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Johnny Faa – Epilogue in Nampa

She wore a dress to do gardening. She always seemed to wear a dress, though, it always made her feel like she was… ready. She kneeled her aged self down into the soft dirt and began tending to a few marigolds. You always had to plant marigolds, her mother had told her, it kept the bugs away. Of course, that was nearly eighty years ago, and there were all sorts of powders and sprays to keep bugs away… but she couldn’t keep herself from always planting a few marigolds. She readied herself to stand up, moving slowly and deliberately with years of practice, feeling joints creak and muscles pop as she returned upright, brushing a forearm across a sweating brow to avoid the dirty gloved hand and the trowel it grasped lightly. As she looked up at the hot Idaho sun she heard the sound of a car approaching and turned to wave. She always waved, because she knew almost everyone in the neighborhood. She was just old fashioned that way,
However, this was certainly not what Dottie Olsen expected to see on a hot and dusty Idaho afternoon. A large, white van pulled up outside their little bungalow unannounced, and four very peculiar people piled out.
“Herm,” she called in a quiet, gentle voice, “Herm… could you come out here, please?”
Herm emerged, ducking under the front door. Now in his eighties, he was still an enormous man, with years of physical labor building a thick foundation that easily sustained the classic architecture. He wore overalls and a white t shirt, and his hair probably hadn’t been cut differently since he was seven years old, a flat top military style cut that sat above a pair of thick horn rim glasses and an impeccably clean shaven face. Years of simple living and hard work in the Big Country had preserved both of them well in body, mind and soul… but they still weren’t ready for the van-full of people who stepped onto their tiny, parched lawn.
First, there was a man. He wasn’t in particularly good shape, and everything he wore seemed to be wrinkled, but he did have the look of someone who at least washed regularly. There were large bags under his eyes, but his face glowed with a joy and thankfulness that seemed to say that he had recently come out of something bad. After him came a very awkward woman, all put together wrong, with narrow shoulders, wide hips and knock-knees. Her pale skin was heavily sunburned from driving in the western summer. Her clothes hung oddly on her, with a tanktop almost falling off and a pair of jeans stretched near its limits. A massive pair of glasses she wore gleamed in the sun, along with a gleaming smile as she helped the first man with the side door of the van. They pulled out and unfolded a wheelchair, allowing a black man to shuffle his way out of the seat and onto one leg before finally settling into the wheelchair, one leg sticking out unbent. The man wheeled the other man around to the other side of the van, where the driver’s side door opened. From where they stood, Herm and Dottie couldn’t see the driver until he rounded the front of the car, but when he did, they swore his face looked somehow… familiar. All four of them stood in front of the van, smiling and waving awkwardly.
“Uh… hi.” The driver said with a nervous smile.
“What can we do for you gentlemen?” Herm asked, raising himself up to a still impressive height.
“And lady,” Dottie added, to be polite.
“We’re, uh…” the first man murmured, running a hand through shaggy hair, “We’re here to see Dottie and Herm Olsen.”
“You got ’em,” Herm fired back, unimpressed.
“Good, good…” the first man said again, coughing in the dry summer air. Below him, the man in the wheelchair rolled his eyes and took over.
“Sir, Ma’am, I’m General Tate of the United States Army. We have in our custody an individual that says he owes a great deal of gratitude to you.”
“Oh, my…” Dottie skirted a little closer to her husband, “I don’t think we know anyone who would be involved with things like that.”
“The last army man I knew died a couple years back,” Herm’s expression hardened, “So unless you got some proof of who you are and what you came to do, I suggest you all–”
“What if I said you always had trouble balancing the cash register at night?”
The man who had driven the face spoke up finally, and Herm turned to him.
“Son, I ain’t balanced a cash register in fifty years.”
“Heh,” Johnny chuckled a bit to himself, “You called me ‘son,’ now that’s funny.”
“What do you mean?” Dottie asked from behind Herm.
“I know you always had trouble closing out the till, Herm,” Johnny put his hands in his pockets and adopted a cocky smile, “Especially that one day, when I caught you nicking a can of corned beef hash off the counter for the stray cat that used to stop by the back. You rang it up, you were afraid not to, because you’re a good man, Herm… but you didn’t have the cash for it, so I helped you out. Remember that, Herm? Musta been, oh… April of ’53?”
There was a long silence there as the wind swirled around them, kicking up gravel dust. Those near the van seemed generally to be smiling, and Dottie looked thoroughly confused, but Herm… his face was the picture of confusion.
“Why would anyone remember that?”
“Because I was there, Herm,” Johnny took a step forward, “I stocked those shelves with you and Dottie, Herm. Don’t you remember me? Look hard, it’s been a while.”
Dottie stepped out from behind her husband, peering with aged eyes at his face. His hair had been buzzed short, and he wore a short beard, but some things about him had not changed through countless epochs.
“…Jack?” She said, finally. She whispered it, almost reverently, as if she was experiencing something beyond.
“But how?”
“There’s no real better way to say this,” Johnny said casually with a shrug, “no easier way, either. I’m the Time Travelling Gypsy King who has lived more than 2 million years. I was made immortal hundreds of years to preserve the legacy of my people, and last year I traveled back to the Triassic era, living forward through time again since before the very birth of humanity. Also, this is my girlfriend, Carmen.”
He brought the awkward young woman forward, and they all shook hands.
“This is my pal, David Berg. He got me through a lot. And I believe you already met General Tate.”
“Yes,” Dottie said, still a little confused, “General, is your leg all right?”
“It will be,” he replied with a grimace, “In a couple of months I get a cane, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
“Are both of you all right?” David asked, the words tumbling out of him, “I mean, that’s a lot to hear, and I’m sure this is surprising, and–”
Dottie held up a hand, stopping him, and smiled.
“Son, you need to understand. When you get as old as we are… or as Jack is, I suppose… you stop getting really surprised at things.”
“Just ain’t worth it,” Herm added with a nod.
“Besides,” Dottie took a step forward, again peering into Johnny’s eyes, “It’s nice to see an old friend after all this time. You look a little rough though.”
“Whereas you, good God, you’re still beautiful,” Johnny said with a smile, holding her aged face in his ageless hands.
“Hey now,” Herm grumbled through a grin of his own, “That’s my wife you’re talkin’ about.”
“Eh, I’d still steal her.”
“You’d get about five minutes ‘fore I tracked you down,” Herm said confidently, cracking his gnarled knuckles.
“I don’t doubt it,” Johnny held up both palms in supplication, “You always scared the piss out of me with those big ol’ hands, Herm.”
“Language!” Dottie chided the Gypsy King with a wry smile, “And don’t you worry about Herm, he’s a great big teddy bear.”
“Bears can still claw you up pretty good,” General Tate added, wheeling up to the little group as David and Carmen stayed in the back, “Mrs. Olsen, would it be possible for all of us to step inside your lovely home? I don’t mean to complain, but it is very warm out here with all this stuff I’ve got on my leg. Some of us aren’t immortal, after all.”
Everyone turned to look at Johnny, who simply shrugged. They all shared a small laugh and, with some help from Johnny and Herm, General Tate managed to hop up the stairs into the house… but not after Dottie rushed in first, complaining that the house was a mess and she hadn’t a thing inside to cook for them. David and Carmen were left outside the house for a moment, standing in the sun.
“So,” David finally asked, “Are you worried about being with him? His temper, the whole immortality thing…”
“Not really,” Carmen replied with a grin, “And it’s weird, because I should be. Right now, I guess I’m just taking things as they come, one day at a time. Johnny doesn’t really get that idea, so I’m trying to see if I can teach him a little of what it’s like to be one of us.”
“Good luck,” David smiled, “Lord knows I tried.”
“I know you did,” she said, giving him a little hug. He felt the warmth of her body and the smell of peppermint in her hair, and it stirred up feelings that made him more confused than ever, “And if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think he’d ever have come back to us.”
“Us?”
“Humanity, David.”
She went inside the house, too, and David stood for just a moment, thinking. Had he managed to give humanity back to the immortal King of the Gypsies? Only time would tell, he supposed… and maybe, for the first time in a while, Johnny had someone to tell time for him, one day at a time, and that was enough. He took a deep breath and climbed up the stairs into the little house, where rice krispie bars and lemonade waited for him around an old Formica table. If he was going to start taking one day at a time, David thought, this was a good one to start on.

