Metor, the necromancer, had to change his name to Mr. Meteor when he joined the circus. The carnival owner had told him it fit in better with his mind reading act and had given him a gown of green velvet to wear. Twice nightly Metor sat robed and turbaned upon a throne of gilded wicker reading messages pressed to his forehead. His manager, Sparks, had carefully sewn a slight perforation about the golden eye in the center of the blindfold for him to peek through. Metor never bothered to tell Sparks he couldnít read. If scientists refused to believe his bio, it surely had no chance with a con artist like Sparks.
Metor could feel the crowdís restless energy from his dressing room. The division of time into days of the week was foreign to him, but the manic vibrations of alcohol and excitement revealed Saturday night unmistakably. His assistant, Linda, came in to complain again how Sparks wanted her to parade around in a skimpy outfit to lure patrons in from the midway.
"That creep wants me out there twenty-four hours a day."
Metor could see the love in her eyes that heíd kindled to help her understand. Then as he kept silent, the fear crept into her that made explanations futile. Metor cleared his throat to speak. Itís a difficult thing for mind readers.
"Good house tonight?" he asked.
"Terrific. Some big rock groupís playing the coliseum tomorrow so a lot of kids are making it a party weekend. Sparks marked the maximum occupancy sign up another hundred. You canít move out there."
Metor was not naturally taciturn, a monologue continued internally: Yes, tonight will be special. When this group gets high, theyíll be incredible, better than demons, better even than the herbs of my ancestors.
"So watcha gonna do to turn these crazies on?" Linda asked.
"Mister Meteor, nothing you do is usual."
Linda bent over his dressing table to give him a quick kiss, which Metor elongated by altering her time sense so that for an instant she hovered over eternity. Recovering, she touched her lips in wonder.
"Baby, if you could bottle that, youíd own this circus. Hell, youíd own the world."
Metor gently pushed her out the door promising a refill later and sat back down before the mirror unwinding his turban. He had to laugh. Poor Linda, she must be confused. Her lover was so ugly by modern standards and a shrimp to boot. Metor had never considered that his height might be inadequate for present times. He didnít dare tell her when he was born. Let her just consider him middle aged. To him, living twenty-eight winters made a man middle aged.
Sparks banged loudly on the door.
"Five minutes to show time, Mister Meteor."
Metor acknowledged the call though Sparksí phrase held as little meaning for him as five hundred years. Time was indivisible. Tonight he would demonstrate what could be done with a single moment.
On the wall opposite, a metal latch swung sideways for a peephole view of the audience. Metor searched faces for accomplices. College students giggled as they passed joints and cans of beer. Servicemen struggled to pick up unwilling women. Moody men sat self-contained on the edge of mayhem sullenly accepting the pieces of paper and pencils Linda handed them. Everybody looked young, strong and strangely familiar. Thereíd be no need for selections. Heíd take them all back.
Linda stopped him in the wings.
"Okay, I figure we start with a drunk marine; theyíre always good for a few laughs. This guyís name is Joe Bean. Too much, huh? Heís sitting in the middle wearing a sombrero and is way too loaded to lie. Heís from Fresno, been stationed here two months, has a dog named Sue, and aÖ"
"I had something different in mind for this evening."
"Huh, like what?"
Metor leaned back against the wall listening to Sparksí warm-up. What a load of badly phrased bunk, and yet the voice contained unmistakable power.
"Iím going to disappear."
"Hey, we havenít set that up. Are you sure you can pull it off?"
"I hope so. Iíve been preparing for quite some time."
Linda preceded him onstage to whistles and cheers. Sparks commented briefly on her legs then launched into the big buildup.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, direct from the Gobi Desert where men are measured by magic and taught terrible truths and secret ways the West can only imagine, I bring you the seventh son of a seventh son, the disciple of the devil, and medicine man of Mongolia, the last of the ancient shamans, Mister Meteor."
Metor walked center stage to hoots and jeers. Good, everybody wanted to be part of the show. Sparks did a neat little double take when he noticed Metorís turban was missing and quickly scampered over to the throne of woven straw.
