Lords of Being
Chapter 25: The First Task, and Dreams of Goo
Our astral doubles are somewhere in the dark, in the desert, standing in front of a stocky black man who’s holding up a card on which there is a VII. He’s looking very tense. “It said in the description that some of you are good with magical machinery. My car is broken and I need to get moving quickly.” He speaks English readily but with a strong accent.
Glass asks, “The car is magical?” Glass normally has multiple instances. He feels that he’s acquired another instance, which is abnormally close to his other instance on this planet.
The stranger replies, “Yes. I do not know details. It is electric hybrid and pulls electricity out of the air.”
Hellgrammite bustles over. On the back of the car is a funnel of wires that goes up 1.5 meters in a helix. The base of the funnel fits into a socket in the trunk of the car, and the funnel is visibly crumpled. As Hellgrammite inspects the damage, the stranger continues, “I need to get to Mochudi really quickly.”
Hellgrammite pulls a tool off his belt and knocks it against the car. It makes no noise whatsoever. These are phantom tools. The stranger asks, “Do you need tools? Are you going to go back and decide? Is that not how this usually works?”
Glass replies, “This is our first time.”
The stranger explains, “The way the Deck work, I consult with the image here, and the image goes off and comes back after the person has decided whether to accept or not. I do not wish to have trouble with the Deck. Are all of you going to work on the car?”
Instead of answering, Glass asks, “Can you tell us something about the origins of the car?”
“Mercedes, brought in and altered by a fellow I hired in South Africa.”
“I was wondering about the type of magic. Human? Something else?”
“Human. Living. Black.”
Hellgrammite opens the trunk which is full of batteries and other components with a definite Mad Science look to them. It turns out that he understands this tech pretty well.
Glass steps back off the road and retrocogs for how the car got busted. He appears to see time reverse as the man gets back into his car which starts down the road backwards. He follows it until the man gets out, and then lets time move forward. He notes that the car is in a back alley and watches as the man who called us is running to the car and being chased by a guy in T shirt and blue jeans. Our summoner jumps into the car, and as he pulls away, his pursuer whacks the back of the car with a garbage can. Interesting green sparks jump about the funnel and down into the car.
Glass and Hellgrammite agree that they’re ready to discuss the matter. All of the Courtiers are suddenly back in Colorado. Or rather, they’ve always been in Colorado. Their Kas were in the desert on the side of the road in Botswana. Their Kas have now returned, and the memories of what happened in Botswana are available.
However, the Knights are now … beside themselves. There are two of each of them. They normally have multiple instances, though usually they’re separated by interstellar distances, and the ka-casting spell appears to have created a new instance for each of them.
Glass (the one who never left Colorado, who has the Swiss army spectacles and the myPhone and will be referred to as ‘Glass1’) observes “You’ll need tools to accomplish the mission.”
“If you have a satchel, I can take it to you.”
“I was going to grab a carrying box and fill it with tools and attempt to go.”
“OK. If the toolbox doesn’t go, I’ll bring it.”
Hellgrammite goes and packs. He feels he’s ready, and ready to go. The Deck's geas casts his Ka back to Botswana. He’s tired, and still holding a toolbox.
Glass2 checks his pockets. He doesn’t have a myPhone. Glass1 has the phone. Glass2 attunes to the myPhone. He takes the phone from Glass1, and the toolbox from Hellgrammite, and returns to the desert. Hellgrammite’s Ka is examining the car there without tools. Glass2 carries the toolbox over to the Ka as the stranger asks, “Will this take long?”
Hellgrammite is absorbed in straightening the wires of the funnel as he mutters, “It shouldn’t…”
The stranger paces back and forth, looking down the highway in the direction he came from.
Glass2 goes to Colorado and takes the Swiss army spectacles. He returns to Africa and looks down the road with the glasses set to “telescope”. He can’t see anything coming. Removing the glasses, he goes to where the client is pacing. “You seem to be expecting the fellow with the trashcan lid to show up.”
“Yes, that is what I fear.”
“Would it be worth anything to you to have a lookout?”
“You wish to work off your geas that way?”
“Or to make a side deal.”
“What would you want for service as a lookout?”
“Make me an offer.”
The stranger shakes his head, “No. I do not have time for this. It could be useful, but I do not want to make myself trouble later on.”
“Very well.” Glass2 stands in the middle of the road and looks both ways. After a bit he picks up a handful of sand and plays with it while he waits. He fashions a business card out of it. It has his contact information, and a VII.
