The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards

This story will appear for Epiphany in the upcoming anthology from Castalia House, THE BOOK OF FEASTS AND SEASONS.

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There was no time. That is the first thing to remember. I did not know what was about to happen. That is the second thing to remember.

Imagine a time line. Select a zero point. To one side is an infinity of tomorrow, starting with positive one. To the other is an infinity of yesterday, starting with negative one. But between the positive and the negative infinities, what is there? Less than nothing, less than half of nothing, a pinprick, a dot, a point, less time than it takes to decide to murder them all.

I look into the first moment of negative one: one second ago.

Imagine a frozen moment. The glass of the chapel doors is breaking. Men in tall white hoods carrying shotguns, pistols, hunting rifles are firing. The guests are screaming, falling to the floor. And you, my love, have thrown your tall, strong body over mine, selflessly, lovingly, without a moment to think, without a moment to decide. I am feeling your body shuddering, not with passion as you embrace me, as I yield to your embrace, as we are falling; you shudder with the impact of bullets and buckshot throwing your blood, your living blood, your warmth, in sprays like Rorschach blots across the dark expanse of the expensive tuxedo I picked out, the dark expanse of your warm skin, and across the white satin of my wedding dress, the dress my many mothers sewed.

I cannot see you as you die. You are in the way.

But I see the flower girl, the preacher’s daughter, with her little pink pillow falling, her little face that will never grow any older, never see her own wedding day. She is falling, and the gold ring not on your finger is flying in the air, catching the beam of sunlight from the broken stained glass window, the one showing Christ turning water into blood-red wine.

My ring is on my finger, a perfect unmarred circle of gold. A ring is like eternity, like the eternal, infinite return of the cosmos from Big Bang to the Eschaton, from Creation to Big Crunch. It is supposed to be as eternal as a vow of love. It is shaped like a zero.

Imagine a zero moment. For all the seconds of the weeks and months before zero, the negative of time, I can see when we met on the bus, when we spoke, when I asked you why you sat in the back, when you smiled, when you touched my hand to help me down the steps at our bus stop in Atlanta and the driver scowled at you, a look of hatred. During all those seconds, my happiness was complete.

During all that time, during my exile from time, I did not know what was about to happen.

Next comes the zero moment itself: You have placed the white gold wedding band on my pale white finger, but I have not yet done the same to you. I have said the words, the two little words no bride can take back if she says them.

I do.

But the preacher it took us so long to find, to find someone willing to marry us, he has not turned and asked you yet.

So I am an uncertain bride. The probability wave has not collapsed. I am in the zero between fiancée and wife.

You are an uncertain bridegroom. I thought it was cute that you were nervous. Had I only known the reason for your fear! Why did I select this time for my exile?

Right next door to the chapel is the hall where the State Democrat Party is having its meeting. There is a big smiling poster of Bull Connor, their national committee chair, hanging over the front door. He is the commissioner for safety. The men in white hoods had come out of the meeting hall with their hunting rifles tucked under their arms. These are not elephant guns, but smaller caliber weapons, not something that could penetrate the hide of a rhino or a charging elephant. That is the third thing to remember. It was the reason why I do what I will do, here in the zero moment, here in eternity. Part of the reason.

All seconds after the zero is nothing but horror and pain and loss. The change is that sudden. Heaven is hell.

I look farther back, when first we met.

I ask ‘May I sit here?’ And you say ‘Please.’ That is also the last thing you ever say in life, to the man raising a gun. Please.

I remember you saying, ‘Why would a time traveler take a bus?’ And I tried to explain about how hard it was to get a license when your birth is a probability cloud stretched between many timelines, how hard it is to operate machines that neither speak nor listen to commands. “But you know how to drive your Time Machine, right? You have a Time Machine?”

“If you are thinking of a thing with a saddle and the sweep of years flashing by like a film in fast motion, or a blue box like a telephone booth, no, nothing like that.”

I tried to explain about the zero point, the place a scientist would call the probability wave of the universe before the Big Bang, the moment when all matter and energy, but also all mind and thought, all time and space, were gathered into one knot, smaller than the diameter of the nucleus of an atom. It contains all probability and no actuality. More than one possible universe can issue forth from the moment before time begins, and in one of them, time travel is possible. Life is possible.

