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Authors: Roger Zelazny

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This Immortal

BOOK: This Immortal
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THIS IMMORTAL by Roger Zelazny

"YOU ARE A KALLIKANZAROS," SHE ANNOUNCED SUDDENLY.

I turned onto my left side and smiled through the darkness.

"I left my hooves and my horns at the Office."

"You've heard the story!"

"The name is ###omikos."

I reached for her, found her.

"Are you going to destroy the world this time around?"

I laughed and drew her to me.

"I'll think about it. If that's the way the Earth crumbles--"

"You know that children born here on Christmas are of the kallikanzaroi blood," she said, "and you once told me that your birthday--"

"All right!"

It had struck me that she was only half-joking. Knowing some of the things one occasionally meets in the Old Places, the Hot Places, you can almost believe in myths without extra effort--such as the story of those Pan-like sprites who gather together every spring to spend ten days sawing at the Tree of the World, only to be dispersed at the last moment by the ringing of the Easter bells. {Ring-a-ding, the bells, gnash, gnash, the teeth, clackety-clack, the hooves, et cetera.) Cassandra and I were not in the habit of discussing religion, politics, or Aegean folklore in bed--but, me having been born in these parts, the memories are still somehow alive.

"I am hurt," I said, only half-joking.

"You're hurting me, too. ..."

"Sorry."

I relaxed again.

After a time I explained, "Back when I was a brat, the other brats used to push me around, calling me "Konstantin Kallikanzaros.' When I got bigger and uglier they stopped doing it. At least, they didn't say it to my face--"

"'Konstantin'? That was your name? I've wondered..."

"It's 'Conrad' now, so forget it."

"But I like it. I'd rather call you 'Konstantin' than 'Conrad'."

"If it makes you happy..."

The moon pushed her ravaged face up over the windowsill to mock me. I couldn't reach the moon, or even the window, so I looked away. The night was cold, was damp, was misty as it always is here--

"The Commissioner of Arts, Monuments and Archives for the planet Earth is hardly out to chop down the Tree of the World," I rasped.

"My Kallikanzaros," she said too quickly, "I did not say that. But there are fewer bells every year, and it is not always desire that matters. I have this feeling that you will change things, somehow. Perhaps--"

"You are wrong, Cassandra."

"And I am afraid, and cold--"

And she was lovely in the darkness, so I held her in my arms to sort of keep her from the foggy foggy dew.

In attempting to reconstruct the affairs of these past six months, I realize now that as we willed walls of passion around our October and the isle of Kos, the Earth had already fallen into the hands of those powers which smash all Octobers. Marshaled from within and without, the forces of final disruption were even then goosestepping amidst the ruins--faceless, ineluctable, arms upraised. Cort Myshtigo had landed at Port-au-Prince in the antique Sol-Bus Nine, which had borne him in from Titan along with a load of shirts and shoes, underwear, socks, assorted wines, medical supplies, and the latest tapes from civilization. A wealthy and influential galactojournalist, he. Just how wealthy, we were not to learn for many weeks; just how influential, I found out only five days ago.

As we wandered among the olive groves gone wild, picked our way through the ruins of the Prankish castle, or mixed our tracks with the hieroglyph-prints of the herring-gulls, there on the wet sands of the beaches of Kos, we were burning time while waiting for a ransom which could not come, which should never, really, have been expected.

Cassandra's hair is the color of Katamara olives, and shiny. Her hands are soft, the fingers short, delicately webbed. Her eyes are very dark. She is only about four inches shorter than me, which makes her gracefulness something of an achievement, me being well over six feet. Of course, any woman looks graceful, precise and handsome when walking at my side, because I am none of.these things: my left 4 ROGER ZELAZNY

cheek was then a map of Africa done up in varying purples, because of that mutant fungus I'd picked up from a moldy canvas back when I'd been disinterring the Guggenheim for the New York Tour; my hairline peaks to within a fingerbreadth of my brow; my eyes are mismatched. (I glare at people through the cold blue one on the right side when I want to intimidate them; the brown one is for Glances Sincere and Honest.) I wear a reinforced boot because of my short right leg.

