by Dale Carothers
Redge sat at the top of a tree made of chemically treated logs held together by rusting bolts. Today marked the sixty-third day of his imprisonment in the goon ape enclosure of the St. Dalgreni Zoo of Mutated Delights. Redge needed to stay out of sight to stay out of trouble, so he spent most of his time in the tree.
Grimy lights filled the fifty-by-fifty concrete cube of the enclosure with a blue glow. The lower half of the northern wall was made of plastiglass a foot thick. Near one end of the window lay a concrete tunnel that led to a trickling spigot and a metal drainage grate.
The feeding hatch, set into the ceiling far above the tree, opened and the grub bucket dropped into the room, dangling from a chain.
Redge scratched his thick, black unibrow. Breakfast was only an hour ago. What was going on?
The goon apes howled and gathered at the drop point twenty five feet below. Brainslab, Lord King of the goon ape enclosure, claimed the prime spot on the floor directly under the bucket.
Redge had only survived because he’d recognized Brainslab’s alpha male status right off and made the proper obeisance. He’d been here ever since he’d gotten caught stealing Arcturo Corp’s prototype handheld nuclear power cell. He hadn’t even made it out of the building on that job. The prisons were full, and nobody visited the Zoo of Mutated Delights anymore, so the city of St. Dalgreni had decided to dump the excess prisoners in it.
The bucket dropped far enough for Redge to see the tiny figure curled within. He knew that the goon apes would tear it apart if he didn’t stop them. He didn’t want to spend the rest of the day trying to ignore the frightened wailing of yet another helpless creature as the goon apes toyed with it.
Redge dropped from branch to branch quickly, catching the last branch with his hands and using his momentum to launch himself into the circle of goon apes. He startled Tug and Clubfoot by landing between them. They bared their teeth. Redge prostrated himself on the urine stained floor and crawled to Brainslab’s feet. Brainslab had a squat body and powerful, lumpy shoulders just like any other goon ape, but he’d convinced the others, of which there were six, that the steak-like slab of bald meat that dangled from the apex of his skull over his left eye was an extension of his brain. He’d insisted that his extra brains confirmed his right to be king.
“Lord King Brainslab, smartest and strongest of all, there is no food in the bucket,” Redge said.
“No food!” Brainslab said. “Angry!” He beat his chest. “Why bucket, if no food?”
Redge didn’t know the creature in the bucket. He didn’t even know if it was still alive, but he did know that if it was alive it was in danger. “I asked the jailors for another servant for you. This may be him.”
“You talk to jailors about Brainslab? Why?”
“A king like you needs servants to do his bidding,” Redge said, stroking Brainslab’s toe.
The bucket hit the floor and Brainslab grabbed it. The other goon apes stepped back in deference. Brainslab dumped the creature onto the floor. It was a gottmer, small and hairy, but with shriveled legs that appeared to be broken.
The gottmers used to have their own settlement a few miles from St. Dalgreni until the city expanded in their direction and swallowed their town. Gottmers had an aptitude for machinery and now worked the machine shops and factories of the city.
The gottmer uncurled out of its defensive ball and its eyes widened in terror. It had a curved, ram-like horn that framed the left side of its face and ended in a point near its mouth.
Brainslab beat his chest and howled again. The goon apes closed in, and the gottmer cowered. Redge scrambled into the fray, grabbed the gottmer and clutched it to his chest. It let out a strangled squeak.
“I told you,” Redge said. “This is the new servant that I requested. I will train him. He’ll learn to serve you.”
“Make sure it know how to serve king,” Brainslab said. “Else I eat it and horn is trophy.”
“Yes, King,” Redge said, crawling backward and dipping his head to the floor over and over. Once he was far enough away, Redge jogged down the tunnel and set the gottmer on the floor. Water dripped from a rusty spigot set high into the wall and trickled along the floor and into a hole covered by a metal grate.
“I’m sorry,” Redge said. “But it was the only way I could think of saving you.”
