In this week’s episode of Previously, we find Doomer, newly returned from his brief trip to the distant future, paying a visit to his old friend Beth Woad. Beth is a central character in Andrew’s novel Time Traveling Blues in the City of the Watcher, the middle book in the City of the Watcher trilogy. In fact, this tranquil scene takes place less than an hour before Beth makes her entrance in Time Traveling Blues.
See you next Wednesday,
Teatime in the Wasteland
Beth sat on the beat-up old red cushions. The window seat ran three-sixty around the little octagonal glass room, not even a break for a door. Officially this served solely as an observation point, and egress or ingress could only happen through the trapdoor in the floor, or these windows barred with invisible but potent enchantments.
No reasonable motive for egress presented itself: outside in all directions spread a landscape of jagged, rocky wasteland, trackless and without sign of life beyond sparse brown scrub. Somewhere in the desert half of the planet Daggen. Beth leaned back into an oblique corner and put her feet up, cradling her mug of tea in both hands. Allowed her thoughts to drift and evaporate. She should have hit the bathroom before coming up here. She didn’t have to pee yet, but she could tell she’d have to before long.
Stumbling in from the horizon came Doomer Kelso. As he walked he repeatedly ducked his head and shielded his eyes with one hand, holding up a small gizmo to check it, then gawking in exactly her direction. It made her laugh every time. He couldn’t see the cupola; it wasn’t there for him to see. It lay just beyond a small tear in the fabric of reality, a tear mostly mended and surrounded by magicks making it impossible to expand, close, or even see. Only the cupola’s enchanted glass enabled this view into another world.
Doomer glanced back over his shoulder, perhaps in response to a sound Beth could not hear. Then presumably in response to something she could not see, he broke into a run. He checked his gizmo every few paces, in an accelerated form of his earlier ludicrous ducking gesture, but she no longer found it amusing.
Shortly a titanic reptilian beast rose over the ridge, stomping after Doomer with startlingly long strides. Hard to tell its size for sure, if you didn’t already know, with nothing in the landscape to provide a reference for relative scale. Beth had some passing familiarity with the Daggen native colloquially known as the ‘hellasaur.’ She knew that the apparent optical illusion of its impossible size was, au contraire, simple fact: the thing really was ten times the size of a tyrannosaurus. She knew studies had been done of their diet and physical composition, explaining how they could both attain that size and still be able to stand, but she didn’t know any of that stuff. Just bits and pieces about their habits, and some local folklore about them. She wondered for a moment what Doomer could have possibly done to enrage a normally-placid hellasaur. Then she laughed at herself. If anyone had a knack for combining the improbable, the annoying, and the disastrous, it was Doomer.
Beth put one hand on the lightswitch that would bring the cupola into phase with Daggen. Her other hand rested on the old latch of the ironwork window aligned with Doomer’s trajectory. She muttered the spell to unlock the window.
The gigantic dinosauroid thing lumbered after Doomer, gaining on him with each fifty-yard stride. As Beth watched, she felt the time between each earthquaking footfall stretching to what seemed like a full minute. Every time one of its massive talons crashed down, toes the size of school buses excavated great ditches in the dirt, and the ground out there shook visibly. But Beth felt not even a wisp of vibration, she being in another plane of existence. She looked longingly over at her mug of cooling tea, out of reach over on the window seat. She wouldn’t be drinking much tea with Doomer if these tremors caused him to stumble. Or if he missed the cupola. Or if she failed to get the cupola into phase, and the window open, in time for him to blunder in. Or if she failed to flick the cupola back out of phase before the hellasaur destroyed it. Or if the switch failed, come to think of it.
The creature bent horizontal, more than horizontal, its underlip skimming the ground like a snow plow. From behind the shield wall of its lip speared forth a palisade of teeth. The beast’s skull and body resembled a craggy stone cliff. Beth glimpsed its tail wavering back and forth beyond the horizon of its enormous rib cage.
She wished she could just open the window first, and then flick the switch. But she had no desire to expose herself to the void out there. She couldn’t flick the switch either, not too soon, lest the cupola’s sudden appearance encourage the beast to catch up. It might just as easily stop it in its tracks, but she couldn’t risk it.
It was catching up anyway. Hard to judge distances, especially with the titan right behind Doomer in her line of sight. But when it wound up and spread its jaws for an actual bite, she realized it was over. After all the ridiculous adventures they had been through, and all the ten-times-more-ridiculous tales she had heard from him, this was it. Not a battle between space pirate armadas. Not attempting to assassinate a Reality Patrol officer. Not even a space pirate bar fight. Just eaten by some critter. How unlike Doomer. How could his weird luck stand to settle for it? Was the mere fact of the hellasaur’s hugeness supposed to count as sufficiently weird, to justify this as the final epic conclusion of a life more thoroughly cursed with weird luck than perhaps any other she had ever known?
Apparently not. Doomer flew out from between its jaws, arcing through the air in the cupola’s general direction. Some sort of vapor trail seemed to follow him. She couldn’t see any jet pack or other device, but whatever gave him flight died quickly. As it petered out he managed to maneuver himself to the ground, landing in a bit of a run, stumble, and tumble. But he had gained hundreds of yards, and he rolled back up to his feet and ran once more, checking his cupola-locator gizmo. She saw him mouth the words, “Beth! Beth!”
She timed it perfectly. With him just a couple of paces away and sprinting straight at the window, she simultaneously flicked the switch and yanked the window open. His mouth made an O as the cupola appeared. She smelled the hot desert. He ran in through the window and dove sprawling across the floor. An incomprehensibly large predator approached, its deafening roar and footsteps jarring the entire cupola. Windows rattled. Beth heard her teacup clink in its saucer, and spotted waves in her tea threaten to splash over the rim.
She switched the switch. Silence. The wasteland with its silent giant approaching, a distant universe still visible in the cupola’s rippled old glass panes.
Through the open window, however, a flower vortex of terror.
Magenta, red, and violet coiled and writhed around and through each other. The cupola no longer occupied the same dimension as Daggen and the hellasaur. Outside, the cupola’s actual outside, yawned this outer void of hyperspace. Beth felt it reaching in through the window for her… felt its vertigo drawing her toward the edge….
She slammed the window. Levered the old iron latch. Whispered the spell to bind it magically shut.
Beth flinched as an entire mountain of reptile passed through the cupola like a ghost. Without a sound or a whisper of breeze it engulfed the entire domed glass cylinder, obscuring everything beyond for a moment till it ran past. Profoundly unsettling.
Doomer, however, seemed perfectly content. “Hey Beth! What a rigmarole, huh?”
“You ok?” she asked. She picked up her tea. The hellasaur turned and she flinched again as it silently bit ‘through’ part of the cupola, gouging a large pit out of the earth. Her tea was lukewarm.
“Gotcha something.” Doomer groped inside his jacket. “Picked it up waaay in the future, there’s your hint.” Waggled his eyebrows.
“Wait, it’s not what I’m thinking…?” She put her tea down.
“8661 A.D. to be exact.”
“Oh my gods, let me see the thing!”
She ignored the hellasaur as it tore at the earth again and again, raising a cloud of dust to cover the view in all directions.