The Last Journey of Chiron Baxter
by Ada Fetters
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Madeline strode across the grass, disturbing clouds of dandelions. She’d traded her white dress for jeans and thick-soled boots with flowers stamped into the leather. A blinking cybernetic band held her wiry curls out of her face. She held my Chronochassis with the chain looped around her wrist.
“I’ve got it!” Her smile changed her face nearly as much as her glasses had done.
I started to thank her, but she shook her head. “I knew the first one didn’t work. Nobody acted like they did in the books.” “You didn’t want to be dragged into that kind of story any more than I ever do. It was no fun, and it wasn’t what I really wanted.” She glared at the house with the pink bicycle parked against it. When she wrinkled her nose, her heavy glasses slid down her face. She shoved them back up using her whole hand. The gesture made her look twelve instead of twenty.
Apparently, Madeline did not want to have lines fed to her any more than I did. I held out my good hand. The air itself seemed to grind against my broken arm, but I was sure that once I had my Chronochassis I would feel better.
“If you want this, you’ll have to catch me.” Madeline slid the ten points of the Chronochassis past one another along their grooves as if she’d seen it done a hundred times before. As soon as I realized what was happening, I drew my feet under me and used my good arm to steady myself as I lurched upright. Too late. The Chronochassis enveloped Madeline in its blaze, then burned out of existence with a snap that hit my nerve-endings rather than my ears. Blue spots floated in front of my eyes.
She had not offered me a way out. In this, she reminded me of Aroyo Ira: anyone worthy of pursuing her would find his own way through space and time. Fortunately, I understood the object of the game. Skipping to the end instead of following her trail from place to place was a risk I would not have taken with Aroyo Ira, but Madeline was still young. She did not have his subtlety. I turned my back on the row of houses and walked through the strip of dandelions, into the deep shade beneath the underpass.
The story before me unfurled into machinations explained by both sides as I walked past them. Dexterous and sinister figures materialized among the concrete pillars. They plucked at my clothes. “Baxter! Your help is urgently needed to solve a pre-murder! Hurry, you must go—”
I held up my hand for silence and directed their attention to the nefarious butler. I was aware of the arc of the story the way a navigator is aware of the planet’s curve even when his eyes show him a jigsaw line of earth and sky. This world was familiar to me now that I knew what I was supposed to see.
Agents from both sides of the story were puzzled by my actions, but there was no way I could explain the situation to them. Interfering with the plot had already proven dangerous to life and limb.
* * *
I moved through a sketched outline of my universe via dusty roads, space hulks, networks of underground tunnels and puzzles that required temporal gymnastics. All this took place in the time it took to cross under the highway and through a strip of tall grass to a bespectacled twelve-year-old girl named Madeline who sat cross-legged under a pine tree with a notebook on her knee.
The lines of print were packed closely together on the page except for a jag of oddly familiar blue scribbles. She held the end of her long braid in one hand, brushing the end back and forth against her chin while she wrote.
The loose end of the braid was shaped like a question mark: her hair would be curly if her mother let her cut it. When she heard footsteps she slapped the notebook shut before she looked up.
Behind the thick lenses of her glasses, Madeline’s eyes widened in recognition. “How...?”
We both knew how that would go. Never apologize, never explain. Like the use of the word chatoyance, this had carried over from the original version of my story into hers.
The silence between us stretched long enough for another airplane to fly overhead. Madeline looked down at the green cover of the notebook. She picked at the corners of the cover, which were softened and worn. “I... you must have read through all that...”
I indicated my bad arm. “I lived through all that.” At least I had lived, which would not be true if the writer had known how far someone could fall onto concrete without dying. Madeline put her round face into her hands and groaned. When she finally spoke, her words were muffled by her palms. “Have you ever felt like a world was written just for you?”
That one answered itself.
“Well. Yeah. When we unpacked the boxes from moving I found my dad’s copy of Alterity and it was amaze-balls. I mean, it was like a present I didn’t even know I wanted. I looked all over the place for the other Chiron Baxter books. Apeiron, Accismus, all of them. When I found the last one in the used bookstore, there was one of those Employee Picks tags underneath the series. Do you know those?” I could not say I did, but Madeline went on. “It said In Memoriam. The author died back in the seventies. There won’t be any more.”
I wished I had not rushed through her story. Isn’t that the way it always goes? If we knew that we were taking our last journey, we might not be so eager to meet its horizon.
“You must think I’m pathetic,” said Madeline. “I want to write what you and Aroyo Ira have. That was the coolest thing about those books. You hated each other’s guts, but if you missed what he was trying to do, time itself twisted into a pretzel.”
She wrinkled her nose and curved her fingers into locked claws. “I think that’s what he really wanted. You raised the chase to an art form. He didn’t want to bring down regimes and stuff as much as he wanted you to figure out how he did it. It’d be so cool for someone to run after me and try to figure out what I was going to do.”
Her glasses slid down her nose again and she shoved them back up, looking at me as if through two plastic-rimmed portholes. “Maybe I need to stop writing fanfiction and grow up.”
The twelve-year-old had given me more shifts in perspective than my nemesis had. I was unsure how to explain this to her, since I couldn’t even explain it to myself. How could I thank someone for seeing something about my world that struck such a deep chord with them? Or for understanding something about my nemesis that struck a chord with me?
Perhaps I would say to her, “Madeline, you ferociously resist anyone who tries to dictate your story, but it wasn’t Aroyo Ira who raised the chase to an art form. His creator did that. That’s the real reason you love those stories. You really want to entice others to pursue you through worlds and work to understand the puzzles you give them.
“Then you want to be on to the next world before they’ve reached the last page. This whole thing is not about growing out of a world you love. It’s about growing as a writer. Maybe it is time to let readers chase you through a new landscape.”
Perhaps this is what I would have said if Madeline had not already printed her resolution in block letters on the cover of her notebook. Her pen scored the letters into the cardboard cover. She glanced up at me with a shy smile, then printed Chiron Baxter sez in one corner.
“Is that okay?” she asked. “It’s the last time I’ll put words in your mouth. Promise.”
I nodded. As a time-traveler I was privileged to hear them echo each time Madeline scratched them across a new notebook and eventually tacked them to the wall of her office where her hardcover works stood on a shelf beside a series of dog-eared paperbacks. Apeiron, Accismus, all of them.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Fetters