the likelihood of having such a similar physical combination is small."
Koenig stepped to the front of the group, ready to open the door via the manual access panel as Helena activated the sensor. She frowned.
"Anything, doctor?" the Commander read her expression and knew her well enough that the quizzical look on her face contained more than a yes or no answer.
"Very strange," the CMO dialed the knobs and studied the display. "Yes, I got Rotstein. However, when I widen the range, I'm not picking up anything else. Nothing."
Bergman's frown matched the doctor's as he turned and queried the onboard computer. He tapped the panel impatiently until it spat out the register tape.
"Uh, according to the onboard computer," Bergman read the result, "there is no other life on this planet besides Rotstein...and now us."
Perplexity and perturbance mixed with anger masked Koenig's features.
"Eagle One to Alpha," he stabbed at the communication stud. "Ouma. Eagle One's onboard computer is telling us there is no life on this planet. Why did computer tell us this planet is inhabited? Is there a fault with computer?"
"JOHN!" Russell interupted. "I'm not reading Rotstein. One moment he was there, the next he wasn't."
"Ouma, this is Koenig. The coffee break is over. We need that information." The commander became unwrapped over the infuriating silence of the commstation. "Paul?" His ire yielded no links though--only silvery silence. "I'm not getting anything." He gave up, releasing the toggle.
"It's possible that they're in the throes of another upsurge. We'll have to try again later." He supposed.
The commander stood speechless, knowing full well what the next step was, and detesting it viscerally. The pregnant, dumbfoundedness of the others illustrated that they too were in the know. There was no problem with relativity on this planet. It was time for Klaus Rotstein to be condemned, and cursed spite that they were ever born to make it right; he hated Shakespeare, but as elementary as a child's building blocks was the knowledge that they were committed.
Koenig opened the hatch.
The dry heat made Harness Bull Pound deathly vomitory. From there on out, it got worse.
"Jim." Pierce Quenton mustered his team, heading down the gangway. "Ed. Search Eagle Four. 'Dunk, I want you and Judge up on that rise, and give it some wellie. Take a pair of binoculars, and try to get a visual sighting. And watch your step. There's no room for plonkers."
The canyon below was bottomless.
"I'll set up the GPS." Truman Starns acted, moving past Koenig and Bergman, humping a Brobdignagian case on his back that bore the number 18. The detective assumed that this designation stood for 'tons.'
"Helena, anything on the life readings sensor?" Koenig and Bergman turned to the physician after the Commander closed and locked out the passenger door of Eagle One.
"Nothing," she shook her head glumly.
"There is a significant fluctuating magnetic field in this area," Bergman added. "It would not be a surprise if it was contributing to intermittent interference. I would leave the sensor on and set at the ranges we programmed. When the magnetic field ebbs, we'll pick him up." The professor nodded with a half wink.
"Alright, let's go," Koenig motioned to Starns, Bergman and Russell. "Helena, you'll need this."
He set a Class II laser to heavy stun and handed it to her. She took the laser reluctantly.
Two hours later, and sadly, there was still no recompense for N'Dole, Bayledon, and Dave Reilly, the Texas Leprachaun. There were, however, numerous bruises, and contusions, and a near tumble down the rocky precipice for Harness Bull Coldaryn.
Koenig grabbed for the monument rock with his good right hand, and a bad left hand that Helena Russell had bandaged after the commander took a tumble into a two foot sinkhole in the sandstone. The hill was fifty meters high, and it blockaded the circumference like the Sioux nation at Custer's last stand. The heels of Helena Russell's hiking boots disappeared into the quagmire, and dug for purchase. Her cheeks were covered with silt, and bramble. Pierce Quenton's unmanageable hair stood in horns on his prostrated head.
Starns wondered if he lost his commlock ten meters back, near the deadfall of impaling thistles, or if it had become dislodged from his belt during the wade through Lake Inferior. He nudged his way cautiously upwards, climbing, and pulling his laser rifle through the sapropel.
Harness Bull Pound looked like he was fighting a war with a pile of shit, and so far, the shit was winning.
"Victor?" Koenig ceased his acclivity momentarily, and gazed upwards, panting. "Does it seem to you like something is wrong with the sky?"
Bergman's studious features concealed the sudden inward panic. Astronomical calculations and estimated whirled through his mind once, twice then a third time. It should have been the same result but obviously, he senses told him otherwise.
A look of doom crossed his face.
"What's wrong?" Helena Russell followed Koenig and Bergman's gaze upwards.
On the other side of the high andromeda, they discovered the city. A sprawling, water color metropolis of extramundane mist, of multicolored devil lights.... Truman Starns had to focus hard to see it, though the empire was upon them.
"The creature which you seek does not exist...here," the witch with the torch proclaimed to the weary group from her high rocky perch.
Russell blinked and saw three others beside her, each on separate pedestals.
"In fact, you no longer exist. We must correct the aberation in time." She continued with no argument from the others. The other female witch broke out into high pitched cackling while the male wizard known as Eyes began the weep. The apparent male leader of the group remained impassive, staring at the group.
"But I am feeling generously merciful," torch witch continued. "Name your manner of death, a quick death, and it shall be granted to you."
Koenig stopped suddenly--predictably, and dropped his case on the serrated, crystalline floor. They appeared to be standing in the shelter of some sort of natatorium. A triangular pool of water dominated the center. Harness Bull Coldaryn backed away with his rifle as the commander took a moment to process the plaintive cries that emanated from the city; the gelatinous waves; the barely perceivable arcs of electricity that reinvigorated him, even as he was being sentenced.
"Death?" Koenig said, his thoughts scattered. "If you can understand what I'm saying, then you know we came here to help."
The aliens continued thier vigil.
"We're pursuing one of our own." Truman Starns ventured gamely. "A murderer. We thought your people might be in danger so we came here to retrieve him."
The aliens continued thier vigil.
Bergman was studying a convexion of red, green, and blue lights that emanated from an amethyst dais to the left of the pool. Finally, scientific curiosity overcame his hurt feelings over being told that he must die.
"What is that noise?" The professor foundered as all around him the alarms prevailed in a multisynchronous shriek. "Do you liive here?"
Harness Bull Judge was abruptly kicked aside by a black hole that blossomed, and opened not five meters away from him. Post-extant dust from the floor of the natatorium was drawn in. A solitary figure dressed in the flowing crud, and unsanitary pleather of the ages stepped out. The white, bloodless joints of his hands were locked in iron gauntlets smelted with helical razor blades. The being walked away from the collapsing doorway, and strolled unpleasantly towards the commander, and Bergman.
"I am the one called 'Hyacinth.'" The alien said, dropping his martyrized, black fingernails to his waist. "We know of you, and your people." He added smugly. "The sounds you are hearing represent the splendid ability of Time as it refashions, reproves itself.
"And us as well.
"We are the ostiaries." The alien elucidated. "Long before the synthesis of the first atoms. When the universe had yet to cool--this was, and is, our place."
"Then you must know that we mean you no harm, that we are here to help," Helena Russell moved next to Koenig.
"Help?!?!?" Torch witch cackled. "Your very former existence was a menace. Your race has been doomed to extinction since the beginning, and by your own hand."
"So be it," the other witch finally spoke in agreement.
"Consider what will come with thier extinction," Eyes sniffed miserably. "Open your eyes to what is to come. Hyacinth, behold the future."
Hyacinth briefly closed his eyes. The Alphans could read nothing from his unchanging expression.
"They must be permitted to correct the aberration," Eyes implored, like rolling credits at the end of a film. Hyacinth opened his red and blackened eyes.
"What aberration?" Koenig asked. Knowingly, he pulled his commlock from his belt. "Koenig to Alpha. Come in Moonbase Alpha."
Static was his reply.
"Paul, this is Koenig." He tried again. Unpleasant snow and static.
"Alan....Ang....ANSWER ME." In vain he switched frequencies and the result was the same. Static, interfence and unanswered channel.
"What's going on?" Koenig asked despite his intuition screaming loud and clear.
"Your transmissions are not memorable." Hyacinth advised casually--infuriatingly--as he stooped beside the pool to gaze narcisistically at his own scrofulous reflection. Koenig's bones told him that it was less of a put-down, and more of an incomprehensible fait accompli. Somewhere along the line of extraterrestrial growth, and development, in a singularly barbaric act of biocosmetics, an ascerbic wedge of steel had been grafted to the alien's denuded skull. "The long chain of iron, and rosaries that bound you is dissolved now. You are back to the first link."
"Isn't that exquisite?" Truman Starns exclaimed angrily, tilting his riot gun in the general direction of Hyacinth's collar bone. "We achieved that with a little help from you, of course."
"Down." Pierce Quenton fumfuh'ed, surprisingly mollified, and bewildered as he grabbed the barrell of the detective's rifle. "Put it down, chum." The chief directed, knowing with freezing clarity that this situation was bigger than their box of death; larger than Rotstein; more humongous than them all. "I don't think it's going to help."
Concern for Moonbase Alpha was still urgently at the forefront--but only in his fading short-term memory. The chief was having a difficult time remembering what the base looked like. And it bothered him. This was not good. The layout of sterile corridors; the security hub (That was what it was called...right? Or was it the security complex? Or was it the security annex? Police Central? The Halls of Justice?); the time he spent marooned there, claustrophobically--year after year. The elephant of despair was off his back, suddenly--like a half-remembered, night terror that was growing increasingly vague in the morning refresh.
The Moon was no longer a proper noun to him. It had been relegated to an adjective status--just another entry in an appendix of astronomical terms.
"Commander." Harness Bull Judge said, blanching over his hand held sensor. "The temperature in that pool...it's jammed the unit. The reading stops at about one billion degrees Kelvin."
"Run the self check diagnostics" Koenig suggested, already knowing the answer.
Judge nodded and was not surprised with the result. "Diagnostics show the sensor is functioning normally."
One billion degrees Kelvin. They should have been atomized for standing so close to the apparent inferno.
"Ostiaries," Bergman repeated, seemingly unmoved by the further bad news. "You said you are the ostiaries, gate keepers. Gate keepers of what?"
"We are the Clocksmiths." Hyacinth told him, standing. "The indentures of Time." He accounted. "You must come to terms with the fact that everything you knew is gone."
The group was stunned into confounded silence. The screams of the ages reverberating throughout the structure underscored their dire predicament. Bergman, arms crossed and mentally making the connections, began to 'uh huh' and wag his index finger.
"I think I understand now," the professor began. "The Clocksmiths oversee some sort of doorway to time. Any time including ours. Past, Present and Future."
Koenig surmised, "You don't think that Rotstein.."
"That is precisely what I think happened." Bergman connected the last dot in the puzzle, finishing his sentence. He glanced at Hyacinth, who gave him neither hint nor clue. "Obviously, it had to be in the past."
"What?" Russell queried, wanting an explanation for the non-physics community, "what do you mean? What did Rotstein do?"
"Rotstein somehow used a doorway through time and did something that changed the events of history, such that the Moon never blasted out of orbit...or perhaps Moonbase Alpha never even existed." Bergman explained to the doctor and the others.
The group was once again stunned into silence, absorbing the impact of terrible realization.
"NO," Helena Russell stepped toward Hyacinth, barely containing her anger. "We will NOT come to terms with our situation. If you are responsible for guarding this doorway through time, WHY did you let Rotstein go through and change the future?!?!?!"
"You speak of deeds that never were, that never will be." Hyacinth reminded her, but the scrutiny of his black, collapsar eyes seemed to suggest that he admired Russell's tenacity and pluckiness. "One would suppose that he came here--was welcomed by us, for we are a benevolent race--and then used our naievete as a means to sponsor his escape. Your surliness is manifest. No doubt you are Earthmen--a species that revels in misinformation, and appertanances.
"Therefore, we are beyond impute." The alien told Bergman finally, having digressed on the nature of the beast. "That is my conclusion. These things are hypothetically possible."
"He's a right bastard. It seems to me that they mucked it up pretty well on their own." Quenton told Koenig parenthetically, in a low voice. "Now he's unwilling to admit their fair share in this sod."
"Hmmm." Bergman responded. "I'm inclined to disagree. Don't get me wrong, I believe he is messing about but for different reasons. Call it intuition if you like, but I get the feeling that Hyacinth knew this was going to happen before we even crossed over into this solar system. Either way, I fear we're getting mostly half-truths, quarter truths, five-eighths truths...."
"Then maybe it's time to redefine our relationship with them." The detective said, priming source of his relationship 'redefiner. The laser rifle.
"Mr. Starns...." The professor shook his head pathetically. "They would mop the floor with us. We'd be thrashed until they grew tired of doing it. No two ways about it, John. We're playing their game."
Whether it was to emphasize Bergman's theory about the superiority of the Clocksmiths or not, the cries and screams of tortured ages crescendoed into high pitched, ear splitting agony. The group grasped their ears, falling to their knees as the Clocksmiths stood by, unmoved and uninclined to assist the former Alphans.
Suddenly, the screetching stopped and as the ringing subsized in their ears, a deathly silence enveloped the area. The pool was completely still.
"Suppose," Koenig offered, calmer and surprisingly reserved for being a condemned man, "we were to go back in time and stop Rotstein from doing whatever it is he did to change our history. Would you allow us the opportunity to at least attempt to return things as they SHOULD be?"
"No." The sorceress--whose name was Sybele--denounced from high atop her throne.
"Why?" Koenig demanded, stepping close enough to the cthonic pool to give Bergman a start.
"Because time cannot be manipulated in such a fashion." Hyacinth answered for his seemingly demento sistren. The leather leather-clad spokesperson made futile gestures with his razor vivisected hands. "These cuts are my testimony. Time is our Master, not our servant."
"But you said before that we must be allowed to correct it?" The commander argued. "Now you're back-peddling."
"Oceans were created illustrious of themselves." The other witch, who called herself Sybil--educated him in a mud choked voice. "Such is time. It is an unflawed organism which should not be subjected--again, and again--to the contagion of your kind."
"John." Bergman paternally interposed. "There is one other thing we might want to consider. Perhaps the universe is better off for this incident having occured. Rotstein may have unwittingly changed history in a positive fashion. The Moon may still be in Earth orbit--the catastrophe averted. If so, the struggle is over. It never happened. Everyone who died out here has been given a second chance."
"A new beginning?" Quenton said sacrificially, lowering his laser in reverence and in memoriam. "It takes on a different light...when you think about that. We can't rightly deny anyone that chance. Even if it leaves us in the briney deep...."
"No." Bergman said with kindness and clementness. "We can't."
Hyacinth again gazed into the pool. It was completely free of waves and rip tides and his reflection was no longer visible. In the sky above, the sun began to grow larger. The aging red dwarf began to change the hue of the sky to a deceptively beautiful but deadly pink.
"There will be no second chances," Eyes lamented tearfully. "Those that you know do not exist. The end will be catastrophic."
Beyond the confines of the city, magma erupted and oozed over the landscape, gradually consuming Eagle 4. First one landing pod, then the next, as the ship leaned to one side, lava consuming the plastics and metals of the space craft in a sizzling, steaming repast. The city, the area around the pool, however, remained untouched, cool and dry.
Hyacinth continued staring into the pool. The exoskeleton of a giant mantis and the broken and ruined body of a woman with strawberry blonde hair arose to the surface and floated lifelessly in the now murky and pestilent reeking pool.
The leader made a decision and closed his eyes. Once again, the pool returned to its formerly clear state, ripples and waves reappearing.
"Why?" Sybil asked from atop her perch.
"This," Russell pointed to the pool, "is the time portal, isn't it?"
"Oy there, 'guv. I know you can't be bothered with the likes of us." Quenton addressed the alien accomodatingly. "But it seems to me that Time is about to broil us alive." He licked his cowardly chops as the wall of encroaching magma and sulphur began to climb whatever invisible barrier there was protecting the community. You sure that 'idiot treatment' isn't the posh thing to do?
"I mean...live and let live."
"It's like the planet is falling apart." Truman Starns made the passing comment as the calx, and the abyssal rocks began to rise above the walls of the city in an arc of uncreation. Vitiation surrounded them--except for this small seagirt in the aeonian void.
"I'm afraid it's more than just the planet." Bergman replied, argus eyed over the stars that were falling from the porphyrian sky like snow. "Whatever Rotstein did, it's having a cumulative effect on the entire universe as we know it."
"Why isn't it entering here?" Harness Bull Judge wondered hypersthetically. The red hot talus awakened the yellow streak in his spine, and the hunger pains that he so often experienced on Moonbase Alpha were no more. Tonight's table would be particularly good--barbequed security guard.
And it was guaranteed--no one would be late for the main course.
The professor shook his head inconclusively.
"Possibly because we're in some sort of zone where normal, physical laws do not apply." He ventured. "I'm really not sure."
"Time is not bound by law." Sybil admonished them. "It is the only true force of nature, unordered. Cacophany.
"You must go back and correct the aberration," Hyacinth ignored the torch witch and turned to Koenig. "If you do not make the correction, the end will be the end."
"How?" Koenig asked eagerly--motivated even more by the charnel deluge that was gluttonizing the galaxy. "Can you send us to the same place where you sent Rotstein? At exactly the same point? Look--the element of surprise will be on our side, and we can-"
"NO." Sybele stated categorically. "That is impossible."
"You cannot arrive at the same port, at the same instant. Hyacinth acceded, staring beyond Koenig's shoulder at the amorphous shape of things to come. "No moment is ever repeated in exactly the same way. You will arrive earlier, or later.
Koenig turned pensively to the group.
"If we arrive earlier," Bergman stated analytically, "we might arrive too early, much too early and long before Rotstein arrives to effectively stop him. We also would not know when he arrived. We could spend a lifetime waiting for him to come and we would miss him. If we arrive later, we would have a chance to stop him. If we arrive too late to stop him we still have a chance to implement damage control and attempt to reverse the effect of whatever it was that he did," Bergman pointed to the atmospheric and galactic chaos around them,"that created this kind of future."
"I say we go later," Berman finished with a nod.
"Right," Helena stated picking up her medical bag. "I will come with you."
They were distracted from their discussions by Harness Bull Duncan, who, profusely sweating, grasped his left arm in agony as he gasped for breath and dropped to his knees. Dr. Russell immediately went to his side as Quenton and Starns caught him and lowered him to the ground.
"It's his heart," Russell stated, scanning him and taking his pulse. "He is having a mild heart attack." She administed the sedative.
"That leaves you to stay here," Quenton stood up, giving a sympathetic glance at Duncan then turning to Koenig. "So the question is, who goes back, Commander? I'd like to go. When I get my hands on Rotstein, I'll make sure he doesn't alter anything."
Starns and the other harness bulls moved forward to emphasize their readiness and willingness to 'retrieve' Rotstein from the past.
"NO." Koenig said--choleric with the idea that yet another draft had been added to The Cheater's Rules of Klaus Rotstein. "Helena?"
"It's bad." The physician reported, sarcastic but unassumingly, as she reached for a 'nitro vial. "A TENS Unit would be nice--too bad it's back in the goddamn Eagle."
"So much for the joy ride." Koenig blistered over the roar of exploding planets. "WHY NOT JUST SEND US BACK TO OUR BASE? BACK BEFORE THE TIME WHEN ROTSTEIN WAS DISCOVERED. WE COULD SAVE THIS MAN'S LIFE, AND PREVENT THIS CALAMITY FROM EVER OCCURING?"
"We could." Hyacinth vouchsafed. "However, I would advise against that course of action in the strongest, possible way." He warned. "Your race does not learn. Not in the short term, or the long. An encounter with some fleeting episode will leave you bathetic, and unmotivated to change. You would return and try to amend Time by feigning ignorance...the outcome of this behavior would be that you would eventually find yourself in some similar peril. By your own definition, humanity is an acute condition. Your only hope is to face your own torturous, vexatious history, and hope for extrication."
"Right." Victor Bergman said doubtfully, and with rank disgust. "No concessions. Well, that sounds to us like an all-or-nothing proposition."
"You're running out of time, Earth man." Sybil checked. The end of the aeons seemed to have no effect on her.
The triangular pool was a bottomless, amber holocaust. Just inhaling it caused the professor's lungs to seize up.
"You won't survive it." Quenton exclaimed emotionally.
Koenig, and Bergman stepped nearer to the pool. Each side was approximately fifty meters long. A violent, in-ground magnum of uncontrollable flame. Both were inexorably soaked with sweat.
"HOW?" The commander asked again.
"Jump." Sybele replied simply.
You could say, Commander John Koenig had it up to his neck.
"Sad." The bobby observed as he leaned against one foot while seated on his bicycle. He tipped his high, embellished helmut back, and rubbed his put upon forehead. "Mind you now, I've rightly seen a number of things in my time. I do believe this is the most mad aleck one of them all."
"Why?" Koenig challenged ludicrously as the cold, mudded waters lapped away at his disorientated neck. "You look like a cop." He said farcically as he began to inch his way through the silt. Gradually his soaked tunic, and refuse-dyed black sleeve became visible above the water.
"And you sound like one, serious mess of a yank." The police officer determined while polishing his whistle. "Let me guess--you could stand the stench no more, and you just had to have a bath." He theorized, pronouncing 'bath' as 'baoth.' "Who cares if it's broad daylight, and right in the river."
"River?" Koenig sloshed forward, pulling seaweed, and various other fetid from his sideburns. The 360 degree panorama of the royal borough was a familiar one, though subtlely deconstructed since the last time he had seen it. Back in those days, he was teaching an introductory physics course at the King's College. No one wanted him as their professor, but he never forgot the unctuous view of the city from the faculty sardine can. Surrey was a fine place for an upstart, egotistical educator, or politician to go for a humbling experience. "This is Earth?"
The grogginess of his odyssey in time--the 'doofus effect, as it were--was slowly replaced by landmarks, and an impossible certainty of location. It was a land which, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist following the slate wiper of September 13, 1999.
"Not from around here, are you?" The bobby said hesitantly while gazing at the commander's too apparent commlock and his barnacle covered laser.
Victor Bergman was no where to be seen in the transitory crowd that gawked at him from the bank of Kingston-upon-Thames.
Koenig's homecoming was all but ruined when the cop suggested that he may want to accompany him to jail.
"Hurry up in there, lad, the line's a-formin' and stretchin' down the hall!!"
Victor Bergman sat up in the bathtub with a start. If it wasn't for the fact that he was fully clothed in his uniform with the neutral sleeve, he would have thought he was dreaming on Moonbase Alpha. He sat dazed, momentarily, then in a sudden rush, he remembered why he was there.
The watercloset was quite old fashioned, with a tub, a sink and an old chain pull commode. The grumbling in the hall told him he was in some kind of men's boarding house but how he had gotten there was anyone's guess.
"I'll be out in a minute, old chap," Bergman replied genially in his best native accent, attempting to sooth frayed nerves and stressed bladders.
He peered out the small window at the street below and recognized the city instantly. It was London, his birthplace but not the birthplace he remembered. It was before WWII, before much of it had been laid to waste by the Luftwaffe. He further recognized the automobiles as early 1930's.
Bergman spied the suit on the back of the door as he peeled off the wet uniform from another era. It was a bit large and worn but appropriate for the period. He slipped the commlock and the laser into the overcoat pocket on each side, stuffing the wet uniform into the back of the closet. He frown at his image in the small mirror. His hair was more pepper and much less salt, perhaps a curious effect from the Clocksmith's pool.
"HEY!!! OPEN UP!!!" the disgruntled patron pounded on the door.
"I apologize," Bergman opened the door to the shared facilities, narrowly missing an accidental pummel on the face. The other man grunted and brushed passed him. Bergman walked past the line of irritated faces and headed toward the stairs.
John Koenig's trip through time was off to a bad start.
After sucker punching the bobby right on the snout, he fled down the peer like a refugee from The Incredible Mr. Limpett. Tan boots sloshing, patrons on the street stepping aside--all sated with the knowledge that a lunatic was on the loose. The city suddenly seemed to explode outward. The commander felt unappreciated. Children cried--and then pelted him with ice cream, and rocks. Some stiff 'brit in a bowler hat tried to trip him--just, you know, for general purposes, Koenig surmised. And for the fun of it.
"I AIN'T 'ANSWERIN NO QUESTIONS FROM AN EFFING SHITHOUSE RAT." The huge housewife proclaimed.
He was on Arthur Street now, but this was not Guinevere.
"Listen, I'm sorry to annoy you-" The commander apologized, and it was here that she lashed out at him with her broom. Plus sized fists gripped the splintering, wooden handle. She whipped it backwards over her flower print housecoat, and brought it down on target with the ease of a professional 'nag and harridan.
"...ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Koenig blurted, feeling the thump of the straw against his wet scalp. All he had done was to ask what year it was. The true victim in this saga was clearly the husband of this unlovely, scolding kvetch.
"GET YOUR ARSE OUT OF ME WINDOW." The Mussolini Transvestite cried, and gave him some more straw therapy on the 'noggin.
Wooden shards and yellow chaffe rained down on him as he back-peddeled heroically away from the Window Sil Of Death. His buttocks accidentally made contact with the business end of a white, picket fence. Middle class Londoners jeered him from the overhead windows. He recovered just in time to see Rin Tin Tin unleased from an elderly woman's leash.
It would have been almost picaresque--a quiet, city street with the Big Ben clocktower crowning the beaucolic, urban tapestry. Unfortunately, having the hundred pound Maud Earl gun dog lunge for his nuts disappointed Koenig.
"Very rare indeed," the shop keeper studied the Professor's pocketwatch. "It is running too. In fact, sir, I have never seen one like it."
The clerk tried to retain his enthusiasm. The Lord of Marlborough had been interested in such an antique and was willing to pay top steriling pounds for one.
"I will give you 10 pounds for it," the clerk offered, clearing his throat.
"10?" Bergman gave the man a slightly insulted glance.
"Alright, sir," the clerk sighed. Obviously this client knew the value of the piece. "15 pounds. Fifteen pounds and not a shilling more."
"Very good, chap," Bergman smiled. "Agreed." He extended his hand to exchange a gentlemanly shake.
With his 15 pounds in his pocket, Bergman knew in this time period it would last him awhile, long enough for him to find Koenig and then together, they would find Rotstein.
The professor walked along the busy road and saw something of interest. An automobile dealership had a "Help Wanted" sign posted in the window. He reasoned that they might be there for some time and would require more money. His knowledge of early 1930s automobiles would make him a perfect candidate for the position.
His luck was running very smoothly, he thought, as he removed the sign from the window and stepped inside the office.
Incontrovertibly, there were two things a person should never do when travelling through a mathematical expression in time.
Firstly: Never, ever mug a police officer. Don't do that. Second: Avoid the cavalier, sticking-of-your-head through the window of a house shared by a battle-ax. You will intensify your predicament if you ask her the surreal question 'what year is it?'
John Koenig raced down the motorway, pursued by Scotland Yard land rovers, and a pair of Black Marias, sirens blaring. The other half of the metropolitan police force pursued him on foot with lynch-mob rules. He had begun to feel like a character in a classic, Universal horror film with the villagers carrying torches, and clamoring for his destruction. This did nothing to help him locate Victor Bergman, or Klaus Rotstein, but nevertheless he ran like a fugitive, and he had all kinds of luck.
"Can you start tomorrow?" the dealer manager asked the professor with eager anticipation.
"Yes, that would be fine," Victor Bergman, now Jared Leto for the sake of anonymity shook his new supervisor's hand. "However, I would like to move into a flat closer to my new job. Do you happen to know of a place for lease?"
"Why, this is your lucky day." Mr. Davis responded enthusiastically. "My brother inlaw owns a build around the corner. It is a very nice area, a nice one bedroom flat, fully furnished. Very reasonable as well. Would you be interested?"
A short walk to the flat and a quick inspection resulted in a satisfactory nod and an agreement to lease the place, as Bergman counted out the first month's rent and deposit. After Davis left, Bergman walked to the market for groceries and the evening paper. He was becoming disturbed that he had not encountered John Koenig but surmised the news might, if he was lucky, give him a clue to his whereabouts.
He stopped into a pub and relished the chicken, REAL chicken, dinner and ale as he perused the paper from front to back. Intuitively, he knew that his appearance would probably be noted in the news, if not in this evening's paper then in the near future.
"Anyway, that's my opinion of old Blighty." The wino--who bore a jaw dropping resemblance to Ed Malcom--said as he passed Koenig the Water Of Life; a home made can of Atholl Brose that was activated with Shinola shoe polish. "They're a grateful lot, and me--I wasn't some Doctor on palace road. I was there with Sir Douglas 'hisself during the Battle Of The Somme. Fifty thousand men died when we took on the Kaiser and what does I have to show for it?
"Not even a farthing.
"You look thirsty." The wino said with concern for the commander's unlubricated throat.
"No thanks." Koenig declined, letting the can of hooch pass by him while he warmed himself by the fire. He had no idea what part of the woods he was in, and his commlock wasn't working--which made sense, when one considers that the device relied on sophisticated satellite relays, and transponders that did not exist yet.
Either way there was still nothing from Victor Bergman.
"You know...." The wino digressed. "I'd hate for you to take me as unkind--you're a good bloke and all...sharing your fire with me like you did--but your clothing is a 'tad bit peculiar. Are you with a circus, or some greyhound show over in Coventry?"
"Yeah." Koenig decided. It was as good a false history as any.
"I always took to that kind of thing." The wino confessed secretly. "My favorite was the fellow what would stick his head in the lion's mouth. I got to give credit where credit is due. And to not piss 'hisself, which is probably what I'd end up doing.
"Well, just before I got decapitated, that is." He mused sardonically. "Between the two, I'd much rather be separating a woman from her knickers.
"Hello...what do we have here?" The wino suddenly noticed the laser that was holstered to the commander's waist.
"It's nothing." Koenig said gently as he stood. The weapon still worked incredibly well, especially after his little swim in the Thames. The Argyle, diamond core was charged, and capable of all settings--from lighting a fire, as he had done earlier, to vaporization, a setting he had not tried, but malign intuition told him that it would work. He had brought with him a specter from the Nuclear Age, and for the sake of these people, he hoped to God that Rotstein's was destroyed during the trip backwards through time. "It's a chalk box." He lied.
"Chalk?" The wino repeated, and in his bewilderment, evidenced a head that was devoid of teeth.
"For the circus." The commander grinned. "We use them to outline stalls on the tent floor...where the lamas will stand...where the sword swallowers will enter...where the cotton candy goes.
"That kind of thing."
"What a pickle." The wino exclaimed with childish enthuse. "Might I attend some time? With your permission of course. You can count on Harold Cotton here minding his manners. I've never been one what would look a gift horse in the mouth."
"You bet." Koenig said compassionately while his eyes drifted towards a bundle hanging in the brush. "Be right back." He told Cotton, and leaving him to his juice, strolled purposefully down the hill.
Bergman wound up the alarm clock and settled into the comfortable featherdown bed. He glanced out at the window as the passing cloud unveiled a bright full moon.
A poodle barked in the distance.
A cat yeowled.
An auto chugged by.
The street grew quiet again.
He was concerned about John Koenig and he stood up to gaze out the window. He had guessed the approximate year (1934) before seeing the calender on his employer's wall. He calculated that they arrived at the same time and likely in the same area of the world though the possibility existed that Koenig could be in the United State, Asia or anywhere. The professor did not want to dwell on that possibility. Even if he was in London, London was a large city and it might take a few days to locate him.
Bergman had adjusted his comlock to receive lower band frequencies. He was able to pick up radio but he was still working on adjusting the transmitter. He would require a few parts in order to do this and planned on visiting the service department of the dealer ship for wire and a soldering iron.
Victor Bergman returned to his comfortable, overstuff bed and exhausted, drifted off to sleep.
Stuffed in the translucent, silvery branches of the Downy Birch, the wad turned out to be the front page of The London Times. Koenig unraveled it methodically, smoothing out the copy as the cool dusk interacted with his partially wet tunic to freeze his cajunas. A cordon of black, red eyed chimney sweeps swooped down from the rooftops of the city. The overhead sky was violet with lesions of declining orange clouds. A glance at the header told him that the year was 1934--October 11th being the printing date.
Then again, had he known that earlier, the local constabulary would have been denied the sharply honed, dragnet expertise that they acquired from tracking down a water-logged, seeker from the future.
Koenig briefly noted the fifth quarter Moon that was emerging in the night sky with a trio of dappling stars. Of course, it was not the Moon he had known; the extirpated, dissected rock from 1999--forget the fact that it was minus several billion tons of undecayed fission material. In 1934, the airless, waterless planetoid still retained its ability to stump and stupefy. This was luna as mythos. It was Chandra--the bootleg soma of the gods; it was an arena for Hati to devour Mani.
In the low-tech thirties, rather than being one small step for man, one scientific, calculable, boring leap for mankind, the satellite evoked a sense of fear, and august superstition.
In forty, some odd years, it would be more than that. The Moon would be a blast. A real bomb.
