User:ShadowWolf/Ripples in Time
Xanadu: Ripples in Time
|Xanadu: Ripples in Time|
|Xanadu story universe|
Today I'll tell him about his death. I've seen six ways in which he might die. Each covers a cusp in the events of his life where he walks a fine line. The next is about 20 minutes away in the ward where they've been stashing the supervillains that have been caught. I wonder what knowing that he'll die soon will do to his actions, how it will influence the cusp.
"I've seen your death, Mike. In twenty minutes you'll die a horrific death. I'd suggest you make arrangements."
He laughs, because he thinks I'm just another crazy, another nut-job as he calls us when he thinks we're too far away to hear. Too bad us Alytherians have such wonderful hearing. I smile at him and mutter "Ah, precious, precious sanity. My precious won't come back to me." then laugh. I make the laugh as loud and raucous as possible, outdoing the orderly.
The hotel was buzzing with activity as I finished the work of shading the prosthesis of my third eye into the skin of my forehead. Sure, it was a lot of work, but I had bragged about the costume I'd created for months and knew that if I didn't show up and wow people I'd be hearing about it for even longer. That's also when the trouble started – I had to fit the wraparound prosthesis that would give me the flat, feathered head that so identified the costume as being the person I'd drawn up prior to beginning this process. It wasn't that difficult a job – but it normally required an extra person.
Add to the size of the prosthesis the complex electronics I had designed to simulate an Alytherians hearing – the box itself consisted of two scientific microphones called 'transducers' that could pick up any frequency from 4 hertz to 100kHz – a range more than triple the standard human range and a set of integrated circuits that would wash, flatten and enhance the signal so much that I would effectively have a bats hearing range. The electronics had taken me more time that sculpting the prosthesis it was embedded in. Others had asked for similar devices, but those I made cheaply, on a budget of about two hundred a unit – and most of that for the sensitive microphones used.
When I finally managed to get the seams of the mask sealed I stepped into the boot-like contraption that gave me what appeared to be a raptors four toed feet and talons. Those were a work of art – but then, I had spared no expense. The microswitches were connected to a set of miniature 'linear electric motors' and the same powersupply as my hearing apparatus. With the flick of a hidden switch I could latch them onto anything, and they moved just enough while walking to give an illusion of reality.
Yeah, I guess I went a bit overboard, but I wanted to win the costume contest, so I sat down and reviewed the language I'd worked out for this character – a complex beast of affixes and tonal meanings that conveyed concepts rather than simple meaning. I had about an hour to wait, and the rest of the costume – the foam covered spandex that would give my legs a look like a birds and the suit with the wings so I would have my arms free would only take a few minutes to put on.
"Sho-ma’i’cha… the beauty of the struggle…" I chuckle to myself as the orderly gets into the trouble I had predicted. He might die in there – it was one of many futures I had seen spawning from the little cusp of him stopping to talk to me. Not that I could tell what path the future might take from a cusp involving me. That was te’il-que’ya – against the will of the universe. But I had seen that he might also leave the door open, and it had been more than a week since I'd taken to the skies.
Ha’cha-mi’ro to’qre – than the one that dreams the world – the door was open and the future spawning from that event had two outcomes. Either I'd walk to the roof and fly once more or I'd be caught at the stairwell. Fas’ba – it doesn't matter – I was meant to fly and I would do it even if it meant breaking the ti-ojre’me – the peaceful way.
I looked up and down the hall and listened carefully, te’ma-ri’ya – assimilating the noise and letting it form a picture of events in my mind. The air currents flowing over my feathers fed me the rest of the picture. "Sho-ma’I’cha te’chi-o’ryu" I muttered as I bolted for the nearest stairwell. They all led to both the roof and the ground floor. If I remembered from my last escape into the air the roof was three stories up. With a smile I stuck my hand into a pocket and pulled out the guidance device I hadn't let the government take from me. They could replace it with something similar, but then I'd lose the mapping capability and it's mass storage for the words associated with my visions.
With what I had created of the Alytherian language committed to memory I stood and looked at the full-length mirror attached to the back of the bathroom door. The feathers I'd molded into the head piece didn't look quite natural, but I didn't have a spare or the tools to airbrush it. Then I checked the harness holding the wings on and buttoned up the front of the flight suit I'd designed. That I'd spent more than three hundred dollars making something that would create drag if I actually flew was fine by me – it looked stylish and had enough thermal protection capability to provide good insulation at 10,000 feet. And the wings themselves, made of light carbon composites and covered with lifelike feathers, needed a stable harness. So the suit had to be done the way I'd done it.
With that I connected the laptop batteries built into the back of the suit under the wings and tested them. The motors I'd built into the assembly whirred to life and the wings folded out partways and stretched from one end of the room to the other. I snapped the switch back to fold and pulled my hand from that pocket. I was sweating a little under the suit, from the weight and the insulation, but I was certain I'd win a prize.
I looked to the expensive watch I'd picked up – it had enough features to qualify me as a geek just on that front – and frowned. The elevator wasn't arriving fast enough and I had less than ten minutes to make it to the room for the ceremony. I reached into another pocket and flipped on my hearing arrangement, then took a minute to fine-tune the volume. From the lights overhead there was a loud hum, from the elevator shaft came sounds of people getting on and off. If the elevator was going to take it's time I wasn't going to wait – I'd just take the stairs.
The stairs passed under my feet two and three at a time and I hung onto the railings for my life. I'd forgotten how hard it was to walk in the taloned feet I'd designed for the costume and my trip down the stairs was more like a controlled fall. When I made it to the ground floor landing I stopped to calm myself down after nearly killing myself coming down the stairs and that's when it happened. At once I noticed I could feel the air currents swirling over and around the wings on my back and the cold, hard concrete under my taloned feet.
"Cha-shem’I’rya…" I muttered. What I was thinking was this is too strange – the word that escaped my lips meant that and several other things. The problem was, I was certain it hadn't been on my cheat-sheet. It was at that moment that the third eye in my forehead opened for the first time and I saw the chaos in the halls outside the stairwell. For a minute I stood there stunned, then turned and ran back up the stairs – I had to get out of the building and I wasn't going to be able to leave from the front entrance.