"Where the hellís your headpiece?"
"We wonít be needing it."
"Okay, let me have the blindfold."
Sparks held the black and gold cloth up for the audience to inspect.
"Ladies and gentlemen, as you can plainly see, this blindfoldÖ"
"Is a cheap fraud," Metor shouted jumping up from his chair.
The audience was stunned into silence as Metor continued.
"But then your lives are all fake. Now then, shall we begin to truly live, eh?"
With a snap of his fingers, Metor put everyone on horseback in medieval Mongolia. Less than an instant had passed, but the moment had been stretched out enough for Metor to be able to personally explain to each person what was going on. Such mastery over the movement of time gave him the space to convince everyone that they were in his army now. If time had been proceeding at an orderly pace, the process could well have taken years.
Sparks was representative of the most prevalent objection that Metor had to overcome.
"Itís too damn dangerous. What do I know about fighting on horseback like some wild Indian? I got a glove compartment full of tickets that prove I canít even handle a Chevy," he shouted while dancing around in the gray field of fog he found himself facing Metor in.
Metor waved his hand and the fog parted on one spot to reveal the sideshow tent where Sparks was standing motionless holding the blindfold aloft before the perfectly still crowd.
"Youíre still there, see? Nothing you do here can effect you there, not even death because you canít pass time in two places at once."
Sparks made a mental note to start sucking in his gut onstage. He finally had to turn away from how fat he looked in suspended animation.
"Maybe so, but that donít mean I know how to swing a sword or can fight Mongol hordes. Hell, my wife ran me out of the house three years ago, and she was only holding a frying pan."
"Yes, but you knew that frying pan could have consequences in the life you were leading. Nothing done here will have any consequences in that life. You donít even have to consider any of this real. As for your fighting abilities, you can see I am a magician of some power. I may not be able to transform you into a mighty warrior, but I promise you that you wonít embarrass yourself, and anyway it wouldnít matter if you did."
The argument raged back and forth between the two men, but time or rather the lack of it was on Metorís side. When Sparks remained obstinate, Metor moved on to another vector in the void to argue with other members of the audience. Left utterly alone in emptiness, Sparks had no reference points to judge the passage of time. When Metor reappeared after a seeming eternity, Sparks fell to his knees and begged Metor not to abandon him again.
Linda was a prime example of the second big objection Metor encountered.
"If I do anything here, itíll alter the future, and I wonít be able to go back," she wailed.
"This is the year twelve eighty-four. Itís way too late for you to start worrying. The things you do here are already over seven hundred years in your past, and believe me, you did plenty," Metor said and then took her into his arms to comfort her.
Metor didnít use such hugging tactics to overcome objections by others based on causality, but did employ similar logic. To one and all he explained that anything that happened in this time was already a part of the past. Not to act would be the violation of causality, and then they truly would not be able to return because their future would no longer be there.
Joe Bean, the drunk marine, voiced another commonly heard objection.
"Listen mister, they donít call me Mean Joe Bean for nothing. I like barroom brawls better than anybody, but after Iím through with your cavalry charge, thatís gonna seem pretty tame. The memory of this is gonna ruin my life."
"You wonít remember a thing," Metor explained.
"No. You think this is the first group Iíve brought back? When I first mastered time travel, I transported the greatest scientists of the ages. Did you ever read about their experiences? Of course not. After it was over, they said: "When is it going to begin?" When I told them it had already happened, they dismissed me as a fraud."
The only argument Metor could not overcome was the moral one. Even after pointing out that every moment is eternal and that death is key to the revelation, there were still some who insisted that all violence is evil. To these, Metor gave grand titles while assigning them to be cooks and grooms.
The majority though eventually chose to fight in a wild fantasy where they wouldnít have to suffer any consequence. In literally no time, Metor had turned the sideshow audience into an army of six hundred and fifty with two hundred attendants.