“I’m glad it worked. Thank you.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Scraped my back when he tumbled me out of the bucket, but I’m alright.”
“My name is Redge. What’s yours?”
“Bovda.” She gripped the point of her larger horn and unscrewed it, revealing a hollow chamber. She pulled out a leather-wrapped bundle and unrolled it on the floor. She knocked hard on the horn near her forehead and out popped a tiny flashlight. “Let’s see if I have the right tools to break us out of here.”
Redge stared at her in amazement. “Really? You can get us out of here?”
“Of course I can,” Bovda replied. “You do want to escape, don’t you?”
“More than anything.”
“Good. Then you can help me.”
She found a wire saw, set it aside, and rolled the remaining tools back into the leather, which she inserted into her horn before screwing the tip back into place. She examined the grate that covered the sewer and then handed the flashlight to Redge.
“Shine it right here,” she said, pointing to a spot on the grate. “This is going to make noise. Do we have to worry about them coming down here?”
“No, I’m the only one that comes down here. It’s my job to dump our crap down this hole.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” Bovda said, waving her hand in front of her little black nose. “I almost delayed our escape so you could bathe.”
“Are we going to fit through the hole?”
“I will, but I’m not so sure about you.”
Redge smiled. “I should’ve let them eat you.”
“You’d make a better meal.” Bovda measured the span of the hole with her hands and then held them up. “Lean down. I can’t reach you.”
Redge leaned in and Bovda put her hands up to his shoulders.
“You’ll fit just fine.”
Bovda looped the wire saw around one of the four bars that held the grate in place and began sawing. A high metallic whine accompanied each scrape of the saw. Red friction sparks skittered down the hole.
“Wait a moment,” Redge said, moving between the grate and the mouth of the tunnel, hoping to block some of the light.
Redge could hardly believe it. After sixty-three days he was finally leaving. He’d had an escape plan of his own, but nothing feasible. It involved killing the goon apes and making a giant slingshot out of their collective guts and bones and then launching himself out of the cage when the jailors opened the hatch to drop food. Of course, he’d have to figure out how to get past the guards as well. A club made of a goon ape femur might have done the trick.
The grate chinked loudly after she’d sliced though the first bar. She moved quickly to the second one. Redge kept an eye on the tunnel. The second bar snapped a few minutes later. Bovda went to work on the third bar.
“Stop,” Redge whispered, as he flicked the flashlight off. “Someone is coming.”
“What burning?” Clubfoot said, sniffing at the mouth of the tunnel.
“I don’t smell anything,” Redge said.
“You making stink. Funny stink.” Clubfoot lumbered off. They heard him telling the others about the stink.
“My hands are getting tired,” Bovda said. “You saw for a while.”
Redge took the saw. The handle was warm with friction. He sawed through the third bar and then started on the last one.
Out in the main room, the goon apes barked with laughter. Brainslab laughed so hard he wheezed. Redge sawed frantically, sparks flying into his face.
“They’re coming,” Bovda said.
Redge pulled with everything he had.
“You make stink with new friend?” Brainslab asked from the tunnel mouth.
Redge checked the grate. A few more pulls and he’d be done, but the goon apes would hear the cutting and see the sparks.
“How you stand it, little friend?” Brainslab asked. And when Bovda didn’t answer he repeated the question with a growl.
“I like the stink,” she said.
The goon apes howled with laughter. It echoed down the tunnel with deafening force. Redge took advantage of the noise and finished cutting.
“King!” Clubfoot screamed. “I saw lights.”
Brainslab went down on all fours and stuck his head into the tunnel. “What doing?”
Redge picked up the grate. “Go!”
Bovda dropped into the tunnel and Brainslab roared.
Redge hurled the grate at the charging goon ape. It bounced off of Brainslab’s chest, leaving a gash, but not slowing him down. Redge dove into the hole, but Brainslab snagged his foot. Redge scrabbled at the sewer walls and tried to find a hand-hold, but only succeeded in dislodging age-old goon ape feces. Brainslab squeezed his foot, and Redge cringed in pain.
