-I AM A CROCODILE DREAMING
-I AM A SNAKE DREAMING
-I AM A MAN DREAMING
"RED FIST," the sign says, in bright, disarming, letters. The text is accompanied by an image of a red, glowing fist, with protruding spikes. Kafka, Shylock, and I enter the bar.
"You sure you're ready for the fight?" Shylock asks, "Three days ago you could barely stand, much less take a hit."
"I'll be fine," Kafka says, "I'm like a cockroach, y'know? Regeneration's my specialty, my power. Recuperatin' is what I do best."
"Other than passing out," I mutter.
"Hey, to my defense, I had two litres of alcohol."
"That's not to your defense," I say, walking past the bar patrons. It amazes me, every time I look around. This time, I see a samurai sitting at the bar, carefully sipping his drink, his eyes attuned to every other patron, every possible danger. I see Colony, the man who they say can take both your powers and your soul. I haven't seen him in action-rather keep it that way. And there's Argonaut, who has the attention of many, as he tells yet another wild tale of his seafaring escapades.
We descend into the basement, step by step, and I see the mattresses once again line the walls. We enter the arena. The damn lights shine down on me, and I know it's time for another rumble. This time, a team match. 3 v. 3. On my right is gravitational mastermind Shylock. On my left is the ever-regenerating, not-quite-so-masterly-minded Kafka.
I look at our competition. Three Australian pygmies. I've learned over the years not to underestimate the competition, but pygmies? Apparently the biggest challenge today was getting out of bed.
Before I know it, the fight has begun. The three pygmies, chanting, transform into something wholly different. One man turns into a bright, multi-colored snake. The reds, yellows and oranges flit before my eyes, practically leaving me in a daze. Another man turns into a crocodile which looks to span about ten feet. The third man doesn't seem to transform into much of anything, but his eyes glow with a bright, white vengeance.
The ten foot crocodile comes charging at me, and suddenly I'm feeling less confident. I side-step his jaws, only to get whacked with his tail. Catapulted onto one of the mattresses buffering me and a concrete wall, I'm also feeling slightly more thankful for whatever cushioning I can get.
The crocodile chuckles, and I swear I can see a smarmy self-satisfaction spread across his grin. Angry, I charge at him. The tail swings at me, but this time I grab it. He proceeds to hoist me off the ground, and smash me back into it.
Feeling the wind knocked out of me, I can still hear Shylock yell over the din of the pygmies' omnipresent chanting.
Letting go of the crocodile's tail, I don't have any time to consider Shylock's plight. Instead, I watch as the crocodile tail flies back towards me. I roll out of the way, allowing the tail to miss its mark. And instead of giving it another chance, I grab on tight to the crocodile's jaw. There is a moment of wrestling. The crocodile flips over on its back and I feel the weight of its slimy scales pressing against my chest. The crocodile's thick armor seems insurmountable for a moment, but then I realize it's a final effort to make me let go.
Its chanting has stopped, and I watch it transform once again. Its strange feeling the crocodile transform back into a human. I don't have the biological insight to explain it-to explain how the very molecules of this crocodile I'm holding turn back into a human-but I'm suddenly much more interested to learn. Holding the crocodile during transformation is much like holding wet clay while it's somehow being sculpted, as if through a mind of its own.
I let go. Bolting upwards, I now see that there is no longer a crocodile before me, but a man-one of the Australian pygmies. I punch him in the face, and that seems to settle the matter.
Unfortunately, as I turn around to survey the arena, I notice that Kafka's sprawled across the floor, defeated. Which might explain why there's a giant, kaleidoscopic serpent whizzing in my direction.
I move to dodge, but it's too late. The snake is already upon me, wrapping itself around me. Cool blues mix with hot reds. A flamingo pink crashes into an alluring purple. And even as I feel the breath leaving my lungs, not so quick to come back, I feel as though I'm in the middle of a transcendent experience. There's something so soothing about the damn colors.
And that's when it happens. I feel myself getting lifted up off the ground. I feel as though I'm floating in a multi-colored cloud-soaring through a never-ending rainbow. I push to get free and the snake, probably surprised to be floating in the air, acquiesces. It's a simple matter of climbing up the serpent's back and grabbing its jaw. It flails in an attempt to get free, but much like the crocodile, is powerless to stop me. Its chanting over, the snake turns back into a pygmie.
