Gestaltung, umgestaltung, des ewigen sinne ewige unterhaltung; um schwebt von bildern aller kreatur…
“Formation, transformation, the eternal minds’ eternal recreation; images of all creatures float, portrayed…”
PATCHES THE IMMORTAL: PART THREE
As Patches lay dying, her life did not flash before her eyes. It bled.
Patches was bleeding on the night she met Meteor Mags. A single drop of blood had fallen from her lacerated ear. It fell past the narrow girders on which she hid near the ceiling of the tiny storage room. The drop of blood fell a meter through the air and splattered on the lens of Mags’ glasses.
Mags inhaled sharply at the unexpected splat. A sticky mess of her own half-dried blood, sweat, and dirt caked her forehead and the side of her face. She pressed her back against the wall of the storage room behind her. She had remained hidden there for twenty minutes or more. The bleeding had slowed from the gash in her scalp, but a steady trickle of dark red flowed from her white hair, over her eyebrow and cheekbone, and down the side of her neck. She instinctively looked up at the source of the sudden splatter.
Patches lay in a low, narrow crouch on a single skinny girder above her head. At first, Mags felt pity for the little cat. It looked like a laser pistol had vaporized the tip of her right ear. So much dirt covered Patches that Mags could not see her calico markings at all, just a grey and black blob in the shadows. “Just what I need, lol,” she thought. “A black cat crossing my path.” But Mags saw something in Patches’ eyes. She saw something burning like defiance, but also cold and hard like a steel blade. Mags raised a single finger to her lips, pursing them as if to say, “Shhhhh,” without making a single sound. Then she pointed over her shoulder towards the sound of footsteps approaching in the hallway outside.
Mags knew that the patrol, if they cornered her in this small room, would shred her to bits with laser fire in less time than it takes to tell. Mags stood against the wall so that she would be behind the door if it opened, out of sight for a moment at least. Maybe it would even be enough to shield her from the eyes of the patrol if they looked inside. The space port was crawling with patrols now. Even if she could get out, they had posted patrols outside The Queen Anne’s Revenge, and she was seriously outgunned until she could get aboard that ship.
Then, she saw Patches rise up from her crouch and dart along the narrow girder. Patches moved quickly, but Mags detected a limp in her rear leg. “Poor thing,” she thought. Patches stopped, then tried to work out how to turn around. Her injured leg slipped off the girder, and the loss of balance made her other back leg fall off, too. The girder made a metallic wobbling sound, like sheet metal flexing. Patches pulled her back feet up, swaying on the metal as it settled. She looked down at Mags, and winked.
The footsteps stopped outside the door at the sound. Mags held her laser pistol ready. The door creaked open, slowly. “ROOOOOOWWWWRR!” Patches hurled herself, howling, at the patrolmen. One had advanced to open the door, and the second one knelt behind him, covering the doorway with his pistol. Patches caught the second one square in the face and started swinging her claws.
Patches’ howl galvanized Mags into action. She kicked the door as hard as she could. It slammed on the first patrolman’s arm. Mags slammed the door again with the sole of her boot, crushing it closed on the exposed arm. She put a laser round into its hand, and then another round to vaporize it in a spray of blood. The patrolman it belonged to screamed. Mags threw the door open and put three quick rounds into the patrolman’s chest. His body fell backwards and tumbled over the body of his companion, who, still kneeling, tried in vain to pull Patches off his face.
When the bodies collided, Patches leapt clear. She scanned the hallway in a flash as Mags fired her pistol into the face of each patrolman. Patches looked over her shoulder and mewed at Mags. Then she bolted down the hallway.
Mags did not really know why she followed, but Patches seemed to know where she was going. She saw Patches speed around a corner, and hurried to catch up. She dashed around another corner, then another. Just as Mags turned the third corner, she heard shouting.
She tried to stop herself, but her momentum carried her around the corner. She stood face to face with The Queen Anne’s Revenge, not twenty meters away. Patches had taken her to the edge of the landing spot the patrols now guarded. But, Patches had also captured their attention. She howled like a demon from hell running full-speed through the ranks of the patrols. They raised a hateful yell and all turned towards her. Without a second thought, they began chasing the dirty grey cat across the open landing spot, towards the cargo crates on the other side.
Mags could not have known that Patches had stalked this space port for two whole months. She had crept aboard a ship looking for food, and found herself whisked off the planet and parked on this miserable moon. She spent her days stealing food from these patrolmen, destroying their furniture, and defecating in their beds. Patches wanted a ride off this godforsaken mud ball. But as long as she was stuck here, she felt compelled to make the patrolmen regret they ever knew her. Hunting the angry cat with laser rifles had become a daily sport for them, one they pursued with much enthusiasm.