“My tribe is hungry,” Brainslab said. Blood from his chest wound dripped into the hole. “You a good fat meal.”
Redge whipped Brainslab’s fingers with the end of the saw, causing Brainslab to let go.
Redge tucked his arms in and kept his body straight. Brainslab’s howl was so loud that Redge felt like a cannonball driven by its force. Redge splashed into the water. His gut scraped against the bottom, earning him a layer of muck on his shirt. He swam to the ledge and found Bovda there, wet and shaking. A dim light shone at the bottom of the pool.
“Where is that light coming from?” he asked.
“My flashlight is waterproof. Can you go get it?”
Redge wanted to tell her to go get it herself, but then he remembered her shriveled little legs. “How did you manage to swim to the ledge?”
“It was either that or drown.”
Redge retrieved the flashlight and then heaved himself out of the stinking water onto the ledge. “What now?”
“I hope there’s no more bars. You lost my saw.”
“What makes you think that?” Redge held up his hand. The saw dangled from his index finger.
Redge leaned down and Bovda climbed Redge’s back and gripped the shirt at Redge’s shoulder.
The shirt tightened around Redge’s neck. “Try not to choke me.”
“I’ll do my best to keep you alive. You’re my only way out of here.”
A distant howl of a goon ape echoed down the sewer tunnel.
“We better get moving,” Bovda said. “The goon apes are making enough noise to attract the guards.”
The glow of the flashlight did little to penetrate the darkness. Redge shone it down each offshoot of the sewer main. They followed the flow of the filthy water for about a hundred yards.
“What’s that noise?” Redge asked.
“Sounds like a waterfall.”
Soon they came to a ledge. The water fell to a pool thirty feet below. On either side of the channel stood a gargoyle. Redge shone the flashlight on one. It stood frozen in an obscene dance, its clawed hands clutching at nothing. Its eyes were closed and its hair was carved into a twisted corona of spikes.
“Why go to the trouble of carving those things and putting them down here?” Redge asked.
“There must be a reason.”
The gargoyles suddenly stood up straight and opened their glowing red eyes.
Redge crouched low and got ready to move. “Hang on tight.”
The gargoyle on the right opened its mouth to reveal a speaker. A crackling voice issued from it. “Lie face down on the ground with your hands over your head. If you move we’ll be forced to shoot you.” The gargoyles raised their arms and a gun barrel popped out of each hand.
“Feel like going back?” Redge asked.
“Yes, I’d love to go back and live with the goon apes.”
Redge reached up and pulled Bovda to his chest. He faked left but dodged right. The gargoyles let out a stream of green glowing pellets that burst upon impact, issuing a noxious, acidic gel that ate away at the concrete floor.
The gargoyles shook from the recoil as they turned to keep Redge and Bovda in their sights. Redge ran along the wall, and the pellets left a line of glowing, smoking pockmarks behind him. Redge varied his speed, stopping and starting, and even doing a few rolls. The gargoyles had a hard time keeping a bead on him. Redge hoped that the pool below was deep enough. He came out of a roll and leapt over the edge.
A few pellets burst on his back, instantly burning through his shirt and into his skin. He convulsed and let go of Bovda. She flailed. The flashlight spun away, strobing them with light each time it revolved.
Redge thanked every god he could think of when he splashed into the pool. Even though the water stank, it cooled the burns on his back. He broke the surface and swam over to where Bovda struggled to stay afloat. He cradled her, and she vomited foul water over his shoulder.
“The flashlight,” she said.
Redge turned and looked for the glow of the flashlight in the pool. Red light shone on him from above, and he heard the whine of servos as the gargoyles took aim. He scanned the chamber quickly and saw faint light at the end of the outlet pipe.
“I’ll steal you a new one,” he said, charging into the pipe.
The gargoyles fired another salvo of glowing pellets at them.
