A Dish Best Served Cold
by D. A. Madigan
part 1 of 2
Suspended in the air, thirty feet above the once heather-thick floor of a secluded mountain valley somewhere in the high Himalayas, not far from a series of guttering flame rings delineating the perfectly circular perimeters of freshly blasted artillery craters: a great white furred gorilla. Strangely clad is the albino ape in a harness of leather straps and pouches, with jeweled gold spangling its hairy earlobes and knobby, blunt fingers, its rage-bloated red eyes possessing an unsettling spark of intelligence.
Twenty feet away, also hanging helplessly in mid-air: a man. Tall and well-muscled, hair a black thick crop atop his long head, dark eyes filled with an anger to rival that of the great white ape’s, or even mythical Jove’s, anthracite skin a startling contrast to the anthropoid’s snowy fur; wearing the tattered, ragged remnants of once-tough cotton fatigues, a soot blackened pair of well-worn, beautifully cared-for leather boots on his dangling feet.
Pulsing in the ether around the two, the palpable thoughts of The Bodiless:
We know nothing, and care nothing, for the conflicts of outsiders, the strangely silent voice reverberated directly in the brains of both combatants. But you have brought your combat to our ancestral home, and the fury of your mutual hatred fills the mindscape, causing us discomfort. We would have an end to it.
The gorilla stiffened, clawing the air in frustrated outrage. “You dare not interfere with me!” it bellowed through a surgically enhanced larynx. “I am the White Pharaoh! My will is supreme!”
The black-skinned man mastered himself, visibly. A sidelong glance at his nemesis, hanging as helpless as he. Then, in a voice with all anger merely a well-throttled thread: “I had thought this area deserted of all intelligent usage. I... regret the mistake. Release me, and my companion, and we will settle our differences elsewhere.”
No, the eerily soundless voice came again, like rushing waters in both their heads. We will not do this thing. You have come among us, unwitting or not, and you have done offense to us. We will hear your justifications for this and make a resolution. You who call yourself the White Pharaoh, speak of your interest first.
“I should not have to justify myself,” the ape raged. “But very well! The White Pharaoh has never known shame. Fourteen thousand years ago, I ruled the Great Polar Empire your histories now name Egypt. It was before the Roaring Cataclysm, and my will was absolute law across the surface of the globe! When my priests came trembling before me, they advised that they could see, through their arts, the beginnings of the black rot starting to form on my brain. It was, they claimed, incurable.”
As the ape told his tale, visible images — palpable renderings of his ancient memories, perhaps — formed in the air around him. The human suspended in the air nearby could clearly see a throng of dark brown-skinned men in odd headdresses and robes, with crystal-studded staves in their hands, kneeling before a massively muscled, utterly hairless albino man sitting on a high throne.
“It was, in fact, not incurable,” the ape went on. “Using the Flesh of Ra, an artificial brain was fashioned for me, exactly duplicating my natural organ. Due to the regenerative properties of Ra’s Flesh, that new brain was immortal and indestructible. Bodies might wear out, but the brain could be easily transplanted into new, young, strong forms taken from my subjects.”
The images became a swirling riot of churning figures — weeping priests, if such they were, begging their massive ruler to alter course — loyal soldiers, armed with some sort of energy-projecting wands, cutting the priests down with heat rays, until finally a few cowed survivors agreed to comply with the will of the Pharaoh.
The Flesh of Ra was a divine artifact, remaining from the Days of the Gods, a lump of glowing clay barely the size of two fists placed together. Small pieces could be pinched off and used for miraculous cures — placed in wounds, the treated flesh would heal completely and over time even fully regenerate — ruined eyes, punctured lungs, even severed limbs would regrow themselves fully, while the original mass of miraculous lifeclay would also, over time, replenish itself of the small amount removed.
But the White Pharaoh had demanded the use of all the Flesh of Ra, every bit, for his immortal artificial brain — and in enforcing his will, he had doomed countless others to misery, suffering, and death, down through the generations of man...
