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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (19th Installment)

August 21, 2018 05:59PM
Some of you might have surmised, and quite correctly if you did, that Mike hoped the comic book might nudge Jane into an understanding of the concept of parallel universes.

Gardner Fox, the writer who co-created the Flash in 1940, and who orchestrated his 1956 comeback, was also a novelist and short story writer, in a variety of genres, including science fiction. The original scientific theory for a multiverse was formulated by a physicist named Hugh Everett in 1957, and science-fiction writers were quick to jump on it. Popular examples include Fritiz Leiber's 1958 novel, The Big Time, Keith Laumer's 1962 novel Worlds of the Imperium, and the "Mirror, Mirror" episode from the original Star Trek series. Some science-fiction writers even anticipated the actual theory, like Murray Leinster, who explored the notion of parallel universes in a 1934 short story called "Sidewise in Time."

Fox introduced the concept to DC Comics with this story, which was published in The Flash #123 (Sep., 1961), the first to use the notion of parallel universes to explain why there were two different versions of the same character. Twenty-five years later, as a consequence of this simple story, the number of parallel worlds DC was helming had multiplied to such an ungainly degree (there were, by this time, "Earth-3," where villainous versions of the heroes ruled the world; "Earth-F," where the Fawcett Comics characters that DC had acquired the rights to like Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Bulletman, etc., plied their trade; "Earth-4," where the super-hero characters developed at Charlton, Blue Beetle, the Question, Peacemaker, Sarge Steel, etc., plied their trade, and which, like the Fawcett characters, DC had acquired in the early '80's; Earth 14, where Jack Kirby's "New Gods" characters existed, etc.) that DC felt constrained to compress them all into a single continuity and orchestrated something called the Crisis on the Infinite Earths, in which all the various universes were conflated into a single place, and then started over from scratch, hence leading to the phrases, "pre-Crisis" and "post-Crisis" to describe the now-defunct, and current continuities. This soon led to other continuity discrepancies, leading to an apparently endless series of company-wide "reboots" like Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, New 52, Rebirth, etc.

But "The Flash of Two Worlds" was where it all started way back in 1961, when you could still buy a comic book for ten cents. If you're interested in reading the original story, you can find it on-line here:

https://readcomiconl...sue-123?id=8553



PART TWENTY

Jane read the opening story in the book Michael had given her. As he had told her, the tale was of two heroes, “super-heroes” as Michael had called them. Both known as the Flash. Both having the ability to run at what the narration called “the speed of light” (whatever that meant; did light have a speed?). In the story, they meet for the first time. The younger Flash, while using his speed power to perform a magic trick at a charity event, “vibrated” at such a high rate of speed that, without meaning to, he transported himself to what the story called a “parallel Earth.” A different reality in which the older Flash, a fictional character in the younger Flash’s “Earth,” one on whom the younger Flash modeled his super-hero identity, was an actual person. Together they worked to overcome the depredations of a trio of equally flamboyant criminals, the Fiddler, the Shade, and the Thinker. It was only about 25 pages long, the story told in a series of colorfully illustrated panels.

She found it amusing, and saw how the heroic activities of the protagonists, and the simplicity of the “good vs. evil” plot line would appeal to young boys.

What she couldn’t see was what reason Michael would have for insisting that she read it. He seemed to be having trouble saying something to her, another part of the “final secret” he had been unfolding to her a bit at a time. Clearly this story was meant to convey some portion of what he was trying to impart to her and was having trouble telling her in his usual straightforward manner. But what could it be? Was he trying to explain what led him to a career fighting criminals? And, if so, what would be so hard about simply saying so.

Had the Flash’s vibrations inadvertently transported him to a different time rather than to a parallel place, Michael’s request that she read the story might’ve made some sense, providing an easy to understand depiction of traveling back and forth through time. But as the younger Flash character stayed within the same time frame, indeed, as one panel made clear, within the exact same day and date, Jane was at a loss to understand what Michael meant the story to convey. Well, undoubtedly, when she told him that she could not understand what point he was trying to make, he would simply have to find a way to explain it to her plainly.

*

Jane slept soundly during the night. As night turned to morning, her dreams became very vivid.

She was a younger girl, still living at Longbourn. Lizzy was reading a novel to her sisters and mother, all gathered in the parlor.

The novel was some sort of fantastic tale set several centuries in the future, in the United States. The hero was a man named Michael O’Brian, who was what the novel called a “federal criminal investigator,” a type of law officer in that faraway time and place.

