[It was such a thrill to hear them play together. Those Ketafans have no idea how much a part of history they've become.]
Suddenly appearing on his front lawn after the concert, Paul ran into his house. "Linda, kids, wait'll you hear what happened!"
/Oh, come on, Shag. The performance of a few songs in a farmhouse isnt an especially noteworthy event, and certainly not a historical one./
Barefoot and wearing only a hospital gown, Paul opened the door of the padded cell and said to the orderly, "Hello, I think I've figured out what reality is."
+It'll be money-making, though, after I finish recording them. Shag got a whole bunch of beings on campus interested in the Beatles, and they're always looking for bootlegs and things. I've got about 20 orders for vids of their adventure.+
Strapped to a table, Paul struggled to wake, the CIA hallucinogens still coursing through his body.
/How dare you, Varx! That is an unutterably crude and unethical way to treat a serious scientific experiment./
+Then don't utter it, okay? Gods, if becoming a senior is going to make me as stiff-tailed as you, I'm gonna drop out.+
"God, that dream was detailed," Paul said to Linda as she gazed adoringly at him, her long blond hair strewn over the pillow. "For one thing, the house smelled dreadful. Keelan, that's Stal's wife, did her best, but when you've seven kids in two rooms it's a losing battle. She'd actually had fifteen kids; they took us round back to look at the graves of the others, which I thought was a bit morbid. Can't even begin to guess why I dreamed about kids' graveshope it doesn't mean anything! Anyway, when they gave us lunch, I was worried it'ud be lamb or fish, but me subconscious is cleverer than that, it was seaweed and black bread, and the most horrible beer I've ever had. I think they made it partly from seaweed. Still, it helped calm us down. Actually, it's good they ran out when they did or we'd've been no use to anyone for a while. Would've been a bit of a disaster if that elf had brought back the wine, but he never did show up.
"When we were ready to play Stal gave us some cord to tie on our guitars, and we stood near the fireplace. The littler kids sat on the bench at the long dinner table, and the adults and the older kids sat on the floor. It really helped that we had an audience this time. We gave them a smashing performance, even though I had to kick John several times to stop him laughing, 'cause the adults kept their mouths open like fish through the whole thing. But we really gelled. Wish I had a recording of it. Have to admit, the Beatles were a good band. The last note lingered and lingered, like in the movies, and then I woke up...."
"Right, Paul, what now?" Linda muttered.
Abruptly she and the bed went fuzzy round the edges, began to shrink and move away from Paul. Bitterly she said, "Maybe you've noticed we're still here."
"It was a great dream!" Paul screamed after her receding form. "It was a dream! A dream!"
"Christ, don't go comatose on us now." A finger poked Paul's arm.
"I'm all right," Paul said, staring at the weathered wood between his legs.
The four sat in a little knot on the dock, needing the privacy. Stal's family and farmhands flickered in the distance, "choring"gathering more seaweed, watching the flocks, doing farm things. Every so often they heard whistles of various pitches and lengths, Stal's people communicating with one another across the farm.
Paul sat hugging his knees, drawn practically up to his chest. Facing the sea with his eyes closed, George sat in the lotus position and chanted "Hare Krishna" under his breath. John lay on his back next to Paul; a seashell rose and fell on his chest as he breathed. Ringo sat on the edge of the dock playing with a brown pottery cup, tossing it end over end, juggling it, rolling it between his hands.
Paul struggled to get his thoughts back to reality, to appear confident and in command. "I'm not necessarily wrong, you know, he murmured. We just aren't good enough yet."
"How much better is good enough?" said Ringo. "We weren't that bad." He sniffed the cup and let it drop on the sand to roll away. "Man, I wish he hadn't run out of beer so fast."
"We've been better." Paul unfolded; his legs were getting cramped. "We can do much better. And we may need an even bigger audience. I wouldn't be surprised if we have to play for those Idri people."
"Lovely," said John from where he lay. "Concerts for Nazis."
Paul spread his arms helplessly. "Maybe we're supposed to change the way they behave. Maybe they'll hear our music and realize what baddies they've been. I know it sounds daft, but this is another world, maybe stuff like that can really happen here."
"Maybe we're supposed to bring the Vasyn back," George said softly.
The others were quite for a moment as they digested the idea. But the Idris did that already," said Paul.
"Not that onethe real one."
"Stal didn't sound too keen on havin' the real one back either," said John. Plucking the shell off his chest, he rolled over on his side and propped himself up on his right arm. "He said his people came here to get away from the gods, remember? I think they used to be a society of atheists, or anti-theists, anyway."
"I know." Even the back of Georges head looked haunted and doom-laden. "Even so, I think Lord Krishna wants us to prepare the way for His return."