Johnny Faa – Chekhov’s G-string

“You know,” Johnny said after a short pause, “I’ve got half a mind to hop into that rift and fuck with all of your own personal histories so bad that you’ll each spend your lives scraping pigeon shit off the Chernobyl reactor.”
“Oh, but we know you won’t, Johnny,” Adorra’s words rang with pleasure, “because you kinda like where things are now, don’t you? You’ve got your little buddy outside, things are looking good for the first time in decades… no, possibly centuries… and you don’t want to lose it.”
“Whereas you guys are fine with unmaking all of existence,” Johnny countered, “and you think I’M the bad guy.”
“We just consider it a cosmetological omelette. Gotta break a few eggs.”
“Fuck’s sake!” the Gypsy fired back, “the world is ‘cosmological.” Try using that Ivy League education your parents bought you for something besides a placemat.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Adorra’s face hardened, “You get in the rift, or it’s the end for your perfect little life.”
Johnny thought to himself, but for once didn’t speak his mind out loud, “You think THIS is perfect?”
Meanwhile, David still had two rifles trained on his head.
“I can’t believe they got to the rest of you guys, too,” he moaned.
“They didn’t ‘get to us,” Berg,” one of the guards growled, “He got to us first.”
“One would think you guys enjoyed the stress relief of a prisoner you could shoot without hesitation whenever he started cracking wise,” David said with a shrug. The second guard gave the first a worried look, as if to say “How did HE know about that?” but the other waved him off angrily with a jerk of his head.
“It loses some of the punch when you’ve shot the guy half a million times,” the first guard said again, “what’s the point of shooting something annoying that can’t die?”
“Ah, I see,” David nodded sagely, looking down the long barrel of the assault rifle, “So… exactly how small is your dick, then? Because I’m guessing it’s somewhere between a Tic-tac and microscopic.”
The guard stepped forward and cracked David across the face with his rifle butt. In his weakened state, the scientist went skidding across the floor, blood pouring from his mouth. He was still too dazed to realize that gunfire had broken out over his bleeding head, and when he came to he saw the kind face of General Tate standing over him.
“Well, here’s a how-de-do,” David said through a mush of bloody gums and a few loose teeth. He glanced over to see the two guards lying dead, pierced directly through weak spots in the body armor by perfectly placed shots.
“Ya got ’em, huh?”
“Yes, but we don’t have long,” Tate said, hoisting David to his feet, “I don’t know if there’s anyone left down here who’s on our– aagh!”
The General staggered a bit, but kept standing and forced David to his feet. It was then David realized that not all the blood was his.
“Shit!” he cried out, feeling silly for doing so, “Are… are you hit?”
“No big deal,” Tate hissed back through gritted teeth, “I saw worse in Fallujah.”
“Are you sure?” there seemed to be an awful lot of blood.
“Yes, dammit!” Tate bellowed, “Now get in there and save your friend!”
David grabbed a keycard from one of the fallen guards, trying not to think to himself if they were dead or not. It was a strange feeling, having the key and walking inside the room like one was, say, coming home to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Instead, David walked as casually as he could into a situation where a half dozen spurned young scientists of privilege were trying to force an immortal Gypsy to undue all of existence. The grilled cheese sandwich would have to wait.
“Well, this is just ducky,” Faa muttered as all eyes turned to David’s sudden entrance. His face was bloodied and swollen, but his eyes showed a clarity of intense fear.
“Why on Earth would you come in here?”
“Because…” David shrugged, “the General said so?”
“What possessed that moron to say that?”
“Well, he was sort of shot with bullets at the time.”
“Oh, well I suppose that makes sense.”
“EXCUSE ME!” Adorra shrieked, causing both David and Johnny to finally turn their attention to her, “Have you two forgotten something?”
“Eh,” Johnny waved her off, “We’ll get back to you fuckwhistles later.”
“God damn it!” she shrieked again, “Pay attention to me!”
Johnny turned to her then, and his face hardened. It wasn’t a face that liked finding new and interesting insults for people, or driving hours for a perfect fried chicken dinner, or even the face of someone who would spend eons crafting the perfect whiskey. This was the face of a man who had seen eternity… twice.  Hard, detached, ancient and terrible, he walked toward Adorra, fixing her with a stare that numbed her right arm, making it impossible to raise her gun.
“Okay,” he said calmly, without emotion, “Okay. I’ll pay attention to you.”
He dealt her with a slap across the face that sent her staggering. Furious, she pulled her gun on him. The Gypsy King grabbed her hand like a vice and forced her to empty the clip into his shoulder, eventually wrestling the pistol from her grip with his one working arm.
“Now… now what?” He spat at her through clenched teeth, “You guys never think far enough ahead… you’re so fucking lazy.”
He belted her sharply across the mouth with the handle of the pistol.
“And you didn’t exactly bring a knife to a gunfight,” his breathing was ragged as it was clear he was taking some time to heal, “But you tried to bring a gun to a Gypsy fight.”
“Shoot him, you idiots!” Adorra screamed, backing up in terror until she was flat against the wall, “SHOOT HIM!”
“And you should all know by now,” Johnny continued, unabated, “That you never fuck with a Gypsy.”
Suddenly, he was everywhere at once. The Gypsy King was an absolute flurry of arms, legs, fists and the sharpness of knees and elbows, beating and disarming the inexperienced scientists with a practiced ease, despite being shot too many times for David’s blurry mind to count. He felt something graze by his unbruised cheek and had sense enough to hit the floor as bullets whizzed by overhead. Above all the clamor he heard Johnny, laughing like a madman as, one by one, the gunfire ceased and the room was reigned over only by the immortal’s increasingly labored breathing. David stood up when he felt the coast was clear, and saw a horrific, bloody mess standing where his friend should have been, with pieces of flesh simply blown away all over his body. His shoulders heaved as, sickeningly, he thought he saw a lung expand and contract from behind what looked like a shotgun wound in his chest. He held one shotgun by the barrel, an improvised club that dripped sticky blood, and his other hand held nothing but a tightly clenched fist. His eyes, brown and wild, stood out from the cloak of red that covered him as he bled and bled, and the whites of his eyes made for a maddening contract with all the gore. Johnny tried to laugh again, his voice choked with blood and mutilated by shrapnel, but still his spattered lips curled into a grin over a few broken teeth. He rasped and crackled as he staggered away from the scene of the carnage and, by the time he slowly made his way to David, he had already shown signs of healing.
“Holy fucking hell,” David feared he would vomit instead of making words, “You…”
“And that’s why I’m the King, motherfucker,” his voice was still broken and guttural, but words were intelligible, “You don’t live as long as I have without knowing a few things.”
It was then that David finally saw why the government was so interested in him. They were fools, he decided, to think that a simple case of immortality would have yielded such a perfect warrior as this one. This grisly spectacle that stood before him could only have been forged in the fire in which Johnny had lived his life, all of the blood and the horror that was humanity for hundreds of years… no, now more than millions… and it was then he also learned why the Gypsy didn’t want to fight anymore. It never made any difference how many times he bathed in blood or lost a limb, only to return to the front of this war or that conflict… it made no difference. Johnny wasn’t strong enough to save humanity from itself… and that was the cruelest thing about his immortality.
“So!” he cracked another ghastly smile, “How do I look?”
David couldn’t answer.
“I figured,” he replied, “Shoulda seen me after Guernica. Stood out there in the middle of town, two middle fingers in the air. Buck-ass naked, too. Sadly, I never got to talk to Pablo about it.”
“Are they…?” David couldn’t bring himself to look at the bloody remains, let alone ask that terrible word.
“I dunno,” Johnny spat out a tooth that may or may not have been his, “but they aren’t moving anytime soon.”
A piercing alarm bell rang out abruptly through the room. The two injured men made their way to the control panel, shoving aside the senseless body of one of the scientists to reveal a flashing red screen command.
“Oh, damn it!” David hissed, “They set the rift to expand and take this whole room out with it.”
“Babies,” Johnny sniffed, “I guess they did have a backup plan. A shitty one.”
“It’s getting too big,” David looked with terror as the rift had gone from being able to accommodate one human to now being the size of a small car, “I won’t be able to close it!”
“How do we stop it?”
“We can’t,” David said grimly, “but all my research says it’ll collapse if it gets much bigger than this room. Too weak at the center, that’s why I chose this room in case anything went wrong.”
“So we gotta get outta here, huh?”
“What about the bodies?” David asked, looking at the carnage at his feet.
“Fuck ’em!” Johnny said, taking David by the arm and dragging him away as the rift grew a bit larger and began to suck up some of the manipulator hardware. They made it to the door only to find it unable to open.
“The key won’t work from this side,” David threw the card into the rapidly expanding rift, “there’s got to be someone in the booth upstairs to unlock it!”
“How about General Boytoy?” Johnny asked, adopting a cold smile as a few of the bodies were being absorbed by the rift.
“I don’t think he can even walk right now,” David shot back, “and we’re both fucked if we can’t get someone to open it. They probably figured no one would come to our help, and–”
“Can I be of some help?”
The soft voice came over the intercom system in a polite, delicate voice. Both of them looked up into the booth to see the watery-eyed young scientist standing at the control board, he thin, pale hands shaking as she pushed the buttons.
“Well, glory be!” Johnny hollered, “It’s great to see you again, honey! How ’bout you open this door for us?”
“Sure thing, Johnny,” she replied, smiling awkwardly around a faceful of freckles, “But first…”
She turned around until she was facing away from the window, and then quickly tucked both her thumbs into the waistband of her slacks, emerging soon after displaying a hot pink g-string. She turned back around, facing them and, with a heavily flushed face and nervous, awkward smile, she pushed the button for the mag-lock and the two were able to escape the manipulation room before the rift overtook them. The two of them tumbled out onto the cold metal floor, hearing the lock slam safely shut behind them. As David checked to make sure the General had survived, Johnny lay on the floor, still healing, still bleeding… but laughing all the while.
“Ah ha ha ha ha… I knew it!”
He curled his fist into a clenched sign of victory, and grinned up at the ceiling until his vision was filled with watery blue eyes as the scientist returned from the control booth to dab at his wounds, blushing heavily as she did so.
“You just go on laughing,” she said, her face as red as the blood that covered his, “but I’m going to expect a few dates, now.”
“He leaned over and slapped her playfully on the behind.
“Sure thing, toots.”