When they reached the end of the pipe Redge shoved his face between the bars and inhaled the night air. The air stank, the smog was so thick that it obscured the stars, but it was fresh compared to the putrid air of the sewer. Scummy water rushed past his shoes, fell several feet into a channel that spanned a grassless field and dumped into the polluted old harbor. St. Dalgreni city officials had tried to expand the city and solve their solid waste problems by compacting the waste and filling in the old harbor. The project had failed and they were left with a garbage sargasso. Beyond the sargasso lay the new harbor, a line of cargo ships moored to the docks.
Redge set Bovda on the floor and started sawing at the bars.
“I know a place where we can hide until we figure out what we’re going to do,” Bovda said.
Redge stopped sawing.
“What’s the problem?” Bovda asked. “Keep cutting.”
Redge looked at the way Bovda’s legs wavered limply in the current of sewage. She’d just slow him down.
“What?” Bovda asked.
“I know people that can hide me until this blows over.”
“What about me?”
“My friends tend to be suspicious. If I show up with a stranger…”
“So you’re just going to leave me here.”
“No. I’ll get you down to the ground.”
“How kind of you. Remember, it’s my saw you’re using to cut your way out of here.”
Redge resisted the sudden urge to drop the saw. Guilt made it heavy. “You’re right. I’d still be Brainslab’s servant if it wasn’t for you.” Redge knelt next to her. “I’m sorry.”
“We’ve only known each other for about an hour. I can’t expect that to count for much. You saved me from the goon apes and I got you out of the cage. I guess we’re even, but that still leaves me sitting here until they find me.” Bovda managed a weak smile. “Though, you did lose my flashlight. Looks like I’m one up on you again.”
“How will I repay the debt?” Redge asked, returning her smile.
Bovda looked out the grate. “See that lighthouse?”
Redge scanned the coastline. A lighthouse stood amidst a collection of ramshackle warehouses. “Yes.”
“Get me there and we’ll call it even.”
“It’s far enough away from here for me to feel safe, and it’s within crawling distance of the docks if I decide to leave the city.”
Redge was relieved. A quick jaunt to the lighthouse, an even quicker goodbye, and then he’d be free to skulk away to one of his safe houses. And there’d be no guilt. She’d be fine on her own once he got her to the lighthouse. Wouldn’t she?
Redge sawed a hole into the bars and then picked Bovda up and hung her from his shoulder. “Hold tight.” He scanned the wall below. Several more pipes jutted from it. He stepped off the edge of the pipe and dropped down to the next one and continued until they reached the ground.
Searchlights snapped on and their beams wove across the smoggy evening sky, before shining down at them. Redge sidled over to the wall and looked up. The goon apes stood, each wearing a shock collar and a harness, in a line at the top of the wall. One of the jailors looked over the edge and saw Redge and Bovda. He spoke into his communicator, climbed up on Brainslab’s back and fastened himself into the harness. The rest of the jailors did likewise with the other goon apes and they started their descent.
“Shit,” Bovda said. “They’re going to catch us.”
“No they won’t,” Redge said. “I have an idea.”
Redge sprinted along the channel to the sargasso, Bovda bobbling on his back. The sea of refuse undulated with the motion of the waves.
Redge prodded a floating door with a toe. It felt like it could hold his weight.
“What are you doing?” Bovda asked “We can lose them in the warehouse district.” She pointed to the crumbling line of buildings to their left.
Redge looked back toward the zoo. “They’re gaining on us. Goon apes, even ones carrying men, run faster than I do. But that makes them heavy. They won’t follow us into the sargasso.”
“But even the goon apes are too smart to go into the warehouse district.”
“No. They’ll follow us, and then we’ll be trapped. Trust me. I can get us across.” Redge stepped onto the door. It shifted, but held them up, and he continued across the garbage.
“What about the carpers?”
“If we stay quiet and keep moving we can avoid them.”
Redge remembered the smell that’d given the carpers their name. They stank like carp lying long dead in the sun. They’d been created with the best intentions in mind. The homeless had been offered jobs building the land-expanding landfill, if they agreed to genetic alterations that turned them into fish-human hybrids. When the project failed, the carpers had stayed in the sargasso, claiming it as their own, and the city had let it happen because they couldn’t think of a better solution.
