Part 5 of a serialized novelette
Copyright 2013, S.A. Barton
Cover art copyright 2013, Erik Elliott
He set the cellphone on the dashboard. The car started on its own, but Elvison fumbled around, confused, until I realized what he wanted and showed him how to get the headlights on. We pulled out, heading toward the edge of town, barely ahead of the sirens.
Two miles away, he parked the car and took a different one. A two door instead of a four door, black instead of red. He headed back into the strip and picked a different casino a mile away from the one we had started at. He drove up to the top of the parking garage in the open air, parked, fiddled with the cellphone-thing for a minute, nodded, stuck it in his pocket, and got out. I followed suit.
“Somebody will find this car. Then all they have to do is check the camera footage and they know what we look like. Maybe you go back to your time, but I’m staying here. I’ll probably get arrested.” Back to his time. I guess I pretty much believed him, then.
He patted the pocket he’d stuck the cellphone gadget in. “The cameras aren’t seeing us right now. This thing can keep that up pretty much as long as I want it to. If you don’t get farther than about three meters from me, they won’t see you either.” We made our way to the nearest stairwell, walked down a couple of levels.
“Look, what was that all about back there?” I finally asked. He stopped, stepped over to the edge, looking out over the gaudiness of the city. I settled in next to him, elbows on the aluminum tubes of the guardrail. The neon crawled over the skyline like lightning over the face of a thunderhead.
“The Rikers are followers of Rike, who they say lived for a thousand years and tried to unite the world under one religion. Theirs, of course. In their scripture, the Great World War was an alliance of his enemies and he was killed when they destroyed Old Berlin with a nuclear weapon. Like real history, but with a twist. Rikers believe that when they can bring the entire world under their rule, Rike will see that they have accomplished his goal and return again to rule them in a perfect utopia where death and suffering will be abolished.”
“The Great World War? There was the Great War—World War One—and there was World War Two. Two cities in Japan were nuked then, but not Germany.”
“Gemmay is the name of their purgatory, where the souls of the dead who serve Rike wait for his return so they can be reincarnated. I’ve never heard of Japan.”
“Have you ever considered taking a history book back to the future with you? I think you folks have a few things mixed up,” I said.
“Like how long Elvis lived. I noticed. I thought about reading some histories, they can’t be that hard to find. But…” he trailed off.
“But you really aren’t sure you want to find out,” I finished for him.
“Yeah. I grew up knowing that certain things were true, you know? And I come here and it’s all mixed up. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m supposed to send a message back, I have a dozen drop spots that they’ll check for it in my time. I have no idea what to tell them.”
“Well, when you get back, you just explain… oh.” If he was sending a message back in time, he wasn’t going back.
“Uh-huh. You got it, baby.” The uh-huh and the baby were all Elvis. How had they gotten that right when they obviously didn’t know a damn thing about major events like World War 2? My head swam, I was getting dizzy with the effort of wrapping my brain around it all.
“I don’t know about you, but I need sleep. Maybe some of this will make sense in the morning. But first… here.” I leaned over to fix the hole in this hair, wondering how much hair spray was in it to make it so stiff it would hold the shape of a bullet—or squiggly energy-thing—hole. He jumped back, eyes wide.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Fixing the hole in your hair.”
“You don’t touch a man’s coif. Not unless you mean it. I’m not a same-er anyway, so it wouldn’t do you any good.”
“Never mind.” He reached up under the front of his hairline with the index fingers of both hands. There was a click, and his hair came off in his hands. I stared at him. Underneath, he was bald as an egg.
“Hey,” I said, my confusion vanishing. “That’s perfect. Change your clothes and I doubt anyone would ever look at you and think you were the same guy from the diner.” He turned the hair around in his hands, peered at the hole, then turned it over and started messing with something inside. I could hear a faint beep beep beep in time with his finger motions, like he was pressing buttons. Faint multicolored lights flickered, coloring his hands, making them seem oddly delicate. Busy, he didn’t respond.
“Stop for a minute,” I said. “Did you hear me? Stay bald, it’s the perfect disguise.”
“No matter what I’ve seen here, I’m not ready to abandon the faith. Not by a long shot. I can’t turn my back on Elvis.” He put his hair back on with another click. There was no sign of the hole.
“You don’t have to give up your faith,” I said. I thought, but it would be a good idea if you did. Your faith is kind of stupid. “You just have to, you know. Not dress like him. You’re pretty close to my size, I can lend you a shirt and a pair of pants until we can get you to a store. It’ll be a lot easier to avoid being questioned by the police about a shooting involving a man dressed like Elvis if you don’t look like Elvis.”
“These are holy symbols,” he said, bowing his head and touching his hair, then shaking one of his sequined lapels at me. “I don’t just take them off. They’re marks of the priesthood.”
“Around here, they’re worn mainly on stage by people putting on a show, and by one of the suspects in a pretty destructive shooting that left at least one dead guy on the street for the cops to pick up and puzzle over. Maybe two, I don’t know how bad off the driver was. If you want to avoid jail, or maybe a mental institution where they’ll try to convince you that you’re not really from the future after all but instead some amnesiac from the sticks who made it all up in his head, you’ll stop wearing those around all the time. I’m sorry if it conflicts with your faith, but you’re in danger. Looking like that makes you a target for those Riker people, too. Think about it.” I took a gamble. I wasn’t a big church man, but I had seen enough holy rollers to know that sometimes people picked and chose parts of their religion to justify ways to do whatever it was they wanted to do in the first place. No matter how holy they were, or thought they were. “What would Elvis do?” I asked him, and I looked him in the eye.
“Well-l-l…” he said slowly, “there is the story of the man who denied Elvis three times. Once because he was hungry and the boss wouldn’t hire Kingsfolk. Once because he was sick and the healer hated the faith. And once because he was afraid, and the robber cursed the King’s name in his hearing.”
“And what happened?” Everything hinged on his answer. And I didn’t know the faith.