What is life? Ah, my poor, poor beloved, my poor innocent three-dimensional perfect man, my prince, my everything, you who are trapped in one wormlike line of cause and effect, always going forward at one second per second, with no turn offs, no take backs, no way to undo a decision, no way to undo saying I do.

I know what life is. I can never explain it to you.

Life is the intersectional membrane where eternity touches the continuum. That is why matter only can ever operate by cause and effect, like a row of dominoes toppling, whereas living things, every stop along the chain of evolution, reaching back to the first single celled amoeba, can perform the act of anticipation. And what is anticipation? It is to act outside normal cause and effect, react to things before they happen — All life, even the humble one-celled organism, can see far enough into the future to move away from what endangers it and toward what feeds it.

Amoebas never murder other amoebas. Amoebas never kill themselves. They are too simple. But they, even they, have a touch of eternity to them.

I could explain the science behind it, talk about the nested interaction of probability waves, how time at the submicroscopic level is symmetrical forward and backward: but pretend instead that you live in a world of magic.

Life is a miracle.

Life remembers that moment before time began, that zero point before this universe started and after the previous version of this universe collapsed inward on itself, a cosmos crushed into a pinpoint.

And what of my life? The life of time travel? I am the one who had the memory of that moment thrust upon her. Why me? Why am I the one worm who grew butterfly wings and soared into the eleven dimensions? That answer is complex, and does not concern us now.

My cosmos is crushed into a pinpoint as I see my love die. I am his wife; here is the ring on my finger; but he is not my husband. His ring is in midair, impaled on a sunbeam from a shattered image of the Virgin Mary saying that all the wine is gone. All gone.

I look in the past direction, and I remember our talk on that long bus ride. You are well read, and wanted to make something of yourself. You were studying paleontology. You said the ancient beasts were monsters of legend, but real.

The talk turned to mythology. I remember you saying, ‘But why would the moon goddess love Endymion? All he can do is sleep.’

‘Yes, but it is eternal sleep, so he never dies,’ I say.

You shake your head and smile that handsome smile. ‘But he never knows her. He is never awake.’

I whisper then that if she knows he lives, it is enough.

Why did I select this time for my exile? It was not a hard question: earlier eras did not have the conveniences of modern life, no cool air at the push of a button when it was hot, no electric lights when it was dark, no aspirin for pain, and no anesthesia for childbirth.

Why no farther in the future you might ask, when everyone is driving flying cars and rockets to cities on the moon? My love, I will not crush your hopes, but that future does not ever come.

Instead, the farther you go away from the zero point between Postwar America and Pre-Jihad America, what you find is more riots, more dirt, more diseases without cures, atomics used as fashion statement to advertise religious or political points of view, and no one able to travel or buy without paperwork and identity chips. So many cameras, and so many computers tracking your every move. A woman with no birth certificate cannot travel freely, and I won’t wear a veil while walking through the bad section of town.

The laws against discrimination close all chapels and synagogues. No one tips his hat to a lady. No one holds the door for me. And the music, the pornography, the swearing, the crudeness, the loutishness, all of it gets worse and worse.

Why did the men of this generation throw everything away? This is the highest point of civilization out of all history. I know. I’ve looked.

But even here, there is hatred and violence and death. You would think they would love this nation and this era so much they would never raise their bloodstained hands against each other. But sometimes hate overwhelms love.

Look farther back into the negative direction, the past. There I am in the Fortress of Limbo with my mothers. She is me, an older version, the me that gives birth to me. She is the other time travelers. I am the only time traveler there is; they are all me. One is dressed in a snappy Nazi uniform of the women’s auxiliary, a cigarette in a silver holder in her shining black leather glove. The next is dressed in the floral skirts and wide brimmed straw hat of a Southern Belle, and girls waiting on her are mulatto, half-negresses, and they are both her slaves and her half sisters. Another version of me is dressed in the colors of Lady Baltimore, and she looks disdainfully at the slaves, since, in her timeline, the British Empire abolished the institution after the Southern Colonies attempted a second rebellion no more successful than the first.

One problem with being a time traveler is sometimes you do not get along with yourselves.

The Fortress is round and lucent as a pearl, and hangs in space among a belt of asteroids in a version as remote as we can possibly reach, the one where Earth never formed. In the center is a smaller pearl, this one made of thinking crystal, and it shows a fourth dimensional representation of the eleven dimensional map of time.

