New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!
Jayce leaned back and rubbed bleary eyes. Eleven-forty! He put down his brush examined the ancient musical instrument he'd been cleaning for more than thirteen hours. The smooth, pale surface of the hollow reeds shone softly under almost white vines that bound them in position. They looked perfect. Too perfect. The museum had trouble maintaining organic artifacts in controlled environments. This thing was supposed to have spent more than two thousand years in a Greek cave.
Such instruments were rather common, not only in Greece, but parts of South America. The only unusual thing about this particular set was that all the tubes were plugged with clay, making them heavy and unplayable. He was ninety percent certain they were fakes, some tourist souvenir artificially aged with dust and dirt.
Only two people on the small Restorations staff were likely to have gone to this much trouble - Dr. Marsha or Leon Spriggs. Dr. Marsha was a cheerful, heavyset redhead in her mid-thirties with a reputation for pulling some elaborate practical jokes. Leon, on the other hand, only had a year's seniority, and seemed to see a twenty-one year-old Master's candidate from the university's Archaeology department as a threat.
Unfortunately, the short, stocky Pakistani had also been assigned as Jayce's supervisor, and took obvious delight in assigning him the most boring, dirty, and thankless tasks. So far, Jayce had spent most of his three months on staff cleaning up after Leon - filing reports, packaging artifacts after Leon had done all the research and restoration, and even cleaning up the man's work area. This set of pipes was the first item he'd been given to work on solo, and now it looked like they were phony.
If Jayce could prove the instrument was a fake, he might get the last laugh and prove his own expertise at the same time. One of the plugs would provide the answer. Modern clay had a different texture and color. The difficult part would be removing one of the embedded lumps without damaging the delicate reeds themselves. Jayce worked for more than an hour before the solution finally presented itself. He dropped it.
Not on purpose, of course. He'd been digging at the edge of one tube, trying to work the slender point of an awl between clay and cane. Fatigue made him careless, and the delicate, ancient instrument slipped from his hand. He grabbed for it frantically, making matters worse as his hand struck it from above and slam-dunked it onto the concrete floor.
"Shit!" The young man's gut twisted as he watched it hit and bounce, small pieces breaking off and scattering. It landed, appropriately enough, in the small plastic wastebasket under his bench. Right where his budding career with the museum staff was heading. It didn't matter if the instrument was a fake or not. If he'd damaged it, he might as well pack his meager belongings tonight and never come back.
Jayce knelt by the trashcan and gingerly pulled out the pipes. They seemed intact. Heartened, he checked the tubes and binding. There wasn't so much as a dent on the edges, though all but four of the clay plugs had shattered from the impact. He stared at the now-open tubes and had to chuckle. Not exactly approved procedure. Well, he didn't have to tell anyone -how- he'd gotten the plugs out.
And they were authentic. He compared four shards of broken pottery that had already been dated with several different clay fragments from the instrument before he was convinced. As improbable as it seemed, the pipes had been silenced more than three hundred years before Christ was born. Did they sound that bad?
One way to find out. He picked up the pipes and blew experimentally down one of the tubes. The first attempt produced nothing more than a rush of air.
It took some experimentation to find the right position and amount of force.
Then the instrument suddenly produced a pure, clear sound that cut through his soul and hung in the air around him. Awed, Jayce stared at the pipes for a moment before trying another tube. The result was painfully beautiful, pulling at his heart and mind. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine himself lying in a pasture somewhere, a young Greek offering his music to the gods. More notes, random at first, then flowing into a haunting melody that he did not recognize. The music was lonely, painful. Tears filled his eyes, emotions so intense that his body actually did ache. Yet he couldn't stop.
Faster now, the notes searing his skin and burning his muscles. The room spun around him, and he realized he was dancing blindly, no longer in control of his legs. Rage spilled from the pipes, frustration and longing. Jayce wanted to scream, his mind and body overwhelmed by the searing intensity.
The tune changed now, confusion mixed with hope. He leaped and whirled like a ballet dancer, spinning on tiptoe as the pipes shouted joy and triumph.