Mags ran aboard The Queen Anne’s Revenge, straight into the small armory she kept there. From a case on the floor she pulled out an old-fashioned favorite of hers: the Negev SF machine gun. Hers had a bipod and a 200-round supply of bullets in a belt clipped to the magazine housing. She grabbed a few extra belts just in case. Mags ran to position herself in the doorway of the ship. Lying down on the floor just inside the doorway, she pointed the Negev at the mass of patrolmen on the other side of the dock. They ran this way and that, trying to corner the little cat darting between the cargo crates as fast as she could.
“KITTY!” yelled Mags. “Get the fuck down!” Mags pulled the trigger on the Negev and poured round after round into the group of patrolmen. The bullets slammed into their bodies to send them sprawling against the cargo crates. Those that dove to the ground, Mags sprayed with another hail of bullets. “Die, you fuckers,” she shouted. A small group to the side had pulled themselves together and began returning fire. Mags mowed them down in one, two, three quick sweeps of the machine gun.
From the other side of the crates came a grey blur heading straight for Mags. Patches hated the sound of gunfire, but she knew a ride off a planet when she saw one. Mags saw her coming and laid down suppressive fire throughout the room. “Let’s GO!” Mags slammed the ship’s door shut behind them as a fresh wave of patrolmen poured out of every door in the space port. Laser rounds pinged off the hull of The Queen Anne’s Revenge as Mags brought her up to full power. “Bloody fuck!” she said to the panting, filthy animal beside her. “We gotta get off this rock NOW. Hang on!”
And that was how Patches and Meteor Mags became friends.
Tarzi opened the manual and flipped through a few pages. “Well, this is obviously broken into chapters, and this word repeats in every heading of those chapters. So it probably means ‘chapter.’” Tarzi ran his finger down the text on the page. “And see here? This is obviously steps to activate the machine, and the characters in the list also appear in the chapter headings. So, we can safely assume these symbols are numbers, in a numbered list.”
Mags smiled. “You’re so smart! What else?”
Meteor Mags would never mention to Tarzi that she had blacked out too, if only for a moment. When she came to, The Queen Anne’s Revenge had settled into a shallow but steady climb. Mags took her up into a gathering of clouds. The heat from the hull scorched the clouds and began to evaporate. Mags slowly cruised through the clouds, cooling the hull, and trying to track the radio signal.
The screen on the console showed the source as a yellow dot growing closer and closer. Mags brought The Queen Anne’s Revenge down from the clouds. The buildings of the Ghost Moon’s lost cities glowed with a pale, green light. “Someone built a power grid to last,” Mags said to herself. “Maybe it’s solar. Tarzi will love that.”
She landed the ship in a clearing just down the street from a two-story building. Though many of the buildings along the street had all or partially crumbled, this one held something of its former glory. A dome covered with ornate geometric patterns carved into it sat atop the second story. At each of its four corners, a pillar rose from the ground to another story higher in the air. They seemed to be covered in smaller, more detailed carvings. Mags examined them through her sniper scope. It looked a lot like calculus, but she could not make any sense of it.
Mags checked to make sure Tarzi and Patches were secure before she ventured out. She saw only sparse signs of plant life, and a few insects she did not recognize. No birds, no mammals, and certainly no people. The building looked abandoned, but she held her pistol ready just in case. A chain wrapped around the door handles would not keep her out. Her pistol’s torch setting could melt through it in seconds. Still, she cautiously approached the side of the building and looked in a smashed-out window. Then, she heard the voice from the radio again.
“…well. Thus, I conclude my greatest triumph, sadly, with this final record of my life’s work. Here in my lab stands the immortality machine. It can heal all manners of sickness and disease. It will banish death. And for that, they will come soon to kill me. I leave only this testament, and my regrets. It must fall to someone else to use it for the first and only time it can be used. Farewell. Thus I conclude my greatest…”
The message began to repeat, but Mags had heard enough. She torched her way into the building and ran through its pale, glowing hallways towards the voice. There. Down the hall. She ran through an open doorway, barely noticing the door sat not on its hinges but on the floor near the opposite wall. Then, Mags stood face to face with the speaker of the voice. She looked into the image of his eyes on the monitor set into the wall as his message repeated again.