It was far more difficult getting horses. Secretariat claimed the affair would ruin his potency and complained the food was sure to be poor. Man Oí War said heíd probably break his leg in a gopher hole, and Citation didnít want to be ridden by anybody but Johnny Longden. Still thoroughbreds signaled status to Metor so he roamed the twentieth century talking horse sense and picking up the cream of the crop. To balance the herd and make it less skittish, he brought back Indian ponies, sturdy of limb and bred for endurance. Most of them didnít want to carry whites, but as soon as they got bored enough, theyíd jump into battle with anyone.
Metor wanted to get his group moving and fighting as quickly as possible. If anyone got used to this age or, worse, started enjoying it, they might not risk their lives so readily.
The audience materialized on the endless steppes of Mongolia. Metor had revealed his purpose and plan to everyone individually, but now that they were assembled in a group, they needed a leader, and Metor had convinced Sparks to take the job.
"All right, folks," Sparks bellowed from his saddle. "We all know why weíre here. The evil magician, Rastar, is a curse upon this land. He burns villages, sells people into slavery, and is in cahoots with that cutthroat, Genghis Khan. To top it all, heís kidnapped our fair Linda."
A cry of alarm rippled through the multitude.
"Are we going to let that creep get away with it?" Sparks asked.
"No!" Everyone shouted.
"Can that bum push this bunch around?"
"Are we afraid of any army that punkís got?"
"Well what are we gonna do about it?"
People looked at each other startled by the question. Then Mean Joe Bean, the drunk marine, stood up in the stirrups of his piebald mount and roared, "Weíre gonna kill his ass."
Neighbor nodded to neighbor agreeing with the sentiment. Sparks cocked his head to one side as if listening.
"Whatís that you say?"
"Kill his ass," a group chorused.
"I canít heeear you."
"Kill his aaasss!!!" Everyone screamed.
"All right. Letís go."
And eight hundred fifty horses thundered across the plain.
Linda was not with the evil magician, Rastar. She was instead enjoying a pleasant dalliance in Metorís goatskin tent. Sparks had suggested the phony story to give the army a personal reason to fight. As Metor and Linda lay in the tent--playing and drinking fermented koumiss--Sparks steered his horse between galloping riders to spread wild yarns about Lindaís maidenhood and honor being in danger of violation.
Metor had purposely materialized the army a league away from the battle site. This would give the people a chance to adjust to their newfound powers in horsemanship and combat. Besides, after a night in the Mongolian cold, theyíd all want to die. In the morning when people awoke stiff, half-frozen and grumbling, Metor would pull up in a cart full of liquor and psychedelic mushrooms. After everyone was good and smashed, theyíd take on Rastar.
Linda was adjusting well to life in the Gobi. She looked fine in a skimpy outfit of skins and hadnít complained yet about the lack of creature comforts. The wonder of the moment had made her largely oblivious to her surroundings, and she was content to laze about making love and asking question, generally both at once.
"Do you know how the battle will turn out?"
"Not exactly. Naturally, I canít project into my own future, or thereíd be two of me in the same place, but Iíve talked to our grandchildren, and they say it was the best fight sinceÖ"
"Yes, we got a slew of them. Letís see. Of course we had the required seven sons, and then there were four, no five daughters."
"Are you sure you didnít bring more than one woman back here?"
In truth, Metor was far from certain about this. His grandchildren seemed strangely confused regarding the subject.
"Well . . . we better get to work then."
Linda looked fine even without her skins.
By dusk, the army was in disarray, trudging into camp from all directions. The horses were exhausted--except for Secretariat who was going crazy because at least two dozen mares were in heat. He got so excited that he bit his grandfather, Man Oí War, then made it with his mother without the slightest sense of shame.
In addition to bows and arrows, shields, lances and swords, Metor had seen to it that everyone carried enough food for dinner and breakfast. The provisions consisted mainly of raw meat. It wasnít easy convincing hunks of meat to journey into the past. Itís an unwritten rule that nothing can be transported to the past against its will no matter how primitive its psyches may be.