Not too much was happening in England these days (the cartoon was "Bo-Peep"...that alone should tell you something....), the commander decided as he scanned some of the articles. One story was titled "BFRC Up To Snuff," which was somewhat of a misnomer, since the British Foreign Relations Committe was actually down on the congo for importing illegal rhino horns which were destined to be crushed into a powder, and sold to apothecaries as a nasal decongestant.
They would be punished with tariffs.
Here was some newsworthy folderol: The House Of Commons was engaged in a long, mostly petty dialogue about the formation of the Scottish National Party, which was actually a hybrid between the Scottish Party, and the Scottish National Party, because some ass couldn't bear to see an assembly formed by a constituent of Scots who were not nationalistic.
So for him, the party was over.
Koenig eyed the bottom of the page. There was some union stuff, and the alarm was being sounded because the sewer system was becoming more, and more delicious. Some guy named Humphries vowed to rid the world of this foeterousness. In the course of the interview, he evoked the Victorian critic Matthew Arnold: "Bald as the bare moutain tops are bald, with a baldness full of grandeur."
The point was somewhat elusive.
On the bright side, finding a copy of The London Times was not the extremum of John Koenig's evening. To the contrary, finding the decomposing, necrose corpse in the narrow brook beside the trees took the cake. The slain victim had layed there, undetected for weeks--long enough for the rot, and the fust to overcome thier gender. Whoever it was, they now looked more like the Creature from the Black Lagoon than a once living, breathing person.
The fate that would befall Bayledon, Reilly, and N'Dole over half a century later--the same horrible climax did betide this individual from 1934. Beaten, and carved into a phlegmy, ensanguined side of poisonous beef--it was the unforgettable horology of Klaus Rotstein.
For John Koenig, there was no longer any doubt.
The Clocksmiths had sent them to the right place.
"Allow me to introduce you to our newest sales associate," Mr. Davis led the woman to the corner office.
Victor Bergman, aka Jared Leto, rose as his supervisor and the woman stepped through the door.
"Mr. Leto, this is Mrs. Simpson," Davis made the introduction.
"A pleasure to meet you," the finely dressed woman with porcelein complexion and aristocratic yet warm and pleasant manner extended her gloved hand in greeting.
"Good morning, Mrs. Simpson," Bergman reciprocated the handshake.
"Mrs. Simpson is interested in purchasing a new automobile," Davis explained. "A few of the '34 Phantom II Rolls Royce have caught her eye. Mr. Leto will assist you, Madam."
"Thank you, Mr. Davis," Simpson nodded as Davis left the room. She sat ladylike in the mod style 30's chair in front of the desk. "Mr. Davis tells me you are new to his staff." She began, fitting her cigarette into the diamond encrusted black holder. Bergman immediately struck a match and lit it for her.
"Thank you," she replied politely yet focused as she took a few drags. "How much knowledge about Rolls Royces do you possess? I'm an American and though I've lived in London for the past 5 years, I am not familiar with cars. My former husband purchased our vehicles." She took another drag. "This is the first time I have bought an automobile."
"Knowledge?" Bergman pondered. "A bit. When it comes to cars that is." He stated honestly. "I was nursed on crank case oil. My father would have given Albert Derancourt a run for his money, and that was all early doors. By day he was involved in studying the effects of electrical conduction within atomic structures-"
Mrs. Simpson blinked.
"Oh...." Bergman laughed, unhysterically. "It's not what you think." He lied. "Just a fancy way of saying he worked on motor cars." The professor stipulated. "His entire life." He added to seal the deal, and to prevent further inquiry. "But to make a long story short, besides my mother, the other love of his life was a 1909 Ghost Coupe. Many, many times we could be found in Old Silver, burning up the roads in Cumbria. I used to derrive so much pleasure from those little excursions, it was no surprise when I ended up greasing the wheels myself." He explained with conspicuous pride. "I also acquired some experience on the fast track, and maintenance crews while working on my undergraduate studies at-"
Mrs. Simpson raised a curious eyebrow while exhaling unfiltered smoke, and in a precocious, almost Tom-Boyish gesture, she set her pack of Lloyd cigarettes on his desk while settling in for an even longer conversation.
"Forgive me, I do tend to ramble on." Bergman realized, feeling that it was better to leave some history as unresearched. After all, there weren't many PhD's in astrophysics working as used car salesmen. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Conform, man, conform. Make like an Iguana. "Now as to the vehicle you're looking for, let us take a moment to discuss the amenities.
"Heat, of course. Any preference as to the color?"
"No, Mr. Leto," Mrs. Simpson laughed, "you are not rambling. I find people to be rather interesting. I'm what you might call a social butterfly in that I adore meeting people of different backgrounds." She crossed her slender legs, ladylike, and relaxed, taking another puff. "Each person has a story and I find individuality to be facinating."
It was obvious that Mrs. Simpson either had or acquired money and apparent social status. The diamond brooch and matching earrings, along with the fur stole, designer dress and the latest Parisan hat illustrated her financial and higher status in London society.
"I enjoy hearing stories about fathers," she went on. A secretary, under the orders of Mr. Davis brought the tray of tea into the room and poured a cup for Simpson and Leto. Mrs. Simpson smiled and nodded in appreciation. "Thank you, dahling," she called after the departing secretary.
"My father died before my first birthday," Simpson went on. "I am a Warfield by birth." She paused, to check if Bergman was familiar with the aristocratic, Baltimore family.
"Awesome." Bergman clapped his hands with enjoyment, and leaned backwards in his chair. "I take it they're the same Warfields who are so adept at thoroughbred racing? Equestrianism is another of my hobbies--one that I sorely miss these days.. The Warfield reputation precedes itself well outside the borders of Pennsylvania, and Baltimore.
"I guarantee you that." He assured, wishing that he could remember why the name 'Warfield' troubled him. "A close friend of mine is also American. It's been some time ago, mind you, but we made tracks once to the derby in Kentucky." He disclosed, comically pronouncing the state as 'cain-tucky.' "My chum lost his shirt on the Exacta, but it gave me an opportunity to appreciate the art on a large canvass.
"So, while John may have come away penniless, one can not help but be enlightened at the craft, the very skill required in producing such amazing steeds."
He really didn't much care for the mention of Mrs. Simpson's late father--it unearthed something inside; a factoid that he had long since disgarded as meaningless. An tocsin began to pound inside his head, and he suddenly regretted that this was not the age of Bayer Aspirin.
"Anyway, after Daddy died, my mother and I moved in with my Aunt, thanks to her...generosity," she stopped, wondering why she was telling this automobile salesman, who she met merely 10 minutes ago, her life story.
She puffed again, composed and building her guard up again. "Well, here I am rambling, Mr. Leto. Back to the subject at hand. Color? Well, I like the green but black does seem to be the appropriate color for a woman of my social standing, I suppose."
She motioned to the pack of LLoyd's on the table. "Smoke? Help yourself, if you like."
"Thankyou very much." Bergman bypassed but was more than half tempted. "I should probably abstain. My doctor would make mincemeat of me if he caught me lighting up."
Then again, realizing that it would take over seven decades for Mathias' complaints to thunder down on him, the professor pulled one from the pack, and put a match to it.
He felt fine. No, better than fine. He felt realized--a state he had not expected in his this journey to quell murder, mayhem, and cosmic dissolution.
"It don't fit." The anorexic manc complained, tossing a pair of black tweed, Canali trousers over the voluptuary, dressing room door. The stall was located in the rear of Department Store-X, which was adjacent to Who Knows Where Avenue. Koenig was sure of the hour because Harold Cotton had furnished him with a hot Rolex to carry around with him.
It was 10:00 AM, Greenwich Mean Time.
"Sorry about that." Koenig said dolefully, and pulled the pants away from the door. The fitting room was in the basement, adjacent to the coal-fire boiler. The commander had welcomed himself in an hour before after placing an anonymous tip about the little creek music he discovered the night before, and he did not mean The London Times.
"That's a good lad." The manc included so that Koenig wouldn't feel so bad. "Don't fret--I can hack it. Here, you may as well take these too."
He tossed the white cotton shirt, and the thin, classic cut necktie over the door too. The commander grabbed them while one foot was propped against the bench to tie his new (and inarguably low priced) wing tipped shoes.
"That lousy cravat took me breath away." The manc complained, and demanded immediate action. "Haven't you got something else, man?"
"I'm sure we can find something else that's more to your liking." Koenig said from the opposite side of the door as he headed back towards the boiler room, buttoning his shirt, and with the overcoat slung over his shoulder. "You appear to me to be a petite size." The commander observed, and then grabbed the iron latch, and pulled it after him.
"If you say." The manc griped. "Hurry along now. My bag is freezing. You people need to heat this place better."
Instead of going back from whence he came--which would involve crawling out of the cellar window in broad daylight, Koenig chose the rotting, orange paint specked Door Number Two, which he hoped would lead to some discreet side alley. On the other side, there was short hallway that was famous for two things--the amount of dust, and the monstrous rodent carcass that lay dead beneath the radiator.
"'Geez, how many forchrissakes evolutionary steps did it require to invent D-Con?" The commander wondered aloud, crammed, and allayed, and disgusted as he stepped inattentively through the other door, and turned to face a tall, humorlous looking fellow who sported a handle bar moustache and a white, pen-striped suit. This gentleman radiated with authority--police authority; either that, or store security.
"Alright, pal." The 250 pound sentinel who preferred highwater slacks coaxed him in an irritated voice. "What's the story, and no pap about it."
How does the old phrase go? John Koenig was busted.
"I..uh.." Koenig stumbled and mumbled. Sleeping in the alley, in the rain, on the cold London October night was not exactly restful and comfortable. He acutely became reminded that he was a man in his mid-late 40's and that damp coldness could wreak havoc on such a body. He needed a tylenol or ibuprofen, badly, but realized that such an animal was 40 to 50 years away.
"Look 'ear," the 20 something secretary spoke up suddenly from behind the white, pen striped suit man. Her accent suggested Cockney in origin and her manner of dress suggested she was working, middle class. "Mr. Jeffries, this is the American I told you about tryin' out for the commerical."
Jeffries studied the bedraggled Koenig. "Are you sure, Lily?"
"O' course me sure," Lily smiled at Koenig and stepped toward him, taking his arm. "You don't expect starvin' actors to be dressed like King Edward and his court, do ye?"
She did not allow him to answer as she dragged him through the door and up the stairs. "Ye better get cleaned up and finish rehearsing your lines." She handed Koenig the script to, ironically, the soap commerical. "There be a few more blokes tryin' out but you ave such a deep voice and that Yank sound is all the rage on the radio. Ye just what we lookin' for, Mister?"
"Murphy." Koenig prevaricated. As in 'Murphy's Law.' He fervently hoped that it did not exist. "What kind of soap are you talking about?" He questioned as the secretary pushed him towards the lavatory.
"The kind you ain't seen in a while." Supervisor Jeffries replied impatiently, and turned on the hot water.
Coldfall Woods was no longer a safe haven for drunkards, and time travel refugees. It was literally crawling, and seething, and oozing with the forces of law, and order. On the east bank, an ambulance sat parked in the grass next to a funeral coach. Neither driver knew wether life, or death would prevail. They did know that they were the only vehicles on this side of the rope barricade that weren't being cited for intrustion into a crime zone. Bobbies with clubs held the afternoon brigade in recess--they were there to dispell rumor, to edify the citizenry in the ways of legal process, to incarcerate, and lay lumps upside anyone's head who insisted on barging into the scene.
"Please, monsieur. 'Tis mon sere." A maniere french woman wept, her mouth containing more baloney, and taradiddle than the deli roll in her brown, paper sack. "Is certainment."
"What rot. You know nothing of the sort." A middle aged police constable with graying sideburns rebuked, his plastic chin guard growing taught with consternation.
"!!!BASTARDO!!!" An italian butcher named Luigi cried, and jumped the line in the name of civil rights. "!!!I NEED TO KNOW!!!"
"Now you know." Another PC--whose name was Perkiss--said ironically after applying his size ten boot to the butcher's fat head. "Take Galileo here back to headquarters, and discuss proper crowd control etiquette with him."
He was offended at the thought of anyone, other than himself, applying the Dowler Darby handcuffs.
"Take a gander at that." PC Barrows told his partner, McClaine, and pointed his baton towards the rover that was plowing through the brush. "Looks to me like the reinforcements have arrived from Kent." He declared in the spirit of bigheaded critique. "I guess we're supposed to feel like buskers now."
"Give it a rest." McClaine apprised. "After all, the last murder occured in their area. They've got a right."
"They 'had' a right." Barrows amended. "But that was a year ago. If their detective work was less than amazing then, why will we be gagging for it now? This is our affair, not theirs."
"Mr. Claire, sir, forgive me, but I fail to see how a local pack-up can be considered a tangible threat to the crown." Inspector Bell of Scotland Yard CID greeted in the hopes of discouraging the operative from setting up house.
"Local pack-up?" Claire's worse half, Agent Baldwin, chuckled and shook his head. "That's how you see it? Horror, murder, vivisection. It's all just a pack-up?
"If I had a heart, I'd take this case from you." Baldwin smiled casually. As it was, all he could see in the entire 365 degrees about him was galoots, and dumbasses. He could care less about some ronson getting himself dumped in the pond.
"This has nothing whatsoever to do with the riot yesterday, if that's what you're thinking. We suspect that was started by someone who got himself pie-eyed at the pub." Bell repercussed. "This is murder."
The gangrenous corpse was being pulled from the creek bed, even as they spoke.
"Inspector," Claire, impeccably dressed and well groomed, "this gruesome murder is the tenth in ten years. Unlike the other nine, though, I would expect Scotland Yard will finally solve the crime. It is clear you have a serial murder on your hands, something which London has not had since Jack the Ripper."
"Now, Bell. There has been more than idle rumor that The Ripper may have been a member of the royal family. It was malicious and certainly an attempt by the anti-loyalist forces to rally the people against the monarchy. It is my job to protect the monarchy against scandal. If there is even a hint or inclination that these murders are somehow linked to the crown, either true or false, I want to know about it."
He paused, then continued, spouting the desired imagery. "Besides, it is the duty of the Monarch to protect the people. King Edward himself has spoken with me," Claire lied," and is very concerned about the safety of the people. He has offered whatever assistance is required to find the murderer of these unfortunate souls and bring him to justice."
"Well," Lily exclaimed in surprised as Koenig stepped into the dark hallway. "You cleam up pretty good, Mr. Murphy. You be a handsome bloke." She complimented though Koenig instantly noticed the gold band on her left ring finger.
"If I wasn't 'appily married wit a litt-el baby boy, I might 'ave a go at you meself." She gave him a friendly, complimentary smile.
"The ot'er blokes di'n't work out so you 'ave the job. Quick, now," Lily Carter hustled Koenig down the hall. "Do you know your lines?"
'Noooooooo, Koenig thought.
"Yeah, I think so." Murphy said, mangling his copy with disquietude, and the unease of a rank amateur. "What's this?"
He pointed towards a cubicle with a large, rectangular observation window. The room beyond was lined with egg cartons, and in the center, there stood an octogenarian with a high, venerable brow line. A 'true' member of the living dead. To Koenig's astonishment, the old 'geezer apparently had enough oxygen left in his brain to become enthused over the copy he was reading into a superannuated microphone that was labeled BBC. On the opposite side of the alcove, a pair of engineers sat with their sleeves rolled up, adjusting the tone, and the reverb on the soundboard.
"It's called a broadcast booth." Supervisor Jeffries insulted Koenig convivially. "And don't be such a rubberneck. You'll make old Cyril nervous. It's hard enough to keep that moose out of the bathroom."
"You know the old saying...." Engineer Number Two hopped on the Elderly Abuse Bandwagon. "Old rain puddles never die, they just dry up."
They laughed like geeks.
"We're almost finished with the news hour, and he's still working on the local page." Engineer Number Two finked out the antiquated anchorman, even as he waved to him from the opposite side of the window.
"'ere now," Lily Carter objected. "Di'n't your mum teach you any respect for your elders, James?" She eyed the engineer cooly with maternal disapproval. For whatever reason, it was clear this radio station was matriachial; it became clear to Koenig who was the 'boss' despite the 'secretary' title.
She gently pushed Koenig, still studying the lines on wrinkled paper, to the soundbooth door. "Go on, Mr. Murphy." She looked up nervously at the wallclocks. There were three of them, each with different times, one labelled "London", one labelled "Berlin" and one labelled "New York". The "London" clock read 4:56 and it was obviously "pm".
"Four minutes until ye're 'on'. Keep an eye on James and he'll give ye the cue." She motioned to engineer 2 then turn to Koenig/Murphy. "Good luck then. If ye do good, we bring ye back tomorrow and the next day...as long as you want the job."
She couldn't imagine why he wouldn't want to work, since work was scarce in depression era London.
"I say," Mrs. Simpson sat regally in the back seat of the Phantom II, as Bergman/Leto test drove the vehicle around the town. "This auto is very comfortable and rides very well." She caressed the wood grain panels."
"Would you like to hear the radio, Mrs. Simpson?" Bergman asked, reaching for the 'on' switch.
"Oh, please," she smacked her lips after taking another drag from her cigarette holder, "call me Wallace. We've spent the afternoon together and I think it is acceptable to become more informal."
"No, no radio please. Perhaps later." Simpson shook her head. "It is just news right now and the news is too depressing."
Bergman was disappointed. He wanted to hear the news but he smiled a thin smile and returned his hand to the steering wheel. "Yes," he agreed neutrally. "It seems like the media enjoys reporting the bad news. One never hears of anything good nowadays."
Wallace laughed. "You think exactly as I do. It is all a business and nothing more, whatever makes a profit. Human nature thrives on negativity. Besides, I'm quite enjoying your company, your anecdotes are charming and I am in light spirits now. The news of the outside world can wait since it refuses to go away. Wouldn't you agree, Jared? "
He did. Especially intransient was the news that was to come. Total extinguishment. It might ruin the car sale if he added that prophetic morsel to the conversation.
"Say, Wallace." Bergman bolshevised the conversation as subtley as possible. "I know that I am here to serve you, which is a pleasure, but I was wondering...I've been having trouble locating an old friend of mine. Two of them, actually, but there's one that I'm particularly keene on finding. I've been away for quite some time.
"In Istanbul." He accounted off the top of his head, and steered to avoid colliding with a Model-T milk truck that was advancing on the right side of the road. "I fear that this friend may be having a hard cheese of it. If at all possible, I'd like to track him down, talk to him. Afterwards, I'll consider the penny dropped.
"His name is Klaus Rotstein." Bergman said. "I feel like a dolt for even mentioning this--I really don't know how long he's been in London, or if he even still lives here, but since you're probably more familiar with the city than I am at this point, I thought I'd have a go at it."
"A German fellow," Wallace took a contemplative drag. "No, I haven't heard of him."
Well, that was a lie. She knew of one German descent man in particular. She was completely comfortable with Jared Leto and was tempted to divulge the information. Too much information, though, in too little acquaintance time. She had to be careful.
"You're very kind." Bergman thanked her anyway, and steered to avoid the unnecessary, and chancy enterprise of cruising through the West End. The clutch on the Rolls Royce nearly popped. Concern for the human race, and driving--this was not a good combination when it came time to shift into third gear.
"Murphy." Supervisor Jeffries growled ubiquitously. He was on the other side of the glass partition, but his mime was as clear, and as concise as a well written pink slip. "This had better be good. You are really starting to kick me off."
Lily Carter smiled supportively, and James "The Dried Puddle" Fleetwood gave him his queue.
The yellow bulb above the clocks spued light.
"GREETINGS, AND WELCOME BACK TO LIVE PROGRAMMING ON STATION 2LO, LONDON." The 5' X 5' announcer said in a baritone so deep, no listener would ever doubt that it could be anything other than the voice of God. "BUT FIRST, A WORD FROM OUR ADVERTISERS."
John Koenig was mortified.
"Hummm-Hummmm-Hummmmm-HUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM." The cockney, humble visaged trio who called themselves "The Pitts" (based on the surname for this group of sisters...and yes, a summary for the quality of thier singing voices) handled the 'intro. You know of George Gershwin? Well, this was not him. The tune reminded Koenig of a sacred version of "There's A Hole In The Bucket."
Jeffries glared at him intimidatingly, arms folded terminally over his chest.
"...say pallies? Do you like to scrub?" Koenig spoke unmagisterially into the microphone. Inwardly, he began to bleed. "In the tub? I shall say I do? That's why I use...BOILED HOPKINS? With glycerine? No itch? No flake? The nuts will love it so add it to the kit?
"Not lye...BOILED HOPKINS?
The light in the broadcast booth went dark again.
James Fleetwood turned his volume control all the way down, and began speaking with Lily Carter.
"Is that it?" Koenig asked The Pitts.
"That was wonderful!" Lily Carter gushed as the baritone anchor returned to his news broadcast.
Jefferies grunted and took a note from Ben Whitehall. "Evelyn at the switchboard downstairs reports a steady stream of complimentary calls." He stepped over to Mrs. Carter and Mr. Murphy. "Apparently our female listeners want to know about the new Yank with the deep and mysterious voice."
Lily Carter beamed. "I told ye he'd be a hit!"
"Hmmm," Jefferies rubbed his chin, seeing visions of dollar signs. "We have a daily radio drama show on at two o'clock in the afternoon. It appeals to the ladies and it's called "Days and Nights On Harrington Row." You heard of it?"
"Well...." Koenig acknowledged. He wanted to be ingratiating--he truly did--but the adjectives could not withstand it, so they rolled back down his throat. There was just no polite way of putting it.
"Anyway, tomorrow's script calls for an introduction of a mysterious American stranger, trying to seduce the wife of the mayor of Harrington Row." Jefferies tossed him the script. "If you can learn your lines by tomorrow afternoon," he added, "a bit better than you did today, you can play the part in tomorrow's broadcast. I'll pay you a pound for today and tomorrow. If it works out, we can negotiate a weekly salary. Are you interested?"
(An unrequited OGLETHORPE:
(You don't love Arthur....
(Churlish as he GRABS ESTHER in a PASSIONATE EMBRACE.
(!!!YOU LOVE ME!!!)
Koenig skimmed over the hackneyed script. The above constituted only a first look. A slight perouse of forthcoming bons proved to him that finding Rotstein would come only after great personal sacrifice. In the atlas of daytime absurdity, he had been fortunate enough never to have caught "Days And Nights On Harrington Row," but if this first page was any indication of how it would go, he was sure it would be a real killer diller. The Last Stand For Intimacy. A genuine thrum to the emotional aorta.
Hell, Koenig already wanted to weep.
"You bet, count me in." He told Jeffries undeleriously. "I'll take that advance now."
"What is there about America?" The supervisor marvelled as he began peeling bills from his money clip, and placed them in John Koenig's greedy palm. "Every one of you blokes run around like you got holes in your pocket."
Lily Carter dragged him away, excitedly and told him to come early to meet the actress portraying the adulterous wife of the mayor of Harrington Row. He was processing the information and skimming the script when he heard something of interest in the anchorman's newscast.
"Scotland Yard is not releasing information on the crime other than the victim appeared to be dead for a few days. However, our sources inside The Yard tell us it is remarkably similar to the nine unsolved murders in the area over the last 10 years. More information to follow as we receive it."
"Well." Bergman said briskly as he closed the passenger side door for her. "I suppose it's time to ask what your appraisal is of this fine set of wheels. Pity that it can never do a lady like yourself justice, but if I must be left scatty, I am grateful that it was you who left me in that state, Wallace."
He patted her gloved hand gently...
...and then he kissed it.
Wallace gazed at him, giving a glimpse of her soul through her dark eyes. Men had always been a stepping stone, even a commodity. Marriage was merely a legal agreement to greater social standing and wealth. She'd always thought the whole notion of a soul mate was made up by hopeless romantics selling trashy novels.
"No, Jared," Wallace continued, hesistantly at first after clearing her throat. "The pleasure is mine."
Bergman maintained eye contact. It was like being a career geologist, and then, one day, awakening to realize that rocks make you want to hurl. The rules of attraction that were welling up inside of him did not come from outer space, or the Moon. It was something older, from a foreign corner of his uncharted psyche. The professor also did not believe in those bewhiskered tales; there were no Days And Nights Of Harrington Row in his past. There was only Days And Nights And More Nights spent on a black ocean trip through the cosmos. He felt the first pangs of trepidation, and self-estrangement as he began to realize that, like the color of his hair, planet Mythraea may have changed all of that.
Curious, very curious. He could not remember Moonbase Alpha for the life of him, even though he was working to preserve it. On the other hand, Wallace Simpson's every word was intaglioed to his brain.
"Yes...." He drifted away, staring across the perfect street at a disgruntled looking, old Victorian. The type who was destined to wait for the green light, who could only gain by jay walking. "Well, as to the financial obligation...." He composed himself cautiously. "If you're satisfied, the next step would be to jot down an offer, and I'll schlepp it through the office. I have no doubt that Mr. Blackmoore will accept, and then these keys will belong to you."
He smiled deacently, despite the fact that he was hating this final curtain far worse than he ever expected to. The fact that the tall, mordacious looking man in the black rain slick, and vintage Thuroid sunglasses was staring at him, and had been for the past five minutes, went unnoticed until the last, fragile second.
A Packard pulled behind them in Soho. Now they had a Packard, and a parlous thug to go with it.
Bergman eyed the strong-armer with frore.
Simpson had seen the shadow as well and knew exactly who it was.
"Let's take it for another spin," she said merrily, sprinting back into the car. "Only, this time, I'm driving. Get in."
She gunned the engine and peeled out of the lot as Bergman barely closed the door. A sharp right down the street then a left into an alley left behind a bewildered and caught off guard unwelcome tag-along. Bergman got a glimpse of the thugs scrambling into the Packard as they turned into the street but then they lost them after turning out of the alley.
Simpson crisscrossed through narrow alleys and one way streets.
"I do like this car," Simpson went on to a speechless Bergman. "Oh, yes, we were being tailed but I'm not in any trouble. No, its those damn gossip reporters." She lied."It is a price I have to pay as a wealthy divorcee in high society."
"They were probably getting ready to take our picture, Jared, and make up some story about us being a couple" Wallace continued as Bergman lit another cigarette for her. She took a few puffs. "Slime like that do anything to make up a story."
Actually, the idea of "coupling" with the auto saleman was not unappealing at all. However, she knew her "German fellow" might not like the idea.
The city was golden. So what? After dark, the refuse crept out of the man hole covers. It was the same all over the world.
"Any sign of our charming, little abbess tonight?" Baldwin asked Claire as he slipped into the Packard's passenger seat.
"No." The operative replied as he maintained his vigil on St. James Street while tamping his pipe. "She's been absent from the proceedings. Every other type of bug hunter has found his way down those stairs though."
Two more shuffled down the steps, even as they spoke. Baldwin, the quintessential snot, was not impressed by the depths of thier outward degradation.
"Perhaps the blue bottles will rattle them." Claire speculated while eyeing one of the fresher, less used prostitutes that frequented the area.
"I doubt it." Claire said. "They're not bagged enough yet. Start pouring some rum down their Nazi holes, and they might. Repugnant bastards. Hopefully that won't happen. I've been here too long to have my surveillance thwarted by drunkeness, and debauchery."
In his mind, this was a trophy moment.
"...wherefore, I can--I say 'I CAN' MAKE THE CLAIM...." Heir Josef Villicus entranced the cellar full of idealogues, and Proudhons, and black band wearing bigots. "OUR WORK IS DIVINE. WE CAN, AND WE WILL REPOSSESS OUR BIRTHRIGHT. LIKE ZEUS, WE WILL RETRIEVE OUR SIBLINGS FROM THE EXCREMENT OF DARK, CHAOTIC SOCIALISM."
A pug-nosed chimney sweep named Williams did not embarass the leader of the British Workman's Party by clapping prematurely.
"Yes...." Villicus trailed off, reaching for the water beside his podium. "I have been accused of being a berk.
"Some, including our former Home Secretary--not to mention any names, but now he's looking at becoming the Lord Of The Admiralty--would go even further than that. I'm a separatist monster, he would waive. Forget the complete, unoriginality of everything I propose, and the fact that our 'monstrous' solution was visited on India decades ago.
"Now it's different, you see. Then again, aspiring to the office of prime minister changes one's outlook profoundly."
Everyone in the room laughed, except for his deputy, Martin Drexler, who sat beneath the sawsticka like a bump on a log.
"Possibly I AM AS CRAZED AND AS LUDICROUS AS THEY SAY I AM." Villicus asserted, eyes crossed and spraying spittle--pacing back and forth on propoganda leader Klaus Ruthven's side of the stage. "I see myself as a man of God." He shrugged. "In truest obeisance to the Old Testament. Were the Hebrews not cast out of Egypt, from civilization itself?" He challenged. "This was more 'exile,' than 'exodus,' I assure you. Were they not defrocked, and scourged at Mount Sinai, failing to comprehend the Lord, even after the humility of having their rebellious, kike heads beaten to a pulp with their own, hypocritical Torah?
"According to my copy of the Holy Book, the answer is 'yes.'"
"Forget the barbaric Egyptians," Klaus Ruthven, at one time known as Klaus Rotstein, charismatically interupted Villicus. "Although the Egyptians were right in enslaving the Israelite, since they also knew the vermin were inferior, they proved themselves weak, and overpowered by the Jews."
He stood up, approaching the front of the stage. His blonde hair and blue eyes along with the high forehead made him the poster child of Arian race superiority.
"No, friends, look in the New Testament to witness the real crime of these animals," he held up the King James version of the Bible and open it, holding it high.
"The Jews murdered Jesus Christ. It was not the Romans. After He died," Ruthven bowed his head in mourning, his voice shaking. "The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom." He looked up, determined. "It was a sign, my friends, of God's discontent with the Jew swine."
"It says so. HERE, in the word of God!" He shouted. "These Christ killers became the ENEMY of God! The Almighty's enemies are OUR enemies!! If we do not work to neutralize our enemies, then we, we, my friends, become enemies of GOD!"
The crowd roared--most of them were authoritarian personality types, counter narcissistic. Just a bunch of wild, and crazy guys with a thing for conquest, expansion, and creamatoriums.
Average IQ: less than 50.
The clamor, and the applause reached the roof tops--a grotesque acme of love/power, love/hatred that defecated in the face of compassion, and human civilization. It was a consummate, conscious expression of detestation, malignity, misanthropy, plain dislike for your face; misology, misopedia, and necrophilia.
Clicking his black bootheels together, Heir Josef Villicus summed it all up by extending his palm upwards in the sublime of hatred.
"Sieg Heils." He pledged in brimstone.
"Sieg Heils." The rabble echoed back, booming from one wall to another, creating ricochets on Earth, and in the hereafter. "SIEG HEILS." Amplifying, and waving banners, and placards that displayed overmastering eagles, and perverse odin runes, and black skulls. "!!!SIEG HEILS!!!
Wallace Simpson turned several shades of crimson, surpressing the urge to laugh at her companion's humorous tale. The maitre d' in the French cafe glanced at the couple as he led another pair to a distant table. The restaurant was busy with lunch time clientele, upper crust but not exactly proper. The restaurant was a quiet corner for illicit rendezvous of spouses and lovers.
Wallace knew many of the patrons and was keenly aware that nothing would be said about her choice of companion, lest she might have tea with the wife of one of the patrons some afternoon to convey information which the husband would rather remain a secret.
"Jared, you amuse me," Simpson finished her coffee and reached for her Loyd's, offering him one from her pack.
"I better forego that one." Bergman said millifluently. He had no idea why. The amount of stamina he was currently enjoying together with the complete absense of vertigo was evidence enough of his reacquired, organic blood flow. He had suspected it the moment he arrived, and 48 hours later he was convinced. His cardiothoracic 'challenge' did not follow him through the time portal. He needed no X-Rays to prove that his Centrifugal Biopump--manufactured from the same type of spaceage plastic as the chairs on Moonbase Alpha--was swapped for his own heart, the organ that failed him all those years ago.
Or was it all those years from now? His tenses were hopelessly bunged up like an asses' shoe laces, and he did not care.
That concerned him more than the magic, reinstallment of his own ventricles.
"Ah!" She noticed the time and the waiter turning up the radio in the corner. "The newest trashy rage in London is about to come on." Leto lit her cigarette. "The Days and Nights on Harrington Row is one of those radio programs recently to ensnare the interest of women from all social classes of London. One of the few things the classes have in common, I suppose. I think it is a sign of the times. The depression is so deep and emcompassing that we all need some diversion to, at least for half an hour, take our minds off of the dim reality of our world."
She took a puff and smiled coquetishly, teasingly, "I've only heard it a few times and I'm not following it at all."
Of course she had been following it, especially since the mysterious American stranger began to seduce Esther. Everyone who was ANYONE had been following the horrendously simpleminded but entrancing drama.
