Or maybe they’re dancing, marionettes on strings.
It’s like watching cream bloom in coffee. The first memory buds out of the darkness, then the whole blossom unfurls. For all of our accomplishments in science, we can’t explain the pattern of cream in coffee. It follows its own geometry, its own physics.
Focus on the cards.
They turn their faces to me, then their backs; they know I’m watching. These aren’t playing cards, with simple pips marking number and suit. More like tarot cards, for telling fortunes. A face here, a scene there. Objects, people, buildings, none of them familiar to me. They arrange themselves into tableaus, overlaid and reversed. Then with a breath, scattered like sand.
Well this is a shitty memory palace. Who designed this thing?
And am I in this somewhere? Which face belongs on mine? Am I the tuxedoed young magician, debonair and suave? Or the sharply dressed heiress in white and gold, smoldering and savvy? Perhaps I am the masked man, horns and spear forming an uneven crown. And as I question the deck, a consistency emerges. I see the character who recurs in more places than he should if he wasn’t important. But he looks so…silly. Do I really think that blue and red lozenges are the best fashion choice? What possessed me to wear a jacket that looks like a circus outfit? Perhaps it’s symbolic, and I play the clown in this story. Here I am dancing on a chimney, there holding someone with a blurred face in my arms, here at the head of a righteous army, there hanging from a tree by my feet, bound up by ribbons. And there I am falling from a tower, surrounded by shards of sparkling stained glass.
Or is that happening right now?
Here I am falling from a tower, dressed in red and blue motley like an idiot, ground rushing up to say hello. It’s raining, for what that’s worth. Why does that seem unusual?
But am I the one falling, or am I standing at the crown of the tower looking down, as another man plunges to his doom? Here the rain is still, drops suspended as we tumble together. There they slice through thin and thirsty air, and I look down on their descent.
Or am I already fallen, lying on my back with the rain in my face? Who is the other in the dust beside me? Who tugs at my arms, calling a name?
Alex. My name is Alex. I can work with that.
I turn to the tower as I fall, and it rushes by sideways like a train behind schedule. I am not falling through time, but suspended beside it, watching it pass while I hover in the aether, holding an hourglass by the neck.
The other man twists as he falls, a clock face with arms spinning dozens of hours per second. Indigo skies above, carnelian sands below. And the rain, teal and metallic.
And then I am the victim, falling with both sky and sands on my coat of office. But so slowly! Have I passed the event horizon, or not yet reached it?
And then I am the victor, watching my rival take the express route down. Something is in my hand, something hard and sharp. A weapon? A trophy? A crown, perhaps? And a chorus from the pit below me, thousands chanting a name as they welcome me onto the throne.
Motley. Really? I guess that explains the costume.
Something about this feels unnatural. Not the plummet through space to my imminent death, that part seems normal. Should I be more disturbed about this? I feel tranquil; nothing holding me back, or down, or up for that matter. My knuckles are bruised, and my muscles are tense. Had I been fighting someone? Did I lose?
Too many questions. Focus on what you know to be true.
My name is Alex Motley, apparently. I am wearing some kind of costume or uniform. I am falling through the air very quickly. It is raining in the desert. I am surrounded by memories that I do not remember.
The landscape widens, and I can see the city spinning below me, six great radial avenues spoking a municipal wheel with the tower at the center, grinding the coastline between desert and ocean, smoke coiling up like springs from patches of electric orange light before being shredded by the rain.
So the city is burning. Good to know, since I seem to be heading in that direction real fast.
At terminal velocity, the drops of rain seem as solid as the particles of glass. I turn my face to the trembling sky, clouds beating like an anxious heart.
What was dark and steel is bright and blinding, a cascading eruption of electricity spreading across the heavens. It starts at the tower’s crown, bursting out in a web of fractal light. Bolts lance down through the air, spearing the city. The glossy black tower is filled with white fire, ripping it apart from the inside faster than I am falling. It shatters the windows, and I am pierced with lightning.
I see three skies filled with elemental wrath. In the dust looking up, on the tower looking down, and falling looking sideways. As above, so below. And in between I suppose.
The lightning passes through me. I am a conduit for power. The air goes white, and I go black. One word before I fade.
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