Raw, sensual power filled his heart, his body, his mind as the music exploded in a final climax. And ended. Jayce lowered the pipes from his lips slowly, shivering and wide-eyed. Where had all that come from? Still dazed from the experience, he wiped at the rivers of sweat that ran down his face. And froze as his fingers caught on a large, hard protrusion high on his forehead. There were two of them, actually, one on each side of his skull. Bewildered, he turned to look for a mirror, and realized he had pirouetted on tiptoe. What was wrong with his feet? He looked down. Where was his T-shirt? His sweat-soaked chest looked normal enough, but his jeans had sprouted dense, blonde wool that swept down to thick, cloven...
"Auuuugh!" Jayce grabbed at the coarse fur, trying to remove what had to be some sort of bizarre costume. Except that it couldn't be a costume. The legs were far too thin below and bent all wrong to contain human limbs.
And he could feel the fur as he yanked on it.
He closed his eyes, trying to clear his head. This had to be a hallucination, some sort of intense daydream. He ran to a display case with a mirrored back, dimly aware that he was using oversized goat's legs like he had been born with them. A rolling cloud was welling up inside his mind, bringing a sensation of heat like that he had experienced with the music.
For a moment, the pale, frightened face that stared from under the large curving horns was still his. Then a shadow passed over his head, turning blonde hair black and darkening his skin to a deep olive brown. His forehead thickened, eyes sinking back under protruding brows, and his nose and chin sharpened. The dark stain spread down his neck to envelop a swelling chest and thickening arms, shooting down into his hands. He moaned as digits fused, leaving him with two thick, black fingers and an altered thumb on each.
The transformation continued to sweep down, but his attention was locked on the bestial young man who stared back with Jayce's bright blue eyes. Sounds filled his mind, incoherent babbling of a foreign language that got louder, yet did not come from his ears. He felt a presence touch his mind with confusion and anger, becoming clearer as his own awareness began to dissipate into mist. The reflection's blue eyes grew larger, rounder, and filled with liquid brown. Then they were no longer his to use, and he drifted into darkness.
Jayce felt the voice more than heard it, and he struggled back to consciousness slowly. God! Was this a hangover? He didn't remember drinking anything last night. Just working late, cleaning the pipes... Light flooded his eyes, and he blinked in confusion. He lying on the floor of the museum workshop, but sunlight was streaming in the windows.
A soft moan from behind drew his attention to an incredibly beautiful, very naked red-haired girl lying on the floor. She was rather obviously in the afterglow of sex, eyes half-shut in dreamy contemplation. Her face was familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Bewildered, he struggled to sit. Who the Hell would have sex in the middle of the shop floor with him sleeping there?
"Ooh! A blonde one!" The girl's eyes lit up and she spread her legs in invitation. "Hey there, beastie boy. Let's have some fun!"
"Insatiable, isn't she?" Again the unheard voice, deep and resonant. "Just what the doctor ordered after two thousand years of abstinence. And she's the Doctor."
Beastie boy? Jayce suddenly remembered the strange hallucination from last night, and forced himself to look down. No wonder he was having trouble sitting. Goat's legs weren't designed for that posture. He scrambled up, grabbing a table for support as he found himself standing on cloven hooves instead of feet.
Things only got more bizarre when he looked around the lab. A large baboon was picking at its fur over by the coffee pot. He stared at the ape for a moment before a coarse bray announced the presence of a donkey in the supply room. And there was a huge St. Bernard sleeping by the desk in Dr. Parker's office. Who was talking to him? He turned towards the baboon.
A chuckle. "Not the monkey, soulmate. He is the one you knew as Martin."
Martin Driscol. The middle-aged black guy who usually came in early to brew up his own special coffee. He spun suddenly to stare at the girl. What had the voice said? She's the Doctor.
"Doctor Marsha?" The girl's eyes lit up as he took a step for her, but her attention was focused somewhat lower than his face. Jayce felt lightheaded.
The dog had to be Dr. Parker. Which meant that the shaggy burro was probably Leon. An ass. How appropriate. He made the identifications with detached calm, having already decided that he had gone stark, raving mad.
"No, soulmate. Not mad."