Hellgrammite is finishing up. He’s straightened out the funnel, and is now re-circuiting to B, etc. This was clearly an atmospheric charging device. Working on it was cool.
Glass2 gives the client his card. The stranger looks it over, then comments, “It is solid.”
“Yes. So are the tools he fixed the car with.”
The client looks troubled, but puts the card away. Carefully, since it’s glass.
Hellgrammite steps back and announces, “I’m done now.”
The stranger looks from Glass2 to Hellgrammite. “Very good. I need to try it.” He gets into the car and turns the key. After a moment, he looks out the window and grins, “It is charging. It will be a few minutes before I can move, but it is charging.” There is a faint column of purple luminance rising up from the funnel. It gets fainter as it goes up, and has the definite feel of Mad Science.
Poof. Hellgrammite’s Ka vanishes and the toolbox he was holding fall to the ground. Glass2 picks up some sand, rolls it in his hands, and puts the toolbox in the purified sand. He then checks the road. Nobody’s coming. At least not yet.
Glass2 runs down the road. He slows time and runs back towards the city. Close to the city, he finds a guy on a motorcycle who’s the same one who damaged the car. The motorcycle definitely is not stock. He returns. The Mercedes is still there. Having seen him zip away and then return, the driver is looking at him with respect.
Glass2 asks, “Your assailant. He has a very fancy motorcycle?”
“He’s 15 to 30 minutes away.”
The stranger frowns. “Would you be willing to stay here until I’m ready to leave?”
“That one is a freebie.”
He waits five minutes and tries to leave. The car creeps forward a bit, and then stops. It needs more time to charge.
He waits five more minutes. While he waits, Glass2 is playing with more sand. After a bit he puts down an hourglass.
Five more minutes, and the car works. The violet column is brighter.
Glass2 points at the funnel. “By the way, that makes you much easier to follow.”
“There’s no help for it.” And the stranger leaves for Mochudi in a cloud of dust. We never did ask for his name.
Glass2 remains standing in the middle of the road. After the dust cloud has dissipated, the guy on the motorcycle comes zipping along. It’s got a yellow-green headlight. He sees Glass2 in the middle of the road and comes to a stop. He hops off, and Glass2 sees the motorcycle “settle”. The seat appears to be upholstered in spotted fur. The rider asks, “Are you alright?”
“You look puzzled.”
“I was wondering what you were about.”
“What I was about? I am riding my motorcycle to Mochudi.”
“It was the thing with the garbage can. I was wondering what that was about.”
“If you must know, I was trying to rescue some people.”
“Who?” Behind the rider, Glass2 sees the motorcycle headlight “blink. ”
““If you know about the garbage can, then you know about the car.”
“They were in the car.”
“I only saw one person in the car.”
“Have you ever heard of the ghost trade?”
“I’ve always been more of a physical sort.”
“I’m trying to rescue the ghosts in that car.”
The motorcycle comes up behind Glass2, which is interesting, since it had been behind the rider, who is standing in front of him. Glass2 can hear the “motorcycle” breathing heavily.
“They’re held somehow?”
“I see. What happens to the ghosts if you don’t rescue them?”
“They get sold and drunk”
“That would be bad.”
“You wouldn’t have any way to prove this, would you?”
“Not of myself. If you know someone who can see truth or cast some sort of spell to force it, call them if you are willing to help. If you are not willing to help, I will continue on the road to Mochudi.”
“Are you likely to be known in… ‘different’ circles?”
“My name is Seretse Potoqwani. The man I am after is Saul Mokoti.”
“You’re losing time while you’re sitting here. If you’ll give me a ride to Mochudi, I may be able to help you.”
“If you are willing to believe in a back seat full of ghosts, you’ll be willing to believe that it depends on whether the motorcycle will take you.” Seretse mounts. Glass2 gets on behind him without any trouble. It's not as if Glass2 weighs anything.
As they ride through the night, Glass2 calls Ragnison. “I have run into a couple of people. One of them may have been involved in the ghost trade. The fellow that’s following him claims that he’s trying to rescue the ghosts.”
Ragnison replies, “There is an international trade in ghosts. The story you tell is possible. What did you want to know beyond that?”
“If what he says is true, we helped the bad guy get away. Which I feel bad about. But that contract is now over.”
“Can you give me more information about the situation?”
