Some Other Time
A stagecoach ambled over the muddy ruts of a drenched country road. The horses stepped high in the puddles and twitched the rain from their manes. A small, grey figure led the coach, hunched over, rain pouring from the gutter formed by the rolled up brim of his hat.
Inside, Bart took up one seat and Pietro sat in his lap. Ray sat in the middle opposite him with Abby and Cletus on either side. They jerked in unison to the jostling of the coach.
“I can’t wait to go somewhere it isn’t raining,” Abby said, half her head soaked by the leaking door.
Pietro gave Bart some lazy gestures.
“Not much further,” Bart said as he signed back.
“It isn’t?” Ray perked out his despondent gaze.
Bart shook his head and mouthed, “No idea.”
Ray’s eyes rolled back, as did his head. “I can’t take this coach anymore.”
The rhythm of the rocking coach slowed to halt.
“Doesn’t mean I wanted to stop,” Ray shouted.
Cletus slid open a wooden panel on the top half of the door and stuck his head out. He withdrew, snapped the panel shut and shriveled into his seat.
“Papal guard,” he wheezed.
A knock came at the panel. They all exchanged glances. Bart gestured to Cletus to answer and Cletus responded with a vigorous shake of his head. Bart puffed, pressed his finger against the panel and slid it back, like he expected to reveal the Grim Reaper on the other side.
There stood Cardinal Martell, crimson and black, supporting his dragon-headed hammer on his shoulder.
“Consider us your escorts,” Martell glowered, his tone soft and low. “I assume you’re heading to Avignon? Perhaps seeking audience with his holiness? Because he seeks audience with you.”
“Let’s go then,” Ray said and slid the panel shut.
Hours later the coach was escorted to the stables of the papal palace in Avignon. The guards led the travelers into a dining hall and sat them at a long dining table. Cletus, Ray, and Abby sat on one side and Bart and Pietro on the other. Pietro struggled as a guard pushed him into a chair at the table. Pietro bit the guard on the arm and the guard struck him in return. Bart jumped to his feet and lifted the guard off the floor by his neck. Another guard ran and put a sword to Bart’s throat. Ray glided over the table to place a wind blade against the back of the guard’s head. There was a low thud and room shook.
“Enough,” Martell called as he tamped his hammer on the floor, chipping and cracking the marble. “Sit.”
Everyone held fast in their threatening positions, darting their eyes between each other.
“Sit,” Martell slammed his hammer down once more. The walls rumbled.
Bart held onto the guard’s neck as everyone else lowered their weapons and withdrew. He tightened his grip and the guard’s neck snapped and his body twitched, dangling from Bart’s hand. The remaining guards in the room swarmed Bart and tackled him to the floor, smacking him with clubs.
“Get back to your posts,” Martell bellowed.
The guards obeyed. Bart stood.
“Sit,” Martell was calm. “…Please.”
Bart looked hard at Martell, then sat.
“Thank you,” Martell sat and folded his hands before him. “You might not be aware, but there’s been a change of management.”
A spider-limbed man in motley rags took a bizarre stroll to Martell’s side and began to half sing: “Alas, Benedict’s been quashed, with the fall of a hammer, his head was squashed.”
Martell looked long at the motley man, “Not now.”
The man slunk from the room. Martell looked back at his guests and gave them a penitent smile.
“Was that your boss’s idea?” Ray asked.
“If the rhyme didn’t convey the proper information, Benedict is no longer an issue.”
“I wasn’t talking about Benedict.”
“Oh, you’re coyly referring to the Demiurge. The Demiurge fled this realm long ago. My former master was being led by his own phantoms. An unsustainable situation, as you can imagine.”
“You’re not working for Yaldabaoth?”
“I have to admit, I’ve never met him.”
“Why are we here?”
“I’m giving you a choice. Your execution is scheduled for the dawn. However, due to some recent promotions, there are several vacancies within the organization that need to be filled.”
“You’ve never met the Demiurge?”
“No. I can’t say that I have.”
“You sound an awful lot like him.”
“If you think we’re going to work for you…” Abby blurted.
“When did you start believing you were relevant?” Martell said to Abby, “I’m extending this offer to the Angel. The rest of you will dance on the gallows at dawn.”
“You’ll be executing me as well, then,” Ray said.
“You’re a powerful entity, Raphael. Why do you care about these petty beings? You should be ruling them. Work with me and you will.”
Ray sat silent. Martell nodded to the guard behind Abby and he pulled her head back and placed a dagger across her throat.
“You need some incentive?” Martell asked Ray.
“Weren’t they scheduled to be executed?”
“Well, now the choice is whether you want to see it or not.”
“Would you spare them if I did?”
“This is an offer, not a negotiation.”
“Sorry, kiddo, gotta step in here,” an approaching voice from the entrance chirped. “Everything is a negotiation,” Yalda jogged in to stand behind Martell, placed his hand on his head and smiled to the group. “He still has so much to learn. Up, up up.”
Yalda motioned for Martell to vacate the seat and then sat in his place.