"Wallace...." Bergman ventured, but nothing was gained. An integrity that he could ill-afford was prompting him more, and more to come clean, to admit to her the fantastic, unconcealed basics. These five, going on six years he had spent doing Robinson Crusoe; trapped on a technological version of Ile Du Diable. He was an astrophysicist from a future that had been decimated by nuclear holocaust. The Moon was a free agent now, and he was here to bring back a ganglial, neuropathic mass murderer who hated work, and drank too much caffeine. "Would you like to accompany me to Tower Bridge later? To City Hall?" He had no idea if this would benefit him or not, but it seemed a good place to start. "Then later we can visit the newspaper office. I need desperately to run an advert--if you're game that is."
"Delighted, love," Simpson snuffed her cigarette, eyeing him with concern. He had seemed more introspective lately, as if he had something to tell her. She was also feeling on the verge, compelled to tell him about the insistent love letters from a certain batchelor. She had cooled the relationship when she met Leto. However, he drew her back in when he insisted that the relationship would be platonic, that he needed her help in finding a suitable young, virgin bride who would be his queen and produce legitimate royal heirs. It was, as she discovered, a ruse. She was determined to break it off, once and for all.
In her purse, she had written the "Dear John" letter, to completely sever her relationship with King Edward.
She noticed he was completely entranced by the radio and Days And Nights of Harrington Row. "I see it has you hooked too," Wallace laughed.
It was Drexler's turn.
Since it was his duty to demand a tithe, the adrenaline that characterized the first half of the meeting died a horrible death, and was replaced by obnoxious belching, suspicion, and penuriousness. They would all contribute, but they would not all contribute cheerfully. His closing statements included updates on the financial status of the National Socialist Party in Ireland (which was more solvent than were...incidentally...and it was all because certain chaps were not willing to allocate with their wallets as muchs as they were with their mouths--it was all becoming quite a diddyride....).
Klaus Rotstein--reincarnated on old Earth under the nom de theater of 'Klaus Ruthven'--slipped away during the role call for the upcoming dobbewalling of the New Labour's suction, and mishandling of private pensions.
He needed another score, more blood, and entrails. Since arriving ten years ago, he had made a pact with himself, and the Devil. He would kill only when the headaches became excruciating. Usually, he could go about ten months, but this past year had been his annus horribilis, and for that reason, he felt he deserved a bonus.
"Where might you be going?" Villicus grabbed him by the sleeve, and pulled him aside while Drexler completed his massacre of boredom. "Still on for tonight, aren't we?"
"I have it with me." Rotstein abided but kept walking.
On the other side of a rotting, Termite infested wooden door, there was a rickety table, an unstable chair, and a taught length of rope thrown over one of the sodden ceiling pipes. The table was for meeting, the chair was for relaxation, and the rope was to hang anyone with who spoke to often of the attendant activities at these meetings.
It was also a wonderful place to retire for covert discussion of the evening news. Plugged into the round wall socket, a black laquered, solid state Emerson radio adorned the floor next to a puddle of blood that had dried purple.
"...I know the human heart." Some soap opera maven whined, and soliloquied over one of the local channels that had been left on. "It can pound our reason. It can break us, divide us. Oh Lawrence, don't you understand?" The ingenue strangely began to sulk. "Sometimes it's better to be separate?"
"I know that I am turned inside out?" The suave, rapacious American, Lawrence Oglethorpe responded. "And I want to be rightside in?" He said selfishly. "And it's all from the beam in your eye, Esther my love. It is the gentleness of your smile? The warmness of your soul?
"The way you wear your shoes?" He indicated, obviously having studied the delicacy of her body like a map. "I am a rich businessman? Therefore, I shall throw caution to the wind and take what I want?"
"John?!?" Bergman mumble in the cafe, blinking. Wallace's face went blank.
"Come to me." Oglethorpe seized her in the name of desire.
No, don't hold me close...not in your powerful arms." Esther 'hammed it up. "Even if I feel safe there, even if I want you to."
"I'm going to kiss you?" Oglethorpe promised. "You don't love Arthur? You love me?"
"No, not now." Esther replied with sweet defiance. "I see your face getting close. Your handsome face, your masculine lips. No, no, 'noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo."
"It's live!! It's LIVE, isn't it?" Bergman jumped up excited. Wallace nodded.
"Where is it? I must go there..NOW!!"
"It's at the BBC studio. It's not far from here." Wallace called after Bergman as he dragged her out of the restaurant by the hand and out to the Phantom. "Jared, what's the matter?"
"I'll explain when we get there," he responded with barely contained excitement, slipping the auto into gear.
"Hey, you can't go in there," Supervisor Jefferies stopped Leto and Simpson in the hall, blocking the door. "There's live broadcasting in there....who are you?"
"I'm an old friend of...of John, the actor playing Oglethorpe in Days and Nights On Harrington Row," Bergman explained, excited. "I must see him."
"John? John Murphy?," Jefferies shook his head like a bouncer. "Murphy's got a lot of fans, though most of them are women. Leave a message with Mrs. Carter and he'll get back to you."
"'ey, what's 'appenin' 'ere?" the busy Lily Carter stepped into the group.
Bergman blinked, stunned into silence. "Mrs. Carter?" He'd seen the picture before or would see it, 65 or so years in the future among a collection of other ancestral photos in the quarters of a former (or future) graduate student and her family.
Murphy/Koenig stepped out of the sound booth, along with Vivian Jenning, aka 'Esther'.
"JOHN!" Bergman threw open the door and moved quickly past Jefferies.
"...sorry...but I am flattered." Koenig told Jenning, shaking her hand to thank her for her for-real, soixante neuf, and deviant sexual propositions. "You've got quite an imagination, though."
"What a piss." Jenning scowled as he walked away.
"Yeah, I'm a piss." The commander agreed, and then realized who was standing right in front of him. "???VICTOR???" He grabbed the professor excitedly. "YOU MADE IT."
His ear-to-ear grin subsided when he realized that the intended conversation may not be suitable for all audiences.
Wallace stepped behind them, confused then a smile crossed her face.
"Oh, Jared," she offered. "Is this the chap from Kentucky? The one who lost his shirt in the exacta?" Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "It appears he has recovered."
"Kentucky?" Koenig said, addlebrained and then realized what Bergman's companion was referring to. "Jared?" He tried out the name, glowering. "I see 'Jared' has told you the one story he never gets right.
"John Murphy--from Brooklyn." He introduced himself--properly, but cautiously. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I take it 'Jared' neglected to mention his bitterness over losing the Belmont, but I won't go into details. I'd hate to bore you--not that 'Jared's' life is uninteresting."
Bergman/Leto grinned sheepishly and shurgged.
"That is certainly true," Wallace beamed. She extended her hand. "A New Yorker, eh? I'm also from the states or as they call them here, the colonies. Wallace Simpson, originally from Baltimore."
The name instantly rang as bell as Koenig took her hand tentatively then kissed it. "Delighted." He glanced at Bergman then back to Mrs. Simpson. "How did you come into the company of Mr. Leto?"
"Right." Jeffries intruded with lumpen nastiness. "Romeo, I hate to interrupt your conversation but the rest of us still have work to do." He rumbled with no courtesy for Bergman and Wallace. "Be at the act two rehearsal tommorrow at 'nineish. Next time you might want to try memorizing your lines. The panting, dormitory girls don't sign your cheques, my friend."
He looked at Wallace with possible lust, but seeing her as a defective person, he turned back towards the broadcast booth.
"He...has no personality." Koenig apologized. "It's a long story--Jared, I think you and I need to get up to speed. Some things have happened since the last time I saw you. I think the current did carry us in the same direction as a mutual friend of ours."
The symbolism was evident.
Reality hit Bergman like a truck. He seemed genuinely disappointed to hear this tidbit. Bergman had been rowing up the river of 'denial' and realized he would rather not go back to the future.
He liked things as they were. Life was grand, far more grand than he ever experienced. The memory of Moonbase Alpha was dim. Perhaps..perhaps it was all a dream, a bad nightmare. He wanted it to be true.
"You look like you've seen Little Rosy." Martin Drexler insulted Rotstein as they adjourned to the hanging room. "More pale than usual, I think."
"Timidity is the only apparition we need to fear." Villicus pontificated. "Never trust the eyes. They are treasonous. They look upon an empty battlefield. Victory resides within."
"Truly?" Rotstein said, stopping for a minute to consider the philisophical implications. "How about the things we 'hear?' Are they untrustworthy as well?"
To that, his disconnected cohorts had no answer.
"Very good." Drexler complimented--the crushing fathoms of pressure easing away as he saw Ruthven point towards the table. The piece of gunmetal gray alloy was supported by an unravelled, makeshift, coathanger base. The object indefinably resembled an exotic horse shoe put on display, or a hard edged, inverted U-shape. He dimpled with gratitude at Villicus for inviting him to this covert meeting. "Pardon my rudeness, old blighter, but what in the name of God is that?"
"Something I thought our friends in Bavaria might appreciate." Rotstein replied. "It requires a platinum charge, but over the years, I learned to make due with silver cadmium. I confess to hordeing this, but the burning of the Reichstag, and Hindenberg's unfortunate demise have convinced me otherwise."
He leaned affectionately against the table, turning the laser gun left, and right on its support.
"It looks like something from...from outer space," Villicus studied the device. Despite knowing Ruthven for eight years, a chill ran up his spine. Even murderous scumbags can sense the presence of evil, murderous scumbags and his intution suddenly told him he did not know Ruthven at all.
Despite the fact that he was not only a brother united in the 'cause' but he was actually his brother in law, married to his sister Myrna for 7 years, he felt he did not 'know' Ruthven at all.
"What is it?" Villicus lit his cigarette, reaching for a knob.
"You can stay here as long as you like, John," Bergman brought him the tea and set it on the coffee table. He pulled out his new pocketwatch. "In fact, I would like you to wait here until I get back."
He poured the tea. "Wallace and I are going to the opera this evening."
"Opera?" Koenig disapproved. "Don't get too into it.
"Victor, the night I arrived here, I found a body. It was left in a creek down in Cold Fall Woods. I left an anonymous tip on Scotland Yard's doorstep. It was exactly the same thing we saw with Reilly, and Bayledon. Someone carved this person up like a piece of tenderloin, but only after they beat them to within an inch of their lives.
"We never could figure out how, but it could be the same method was used to disable them that was used on Alpha. The corpse had been there for a while, obviously, but it wasn't exactly a stack of rotting bones. Whoever this person was, they died only a few weeks ago.
"He may have arrived before us--several years, even--but I'm confident that we emerged from the time portal in exactly the same era." Koenig said in brief. "Rotstein is in this city."
Bergman looked at him blankly. He felt like a school boy in a group project where he had not been doing his share of the work. In fact, he had done none at all. A part of him was embarassed. Another part of him, disturbingly was not. His days had been occupied with auto sales to the rich and upper crust of England; Wallace had steered her friends to him and their patronage elevated him to the highest salesperson of not only the dealership but London. His Royal Majesty's cousin had recently purchased a Phantom from him. His nights were spent with Wallace; fine dining, the opera, the theater and the talking pictures.
He could not have ever dreamed of such contentment and happiness.
"Are you sure?" Victor blurted out as he settled back in the leather ottoman (his furnishing were courtesy of the excellent decorating tastes of Simpson), and lit his cigarette.
Koenig stared at him a moment then continued.
"This problem has been going on since the year 1925." The commander cited. "One of the newscasters at the station clued me in. In November of that year, the owner of a tool and die interest was butchered in his home in Essex. He and his entire family. Since then, a pattern has developed. Once, maybe twice a year, this killer strikes. They locals even have a name for him.
"They call him 'The Candramasa.'
"The 'Moon Diety,' Victor. Before slaughtering the person I found, he knocked off a police constable over in Kent. They're more desperate than they're willing to let on because they've had every assist you can possibly think of. They've even imported investigators from France, and the United States.
"Nothing. Zero. The killer doesn't write, he doesn't boast, he doesn't leave footprints."
"There must be some sign of him, though, some way to flush him out," Bergman continued, amazed. "Psychopathic killers tend to cluster with like psychopaths...people with, perhaps, even extreme philosopies and ideologies."
He stood up and paced, taking leisurely drags as he contemplated. "Sure, he would try to blend in, become part of society but his tendencies would lead him into unconventional religious or even political groups."
He stopped and spun around. "Do you remember a few months back," actually it would be more than a few months in the future, the professor thought, then continued, "the late night shouting match between Rotstein and Petrov? We came in at the end but according toYuri, Rotstein had made a 'joke' about gypsies and crematoriums. Petrov's grandparents were gassed at Aucshwitz. When Colonel Petrov asked him to stop, there was no remorse, no sensitivity about the subject and his poor taste in humor. In fact, Rotstein kept baiting him to the point where if you and Carter had not stepped into the room, things would have gotten physical."
"At the time, we dismissed it as Rotstein being the ass that he normally is." Bergman contemplated the moonlit sky. "I wonder if there is something more to that..."
He poured two glassed of fine brandy and offered one to Koenig, returning to his chair.
Koenig's eyebrow raised as he stared at the brandy indifferently. He felt like he was trying to explain doomsday to someone who was not of this world, who had no moral, intellectual, or emotional investment in the topic at hand. It was as foreign to Victor Bergman, the commander knew, as the jet black bauble that the professor now sported. He wondered if the antithetical process they experienced on Alpha was effecting them even more fundamentally on the opposite side of the barrier. John Koenig felt his age, but he did not look it. The trip downstream had washed away the gray, the ever deepening frown lines. He enjoyed the reinvigorated hot springs of the soul that now propelled him.
But his instincts were au courant, and not in a 1934 sort of way. He recalled Breakaway, the unending command conferences, the struggle for life in a universe of favored races, and humankind was not one of them. He returned to the slabs in Mathias' examination room, and the lifeless bodies that adorned them. He echoed back to the prayer, and the dealing. He remembered a dream of the planet Mythraea, and the death of creation.
The man standing before him could relate? Koenig disliked what he was seeing in the strongest possible way. The professor was no longer "The Professor." In the docudrama of life, Tom Cruise had stepped in to play this role, and it stank. Semantics demanded that he confront the facts, arrest the bull by its boiling horns. This kid, literally, could not have been a PhD. Hardly possible at such a naieve, bone-lazy age, he had maybe a graduate school intellect, and the chevalier attitude of someone who has only just retired from believing in Father Christmas.
The fate of the Moon, the galaxy?
Koenig wondered if Bergman gave a snort.
"Victor, I get the impression that we have another 'deadline'...one that Hyacinth neglected to mention before we left."
"As you can see...." Klaus Ruthven segued as he heaved the back-breaking (for he was no longer a young man, and had actually been a middle aged man during his lost years--in the confinement of Moonbase Alpha) test article onto the floor, as he prepared the led block for lightening vaporization. "I'm a bit more serious than a trio of drunks at a Munich beer hall."
Villicus responded by showing him his flared nostrils.
Drexler would doubt him. He always did.
"Will this be something impressive?" The deputy minister of the British National Party objected loudly. "I do have other things to do, and you still haven't explained what that thing is."
He pointed towards the enigmatic metal that rested in the shadow of the noose which hung on high.
"I'm coming to that." Ruthven said. On the post-1999 Moon his response would have been 'who pulled your chain, 'Shep?' That, or: 'Is that your face, or did your neck throw up?' However, the time he had spent in this other world, Earth of 1934 had diminished most of his colloquialisms, and altered his manner of delivering invectives. "But first, I would ask the both of you: what separates the conqueror from one who has been conquered?"
"Power." Villicus said absolutely.
"No." Ruthven pointed it out like the most minacious history teacher who has ever lived.
"Economics." Drexler stumbled. "The Halls Of Power are lined with a dead man's coins."
The minister of propoganda cackled sinistrally, and shook his head.
"They're also lined with the bodies of many an avaricious caesar who didn't know when to stop reaching for money." Ruthven interrelated. "Do I have to spell this out for you?"
Seeing the vacuous, empty stares on thier faces told him that he would.
"Well, you have yourself a ball at La Traviata, Victor." John Koenig bilked discordantly. "Make sure you wear a tuxedo, and take along a pair of those sillyass binoculars. I'm going after Rotstein tonight, with or without your help."
He reached for his hat, and Frederick Scholt overcoat.
Bergman stared at him blankly. "Do you even have any idea where he is?" He snuffed out his cigarette. "You haven't presented a plan of action at all, John and that is not like you. London is a big town. What are you going to do? Knock on every door and ask ' Is Klaus Rotstein home?'"
"Nope." Koenig said flatly. "That won't be necessary, Victor. You and I tend to think alike--when we're in agreement that is. I think you're onto something about Rotstein, and the herd instinct of monsters. Slime communes with slime, so I did some checking on that too. I probed everyone at the station--on the sly--and tried to find out what was the scummiest, the most reprehensible....
"The cadre in this town that is most likely to be crowned as human puke, and the name that kept coming up again and again was the British Workman's Party. It's a thinly-veiled offshoot of the National Socialist Party.
"The Nazi Party.
"It was founded about eight years ago by an german national named Josef Villicus." Koenig went on. "His day job seems to be along the lines of biotechnology--he has factories all across Europe that refine natural gas for peace-time use, or so he says. He's rotten to the core, but he's managed to avoid being incarcerated in Belmarsh, and Wormwood Scrubs because it's always the other guy's fault. He's a master of plausible deniability.
"At night he plots the overthrow of Parliament, and the Windsor monarchy." The commander said, chugging from the brandy glass, despite his better judgement. "They give tolerance to this because, once again, nothing has ever been proven.
"He's egotistical, of course." Koenig added. "Orderly extermination of all non-arians, camps, the Einsatzgruppen--Villicus is looking at a package deal. Global domination is his thing. He thinks everyone should be just like him--a raving psychopath.
"He and da fuhrer would enjoy one another's company immensely." Koenig speculated. "But that's not the interesting part. Villicus' most trusted lieutenant--the co-founder of the British Workman's Party is a man named Klaus Ruthven."
Bergman showed no emotion but his brandy symbolically burned more than usual in his belly. He remembered someone in Wallace's circle mentioning 'Ruthven' but he did not know he was connected to the British Workman's Party. He thought the chap was just running a successful aviation business.
He never made the connection that Ruthven may equal Rotstein.
"It may be a longshot, but it's definitely worth looking into." The commander decided. "If Ruthven is Rotstein, he's done well for himself. He owns a small, but lucrative, aircraft maintenance company that calls itself Copernicus Aviation. They operate out of the Battersea Aerodrome. As a sideline, they train air traffic controllers for Luton, and even the RAF at Anglesey.
"It might sound like a modest beginning." Koenig agreed. "But from what I've heard, Ruthven just keeps on improving. He's doing well enough to go on expensive holidays once a year. You can set your watch by him, and Victor, it's odd because as soon as he leaves town, the Candramasa will usually strike.
"I have the address of the BWP headquarters on Saint James Street." The commander said deprecatingly. "I hoped we could check this out together--you know, two heads are better than one? But that's o'kay. I don't want the fate of the universe to ruin your good time.
"Have fun watching The Marriage Of Figaro, or whatever the hell it is you're going to see. Bring me back a program book. Make sure you don't spill any champagne on it when you go to drink from Wallace Simpson's shoe."
"John," Bergman fumed, slamming his empty glass down on the endtable, "I've listened to you hurl sarcastic comments about Wallace. Wallace has helped me since I've been here." He glared at John Koenig but could say nothing more. The words were stuck in his throat.
Bergman as Leto became inwardly angry and for a microsecond regretted his reunion with John Murphy. No, it was John Koenig, former student and currently, yes CURRENTLY the Commander of Moonbase Alpha on Earth's lost satellite. He looked up at the sky again, realizing that the seconds, the minutes, hours and yes, the days were ticking by and approaching the day when Earth would no longer have a moon.
Bergman found himself in a dank cavern, the screams of humanity echoing from the walls. Sybel stood in front of him. He turned in sudden terror but Hyacinth was behind. Sybil, the torch witch illuminated the walls but he wished she had not: the rotting flesh of blood, gore, sinew and exposed marrow of broken bones and decapitated skulls lined the walls.
"Why do you delay?" Hyacinth spoke gravely and irritated.
"Emotion has weakened his resolved," Sybel pronounced as Eyes, seemingly sympathetic stared at him through tears, pleadingly.
"You are not here for your own amusement," Sybil with torch stated. "Perhaps you wish to see a more personal consequence of your delay..."
The images were distorting but he recognized his mother and naturally himself as a toddler. It was not too far in the future, less than 8 years. His family had escaped the horrors of his relatives in Eastern Europe but in these images, something was different. He could not comprehend them but it was not important.
"NO!!" He shouted pointlessly as his mother, holding him tightly, was rounded up and herded into a rail car not even fit for cattle.
"NO!!!" He cried out again, as he watched her fight them while they ripped him from her arms. He did not know where 'he' went but he saw them, to numerous to count, brutalize his mother, her screams echoed through the room.
"No!!" He screamed pitifully, as they dragged her bloody and broken into themusty cement shower room.
He was there, coughing and gasping violently as the Xyclon-B clouds overtook their victims in the final solution.
When he looked up, he was in the flat, on his knees and gasping, clutching his chest with an alarmed Koenig beside him.
"Are you alright?" The commander asked. He had no idea what happened, but he did sense that Jared Leto's evening had gone to the dogs.
The malaise had left him as quickly as it came and he was breathing normally, his pulse was at normal resting rate. He stood up and went to the telephone.
"Get me Hampton 487," he instructed the operator. There was a pause.
"Wallace, love, its Jared," He composed himself, but never taking his eyes off Koenig. "Listen dear, I've come down with a bad case of the stomach flu. I'm sorry, my dear, I really cannot go tonight."
"No, dear, its alright.....Bad caviar?" He chuckled. "It could be but don't be too hard on Maurice....Yes, my dear...I will make it up to you....No, sweetheart, I can take care of myself. Why don't you go on with Mitzy?..... OK, darling. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
He hung up the phone. "Alright. Let's go."
"You want me to give you the answers." Ruthven told his audience of two. Before the demonstration, he wanted to make sure they were educable, and worthy of being suitors to his connive. What he had in mind was more elegant than Mein Kampf; inalterable, compared to Hiroshima, and Nagasaki; more consuming, and demolishing than all three phases of World War Terminus. It was Rotstein's Excellent Extermination. But first, these two fools, here, had to pass muster. Neither of them were particularly smart--especially Villicus, who came from a huge, libertine pile of old money. The least little travail on Moonbase Alpha would have driven this blockheaded pogrom to a nervous breakdown. "You don't just expect them--you demand them, like diapers, and a pacifier. Instead, I'll give you insight." The engineer with germicidal eyes told Abbot & Costello. Actually, Abbot & Abbot would be more appropos since neither of them missed any meals. "Into things unmentionable. Would you believe me if I told you it was possible to divide hadrons, not atoms, thereby unleashing enough destructive power to annihilate a planet the size of Jupiter?"
"No." Martin Drexler yawned. "I would not believe you."
"Jupiter?" Villicus repeated, confused...trying to get a grip, but the round peg wasn't fitting in his square hole--or in his square head for that matter.
"That may be a bit too creative for you." Ruthven conceded. "What if I told you that it was possible to turn 20 foot long, tungsten beams into a missile barrage--one that is accurate to within 25 feet, and powerful enough to eradicate ground-based targets at 25,000 feet per second?
"Where I come from, we call them the Rods Of God."
The engineer blushed altruistically.
"Jupiter." Villicus shined. "I see now. This is a mythological discussion, yes?"
"No, this is about 'vision.'" The engineer explained. "A quality that you, my friends, lack and proof that you have both fallen from the stupid tree, and hit every, single branch on the way down."
"The trials of Odysseus is a remarkable, visionary piece." The leader of the British Workman's Party pouted, wounded, and defensive.
Villicus was proof that evolution could go in reverse.
The door opened without a knock and it could only be one person: Myrna Villicus Ruthven.
"Good evening, gentlemen," she addressed them incorrectly. Today she was dressed modestly and somewhat plainly, too drab for her normal, social hopping style. She sat comfortably in the love seat, lighting her cigarette herself. She was a tall woman, with ash blond hair and ice blue eyes. In fact, her appearance was a mirror image of another woman of aristocratic ancestry with platinum blonde hair on a base that was years away from ground breaking. This woman, however, was the doppelganger of the other.
"I judge by the perplexed looks on Marty and my dear brother's faces that you haven't explained the device, darling" she began after a long drag. "Either that or they are not bright enough to understand it."
She smirked at Josef Villicus's irked glance. Drexler glared at her.
"I have some interesting news, well, interesting to me anyway," she continued, holding her cigarette high and flicking ashed behind the sofa. "It seems Wally is keeping company with a new 'friend'. After asking so questions, I found out his name is Jared Leto. He seems to have come out of nowhere. Do you know him?"
"Annoying female." Drexler scowled. "We're having a difficult enough time with your husband's swings, and roustabouts. For your information, I have a meeting in Whitehall tommorrow. What I wanted was a nightcap, and a warm pillow on which to lay my aching skull. Now you barge in here, and dash to smithereens any hope of brevity.
"The local dairies are threatening to strike again, which must not mean anything to you." He jeered. "Then again, you Lady Ruthven, provide ample cheese."
He showed her his disdain, the unbridled bellicosity of his crew cut.
"Awwww, tsk, tsk," she baby talked, mockingly. "Far be it from me to interfere with your beauty rest, Marty." She took another puff; she enjoyed getting on Drexler's nerves. "Suppose I make a nice nightcap for you." She had no intention of getting up.
Drexler shook his head silently. The woman wasn't to be trusted with mixing drinks of any kind. It could be one's last.
"If asked, I suppose the one thing I understand the least...." Villicus trailed off, watching Ruthven reach for the percolator again. "...is how you can consume so much coffee, and still retire peacefully at night.
"I would be so restless, I wouldn't even be able to sleep on the job." This passer of natural gas told his sibling. His brother-in-law's acclaimed constitution made him envious.
"No." Ruthven told his wife after careful consideration, sipping from his bone, ceramic coffee mug. "I know no one by that name."
The two men stepped out into the evening, though because it was early, the street was still bustling with activity.
"Why the animosity toward Wallace, John?" Bergman finally broke the stony silence.
"I have no problem at all with that woman." Koenig said earnestly. "What I have a problem with is you, sticking both hands into the soup bowl, and all the while you know that a paradox in time is exactly the thing that brought us here.
"Did you think the Clocksmiths were joking? You saw what happened to Alpha--total, non-existence; Eagle Four, melted in a temporal lava; the entire cosmos was rent asunder in a matter of seconds.
"Your actions go beyond walking in front of the fire engine.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Victor?" He asked, transported by the senselessness of it all. "You don't have to have a college history course to know who Wallace Simpson was. You're falling head over heels with the future consort of Edward, VIII. He abdicated the throne for her, for chrissakes. Have you even thought about that, or the consequences of this little October courtship?
"Of course I know who she is...or might have been," Bergman answered with a flourish. "The truth is she was headed in that path, another marriage for social or financial convenience, when she met me. You wouldn't think I would be attracted to her but she is a genuine, warm person." He continued to gush. "We are very happy together."
"John, I might as well tell you now." Bergman continued, not allowing him to comment yet. "We will find Rotstein to prevent whatever it was that he might have done to damage the future. Then....you can take him back. I intend to stay here with Wallace."
Koenig chuckled ruefully.
"We have been here days, Victor. No time at all, and yet you're totally confident in yourself, and this woman--so much so that you're willing to risk universal holocaust? Don't get me wrong--if you feel you've had enough of Alpha, then by all means, cut the cord. I wish to God I could--I'd be out that door so fast, heads would spin--but I also realize that there is life beyond my nose. I have no right to penicil the fate of everything into my Franklin Planner, nor do you. You're cashing a check that creation can't pay."
"MY STAYING HERE WILL NOT RISK UNIVERSAL HOLOCAUST!!" Bergman retorted angrily and loudly such that a weary, overworked couple and a young boy lugging a stack of the evening edition of The London Times stopped to stare at the two men. Bergman looked down, keeping pace with Koenig.
"My staying here will not risk universal holocaust," he repeated calmly. "Wallace played a minor role in history. Who's to say Edward would not have abdicated anyway? In fact," he brought his voice to a whisper, "there is quite a scandal brewing at the crown now. It appears that his majesty may have a penchant for the company of ...men." Bergman straightened. "I don't care what a person does behind closed doors but you can certainly bet in 1934 England, people do care...especially when it concerns the future monach."
"Edward VIII may be a homosexual?" Koenig shook his head sadly. "That's what you're banking on? That's your defining principal, Victor? Gossip? Better living through rumor, and you're willing to stand by that, even if it means the death of everyone we left behind on Mythraea? Well, I think it's a bunch of crap. I want you to find a home, Victor. You deserve love, and happiness more than any other man I can think of, and if we ever do find a place, I'd want you to be the first person to board that Eagle.
"But we can't just put responsibility away like a cap on a bottle of ketchup--fatigue does not lessen the obligation.
"This way." The commander took the professor by the shoulder, and abruptly pointed towards the corner of Regent, and Pall Mall. He tugged at the brim of his hat as a light drizzle started. "We're looking for building number fifty."
"When we find it," Bergman pulled up his collar for warmth from the cold dampness,"let's check the alley behind the building for a back door." He offered, at last saying something sensible. "I wouldn't imagine we could just walk right in anyway."
The driver of the Packard remained incognito--watching them traverse the square before turning on his headlights, and placing his gear shift in drive.
"I hate to make a row about this." Drexler told the Ruthvens sweetly. "BUT WOULD YOU MIND GIVING ME AN INK PEN THAT WRITES?" He roared intolerantly.
"What exactly are we signing anyway?" Villicus asked his loyal, loyal sister. The print was so small as to be microscopic.
"It's a piddling agreement, really." The engineer said commitously, posing beside his wife on the sofa with his arm around her. They were a perfect couple in most respects. They went together like 'HOMA' and 'CIDE.' Their usury was as timeless as that of Lady Macbeth, and the Thane of Cowdor; they were as constant as Maia and Mars; Ptolemy and Cleopatra; Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow; Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun. They hated the sight of one another--they wanted more than anything else to see the other wretched and miserable as shit. They were married by a judge but it should have been by a jury. They were weirdos, and the antisocial disposition that they displayed towards each other was a turn on. "Just a confidentiality statement that you won't divulge anything that I'm about to show you tonight. I drafted it for purely personal reasons." He laughed self-deprecatingly. "I'm sure it would never withstand scrutiny in a court of law."
The humor ended abruptly as the door was kicked open. The two men were immediately recognizable to Ruthven, as his memory was violently jogged.
"Drop it!" Koenig yelled to Drexler who suddenly produced a sawed off shot gun and began to take aim.
He never sighted the bullseye of Koenig's heart as the Commander lasered him. Bergman motioned to Villicus, who was already standing. He immediately dropped the revolver.
"Who are you?" Villicus spoke calmly. "I'll have you know this is private property and you are trespassing." Nobody really cared whether Drexler was dead or alive.
"That's Jared Leto," Myrna blurted, eyeing the laser warily.
The light seared and burned as John Murphy, aka John Koenig opened his eyes. He was aware of being horizonal. He was further aware of being in a sterile environment with a disinfectant aroma, and judging from the woman in the white uniform and starched wife nurse's cap, in a hospital.
"'Ere, easy now," Lily Carter's pretty face came into focus as he slowly sat up. It felt like someone had beaten him over the back of the head with a shovel. In fact, that is exactly what had happened.
"You gave us a scare," she smiled and then frowned. "Do ya know where you are? Do ya know my name?" She paused then went on tentatively. "Do ya know your name?"
"John K---," he stopped, the last memory of coming into the BWP headquarters uninvited materialized as well as seeing Rotstein, "John Murphy," he continued with a convincing smile, "popularly known as Lawrence Oglethorpe."
"It appears I am in a hospital and you are the lovely Mrs. Carter," he continued, wincing inwardly but he had to get out of there.
"Ooohhh, flattery will get you nowhere," she teased, visibly relieved "but you can keep tryin'. Mr. Leto. Come, 'ere, sir." She glanced beyond the curtain. "'E's awake."
"John," Bergman/Leto appeared, obviously grateful Koenig was not in a vegetative state. "Welcome back. Lily, dear, would you mind fetching me a cup of coffee, please?" He asked the woman.
"O' course I will," she nodded, then peeked around the curtain again. "I'll be right back. Don't ya go anywhere." She smiled gently and left.
The multitude of explosions going off in his head as he sat upright were slowly subsiding. He took the offered water and soothed his parched throat.
"What happened, Victor? Did Rotstein get away?" He had no memory of the first question. His intuition gave him the answer to the second.