They had locked the rooftop doors, but no physical object would bar me from taking my flight. With the deep understanding born of the language and culture of the Alytherians I reached out with my mind and the lock undid itself. I pushed the door open stopped for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the bright noon sunlight. Then I squatted slightly to let my wings clear the door and I was outside, my mind calming as I slowly unfolded my wings and walked toward the edge of the building.
"Sho-cha’I’ya… the thermals are wonderful today." With a leap I was off the roof, the battery of electrical cells along my spine powering the powerful flight muscles that made up half the mass of my upper body. Once, twice I snapped my wings down slowly, letting the kinks of weeks on the ground ease out of the biological motors and warming up the cells of my power system. With a third downstroke I knew I was ready and leaped into the air, the clear nictitating membranes sliding closed over my eyes as I flew into the first thermal and gained altitude. And as always I remembered my first flight more than two years ago after the Xanadu event.
I didn't make it to the roof on my first try. Too many people were filing into the stairwells as the chaos of the change started affecting the residential floors of the hotel. The change itself was no surprise to me – the first vision had shown me the events and all the potential outcomes. But the rules, more specifically the te’il-que’ya, were in full effect and I did not know which actions would lead to the events that had me flying free in the sky as I had dreamed of doing on so many occasions.
Fifth floor – my room was here. I had to sit and think, focus on the hotel, use the Tar’mil-oa’iuo-ca, no, that couldn't exist… I had to get to the roof and fly… But I couldn't fly… The wings weren't real. Confusion rattled my brain and there was a minor rumble through the building as one of the creatures downstairs hit a structural column hard. That brought the reality to me – somehow I was now Alytherian, not human. If I existed, then the Tar’mil-oa’iuo-ca – what most would call magic – also existed. I pushed open the door and forgot to squat the small amount needed to get my wings through the door – as I whacked them on the doorframe the pain shot through me. That, if nothing else, would have been enough to convince me I wasn't crazy.
When I reached the door to my room I reached into a pocket to find that I'd forgotten the key to my room or had lost it in the crush of people in the hall. "Sho-oa’I’ya. What a fine mess this is." I said to myself, enjoying the feel of the six octaves of harmonics that made up the word I had just spoken. I was locked out of my room and away from any identification I might have stored. Not that that was a real problem – when the place calmed down I could just…
Then the situation hit me and I nearly collapsed there in the hall. How could I ever prove that this was my room? I looked nothing like the identification photos, and doubted that I'd be taken at my word. The world isn't a nice place, and I'd need to give the hotel staff a damned good reason to open to door… Problem was I didn't have a good reason – without any way to prove I was who I was claiming to be they'd laugh and might even call the…
Again I stopped myself in mid thought. Every one of the futures I'd seen had shown the cops showing up, along with all kinds of other public agencies to try and figure out this singular event. I was ready to try and force the door open when I remembered that the magic I'd dreamed the Alytherieans had might now be mine. With a grimace I steadied myself and looked at the door. An odd calmness fell over me as I reached out for the lock with my mind and felt it's existence. Moments later the tumblers lifted and the barrel turned on it's own. I turned the handle and walked into my room, then began to laugh madly as I noticed my wallet sitting on the bed. It was right where it should have been if it had fallen out of my pocket, and right next to it was the key to the room.
I began rearranging the room to fit the Alytherian sense that screamed out to make the room more conducive to te’oao-que’vou-a. As soon as that word wondered into my mind I tried to translate it into English. After all, if I could find a way to teach others the language, I might be able to teach others magic, and that could turn into quite a lucrative career. But I was lost trying to find a way to fit the word into English – the concept was just too complex to really work. In truth it could be defined using any number of the slippery words that make up the language – and perhaps the closest I can come to a definition is 'The soul of the universe'.
When I was done the bed was moved to partially block the door and the rest of the furnishings were moved to block all the right angles as well as they could. In the middle of the floor was a pile of all the bedding remade into something like a nest. The calmness I'd felt descend when I was releasing the doors lock returned as I sat down in the nest, my legs folding under me just like a birds. Scant seconds later my mind was traveling through the hotel and convention center, looking for a safe way for me to get to the roof so I could take note of the thermals and fly. I was that way for hours, scouting the grounds and watching the police arrive before I found what seemed to be a sane route.
My third eye flew open again and I was hit by a flood of images. Soon I was going to be the center of a cusp in the timeline and my actions would determine the outcome. Only two of the timelines I saw showed me surviving my first flight, yet I was unable to see the actions I would have to take to create one of those two futures. The universe has rules, and one of the greatest is that you cannot see the actions you will take – call it a way that the universe maintains free-will for its inhabitants.
I was one with the wind, soaring on the thermals and dictating all the visions I remembered from the past weeks of confinement in rapid bursts of Alytherian. Below me the world was a wonderful tapestry of many colors. The cities of man no longer held the interest they once did, nor did the human animal itself interest me as it once had. But the sheer majesty of this planet they were ravaging was enough to bring tears to my eyes, so I looked for a thermal that would take me to an altitude where my body would stop producing them in the manner it was.
The doctors say I am a unique case. When I fly I am totally sane, free of the paranoia, the attempts to get people to take the bad paths through a cusp. If I could I'd fly forever, running to the east in a mad attempt to thwart the night and the dreams that come when I roost. The doctors seem to believe the insanity is linked to the change in a purely biological way, but I know better. Madness doesn't spring just from the body, but from the che’qui’a – the spark of life, the soul of the being. I have the soul of a human, but am now an Alytherian. The powers that come with being a se-char’ryo-ka, a bearer of the third eye, overwhelm my soul when I am confined to the ground. In the air the third eye stays shut, because to have a vision in flight is potentially deadly.
