Nimbly as a six-and-a-half-foot Prussian ballet dancer, Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius stepped into his laboratory and grazed his eager staff with eyes that would have cowed a raging bullfrog, for Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius was a master of men, a giant of science and a mountain of a man.
"Well, my fiendish friends and fawning followers," he bellowed, "this will be a day of high adventure and low cunning, of great inventions and elusive immortality! Let us begin!"
Then they jumped him, beat him, bound him, stunned and paralyzed him with strange devices of his own invention.
"Stop that nonsense at once, you flea-ridden fools!" he roared. "What - in the name of the Eightfold Path, the Seven Sages, the Six Fingers of Time and the Five Wounds of Christ - is this supposed to mean?"
"This is the day of your eclipse," they told him as they bound him with chains of rusty iron, semiceramic cables and a monorganic mosquito net of his own invention, "and the dawn of our ascent."
"What? Do mere mortals dare to strive with titans?"
"For sixty years you have flooded the world with strange devices of your own invention. You have made and lost and regained fortunes few men would dare to dream about. You have ruled states and business empires. You have engraved your name in bold print upon the history of science and the world - and in letters sixty miles across upon the surface of Mars."
"And now you are eighty-six years old and seek immortality not merely in the memory of men, but in the flesh."
"Even now, you are larger than life and maybe larger than legend. Immortal, you would overshadow all the human race. And therefore we must kill you before you can uncover the weird ways of nature and make yourself a god."
"You cannot kill me!" he thundered. "I am stronger than your strongest fears and stranger than your strangest dreams. My voice alone, which rumbles like a mountain, will make your flesh creep and your hearts quake and tremble with envy, anguish and despair. And from my gaze you shrink like T-shirts boiled too hot. You cannot kill a mountain of a man, no more than snails could race a roaring lion."
"He's right," they said, "we cannot kill a man like him."
So they blinded him with white-hot glass and broke the fingers of his hands. And they cast him through the shimmering arc bridge and began to celebrate the morning of their fame. But he was washed up on a distant shore beyond the arc bridge, where he soon woke to the cackling of an old woman with a voice as dry as broken bones.
"By the Four Corners of the World, the Three Weird Sisters and the double-dealing, two-faced God of Doors - where am I?" he groaned.
"Beyond the arc bridge," cackled the old woman. "But who can tell where that may be? I call this place here Dawn. And who are you?"
"I am Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius, the greatest scientist since Gregory Smirnov passed away."
"And I am Truant Moonblood, and I was a scientist before you were ever born!"
"What? If that is true -- and I suppose it must be, since it is utterly implausible -- then you must be one hundred and seven years old!"
"And so I am, you incredulous, fork-tongued fiend."
"And I, who was once an Eye Among the Blind, am now as sightless and unfingered as a worm, and bound and chained and netted like a loan shark's victim!" he groaned. "Would you be so kind as to unfetter me and my stumbling imagination by telling me where on Earth - or rather, where in the rumbling bowels of space - I am?"
And with fingers as dry as broken bones, Truant Moonblood, the ancient scientist, unchained, uncabled and unnetted bald-headed Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius, the giant of science and blinded eye among the blind.
"As I told you once before, my youthful, blue-eyed friend," she crackled, "you are in a place called Dawn - or was it Thrawn? - somewhere in the deep gullet of space beyond the simmering bridge arc."
"Bridge arc, arc bridge, what in the name of the double-faced God of Archways is the difference? Here we are, and here we stay!"
"Well, maybe," Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius mused as he paced across the salty sands and listened to the breathing of the sea. He heard the lapping of small waves, the distant thunder of breakers and the whistling of the whispering wind. He tasted the salt and the bitterness of the air and the loneliness of the beach and of the ancient woman, whose hands were dry as broken bones. He felt alone and bitter and, being a mountain of a man, he felt the mountains far away.
"Why did they do this to me?" he asked himself.
"Are you not a giant of science and a mountain of a man?" the woman chuckled. "All your life you must have dwarfed mere mortals. And mortals do not care to live in the shadow of mountains."
"What of it?"
"Were there prophets among them?"
"There may have been," he said as Truant Moonblood put splints on his fingers. "Some had a feverish look that lurked behind their eyes and made them sneeze whenever I stared at them. I thought they had hay fever, but maybe they were prophets."
"So they decided to cut your throat and rip out your guts and eat your heart and your liver."
"They did, those small-souled tinkers and thought-cobblers!"
"But they could not kill you, for they did not know where to seek the heart of a mountain. So they blinded you with white-hot glass and broke the fingers of your hands and hauled you through the glimmering arc bridge. For they did not want you to seek the hoary secret of immortality."
"How do you know?"
"After I had invented the plutonium-powered prayer wheel and transformed Svartvic's equations and built the quivering arc bridge, I, too, turned towards the half-hidden secret of immortality, though yet but forty-six."
"So they blinded you with white-hot glass and broke the fingers of your hands and sent you through the very arc you had invented to bridge the gulf of space!" he roared, as the two of them plodded across the bitter beach towards a ramshackle shanty made of driftwood and seaweed.
"No. When I was young the men and women of science were gentler and I was but a hill of a woman, not a mountain. So the men just raped me once or twice and the women broke my nose, which was never very becoming anyway."
"And have you uncovered the grey-haired secret of immortality? As yet I have merely glimpsed dark hints of hairy fairy tails."
"The giants of old were immortal, but they were giants of the body."
