Turn Back, O Man

The deck of the Shiftship trembles under the soles of my pointy-toed cowboy boots.  My spurs don’t go jingle-jangle-jingle, but the silver-filigreed iron ornaments hanging from them (jingle-bobs) do. 

“I could just blow your guts all over the multiverse,” I shout over the steady throbbing moan of a newly born world’s core.  “But that wouldn’t be very fair to the multiverse.” 

My weapon is at my side, muzzle down.  The weapon is loaded, the safety is off, but I’m not pointing the handgun at my opponent.  This is partially because, with the Shiftship lurching and leaping in this gravity storm, I’d look silly, and partially because I don’t want to scare my opponent into firing his weapon. 

“Perhapssssssss,” hisses Lazslo the Lizard Man.  “And perhapsssss not!” 

I think it over, get that confused pain in the front of my brain. 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I wonder, not loudly enough to be heard over the birth rumbles.  The Shiftship lurches again, and I grab onto the safety-wire with my left hand.  The Lizard Man has his toe-talons dug into the polished deck of the Shiftship.  That’s gonna leave a mark.   

Of course he has a hostage. He’s clutching Miss Twist by a handful of hair, she’s kneeling in front of him, face furious.  In the Lizard Man’s other hand is a hi-tech weapon with a view-finder covered with blinking LEDs and other gizmos.  Some kind of next-gen machine-pistol fucked a camcorder or something. 

“Just waste him, RevDoc,” shouts Miss Twist.  “Waste him and go get Nora back, but whatever you do let’s quit fuckin’ around, cause my knees are getting sore,” 

I glance around the deck: we passed through the Crawl into a new inner-orbit, some world in its birth pains, pursued by a swarm of Devil Bats.  Things got hinky, and I might be the only one capable of stopping this fucking Lizard Man.    

Wer verfolgt dich, daß du schon fliehst?” loudly croons the soprano voice of the GunWytch: Urbania Codwainer Spurlock, 24 year old pacifistic goth fetishist opera singer who wields twin-submachine guns in a skin-tight bodysuit in battle against the Unnatural.  While singing Wagner.  Oh yeah, and current possessor of some half of my wife Nora’s memories… 

Nora Synn.  Born Nora Grimm.  My lover, partner in crime, mother of my bloodson, Clyde.  The Convergence Generals took her from me when we accidentally activated the Ourobourus Element and slid sideways into The World-Crawl of the 10-Spiraled Multiverse.   

The Convergence Generals: Evil incarnate, possibly a demonic cabal of Illuminati controlling the world from beyond the veil, or possibly something much more horrifying.  We’re not sure, it isn’t like they left a note saying: “we’ve got your family-stop- The Convergence Generals-stop”.  They sent a telegram with that message.  Fuckers.   

The Ourobourus Element: the pulsing egg-sack of the great World Snake.  Pure matter.  Or possibly anti-matter, we’re unclear, but apparently limitless power once harnessed has allowed us to tap into The Crawl.

The Crawl; that strangely eldritch and eerie spooky-space that exists between worlds, space, time, and thought.  Possibly also smell, though we’re still not sure about that one.

Christ, what else am I leaving out?  Catching you up isn’t easy… uh, Convergence Generals, family, The Crawl, World Snake eggs, oh yeah!  The Shiftship.  Or Slipship, we don’t want a lawsuit.  Miss Twist’s incredibly skilled paramour, Perfect Tommy, procured the Slipship when it crashed onto a dry lake bed in the high desert near Palm Springs.

“Damn near crushed some old sun worshipers,” PT had told me over a few cold margaritas at Pappy & Harriet’s.  His was strawberry & blended, mine on the rocks, hold the margarita mix.  Despite, or perhaps because of, a blood-soaked childhood spent in the swamps of Southern Louisiana and a distinguished career in the highly deniable SEAL Team 13, Tommy Twist likes girlie drinks.  With umbrellas. 

“And I mean old,” drawled my former comrade-in-arms, a highly capable old war dog if I’ve ever known one.  “One dude, I swear, he was so weathered it was like a beef jerky with eyes!”

The Slipship is a flat-bottomed vessel with a retractable mainmast, mizzen, and bowsprit.  It has a short fo’castle, and a bridge only slightly higher, (masts retracted), from deck to gunnel top, she’s only seven feet tall, twelve at the bridge.  From bow to stern, the Slipship is forty-two feet long, and twelve feet wide.  Despite the ships deceptively low profile, there are spacious accommodations below deck: galley, cargo hold, cabins.  It’s all flat-space technology, or is that folded space?  It’s like a Bag of Holding, or at least that is what my sister-in-law, Nina Twist (née Grimm) tells me.  And now Lazslo the Lizard Man is holding her hostage.  And hissing at me.  Fucker.