"He moves well for a fellow of his years." The professor said with faux admiration. "He and Mme. Ruthven were out the door...down the block...gone from all kin and kind. I assume they've had to exit that way several times. Looking back on it, the way he bolted onto the Eagle was a fair sign of his abilities to elude capture.
"Somewhere in the intervening years, he's managed to hone, and refine his skills.
"He'll be far more wary next time. We 'shant have that opportunity again."
"Yeah," Koenig shifted position and realized his shoulder, his mummy like bandaged left shoulder, was also another contribution to agony and misery. "We should have just lasered all three of them. Unfortunately, we tend to be merciful, unlike the guy were were hunting."
He shook his head and castigated himself for being a whimp. "Make no mistake, Victor...uh, Jared," he glance at the nurse at the far end of the common, 4 patient room and lowered his voice. "Next time, we should consider shoot to kill."
"Drexler is dead." The professor reported, not altogether unhappily. "He probably had some sort of blood clot, or a blockage. These people don't worry about the medical implications of using advanced weaponry. There are worse things than armor-piercing shells. He's was at the wrong place at the wrong time to receive a stun, let's just put it that way."
Koenig said nothing. At this point he didn't care if they knocked off a scumbag Nazi. He was acutely aware that perhaps that act alone, the accidental death of Drexler, may have been the trigger for universal armagedon.
Somehow he doubted it.
"As for Villicus, I have no idea what happened to him." The professor confessed. "I was too busy trying to wrest you from the clutches of Lady Ruthven." He nodded with an eminence of almost death. "Yeah...Rotstein didn't land you here, John. He's still as mediocre a shot as he was on Alpha. She's not, though. Obviously she has a thing for daggers as well. Never has there been a more complimentary couple. She had one plunged in your shoulder before you knew it. Your alright though. You lost enough blood to preclude continuing this manhunt for at least a few days."
"Nice lady," Koenig replied, dripping with sarcasm over the term 'lady'. "I'm sure she is just his type. Two nutjobs for the price of one." More of his memory returned. "Victor, she recognized you. She called you Jared Leto. How does she know you? Have you seen her before? In the auto dealership perhaps?"
"Perhaps." Bergman shrugged ambiguously. "Neither one of them seemed totally surprised. I'd say Rotstein heard one of your radio performances. He must have known we would be coming. A decade passed, but there was no complacency in him--other than the unwillingness to move from the epicenter of the time portal. There must be something in London that has...." The professor groped from closure. "Attracted him...enticed him...helped his motives along, whatever they may be.
"It could be that he recognizes Britain as being tactically important. He's not from this period. Like us, he's well aware that another global war is brewing. The United Kingdom was central to weakening the axis powers. There's something to be said about going 'once more unto the breach.' When Churchill declared that they would rather fill up the gap with the english dead than to allow Germany to invade, it hurt Hitler. It left a bastion. A stronghold. He may have wasted too much time trying to topple England, which gave the Allies time to gnaw away at the Third Reich...small steps became greater, more effective steps.
"Then before anyone knew it, Omaha Beach was upon them." Bergman mused wistfully. "It's just a theory. We do know that Rotstein has an interest in fascism. He's made that obvious.
"And he needs money. I took a look at those papers he was trying to get Villicus, and Drexler to sign. John, were it not for our intervention--not just Drexler--but both of those two would have been dead. They were unwittingly signing over their entire fortunes to Copernicus Aviation."
Koenig pounded his fist on the sheet. "Damn," he scowled, "so, were Drexler and Villicus suppose to be alive at this point in time? Pehaps we 'saved' Villicus by interfering but Drexler is dead. And what about Mrs. Ruthven? What was her path in time before Rotstein came along?"
The possible implications of the altered lives of these people were mindboggling.
"Victor, do you suppose Rotstein and the little woman have any children? That could have implications as well," he sighed, his head throbbing. There were few people Koenig would ever display times when he was discouraged. Helena Russell was one of them. Victor Bergman was another.
"Children?" The professor contemplated. "Good question. On Alpha, sterility problems weren't exactly common knowledge--more so because we were forced to play that down. If they do have offspring, then Breakaway will be a euthanasia, a mercy killing. John, therein would lay the seeds for countless other conflicts. Imagine accellerated, bloodier versions of Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War.
"For all we know, there might be a Rotstein to sponsor World War Terminus this time, and if we thought the first go-around was bad--just wait until we see the 'unauthorized' edition. We won't have to worry about the Moon being blasted away; it will be decimated, along with the rest of the solar system. Rotstein knows about nuclear weapons; advanced propulsive systems--bet you the Exacta 'again' that he'll put a spin on the V2 rocket like the world has never seen. Werner Von Braun will spend all of the 1960's working on newer, more hideous incarnations of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Instead of sixty years from now, we'll have Fuel Air Bombs, and Fusion Grenades 'ten' years from now, if not sooner.
"Instead of an immature Moon race like we had before, there will be battles beyond the stars.
"There are men alive now--in this decade, who could build such devices, John. The materials are already here. All they need is guidance; for someone like Rotstein to lift up the rock, and show them what's under there."
Koenig nodded, even more discouraged. He swung his legs around, over the bed. "Where's my clothes?" He asked, planting both feet on the floor and allowing his equilibrium to return. He put up his hand. "No arguments, Victor. I'll live. We don't however have the luxury of time."
"I'm one to question...." Bergman assented. "But you'll get no argument, that's for sure." He promised, removing Koenig's shirt, and slacks from the featureless, hospital yawn-armoire. "I did some investigative work of my own while you were out. Rotstein has a flat in Yorkshire. I doubt that he's there, but it seems like a logical place to look next.
"There, or the offices of Copernicus Aviation."
"And just where do ya think ya goin', John?" Lily Carter, setting Leto's coffee on the hospital tray on castors, appeared suddenly and crossed arms over her chest.
"The doc hasn't released ya and ya be a bloomin' idiot if ya went out in your condition," she went on, gently but firmly pushing Koenig down to a seated position on the bed.
Koenig wasn't in a creative mood to come up with a clever rouse.
"John will be staying with me, Lily, at my flat," Bergman explained paternally. "I've hired a private nurse to come look after him." He chuckled. "I thought he'd be more comfortable than in a common hospital room. Our car is waiting outside."
Lily looked at him with initial suspicion but then decided Bergman was sincere.
"Well," she started with concern. "Alright then." She turned to Koenig. "Get some rest then. I'll be by tomorrow afternoon to check on ye. Oh, and don't ye worry. Ye got your job still. They got lots of scenes of Esther and Arthur. When Arthur finds out she be playing around with Lawrence, blimey!" She laughed. "That will be a good show, and that be when you come back in."
"I look forward to it," Koenig tried to sound enthusiastic. "Lily, don't worry about me," he continued, displaying his most reassuring and friendly, toothy smile, "I'll be just fine."
Bergman pulled the privacy curtain and played look out until Koenig emerged, stiff but intent. After covertly sneaking out of the ward, they casually blended in with visitor, newly admitted and newly discharged patients. Bergman led him quickly out the back door and into the waiting Phantom.
"Hello Jared," Wallace Simpson greeted from the front passenger seat as Bergman took the driver's seat. She turned elegantly then frowned. "Oh, dear, you look dreadful, Mr. Murphy. Jared, is this really such a wise idea?"
"I don't know how interested I would be." Ed decided onerously, dogearing a stack of memos at his desk. "Villicus has some splendid ideas, but too often, he seems less concerned with socialism, and more concerned with filling his coffers. I visualize something more idyllic. Without that foresightedness, the British Workman's Party becomes a colloquy of brutes.
"Wouldn't you agree, Sir Nigel?"
"Decidedly so." The head of special branch did wholeheartedly agree, and twirled the Sherry in his glass. He gazed into the abyss, but the abyss did not gaze back. He didn't like how these dialogues were going. Ed had yet to accept the bait, but then too, flotsam, and bilge like Josef Villicus would have been scooped away from Buckingham Palace like horse manure a month ago--now he had managed to penetrate briefings of the state.
The exaltation of Villicus was more grist for the mill.
The Halls Of Power were overrun with bad plumbing.
What was the kingdom coming to?
"My father's absence has left a void." Ed decreed. "I fear I lack his wisdom."
I fear that I agree, Sir Nigel felt like saying, but didn't.
"I feel guilty for having troubled your highness with this." Makepeace hung his head low. "It was merely an invitation."
The head of special branch wanted to 'noogie him for saying that. ???Then why did you bring it up, Hugh??? As if the political unrest in Northern Ireland was not turmoil enough--they were not all that far removed from Waterford, and "blood, bread, and work." Were these not hot, leaden topics of some import? Oh no. Instead they were, once again, sneaking a glimpse up the petticoats of the Nazi Party. It made Sir Nigel feel like a traitor, but his royal highness, and his royal stupidness, Hugh Makepeace, didn't seem to notice the difference.
He could set his watch by the frivolity, and the trivia. After putting the issue of Villicus' invitation on hold, there would next come the grave, social problem of twice divorced women, and pining monarchs.
"We will need to consider his proposal." Ed said firmly, thereby empowering them to do nothing.
"Yes, your highness." Makepeace made a mental note of it.
"Now, onto other things which concern me deeply." Ed misted. "Whatever has become of my dear consort? Our twice meetings were all too brief. Gentlemen, I have found the company of that gentle, Miss Simpson to be irreplaceable." He said, and for love, accidentally stabbed his thumb with a paper clip. "Makepeace, did you ask her about about that trip to the Banqueting House?"
"I did." The courtier reported.
"And her response?" Ed awaited, his right brow raised anxiously.
Sir Nigel made low, heartburn noises.
"I believe it is a 'yes.'" Makepeace recalled, confused. "She has a colorful way of saying things, but I have no doubt of her yearning to countenance your presence again.
"And again, and again."
"I'll have one of my people look into it." Sir Nigel offered with wholely unconcealed sarcasm. "We've become acquainted with the pubs she hangs out at."
"Very good." Ed brimmed with excitement, and stood. "Well, unless we have other business, I shall retire to a pleasant afternoon of feasant hunting."
Such was A Day In The Life Of Ed. As he left the state room, he scarcely could have known that his personal life would never survive Sir Nigel's attempts to massacre it--offering the crown of a princess to a lapdog of facism would never do. What ED didn't know, but what just about EVERYONE ELSE in government did know, was that Wallace Simpson's days were numbered as far as being an 'item.'
These were the pangs of a soon to be monarch--far greater than any radio drama. The mold was set for Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Prince Of Wales and future King Of England.
"I didn't believe it myself until Jared told me," Wallace Simpson explained to John 'Murphy' Koenig in the back seat of the Phantom. He stared at the back of Bergman's head, shocked and surprised.
"He told you?" Koenig repeated. "Everything?"
"What do you mean 'everything?" Simpson, confused, quizzed him.
"About the German National Socialist Party...the Nazis," he spoke slowly, not sure what she knew.
"Well, I did read Mein Kampf," Wallace went on. "It has been recently all the rage in Germany since Adolf Hitler became Chancellor and Myrna Villicus recommended it. My conclusion? It was the ravings of an angry, incarcerated man, mostly autobiographical. It was quite dull."
She shook her head.
"Then Jared explained it to me, showed me the passages. The man is a raving lunatic. He can't possibly take himself seriously with all that nonsense about 'Aryan superiority.' I cannot for the life of me understand how such an unbalanced person could come to power. I mean, true, he is very charismatic and he loves his country. But..."
"I see," Koenig relaxed a bit. It appeared that Bergman, despite being crazy in love, retained some of his good judgement and not divulging the future to Simpson. "In desperate times," Koenig went on, "as in Germany right now, especially hard hit by the global economic depression, people naturally want to feel better and look forward to brighter days."
"Yes, but this is akin to refusing to seeing the forest beyond the trees. Wouldn't you think?"
Koenig was about to answer when once again, he noticed the reflection in the rear view mirror. Their friends in the mysterious Packard were keeping pace despite the congestion of traffic.
The flat in Marlowe was an unqualified dump.
The wife was getting on his nerves. She had been for the past seven, and one half years, but just when he thought he was ready to kill her, her diabolical disposition always lured him back to the boudoir--usually with a bottle of Pierre Gimonnet, and a block of Manchego cheese. Following this simple exotic repast, she would make him stiff by spooning Bromo Seltzer into a glass whilst talking about the people she hated. Myrna was the only woman he had ever loved.
She didn't mind if he wore his socks to bed.
The man who would one day drop a bulkhead repair rivet under Ed Malcom's Soybean Surprise, and commit atrocities on Moonbase Alpha typically only used it for his many, high maintenance mistresses, and to avoid hard labor. Drunken punch holes were covered with some of the best propoganda that Rotstein had ever seen. There was a particularly morbid illustration showing Landesgruppenleiter Wilhelm Gustloff, laying in state after being murdered by a Jewish student. Accompanying this, and yellowing (from urine), there was a huge, front page newspaper photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Beside Chamberlain there was a badly rendered sketch of Charles Taze Russell--courtesy of a parisian artist, who found it to be one of his more inspired pieces. Rotstein agreed, and then hacked him to pieces.
"Don't be such a moronic tart, my dear." Ruthven told his spouse. "I was there. You were not, and though ten years may have passed, his ego, and his hypocrisy left a lasting impression on me.
"He's not a good person to be marooned with." The entrepreneur pouted. "My only question is--why hasn't he changed? For that matter, both of them. I've gotten on, while they've barely aged at all.
"Maybe passage through time had something to do with it." He reflected, pulling the makeshift laser charger from his closet, thereby allowing a rat or two to escape. "In any event, we're going to have to kill them both. Very slowly, and very painfully."
"Put that ray gun away," Myrna commented, running her delicate fingers with abject disgust over the dingy, threadbare cover drapped over the divan. She did not enjoy keeping a low profile and several times had been required to do so when her husband was being sought by political enemies. They would hide out until he or she or both took care of the 'problem'. "Or whatever it is you call it."
"I can't imagine that the distinguished older gentleman and tall, dark and handsome," she cooed the descriptions with barely contained lust,"will not be alert to your presence and certainly will anticipate you coming after them."
Talking about other men with such obvious sexual desire drove her husband mad with jealously and arousal. She enjoyed it.
She went on with faux dreaminess. "I can see what Wally sees in Jared Leto...uh, Victor Bergman? At any rate," she snuffed her cigarette, "you presume to be the hunter. It is obvious that they are hunting you and although our initial encounter may lead one to believe otherwise, I don't think they are your run of the mill thugs. We need to be cautious and a bit more tactical."
"Dumb bitch, I am being cautious and tactical." Rotstein sang, and pointed the laser's atom barrell at an elderly lady who was sitting on a bench next to the apothecary shop on the street below. Like all seniors, she was no doubt looking forward to a dull evening. Her back probably went out more than she did. "I'm so glad that the only thing we have in common is that we're married.
"You misunderstand what's happening to me at this stage in my life. Allow me to explain: they're here because they want to kill me." He postulated, turning, and dropping the weapon to his side. "Or because they want to return me to Moonbase Alpha, which is just as bad. There's more of a chance of you finding Jesus Christ as your Lord, and Saviour than there is my returning to that Hell with craters.
"But to avoid that possible future, I will have to take a proactive position." He pointed the laser at a yawning police constable, and then smirked clandestinedly. "You handle the breasts. I'll handle the brain.
"That's uncharted territory for you." He advised. "Besides, were it not for your totally unneccessary, interruption, brother-in-law Josef would be taking a dirt nap right now, along with Drexler, and we would be the soul benefactors of his estate. As it is, he's trying to inform everyone, from Somerset Maugham to the bloody, fucking House Of Windsor that he has a new, supersecret weapon to unveil for the British military.
"What he's hoping to accomplish? I have no idea. It just proves that he, and you share the same DNA.
"Therefore." Rotstein finished. "Stop nagging, and accept my male superiority. I drink the beer. You're just there to open the bottle."
To Rotstein, the only thing worse than chauvinism was a woman who didn't know her place.
"So," she had walked into the kitchenette and began to assembly various small bottles, a few of which bore telltale skull and crossbones labels. "Your little document was not necessary. I have learned that my dear brother Josef, as of yesterday, has made me his sole heir. Yes, he has finally gotten around to changing his will after sufficiently mourning the loss of our dear, sweet Helga." She sniffed with almost convincing sadness and dabbed the manufactured tear from her eye.
Almost convincing. He knew better.
"So evil." He complimented, kissing her hand (the one that was not holding an Arsenic bottle). "God made you beautiful so that I would be attracted to you. Then, I overlooked all common sense, and sanity, and put a ring on your finger. And you would kill me before I could say 'Jack Rabbit.'" He decided, releasing her palm. "Maybe I do have a death wish, after all."
He knew she would do it too, just as soon as it was worth her while to do so. She gazed at him coolly, narrowing her eyes while smiling sweetly and disconcertingly.
"Josef sounded a bit chesty yesterday and I am concerned about his cough," she began mixing. "I was going to pay him a visit today and bring him a nice hot toddy. Obviously, though, we have a more pressing problem. No, your tendency toward brute violence may work with the neaderthals and it may be stimulating in the bedroom but that tactic doesn't always work." She frown, wondering if she had mixed the correct proportion of the liquid from the dark brown vial.
"No, you said that his girlfriend looks like me," she went on. "Suppose I go to them and gain their trust. Yes, I can be contrite about my use of Pappa's dagger but that can always be explained away as fear and self defence. I can seek them out and put on a display as the fragile female, the abused wife who has had enough of her psychotic husband."
"Then...I give them a drink." She grinned, evilly, enjoying her ingenuity.
"'Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh, honey bunch." Rotstein scratched at his beard. "You're forgetting one thing. Those two weren't born yesterday. I will concede that your appearance may unman them. For all of two seconds. Maybe three. They're accustomed to living in survival mode, day-by-day, year after year. Have you forgotten everything that I told you about the happy ending that the world has to look forward to?
"You're going to go in there, hand them that little cocktail, and they're going to stick it straight up your devious ass.
"No, it's better to go with my plan." He said, closing an approving, macho grip over the laser again.
"Your plan," she scoffed, while carefully adding the lethal tablespoon of clear liquid to the concoctions and capping the shaker. "Boys will be boys. Shoot em up, Tex," she chuckled. "Have you considered, schatzi, that Scotland Yard may be anticipating your next move? I have it on good authority that you are being watched as curiously is Victor Bergman."
She shook the mixture vigorously. "I'm not sure why Bergman is under surveillance but any idiot could figure out why you are. Even me." She stopped, setting the container down and reaching for the Brandy, the less ominous part of the Toddy.
"In fact," she moved toward the window, "see that Packard parked at the corner?" She pointed to the auto, barely obscured by trees. "When you move, they will move. There is one on the other side of the building as well."
The entrepreneur pulled back the checkered curtain--with slightly more anxiety this time--and 'popeyed the situation. The black, Victoria Convertible. They weren't staring at him. They 'were' staring 'through' him. He had no delusions. The Packard, and it's cagey retinue (having never seen them face-to-face, he referred to the one as 'Elbow,' and the other was 'Sea Lord'--an alias, born of the 'bazillion smoked out butts that were left in his wake). In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to show his brazen kouta by presuming to point his laser out the window. Then again, Elbow's grey tweed forearm was resting next to the rearview mirror calmly, and unprovocatively. We'll get you eventually, old stick, that arm seemed to say. Maybe we didn't see your Jules Verne ray gun this time, but we'll get you.
Rotstein still had no idea who, or what they represented. Maybe they were operatives for some deeply covert agency in the British government--like MI6. Then again, they may have been homosexual stalkers who were warm for his form. At any rate, they had first appeared at right around the time when he was first introduced to the British Workman's Party, and they had been hovering over him like Caproni bombers ever since.
"As for your ire concerning Josef try to sell your secret weapon," she went on, "what is the point of having a powerful weapon if you don't use it? It is an interesting little toy indeed. Picture this. We win influence over some key political figures in the House of Lord and in the Royal Military service. There becomes a demand for it. Where there is demand, there is need for supply."
She smiled wickedly. "Rather than spending your spare time in subversive activities such as making bombs to blow up a rival pub here and there, you can spend your time as manager and owner of the only factory in the world that mass produces this weapon. Legitimately, in the name of "defense" for dear, ole England."
Rotstein released the ratty drape, and patted her gently on the head.
"It's not the enterprise that I'm opposed to, sweet." He processed. "Sending it to the very kingdom that I'm trying to topple rather defeats the purpose, don't you think?"
"You presume that the current government will always be in power," Myrna went on, examining the color of her brew. "Offering it immediately to Chancellor Hitler and the Third Reich may be dangerous. They have the nasty habit of usurping what they want. You could very well lose all intellectual property 'rights' to your space gun. At least in Britain, it still resembles a democracy in the near future."
Rotstein placed the laser back in it's red, velvet-lined purse, and fixed the catch. His wife had a Muskett intellect in a world that was on the verge of .357 Magnums, but there was probably no harm in trying things her way. Let her do the Samson & Delilah schtick if she so chose. The worst that could happen is that she would be detected, and sweated out under Elbow, and Sea Lord's hot light ("Would you like a glass of water, Myrna? Then talk you little bang-tailer.") in which case, he would have to leave the country, probably for the Swiss Alps, but in many ways, his time was running out in the United Kingdom anyway.
His unique methods of mass destruction needed to be in the hands of the type of men who would appreciate them.
Besides that, The Candramasa needed fresh game. He was sick, and tired of fucking around in London.
At best, Koenig and Bergman would both end up being buried seventy plus years away from home.
"Alright, love." Rotstein capitulated, dropping the purse back into the top drawer of the Walnut bureau. "Do as you like. If you end up going to the gallows, don't expect me to hang around with you.
Even on Alpha, he considered himself a humorous fellow. Funny how no one else there--from Claude Murneau, on up--agreed with him.
She capped her special drink, satisfied of the consistency. It would do the job. She lit a cigarette. "Til death do we part, darling." She took a long drag then a slow exhale, cocking her eyebrow. "Mine...or yours."
"But before you act, I think I'd like to do something for king, and country." He revealed as he tugged at the curtain again. "These gentleman have been waiting a long time." The entrepreneur realized. "Let's give them a fiver for their troubles...you know...something to make it worth thier while...."
"Oh? And what kind of 'gift' reflects your generosity today?" She smirked.
"The gift of patriotism, I think." He said, nudging the curtain again. In the adjacent room, the sound of Lord Capra's radio could be heard. Soon, this would be blotto from the classy noise of bed springs rocking, and his concubine's ecstatic moaning. For the time being, they had to settle for Chick Webb's rendition of "Stompin' At The Savoy." "Myrna, sometimes I feel overwrought with guilt, such is my happiness." He confesssed earnestly. "I want to share my splendidness, and there's no finer way than to help rid this country of subversive radicals.
"Mr. Jared Leto, for example." Rotstein exemplared. "Look at him. How much more of a foreigner can you be? He's not even from this time period. Definitely in need of naturalization, that one. I can't speak for every man, but I will feel safe as houses after he's locked away. For good. Now, I don't say this simply because I hate his fucking guts. I see something very alarming, and inauspicious in his manner, and in the company he keeps. After all, where did he come from? How did he get here? Where do his loyalties reside?"
"He's too anonymous to be ignored. I must contact the authorities immediately." He said, reaching for his coat, and derby.
"Well, it would certainly ruin his day and slow them up a bit," she acknowledged, "but remember that he is a friend of Wally's...who is a friend of Edward and his court. I don't suspect they would be holding Mr. Bergman very long once Mrs. Simpson found out about it."
"In any event, before I pay Mr. Murphy a visit, I'll drop in on Josef and comfort him on the anniversary of Helga's death." She had tucked the small flask into her purse and pull out her compact. Already she had smudged eyeliner under her eyes, creating the illusion of puffy, dark circles. Within 60 seconds, she looked dreadful, as if she was miserable and coming out of a crying jag.
"Do as you like." The entreprenuer said, pulling open the door. In full garb, he looked like a travesty of Keith Carradine, and Charlie Chaplin. Not sensational. "As for his queer attentiveness to Wallace Simpson--believe me, I wouldn't have it any other way. In the end, it will hurt him much worse than it will hurt me." He smirked, and exited into the domestic, hallway squabbles, and hurled cabbages.
A horrible nights sleep for John Koenig.
He wouldn't let a dog sleep on Bergman's Ambrose Heal sofa. Mouth open, and snoring fitfully, the commander sawed logs with his neck hanging radically from one, medieval arm while his feet hung three feet above the hardwood floor on the other side.
When all was said, and done, it was a thousand times more luxurious than his ergonomic bed on Moonbase Alpha.
"We're going to have to be careful when we check the house out." Koenig said over coffee the following morning, his neck, five inches longer from being stretched on the professor's loveseat. "There's no way he'll be there--not after what happened yesterday, but he may have left us a present--the kind we don't want to open."
Victor Bergman scaped the freshly scrambled eggs from the skillet onto Koenig's plate. He felt terribly guilty that the Commander ended up on the loveseat. He did offer the bed but Wallace's hot toddy (a non lethal mix) successfully put him to sleep, too quickly. One moment he was reclining on the loveseat eating a chicken sandwich, the next the same sandwich was on the floor, fallen from his limp hand. Attempts to revive him from his dead to the world slumber were unsuccessful, even after he had returned from bringing Wallace home at 2 am.
Who would have known Victor Bergman, aka Jared Leto would be such a partier with his girlfriend.
"Wally said she would have some of her people try to locate him," Bergman nodded, filling his own plate with farm fresh scrambled eggs. "Or rather, try to locate Lady Ruthven." He added.
"That is probably the best way we will get to him," He savored the real eggs. "According to Wally, Myrna Ruthven is a social climber and likes to be seen with the right people in the right circles. She won't stay hidden for long."
"Wally?" Koenig said bemused, and sipped his coffee. "Well, I have someone who is making some inquiries as well. Wally has him smeared when it comes to blowout parties, but he has an uncanny way of finding things out. Actually, the guy advised me on how to find the right clothes for this period, and at an affordable price." The commander sniggered. "Victor, I know your inclination is to dance around this topic like Fred Astaire, but have you thought anymore about what we talked about?"
Bergman set his silver fork on the edge of his plate and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin. "Yes, I have," he paused, glancing out at the uncharacteristically warm and sunny autumn morning. "I am in love with Wallace Simpson. I think it is obvious. She has professed the same feelings for me. To be honest, she did say that his royal highness, Edward, has taken a fancy to her. But...if I asked her to marry me today, she would."
"Old friend...." Koenig started--now with the wisdom of the lonely, and the unbearably starlost. "I don't blame you a bit." He set his china cup back into its saucer decisively, and leaned back in the kitchen chair. "Look, Victor. I've thought about this, and I've come to the conclusion that we're all born naked, wet, and hungry. And then things get worse. For you to give up your own, personal future is a mistake that no one else, but you, will have to live with.
"No one should have to spend thier days on Alpha." The commander realized with conviction, but feared that he was becoming muddled. It was the raw power of duh' as gradually his own language became elusive. "What I'm trying to say is that you should do whatever is best for you. I'd appreciate it if you would help me find Rotstein, but you're under no obligation to return with us."
"I understand," Bergman nodded. "But I also realize that if I marry Wallace and she does not marry Edward, history may change." He considered. "Even if the rumor of his majesty being homosexual is true, there have been kings in history who preferred men and would marry anyway for the sake of the monarchy...a front, if you will. So suppose I marry Wally and Edward marries some unsuspecting, young virgin aristocratic lady for the sole purpose of producing an heir. Edward would then not need to abdicate."
He took a sip of real, Columbian coffee. "I remember from our own history, after Edward abdicated to marry Wallace, a few years later he met with Adolf Hitler before the war broke out. John, either Wallace or Edward was clearly a Nazi sympathizer. I know in my heart it is not Wallace."
"If not Wallace, then it would be Edward. Now, in our history, after his abdication, his brother George became king and Edward was reduced to a powerless duke. By then, the publicity against Edward for marrying Wallace worked against him such that the man could do nothing right. John, what if Edward remained king, married an "acceptable" woman and became well liked among the people? Is it possible that his meeting with Hitler years later would be viewed in a favorable light and even supported by the people of the United Kingdom?"
"Let's take this further." He stopped, not wanting to consider it but did anyway. "What if, as a result of this meeting, Germany and the UK became closer and even, god forbid, allies? Think of how it would have affected the outcome of the second world war, especially if the United States still did not come into the conflict until two years after it started."
"It is a great deal of conjecture, I know...but...is it possible that this one act, of Wallace not marrying Edward, could also lead to the apocalyps we saw on Mythraea?
The commander examined his own thumbs. There was no answer tacked to them, but that was a solution, in and of itself.
"I don't know." He said vaguely, his brow furrowing. "There are a hundred possible causes. That is one of the potentialities we have to look at. But not for too long. Victor, we could spin our wheels in the mud forever trying to figure out the 'why' of it. Why? Because someone said so.
"That's why." Koenig understood. "We already know the ultimate solution. Rotstein has to be removed so that this universe can evolve the way it was intended to. I have to admit, I find myself hoping. Hoping that we did make some slight change--not one that will lead to galactic trash collection--the way it is now--but some aberation; some action taken which will lead to proper controls being placed on those nuclear waste dumps.
"It's a totally psychotic, egomaniacal thought." The commander acknowledged. "But still, that was running through my mind before I went to sleep last night." He said, staring at the old candlestick telephone that was resting atop the end table. It's great, great grandnephew would be a cellular phone. It's second cousin, four times removed would be a remote control pack with phantom power--capable of launching ordinance missiles at kingdoms in other hemispheres--at outposts in other regions of the solar system. The Grand Dame of the family would be a hand held digipak that could read the label on your tunic, but not the mounting, otherwise ubiquitous waves of electromagnetic energy on the far side of the Moon. "Anyway, that's my runner up speech. In the God contest, I came in second.
"I'm sure you were wondering why the award plaque isn't hanging beside the refrigerator in my kitchenette on Alpha."
"The thought crossed my mind as well," Bergman acknowledged. "However, the Clocksmiths did not send us to redesign history so that the moon will not be blasted out of earth's orbit. There is a great deal I don't understand about the fact of our survival."
He set his coffee into the china saucer. "I'm not game on playing God either. I confess that I wouldn't do a good job of it. Somehow though, I think that if it is meant to be, no matter what we do to attempt to stop it, remember, it is 65 years until September 13, 1999. A lot can happen in 65 years. A lot can be undone."
Bergman opened the morning edition of the London Times, untouched on the corner of the table. His expression changed as he noted an article in the lower left corner of page 2.
"Oh my," he said, showing Koenig the article.
It read: LOCAL ENTREPENEUR, JOSEF VILLICUS, DIES IN SLEEP.
Koenig nodded perfunctorily. It made sense if you thought about it. If a suicidal twin ended up killing her sister by mistake, that made sense too. If a pig does Karate, you call it a pork chop. How nice--how convenient, one might say, for Villicus to have passed in his sleep.
"It doesn't pay to be Rotstein's buddy." The commander joked darkly. "I mean the whole, kumbayah thing really, really doesn't work with him. Look at Tex' Reilly. The other night when we intercepted them, we no doubt delayed Villicus' execution, but Rotstein and that ax murderer he's married to recouped at the earliest, possible opportunity.
"Well, he can now purchase global conquest at wholesale cost. Money is no longer any kind of object. He knows it, and we know it, and the authorities will never know it because we can't risk blowing our cover.
"And he knows that too."
First, he shook his head, feeling the useless ball roll back, and forth in the vacuum between his ears. Then, pushed to the city limits of pointlessness, the desperate commander pounded the table in rage, hard enough to send his coffee cup shattering against the floor.
"Perhaps it wasn't Rotstein, though," Bergman suggested, skimming the short article for details. "If it was Rotstein, wouldn't we be reading about a mutilated body? Murdering with an end result of his victim dying in sleep is not his MO."
"Hmm...this might be worth having some help doing research. It would help us in knowing what we are up against. Perhaps we should have Mrs. Carter help us out and investigate the circumstances of death surrounding those in Rotstein's circle." He paused. "On the other hand, I'm not sure we should get her too heavily involved and endanger her. You do know who she is, don't you?"
Koenig nodded, staring at the triangular shards of coffee cup that lay in a splat across the floor.
"It didn't take long to figure out who she was." He remembered, sucking it all up. "Talk about the Grandfather Paradox of time travel. Victor, I think we ought to keep her out of this. We don't know exactly what Rotstein did.
"I think it has something to do with that laser he brought from the future.
"We may never know, but we do know that Lily Carter is a link that could have most definite repercussions on the chronostream. Funny. Ten years ago, I thought this was all theoretical. Now I know it's law--not the law of physical science on Earth--but law nevertheless. If we break it, we pay handsomely, and so does everyone else. Let's shield her from this as much as we possibly can--if for no other reason than her personal safety."
