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Authors: Bill Ransom

Jaguar

Table of Contents

JAGUAR

Bill Ransom

In waking life, he is a combat vet with a mysterious sleep disorder, confined to a VA hospital bed. When he sleeps, he roams the plains of another world, invading the minds of the people as they dream and forcing them to do his will. They call him . . . Jaguar.

In both worlds, there are those who know the Jaguar’s secret. They are learning to link their minds across the void between worlds, following the dreampaths the Jaguar created—all the way back to where his body lies helpless . . . an easy target for their justice.

Mindawn edition 2011

WordFire Press

www.wordfire.com

Copyright 1990 Bill Ransom

First Published by Ace Books 1990

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

eISBN: 978-1-61475-223-3

Electronic Version by Baen Ebooks

http://www.baen.com

Dedication

for my sisters, Susan and Doreen

I
CHILDHOOD

Calamity does not spring from the dust,
nor does trouble sprout out of the ground;
for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

—Job

A dot of blue light appeared on the back of his closed eyelids, and Zachary Lee felt the icy blade of fear prickle his hackles to danger.

A dream,
he reminded himself,
it’s only a dream.

Zachary Lee the scientist was a logical man, but the logic that had led him to bed down and dream inside this temple of stone could not help him now.

The blue shimmer grew opalescent with its incredible speed. That bright blue butterfly bore him down the great curves of an infinite accelerator toward the very fabric of being. Zachary Lee had discovered how to mount the ride, but he knew neither how to dismount nor how to control its magnificent speed.

His life blurred past in scraps of scenes: his first tiny lab in the back of a van, the magnetic drives and servos he’d invented for his people, his daughter’s green eyes.

The blue ahead clarified into a pair of translucent wings, butterfly wings, yes, hypnotic in their flutter. He had seen that shape many times before in his experiments with the magnetic disturbances throughout the territory of the Roam.

His pendulum and its stylus had traced a huge infinity sign on this stone floor just one week past—one in a long series of tracings. His daughter called them “butterflies,” and now he thought of them as butterflies, too.

His dreams had warned him of death, that he might become one of the cinder people, hunted down by the Jaguar and the Jaguar’s priests. Informers sniffed him out by day and dreams homed in on him at night. He had to sleep sometime, and once asleep, he had to dream. Dreaming was necessary for sanity, for life itself.

Zachary Lee sped towards the butterfly that glowed and fluttered wildly, and he knew by the thunder in his breast that he was thresholding something great. He slammed into that butterfly with a sensation that he would describe as a kiss, but he had no time left to describe it, nor anyone to describe it to. The last battleground for Zachary Lee was his own mind, and the victory went to the Jaguar. But before Zachary Lee’s mind was reduced to a random collection of organic molecules, the shock wave of his butterfly kiss rent the great curtain of the universe and sheared the rock mantle of the valley on which he lay. The universe on all sides of this fabric reeled from the blow.

Progress is not immediate ease, well-being and peace. It is not rest. It is not even,
directly, virtue.Essentially Progress is a force, and the most dangerous of forces. . . .

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
The Future of Man

Eddie Reyes was a quiet boy even before the earthquake and the explosion downtown. People spoke in those days of his mother’s blue eyes that he got to spite his dark skin, and the absence of his father, but the real talk later always came down to the earthquake or the explosion. What they whispered of in this quiet valley was Eddie’s mother, and what he had done to her, and though this with his mother was an equally long time ago it clearly had changed his life.

Dark-skinned Eddie and his pale-skinned mother lived with her parents just a few blocks from the Daffodil Laundry, a sprawling brick building behind the tracks that split the valley into equal measures of town and farm. His father had been run over by a jeep while waiting for a flight home from the war. Eddie never met him, but he could pick him out in the picture of hard-eyed men lined up under the wing of their bomber.

Six men stood with their legs apart and their arms folded in their leather jackets. Eddie’s dad was the only dark-faced man in the group. He wore his hat tilted back and a cigarette drooped from the corner of his mouth. Painted on the side of the plane were four rows of bombs to show the missions they’d survived. Eddie counted sixty-two.

Every day after Eddie became five his grandfather walked him the three blocks to the cafe next door to the laundry. There they would meet his mother for a soda while she took her break. His mother was a small, thin-faced woman who laughed a lot, and Eddie remembered that even though she was skinny she was always sweating from the heat of her machine.

