Adventures in Otherwhen
Tales of Pulp Fantastique
(Hairy Khetar and the Philosophers’ Stones)
Teel James Glenn
Copyright 2012 By Teel James Glenn, all rights reserved.
No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.
To Leslie J who understands how one minute can change a whole future.
Once more I have to acknowledge the unfailing support of Janis, Liz and my precious Giulie who encourage and support without reservation.
If I could save time in a bottle… a stitch in time saves nine… its later now than it’s ever been before…
What is that thing that we all want most yet don’t realize is important until we don’t have enough of it? Time!
We all know it when we lose it or when it’s running out, but what is time?
Some theories postulate that we live in a multiverse, an infinite number of realities moving forward in a stream of fleeting time.
That stream has currents and eddies and stagnant pools. And what happens when something occurs and the stream diverges to become two separate continuities moving forward from that one event?
What would the world be if Adolph Hitler died in prison in 1924 or if he served out his full sentence and-reformed? Or if Mahatma Gandhi continued to practice law in South Africa and not become involved in political activism?
What if the American Revolution had failed or the Zulu nation had defeated England and drove them from Africa?
If the magick were real? If Edison had invented steambots? If some famous holiday play had basis in fact? The present we know is made up of events stacked one upon another like a game of Jenga and any disruption of one of those events would change the present we live in or the future that might have been.
These new fragments are the Pulp Fantastique Worlds of Otherwhen.
In some of these other worlds Gutenberg might have taken the week off and this book might not even exist!
So thank your lucky stars these words are flowing out to you. Now sit back and let’s play the ultimate game of ‘What if?”
Teel James Glenn
Union City NJ
April 7, 2012
I rode out of the entrance of the singularity cave on Old Paint and just barely avoided having my atoms disrupted by the T.I.M.E. guard’s drawn weapons before I was able to flash my smile and my credentials. The apartment building-sized chunk of rock that housed the cleft of the portal was surrounded by a complex of power generators and armed guards who were all pointing their weapons at me.
“For the Factor’s Sake, Commander Lawless,” one of the guards yelled at me, “Will you give us warning before you trans-locate? This is the third time in a row I’ve almost sent you to prime matter!”
“And they say third time is the charm!” I said as I galloped by on my eight-legged steed though I did feel my blood pressure drop when they holstered their disruptors.
I rode the Slepnir toward the stable we agents used then hopped off at the entrance. The stable was carved out of natural caves in the native bedrock of the mountains that surrounded the headquarters valley. The caves housed a variety of animals that gave an idea of how widespread the corps was. There were horses, winged and un, Mannkopf Mounts, centaurs, ‘slippers’ like Slepnirs, and many other animals that would have been called mythological back home in Houston.
The Slepnir began to toss his head and whinny as we approached his stall, as he knew he was due for a rubdown and a good meal. His long, beak-like muzzle pushed on my shoulder to hustle me along and it made me laugh.
“I know boy, I said, “I will make sure you’re okay before I go and see the little boss; a Time Cop’s work is never done!” I was hoping he’d get a good long rest, and indeed hoped I would as well; I was beat. I’d had more patrols in a row than anyone I knew of and it was beginning to make me feel off my game and out of shape. I was beginning to look like too many old beat cops from back on Mother Earth.
Most of us called ourselves Time Cops though our technical name was Corporal Readjustment Alternity Police. Yeah-- C.R.A. P. so you can see why we preferred Time Cops.
Once my mount was bedded down and fed I headed across the courtyard to the massive stone building that housed the central point of the multiverse policing organization I belonged to; Temporal Inter Multiverse Exchange. It looked like a broad squat castle with an array of antenna jutting out from the sides of it, a testament to the retrofitting of the old Odhinnian stronghold we had taken over.
The sky was that crimson translucence that I had come to think of as normal since I became a member of the corps. It was nothing like the red evening skies over Texas; it was an all day, primary color red but somehow soothing after my trips around the myriad worlds I worked on.
Inside, the corridors were wide and the doorways high, another reminder that the Odhinns had been a tall race before the great rift war had wiped them out. Their outposts in much of the Multiverse had been co-opted for T.I.M.E. Headquarters.
“Hey, Lucifer!” A voice from what looked like a squid wearing sunglasses and a silvery gown called to me from behind the Director’s reception desk. “How did things go with the Kentorra problem?”
“Everybody was happy and smiling when I jumped to the Alternity, Ganrra” I said, “Well, they would have been if the Kentorra had mouths. In any case we got the Council returned to power and got the time jumper back to his own continuity.”
“The boss is turning blue waiting on you,” she said.
“I had to put Old Paint to bed.”
“You spoil that nag, Lucifer.” She said. She waved a tentacle toward the heavy wooden door to the Director’s office. “And you will spend a hundred years mucking out his stall if you don’t put on a game face and get in there.”
I blew her a kiss and strode to the wide heavy wooden doors of the Director’s office. It had been one of the Odhinn lord’s meeting chambers and was still appointed for one of the massive ancient race. A sideboard and table were off to my right and several chairs set around the slate floored room were large for even my six foot six frame. Across the room was the equally large desk and the stone chair on which was seated the Director-general of T.I.M.E.: Kunjar Neh Zorl.
He was what UFO buffs used to call ‘grays’ on my Earth-prime, a three-foot frail looking humanoid with a high domed hairless head and wide lidless eyes. His mouth was small and he had an old Meerschaum pipe clenched in his tiny teeth.
The boss was seated on a small chair-within-a-chair so that he was at desk height. He had a tri-v desk cube and was accessing an interspace file when I approached the desk.
Standing next to the desk was another of the Time Cops, also only about three feet tall, but he was nothing like the boss. His name was Khetar Wohl and on Earth we would have called him a chimpanzee. He wore dark grey overalls and a blue cap that looked most like a baseball cap. Perched on his face were wire-rimmed spectacles. His feet with his opposable big toes were bare and his toes were painted a bright red.
When he saw me enter he touched the brim of his hat, rolled back his lips and bared his teeth in his version of a smile.
“Hey, Lucy,” he said. “How’s tricks?” We had worked together on my Earth a couple of times and the little simian had seen too many episodes of Xena, Warrior Princess. He would never let me forget the lead actress and I had the same last name.
“Knock it off, Cheetah or I’ll have Tarzan shave your back.”
“Nice of you to get around to visiting me, Lawless,” Kunjar Neh Zorl said without looking up. His voice was deep and might have belonged to a three hundred pound opera singer.
“I was, uh taking care of--“
“I know,” he said, “Your mount. But the stable staff are perfectly capable of grooming an inter-dimensional ‘slipper. My standing orders are when an agent returns they come right to my office.”
“Uh-I know sir, but--“
“No but, Mister Lawless,” He said his voice booming at me like a physical slap. “You have been here long enough to know we need discipline; we are the fixed point in the madness of the multiverse and if we can’t hold ourselves to a higher standard than we are finished.”
I stood at attention and tried not to wince; I had gotten two write-ups in the last quarter year and another one would mean my pay docked. I was saving for little place outside Austin so I really didn’t need the black mark.
“Yes, Sir, “I snapped, “It won’t happen again.”
“I know it won’t,” he said then his fleshless lips moved into the ghost of a smile. “How is Old Paint; he was wounded in that Fak’n incursion wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he took a war lance in the flank, but he’s doing fine.”
“Good.” He jumped down off his chair and walked around the massive desk to stand next to Khetar and I with his hands on his slender hips. “Now as to why I needed you both here; I have something of an emergency developing and I want you on it.”
“Emergency?” The little guy didn’t use that term very often and the way he said it sent a chill up my spine. Me and the monkey looked at each other.
“Aren’t there any other agents available?” I said. I don’t turn down much but I was beat after three hard missions in a row with almost no down time. I had done forty-nine missions, which meant the negative odds were starting to stack up against my coming back from one. Kort had died on his forty-eighth.
“There are,” he said, “but you two are the best for this, I think. Come with me.” He turned and led me across the room to a sliding door into the situation room that was the hub of T.I.M.E.