"Right," he nodded. "I'd bet a hundred to one that Rotstein has something to do with his death. One of the chaps who bought an auto from me yesterday is a reporter for the times. I'll ask him to poke around and research it as a favor. He's young and eager for a good story. If we play our cards right, instead of using the police, perhaps we can use the media to flush out Rotstein."
Koenig, who beforehand had been chewing wanely on a piece of whole wheat toast, stopped in mid-mastication as a thought suddenly occured to him.
"A thousand pardons." Hugh Makepeace apologized timidly. He was pushing sixty after all, and the encroaching octogenarianship had left accorded him a mind full of fugue, and ears full of wax. "My hearing isn't as sprite as it used to be, I'm afraid." He told Wallace Simpson, and then helped himself to another one of her croissantes. He offered the tray she had given him to Blunkett, the assistant chief of palace security.
"Don't you have any blasted tea?" Fagan tried to guilt trip her. It was early, but even if he was an attache to the Home Secretary, he was still a hemmorhoid, and had boasted, on and off, about his attendance at the Casablanca Conference since practically the minute he walked in the door.
Humanity, to him, began with Chamberlain, and Churchill. Everyone else, including Wally Simpson, was equally worthless.
He was a dissatisfied man, it seemed--a freeloader who forever wanted something for nothing.
"I didn't invite you here," Wallace Simpson retorted, blowing smoke in the direction of Fagan. "You, in fact, rudely barged in while I was having breakfast. I'd offer you fresh squeezed orange juice but somehow I think you would find that unsatisfactory."
She was about to call her butler to escort him out. She didn't care of she was being rude. Fagan's impertinence was justification enough for a timely dismissal.
"Getting back to the topic at hand." Makepeace intervened with sartorial splendor. "You will of course forgive my hearing. My Rugby days are behind me, I'm afraid--not to mention basic comprehension of the King's English." He bantered. "I was saying that his highness, the Prince Of Wales, has invited you to attend a reception with him at Hedingham Castle this Friday.
"You lucky lady." The courtier exploded into a rainbow of platudinous obsolesence. "The cream of British society will be in attendance, and the violin concerto will be peformed by none other than the Maestro, Sir Edward William."
"You'll be on the dole, if that's what you're worried about." Fagan remarked--as if Simpson was a tramp, and a catchpenny who cherished a bargain above all else.
"Thankyou." Blunkett said, stooping nervously as Wallace lit his cigarette for him. She decided to ignore the lower class Fagan.
"So." Makepeace clapped his hands in preapplause. "When should we send the coach to fetch you?"
It did not seem precipitate for the courtier to plan. No sane woman would refuse this enduring, magnate offer.
"Friday?" she echoed, then took another drag from her jewel encrusted cigarette holder. "Hmmm."
She paused and noted the shocked expression on Makepeace's face. Had it not been for the fact that Jared told her he was working late Friday, she would have refused the offer. As it was, though, Jared had asked her to determine the whereabouts of Mrs. Ruthven (and hence Mr. Ruthven). As for the company of His Royal Highness, she was tepid at the prospect of spending time with him. A few weeks earlier, she was falling in love with the Prince of Wales..until she met Jared Leto. That meeting in the automobile dealership changed her desires. She would do anything for Jared Leto, including using her association with high society to accomplish detective work.
"Yes," she replied, finally, "I can make it. I would be honored to spend time with the Prince." She finished with a faux enthusiasm.
"Well, John," Bergman slipped on his overcoat and grabbed his hat. "I'm going to pay a visit to my young reporter friend and do a little research. Perhaps we can determine if there is any connection between Villicus' death and any other seemingly innoculous deaths of Rotstein's associates."
The professor noted Koenig's pallor turning a pastey white and his subsequent rubbing of forehead.
"John, you are still recovering from your nasty attack. I did promise the doctor that you would take it easy and Mrs. Carter will be checking on you later this morning. Why don't you get some rest," he pointed to the more comfortable feather bed in the other room, "and after lunch, once I hear from Wally, we'll go find Rotstein."
"That way, you'll have a bit more strength. Is that a plan?"
"I suppose so." Koenig said, feelling the cold chills return. If he wasn't careful, his breakfast would be followed with a bon appetite of regurgitation. His visage felt as bloated as a cabbage patch doll. "Victor, I want you to take it easy out there. Remember that we're strangers in a strange land." He said, standing, and moving towards the bedroom door while his wounded shoulder screeched OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO' FORTUNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.' "Be aware of your environment.
"And remember. Rotstein doesn't suffer from insanity. He enjoys it. Plus, he knows we're here now. You know what they say about the predator, and the prey. Don't take any chances."
"I'll be careful," Bergman nodded. "Get some rest, John, and I'll be back in a few hours."
He placed his hat on his head and stepped into the hallway, closing the locked door behind him.
As the saying goes--he who laughs last is undoubtedly slow witted.
"He was in a paddy, wasn't he?" Agent Strom indicated, while trying to piece his broken body back together again.
The fall had occured accidentally. His forensic mind was well aware of this, but the lurking fear was upon him...like a chimp. Yes, a chimp. It didn't help that he was being blown apart like Kitchener and the Boars. The director of operations had a temper. Strom now believed that blood could boil. The uncanny thing was, all he did was say 'hello.'
"You need to watch that." Agent Clare counseled while drumming his fingers against the Packard's driver's side door. "When he comes out of those meetings, you don't walk up like you own the place, and start talking rubbish."
"It reminds me of poor Thurston." Agent Baldwin told Clare adoringly while Strom chain smoked in the back. "You remember? That chap who transferred from CID last February? He was less garrulous than old 'Nom here, and look what happened to him."
He shook his head melancholically.
"What happened to him?" Strom inquired precociously.
"He was reassigned." Clare replied as he adjusted the rearview mirror. "He talked too much, and was considered a confidentiality problem so away he went.
"To Peer Nine."
"Peer Nine?" Strom questioned, taking smoke down the wrong pipe. "Never heard of it. Is it some covert unit that's stationed somewhere on the water?"
"Not on the water, no." Baldwin said cheerfully, and then eyed the door to the rooming house as it started to open. "Oh look at this--anyone need to purchase a motorcar?" He said nefariously, and threw open the passenger side door."
"No." Strom said literally, temporarily out of mind, but it would return in about fifteen minutes.
"MR. JARED LETO." The senior operative, Clare, called at the man as he exited to the street.
"HOW ARE YOU TODAY, MR. LETO?" Baldwin accosted Victor Bergman, blocking his departure with about 250 pounds of renal personality.
"What is the meaning of this?" Bergman queried, irritated as he did the left to right and back again shuffle in an attempt to get around the man. "Are you from the gossip pages of the Times?" He asked in disgust. He'd made up his mind they were the 30's version of scumbag papparazzi.
"No." Baldwin informed him.
"Then who are you?" Bergman made a sidewise glance up at his studio apartment, hoping that Koenig would see the action below. However, John Koenig was nowhere near the window and enjoying his journey into the realm of the unconscious.
"We're friends, of course." Clare gestured as he pulled the Packard's right, rear door open so that Baldwin, and Strom could mug, and stuff their 'friend' into the back seat. "Don't worry yourself. It's all very legal, I assure you."
"Legal?" Bergman as Leto huff. "Are you some sort of special division of Scotland Yard?"
"We are right as rain, and so are you." Strom empathized, his hand encroaching on the base of Bergman's neck as someone stopped payment on his reality check. "Now be a good dad and pop them bones in there. Don't make me rip your fucking head off."
Bergman merely glared then acquiesed. He had no choice in the matter considering the physical size of Strom and Baldwin. He also did not want to get Koenig involved so he willingly slid into the back seat of the Packard.
"Brighten up, Leto." Baldwin said as the professor took a seat inside. "After all, today is your lucky day. By hook, or by crook, old boy--we're going to make sure your plans come to fruition."
He meant every word of it.
The Packard's headlights came on as the cold, cumulous fog rolled across the bay from the North Atlantic. Victor Bergman used to think he was indecisive. Now he wasn't sure. He was firmly entrenched beside Strom, who continued to hot box his Sea Lord smokes like fiend in search of lung cancer. The car broke through the drenched shrubs, and exited Normanton Road. They accellerated past the Baptist Church; beyond the street lights; away from identifiable reality, and into the Vault Of Horrors. The clay road was once a glorious thruway. But then the flood of 1932 washed away the good impression, and left layers of compacted shit in its wake. As the high strangler leaves, and dead, Tarantula branches closed over the waxed, reflective hood, they began to move steadily downhill in a roller coaster ride of equinoctials.
"This is the fun part of the trip." Strom allowed, lighting another cigarette. The aroma of sulphur filled the back seat. "You o'kay with this, pop? I hear that all the king's men had a heard time putting Leto back together again."
He laughed mildly, slapping Bergman's in the chest, directly over the heart.
The professor remained passively neutral but could not ignore the possible metaphor. His mechanical heart registered the increased adrenaline and responded appropriately.
Baldwin craned to join the mind games that were taking place in the back seat.
"I get the impression that Mr. Leto here is just chock full of home remedys." The agent opined, with huge, tumors appearing like horns on either side of his head. "Ask me, I'd wager that he has more mortar, and pistle than your average meat cutter.
"How many potions are there altogether, Leto?
"Nineteen hundred, and ninety-nine?" The less bellicose agent said, his complexion draining to a fire engine red color as his corneas became an increasing, more surreal, and ghastly white. "Whoopsyday.' He can't tell us that. A thousand pardons. I guess I just fuck up, and forget meself. Besides, he considers us to be commoners, and bumpkins.' What would we know about all of that? Better to have that blonde tart take care of his innards."
"Never trust your government." Clare added, executing a right turn over a stone, Grimm's Faery Tale bridge which teleported them across black, moted water.
"Government is comprised of human beings," Bergman responded calmly, removing his infrequently used pack of Benson & Hedges from his overcoat pocket. He wondered if his imagination was getting to him. "And as such, it can be fallible."
"Cigarette?" Leto/Bergman offered a premium fag to the chain smoker Strom, as Baldwin, now role reversing to the "good cop" in the good cop/bad cop scenario, lit the smoke.
"Good man." Strom thanked him genuinely. The plates, and tendons that comprised his jawbone began to stretch like filthy rayon. Cartiledge in his stressed esophagus made the response sound like a Hadean, limey profundo. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD' MAAAAAAAAN'.... A grotesque, grinding and creaking could be heard as his front teeth retracted into a dripping, grenadine of emerging sinew.
"He can afford to be charitable." Baldwin pointed out--normally--and even Strom seemed thunderclapped by the rapidity with which third, and forth eyes, rheumy, and disease spotted, filled the open divots on the agents cheeks. "Where Mr. Leto is from, it doesn't make any difference if you're the King of bloody Siam, does it Mr. Leto?
"You've got a face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle." He wisecracked to Strom on a whim.
Talk about the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
Bergman stared at the freak show of Strom and Baldwin until his eyes were burning and dry. Then he blinked and the illusion was gone, for the moment anyway. They seemed to know too much about him, his real identity. He considered that perhaps they were extraterrestrials and rather than assuming the worst, perhaps they could help him.
"Humans in government?" Clare postulated the thought. "Well...whatever. You're accurate to a percent. Really, our offices are on loan. A contract-type deal. Don't be a faffer about it 'Mr. Leto.'" He accentuated. "For all of our faults, at least our Moon is still up there.
"So c'mon--what's your claim to fame? Seems to me that the human race squabbled with a pile of nukes,' and guess who came in second? Come. Fancy our arses off. Tell us about the brave, new world of the future, Leto--you fadge snorting pile of pavement pizza." He watched the professor's response in the rearview mirror, and frowned with tedious dispirit. "What's wrong?"
He inquired, seemingly unaware that he had just behaved like a certified asshole.
"I see no reason why you need to be insulting and rude," Leto/Bergman took a long drag then exhaled slowly, visibly irritated. "Future? There are many possible paths leading to one tomorrow," He spoke the truth. "But chose the wrong combination of paths and tomorrow may cease to exist."
"Were you sent by the Clocksmiths?"
"Why?" Baldwin, whose turn came up in the new game of Bad Cop/Abominable Cop, snorted deprecatingly. "You need a new time piece, or something?" He said, thereby betraying his ignorance. The answer was apparently 'NO.' "We're not taking you to the center of the Earth to discuss Accessories For The Man Who Has Everything.
"I'm interested in your prognosticate. About the world of tommorrow." He said.
"You got anymore smokes?" Strom asked Bergman, wheezing.
Klaus Ruthven was stealing his way back to Fortress Flea Bag when suddenly, something became caught in his throat.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-" He fretted, and congested--choking to death as he realized that the thing in his throat was John Koenig's right hand.
"Sweethearts in crime. How about that?" The commander smirked. "Anyway, what I was going to say before your wife stabbed me...." He reviewed, looking amok from one end of the junkyard alley to the other. It was vacant enough for a funeral. "Is that I'm not going to waste time with you." He brought the entrepreneur up to speed, lifting him to the tips of his Floorshime shoes and was startled to learn that Rotstein had a tongue inside his empty head. "I made up my mind on Alpha that you weren't coming back. Twisted bastard--that was preordained. You can maybe add seconds to your despicable life by answering these three words:
"Where is he?"
Ruthven/Rotstein was about to blurt 'Where is who?' when for once in his life, suddenly and inconveniently, a smart bone formed in his body.
"I...<choke>...can't...<argh, hack>..tell you..<wheeze>..if you...<rasp> killllllll me," Rotstein sputtered, hoping that Koenig would loosen his grip.
It was a horrifying feeling, being choked too death. His bugged out eyes were no longer seeing and his strength was draining. Sounds were becoming muffled and the blackness was encroaching. He was experiencing the feeling that his victims felt except that he used strangulation to the point of death (and then back off) to subdue them for his slice and dice fun with knives.
Koenig loosened his grip and released him, throwing him back against the dingy brick wall. Rotstein coughed and sputtered, rubbing his throat and regaining his composure. He stood up, knowing he had the upper hand.
"What's the matter, 'Mr. Murphy,' Rotstein emphasized with disgust. "Did the Lone Ranger lose Tonto? Or...perhaps 'Mr. Leto' took off with his girlfriend, leaving you trapped in good ole 1934 London?"
One hundred, and fifty kilometers, and counting--past the cave entrance, and far beneath the foundations of contemporary London.
The Packard's fuel gauge stayed miraculously on FULL.
"It starts to get get old when we enter the outer extremities of Earth's magnetic field." Baldwin told Bergman. "Noises will start to bother you. We'll all start talking like Donald Duck."
"You may begin to see things." Clare explained. Together they were guides--rancorous, and ugly--in this Tour Of Terror.
"Where are we going? Another dimension?" Bergman asked as he removed another Benson & Hedges then offered one to Strom and lit it. His years on Alpha taught him that anything was possible. He has also learned that things often did not appear as they seemed. He literally sat back and tried to 'enjoy' the ride; there was nothing more he could do.
"We really shouldn't be answering your questions, pop.'" Strom remarked, puffing away.
"Never fear, the Supervisor will handle that." Clare agreed. "He's rather a smart fellow--at least as far as you're concerned, old stick. Then again, you don't have to be better than the average bear to know not to store charged fission material on the surface of the Moon."
"Are we feeling inadequate yet?" Baldwin asked, and gave Bergman a sunny slap on the shoulder. "I'm sure you've learned to cope with it. If it were me, I'd be filled with shame, and feelings of stupidity. Fortunately, the results of your IQ test came back negative, eh Leto?"
"I say that Leto has value." Clare theorized indistinctly. "After all, we didn't look twice at them until this happened. They were bright enough to know how to enter the time aperture.
"Or did that happen by accident." He winked at the rearview mirror satirically. "How about it, Einstein? Don't get tacky on us. We're mates, you know."
"It was a fucking accident." Strom informed them all, exhaling smoke. "Take a look at this tagnuts. He couldn't find his ass with both hands.
"He does have uncommonly good taste in tobacco, though."
"No accident," he stated noncommitally. "Well, the circumstances which led us here were an accident but I am purposely here for a...reason." He gazed out the window.
"I am pursuing someone," he continued, purposely not offering the tidbit of information that it was really a 'we' than an 'I'. "He is a murdered and he escaped my...place," he chose his words carefully. "Before he could be captured, he escaped through the aperture. In doing so, he changed history such that it had dire consequences to not just Earth but to the entire universe."
The trio of outlander cops listened carefully, as Strom continued puffing pensively away.
They journeyed deeper into raw, Earth power. The transparent planet, as witnessed by a firsthand observer--namely, Victor Bergman--was a damned, panacea beneath the submantle. It was dismal enough to make Dante Allegheri seem like an optimist. There were lakes of magma, and oozing rift volcanoes. The cutaway crust stabbed at them in the form of stalactites, and ultra-dense, radioactive boulders slid past them like ghost ships in the night. Uranium sulfide caused the uneven motorway to glow infrared, revealing the partially buried, peekaboo' skulls which were all that remained of doomed souls--Milk Carton Folks, who perished, naked, and screaming beneath the Packard's grinding wheels. In the headlights, Bergman vied phylums, and orders that Darwin never dreamt of on Galipagos. There were Centrosauruses, yawning upwards from the white hot, insoluble outer core. Long necked Diplodocuses lunged for them as Clare rolled up his window against the killer heat, and a Triceratops could be seen devouring a troll-like creature beside a rock that resembled a Stonehenge tryptic. Jules Verne, eat your heart out.
The Shista was there--sitting on his divine butt, and waving at them while he contemplated the future seed of humanity.
They traversed the flourescent, spiritual passages of Shambala--the spritual hub of central Asia, and sped through the streets of the decaying, ancient, underground city of Gupta Kashi. The barbeque route through mesoamerica, and South America tortured Bergman's sinuses.
At the end of the Earth, there stood a small, three story, Victorian office building.
Clare pulled to the curb, and parked.
"I must find and subdue this person and remove him from this time so that the universe is restored and will follow the path intended. He is the reason that I am here and if I do not remove him, it is his actions which will bring on universal armageddon. Do you understand?"
"Do tell." Balwin smirked as he opened the door.
"Pull the other one, Leto." Strom exclaimed, tossing his butt on the street, and in more ways than one. "It has bells on."
Clare remained silent, save for a wistful look at the baked, califacient roof of the underground cavern. A pair of Bobbies pulled sentry duty atop a flight of steps that were braced on either side by stone lions.
"His name is Klaus Rotstein, in this time, Klaus Ruthven. Do you know him?"
"Rotstein?" Clare specified, dropping the Packard's keys into the pocket of his overcoat. "Oh yes. We know him quite well."
"One more time." John Koenig said, wiping the red blur from his cheek. Rotstein was just nuts about him--could not, in fact, keep his hands off of him. "Where's Professor Bergman?"
"I don't know." Rotstein admitted, collecting his rib cage which ran into an unfortunate accident with the commander's size fourteen shoe. "If you haven't been able to find him in the usual places, then Special Branch probably has him.
"Just a hunch."
MMMM--hmmm. Koenig agreed, and belted him again.
"I can't stand being hit in the head." Rotstein spat--teeth, and all.
"Why?" Koenig asked with elementary logic. "You've got nothing in there."
"No joy. You realize that if they have him, he's not coming back." Rotstein grinned, and bobbled assuredly. "No one ever does--not the constabulary; not the Pope, not the fucking Prince Of Egypt."
"What the Hell are you talking about?" The commander said angrily. "What is 'special branch?' You mean british intelligence?"
"No. They're not MI6, the Company, the MSS, or anything else any human being would know about." Rotstein shook his head positively. "These fellows don't get publicity. I'm not sure who they represent, but they've followed me ever since I arrived. I mean, within hours, Koenig, they were on me.
"For the life of me, I can't figure out why." The former Main Mission operative said with religious disappoint.
Koenig considered that he could figure out why Rotstein was shadowed. What he could not determine, though, was why they were still tailing him and had not yet moved in. He was drawing back to pummel the psychopathic killer once more when the wall behind Rotstein dissolved. Koenig yanked Rotstein away with an overly firm hand.
The image on the other side of the tornado funnel was not Earth of 1934. Helena Russell and Pierce Quinton could be seen staring into tha abyss, holding a conversation. It appeared, though, judging from their reactions, they had not seen Koenig or Rotstein on the other side.
Koenig was tempted. He had Rotstein. If he only knew where Bergman was and if he was safe, he might have lept to the other side, dragging his prisoner through; and content with the possibility that Victor and Wally lived happily ever after.
His instinct told him Bergman had to go back too.
The miasma dissipated and the brick wall slowly rematerialized.
"Welcome, Victor Bergman," the supervisor from behind the cherry desk addressed as Strom, Baldwin and Claire escorted the professor into the Victorian designed, ornately crafted office. Its opulence was stunning with the gold leaf border under the mahogany crown molding as genuine 24K gold 'leaves'.
"Have a seat," he pointed to one of the fine Victorian settees. "It is time for tea," he continued as the apparent butler brought in the tray of fine china bearing hot tea and crumpets.
The taste was out of this world.
"I hope you don't mind my mixing business with pleasure." The Supervisor said, reaching for a boat filled with cream. "I could insult your intelligence by claiming there is a reasonable explanation for all of this." He decided, pointing towards the geisers of ammonia vapor that were blowing past the shuttered window. "Outside of our sphere of influence here, this region is quite unliveable. This is Park Place. Drive another ten kilometers in the downward direction, and you would be at the inner core.
"Solid iron, but under a pressure so great even the extreme heat can't melt it. To say that one would lose weight by leaving here would be an understatement. Having a base of operations here has been beneficial, insofar as it allows us easy access to the convection currents, and even the magnetic field itself.
"Try a lemon, professor." He said, pushing the bowl across the table.
A foreign import, of course.
Bergman was about to take the knife and slice a wedge, when the 'butler' was instantly at his side, doing it for him. The butler resembled 'Lurch' from the Earth series of 30 years in the future, The Munsters. The place was ghoulish so why not an undead butler. The servant said nothing to Bergman's polite 'thank you.'
"Who are you?" Bergman asked, stirring his tea with the goldware spoon.
"We're Earth men, like yourself, but transformed." The Supervisor explained, savoring the dark pekoe. "We're not malevolent aliens with square heads, and suction cups--if that's the kind of drivel that's going through your mind right now. For our kind, the shackles of time have been broken through an agency I can't profess to explain. As far as our work is concerned, I suggest you think of us as covert, preemptive operations.
"It might be helpful to consider your ordinary lift operator." He said, setting his cup back onto the saucer. "Why travel to the cellar, if your goal was to reach the penthouse?
"But that's enough about us." The Supervisor said, opening a notepad that was bound with glue. "I would be highly appreciative if you would tell me how an individual from the late, twentieth century managed to exceed the time barrier. In your time the technology did not exist--not on Moonbase Alpha, and certainly not on a post-apocalyptic Earth."
Bergman was hesistant but he realized he did not have a choice. If he was going to get out of here alive, he would have to cooperate. He was unsure of these beings intentions but he realized (again) that taking the obstinate track would be counterproductive, if not deadly.
"As I explained to the gentlemen who gave me ride here," he began, "I am pursuing a criminal, a serial, psychotic murderer named Klaus Rotstein." He bit into the blueberry jam covered crumpet and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin. "He butchered 3 people brutally, but when we made the connection to his identity with DNA, he escaped...to a nearby planet."
"My people pursued him and we made the discovery that Rotstein had gone through the portal and did something to change the future. The universe itself was coming to an end when we were offered the opportunity to go back in time and undo whatever it was that Rotstein did to alter time."
"That is why I am here," Bergman relaxed and nodded as Strom gave him an inquisitive look as he was reaching for Bergman's overcoat to mooch another premium Benson & Hedges.
"I would like to begin by congratulating you on your resourcefullness, Koenig. How you found me, I mean...." Rostein applauded while holding his broken index finger in place. The print from the commander's wingtip shoes were all over it. They were rivaled only by the tracks across his face, and his bruised torso. "I won't bother to ask how you accomplished that--though I have my suspicions. Besides, that would only serve to obfuscate the real issue.
"It's a true dilemma. Yes?" Klaus Rotstein told John Koenig, resetting his broken jaw with an unshaken hand. "If we return now, the cosmos will be shorn...revitalized--like cold cream on a crone's nose." He laughed--loud enough that the commander was tempted to hit him again. He looked for every opportunity. "But then you would leave your friend to live out his life, imprisoned in a time that is not of his making."
As if September 13, 1999 was an optimum time, and of Victor Bergman's making.
"Get to the point." Koenig said unfavorably.
"My point is: what makes you think that the calamity resulted when I emerged into this gorgeous era in british history?" The maniacal entreprenuer stated bluntly, and on a key of weasel. "How do you know that it isn't your presence here that caused the future to go BOOM?"
"I don't." Koenig admitted. His buddy, Harold Cotton the homeless man, who had helped him with the clothes, also had an unfortunate link to Rotstein. He had been callously fired from Copernicus Aviation for no other reason than the fact he resembled Paul Morrow from the future.
Harold stood at the entrance of the ally, occasionally drinking from the concealed whiskey bottle which he purchased from the few dollars Koenig gave him, keeping look out and and ensure the interogation continued uninterrupted.
"But I do know that the universe went to hell once you crossed through the portal and chances are, you had a hand in it. You were though, responsible for the demise of 10 more innocent people and that in any time is a terrible injustice."
Then, he took the opportunity to unhinge Rotstein's jaw again with a powerful right punch.
"Now. Tell me where 'we' can find the 'special forces'...or at least be 'found' by them."
"I see how you feel." Rotstein mumbled with what was left of his put upon mandibles. If the conversation went on much longer, he would no longer be a threat to the universe. Fresh, glaring hemoglobin gushed from his mouth like Karo over pancakes. "No one finds them." He said truthfully, standing and catching a glimpse of Cotton who failed to retreat in time from the alley.
A wicked, jerk smirk of I-thought-so temptation chiseled itself on the entrepreneur's dangerous visage like an epitaph on a tombstone
The commander's head cocked ridiculously to the side.
He was about to finish him when Rotstein hit the placatory chord.
"As for being 'found' by them--don't worry about that." He laughed incessantly. "Koenig...that's already been taken care of, rest assured. If they have Bergman then you are also being scrutinized. You're on a leash, and you don't even know it.
"I can offer you a solution, though." The former operative boasted, fixing his funked-out bowtie, and admiring the wisdom tooth he held in his hand--the one that had, at last, been pulled. "But before I offer it to you, I entreat you to think back. Before you redecorate my face again, Koenig, consider all of the time we spent, touring the heavens on Moonbase Alpha. Month after pathetic month, searching for a home--gambling day after hopeless day on a two thousand kilometer mortuary.
"The only one in existence that had no lawn to be manicured.
"The burden you bore as commander, and resident Buddah." Rotstein sympathized. "Knowing that seventy years later, we would still be surrounded by airlocks, and commlocks, and bottled air, and hydrogenated, macrobiotic meatloaf. A billion years after we were dead--long after the base had succombed to endtime meteor impacts--that bastard would still be drifting deeper, and deeper into enigmatic perdition.
"I know you're preoccupied with wanting to kill me--don't worry, I'm not offended--but have you stopped to think that a new hand could be dealt? Now that you're here?"
Once again, temptation had reared its ugly head. An opportunity to change the future and possibly avert the disaster of September 13, 1999. Then what? Would the universe still suffer the same endtime fate?
"I'm here for you," Koenig grinned, deciding that the end was near for Rotstein. He would have to find Bergman himself but at least he would know that the Rotstein factor would be eliminated.
The click of the handgun suddenly wedged against the small of his back changed his plan. Koenig glanced down the alley and saw Mr. Cotton, slumped against the building with hooch in hand.
"Put your hands up," the voice of a woman which was hauntingly familiar echoed from behind him. Not only was she a physical twin but she sounded like the woman he loved with a slight German accent.
He could choose death or at best becoming a parapelegic or he could raise his hands in surrender. He chose the latter and Rotstein immediately made payback by granting Koenig a violent right chop to the jaw.
"Hark, hark, the dogs do bark." Rotstein sang--he strove for eloquence, but coming from his mouth, it all sounded like "The Best Little Whore House In Texas." Then he took a moment to do the Electric Slide on John Koenig's skull, and biceps. The concert was in honor of the pedestrians who had gathered at the end of the alley to goggle, and stumblebum him. "DEAR FRIENDS, I AM ANGRY ONLY BECAUSE OF HIS GHASTLY CANDOR TOWARDS MY BETTER HALF." He called to the crowd, wrapping an Olan Mills arm about Myrna's shoulder. "BESIDES, YOU TRY BEING CASTAWAY WITH SOMEONE LIKE THIS DILLHOLE.
"HE IS--SHALL WE SAY--CONTROLLING?" The entrepreneur bowed, and proceeded to walk away, hand-in-hand, with his wife who made lethal Nightshade seem like a leaf on a cheerful salad.
"Sorry I'm late, darling," Myrna Ruthven, dressed in black mourning garb, lit a cigarette now that Koenig was sufficiently incapacitated on the ground to no longer be a threat. "I was making arrangements for my dear brother Josef." She sniffed convincingly.
"What shall we do with," she snickered, "the commander?"
"Nothing." Rotstein said, wiping fake tears from his eyes. "I feel so unloved. I believe I'm going to pack my gladstone bag, and leave this ungrateful metropolis. By the time Mr. Murphy, there, finishes with his fans, we'll be on the other side of the equator."
But he knew they had business to complete before that.
Yes, business. Monetary business as Myrna's next task was to visit the attorney who possessed Josef Villanus' last will and testament. She was well dressed for the role of grieving sibling, with black dress, black veil and black gloves, containing greedy and eager fingers ready to receive the bank check.
"Come. We must attend to my brother's assets," she allowed a tear to spill down her cheek and her eyes to redden. "Difficult. My last surviving sibling." She dramatized, perhaps too much, as she turned with Rotstein down the alley.
John Koenig's convulsing hand grabbed at handfuls of gelatinous brains as his forehead exploded like atomic fire. Slowly, his hand drifted into the pocket of his overcoat, and brandished a judgement.
His vision blurred from the concussion. The laser was on an inexorable setting--he had no idea what it would do when fired, nor did he care.
Night had once again claimed London and the crowd had already become disinterested. No one wanted to get involved.
A momentary scream of agony pierced the night followed by the distinct and grisly charring of human (or perhap inhuman) flesh. The outwardly beautiful Myrna Villicus Rotstein tranformed into the hideous creature she was within. The blackened smoking carcass made a sickening thud on the ground as Klaus Rotstein cried out in both terror for his personal safety and anger. The air was thick with ozone.
Koenig levelled the weapon again, this time the blurriness of his vision improving. He saw one Rotstein, not 2 as he clutched the laser. Rotstein, though, was quicker as he dodged the discharge, heading face first into a pile of garbage, then quickly rolling away as the heat of the metal trash cans spontaneously ignited the litter strewn corner.
Rats scamped away, squealing from the inferno.
The flash blinded Koenig, temporarily, but it gave Rotstein the opportunity to escape into the night. He stumbled away, furiously, deciding he needed to regroup and return to finish Koenig before Koenig finished him.
Koenig sat up slowly as the alley came in better focus.
"We better get you out of 'ere," Harold Cotton appeared from nowhere and assisted Murphy to his feet. He glanced uneasily at the steaming corpse of Myna Ruthven. "Follow me."
Bergman maintained his equanimitable cool--even when the temperature outside was ten million degrees Farenheit.
"Tell me, professor." The Supervisor prompted him, leaning back in his blue velvet armchair with his right leg cocked over his left knee. "What do you think of this time period? Do you find the early part of the twentieth century suited to your tastes?"
"Oh, I don't mind it," Bergman replied, gazing at the inferno outside. In reality, he was having the time of his life. He liked the people, the time and especially the women, rather one woman in particular, very much. It completely suited his style and disposition.
"The problem is, though, if I forget about the job that I have to do, there is the matter that I know what is coming. I know about the future and it gets much worse before it gets better. Perhaps this is 'camelot', now, but evil lurks around the corner, as it were," he waxed somewhat poetically. "No, I've been one to believe that we are where we are for a reason."
"Destiny. If you love someone, put their name in a circle?" The Supervisor quoted, leaning comfortably back and kneading his palms together analytically. "Not a heart. A circle goes on forever. A heart can break.
"Is that your musing?" This enhanced, unmoved, prune of a man questioned. "Personally, I believe that fate is inflicted upon us only because we fail to act. From speaking to you, I detect a certain reticence on the topic of change. Oh, I know--you prefer to think of it as some detrimental upheaval in the space-time continuum.
"Remove Klaus Rotstein--the quintessential contaminant--or face the alternative, which is to say bon voyage to experience as we know it.
"My good man, I find that to be a specious idea." The Supervisor exclaimed, and warned Strom away from Bergman's cigarette case with a menacing glance. "The city of Constantinople encountered sweeping, generalized changes." The administrator exemplared. "Paradoxes, for lack of a better word. Pagan architecture. One day they were flourishing under the Macedonian Dynasty. The next day, they lost thier trousers to the Arabs.