Johnny Faa – Long Time Coming

“Open up, chicken-shits.”
Faa was standing outside the door with David. More specifically, Faa was standing outside the door, and David was standing a good ten feet away from the armed guards who flanked the heavy blast door into the Rift Manipulation room. Johnny rolled his eyes as the guards fingered their rifles.
“C’mon, you know the guards ain’t gonna scare me. I’m what you wanted, and I’m here, so open up. Don’t get cold feet on me, now, when I’m so close to making you all look like a bunch of fuckin’ morons.”
There was the sound of grinding and clicking and, with a final massive thunk, the door was unlocked. Johnny almost skipped back to where David stood, seemingly overjoyed.
“Well, whad’ya say partner?” he whispered, “Gonna go have a punch-up with Cheesedicks United. Wanna come with me?”
“Err…” David looked at the guards again, “I’m gonna pass. Lots of guns.”
“Yeah,” Faa sighed, “we really should look into making you bulletproof. Well, all right. You still pretty much got things secure out here, right?”
David thought of General Tate, and smiled.
“Yeah. We got this. Now you go in there and take care of them.”
“10-4,” Johnny said with a sarcastic salute. He’d gotten halfway back to the door when David stopped him, slightly panicked.
“Wait!” he called, “What’s your plan, anyway?”
The Immortal King of the Gypsies only smiled, shrugged, and disappeared through the blast door. On the other side was another massive room made of featureless metal and other nonreactive surfaces. On the far end was the Rift Manipulator and blast shields, set up much like they had been in Johnny’s room before. On the other end, nearer the door, a group of five angry young scientists stood next to a frankly embarrassing amount of explosive ordnance, with at least two guns apiece aimed directly at the Gypsy’s head.
“Oh, really,” Johnny said with a smile upon seeing them, “After all the fun we’ve shared, must we still be hostile?”
They didn’t respond, so Johnny took it as an invitation to continue and began to walk around the room.
“I see your room in smaller… that’s good. I deserved a bigger one than you guys. I mean, hell, all you lot have done since you got here was piggyback on the shoulders of anyone around here with genuine talent or drive in order to make sure your parents’ money was well spent in getting you this job. I’ve asked around, even read a few of your things myself: nothing new, nothing interesting or groundbreaking. A lot of the same old shit reheated like some kind of gas station burrito… filled with dookie, of course.”
He looked back quickly to see if they were paying attention. The guns were still trained on him, and their jaws were still to a person set in a nasty scowl. They were indeeed paying attention.
“And then there’s the way you all dress… sheesh, do you guys do anything that’s original, really? I got news for you: recycling the hip from two decades back isn’t working for you anymore than the two decade old hip replacement is doing in your Gramma’s casket. I mean, when you look at it, your entire existence is just a joke. You’re all the ultimate argument against recycling: ideologies, fashion, music, entertainment… it never quite comes back 100% pure, does it? Always some flaws, and boy can I see ’em in this bunch. If my old newspapers only spat out news about Ronald Reagan mixed in with Monica Lewinsky or some other nostalgic mishmash… I’d just burn ’em all.”
He thought he heard one of the guns cock the hammer back. It was working, now it was time to go for the kill.
“Of course, from what I’ve heard, you guys have been doing a pretty good job of burning through your pals, lately. You really can’t expect someone like you, someone who’s seen and experienced so little to understand what’s happening in the Rift… but I’m sure you all thought you were just special enough to handle it, right? How did that work out for you? For your friends, drooling into a Dixie cup and filling their adult diapers? At what point are you just supposed to throw up your hands and say your entire existence has just been wasted?”
SHUT UP!”
One of them finally spoke. Johnny turned to face the group and saw that it was Adorra who was the red-faced culprit, her bottle-blonde hair a mess, hanging down over $400 horn-rim glasses.
JUST SHUT UP!”
“OR WHAT?!” 
Johnny hollered back, “you’ll shoot me? Ha! You all know that even if one of you Breakfast Club rejects managed to hit me (and I highly doubt it) I’ll just be back on my feet and giving you the business in a few minutes. And also, if you’re thinking of knocking me out with a few hundred rounds and tossing me in the rift, let me assure you: I’ll find your parents, your grandparents, your favorite grade school teacher, the one who told you you could be anything you wanted to be an other assorted horseshit… and I’ll get ’em. Real good.”
There was silence except for the labored breathing now coming from the group. Johnny smiled and continued.
“Of course, that’s the tricky part,” he continued, “you need me here, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to complete what you want to do. You can’t make good on your threats without me… ooh, that must burn you all up. All this time, you’ve been told you’re amazing and you’ve believed it… and now here I am, gruff and grumpy me who just wants to grab a beer and watch some porn tonight… I’m the one who gets everything. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Your collective tiny dicks on a celestial, cosmological scale, right? I mean, you’ve got to be SOMETHING, you’ve got to amount to SOMETHING… but are you really that sure about that particular path in the universe… when I’m standing right in front of you?”
“You have to do it.”
Adorra, seemingly the ringleader, spoke again, her voice quivering a little but a certain smugness hiding beneath the surface.
“I don’t gotta do nothing, honey, but stay black and die,” Johnny shot back, crossing his arms.
“Oh, yes you do,” she replied, her smugness coming to the surface, “You see, we’ve got more people in our camp than you think. You’ve managed to piss off almost everyone in this building at one point or another, and we’ve pretty much all agreed that you’ve got to go, whatever the price. So yes, Gypsy, you do have to do it… or we’ll put two bullets in your best friend’s head.”
She gestured to a screen showing outside the room, where both of the guards had their rifles put to David’s forehead. Johnny looked up at the monitor relay and grunted.
“Fair enough,” he said.
“You see, Johnny,” Adorra’s voice dripped with contempt, “You’re the villain here. We’re the heroes. You’re arrogant, brutal, callous, disrespectful, violent, ghoulish, and in all other ways wrong. When we came here, we all wanted to help you. We all wanted to make you better. But you were a spoiled child and you refused our help. You made our lives a living hell and turned us into toys for your amusement, and that is wrong. We consider it an honor to be the ones who finally punish you for all your crimes against humanity. We’re  removing something evil and wrong from the world by forcing you to permanently be stuck between dimensions. Yes, it will destroy life as we know it, but it will be worth it to ensure such a wicked, spiteful man like you never darkens our doorways again.”
“Ooooh, you spent a long time working on the speech, didn’t you, dearie?” Johnny fired right back. He was about to make another comment when his jaw suddenly went slack in mid thought, his index finger frozen vertically to make a point. He blinked a few times, his brow furrowed in concentration. For the first time in eons, he seemed confused.
“Wait, wait… hold on a second. So… what you’re saying, what you’re all saying… is that you’d willfully unmake existence within this dimension, if that is indeed the cause of what you want me to do… and fundamentally change the order of the very fabric of reality… just because I wasn’t nice to you?”
There was no response from the group. Johnny took that to mean “Yes.” He shrugged and blew out a loud breath, completely flabbergasted.
“Well… shit. I’ve got to admit, that’s a new one on me.”

Johnny Faa – He’s In This One

David found Faa locked up in the room that had previously held the rift opening equipment. It had been returned to its austere beginnings: bare metal walls, floor and ceiling, with nothing inside but a surly Gypsy King. It was just as David had first seen it. Johnny, however, was not as David had first seen him. His hair was not quite as wild, his beard not that large, but he seemed more dangerous now than ever. He was rough, wild, like a caged animal. David had seen him at his most misanthropic and callous, and he thought that was the worst he would ever see. But this… this was feral. The guards, armed to the teeth, gave him an uncomfortable look  as he waved them off.
“Hey, man…” David said as he tried to enter as if nothing was wrong. Johnny promptly ripped off one of his fingers and, snarling, threw it at him.
“You know,’ David cleared his throat, “I wonder if you’ll run out of body parts to throw at me before the blood loss makes you pass out.”
He growled again. The guards took a step forward, rifles at the ready.
“No need for that, guys,” David held up a hand to stop them, “In fact… just get out of here, all right?”
“But–”
“You got a problem with it, take it up with Tate!” David barked back at them, not in the mood to obey protocol. They left, no doubt to get on he radio to the General. David squatted down a few feet from Faa, trying to get at eye level as the Gypsy sat on the floor, still in a local football t shirt.
“You know,” David said after a long breath, “you know things have gotten bad in here, right?”
No answer.
“I mean, not just us… that sucks a fat one, I’ll admit… but things outside of this room are getting even worse. Like, end-of-the-universe kind of worse.”
Johnny snorted with absolute derision. David noted with some surprise that his smallest finger already seemed to be growing back from a nubbin.
“I’m serious, man… do you think I’d rot in a cell for a few days eating bread from a tube just so I could come here and lie to you.”
“Huh,” Faa finally spoke, his voice gruff and hoarse, “Depends. Maybe your buddy Tate set up a little plan for you.”
“”He’s not my buddy,” David replied, then added, thoughtfully, “he did just kiss me, though…”
Johnny’s eyes widened from their darkened sockets that hasn’t seen decent sleep in days.
“…Are you gay?”
David giggled in response, shaking his head and looking at the ceiling.
“I don’t know.”
“I hadn’t had you pegged for that,” Faa grunted, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it. I saw Ancient Greece, you know. They called me Archimedes back then.”
“I’m sure they did,” David was glad that conversation had finally opened up, “So does that mean you trust me?”
“Fuck no.”
For some reason, that seemed to make David feel more at ease, and he sat on the cold floor next to Johnny.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. If you had said yes, I’d know you were either lying or crazy.”
“Ha ha ha,” Faa laughed drily, still not making eye contact, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in on this, too, just to fuck with me. Seems like everything good that’s ever happened in my life ultimately turns to shit. Y’know, Verdun used to be this cute little river town. Japan used to be this backwards little rock of polite people. Hell, even Ronnie Reagan wasn’t a prick at one point. Humanity… I swear, you guys ruin everything.”
“You make it sound like you’re not one of us.”
“I’m not,” Faa replied, his voice obviously pained, “I haven’t been for a long time. Anyone here can tell you that; it’s one of the reasons I could survive in the rift.”
David sighed and leaned back on his arms, letting his feet go out straight in front of him.
“They told you, huh?”
“Not they,” Johnny replied, still hunched over, “THAT group. Their little buddies, y’know? Boy, were they pissed. When  I heard what happened, I told them that their pals would be better off with a bullet in their heads… they did not like that.”
He drew out those last five words, skipping the contraction entirely. It was then David knew that he knew… he thought.
“So you can guess what’s going on, then?”
“And ace-high shit fit from the Clubhouse Gang? Oh yeah, I figured. How bad is it?”
“They commandeered the Rift Manipulator and a fuck-ton of ordnance,” David said, “And they want you.”
“Fat lot of good I’ll be to them.”
“Maybe you will be. They’re hoping to use you to turn the Rift in on itself and create some sort of universe-destroying paradox.”
Johnny waiting for a second before replying.
“Can they do that?”
“Theoretically, yes,” David nodded, “It’s like feedback on a microphone, except that sound you hear is existence crumbling.”
“And they want me, huh?” Johnny’s voice was dripping with disdain, “or else they’ll blow up everything?”
“Pretty much.”
“Huh,” Faa scoffed again, “Babies.”
“So are you gonna come with me and fix this?” David asked cautiously, “I figure you’re the person they want, and you’re the only person…”
He stopped for a moment and thought before he continued.
“The only human being who can get in there and stop this whole fuckin’ mess. We need you. I need you.”
“Great, now you’re quoting Star Trek at me,” Faa said with a roll of his eyes, “It ain’t gonna work, Tiberius. Let it all come crashing down. If this is all existence has for me, constant disappointment, then let it burn.”
It was at that moment that David realized how similar they were, and because of that he knew he could turn Johnny’s heart. All these years, all he needed was a friend… and it was at that moment that David’s cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He couldn’t see his face, but David knew Johnny was paying attention?
“They let you keep your phone?” He asked, incredulously, “I’m lucky they let me keep my underwear.”
“I picked it up from the guards on my way down here,” David replied, checking the message, “And I think this information is more for me than for you.”
“I don’t know what you’ve heard, chump, but I don’t need anything to grow my Johnson.”
“Johnny,” David said with some exasperation, “Just look at it, will you?”
“Oh, all right,” said the Gypsy King and, reciprocating, saw the picture of two Idaho driver’s licenses on David’s phone. Immediately, the Immortal’s eyes welled up with tears.
“How did you find this.”
He didn’t say it like a question, the ending was blunt, like the wrong side of an axe.
“It’s a perk of being in a top secret government agency,” David replied, smiling. He handed the phone to Johnny, who cradled it like it was a baby kitten.
“Go ahead and look through,” David said, standing up, “Dottie and Herm Olsen, 104 S Elder street, Nampa, Idaho. She’s seventy-eight years old, but she’s in good health. Still drives, knows the postal carrier by name… they even pay their taxes on the same day, every year.”
He looked down and saw Faa still cradling the phone like it was the only source of heat in the entire Tundra.
‘We could go see them,” David said softly, “After this is all done. You and me: no guards, no cameras. Road Trip. I’ll even buy a VW minibus. Sound like a deal?”
“You son of a bitch,” David heard him say from the floor.
“Maybe,” David shrugged dismissively, “Knowing you, you probably went and paid a visit to my parents at one point so… you tell me.”
“I told ’em I was your third grade art teacher,” his voice was cracking now, but seemed a little happier, “and your Mom is kind of a bitch. Here, catch.”
He tossed the phone back to David, who caught it awkwardly on the third bobble. Johnny held up his hand for David to grasp, and he hauled the Gypsy to his feet, looking into the bloodshot eyes that were now awash with tears.
“You got yourself a deal,” Faa said, “And you’d better keep it, or I’ll kill ya.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else from you—hey!”
The Gypsy King wrapped him in a massive hug, and for the second time today David was completely poleaxed and stymied by a show of emotion.
“Hey,” he tried to play it off with a joke, “I thought I told you it was a strict ‘I don’t know’ on the subject…”
“Just shut up and hug me, fag.”
And they stood there, supporting each other, knowing that in the next few minutes they could very well face oblivion.

