Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lawful Encounters

It takes less time than it should have, but still longer than I expected. We’re packed and about to leave the town of Hoop’s Creek, which naturally has no creek at all. I’m having Jay shove the last of clothing our into a duffel bag in the hotel room when there is a knock on the door. We’ve got an hour before we need to be out of the motel and all I did in the town was chat to some local gods so I figure it’s only housekeeping.
        The man on the other side is a police officer. You just have to look at him to know that. Tall, blond, ex-soldier solid with cool grey eyes that miss nothing. I figured the police would end up after Jay and I for one thing or another, but not this soon. I open my mouth to try a bluff when Jay lets out an ear-piercing scream of terror behind me. I feel the kid’s weight slam into my back and
        the world becomes dead colours i am breathing brain broken ram clusters firing off bits of old songs i’m hemorrhaging self-memories into place-space P solved for NP hot is cold neither is
        “Charlie?” Jay is pressed tight against my body. I am cold, he is warm. I am Charlie. Body, here. Charlie. I open my eyes, everything at once too bright and dead like an old tv oscillating between failure states. The thought shakes me a little back to myself. We’re in a small grove in the middle of trees, still mid-day, the snow around us melted as Jay shakes me urgently.
        Somehow our duffel bags are beside us still along with his white cane, his dark glasses still on his face as he keeps shaking me frantically.
        “Jay. What?” My mouth tastes like something small and furry pissed in it then curled up to die and rot for days, but I can still make words. I’m cold, and it’s not the snow.
        He lets go. “Bindingth almost broke and I thought I lost you,” he says, words stumbling over each other.
        “What happened?”
        “It was bad and we had to run and I pulled you away from there and I went to the place where I hide when I don’t want to be theen but it hurt you a lot and we’re out and you’re cold and I’m scared and –.”
        “Breathe.” He breathes as I sit up slowly. The god inside me is small, quivering and spasming in fear. It was the monster under my bed when I was a child, bound to me by a magician. It can be scared, because there are always bigger monsters, but right now I can’t call on its strength, can’t even touch its power at all. It’s not hiding from me, but something hurt it so badly that all its strength is being devoted to not shattering into raw energy and being destroyed. I’m a god-eater: I didn’t think a god inside one could be destroyed until now.
        I try a few breaths, then wrap my arms about Jay and hug him close. He’s warm and making soft keening sounds of desperation. His eyes were damaged and he can’t cry at all anymore, but his terrified sounds is close to that.
        “Hey,” I say, over and over for a good minute before he calms down a little bit. He’s from far Outside the universe, tougher than anything human and unique in that he can hide that he isn’t a normal human kid from most everything. He’s also really good at sensing, making and unmaking bindings.
        “What happened, Jay?”
        “The – the creature wath bad,” he whispers, still shoving his body tight into my hug, no doubt repairing bindings between us. His lisp is slowly going away but still surfaces in fear and excitement, and Jay is generally excited a lot.
        “I did get that when you screamed. What happened next?”
        “I hid with you and ran, but you didn’t – the god inside you fell apart and it was too – it wath bad,” he finishes, shaking all over. “I got us out but you were hurt and and –.”
        “Jay.” I say it as sharply as I can and he wraps his arms tight and makes more terrible keening sounds that human throats shouldn’t make. I’ve never seen him like this before. This time I just hug until he finally stops making the sound. “I’m okay, Jay. I’m alive. It worked.”
        “But – it almotht – I almotht lottht you,” he gets out, the lisp thick and heavy in his terror.
        “But you didn’t,” I say as gently as I can, trying to ignore the small voice in the back of my head screaming in terror. Whatever that place Jay goes when he hides from the world, being lost in it would mean things I don’t want to try and think of.
        “Fascinating.” The police officer is simply there, in front of us, as if imprinting on the world. “Few people actually manage to escape me even for a moment.”
        Jay shudders all over and scrambles to his feet, standing between me and the police officer. He doesn’t vanish from the world with me; I’m certain I couldn’t survive that again. Whatever the police officer is, it’s no god I can eat; I can eat other things than gods, but instinct tells me I can’t eat the police officer at all. Which means he’s bigger and more dangerous than I want to think about.
        “I’m not letting you hurt Charlie. We’re friends,” Jay yells. “And Charlie is my friend, and I won’t let you hurt you so you’re going to go away,” he says. His lisp doesn’t touch his voice at all, and the last two words are deep, impossibly solid and I don’t think spoken in any human language even though I hear them just fine.
The police officer has gone still, hand on his gun, and is no longer smiling at all.
“I won’t – I won’t let you hurt my friend,” Jay pants. “So, so you’re going to go away now!” he screams and the world around us seems to warp, as if buckling under the force of the words and the police officer is simply gone as if he was never there at all.
        Jay collapses to the ground. I manage to stands and walk over. He feels boneless when I pick him up, breathing shallow and erratic, his body clammy to the touch as he sweats and shudders all over. I have no idea what he did. I pull off his glasses gently. His eyes are damaged from seeing something too big even for him to see, bindings that almost destroyed him. They’re filled with thousands of colours flicking out like dead stars, the eyeballs themselves rolling about frantically like dead animals in cages. Right now they’re barely rolling at all and there are almost no sparks in his unseeing eyes.
        I say his name and hold him until he manages to grip my fingers. It takes perhaps a minute but feels a lot longer.
        “My throat hurtth,” he whispers.
        “What did you do?”
        “I got mad.” He looks up, eyes widening. “I got real mad and I don’t think I’m suppothed to do that, Charlie. It hurt me all over and I feel really hungry.” He shudders, then lets out small happy sighs as I hold him.