"Bergman, can we in all good conscience say that the glory ceased once the Ottoman Empire overran Byzantium? Would it have been better if Rome had continued to statically govern those territories? Apparently, the men of 1999 AD would say yes, but I find that to be as bent as a two bob note."
Victor Bergman shook his head as 'Lurch' attempted to offer more tea. He listened curiously, though tentatively. Did these beings have the ability to see into the future, he wondered. An alternate future? A better future?
"I sound like I'm writing a metaphysical treatise, and that was never my intent." The Supervisor expressed. "Therefore, I'll get to the point of our conversation...the reason why I summoned you here.
"I would like you to remain here, in this time, and with Wallace Simpson as your consort."
It was music to his ears. He would very much like to stay in 1934 and he knew Wallace Simpson wanted him to stay as well. He would take her to the United States and perhaps, he could influence the outcome of the war. Bergman already knew that Wally's family was influencial with President Roosevelt. He also knew Von Braun could be brought to the United States and work for the Allies.
Forget Von Braun. Bergman had a better than fair knowledge of the physics and chemistry of rocket propulsion. He could change history and be credited with the development of the V2 rocket, knocking the dangerous, though clumsy V1 out of the air. The possibilities were endless and the temptation to change history and feed his ego was enticing; and all along, the woman he loved, his soul mate, would be by his side.
But, then, he considered the outcome showed to them by the Clocksmiths. Would it be the same if Rotstein returned and he stayed?
"I'll think about it," Bergman finally answered. "I've been thinking about it."
"Think carefully." The Supervisor admonished him. "You are aware that the nations who would be deemed 'superpowers' are already in the process of developing atomic power? You're a grown man, and you don't impress me as being a dolt, or a dullard. It's happening here in Britain. It's happening in America.
"Yes, in Siberia and the Volga region as well." He went on, drumming his fingers against the claw of the armchair. "Smart fellow--thinks that because all he sees are these darling, crystal radio sets, and coal fire heating--there is more here than what meets the eye. Neils Bohr was window dressing. He's a placebo, liberally applied to prevent Ghandi's Revenge in the pool of public opinion. The first satellite was placed in orbit five years ago." The Supervisor said unimportantly. "I won't tell you the specifics because you don't need to know. Suffice to say, the fear, and trembling that will be caused by Sputnik a few years from now is the mindset of a people who have reached rock bottom as far as awareness is concerned.
"And they're still digging." The administrator totalled. "Did you really think the World Space Commission bolted your base together overnight? You worked closely on that project. Your security clearance was as high as anyones. You never thought to question how some of those stress, and load calculations seemed to appear out of nowhere? Like a march hare out of a Wonderland hole.
"You never thought twice about the EXP forces; the international corps of engineers--how untalkative, and unfriendly they were? How many names did you catch in those early days?
"Be reasonable, Bergman.
"Those schematics already exist, on highly advanced logic circuits, and I don't mean some ten story, vaccuum tube monstrosity that doesn't even have the power of one of your 'modern' day calculators."
"Really," Victor Bergman stated neutrally. "Are you implying that mankind owes you thanks for our technological advancements of the 20th century?
The professor had learned for many years that nothing was impossible yet he was offended by the implication that left on their own, man could not help himself. "So you are behind jet propulsion, nuclear power, space travel....a cure for polio?"
"In that same line, do you accept credit for the disaster which sent our moon out of orbit on 13 September 1999?" He leaned forward, setting his cup in saucer."
"That be more than a chalk marker," Harold Cotton commented, gesturing to the laser on the table in Bergman's flat as he dressed Koenig's gash on the head. He poured the liquid from Bergman's bottle into a cloth and soaked the wound as the commander winced and the homeless man applied the bandage. Then, Cotton poured some of the expensive Brandy into two mugs, siding one to him and taking a drink from the other.
"Drink up, lad, it will help dull the pain," he chuckled. "Your 'doctor' orders you."
"So where'd you get this thing?" Cotton reached for it with untrained hand.
"Why won't the sonofabitch die?" Koenig foundered, ignoring the vagrant while simultaneously pulling the laser's battery pack. He tucked the element into his bloodied shirt pocket, and buttoned it.
After getting to know Myrna Ruthven, he desired that they be better strangers, but he had not intended to kill her. True, the human race was at no great loss. If someone had accused Lady Ruthven of not being fit to slop pigs, John Koenig would have argued vehemently that she was fit to slop pigs. Still, it was justice unsynchronized. His real target was in deep cover now--probably standing on a tarmac owned by Copernicus Aviation. Or maybe a cruise ship like the Olympic would ferry him away to newer, more exotic ports of fracas and murder.
And all the while, the cash register of the universe was awaiting enough dark matter to close out the drawer in a grand, celestial crunch.
"I'm sorry, Johnny, that 'e got away," Cotton said genuinely. "The Missus caught me by surprise with the whack on the 'ead."
"Oh, but she be a nasty one," Cotton nodded, taking another healthy drink of Brandy."They say she killed her brothers and sisters with poison." He continued to nod as Koenig stared. Cotton refilled Koenig's brandy. "Yessir, lad, she gave 'em hot toddies with a bit ol arsenic or some such poison."
"Ye did everyone a service takin' 'er out."
"Don't fret, lad," he continued. "Ruthven is still in country. 'E's gonna want revenge. If ye offed anyone else, 'e would 'ave been gone. But the bastard will be obsessed about gettin' you now..."
"Now, about your friend, Leto," he sat in the comfortable overstuffed chair, relaxing and relishing the softness and support on his old bones, "I 'ave it on good authority that 'e is ok. 'E be one of the few special branch brings back but 'e won't remember a thing about it."
"I got me sources," he grinned, helping himself to a biscuit.
"You, you, you." The Supervisor said hebitudinously. It would have seemed exciting--meeting someone from the future--but as it was, he was unimpressed. Boredom was a luxury. He tried not to abuse it. "You're not very trusting. I suppose I respect that, but you keep speaking in the third person--as if a flying saucer landed in Wales, and imparted all of the secrets of superscience to a corrupt few.
"Everything I told you--all of the bombs, all of those delicious biochemical weapons...the great many leaps in technology that are born of greed, and acrimony, not wisdom--those are all human endeavours.
"To the contrary, old man.
"All 'we' really do is sit back and watch." The Supervisor noted. "The death of the planet Earth lies in your hands, not ours."
"And you have no 'hand' influencing us." Bergman stated skeptically, as 'Lurch' lit the premium Cuban. The professor took a few deep drags of the fine cigar. "Your recommendation that I stay in 1934 is not exactly observer only status."
"If I stay, Edward does not marry Wallace. Edward does not need to abdicate. That act alone will significantly change history." He paused thoughtfully. "If the Nazis win World War II, the social and political climate of earth will change dramatically. Knowing what I know about the Nazis, I can't see it changing for the better and actually becoming much worse. Millions more could die. Whole races could be wiped out."
"All because Mrs. Simpson did not marry King Edward."
"Perhaps it wasn't Rotstein who changed history." He puffed again wistfully. "Perhaps it was me."
"Do tell." The Supervisor said, turning his tongue into his cheek, and glancing sideways to keep tabs on Strom. "Did you also create the world in six days, and rest on the seventh? And was it good? Pardon me for being terse, but you're less than a minor player, Bergman. You have the right to be egotistical, and you have a talent for it, but it is hard to feign drinking fine wine, when all you have is a can of grease.
"The game has begun--that is correct--but who said you were invited to the tournament?
"Adolph Hitler thinks of Mussolini frequently--especially when he's at the zoo." The administrator explicated. "A pessimist never minds loaning money to irresponsible parties. Why should they? They're pessimists so they know they'll never be paid back. This is the coalition of titans. The classic literary conflict of man versus man--or maybe man versus immoral beer belly. The Italian dictator is not smart, and Hitler insists on knowing what he plans to do about that. The Rome-Berlin alliance is on a slippery slope, and will remain so, even if the Axis powers prevail.
"Bergman, be aware that Italy almost surrendered to the Allies in 1945--and would have done so--were it not for a well-timed German invasion. It's a miracle that he was able to crush parliament at all, considering his atrocious failure as a supreme commander and tactician. Even in the established history that you are drawing from, over 300,000 Mussolini supporters went down hard during the Italian Campaign.
"To say that their military is awful would be an insult to those nations who have armaments that are only second rate. You do comprehend what I'm saying, don't you?
"And Japan." The Supervisor segued. "What can one say? Hirohito displayed some chutzpah with Pearl Harbor, and Coral Sea, but after that, it seems he couldn't board the USS Missouri fast enough. Yet another decisive victory.
"So we have South Pacific Islanders with no vision, and southern europeans who will prove that nothing is foolproof to a truly talented fool.
"This will leave Germany carrying the brunt of the so-called Axis Empire."
"Which is basically what they did," Bergman replied.
Outside the Victorian windows, great puffs of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ash billowed from stalagmites as far as the eye could see, or at least until the magma and lava lined cavern blurred the numbers into obscurity. He fancied seeing Wallace's face in one cloud then a general outline of Moonbase Alpha in another. The ash cloud next to the Packard resembled the maw of a wolf...or a coyote or a dog. Curiously, another resembled the face of the time piece he hawked at the pawn shop only a few days ago.
It was either imagination or intentional symbols but Bergman felt suddenly exhausted. He wondered how long in real time, time on the surface he had been gone and when Koenig realized he was missing. Perhaps Koenig had found Rotstein and, he hoped, returned to the future with the criminal.
"Sir, if I may ask," he returned his attention to the supervisor, who was taking in a smoke from a cherrywood pipe, "if I am a minor player, then why do you even care what I do? Why are you eager to see me stay with Wallace in 1934? I appreciate your hospitality and I don't intend to sound rude, but realistically I highly doubt your motive is my personal happiness." He puffed reflectively.
"Why?" He repeated the single word question.
"Oh Blimey," Lily Carter blurted as she set down the groceries on Bergman's table the following morning. "Ye got yeself hurt again, John."
She examined the bandage on Koenig's forehead. Koenig was in a just awaken fog and noted he had slept for 11 hours. Cotton was gone, though he said he would return with some 'information'.
"How did ye do that?" She quizzed, setting up the perculator. The bottom of the London Times bore a small section with the title, "Wife of Copernicus Aviation Owner, Myrna Ruthven, Killed In Warehouse Fire".
Shame, Koenig thought. He had a wonderful evening too.
But it wasn't with Myrna Ruthven. It was so unfair for her to be cut down in the prime of life like that...and to be so butt ugly too.
"I got tired of working for Jeffries at the station, Lily." The commander replied fraudulently as the bandage throbbed on his forehead. "So, I tried to take my own life."
Lily's face went completely blank. She was hoping he was joking and her intuition told her he was trying to be humorous but though John Murphy was sincere, he was also quite mysterious. He seemed out of place or out of his element. At first she thought that he was an American unfamiliar with living overseas but she was beginning to wonder if it was something else.
"Ye either serious or there's that Yank humor I don't understand. Me husband would understand. Bill is an Aussie and they be like you Yanks."
"O'kay, seriously." Koenig said, standing. "You remember that friend of mine that I introduced you to at the station? Mr. Leto? It's imperative that I find him, but I have no idea where to begin." He shrugged, this time with verity in his voice. "Dear, I need to know if Cyril, Mills--anyone in the newsroom--can help me find out more about an organization that calls themselves 'Special Branch.'" He necessitated, elevating the adjectives to their proper name status. "They aren't affiliated with local law enforcement, and it's probably a dead end from the word 'go,' but it's important that I know.
"Secondly, is there a writer at 2LO who can be bought cheap, or who has an attention span the size of a thimble. I need to add dialogue to the next episode of "Days And Nights Of Harrington Row," but I don't want to hear about the flack we'll get from our advertisers."
Having met a few of them--and the vice president of Mule Team Borax was one--Koenig decided that he couldn't find it in his heart to deny them a good resentment.
"How about Congreve?" The commander pushed. "He drinks so much, damn Gin, his blood should be declared potently 'distilled.' He's got a script due for tommorrow night's episode, doesn't he?"
"What's the matter? Mr. Leto in some sort of trouble?" She frowned, pouring the coffee into the cup. "Only very bad people get mixed up with special forces, that's what I hears anyway. Yes, old Cyril might know about special branch. E's been around forever..or 'e might know someone who knows, if ye know what I mean."
"You be right. Mr. Congreve's got a script due this afternoon and Mr. Jefferies is about to 'ave a breakdown. Evidently Congreve was in a brawl at the pub last night an' 'e's sittin' in the pokey right now. Mr. Jefferies posted bail but 'e's got 'im at the office pourin' coffee down 'is throat. 'E's too hungover to be even thinkin' bout writin'."
She set her cup in the saucer after taking a sip. "Are you talented with writin' too, John?"
"Effort and sacrifice aren't always chronicalled as they should be." The Supervisor believed. "I'm certain that you will agree with me on that point as well. What I said was accurate. You are not a fulcrum for change. You are, however, a lense of sorts. The smallest alterations could, possibly, be magnified through you, Bergman, and with common results.
"In the eon you remember, humanity had solutions galore but no answers. And there was no lasting peace--only the unwilling led by the unknowing. The period you are in now is a decisive one. If the german army is defeated again in 1945, we will learn nothing other than how to chop confetti for ticker tape parades. Our cup will be a bitter draught, which makes sense if you consider that it will be a blood cocktail, squeezed from the arteries of patriots.
"None the wiser, we'll go on to have the French-Algerian War, the Biafran War, Afghanistan, World War Terminus--on, and on, and on--time without end. The 1999 Breakaway will be the final solution.
"Does that thought appeal to you?"
He spoke the truth. In the long days and weeks of drifting through deep space in undisturbed routine, Bergman had kept himself occupied with calculations and extrapolations. In particular, his morbid curiousity led him to the conclusion that the Breakaway event changed Earth dramatically. If humanity existed, society would have crumbled as would have most of man's finest cities and architectures. He had shared his conclusion with Koenig and Russell but no one else.
Doing so would have deprived many of those on Alpha the hope that at least their loved ones went on and kept the flame of the will to survive in their memory alive and burning. Sadistic perhaps but necessary from the standpoint of needing people to run a base rather than having a large depressed population throwing themselves out of airlocks. One day, when they found a new home on a real planet, he would reveal the information, when there was real hope for the future.
"If you stay...." The Supervisor continued. "We trust that you will set into motion a chain of events that will lead to the extinction of global conflict. The Reich Empire will never prevail because it will ultimately reach a point where there are too many chefs, too many perversions in the dark. The infrastructure will collapse a block at a time. These horrors aren't lost on me, and it certainly won't be lost on pundits of the Jewish faith.
"But after that, there will be no more conflict, Bergman.
It was a nice thought but for some reason, the image of his mother, suffering piteously appeared in his mind's eye: along with not 'just' six million but 60 million human beings of non-Protestant faith, beaten, battered, tortured and murdered in assembly line fashion.
First the "undesirables", the mentally and physically hadicapped, the gypsies, the homosexuals were herded into death chambers. Then came the Jews and the Muslims. It was the "New" Crusades and the Catholic Church has joined forces with the Protestant Reich to rid the world of "pagans." The buddhist and hindu were the undesirables in the East.
The homogenization of humanity to milky white would be stained with crimson blood of innocents.
Maybe he was wrong about his calculations. 'Bergman,' the voice of Hyacinth echoed in his thoughts, ' you are man. You are fallible.'
"That" Bergman started with husky emotion after clearing his throat, "would be nice. But at what price?"
It is how ones survives that is important, not the fact, Hyacinth reinforced the ideology.
The Supervisor told him to think it over.
If it wasn't for the fact that the dream seemed so real, she would have thought it was funny.
An exhausted Angelina Carter had surrendered to a fitful sleep. When she awakened, she immediately felt strange and her environment was equally bizarre. For one thing, she had completely lost her sense of touch then became aware that her olefactory sense had been negated. Her hearing was still intact as was her sight and she was disturbed by voices coming from the living room of the Carter quarters.
She carefully made her way out of the bedroom, squinting because everything seemed mired in an ethereal haze.
Two unusual sights greeted her, the images out the viewport and activity around her kitchenette table.
First, she noticed Alan playing poker with a couple of guys. This sight was not unusual since the pilot would occasionally have friends over to play cards during those long, uneventful stretches between encounters with anything. What was unusual were the participants of the game.
Only one of them besides Alan was alive in the physical sense. Pierre Danielle, Big P, wore the dealer's visor as Jim Kelly, DEAD Jim Kelly, studied the hand he was dealt along with Tom Morningstar and Ed Bayledon (also dead when she retired for the evening). On the white couch sat her brother, her DEAD brother Tony Verdeschi, who evidently was not welcomed to play and had been apparently ostracized to the sidelines.
"Ang, get me a beer," Tony gestured toward the refridgerator.
"Get your own damn beer, Tony," she mumbled, distracted, as she gazed out the viewport.
First the Earth was there. Then it was not. Then it was there. Then it was not. The big blue marble, her home, was blinking like at traffic light. On...off...on....off...
"What...is going on?" She turned toward the poker players. She shook her head. "No...this is just a dream. One weird, fucked up dream."
She stopped and stared as deceased technician Montcrease strolled into the room and pulled up an empty chair.
"My dear..." The undead technician sitting across from Danielle said while grooming his moustache. "You are the antidote to good hearing."
Commisserate with the unluckiest alphan of all--Ansaurus Montcrease. He died the most horrible death in space ever--bar none--and it happened on the one day of his life when chose not to be a selfish, self-serving bastard. This was a bomb shell. The funny thing was, there was nothing vaguely extraterrestrial about his passing. It was a rare exclamation point in an existence that was otherwise served by egoism, and flip elipses. This was only a year ago. The transplanted Slavanian/Hawaiian was working on the base's external equiptment just outside the outer ring, in a region of Plato called the Geode Declension.
"I never forget a face." Those were the last words uttered by him, over the link, to physicist Roberta Specter, and in the hour of his demise. "But in your case, I'll make an exception."
Plucking micrometeors from the dish of the high gain antennae was a task he did not relish, but he soon found it to be electrifying--especially after some such slacker turned the bus full-on. It was probably Dumbo' he realized, as the curtain lowered on his interstellar version of the song "My Way." She had sent him out there to acquire specimens with a pair of tweezers, stipulating that there was some risk of adverse magnetism in the impact pebbles.
"Risk?" Montcrease studied her, his eyes growing vulture-like.
Specter went onto relay how there may be lethal amounts of gamma radiation present in the particles, but since he was already a designated member of Hair Club, he probably had nothing to worry about.
"Good." Montcrease decided--greatly relieved as he donned his pressure suit.
To make a long story short, the heat, and propulsive amps from the transmitter turned his skin into a sausage milkshake. He careened upwards and back--cartwheeling past Level-A of the command tower before descending into the open egress of Launch Pad Three. Microwaved to within an inch of his life (but still breathing), he found fault with the block house for choosing that second to close the deflection doors. Moments later, he was rent asunder, his torso quartered by the titanium teeth of the zig-zag hatch.
Yet he lived. Sort of. His heart and lungs, and something like brain activity floated to the bottom of the shaft, only to be raised to the surface again beside Eagle Four Niner.' Feeling the vacuum viscerally now, Montcrease closed his eyes--unable to bear the annoyance that was attendant in having his own head explode as counter pressure invaded his compromised suit.
It did not take Bob Mathias long to determine the cause of death.
"Are you going to play, or are you going to stare." Montcrease groused at Ang' while holding his Royal Flush safely out of range.
"I'll play," Angelina retorted to the dead man (or was he?) as she dropped into the empty chair next to Carter. She glance out the viewport again and this time she noted the myriad of flashing colors instead of the blackness of space.
If this was a dream, then she might as well 'play' along.
"So, Tom," she questioned the other known departed soul, studying the cards. Two "aces" was a start but certainly not a spectacular hand. "How's it going?"
"How do you think it's going?" The extinct Sioux said frivolously. His pony tail bore the acid rubberband of the unlucky. "I'm losing my shirt to our revered kaptain."
Carter's face was rawboned.
"One hundred missions under my belt." The pilot recounted, throwing off a five of hearts, and the Joker, which Montcrease--the most derisive, and hated oberleutnant on Mondstation Alfa--would never know about. Truthfully, in the other time line, Carter was glad he was dead. "And after every one, there has been a card game where I can be seen winning, and Heir Morningstar can be seen handing his brass tacks over to yours truly."
"Yeah?" Morninstar differed but underneath it all, he held a hand that was deader than he was in another reality.
"Penny for your thoughts." Carter ribbed him unceasingly. "Pennies are something that I have plenty of."
"Mongo." The pad leader retorted sweetly. He was not referring to a planet ruled by a despot named Ming, The Merciless. The approximate german translation for the word meant 'idiot.'
"Are you ready to fold?" Montcrease hectored him.
"No." Morningstar said valiantly, but what he really meant was 'not yet.'
She couldn't stop herself from staring at all of them, especially Montcrease. The last image she had of Montcrease was not a pleasant one. She had been a part of the "recovery" crew and had been on the scene as Ed Bayleton 'cleaned' Montcrease's remains from the deflection door.
Ironically, it would be Bayleton's last task before he was killed by Rotstein.
Rotstein! For some reason she had forgotten about him and the fact there was a crew on the planet of Mythraea to retrieve the fleeing criminal. Another glance out the viewport illustrated the fact the planet was gone but it was more disturbing that no one seemed to either notice or care. Further, she noted the presence of yet another Alphan she did not remember seeing...ever.
She thought it was odd that there was a swastica insignia on the left chest.
"I'll take three," she motioned to Big P. "This is really strange," she whispered to Carter. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're not usually in my more bizarre dreams. What are you doing here?" she joked, and noted her hand: "ace, nine, three, four, ace".
"Same as everyone else, Tulip." The pilot replied. "Combining business with pleasure. I live to serve the Fifth Fuhrer. Sieg heils." He said with intentional imbecility. "And the best part of that is that I get a chance to watch Montcrease there sweat like Eisenhower with piano wire around his bloomin' neck."
"You that sure of yourself?" The dead from the neck up (in any corporeality) technician replied smugly. "Holy mackeral." He went on to accost Angelina. "Why don't you take my fucking picture. It will last longer."
"Mind your manners, Montcrease." Carter intervened, unsympathetically while lining up his Aces.
"Sorry to stare," Ang retorted, not apologetic at all. "No, I don't have a crush on you, Ansaurus. Don't flatter yourself."
Montcrease glared at her indignantly as Morningstar, Bayledon, Carter and Pierre Danielle chuckled heartily.
"The truth is," she went on, "I had a rather strange dream that I was in an alternate universe." The other players momentarily stopped and glanced toward her from their cards. Even now, Morningstar, Bayledon and Montcrease took on a spectral image as Ang was able to see the white couch through them; along with an equally ghostly image of her deceased brother, sprawled out drunk on same couch. The unknown German Alphan also took on an ethereal quality as well.
Only Carter and Danielle remained 'solid'.
"In the alternate universe, you sir," she glanced at the unnamed Alphan, "did not exist."
"And you guys," she pointed at the trio, "Tom, Ed and Montcrease were dead. Strange, huh?"
"We've come to expect it from you." Montcrease replied, hoping to catch a glimpse at Pierre Danielle's hand. "Was it Aristotle who said that no genius ever existed without a touch of madness? Too bad you fit perfectly in one category, but not the other."
"I think, therefore I am." The fading Uber Alfan argued. "Reason in man is rather like God in the world."
The fact that he was a physical impossibility didn't seem to bother him.
"Women are like rocks." Montcrease smiled sardonically at Ang.' "You skip the flat ones."
"And men are like mountains," Angelina continued. "Either great monuments of natural beauty loaded with hidden treasure," she smiled warmly at Carter, "or uninteresting mounds of dirt and rock without any inner substance." She smirked at Montcrease.
"Hmmm," Ang mumbled, filing the weirdness away in the back of her mind and looking down at her cards. An image of the discarded joker jogged her memory. "Klaus Rotstein. Does that ring a bell for anyone?"
Carter belched laughter.
"Hot stuff, you are a card." He said with tears in his eyes--so full of jocose that he almost choked on it. "You've had one too many trips to the beer haus. That's the last time you go on leave. It makes a widget' of you."
"Let's be sensible about this." Montcrease said deviously. "Since we've obviously proved our lack of military ability to the Tri-Continent, the least we can do is to lend aid, and succor to a suffering, uneducated, human being.
"I guess Heir Doctor Bergman should have developed a better missile. They went to a lot of trouble smuggling him into Germany before World War Two. Some prescience, that was. We would have been better off letting Von Braun, and Oppenheimer clout us with the A-Bomb back in 45.' At least our deaths would have been quick, and painless."
"We got off to a bad start." Carter agreed. "I hope old Adolph got his jollies in that hotel room in Paris. I'm sure having the Deputy Fuhrer show up in the middle of the night with a squad of black coats wasn't part of the fantasy."
"Did you ever wonder how Rotstein got away with that one?" Montcrease said seriously.
Morningstar layed his cards face down on the table.
"No." The pad leader confessed. "Not really. When an individual has enough power to execute the leader of the Nazi Party while wearing only his socks, then it's best not to ask questions."
"The High Command deemed it the 'correct' action." Pierre Danielle concluded. "Odd, that Field Marshall Ronak did almost exactly the same thing to him in 1955. And they forgave that too. Talk about Mein Kampf."
During the discourse, she glanced about the room again. The entrance to her son's room (and the sleeping child within) flickered in and out of existence like a light bulb. The far wall bore the Captain's collection of ornate weaponry, then it did not. Even the pictures under the Carter crest (which, at least remained constant) cycled between those she was familiar and those which were familiar yet different. She noted a wedding pose, a real wedding picture, of her in a gown, outside with Carter next to her in a tuxedo. Another corny picture of same wedding had familiar and unfamiliar faces of pilots in groomsmen tuxes and bridesmaids in tacky lime green sherbert frilly dresses.
Then, the pictures were gone, replaced by familiar poses of them with the stark backdrop of Moonbase Alpha.
"I'm not talking about THAT Klaus Rotstein," she retorted convincingly with a 'duh' intonation; although, she found the history lesson interesting and startling, though not altogether unfamiliar.
She had thrown away her aces, the ones that Carter held and she was left with her own straight flush.
"There's another fellow by the name of Klaus Rotstein, who is starting in Mission Kontrol," (why did she call Main Mission 'Mission Kontrol'?), "next week." She laughed. "I wonder if he is a relative to Furher Rotstein or just merely coincidence."
"We've also got a guy named Korolev working in the Biotek' Lab." Montcrease told her. "That doesn't mean he's related to 'Sergei Korolev.'"
Some cause stupidity wherever they go. The technician thought sadly. And some take it with them whenever they leave.
"I knew someone named 'Tsiolkovsky.'" The unknown alfan could not resist telling Ang.' "A 'Horace,' not a 'Konstantin.'"
Carter ponied up five more marks, and added them to the pile in the center of the table. He had four aces. There was no way to lose--given the meager talents of his fellow game players.
"In fact, Montcrease," Ang replied smugly, unable to believe she had a straight flush, "he IS related to Sergei Korolev. Alexander Korolev's father was a first cousin to Sergei Korolev. There is a celebrity in your midst and you weren't even paying close enough attention to notice it. Tsk, tsk."
The Technical Section of Mondstation Alfa comprised of extremely arrogant and egotistical personalities multiple realities, Angelina Carter thought sadly. Like the other reality, she was unsure why the Commander or in this universe, Kommandant, felt she was capable of leading such brilliant minds with dullard social and emotional capabilities.
"I'll call you on that, dear," she remarked to Carter, "and raise you five marks." The Technical Section Manager chucked the coins into the pot into the center, while holding the cards close to her chest. She grinned confidently.
The undead Tom Morningstar studied her with genetically altered blue eyes. Everyone around the table had blue or blue-green eyes. If one was not born with the official eye color of the human race, it was easy to 'correct' the "problem' as children.
"You're bluffing," he finally stated," and not very well, Ang," he continued smugly, throwing his lot in the center from the meager pile. "I'm in."
"I wonder if we need to be talking about these things." Montcrease alerted them--acutely present that his ass was on the line, his eyebrows raised towards the Snoop Caps that hung from the ceiling panels. Every single thing they said, every wreckless deed was being recorded--audio and video portions alike--and sent back to Berlin for decryption, and analysis. "If you're going to talk about alternate realities, you really ought to go in the other room." He told Ang.'
Carter was about to smart off. Since they were losers, there was really no need to maintain tight security. Likewise, there was really no need to fear, or maintain, threats, and compliance through the liberal use of death and terror. They all knew about the new, Tri-Con Bubbleworld settlement had been established in Venutian orbit. It was a masterpiece of engineering. A true creation. Layer upon layer of hydrogen with self-gravitational distribution; an aritificial cloud fortress with a habitable volume of that was five times that of the ageing Mondstation Alfa. There were no walls, no floors--equilibrium, and pressure took care of that.
There were, however, Pop Guns--satellites that could be deployed within weeks. Their payloads carried sonic cannons that would fire just after reentry--defeaning the enemy, and giving them a hellacious bowell movement too. Bubbleworld also had Mailman--a new deterrent that consisted of Nano Robots that could invade your body, that could take your kidneys, and wrap them around your spleen. Their arsenal also contained a revolutionary direct energy beam. Hosted by the electromagnetic spectrum, it could surgically fry an entire city with much more economy than that of a destructive nuke,' which they also had, along with stealth capable, Saturn V boosters.
They were calling it Operation Suntan, or so Carter had heard. This left the Deutsches Reich in a position of eminent, modest surrender, and there was no 'maybe' about it.
The days of the empire were dwindling. Alaric and the Visigoths weren't at the door, so to speak; at least not yet. They had pulled up to the curb though.
Which was why the pilot was completely shocked to hear the black summons arrive on the swasticka adorned communications panel.
"GEFRIETER ANGELINA CARTER, REPORT TO THE GRUPPENFUHRER AT ONCE." A cold, inhuman voice instructed. The commandment was accompanied by a detachment of shock troopers who appeared in the open doorway holding rocket lasers. There were skulls on thier helmets, and SS medallions on their lapels.
They had no interest in losing a Poker hand to Alan Carter, and they did not knock.
"WHAT'S THE MEANING OF THIS?" The pilot said angrily.
"I'm sorry to disturb you Hauptman Carter." Muller, the squad leader, said kindly. "Doctor Diales wishes to speak to your wife on a matter that is most urgent."
Angelina blinked and broke out into a cold, drenching sweat, as reality, any reality dissolved into an opaque quagmire of blackness.
There was nothing. No past, no future and no present of any kind.
"Alan?!?" she turned around frantically but could not see anyone or anything. It was darker than dark. One could go insane with the lack of sensory perception. It was the worst hell conceivable...to be completely alone and totally isolated.
"WHERE ARE YOU?!???!?!?"
Jeffries looked sullenly through the transparency at Koenig, who stood blankly before the unidirectional microphone. The station manager throttled his own palm with the rolled up schedule. It was an overpowering, intrusive gesture. He hoped that Lily Carter was unnerved by it. As far as Jeffries was concerned, she deserved it. The sponsors were furious--three, in fact, waited for him in his office. Think Groucho, Harpo, and Chico, only with murder in their eyes. Ironically, only Herschell Pullen of Mule Team Incorporated was happy with their overtures. His partner, Henry Wood was coming around too, which was good--it was pleasing to know that their reputation was safe with the team of Pullen/Wood.
Cyril Payne sat in the metallic chair next to the board. In Greater London there were temperatures in the high fifties; Rafael, the famed Piccolo playing poodle was coming to the Hippodrome on November 5th; and Sir Francis Agar, the Sheriff Of London astonished the crowd today by stating that he loved the working class--after all, they worked cheap.
The writer, Cornelius Oates-Congreve was beside the anchor, barely able to sit up after a month-long bender. He had completed his script for "Days, And Nights Of Harrington Row" only after Jeffries promised to change his name to Bubba Bubba-Bubba if he was tardy.
The entire production unit waited for the top of the hour to run the commerical. They woudn't recommend Mule Team Borax to their dearest enemies, but the bottom line was the thing. Reality became stark, and unlovely in the presence of poverty and unemployment.
"He's losing his touch." Jeffries leaned over to tell Lily Carter. "Murphy, I mean. There was only a hundred women outside the studio today. This time last week it was a billion, and every one of them was bonkers in love.
"I'm going to can him." The station manager decided. "Then we'll be rid of his smart mouth for all time."
"A Hundred? That be a hundred times better than before Mr. Murphy joined the cast. 'E's been sick and out of work, so Lawrence Oglethrope 'asn't been around," Lily Carter commented calmly. Supervisor Jeffries was envious of Murphy's fame, pure and simple, she had surmised.