Johnny Faa – River City

“A situation, huh?” David said, standing up and kicking what was left of his meal away, “Let me guess, the brilliant strategy of putting the immortal rage machine under the supervision of people he absolutely despises didn’t go so well?”
“I’m afraid it’s a lot more than that,” Tate shoved his hands in his pockets and heaved a sigh, “We’re in a bit of trouble, here.”
David knew he could trust the General on this one. The way he said “trouble” and his disheveled state was enough to convince him.
“What kind of trouble, Professor Hill?”
“We can’t control him,” Tate continued running a hand through his uncharacteristic patch of hair, “Not even with the guns anymore. He just… he just keeps coming at us. We tried, we really did… but he won’t listen to anyone.”
“Except me, right?”
“Yes… in a way.”
“Pardon?” David gave a stretch, trying to get the blood flowing to his limbs again.
“We need Johnny, and we’re sure you can probably get through to him… but that’s not what the real threat is. He’s destructive, obnoxious, the whole nine yards… but we can always control that. He’s locked up, and we won’t run out of bullets, even if he won’t give up running at us like he used to. It’s the strangest thing, he used to get bored so easy, I’ve never seen him focused like this…”
“That’s because he has a friend…” David began, then remembered that he was still angry at the General and added, “dumbass.”
“Yes, I believe that may be why we’re having so much trouble.”
“Enough with the ‘trouble,’ already,” David groaned, “just tell me what’s going on!”
General Tate leaned against a wall, looking quite distraught.
“We tried sending a few into the rift, in hopes of proving Mr. Faa to be… obsolete. Their minds… they couldn’t take it. It seems Johnny has a unique… perspective on the way he perceives the world, and that had served as a buffer when he entered the fifth dimension. At least, that’s what the bean counters told me.”
“So a couple of your mooks went nuts,” David took a step forward, challenging the General, “why is that my problem?”
“It wasn’t that they were lost, David… it was who we lost. Agents Poulmore, Jackson, Bairstow…”
“I’m gonna need first names,” David shot back, “We didn’t use last names in the office. It was considered bad for morale or some goose-shit.”
“Caden, Ashlynn, Aubrianna, and Xanderius. Poulmore, Jackson, Bairstow, and Clark. Some of our youngest–”
“And some of your biggest burnouts, frankly,” David sniffed, “no wonder they broke.”
“David, please, some decorum–”
“Why?!” he shouted back, “Why should I have to be nice to those pricks? They looked down on me from the day I got here, and they treated Johnny like he was a freak. They were all so wrapped up in themselves and their little scientist clubhouse that their Mommies and Daddies bought for them, and it’s no surprise that their heads were so far up their own asses that they couldn’t handle the new dimension. They probably couldn’t handle anything that made them seem insignificant, small, not special. It’s a hard fucking lesson to learn, but we all have to do it sometime… I just hope the rest of them learned from their ‘friends’ mistakes.”
“And that’s why I’m here.”
Tate stood back up to his full height, imposing and impressive.
“They took it out on Johnny. All of them. They didn’t like the idea that this person got to live forever, got to have everything and appeared to be wasting it. I’ve got their psych files in my office if you need to look at them.”
“I bet I can sum it up real fuckin’ fast: wah wah wah, he’s special and we’re not, wah wah we deserve the shiny toy instead.”
Despite everything, Tate found himself fighting a smile at the corner of his lips.
“And that’s why we need you, David. Without Johnny, we won’t be able to… well… to mount a defense.”
“A defense? What the hell do you mean?”
“Those that are left: Adorra, Melissa, Braden, Madison, Jalen and Brogan,” he counted them off on his fingers from memory, “They’ve staged a coup.”
“In the middle of a top secret government lab? Bullshit.”
“I’m telling the truth, David. They’ve locked themselves in the room with the rift. They’re threatening to turn it in on itself and cause a dimensional paradox if we don’t hand Johnny over to them.”
“Hold up, hold up… you’re the government, why don’t you just nuke the whole place?” David asked.
“My superiors don’t think the situation is that dire. They would like to preserve what gains we have made, as it would be considered financially more feasible to wait them out. They don’t take their threat as legitimate…” the General paused a bit before asking, a little worriedly, “is it?”
“Yeah,” David nodded, “It’s not that hard to break shit. It’s a lot harder to put it together. Figures those mental midgets would have just enough in them to figure out how to fuck it all up.”
“So we need Johnny,” Tate began to tuck in his shirt, feeling more General-ish, “And you’re the one who can make it happen.”
“I suppose I’ve got no choice,” David shrugged. He moved to the exit, but stopped a few steps before.
“Or… maybe I do.”
“David… what are you saying…”
“I dunno,” David scratched at a patchy stubble on his chin, “Maybe I’d rather the universe be destroyed. Maybe, if dicks like your superiors are in charge, morons who can’t see five feet in front of their face when they’re looking down a fucking gun barrel… maybe it’s best if the whole thing just goes up in metaphorical flames. Just whoosh, blinked out of existence, absorbed into another dimension, a cute little relic on a shelf somewhere… maybe that’s not so bad. This place is so god damned fucked up… maybe I’d like to see it gone.”
“David, you can’t mean that…”
“And you’re just as bad as the rest of them, Tate!” David turned on the General, lambasting him, “I really did think you had a brain in your head, but you just follow orders to do whatever, even if it includes arresting me, then UN-arresting me if it fits your fucking needs. That’s pathetic, I mean–”
“I wasn’t ordered to release you!”
David stopped then, because he saw General Tate sweating. Sweating and visibly angry, his teeth bared, his shoulders hunched. He looked primitive, wrathful, and downright terrifying.
“I released you because you were right about me. I was just being a tool, I never should have gone through with this and jeopardized our entire mission… but there’s one part where you were wrong.”
David stood stock still, as if he would get mauled if he moved.
“You said I had no idea what it was like to be like you, or Johnny. You said I had no idea what it was like to hate myself, but I do…”
He started to relax then, straightening back up into his usual composed self.
“I do.”
He took a step forward and placed a hand on David’s left shoulder. He spoke without embellishment, plainly and quickly.
“David Berg, you are hereby relieved of your responsibilities and obligations under code 43-A of the Secret Code regarding dismissal of personnel from Top Secret Government facilities.”
“What?” David blinked hard, “You… you’re firing me? What the fuck does that even mean? Why would you come in here and say all that jus–!”
General Tate’s hand tightened on David’s shoulder and brought him forward in a powerful, yet tender kiss. After a few pregnant seconds, he released David, and set about re-buttoning his shirt, dusting off his pants, and trying to slap out the wrinkles in both.
“You are…” his voice cracked a little. The General cleared his throat quickly and continued.
“You are officially re-instated. Now go… fix… this.”
“Uhhhh…” David was still standing stock still, but for a different reason, now, “Yeah. Right. OK. Um… you and I are going to have a talk when this is all over, yeah?”
Tate nodded, smiling.
“Yeah. Good. OK. Gonna go… save the universe now. Right. Yeah.”
He stumbled out of the solitary room into a brightly lit hallway, eyes squinting under the fluorescent fixtures.
“Uh… where do I go?”
General Tate gave him a reassuring pat on the behind and sent him off to the left, smiling as shaking his head at the lanky form as it retreated down the hallway, remarking softly to himself:
“Always the crazy ones.”