The ape went on: “Even the Roaring Cataclysm could not kill me, although my Empire was reduced to ruins and my loyal followers became a secretive cult. Through the ages my loyal priests have continued to secure new bodies for my mighty brain. Until two thousand years ago, when abruptly all human bodies began to reject my newly implanted brain, sickening and dying within hours of the transfer.
“My priests theorize that mankind had gradually evolved just enough that my brain was no longer compatible... but they discovered that a rare white gorilla from the interior of the lower continent was an excellent receptacle now. Since then, I have had these gorillas bred in secret to continue to house my supreme immortal mind.
“As I have roamed the world wreaking my will upon all around me, seeking that submission and awe which was only my just due as the only remaining Son of the Gods, I have frequently encountered short-sighted and foolish resistance from these modern humans, who have little reverence for their proper divine masters. That one, John Commander” — the great albino gorilla hurled a look of brutish contempt at the dark human hanging near to him — “has become my most pernicious of foes, since we first met in Cambodia twelve years ago.”
The dark man closed his eyes as the images around the gorilla changed again. Had he watched, he would have seen the ancient golden Temple where he and his wife had first encountered the White Pharaoh, along with a squad of the Pharaoh’s mentally controlled white gorilla thralls.
The Commanders had been there seeking historical relics, not wealth; the White Pharaoh had been looking for a long-lost sepulcher containing traces of a radioactive element once much used as a power source by the Great Polar Empire he claimed to have ruled in prehistory.
The great king ape had been much taken by Talia Commander’s beauty; she and her husband had fought furiously, but in the end they had both been captured. Talia had submitted to the white furred monstrosity’s advances to secure the freedom of her husband, and John Commander had been released in the jungle, miles from the Temple, heartsick and furious.
By the time Commander had hacked his way back through the bush, the Temple lay abandoned again — the sepulcher smashed and empty — except for the torn and ravaged body of Talia Commander.
“In our first encounter,” the ape continued to growl, “I drew blood from the black brute, and subsequent analysis showed that Commander was a genetic oddity — a physical atavism, one whose body could accept the implantation of my great brain. Further, his own flesh would respond to the Flesh of Ra that my brain is composed of, becoming effectively immortal, as well. His body holds the key to my immortality — as a human, not as a white furred beast! I will have his flesh, as is proper and fitting for humanity’s rightful ruler — and you dare not interfere!”
You who are known as johncommander, the strange voice came again. Have you aught to add to this account?
John Commander growled, as bestially as ever the White Pharaoh had. “Nothing to add to what we have seen,” he forced out, through gritted teeth. “That monster raped and murdered my wife. I have pursued him ever since, even as he, apparently, has pursued me. I have long wondered why, in our past encounters, he did not kill me when he had the chance, and now I know...
“But I care not for his psychotic fantasies. I merely want him dead at my hand. And I ask nothing of you but the opportunity to avenge my wife, somewhere far from here, where it will not disturb your ancient peace.”
“So, the voice came, after no discernible pause. Both your motivations for intruding here are base — earthly, fleshly, material — things we, who abandoned our bodies ages agone, have long since forgotten and thus cannot adequately judge.
“Yet the long furred one’s arrogance offends us, and damage has been done to the place where rest our former bones. We are inclined to seek some repayment for this, and also inclined to grant the dark, furless one’s request, for it has been respectful.
“So — we will dispatch you both to a distant place, an arena where each of you will be equally disadvantaged, where you may resolve your difficulties however you choose. When one of you no longer lives, you will both be released to the outer world once more.”
“You have earned my enmity!” the White Pharoah roared. “I will break Commander on the wheel of my wrath, and then return, and rip all of you to—”
And then, there was silence in that land, broken only by the crackling of nearby flames.
Copyright © 2009 by D. A. Madigan