"The switchboard 'as been overloaded with calls. The ladies out there are eager for 'is return."
She beamed confidently at Murphy. In reality, she knew that fame in the world of radio soap opera was fickle and fleeting. She was already grooming a replacement for the Oglethorpe character but she also looked out for Murphy. The evening horror theater show, "Mysteries of London" needed a new MC and Murphy's deep, detached voice would be a perfect fit for the popular series. The job would have more staying power.
Murphy didn't know his soon to be changed role yet but that was not a problem.
The older woman sat facing the high chair, coaxing the one year old to sample his lunch.
"C'mon, William, dear," the woman begged. "Take a bite for Nanny."
William Carter grinned and threw the pieces of cut up apple across the room, giggling wildly. The old woman could not conceal her mutual delight and her verbal, "Now don't be a naughty boy, William" contrasted to her barely contained smile.
Klaus Rotstein peered through the window and rounded the building to the back entrance.
He finished the black coffee down to the dregs, and tossed the china cup into the oakleaf hydrogenea. It was a stupid name for a shrub, the psychotic, paranoid, warped and murderous entrepreneur thought. His greek, robed minions had taken their place beside him, as they always did just before he played The Game. There were four of them, standing twelve feet tall with black tenebrous wings, and deep set eyes that were mostly bone, and shadow.
No mouths. They didn't need to speak. Rotstein had the whole thing worked out.
The half Moon was working on his water.
Archibald Bump had no idea what the woman was worried about.
"Edith, for godsake try to think without moving your lips." The gardner behooved the nanny, and smiled. William reached for the bottle of syrup, but it was still out of vertical range. "I squeezed it meself, just this morning. Nice, fresh, maple sugar. It will help him sleep tonight.
"Give the lad a cup."
"Oh no ye won't," Edith physically barricade herself between the gardner and the baby. "That stuff is not healthy. I've been takin' care of lit'le ones for 30 years and nuthin' is better than cow's milk in a baby bottle. Given candy to a babe at such a young age will just set 'im up for bad habits later in life."
"Ain't that right, William?" She cooed to the baby, who drooled and grinned with newly erupted, healthy front teeth in response.
"I take it every morning, and look at what a strapping fellow I am." Bump smiled. He had about five teeth left. What more could the woman ask for? "No one boils this kind of thing out. If you do, you lose the flavor. Your problem is, you want everything to taste like your quiche, and it ain't happenin' love."
"Strappin' fellow indeed," Edith appraised the overly stout and undertoothed man. She shook her head. "Ye don't feed a baby sugar nectar, Archi...now go on. It's time for William's nap."
"Right." Bump succeeded, and headed towards the door. "You know, I used to think there was a twinkle in your eye. Now I know it was only the sun shining through your ears. Goodnight."
He left, taking his dental destroying syrup with him. No one cared.
"There, there, William," Nanny cooed as the child, with balled up fist rubbed his eyes while resting his head on her shoulder. "It's time for a wee lit'le nap, young man." She gently patted his back as she carried the child to his crib. "Ye get a nap, then a bath and get ye all cleaned up for when Mummy comes to get ye."
The child with blonde wispy hair and blue eyes slowly succumbed to sleep as Nanny tiptoed from the room and closed the door to a small crack. Nanny turned on the radio, lowering the volume as she pulled up a chair and leaned against the Victrola.
The "Days and Nights of Harrington Row" was about to be broadcast and she had heard Lawrence Oglethorpe would be returning today, to complete his seduction of Esther.
She wouldn't miss this for the world.
Klaus Rotstein cared.
He couldn't bare to see the gardner so hot, and bothered, so he put about twenty holes in him. The dagger was admirably sharp. At least that was the opinion of Ed Bayledon, and Roy Rogers Reilly when he used it on them.
"Were your parents siblings?" He asked Bump, throttling the gardner's head upwards, and cutting his throat with a single thrust.
"20 seconds," the engineer's voice boomed through the soundbooth of the BBC studio C.
The girls singing the cherry Mule Team Borax jingle could have been doing dishes and they would have looked happier.
Vivian Jenning, aka Ester, applied her lipstick with her gold compact then memorized her last line as she ignored Murphy. She turned toward Koenig and going 'in character' smiled then twisted her face into a mask of tortured angst.
On the other side of the observation glass, Lily Carter held the script open. She nodded and on queue, mouthed the word 'GO.'
"Why.Have.You.Been.Avoiding.Me?" Lawrence Oglethorpe took the initiative as the organ music ground to a halt. It was John Koenig's worst, most deadpan portrayal ever. It wasn't that he had no talent. He just didn't have very much talent. The only method he was pursuing was the art of bad acting--his character study consisted of desperate ad libs, and must-work improvisations--so it had been, from day one, but a million housewives in radioland thought otherwise.
"I haven't been avoiding you." Jennings responded professionally as Vivian.
Jeffries buried his head in his hands. Why was he the only one who could see that Murphy was a downmarket kind of fellow.
Congreve came to life again, finally, but it was not for the purpose of watching the craft come alive, before his very eyes. Instead, he was buttoning his coat, and straightening himself so he could chat it up...maybe get lucky with Lily Carter.
Lily ignored him as long as she could until his alcohol laced breath impinged on her oxygen too long. "Even if I was a single woman, I wouldn't go out with you if you were the last man in the world and I was the last woman, Mr. Congreve." She replied sweetly, scanning the script for the lines ahead. It was terrible stuff and she thought Murphy's "edits" were far better.
"Date? Date what? How about the date when your next script is supposed to be completed you gormless hack." Jeffries told the writer impossibly. "Sit your arse down."
Congreve melted away, and returned to his unadventurous scheme of things at the sound board.
Rotstein entered the Carter residence, wiping the blood from his poniard on Lily Carter's Edwardian tieback drapes.
"I.Am.More.Than.My.Wealth.Honey." Murphy (as potentate Lawrence Oglethorpe) argued strenuously.
"I know that." Jennings emoted sincerely for Esther. "I am...fond of you, Lawrence."
"Fond?" Oglethorpe replied while John Koenig watched the clock. "I.Expected.More?"
"I can't give you more." Jennings said brilliantly, allowing her eyes to tear, and puff, even though she despised John Murphy and wished for him to be riddled with bad debt, harm, and incurable disease. "You have my heart. You know that. But my duty is to my husband."
"If.He.Was.My.Husband.I.Would.Flavor.His.Coffee.With.Poison." Murphy repined, with all the soul of a sandbox.
"Bloody fan has broken into the studio?" Jeffries lit up at Lily Carter on the other side of the glass. "Where is she? WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS."
He left to annihilate the lovestruck homemaker.
With Congreve once again in a near doze, Lily quickly inserted the amended cue cards for Murphy. Jennings frowned at the unexpected change in the dialogue but Congreve had more than once done the last minute switcheroo, so it was not completely surprising. Lily knew it was the right thing to do; it would be a smash hit.
Rotstein kicked open the door to the darkened, master bedroom. The was nothing on the other side except for a big, cathedral shaped Crosley radio receiver. His favorite show was on, and by the sound of it, the worst actor in history was again making a mockery of it. According to his best recollection, he couldn't remember Commander John Koenig being good for anything, save playing God.
However, since his target wasn't in this room, and since there was no escape for his victims from the second floor of the house, he decided to take a minute, and have a listen.
Edith lay in an expanding pool of her own blood with almost 40 slashes, cuts and holes throughout her body. Her head had slammed on the edge of the coffee table as she fell to the floor and Rostein had prematurely, though in the end no less fatally, stopped the wild hacking and slashing. She realized, as the life ebbed out of her, that she was only a few feet from the telephone, which he had inadvertently and conveniently knocked to the floor. The nanny stretched using precious energy and her fingers closed around the receiver as she began to black out.
"Help me," she whispered to the switchboard operator. "A mad man's attacked me."
"Poison?" Jennings repeated. "Oh, LAWRENCE. Why am I not abhored by your suggestion? Why do I have evil thoughts of Arthur being accosted by a mad mugger with a dagger while he is working late? "
"Because.Dear.Heart." Oglethorpe geared up for true confessions. "You.Are.Suffering.From.A.Repressed.Memory."
"REPRESSED MEMORY!" Jeffries cried out, only half way down the steps. There were speakers all over the buiding. Even in the lavatory, there was no escape from this debacle of a broadcast. "NO ONE EVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THE CHARACTERS TOSSING THEIR BRAINS IN THE LAUNDRY.
His admirers would pay the price, a hardy boot. Just as soon as the station manager could get his hands on her.
"Repressed memory?" Congreve came to life again, puzzled--but somehow inspired. He remembered reading an article at the pub. It was deep subject matter. Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian kinds of stuff. He appreciated the internal conflict between man and his darker self. He was captivated by the pratfalls this could create when placed in opposition to the modern world.
But then, someone slid another tankard of Gin under his nose, and the impetus was soon forgotten. "It's a fascinating thought, isn't it?" He told Lily.
" 'Aving one of those creative thunderbolt moments, are ye, Mr. Congreve?" Lily rolled her eyes as she turned away and focused on the broadcast again. If it was a thunderbolt of inspiration, it was one of the few and far between events.
"I might have to expound upon that." The writer speculated.
But first he needed to a little drinky' poo' to take the edge off his muse.
"He's a murderer." Oglethorpe said with his script book closed now. He was more John Koenig than dream bazillionaire' now. "Many times over. He was confronted with a situtation a long time ago--a tremendous loss that left all of us with nothing but our integrity. It's what held us together. Since Rotstein has none, he retreated into a savage, barbaric, compartmentalized corner of his hideous mind. I don't know why, and it probably wouldn't help if I did."
"Rotstein?" Congreve said, confused and rapidly turning to the dramatis personae page. "I don't remember creating a character by that name."
"Heinz Rotstein," Lily went on, covering for Murphy. "Remember? 'E was the plumber, rejected by Esther, who said that if 'e couldn't 'ave 'er, no one will. 'E was committed to the sanitarium but...'e escaped."
She was amazed how smoothly that explanation flowed from her lips.
"Maybe I repressed 'that.'" The writer said. The potential for story was overwhelming.
"I could never poison Arthur, even though he cheats on me with his secretary, Helen. Everyone knows, Lawrence, and the ladies at bridge titter about it behind my back. Arthur slays me over and over with daggers of infidelity." She paused briefly, frowning at the apparently bizarre line.
"It must end. Tonight." She continued. "We must ask your friend Victor and his...friends....for assistance. They will help us, won't they?"
Jenning's face was twisted in confusion, though her voice maintained its controlled professionalism as she scanned the next several lines, trying to ascertain the direction of the story.
"Yes." Oglethorpe replied in what surely the strangest drama of the 1930's. "It will end because I'm going to give him what he wants."
"We're leaving." Koenig's voice crackled over the Crosley receiver. "I've realized that we can't fight history. Professor Bergman and I are going back to where we came from. To stay would only make an impossible situtation worse.
"However, the man is like a pit viper." The commander remarked over the airwaves in Lily Carter's bedroom. "He can strike at any time. I'm not afraid of death, but I would prefer to die in my own time. So...here is the deal. He doesn't realize this, but we brought an Eagle with us. We don't know how he did it--I guess he's just 'that' brilliant--but we had to have a ship in order to traverse the portal.
"I invite him to meet us on the runway of Copernicus Aviation. Tonight." Koenig said. "We'll take our chances on returning without a vehicle to protect us. He can have it. All I ask is that he not do anything to interfere with our passage."
"Really?" Rotstein said aloud, distrustfully, and then gave the nanny a final thrust with his knife.
Pieces of the dialogue made absolutely no sense to Vivian Jenning. Eagle? What did a bird of prey have to do with the story? Portal? What was the purpose of a door? Yet, her very livelihood depended on making sense of the nonsense.
"Oh, Lawrence!! Yes!! I cannot resist you any further, my darling," Jennings acted as Esther. "You would step through the portal of my heart and risk everything, including life itself with such noble courage."
She nodded and hand signed to the sound engineer, who played the sloppy kiss sound effect.
"Darling...we will run away...tonight!"
A door opening sound effect interupted any further joyous planning.
"No you won't, Esther," the voice of Earl Campbell boomed over the mic.
"ARTHUR! It's not what it seems! ARTHUR! Put down that gun!!" Esther begged.
The organ music cut in and the Mule Team Borax girls began their catchy jingle.
"I can't see how any one human being could be so uninformed." Victor Bergman--back from the bowells of the Earth--said impatiently of Jeffries. His face was livid. "She's not a fan. Ms. Simpson is my guest, you moron, and we urgently need to speak to John Murphy."
"He's met us before." Wallace argued with even less faith than the professor had. "The assumption is that he's just being difficult."
"I'M BEING DIFFICULT?" The station manager transuded rage. If he wasn't careful, there was a repressed memory waiting for him in his future. "YOU BARGE IN HERE LIKE PRATS DURING A BROADCAST, BUT I'M THE HOOLIGAN? SORRY, LOVE." He ribbed Wallace. "I'M AFRAID THAT 'PBS' DOESN'T STAND FOR 'PEOPLE BEING STUPID."
"WHERE IS MURPHY?" Bergman demanded.
"VICTOR!!!!" Murphy answered him, bolting up the stair two steps at a time. It was one of the few times he smiled, his relief was a immense a thousand and one times over.
"Uh," he stopped and glimpsed at Wallace's puzzled expression. "Uh..uh...Jared." He cleared his throat and smiled smoothly to Mrs. Simpson. "Did he ever tell you that his full name is Jared Victor Leto and I called him 'Victor' back in the old days, in the States?"
It was a lame explanation but Koenig's head was about to explode and his limited creative juices were squeezed dry.
"What in the bloody hell is going on?!?!?" Jeffries rudely interjected.
"Jeffries." Koenig appraised the situation. "You are the perfection of rotteness. Nothing is going on, but something is going out. Me. Which is to say 'I quit.' And I would be dilatory in my duties if I neglected to inform you that the only flare you have for this kind of work is the flare in your nostrils. Since I worry about you, I wanted to leave you with one, parting piece of advice: be careful about what you read in health books. You may live longer, and no one wants that."
"IS THAT RIGHT? WELL, YOU CAN'T RESIGN." The station manager burned. "IN ORDER TO DO THAT, YOU'D HAVE TO HAVE A JOB, BLOKE. THAT YOU DO NOT. I'M TIRED OF YOUR POMPOSITY, MURPHY. I'M TIRED OF HAVING THAT SEA OF WHALES THAT YOU CALL A FAN CLUB BEACHED OUTSIDE DURING EVERY SHOW. I TRIED TO BE GENEROUS TO YOU, GOD KNOWS, BUT YOU'VE SAT ON THE FENCE FOR SO LONG, THE IRON HAS ENTERED YOUR BODY.
"GO ON FAILING IF YOU LIKE. IT SEEMS TO BE YOUR LIFE'S MISSION. AS FOR THE REST OF US--STATION 2KO, LONDON IS MOVING FORWARD."
He left then--the tautness of his face souring every ripe grape along the way.
Koenig glimpsed the woman at the bottom of the stairs. The smile was completely gone and the eyes were tearfilled, a stained look of terror and dread masking her features.
"Lily?" Koenig met her half way down the stairs. "Lily? What's wrong?"
She licked her lips nervously, bottom lip quivering slightly. "The police just called me. William's nanny and the gardener were murdered, stabbed many times in cold blood," she reported, almost robotically. "William is missing."
She swallowed, holding back the tears. "There was a note. It said 'No tricks, Koenig'. Who is Koenig?"
"York?" Bergman intervened in the hopes that Lily Carter's need for clarification would fade along with John Murphy's stardom. "If he accepts the bait, that's where he will be."
"Yes," Wallace offered, while simultaneously putting a comforting arm around Lily. Lily Carter resolved not to dissolve in tears, as many women would of her time, but force herself to be clear headed to learn as much information as possible. "Copernicus Aviation has a secondary base there." Simpson continued. "He was giving flying lessons to the men and boys of England's uppercrust families, including King Edward himself."
She had let her association with the King accidently slip and blushed. "I mean, so I have heard."
She glanced at Bergman and was shocked at his lack of expression.
"Something tells me we have a standing invitation at the Battersea Aerodrome." The commander said pungently. "For the past three days, I've had the same feeling that I occasionally had on Alpha." He went on, without pretense--no longer caring because he no longer needed to. "As if I was being watched. Apparently I was under surveillance, and so was everyone around me.
"I'm sorry, Lily." He apologized genuinely, but ultimately, innocuously. "Jared, this isn't your problem." Koenig went further--alluding to Bergman's plan to remain in this time, on this Earth. "Stay here with Wallace. I'm going to put Klaus Ruthven out to Nazi pasture--permanently. At whatever the cost.
"Give me about an hour before you send the cavalry in."
"You're not goin' alone, John," Lily Carter stepped toward him with a stubborn resolve which eerily reminded him of someone else he knew. "That madman has my baby and if you know where 'e is, I am coming with you."
"God help 'im if 'e's 'urt my William."
"John," Bergman responded after a brief hesitation. "I am coming with you as well. My place is," he chose his words carefully. "My place is assisting you. There will be no further discussion. My mind is made up." He finished quietly.
"I"m not staying here," Wallace gazed at Bergman, disturbed by his apparent resignation at...something. She sensed it. "You need a ride and I have the keys to the car," she turned her back and started down the hall. "There will be no arguments. Let's go."
"Nice ride." John Koenig complimented with one hand around the barrell of his laser as Lily Carter shifted into second gear near Wandsworth Bridge. Frightening the ladies with dark technology of the future was not his desire, but caution was. It seemed like a eon ago that he had informed Jeffries that he was a molecule of trash. The commander still didn't feel guilty. "I used to own a Chrysler."
"What happened to it?" Wallace asked nervously, inhaling cigarette smoke as though it were oxygen.
She was sitting beside a non-plussed Victor Bergman/Jared Leto/Grand Master Of No Answers in the spacious back seat.
"I handed it over to my wife, FOC." Koenig replied laconically. "That trick worked while she was in graduate school. She'd get the lemon she needed, and I'd have the courage to take out a loan on a new car. Ultimately, the grant money would run out, my finances would tank, and she would sell it back to me at ten percent off the sticker price, which was zero."
"What happened to your wife?" Lily Carter asked as she rounded a tight corner. She insisted on driving; anything to keep her mind busy. Murphy had assured her that William was not dead and he needed the child as a bargaining chip. Her stomach was still tied in knots but she intuitively knew he was right and her child was still alive.
"She died in an...accident," Jared/Victor answered, taking the offered Benson and Hedges from Wally as she lit it. He savored the moment, as she gently patted his cheek with her delicate satin gloved hand, then sat, right leg crossed over her left and cigarette-less arm folded over her abdomen.
"Oh," Lily sighed tragically. "I'm very sorry."
"Well, Jared had yet to discover his abilities as a salesman." The commander applied the bullcrap magnanimously.
"How did you pull yourself up, then?" Lily wondered, as Battersea Park Road fell into evening view.
"I went to work for the government." Koenig answered grimly. "Which reminds me, Jared. I'd like to talk to you about certain branches of government. Especially those 'special branches.' I feel really funny about parting with my precious tax dollars, and I need to know how they reacted when you told them 'nuts.' Why give them the leaves, when they already have a 'branch,' if you know what I mean?"
Deadly-A-Thugs-A-Amscrae, the commander thought he should add, but found the code to be ridiculous.
"I didn't tell them nuts," Bergman replied, taking a long drag. The English countryside was beautiful at dusk, another memory he had long forgotten but now revived. "They gave me an offer that I wish I could not refuse....but I must."
"What offer is that, dear?" Wally asked unknowingly. "Did they try to lowball you on a Phantom?" She sniffed. "If they can't afford the asking price they shouldn't be attempting to barter."
Bergman merely nodded and smiled slightly.
"What is the plan, John? I mean, when we get to the Aerodome?" Lily returned the discussion to business. She'd given up smoking before she had William but she was going out of her mind with the stress of the situation. "Mrs. Simpson, could I please 'ave a fag?"
Koenig accepted the Lloyds that Wallace was freely handing out. He had not smoked since before entering the simulators at the manned spacecraft center. It may have been the other 'Carter,' but someone informed him that hard suits and carcinmoic lungs don't mix. He saw the light after performing his first EVA from the Kamarov Platform--vicinity, low Earth orbit. It also didn't abide well in the KSC simulators. It was hard to believe that out of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, only Gordo' Cooper had clean pipes. He wondered if Gargarin, Leonov, and Titov caughed and hacked aboard the old Vostoks?
And incidentally, what was the plan as far as rescueing young William Carter from the hands of this loon'?
"We're going to stake the place out." The commander replied, inventing the ops as he went along. "Back when Jared, and I knew this person, he would report for duty promptly on the overnight cycle...zero hundred hours. Midnight. Something tells me that old habits die hard. He functions best when the rest of the world is asleep. He's perfectly attuned to those rhythms."
He wondered if Bergman was already twisted up by the knowledge that Rotstein may not be a devil with a routine--that he may have already surveyed the concourse, and after finding no Eagle, butchered the boy in the most elongated, unmerciful way possible.
"I wish Bill was 'ere," Lily mumbled, yearning for her merchant marine husband. "But 'e won't be back for another week. Bloody 'ell." She cursed in frustration.
"This.... Eagle?," Lily changed the subject, tapping her index finger nervously on a steering wheel. "It must be some sort of aircraft. I never 'eard of it but I'm not the most 'ighly educated lady either. Is that what he wants for my baby? An airplane?"
She instinctively stepped on the accelerator. She held onto the possibility that they could get to York first. Her house was on the opposite end of London, further from York than the station. She was counting on rush hour traffic to slow his progress through the city. Lily coughed slightly and frowned when she took a drag of the cigarette. She dropped it in the ash tray, still smoldering, completely uninterested in it.
"Yes, the Eagle...." Bergman addressed, frowning slightly at the small drops of rain that were beginning their stacatto on the windshield. "Well, that's a top secret sort of a thing. We probably shouldn't tell you much about that--for your own safety, really. Suffice to say, you aren't far from the mark."
Two hundred nautical miles upwards, and her descriptor would have been right on the mark.
Wallace's mouth contorted from the insult to her veracity. This is getting old, her expression seemed to say.
"O'kay, we give up." Koenig relinquished. "It's a new type of biplane that's capable of carrying anti-aircraft bombs on the wing. It's been in development since the Great War, right Jared?"
He shrugged. While another Big Ass fib might delay the inevitable questions, it would in no case silence them.
"Turn there," Wallace pointed to the sign, speaking up after an infinity of silence. In reality, it had only been 5 minutes. "Do you think we should have called the police? Afterall, if he is the one who has committed the murders, then surely Scotland Yard would be very interested in getting him."
"Besides that, we aren't armed. How are we suppose to subdue him if..." Wallace stopped, eying the laser that Bergman produced from his pocket, checking the charge. "What in blazes is that? Why, Jared, it looks like something Erol Flynn would use in one of his space movies!"
"I can explain that...." The commander intervened, and then rankled with self-loathing and disgust. LIAR. L-I-A-R. LI"AR/ A person who knowingly creates falsehood; one who lies. John Koenig was tired of the perjurs, the cockin' bull stories and the beguiles. At his core, it made him feel like a Munchhausen, and the yarns were making him yak.' He had spun so many prevarications, it was a miracle that he didn't fall down in a dipsy, dopey fugue of dizziness. Maintaining history was of the essence, but there was something to be said about moral rectitude. At the very least, these women deserved righteous non-disclosure, to be told to shut up, and don't worry about it. After all, it was not their future that hung in the balance. Earth had no future. If they were successful then sixty years from now a pair of nuclear disposal areas would detonate on the far side of the Moon. For Wallace, and Lily--and especially for their ancestors--time was like an ice cube under a hot summer sun.
They were fighting to stay the necrosis of a universe where they had no place. Koenig felt he owed them the top of the ladder and not the bottom. A straight shot.
"I take it back, I can't explain that." The commander admitted. For about one, one thousandth of a second, it comforted him to know that neither of these women would be alive, probably, during that black September of the year nineteen hundred and ninety nine. But then he realized that non-existence was no door prize, and that he was about to ask them for a degree of cooperation that no one in the post-Breakaway cosmos was entitled to. "I know it's hard, but you'll just have to trust us." He bit his lip, almost chewing it off. "Also, whatever happens back there, I need you to stay clear of me, and the person who has William. Something is liable to happen--I wish I could tell you what it is, but I can't."
Wallace Simpson scowled, further indignant with not being 'in the know'.
"I will be there as well," Bergman said quietly, watching Simpson's face change from one who's been snubbed to numb terror.
"That look like a weapon to me," Lily Carter added quietly. If Murphy had to kill Ruthven in the process of safely getting William....oh well. Boo hoo, she thought sarcastically. "I won't see a thing, though," she continued. "I won't know what 'appened."
She turned off the headlights and slowly pulled into the seemingly abandoned aerodome. A lone aircraft maintenance worker, weary and now into unwelcome overtime, scurried out of a small hangar and into a car. He glanced at the Phantom as he zoomed off into the night, but otherwise did not care.
"These are the 'angars," Lily pointed as she turned off the ignition and the purring engine gracefully ceased. Fog was beginning to mix with the intermittent rain drops. She squinted, searching for a light inside the largest garage, for a sixth sense told her that the 'Eagle' would be a very large ship, but saw nothing.
The quartet stepped out of the Phantom, despite Koenig insisting the women remain in the car. Lily would have none of it because she wanted her baby. Wallace did not listen because a gnawing feeling of dread for Leto drove her out of the warm and dry auto.
"Now what do we do?" she whispered to Koenig anxiously as a shivering Simpson buttoned the top button of her coat. Lily wrung her hands together nervously. She thought she was going to be ill but held it together. Bergman said nothing, letting his arm linger around Simpson's petite shoulder.
Bergman glanced around then released Simpson as he noticed a cracked mirror above a grungy wash basin. Simpson glimpsed her reflection. Bergman saw the planet Mythrea, all four clocksmiths standing precariously on four separate cliffs, watching him.
"Victor." Koenig whispered, prying the professor away from an intractable Wallace. They stepped secretively through the slicks of coagulating puddles, with red, green, and gold bars of light disappearing into eternity beneath them. A westerly wind kicked up, causing an unsecured door to bang loudly, to and fro on its hinges. "Does that look familiar?" He said, pointing to a mud-streaked sign which read POTTS MEMORIAL HANGAR.
The commander was rustic concerning aviation yesteryears. There may have been a guy named Potts who was a precursor to Charles Lindberg in transatlantic flight. He may have died, trying to prove that faux parakeet wings could traverse the Great Canyon Of Yalung. Anything was possible. He found it uncanny though--and eerie--that a technician named Alice Potts died during a systems integration test in the jet propulsion laboratory of Moonbase Alpha. The number two extension nozzell for Eagle Seven was secured to a concrete slab, along with the primary equiptment and a solid rocket storage tank. There were even cameras mounted in every corner of the combustion chamber. The block fired at the end of the terminal count, as planned. Hellfire blazed on the opposite side of the observation window. Dempsey monitored the procedure along with two other test conductors--temperature, reaction and usage were recorded, as was painfully routine.
Upon opening the inner airlock, they discovered that it was a terrible place for Alice Potts to doze off on the floor. Mathias identified her by caps on her teeth. Starns retrieved the commlock, which had melted and reformed in the extreme heat into a bed pan configuration.
This was nearly two months before the death of Edgar Bayledon, who was believed to be Rotstein's first victim.
"Dear God." Koenig murmured now, funebriously. "Exactly how many people has he killed? We already can't count them using both hands."
He wondered (insanely) if the concourse was the BUFFALO DAVE REILLY MEMORIAL RUNWAY. They would never know. So far, no one had approached to say 'Howdy Doodey."
"The cause of the explosion was never precisely determined," Bergman nodded solemnly, immediately understanding the implication. "That is still a subject of heated debate within technical. Was the cause mechanical or human? We would like to believe it was mechanical because there were so many failsafes in place, it would be difficult to assign "accidental" or "error" to any human involvement."
"It fits, John," the professor summarized morbidly.
"Stay here...." The commander instructed, checking to make sure the safety was off on his laser. "If I get lucky, and he comes running out, shoot him. Don't use the atomizer though, in case Willy is close by. If the boy is nowhere to be seen, I guess we'll have to bag Rotstein for questioning. Brutal, brutal interrogation. Whatever the outcome, his graveside services will be held tommorrow--even if he cooperates.
"Even if he surrenders while carrying a white flag--even while carrying a Bible in one hand, and a Buddha statue in the other. I don't care, Victor. As soon as you're sure the boy is safe, flame the sick sonofabitch. We may be too late to prevent what happened in the future. There's no way of knowing, but at the very least we'll know that butcher has carved his last piece of meat.
"If he's not in this building, then we move onto the next one, and so on, and so forth."
"Right," Bergman agreed. "I'll check outside this hangar and circle back toward here. Be careful, John."
Koenig stole towards the far end of the hangar, and started to scale a mountain of wooden, packing crates that rested beneath a cracked transome window. Somewhere inside, a low, nigrescent light burned. He was lowering his left foot onto the fetid, petroleum begrimed workbench on the other side when suddenly, the pipe wrench from Valhalla came down on the back of his head, and shoulders.
The commander uttered an unusual, crackbrained howl of pain as he tumbled into a row of lockers which the eminently punctual Klaus Rotstein pulled down on top of him--all five, bolted together--with a single, hebephrenic hand. There was a loud crash as John Koenig lost the war--kayoed while his laser spun across the darkened floor, and clanged to a halt beside a barrell of methynol.
"I just love the plan you concocted." Rotstein complimented as he unscrewed the storage room bulb, and exited into the hangar.
"What did ye do to 'im?!?!?!?" The thin strip of wirelike metal cut grotesquely into Rotstein's neck as the woman had ambushed him with the garotte. "You murderous bastard. Say your prayers cause I'm sending you to 'ell!!!"
Lily Carter's temper and rage had overtaken her as she pulled the wire tighter and tighter, as Rotstein's face turned purple and blue. He lost control of both bladder and bowel and the foul stench of urine, feces and encroaching death, wafted from Rotstein's squirming, gagging form.
"LILY!!!! WAIT!!!!" Wallace Simpson ran up to the execution. "If you kill him, he won't be able to tell us where to find William."
Lily was not listening. She was convinced William was already dead, William's blood stained blue blanket which she found as irrefutable evidence. She twisted the wire another half turn as Rotstein gurgled, his thrashing slowly subsiding.
A small cry caught her attention and she pinpointed the sound coming from a large wooden box on the floor. She hurried to the box, unbolted and with a strength from sheer adenaline, lifted the heavy oak lid.
"WILLIAM!!" Lily cried out with immense relief as she scooped the child into her arms. Aside from being dirty and likely hungry, he appeared to be unharmed.
The moment Lily's grip released, Rotstein began gasping violently, clutching at his neck. It was close, closer to death than he had ever come. Wallace Simpson, who had watched the scene, had enough sense of caution to step out of reach.
"Jared!!! John!!! Come here!!! We got him!!" Simpson yelled into the wind and rain.
Blood jetting from the gored artery in his neck, Rotstein demonstrated his own, unique method of time travel by backhanding the socialite into next week. Wallace crashed through the crumbling boards of a nearby crate. She screamed when she realized that she was in the bosom of its moldering occupant whose torso had been made to fit after the rest of its body was amputated from the sex organs down. She decried, the molasses forearm that fell around her neck like an old amigo; she disapproved of the befouled, charnel death's head that fell softly upon her shoulder--the yellow pus that assoiled the nape of her neck like a necrophiliac's kinky saliva.
I'm the Hell Crab, the corpse gaped at her. Sticky barbeque sauce depended from the blackened ivory of its teeth. Who might you be?
Wallace Simpson watched in horror as the red, splatted baton rolled across the gangrenous remainders of uniform and rib cage. She would never have believed that she would start her day with Eggs Florentine, and end it by having the other half of the murdered Kent police constable served up to her--yum-yum' and off the roasting spit. As a young lady, she found herself attracted to athletes; as a young woman, to gentlemen with slide rules. Now she was confronted with man medium rare.
Simpson rejected this love from beyond the grave--tossing aside the victim's slaughtered, restless arms--and catapulting to her feet, little realizing that most of the rancid, liquified body substances were sliming the back of her coat.
"!!!I'M ALRIGHT!!!" Koenig blared while Bergman strained to hold the lockers up, his stressed palms turning blue. One of the gunmetal gray doors flew open and struck the professor on knee. From this hideous pregnancy there ushered forth anatomical appendages--clacking to the hangar floor; quoth the raven, nevermore. There were big femurs, and small tibias, and crushed tracheas-- traumatized liver, steamed clean over a wood stove, but blemished with abrasion. Bon appetite. Rotstein was beneath contempt as a Main Mission operative, but they now realized he had some musical talent. He could play the bones. "!!!I SAID I'M ALRIGHT!!!" The commander screamed while extricating himself from beneath the lockers. "!!!GET HIM, VICTOR!!! GET HIM!!! KILL HIM!!!"