I look over at Shylock and see both his face and body contorted. Whatever the last pygmie is doing to him must be causing immense pain. After a second, he drops to the ground. Of course, when the gravity manipulator's down for the count, gravity once again exerts its force. Thus the pygmie and I both fall to the floor. On the bright side, I don't have to punch him, as the fall seems to have knocked him out.
Then those crackling white eyes of the last pygmie turn towards me. In that split-second before I know what's going to hit me, my spine shivers. And that's when the flood of images stream in. I feel the pygmie swimming through my past-mining my memories for the most painful moments, the ones that I try not to think about.
I'm in sixth grade. My sweaty hands grasp the lunch tray. I know today can be a good day, but only if I don't interact with the kids around me. I hear the kids mumbling, rambling, chanting all their inane, tired conversations. The girls discuss gossip. The boys talk about brawling. But none of that matters. I think about Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, and wonder how difficult it would be to graft them onto a human being, through a neurological implant, perhaps...
The tray slips out of my hands and crashes to the floor. Everywhere I see eyes pinned upon me. The boys are laughing, the girls roll their eyes. There's nowhere to hide. I can't think of any way to alleviate the situation. Why are my cheeks wet?
I'm a junior in college, and finally the fools recognize me. Finally, they see where my life has been headed all along. The Zeta Beam. At the time, I didn't realize was it was. I didn't realize that it's actually an entirely different dimension, where the rules of reality have an uncanny spin. For now, in my thought process, Zeta beams are just radiation.
Beautiful, transcendent radiation. The Scientific American is in the audience tonight. As is The New York Times. As is the Harvard Crimson reporter, Erica Lowenstein. Erica. Black-haired, gray-eyed Erica. Soft-lipped Erica. Warm-smiled Erica. The woman of my dreams and then some. She's looking at me today, and I think I might have figured out the solution to happiness.
I smirk, realizing that soon they'll understand how damn smart I really am. I flip the switch. Any second now, the Zeta Beam will launch into the voltage detector, causing off-the-chart energy readings. Soon, I will power the world.
I hear a scream. Turning around, I see Jason standing in front of Erica. The Zeta Beam moved erratically. Something must have gone wrong with the shielding. And I can barely contain my anger, as I watch the events unfold. I see him there, a horrifically resplendent shade of gold. His beauty's almost blinding, and it's at that moment I know I hate him.
I turn the Zeta Beam off, but it doesn't matter. It's far too late. I've turned my former college buddy Jason into a super hero. I've turned him into my arch-nemesis. I've turned him into Core-Fire. And the worst part of it all? Erica's not looking at me with those soft gray eyes any longer. She's looking at him.
The damn pygmie's plumbing ever-deeper into my psyche. I can feel his sheer glee at picking my brain apart, the glee he holds at seeing the various components that must combine to form a true genius. I realize I'm steadily collapsing to the floor. I think back on my life, think back to any thought I could use against this damn thought-monger. That's when I hit upon the right one. I hit upon the one no man could stand up against.
It's another late Friday night at the lab. The rain is pouring down on the ceiling, as unrelentingly oppressive and eternal as my stream-of-consciousness. I've finally figured out a way to harness the Zeta Radiation, not through a beam but through a liquid. This mad substance I have truly will save the world. A few drops of this could power New York City for a year.
The temperature levels are rising. I notice a tiny crack in the glass, a tiny crack that grows into a large crack, which breaks into massive hole. That red liquid-the radiation which had subsumed my entire life, taking every chance at being normal I had and spitting it out-now engulfs my body. There is an explosion and the red streaks across my eyes like splashes of blood. I hear a thousand explosions coming from a hundred directions. It's like every war movie anyone's ever created, but less bearable. I'm getting scorched by water. I'm drowning in fire.
And then it stops. I open my eyes and see the pygmie, his crackling white eyes growing into a duller, gray shade. He has stopped chanting. As calmly as I can, I walk over to him. Grabbing him by the hair, I show my conquest to the audience. My arm is held out, and I'm more august than the finest of emperors. I'm a winner, and I know it. Still, there's that silence for a moment, the sort of silence you worry might get you killed. Then comes the roar. That fulfilling, all-encompassing cheer that comes from that belly of the beast most men call a crowd.
I smile. It's nice to realize you're invincible.