It was large room that had been a feasting hall when the castle was built but was now lined with multiverse monitors and banks of consoles ‘manned’ by main staff of the corps. Most life forms compatible with oxygen atmospheres were represented and the buzz of the place was like a beehive or a Wall Street stock exchange trading floor.
The boss led us to a raised platform in one corner where a three dimensional map of the multiverse was projected showing the connecting points like the cave outside that we called Philosophers’ Stones.
The Stones were of material unique in the entire multiverse, one that no one could pinpoint an origin for or had ever been able to synthesize. No scientist had been able to figure out how they worked except that by applying power to any of the sizable chunks so far located the rocks opened a portal between universes.
All the Stones that had been discovered were several tons in weight and defied all attempts to break off even a small sample for study. The best guess of the science boys was that they were of some world that had exploded when the multiverse was formed and been slingshoted through all levels and layers of reality to land on many of the worlds as meteors.
For most of history the portals had opened randomly in many worlds—caused by the energy of explosions or lightning strikes. That had been how most ‘slips’ happened; ghosts, angels, many of that sort of thing. There were also full crossovers where technology or worse timeline altering slips like someone’s double had come through a ‘Stone. That can really mess things up.
Anyway, once somebody on ‘Verse 91 figured out how to regulate the energy to one of the Stones and therefore control where a traveler would end up, bad things—‘incidents’ we called them-- began to accelerate. Several Universes realized that to maintain the integrity of all reality the T.I.M.E. was formed. Not long after that the C.R.A.P. was formed to be T.I.M.E.’s active arm.
That was how I came to be a Time Cop-- my double slipped through and tried to take me out to absorb my multiverse energy. Darn near did it too save for a great old cop named Sven Kort. He brought me into the service and opened my eyes to what the whole wide multiverse was all about.
“Are you listening to me, Lawless?” Kunjar Neh Zorl’s voice snapped me out of my musings. Khetar coughed to cover a laugh.
“With you, sir.” I said, “You were saying that the alarm came in from Universe 7; my universe that I think of as Earth Prime.”
“Yes,” he said, “and that is why I think you are the best for it.” He pulled up a representation of my home, good old Terra Firma. Then he waved his long fingered hand and the view enlarged to show a section of the North American Continent.
“In this communal gathering place—uh-- city you would say,” the boss said, “Is a meeting of a group called S.W.AM.I.”
“S.W.A.M.I.?” Khetar asked.
“Sorcerers, Wizards and Magicians International.” I said, “I belonged when I was in college. They are practitioners of stage illusion; entertainers. I once went to their annual meeting.”
“This is one such meeting,” the boss said.
“I don’t see how this is a Time Cop problem?” I said, “Besides, I thought there were only two Stones on my Earth; in South America and in Greenland?”
The Boss removed the pipe from his mouth and did his version of glaring at me (he had no brows to knit). “The problem is, Lawless that we have been tracing an alternity leak to that convention; someone is using a Philosophers’ Stone in violation of all the pacts. It has been detected on that plane previously but we thought it an anomaly in our instruments, until it began to happen frequently in the last Solar year. It has accelerated in the past two days at this event.”
“Not the mobile singularity?” I asked. It was the boogeyman of boogeymen; a Philosophers’ Stone that could be transported through the portal of other Stones and used to selectively alter the realities it traveled to. “That’s only a theory.” I finished, “Like balancing a checkbook or girls as Platonic Friends.”
“It was until these readings,” he said waving a hand at the monitor screens around us. “If the estimates of the energy levels are correct the entire situation could reach a critical point in a matter of days; it appears as if whomever has this device is perfecting it and we know they have moved it several times on this continent in the last year. Now we stand on the edge of a vast cliff; the very real possibility that someone could literally turn your home universe inside out.”
“Wow,” I said, “That would suck on a very cosmic level.”
If my little gray boss could have given me a hairy eyeball at that moment he would have, so he differed to Khetar who was eminently qualified.
“I hate these monkey suits,” I said as Khetar finished tying my bow tie.
“Watch that speciesism,” he said. “It could be worse; you might have to wear this.” He spread his long arms to show off the little red tuxedo he was wearing as his disguise as “Jojo the Magic Chimp.”
The two of us were in a hotel room in Sugarland Texas preparing for our premier performance at the S.W.A.M.I. conference. It was a requirement that each attendee perform in the cabaret by way of introducing themselves on Friday night. It was an informal setting but we had worked out an act using a variation of an act we had done at the last corps holiday party.
“You’re just upset because I get top billing in “Lawless and Jojo.”
He shook his head and made that laughing sound chimps on Earth make, but he added a distinct “Bullshit!” under his breath.
“It’s your planet, Sapien,” he said, “If you came to Chektana I’d be leading you around on a leash.”
“I could have that done here for good money in the right section of Houston,” I said, “and have a heck of a lot more fun.”
My hairy partner hopped off the dresser and scampered over to the bed where he reclined with his hands behind his head, peeled a banana with his feet then savored it while I finished dressing.
I checked myself out in the mirror and was not to very much impressed: two meters of a former Texas Ranger with a square jaw, broad chest and short cropped auburn hair. I was showing the wear and tear of the last bunch of missions.
I had an outdoorsman’s squint lines around my blue eyes and a nose that had been broken twice, once in college on the football field and once in a bar fight in Dallas just before I joined the Time Cops.
I looked as out of place in the tuxedo as Khetar would have in a ballerina’s tutu and felt about as damn silly.
“I am not any threat to Mandrake, that is for sure,” I said aloud.
“I think of you more as a very butch Fay Wray,” Khetar said.
I shot him a dirty look and then grabbed my top hat. ‘Okay, Jojo,” I said, “Button up and let’s go make our premiere and farewell performance.”
He hopped off the bed and grabbed his own miniature top hat while I grabbed the suitcase with our ‘act’ in it. The two of us headed out of the room and along the corridor to the elevator.
A couple in evening finery was waiting for the lift car. They both looked at us with curious expressions. The woman giggled; I couldn’t be sure if it was at me or Khetar.
The hairy little lawman looked up at me with his soulful eyes and pointed at the button.
“Yes,” I said with a long-suffering tone, “You can push the button.”
“How darling,” the woman said. “He’s almost human!”
“Oh, please don’t insult me.” Khetar said.
The woman almost had a heart attack and the man started like a cartoon double take.
I laughed and then covered quickly. “May I introduce Lawless and Jojo; magic ventriloquists!” I took a little bow and Khetar did the same.
Then the couple laughed with us as we got onto the elevator with them and rode down to the ballroom floor.
When he reached the ground floor my fuzzy compatriot and I moved into the cabaret where we picked up our name badges at the door. We then went to the table we had been assigned and sat down.
The two of us created quite a stir as we moved across the room but fortunately the hairball resisted the urge to do a soliloquy for the crowd.
“Will you quit it with stunts like that,” I whispered when we were seated, “or you’ll end up like Roddy McDowall in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”
Oh if little monkey eyes could kill!
He settled in and we surveyed the room for potential suspects who might have twenty tons of space warping rock in their garage. It wasn’t going to be easy and personally, I didn’t think it made any sense; why would somebody who had the ability to do what that thing could do be at a cabaret for stage illusionists in a suburb of Houston?
And since none of the science guys could tell us how it was possible to move one of the Philosophers’ Stones in the first place I had a feeling we were getting into show business for no good reason. Still, there was a ticking clock in the mind of the scientists; there was a threshold of energy release with portals, a point where theoretically the atmosphere of a globe could combust. Yes, literally go up in smoke. Global warming, so the little eggheads back at T.I.M.E. headquarters said, had been caused by the frequency this rogue portal had been used.
Khetar got bored real quick with not being able to talk--did I mention he was normally a chatterbox? He started to get restless in the chair, rocking back and forth and looking around, no doubt for some way to create trouble for me. I got us both glasses of soda in hopes that he wouldn’t talk while sipping Sprite.
“I want a straw,” he said when the waitress brought the drinks. She was good, she didn’t drop the tray of drinks she held.
“The little wuss says the ice hurts his teeth.” I said.