        “Shhh,” I say, and am not sure what else to say, what else to even do except try and get my breath back and us out of here when something cold presses against the back of my head.
        “My name is Lance Christensen in this world,” the police officer says, and his voice is colder than the gun barrel. “And you are under arrest.”
        Jay freezes. If he was human enough to have a bladder, I think he would have emptied it out.
        “May we stand?”
        The gun is removed. I stand slowly, pulling Jay up. He’s trembling violently, barely keeping on his feet, both hands gripping my right arm as I turn.
        The police officer is standing ten feet from us, gun holstered but right hand on it, and there is a tightness to his eyes and mouth that is gone between one moment as he next as he lets go off the gun and stares at us for a moment that stretches too long.
        “I – oh. Oh,” Jay says. “I didn’t know!”
        I have no idea what passed between them, but the police officer smiles slightly. “I guessed as much. You do know that was technically impossible, don’t you?”
        Jay bites into his lower lip and nods, not letting go of me.
        “Explain. Please,” I add when Jay grips my hand as tightly as he can in warning.
        “You met time itself once, wearing human flesh and called into the world by the wandering magician.”
        I shudder slightly and nod. There are forces in the universe even magicians are reluctant to invoke, entities gods are too terrified to worship. “You serve that – that thing?”
        Lance smiles slightly. “No. As the one that calls itself Winter is to time, so am I to justice; I am what enforces of the laws of reality.”
        “If you’re here to arrest us for that, it’s either way too early or too late, isn’t it?” I ask. Jay giggles weakly at that.
        “Hardly that; you have need of identification for the boy. I was going to provide it. I cannot be in all places at once.”
        “You want us to work for you?”
        “Merely to owe me a favour, at Winter’s request. He did not explain why it was necessary. I did not expect the reaction I received to my visit.”
        “We’re safe now, though?” Lance nods. “You can rest,” I say to Jay.
        Jay considers that for a few seconds, then nods in turn and lets go of my arm, lettting out a huge yawn and then curling up to sleep in the snow.
        “I hadn’t actually thought that would work. You know where our van is?”
        Lance nods; I pick Jay up and carry him easily through the snow after Lance. Jay looks to be ten, and he’s definitely lighter than he was a couple of days ago; at a guess, he burned off at least twenty pounds in the last hour. That he did that and needed rest more than food worries me, but it’s not as high up on the list as other things right now.
        “The wandering magician told me that creatures like you are basically tangible expressions of intangible forces. You’re basically a GUI for the universe proper, yes?”
        “I would not put it that crudely, but yes,” Lance says.
        “And Jay did – what?”
        “Removed me from the universe for a moment, which is akin to kicking the driver out of a speeding car and expecting the car to continue onward. Conceptually, imagine what the universe would be like if no hydrogen existed even for a brief period of time.”
        “Fortunately, he was acting out of pure terror rather than knowing what I was. That he also hid you briefly where I could not follow or sense is deeply troubling.”
        “Which is why you want him – us – to owe you a favour?”
        “In part, yes.”
        “And if I say no?”
        “I could raise my power against you; I doubt Jay would survive trying to protect you in his current condition.”
        I look over, but Lance’s face gives nothing away at all. “We’ll need credit cards. Also identification for Jay.”
        He nods and hands over a small credit card a moment later. It is silver-red all over, the edges of it white, the entire thing devoid of writing.
        “And this is?”
        “A card. It cannot be removed from you once you take it and will procure money as needed and offer up any identification you desire.” He holds up a smaller one in his other hand. “For Jay, but it will not include access to money.”
        “The more we use them, the greater the favour you can call in?”
        “It will allow me to call in smaller ones as well, yes.”
        “I assume this will be enough for Jay to forgive the harm I have done to the both of you today?”
        I snort. “He would have anyway. There are few things more terrible than knowing you can do anything to someone and they will forgive you for it.” I sigh. “I think I’m starting to understand better why the magician couldn’t stay with us. Unconditional love is one thing, but forgiveness? That is too much, too much to bear by far. And Jay may never understand how deeply he destroys us with that. Anything that promotes bindings is good. He’s learning, but I don’t think either of us are good teachers.”
        “He risked his life to protect you; what higher friendship could you ask for?” Lance says.
        “I don’t mean it like that. There are things that should not be forgiven.”
        “Perhaps not.”
        He says nothing else; we reach the road to find our vehicle is there waiting.
“There is gas in it,” Lance says. “It was the least I could do for the harm I caused,” and then is gone as if he was never there at all.
        I make my way to the van, get Jay in the passenger seat. He doesn’t wake up, but just rest his head against my shoulder the moment I’m driving. I reach the nearest motel slowly, use the card from Lance to pay for a room and get Jay into it, shaking him once one he’s on the bed.
        “Charlie?” he whispers weakly.
        “We’re in a motel. Lance left. You okay?”
        “Nope. Tired. Hurt-thore.”
        “Okay.” I pull off his shoes and get him into the bed. The room has one cheap armchair and I get into that, half-asleep when Jay crawls into my lap like a cat, making sleepy noises.
        I give in and go to the bed, sitting up in a nest of pillows as Jay curls up beside and into me, making happy sounds of relief as he goes back to sleep. I ruffle his hair and wrap my right arm about him, which causes a shuddering sigh of relief as he goes boneless against me. Feeling protected, feeling bindings solidify again. I sleep sooner than I expect to, only half-wondering what we’ll do for food when he wakes up.

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