I’m sitting, alone, in the quiet compound. It’s a new kind of quiet, the kind that makes my fingers itch. I power up the complex and incredibly elegent Control System. The hum of the various tech is the only noise. My Wife and The Boy are safely out of the way down South, past the kipple, at the Cassandra Orchard.
“Bye-bye!” I waved to the Boy as we strapped him into the armored vehicle. “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm” he said.
“He sounds more and more like his Uncle Israel every day,” I grabbed the Wife around her waist and pulled her in close, kissing her roughly. “But, you know; not undead.”
She pushed me back. “This stinks, hubby,” she sneered. “I ain’t no yeller bastich. I should be up on the rough roof-top under my ghillie, with a fifty-cal and a thermal scope, not running down to The Garden!” she slugged me in the arm, hard enough to let me know that she cares.
I leant in and kissed her gentle on that spot on her temple that I love. “Babe, I don’t want no one but you watching my six. But this ain’t the fast-flash to bang time, see? This is where we play it real cool and smart, and careful-like. Besides,” I cuffed her gently on the chin and grinned at her crooked. “I’m a lot better off if I don’t have to worry about you two.”
“Oh, Nicky” she said, leaning in and nuzzling me but good. I swelled up and felt all warm and tingly. We kissed again, and she climbed into the Desert Highliner, slamming down the hatch before I could notice the wet on her cheeks in the dim light of the control panel…
But that was this morning. By now, Wife and Boy are safely off the grid, down at the Garden. It doesn’t show up on satellite, GPS, or most maps made after 1900. The phone only rings when it’s someone you want to hear from. Plus: beer tree. They’re safe. For now.
From what I have to do now. I make sure that the System is running smoothly: Laird McQ installed some new software since we got back from The Devil’s Punchbowl.
I hit a few switches and the floodlights snap on, illuminating the perimeter wall of The Compound. The minefields are on, the 1st-floor doors and windows are wired with 1,000 k volts of electricity. The windows on the 2nd floor are sealed shut with motion detectors, heat sensors, and air-current displacement monitors. The roof has razor-wire, tanglefoot gas dispensors, flares and claymores on trip-wires and pressure-pads.
No one is getting in. Not even a ghost: a neural-electric web is in place in the walls. Professor Victory hates ghosts.
I sit down on the leather couch opposite the massive HD television and pour myself a shot of Irish whiskey. I speak softly, but audibly for the microphone: “Teleconference Brain Trust.”
The TV screen glows as it comes to life, a series of boxes filling the huge screen. Miss Twist looks tired but in good spirits in the upper-right hand corner, the cocktail glass in her hand looks chilled to perfection.
“Hey darlin'” I drawl, toasting her with my glass. She flashes dimples and returns the gesture, sipping from hers. “How’re things up North?”
She shrugs, spread sher hands out in front of her. “It’s kinda boring. I miss my beau: Perfect Tommy is still on site out in the desert, dealing with that vehicle that came through the temporal disturbance I told you guys about-”
I hold up my hand to interrupt. “You told us about a what?” I all but snarl. Miss Twist’s eyes narrow to slits. “Don’t take that tone with me, boy” she speaks slowly and clearly, pointing one finely-manicured finger at me through the TV set. “I communicate something to your camp, it ain’t my problem if you are out of the loop. Look to your own,”
I toss back my shot and nod. “Ok, you’re right: I’m sorry. I’ve been a little tense lately,”
The upper left-hand box of the TV stops being black as the feed to New York patches through. Mr. E is standing in front of a brick wall, his fedora pulled low, the collar of his trenchcoat-turned up. “Good evening, heh-heh-heh-heh!” he intones nastilly.
“Why are you wearing your inkblot mask?” I ask him.
“Er- no reason,” he shrugs. I pour myself another shot of Irish and sip it.
“Ooh, is it a cocktail conference?” asks Mr. E. “Hey, honey? Could you-”
“Oh, sure!” I can hear Nova off-camera opening a fridge and cracking a can. I can hear the hiss of the widget. She steps into frame and hands him the beer and a glass. “Hi!” she waves at the camera and then steps back out of frame. Mr. E rolls his mask up over his mouth and sips his stout.
The box below Mr. E ceases to be quiet as Professor Victory’s lair appears in a burst of static. He’s got his bourbon glass half-full and looks flustered. “Whasssssuuuuup?” he drones, topping off his glass. “Sorry. I’m not late, am I? No? You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve been having. Did you know it was Bourbon Heritage Month?” he asks anxiously.
“I had no idea,” I respond, sipping the Bushmills.
The lower right hand box on the screen lights up to a laboratory somewhere in the heartland. A blue-haired scientist wearing a lot of lacy black under her lab-coat is on the screen with a hand-crafted silver goblet in her hand. “Howdy?” she snarks, glancing up and around the screen. “Is this how we became the Bastard Bunch?”