When she left I leaned in to him. “Knock it off,” I said, “If it wouldn’t get the ASPCA on my ass I’d beat you into a rug you right here; keep the talking only for the act, okay?”
He played dumb and just stared across the room.
There were three-dozen people in the room, all of them wearing name badges that showed they were members of SWAMI. We had ‘associate member’ badges on, as the corps had sent an agent down the timeline to ‘retro-register’ us. It would make it appear we had been members for two years with my old membership being revived.
“I just don’t see how we are going to find a ten ton needle in this hocus pocus haystack,” I said. “Any ideas, Jojo?”
“That is cute!” A voice from behind me made me swivel my head. Standing there was a gorgeous bombshell of a woman; long white blonde hair cut with bangs that stopped just above two jade green eyes. Her curvaceous body was shrink-wrapped into a dark green sleeveless gown. “I know I talk to my cat for suggestions all the time.”
Khetar jumped off his chair and waddled over to her, holding his arms up to her. She was stunned for a second then her pretty features glowed into a smile and she held her own arms out to the hairy reprobate.
He clamored up to hug her and she giggled as he nestled his head against her ample bosom. “He is the cutest thing.”
Oh he was cute all right, so cute I wanted to brain him with a shovel. The little booger thought human female breasts were the funniest thing he had ever seen and never missed chance to grab a free ride on any breasty babe who he could con. He had gotten me in bar fights twice because he was a primordial pervert.
“Oh yes,” I said with a smile. “Jojo is just a little sweetheart.” I flashed a brittle smile and pointed to his chair. The simian sap made a raspberry noise but jumped off her and went back to sip on his soda as if it were a banana daiquiri.
“Oh don’t be cross with him,” she said as she stepped up to stand by me. I rose to my feet and realized I wasn’t that much taller than her. With her high heels she was almost six feet.
“I’m Lucifer,” I said extending my hand.
“Then we should get along,” she said, “I’m Lilith St. Cloud. I’m the co-chair of the convention and I wanted to welcome you; and well, I confess I wanted to meet your partner.”
Khetar turned to look at her when she referred to him, did his best human smile, then blew her a kiss.
“Oh he’s wonderful.” She said, “I’ll stop by later.” She went off to the next table and I watched her slink away wishing I was climbing on her like the Chektanan had.
“Put your eyes back in your head, Lucy,” Khetar whispered. “There are laws, you know.”
“I don’t care if there are witnesses,” I said, “I will use a cattle prod on you; PETA be damned!”
“Hello there,” another voice caused me to turn around. “I hope both of you are having a good time here at the convention so far.” The voice was from a short, round fellow in an old style tailcoat and silver spade beard who was smiling at me. He had the whole Mandrake look going for him all the way to a monocle, spats and a cane with a jade handle carved into the shape of dragon. On him it worked.
“I’m Mandrill Hawthorne,” he said as he extended his gloved hand to me. “I’m the chairman of the convention and I had to introduce myself Mister--“He looked at my badge, “ Lawless.”
“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” I said.
“I don’t recall you at any of the chapter meetings around the country; I try to visit any local’s when I work in the area.”
“We’ve been working in South Africa and Dubai on the resort circuit,” I said. “Getting the bugs out of the act.”
“Yes,” the old magician said, “it is all about polishing these days.”
He walked over to stand by the table and looked down at Khetar who took his own glasses out of his pocket and put them on to look up at him. This made the bearded man laugh.
“Oh I can’t wait to see your act,” he said, “Just what this stodgy group needs.” He moved on to the next table and Khetar leaned over to me to whisper.
“I think I want to throw Poo at him.”
“Oh shut up,” I said. “You’re the one who carries hand sanitizer all the time.”
“I’ll wear gloves.” He said. He went back to pouting and sipping his soda while the cabaret acts began.
It was pretty standard stuff; card tricks, handcuffs, coin manipulation, but all done exceptionally well by masters of the art. When I used to do sleight of hand stuff to pay my way through college at kids parties I studied with an old magician who said “I can teach you the skill that makes the trick work, but it is how well you present it that turns it into magic!” and these guys and gals were making it all magical.
After three performers (one of whom used pigeons--a delicacy on Chektana so I could see my partner drool and I worried for a second that I might have to grab him) Lilith came on stage and the house went quiet.
She was even more stunning in the stage lights. With a recording of the Blue Danube playing in the background she rolled a black frame roughly the shape and size of an old phone booth into center stage. She smiled and waved at the audience then proceeded to walk through the booth, emerging on the other side in a full pants suit.
She smiled at the audience again and feigned surprise. She re-entered to come out in an eye blink in a different gown with a completely different hairstyle.
She clapped her hands together and the music tempo increased from waltz to a rumba. She danced through the box to come out in a cowgirl outfit and back again and so on with increasing rapidity until she was all but running through the black box from side to side. Each time she came out was dressed in a completely different outfit with a different hairstyle and make up.
It was a great take on a an old vaudeville act, one that took it to a whole new level when as a finish she ran into the box, there was a puff of smoke and she was suddenly standing there in old fashioned silk bloomers and bodice.
Even Khetar rolled back to clap with his feet.
Man, how do you follow an act like that? I pitied whoever had to follow her.
Then our names were called and me and the Monkeyshines McGurk were up.
Would have been a good time for an Alternity to open up and swallow me, but I had no such luck.
You know, I’ve been fired at by beings that rip the soul from your body and devour all your alternate selves but doing sleight-of-hand magic tricks in front of a bunch of master stage magicians gave me worse butterflies.
Our act was actually pretty simple; I came on stage and did some take-away magic sleights’ and few card tricks (pretty clean but not up to the amazing level of those that had come before) but with a little twist that dressed the whole thing up to grade A level: Khetar did all the talking.
As far as the audience was concerned they were watching a great world-class ventriloquist and a brilliantly trained chimp. The chimp chump did a series of lame jokes that set up the simple tricks that I executed and we traded punch lines like Crosby and Hope.
As far as Khetar was concerned I was sure Darwin was wrong; I may have been descended from an ape but the un-plucked primate was all ham. The hairy motor mouth went off script three lines into the show and I had to work twice as hard to keep up with his adlibs.
When I did my final trick we did a switcheroo with me giving the punch-line to a joke and him doing a coin vanish trick.
The house came to their feet and whistled and clapped.
A pair of stars were born!
“I want top billing when we do Jimmy Fallon,” He whispered to me as we left the stage. “And I want to squeeze those boobies on the quick change artist.”
“You can have the billing,” I said as we sat down, “But I get the boobies first!” and it looked like I just might because Lilith, now with dark hair but once again in her slinky gown, came over to the table. I never felt more dumpy; like I was a freakin’ draught horse and she was some first class thoroughbred.
“You were wonderful!” she said as she slid into the empty chair at the table. “Best animal act I’ve ever seen; I never once saw a cue to him.”
I knew she wasn’t going to compliment my slight work but it still deflated my sails a bit. The little fur ball just sipped his soda, ogled her boobs and laughed.
“Thank you,” I said trying to appear humble instead of ashamed about my ‘fake’ talent. “You were pretty amazing as well; I find it magical just to think about a woman who could dress for dinner in less time than it takes to make reservations.”
“Wait till you see what I wear to the masquerade tomorrow night,” she said. “The theme is ‘what animal are you’? Do you know what you’re wearing?”
“I’m going as him,” Khetar said. “I want to scare the neighborhood.” He spoke without moving his lips (he could do ventriloquism) while he apparently kept drinking. Lilith burst out laughing.
“You are wonderful.” She giggled. “We must talk some more after the show;”
The furry pervert was eyeing her with even more intent than I had so I decided we had better call it a night after the shows. “I have to get junior to bed after the curtain drops,” I said to her, “You can see he needs his beauty sleep; but how about lunch?”
“That would be great,” she said, “There’s a two hour gap between the lectures tomorrow.”
So the three of us sat back and watched the rest of the performers with me dividing my attention between the show, the slinky sorceress and monitoring conduct of the simian pervert.
Give me strength!