"And were slain with slings of reason by envious mortals, and are now extinct," Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius replied, shivering. "And this must be the most unkindly, cold and dismal world that I have ever seen."
"The giants of today are mortal, but they are giants of the mind."
"And they strive to be immortal, not merely in the memory of men but in the flesh. Yet how, you ancient, cackling, bridge-building priest -- for are not all priests bridge-builders who bridge the gulf between mere mortals and the gods as though it were no wider than that which severs pons from pontifex? -- how is this immortality conceived?"
They reached the ramshackle shanty made of driftwood and seawind howling through its cracks and crevices, leaning like a drunken sailor against the cliff. They entered, and, while freezing Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius sat down in a corner and shivered blindly, Truant Moonblood lit a flickering fire and began to cook a steaming stew made of evil-smelling odds and ends and things better left unnamed. And Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius, who was a mountain of a man, although his teeth were chattering madly to themselves, mused whether the old woman might be mad.
"Nietzsche, that mad materialistic mystic," she chuckled, "who was as blind as any Homer and any far-sighted seer, knew that lovers sometimes seek to seem as gods -- and not out of vanity."
"But what would a blind and bleary-eyed and walrus-bearded prophet know about love? I have loved a hundred women in my time, and I always seemed a god among mere mortals."
"He also knew," the rag-bag chattered, "that men with loud voices booming in their throats can hardly think subtle thoughts -- and your voice is louder than a raging bullfrog's mating roar."
"That shows him to be a greater fool than I thought. For what would a dim-eyed, small-voiced prophet know of the mountain men he dreamed about, not even knowing the darkness he lived in to be their shadow? And what would such a temperamental, sentimental mystic know about the full-blooded love of giants? Love is only sex mis-spelled, a prejudice of evolution, no more."
As the flickering fire and the vile stew began to warm Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius, and his thoughts and senses roamed and measured the ramshackle shanty made of drifting thoughts and seawater seeping in like fog, he became aware of a faint scent which tickled his back-brain, but would not tell him where it came from, nor what it meant.
"I could make a better hut than this within an hour," he thought. "I could build a good, solid house within a week, yet there is something strange about this place, and it smells of broken bones." But in as dismal a place as Dawn
"The collar-bone," the old woman said, "is the key to the secrets of love and immortality."
"I thought as much," rumbled Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius suspiciously. "No name is ever given without reason. But tell me more about this key-bone, key-stone, key-tone. How will you unlock the clavicle?"
"Every human is born with a splinter of immortality lodged within the collar-bone, but it is later lost in love."
"You must be madder than a March Hare, and as hare-brained, too! Your wits are whittled away by the whispering winds!"
"Do not speak slightingly of whispering winds," whispered Truant Moonblood. "Do you think it is purely coincidence that we speak of little death?"
"And what about love unfulfilled or unrequited? And what about those who never love? Are they immortal?"
"They may well be. But consider this: the secret of immortal love -- if it was ever known -- has been long lost in the murky mists of time and legend, but still it haunts humanity. And then, maybe, love in itself is immortality, but immortality does not imply invulnerability. And so immortal love may yet be murdered silently, or slowly starved to death by words not said and deeds not done and thoughts not thought."
"But what about those stone-hearted, never-loving, never-dying men? Where are they?"
"There are but few of them, for they, too, are vulnerable, yet they exist. They are the grey men and lonely spinsters that age and age and watch the world around them falter, fail and die. They are mere shadows, and mountain men like you would not see them, even if they were perched upon their knees. They may be immortal, but they are mortally dull."
"Then there is no hope of immortality for the rock giants and the mountain men of science?" Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius pondered as the tickling in his back-brain crept down his spine towards his loins.
"No, and there never can be. Mere mortals could not live in the shadows of giants, and if giants were immortal, humanity would wither like a flower lacking light. And evolution must go on."
"Wait!" roared Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius. "There is a tickling in my back-brain creeping down my spine towards my loins, and I smell something fishy!"
"It is the seawind and the seaweed."
"No! It is you! Your fingers may be dry as broken bones, but you are not as old as you would like to seem!"
"How true," said Truant Moonblood, and pierced his heart with a bone-headed spear, for she knew enough of mountains to know where to seek their heart.
She cut up his carcass and salted it with sea salt. She boiled his flesh and roasted it and smoked his flesh and hung it up in the ramshackle shanty made of drifting sighs and sea-foam. His bones she used to fill the cracks and crevices that the fog seeped through, but his collar-bone she broke apart and sucked out all the marrow, for Mortimer Slagfire-Sartorius had been a mountain of a man, and there was still some hint of immortality locked inside his clavicle.
And Truant Moonblood wandered once again across the lonely beach and smiled gently to herself. And she sat down to wait for the next giant of science, seeking the secret of immortality.
Michael Burschik was born in Britain in 1966 and had the ill fortune of being forced to spend most of his life in a miserable Bavarian town within spitting distance of both the former `Zonengrenze' and the Czechoslovakian border. During one of his few bright moments he decided to leave for Bonn. At the moment, he is trying to get started with his doctoral dissertation. Michael Burschik is one of the six infamous editors of the German semipro 'zine, `Centauri' and claims that his German is rather better than his English. `Footprints' started out as a travesty of Lafferty, but somehow got out of control and began mutating.
Footprints on the Sands of Time - Michael Burschik - Copyright (c) 1988
This was so amusing ... It is mirrored from the site http://www.etext.org/Zines/Quanta/footprints.html ... JB
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