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Town and Country - Part IV
(Note: Rated 'R' for foul language, way too much dialogue, and icky transformations like in that John Carpenter movie)
Just outside the pub:
Liam turned around. "Oi!"
"Can you do the thing?"
"You know. Your thing."
"Go on, then. I've shown you my trick. Well, one of them. It's only fair."
"I'm not a performing monkey, man."
"I didn't say you were. I'm asking, not telling."
Liam pointed at one of the shambling figures.
Liam crossed his arms. "It's just dead tissue, Isaac."
"Maybe to you."
"Go on. You'll feel better when you've done it."
"Fuck off. Seriously, man, that's sick. That's like saying, 'well, we can eat dead people, so why not? It's just meat'."
"Are you looking to me to refute that?"
"Isaac, you're an adult, and of above-average intelligence. If you don't like my ideas, think for yourself. Pick your own bloody target."
Isaac said nothing for a moment. Then: "Fine." He jabbed a finger at Liam. "To be continued."
He spotted a low clump of bushes along one fence and moved into place in front of them. "I hate doing this..."
"The talented can afford to be dismissive about their talent."
Isaac looked back at him. "You know," he said. "I can't figure out if you're really shallow and pretending to be deep, or the other way around."
"I'm deep enough to be shallow. Do the thing."
Isaac shrugged out of his coat and held up his left arm. He rolled the sleeve of his shirt back to the bicep and held the arm out toward the stand of bushes.
The arm began to bulge and ripple as unseen forces moved beneath the skin. It elongated, the forearm stretching out like taffy, the fingers flattening and merging into one another. The fingernails thickened, sharpened, rearranged themselves on the flattening spade of a hand. The arm bulged, muscle flowing down from the shoulders, skin stretching, splitting, reforming around shifting bone and sinew. The muscle ran to the end of the massive, elongated arm, clustering around the spade-hand. The palm caved inward, becoming a throat, tendons stretching into jaws above and below, the fingernails become incisors.
Isaac moved his body forward, and the quicksilver flesh moved with him, the jaws at the end of the arm pivoting down and closing with a crunch on the bushes. Muscle bulged, and the jaws pulled back, ripping the plant out of the ground. The mouth opened. The plant fell to the road.
Isaac pulled back. The transformation reversed, tissue running backward with eerie speed until the limb resembled a normal arm once again.
Isaac rolled his shirt cuff back down.
"That was brilliant!" Liam said. "That was just like this movie I saw once."
"Great." Isaac shook the arm, as if to get the blood flowing, and picked up his coat.
"Can you do that all over?"
"With any part of your body, like."
"Can we start moving toward the car now, please?"
They headed up the road out of town, but Liam still wasn't satisfied.
"So, your mam and dad know all about that?"
Isaac shrugged. "Sure."
"What do they think?"
"Not much. I don't think it ever bothered them."
"Really? Is it common back home?"
They climbed the steep embankment on the side of the road. Isaac reached the summit first, and gave Liam a hand up.
"Not common, no. It's more like being born an albino, or having extra fingers. Odd, but not alarming."
"I was about to say 'accepting', but if you like."
They tramped through the undergrowth toward where Liam had parked the little Volkswagen Rabbit.
"So what happens," Liam said. "If you get an arm lopped off or something? Can you reattach it and like that?"
"I guess so. I did it with a finger once."
Liam looked back, eyebrows raised.
"Farming accident. Don't ask."
"Right you are."
They came out of the brush into the clearing where the car was parked. Liam fished in his pockets for the keys.
"So when do I get to ask the questions?" Isaac said.
"I'm not your mam." Liam unlocked the car and slipped inside. He unlocked the passenger side door. "If you want to ask, ask."
Isaac got in. "Why do you wear dark glasses all the time?"
"Okay...why don't you carry a gun?"
"And you can jump out of your body, and find Gates, and detect zombies, because...?"
"Right." Liam started the car.
"Thanks. That was illuminating."
"I said you could ask. I never promised nothing about answering. And don't throw that word 'illuminating' around so lightly."
They reversed out of the clearing, jouncing up and down on the uneven ground.
"I can't believe there's a Regency hotel in this city," Isaac said.