* * * *
When we got back to the room Khetar and I opened up the mini-bar and had a scotch and water. While we had our nightcap we tried to puzzle out the events of the evening.
I powered up the Inter-plane communicator and sent a burst recording through the Greenland Stone to report what we had found so far, which was nothing. I got back a short dark message that simply said: Alternity has been in use, planet atmosphere build up dangerous. Find it!”
Sure, just that easy. Find it!
“I still don’t see how we are going to figure this out,” I said with disgust. I was stretched out on the bed while he was resting in an open dresser drawer that had bedding in it—he preferred the ‘nest-like’ size of it. We both had drinks in our hands.
“I know,” Khetar agreed, “Without a mobile alternity detector how the heck to we detect a mobile alternity? Smell it out?”
“Hard to do with you stinking up the place,” I said with a sneer. He stuck his tongue out at me.
“I don’t know,” he said, “You were shooting out pheromones all over the place with that female clothes changer.”
“Go to sleep, buddy,” I said with no retort to that. “We have to do a lot of nosing around tomorrow; every day the chances of somebody using the P-Stone to mess things up get worse.” I tried to calm myself down enough to sleep; not an easy thing with images of Lilith slithering through my thoughts.
”So what are you going to dress up as for the costume thing tomorrow?” Khetar asked after a bit.
“What do I care?” I said, “I hate to dress up.”
“I love it,” he said, “I dyed my hair blond once for a D’buka celebration, and spiked it all out like your earth David Bowie.”
“Ugh,” I said with that image driving Lilith’s shape out of my head, “You have to stop watching human TV shows: it’s messing with your mind.”
“Sure made a mess of yours,” he said rolling over in the draw and pulling the covers on himself. “Good night, John boy”
I turned out the light trying to hold regain the image of Lilith in her period bloomers but had a hard time trying to get the vision of a blond Khetar descending on a giant spider on a stage as Ziggy Stardust out of my head. As I dropped off to an uneasy sleep I thought, “ Damn monkey!
* * * *
Morning came up like thunder with the sound of the shower going full blast and Khetar singing “Bingo Bango Bongo I don’t want to leave the Congo,” at the top of his hairy primate lungs. Baritone with a vibrato.
“Hurry up in there,” I opened the door and called into the bathroom, “I have to make it down to the first seminar to scope out all the whacky wizards and look for errant Philosophers’ Stones.”
When he just burped in response I added, “And clean the damn drain you Kashmir Caruso!”
Fifteen minutes later I had my own shower done and was dressed casually to head down to the first seminar of the day. Khetar was staying behind.
“Now be careful about the door,” I said, “I’ll put the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door but don’t answer it if someone knocks: we can’t have our cover blown by your need to sing dirty limericks to the house maids.”
“Easy for you to say,” Khetar said, “I’ll be cooped up in here all day.”
“You have cable TV and a mini-bar,” I said, “I’ll bring you lunch in the middle of the day. Just don’t go swinging on any chandeliers.” He made a raspberry at me and waved.
“Put the chain on.” I said as I opened the door.
“I don’t remember mommy being so hairless,” he said as I went out.
I waited till I heard him put the chain on.
The first seminar of the day was by the convention chair, Mandrill Hawthorne and it was both a welcome speech talking about the last year’s development of the SWAMI organization and a lecture on the nature of stage illusion. For a stage performer he was a terrible speaker.
While he droned on, I tried to assess all the fellow SWAMI attendees. They were a mixed bunch, mostly in their late thirties or older with men outnumbering women. All had a look about them of another time than twenty-first century Texas; more nineteenth century and with a touch of the exotic.
The night before, with everyone in tuxedoes, their standing apart from your average K-mart crowd had not been so apparent. In the light of the morning I felt that I had indeed found a place where an alternity might find some takers. I just had no idea where.
I made smiling eye contact with many of them but I must admit I was looking for a certain blonde from the night before. She was nowhere to be seen, which surprised me since she was co-chair.
“And that, my fellow conjurers,” Mandrill said with a smile as he came near the end of his speech, “Is the essence of what we do: misdirection!” He held up one had and there was a sudden flash of light and in that hand he abruptly held a crystal ball. “We draw the eye to where we want--“ he tossed the ball into the air and it evaporated in a puff of smoke. “--And then do what we do in the shadows.”
At the moment the ball evaporated Hawthorne was gone from behind the podium and Lilith stood in his place. It was a crowd pleaser and all applauded.
She was dressed more modestly than the night before in a very professional blue pants suit that still managed to show off her curvaceous figure. Today her hair color was red.
“And that, my fellow illusionists,” Hawthorne’s voice from the back of the room made us all turn around, “is why we are all here!”
More applause and then a break while the occupants of the room mingled and met, many picking up conversations from the night before. I was delighted to be able to pick up where I’d left off with the alluring Lilith.
“I am so glad to see here, this morning,” she said to me, “I don’t see your junior partner. Is he alright?” Even when the hairy schmo wasn’t around he drew focus.
“He’s resting up for the costume party tonight,” I said, “He has to wash his hair and rest his voice for our musical duet.”
This made her laugh, a bubbly sound that I found very pleasant. “You are hysterical,” she said. Then she leaned in and whispered, “So what costume are you going to be wearing? I’m going to be a cheetah!”
Her breath was warm and sweet on my ear.
“Uh,” I stammered out trying to maintain some sort of professional detachment, “I hadn’t really thought about a costume.”
“Oh but you have to,” she said. “Everybody has to be their favorite animal; maybe you could come as Jojo!”
“Oh gods of Octuras no!” slipped out before I could stop it. “Can’t I just come as me?”
“I’m sure that could get to be my favorite animal,” she said, “but the rules are you have to be an animal.”
Her favorite animal? Talk about goosebumps!
“I-- uh didn’t bring any costume for that,” I tried, “I didn’t know about it.” This made her pout- a charming expression- then her eyes brightened.
“I know,” she said with an almost school girl squeal. “I’ll send up a costume for you and Jojo.”
“You don’t have to do that--” I said.
“Oh come on,” she said, “remember, I’m the lady with all the costumes! What’s your room number?”
“Twenty Twelve,” I said. “Like when the world ends.” I was having trouble concentrating on the mission.
“I’ll send it up after the afternoon seminars,” she said. “Maybe I’ll help you try it on.” She gave little wicked grin that promised some other magic might follow.
Before I could say anything she darted off with an “I have to see to the schedule for the rest of the day; see ya!”
I stood there with egg on my face and my jaw hanging to my knees for a long moment while the crowd swarmed around me.
Now who was the monkey’s uncle?
The two seminars I attended that morning were interesting but I missed a great deal of what was said because I was torn between trying to decide who might have the Stone and thinking about Lilith slipping me into a Penguin costume later in the afternoon.
Hawthorne seemed to be everywhere at the convention cajoling, soliciting and chatting up everyone, himself looking like an aging penguin in full morning coat and striped trousers. Or perhaps like the villain in a Batman comic book.
Everyone seemed to have some sort of jewelry on that might have been carved from some sort of stone. Necklaces with animal heads, rings with ancient deities on them and, of course, the elaborate dragon on the Co-chairman’s cane.
Since I had no idea what the Philosophers’ Stone looked like or how big it was any one of them could have been it. It was dizzying and daunting and I was glad when the morning sessions ended.
I chose not to lunch with everyone else and instead picked up some plantain chips and a salad at a deli for Khetar and had room service sent up a steak for me. I was contemplating just how drunk the little guy would be by the time I got to the room when I stepped out of the elevator to spot the creep trying to break into our room.
When the sneak thief saw me coming off the elevator he tried to pretend he was just working with his keycard in the door, apparently with no idea I was the occupant of the room he was trying to burglarize. I did my best to play it cool as well.
I kept walking as if I were going beyond him and when I drew up beside him I snapped out a knife edged hand at the back of his head.
The guy saw or sensed my motion and whirled to take it with a hunched shoulder and shot a hard left at me. I dropped Khetar’s lunch and almost got a block up in time.