Johnny Faa – A lot of swearing

As soon as he effectively came too, all hell broke loose down in the compound. They had drugged the Gypsy King with good reason, as absolutely nothing within his path was safe. The guards shot him so many times they lost count, and as soon as he came to, something else would break. Tables, chairs, desks, computers, walls, floors, even the guards themselves were not safe from his wrath. A blown knee, a ruptured back, a bullet to the head… what cause were these for worry from the immortal man? And so Johnny Faa raged and rampaged deep below the surface of Iowa, while several floors above, David Berg was being detained in a much less explosive way.
“Damn it, David,” General Tate said from across his polished desk, “I don’t know if we can keep you out of the gallows for this.”
“Frankly,” David shot back coldly, “I don’t give a damn what happens right now. This whole place could go up for all I care. I hope Johnny burns this fuckin’ place to the ground.”
“Come on, David!”
Tate’s voice actually got a little out of hand. David had never seen that before.
“You’ve got…” he chose his words carefully, spitting them out with frustration, “you’ve got to understand what’s at play here. None of us are really in charge, we’ve got to follow our orders.”
“Oh, I understand that,” David shrugged, “but it’s still bullshit.”
“David–”
“Don’t you realize that I was getting real and better data from the subject using this method as opposed to the government-sponsored ‘treat him like a dung beetle carrying Ebola’ method? I’ve got four notebooks full over the past few months, I’ve committed gigabytes to audio logs following each one of our meetings, and all with the permission of the subject. Now, how well do you think this is going to work now that you’ve drugged him and locked him back in his damned cage down there? You think he’s going to cooperate now?”
“It’s not my–”
“Go ahead, pull up his room on the security relay. I fucking dare you.”
“Dav–”
“DO IT!”
He pulled up the feed for all of three seconds.
“SONS-A-BITCHES SEE HOW YOU LIKE—”
And then he cut the feed. David looked rather pleased with himself, leaning back in the chair and trying to take some of the stress off his handcuffs.
“I bet that video feed was a barrel of goddamn monkeys.”
“David, be reasonable,” Tate was pleading now, almost whining, “You knew this was part of the job when you signed up.”
“I was brought here to do two things, ach…” David tried to hold up fingers, but forgot he was cuffed, “and if I could move my hands, I’d be showing you two fingers… guess which two?”
General Tate heaved a sigh and shared an exasperated look at the two armed guards in the room.
“You know you’re not going to get dick out of him, now… and I know we haven’t tried sending anyone else through the rift.”
“If we can use your information,” Tate began “we would be able to pave a way for new travelers in the dimension.”
“And I bet you’d really like to know what he said to me tonight,” David shot back, “but you can’t. You won’t You’ve got everything else, I know, because you bug my house and my office and, I don’t know, probably my bathroom, but everything he explained to me tonight over those few beers, all the way in Marshalltown, well… even you guys didn’t have the foresight to bug the whole tri-state area, did you?”
General Tate did not answer, and David continued with a smirk.
“So I’m not giving you shit. And it’s good stuff, too, believe me. You wanna rough me up, torture me, kill me, go ahead. That’s only a fraction of what you’ve put that guy through down there. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be him? I haven’t even known him for a year and I ache all over when I look at the guy. Do you know how many times he died in World War I alone? Four hundred and twelve. You know why? Because he kept taking on names and identities of nobodys from Medicine Hat and Ely and Owatonna and Eureka, just so they could stay somewhere and stay alive… that’s nobility you guys can’t understand, won’t understand… and that’s why you always fail with him.”
There was a long pause then. Tate had his head bowed, both hands clenched into shaking fists. The two guards fingered their pistols, casting uncomfortable glances between the General and the bedraggled man chained to the chair.
“Why does he listen to you,” Tate said finally, his voice shaking uncontrollably.
“Oh, gee, I don’t know!” David hollered back, his voice banging off the walls, “Maybe because I’m the only one around here who doesn’t treat him like CRAP?! You all look at him like a freak, like a goddamn dragonfly stick-pinned to a piece of tagboard.”
David was crying now, and he didn’t care. His face turned into a soggy mess as he lambasted the General.
“Everybody here seems to think they’re hot shit: secret government personnel, best in their fields, blah blah whatever. And that they’ve got to somehow prove they can be better than the guy who’s lived a few millenia… bullshit! If just one person around here knew what it was like to really hate yourself, to want nothing more than to just have the world do away with you to save you the trouble of buying the gun or the pills… Maybe you’d get where he’s coming from.”
“Get him out of here,” Tate’s voice was a raw and broken whisper, “Lock him up.”
“Good!” David shouted as the guards lifted his entire chair and carried him toward the door, “Just don’t put me anywhere near Johnny, or we’re going to find a way to burn this fucking place to the ground… but not you, General, sir! You fucking cheat, you fucking poser, you goddamned worthless liar! You acted all buddy-buddy until Uncle Sam told you what’s what, didn’t you? No, we’ll keep you alive, and we’ll mess you up real good. God damn it, I actually thought you had something, Tate. God damn you.”
And with that, the door shut, and Tate was left alone to cry. David was taken into a small, dark room and released from the chair, which he promptly tried to use as a club on the guards. Not being in Special Forces, he was quickly disarmed and knocked out. What followed was a time that David guessed was about five days, given how many meals had been served to him. His fifth breakfast MRE was served to him by General Tate himself. To David’s surprise, he was not in his usual rail-straight, spit-and-polish demeanor: his jacket was off, his tie undone, his boots scuffed and his pants horribly wrinkled. He had an impressive growth of stubble around his lantern jaw, and his usually shaven head was beginning to show the signs of regrowth. Tate set the tray down on the floor, and sat down next to it.
“We, uh…” he said with no shortage of sheepishness, “We ought to look into getting you some furniture in here, huh?”
“Shove it, asswax,” David said as he set upon the biscuits and gravy like a dog. After a few mouthfuls, he looked up and took note of Tate’s appearance.
“You look like shit. I hope I’m responsible… jerk-off.”
The General took the insults in stride and cocked his head to one side.
“In a way, yes,” he said through dry and cracked lips, “we, uh… I was given orders to attempt the continued collection of data using current staff and retirees.”
David took a moment to swallow the food, then burst out laughing hysterically for a full five minutes, until his voice had gotten so shriekingly high in repeated raising levels of mirth that it literally broke into a wheezing hiss.
“Oh…oh, damn!” He finally caught his breath and returned to eating, “Best thing I’ve heard all week. Well, only thing I’ve heard all week, except for the sound of my own voice and the sound of my bowel movements. So… Johnny didn’t take, I assume?”
“In essence, yes.”
David laughed again.
” ‘In essence.’ Fuckin’ hell, man…” he giggled around another mouthful of biscuit, “He musta tore this place the fuck up!”
“Not exactly.”
David heard Tate’s old voice, his authoritative, commanding voice come back and he immediately paid attention.
“Well, he did, that much is certain…” Tate shrugged a little, “But I’m afraid that’s not the reason why I’m here today.”
“Enh?” David asked as he drained his canteen of water.
“You see, Mr. Berg…” the General fiddled with his undone tie for a moment, “We have a situation.”