Everyone of me, at some point, is given The Talk. Mine came when I was young. I had only made one or two short hops, once to step on a butterfly in the dinosaur age so that Reagan would win an election and win the Cold War. The other was to drop a kitchen magnet on a dirt road in the backwoods for a little boy to find. Playing with the idly found magnet would lead to a lifelong passion for science, and the boy would later grow up to be the greatest inventor of all time, and this leads to the defeat of Sorainya of Gyronch, a version of me I did not like at all. Maybe that is what brings me to the Fortress of Limbo for The Talk.

After being told the usual gross stuff about birds and bees and incest, about giving birth to myself and marrying my own son, Lazarus, the topic of destroying worlds comes up.

One of my mothers, Sorainya of Roma, points to a fork in time. “Here is the decision point,” says she, grey haired, severe, dressed in the robes of the Vestal Order. “In this branch you create a paradox that destroys one of the six hundred and sixty six timelines. In the other…”

I say, “And if I foreswear time travel utterly? Agree never to use it for any purpose whatsoever? I am weary of being a puppet pulling on my own strings, of always knowing what comes next, what I will do next.”

She says, “That creates a Schrödinger’s Cat cloud, a zero point of uncertainty, from which our foretelling sees two possible results: you will behold a man murdered before your eyes, and be tempted, but will resist, and will let him die. After a long monolinear life, the danger point will pass, and you will be raised again to be one of us, a sister among sisters. The other is that you will turn time back to slay his slayers, and set in motion paradoxes beyond what we can smother.”

Her eyes narrow dangerously, and I recall that they feed fighting slaves to the gladiatorial circus in her world, and hang traitors on crosses to die in the sun.

“If you select the second option, if you use your power, you earn the ultimate penalty. We will retroactively eliminate you from the moment of your conception.”

The Nazi version of me, Sorainya of the Reich, adds coolly, “This conversation will never have taken place, and there will be no guilt on the conscience of the Sisterhood, because we will have forgotten as well. We have no record of ever imposing this penalty on any of us before. How could we?”

A version of me from the timeline where the Agrarian Revolution never took root is dressed like a cavegirl in the tanned skins of the Red Elk. Now she speaks. What her world lacks in tools and machines, it more than makes up for in wisdom: “Either hate overcomes love, or love overcomes hate. That is the only decision to be made.”

I say, “What do I care if some monolinear worm lives or dies?” We call normal people worms because they can never break out of their own personal time, never move faster than the inchwormish one second per second. And from the viewpoint of the timelessness, you sort of look like that.

The cavegirl says, “Never mock the power of love. It is stronger than us, stronger than eternity.”

I pull my gaze back to now, right now. The decision is easy. Decisions are hard only when half your mind argues with the other. When your whole heart and will and strength is devoted, you are not even aware of having had decided, of saying the words you can never take back.

Hatred or love?

If I do this thing, I knew I would be killed for it. But from the point of view of eternity, from the zero point, I look to the other side, one second in the future, and see what I do.

I know what life is. You think each organism is separate, but there is only one line of cause and effect, mother and child, one chain of interconnected clouds of probability, reaching from your dying body back to the primordial amoeba.

Never mind. Call it magic.

By magic I reach back through time. No, I cannot bring you back to life, not here, not now. I cannot step backward five minutes and rush you out the back door, because my own body, the chains of cause and effect I have already established, are in the way. If I had more time to prepare, perhaps I could have done something — but there is no time. That is the first thing to remember.

At the zero point, there is no time. So all points in time are equidistant to me, the same way all the parts of my gold ring touch my finger equally.

The life in your cells has already ebbed too far. Besides, if I were to reach back and force your cells to remember their old shape of some apeman who was your ancestor, the Klansmen in their hoods would just shoot you. But you have older and older ancestors, cousins from parallel branches. Some have more life in them then others, and they are easier to reach. There is a chain of ever small ratlike beings, none of which will do. Then, I see your ancestor from late Cretaceous. His skull is five feet long, and his bite is the most powerful of any creature that ever lived.

One second into the future, the positive direction, of the zero point, I can see the result of my instantaneous decision.

Yes, I will be eliminated by my cold eyed mothers for this act, and die so completely that I never will have had lived, and no one, not even you, will remember me.

