June 6 1992, concluded
Combine the dehydrating effect of excessive alchohol consumption with the dehydrating effect of excessive marijuana consumption and you get secondary effects Torquemada would have applauded..especially if you've been sleeping with your mouth open.
I woke up to discover that some evildoer had driven an invisible railroad spike in behind my right eye to a depth of about six inches and was busy prying away at my forebrain. My teeth hurt. Hell, my hair hurt.
An hour, five glasses of water, six aspirin and two cups of Peet's coffee later I was..just barely..ready to face the implications of last night's Storytime with Mantami Khasim. I'd have dismissed it all as a dope-inspired fantasy, except for the neat stacks of $50's I found hidden inside my microwave. Not to mention their identical twins, onto which I'd found a sleeping bag-draped Pith drooling gently, as he snored away on my back deck.
That same hour later, Pith leveled his bloodshot gaze at me as he huddled over his own cup of Peet's.
"Killer party," he observed.
I paused to let a wave of nausea pass. "Remind me to do it again sometime. Say, about fifty years from now."
He shrugged. "All part of the dance."
I gave him the look I usually reserve for insurance salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses. "Dance this," I said, too hungover to even bother with the accompanying gesture.
Pith took a reflective sip of steaming coffee.
"Anything get decided last night?" I asked.
Pith nodded. "Decided t' sleep on it," he explained.
I glanced at the sodden pile of bills in front of him. "Mission accomplished."
Pith grinned. "So..y'up f'r th' kid's trip?" he asked.
I considered for a moment. I had no job. I had no girlfriend. I had no beer worth mentioning. I had $10,000 in what appeared to be genuine U.S. currency, with the promise of a hundred times that amount or more for whatever the "kid's trip" turned out to involve.
On the other hand, look at all I have to lose.
"Probably. Unless it turns out to be a shuck. Or this," I waved my hand at the four neat stacks of cash, "turns out to be counterfeit."
Pith shook his head. "Clean green," he said.
I sighed. He'd know, of course. It was one of those Pithian abilities, like attracting Berkeley women and Mendocino weed.
"Well, then, let's get this mess squared away, call the other guys and figure out what happens next, eh?"
He grinned. "Your dance, your lead."
. . .
It took until mid-afternoon before we were all assembled on my back deck once again. We spent the next couple of hours peppering Mantami with questions and he did his best to answer them, sometimes definitively, sometimes pretty clearly guessing.
Q. What was the actual assignment?
A. He didn't know, exactly. The mysterious Læ's instructions (Mantami showed them to us. They weren't in any language I had ever seen. Mantami called it the Trader's Tongue) were to recruit a climber, a caver and three or four "warriors" and to have them equip themselves for an overland journey of several months.
Q. Was there going to be danger involved?
A. Well, duh. Could anybody expect a job involving three or four "warriors" and a million-dollar payday to be a walk in the park?
Q. Where was the job to take place?
A. Mantami didn't know, but he suspected that it would be his home planet, which he called Methven.
Q. How were we going to get there?
A. Again, Mantami didn't know, but he guessed it would be the same way he'd gotten from Methven to Earth. In other words, "magic".
Q. How long did we have to prepare?
A. Four weeks. We'd be rendezvousing with Læ on July 4. Independence Day.
Q. Where was the rendezvous? And how were we going to find it?
A. In the Sierras. Mantami would lead us. He'd simply know where to go. "It is a seeing. All Vomisa are knowing of it in preparationing for Ordeal."
Q. What would we need in the way of equipment and provisions?
A. Mantami couldn't say for sure, but thought it was probably best to be completely self-sufficient. Otherwise, why bother with 10 G's worth of expense money per person?
That led to an hour or more of us pumping Mantami for details about the climate, terrain, flora, fauna and whatnot of Methven. It turned out that he knew a lot about conditions in his beloved Vomisa Mountains and almost nothing about the rest of the world.
The one solid fact he came up with was that, when he'd accidentally crossed over to our world from his own, it was late Fall in both places. On the other hand, he was also sure that there were more days in "his" year than in ours, so, unless Methven days were fractionally shorter than Earth days, it wasn't safe to assume that the seasonal match was anything other than coincidence. On the third hand, you'd think that, if we were going to wind up in the middle of a Methven Winter, Læ would think to mention we should bring our snuggies.
Q. What about weapons?
A. The Vomisa Mountains were full of tacht and other, lesser carnivores and he seemed to think the foothills were full of bandits. Beyond that, Mantami didn't know..but Læ's recruiting instructions made it an easy guess that somebody, somewhere was liable to welcome us with something short of open arms. Semper paratus.
Q. And, what about casualties? What would happen if one of us got badly hurt? Or killed?
A. Mantami didn't know.
"Well, that's like, totally comforting," Blandy observed. "Fuggit. Anything's better than waiting around for Mumsy and Da-Da to punt the pail. Count me in."
"If my boy's in, then I'm in," Tong responded.
Pith shrugged. "Might as well."
Bill looked around at us. "You're all crazy, you know."
"Like, your point being?"
Bill, ignoring Blandy's jape, spent a long moment considering his answer. Finally, he stated, "If Drew goes, I'll go, too."
Everyone turned to look at me.
"Bill's right, of course. You're all nutty as an almond orchard. But, yeah, you can count me in." I shrugged. "After all, I suppose somebody has to keep you guys out of trouble. I'm kinda curious to see who it will be.."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)