Johnny Faa – Chicken Ranch

Over the next few weeks, they met more and more, but always at a different place. Libraries, hotel bars, and even once involving a 50 minute drive to Mt. Pleasant.
“Why did we do this again?” David said as they sat down, “I had to pull some major strings to get out of Keokuk proper.”
“It’s worth it, trust me,” Faa said, tucking into a plate, “best fried chicken ever.”
“But it’s a pizza restaurant?” David cocked an eyebrow.
“Don’t ask me, man,” Faa shrugged, his mouth full of chicken, “I stopped figuring out humans around the time I was getting trench foot in the Somme.”
“Point proven,” David nodded, picking up his own drumstrick, “Damn, this is good!”
Faa made to say “what did I tell you?” but it came out of his stuffed self sounding more like “whahdahelldah?” They enjoyed a companionable silence of chicken bliss. David did go back up to the buffet and try the namesake pizza, but it paled in comparison. He had really started to enjoy these meetings with the Gypsy King in the rough. Back at the facility, he was like a caged animal, biting at everyone and everything, but now he seemed so relaxed, even friendly. His stories slowly stopped being boasts about his conquests or accomplishments and started being more like fond recollections. He explained one night over beers in a dimly lit local bar how the recollections were actually a key to his time traveling.
“Your brain sorta does it on its own,” he said, draining his second glass of Jameson, “You’re in the next dimension, and you’re seeing things and hearing things and just, well, experiencing things that are beyond human comprehension. So your brain does the best it can to make things make sense, like how you can still read a word if the letters in the middle are jumbled.
“I used to get those annoying email forwards saying something like that,” David noted with amusement, tracing the rim of his own rocks glass with a finger.
“Exactly. Your brain can see and know enough of what it’s seeing, outside of the trippy extradimensional stuff, to at least understand that you’re moving through what we would call a timestream. Just like we can flip through a book or a record album–”
“Record album, Grampa?”
“Shut up,” Faa flipped him the bird, “It’s just like that. You can pick and choose like you’re at a restaurant, and once you make the decision and concentrate, it’s just like flipping a switch.”
“And your drugged out mind was concentrating on dinosaurs.”
“Hell yeah,” Johnny Faa laughed and motioned toward the bar, “dinosaurs are awesome. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff you guys got wrong.”
“I’d love to hear more about it.”
“Maybe next time,” Johnny said quickly as the woman came over.
“You know,” she said coldly, “I’m a bartender, not a waitress. If you want something, take it to the bar.”
“Oh, but you’re already here,” Faa said coolly, his eyes locking onto hers, “You obviously wanted to come over here, even if it was just to bitch me out, so why don’t you take an order while you’re at it?”
She folded her arms, looking unimpressed.
“Look,” he said, lowering his tone, “Would a $50 tip change your mind?”
“You ain’t got that money, scraggly-ass.”
“Don’t I?”
He produced a Grant note from his pocket and handed it to her.
“You’re a nice lady. I’ll give you another one before we leave.”
She looked down at him, eyes wide.
“So what can I get you gentlemen?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Faa replied with a practiced smile, “we’ll come up there and order when we’re ready. I just wanted to give you that tip somewhere the other bartenders couldn’t see. Wouldn’t want them getting jealous.”
She smiled and headed back to the bar. When David went up for another round of drinks, they were free and very, very strong.
“Must be nice,” he said as Faa helped himself to a third round, “not having to worry about freezing because you can’t pay the rent, or starving because you’re broke.”
“Oh, it still hurts,” Faa replied, “don’t you think it doesn’t. But after you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you start to realize that a fifty here and there for a nice barmaid is worth it.”
“And yet you throw chairs at people down in the hole?” David asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I  never threw one at you.”
“You totally did!”
“Well, maybe you were being an asshole.”
“Coming from you, that’s rich.”
They both shared a laugh and Faa regarded his drink.
“So… what are your thoughts on the bartender? She’s got a bit of a “Mommy ass” thing goin’ on, but I find sometimes I’m in the mood for that.”
“Er…” David was taken aback by the question, “No, she’s not really my type.”
“Well, what is?” the Gypsy shot back, a little annoyed, “What’s it gonna take for me to get you into one of these barflys by the end of the evening?”
“A lot more booze, that’s for sure,” David sighed, taking another careful sip, “Why do you care whether or not I get lucky out here in Nowhereville, Iowa, anyway?”
“I feel I owe it to you,” Faa replied, leaning back in the bar booth with a sigh, “You basically gave me my freedom. Any Gypsy can tell you that’s all we ever want: go where you want, do what you want, make your life happen without anyone bugging you too much. You gave me back the one thing that still, I don’t know, connected me to who I was, if you want to make this a Dr. Phil special. I’m just trying to pay it back to you any way I can; I’m your genie, make with the wishes.”
“I don’t want you to be my genie,” David rolled his eyes, “And if you were, I’d ask you to find someone a little younger. Why don’t you just call it a favor for a friend, huh?”
“Friends…” Faa murmured, still leaning back and looking up, past the low hanging light at a nearly invisible ceiling, “Shit, I don’t think I’ve had an official ‘friend’ since, well…”
“Alex?”
“Very funny, asshole,” he leaned back down to get face to face with David, “Nah, if I had to say, I’d say I made my last real friend around… 1954.”
“Really?”
“Remember, I’ve been locked up since the early seventies, and not, as you’ll remember, with the best kind of people.”
Johnny helped himself to David’s third round drink. David let him. After all, he had to drive them back.
“Her name was Dorothy; I called her Dot. She worked in the same little Mom ‘n’ Pop shop I did after I got back from the war and went incognito. I was told by one of my army buddies that if you ever wanted to get lost, Idaho was a sure bet. I wish I could have thanked him for that, but he took one right above the eyebrow on Normandy. Dot was a divorcée, definitely not something you wanted to be in the Fifties, but she was a pretty forward thinker. Married a guy before he shipped out, and she thought his violence was just a way of working out his nerves about fighting the Nazis. Only problem is, he didn’t stop after the Nazis did. When she found out she was going to have his kid, well…”
He took a long drink and let out another big sigh.
“She decided she wasn’t. She’d come out to Idaho much like I had, to get away. Still, she had the most adorable Boston accent, always saying was out in the pahhh-king lawt. We made a connection, I guess: we were both rejects, freaks, trying to run away and hide, and we found each other. I made a whole lot of friends in foxholes in all my years… but I never thought I’d find a foxhole somewhere between the Libby’s peaches and the Jolly Green Giant.”
“So what happened?” David leaned forward. A story like this, he thought, there was always a sad ending.
“Did her husband come looking for her?”
“Ha! Once.” Johnny slapped the polished wood table with a snort.
“There was this kid we had as a bagger, name of Herman Olsen. Eighteen, just outta school… not the brightest bulb, but he had so much of that, well… I suppose you’d call it the Spirit of the Fifties. So when her ex found her and started making a scene over by the Wonder Bread, ol’ Herm sprang into action. He’d been a pretty fair wrestler in high school, and her husband, well… he was a shitty little gutter rat who looked like he hadn’t crawled out of a bottle since they discharged him. Herman beat the ever-loving shit out of that guy: he knew everything about Dot, he asked me about it, but he didn’t seem to care… he loved her. Truth is, I loved her too… but I was just getting my life back on track, and if I went and caused a scene, well, you know. It was about that time I realized I didn’t really love her, not like Herman did… and I think I knew then I’d never really love anyone again. I left shortly after for Canada… right after I was Herm’s best man at a real nice little country wedding. Dot had this dark hair she cut just under her chin, and these dark eyes… I’d never seen them so happy as I did that day.”
“What happened to Dot’s ex? Did he ever come back again?”
“No,” Faa’s eyes hardened like David hadn’t seen them do in months, “I took care of him. The nice part about being immortal is that you can walk to the bottom of Lake Lowell and make sure no one ever, ever finds him. I considered it a wedding gift for those two. I kept in touch with them, in my own way, until the government came calling again and my shit was toast. Sometimes I think my letters were what got me into trouble… but they were worth it.”
He didn’t say much after that. On the way home, David tried to stir up some conversation by mentioning a few of the things he’d read on Cracked: The Antikythera Mechanism, the Voynich Manuscript, the Baghdad batteries, and so on. Each one of them had a simple explanation: a language lost to humans eons ago, a mechanism to make his life easier, a way to boil his ancient whiskey, and so on. Maybe he’d just had a little too much to drink, but it seemed like he fell asleep about halfway back to Keokuk. By the time they got back to Faa’s apartment building, David was starting to feel a little drowsy, too. That struck him as particularly odd, because he’d drank a lot more in the past and wasn’t anywhere near this tired before…
But then the government agents stormed the car, and it suddenly all made sense.
“Gentlemen, you are being placed into the custody of the United States Government Special Operations Division post 549.”
A deep, familiar voice came out of the dark night and a myriad of spotlights effectively blinded both Johnny and David, as well as sobering them both up considerably.
“God damn it,” Faa’s voice was absolutely poisonous, “I knew her ass looked familiar!”
“By the authority given to me in Secret Order 212, you are both to be detained indefinitely for the willful act of mismanagement and sabotage of top secret government processes,” the voice continued, “You will comply with the order and held in the nearest government facility until your sentence has been reached. You have been stripped of the rights of the US Constitution and are labeled as suspects of treason against these United States. Your actions and failures in action have been potentially damaging to every facet of American life and your punishment will be excessive to deter future cases of program disruption.”
A man stepped between David and the spotlights, and he immediately recognized the well built form and even, low voice belonging to one General Tate. He looked down at David, helpless in the driver’s seat of a rusted Toyota. His face showed no anger, or disappointment, or emotion whatsoever until he spoke again.
“You really shouldn’t have bought that Lambrusco, David.”
There was a small crack in his voice, almost imperceptible, but if there was anything David had learned in his time with the Immortal King of the Gypsies, it was how to read the small things.

