Dietrich and the Baby

Tom Davies

There's no hiding from the past.

It was several seconds before Dietrich realized that the baby in the sky was headed straight for him. The baby shot downwards like a comet, filling his vision as it approached. Dietrich shook the booming echo from his ears and looked up again, more alert this time. He tensed his muscles, tightening his grip on the Kzari Pistol in his left hand and changing his hold on the neuro-dagger in his right. His training kicked in, shunting the confusion of his senses to the back of his mind and letting his fight reflexes take over.

The baby zoomed towards him with a shrieking cry..and then stopped dead above his head, hovering ten feet off the ground. It giggled wetly and drooled strings of saliva. Then, with a pop and a stretch, the baby expanded until it was the size of a hot air balloon. Dietrich yelled in shock and stumbled backwards onto the wreckage of the laboratory floor amongst the gutted machinery and the smashed bell jars and the smoking, shredded bodies of the guards. The baby’s face widened into a toothless grin, then it giggled again with a sound like a flushed toilet. As he sluiced the sticky drool from his face and body armour, Dietrich wondered where the laboratory’s roof had gone. Suddenly, the baby’s mouth gaped open and clamped shut around him. Dietrich thought 'I know you. You're me!', but by then it had swallowed him and he was sliding down the rubbery chute of the baby's throat.

As he bounced down the oesophagus he passed his Aunt Gilda and Uncle Malcolm, who merely shook their heads at him in disappointment. 'We knew you'd amount to nothing!' they yelled, cupping their hands round their mouths like loudspeaker cones. Then they turned their backs, Uncle Malcolm opening an umbrella above their heads as his Aunt turned up the collar of her gabardine mackintosh. Dietrich somersaulted into a vast undulating sac of bubbling acids and ornate fish skeletons with shreds of flesh hanging off them like coats on a hat-stand. The stomach was the size of a cathedral and upon the curved and gently pulsing walls hung stained glass displays of moving figures. To his right a five year old boy with sly eyes methodically hammered nails into the wheels of a police car while behind him loomed a sergeant of violent bearing and unsheathed truncheon; to his left a snickering adolescent was taping a nail bomb to the back of an ambulance and licking his lips with anticipation; in front of him a young man lay on his back, blindfolded and naked, secured to a padded chair whilst a doctor in a sterile surgical gown pumped a potent mixture of anaesthetic, steroids and mercury into his newly strengthened veins. Dietrich craned his head backwards to see a towering panorama of himself, proud and resplendent in a costume of purest, most impenetrably inky blackness, taking his place alongside the other four members of Die KriegKünstler, the yeomen guild of modern assassins, a cartwheeling negative star shimmering behind them like a buzzsaw. And up and below him, tiling the ground and the domed ceiling and lining the walls he saw a jumbled confusion of scenes from his own life: dead pets, dead loves, frantic pleading from his parents, a cup of orange juice falling from his hands as he fell and smashed two teeth out when he was nine, the cloud formations of his long-destroyed home town, the bubble trails from the mouth of his drowning sister. Dietrich was now drooling and shaking, and he began to moan. He was aware of his senses filling to bursting point, his synapses sizzling inside his head. A confetti of childhood memories rained down from the cavernous gloom of the ceiling, pinpricks of shame and hate and fear sparking as they landed on his skin.

Dietrich shrieked and threw himself through the nearest stained glass vista, scattering sharp fragments of his past behind him like tiny glinting diamonds.

‘Well, that’s rather put the kibosh on his little caper!’, said Professor Priest, resting the Mazuki Cannon back against his shoulder. His dazzling teeth shone through the streaks of blood and soot that smeared his face.

Colonel Harp crawled out from under the wreckage of a workbench, blinking his piggy eyes at the mess of dead bodies and smoking equipment strewn across the floor of the laboratory.

‘ he dead..?’ Harp stammered as he checked that his own limbs were still in place.

A wind whistled through the jagged hole in the ceiling, flapping and snapping the Professor’s torn lab coat around his legs.

Neurotechnical sparks sputtered from the cannon muzzle, smoke curling into the air above it like an afterthought.

‘Not dead,’ grinned Priest nonchalantly, ‘This piquant little toy merely introduces the subject to a full and sudden blizzard of his own memories. Rather like being molested by ‘This Is Your Life’.

‘Our uninvited guest is currently trying to dig his way out of a landslide of every entry in his memory bank … should keep him busy for quite some time!’

Dietrich Trefeusen spasmed on the floor of the lab, his eyes twitching beneath the lids, fingers grabbing at ghosts in the air above him.

Colonel Harp rose to his feet uncertainly and popped the stud on his holster, keeping his distance from the shivering form of the assassin.

‘B-But he’ll run out of memories eventually, surely? We should put a bullet in him right now!’

‘Oh, plenty of time for that sort of thing!’ said Priest, putting the cannon down and tugging open a scratched and dented filing cabinet. ‘I also tinkered with the settings to serve him a panoply of every possible future version of himself that the laws of nature and chance may permit! Should entertain him for, oh, eternity, I’d imagine. Which leaves us with only one pressing question..’

He twirled around to face Colonel Harp, cheerfully brandishing two chunky bottles containing clear liquid. Homemade tickertape labels laced the necks of both bottles.

‘Shall we the vodka, or shall we the gin?’

Dietrich picked himself up from the burning violet sands of the beach. A low and livid sun blared from the sky, reflecting itself in rippling waves of pink and purple sea. He rubbed his aching eyes as shadowy forms swam beneath the water. The forms solidified and broke the surface, shaking spray from their heads and arms. He saw himself wading from the shallows, an emaciated figure with a perfect circle cut around his crown, spongy stumps of brain matter exposed above the blank gaze. He saw himself swishing waist-high through the lapping tide, bloated, naked and spectrally pale, a wide serpent's tail churning the sea in his wake, flicking salt water from its tip. He saw himself advancing through the coastal currents, carrying himself on a thousand segmented legs. He saw himself beached on the shore to his left, torn open and gutted. He saw himself marooned in the wet sand slumped in a rusting wheelchair, a tube breathing harshly from his throat. He stared at himself as he crept closer, brandishing a knife as his aged, weathered face cracked into a predator’s grin. A million familiar strangers dragged themselves from the depths. He stared up at the dazzling sun, willing his eyes to burn out along with the remnants of his sanity.

A light bulb cracked forever in his brain, and he breathed a sigh of relief as the world went red.

Copyright © Tom Davies 2011 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:13 Fri 09 Dec 2011
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