GunWytch has come up empty, every magazine in her arsenal depleted at the Devil Bats.  She stands proudly upon the fo’castle, surrounded by the corpses of her enemies, her hands futility clenched at her side.  As well as some of my wife’s memories, Urbania also has pre-developed emotional warmth towards my wife’s friends and family, except for me, for some reason.  She dotes on our (Nora and my) son, Clyde.  She adores Nora’s two sisters, Nova and Nina, she is sweet to my friends and even civil to my ex-girlfriends.  Which is more than I can say for Nora.

My friends and family have followed me into this mess, and I owe them more than I can possibly repay- and to some of them I won’t be able to.

Alexei Viktor has fallen.  The man we called Professor Victory sacrificed himself to save my son, and give me and my college roommate time to get clear.  His sacrifice still resonates; as well it should, it’s only been like 40 minutes.

Toxic Viv’s blue hair is matted with dark red, our Poison Lady was struck by a hurtling Devil Bat and is collapsed across the blister-compartment that controls the Ourobourus egg discharge, which in turn powers the Slipship: I think she’s still breathing, but I honestly can’t tell from this angle.

Dr. Israel Hands, my family physician, Godfather to my son, has been torn in half.  His innards are strewn across the deck of the Slipship.  His lower torso, legs bent and shattered,  is beneath a truly huge Devil Bat, the one that Lazslo the Lizard Man (Major to the Convergence Generals) had ridden into battle. 

The Queen Bat, a great festering creature that, crouching, could barely fit its weird shape on the deck of the Slipship had made for my shrieking son.  Clyde, blue eyes filled with tears of fear, nonetheless (and only two years old) clenched tiny fists in defiance as the massive beast shambled towards him.   

“EEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeya, no?” screamed Clyde.

“Get away from, ssslrrrrruurrrrp, him you bitch!” roared Dr. Hands.  Dr. Hands has a drooling problem, sort of like Tourette Syndrome, but he is trying to moan, or say “braiiiiiins” rather than whatever the other sufferers of TS are grunting.  Oh Christ, I wonder if they’re…  never you mind that yet.

Dr. Hands is the world’s only (I think) Living Zombie: half man, half undead brain-chomper.  He regularly injects himself with a strange concoction drawn from weird plants that grow on the side of theHindu Kush when the moon shines full and bright to combat his zombie urges, and Jesus, he won’t ever shut up about it!

“When the moon shines, brrrrraaaaains, full and bright, I climb the side of the Hindu Kush;” he’ll say, pushing his spectacles back on his nose and swirling a glass of wine before deeply inhaling it’s bouqet.  My Gods, if I had a dollar for every time he told that story at a cocktail party…

But, right, so the Queen Bat tries to get at my son, and Dr. Hands attacks it, hand-to-claw!  It was over in about three seconds, with half of Dr. Hands going one way and the other half going under her clawed feet.  Still, brave.  Brave and futile.  I couldn’t race to Clyde in time, a tiny red-headed boy of 2 years wearing little cowboy boots and a wild look in his eye shrieking as the lumbering monstrosity took a step towards him, hissing… when a small dark shape hurtled down from the mainmast: Mr. E.

I met Erik Thorson at University, we were roommates our first year at Miskatonic.  Back when he didn’t wear a strange mask covered in eldritch glyphs that seem to shimmer and dance in eerie and hypnotic mirror images…

Mr. E.  Nasty, brutish and short.  He landed atop the Queen Bat and yanked something from his pocket: his wallet chain?  No!  It was a Manriki-gusari, the ancient Japanese length of chain with a forged weight at either end.  Nice one, E!  Whipping the weapon around the roaring beast’s neck, he caught the weight and pulled, steering the creature!  Unhappy, the great monster unfurled its massive wings and beat them once, twice, starting to fly up…

But the violent winds created by its forty-foot wingspan was devastating.  Even as I caught onto a safety-line, I saw Clyde, hurtling along the length of the Slipship’s deck as the entire vessel canted in air over the molten lava of a forming world core…

“CLYDE!” I shrieked.

“Yabababababaaaa?” yelped my son.

Israel, at least the upper half of him, was all Hands: One clutching the gunwale, the other gripping Clyde by his small hand.  He’s still alive!  Or, whatever he is.  I guess the upper half is the zombie half.  Or something.  Dr. Hands’ upper half smiled reassuringly as Clyde giggled and wiggled back and forth in the world-storm. 

