The Bar

Note: the lyrics in this post are taken from the song Mrs. O by the Dresden Dolls.

He couldn’t explain it. Stepney followed the woman, hauling the unconscious Harlow behind him. The crowd beyond stood unmoving, unbreathing, frozen in time and space. As they made their way through the door, there was no sensation of change, no blazing moment of transference. They simply went from one place to another. Nothing more.

The bar was crowded, smoke-filled, hot. Men and women bustled around, the men in suits, clutching glasses and laughing heartily. The women sat gathered around tables, earnestly conversing on a million subjects at once. At the bar itself, a group of young men and women saw to the needs of their patrons, while along the wall, ageing men in older clothes sipped glasses of a green spirit, dreaming of a brighter future.

The walls were festooned with yellowing posters from days gone by, the latest entertainers, the news of the day. Wars and rumours of wars, comedy and heartbreak, gossip from the Empire. A serviceman beamed blankly from the wall at the assembled patrons, his grin too broad, his eyes too cold.

To the front of the bar stood a stage, filled with musicians playing their tunes. The music was something Stepney felt sure he had heard, long ago, yet it seemed somehow lost, adrift. An echo of something long since forgotten. The singer was a woman, young, filled with life. Her face was painted an unearthly white, her eyes outlined in black, her appearance that of a precious doll. Through the din of the crowd, Stepney craned an ear and listened for her voice, the tinkling of piano keys guiding him to it.

The truth won’t save you now
Mrs O
The sky is falling down
Mrs O
Everything they ever told us
Shakes our faith and breaks their promise
But you can stop the truth from leaking
If you never stop believing…

She fixed him with a stare which chilled him to the bone. For a single moment, it was as though the rest of the world ceased to exist. There was her and him and an infinite emptiness. What of you, Stepney? Will the truth save you, lost in this hall of smoke and mirrors?

“Stepney.” The voice came to his ear, soft, comforting. He turned and saw the scarlet woman, her eyes dancing before him, her smile taking him in. “Come. Sit.”

She gestured and he took his seat at the table. Beside him, Harlow lay slumped, moaning softly. His skin seemed back to normal, yet he was far from well. Stepney took the glass before him and sipped it cautiously. Its flavour seemed full, rich, filled with life, product of an age of wonders beyond his own. He took a moment to check his body. Nothing. He frowned. There was no pain, no injury. Nothing.

He cast it to the back of his mind and turned to Omega (as he had begun, unconsciously, to think of her.) He gestured to the woman on the stage. “Who is she?”

Omega smiled. “A girl against time. As are we all.”

Harlow dragged himself upright, blinking, taking in the scene around him. He turned and saw, as if for the first time, the vision seated beside him. The confusion, the terror, the sickness left his eyes and was replaced by a sense of deep calm. When he spoke, it was with quiet deliberation. “Where are we?”

“Safe.” Omega gestured about her. “They cannot harm you here.”

“Who are they?” cut in Stepney before he could help himself. “And who, for that matter, are you? Really?” He paused. “I’m sorry, I -”

“You have no need to be sorry.” Omega folded her hands before her, her fingers locking together as a pyramid. “Events occur. Now is our time. You saw as much last night, at the meeting.”

“You saw us there?”

“I see you everywhere, Stepney. Both of you, and so much more besides. I care for you as best I can.

“Reality is only that which is agreed upon. We can agree only on what we perceive to be true. Our perceptions of truth are based on our understanding of reality. And so the circle continues. Yet here, in the world of paradox, our perceptions may be lifted. Close your eyes. Recall.”

Stepney did as he was instructed. A million memories rushed into him, inconsistencies, confusions, moments of change in the world which had gone unseen and unheeded. People out of time, knowledge out of place.

“We have entered a time of change – a cosmic shakeup, if you like. The universe is in flux. As we move from one stage to another – as the world turns, as a society is born, killed, reborn, men and women living and dying by the day – we see changes begin to occur, and little inconsistencies begin to arise. People out of time, artefacts which should not be. Dimensions slip. Time melts. Paradoxes are able to occur, bringing with them their own upheaval.

“Those who have come to understand what is occuring may take advantage, navigating through shifting planes of time and space. Entropy rises like a wave; those who can understand its patterns may ride it where they wish. One place becomes another, one time becomes the next, objects, people, thoughts, becoming real and unreal in the blink of an eye.”

“What does all of this mean?” Stepney was awed, overwhelmed, somehow understood the essence but not the content.

“Harlow knows.”

“I do?” Harlow’s head snapped up.

“You do. Think.”

Harlow closed his eyes for a moment. “The first principle of magic – true magic, high magic – is this: thoughts have power. It is a truth used by rulers and rebels, priests and populists, through all time.

“The second principle is this: as above, so below.

“And the third is this: precision. Precision in all things. The mind must be trained into a particular model, must be taught to operate in a particular manner.

“I – we – are the embodiment of these principles. Reality shifts, time distorts. We are attuned to the wave of entropy, we rise with its peaks, we fall with its valleys. We are one with the order and disorder of the universe, and so can see it in ways others cannot. We are in the universe and it is in us – through us – all of us. The neurophant is simply one who has become aware, whose mind has been revealed. We are born with our minds aligned with the universe, and with it, gain understanding.

“Thoughts are given power and arise within us, searching, teaching. As the world changes as a whole, so the change is born in our minds. We feel it, understand it, and share it with those who have wisdom.”

Stepney sat spellbound. He managed to struggle out some words. “And the others?”

In spite of their setting, in spite of Omega, in spite of their safety and the comfort of the scene around them, little could mask the sense of fear which crossed Harlow’s face, a cloud dark enough to blot out the sun. “They are without soul, without feeling, without spirit. They seek the wisdom of the universe, yet have no heart in which that wisdom may be stored. They seek power and power alone. They are without humanity.

“They have dulled their emotions, denied their essence, in the hopes of freeing the mind for some greater purpose. They would carve out a lung in order to free space in their chest. Their path leads to pain, heartlessness, power without compassion, knowledge without wisdom.

“They seek to use the current upheaval to their own ends, to use the force of chaos to reorder the world to their advantage. No good can come of this. The girls are central, though I do not know how.

“We are opposed forces, they and I. The closer we are, the stronger the tension, the greater the opposition. The greater the suffering.”

Stepney glanced at Harlow’s glass. His knuckles had locked around it, trembling, his teeth gouging into his lip. Stepney reached out a hand and touched that of his friend gently, comfortingly. The trembling stopped. Harlow glanced at him with gratitude.

Omega stood. “We have much to prepare. For now, stay. Rest. You have earned it.”

As she turned to leave, Stepney cut in. “Only one question. Again. Just who are you, Omega? Who are you really?”

She laughed softly, gently. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, my love,” she said with a smile.

Published in: on June 7, 2009 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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