Paul rolled his eyes. He could just see the four of them shaving their heads and wandering across the countryside in orange robes, chantingand being beaten up by both Idri-religion believers and leftover anti-theists. Luckily, he had a rejoinder. "But it's not their religion, as far as I can tell. What does Krishna have to do with anything here? And why us? Why not a guru or something?"
George didn't answer, but he seemed to shrink into himself a bit. The questions clearly had bothered him well before Paul had aired then, and his guilty manner suggested he had answers that he himself didn't like. He merely bit his lip and mumbled, "I've got to write down everything I remember from the Bhaghavad-gita. I'll have to teach you first. I'll have to find incense and beads and the right sorts of clothes...." His voice trailed off.
"Don't worry," said John," we've already brought the gods back, we're the gods of rock 'n' roll, remember?"
"Do a miracle and send us home, then," said Ringo.
"Sorry, I've used up me quota. Fuck!" John threw his seashell towards the ocean as hard as he could with his left hand, then sat up fully. "I don't care what our mission is. I resent bein' dropped here without so much as a `Would you like to go?' I may not even do whatever we're supposed to doif we do have a job. We might not, y'know. Maybe some fuckin' Beatlemaniac just thought `Eh, wouldn't it be a lark to put the Beatles on another planet and see what they do.' Well, this one's not gonna do anythin', so fuck you!" John shouted at the sky, giving it the finger.
Paul turned on him furiously. "Stop it! If you bugger our chances of gettin' home"
John slumped. "Aaah, I'll cooperate, I just wanted it on the record how I feel. Sorry," he added to the heavens.
Paul had been expecting more defiance. "Wellyou shouldn't" He took a deep breath. "Right. Don't do it again. It's bad enough we're here, we don't have to aggravate the problem."
"Eh, lads, somethin's come up," said Ringo, pointing at the house.
Moving at a dead run, shouting something that was audible to the four only as a frantic formless noise, Stal's two oldest boys dashed into the house.
John narrowed his eyes. "I don't like this."
"D'ye think we should go see what's up?" Ringo asked.
"Damn right we should. Ive a feelin' anythin' that happens here is gonna involve us."
The four clambered off the dock and hurried towards the house, but they weren't a quarter of the way there when Stal, dragging his wife by the arm, burst out of the front door, looked frantically around, spied the four, yelled "Bards! Bards!" and ran like hell toward them.
"I knew it!" cried John. "Come on!"
The four ran even harder, and when the two groups met, Stal panted and wheezed and managed to gasp out:
"Idris be coming."
"Shit!" said John and Ringo.
"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna," chanted George.
"What should we do?" asked Paul. "Should we hide?"
"No!" Stal snapped. He looked sick. Next to him, the child-sized, stringy-haired Keelan caught her breath and scratched under a drooping left breast. "Dey must have heard of you, because bring dey a fancy-cart." He pounded his fist into his palm. "T'kes should be hung by his flapping tongue! So you must go wit' dem, or dey'll destroy my farm."
The little bald man mopped his forehead and glanced to his right. Reflexively the four looked, but all they saw was the meadow and a worn path curving around the barn, probably where the Idris were going to emerge. "Still might dey fire my house, if dey wonder why I didn't insist you go to Tradertown, Stal muttered to himself. Still could dey hang us for keeping you here.
Keelan made a small noise. Stal looked at her with tragic eyes. She nodded wearily and stepped closer to the four. Stal groaned, collected himself, and said, Listen, bards! When arrive de Idris, dey must see you rape us."
All four: "What?"
"You must show dat you be stronger den us and wanted to stay here!" Stal danced around impatiently, and now the four heard sounds of breaking wood from the house. "Destroyed you our furniture an' raped you my family, an' we could do not'ing to stop you! We begged you to go to de Idris, but you wouldn't leave! Tell dem dat! An' never, never tell dem dat you heard me speak words against de Idris or de gods, or dat I mentioned de Raleka."
Hoofbeats became faintly audible.
Keelan started to remove her pants, and Stal made as if to do the same.
"Don't!" said Paul, rushing to grab their arms. "Look, we're not going to rape you! We don't do things like that! Isn't there some other way?"
The woman shrugged. "De Idris always believe better when we be raped."
Paul stared down at the two people incredulously. Youve done this before?
Keelan shrugged again.
"De Idris won't arrest you," Stal said, misinterpreting Paul's distress. "No one from cross-Chasm ever be arrested, even if dey murder an' steal! An' de negative jan you get for rape will be offset by de positive jan you'll get for saving my family! Now get on usdey'll be here in a blink! You rape me, he said to Ringo. An' you watch, he said to John and George.
Overwhelmed by fright and disgust, almost as pale as his shirt, Ringo backed rapidly away from the frantic little man.