Redge climbed a bridge of old, wooden pallets leading to a wide flotilla of tractor tires. He and Bovda were suddenly bathed in light as the spotlights converged on them. Redge hopped from tire to tire as fast as he could, but the searchlights kept up. He heard a splash and a roar and looked back. One of the goon apes had fallen through the garbage. The search party left the goon ape behind to drown as they circled the sargasso.
“I told you they were too heavy.” Redge said, scrambling over a rise in the tire pile and then dropping down onto a giant tractor tire that lay on the surface of the water. He crawled inside. Dead fish and scraps of wood floated inside the tire. The searchlights passed overhead.
“What are you stopping for?” Bovda asked. “Remember the carpers?”
“Shhh!” Redge said and then continued in a whisper. “We need to stay here long enough to avoid the searchlights…and if you don’t shut up the carpers will hear you.”
Redge lay back against the rough curve of sodden rubber, keeping his eyes on the dark circle of water in the center of the tire. Bovda’s breathing was so loud that he had to resist the urge to clamp his hand over her mouth.
The water rippled and Redge tensed. A pale webbed hand slid out of the water and bubbles rose to the surface. Redge grabbed a scrap of wood and chucked it at the hand. The hand recoiled and Redge heard a muted wail.
“Get me out of here!” Bovda screamed, clutching his shirt.
Redge grabbed the upper lip of the tire and swung up and out. He shot a quick glance back at the circle of water. Two pale faces, toothless mouths gaping open, stared back at him. He bounded away across the tires and then stopped atop a crumpled sheet of corrugated metal to take stock of their surroundings. The searchlights were scanning the wrong area of the sargasso and there was no sign of the search party.
Thankfully, he and Bovda were within a hundred feet of the rocky outcropping that served as the base of the lighthouse. Redge let out a long breath. Soon this would all be over.
A pale head appeared through a gap in the garbage to his right, and then another, and another.
Redge sprinted down the slope of the metal, crossed the last of the garbage, and scrambled up the rocky outcropping. The lighthouse loomed above. Redge snuck up to the wall and sidled around until he came to the door.
“They won’t follow us up onto land will they?” Bovda asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Keep an eye out while I work on the door then,” Bovda said, unscrewing the tip of her horn.
Mere seconds later, Bovda had the door open.
“How’d you do that so fast?” Redge asked.
“I’m good with tools.” Bovda put her tools back into her horn.
Redge looked up at the lighthouse. Much of the outer layer of white masonry had crumbled away to reveal an understructure of disintegrating brick. “Why did you want me to bring you here? This place looks like it’s ready to fall over.”
“Let’s discuss it inside. We’ve got carpers and goon apes looking for us.”
“I agreed to get you here, and—”
There was a sudden crackle of energy and a roar. Redge turned and scanned the warehouses nearby. He could hear the search party coming, but he didn’t know from which direction.
Bovda grabbed his trouser leg. “Get me inside and help me barricade the door.”
Redge picked her up and ran inside. He closed the door as quietly as he could and looked for something to push up against it. Feeble light came in through windows set high in the wall. They stood in a dark, circular room with walls of stone and a few odd bits of furniture: a bed, a chair, a dresser and a writing desk. A spiral staircase snaked up along the wall and a thick column spanned the space between the floor and the chamber above. Redge dragged the brass bed over and wedged it between the door and the bottom step of the staircase.
“I hope they didn’t hear that,” Redge said, running up the stairs and looking out the window.
“Do you see them?”
Redge saw the search party a block away, galloping down the street, the jailors bobbling on the backs of the goon apes. Suddenly a yellow light shone from below. Bovda had made her way over to the desk and turned on a lamp. Redge sprinted down the stairs, grabbed a mildewed pillow from the bed and then ran back up and stuffed it into the window.
