The Last Journey of Chiron Baxter
by Ada Fetters
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I hoped I was a party-crasher. I did not want to think I might be psychotic. Crashing a party would explain why I did not recognize the people around me. It also explained why they were dressed in satin bow-ties and sequined dresses that blazed when they caught daylight. However, that line of thought broke down when I tried to imagine why these people were standing on a narrow stretch of broken asphalt.
I knew my own name and what I was — Chiron Baxter, virtuoso time-traveler — but I had no idea where I was or how I’d come to be standing on this spot. The asphalt looked like the remains of a highway disused long enough that small pine trees had struggled up between the cracks. Tall brush cut my horizons to several yards but, if I peered through the twigs and trash pines, I could just see a row of peaked roofs. The ground must drop off sharply but I could not see its edge. Closed horizons aside, nothing I saw unsettled me as much as what I did not see: my Chronochassis.
Whenever I time-travel, my Chronochassis tells me my destination. Without it, I did not know where or when I was. I grabbed for it around my neck, but my hand closed on air. I missed its weight in my pockets but slapped at them anyway. I did not see the chain or the deceptively heavy ten-pointed star winking from any of the twigs or branches.
My Chronochassis was more than a compass. It was my way out. No matter how strange the situation, there was comfort in knowing I could escape it if I chose.
The only thing more unnerving than finding your own history has pulled away without you is the lack of transportation to catch it. Luckily, I am flung into strange situations often enough to cope without drawing too much attention to myself. I followed my usual mode of operation when I was unsure of the time, place and customs: roll with it.
I put my hands in my pockets and strolled around, observing. Litter is surprisingly helpful in these situations. Candy wrappers fluttered in the weeds. Beer cans gleamed dully in the weeds. Diet. Light. Amber. The materials and words narrowed down my location from myriad worlds to one.
The people nearest to me were divided into opposing rows of men and women facing one another across a distance of several yards, but they paid no attention to one another. They were focusing on a fixed point in space.
The men smoothed back their hair and shrugged into black jackets. This was preparation, not aftermath. It was preparation for a wedding, to be exact, since several in the group of men wore matched bow-ties and the same number of women opposite the men wore matched dresses. They applied lipstick, dabbed perfume and stepped into high shoes.
One of the women wiggled from side to side as she tugged her dress up over her hips. There was nothing seductive about her jerky, utilitarian movements. She was completely unselfconscious. The men in the row facing her went about their business. Not one of them reacted, which only made me feel more like a voyeur.
* * *
I did an about-face to see a heavyset man approaching me. His red hair was bright in the sun, but otherwise his features were so vague that I would not have recognized him if he had not clasped my hand and drawn me in to the elbow.
Only one man greeted me that way: Lupin, my quantum mechanic. He was also my oldest friend, which I suppose said something about us both. I rarely saw him outside his laboratory on my home world, let alone on an overpass on a foreign one. What could possibly have drawn him to this forsaken place?
“The ceremony is about to start, and you’re not even dressed?”
This was not the issue I’d expected Lupin to take. While my thick-soled boots and capacious pockets stood out against the wedding attire of the others, the Lupin I knew would notice the absence of my Chronochassis above all else. All else. He considered the state of my Chronochassis his personal business. He’d asked about that device even when my clothes were covered with smoldering ash.
Lupin’s pragmatism was justified, though. My Chronochassis was the best thing I had, and we both knew it. Still, I wanted to see a familiar face so badly that I almost convinced myself I did see his white eyebrows and the crosshatched scars on his hands. More than that, I wanted to see what he saw: he knew what was going on.
“Come on,” said Lupin. He herded me through the door of a men’s room that had appeared behind me, and the opposing row of women disappeared behind a wall hung with a row of mirrors. The two groups’ behavior made sense now that they were in the men’s and ladies’, respectively, but that did not explain my ability to see through them a moment ago. Perhaps there had not been any walls before the circumstances dictated they should be there.
I smacked my hand flat against the dark, shiny wood, half-expecting it to dissolve. My palm hit the wall hard enough to tingle. The sun was gone. Lupin had drawn me into the same surroundings as the others, but the place was so dimly lit that I could barely see it.
* * *
The mirror nearest to me had a starburst crack in one corner. I automatically moved to avoid the dark lines through my reflection, then paused. I ran my thumbnail across the surface of the mirror until it snagged one of the cracks that should have framed its own, entire reflection of my image.
My eyes were brown with chatoyance that caught the light when I tipped my head. The color was startling against the dim background of the men’s room. My reflection was melded when it should have been myrmidon, and I could barely recognize my friends, but the bands of color in my irises were so vivid and precise that they looked as if someone had turned eye-lighting on them.
The contrast was so unsettling that I turned away from the mirror and leaned back against the counter. I was surprised to find this did nothing to calm my anxiety. The sight of my own eyes had called up that specific word, chatoyance. Even without the sight, the word chimed in my head again and again, as intimate as the chiming titanium bracelets of a lover moving around a dark room. Like the chimes, it signified something more than itself: that particular ringing word, chatoyance, was a fragment of a longer description. I held my breath, repeating the word inside my head, hoping it would trigger an association. Was it from a letter? A conversation I’d overheard? A narrator’s voice?
“You okay, Chiron?” Lupin rarely asked me such things. He tended to make statements like “I am concerned” that stood by themselves until I grasped the situation well enough to address them. This did not seem like the Lupin who tinkered silently with his inventions while I paced the floor of his laboratory and tried to untangle the schemes of my nemesis.
I nodded, but my expression must not have been convincing.
“Getting cold feet?”
My perspective rearranged itself. I took a breath in and opened my mouth to speak, though I had no idea what I would say to this uncanny version of my friend. Perhaps I would tell him that he had just given me enough context to imagine the scope of what was missing.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Fetters