July 20, 2009

THROWING WOTAN'S SPEAR, Friday Challenge Entry by Guy Stewart

Bobbie Goddard sighed as music from Wagner’s Die Walküre rampaged through the salon of the Lakehurst. Far below the rigid lighter-than-air ship, England drifted past, in the throes of frantic reconstruction after the War. He shook his head and turned away, leaning against the railing and closing his eyes. Helplessness made him feel nauseous. He let the music surge over him.

When the piece thundered to an end, the passengers, mostly American Union tourists applauded enthusiastically as the chamber orchestra stood to take their bow. Bobbie joined the applause. German music was so visceral! It was a wonder it had never taken the world by storm. Stewards, mostly smiling, dark Mayans in white suits accented with bright, traditional feathers, pruned to a modern length, circulated with drinks. Bobbie waved them off, turning back to the railing.

They’d crossed the Channel, the shores of Napoleon’s France misty in the distance. He was glad he didn’t have to see that land, impoverished as it was, ravaged by the Chinese for a year before a terrorist’s atomic bomb took out Czarist Moscow and the War had drawn to a messy end when a firebomb exploded beneath the Imperial Palace in Beijing. The Chinese presented the body of their murdered emperor deity to American Union peacekeeping forces and closed their borders.

He took a deep breath again, fleeing history – however recent – and focusing again on why he’d come here. He’d meet Kaintwokon Milieu in Berlin, do his friend’s humanitarian work saving the citizens from a cholera outbreak and then apply for citizenship in the African Collaboration. Maybe he could take his research there -- he’d been laughed out of Charleston, DC for the last time!

The captain’s voice came over the public address, saying, “This is captain Ixzaluoh Ucan. Thank you for flying aboard the American Union Rigid Ship flagship, Lakehurst. We’ll be landing just outside of Berlin in about fifteen minutes. Please report to your cabins and allow the staff to seal you in your rooms during landing. Thank you again for flying with AURS. Have a pleasant day and a good time in Berlin.”

Trudging to his cabin, Bobbie caught himself humming snatches of the “Ride of the Valkyries” and thought that the theme song was appropriate for the crazy adventure he’d let Kaint talk him into.

Once the rigid ship was grounded safely and the gangplank run out, Bobbie stood at the hatch, scanning the crowd below. He spotted the dark-haired man with red stripes painted on his face, a leather band around his head with a gaudy orange feather stuck in it and shook his head in disgust – but couldn’t help grinning. Making his way down with his single valise, he nearly bowled Kaint over as they both plowed through the crowds, searching for each other.

Kaint threw his arms around Bobbie who clung to his valise for a moment of dignity longer before surrendering to the greeting and wrapping his arms around his best friend.

“I’ve been waiting here all day for you!” Kaint exclaimed.

“You know the rigid lines – especially now. They’ve been looking over their shoulders ever since those crazy Carolina brothers made their flying machine,” Bobbie replied, holding Kaint at arm’s length. “And what’s with the get up? You look like one of your ancestors!”

Kaint laughed and pulled off the headband. “It’s what everyone here expects me to look like.” His good cheer dimmed for a moment. “Despite the fact that you rebels copied the Iroquois Confederation’s constitution and half our agriculture, they still see US as the savages here.” He shook his head, then grinned and put the band back on. “Let’s go! I got us a steam carriage to ride in. We have to share it, though…”

The steam carriage turned out to be a peacekeeper supply truck emblazoned with a red cross, crescent and Star of David and they shared it with a few hundred pounds of medical supplies. Once they reached Berlin proper, they came under peacekeeper protection as well. Jouncing over shattered streets, Bobbie held on desperately while Kaint laughed and whooped.

The carriage stopped abruptly and Kaint cried, “Let’s go!” He dashed across the torn greensward of the Free University of Berlin. Bobbie followed. Once inside, Kaint handed him scrubs and said, “Suit up. Don’t touch anything bare handed and when you do, wash your hands in the bleach baths."

Bobbie’s eyes stung from the reek of vomit, diarrhea and bleach. He gagged, threw up in a bucket Kaint kicked in his direction and then followed him.

The sun had gone down long, long ago. In fact, Bobbie wasn’t even sure the sun had ever been up. He wasn’t even entirely sure who the president of the American Union was today. Kaint grabbed his arm and dragged him through deserted streets. Peacekeeping Egyptian and Zulu soldiers from the African Collaboration and South American Amazonians stood at each corner, smoking and watching carefully, Winchesters dangling over their arms.

“There’s someone you have to meet! A friend of mine from the Free U, another head-in-the-clouds PhD in physics or something,” Kaint said.

“I’m too tired. I can’t even…” Bobbie began.

“No, really! I sent word to him to meet me here so you two could talk. I think you’ll have a lot in common.” He dragged Bobbie down a short flight of stairs, pounded a tattoo on the closed wooden door.