“It’s good to see you, Ray Ray,” Yalda cooed. “The new guy is a bit green. Too ruthless, too early. He also seems to think mining equipment makes a decent weapon. Other than that, solid guy. You see, Martell, Ray Ray is a boy scout with a hard-on for monkeys. Don’t question that, use it. Observe: Hey, Ray, come work for me and I’ll send your adorable friends to a farm two counties over where they can scamper around with other critters just like ‘em. Whatta ya say, Ray Ray? And you do whatever the hell you want with the filthy things.”
“What is this?” Ray placed the time device on the table.
Ray glared and tapped the device.
“I don’t know,” Yalda replied and placed an object from his pocket on the table, “What is this?”
“A scanner. Get to the point.”
“Correct. Ray one, Yalda zero. It’s your turn again.”
“Just tell me what this is.”
“New rule. You can’t use the same object twice.”
Ray grabbed Yalda by the collar and pulled him across the table. Goblets spilled and plates scattered. Abby and Cletus leapt to their feet.
“Stop playing games,” Ray shouted.
“Here we go with the yelling,” Yalda sighed. “You started it.”
“I could push the button,” he said holding the device near Yalda’s face. “What do you think of that?”
“How could I possibly have an opinion on that?” Yalda barked. “I don’t know what that is. I’ve never seen it before.”
Ray smacked Yalda’s face to the table, growling. “You gave it to me.”
“How the fuck did I give that to you?” Yalda’s barking was muffled by the table. “I haven’t seen you in a millennium.”
Ray pulled Yalda off the table and dropped him to his feet, where he stumbled for balance.
“You were there. In London. You used a singularity grenade on an elder god.”
“Look, I had nothing to do with London,” Yalda wiped the blood from his nose. “I appreciate a little theater every now and again, but a fish god cult seems like a lot of trouble for no payoff. And I sure as hell wouldn’t waste a singularity grenade to save you.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Ray pinned Yalda to the wall and began binding his hands behind his back. “You’re coming with me.”
“Yves,” Yalda called. He snickered and whispered to Ray, “His name is ‘Yves’.”
Cardinal Martell arose from behind Bart and held a blaster to his head, “Come along.”
Pietro darted toward Martell.
“Careful, kid,” Yalda said, “I’m not sure he knows how to use that thing.”
“Think about what you’re doing, boy,” Martell said. “Are sure you want to see your father die?”
Pietro stopped and looked at Bart, who made calm gestures back.
“Better,” Martell snapped. “Now both of you with me. Anybody follows, I shoot the oaf, then put the gun to the boy’s head.”
“Thanks, Yves,” Yalda called as Martell departed. He turned to Ray and chuckled, “Yves.”
Ray grabbed Yalda and slammed him against the wall, “Call your dog off.”
“I take no joy in this, Ray. And that’s a rare thing,” Yalda fired a blaster into Ray’s belly.
Ray looked at Yalda with a deadpan expression that crept into an incredulous grin. He fell against Yalda.
“Sorry, Ray. Please, believe me when I say, ‘I didn’t want to do that to you.’ But you just can’t stay out of the way and I have no time for entertaining old friends.”
Yalda let Ray slump to the floor as Abby and Cletus flew to his side. Yalda paused, viewed the scene and frowned. Then he signaled the guards.
“You know where to take him.”
Abby and Cletus clung to Ray as the guards dragged him by his feet.
“And take these things with him,” he pushed Abby and Cletus toward the guards.
Abby, Ray, and Cletus were thrown into a stone cell. Ray’s bleeding gut formed little rivers in patterns over the rough stone floor of the bare cell. He winced and groaned. Abby held his head, while Cletus tended to his wound.
“Well, they didn’t search us or take our stuff,” he said with his head in his satchel, rooting around.
“That’s because you couldn’t possibly have anything we would have to worry about,” Yalda said, outside the cell.
Abby leapt to the bars and shot her hand out toward Yalda. He stepped back and she made motions with her hand, but elicited no effect.
“Dampening field,” Yalda smiled. “It was for him, but you too, I guess. How does a little monkey learn to do that stuff?”
“Ray Ray,” Yalda tossed a small box into the cell, it landed and skidded toward Ray collecting a coat of blood, “Nice catch.”
Ray grabbed the box and waved it over his wounded belly. As it whirred, Ray’s flesh began to repair, until all that was left was the blood already shed.
“Tried to kill me, and now you want to help me?” Ray grumbled.
“No. I wasn’t trying to kill you. Just make you more pliable.”
“What do you want?”
“I just thought you’d like to know how the next twenty-four hours are going to go,” he pulled up a stool and flopped down. “Your friends are being handed over to the authorities as we speak. They have quite the rap sheet. I’m pretty jealous, to be honest. They will most likely be executed. As will you be. The girl and the old man will probably be blasted in the head and thrown on the compost heap. Ray, on the other hand, will get his crown smashed in by the new Pope Yves the-first-and-one-hopes-the-last, in front of an enthusiastic crowd there to see a demon be smote. Martell will be a god on Earth to these monkeys. My own personal god on Earth. It’s about time someone else did that job for once. It lets me focus on more administrative shit.”
Yalda sat quietly and stared into the cell, at Ray.