“I’m on a motorcycle with a man calling himself Seretse Potoqwani. He says that Saul Mokoti is the person we helped. Saul has a car with a purple field that sucks some sort of energy into it. The energy is not all earthly. Seretse claims that there are ghosts in bottles in the back seat of Saul’s car, and that Saul intends to sell them to people who will drink them.”
Ragnison confirms, “Seretse is a wizard in Botswana. He’s known to fight the ghost trade, yes.”
“Probably better to help him.”
“The way you can identify him is… some people describe it as a companion…”
“It’s probably going to be hungry after but that won’t bother you. Everything you’ve described points to him being who he claims to be.”
“Thank you. That was very helpful.” Glass2 hangs up.
After securing the myPhone, Glass2 puts his hand on Seretse’s shoulder and says, “I’m going to speed things up a little. Be careful as you ride and… run.” He slows time. They weave through apparently stopped traffic and quickly catch up to the modified Mercedes. The motorcycle stops behind the car.
Glass2 slows time to a stop and dismounts. As he walks towards the car, he asks, “Is there anything special about the car?”
“It runs on air.”
“No. Not that I know of.”
Glass2 looks in the back seat. There are lots of glass bottles in there, all neatly boxed. Glass2 reaches into the car through the window and opens the door. He pulls out a pile of boxes and puts them on the pavement.
As Glass2 reaches into the car for the next load, Seretse comes over, rips open the first box and starts smashing the bottles on the pavement. A mist rises up from each of the broken bottles. Sometimes, there is a face in the mist.
Pulling out the last box, Glass2 says, “It would have been more subtle to smash the bottles after he drove away.”
Seretse shrugs. “I don’t care about subtle.”
Turning back to the car, Glass2 sees a leopard climb in the open car door. There’s no longer a motorcycle behind the car.
Glass2 walks to the front door, opens it, and reaches in to remove his card from Saul’s jacket pocket. The leopard is sniffing the back of Saul’s neck appreciatively.
“Have you got them all free?”
“I should let the car go, so your friend should get out.”
“I think he can take care of himself.”
Glass2 lets time resume. The car speeds away, then weaves and crashes. There’s another burst of ghosts streaming from the wreckage.
Glass2 turns to Seretse and asks, “Didn’t we get them all?”
“Those were the ones that he had drunk.” Seretse watches the last of the ghosts disappear, then says, “You have been most helpful.”
Si gives him the card he retrieved. A green and yellow glow comes out of the wreckage and coalesces into the leopard.
“We’re specialists, and balance is important.”
“Thank you. You have helped correct a great injustice.”
The leopard comes over and rubs against Seretse, who scratches it behind the ears and asks, “Well are you hungry or not?”
As the leopard pads back towards the wreckage, Glass2 decides it’s time to go.
Back in Colorado, Hellgrammite’s Ka has returned. Neon and Catalyst feel that if they lose concentration, their extra instantiations will cease. Catalyst simply lets his second instantiation go.
Neon2 is momentarily distracted by a sunbeam, “Oh, shiny!” Poof. He’s gone.
Neon1 flickers too. “Oh. I have to stay here.”
Glass1 says, “This is convenient.”
Glass2 appears next to him, “Yes it is.” He hands Hellgramite's tools back to him.
They converse, finishing each other’s sentences.
Both instances say in unison, “Settled.” One of them vanishes. Then returns with a glass figurine, hands it to the other, and disappears again. He’s gone back to Silicon Valley to resume the work that was interrupted by the anomalies and The Disruption.
Glass (whichever instance he is) then explains to the Courtiers what happened and how he re-established the balance.
Mabel frowns. “I was afraid of that.”
Hellgrammite waves his hand. “Meh. Stuff happens.”
At breakfast, Neville relates a dream he had the night before. “It was like an illustration from a work on Hindu mythology: Vishnu, reclining on the coiled, multi-headed naga-rajah, floating on the waters of eternity. A lotus sprouts from his navel. The blossom opens to reveal Brahma, and creation begins.
“In the dream, an opalescent purple stalk grew out of my navel. It opened into a huge, flat, purple blossom, with eight lobes or petals. It was bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the house.
“It made me think of the massive radio telescope at Aricebo, searching for extraterrestrial life, sending out booming radio messages. Which lead me to think of moths coming to nocturnal flowers.
“Then I woke up.”
Zabeth observes, “A small bit of undigested food could cause that.”
Rosamund suggests, “Calcium and Magnesium before bed would prevent this.”