Cassandra doesn't require contrasting, though.

She's beautiful.

I met her by accident, pursued her with desper-ation, married her against my will. (The last part was her idea). I wasn't really thinking about it, myself-even on that day when I brought my caique into the harbor and saw her there, sunning herself like a mermaid beside the plane tree of Hippocrates, and decided that~I wanted her-Kallikanzaroi have never been much the family sort. I just sort of slipped up, again.

It was a clean morning. It was starting our third month together. It was my last day on Kos-because of a call I'd received the evening before, Everything was still moist from the night's rain, and we sat out on the patio drinking Turkish coffee and eating oranges. Day was starting to lever its way into the world. The breeze was intermittent, was damp, goosepimpled us beneath the black hulk of our sweaters, skimmed the steam off the top of the coffee.

"Rodos dactylos Aurora. ..." she said, pointing.

"Yeah," I said, nodding, "real rosy-fingered and nice."

., THIS IMMORTAL 5

; "Let's enjoy it."

,. "Yeah Sorry."

^ We finished our coffee, sat smoking.

"I feet crummy," I said.

^ "I know," she said. "Don't."

. "Can't help it. Got to go away and leave you, and that's crummy."

"It may only be a few weeks. You said so your-

?*elf. Then you'll be back."

-, "Hope so," I said. "If it takes any longer, though, HI send for you. Dunno where alt I'll be, yet."

"Who is Cort Myshtigo?"

"Vegan actor, journalist. Important one. Wants to write about what's left of Earth. So I've got to show it to him. Me. Personally. Damn!"

"Anybody who takes ten-month vacations to go sailing can't complain about being overworked."

"/can complain-and I will. My job is supposed to be a sinecure."

"Why?"

"Mainly because I made it that way. I worked hard for twenty years to make Arts, Monuments and Archives what it is, and ten years ago I got it to the point where my staff could handle just about everything. So I got me turned out to pasture, I got me told to come back occasionally to sign papers and to do whatever I damn pleased in the meantime. Now this-this bootlicking gesture!-having a Commissioner take a Vegan scribbler on a tour any staff guide could conduct! Vegans aren't gods!"

"Wait a minute, please," she said. "Twenty years? Ten years?"

Sinking feeling.

"You're not even thirty years old."

6 ROGER ZELAZNY

I sank further. I waited. I rose again.

"Uh-there's something I, well, in my own reticent way, sort of never quite got around to mention-ing to you. . . . How old are you anyway, Cassandra?"

"Twenty."

"Uh-huh. Well . .. I*m around four times your age."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I. Or the doctors. I just sort of stopped, somewhere between twenty and thirty, and I stayed that way. I guess that's a sort of, well

-a part of my particular mutation, I guess. Does it make any difference?"

"I don't know. . .. Yes."

"You don't mind my limp, or my excessive shagginess, or even my face. Why should my age bother you? I am young, for all necessary purposes."

"It's just that it's not the same," she said with an unarguable finality. "What if you never grow old?"

I bit my lip. "I'm bound to, sooner or later."

"And if it's later? I love you. I don't want to out-age you."

"You'll live to be a hundred and fifty. There are the S-S treatments. You'll have them,"

"But they won't keep me young-like you."

"I'm not really young. I was born old."

That one didn't work either. She started to cry.

"That's years and years away," I told her. "Who knows what will happen in the meantime?"

That only made her cry more—

I've always been impulsive. My thinking is usually pretty good, but I always seem to do it after I do my talking-by which time I've generally destroyed all basis for further conversation.

THIS IMMORTAL 7

Which is one of the reasons I have a competent staff, a good radio, and am out to pasture most of the time,

There, are some things you just can't delegate, though.

