WRAPPED IN PLASTIC, I’m in an area set aside for me.


Big Pharmakos and I parted ways at an earlier point, and now there’s no sign of him, nor of anyone else. I can’t tell what I’m resting on, but I’m in a warm liquid, thick and hung with particles, like turkey gravy.


It holds me aloft and offers no sign of having a bottom.


I feel thousands of years passing at high speed, and Dodge City recedes into some barely-reachable side closet, behind others. I fish for it with a hook that won’t catch.


Then I let it go, throwing the hook itself into the same non-space, where it clatters and is gone, like a coin down a drain.


I think about the past few days and all I get is, “Now they’re part of the same past as the Roman Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire, and no nearer than either.”


I picture the three meeting on a cold corner, surrounded by tundra with mud tracks frozen into cement, pulling in their coats and looking to the street, waiting for someone to pick them up.


This is all on the surface of the liquid, sculling like pond scum, up in the Safe House, while thousands of years and what might be a tremendous war pass by in Dodge City down below.


Now I plummet.


I fall straight to the bottom of my bath and land not with a thud but with a disturbance of sediment, whirling up around me like a net that’s just finished lowering me down. When I turn my head, there are creatures, bigger than me but comparably upright.


Their bodies keep melting, together and apart in a tidal motion, so I can’t count how many. They turn in my direction, but have no faces.


Rather, the fronts of their heads are made of that same pulpy turkey gravy, dripping up and down, straining to congeal into features. Through all this, a bubble-stream of awkwardness and offense passes between us. I can tell that they were expecting me, but not so soon.


They were grazing in peace, enjoying time to themselves, and I’ve disturbed it, caught them out in some position that implies to them a kind of shame, maybe a kind unfamiliar to me, but still. They didn’t think I’d plummet so straight down. They thought I’d spend longer on the approach, working my way through one antechamber after another.