Zabeth grins wickedly, “He could be pregnant.”
Mabel tries to pull the conversation back on track, “I think he’s symbolically aware of Asiras who is searching for the rest of himself across the universe.”
Zabeth asks, “Did you hear any music.”
Neville considers, and then replies, “I don’t recall music”
Rosamond asks, “Have we heard anything about the rest of the fragments?”
Catalyst offers, “Consider how large the universe is.”
Zabeth muses, “I wonder if he can pull himself together.” She considers the amount of Asiras that’s in Neville -- about 1/16 of the total. “There were 8 petals in the dream. I wonder if that’s a hint of how many major pieces are out there.”
Rosamund considers Catalyst’s response, “Asiras could be directing where he falls so that he falls into ‘hands’ instead of somewhere he’d never be found. Like the spaces between the stars, where he could float forever. My guess is that every bit of him would go somewhere he was familiar with.”
Zabeth suggests, “Or safe. Which could be so remote that he’ll collect himself later on. I wonder if we could consult with him.”
Rosamund asks, “Neville, have you been trying to talk to Asiras?”
“Has he answered?”
“He basically told me what happened. There was an explosion, and he was fragmented.”
“So he is communicating with you,” she muses. “Neville, what would you recommend asking him next?”
“I haven’t come up with anything else, otherwise I would have done it already.”
“Would you be willing to ask something for us?”
Zabeth suggests, “How about if you go to sleep and think about where all this happened and how many pieces there are.”
Rosamund adds, “What we’d want to do is gather together the pieces of him.”
Hellgrammite says, “We may not need to.”
Rosamund replies, “He may already be busy trying to find himself.” She turns to Neville, “Can you ask if there’s something we can do?”
Neville shrugs, “I could try.”
While Neville returns to his room to sleep, Glass goes out and sits on some sand. He focuses on finding anything that feels like Asiras. Anywhere. And he covers a lot of anywhere.
Neville quickly falls asleep with the Courtier’s questions in mind, and has another dream, which he relates to the group at lunch:
“I was standing outside Longhorn's ranch house, under a clear, starry sky. I saw a green shooting star. Then there was an orange one, then a blue one, then a red one, and soon there is a polychromatic meteor shower. I began to feel alarmed.
“Wads of iridescent goo plopped down around me. Multicolored streamers came coiling down, like ropes dropped from some invisible height. They melted on contact with the ground.
“The puddles of glittering goo rose up on pseudopods and approached me. I tried to run away, but it was like some sort of cartoon. My legs moved, but I didn’t make any progress. I heard my mother’s voice telling me ‘Don’t to touch those things; you don't know where they've been!’ I had a very good answer for her, but as I said it, I noticed that I couldn't hear what I said.
“Then I woke up.”
Rosamund considers the tale, and then says, “So he’s collecting himself.”
Mabel notes, “Except that it’s distressing in some way.”
Rosamund continues, “And they’re all going to come here.”
Mabel asks, “Did you get the feeling that they were all from the same place or that they were different?”
Neville replies, “If it was all part of Asiras, I don’t think I would have been alarmed.”
Rosamund asks, “How many where there?”
Neville considers. “Many. More than four. It was a dream.”
Zabeth asks, “I’m wondering if the multiple colors are part of Asiras, or if you were worried about having all of that stuff in you.”
Rosamund replies, “You could ask him.” She turns to Neville, “What were you scared of?”
Neville says, “I could try to ask.”
Rosamund probes some more, “And yourself? Why were you afraid?”
Neville shudders, “It was like an awful ‘50s Sci-Fi movie. All these blobs coming at me from everywhere! And I couldn’t do anything to escape them.”
Mabel says, “For now it’s safest to assume that its things coming for Asiras and that we should do something about it.”
Zabeth notes, “I wouldn’t want to harm portions of Asiras.”
Rosamund cautions, “I would assume that Neville had a dream. Let’s not interpret too much into this. I don’t know if he’d talk to any of us or if he’s just attuned to you.”
Glass is still sitting out in the sand, contemplating whether there are any fragments of Asiras he can sense. He doesn’t sense any bits of Asiras within sense-shot. As he sits there contemplating, it occurs to him that there’s rather more of the fragment than when he saw it in York. In fact, it wouldn’t fit in the Tupperware container that Neville had it in originally. Either Asiras is regenerating, or he’s pulling other bits of himself to Neville.
Last Updated: Dec 11, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved