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February 26, 2024

Anachronocity v8p2

By Josh Brown

Truth and the Goddess Arl - Part Two

Familiar lyrics to a song Alex couldn't quite place echoed in his head. Shards of sanity grasped at the words his mind conjured yet his voice failed to find, struggled to wrap around them and make them whole--a desperate action by a desperate mind to cling to anything capable of grounding the final remaining strokes of sanity.

All the pain I thought I knew...

After pulling the trigger, blood washed the side of the temple. It all happened so fast, so blank. One minute Alex was in a grocery store buying peanut butter--yet another reason to never again enjoy the smooth, yummy goodness peanut butter--and the next thing Alex knew, he'd killed a man.

The blast of the gun drew a dozen people around the corner of the temple in a flash.

Alex found himself unceremoniously tossed to the ground, arms and legs spread, a knee crammed into his lower back. The pain of his cheek scrapping against the cold concrete felt miles away, belonging to another person. Voice shouted--some panicked, others calm and in control.

No struggle ensued. Why were these people manhandling him? What happened? The linear pieces of time no longer fit correctly. Curiously, Alex wondered what happened to that jar of peanut butter he'd just bought. Most of what he saw was a concrete smashed up against his face, but after careful inspect of what little space remained, he spotted the jar toppled over not too far from where he lay.

He started to close his eyes but quickly reopened them. An image flashed in the darkness. Had he just witnessed a murder? Bethany didn't kill someone, did she? No, it wasn't Bethany--he knew that. So who was it?

Fighting the temptation to close his eyes, unwilling to glimpse into the darkness and see what had just happened, Alex waited. Once or twice he tried to ask what was happening, but the knee in his back pressed down harder, promptly shutting him up.

Then he noticed the throbbing in his right hand. Someone with an abnormally large foot had stepped on his hand, applying a massive amount of weight. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spied the mangled mess that his hand had become, and less than a foot away laid the gun that should have been strapped to his thigh.

Flashes of memory best forgotten attempted to infiltrate Alex's mind. He saw the barrel of the gun forcing its way into a strange man's mouth. He saw the spray of blood decorating the wall of the temple like an obscene abstract painting. He couldn't allow himself to believe he'd done such an act. He wouldn't.

How did everything go so out of control? How did one simple scientific endeavor turn into this--this disaster of unparallel proportions? As the fragments of memory forced its way back into Alex's memory, he struggled to keep it out. He didn't want to know, didn't want to believe.

The time of disbelief rapidly dwindled away.

Two sets of hands grabbed his arms and hauled him to his feet. Half carried, half dragged through a gathering crowd of curious onlookers, Alex felt dizzy and out of control. None of the faces around him registered; all blurred facsimiles of faces, blank slates undiscovered and forever lost in the depths of his reeling sanity.

His captors rounded the side of the temple and made a quick entrance through a wide set of doors that were already held open. They passed down an outer corridor surrounding the inner temple. One door was left open, and as they rushed by Alex caught a glimpse of a giant holographic image projected in the center of the inner temple.

The room they entered was enormous and white. Beds lined the walls for an eternity in either direction. At least Alex's hazy perception saw it that way. His captors dragged him down the row of beds, past several patients, and tossed him onto a bed at the far end of the room.

Before one of the men yanked a curtain around Alex's bed, he spotted a group of men and women carefully laying Bethany on a bed on the opposite side of the room.

Alex needed to find out if she was okay. He started to sit up, determined to see Bethany and check up on her. A set of rough hands shoved him back down on the bed, however, as another set wrapped straps around his wrists and ankles. A second later and his lost all feel from his toes to knees and his fingertips to his elbows. The sensation was a familiar one. Alex remembered it well--when he'd first arrived in the future; Interpol had used the same type of device to handcuff him.

Now left alone, his only company the pale green curtain pulled around his bed and cutting off his entire view of the ward, Alex fought to keep the images out of his head. Reality dawned, unwanted. The murder taunted him. The killing tore at his very existence. The only saving grace at that moment was the song, repeating over and over again, unable to flee his mind. Normally an annoyance--Alex savored the gift of the song trapped in his head.

All the pain...

All the pain I thought I knew...

All my thoughts lead back to you...

A middle-aged woman appeared through the curtain. Her long brown hair flowed haphazardly around her neutral expression. She wore a white lab coat, a plain tee shirt and a pair of tight blue jeans. The dress code on this outpost was enough to drive anyone insane. He was just thankful she wasn't dressed like a pirate.

She said nothing as she scanned Alex with a hand-held device.

Several times Alex tried to ask her what was going on, what was happening with Bethany, but the woman ignored him effortlessly.

After finishing her scans, she disappeared behind the curtain.

Back to what was never said...

Back and forth inside my head...

Alex closed his eyes. The song faded, each repeated verse weaker than the last. The images, however, grew stronger. No amount of denying helped anymore. The facts stood out in his mind, forever burned in place. He watched a looped replay of the murder. Each pass made him sicker to his stomach.

The staunch pacifist inside Alex withered and died in that hospital bed; it didn't die alone.

Alex lay there trapped in his own mind. The entire event that transpired replayed in his head with such detached clarity, Alex almost didn't believe it actually happened. But he knew. There was no denying he'd killed a man and he no longer cared to try. He fought with himself, guilt versus realism. Did the man he murdered have a family? Did he have no choice in killing? Looking over the events, Alex never really feared for his own life. He feared for Bethany and what that freak was about to do to her. Did that make it any more right? There were other options, of course. He could have clobbered the man with the gun. He could have risked his own life trying to fight the man--lot of good that would have done.

Alex lost it--plain and simple. All the twisting and pulling, all the unhinging that had been taking place since his arrival in the future, it all boiled down to that one point. That man had the misfortune of being present when the dam finally exploded and all the water flowed free.

Two more women arrived through the curtain. The older one, graying and wearing a ceremonial gray robe trimmed with gold, approached the bed while the younger woman remained near the curtain.

"Come to give me my last rites before the whack me?" Alex asked.

Gray-hair looked confused. "I'm Priestess Kai. What is your name?"

"Barney Fife." No sense revealing his true name, seeing as Interpol had that on record already.

"You're in a bit of trouble here, Barney."

"Gee, think?"

"What's your side of the story?"

Alex explained what happened. He had nothing to gain or lose from lying, so he stuck with the truth.

Kai glanced at her associate after Alex finished telling the story. The younger woman slipped back into the real world hidden behind the curtains--no doubt bringing his story to the authorities.

"So, now what?" Alex asked.

"Your ship has been contacted. We're awaiting word from someone onboard. Preferably your captain."

Alex started to say Sela, but corrected himself. "Captain Mama was out--"

"Mama?" Kai smiled briefly. "Interesting."

"Oh? You know her, huh?"

"Yes, I used to work for her until the Goddess Arl called upon me. If you do indeed work for Mama, then perhaps things are not as bad as they seem, Barney. I'll return after I've made contact."

"One thing."

Kai paused at the curtain.

"Could you see to it that the jar of peanut butter I had is kept safe?"

Kai dipped her head slightly, a puzzled expression crossing her face, and slipped away.

To be continued...
Article © Josh Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-09-25
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