“Welcome, special guest. Vivian, you are on-line with the Brain Trust. Miss Twist is a legal and financial genius, as well as running her own Field Team in the northlands. Professor Victory is our resident global technocrat, as well as a paranormal investigator. Mr. E is a boogeyman that lives in the darkest shadows of black ops. And Dr. Hands…”
Right on cue, and late as always, in the center of the screen, is Dr. Israel Hands.
“And I’ll form the head!” he enthuses. “Brains” he adds as an afterthought, toasting us with a bottle of wine.
There is a terrible screech: feedback.
“Could you turn down yer intercom?” says Professor Victory.
“Mine is turned down, did you-brains-check yours?” replies his roommate.
They could be on the same monitor, of course, but it spoils the effect.
“-Dr. Israel Hands is a healer, global shaman, and all around nice guy; for a half-zombie.” I finish, trying not to roll my eyes. “Everybody, please welcome recently activated reserve Team member; Toxic Viv the Poison Lady. She deals in things that ain’t healthful.”
“Pretty crazy brain-trust,” purrs the Poison Lady. “But what are your credentials? And what am I calling you these days? I haven’t seen you since-”
“You call him Reverend Doctor Syn, lady!” chirps Mr. E “He’s been running black-bag and dirty ops missions for the past seventy years, and the guy is only 32!”
“He’s Tactically off-the-charts, deadly with most small-arms, ruggedly handsome-” adds Miss Twist, popping an olive into her mouth.
“He’s a certified preacher in the Outer Church, Our Lady of the Broken Spine, defender of the ggrrrrrrrrra-weak, known associate of judeo-chthonic entities, and struggling artist,” continues Dr. Hands.
“He’s a fucking combat mage and he doesn’t even know it: tightly controlled solipsistic non-magic(k). He doesn’t believe he can die, so he’s virtually indestructable,” finishes Professor Victory.
I spit Irish whiskey on the glass-top table in front of me and wish I had a cigarette.
“It’s not so much non-magic(k) as it is luck manipulation, like Longshot!” enthuses Dr. Hands.
“I’m a- you know what? I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear most of that. Anyways, let’s get down to brass tacks: Labor Day weekend, my Field Team made a hell of a discovery:” I raise the remote in my hand and click it: floating in front of each of us, whether in LA, Seattle, NYC, Bloomington, or even West LA, is a three-dimensional sphere the size of a VW bug, rotating slowly. Sphere is the wrong word. It’s more like a giant lumpy ball of neon-green play-dough dipped in something with a half-life of fifty thousand years.
“Ooooh, pretty!” gasps Miss Twist. “Can I touch it?”
“It’s a -slrrrrrrrrrrpppp- hologram, so: no,” says Dr. Hands.
“Actually, yes. You could. It is a hologram, but it’s being projected 3-2 into Real Space from a dimensional satellite currently in a holding pattern in the Crawl: it’s outside of our world, but it’s simultaneously at our fingertips despite our distance,” says I. There is a moment of silence.
“The Crawl?” queries Professor Victory. “Like, crawl-space?”
“Between worlds?” asked Mr. E.
“The Bleed?” asks Miss Twist.
“Picture several universes, or dimensions, layered one-on-top of the other-” begins Dr. Hands long-windedly.
“I know what the fucking Bleed is, Israel, I read comic books,” snaps Miss Twist. “I just didn’t know we had the tech to use the fucking thing!”
“We don’t, not yet” says I. “But we’re obviously going to very soon, thanks to Perfect Tommy,”
“Ow,” says Miss Twist, rubbing her temples. “I hate time-travel shit,”
“So we can touch it?” asks Mr. E “Should we? I’m not going to,”
I shake my head negatively. “Laird McQ explained it to me: there is about six to twelve inches of shared space around the thing. Once you reach into that shared space, any temperature or gravitational, or soul-sucking, properties of the thing would effect you, so only people who have something to contribute touch it. Carefully. With precautions.”
“Back to the matter at hand,” I say, using a 17th century basket-hilt rapier as a pointer. “We found this thing in the middle of the desert, in a well-protected cavern deep inside The Devil’s P- in the desert,” I finish lamely. “I don’t think any of you should actually touch it” I add hastily. “Except for Toxic Viv, and maybe Doc Hands. Cause, you know: Zombie.”
Toxic Vivian has put on a shoulder-length glove and is scraping some goop off the side of the gently pulsing glowing thingie. “This is soooo awesome!” she breaths, scraping the goop onto a slide.
“It feels like play-dough, and tastes like baby-food!” chortles Dr. Hands. “Hey, it’s melting my skin!”
“Dude, we’re in the same house. Could you not play with the possibly dangerous intra-dimensional substance while I’m in the other room?” says Professor Victory.
“They’re roommates,” I explain to the rest of the Brain Trust.
“Looks like a giant alien took a dump,” says Miss Twist.
“Right idea, wrong orifice” grates Mr. E
“Are you saying-” begins Miss Twist.