“What are you doing? That light is going to give us away.”
From his place on the stairs, and with the light from the lamp that Bovda had lit, Redge could see more of the room. The brass bed barricading the door wasn’t the only one in the room. There was a smaller, gottmer-sized bed, too. The wide writing desk had two seats, one a regular chair and the other a high stool.
“You had a key, didn’t you?” Redge asked.
“This is your lighthouse.”
“No. It belonged to Dr. Pane.”
Redge walked down the staircase. “Kristof Pane?”
“Yes. I was his assistant.”
Dr. Kristof Pane was the man who’d changed St. Dalgreni. His ideas had led to the factories, the power plants, the Maglev railway system, and much more. His advances in biology led to genetically engineered plants and animals that bred fast enough to feed the entire city.
“I haven’t heard about him in years,” Redge said, hopping over the bed and walking to the desk. “What happened to him?”
“Things started moving too fast. His ideas spread and soon the city administrators hired scientists to expand on Dr. Pane’s ideas, just to see what was possible. They perverted his work, and it led to things like the zoo and the carpers. He predicted the detrimental impacts that new technologies would have if they continued unchecked, but once again, the city administrators ignored him. He holed up in this lighthouse until he disappeared a few years ago.”
Bovda began to cry.
Redge patted her head. “How did you two get separated?”
“It bothered me that he’d given up on St. Dalgreni. We argued about it all the time. I wanted to do something to make the city better, but he just wanted to sit here, studying what he called ‘The Behavior of Light.’ He developed theories about synchronizing light with physical objects. There was a lot of math that I didn’t understand. But I helped build the machinery.
“Eventually, I left. I became a saboteur. I thought I could make a difference, thought I could slow the progress of St. Dalgreni’s demise. I took a job at a power plant, but got caught messing with the reactor, and was sent to prison. I heard about Dr. Pane’s disappearance soon after that. I tried to escape a lot, so they broke my legs, and then I stopped. A couple years later they transferred me to the Zoo.”
“Why did you want to come here?” Redge asked.
“I wanted to find out what happened to my old friend.” Bovda grabbed the top notebook from a stack and paged through it. “I thought that if I could get here and search through his stuff I could find out what happened to him.”
“And if you figure out where he went, how exactly would we get to him?”
Bovda set the notebook down and stared at Redge.
“No! I’ve been your legs for long enough. I got you here and now it’s time for me to go.”
“What?” Redge asked.
“You’re not going to leave me.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because you saved me from the goon apes.”
“They were going to eat you.”
Bovda put up a hairy hand. “I know, but you could’ve left me behind lots of times since then and you didn’t. You can’t leave me, because you know I won’t make it on my own.”
“You’re wrong. You don’t even know me.”
“If we search for Dr. Pane together, I can get to know you.”
Redge went and sat on the bed. He had to leave and that was it.
“It’d be a bad time to leave right now anyway,” Bovda said. “We’d have to move the bed for you to get out and I’d never be able to get it back into place after you left. I wouldn’t be safe. And this is a pretty good hiding place. The search party hasn’t checked here yet. If we wait awhile they’ll have moved on to the docks to make sure we didn’t get on a ship, and then we can slip out of here.”
Why didn’t she just shut up? Redge had a safe house, and a life to get back to, a life that didn’t include searching for some broken down gottmer’s old friend. “I’ll stay for a few more hours, but that’s it.”
Bovda picked up an armful of notebooks. “I think we’ll be safer upstairs.”
“What are you doing with those?”
“I’m going to read them.”
“It’s a bit dark for that.”
“The walls upstairs are made of glass. I’ll read by the light of the city.”
Redge picked her up and headed for the stairs.
“I knew you wouldn’t leave me,” she said. “You find me irresistible.”
Redge laughed. “I think it’s the other way around. You won’t let me out of your sight.”
Redge carried Bovda upstairs. The room was circular, and the walls were made of thick glass with riveted, metal support struts between. A complex apparatus of mirrors, lenses, and oddly-shaped reflectors dominated the center of the room. One of the panels at its base hung open, exposing the wires within. A toolbox lay next to it.