Liam grinned. "I know. They've got one bloody everywhere."
"Is this Lensmoor we're in now? Or New Albion?"
Liam poured more wine. "New Albion is in Lensmoor, so you'd be right either way. But yeh, this is New Albion."
"Have we been to Penniford yet? Was that...has that happened yet?"
"Right. Sorry." Isaac blinked. He picked up his glass and looked at it. "I feel a bit drunk."
They were sitting together in the hotel lounge, in front of a low wooden table on which sat a bottle of wine and two glasses. A crystal ashtray lay near Liam's crossed legs.
"You were asking about Lensmoor," Liam prompted.
"I was just wondering how this all works, really. I know we covered it at the College, but I couldn't make sense of a lot of it. Is this a real place or isn't it?"
"What's this 'real' you're going on about?"
You want me to define 'real'?"
"I want you to tell me what 'real' is to you. I can't answer your question if I don't know where your head's at."
"Real is..." Isaac paused, took a sip of wine. "Hey, this is good. Real is...real is what doesn't go away when I stop believing in it."
"Good try," Liam said. "But you've still backed yourself into a corner. You could stop believing in the characters in movies and television tomorrow. Will they go away?"
"They will if I turn the damn T.V. off."
"Fine." Isaac frowned. "I don't know what you're looking for."
"Mostly," Liam said. "I was looking for you to admit that."
"Your society, and loads of others, made the mistake of thinking there was one Reality, and we were all living in it. Not surprising, really. It's a comforting thought. If there's one Reality, stands to reason, there can be one Right Way of seeing things, and therefore one Truth. Angus P. Averageperson can tell himself, 'Well, obviously, the way I see things is the way they Really Are. I'm all right. I've got the Truth.' And so forth." Liam set down his glass and took out a packet of tobacco. "Turns out, things seem a bit more complicated."
"One way of looking at it might be like this." Liam finished rolling the cigarette and offered it out. "Smoke?"
"No, thanks. I don't really."
"All right." He put it to his own lips and lit it. "The way you choose to translate it, your map, has everything to do with how you experience it. The trick isn't in making maps- everybody does that, intentional or not- but in knowing that it is a map. It's not the thing being mapped, just like a menu at a restaurant's not a meal. We make maps that we think- or hope- are accurate, based on what we think we know about things, but no map's perfectly accurate. A perfectly accurate map of a territory would be the territory, which would make it a perfectly shite map. Right?"
"I think I follow you."
"Good. So one such map is the Tree of Life. You got that at the College?"
"A little. Don't test me on it."
"Right. Well, if you remember, the Tree of Life separates everything from Kether, which is Singularity, to Malkuth, which is Manifestation. A bit like white light being broken into various wavelengths of color. Just above Malkuth on the Tree is Yesod, also called Foundation. Also called Lensmoor, if you're using the Tree as a map of Everything. A lot of so-called Qabalists used to slag off Yesod as being less important than other stages of the Tree, like it was 'just some dreaming place'. Which just goes to show that Qabalists can be morons too. Lensmoor lies like a blanket on a pile of rocks. The blanket takes on the shape of the rocks, right enough, but no one's claiming the counterpane is the goddamn mattress, are they?"
"What's above Lens- Yesod, on the Tree of Life? I can't remember."
"Tiphereth. Don't ask me to explain it, because I can't."
"All right. So we're...in a sort of real dream...like a waking dream, right now?"
"That's wrong in every particular. Fuck it, let's go with that." Liam crushed out his cigarette. "Ever have a lucid dream?"
"Think of it like that. Time and space are still Big Ideas here, but relative ones. Don't go all hinky when things don't fall into a neat line."
Isaac held his glass up to the light. The wine shone golden through the glow of the chandelier. "Speaking of that," he said. "Haven't we had a conversation about time? Or has that not happened yet?"
"What's really going to twist your brains is: If we haven't had the conversation yet, but we're talking about the conversation we haven't yet had, what does that tell you about time?"
"If we...had we...when..." Isaac put a hand to his forehead. "Ow."
"Right. While you're pondering that fucking paradox, I'll fetch us another bottle. Garcon!"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.