The better cuts didnít want to be consumed twice, and hence the army ate hamburger.
As soon as the sun went down, the temperature sank into the teens, and a fierce wind began to blow. People started complaining about the lousy food, the strange, itchy garments they found themselves in, and the discomfort so much riding caused. They huddled in groups beneath stinking horse blankets and shivered themselves to sleep. In the morning, they munched hamburgers and grumbled about going home. By the time Metor arrived, they were ready to riot.
"Look, thereís the bum," someone shouted as his cart came into view over a rise.
The whole mob rushed towards Metor surrounding him with angry shouts that they wanted to go home.
"Oh, didnít I tell you?" Metor said all innocence. "Youíre stuck here until you die."
The crowd gasped then surged forward and yanked Metor off the cart.
"Wait, hold on. The instant you die here, youíll be back in the circus tent none the worse for wear. After you have some of my special brew, you wonít feel any pain no matter what happens. Dying this wayís not so bad. Believe me, Iíve done it more times than I can count. So drink up, go out there and fight, and itíll all be over in a couple of hours."
"Heís right," Sparks shouted from somewhere back in the mob. "Remember Linda."
The people tearing at Metorís clothes halted as if debating the point. After a pregnant pause, Mean Joe Beanís voice broke the stillness.
"Yeah, soon as weíre through with this Rastar dude, Iíll kill whoeverís left and fall on my sword. Then we can all go over to the Green Lantern for a beer."
Sparks managed to push his way through the crowd to Metor.
"Ho boy," he yelled pointed to the collection of flasks and gourds in the back of the cart. "Nomad knockout juice. Iíve heard of this stuff. They say itís what made Alexander great. Cleopatra stuck her asp in it and died happy. Lord Byron had five hundred affairs after one swallow."
At this the crowd left off with Metor and circled around the cart grabbing containers. When everyone had wandered off with some of the brew, Metor sat beside Sparks in back of the wagon and handed him a calabash.
"I hope this junkís half as good as the buildup I gave it."
Sparks spit after swallowing some.
"This is awful. Whatís it made from, manure?"
Sparks quickly passed the gourd.
"Iím only kidding though really it shouldnít matter. Itís got alcohol and amanita in it. The people will through up the rest and be ready to take on anything."
"I wouldnít be so sure of this group. Look, those guys over there are playing leapfrog. Thatís plain sad."
"Theyíll do just fine."
Sparks chugged down a large draft gagging only slightly as he spoke.
"One thing I canít figure. If you wanted to win a fight, why didnít you bring back scientists and engineers who could make decent weapons?"
"I did. The scientists were nosy; the engineers intrusive. The locals got sick of being barked at in foreign tongues and slaughtered them."
Both men were grinning from the effects of the liquor.
"Well why not bring back a modern army? Hell, a thousand men could take over."
"A thousand! I had trouble enough with fifty. They decided to take over like you said, and their first step was to try and get rid of me. I had to poison them."
Sparks eyed the guzzling crowd uneasily as Metor continued.
"I couldnít bring back modern weapons either. If a cannon or rocket was ever here, you can bet it would have been noted."
"What about a few lousy rifles or a brace of pistols?"
"Too risky. Causalityís a tricky thing. I can only bring back what had come back, and I couldnít find out what that was until after my death in this era. My grandchildren will tell me things about the battle and other information that I instructed their parents to pass on. Why do you think I joined your crummy sideshow? They described you perfectly."
"You donít say?"
"Yes, short, squat, bad tempered, with an anchor tattoo on the left hand and a snake biting an apple right above it."
"You know what I say to that?"
Sparks answered his own question by vomiting over the side of the cart.
"This is the group I brought back. Theyíre just what I need. Thrill seekers out on a lark. Theyíll fight like crazy when properly intoxicated and get themselves killed in the process so I wonít have to."
"Have to what?"
