Friday, May 09, 2008

The Ulterior's Motive

First published 'Beyond The Moon' 1994

The building, once a skyrise block, now sprawled along the horizon. Its central manse prodded the clouds with the short temper of a bed-ridden schoolmistress, whilst its outhouses and stables crept window- and entrance-less from either side, curving gently to fulfil an ancient ambition of the shellac snake swallowing its own masonic tail.

Knowing at once that this was the only part of the city which had been made independent of reality during one of the Tangential Wars, Glock had clambered here through stilted, stunted avenues of trees. Being participants in the Second Suburban civilisation, the inhabitants were glued to screens, screens which reflected only fuller versions of themselves. He need not bother them. He took no pleasure in surprising the unsurprisable. Time travel was to them only second nature in the fictional worlds they now thought they lived through. Yet Glock remained a hero in search of his heroism, even if this particular area of history was merely a way-station for other less insignificant, more heroic times.

"Who are you?"

He was startled by the brightness in the abrupt feminine voice. Wishing that he had managed to be the first to bring the same question to bear, he surveyed the questioner's face: a wanton, pointed vixen-like animal with shirley-temple curls, and loins so thickly bushed, he wondered whether the voice had caused him to jump to conclusions.

"I am Glock," he answered. He would have added, "Glock, an Ulterior who has been commissioned by the Future to de-haunt that building", if he had not already learned the big lessons in life: say as little as possible: and don't tempt synchronicity. She looked unaccountably relieved.

He pointed to the conjoined crescent building, now etched in marquetry against the most stage-struck sunset he had ever seen. The edge of the sky was almost audible amid its various interfaces of tertiary colours. Not one single sun, but several, dipped together as a well-drilled chorus line, gradually silting into the dewy-eyed pastels and oils that this particular universe had seen fit to massage into its moving parts. These suns eventually came together as one, to take the curtain-call of night, their overall consistency fast changing from raw jam to wild honey. Finally, with a magnificent feat of prestidigitation, the now combined sun wore a black top hat which was courteously doffed for the final bow and, more quickly than Glock anticipated, became as big as the whole sky's bowl.

"Pretty, weren't it?"

He nodded. He had not wanted to enter the building during darkness but now it seemed there was no option. Other than untested options.

"You will come with me?" he stated, rather than asked.

"To help clean it?"

He nodded again, knowing what she meant.

She took his hand into her slenderly fingered paw and led him along an unmarked path. Her sparkling eyes told him that she could see better at night than him. His friends, who worked for the Future in the past, had obviously primed her and planted her here as his guide, and he was truly thankful for such sweet mercies.

The building had once been a large stately house. It was now unusual in one respect, something he had indeed already noticed but not sufficiently weighed. The side stables had no apertures of their own, which meant that they could only be reached via the main central manse itself. He imagined wicket gates leading from the grand entrance hallway into the bestrawn areas, where whatever unlikely beasts were reared did nuzzle and feed, hinnying gently to lull the other inhabitants towards sleep. The livestock was taken in and out via the ornate central doorway, since they had no stable doors to call their own. The marble staircases and costly parquetry must be peppered with their droppings. All surmise, yet surmise based on the Future's map of hindsight in his possession.

Glock had indeed learnt, before embarking on this mission, that he was due to reach a cross-section of reality which was entirely independent of history itself. Unscarred by the Tangential Wars, it was thus teeming with such refugees and dossers that could not bear the brunt of chronology. It supplied haven of hindsight, even, for those who could not gain purchase upon any credulity elsewhere: for those whose outlandish exteriors were denied existence within most healthy precincts of time, since nobody really wanted to believe in nightmares. It was Glock's job to visit such pockets of resistance and rid them of any wrong-headed creatures inhabiting them.

He had no illusions. He was not brave. Knowing that hindsight was fighting from his corner, how could he possibly be defeated? Furthermore, he had a few old school-tie contacts amid the corporate machinery of FUTURE (Fate's United Timekeepers & Ulterior Reality Erasers). .