Below me is a wetland, the great swamps of Florida. Soon I'll be over them and on my way west, over the gulf and towards the rising sun. There will be no return to madness for me – I will fly and fly, eating the way the winged relatives of mine on this planet do. The food caught on the wing and eaten raw. But I can do one better than them – I have arms and can eat while remaining airborne. This time they will not capture me alive, I will violate the ti-ojre’me to remain free. Never again will I let myself be caged.
My stomach alerts me to the fact that I haven't eaten in ten hours just as I cross the west Florida coast and over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I look to the water below and even through the slight blurring created by my nictitating membranes I can see fish below the surface. I circle in a thermal and watch the fish a mile below me with interest, slowly working out the proper glide slope that'll let me catch one. The fact that it took me a half hour shouldn't bother me, but it did – even though it was the first time I was going to try eating on the wing.
With a wry grin on my face I picked out my fish and noted his uniqueness among the school below, then wheeled out and folded my wings. The water hurled up at me in a dizzying rush, the small breakers of the calm sea flying by as I got closer and closer to the target. At the last minute my wings snap wide on their own and my feet snap into the water, their sharp talons spearing the fish and holding as tight as if I was clamped onto a perch for the might. I didn't have enough speed to gain the altitude needed for the next thermal, so I released the clamps on the bio-electric cells spread around my primary flight muscles and felt my wings flap in a graceful arc, adding much needed altitude.
Just before reaching the thermal I snapped the fish up into my hands and dug in with my razor sharp teeth. Then I hit the thermal and almost lost my meal as my body automatically leaned into the tight, spiralling turn that would take me to the top of the thermal. But I made it to the top of the thermal and tore off another chunk of fishmeat and swallowed without chewing and turned for the next thermal a few miles off. With any luck I'd hit the Mexican coast and maybe make it all the way to Mexico City and a nice tall building to roost on before I needed to stop for sleep.
Another three bites and my stomach was telling me to hold off on any more for a bit. The fish went into the sea more than a mile below and I soared on, silent now that I had finished dictating weeks of visions into the watch. The flock I'd been shadowing was changing to a circling flight, so I looked around, trying to spot what had diverted them. Bobbing silently on the waves was a small fishing boat, the deck oddly empty and the ship too calm to be running well.
I made up my mind then and there to not be a hero and try to help people – after all, I only knew as fact very little. The rest was like an index of topics – I knew they existed but had no real knowledge of them. Among those topics was the full extent of Tar’mil-oa’iuo-ca. I hadn't expected any in depth questions about it because most people just accept that magic works. Images of me spiraling from the sky with a bullet in the chest had me running to the bathroom every time the visions imagery repeated itself.
Maybe I was crazy, but I had also decided that I would try to fly immediately. This was more of a practical thing than curiosity. When designing the costume and the Alytherian people I had to come up with a way that they could have powerful muscles for flapping – something needed for a number of reasons. The solution I had settled on was to give them a bank of muscles that worked solely by electricity generated in special cells spread all over the back.
So I made my way to the roof, taking a simple route that I had picked out using the traveling vision that I had designed as part of the innate magic of the species. As a result a trek that would've taken me an hour or so with numerous backtracks at dead-ends was only five minutes long and the only barrier was a locked door I easily opened. The sky was wide open and I felt tension I hadn't known I carried melt away as I walked towards the edge of the roof and opened my wings to their full 30 foot span. Muscles I hadn't had before the change flexed open and the electric cells that powered the flight muscles triggered a hard flap. It lifted my feet off the roof and I set back down, a smile on my face. I focused on getting the flapping steady, and my wings slowly flapped up and down, arcing to catch the air.
Then I stepped off the roof and let my wings beat as hard as the first one, once, twice, three times and I was gliding for a swirl I could see as the nictitating lids closed to protect my eyes. People on the ground were looking up and pointing as I hit what I realized was a thermal and banked into a tight spiral to gain as much altitude as possible. There was a shift in the feeling on my primaries and I knew that the thermal had carried me as high as it could, so I snapped into level flight and soared out over the city of Orlando. I looked to my watch as the ocean seemed to appear below me and noticed I'd been flying for a half hour. It was a struggle to turn back – I wanted to fly on and see where the winds would take me – but I wasn't ready to leave my old life behind.
When I landed I was greeted by the police, who informed me that the hotel had been quarantined and no one was to leave. I smiled as I told them that no one had informed me before my impromptu flight, but that I would be happy to do as they wished – so long as they contacted my secretary to tell her I'd be off for a few more days. This raised some eyebrows and I handed out more than a few business cards, mostly because there seemed to be this strange idea that the Xanadu convention hadn't drawn anyone with a career.
The call by them wasn't necessary – my secretary wasn't due back for two weeks after the end of the con – I'd given her a paid vacation, and had expected to make stopovers at friends houses on my way home. But I had insisted on it as a matter of policy – owning your own business, being independently wealthy, does make you come to expect certain things. I didn't really expect them at all – these things were just a decent way to make peoples days a bit harder and to bring a little laughter into mine. Okay, I admit it, the money had taken some of my worse attributes and inflated them a thousand fold, turning me from a simple pain in the ass into something much worse.
I turned back and flew over the boat again, dropping down to about 8,000 feet. I flipped on the radio built into my watch and called out. "The is Xanadu Flyer registration Alpha 55 over the gulf. Will the nearest tower respond?"
A few seconds later the radio crackled to life and I tapped the bud into my ear. "…adu Flyer Alpha 55, this is New Orleans Tower. We have your transponder on screen. What can we do for you?"
It took me a few seconds to answer – I hadn't thought I'd flown so far. "New Orleans Tower, I am circling what appears to be a boat dead on the water. No crew is visible on deck. Can you contact the Coast Guard and send them to my position?"
"Roger Xanadu 55, we have the Coast Guard on the line and have given them your information. They request you remain on station and await their arrival."
"Negative New Orleans, I cannot remain on station. I am losing altitude and need to reach a thermal or I will be in the water. I have one in sight, but it will carry me off station. Please inform the Coast Guard of this as well. Xanadu Flyer Alpha 55 out." I was lying about not being able to remain on station. There were a pair of thermals nearby that could keep me flying until nightfall, but I knew that the Coast Guard would just take me into custody. My stay at the hospital hadn't been voluntary – in fact the state of Florida had put me there after the visions overwhelmed me. So I banked and wheeled off for the thermal farther out to sea and left the scene, hoping to make a good distance before the CG showed up.