With a roar, Mr. E drove a series of lightning-fast blows into the back of the Queen Bat’s skull, driving the creature down… so that the Mainsail pierced its foul and noisome flesh!  The creature collapsed with a shudder and a spasm, the broken Mainsail sticking out of its huge furry ribcage, black ichor bubbling forth.  It was awesome. 

“Dude!  That was soooo God of War!” I shouted jubilantly to Mr. E.  He threw me a thumbs up, but in the Queen Bat’s death struggles, he was thrown clear across the length of the Slipship, SLAMMING into the wall of the cabin with a sickening crunch, and disappearing through the hole his body made in the wood.  Ouch.

It was at that point that Lazslo made himself known, at the same moment that The GunWytch coolly shot down the last remaining regular-sized Devil Bat and tossed her spent and smoking weapons aside.  Fucking Lizard Men, always making a good entrance… 

“Let her go, Lazslo, you sibilant shitheel. That’s family, and you’re clawing up my deck.”

We’re back in the now.  The Lizard Man, predictably, opens his red maw and hisses.  A forked tongue dances out and uncoils down towards Miss Twist, stroking her cheek.

“Nasty!” she grumbles.  She’s weighing the situation, her hands are free, but the hi-tech sub-gun is pointed at her head.  She’s no dummy.

The Slipship shudders again.  “The fuck did we pick this World Vent to slip into,” I mumble.  I glance down at the deck, Clyde is holding Dr. Hands’ upper torso around the neck: my son appears to be asleep, covered in gore and grime.  Dr. Hands grins at me, white frothy fluids spurt out of his mouth as he smiles.

“Not bad, for a, slrrrrrrp, human,”

“Are you puking milkshake all over my kid?” I snarl at my oldest surviving half-zombie friend.  He sort of shrugs, and I shake my head and turn my attention back to Lazslo.

“Look, Laz, Lizard dude: are you a gay?”

Miss Twist furrows her brow at me, Lazslo’s tongue stops in mid-wiggle, even Dr. Hands belches up some milkshake in surprise.

Welch Licht leuchtet dort?” croons the GunWytch softly.

“Seriously Lazslo,” I say, playing for broke.  “Yer queer, yer here, and yer taking it out on us, right?”

I could feel assurance rolling through me.  This just might distract him, even piss him off!  Make him forget Miss Twist and come after me.

“Chasing some ass, Laz?  Come on, you big hissing girly-lizard-“

“Actually,” hisses Lazslo.  “I came out to my hatch-brethren many moonssss ago.  Nor do I care if you can ssssensssse my proclivitiesss, what doessss it matter to me?  I am ssssstill going to ssssshoot your friend-“

Well, shit.  That was pointless. And now I feel like a dick.

Dr. Hands is shaking his head at me.  “Poor form, gay jokes,” he grumbles.  “Don’t be a dick,”

“Yessssss, you ARE a dick, Sssssyn,” hisses Lazslo, cocking the sci-fi weapon clutched in his claw.  “We have heard that you had cleaned up your act, ssssstopped sssssmoking and being an asssssshole, but mayhapssss these are liessssss, yessssssss?  Why not call me an asssssss-pirate or sssssomething, you fuck!” 

The Lizard Man shakes his head, and prods the muzzle of his hi-tech weapon into the back of Miss Twist’s skull. 

“Thissss isss a Rayonac Glamdring 10mm SssuperSssshooter,” the Lizard Man’s bulbous eyes flick down to the bull-pup sub-machinegun covered with sighting devices and tactical lasers and the like.  “It’ll put five or ssssix bulletssss where I tell it to, thankssss to all thesssse ssssscopes”

Hi-tech gun with super scopes?  Okay, I can grok that.  A Smart-Gun.

It’sssssss a sssssssmart-gun!” says the Lizard Man.  “From the Mount Sssssshassssssta Armory!”

So shoot me then!” I shout over the world-storm.  Lazslo shakes his head.

“We don’t want you dead, Ssssssyn,” he hisses, yellowish teeth gleaming in the eldritch gloaming.  “But we will kill all your friendsssssss-“

So I shoot Lazslo.  Or rather, I just fire the Glock 21 pistol that I’m holding once, into the deck next to my foot.

It’s a big plastic-composite pistol, chambered for the venerable .45 ACP.  It’ll knock down most people, and if I hit him in a vital it might even kill Lazslo.  But not before he kills one of my sisters-in-law.  I don’t even aim at him, I just fire blind, into the deck.  Which is fine.  Because there isn’t a .45 ACP loaded into the Glock’s 13 round magazine.  I’m probably going to have to replace the barrel:  it’s a hand-loaded Banshee round.  