She worked a machine she called “the mangle” that steam-pressed things between a pair of huge canvas lips. Sometimes she let him work the foot pedal while she set the creases. He pressed the pedal and the mangle hissed like a small locomotive coming to a stop right in front of him. Hot. Very, very hot.

Something about sirens and a still, hot day in spring would fix Eddie Reyes like a dead bug to a board for the rest of his life. It started with the earthquake that spring when he was almost six.

Eddie sat on the sidewalk taking a wind-up clock apart while his cousin drew around him with colored chalk. Eddie liked the feel of taking things apart and putting them together, even when he was five. His grandfather made him a small toolbox of his own and it was his grandfather who gave him the clock. Suddenly, one of the gears that he’d set aside, the brass one with the axle through it, began turning all by itself in the middle of the pavement.

Eddie and his cousin watched the colored swirls of chalk bulge up with the rest of the sidewalk and then burst apart. The long sidewalk behind his cousin shook itself out like a rug, and the street broke into huge chunks of concrete. The scrape of buckling concrete and deep-throated groans of unseated rock shook suddenly back and forth:
Bam-bam Bam-bam
. Then a hiatus of stillness burst in one long rip of twisted lumber and the crumple of nearby walls.

Eddie thought someone picked up the earth and shook it like an old shirt, then tore it apart.

Neighbors ran from their houses into the shattered street, shouting names and warnings. Some screamed. Some dusted themselves off and looked at the sky, others looked at parts of themselves to be sure they were still alive.

“Power lines here, watch out!”

“Gas . . . !”

Some stumbled out squinty and stunned, as though seeing the sun for the first time. Mrs. Brown, when she found her husband underneath the fallen wires, screamed in fright and grief. Some screamed names of children that Eddie knew. More than once he heard his own name, and his cousin’s. Neither of them moved. Her eyes watched over his shoulder as he watched over hers. He heard her wet breathing, the
sniff
at her runny nose.

Now the clear air carried shouts of pain, and when he was sure the earth would stay still he slowly stood up. He wanted to run to his mother at her work, and he looked up the street towards the laundry.

Mrs. Gratzer grabbed Eddie and his cousin. She gasped, “Oh you poor kids. You poor kids. You must be scared to death.”

She was huge, and tucked each of them under an arm like bags of grain. Eddie couldn’t breathe because of her grip and the press of her sweaty apron against his face. He hadn’t had time to be scared yet, but he was starting to get that feeling in his stomach, that fast-elevator feeling that meant big trouble.

Mrs. Gratzer teetered in the doorway as she toed the screen door with her foot. The explosion from downtown pushed the three of them over in a heap. It was more of a feeling than a sound, a sudden punch in his lungs that popped his ears and took his breath away. Eddie landed on top of Mrs. Gratzer and his cousin started crying from underneath.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said.

When Eddie followed the course her gaze took he saw the huge boil of black smoke from downtown sniffing the street towards them. Things in the middle of it
pop-pop-popped
like fireworks. A fountain of fire burst through the smoke high into the sky.

“Mom.”

He remembered later that he simply said her name just like that and his emotions went completely blank. His body dodged Mrs. Gratzer’s grab by itself and scrambled through the rubble up the street.

Everything changed so much with the smoke and with buildings spilled into the pavement and the pavement broken that Eddie almost got lost. He tripped over one of the railroad tracks, then followed it to what used to be the back door of the laundry. Most of the building was gone. Bricks and broken glass littered the street and everywhere people dug into them and shouted names. The center of the laundry was a huge ball of fire, unaffected by the spray from all the broken pipes.

Standing there that day, staring at the rubble, he was reminded of the mangle because of the loud hiss of steam coming from everywhere, not quite loud enough to drown out the screams. The mangle had been attached to the wall that was now gone. Wide-eyed firefighters dragged hoses through the streetful of brick chunks and glass to hook up to hydrants that didn’t work. Shreds of charred sheets and blackened rags of pillowcases tumbled in the wind that started up with the fire. Everyone seemed so pale.

“Mom!” Eddie hollered. “Mom!”

One of the women from the front office, Eleanor who wore the glittery pins, pulled him from the middle of the street to what was left of the sidewalk. Her glasses were gone and her hair on one side was melted to her head in a clump.