Johnny Faa – Lambrusco

For the next few months, David would see Faa occasionally all around Keokuk. Stocking shelves, at the post office, raking leaves outside the courthouse, and so on. He seemed to look a little different every time: David lost track of how many times he had shaved his head, or his beard, or grown something back to varying lengths, all in that rich, dark color. As someone who was already finding the odd gray hair in the mirror, David had to admit he was a little jealous. Faa never spoke to him after that night in the grocery store, and even when David attempted a dialogue there was no response. Still, David had spent so much time in such close quarters that he always knew it was him. The eyes, dark and nearly bottomless, full of too many stories to tell, wary of everyone yet so desperate for anyone… they reminded David of a dog that had lived too long… and that had been beaten too much.
Finally, a janitor swept a conspicuously large piece of paper under a bathroom stall in the local Burger King. Unfolding it, David saw an address and a time.
“Where you going?”  General Tate asked with surprise as he saw David leaving the complex.
“I’m heading out early tonight.”
“You don’t head out early,” the General mused, “You don’t head out… usually. At all.”
“I’ve, uh…” David said, trying to hide a smile, “I’ve got a place to be tonight.”
“Really?” Tate cocked an eyebrow.
“You’ve got my cell,” David continued, pulling on a jacket, “if anything happens, you know I have to answer.”
“I guess,” the general shrugged, “I’m just surprised you’re not sleeping here. The couch in the break room basically has your name on it.”
“Well, maybe I have a reason to go out tonight.”
“I see. Well,” Tate pushed away from the wall he was leaning on, “Do me a favor and don’t get all loaded up on cheap Lambrusco with your… friend. We still need you to work tomorrow.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” David was still smiling as he head out the door. Tate watched him go, his powerful arms crossed in front of his muscular chest.
“I don’t, David…” Tate replied, watching for some time as David showed all his necessary identification to the guards and made his way out through the massive elevator. Turning back to the compound, he inspected a few of his nails absent-mindedly, musing to himself.
“I don’t… usually.”
About an hour later, David was standing in front of a nondescript apartment door, not unlike his own. He knocked a few times and, when he heard no response, knocked again.
“Please,” a familiar voice came from the other side of the door, “Make some more noise, please. Nothing says clandestine like some dumb cluck wailing on my door.”
“Sorry,” David responded quietly. After the rattling of a few locks, the door opened and Faa was there with short, buzzed hair and a goatee. He wore a shirt that advertised a local arena football team and cutoff jeans, even though it was well into October. He jerked his head quickly and David stepped into a comfortable, and surprisingly spotless, studio apartment.
“Wow, it’s so clean,” David remarked as he was shown to a sofa.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Faa replied quickly, sitting down in an easy chair, “it’s my home.”
“You didn’t used to be this clean with your stuff–”
“That wasn’t my home.” He said that clearly, and it cut like a knife.
“Oh,” David said, looking down at the floor. He caught sight of his own hands and remembered.
“Oh! Yeah! I brought something!” He held up a paper bag proudly. “Lambrusco. Figured we could toast to a successful mission.”
“With a bottle of wine that was probably five bucks?” Faa snatched the bag out of David’s hand and inspected the bottle, “Sheesh, I was there when the stuff was invented and I don’t think it was this cheap.”
“Ah, shut up,” David replied with a laugh, “Or I’ll drink the whole thing myself.”
They spent a good part of the night (once the delivery pizza arrived) doing some of the strangest reminiscing David had ever recalled.
“Marie Antoinette? Who didn’t?”
“What about the legend, then? About the champagne glasses being in the shape of her…?”
“Ha!” Faa scoffed around a plastic cup of wine, “She wishes!”
A few more sips of wine, a few more pieces of Hawaiian pizza.
“So, what was it like being the only human being on Earth?”
Faa leaned back and gave a little belch.
“As much as it’ll be, I suppose, when all of you guys are dead.”
“Oh, Jeez,” David winced, “sounds lonely.”
“Eh, you find ways to get by. You know that song, “Who Wants to Live Forever?” Everyone always makes eternal life out to be boring or sad or tragic, and sometimes it is, no doubt about that. I steered clear of every war I could find, not like last time around. Figured I’d let other me get shot, stabbed, quartered all to hell… heh heh…”
He took a long drink.
“You shoulda seen the folks in Salem lose their shit when I crawled out of that lake.”
“So what you’re saying is, immortality isn’t a curse… as long as you’re as deranged as, well… you.”
Faa leaned forward, lamenting his empty cup.
“How do you know, Bergie… that living this long isn’t what made me deranged?”
He was smiling, but… those eyes, thought David, those eyes! What was in there? Was it just the wine, or was the watery quality he saw… he swore he saw…
“Ahhhh!” Faa waved him off, giggling, “Bull, total bull. I’ve been like this all my life. My own mother called me a, well, it’s a word that no one really understands anymore, but believe me!”
He stood up from the easy chair a little too quickly.
“We’re out of wine. Whiskey time!”
David saw him walk to the tiny galley kitchen that seemed only a few feet away, and return with what looked like an earthenware pot.
“That is whiskey?”
“That’s what Alex said,” Faa laughed, sitting down and doling out two golden rations into their cheap plastic vessels.
“Who… or what… is Alex? Was Alex? Used to be Alex?”
Faa put up a hand to stop him, then handed him his cup.
“Alex was the name of the Cro-Magnon I befriended.”
“You named a caveman Alex?”
“He seemed to like it.” the Gypsy King took a drink, “He seemed to like the whiskey, too.”
“How did you know he was a Cro-Magnon?” David asked, thinking back to the Triceratops blunder.
“Well, I always hear people call guys with big foreheads Neaderthals, and this guy didn’t have anywhere near as big of a forehead as the guys before him, so I guessed he was a Cro-Magnon. They came after, right? Also, I might be Prometheus with the whole ‘fire’ thing. Whiskey ain’t gonna boil itself.”
David put his head in his hands.
“Your logic is impeccable,” his muffled voice replied, “And I suppose all of our training and warnings about messing with past events didn’t mean anything to you?”
“Not really. In fact, I left you guys clues all over the place about me. You guys should really read Cracked.”
“Cracked? We’re a top secret government research facility with access to some of the most powerful secrets discovered by mankind…”
“And you should all read Cracked. That’s where I get my news.”
“Ugh,” David leaned back, taking a long pull of the whiskey. It was endlessly smooth and buttery rich, most likely the result of literally millenia of distillation.
“So is there any other irreparable damage to time and space I should be notified of and/or worried about?”
“Maybe,” Faa shrugged, “But this is pretty much the world I left, so I think I did the right things when I did. By the way, you should be lucky I fixed the election for Hayes. Tilden was fuckin’ scary.”
“Please,
I don’t want to hear anymore,” David groaned.
“Don’t worry,” Faa giggled, “It’s all on Cracked.”
By the time he finished his whiskey, David was feeling partially tipsy but mostly a little sickened from everything he’d learned. Suffice to say, he’d have his work cut out for him tomorrow, studying as many history documents as he could find, measuring scientific data spanning eons, trying to see just what Johnny Faa had been up to living through time… again.
Or, he thought to himself as he crawled into bed, he could just bum around on Cracked for a while.

Johnny Faa – Aisle 5

David saw Johnny Faa that night.
He was at the grocery store, grabbing a few items. Upon returning to his apartment for the first time in weeks, he was greeted with a refrigerator full of expired food and a dumpster that was quickly filled with it. He was frustratingly comparing the prices of two condensed soups when he heard a voice.
“Anything I can help you with, sir?”
“Unless you can tell me why food has suddenly gotten so expensive,” David grumbled, putting the vegetable beef in the basket crooked in his arm.
“Sorry,” the man said with a laugh, “But I can tell you food was a lot cheaper when I used to buy it in the 70s.”
“Huh, yeah–”
The voice cut him off, and it started to sound different. Nasal. Biting. Familiar.
“The 1870s, of course. Back then, though, you had to worry about whether or not you got an Upton Sinclair special in your tin of beef, or if they decided to spike your veggies with a bit of botulism. Still, it was probably better than three hours spent over a sooty fire in a tenement…”
David turned around and saw, sporting a blue vest and with much better hair, the Immortal King of the Gypsies himself, who shrugged gently.
“Not that I’d know, of course. Now…”
He took a step closer and rearranged a few of the cans David had put out of order.
“Is there anything I can help you with… sir?”
David stood there, mouth agape. It was true he looked different, different enough to not be noticed, but when his voice got that quality to it he’d heard countless times before when he talked about Alexander the Great or Chichen Itza or how he used to steal Winston Churchill’s booze. There had to be a reason he was here, David thought, some reason for him to have gone through the trouble of getting a job stocking shelves. Was it just to annoy him? For someone who literally lives forever, is it worth going through job interviews just to pull an elaborate prank?
“Gee, sir,” Faa spoke again, “you don’t look so good. Might I suggest some of our medications in Aisle 5?”
He gave David a pointed look, as if to say “snap out of it, moron.” David nodded dumbly.
“Uhhh… okay.”
“Perhaps I can suggest some items for you, over in Aisle 5… if you would be so kind as to join me.”
“Uhhh….”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
The two of them headed over to Aisle 5 which, while not actually holding any medications, did have a massive display of a football player hawking tortilla chips. Johnny directed David to stand in front of the display, and he did the same.
“Why are we in this aisle?” David finally said, catching up with his brain.
“This display keeps the cameras off us,” Faa said with a smile, “I should know, I set it up myself. So… I’ve got a few minutes to be ‘helping a customer,’ and I’m sure you’ve got questions.”
“Yes!” David said a little too loudly. Thankfully, not many people were grocery shopping in Keokuk at 2AM. David reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled forth a piece of yellow, lined, legal pad paper, on which was scrawled a few hasty lines of blue ink, under a heading of QUESTIONS.
“Oh Christ,” Faa said, rolling his eyes, “I didn’t think you’d go that far… nerd.”
David paid him no attention, and began quickly scanning the list for the most important question for that time and that place.
“Okay, first: did it work?”
“I’m standing here, aren’t I?”
“Fair enough,” David nodded, “So where did you end up?”
“Long time ago,” Faa muttered quietly as another blue vest walked by, “is this the kind of salsa you’re looking for, sir?”
“Not quite,” David said back, a little irked as the other employee walked away, “I’d actually like to know the date on the salsa, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Triassic.”
“What?!” David tried to keep his voice down, and it came out as a hiss, “How is that even possible?”
“Don’t look at me, man. You’re the scientist.”
“What did you do, once you stepped into the rift? Is there air? Could you breathe?”
“It’s not the coldness of space, dumbass,” Faa replied, rolling his eyes, “It’s just the next dimension. It doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, so your brain looks for a way out.”
“So why did you go to the Triassic? Or… did you have no choice? Was there some sort of path of least resistance?”
“Not as far as I know. I just told myself that if I was going to make this work, and if I was going to go through everything all over again, I at least wanted to get something out of that. I wanted to see some dinosaurs, dammit.”
“Spoken like a true seven-year-old. Do you suggest the white or yellow corn tortilla chips, then?”
“What? Oh!”
Faa recovered quickly as a pallet of food was carted by via another blue vest.
“Ummm… white, I’d say. I always thought the yellow ones tasted like ass.”
The coworker laughed and continued pushing his pallet.
“I see your coworkers are getting used to you.”
“Yeah,” Faa laughed, “You can say almost anything you want on third shift. These guys wouldn’t give a single shit to a dung beetle.”
“So,” David brought the conversation back, “You were able to force your brain to tell you where to emerge?”
“I think so,” Faa rearranged a few salsas, “tell you the truth, I was pretty tripped out, but I wanted dinosaurs, and the next thing I knew there I was.”
“Fascinating,” David checked a jar himself to keep up the charade, “So your brain knew that the Triassic held some of the first dinosaurs, and consciously deposited you there?”
“What? Hell, no!” Faa said with a hearty laugh, “I was just thinking about Triceratops. Figured it was in the Triassic. Boy, was I wrong.”
“This is absolutely incredible. And you’ve lived… millions of years now, coming all the way back to this point to find me, because you figured…”
“I figured after sleeping in the office for a few weeks, your food would have turned to a science experiment of its own. Plus, the work here’s not bad. I mean, remember, I spent a few centuries as a slave. At least here you can go home.”
“Well, speaking of going home…” David began, “I suppose you’re ready to go back to the lab and give us some data, yeah?”
Johnny Faa’s words all came out in a tumble: “I’m not going back there not yet.”
“Why?”
“I want my freedom, Dave, and I know you’ll respect that. Don’t worry, I’ll find you again, and we’ll talk. Only problem is, I can’t tell the future, so it might take me a while to find a place that’s safe. But I will find you, so don’t worry. Until then… enjoy your chips.”
David paid for his items, got in his car, drove back to his apartment, ate a pitiful dinner, and readied himself for bed, all in a daze. Just before he went to sleep, it hit him like lightning: why hadn’t he gone after him? He could have gotten the government to track him down, they could have locked him up again. He could have been a hero, an icon of the scientific world. The sheer amount of data, the breakthroughs, the knowledge would have been unlike anything ever seen before… so why did he just go home and eat nachos?
He fell asleep before he could find an answer for himself.