The thief clipped me a glancing blow along my jaw and set me back on my heels. He drove a shoulder into me to slam me against the wall in a clumsy football tackle.
I smashed both fists down on his back and was rewarded with a grunt of pain but he held on tight to my midsection.
Suddenly a second guy came rocketing out of the stairwell where he had been hiding and started sending fists my way in a mad flurry.
I could do little but block the blows.
“Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret!” The man around my waist cried.
“Acta est fibula!” the second called and the man holding me released his grip and both were gone before the bells stopped ringing. There was no point in chasing them so I picked up the food and went into the room.
When I opened the door I just barely avoided getting my head handed to me again as Khetar, standing on the edge of the bathroom door swung a lamp at my brain holder.
“Wooh!” I yelled as I ducked and he pulled it.
“Sorry,” he said. He jumped down and set the lamp on a bedside dresser. “I heard somebody working on the lock and then a commotion so I knew it couldn’t be hotel staff.”
The TV was playing an episode of some Japanese game show with English gag lines dubbed over to make it seem even more ridiculous. Made me proud to be a homo sapien. The sound was pretty loud and I was sure I could have heard it from the hall if I had waited in front of the door.
“Why would a crook try to break into a room he thought might have somebody in it?” I said as I plopped down on to the bed and grabbed some ice from the bucket to rub some of my bruises. “And why the hell would they talk to each other in Latin; it’s a dead language except for altar boy secret codes.”
“How would I know?” He took the lunch bag from me. He scampered to the bed and started to eat like a teenage boy. “Most of what you hairless clowns do makes very little sense to me.” To prove his point somebody on the TV dressed in a large inflatable sumo suit was being smacked on the butt with paddles held by geisha-dressed men while rolling round in the mud.
Darwin was spinning in his grave.
“Point taken.” I said. “But I’m willing to bet that someone knew that only a pet chimp was supposed to be in here--”
“Hey yourself; just trying to think like the criminals.”
‘Well,” he said, “You have a head start on that.” He chowed down and arched an eyebrow to me. “So, how was your day at the office, dear?” He snickered.
There was knock on the door. I went to the peephole and once I was sure it really was my food arriving had the waiter wheel it in. While I ate I filled the furball in on the morning among the wizard types.
“Seems to me that Kunjar Neh Zorl’s sent us on the worst mission ever: it’s a no win situation.” Khetar said. “Your world could go up in a ball of fire any time if this portal is used too many times close together and we are at ground zero for the barbecue.” I noticed the mini bar was open and half empty; the little furball could out-drink three Australians and just get mellow.
“So you have a solution for this, huh?” I asked him
“What the heck do we do when we find this Stone?” He rolled his lips back and flashed his teeth. “Whoever has it can open a portal anywhere, anytime. Which means they can escape to the next world just before they fry this one. How do you catch someone like that?”
I didn’t have an answer for him. It was the question that had been haunting me all day. We could travel inter-universe through the Stones we knew of and then using the various species of ‘slippers’ that could teleport to move around those universes to complete missions. I had parked Old Paint, the Slepnir, on an island in the Pacific waiting my telepathic call. That was when and if we got the mission all done and we and the world lived.
What we feared was that anyone who had a mobile Philosophers’ Stone could translocate in both time and space or grab a weapon from almost any reality if they wanted to. Someone with such power we might never catch up with or be able to defeat let alone the theoretical possibility of turning a reality inside out by sending a Stone through a Stone. It was not just the fate of my Earth that hung in the balance but possibly of the entire multiverse. No pressure at all!
I still had no answer when I went back downstairs for the afternoon seminar sessions of SWAMI which involved such exotic subjects as ‘how to behead your assistant,’ ‘children’s parties; hell or salvation,’ ‘why you need to project’ and ‘advertising budgets and overhead.’
I was bored to tears in mere minutes.
I saw Lilith several times, but she was always chatting with someone though she shot me smiles anytime our eyes met. I was beginning to think that the little ranch near Austin that I wanted to buy was looking closer than I’d anticipated. I thought about how beat up I felt after the last missions and how I was pushing the boundaries and the odds of getting out of the corps in enough of one piece to court a beauty like her.
“When I find this damn Stone,” I thought, “I think it’s time to hand my C.RA.P. badge in.” and I think I really meant it this time.
When the last seminar was over the stunning redhead came over to me and linked her arm in mine. “Let’s go get your costume,” she said to me in a smoky voice. “And I’ll help you and Jojo get dressed!”
I was trying to keep my mind on the job but the warmth of her body made concentration on anything but primal urges almost impossible. She didn’t take me directly to my room, however, but to hers. It was a suite and as you would expect of a woman’s room was piled with trunks and clothing racks.
Her black ‘changing cabinet’ was prominent in one corner of the room with a pink feather’s boa draped casually over the top of it.
“I went through my collection and found the perfect costumes for you and your ‘partner’.” She giggled when she said ‘partner’ and while it might have been affected on many women or childish, it was refreshing coming from her.
She led me over to large cardboard box and a smaller shopping bag next to it. “Here are your very special costumes,” she said proudly. “And I want to make sure I judged your sizes right.”
I started to make a move for the box but she stopped me with a hand on my arm. “Oh no,” she said. “You can’t see what the costumes are before you get dressed for the ball tonight; it’ll take away the magic.” She had sly grin on her face and her eyes kept me captive.
“How will we know if my costume will fit me?” I whispered the words and she leaned in so that I could feel her breath hot on my lips.
“I’ll have to size you up in person.” She whispered back.
She pressed her lips against mine and it was game over as far as my will power was concerned.
I kissed her back as if her lips were the only place in the multiverse to get my oxygen. She proved that she was adept at getting other people’s clothes off almost as fast as her own and soon I was privileged to discover that her real hair color was auburn.
I was certainly aroused, but when I saw her lean stomach and cat-like figure next to my beat up chassis I felt a bit outclassed. A plow horse to her trotter.
Not that those feelings stopped me from ‘stepping’ up’ to the starting line and trying to give it my all in the race for a finish. Far from it; it was still a race I wanted to not win; I was worn out but not out of it. Not yet!
My guilt for leaving my hirsute partner alone in the room and ignoring my mission didn’t kick in for well over an hour.
And it was the only guilt I had, I can tell you. The image of my little place in Austin and of that voluptuous woman standing at the gate when I came in from riding fence posts was getting more and more in focus.
“I really should get back to Kh-uh Jojo,” I said when I was able to gasp for air beyond my pheromone cloud. “I have to feed him and coax him into his costume before the ball.”
“He is a lot of responsibility, isn’t he,” she said. She was not making it easy for me to pull away from her, lying as she was on top of the blankets like a nineteen fifties pinup. “I hope he likes me.”
I looked at her oddly and let my eyes drift to her bosom. “Oh he does,” I said. “But if I have to put him down for this to happen again, I will.” I almost half meant it.
“Oh you mean man.” She laughed. “I guess you better go then.” She flowed to her feet gracefully. “A girl does have to get herself together.”
“Oh you are together,” I said. “Not to worry.”
“You are sweet.” She blew me kiss and started for the bathroom while I threw my clothes on and picked up the box and shopping bag.
“Don’t peak, till you are ready to dress,” she called. Then she popped her head out of lavatory. “See you later?”
“Kong Kong couldn’t keep me away; save me a dance on your card?”
“How about I save you the last one?” Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Sounds good to me.”
I left with the box under my arm and a spring in my step. I was all the way to the elevator before the full import of what I had done hit me; I had slept with a suspect while on a mission; worse, I had done it while that hirsute duenna was sitting in the hotel room bored out of his little hairy mind.
My dread grew proportionally as the elevator took me up to our floor and proved completely valid.
“You stink like you’re in heat,” he said to me when I had locked the door behind me. He wasn’t even curious about the bags I was carrying.
“Believe me,” I said, “There’s no heat left; I am, after all, only human.”
“That is your problem,” he said seeming to notice the booty for the first time. “What gives?”
“Costumes for the magic ball this evening.”
“Costumes?” He said, “It’s bad enough I have to wear that ‘sapian suit’.”