“Eddie, your momma’s not here. Some people just carried her and Robert and Nell over to the hospital. Wait here with me for your grandpa. . . .”

Eddie twisted loose and splashed through the flooded alley to the street, crowded with people making their way to the wreckage of the laundry. He ran through the front door of the Albers Feed Store and out the back, which put him at the back door of the hospital, the same hospital where he’d been born, where his mother had been born. He heard shouts from in there, and screams, and the sound of something metal crashing to the floor.

Inside the back door a pasty-faced nurse snatched his arm and hissed, “Don’t you run in here. Now you get right back outside.”

“My
mom
—,” he said, and tried to twist free, but she had him by the collar and the wrist. No matter how he moved she knew how to hold him. She pushed the back door open with her hip.

“I want my
Mom
!”

A pair of heavy double doors slapped open in the hallway behind them. The nurse pulled him aside, but not before he caught a glimpse of Robert, the retarded janitor, who held his bandaged hands away from the bulky bandages on his chest. His lips and nose were covered with little white pads. He cried in little howls. In the quick slap of the doors Eddie heard people hurrying in there, heard the clatter of steel against steel.

The nurse pulled him back through the door then guided him down the hallway without loosening her grip.

“Someone in the front can help you,” she said. “We’re too busy back here and you shouldn’t be in here, anyway. What’s your name?”

“Eddie Reyes,” he said.

They rounded the hallway turn and he saw his grandfather at the nurses’ desk, at the front of a mob of people, wringing his old felt hat. His grandfather didn’t say anything. His stare made Eddie feel smaller every step he took.

“They want us to go to the waiting room,” his grandpa said. “It’ll be awhile yet before they know. . . .”

He didn’t finish.

“Before they know what?” Eddie asked.

His grandfather’s huge hand pressed against his shoulder blades, the other held the waiting-room door open. Eddie ducked under. The place smelled of coffee and cigarette smoke. Crowded up to the walls, people sat on benches and cried or read magazines.

“There’s no place to sit,” Eddie said.

“We’re men,” his grandpa said. “We’ll stand so the women and old people can sit.”

The room was so full Eddie could barely breathe, and people kept coming in. All he could see in the waiting room was legs and butts.

Eddie’s mother lived through that day, the next, and the next. The hospital wouldn’t allow him to see her, and his grandfather said that she would be there for a long time. They didn’t tell him anything except that his mother would be all right. In their private glances between each other, Eddie could see that his grandparents didn’t believe it. And when one or both of them came back from the hospital, they whispered between each other and they didn’t talk with him. He heard bits of whispers, snatches of talk that he put together like his parrot puzzle.

Eddie walked every day through the Alber’s Feed Store and out the back. From there he could see her room, her window, and sometimes the curtains moved. He thought then that she waved, and he always waved back.

For three months she laid up in that old building. The ivy outside turned from scraggly thin ropes to a lush green cover that shaded many of the windows up to the third floor. His mother was up there, her hands a vapor and her face a vague memory in the bathroom mirror.

One day, that same mean nurse came out to make him go away.

“What are you doing out here?”

He didn’t answer.

“You come here to see somebody, don’t you? Is it your brother?”

“My mother.”

“Oh, your
mother
. . . .”

Third floor,
he thought,
the window next to the rusty ladder.

He said nothing.

“You know, there are other sick people here. They don’t like it when people look in their windows—.”

He ran down to the park and stayed there until the gulls screamed upriver to the dump. He was hungry when he got to his grandparents’ place. They fed him in quiet, as usual. The kitchen smelled like that nurse, and later his cold sheets tightened on him like her hand.

He lay there wide-eyed as his pet rabbit, thinking about his mom. He’d heard that she didn’t have any hands or face anymore, but he didn’t think it was true because he couldn’t imagine it and as long as he couldn’t imagine it, it couldn’t be true.

Eddie didn’t belong anywhere, anymore, it seemed. Kid games seemed like kid games to him, now. He belonged with his mother, he decided, and he decided he would see her on his birthday. That was five days away.

That night, and every night for the next five nights, Eddie dreamed of the sidewalk and the road breaking up in front of him, and a of boy his own age watching it all in a blue halo from the other side, the
under
side.

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