One Night, part VII

The Price of Sobriety

By James Fleming

Author's note: For those of you who read the first episode of this story in the Winter 1992 issue of Voo Doo and are still alive today: congratulations on your longevity. It's been three long years, and I figured if I hurried there might still be some juniors and seniors who remember this series when it started. There's probably some tenured faculty who still remember, and of course all you grad students working on your PhDs remember the first episode and will probably be around for my next series. Heh.

Rather than recapping the story, I thought I'd simply refer you to the old episodes in back issues of Voo Doo. But of course the paper it was printed on (I have a sample preserved in argon in my study) has all long since decayed into nothing more than vaguely humorous mulch, a change of state that many readers may not even notice.

David, our drug and drink addled anti-hero has just had a big confrontation with his brother who has revealed that they are both IMMORTAL (!!!) or at least very very old, but are thankfully not vampires, and are simply freaks of nature, trisomic, with 47 chromosomes, an extra copy of chromosome 15.

David was involuntarily lured to his brother's posh secret hideout in Disney World after one or more centuries of separation. Relations between the brothers are strained, as David's brother murdered his latest girlfriend, just to get his attention. David was living in Boston, ekeing out a strange living among gangsters, drug dealers, super models, and even shadier characters. He's lived there for fifteen years after undergoing electroshock therapy at McClean's; a treatment that left him without memory of his previous life as an immortal. Those wishing to review the series may look at the Voo Doo Web site.

David is left in a strange shocked daze after being stalked and devoured by the memories of centuries gone by, memories that until his brother restored them, were safely locked away. We join him now as he stumbles zombie-like into the dinner room to dine with his brother.

Dinner in his study. Book cases, computers, paintings, statues, rugs, crystal, teak, marble, china, metal. Decanter.

Memories of sun beaten soil and chatting women washing clothing in a stream.

He was sitting across the table, linen, silk, scent, slick hair, bright teeth, red lips.

Decanter on my side. Full glass.

``David? David, are you quite all right?''

Look up, voice quiet. ``You can call me Tizkan, Melesh. After all, it's my name.''

Sudden beaming smile, gleaming eyes. ``Tizkan, you remember! Tiz. Brother!'' He pushed his seat back and started to get up.

``Stay seated. Don't touch me. Don't even think of touching me. Now if you would, tell me of the very beginning, our beginning.''

Melesh sat down again, slowly. His hand reached over to my decanter, wavered, then grabbed a silver pitcher, poured water from it to his glass.

``Certainly, of course, dear brother. We were civilization back then. Upper and lower Egypt spent their time and energy fighting with each other. Easy prey for invaders. Stupid primitives. They learned everything from us later: farming, warfare, pottery --''

``You're a prissy bastard!'' The words rang out of my mouth and across the dinner table to land in the ears of my brother, rudely interrupting his fascinating narration.

``Tizkan,'' he besought ``I was just explaining our past. I'm sure you want to hear...''

``I want to hear nothing but my own beligerent voice you bastard. You were about to tell me how I was born in 3471 B.C. in lower Mesopotamia. How our father was an irrigation ditch planner for the state, and how our mother slaved for years to provide us with a nice home and a good upbringing only to be horrified that neither of us made it to puberty during the thirty years she new us!

``You were going to tell me how we both whined and whined for years because we never looked like the other men, had straggling little beards, but virtually towered over them all young and gangly and awkward looking for HUNDREDS of years.

``You were going to tell me how I spent my first hundred years stoned off my ass in a rinky dink village somewhere pretending to be an oracle while YOU went and trained yourself to be a warrior and slowly assembled armies.

``Oooh.. I'm so impressed. Well, I'm here to tell you Melesh, leave me alone! Leave me the hell alone! Stop killing my girlfriends! Stop invading the countries in which I live! Stop burning down all the black lotus plants in Kush!!!''

The hateful man sitting across the table from me, my brother, tried interrupting ``Brother! That was thousands of years ago... There is no more black lotus... You never even lived in Kush''

``Thanks to you! Bastard!

``Tizkan, look at yourself, you're upset. Why don't you have some wine.''

``Some wine! Some wine! You have manipulated me and countless others shamelessly for over THREE THOUSAND YEARS!!! Look at you, you're still just a kid. A nineteen year old kid.