Had I chosen otherwise, I would have been safe under your toppled body, and the men escaped, hooting and laughing, their hood removed, members in good standing of the Good Old Boys, staunch pillars of the community, to go to the honkey tonk bar and drink beers with the Sheriff and the mayor and the judge. I would live beyond the moonshot, beyond the administration of Johnson, yes, that Johnson, who promised to addict your people to welfare, and break your pride, you uppity darkie, you. “I’ll have those Negroes voting Democratic for the next 200 years…”

The hypocrisy and hate of men like this would gather in my throat as I grew older, one second at a time, like worm, and then when one of your people is finally elected, these men and their sons, these men who shot you, they hurl such filth, so many slanders. And in my old age, on my deathbed, one of the mothers would appear, and say the dangerous decision time was past, that there was no more paradoxes in my future. I could have my youth and life restored to me. Everything would be mine. But not you. Never you. Time and eternity would not allow it.

So, yes, I do hate them, the men in hoods, the anonymous men, the cowards. When you rear up, I cannot restore your brains or memories, but I can reach back and pull the old shapes of ancestral cells back into the now point, the zero point, the moment. And, yes, I can even pull in the excess mass from the uncertainty cloud. Heisenberg is nice that way.

Up you rear, merely an animal now, as savage as the love that beats in my breast for you. The roar is one that had not been heard on earth for countless eons, but somehow the cells in the blood of your victims recall, and their glands react, and they lose control of their bladders. How I laugh! The gunfire hurts you, stings you, but cannot kill you, not in the first volley. And there is no second volley.

A ricochet strikes me through the brain, and so I die in instant painlessness before I see what happens next. It is a mercy.

If they had not fired on you, hurt you, made noise with their firearms, perhaps you would merely have eaten the choir. But they hurt you, my love, and your cobra eyes, red as rubies, catch them in your gaze. In your first step, you trample the leader and break his bones, and he cries and whimpers while you descend upon his followers.

Paleontologists would never figure out what those absurdly small fore-claws are for, will they? Too small to catch prey. They contain poison, so that a scratch will slow your fleeing prey, make their legs turn numb and cold. Paleontologist would never have guessed how the king of the tyrant lizards likes to play with his prey like a cat, how you catch them and let them go, and they scream and scream and scream.

Such showers and streams of blood! The chunks of weeping red meat drip from your scarlet teeth. Did they think they were fearsome in their hoods? Let them know fear now, and for the rest of their few moments of life.

Paleontologists are perhaps too kind to guess that you enjoyed to take your prey by the legs, snapping off limbs one by one, so that the lungs, the mouth, the head of the victim is left weeping and shrieking last of all, to disconcert the other members of the prey herd.

For the king of the tyrant lizard fed his bulk by eating whole herds of prey animals. And that is all the worms who slew you, my love, to me are now. Prey.

Yes, I am sorry about the innocent people killed in the chapel when your hunger is not sated, and you breaking through the walls of the chapel, and wrestling open the bus to find the warm and crunchy women and children inside. How bravely you faced the National Guard, and, later, the Army!

Small price to pay.

I should laugh. It is so like a B-movie science fiction film of this day and age. But I don’t.

But I am comforted in knowing that when my sisters and mothers erase me, everything I did will be unmade, including all these deaths.

When I am eliminated retroactively, my love, everything after we met on the bus will be erased and rewritten. You will love a long and happy and normal life, and yet never meet the girl you think of as some odd fan of H.G. Wells or Jack Williamson pulling your leg. The girl you thought was from Northern India; the one who did not know how to use a payphone.

That first conversation and that first touch of the hand is to be wiped out, sponged away from the stone monument of time. Now, I never was. You will never know me, and never, ever hear these words, which are the last imaginary letter I write to you.

But here, in the one moment, the moment of uncertainty the moment of eternity when all time is gathered into my eye as if in the eye of a goddess, I do not choose vengeance.

That is not why I did it.

This is what I would say, if there was time. But here in eternity, in the infinitesimal point between Eschaton and Big Bang, timespace does not exist, and so there is no time. I have eternity or I have love.

I have made my choice.

Did you think, even for a moment, that I was so consumed with hate that I would die to avenge you? No. I die for you. You will never know me, and I will never exist.

I die that you might live.