Do it!" Stal screamed, hopping up and down. "Better us raped den my family murdered!" To Paul: Youat least you! He raced over to John and George and forced his arms into their hands. Hold mekeep me from protecting my wife!
Ever so gingerly, Paul released Keelan, who promptly pulled down her pants, lay on the ground, and spread her legs, which were a mass of varicose veins. Her lank, graying hair and nearly shapeless body made her look like a battered rag doll.
Paul stood staring down at her, paralyzed by horrid indecision. I don't believe this, this can't possibly be happening, there must be another way!
A man mounted on a horse trotted from behind the barn. Two more followed.
"Oh God!" Paul cried, diving on top of the woman. They rolled around; Keelan hissed "Your pants, remove your pants!" and then shrieked like a steam whistle. Paul made a feeble attempt to unzip, but he and the woman were moving around too much. Above them, Stal wailed at the top of his lungs and swung in his captors' embrace like Samson in his chains. He was so energetic that John and George really did have to hold him tightly, lest he break free and spoil the illusion.
Then Paul had an idea. While bumping around, he managed to yank his zipper down. As the rider drew closer, he got up off Keelan, who burst into most convincing tears. Turning toward the approaching Idris, he put on the most evil leer he could muster, then made a show of zipping up his pants and brushing off stray blades of grass. Keelan, sobbing, crawled toward her pants and wrapped them around herself. Stal quit struggling, now hung limp and moaned softly.
Altogether, it was as dramatic a scene as could be presented to the trio of Idristwo men and a womanthat reined up and regarded the scene with amused interest.
They all wore the same basic uniform: brown leather boots, black trousers, and a black shirt, essentially a turtleneck, whose left sleeve extended to the wrist and whose right sleeve was nonexistent, exposing an arm that had been dyed red. The men seemed little better than thugsshort, stubby-fingered, round-faced fellows of the same racial stamp as Stal. They had long-barreled pistols at their belts and red rings on the ring fingers of their undyed hands, and their ponytails were bound with red cord.
The female Idri was completely different. Much taller than the men, she had an angular face with high cheekbones, heavy eyebrows, and a large nose. Her skin seemed darker than the others, or was it simply grimy? Her gun was more ornate than those of the men, and she had a gold hinged bracelet around her left wrist. She also wore a slender sword at her right hip.
Her haughty gaze swept across the people on the ground, lingered a bit on George, and came to rest on Paul's fly. "That closeable prick-hole do be a help, man," she said. Her accent was similar to Stal's but more precise, quicker. "Done you be, or your friends yet to join in? A little thrash does the fish still have in it." She spat at Keelan, who flinched and wriggled back. "How was it? Too old this one does seem, like sticking a sword into dry ground."
Paul had anticipated this sort of interest and prepared some good-ol'-boy post-rape dialoguenah, she wasn't so bad, nudge nudge wink wink. But chum up that way to a woman? He opened his mouth, closed it, lost his leer, put it back on, yelled Say something! at himself, swallowed, cleared his throat, opened his mouth again
and John cut in with a curt, "No, he's the last, we're done." He released Stal, as did George. The little bald man stumbled to Keelan and held her, stroking her head and crooning to her. The two were magnificent actors. Apparently, they had to be.
The Idri men grunted in disappointment.
"Sorrow," said the Idri woman. "Still, Grynun's fingering, and time do visit only once, so...." Slipping off her horse, she touched her head, her heart, and her gun butt with her red right hand, then held it up as if beseeching the gods. The two men made the same motions.
"Wrist Fi'ar Taskaminhafedic," she announced, lowering her hand.
"Finger Grol bes martwa-Gam." "Finger Eskil bes elrdoed-Bont," the two men murmured.
"Greetings do come to you from the Idri'en Tagen, the Hands of the Gods, who do wish you long life and warm beds, full bellies and clean water. Praise-the-gods-for-their-wisdom-in-guiding-you-here," Fi'ar rattled off. "Noised around the market by an elf who did have a keg of kessel wine inside him were words about tall bards at Lastman's. You be them?"
"Yeah," John said.
Fi'ar grinned, displaying gappy teeth. "Happiness. Grynun the Idri-Head is hiring you. Snow-covered trees, you be," she added, coming over to measure herself next to George. She was no shrub herself, being only a few inches shorter than him, as she demonstrated by thrusting her face into his. She stank almost as badly as Stal, and her breath would have killed flies. "But such skinny branches!" she exclaimed, pushing her hands up George's short sleeve and kneading his upper arm.
"Stop that," he said, pulling away from her.
She looked startled for an instant, then laughed. "Not raised like Lastsheep and his ewe, were you. Where come you from, sapling-wolf-bards?"