"I've got a key."

He could have hugged her. She knew her lines very well.

The double-doors swung wide open even before she could insert the key. Things were working out almost too well (despite the inopportune sunset). He was cruising upon a clockwork of well-oiled domino ratchets.

They stepped amid the candleflames that might have been lit to welcome them. The stench inside was quite unbearable: a heady ripeness which they could almost see hanging in the waxlight like honeycombs rotted right through. The dynastic oil paintings queuing up the winding gone-with-the-wind staircase dripped with a phlegmy-green pigment, particularly from the mouths and snouts of the depicted subjects.

"How do we get to the stables?" he asked, ever eager to get on with the job in hand.

She darted towards an antechamber and, by the time he had caught up, he found her scrabbling in the maw of a tall fireplace. The lizard-skinned ashes, he could just see, were sticky, and some dead flames were clinging to her behind like boiled sweets. He had always imagined corpse-fire to be more like flowers. This was the first time he'd seen it. Hindsight had never been able to deal with such impossibilities as cold fire.

With a teeth-grinding noise, she removed the back of the engorged chimney. Giving him her tail to hold, he followed into what he now took to be the stables. There were snorts and snuffles from every quarter: lambent eyes played peeky-boo with each other: feelers tickled his face as if he were on an old-fashioned ghost funround. How was he to see in such darkness, how cope with the exorcism of mutant reality with merely the sense of touch at his disposal?

"Are we in the stables, now?" he whispered.

"No, these are where the pets are kept. The wildstock is further into the side sheds."

He knew for a fact that he was not here to obliterate household pets. But he was now unsure whether she had learnt her lines correctly. Unaccountably, he half-mistrusted her.

With no warning, even to himself, he took his Lewis-gun and sprayed a splatter of ectoplasmic pellets in all directions of the sane compass, willy-nilly. The gnawing purrs and drowsing undergrunts became squawks and squeals of outright terror. The eyes extinguished one by one, each with a gut-wrenching sob. The noise screeched on: it could almost be seen as great swathes of darkness billowing like black flames of shadow: then tattering: finally silence. It turned out, more by Fate than Future, that he had managed not to hit his guide. But he could tell from the yellow wells that were her eyes rising up before him, that she was stricken with unconscious grief.

He felt her tail tug him on. Now she was not speaking. A female stoniness had settled on their relationship ... at least for a while, he assumed. More by Luck than Judgement, they reached the outmost stables by daybreak, tired and hungry. A silvery light filtered through the cracks of the wooden walls.

"But there's nothing here ... "

Only straw and a small empty manger, he noticed.

As he spoke, he swung his arms in unison, like a love-shy schoolboy. She stared at him fixedly. Her cunning-looking features snickered. She tweedled her whiskery snout: the saucy minx needed her rump smacking, he thought. Abruptly, with a flash of her flanks, she leapt upon him, scrambled up his uniform (using the silver buttons as gains of purchase), wrapped him round the chest with her pulsing limbs and forced her snout into his mouth, with the fever of some passion he could not comprehend.

Glock, with an Ulterior's body, wielded a vast crosspult, one loaded with a chunky lump of frozen ghost-vaccine: sprung upon a band of elastic spiritfire - and several bodily hair-triggers ready-cocked. Whether he was snooked accidentally into judder-recoil or, whether, indeed, he himself tipped the balance in all conscious righteousness of motive, he did not, nor want to, know. Less by Fuck than Fudge, Glock's grapeshot ricocheted beyond reality's range and brought, if temporarily, cross-concertinas of event into play...

He placed her in the single manger, where she flopped lifelessly, the maw in her furry belly having flooded with what looked like raw jam. Reluctant tears gleaming in his dark eyes, he curled himself up in the straw nearby ... waiting, waiting, waiting for the Future to send another less human Glock to rescue him from these trammels of out-history.

Tenderly, he shuffled some straw over the were's body in the manger.

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