Metor avoided the answer by vomiting. As he did so, an incredible elation swept over him as the drugs took hold. He jumped off the wagon ready for battle. All about, people were rolling on the ground retching or else pointing at nothing and saying things like "Wow," "God," "Light," "Yeah."
Sparks rolled off the back of the cart laughing. He crawled over to Metor and looked up at him like a dog.
"Okay, so how do you do it?"
"If itís simple, how come everyone doesnít do it?"
Sparks flipped on his back to study the sky.
"Plenty of times, and not just for brief encounters such as this. In certain periods, youíve lived out entire life spans."
"Now, there is no other time. I could tell you the past or the future, but that would be misleading. Eternity is not a time, but the space around a moment. Itís here right now."
Sparks stopped doing the backstroke.
"I must be smashed. Youíre making sense."
"Of course. Nothing is old or new. Thereís only movement of what is."
"How come I donít remember none of these other times?"
"Because to do so would require being two places at once."
Metor had begun to stroll through the crowd with Sparks stumbling along after. People leered zanily through dilated eyes. Fists clenched. Some snarled.
"Fine warriors. I chose the proper group. You shall have a fine day, Sparks, and be remembered by my people for many generations."
Sparks reached out and grabbed Metorís arm.
"How come I remember my other life now? How come you always remember?"
Metor appeared genuinely puzzled, even a trifle forlorn.
"Why do you want to know? In a few hours youíll be dead, and all will be forgotten."
"Well then, I got a right to know."
Metor unclasped Sparksí hand from his arm. His stance so stiffened that he became impressively statuesque.
"As you say in the warm-up, I am the seventh son of a seventh son. I dared to alter reality for a moment--which manifested an eternity. I dwell in a universe of my own construct and can project through it specific parts of the destiny I choose. The method for so gathering a moment is too subtle for any language but its own, and I have never sought a reason or explanation for it. I am a necromancer, not a philosopher, and you, Sparks, are today a warrior general so stop playing sorcererís apprentice."
All about them, people raged with excitement. Mean Joe Bean was screaming, "kill their ass, kill their ass," and soon the mob took up the chant with increasing frenzy. Sparks pounded his chest like a gorilla.
"Hot damn, maybe they will fight."
"Of course they will. Thereíll be no attendants. Every last one of them will join in. Tell them to mount up."
Sparks wore a Right Whale smile, drawn down in the center and flaring out at the corners to reveal rear molars. His hands were clawing the air, and he was jogging around in small circles.
"Yeah, right. Mount up. Mount those goddamn ponies. We gonna ride. We gonna ride."
People made for the horses and jumped up so quickly that they slid right over the animalsí backs or landed three to a mount. The horses were shamed by the antics and refused to move until theyíd been properly saddled. Secretariat became excited at the sight of so much leather being strapped on and started kicking. Sparks stood in front of the rearing animal dodging hooves and shouting, "we gonna ride, we gonna ride."
Metor yanked Sparks back.
"So ride already."
"Right. Say, where we goin?"
Metor pointed to a low grassy hill in the distance.
"The battlefield awaits you on the other side."
"Thereís an army over there? How come they havenít attacked?"
"Because thatís not the plan."
Metor mounted an inconspicuous Appaloosa and rode through the throng. Everyone became suddenly sullen as Metor worked his will. A grim determination descended marked by the gritting of teeth and efficient movement. People saddled horses, inspected weapons and threw up. They looked comical yet fierce. Women in straggled hair and smeared makeup were savagely beautiful. Men of nineteen, college students and servicemen, brandished swords slashing the wind. Metor struggled to bring the horses under his mental control. Theyíd be valuable after.
Sparks had yanked Secretariat down by the reins and cinched a saddle into place. He shouted to the swarming mob that they were all going to charge and "knock the goddamn hell out of whateverís there."
"Are we the toughest bunch of suckers that ever lived?"
"Yeaaahh!!! Eight hundred and fifty answered.
Mean Joe Bean, the now totally drunk marine, fell out of the stirrups of his piebald mount and roared, "Gimmie a K."