``I work out.''

``Doesn't matter! Godamn, not a line on your cute little face. Your beautiful golden skin, your commanding hazel eyes, your damn pony tail. And look at you, what do you do? You're a costume designer at Disney! At Disney. And now look at me!!! Puffy face, broken blood vessels, wrinkles about the eyes and forehead. Scars crisscrossing my body, what the hell'' and I pounded my hand on the table "What the hell! What the hell!''

He grinned suddenly, disarming me. ``I always did get all the girls.''

I collected my arms. ``You didn't even want them! Always your armies, always your plans, always your little schemes and secret organizations with your passwords and handshakes and intrigues. That's all you ever cared about you supercillious neo grunge nazi prig!''

``Not true, brother, I always cared about you.''

``Cared about me? Cared about me? You're always dragging me out of my stupors and benders and wild hundred year binges. You're always trying to fiddle with my life, always trying to get me to work in your nasty little organizations. Oooooh. Big man. So organized.''

At this he became outraged. I was amazed. Three days under his supervision and I hadn't seen him lose his temper or show a real emotion once. Always cool and collected, he now snarled and kicked the dinner table, a really big and elaborately prepared dinner table may I add, solid oak, fourteen feet long, probably over a hundred pounds. He kicked it out of his way, upsetting its contents and slamming it against the wall. ``You insolent... pathetic...'' he struggled for words "stupid... drug addled moron...

``Of course I care about you! I don't like to see you strung out the way you are. You take no care of yourself. You look almost ten years older than I do. Ten. At your current rate you'll be dead in just another twenty thousand years or so. I'll go on for another seventy thousand. Do you think I want to see you die? You take no care of yourself. You eat bad food, drink incessently, take drugs no one has ever even heard of. I care about you. I know you. You and I are alone Tizkan. Alone in this world. We have only each other.

I was speechless. He was not.

``I'll admit, my plans used to be childish. The dreams of an adolescent. Conquer a kingdom here, reign as God-Emperor there... I'll admit, it was misdirected, misguided. But now, I have a purpose. A true purpose. One that I need you for, yet again brother. That's why I called you out of your hiding in Boston, playing house with your little girl Jeanine. You and I are made for greater things. We have a gift. Chromosome 15.

I collected my jaw from the ground. ``Melesh, do you hear yourself?'' I stormed around waving my arms. ``I'll be dead in twenty thousand years, you said it. So what? So what? Most people get a tiny tiny fraction of that. I enjoy my life. I can relax. I liked Jeanine. She was nice. She liked me.''

Melesh took the opportunity to laugh. ``She would have been dead within a year. Living with you, anyone would be. You're death to all who touch you. My men briefed me. She was young. She tried so desperately to keep up with you. She did heroin to please you, you got her hooked. She tried drinking as much as you did and wound up in the hospital, close to death. All those countless lines of coke ruined the insides of her tender little nostrils, while you just went on, abomination that you are, drinking snorting injecting eating smoking whatever you could find... always out of your mind, every second of every day. You've always been like that! Your whole life! All three thousand years of it. You know, once I calculated how many liters of tequila you've drunk. Just tequila. Do you want to know how much?''

Abashed and suddenly slightly ashamed I just shook my head. I needed a drink, badly, and an upper. I started looking around at the wreck of the room we were in. The decanter lay broken on the floor. I needed my bottle, and my bag.

``Just about two hundred and twenty five thousand liters. My men watched you. You drank tequila solidly from 1645 to 1849. Over 3 liters a day. Three a day. Do the math. I studied you and studied you and came to the conclusion that despite your powerful constitution, it was hurting you. It keeps your immune system depressed. Your cells divide and they get errors in them. You don't heal as well. You are left permanently altered, flawed.

I laughed. ``Ha! What do you know!'' What a lame response.

``Oh I know brother, I know. Indeed. That is what my organization is doing now. That is what I pursue. Knowledge. That is why I need you.'' He waited.

Interested in spite of myself, I said ``Go on.''