“If he’s saying it’s a giant egg sack, filled with some sort of energy radiating life-force, than he’s right!” shouts Toxic Viv, leaning over a bank of computer read-outs. “There are, like, a shitload of potential life-forms in that thing! Most of them really, really unhealthy to be around.”
“Grrrhmmm. It doesn’t taste fertilized,” says Dr. Hands speculatively. “It tastes like burning!”
“I have to go put out my roommate,” apologizes Professor Victory, running off his screen. We can all hear a door slam, and then he comes onto Dr. Hands screen and douses him with a chemical fire extinguisher.
“Is your dog and monkey show over? Because this is a big discovery” states Mr. E flatly. He rolls his ink-blot mask up again and sips his beer.
“Yeah, kinda huge,” I say.
“And giving off a ridiculous amount of energy, just radiating! It’s off the charts!” gasps Toxic Viv.
“What kind of energy?” asks Miss Twist.
“Well, thats the thing… I can’t really tell. All of them?”
“Nonsense!” exclaims Mr. E heavily.
“There are at least nine forms of energy,” says Dr. Hands, no longer on fire but only smoldering. “Energy cannot be destroyed or created, but it can change forms,”
“The walking text book speaks some truth,” says Professor Victory. “But what gives? What is it?”
“Highly fucking toxic,” says Viv.
“It’s unprecedented! It’s amazing! It’s… could this be what the inside of a black hole looks like?” enthuses Professor Victory. “Sooooo scary. Though, you know: I thought it’d be black!”
“How can we use it, who wants to stop us from using it, and who wanted us to find it?” queries Miss Twist.
“What led you to where it was? Random chance? Treasure map?” asks the Poison Lady as she records the levels of sound being emitted from the specimen globules. I fidgit nervously in my seat.
“Yeah, who would benefit from my having this thing…” I wonder to myself.
“It is older than anything we know,” says Mr. E grimly. “It is one of the eggs of the World Serpent,”
“The Ouroboros Worm?” I gasp.
“The Uroboros Snake?” shouts Professor Victory.
“The Dragon Ourorboros?” squeaks Toxic Vivian.
“That ring symbol, what eats it’s own tail?” says Miss Twist.
“slrrrrrrrp,” drools Dr. Hands.
“Yes,” says Mr. E in a voice that makes ice cubs shiver with cold. “However you spell it. Or pronounce it. It is the Infinity Wyrm. One of the Deep Secrets of this world. And we’ve uncovered a piece of it. You’ve uncovered a piece of it, Syn. Think about that. What was your 2nd tattoo going to be? Meant to be?”
I glance at my right shoulder and squirmed a little on the couch. “The Ouro-well look here! It’s a hard design, and I haven’t found one I really want…”
Mr. E is shaking his head on the monitor. “Instead you got a tiny religious icon,”
“Totally saved his ass when that -mmmmmmmmmgggggggg-vampire tried to get him in Malibu,” points out Dr. Hands.
“Eeew, there are vampries in Malibu?” shudders Professor Victory.
“Nonsense!” roars Mr. E. “Not anymore, there aren’t…. moo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha!” He sobers up almost instantly. “Er, look: this is big. You’ve come across a true piece of The Mysteries-”
“A piece of you?”
“Wha-No! The M-Y-S-T eries, not Mr. E’s!” he shouts.
“Myst was cool,” giggles Miss Twist.
“Oh, mysteries,” sighs Toxic Viv. “Totally.”
“It’s probably your Dreaming, the big snake,” enthuses Professor Victory. “You’re getting it inked on? Totally a sign,”
I glance down at my hand, I’ve been aimlessly waving the sword around. The point of the rapier is glowing white hot and has scored what looks like an 8 into the hardwood floor. Wife is going to be pissed I didn’t use the family brand. I gasp and look more closely at the figure-eight.
“A true piece of The Mysteries?” I say, standing up. “Yeah, we’ve found one all right,”
I walk away from the slowly rotating in-not-quite-real-space globular egg-sac of the Great Worm. I slide open the glass door to the deck, deactivating the security grid as I go.
“What are we going to do with it, Rev?” asks Mr. E
“Do you have a plan?” asks Toxic Viv. “And is it terrible?”
“He’s -grrrrrrrrr- forming one: I recognize the set of his shoulders. I am a licensed massage therapist, after all,” grunts Dr. Hands.
“Where is the World Snake now?” asks Professor Victory plaintively. “At the bottom of the Mariana Trench?”
I light a cigar and stare up at the night sky. “She’s asleep- for now. We want to keep her that way, we tread careful, savey?”
“But where-” begins Toxic Viv.
“When the snake wakes up, the moon will writhe…” I begin.
I hear a gasp, as if the world’s imperilment was night and whip around to look at the monitors.
I can hear Nova’s voice coming from off-camera: “Erik, you’ve spilled stout on your rorshach mask, now the inkblots aren’t symetrical!”
In light of the coming darkness, these are dark days indeed.