Jayce felt sadness in the long pause before the voice continued. "Being chosen as my soulmate should be great honor, a destiny to be cherished. Youths competed for my blessing for thousands of years. Yet for you, it brings only fear and despair. The treachery of Midas reaches out from the past to hurt us both."
Jayce felt the heat spreading and tensed. What now? When the sensation passed, both his clothing and human body had been restored. Exploring fingers found no trace of horns on his forehead, only a shock of blonde hair. Had he woken from the nightmare? There was a crash as the baboon threw a coffee cup against the wall. He stumbled to the display case mirror and felt his gut tighten. The face reflected was his, but it framed the eyes of a goat. Still in the nightmare, still a freak.
"Freak?" The voice sounded in his head, tight with anger. "Ignorance is not your fault. And I can understand your fear. However, only a fool would ignore the evidence of his own eyes."
"I don't have my own eyes anymore, remember?" Jayce kicked at the display case in frustration. "Shit! Get out of my head, you bastard! Leave me alone!"
A long silence. "Look in the mirror, soulmate."
Swallowing, he forced himself to look at his reflection. The image wavered, and became the dark goat man from before, though Jayce remained human. "Who - what are you?"
The bestial face stared back at him intently. "Once I was worshipped, celebrated, revered. The Greeks and Romans made me part of their lives, their mythology. Even now, all these centuries later, your mind holds the answer to your own question."
Jayce's mind raced, trying to string together the whirlwind of events. The pipes. It had all started with the pipes. Goat man. Pan pipes. Pan. He felt a sudden wave of fear and awe wash over him. "Oh, God."
"Not the one you refer to, but close enough." Pan seemed to relax. "Companion to Dionysius, patron of lust and protector of the wilderness, lover of mischief and music. And now your soulmate. You have been honored."
"Honored?" The words choked in Jayce's throat. "Honor someone else! Get out of my head, you damned thief!"
The dark young man glared at him. "I am not a thief!" Then the animal eyes softened. "But I am also not a god. And it was not my intention to create an unwilling slave."
"Then get out!"
"I can't. We are bonded for the rest of your mortal life."
"Bonded? You mean, I'm stuck with you forever?" Jayce shivered in utter despair. It seemed hopeless. Either he was insane or the unwilling slave of some ancient god. And he wasn't sure which fate scared him the most.
"I am sorry." Pan's image looked down a moment. "You did not know the significance of the pipes. They are tuned to my essence, what you might call my soul. Playing the pipes summoned me from the emptiness where I was cast when Midas murdered my last soulmate."
"All I did was blow one or two notes! Something else took over!" "The vibrations of the first note linked us. After that, I fed your mind with the music that merged our essenses. I didn't know that you were not a willing soulmate until after the bond was complete. Only then could I access your knowledge and memories."
Jayce flushed with anger and embarrassment. "So you just barge in and poke through my head like it was a magazine rack?"
"Why do you have so much fear?" Pan looked puzzled. "Yes, I see your thoughts, your memories, even your soul to some extent. I cannot help that. In time, you will see into my mind as clearly as I see into yours. And find that I have as many flaws as you do, if not more."
"Oh, right. Just a regular guy." Jayce looked back at his transformed coworkers. "Who turns people into animals or sex-starved bimbos. If you aren't a God, what are you?"
"An explorer from another reality, a different dimension. We exist as conscious energy. Bonding with a corporal soulmate is the only way we can interact with this world."
Some sort of alien creature. Somehow, that was more acceptable than the thought of an ancient God come to life. "Why did you turn me into a satyr?"
The dark reflection shrugged. "A form that my original human host envisioned. At the time, I assumed it was a normal variation of the species. I am locked in this shape now, and through our bonding, so are you."
Jayce glanced down to confirm that he was still human. "I'm not a satyr now."
"You don't -look- like a satyr now." Pan corrected him like an English teacher. "I can alter your appearance, but you will always be a goat man. That is why your eyes are still bestial. It is a small price to pay for the benefits I offer."
"Seems like a one-sided deal to me. You get to use my body. What the Hell kind of benefits make up for that?"
Pan's eyebrows raised. "You have a fascination with ancient history? I AM history. Ten thousand years to be shared. And many lifetimes to share it with me."