Machinery filled the room: a battery of microscopes, massive coils of wire, and banks of dimly lit consoles. A tube two and a half meters tall stood vertically, set into one of the console banks at the far end of the room. Darkened splashes that might have once been blood decorated parts of the walls and floor. And there she found, on a small desk, written in an utterly incomprehensible language, the operator’s manual.
She ran back to the ship.
“Okay, look at this word.” Tarzi pointed to the page. “It appears again here… and here… and here.” His finger moved across the pages. “Based on where it appears, I am thinking it functions in the predicate. And if it’s a verb, that means… Oh, wait. Wait.” Tarzi sat down on the chair behind him and furrowed his brow. He flipped forward a few pages, then back again. “Oh. I see.” Slowly, he began flipping through one page at a time.
Mags tapped her foot. “Well? What do you see? What is it? Does it make any sense? Can you actually…”
“Auntie!” said Tarzi sharply. “Do you mind? I am trying to read over here!”
“Well, EXCUSE ME FOR LIVING!” Mags frowned. “Sorry, dear. I am so stressed right now.”
“Me too!” said Tarzi. “So can you keep it down to a dull roar for a minute LOL?! Listen, have you got any cigarettes?
“How can you smoke at a time like this?” shouted Mags.
“How can you NOT smoke at a time like this? Come on, Mags, I’m all out, and I left in a hurry!”
Mags said, “Alright, but figure out what that book says! I don’t have any on me, but we have like ten cartons on The Queen Anne’s Revenge.”
Tarzi’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Ten cartons? Well, bring me a couple of those, then! Please?”
“Anything for my nephew, the genius,” said Mags. “I’ll be right back. Now figure out what that book says!” Mags walked off to her ship, leaving Tarzi to work on sorting out the manual.
Mags could not have known that Tarzi had already worked out the unfamiliar language. He struggled not with its structure and meaning but with a cold fear that gripped him as he read. Tarzi pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He had a couple left. Sure, he had lied about being all out. But he knew Mags needed something to do, something to focus on, and he needed to think.
Tarzi read the words as easily as you or I can read this page. He read all about how to operate the machine. But, he did not understand everything the machine could do. That part had been partially ripped out. The torn edges of the missing pages made him wonder why someone would remove that part. As he read a description of the fearsome procedure, he wondered how they could possibly risk turning it on.
“Well, did you get it – Hey! I thought you said you were out!”
Tarzi jumped out of his chair at the sound of Mags’ voice. “Auntie, I… I was just… I found a… Oof!” Tarzi broke off his fumbling apology to catch the two cartons of smokes Mags tossed to him.
“Never mind all that, Captain Black Lung! What does the book say?”
Tarzi took a puff, held it deeply, and exhaled twin tendrils of grey smoke from his nostrils. “It says it only works one time, so let’s hope it has never been used before. It tells me exactly how to turn it on. It runs through a cycle automatically, and shuts down when it’s over. Which is all well and good I suppose. Except…”
“Can it save Patches?” Mags asked.
“I don’t know. The energy conversions are off the chart. The equations for power conversion should not even be possible. It’s like… It’s like instead of stepping up voltage, like a transformer, they actually step up power. But that’s impossible. You can’t increase the overall power in a system without doing more work, over time. I mean, it runs against everything we know about the laws of thermo…”
Beep beep beep! Beep beep beep! “What the hell is that beeping?” asked Mags. “Oh my god – Patches!” Mags ran into the next room with Tarzi right on her heels. They had wheeled the stasis unit into the room with the machines. Everything seemed fine until Mags saw the timer.
“Oh no! Look,” said Mags. “The bloody timer is down to two minutes! She’s only got two minutes left in the stasis unit, Tarzi!”
“I thought it said we had like five hours?”
“It did! Damn this old junk!” Mags kicked the machines with her boot. “Come on! We’ve got to get Patches into that other machine and turn it on. Now!”
“But auntie, I’m trying to say we don’t have any idea what will happen. There’s no way that the machine could possibly do what it does! We can’t just…”
“Damn it, Tarzi! We know what WILL happen in ninety seconds if we DON’T use it. Patches is going to die!” Mags pulled Patches’ limp body from the stasis unit. “We’re out of choices, Tarzi! Do it!” Mags laid Patches’ body in the bottom of the shatterproof glass tube of the strange machine. “Oh, my little kitty,” she said softly. “My poor little kitty.”
Tarzi began flipping switches and pulling levers. Lights came on. The console began to hum fiercely. “Mags,” he shouted over the low rumble. “See that little mask? It’s supposed to fit a human. You’ve got to fit it onto her face somehow. It’s the only way she can breathe when that chamber fills up!”