“Well,” I said rummaging through the bag that Lilith had provided for him. “You’ll love this more!” I pulled out a set of red and green jockey silks that looked perfect for Khetar. It even had a little cap that I’m sure would fit him with ‘Jojo’ embroidered on it.
He went ape.
Well, more ape.
“You have to be kidding me!” he said, “I will not dress up like a clown!”
“Not a clown,” I said as I started to tear at the strings that bound my boxed costume closed. “A highly skilled tiny human; that is the animal you will be dressed as.”
“Ugh!” he said. “A human!”
I barely heard him as I looked at the outfit that Lilith had selected for me. I wasn’t sure if I should be complemented or little put off. Inside the box was what appeared to be a pair of pants, some leather belts or suspenders and some high-heeled boots that ended in an odd blunt toe.
He must have seen the look of shock on my face because the Pimlico primate hopped over to climb up on my back and peer in the box. “Hmm,” he said. “She must have decided you were quite a stud.”
I ignored his pun, but he was right, it was a horse costume of some sort, or at least half of one. I took it out and realized the boots were to give the illusion of hooves and the leather belts/suspenders simulated horse’s harness and collar.
“And look,” he said. “There’s even a little saddle for you to wear; I think I like this Lilith female.” He hopped off me and scurried to the bed were he started to pull his costume out of the shopping bag. He put the hat on and laughed.
“Oh go climb a tree.” I went into the bathroom and ran a long hot shower. I tried to get my head straight about Lilith and the mission. I was making zero progress in finding the Philosophers’ Stone: any one of the SWAMI members might have broach, suitcase or even a stone casket they were rolling around to jump between universes. And I was acting like a hormonal teenager. I turned up the heat on the shower and tried to scald the devil out of me.
It just boiled my junk.
When I came out Khetar was running around the hotel room in his little silk suit with his cap on backwards like a little furry, very gay homeboy. “I want to see you in costume,” he said, “I just wish I had a tri V recorder to post the cube image back in the locker room at base.”
“You tell anyone and I’ll dip you in Nair.”
The pants slipped on with no problem and fit like the proverbial glove though they were padded out at the hips and thigh backs to give me a ‘horsy’ shape.
I would have preferred a standard bred or thoroughbred look but I’m afraid with my haggard features I was all nag. The ‘illusion’ was helped along by the harness that hooked into a collar. The suspender-like traces had a small saddle built into them that was obviously intended for Khetar to ride on.
He loved it, chittering and hopping around on the bed like a kid waiting his turn at bumper cars. “Put the boots on,” he said, “go ahead, I want a ride.”
I sat on the edge of the bed and slipped the strange boots on. They were my size and had my heel raised on an angle so that when I stood it would look from the front as if I had a horse’s hoof. The ‘horse’ pants slipped over the ankle seamlessly and in the full length mirror on the closet door it looked more-or-less like I was a horse from the waist down with the harness on my upper body continuing the illusion.
Khetar couldn’t wait and jumped on my back to slip into the saddle. “Get’em up, Scout!” he said.
“Oh I am in Hell!” I said. My simian jockey leaned in and chattered at me.
“It will get worse,” he said. “I just spotted a set of ears in the bottom of the box.”
I looked at him in the mirror over my shoulder and then down at the set of ears I had overlooked. I bent, picked them up and before I could do anything with it he snatched them from my hands and slipped them on my head.
I looked in the mirror and the two of us burst out laughing, I laughed so hard that I almost wet myself.
If Shakespeare could excuse the pun, I had hit the Bottom of the barrel…
The SWAMI soiree was a doozey; the ballroom of the hotel had been draped in black with sparkling lights set among the curtains to suggest a starry sky. Smoke machines sent a fog crawling across the floor and a live orchestra on a low stage at one end dressed in medieval finery was playing a Strauss waltz.
Everyone was costumed in elaborate animal themed costumes and standing around the dance floor with drinks in their hands like it was a prom on the bizarre world.
Mandrill Hawthorne was dressed as a white-feather cloaked owl complete with a cowl with built in circular glasses and he greeted us at the door with a robust and gracious hello.
‘You look splendid, my dear fellow!” he said.
Splendid was not what I felt, though we seemed to be the sudden hit of the party when we entered.
My boots boosted my height to seven feet and with the mane-like wig that had the long ears attached to it and my little hairy hitchhiker I was like nothing any of them had ever seen.
Khetar was having the time of his life. He had improvised a riding crop from a coat hanger and some medical tape and every once and awhile tapped me on my padded butt (just above the lovely full tail) and would say “Tally Ho!”
I was not amused.
The crowd in the ballroom was.
In fact, they applauded when we entered and even more so when Khetar took off his cap and waved back at them and yelled “To the hounds!” before whacking my tush again.
I considered several Congolese recipes for chimp at that moment but was drawn away from my own violent impulses to something more primal when I saw Lilith slink across the dance floor in a spray painted on yellow, form fitting suit that gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘catsuit.” It was covered with black spots and accented by the slight cap with cat ears pinned to her long blonde hair. She also had whiskers on either side of her nose.
The effect was electric and arresting.
Khetar leaned close to my ear and whispered, “That female has nice boobs; I think we are going to be a very happy family.”
Roast chimp. Boiled chimp. Chimp BBQ!
“You look even better than I could have imagined,” Lilith meowed at me. I noticed her fingernails were long and painted like cat’s claws as where the toes of her bare, but airbrushed feet.
“I can’t thank you enough for this outfit,” I said with a forced smile. “I feel so special.”
She saw how tense I was and how insincere my thanks was and laughed in a cartoon evil way. “Oh lighten up, Sea Biscuit,” she said, “Enjoy the party.”
I had a hard time being mad at her when she gave me that little grin—until the primate on my back hit me on the butt with the ‘riding crop’.
“You promised me you would sing for me,” she said. She tilted her head and looked at me through her thick eyelashes and pouted, which held my attention on her and kept me from smacking my simian sidekick. “And I think you should keep your promise.”
I was stunned that she remembered my off-hand remark but Bonzo almost literally jumped on the chance to show off and ‘smiled’ at her and said, “You got it, baby!” then he yelled at the band: “Maestro; Welcome to the Jungle if you please!”
He jumped to the stage, grabbed an air guitar and began to strut up and down singing at the top of his little hairy lungs.
And as the Seven Gods of Denabbe are my witnesses I was forced to sing a duet of the Guns n Roses song with the little pint-sized primate.
“Welcome to the jungle we've got fun and games
We got everything you want honey, we know the names,” He sang with full rock star gyrations, that is if Johnny Weissmuller were a rock star.
I had to follow to keep our cover but I was determined to pluck every hair from his body when I got him to the room later and roll him in hot sauce afterward.
The S.W.A.M.I. crowd went nuts when we did the chorus together
“ Welcome to the jungle watch it bring you to your knees…” Khetar scampered over to Lilith and sang “…You're a very sexy girl that's very hard to please...”
This had Lilith laughing so hard she was clutching her sides.
The watching magicians began to all bob their heads- a sight in itself since most were over the age you would think would dig Axel Rose-and Khetar ate it up playing air guitar and strutting like he was ready to mosh at any second.
I wanted to die of shame but had to play along and back him up, pretending occasionally to be throwing my voice to him. When the last chords of the song ended and he dropped to his knees to ‘sell’ the end of the song I gave a sigh of relief.
Suddenly he dropped to his knuckles and chattered his way over to me to scamper up my side and hug me like a baby that got a hug ‘aww!’ from the crowd and postponed his death at my hands once more.
He locked eyes with me and it was clear he knew just what he was doing to me; it’s a wonder my stare didn’t fry him right there. He chose to keep breathing and climbed back over me and got into the saddle once more.
The band launched into nice slow tune and before I could react to my jockey Lilith reached up and pulled me onto the dance floor. It was strange being that much taller and made stranger still when Khetar climbed over my shoulder to nestle himself in between the two of us.
“Oh how cute,” she said.
“As a button!” I said between clenched teeth.
“Nice boobies!” He said.