The mirror image changed back to Jayce's reflection as the heat returned. However, instead of becoming a satyr again, he lost more than a foot of height and half his years. "Shit! Bad enough I'm stuck with weird eyes. What's the point of making me ten years old?"
He felt Pan's sigh. "I can slow the process of growth, not the decay of aging. A decade from now, you might have your first whiskers. In a century, you will be back where you were, the turning point of adulthood."
Comprehension finally dawned. "I'm immortal?" Jayce stared at the boy in the mirror. Maybe this wasn't all bad. "Not immortal. You are immune to illness, and most injuries will heal quickly and without scar. However, a fatal injury, whether it be accidental or intentional, is just that. Fatal. And eventually, in three or four hundred years, you will die."
Jayce shivered. "And what happens after that?"
"If a new soulmate has been prepared, I will join with him. And you will go on to whatever awaits on the other side of life."
"You don't know?"
Pan chuckled. "I will only know when I make that crossing myself. Perhaps another phase of existence. Perhaps nothing."
It didn't seem that Jayce had much choice. Although it rankled him to be forced like this, he had to admit that Pan was providing substantial benefits in return. That is, if he was the one living his life. "What good is all that extra time if you control my life? Are you just going to put me to sleep, maybe wake me up once in a century or so to say hello?" There was a long silence, and he braced for some other sign of the god's displeasure.
Pan's image reappeared in the mirror. "You have not been prepared, you do not know the meaning of being a soulmate. My people share life, we do not steal it."
"Your people?" Jayce swallowed, thinking of the many legends from Greek and Roman mythology. "Are there others?"
"There were." The goat-man's voice was sad. "Dionysius, Seth, Hera, Zeus, Odin, Hermes, Apollo. More than two dozen travelers, trapped on this world so long ago that men were still without fire. They may be out there yet, hiding their powers."
Jayce's eyes widened. "You want to look for them!" He suddenly remembered his situation. "That could take forever!"
"Perhaps." Pan smiled. "Something to think about later, anyway. For now, I will try to stay in the background and let you get used to this new arrangement. Live your life the way you want to."
"Without horns and hooves?" Jayce looked at himself. "And on the other side of puberty? I worked hard to get where I am!"
"If that is what you want."
"What about the others?" He looked back at the strange menagerie. "They didn't bond with anybody!"
"Martin panicked when he saw us this morning. Transforming him was the simplest way to calm him. The other two males had similar reactions."
"You didn't have to turn them into animals!"
Pan looked smug. "I took their forms from your own mind."
Jayce paled. It was true. Parker was a big, friendly, rumpled-looking man who had come across as a dog tending his flock. And Martin was the personification of an ambitious baboon cartoon character who was constantly being bested by a weasel. In this case, the weasel was now a moaning slut.
"Why did you turn Dr. Marsha into a mindless bimbo?"
"Something else you have thought about. And it also happened to be a lifelong fantasy of her own." Pan leered from the mirror. "You should give her a chance to express her gratitude."
Jayce stumbled over that a moment, but then shook his head. "Maybe she daydreams about being young and sexy. But she'd never want to be like this. Not really! Besides, you can't leave them like this! They have lives! Families!"
"Not for much longer." The dark young man raised an eyebrow. "In a short time, maybe an hour or so, they will have always been as they are now. Only we will be aware of the changes."
"What are you talking about?" Jayce stared at the girl, getting incredibly turned on as she ran her hands over her perfect body. "You mean that you can change anyone into anything at it becomes normal?"
"Only for a brief period after a joining." Pan sighed. "Think of reality as a huge tapestry. Transformation is simply changing the color thread something is made of. Our bonding unraveled the cloth around us, but it is already starting to reweave itself. The tapestry's pattern changes to integrate the new colors, make them part of the whole. We can still change threads of the whole cloth afterwards, but the different colors will stand out."
"So Dr. Parker will have always been a dog? What about his family? His kids can't believe a dog is their father!"
"They will have been born puppies, whelped by a bitch that was his wife." The goat-man's reflection shrugged. "There is no cause for concern. All of them will be content with their lives, for they will have no knowledge of ever being anything else."