The dream, as dreams will, segued from Jane listening to Lizzy in the parlor at Longbourn, to the images she would have been conjuring in her mind’s eye were she actually listening to Lizzy, so that she was seeing the scenes but not actually participating. At first Lizzy’s voice was still describing the action, and when the character talked it was Lizzy’s voice that came out of their mouths, though Lizzy would, in typical Lizzy fashion. change the timbre of her voice to approximate those of the characters. Then Lizzy’s voice was confined to narration, and the characters spoke in their own voices.

Then, quite naturally, Lizzy’s narrative voice gradually disappeared, and Jane was not merely a spectator, but a participant in the action. Without realizing quite how it happened, but accepting that it had happened without questioning it, Jane very soon found herself standing next to the criminal Michael, the “federal criminal investigator,” had been pursuing. She was bound hand and foot, a gag tied around her mouth. She and the villain were standing in front of a clergyman, a clergyman who rather resembled her cousin, Mr. Collins, who was reading the Marriage Vows from The Book of Common Prayer. The villainous groom was someone she recognized, a person long familiar to her. He was grinning lasciviously at her, telling her, while the clergyman droned on, that she was finally his, after his years of waiting. She looked back toward the clergyman, who was now a clergywoman, indeed, who was now a woman bishop, who looked a little like her sister by marriage, Caroline Bingley, and then a little like Lizzy's aunt by marriage, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Suddenly Michael burst through the back of the church, interrupting the service, and the chamber was echoing in gunfire as Michael and her would-be bridegroom blasted away at each other with guns that grew bigger and bigger with every shot.

*

Jane awoke with a start. She knew that the dream had been disturbing, but remembered only bits and pieces of it. She knew that Michael had been a character in a novel who had gradually become real, that the villain of the story in which she suddenly became a character herself was someone she knew from her real life, but upon waking the face she had recognized in the dream had faded from her memory, and she recalled nothing about the person save that it was someone she recognized. She knew that the dream ended violently, but could not recall the details of the violence.

However, the dream had given her an insight into what Michael may have been trying to hint at, but was reluctant to talk about directly.

She got up, pulled on her robe, drew a brush through her hair a few times to get it in some semblance of order, and went then out to the parlor and dining area. Michael was in the kitchen, making waffles. Well, to be more exact, he was pulling ready-made waffles out of a box, and popping them into some kind of device that rewarmed them. Instead of bacon, he was cooking a large sausage that he had cut into fork-sized pieces, and was now frying in a skillet.

“Good morning, Michael,” she greeted him.

“Morning,” he replied, grinning. “I didn’t get around to telling you yesterday, but you meet one of the most essential criteria for a wife.”

“What is that?” she asked, frowning in curiosity.

“When you get out of bed in the morning, a little sleepy, more than a little disheveled, you’re still breathtakingly beautiful.”

Like many extraordinarily lovely women, Jane was not altogether confident about her looks. And being complimented on them was generally not reassuring. Too often she sensed a lack of sincerity in the accolade. In this she was only partly correct. Very often the intentions of those paying her compliments were insincere. But the compliments themselves were thoroughly heartfelt.

And neither were the compliments of her mother, nor those her sisters, nor even of Lizzy, reassuring. They loved her, after all. Weren’t they almost required to see her in the best possible light?

She had always trusted the compliments of Charles, however. And, she found, she trusted the compliments of Michael. Trusted, and took great pleasure in. And to be complimented on her looks at the time of day when she was least confident in them was a particular delight.

She smiled and changed the subject. “Are you not as proficient at waffles as you are at pancakes?”

“I can generally manage,” he replied. “I’ve got a waffle iron. But making waffles from scratch is a lot more trouble’n getting ‘em frozen and ready-made, and popping ‘em into the toaster. And I find that the difference in quality doesn’t quite make the higher level of effort worthwhile.”

“Your homemade waffles are not as good as those that you pull out of the box?”

“Certainly they are,” he said. “In fact, my homemade ones are better. Just not enough better to make it worth all the extra work. It’s not just making ‘em, after all, which is a lot more work to begin with. It’s cleaning up after myself.”

She nodded, understanding that it was sensible choice for a man who, as Ada put it, “did for himself.”

“Is Ada still asleep?” she asked, sitting down at the table.

“Nah. She’s out doing a run.”

“Excuse me?”

“Y’know how your sister likes to take long walks in the morning to keep herself in shape?”

“Yes.”

“Well, nowadays a lot of people take keeping in shape really seriously. Especially if they’re in jobs that can suddenly become unexpectedly physical, like police work. Ada doesn’t just walk. She runs three or four miles everyday. Well, most days.”

“And you?”

“Hit the gym, do some weights, some boxing, some martial arts. I run, too, but not as often as Ada. Nor for as long.”

“So that is why you have a laborer’s build.”