“What?” Bobbie exclaimed.

“You’re perfect for each other! You both have your heads stuffed up your…” the door opened and a tidal wave of raucous singing, shouting, whistling and shrieks drowned out whatever Kaint was going to say.

“I don’t drink!” Bobbie shouted.

Kaint grinned a ludicrous grin, said, “You will after tonight!” and dragged him into the pub.

Kaint’s hand firmly gripping Bobbie’s belt, he plowed his way through the packed crowd, enduring wild “Indian war calls” from those who saw the ridiculous streaks of paint still on his high cheekbones. More than one woman grabbed Bobbie’s nether regions with a lusty suggestive squeeze. By the time they reached a table next to the wall, he collapsed into it and let Kaint order him a “stein” – whatever that was. Sitting impassively at the table was a dark haired young man with a heavy, black moustache. He was watching them with a slight scowl. Kaint said something to the gentleman in guttural German, sounding as if he were coughing and choking at the same time. Three massive steins, filled to overflowing with cascades of suds appeared on the table with a kiss on Kaint’s cheek from the serving wench.

Kaint shouted, “Bobbie, this is Al! You both like Wagner!” He repeated what Bobbie assumed was the same thing in German.

Al slugged him and said, “I understood you perfectly, swinehund! Now drink your beer and we’ll see if I can’t have a bit of civilized conversation.” He gave both men a fierce scowl and added, “Though ‘civilized American’ is an oxymoron if I ever heard one!” Kaint laughed and drank as Al leaned across the table and shouted, “Gesamtkunstwerk!”

Startled, Bobbie shouted back, “The Ring of Nibelung!”

Al froze, his mouth open, and an instant later, they were deep in conversation. They began with music and in short order were talking science as well. The pub around them faded into the background as the language of math and physics replaced English and German.

Kaint slammed his stein on the table and Bobbie and Al looked up, startled. He’d hit the table with his third stein and was ordering his fourth when he turned to them and said, “All right, you two. You’ve excluded me enough for one night! What’s this about? You know I’m half French and half Mohawk, so keep it simple!”

Al and Bobbie stared at him then burst out laughing. “We’ve discovered that we both favor Wagner’s Die Walküre!”

Kaint gave them a slightly drunk, blank look. “Which is?"

Bobbie shook his head, “Bloody Injun!” He paused, half-drained his stein and said, “The ancient Norse god, Wotan ruled by contracts he’d written on his massive spear. All the world was fine until Wotan himself broke one of his own contracts. He’d promised to give the goddess Freia to two giants for building the stronghold of Valhalla but changed his mind. The giants demand the treasure of the Nibelung to replace the lost goddess. Alberich the Nieblung had forged magic into a ring which had the power to gain its bearer mastery of the world if he forswore love. Wotan coveted the power of the ring and took it by force from Alberich, who then placed upon it a deadly curse. Wotan gathered about him an army of warriors to defend him against Alberich's power should he ever regain possession of the Ring. Wotan sought to influence men so that the ring would fall into the hands of a hero who had grown up free of divine help and was not bound by any of the treaties that bound Wotan himself."

“Too bad Wotan couldn’t just end the whole thing by chucking his spear at Alberich.” Kaint said, standing and swaying slightly. “How come he couldn’t ride away on his spear like a Salem witch?” Kaint’s forehead furrowed and he said, “Hey, he could fly on one of your liquid fuel rockets!” He laughed loudly and called for another stein.

Al turned to Bobbie and shouted over the noise, “You use liquid fuel to drive a rocket?

“I’m trying to – but the Union Senate keeps tabling my funding. The Haudenosaunee has enough forward-looking thinkers to fund my work,” he stopped, trembling. He must be allergic to the beer because tears threatened. He felt nauseous. His voice was husky as he said, “I’m going to the African Collaboration, take citizenship there. I’m done with Charlotte!"

Al grabbed his arm. “No! Do not go! They have limited resources, nothing that you need. Once the epidemic is over, my wife and I planned to emigrate to the American Union.” He leaned close and Bobbie leaned in as well until their foreheads touched. He said, “I have an offer to teach from Princeton College."

Bobbie stared at Al then slowly nodded. “I’d be willing to meet you there. Perhaps together, we might conceive of a way to create Wotan’s spear. Perhaps throw it somewhere really important – like the Moon.” He straightened, "I can always go the Africa later."

Al and Bobbie locked gazes, shook hands and stood up. Kaint abruptly plopped down in his chair. The other men looked at him, at each other, and with fond grins and one man under each arm, carried the doctor back to his room.

1 comment:

Arisia said...

"Winchesters dangling over their arms"

That company seems to be better off in your universe. Interesting little tidbit after enduring many dinner table conversations about trying to save it.