The waiting was the hard part. Three days in my hotel room would have been no trouble for me had I remained human – the time would have passed by quickly as I worked on the 'sensorium' that the hearing package had been part of. Now that I had the hearing and eyesight of an Alytherian I had no need to push on and add more to the system. So I passed the time by meditating and trying to recall everything I could about the Alytherian culture.
It was helpful that I had brought my notes along, but as the first day passed I realized that English was becoming hard for me to read. The second day confined to the room was when I first noticed my thoughts were now coming in Alytherian. "Sho-pau’u-I’cha." I yelled at the walls, hurling one of the strongest curses of the Alytherian language at whatever had done this to me. Later that day I pulled out my notes and a pad of graphing paper and went back to working on designs for the visual portion of the sensorium – someone would buy it.
Amazingly the design went smoothly – it seems that I had also picked up the electronics knowledge of the Alytherians. I say amazingly because before the event had changed me it took a lot of struggle to piece together exactly how the circuit should be laid out. This time it went smoothly, almost without effort, since I was working with technology several generations below the level of what I had envisioned. It was a work of genius by the time I was finished with it – and all I had to do was get two chips custom fabbed. One was a dedicated processor for pattern matching in visual signals, the principles are known to man, but nobody had bothered to ever try the simple route. The other was just for integrating the inputs into one picture – it would handle all the information masking needed to composite data from the five distinct sensors into one display.
When I looked over the design after the two hour fit of genius I realized that one of the portions would need a complete redesign – nobody had access to, or the technology to create, a Te’il-oui’I’bad – that is, a non-invasive neural link. Oh, sure, I knew the principles they operated on and could describe them in minute detail, but the key components – a set of sub-micron quantum interference detectors and a nanometer band pattern discriminator – were way above what I knew to be the current human level of technology. I was ready to toss the design when my mind tossed up a solution – the non-invasive neural links had come about just within the last thirty years of Alytherian history. Prior to that they had used a simple voice control system.
Another three hours passed as I used up all the graph paper available to sketch out the voice control circuits and half of one of the specialized chips it needed – that now numbered 4, as the control system needed two chips. I picked up the phone and dialed the number they had said would work. It took me more than a few tries but finally someone answered.
"Can I get about three thousand sheets of graph paper and some half-millimeter automatic lead pencils?"
"What are you doing, mapping the building in minute detail?" The voice was tired and bored – my human mind knew and recognized this, but more and more my thoughts were coming in Alytherian.
"Cha’sho-ka!" I shouted into the phone, then caught myself. "Sorry, it's been getting harder to think in English. The answer is 'What I am doing is none of your business!' – Just get me the graph paper."
"Okay, okay… at least it's an easy request to fill." The line went dead. I hung up, as disgusted with myself as I was with the people that had quarantined the hotel. Then I chuckled as it hit me just how applicable the curse was that I'd yelled into the phone. Roughly translated it means 'Your egg was so soft your brains got scrambled by your mothers roosting' – well, seeing as humans don't come from eggs the way the avian Alytherians do it wasn't that far off the mark. He could have had his brains scrambled during birth!
According to the inertial navigation built into my watch I've made it fifteen miles from the fishing trawler. Once more I circled, looked for a fish near the surface and finally dove on my target. While this would be considered a treat by the Alytherians, what remained of my humanity was rebelled by the thought of eating raw fish. But it went down, stayed down and tasted good. More importantly the proteins gave me enough energy to find another of the strange whorls that indicate rising warm air in my vision. The leading edge of my wings hit it and immediately I knew there was something wrong. Instead of an upward boost I was being pushed at the ocean.
"This is Xanadu Flyer 55 declaring an emergency. I am caught in an inversion and going down. I repeat, this is Xanadu Flyer 55 declaring an emergency. My automatic beacon is on and transmitting current location from both inertial nav and GPS. My flight suit will provide some insulation, but I will not be able to survive the waters of the gulf for long."
I stopped transmitting and focused on breaking free of this strange inverted section of air. If anyone had responded to my emergency call I wouldn't know it as the air was whipping past my ears so fast it drowned out even my own voice. Then I took a deep breath and prepared to accept my fate, even if it was to drown in the Gulf. Somewhere deep inside something seemed to shatter and I found myself suddenly flying upwards, Alytherian words of power streaming unbidden from my lips. When my altimeter beeped at ten thousand feet I opened my eyes. The beauty of the strands of power surrounding me was stunning. Belatedly I tapped off my emergency beacon.
"This is Xanadu Flyer 55 reporting that the emergency has passed. Please forward any previous position information so that others can avoid that inversion." A talon-like finger tapped the watch, shutting off all the radio functions except the small bit that remained tuned to the GPS sattelites high overhead. Soon I was going to have to find a place to roost soon, as unlike Alytherians that were born to the race, there were no others to help me if I should nod off in flight, and I couldn't trust my body to continue flying.
I was up the entire night, adding lines upon lines of information to the chip designs. One was already finished, stacked up and marked so it could be used as a base to create the actual etched circuit – at seventy layers of material I wasn't sure there was a chip foundry in the world that could produce it, but at least it was finished. The second chip was half finished – I was laying out the discriminator logic for the core matching logic, when the phone rang.
I lifted the receiver to my head a bit wearily, unused to the long night and the number of visions that had interrupted my worked for up to a half hour at a time. "Sa-ko’pa, Cha ti’et-ni Cha-ar." There was stunned silence on the line for several seconds before I realized I'd answered the phone without using English. "Umm, sorry. This is Charles Lind, what can I do for you?"
"We're ready to process you, Mr. Lind. The quarantine is being lifted one person at a time. Someone will be up to escort you to meet the doctor." It was the same bored voice that had answered when I'd called for more supplies the day before.