Back bay bayou baboon ala Antone!
She giggled like a little girl. “Oh you are such a card; and the most amazing ventriloquist I have ever seen!”
I wasn’t feeling very proud of that but as we danced I became aware of how much I did have to be proud of. Every eye in the ballroom followed the strange trio of dancers as we glided around the room.
Khetar settled in and just enjoyed the body heat-- there was considerable between Lilith and myself-- and we danced the entire waltz.
Just like a prom, our dancing broke the ice and others started to dance around us.
When the song ended Lilith kissed me on the cheek and chucked ‘Jojo’ under the chin and said, “I have to mingle, dears, but I will save that last dance for you, Lucifer.”
She walked off into the crowd and me and my rider went to the bar for a drink. I got a bourbon and water. He got a coke.
“You are so lucky there are witnesses.” I hissed at him.
“Oh, come on,” he said, “You know you loved it; I let you do the base line.”
“I am going to put you in a woodchipper, you kid sized King Kong.” I knocked back my drink and got a refill.
“How does this get our job done?” he whispered to me.
“You should talk, at least you’re getting a free ride for the night.” I sipped the second drink and tried to find a new angle on the whole thing. No one I spotted had the same jewelry as during the day; no broaches or necklaces were consistent with their day wear; even Hawthorne had a different cane, this one with an ivory owl head handle.
“We better find that Philosophers’ Stone or not bother to go back to the boss,” Khetar said, “I wonder if they are making any new Tarzan films anytime soon in this timeline.”
“You’re sure as hell not going to get a job in a boy band unless you wax!”
I could be flip, but I was with him on one thing; if we didn’t find the Stone we were screwed and the multiverse might be as well. If the person that had the portable Stone went through the immobile one that was sitting in the mountains in Greenland or the highlands of Peru they could destroy this world and any one they traveled to.
My horse ‘pants’ were starting to feel too snug and I had to sidle behind the buffet table and a curtain to readjusts them. The padding in the rump was particularly uncomfortable and I had to pluck at my ‘tail’ to keep it all comfortable. I was surprised that the hoof-boots didn’t bother me at all and were not the least bit uncomfortable.
I tried to distract myself watching the costumes and looking for any clue. I was a regular Fetlock Holmes!
I should have eaten before we came down and not waited for the buffet because my stomach was rumbling and I felt bloated. I hoped the rumble was from the booze. So I walked over to the buffet and got a plate for me--and yes, handed one back to the furball.
While I looked at the crowd and the elaborate costumes I saw an alluring woman dressed in a lion’s catsuit with long tail and big furred collar to simulate a mane. She had a great figure and deep auburn hair and I wondered why I had not seen her before at the convention. I found myself straining my eyes to see her face and when she turned around I was stunned to see that it was Lilith!
“How can that be?”
“What?” Khetar asked.
“That’s Lilith dressed in a whole new elaborate costume and makeup!” I stared hard thinking that I just have made a mistake. Khetar leaned over my shoulder, his breath smelling of chives from his meal and peered at her.
“That is her, isn’t it?” I asked him. “Not a twin or anything like a clone?”
He sniffed and angled his head. “Yes, that is the same female.”
“But that would take hours to do make up like that,” I said, “even for a quick change artist you can’t make paint dry faster or change your hair color—I’ll bet your hide that’s not a wig but her real hair. I know the blonde hair earlier was hers, but colored.”
I set my food and drink down and started to clomp across the floor toward her. I was feeling very comfortable in my ‘hooves’, almost jaunty in them.
It was then I noticed that her changing box was set up by the bandstand. It was black so I had not noticed it against the black backdrop before.
Lilith was standing talking with a Chinese couple dressed as nightingales. She finished her conversation and then stepped to the box, walking through it in less time than it takes to tell coming out in a completely different outfit, now a white tiger with black stripes and a long white tail trailing behind her.
“Did you see that?” I asked Khetar.
“Yes,” he said, excitement clear in his voice. “And I think you are on to something, you hairless Holmes.”
I barely heard him because the blood was pounding in my ears and my breathing was getting shallow. All my time in bed with her washed back over me and the rumble in my stomach shifted and was now a sick feeling.
I hoped I was wrong but the logic of it was there; if you want to hide do it in plain sight like me and Khetar. And the makeup could not have been done in a minute, but it could have been done in several hours if there was the entrance to another time/space line in that box.
Lilith looked over when she saw me coming and smiled, but my expression must have somehow given me away because her smile died behind her false whiskers and her eyes got a frightened look in them. She turned and raced back for the box.
“Get her!” Khetar yelled and I put on the horsepower getting to the box a second behind her. She went in and I dove in after her and then all hell broke loose!
What had appeared to be a two-foot by two-foot by six-foot black box on the outside was definitely not on the inside. When I hit the ground after my dive I was on my belly on the stone floor of a massive castle great hall with racks of clothes and make up equipment all around me.
I looked back to see the box that we had come through was now a carved open-sided affair that looked like it was made from some heavy wood that had been painted or lacquered with a fine coating that contained iridescent chips of stone that I knew had to be Philosophers’ Stone fragments.
“Hey, I’m riding up here,” Khetar said, “Watch it!” He jumped off my back and scanned the area around us for any danger. ”I’m gonna get me another cab service.”
I pushed myself up to my hands and knees and looked up at him. Lilith was nowhere to be seen but half a dozen hooded men were and they were coming at us from behind him with what looked like an entire Ginsu knife display set on sticks.
“Behind you!” I yelled.
Khetar spun and went—well, ape. With a simian battle cry that would have made E.R. Burroughs wet himself, the monkey madman launched himself at the legs of the charging men. His ‘civilized’ persona was gone and he was a fierce ball of fur and chomping teeth that soon had the robed men screaming.
Meanwhile I jumped to my feet-uh-hooves- and faced off against two of the hooded hosts. The one to my right swung his multi pointed club at me but I leaned away and discovered that a hoof was much better than a combat boot to drive the power of my kick into his chest. He flew back as if shot from canon.
The other one who swung at me sliced my right thigh and it hurt like hell. It made me angry enough that when I did a spinning hoof kick at him I didn‘t care that it connected with his head and enjoyed the ‘crack’ sound of his skull before he fell.
I looked to help Khetar but I could have saved my worry; with three times human strength and more speed than I could ever put on, he had taken out the four guys with a gory display of primal fury (or was that furry?). They all lay moaning on the ground grabbing their shins where his chimp chompers had done a job on them. He had piled all their weapons way from them and glared at them with promise of more violence if they made any attempt to grab for their toys.
He stood on the chest of one of the downed men and beat his pecs to announce his victory. It made me recall my law enforcement training and feel bit ashamed of having almost taken the life of the second attacker and I looked to the first attacker who was stirring. I recognized his face as that of the guy in the hall of the hotel.
It all became clear to me then: he had known that even though there was TV on in the room he could expect to find only what he thought was a performing chimp in cage inside. Had she known about me that early? Or was it something else.
“You okay, Lawless?” Khetar asked. He wiped the blood off his face on the robes of one of the men and came over to stand by me.
“Yeah; more than I can say for these guys; this one will live but I think I busted his ribs.”
The ape came over to sniff at the wounded man then looked up at me.
“He smells familiar.”
“He was the guy who tried to get into the room this afternoon.”
“Hey,” Khetar said. “You’re bleeding.”
I was. A thin line of red stained my right thigh.
My partner knuckled over to me and leaned in to examine it.
“Easy, hairless,” he said. “It doesn’t look too bad; stitches but not a million dollar wound.” He reached for the leg and I felt his fingers.
“Watch it, you baboon buffoon; I can feel that you know.”
“I know,” he said seriously. He ran a hand under my thigh and pinched me on the back of the leg. ‘The rest seems okay.”
“You disappointed me by following, me through the portal,” Lilith’s voice called us to look up to the balcony at the end of the great hall. “I wasn’t sure about you, dear Lucifer; and when Morzon could not get into your room I had to take a chance you were just as you said you were; I really wish you had been.”
I heard her but it barely registered.
“What have you got to gain with all this?” Khetar asked her.