"Kkkaaayyy," the crowd yelled back.
"Gimmie an I."
"Gimmie an L."
"Gimmie another L."
"Whatís that spell?"
"Whatís that spell?"
"Whatís that spell?"
The whole crowd gave a blood-curdling scream and took off in a wild stampede towards the hill. Metorís jaw dropped at the sheer magnificence. This was going to be the greatest thing in the Gobi since dinosaurs. Linda was still back in the goatskin tent sleeping off a koumiss hangover. It was truly a pity it would all be over before she woke to see any of it.
Metor noticed Sparks kicking Secretariat in the ribs and trotted over. Sparks was bellowing "charge, charge, charge" and looked up in exasperation as his mount began to graze.
"We shoulda brought tanks I tell ya. Say, what the hell is over there?"
Metor reached out from his mount and began to scratch Secretariat behind the ears.
"Magic, that is all. Consider it a dream that might have been or a possibility between universes."
Metor put his hand under Secretariatís jaw, lifted the horseís head, and stared straight into the animalís eyes.
"I will castrate you at sundown," he said softly.
Secretariat snorted and shook his head free. For a moment, he pondered the ground, and then he was free of it galloping in thirty-foot strides that seemed never to touch down. Metorís horse took after him--sniffling that Secretariat was an aristocratic twit. Perhaps, but he was the wind itself sailing over the crest before Metorís pony was halfway up the rise.
At the summit, Metor halted his horse and eyed Rastar who was standing on a hilltop in the distance. The two magicians looked down into the intervening valley. Metorís army had dismounted gathering before a low wall. They were shouting and pointing at Rastarís army that stood behind the parapet yelling and gesturing back. The cries drifted up to Metor.
"Hey thatís me." "What am I doing over there?" "I canít kill myself." and "This is no fair."
Rastarís army shouted similar phrases, but in Latin. Metor whistled appreciatively. Rastar had indeed pulled a fine trick. He had transported the exact same group through from a different point in time, probably the Roman Empire. The two armies that faced each other were comprised of the same people. The situation had to be resolved quickly. The present reality was untenable. An eternity would have to surround the moment to accommodate it, or it would have to cease to exist.
Metor stared back at Rastar who suddenly vanished. A dangerous stillness hung in the air as if nature was deciding whether to wink out. Only Secretariat was moving picking up speed as he raced down the hillside. He crashed into the battlements without slowing. The impact crushed his chest killing him instantly, but Sparks was somersaulted over the wall. He leaped to his feet stabbing the man nearest him who happened to be himself. His other self mimicked the motion, and both men fell dead.
"That bastard Sparks just killed Sparks," Mean Joe Bean roared while his counterpart shouted in Latin. "Are we gonna let ourselves get away with that?"
Shouts of "no" and "nullus" filled the air. A furious carnage began with Metorís troops storming the wall, and Rastarís army struggling to hold them back. The breastworks were breached, and the fighting soon centered on the inside perimeter.
Metor turned his pony away and trotted off realizing there was no point in watching. Such perfectly matched groups would obviously annihilate one another. Metor had been cast into a strange universe where the impossible was possible--but heíd gained many fine horses. To him, this constituted victory.
Metor was contemplating reality as he reached his goatskin tent. He found two Lindas waiting for him there. One spoke in English, the other in Latin, but both asked the same question.
"Is it over?"
Metor smiled sadly while shaking his head.
"No one ever understands when I explain eternity."
In the circus tent, a gasp went up as Mr. Meteor vanished from the stage. Tremendous applause ensued. Linda had an eerie feeling that her lover was gone forever. Her heart pained her more than their casual affair warranted. Very quickly, the clapping turned to hoots and jeers. The audience wanted to see more of a show. Somewhere in Ancient Rome, a lady brushed back a tear.
x x x
An odd story by our friend Mr. Story and one of the two Gregís to grace our pages this year. The mix of fantasy and sci-fi that spices this yarn suits my tastebuds well. How Ďbout yours, AR gourmands? - GM