The sound concussion causes Miss Twist, Toxic Viv and Dr. Hands’ eyeglasses to explode, those bespectacled and conscious wince.   Clyde wakes up, screaming.   The GunWytch clamps her thin pale hands over her pierced ears. 

And the hi-tech future-gun that Lazslo is holding at the temple of Nina Twist loses its myriad scopes and gyros and geegaws. 

A cornucopia of falling splintered plastic and glass litters the deck of the ship.  The multiple LEDs flickering on the barrel, grip, stock, magazine and rail-system of the sci-fi gun stop flickering.  Sometimes you can be too hi-tech.“Oh, sssssshit,” mutters the now unarmed Lazslo. 

And Miss Twist half-turns in a blur, snapping his forearm with a savage blow, thrusting her head into his solar-plexus and standing suddenly, the top of her skull thwacking resonantly into his lower jaw, sending one of his huge fangs up through his own upper-lip. 

Simultaneously she is kicking his instep far enough out that she can lever him onto the deck, shoulder-first, and drive the heel of her combat boot deep into his thorax, splintering the bone there.

Lazslo splutters and groans, hisses, and spews greenish blood high into the air.

“I can tell you where hisssss wife issss!” shrieks the creature before Miss Twist stomps on his larynx.  Hard.  Cartilage and flesh give way to bone.  He turns a darker green: dead, no blood or air reaching his brain.  Miss Twist turns to me quickly, tears gathering quickly in her big pale blue eyes. 

I shake my head, waving away the unspoken apology.  “Its okay, Twist,” I tell her.  “He was just treading water, trying to buy time…”

I walk to the edge of the Slipship and look down at the roiling and boiling surface of a new world.  Clyde walks over, rubbing his eyes, and puts his chubby little hand in mine.  Nina Twist walks up on my other side, laying a well-manicured hand on my shoulder. 

“We’ll find her, Nick,” she whispers.  I glance over at The GunWytch, tending to Toxic Viv’s scalp wound.

Dämmert der Tag schon auf?” sings The GunWytch softly.

Mr. E pulls himself from the cabin, bloodied and battered, but still mobile.

I think I’m gonna piss blood, dude,” he grunts.  Then he pulls Dr. Hands up by an arm, dangling the upper torso from his shoulders.

Ain’t so tall now, are you, Israel?” laughs Mr. E.  I can actually see the corner of his mouth through his torn mask.  It isn’t a happy laugh, but a grim grin of combat joined and never to be unbroken, until the end.

“We need to regroup.  If we keep chasing their vector through the world-storms, we’ll end up whittled down to nothing,”

“We can’t give up now!” says Toxic Viv, limping towards us. 

“Yeah, brrrrains, we’re with you all the way!” burbles the upper-torso of Dr. Hands.

Heng Dai, dude,” whispers Mr. E. 

“Hi!  Hi!  Hi!” happily chirps Clyde, waving shyly at Urbania.

“So jach sah ich nie Walküren jagen-” sings The GunWytch.

“No, he’s right,” says Miss Twist.  “This isn’t working.  They’ve got numbers and time and we’ve got neither…”

I wish, not for the last time, for a cigarette, and lean on the gunwale to stare down into the churning mass of color and form that is a world-birth. 

“Travel Stations, people” I sigh, tired to my very bones.  I run my hand down over my face and turn.  “Viv, poke that egg and get us up to half-power for a full vent.  Twist, set course to St. August, Florida.  Earth VII low Crawl orbit.”

My teams move into their roles with practiced ease.  Which is funny, because we’re all pretty new at world-venting and Slipship operations.

Urbania and Mr. E manage to get the deck cleared of carcasses.  Miss Twist and Viv power up the Slipship and side-vent us into one of the faster-moving coronary arteries of the core worlds.  Dr. Hands drags himself towards the cabin, with Clyde hanging happily from his shoulders, giggling and making horse noises.

“What is in St. August, Florida, Rev?” asks Toxic Viv from the belly-blister, the clear convex shield beneath her console makes it look like she’s floating over fire.  The greenish-purple glow of the Ourobourus Egg that powers the Slipship castes her face into an eerie light.  I don’t answer her question; finger the old iron belt-buckle on my waist.

Only one man I know of can help me pull this off.   I haven’t spoken to my brother in almost fifteen years, and I don’t know how happy he’s going to be to see me now.