“Stop the games,” she said, “It was cute at the convention, Lucifer but--”
“Not a game,” I said. “This is Khetar Wohl, my partner in the Corporal Readjustment Alternity Police. He’s not from the Earth that I come from: are you?”
She had a confused look on her face as she stared from Khetar to me and back again. She was still in her white tiger costume and the nuances of her expression was hard to read behind the makeup.
“A demon?” She said with horror. “He can really talk?” It seemed inconceivable in her worldview.
“A demon at poker, yes,” Khetar said. “And I can talk and as you heard, sing up quite a storm.”
“Then he really--”
“Yes,” he said, with his hands on his hips. He shook his head as if to say ‘Homo sapiens are so dense.’ “I really like your boobs;” Khetar said. “But not in creepy breed-with-you kind of way-- I leave that to Lucy.”
I wasn’t really interested in their conversation at that point except that it applied to breeding. I looked up at Lilith and bellowed. “What have you got to gain by this? Do you realize what you are doing with this portable Philosophers’ Stone?”
Instead of answering me she darted back through the archway behind her at a dead run.
“Hop on!” I called to Khetar and he did.
I raced toward the other end of the hall and to the wide stairs there. I found myself bending forward as I ran. It felt ridiculously normal to have the monkey on my back, but I had no time to contemplate it; we had to get Lilith and find out what it was all about: who were the hooded guys and why did she have the ‘Stone box?
“Over there; I can smell her.” Khetar gave a yank on my shoulder harness as if it was a rein and he really was a jockey.
I’d kill and stuff him later.
We went down a long corridor that had to be an outer wall of the castle and came out to an archway to a battlement that was outside. There I froze; it was an awe-inspiring sight.
The sky was dark green all around the castle with no stars or clouds visible. More remarkable was the fact that the ground beyond the battlement wall ended abruptly at about five yards from the base of the wall to drop off to the blank green.
Now I knew it was pocket universe; a bubble outside the space-time continuum that was self-contained gravitationally with atmosphere and physical laws that mimic the universe it was a ‘bubble’ off of. This one was Earth normal for both so I was pretty sure it was from my own world.
I didn’t have much time to take in the scenery because four more of the monk types came running at us from a far archway.
“I got this,” Khetar said, “Get to the female; she seems to be in charge!”
I took him at his word and kept charging forward.
As the robed men brandished their weapons he launched off my back into them like an anthropoid apocalypse. And it was Monk vs: Monkey, the sequel!
The screams behind me spurred me on and I was through the arch into a large room that was decorated with banners and icons that suggested it was some sort of chapel. There were crosses and other symbols I did not recognize.
At the head of the room on a raised dais stood Lilith. She seemed to be praying to an icon in front of her and when I entered she spun to face me.
“Why?” I asked her pulling my attention back to the tawny costumed woman. “What is this all about?”
“I am the daughter of the sacred temple of the Holy Order of the Temple of Jerusalem,” she said, “The ‘box’ was discovered centuries ago by my direct forefather in the Holy Land and brought back to Europe as the final place for the Order to escape to.”
“The Knights Templar,” I said. “This is where they disappeared to in 1307, through that much older Philosophers’ Stone!”
“When my ancestors came here, this was a barren stone expanse but a gift from God: we brought each stone through the holy doorway to build this sanctuary and on that night when the King of France, curse him, demanded that our order be destroyed and our leaders were captured and put to death we had a place to flee. Since then we have used it as our sacred retreat.”
She has no idea what she has, I thought. This is just a feakin’ weekend prayer retreat for her and her cult.
“Why have you come to persecute us?” she asked. There was an age-old pain in her expression and I was torn between duty and rushing up to comfort her.
“Long story,” I said. It was uncomfortable to even try to stand up with the wound in my thigh so I abandoned any attempt at it and sat on a wooden bench near one wall of the big room. I took of the ‘hoof boots’ and massaged my feet as we spoke. “But it comes down to this: the box your ancestors found was made by a much earlier civilization; Maybe China or even the Mayan’s but a very long time ago and by a process that the people I work for need to know. You may think it some gift from your deity and maybe ultimately it is, but regardless it is not the unique phenomena you think. I represent an inter-dimensional police force--the Corporeal Readjustment Alternity Police and I hereby give you notice that you must vacate this bubble until such time as it is deemed to not be a threat to the multiverse.”
I gave the official speech but felt a fool, my current costume and circumstance doing considerable to rob me of any impressive importance. I saw the look of horror on her face and knew I had to keep it from turning to look of hate; I felt far more for that little lady than I had a right to knowing her for so short a time.
“I am not an agent of the devil, Lilith,” I continued, “I don’t want to challenge what you believe; but you must understand that the magic box is a danger, more dangerous than any atomic bomb. If you let me communicate with my superiors, we will find a way for you to continue this life you know and I promise you will understand that ultimately, we are on the same side.”
Lilith looked stunned by my comments, I guess she was expecting some religious attack or Tom Hanks challenging her faith; I guess maybe on some deeper level I was contradicting a small part of it, but really only the way they got to their ‘church’ not the church itself.
“I-- I want to believe you,” she said. “That you are not evil. We re so few now; just twenty of us; and we were having trouble surviving so I found a way to use the box to make money with my ‘act’ it bought us the things we needed.“
“Many would have turned to crime--“
“We could not; we must keep to Godly ways,” she said indignantly.
“And having your friends try to make simian sushi of me and Khetar?”
“An old habit to defend us if we were attacked; the ancient Knights learned many things in the Holy Land, not the least of which is that many are jealous of our connection with the High.”
She saw the blood on the costume’s thigh and with a little startled sound came over to staunch the blood with a handkerchief.
“I’ll only ever be jealous of anyone who gets to spend more time with you than I do from this time out,” I said. “But the next time you pick out clothes for me,” I said standing to wiggle my tail at her, “let’s try something a little less—uh well--equine.”
“Well,” Khetar said as he knuckled his way into the chapel, “I hope they learned how to turn that jackass back into the jackass I know and love or his whole wardrobe is going to go to charity.”
I tried to kick him but he nimbly dodged out of the way.
“And I am not shoveling after him,” he added, “I don’t want to be in show business that much!”
It seems that Lilith’s fellow devotes were a little harder to convince than she was that I and Mister Bubbles were not sent by the Horned One so when I went through the portable ‘Stone box to exit the pocket universe I had to bring back a bunch of the corps to ‘talk sense’ into them.
Eventually, however we did convince them that we were on the side of the Angels and they listened to reason.
Khetar and I both got commendations for our work on the case and Khetar decided he wanted to get into a singing career back on his home world when he mustered out of the service. He eventually did and became a regular anthropoid Elvis.
Once they were sure we were not going to tie them to a stake, it wasn’t as hard as you would guess to persuade the twenty surviving cult members of the Knights Templar to exit their little hideaway. T.I.M.E. was able to locate them on a small island off the coast of France that was purchased free and clear for them.
Once it was determined that the portable singularity had been made by initial impact residue gathered when the South American Philosophers’ Stone first crashed much of its mystery was solved. It was found to have only one exit/destination, the vest pocket universe and therefore not a danger to the multiverse if not used in the excessive fashion that Lilith had been. It was returned to the cult so that they could have access to their pocket universe from their island but permanently anchored with several tons of concrete and steel so that it could never, by mistake’ be sent through one of the larger Stones. A limit of the number of times it could be used was set and a monitor system set up to connect it to T.I.M.E. headquarters. Experts on Earth were surprised when global warming seemed to slow down and reverse. Go green!
As for me, I knew when I retired from the C.R.A.P. after some future mission I’d never get my ranch near Austin. Still, I do love the Mediterranean sun and I’d be able to keep my hand in both the horse and the magic business, so to speak.
And I was sure I’d get Lilith to ride me every day, if you know what I mean…
We hope you enjoyed this story from ADVENTURES IN OTHERWHEN by Teel James Glen. For a limited time, this book is available exclusively from Amazon for the Amazon Kindle at the discounted price of $2.99. Check it out there.