So I said, "Look, you have a touch of the Hot Stuff in you, too. It took me forty years to realize I

.wasn't forty years old. Maybe you're the same way.

I'm just a neighborhood kid .. ."

"Do you know of any other cases like your own?"

"Well . . ."

"No, you don't."

"No. I don't."

I remember wishing then that I was back aboard my ship. Not the big blazeboat-Just my old hulk, the Golden Vanitie, out there in the harbor. I remember wishing that I was putting it into port all over again, and seeing her there for the first shiny time, and being able to start everything all over again from the beginning-and either telling her all about it right there, or else working my way back up to the going-away time and keeping my mouth shut about my age.

It was a nice dream, but hell, the honeymoon was over.

I waited until she had stopped crying and I could feel her eyes on me again. Then I waited some more.

"Well?" I asked, finally.

"Pretty well, thanks."

I found and held her passive hand, raised it to my lips. "Rodos dactylos," I breathed, and she said,

"Maybe it's a good idea-your going away-for awhile anyhow. ..." and the breeze that skimmed the steam came again, was damp, goosepimpled us, 8 ROGER ZELAZNY

and made either her hand or my hand shake-I'm not sure which. It shook the leaves too, and they emptied over our heads.

"Did you exaggerate your age to me?" she asked.

"Even a little bit?"

Her tone of voice suggested that agreement would be the wisest reply.

So, "Yes, "I said, truthfully.

She smiled back then, somewhat reassured of my humanity.

Ha!

So we sat there, holding hands and watching the morning. After awhile she began humming. It was a sad song, centuries old. A ballad. It told the story of a young wrestler named Themocles, a wrestler who had never been beaten. He eventually came to consider himself the greatest wrestler alive. Finally he called out his challenge from a mountaintop, and, that being too near home, the gods acted fast: the following day a crippled boy rode into the town, on the plated back of a huge wild dog. They wrestled for three days and three nights. Themocles and the boy, and on the fourth day the boy broke his back, and left him there in the field. Wherever his blood fell, there sprang up the stngeflcur, as Emmet calls it, the blood-drinking flower that creeps rootless at night, seeking the lost spirit of the fallen champion in the blood of its victims. But Themocles* spirit is gone from the Earth, so they must creep, seeking, forever. Simpler than Aeschylus, but then we're a simpler people than we once were, especially the Mainlanders. Besides, that's not the way it really happened.

"Why are you weeping?" she asked me suddenly.

THIS IMMORTAL 9

"I am thinking of the picture on Achilleus'

shield," I said, "and of what a terrible thing it is to be an educated beast-and I am not weeping. The leaves are dripping on me."

"I'll make some more coffee."

I washed out the cups while she was doing that, and I told her to take care of the Vanitie while I was gone, and to have it hauled up into drydock if I sent for her. She said that she would.

The sun wandered up higher into the sky, and after a time there came a sound of hammering from the yard of old Aldones, the coffin-maker. The cyclamen had come awake, and the breezes carried their fragrance to us from across the fields. High overhead, like a dark omen, a spiderbat glided across the sky toward the mainland. I ached to wrap my fingers around the stock of a thirty-oh-six, make loud noises, and watch it fall. The only firearms I knew of were aboard the Vamtze, though, so I just watched it vanish from sight.

"They say that they're not really native to Earth," she told me, watching it go, "and that they were brought here from Titan, for zoos and things like that."

"That's right."

"... And that they got loose during the Three Days and went wild, and that they grow bigger here than they ever did on their own world."

"One time I saw one with a thirty-two foot wingspread."

"My great-uncle once told me a story he had heard in Athens," she recalled, "about a man killing one without any weapons. It snatched him up from the dock he was standing on-at Piraeus-10 ROGER ZELAZNY

and the man broke its neck with his hands. They fell about a hundred feet into the bay. The man lived."

BOOK: This Immortal
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