Redge set Bovda next to the toolbox. She opened a notebook and found it was bright enough to read.
Redge stood next to the glass. The circles of searchlights jigged over the sargasso. Redge ducked when their beams passed near the lighthouse. It didn’t feel right to just sit here and wait. He needed to get to his safe house so the greasy snakes in his gut could stop writhing. He looked for the search party, but didn’t see it.
Bovda stopped reading. “Sit down. You’re blocking my light.”
Redge plopped to the floor. He rubbed his belly and let out a long breath. “This doesn’t feel right.”
She put a hand on his forearm. “Be patient. If we leave at the wrong time we’ll get caught.”
“Fine, you keep watch for a while. The escape took a lot out of me.” Redge lay on the floor. The tension in his stomach loosened and his limbs grew heavy.
“Alright,” Bovda said. After Redge fell asleep, she picked out some tools and used the shiny inner side of the panel door to reflect some of the moonlight into the machine.
A flickering brightness plagued Redge’s dreams. It shone through his eyelids, picking out the dark red veins against the pink of his eyelids. A high-pitched hum vibrated through the floor and rattled his teeth. The humming lowered in intensity and pitch. He opened his eyes and saw a stark white beam shining out into the sky. “What the hell is going on?”
Bovda leaned back from the open panel and smiled. “I fixed it.”
“Stay out of the light. We have to wait until it slows down.”
Redge scuttled back. “What are you talking about?”
“Just stay back until I tell you it’s ready.”
A thunderous crack sounded, rattling the bed that was wedged between the door and the stairs.
Redge crawled to the window and looked down. The jailors poked the goon apes with their shockrods, sending them slamming into the heavy door. Redge was thankful that Dr. Pane had preferred a solidly built bed. One of the jailors pointed up the side of the lighthouse and gave Brainslab another shock. The king goon ape ascended the wall quickly, his fingers finding purchase on the rough masonry.
Redge picked Bovda up. “We need to get out of here.”
“We will,” Bovda said, looking at the beam of light. “Just wait another minute.”
Redge heard a muffled growl and turned. Brainslab clung to the fat bolts that held the window in place. The lights of Brainslab’s shock collar blinked and his harness hung limp. Redge heard a zap and a roar as the attack on the door below began again. Brainslab roared again. Foamy spittle flecked the glass. Then he pounded on the glass with a heavy fist.
“I don’t think we have a minute,” Redge said. He sidled around the room, getting as far away from Brainslab as he could.
The glass shattered, and Brainslab fell into the room. The goon ape was covered in tiny gashes. Dark blood trickled down his fur. He bared his fangs and went down on all fours. He still towered over Redge.
“You made light. We saw. You stupid.”
“That may be the smartest thing you’ve ever said,” Redge said.
They heard the door downstairs shatter and then the bed buckle.
Brainslab punched the floor in anticipation, powdering shards of glass. “They say I catch you, they give me crown.”
Brainslab swung a meaty fist and Redge tucked and rolled, clutching Bovda against his chest. Brainslab lunged at Redge’s legs. Redge vaulted over him and then dipped down and grabbed a shard of glass. When Brainslab turned, Redge hurled the shard at Brainslab’s face and it sunk into the slab.
“Aah! My brains!” Brainslab screamed, covering his bloody face with his hands. “You want me to be stupid?”
Brainslab lunged again and Redge dodged. The goon ape crashed into a window. It cracked in an intricate spider web pattern, but didn’t break. He righted himself and crouched low, ready to spring.
The humming lowered in pitch again and the light wavered at its edges.
“Into the light!” Bovda screamed. “Now!”
Redge stepped into the light, Bovda in his arms.
“Pull your feet up,” she said.
Redge lifted his feet. The light pulsed, brushing against him with a force somewhere between a strong wind and an ocean wave. The light carried them through the window and out into the night air. The light pulsed with a rhythm that felt natural, one that matched the frequency of his body.