“Fills up? Fills up with WHAT?” Mags adjusted the mask to Patches’ face, fitting the tiny plastic tube into her mouth and pulling the straps tight. She ran her finger along the edge, making sure it fit snug against Patches’ fuzzy face.
“Auntie,” said Tarzi, “I only wish I could tell you. Now close that chamber and step back!” Tarzi flipped a series of switches. “I mean it! Stand back!” He grabbed one final lever. “This is it!” With all his might, he pulled the lever down.
As it slammed into place, the entire moon fell instantly into darkness.
Science Officer Baston held his greatest triumph up to the light and smiled. He felt a calm, quiet joy on this, the last night of his life. He had already recorded a final statement. Soon, they would arrive to kill him.
Baston had achieved three truly great things in his life. First, he devised a new set of equations for understanding electromagnetic force. Certain applications proved practical in the military sector. Though this brought funding for his research, many on the Science Board dismissed his equations as utterly ignorant of basic principles of thermodynamics. Still, he continued.
Baston’s second great triumph had brought him to tonight’s unfortunate circumstance. He had modeled an incredible machine for drawing power from the magnetic field of a planet. When activated, the machine generated a field in the core of the planet. Manipulation of this field would induce the reversal of the planet’s magnetic poles. Baston’s equations treated the force of this reversal like a river turning a water wheel. The reversal would turn the crank, so to speak, and provide an unimaginable amount of power in return.
When the Science Board realized what Baston had modeled, they ordered him to desist. The geologic catastrophe that would result from instantly reversing their planet’s magnetic poles would destroy everything. Mountains would come crashing down. Continents would tear free, adrift on seas that surged into waves as tall as the sky. Volcanos would tear the planet asunder as the atmosphere burned off in a stinking cacophony of sulphur. Still, he continued. When Baston ignored the Board’s order to desist, they ordered his arrest.
Baston looked again at the object he held up to the light. From one angle, he saw a solid rectangle, like a card. When he turned it slightly, however, he saw a lattice of triangles and squares that all shared sides but never seemed to complete. As he turned it again, his eyes beheld a polyhedron made of every other possible polyhedron, fit together like blocks. As he held it nearer or farther from his face, the shapes shifted like a kaleidoscope.
Baston had already burned the pages he ripped out of his notes on the machines. They described the reason he had continued his work. Baston had modeled more than just the mechanism of power. He had created a transformer to convert the power into a form the human body could absorb. Baston believed this would transform a human to the level of a god. Baston had so wanted to be a god.
The power conversion, however, required Baston’s third and final great achievement. The core of that transformer required a physical object that a mere four dimensions could not adequately describe. Describing the physical core took nine mathematical dimensions. Baston had manufactured, in secret, the only set of tools to ever exist that could create physical objects from such complicated specifications. If he had the sympathy of the Science Board, perhaps Baston could have ushered in an era of profound advancement with his impossible equipment.
The sound of footsteps in the hall broke Baston’s reverie. He walked over to the control panel of his machine, opened up a door, and fit the multi-dimensional core into place. Only he would ever witness its strange, geometric beauty. Baston knew he could get into the chamber, slip on the mask, and dare the transformation before the people outside broke in. But who would pull the lever? He did not even have time to rig something up with a cable or rope… no time at all.
A boot kicked in the door, sending it flying off its hinges and crashing into the back wall. An armored figure stepped into the room. “There he is!”
Drawing his laser pistol, Baston turned his body sideways to present a thin profile. He squeezed the trigger. A spray of bullets lifted him off his feet and smashed him to the wall.
The enormous bureaucracy of the Science Board ordered all of Baston’s equipment and research destroyed on the third following day. Two days later, a virus broke out on the moon. It killed every last man, woman, and child in less than 37 hours. Their architecture would outlive them, a ghost town the size of a planet. Baston’s curious machines sat untouched, intact but abandoned, for many, many years.
WHOOOM. WHOOOM. WHOOOM.
“Tarzi! What did you do?” Mags and Tarzi stood in shock in total darkness.
“I don’t know! I just…”
WHOOOM. WHOOOM. WHOOOM.
“My god,” laughed Tarzi. “That’s almost the same sound my scooter makes when the battery is low and you have to kickstart it to…”
WHOOOM. WHOOOM. WHOOOM.
Magnetic force ripped through the entire moon in an instant. Mags and Tarzi shouted as they found themselves hurled against the wall. The floor rose up to punch them in the face. “GAH!” yelled Tarzi.