"Cross-Chasm," said John. "And what's this about"
He stopped as Fi'ar sucked in her breath sharply (and the Idri men exchanged startled glances). The nasty superiority left her face, replaced withawe? Fear? Delight?something akin to a mix of those emotions, anyway. Then she repeated her hand-heart-gun butt-heavens gesture and made a spread-armed bow to the four. "The Idri'en Tagen do joyfully welcome the Favorites of the Gods, she said with real feeling as she straightened up. Surely there be no greater honor than your presence. She swept her arm derisively in the direction of Stals house. But why came you here? Knew you not that in Tradertown, soft beds and savory meats await?
Before anyone could answer, Fiar whirled around and glared at Stal and Keelan, who cringed. The Idri woman kicked the ground in front of them, splattering them with dirt. "Why didnt you send them to Tradertown? she screamed. Thought you to learn secrets known only to priests? Thought you to defy the Idris? A thousandten thousand ans of bad jan to you! I should have you floggedhungshot!
No! Recovering his tongue at this critical moment, Paul hurried round to face Fi'ar. "Dont hurt them! They tried to get us to go. Somehow, he forced a leer. He told us that he'd get into trouble, but we didn't care. We wanted a bit of fun, so we smashed up his furniture andwell, you caught us at the tail end of it." He smiled lewdly and hitched up his pants.
Fi'ar seemed surprised that Paul had intercededand not particularly convinced by his account. However, some of the anger left her face as she regarded Stal and Keelan doubtfully. Then she looked Paul square in the eyes. "Told you them what lies cross-Chasm?"
"Nah! We barely spokeexcept for when he begged us to go to Tradertown."
"Oh?" The Idri woman glanced at the cowering man and his wife again, then at the four, one at a time: Paul acting macho, John staring back blandly, George pale and sweating, Ringo with his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground.
Paul lost his smile. This lot didn't hurt a fly, she doesn't believe me!
Then her face took on a crafty look. She said to no one in particular, "Lamb be delicious."
Stal blinked, then looked into Keelan's eyes and said very solemnly and loudly, "De slaughter be in two dayhands."
"Oneone of de lambs wandered into de sea an' drowned," Keelan stage-whispered in reply, throwing a fearful glance at Fi'ar and her companions.
What's all this in aid of? Paul looked at the others for inspiration, but they were just as confused (except George, who seemed to have gone into a trance).
Fi'ar walked back to her horse, which was cropping the grass. "In the kitchen in the back of the castle, Atemar waits with horse-roots," she told it, stroking its neck.
Stal got to his feet and helped Keelan up, shielded her as she put her pants back on. Without so much as a parting glance at their former guests, the pair hurried back to the house.
Paul relaxed. No houses would be burned today, no people murderedthat much he understood. Though he was terribly sorry that they'd had to destroy their furnishings, and he didn't like the sacrifice of lambs at all.
"I like lamb brains," one of the Idri man said hopefully.
"I don't," said Fi'ar, and the two men grinned. The Idri woman grinned back, then looked past them to wave impatiently at a most extraordinary conveyance that had hove into view: a large, horseless, ornate, gilded, high-wheeled vehicle like a cross between a stagecoach and Cinderella's pumpkin carriage, puffing black smoke occasionally as it putt-putt-putted toward them. To the four, all business, she said, "Where be your boat? We'll send Idris to sail it to Tradertown. I would take you there as well, but Grynun will want to see you first. Never has there been a bard from cross-Chasm in Focan!"
"We don't have a boat," said George. He took a deep breath. "We've been sent by God."
Paul was horrified, but before he could interject something about actually having been shipwrecked and George being crazy from sunstroke or something, Fi'ar nodded knowingly and said, So you be exiles. I should have known
The Idri woman took a step back as four desperate faces came at her. "You mean there's other people from Earth here?" "Are we bein punished, then?" "Why were we exiled? Who did it?" "Are we stuck here?" and on and on, until she waved her hands and shouted "Cease! Cease!" As the hubbub subsided, she said apologetically to the four, "I know nothing about cross-Chasm exile. Shoot your questions at Lyndess in the castle."
Paul almost had a heart attack. "Linda's here?"
"Lyndess, plugears. She too is a cross-Chasm exile."
Just then the fancy-cart pulled up, bright with red curlicues and gold trim. The driver manipulated several long levers, one as mobile as a joystick, to drive it. Black smoke puffed from an exhaust pipe in the back.
Fi'ar opened the door. "Get in, honored bards. Grynuns fingering."
"Wait, we've gotta get our instruments," said John.
Was that a hint of impatience on the Idri womans otherwise reverent face? "I humbly request that you hurry," she said. Casually, not looking at the four, she drew her sword and slashed off the top of a weed.