"No!" Jayce looked at the St. Bernard, remembering the gray-haired professor who had hired him. A grandfather, who liked to play Dixieland jazz on the weekends. "You can't take their lives away like that!"
Pan sounded perplexed. "Take away? Their lives are different, but they remain alive. What difference does it make to them?"
"Maybe it doesn't seem important to you, but there's a lot of difference being a man and being a monkey. Or a dog. Change them back!" "If that's what you want." The goat man's reflection began to fade. "Time is short. Reality is closing in around us."
"Um, can you leave Dr. Marsha young and pretty? Without making her a bimbo?" Jayce looked down at himself. "And if you are really going to let me life my life the way I want to, you won't take away my family, my job, my Master's degree. Even if it does cost me extra years."
"Everything you have asked for will be done." The ghostlike image smiled back at him, eyes twinkling. "Everything you asked for." And then he was gone.
Another sensation of warmth, this one creating a slight flicker. Jayce felt his body get larger, and turned to look around. The naked girl on the floor vanished, and reappeared by the workbenches clad in Dr. Marsha's trademark Harvard T-shirt and jeans. Dr. Parker was hunched over his computer, and Martin was pouring himself a cup of coffee. Everything was back to normal.
Just a little too big. Jayce spun around to check himself in the mirror. A gawky young boy, barely in his teens, stared back at him. The Museum ID badge clipped to his baggy T-shirt had a matching picture. "I said I wanted my life back!"
Pan's face appeared ghostlike over his own reflection, now a goat-boy to match Jayce's age. "I gave you what you asked for. Your family, your job, and your degree. And the other side of puberty. In this case, a week or two on the other side."
Annoyance mixed with curious wonder. A university graduate at thirteen? Conflicting memories hung in the air around him, closing in as reality reestablished itself. His sister now had a little brother, his parents were a few years younger, and he had been written up in Time magazine. Maybe this wasn't so bad after all. There was just one problem.
"What happens when I'm still a kid ten years from now?"
"I will adjust your appearance, give you the face that others expect to see. And when those around you are gone, we can start over. Anywhere. As anything." Pan suddenly vanished.
"Jayce?" Dr. Marsha came up behind him, a puzzled expression on her face. "Oh!" She rolled her eyes and grinned. "Those silly contact lenses. If you're done admiring yourself, how about checking to see if Leon needs anything?"
He blinked and looked back at his reflection. The animal eyes. She thought he was wearing some sort of special effect lenses. Actually, he could get some blue contacts later to hide them. "Um, yeah. I was just..." Looking at the beautiful woman left him suddenly tongue-tied, even if she was still more than twice his age.
His body had no trouble responding, however, and he took off for his work area as he realized Pan had worked changes that had nothing to do with his mind. "What did you do to me?" Jayce whispered to himself fiercely, hoping that his coworkers wouldn't hear him. "It feels like I'm part horse!"
"No, all satyr." The presence sounded amused. "Don't worry. You'll get used to it very quickly."
Jayce wanted to argue the point, but realized that everything about his body felt absolutely normal, if a tad uncomfortable. Memories of his former self were clear, but more like images of an older brother who no longer existed.
He gave a resigned sigh. "What other surprises do you have in store for...?" Jayce stopped short as a loud bray came from the supply room. A rope was stretched across the opening, and there was a thick layer of straw on the floor.
After a moment, a large, shaggy brown donkey stuck its head over the rope and looked at him expectantly. Bewildered, he turned to Martin. "There's a jackass in here!"
The man gave him a puzzled look. "Don't tell me our resident child prodigy is just noticing! Leon's been here almost a week!"
"Leon? But he's not supposed to be like this! He's..." Everything Jayce had asked for. Dr. Marsha young and pretty, and the dog and the baboon restored. Nothing had been said about the donkey in the storeroom.
"He'll be gone in a few more days. Right after the big game." Martin shook his head. "Though I still can't believe the Dean allowed the football team to hide their mascot here." The man glanced behind the animal. "Looks like you have your work cut out for you. Or did you also 'forget' that it's your turn to shovel?"
Pan laughed in the back of his mind. Maybe things weren't all that different after all. Leon was a jackass, and Jayce was cleaning up after him.