“Got any of that administrative stuff you need to be doing now?” Ray mumbled.
“Now that you mention it,” Yalda slapped his thighs and stood up. “I’m swamped and I imagine you’ll want to be alone with your pets.”
Yalda departed. Ray sat slouched against the wall holding his gut and wincing.
“Does it still bother you?” Abby asked.
“After rapid regenerative treatment, the nerves hang on to the pain for awhile,” Ray gasped, “Like they don’t want you to forget too soon.”
“To keep you from running off and doing it again,” Cletus added.
Ray opened his hands to rub his face and the time device dropped to the floor with a clack.
“Was I still holding on to that?” he showed his palm and on it was an impression of the contours of the device.
“Well, now that we have nothing to lose…” Abby said.
“Are you suggesting we finally see what this does?” Cletus asked her.
“What could happen that would be worse than the gallows at dawn?”
“Do you really want to find out?”
“She makes a point,” Ray said picking up the device.
As they sat regarding it, Yalda burst into the room.
“Ray Ray, if it’ll sweeten the deal any…” he noticed them huddled around looking at the device in Ray’s hands, “Still on about that thing?”
“Last chance to tell me what it does, before I push the button,” Ray said, not looking away from the time machine.
“Oh for chrissake, Ray. Push the fucking button if you’re going to push it. Do whatever gets you to shut up about the damn thing.”
Ray looked at Cletus and Abby. They nodded back and each grabbed one of his shoulders. He pressed the button leaving Yalda blinking into a light show and an empty cell. His mouth dropped open.
“Who gave that to him?” he shouted. “Who’s the asshole who gave that to him?”
Yalda repeated the question as he stalked the halls, leading a choir of pained cries and the percussion of blaster fire.
“We should call for backup,” Ian said.
“We got this,” Hunter mumbled.
“It doesn’t feel like it.”
“I think we have to slice off its antennas.”
“Flutes aren’t great at slicing.”
“Have you thought about a more practical weapon? Are you married to ‘The Piper’ theme?”
“You’re wearing a flannel robe, flip flops and call yourself ‘Psamurai’. You don’t get to advise me on a theme.”
“I don’t call myself ‘Psamurai’.”
“That’s how you sign your autographs now.”
“Now’s our chance,” Hunter interrupted, pointing to an ultra-violet, glowing ant the size of a Great Dane who was currently reviewing the television sets in a store window. “It’s channel surfing.”
The ant wiggled its antennae at a television tuned to an old martial arts program. The onscreen combatants were pulled from the screen in flashes of test patterns and static. The kung fu legends rippled and waved, and were silhouetted with detuned fuzz and drenched in oversaturated colors. They raced toward Ian and Hunter and engaged them in highly stylized and choreographed martial combat. They batted away the bizarre and ineffective attacks of the apparitions from black belt theater. Ian and Hunter struck their attackers into stuttering movie reel countdowns that evaporated into white noise. In their place stood a man with exquisite hair and a cheap suit.
“Kent Malloy?” Ian questioned the low-rez apparition, “From the News at Ten?”
“Tonight’s top story,” the man said in a practiced baritone, “Psamurai and The Piper get canceled.”
Ian struck the man and he dissolved. He caught a glimpse of the giant ant pulling Dorothy Zbornak from a large screen.
“Knock it off, Video Drone,” Ian scolded. “It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. There’s nothing you can use against us. Just surrender quietly. I’m sure the authorities will be willing to…”
Dorothy punched Ian square on the nose. Hunter looked away, covered his eyes, bit down on his lower lip and thrust his blade, rendering Dorothy into a dissipating cloud of noise.
“I’ll cut your antennas off for that, you haploid son of a bitch,” Hunter shouted.
Video Drone scanned the televisions and his attention was drawn to Michael Landon and Victor French. As he dragged his feelers over the screens a crackling sound was heard, followed by the smell of ozone. Ray, Cletus, and Abby appeared, sitting on the ground among the crackling anomaly growing before Ian and Hunter. Ray was dazed, the others were unconscious.
“PBS?” Hunter pointed his sword in Ray’s face, “History Channel?”
Ray thrust out his palms and Hunter flew spinning against the building across the street, his katana clanking to the ground. Ray turned his hands toward Ian and he backed away.
“It seems clear you’re not one of Video Drone’s,” Ian said holding his hands out to calm Ray. “So there’s no quarrel between us.”
“Who’s Video Drone?” Ray coughed and tipped forward, onto his elbow.
Ian pointed to the glowing ant.
“Yeesh,” he grimaced, pulled out a pistol and shot it. Video Drone rolled to his back.
Ray pulled himself up, slung Abby and Cletus over each shoulder, wobbling to and fro.
“Sir?” Ian said, “You probably shouldn’t be exerting yourself like…”
A car honked its horn. Another driver yelled for them to clear the street. Ray took off on a gust of wind and flitted in the updrafts of a highrise to disappear among the rooftops. Hunter and Ian watched as he vanished, looked at each other and shook their heads.
“This town is going to the dogs,” Hunter grumbled. “Is the ant okay?”
“I don’t know how to check an ant’s pulse.”