I responded without thinking. "Could you have them bring up some food – fish and some other meats, cooked rare if you must." The words stopped as my mind caught up with my mouth. "And nothing that had feathers – that'd be like canabilism now." The stunned silence had returned to the line. Of course I knew from designing the Alytherians that they had no such taboo, but I was still human, and if I could help it I would not become a predator feeding on other denizens of the air.
"Sure thing, Mister Lind. We'll have the food ready and your escort up there in ten minutes." Again the line went dead.
'Don't these wingless monstrosities have any concept of politeness?' I thought as I turned back to the work I'd started more than twelve hours before. It passed unnoticed by me, as my mind was constantly amazed at the data that I was pulling out of it. Of course I'd designed the character Cha-ar as an electronics whiz as well as one of the races Prophet-Magicians, but my own lack of knowledge when it came to complex electronics was grossly apparent as the designs flowed from memories I knew had come with the body. Thirty minutes later there was a knock on the door and a voice announcing the arrival of the food.
That snapped me right out of my near trance while designing the circuits and my wings fluffed as I stood. Two steps took me across the room and I nearly tore the door off it's hinges. I must have looked like someones nightmare since the guy staggered back from the cart as I pulled it into the room and began eating. Time passed in silence, with only the sound of my beak tearing flesh apart marring the calm. Finally the person who had brought the tray of food spoke.
"When you have finished, please follow me. The doctor will need to speak with you before the out processing."
I nodded in response and finished off the fish before turning to the vegetables on the tray. The stranger ones called out to me, but some that I had enjoyed as a human made my stomach flip as I thought about eating them. Soon enough the brussel sprouts, spinach and asparagus disappeared into my mouth and down my throat. When I was certain they were going to stay down – I still wasn't used to not chewing – I looked to the man and grinned. "Lead on MacDuff!" – I'd stolen the phrase from a friend and this seemed like a perfect time to use it.
My body was at its limit, all the muscles that I used to fly burned as lactic acid built up and they started running anaerobically. About three miles away I could see an offshore oil rig – one with enough high beams that I could roost comfortably and have a good launch position for tomorrows flight. I shifted my weight to the left and pulled that wing in a little to enter a shallow bank and correct my course so I would be able to land on the platform. After the experience with my body using magic to save itself a memory had surfaced of a book I had read not to long before the event.
This book started a series, and the main character had had to 'partition' his mind at one point to retain his sanity. A cascade of memories followed and I remembered planning the abilities of the character I'd become. One thing that really stuck out was that I had just barely scratched in a note about how the prophetic powers worked and how the Prophet-Magicians had managed it. The note had disappeared between versions, lost in the shuffle of consolidating the various ideas for the culture. But as I thought about the concept an Alytherian word floated up in my consciousness and I wondered if the concept fully fit with what I remembered of that book.
As my feet latched onto one of the platforms upper cross members I muttered the word to myself several times, trying to fit the concept I almost instinctively knew to the concept of a 'partitioned mind' given in that book I had read so long before. As I closed my eyes to try and sleep the visions my long flight had held off came roaring back with a vengeance and I felt my sanity start to slip away with their return.
"Good morning Mr. Lind, my name is Doctor…"
"Benton Quest?" I answered. The likeness was uncanny – almost unreal. Sitting across from the table from me was a perfect likeness of a classic cartoon character. He responded with a laugh.
"No, my name is Skyler Sands. Although Benton Quest is a good name too… as a matter of fact, that could be my name."
I raised an eyebrow and cocked my head in puzzlement, while I studied him with all my senses – including the magic ones. He was definitely human, but there was something else there too. Before he got the idea that I was uncooperative I decided to say something. "I see, so you were here in costume when Ta-sho-rai’I’cha… umm, all hell broke loose."
It was his turn to be puzzled. He flipped open a binder with my name on the spine and began looking over whatever was inside. "Charles Lind, 27, single. Operator of The Eagles Nest BBS, Alytherian Nights Muck and Atomic Computing…."
His voice disappeared as my third eye flew open and I was hit with the image of a winged horse-like creature barreling into the ground. "Ta-cho’shi’ka vo-sho’I’cha kam-pei’cha cho’shi’ka-to." The words rolled off my tongue as the vision came to a close and another began. This was quickly followed by a third, and then a fourth and a fifth. As the sixth vision in a row finished my third eye snapped shut and I looked around, embarrassed at not being able to control the visions.
"What was that language you were speaking, and what did you say?"
"The language Doctor Qu… Sands, is Alytherian. That is also what race I am. And unless you have a tape recorder running, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that Alytherians are sentient birds of prey with a complex hierarchical culture. My primary lifting muscles – those that help me flap my wings to generate extra lift – are powered by electric stimuli directly from cells similar to those used by the electric eel. I can eat almost anything and, to my misfortune, I decided to come as one of the higher posts in the food chain – a Ti-ojre’ka-so Cha’kai-to’ka – a Prophet Magician. Now I am burdened by the visions with no way to control them… I hadn't thought it important at the time."
I could feel his eyes on me and I wondered if he had gained more than Benton Quests looks. The silence drew out, and the feeling of his eyes boring their way into my Cha-ji, my soul, grew exponentially. After what felt like hours of silence – I'm told it was only a minute or two – I cracked and started laughing. Then a vision from earlier came back to me and I smiled and told the good doctor about one of the possibilities for his death, giving the clues to lead him to it. Then I ran for the door, unable to escape the feeling of being probed, torn apart and the general feeling of being closed in inside the decently sized room.
Rather than fight to retain my sanity I stuffed the memories I cherished, those that I felt made me who I am, into a corner of my mind and locked them away. Then I let the insanity the visions wrought overrun me. After an hour of madness I managed to force my third eye closed, though it hurt to do so. So rather than also suffer the pain, I let it re-open and focused on the word that described the process by which the Alytherians trained in the art manage the visions.
As I focused my mind on separating the visions from the rest of me a peace I hadn't felt since the day of the event enveloped me. Long forgotten memories of childhood came back one by one, calming the paranoia before joining the part of my mind that I had walled off against the insanity. Then came the memories of my teen years, and the paranoia disappeared as a low chuckle escaped me at the sight of my first halting attempts at a serious relationship.