“OW! What the…” Before Mags could finish her sentence, a bright blue light with a white core burst from the chamber where she had placed Patches. Patches had floated up from where Mags laid her, now suspended in a bubbling, frothing light. Wild tendrils of blue energy coalesced around her. They grew to fill the room. A swirling miasma of black orbs outlined the brilliant energies as they spilled into the hallway.
Mags and Tarzi crouched, wide-eyed. All the hair on their bodies stood on end. A static crackle moved along the surface of their exposed skin. Patches’ body begin to shake violently in its chamber.
“Patches!” screamed Mags. Patches’ arms and legs flailed in all directions through the glowing blue liquid. She convulsed, striking out. She grew rigid, then struck out again.
Mags threw out her hand and yelled, “Patches! No!” She ran to the chamber and pounded her fists on the glass. “No!” Tears poured down her face as she struck the glass again and again. “Tarzi! Turn it off!”
“I can’t!” Another earthquake struck the station. It sent the two of them to the floor again. “The moon is tearing itself apart!” Tarzi shouted. The blue tendrils and their strange bubbling blackness seethed throughout the room. Tarzi looked towards Patches in the center of it all. And then, her eyes flung open wide. “Oh my god!”
“Patches!” Mags pulled herself up and ran for the chamber. She tore the door open to take Patches in her arms. Patches nuzzled against her as Mags removed the oxygen mask. She pulled herself close to Mags’ face. Patches licked her cheek again and again, purring.
“Patches, you little fucker!” laughed Mags, wiping away her tears with one hand. She sniffed. “You made me cry.” She held Patches closer. They rubbed their noses together as Patches purred and purred.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Patches! Yes!” As Tarzi pumped his fist in the air, a tremor ran through the station. “Girls, we gotta get outta here! To the ship!”
Mags took off, still carrying Patches. Tarzi ran through the door to the outside with Mags and Patches right behind him. Patches kicked away from Mags, squirming out of her arms to run on her own. “Look, Tarzi,” said Mags. “Her limp is gone!”
Tarzi turned for a second. “Well, what do you know? Even that little tip of her ear grew back. What the hell?” Something crashed. “Come on!” he shouted.
Mags took off after him. Patches ran, too, then stopped. She sniffed the corner of a wrecked building. She squatted down. “Patches!” called Mags from the doorway of the ship. “Now is NOT the time for potty breaks!”
Just then, the building erupted in a hail of cinder blocks and metal. A stream of lava burst through the chaos. It caught Patches full in the face. It swallowed her up. Thick sprays of lava flowed across the path they had just taken. The ground began bursting into flame.
Mags screamed. She fell to her knees in the doorway of the ship. “Oh, Patches. No… not after all this.” Tears welled up in her eyes. She felt Tarzi’s hand on her shoulder. “Mags,” he began.
A bolt of calico lightning stopped him. Patches sprinted straight at them, shooting out of the flames in a white and coffee-colored blur. Not a hair on her head was burnt. In seconds, she sped past them and into the belly of The Queen Anne’s Revenge. She turned to face them, cocking her head as if to say, “Are we leaving, or what?”
“Tarzi, how did she – didn’t you see that lava hit her?” Mags looked from Tarzi to Patches, back to Tarzi, and back again. “What is going on?”
“I don’t know, but we aren’t going to sit here while the moon falls apart! Come on!” Tarzi jumped into his seat. Mags took up her spot at the console. She brought The Queen Anne’s Revenge up from the surface of the dying moon. New volcanoes obliterated the site of the station. The whole side of the moon caught fire. When they got to a safe distance, Tarzi and Mags stopped to watch it burn.
“Tarzi,” said Mags in a whisper. “It’s like… It’s like we killed a whole planet.”
“You’re right,” said Tarzi, as the blaze below them shone in his eyes. “It’s like the machine sucked the life right out of it. And somehow, that machine turned it into energy for Patches.” Patches leapt up on Tarzi’s lap and began kneading his leg. She turned around a few times trying to get perfectly comfortable, and plopped down.
“I guess that’s why the equations made no sense,” he continued. “All the missing power in them… It was going to come from the planet itself. No wonder it could only be used one time.” Tarzi scratched the side of Patches’ face. She squinted her eyes. “And you know what, Patches? I’d rather have you than some ugly old moon any day.”
Patches purred. This time, she had not crawled away from the fire in fear. She had run right through it. This time, she had gone swimming not in a river but in some other strange, blue liquid. It, too, had carried her far away from harm. Patches knew, somehow, that she never needed to fear anything ever again.
She did, however, have a serious craving for beef jerky.