“Never heard it called that, but, yeah. Most of the upper class guys in your time are pretty flabby. Guys like your brother Bill are kind of rare.”

“Bill?”

“Yeah. Your sister’s husband? Darcy?”

“Bill?”

“Yeah. Short for ‘Fitzwilliam.’ We’ve been on a first name basis since his wife’s been teaching me all those Regency era dance steps. I’m Mike and he’s Bill. Anyway most of those silver spoon types have a tendency to get out of shape, unless they’re aspiring to be . . . what d’you call ‘em? Corinthians? Otherwise spending a good bit of your time drinking carousing, and gambling, isn’t exactly the way to build muscle. Fellas in the military might be another exception. Soldiers and sailors, even those who are commissioned, know that their lives might depend on being physically fit. But landowners? They think physical fitness is for the lower classes.”

Bill?”

“It’s a common nickname for ‘William,’ and ‘Fitzwilliam’ just means ‘Son of William.’ What d’you think I should call him? ‘Son of Bill?’”

“It just surprises me that my brother acquiesced.”

Michael shrugged, and said, “He was overcome by my charm.”

“I suppose, of all things, I should be able to understand that. Look what you’ve persuaded me to do.”

The ready-made waffles popped out of what Michael called the “toaster.” He put them on a plate, along with a generous serving of sausage, which he then placed before her at the table.

Jane took a few bites, then a sip of orange juice. Then she put down her knife and fork, and looked over at her host.

“Michael, I have a question to ask.”

“Shoot.”

“Shoot? I have not the pleasure of . . . ”

“Feel free to ask,” Michael interrupted.

“Oh. Thank you. The book Pride and Prejudice that Jane Austen wrote? Was it in the nature of a biography or some kind of historical account?” She paused a moment before continuing, “Or was it a novel?”

Michael took a deep breath, and exhaled, then said, “Thank God. I was hoping you’d figure it out, and I couldn’t determine the best way to tell you so you’d understand. Hoped that old comic book story would clarify things.”

“It did not, at first. Not completely. But after finishing it and going to sleep, I had a dream in which you were the hero of a novel Lizzy was reading aloud. Then, in the course of the dream, I became a character in the novel myself, and the novel became the real life I was living. I realized when I awakened what you might have been trying to hint at by asking me to read that story.”

A tear started to roll down her cheek.

“Sweetie,” said Bill, the endearment jumping to his lips unbidden, without thought, just by reflex. “What’s wrong?”

“You must realize how very disturbing this all is, Michael. First I am taken, not merely thirty-seven hundreds of miles from my home in London, but two hundred years into the future. And not merely the future, but a future in some alternate world where I am naught but an imaginary character of fiction. Is it me you love or a character in a book or a vision play?”

Television,” Michael corrected.

“That is hardly the issue!”

“You’re right. You’re right.”

“Can you not understand how troubling this might be for me to contemplate?”

“I can. I do. I felt the same way when I found out. For some reason they didn’t tell me, when I volunteered for the detail, that I wasn’t just going into the past, that I was going into an alternate past where Jane Austen’s characters were real. I was ready to resign. But I stuck it out. This much I want you to know. It’s you I fell in love with. I’d never even read a Jane Austen novel before coming to your time. Never saw any of the movies. Fact is, I feel kind of guilty about that now. ‘Cesca was a big fan. But I always resisted, thought Jane Austen's stuff would be too feminine for me to enjoy. Now I see that her work might’ve been something ‘Cesca and I could’ve enjoyed together, if I hadn’t’ve stonewalled her. But be that as it may. It wasn’t the character on the page, nor the character on the screen, who I came to love. It was you. The real person.”

Jane smiled through her tears, and said, “That pleases me, Michael. But you must tell me, is this the very last of the secrets I need to know? Are there anymore disturbing revelations to come.”

“This is the last of ‘em, Jane. There are some small details you don’t know, yet, but those’ll come up naturally. The secrets you absolutely have to know to decide whether I’m the guy for you or not, you know. But above all, y’gotta know this. I’m a man in love with a woman. A woman I hope loves me right back. I’m not someone obsessed with a character from a storybook. I’m just a guy who met a wonderful lady, a flesh and blood lady, and lost my heart.”

Jane could still feel tears in her eyes, but now they were joyful ones. Her own heart was too full to speak. She reached across the table, and, smiling, took Michael’s hand in hers and squeezed it.


TO BE CONTINUED
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (19th Installment)

Jim D.August 21, 2018 05:59PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (19th Installment)

ShannaGAugust 21, 2018 07:56PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (19th Installment)

Jim D.August 21, 2018 08:32PM



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