As each memory surfaced and joined the stuff I had walled off in an attempt to escape the insanity the Alytherian word began to make more and more sense. "Ka’cho-ma’I’cha" my voice was whisper light in the winds of the night time gulf. A literal translation would be 'The struggle to find the center' – what it actually means is that the gifts of magic and prophesy will eventually destroy the mind of any who does not fight to stand on the razors edge between sanity and insanity.
Finally came the memories of the event that had changed my life. With them came understanding so profound it shook me to the core of my being. The answer to remaining sane even when the visions are stealing your life away bit by bit isn't some grand secret – it's a simple meditative act. In order to remain sane I had to split my mind, divide my thoughts and memories into two categories and rigorously maintain the divide. While it sounds complex, it is something any sophant can do – just some simple concentration and a bit of discipline.
Luckily the government couldn't find the molecular bond release for my flight-watch, or that would doubtlessly have disappeared into their greedy pockets. They had committed me, my companies control coming to rest on my parents and the few employees that had been with me since the beginning. Furious, angry – these two words can be used to describe my mood at waking from the panic attack to find myself in a hospital ward, but do not even approach my true mood. I wavered from anger so extreme I tried tearing the door off with my powerful muscles to so depressed and melancholy that I was crying.
Then the visions started again, and days disappeared while thousands upon thousands of prophetic phrases filled my mind. When I awoke from the visions for short periods the room would seem smaller, more confined, although marks I had scratched into the walls in Alytherian showed it was the same place. A week passed, and then another – during which I was having visions constantly – only rarely waking to eat and do other things. The paranoia and claustrophobia began to take its toll on me even during my waking moments. When the fourth week had passed I woke to find the door to my room open.
Following instinct and the Alytherian sense of what path led to the open I made it to the roof and launched myself into the air. Five hours later I was circling my parents home and still dictating a month of nearly non-stop prophesies into the memory of my watch. Three more hours passed and I landed, the last of the prophesies falling from my beaked face as my feet touched the ground. There was a rush of motion and I knew I'd made a mistake – the government had staked out the place, waiting for me to show and land.
"Mr. Lind, we are here to escort you back to the hospital. Dr. Sands orered us to let you 'escape', and is waiting to see if you are sane enough to help him translate the prophesies we recorded over the last month."
Unbidden a laugh tore from me, doubling me over and fluffing my wings into a flight ready position with its ferocity. No more than aminute or two had passed, although it felt like an eternity, when I stopped laughing and looked around. "Tell him to get a computer with a wireless link and he can have the prophesies and all related stuff in phoenetic Alytherian strait from the data store in my watch."
This drew a look of stupified wonder from them, so I decided to level with them a bit. "I dictated them while flying – why do you think I circled for three hours? It took me nearly eight hours to recite all the prophesies into my watch."
Still dumbfounded looks. These wingless _things_ were almost ungodly stupid. "This watch is a lot more than a watch – think of it as a supercomputer that is powered by body heat and batteries."
An then I did the unthinkable and gave in to the urge to push these primates towards a certain doom. Prophecies about each I gave, skewing the english I used such that they would each follow a path to their deaths.
"Wotch, ti’ra-ko sha’ki ga’ji-ka Sands." I spoke as my eyes opened and I felt sane on the ground for the first time in a year. My flight-watch beeped as it tuned in a communications satellite and made a telephone call to Dr. Sands office. Even though he was my captor, the one who had imprisoned me, I now fully understood that it was to protect me and the populace.
"Dr. Sands office, how may I direct your call?"
"Put me through to the Doctor. Tell him Mr. Lind is on the phone."
The phone dropped with an audible thud as the receptionist scurried to alert the Doctor as well as whoever was monitoring his lines for a communication for me. I just waited patiently and reviewed the visions I'd had during the night. That they hadn't broken my sleep was a testament to my discovery of the method by which I was able to separate the visions from the rest of my mind.
"Mr. Lind, where are you?" It was the Doctor, or at least someone who could sound like him.
"Nowhere specific. Just called to ask for you to call off the dogs, doc – something happened that has given me a way to control the visions and the madness they brought."
"Really, Mr. Lind? What is this miraculous method that we haven't tried it before?"
"It's called Ka’cho-ma’I’cha… You know enough Alytherian by now to get the basic idea. In english the best way to describe it is as a 'partitioning of the mind'. Basically you keep your ego and id separate from the rest of the mind. The event that made me think of it was earlier… You must have found out about that, where I hit a thermal inversion and almost crashed? Well, the magic you know I possess acted on its own to save me. This reminded me of a book I read prior to the Event in which a young mage is being tortured and he saves his sanity by walling off the things he held dear and sacrificing the rest."
"Interesting point there, Mr. Lind. Unfortunately we did receive that report, but since you shut off your transponder they were unable to track you from there. If you would return to the US and come to my lab outside DC I think we may be able to make you an offer as well as keep an eye on you."
It was my turn to be stunned. With a strong flap I lifted from the oil rig and wheeled off for a nearby thermal. There was much to think about, and I told him so before disconnecting the line. My mind was whirring, wondering what the offer the Quest look-a-like could possibly be. Any monitoring would gladly be accepted – the visions and madness may have been conquered, but as any soldier knows, you can win a battle and still lose the war.
The waters of the Gulf of Mexico changed color as I passed onto the continental shelf east of Texas and turned south. Wotch had long ago figured out the internet and gotten complete, navigation rated maps from it. My confidence in the supercomputing device on my wrist wasn't born just from my Alytherian nature, but from the fact that I had designed it as not being capable of giving false information to its wearer.
Dusk was slowly eating away the light as I landed in front of a hotel in Mexico City and walked in. My first step was to ask the Concierge if the Mexico City branch of the First Bank of the Grand Bahama's was still open, and how to get there. His english was staggeringly bad, so after the first few, halting attempts I smiled. "Ch-ki’ja Wotch. Sho-ka’oui’a Spanish ka-cho’I’ra?"