They rode the beam out over the garbage-strewn water a good fifty feet.
Redge heard crashing and roaring. He looked back to see Brainslab destroying the lighthouse. The light skewed as the apparatus shattered. It blinked out and they fell toward the water.
Redge curled himself around Bovda, bracing for the impact into the garbage. They splashed into the water and then Redge kicked for the surface. He surfaced and gasped for air. For the first time in his life he saw the stars above St. Dalgreni. He wondered what’d happened to the smog. He looked around. Where were the city lights, the docks? Had there been a power surge and a blackout? And why wasn’t he swimming through garbage? He saw a flickering fire on the shore. He rolled over onto his back and swam for it. Bovda coughed and shivered on his chest.
When they made it to the shore, Redge carried Bovda up a rocky outcropping and then stopped to hide. An old man sat tending to a fire within a half circle of stacked bricks. He had thick spectacles that threatened to slide off the end of his tiny nose and steely gray hair.
“Dr. Pane!” Bovda shouted.
Redge ducked and then realized what she’d said. He crept tentatively into the light of the fire.
“Bovda! How did you get here?” Dr. Pane said, holding out his arms. Redge handed her over, and Dr. Pane hugged her. “What happened to your legs?”
“Don’t worry about it. I have Redge to carry me.”
“You must’ve figured out how to use the lighthouse.”
“I did. I’m sorry I left. But I wanted to change the city.”
“Then you should’ve stayed. The lighthouse was part of my plan to—”
“What’s going on here?” Redge asked. “I can’t see the city. I thought this was the harbor. Where are the docks, the ships, and where is the sargasso?”
“Sit please,” Dr. Pane said. Redge sat on the ground and Dr. Pane continued. “You don’t see them because they haven’t been built yet.” He held up a hand, stopping Redge’s reply. “Let me explain, please. After my works were perverted, which in turn perverted the land, I built the lighthouse. I’d been studying the behavior of light and time for years, and after I made a breakthrough I decided to leave the world I lived in and escape to a simpler time.”
Dr. Pane jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “St. Dalgreni does exist here, but only as a small village that will one day become the monstrous city you know. I figured out how to slow the speed of light until it reversed and flowed backward. After that I figured how to synchronize it with the frequency of objects, including myself. And then I could, by stepping into the light, step back in time and repair all that I had done.”
“But it didn’t work,” Redge said. “If you’d changed things, we wouldn’t be here.”
“You’ve got a smart one there,” Dr. Pane said to Bovda.
“I came to that realization after I arrived here, some 240 years in the past,” Dr. Pane said. “The conditions that led me to build the lighthouse had to take place for me to build it and then to travel here. Therein lies the paradox. My ideas ruined the world I lived in, thus giving me a reason to travel back to this time to fix it. And since I’m still here, and not living in the utopian future I’d hoped to build, either I failed or it is impossible to change things by going into the past.”
“What are we going to do then?” Bovda asked.
Dr. Pane gestured to the half circle of bricks. “Help me build another lighthouse, and we’ll go back to the St. Dalgreni we know and do our best to change it. I’m responsible for its fall. I should be responsible for picking up the pieces. I’ve even started building a new mirror system.”
Dr. Pane pulled back a tarp and Redge recognized a rough version of the mirrored device that’d sent him here.
“You don’t even have to ask,” Bovda said. “I’m with you.”
They both looked at Redge. He looked out at the water and then took a breath of the fresh briny air. He looked up at the stars. He thought about how nice it’d be to live in a clean world, one free of the corruption. They might fail, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t try.
He turned back to Dr. Pane and Bovda. “I have underworld connections in the city that we can use when we get back.”
About the Author
Dale Carothers lives in South Dakota with his wife, Sara, and an emotionally demanding beagle. He writes graphic novel reviews for Innsmouth Free Press, and is the Creative Writing Editor for 605 Magazine.
“The Lighthouse” © 2012 Dale Carothers