``I've assembled a secret lab, right here in Florida. I have the best bio engineers from around the world all working together, around the clock, trying to solve one question, one problem. The riddle of why we're alive. You know we're trisomic, 47 chromosomes. An extra copy, a mutated copy of chromosome 15. By all rights we should have been fetuses aborted at three months, deformed monsters without eyes or ears and stubs for arms and legs. Drones, unviable. The men in my lab struggle to clone me, to clone us, to ensure our posterity when I die. I want you to...

``Ah ha!'' I yelled, ``You're a cheap dimestore novel villain. I've seen this one! `The Boys from Mesopotamia' I've read it!'' I howled. I was getting punchy and nervous, I hadn't had a drink in over an hour. The fresh bloom of my last coke hit had long worn off. I was getting the DTs. Delerium Tremens. Everything seemed far too bright, filled with too many details. I could hear my breath rasping in and out of my chest. I felt hot all over. I kept staring at my brother's eyes. Virtually twin to my own. 27 eyelashes above that eye. I could see em. And I could see the 29 on his other eye. The eyes blinked.

``I need you here to undergo testing of course. But I also need your mind. I need your help.''

``What? My what?'' I needed a drink bad, every detail in the room stood out in an unholy manner. The linen tablecloth fallen from the table glared white on the floor, stained with sour wine and garlicky sauces. I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. Double time. Two beats. One fainter. His heartbeat. It was HIS heartbeat. I was sure of it, I could hear it across the room. Gentle wet sucking sound, 50 beats a minute, even this upset. I felt like vomiting.

He sighed. ``You've always been the smart one Tizkan. Believe it or not. Of course I have a knack for command. A genius for it actually. A genius for command and organization. I have men planted high up in every government on the planet. Every major university... I've accomplished this over the last five hundred years. In preparation. Only recently, this century, has my research actually been able to go anywhere. But I've been waiting, consolidating. But you Tiz, dear Tiz, you are the key to all of this. I am convinced.''

I stared raptly at his slightly flushed face, I squinted, trying to block out all other input. It didn't help. Every smell in the room assaulted me. Melesh's aftershave and deoderant. A fainter smell of his sweat, fresh broken as he implored me. Garlic and wine on the floor. Seafood. I vomited. Right there and then. Doubled over and vomited. He ignored me, staring off into space.

``Don't you see... We could die at any time. I know. A serious fall, an industrial accident. We heal very well, very quickly, and very completely. But our cells have differentiated. They're done. They're just keeping house now. Cleaning up after the ultraviolet, the carcinogens in the air, the food, free radicals...''

I spit pieces of caustic food out of my mouth and choked ``Free the radicals!'' He continued, not hearing me.

``A gunshot wound to the head would do it. We'd be dead. We can't regrow limbs, organs, anything. We can just heal, it leaves scar tissue. Not much perhaps, but we don't regenerate.'' He looked down at me finally. Noticed my distress.

I straightened. I felt strange, not high or low or confused. No jumbles of crazed thought twirled through my head. I felt dead in a way. I felt like a sponge, or a mirror. Absorbing everything around me, all the sights and sounds and details, sorting them into folders in my head, categorizing by color, height, size, volume. Filling in missing details by extrapolation where I couldn't see or perceive anything with my senses. I knew, just knew from his stance from his expression, from the tension on his shirt... I knew...

``There's a rip in your underwear!'' I blurted. I ran my hand through my hair. ``Those shrimp on the floor weren't caught around here, they're the wrong color... they... My god, what's wrong with me, what have you done to me!'' Everything was suddenly clear, blindingly clear. The clear of antiseptic, the clear of water, the clear of death.

My brother laughed. ``You're sobering up, Tizkan. That's what you're feeling. What I do with men, my genius for command, you do with matter, time, cause and effect. You read reality. I read men. You really were an oracle, even if you thought it was just free drugs. We're a team brother, a perfect team, join me again...''

I jumped up and down a little, 178.32 pounds of gradually sobering hyper sensitive oracular genius. I was in the air for .454 seconds, my toes, heel, ankle, shoe sole all decelerating me on the way down. Two seconds from now I could see my hand reaching out to him. Grabbing his as it reached across the mess on the floor to grip mine.

I stood still for two seconds as he watched me, a smile dawning on his youthful face, his hand extending. I grabbed it...

To be continued... No, we're not kidding.