Wotch beeped a single tone at about 18kHz – his 'affirmative' tone. With that knowledge – that Wotch could indeed translate Spanish into any other language for me – I smiled and used what little spanish I knew. "En Espanol, por favor."
The torrent that followed was repeated in English at least an octave above the normal human hearing range. So I thanked the Concierge and hopped into an elevator, much to his surprise, and headed for the roof. I'd sleep on the roof of the bank tonight and withdraw some living money from one of the accounts I was sure the feds hadn't found. There was too much for me to think about – did I really find a way to remain sane even when on the ground… What is this offer Dr. Sands spoke of, and should I take him up on it… How has my family and business faired since the incident…
All of these questions were bubbling through my mind as I landed on top of the bank and went to sleep. I'd have time tomorrow to think about it all – I planned on moving around frequently and even going so far as to buy some grey or black market weapons to defend myself. While it may be civilized, Mexico is far more third-world than it is first and high-priced kidnappings are a way of life there. Yes, I had chosen a barbaric place to hole up, but for a reason – Mexico is also an extremely religious country and if the Concierges response to my appearance is any indicator, I'm seen as some kind of divine being.
But that's also the reason I want at least one weapon for self-defense. The less polite people of this impoverished nation might kill me just to get at my feathers, which they could claim had come from an Angel. They wouldn't stop at just plucking me, which would hurt quite a lot, but they'd also cut off a hand to get Wotch and that would kill me, if they didn't do it ahead of time to keep me from bringing the Police down on them. And there is also a third reason for me believing a weapon necessary – I was going to be carrying around a lot of cash and using it to pay for everything. There hasn't been a crook born who can resist trying to get at money the easy way.
Sixth months passed before the next chance I got to escape. This time I arranged it entirely and had a different destination in mind – Easter Island. It had enough open space and high places for me to never have to feel the claustrophobia again. The lock slid open under pressure from the art, and I walked out, having scouted the location and pattern of all the orderlies and nurses for the last hour while they thought I was still in the thrall of a vision. Once more I dove from the roof into the air, this time switching off the transponder beacon before I started reciting the prophecies.
I flew for days, grabbing and eating fod on the go – never stopping in any inhabited area and always coosing the upper branches of a large tree or a high cliff with unimpeded space as a place to sleep. The effect of reciting all those prophecies was like releasing all the stress I'd ever had at once. For the first time since the event I was calm and fully in control. Then I made the mistake of stopping in the Rockies – one inversion and I was forced to turn on the transponder and declare an emergency. I was back in my room the next day and a lock someone had spelled against magic was on the door.
Within minutes of being inside the 10x20 room they'd given me the paranoia and claustrophobia returned. That was when I had the visions of Mike, the day orderly who loves to torment me for being a freak and devil because of having been at the event and what it did to me. I laughed inwardly and decided to bide my time – they'd expect an immediate attempt at escape, but give them a few weeks and they'd forget to always keep an eye on me.
Those two weeks flew by in a haze of visions, each slightly blurred because they involved me. But finally the day had arrived when I was going to free myself, and this time I'd go in another direction and head for another target – one easier to reach. I knew I had to find a way to control the visions, to separate their effects off and keep them from happening. My eyes slid shut and I dropped into a trance-like state of meditation, looking for Mike's characteristic signature. I spotted him as he entered the hall and was out of the trance waiting for him.
I smiled as he unlocked the door, having had no choice on which vision to give him, since only one was near term enough in feel. Thanks to my madness it involved his death and I would try to push him into that path, but it was the only good choice. By the time the door swung open I was laughing at the thought of him being killed by one of the defectives he tormented. With the laughter still threatening to break free and ruin my recital I spoke. "I've seen your death, Mike. In twenty minutes you'll die a horrific death. I'd suggest you make arrangements."
I was in and out of the bank in under an hour, with three of the fifty thousand in the account in my pockets. I looked around and finally shrugged and started flapping as I ran down the side of the road. About twenty feet later I was airborne and the motor-like flight muscles were burning under the stress of gaining altitude. The hotel I'd stopped at and launched myself from the previous night was only a block away when I saw the first low-level thermal. My wings stopped and I gracefully glided into a landing about ten feet past the door.
As I stepped through the door I saw the same concierge from the night before staring at me. He started jabbering in machine-gun spanish and my watch kept up, fluidly translating the words then shifting them up into the middle of my extremely large hearing range. When I stepped up to the desk and asked for help in English he called to someone in the room behind the desk. The woman that stepped out could have been a model for the greek myths about the Amazons. She towered over me by at least a foot and had to weigh three times what I did.
Wanting to make a good impression I swallowed and gave the best smile I could. "I'd like to rent a room with a TV that receives international news stations and a net connection. How much for one week?"
This got the conceirges attention and he waved off the giant, muttering something about It's okay now. Then he spoke, not in spanish, but in English – with a Brooklyn accent. "You want a big room or a small one?"
I did my best to look down my beak at him over the stupidity of the question. "Did I really look like the type who could be comfortable in a small room?" I asked myself before answering him. "I need one that is a least 40 feet across the widest point – wall to wall, not corner to corner."
He pulled a key off a hook and set it on the counter, then spun the guest register around. "Presidential suite, sitting room is that large. $1500 for a week."
I pulled the bills from the billfold the bank had given me and laid them on the counter. Then counted out the rest of the money. "I need a pistol – nine millimeter or .45 caliber, a shoulder holster and ammunition for it. Nothing more than six hundred american for it all – I will pay the person through you, wo add a little bit extra as a tip. That fifteen hundred dollars is for you, personally, as a finders fee. And if you happen to know someone who can get me a decent laptop computer I will pay up to two thousand US for that and you will get an additional grand for your trouble."
The first fifteen hundred-dollar notes disappeared into the hotels cash-box and the other fifteen bills disappeared into the concierges pocket. "If you need anything, sir, just pick up the phone and ask for Jorge. The room is on the sixth floor at the end overlooking the street."