Bergman glanced at Wallace in a microsecond of yearning and second guessing. Then he ran toward the door, wincing as Wallace yelled, "I love you, Jared."
He ignored the advice of the 'special branch'.
Outside the hangar, on the storming runway, Rotstein sprinted as far as his fifty-five year old frame would carry him. He hyperventillated from the muscular abuses of tobacco, and opium, and the day-by-day languish of a lazy, worthless fuck.
"!!!NO!!!" He raged defiantly. Before his very eyes, one of the more puissant puddles began to flow outward, horizontally, and vertically, and geometrically. It metamorphosed into a pool of water fifty times its size with each triangular end terminating in a reasonable, yet infinite, hypoteneuse. The Dams Of Time had opened again. The Tennessee Valley Authority of all the universe was moving to regulate him.
From the living heart of the scalding, Mythraean time portal, he could see reflections in the rippling corona; the misshapen, carnival laughter from sixty years in the future as the year 1934, and the post-1999 term blurred together, became one.
An energy salvo exploded at his feet from John Koenig's near miss as the commander ran, and limped simultaneously.
Lightening exploded from black, and purple clouds overhead, fusing fact and fairy tale. It forged two headed hydras from science, and fantasy.
"!!!!!!!!!!!!NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!" Rotstein wailed vengefully as drops the size of golf balls slicked his gray hair, and cheeks.
Lily Carter, holding William tightly as she stepped outside, gasped at the surreal sight. The murky pool spread quickly toward Rotstein, attempting a standing position in a futile attempt to get away. He was trapped.
"GO TO HELL!!" Lily shouted as she planted her foot into Rotstein's backside as he stumbled to retain his balance. Little did she know she spoke the truth as the murderous controller from the future bellyflopped into the pool, disappearing in the miasma.
She was more surprised though, when Murphy and Leto darted past her.
"WAIT!!! DON'T GO!!!" she cried out as they jumped into the most bizarre swimming hole she ever saw.
The purple and black clouds evaporated, replaced with dark gray of the dusk of an October evening in York. Lily turned, as she pulled the baby into her coat, shielding him from the rain, to see Wallace Simpson standing just outside the door of the hangar. She stared at the spot where Leto had disappeared, now just ordinary concrete with indiscriminate oil slicks.
Wallace Simpson stared silently, smoking her Lloyds as the cold rain pelted down, smearing the blood and gore from Ruthven's sadistic endeavors on her coat.
Dr. Helena Russell noted Harness Bull Duncan's vital signs again, remaining professionally calm. The portable oxygen from the medical kit was 75% expired as the distressed security guard continued to wheeze and drift in and out of consciousness.
"Where the hell are they?" Quenton mumbled impatiently as he paced and spared occasional glances into the black pool. The clocksmiths had disappeared yet the area they were in still remained impervious to the universal armaggedon beyond. Harness Bull Pound attempted to assist Russell though there was not much he could do. The other Harness Bulls sat around the pool, among the ruins of the unknown ancient temple.
The first thing Harness Bull Sackel noticed was the return of the planet to its undesirable though infinitely preferable to hell self. The second thing was the sudden shower he received as Klaus Rotstein was ejected from the pool, landing on his feet.
"GRAB HIM!!!" Quenton yelled, but it was too late. Rotstein bolted between two columns, into the gloomy outback beyond, as Koenig and Bergman were both ejected from the swirling water.
Neither were so luck to land on their feet. Bergman bellyflopped with a grunt while Koenig landed on his ass, inconveniently on his tailbone.
"John! Victor!" the doctor could barely contain her excitement, as she jumped to assist them. "Are you alright?! What happened?!?" Quenton and his team of harness bulls had already sprinted off after the fleeing Rotstein. No one noticed the change in the color of the pool with a haunting orange and red glow.
Koenig hyperventillated--like his gray hair, and swollen mass, it was a necessity of his forty plus years that rightfully, bathetically returned to him following his rush to the present. His water logged jacket was a size too small, but all things considered, it was in excellent condition for a coat that was tailored seventy years ago.
"WHERE'S ROTSTEIN?" He cracked with fell enmity, his withering palms feeling the antithetical coolness of the natatorium's crystalline floor.
"Here." Harness Bull Sauckel tried to assist him to his feet. "Easy, commander. Chief Starns and Max Judge are out there too. We'll find the beggar."
"WILL WE? IT SEEMS THAT WE WERE CONFIDENT OF THAT BEFORE AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED." Koenig balked, but in truth, he had begun to relax. Wether he liked it or not, wether it was lucid or not.
Before the Mythraean pool, Hyacinth nodded his head and the seconds ground to a halt. The face of the consortium was no longer moiled with white, igneous steam. The current had been deactivated. The doorway, closed.
"I detest Earth men, but I must admit to being impressed. Congratulations." The blue blood of the Clocksmiths said supernally. The anemone-shaped blade that was implanted in his skull continued to creep Koenig out. "Your have succeeded. The natural order of things has been...restored."
High above the trinity of thrones, Earth's refugee Moon glowed in high crescent--minus the incalculable chunks that were lost on that dark day in the year 1999.
"Natural order?" Victor Bergman blurted out, with a candor that bordered on savage. "Or was it the Clocksmith's commandment, and nothing else?"
Koenig ceased panting, and studied Bergman curiously.
"THERE THEY ARE." A startled voice called from atop the ancient barrow.
"Paul?" The professor's eyes were all inclusive.
"I don't believe it...." Koenig moved forward, his complexion brightening.
"COMMANDER, PROFESSOR." Alan Carter was there too, hustling sideways down the slippery slope beside Morrow. Despite her huge, damage control kit, it was Ang' who stood a better chance of not kissing the pan-broiled boulders. Harness Bulls Dyronforth, and Bao were there to provide backup support for the death squad.
"Paul! Alan! Ang!" Russell blurted out with a wave. One would have thought they'd just returned from the dead, or non-existence.
Harness Bull Duncan, sighed, fogging up the inside of his oxygen mask a bit more with his huge sigh of relief. Harness Bull Pound stood up, managing a smile, though he continued to survey the horizon beyond for signs of the Chief and party; hopefully, with Rotstein in tow in shackles.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?" The commander intercepted the support party ecstatically. "I TOLD YOU TO STAY ON ALPHA."
"We received your last communication, and didn't much care for the sound of it." Morrow replied, shaking Bergman's hand. "Especially the part where you were cut off."
"It was really strange," Angelina added, relieved to see the search party. The professor, though, was downcast and appeared angry, not his normal disposition of quiet confidence and temperance. He turned away and stared into the pool. "The last transmission we received sounded like you, Commander but it was garbled with an unfamiliar female voice."
She exchanged uncomfortable glances with Morrow and Carter. "To be honest, it sounded like some sort of...domestic squabble." She was almost embarrassed to describe it but neither the controller nor her husband offered to continue.
Koenig cocked an eyebrow, a quizzical look on his face.
Ang cleared her throat. "You were having some sort of discussion with a woman name Esther. It was really weird. Then we heard what we thought was gunfire and.. well, here we are."
"We got here as quickly as we could." Carter extenuated. "We found an early launch window, which was a beaut, but following POI we had a hard time triangulating your position."
"Yes." Morrow acknowledged, relaxing his right hand against his hip. "The astrophysics backroom informed us that something was ionizing Mythraea's atmosphere. That was part of the delay."
"That was a blitzer alright." Carter opined. "But where there's a will, there's a way." He boasted proudly. "After clearing the disturbance, we were able to hone in on you landing beacon, but it still took us about an hour."
He shrugged frivolously.
"An hour?" Koenig exclaimed, his chin coming to rest in his unbelieving palm. "That's all?"
"One hour and 7 minutes, actually," Ang nodded. "How long did you think it was, Commander?" She glanced at Bergman's and Koenig's outdated clothes. "Oh, I guess longer than an hour."
Bergman still gazed into the pool. Smoking a cigarette, his last one from a yellowed package with the faded lettering, Benson & Hedges, he stared at the package momentarily then stuffed it back into his pocket.
He continued staring sullenly into the pool.
Helena Russell joined the exchanges of concern between Morrow, Carter and Ang. Only Koenig was not surprised as he glanced pensively at Victor's back, overcoat overwhelming his now sloping shoulders.
"What happened to the Professor?" Angelina finally whispered to the Commander.
"LOOK OUT!!!" Koeng yelled, pulling Helena Russell aside as Rotstein careened into arena, Quenton, Starns and Judge following after him. Rotstein tripped and Quenton was upon him like a mad dog.
"The lasers aren't working!" Judge advised while tossing aside the useless weapon, as he jumped into the fray. Despite his wounds to his neck, Rotstein seemed to have recovered his strength and more.
"WELLADAY, WHAT HAVE WE GOT HERE?" Quenton cackled, all strange and brainsick as his humongous, overworked palms closed over Rotstein's spited trachea. It wasn't exactly the same person he remembered. The old guy who was panicking, bargaining and rolling like a manic alligator beneath him looked physically different from the caffeine addicted sociopath of yore, but his breath was just as wicked, and he would torture well. "AREN'T YOU A PARASITE FOR SORE EYES?
"GIVE ME THE DOUCHE." The director of moonbase security demanded of Dyronforth. After hearing the good news of his impending doom, Rotstein's struggles intensified, but Quenton had him. He flat had him. "DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID? GIVE ME THE DAMN DOUCHE."
The harness bull opened one of the utility pouches on his garrison belt and produced a squat syringe which he passed on to Quenton's eager left hand. The 'douche' was a needle that Bob Mathias had loaded with D-Mortex--a cardiac glycoside, and the most lethal poison known to human kind.
Quenton removed the plastic probe cover with his beared, bestial teeth, and held it there.
"THIS IS FOR AMAR N'DOLE." The chief explained as he prepared to unleash the hypo.' "CHEERS, YOU LOUSY MOTHERFUCKER."
"Wait." Sybelle, the uglier member of the sistren stopped Quenton in mid-stab. "His transgression was against us."
"This is our world, Earth men." Sybil reminded them cryptically from her throne. The blood that was oozing from her open throat cavity was fingertip burgundy. She swallowed, and then gasped erotically. "We will decide his fate. It is our right."
"WAIT A MINUTE!!" Koenig blared, incredulously. "This may be your world but he is one of our people! This man committed countless murders, both in the present AND in the past."
The other males in the group reinforced the Commander's angry objections.
"We came here to extradict him because he was a danger to you," Helena Russell turned to Hyacinth, keeping her voice level despite the nearly matched rage of the masculine members. "Surely, you know that. In fact, our initial reading determine this planet was not inhabited and we were not going to rescue him, allowing him to deal with the elements. Then we determined your presence here and felt it was our obligation to take responsibility for one of our own."
She was not unnerved by Hyacinth's appearance and in fact saw his earlier look of admiration toward her character.
"Why will you not let us deal with him as we see fit?" She questioned, unshaken despite the clocksmith's seven plus foot height.
"There can be no multiplicity." The Clocksmiths' spokesperson told her incontrovertibly. "History is not permitted to unveil itself in a way that is variegated. Things can only happen one way."
"Interfere and time will enucleate you." Sybelle promised as she wound her way down the spiralling, stone stairwell. "You and everyone else on Moonbase Alpha."
Angelina stared at the Clocksmiths. She had never seen them before but yet they were familiar to her. Perhaps she made their acquaintance in one of several jolt out of sleep nightmares she had since Breakaway.
The Technical Chief tried to connect them to events of the past. She could not. Angelina felt ill, though, to the pit of her stomach. It was a sense of dread for Rotstein. It amazed her that she even cared at this juncture, in spite of what he had done. She intuitively believed that Rotstein would be better off with justice from the cardiac arrest inducing hypo in Quenton's hand.
Koenig considered for a moment Sybelle's words. He was about to argue his case further when Hyacinth spoke to him, not speaking with words but thoughts.
'Justice will be served.'
"Stop, Quenton," Koenig said quietly, putting his recent 'acting' experience to work for him and adding a deceptively defeatist tone to his voice. "There is nothing we can do. It is in their hands."
"With thumb in bum and mind in neutral." Alan Carter impugned the trio of aliens who would be lawgivers. "WHERE WERE YOU WHEN HE WAS HACKING EVERYONE TO PIECES? WELL, HE CUTS A MEAN PORKCHOP. DON'T TURN YOUR BACK, MATE."
Rotstein rolled away from the sanguineous security chief. His eyes bulged from his head as he gagged on the abused pork of his own tongue. His gasping head, ultimately coming to rest on the train of Hyacinth's robe.
The Clocksmith helped him to his feet benevolently, and nodded towards the pool.
Still clutching his bruised adam's apple, Rotstein regarded the titanic being with fear, and paranoia.
"You desire escape, do you not?" Hyacinth asked gently, and then pointed towards the charged, ephemeral waters.
In his insanity, Rotstein slowly smiled, revealing blood smeared broken teeth. He laughed manically.
"Yes, I do," he turned to taunt the group. "What has your self righteousness gained you? Nothing!" He laughed and was in Koenig's face, as the Commander looked down at the marble tiled ground. "Humanity is a victim of its own stupidity. Our past NEEDS someone like me to eliminate the stupid and foster the superior."
He turned and gazed into the pool. "See you...some other time." He laughed again and jumped into the pool.
The waves rippled violently followed by a shriek of terror and agony unlike anything any one of them had ever heard. It was silent. Then it happened again. It went silent. Then it happened again.
Again and again and again.
The group gazed into the pool and saw the indescribable horror. Angelina Carter succumbed to her nausea and turned away, as Harness Bull Dyrenforth also lost the contents of his stomach. Helena Russell shrieked in terror, backing and turning away.
"You turned the portal off...." John Koenig trailed, half accusatory; his vintage garb suddenly dry now, and bathed in light from the exploding Hyades that was framed in an otherworldly Terrazel. A glance at Victor Bergman was all he could muster before his reason expired in the flames of repulsion.
"A gift." Hyacinth interpreted amidst the carnal, campfire glow--disheartened by the unanimous lack of gratitude from the Moon's contingent. The sparkle in his obsidian eyes, and the jagged, septic hole above his chin was filled with the crimson, twilight of barbarous, primitive wisdom. "Execration in the astral fires. A crevasse beneath the foundation of time itself--this is where his actions have carried him. A loop that has no ending, no edges. There are no doors, no windows.
"Death is not death."
"John." Bergman said feebly, his mind blunted by the final solution to the problem of Klaus Rotstein.
The Main Mission Operative, cum entrepreneur, cum sadistic, malevolent killer uttered a nightmarish, placatory bay of torment as he thrashed, and flailed in the blazing, blinding cavern of erupting hydrogen. The solar flares melted his features, and generalized him into a tar-covered, unisex mannequin. Liquid hell poured into the declivity from detonating, nuclear honeycombs on all sides. Here was a headache that caffeine would never cure. Immediately Rotstein's surprised, beseeching eyes; his heart; his lungs; his genitals were all charred black, and consumed in the blisters of neutronium fuel. Just beneath the surface, his torched, urticated remains were eventually creamated--his outline dissipating in the black locomotion, and noxious cloud vapors.
He died morbidly, unspeakably, eggregiously--only to be recalled seconds later for eternal, encore performances. A petroleum weeping, fire breathing incubus, clamoring for oblivion.
Hyacinth neutralized the image, and Rotstein, Ruthven--both were outside of the universe and beyond the grasp of a god.
"Commander Koenig, our business here is done. I think that you and your people should leave now." The alien leader told them commendably. "As I have said, your civilization is a disgrace. The base expressions that we have witnessed here today only bolster that conclusion. We do not favor you. Tax us no further."
Bergman stared into the pool then turned to Koenig.
"There is nothing more for us here, John," he nodded sullenly. He tossed the cigarette butt to the ground and snuffed it with his wing tipped shoe. "We should go."
Koenig nodded as Starns and Quenton helped carry Duncan toward Eagle 1, with Helena Russell behind. She gave Koenig a worried glance, as she looked toward Bergman. He told her in face and gesture that the professor would 'be alright.' The rest of the team quickly split up, making their way toward the three Eagles.
Koenig's commlock chirped. "Moonbase Alpha to Commander Koenig, come in Commander Koenig." Sandra Bene's face appeared on the micromonitor. "It's good to see you again sir," she continued. "You had us worried. Please be advised your launch window expires in 10 minutes. Also, Pierre Danielle is standing by to fly the third Eagle remotely."
"Thank you, Sandra," Koenig replied, as Bergman followed him silently to Eagle 10. As he stepped through the passenger module, he saw Bergman staring out the door, at the ancient temple beyond.
Then, he hit the button to close the hatch.
"I will not cease from Mental Fight,Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand...."
(Excerpt From "And did those feet in ancient time")
Recreation: (noun) Refreshment of one's mind or body after work through activity that amuses or stimulates; play.
Recreation room: (noun) A room in a house or institution suited for games, dancing, or other kinds of recreation.
Moonbase Alpha post-breakaway possessed one main general purpose recreation room and 3 smaller, more private areas. Since the inhabitants could not longer look forward to recreating on earth, they had to adapt; they didn't like it but they had no choice.
The main recreation room was filled with white foam couchs, pretzel chairs and white circular tables with hard plastic moduform chairs. There were several televisions connected to Playstations, Ninetendos and Xboxes, as well as DVD/VCR combo players. One wall was lined with PCs with computer games for solitary and interactive play. A closet was filled with practically every board game ever invented; Monopoly was available in English, Spanish and the "Star Wars" version.
The music area, a small acoustical alcove at the far end of the room, was occupied by Sandra Benes, playing several chord combinations on the piano, while Paul Morrow attempted to match the composition with his guitar. Yuri Petrov completed tuning his violin and pointed to the beginning stanza on the yellowed sheet music.
Marilys Singh and Kate Bullen sat at a PC, browing through MP3 recording of decades old radio shows.
In the center of the room, Alan Carter picked up his cards, poker was the name of the game. His son Nicky sat in his lap, attempting to stack the multiple colored chips in one tall, teetering column. Pierre Danielle dealt the last of the cards to Gordon Cooper, Barbara Conroy, Pete Garforth and Angelina Carter. Gordon Cooper eyed Ang with a cocked eyebrow, as she chortled loudly after picking up each card, her grin getting wider and wider.
'Is she bluffing or not?' Cooper thought, keeping a straight face.
At the other end of the room, Commander John Koenig, Doctor Helena Russell and Professor Victor Bergman sat in pretzel chairs facing the viewport and the blackness beyond, talking quietly. Helena Russell listened with a gentle and kind demeanor as Bergman told his tale while Koenig listened and sipped his once again cruddy tasting Moonbase coffee.
"I'm sorry, Victor," Russell finally replied, placing a comforting hand on his arm. What more could she say?
Koenig stared into space, grateful that he did not choose one of the frog-emulated Jinn Chairs that came with a calf crushing, frog-emulated audimon to prop your feet on. Ostrog was sitting on one by the library stacks in the corner. His interest in Dostoyevsky's "Crime And Punishment" was morbidly appropos, and it prevented the engineer from realizing the indignity of nylon and steel frames. Kate Bullen was sitting in one called La Chaise--an apparatus for the butt that the commander dared not challenge. Then again, she wasn't burning in the mathematical equivalent of Hell forever, so in that respect, she was comfortable indeed. The operative was leaning over historian Dave Alwyn's shoulder as he pored through enhanced DVD's of compact, epic drama from the golden age of sound.
Alwyn looked up, disinfranchised, and bored, briefly, before returning to his headphones.
Bergman nodded in response to Russell's sympathy, sitting his neglected Vitaseed cup on one corner of the transparent board that was used for Mindwarp geometry tournaments.
"Yeah." John Koenig conceded, knowing that everything that 'could' be said, probably should not be said because that was a game too. On Moonbase Alpha there were brainteasers to surfeit; riddles, and spacial relationships that would make Rubik's Cube look like Tic Tac Toe. Of all the games, his favorite was probably "Screw The Alphans"--a study of basic hopelessness. Then there was "Twisted Universe." That was what they were playing now. There was no way to win, but you had to keep rolling the dice, seemingly ad infinitum. For those in the mood for Sissyphean parlor playoff, and beleaguer, there was the ever popular "It Will Never Change." The rules were similar to those contained in "Ten Million Light Years To The Next Planet, And How Old Are You?" The strategy was to begin at the bottom, and work your way down. No one on the base was dying to play this game, but many had died 'while' playing it.
On the bright side, everyone on the Moon was a good sport, which was easy to do when all you did was lose.
Petrov's grosso concerto on the violin rescued them all from thoughts of the final plunge out the airlock. The colonel's acumen with string instruments, and his ability to program others with his mastery of Mendelsson, and Bruch made the intolerable seem only inadmissable.
"I GOT IT." Alwyn declared, pushing pause on the DVD player. "COMMANDER, PROFESSOR--I THINK I'VE FOUND THAT LARK YOU WERE TELLING US ABOUT."
Lark was not the word that Bergman would have chosen. The historian had obviously never seen a man burn--had not himself been on the griddle, or stir fryed, or broiled in a house of cards with the heat of his own, damned vain expectations.
Nicky Carter had slipped out of his father's lap and rounded the table to Ang. When he saw that his mother was playing the same "game" as his father and in his almost 3 year old mind determined it was quite uninteresting, he hopped and jumped to Koenig, Russell and Bergman and planted himself comfortably next to Bergman. From a plastic bucket, he produced a modern version of plastic 'tinkertoys' and began to amuse himself, after offering the contents to Bergman. The professor smiled and fondly obliged, picking out a few plastic sticks, solenoids and rectangles.
"So you're bored with Mission: Impossible, huh, Pete?" Angelina threw a sidewise glance at Gordon Cooper, who still eyed her curious. "Big P, I am just fine with the cards I have now." She drew them close to her chest and threw in 5 chips. "I'm in."
"Yeah, I think we've done all the possible combinations we could," Pete admitted. "Either that or we just need a change of pace."
"Dallas, Pete?" Ang smirked. "As in JR, Sue Ellen, Jock, Miss Ellie and the rest?"
"AH! So you're familiar with it," Pete exclaimed, a hint of excitement in his voice. "Ang, you have talent as a writer and you don't even know it." Pete glanced at Danielle, putting two cards down. "I'll take two. So...can I count on you writing for Sue Ellen?"
In her mind, the last thing she wanted to do was write serial fiction for an 80's night time drama. However, Pete Garforth was clearly enthusiastic about his new endeavor, as well as a few others in Technical and some aspiring writers in Medical who wanted to play.
Small pleasures were more valuable than gold and diamonds in deep space.
Before answering, Kate Bullen unplugged the headset and turned up the speaker. "Listen to this..."
A recording from over 70 years before revealed the radio drama "Days and Nights of Harrington Row."
"I.am.more.than.my.wealth,honey," the deadpan voice of Lawrence Oglethorpe sounded just like...
"Commanda," Nicky Carter blurted, smiling and looking up from his assembly and pointing his small left index finger toward the speakers.
"Nooooooooooooooooo.'" Koenig disclaimed--ever believing that humility is the conscience of the body, and that it is difficult to be modest when the person in question is inspired, in excess. "Not me, but I can see that you are a fine, young fellow Nicky,' observant, and with an ascendant taste in theater."
No need to reward me with coin. Please. The knowledge of superior craftsmanship and Olympian talent made the commander blush.
"The kid must see something in it." Alwyn assented, his put-upon ears bleeding. "I sure don't. All I got from it was Brando on Ex Lax, and a total organ."
"I'll drink to that." Carter proposed, and hoisted his cup of Glucose-A for all to see.
The emotionally entangled Esther proclaimed her love to Oglethorp amidst the crescendo of organ music. It was horrendous and cliche and it still confounded Koenig why it was so popular in 1934 London.
"Good Lord," Ang mumbled while sipping her moonbase artificial coffee, "that stuff makes Dallas look like Shakespeare." The sound of a gunshot from the speakers stopped her caffeine intake in mid sip."Oh, well," she joked," play the next episode Dave, we've got to hear what happens."
"Say," she went on to Alan, "didn't you tell me your grandmother worked for the BBC radio? Maybe she knew someone who worked on that show."
"She probably did." Carter replied distantly, admiring the fist full of aces he now possessed. Say your prayers, Coop.' "Gran' was top of the line. A cut above the rest in just about every way. She actually produced an award winning show back then. Today it sounds like it has one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana skin, but back then it was hot."
"That right?" Cooper patronized, bolstered by the glory of an invincible full house. "Why don't you tell us about it, buddyroo.' Then, I'll give you your pasting."
Convinced that this was some delaying action, Conroy antied up.
"It was some crime story kind of thing." The captain bumbled, keeping a merciless eye on the VAB manager. "They called it 'Murder By Gaslight.' Or 'Gas By Pilot Light.' Or 'Gas All Night, Every Night.' Something like that. It was maybe a little better than the Bushweek you just listened to. It helped advance the career of a guy named Cotton."
"Harold Cotton?" Koenig queried from his place on the pretzel chair.
The pilot froze in the act of adding chips to Conroy's pile. He pulled a face, and then squinched against the goose that stepped over his grave. After a while, he tended to his poker hand and ignored unreal realities.
Angelina looked up from her cards toward Koenig. "Did you meet Harold Cotton in 1934, Commander?" She laughed, incredulous. "Did you meet Alan's grandmother too?"
'What were the chances?' Ang smirked to herself.
The Commander's expression remained neutral as he exchanged glances with Bergman. Then he smiled. It seemed one person benefitted from his presence. In the end, it did not matter to Harold Cotton's descendents (if there were any) but at the time, it helped a kind person who needed his luck to turn around in 1934.
The organ music resumed to find an Esther in tears, sobbing loudly while being questioned by an inspector. Then, it went to a commercial break.
"Oh, for God sakes," Kate blurted. "We've heard that dumb soap advertisement 5 times already. Fast forward it, Dave."
The next frame revealed the answer. Lawrence Oglethorpe had been killed in the struggle as well as Esther's husband Arthur. Toward the end of the scene, Esther was beginning to flirt with the inspector, played by Harold Cotton.
"Geez, that Esther is a tramp," Angelina decided. "Her husband and lover are both scarcely buried and she's casing out her next guy. I lead such a 'dull' life in comparison, don't I?"
She winked playfully but discreetly at Carter.
"OK," she continued. "My hand sucks, I'm out."
"I have to get going myself." Koenig said, taking a final sip from his sumptuous, microbiotic coffee. "The meeting of the Consumables Committee won't survive without me." He joked. "They might ingest themselves. Coop,' they're going to want that Glycol usage data from Eagle 4-2. Everyone is depressed because the Moon is in afterfall, and we're still here. You'll get no rest from Dryden if you don't give him his useless red tape."
The VAB manager nodded, and then relinquished his hand.
"So be it." Coop' replied, chipper in the face of spiritual destitution. "Until we meet again, Alan Carter."
"Right." The other pilot nodded, engrossed in what Conroy's next move might be. "And when we do, I'll kick your can just like I did today."
Nicky Carter continued playing, abandoning the tinker toys in favor of drawing with markers on strips of paper. He joined the ends with tape and showed it to the Professor. Bergman studied the creation and to his amazement, it resembled a crown. The child placed it on his head then scampered off to watch Bram Cedrix play "Flight Simulator, 1999" on one of the large screen televisions.
"Congratulations. That's quite a mess your leaving behind." Helena Russell accosted Koenig at the exit door.
The commander regarded her cooly, shaking his commlock like an angry bauble. It held the power to open doors. It could not machine weld a shattered lordliness, or make his point more diaphanous.
"What do you propose, Helena? Put him in Medical Center, stick a funnel down his throat, and drown him in dope? Sorry, your pharmacy isn't that good." He stated emphatically, sarcastically, and then turned to leave again. "Stick to what you do best, doctor. Soul surgery is not one of those things."
"He can at least talk to Bob." The physician said, pursuing him into the corridor.
"Bob?" Koenig blurted, almost laughing. Commstations and oblivious personel drifted past them on both sides. "Oh no. No headshrinking. No psychological profiles. No insight therapy. Victor doesn't need your crack team. I never was a believer in that, and I'm sure as Hell not one now." He announced, and then stopped. "You realize that Mathias would lean towards my side of the fence on this?
"Bob knows the score. This is our so-called life, Helena." He revealed, hating the sound of it, but.... "This is the way it has to be so physician, heal thyself."
He began his appropriate, bulldozer stroll again.
"But we need each other, John. We can't go it alone out here. There are times when the individual needs assistance to recover from injury, whether it is to the body or the soul." She objected, keeping up with his long strides and not backing down. "You would object quite loudly, John, if Victor was recoverying from a compound fracture and he was denied medication to relieve physical pain. You know I only dispense psychotropic meds on an individual basis and only when there is a clear need." She sighed as they boards the travel tube. "I would want Bob to concur, but I think in Victor's case, there is a clear need for at least a mild dose of antidepressive."
"Victor is handling it on his own." The commander refuted. "You can bring on the uppers, and the downers, and the atom-powered cliches if you like. The Dali Lama could have lunch with him if he were here, but it would still end the same way. The deacency to allow another human being to face their own agony. We can help, but if there's any kind of solution to be had, it's up to Victor to find it. If you try anything else, it will rob him of his dignity, and cheapen his grief with some goddamn process.
"Forget it. It's not going to happen that way."
"Your personal experience, John, is biasing your opinion regarding psychiatry," Helena Russell stated quietly. She hated to mention it, to dreg up a familial pain of years past, a secret only she and Bergman knew. The flash of anger and pain momentarily crossed his face then his expression returned to stone. "I realize that in the end, despite everything, only the individual can find his way out of mental torment and heal himself. Medication and couseling are only tools, not the solution."
"He needs to talk to someone who is trained in the field who can assess if medication and continued conseling are necessary. You can't deny him help, John, if he needs it."
"I'M NOT DENYING HIM ANYTHING." The commander professed, brazenfaced and standing in the open hatch of the travel tube car. "You do whatever makes you happy, Helena. Explain to him that extreme suffering doesn't necessarily mean that he's not doomed. Tell him that it's wonderful, how he's lost the chance to give love, and receive it. I won't interfere with your clinical 'expertise,' if you can call it that. But if Victor doesn't want it, you're not going to force it on him orally, or intraveneously. Ditto Dr. Bob "Feel Good" Mathias." He smirked as he plumbed the depths of revile. "All situations are not created equal. If we've learned anything from being out here, it's that science and medicine are not the know-all, cure-all.
"Especially for questions that emanate from the very center of our being." Koenig enunciated. He wanted to add the classic clown:
Neurotics build castles in the sky.
Psychotics live in them.
Psychiatrists collect the rent.
But that would be too meretricious, even if it was the truth.
Petrov was in a mood for Brahms, Violin Concerto in D Minor. Allegro non troppo. Passionate romantic strings lingered not in phrase. The colonel's hand moved over his instrument, embracing the maturity of a gift while obliterating expectations of full-blooded glands, and obtuse studliness. It was a sonata of wisdom, and of memories unimpeached.
In matters of the heart, it absolutely could not compare to any of the tawdry tunes delivered, with cleavage, by Madonna or the gormless, shitty hits bespoke by Richard Marks, or Michael Bolton.
Brahms was not great...just majestic.
The recreation unit was almost empty. The east end of the alcove where Victor Bergman sat was engineered from multilayered Vycor. A solid, transparent wall that gave the illusion of sitting on the placid, unruffled sands of Plato. The grey accent in the upper, northwest corner of the universe--that was the ice ring that surrounded the planet Mythraea. That was his past. The black and white photographs over which he traced a temporary hand--they were his past. Textbook reliquaries that were little more than footnotes in the grimoire of progress. Memento Moris of a king who abdicated his throne for a woman he loved--no brass or placard would ever enscribe the name of the other; the one who cared, but who was seventy years touchless, and aground on a runaway moon.
For the present now seemed like some bizarre necrophilia.
Victor Bergman gazed at the photos, holding the paper crown given to him by Nicholas Carter. It's split second composition attested to the easy shallowness of the road he howed, but its quality was superfine, its intent, unfeigned.
Its tenure was not yet; its time would crystallize imperfectly, but the professor was not wed to it. Collapsing gravity would someday blow the megacosm apart, but his darling would be forever at his side.
Despite the lunar clock that tried to overtop him, his time was his own.
FOR HARLAN ELLISON
"To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else."
"There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven--
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted."
"And taken by light in her arms at long and dear last I may without fail
Suffer the first vision that set fire to the stars."
BASED ON CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY AND SYLVIA ANDERSON
Written by Tgarnett25 & Moonbasealpha_s1 of Space:1999: The Classic Adventures