I picked up the key and stepped into the elevator, then pushed the button for the sixth floor. Once there I walked into the suite and sat on the floor in the middle of the room, then spread my wings. "Wotch, ti’ra-ko sha’ki to’I’ra Bahamas"
Once more the communications tools built into my watch swung into action and made a sattelite call. This one connected immediately and I was immediately switched to the accounts manager when I identified myself.
"Mr. Rionegra the hotel turned out to be a bit more expensive than I'd thought. Can you deliver another ten-thousand from my account?"
"Of course Mr. Clark. We can have it anywhere in the city within ninety minutes. Theres just a few formalities, of course. We do need to make sure the withdraw is by an authorized person."
The conversation dragged on for ten more minutes as I jumped through the necessary hoops to withdraw such a large amount of money. An hour later there was a knock on the door, and when I opened it I was greeted by the sight of a stunned courier carrying a locked steel case that I could only assume held the money I'd just withdrawn from the bank. I motioned him inside, then handed him what identification I had. "I was at that Xanadu thing a while back – you have heard about that, no?"
He just nodded, took another look at my identification, then set the case on the bed and undid a chain I hadn't seen. The look on his face told me a lot, and I almost instinctively used a forbidden aspect of the art to have him leave without trouble and forget that he'd ever thought of trying to rob me. That single use of the art made me feel sick, as all Alytherians have the same inbred dislike for coercion in any form, and it seems to have carried over through the event.
I settled into a nest made of the blankets from the bed and dropped into a meditative state after locking the door. There was a lot for me to think about, and with how big I had made my entrance into this town, little real time to spend thinking. Whatever agency it was that had overseen my confinement and gave Dr. Quest his status would surely find out where I was soon enough. As my eyes closed and my breathing grew shallow thoughts sprung up around me in their own space, flitting from point to point and triggering other thoughts, which triggered still more in a hall-of-mirrors fashion.
I focused and pulled up the first of many things I needed to think about. The space cleared as I pulled this one item up into my mind and spoke the question to my several a few times – "What did Sands mean about his offer?"
One and then another memory fired off and dragged the thought through a filter of experience, both real and what I had seen in movies and on television. Ideas popped up left and right, some so outlandish that I would have laughed had I not been meditating. Finally one stuck out as being a real possibility – it kept popping back up every time I pushed it off. According to my beleaguered and beaten brain the most likely meaning was he was offering me a job with whatever agency had employed him. I stored the analysis for use later and was in the process of pulling up my next question when a knock on my rooms door pulled me out of the meditative trance.
"Who is it?" I called out as I stood and stretched. Most people think meditation is relaxing, but when it's used for deep thought it can be as demanding as hard labor. I took two steps toward the door, then wrapped my wings around me and pressed against the wall next to it, hoping to avoid any gunfire that might erupt.
"It is Jorge, the Concierge. I have the things you asked for."
That was enough. I opened the door and motioned him inside. He walked in, handed me a bag and sat down. Inside the bag was an aging Colt M1911A1 pistol – a perfect choice since I had requested a forty-five or a nine-mil. I tested the action, then put it back in the bag and pulled out a padded case. It had just the right heft to be a laptop, so I set it down and went into the other room where I'd stashed the money. I pulled out the amount I'd promised him, then grabbed an extra five hundred – he'd worked fast and I try to always reward good work.
When I returned to the room I was greeted with the sight of two men in cheap suits standing on either side of Jorge. The world seemed to stand still, and then one of them reached into his suit for something. I didn't wait to see what it was as I moved, grabbing the bag off the bed and jumping back into the other room. Either Jorge had double crossed me and was making a grab for my money, or the government had found me much faster than I'd thought possible.
Voices and the sounds of motion came through the thin walls clearly, so I tried to move even faster, stuffing as much of the money as I could in various pockets, then dropping the pistol into the empty holster where an Alytherian would have kept his dueling pistol. For the hundredth time I regretted not having made a prop of one before the event. The fit was loose, much looser than I liked, so it quickly disappeared into an overstuffed pocket, along with all the ammunition and spare magazines that would fit. I was at the window, ready to bust through when I heard what I'd hoped to not hear.
"Mr. Lind, this is Agent Decker with the CIA. We are here to take you back to the US."
I slumped and gave up. If the government could find me in less than three days there was nowhere I could run to escape them. So with that I turned and walked back to the door, frowning but having made up my mind. I'd accept Dr. Sands offer, no matter how much I longed for freedom – it was preferable to going back to the hospital. With a light hand and a heavy heart I turned the knob and opened the door. "Come on in, agents, and wait while I unpack my pockets and prepare to go with you."
More than a year has passed since that day in Mexico City. I'm now hard at work in the research division of Project X, pouring out full details of everything I can from the memories I got in the event. A dictionary of Alytherian now exists, and a number of the people working around me have taken to speaking about the more complex subjects in it, since it embodies them all in very precise words. Last week my sensorium went into production for the military as part of an advanced concept proposed by the head of a new company calling itself "The Real Stark Industries".
My story is not an amazing one, rather, it is just simple. I have a life beyond the visions and am almost free of the effects they created. Claustrophobia still hobbles me a bit, but that is genetic – Alytherians are creatures of the sky, not meant for confined spaces. My company is running smoothly, with my old secretary filling the CEO spot and my family doing the hard work of day-to-day administration. I'm no longer bothered by that either – the government pays me well for everything, has provided a rooftop perch and tent-nest where I spend my nights and free time, and is especially thankful for my visions.
My visions are what makes the work of Project X easier and harder than it needs to be. They cover the map, spreading from insignificant events around the world to large scale events that could change the world. But that is why my presence at the project is a secret – if the people knew that the government knew the future as well as it knew the ancient past there would be riots and bedlam. That was a vision I had while in Mexico. At the time it was blurry and unclear, thanks to my involvement in it, but after reviewing the words that I recited into my watch… Lets just say that sometimes the universe throws you a bone.
But sometimes, like it did for anyone in costume at Xanadu, it throws you a curve ball.