Johnny Faa – Showtime

“Apply the blotter.”
Faa did as he was told, placing a small square of paper on the tip of his tongue. Almost immediately, the brain scans and vital screenings began to shoot off the charts.
“What the hell is that stuff?” David asked, aghast.
“That’s classified,” one of the medical staff shot back in a trained deadpan. David turned to the engineers.
“Are we ready?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Then…” he turned and looked out at the large, lit, empty room with the one apparatus and the one lone man standing before it. He saw Faa begin to raise his hands and regard them with wonder.
“Ohhhh,” the Gypsy King said, almost gleefully, “this is some good shit!”
David turned to the head engineer, pointing with both his index and middle finger.
“Drop it.”
It only took a second for the box to open and for the antimatter to make its way to the floor. On its way down, passing the full height of the gate device, a tear began to show, like the flap of a tent.  There came a great rush of energy, warm and forceful as the barrier was broken, but no more dangerous than a strong summer breeze. Beyond it, there seemed to be every color in a jumbled, incomprehensible mess, folded in and on and over itself into absolute gibberish.
“Johnny,” David said over the microphone, “Can you tell me what you see? What can you see?”
There was a few seconds before Faa’s microphone responded.
“Old friends.”
From the tone of his voice, it was obvious that he was crying.
“I see… old friends.”
“You can go to them,” David responded, “Show us.”
“O…okay.” For the first time since he had met the Immortal Gypsy months ago, David noticed that he seemed… not scared, but curious. Confused. Confronted with something completely new and interesting, unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. As he walked through that interdimensional tent flap and disappeared from this dimension, all the instruments went dead, and there was an eerie silence that reigned around the room. The only sound was a persistent flatline from an EKG. Finally, David stuffed his hands in his pockets and spoke.
“Well, it’s done. Now, it’s up to him. Any stats on the fissure? Do we need to stabilize it?”
“I…. don’t think so,” the Head Engineer said, peering at his computer screen over the top of Coke-bottle glasses, “it doesn’t seem to be fluctuating or dissipating.”
“Really? The universe isn’t rushing in en masse to sterilize the wound or something?”
“Not at all,” the engineer replied, “And it’s not expanding, either. Dimensionally, it’s like we just knocked out a wall… and it’s not load-bearing.”
“Thank Christ for that,” David exhaled, “I didn’t want to be known as the guy who destroyed the universe… at least, not yet.”
“You should come take a look at this, though,” the engineer continued, “aside from being… visible, it doesn’t register: no height, no weight, no depth… I could go stand behind it, probably.”
“You wanna?” David asked with a grin.
“Hell no,” the engineer grinned back. Indeed, everyone was still rooted in place behind the blast shield, afraid to move out from the safety and protection.
“How about the sawbones?” David shouted across the echo chamber, causing nearly everyone to jump, “any way we can repeat those brain patterns without heavy drug use?”
The lead medical officer, a well-kept and muscular man approaching 40, blew out a long breath, shaking his head. “It’ll take some time and some experimentation. We wouldn’t even feel that comfortable giving a regular person that high of a dose we gave him.”
“Well, get on it,” David replied, “all of you, we’ve got two goals to work for: we need to keep that dimensional rip stable, and we need to recreate the variables of this experiment. And, let me remind you, we don’t exactly know how much time we have until we can try it again.”
“Or if we get to try it again,” the awkward scientists muttered under her breath, her watery eyes extra watery, “he really has no reason to come back, you know. Not to this: imprisoned under armed guard for how many years… I think he deserves a little freedom. If he came back soon I’d just tell him to run away again. I hope he has the time of his life… or whatever life he’s on, now…”
“You never know,” David replied, scaring the scientist who thought she’d gone unheard, “We could see him tomorrow, and it could be a thousand years from now. Time has no meaning anymore… so, I guess, it’s all about life!”

Johnny Faa – Preparations

All it took was to mention the name of Johnny Faa.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” David said before a group of twelve scientific specialists, “we are doing something that has been tested by human beings exactly zero times.”
All assembled were gathered in Faa’s brightly lit metal box of a room off from the desks and office spaces of the science staff. In fact, David’s desk was about seven steps away from the heavy metal door, but that had still proven too far. Over the last five days, he’d moved most of his paper and research into the room with the Gypsy King. Maybe it really was easier. The door did require a keypad access every time it shut. Maybe it was because Faa tended to behave himself if David was around. But maybe, David thought as he looked over his crew, which frankly looked terrified to be there, maybe it was something else.
“This is what you got into this business for,” David continued, noticing some frustration on a few faces.
“Or, perhaps,” he noted, “this is what some of you were forced down here to do.”
The faces changed into dark smiles. A lot of them knew that, were it not for men in black suits absconding with them one day… sure, they’d have a normal life, but it would also be a life slinging Frappucinos and falling behind on rent.
“Thanks to the kind support of our governmental penpals at NASA,” David went on, gesturing to the still mostly empty room, “we have a means of doing something that humanity has, until recently, thought impossible. By utilizing a reaction between antimatter recently discovered from the asteroid belt and the standard matter of this gateway…”
He gestured to a massive square steel structure on the far end of the room, across from a massive blast shield and bay of several computers and server cabinets.
“We are hoping to create a large enough reaction to… well, there’s really no way to say this better… we’re going to try to dig our fingers into the fabric of time and see if we can’t rip it open.”
There were a few uncomfortable shufflings at that point. Seeming to feed on that energy, Johnny Faa leapt off one of the computer chairs where he had been lounging.
“So, we’re looking to play a game of ‘Just the Tip’ with all creation and see if that harlot will let us go all the way. Sound like fun?”
There were more uncomfortable murmurs, as Faa passed David, he murmured quickly.
“Your speeches are getting better.”
“I’m half in the bag,” David replied quickly.
“A-ha,” Faa said back with a small laugh. He began to walk up and down the length of the assembled scientists, engineers, and medical staff.
“Now, all of you have very important tasks. We selected all of you because the tasks are important, you see. Important tasks for people, that makes them important people. Yes. So all of you are know, officially, important people. To me. Relish that.”
He stopped directly in front of Adorra, the tattooed, bespectacled young lady in very trendy clothes and heavy makeup.
“Especially you.”
She scowled a little then. Johnny smiled.
“I have a very important task for you. Mr. Berg?”
“Yes, Mr. Faa?” David replied wearily from the re-occupied chair, massaging his temple to stave off a headache.
“Can you hand me that reflector board next to you?”
David looked around bewildered until he found what looked to be a leftover from the recent construction in the room, a piece of acoustic tile with one side slightly shinier than the other.
“This thing?” David asked, holding it up.
“Yes,” Faa replied with looking back, “that thing.”
David, still bewildered, walked forward and handed the board to Faa, who handed it to Adorra.
“Now.. you,” Faa continued as Adorra stared blankly at the tile, “You just might have the most important job of all.”
“Pffft,” she scoffed, “Yeah right. You usually wouldn’t trust me to make you coffee.”
“Exactly!”
He grabbed both of her shoulders and held her close, his gaze boring into her face.
“I’ve been training you for this moment for all this time: molding you, testing you, forging you and re-forging you until you were just strong enough... Only you can hold that. I need you to hold that up high, like this.”
He modeled a sort of “touchdown” formation. Adorra, slightly shell-shocked, did as she was bidden.
“Good!” Faa almost giggled, “Good. That’s perfect. Do you know what that does, Adorra?”
She shook her head no.
“That is specifically tuned to the fabric of this time and space. I need you to hold that up high and keep it up high. We need to properly configure this dimension so it isn’t ripped apart by the next… do you understand me? If you let that drop, you could very well destroy our entire universe. Do you understand?”
She nodded yes.
“Good! Good…”
He walked back to David and turned around, pleased to see Adorra still holding the tile up high.
“You are terrible!” David hissed at him under his breath.
“You’re not stopping me,” Faa replied, a very satisfied smile on his face.
And so the work began in earnest: the engineers set up the gate and the special chamber which the antimatter would be released from, the scientists made sure everything was accurate with their weeks of calculation, and the medical staff were busy setting up Johnny Faa to be monitored behind the blast shield for heart rate, brain activity, and more.
“Careful with those sticky things, now,” Faa quipped as they set up the EKG, “I’ve got precious little chest hair and I don’t wanna lose it.”
He wasn’t kidding. Even the medical professionals gasped when they saw under his shirt. His body was marred almost impossibly with scars, punctures, and what looked like dozens of bullet holes.
“Yeah, some of ’em don’t heal up quite perfect,” Faa said with a shrug, “I got a few of those left from the Great War, you know, but I think all my Civil War ones are gone…”
Meanwhile, David was grilling all three of the specialists behind the blast shield.
“I want to know everything that goes on.”
“Yes, sir.”
Everything.”
“Understood.”
“If he farts, I want to know why.”
“Yeah, got it.”
“I want the chemical composition. I want to know if there’s any antimatter in his ass.”
“Okay! Jeez!”
Back near the gate, Faa was having an animated conversation with an awkward looking scientist when Adorra finally spoke up.
“Um, hello? It’s been a while, do I really have to keep this up here like this? I really don’t know if I can, this is getting really hard…my arms are really starting to hurt……”
With a smile, Faa walked briskly over to Adorra, making the medical staff skip quickly to avoid him dragging the EKG on the floor. Johnny once again looked directly into Adorra’s face, but this time his expression was playful… and wolfish.

“You know, that’s amazing. I’m seeing you in pain, real pain. You didn’t speak out because you wanted the attention, you didn’t speak out to catch everyone’s eye and show everyone just how wonderful and special and unique you are… you really don’t want the attention, because you’re in quite a lot of pain. Your pain is… real. It makes you real. This is the most real I’ve ever seen you: no artifice, no pretending like you’re a character out of a bad comedy, no trying to make yourself something you aren’t. This is you and, honestly, I think it’s the best you’ve ever looked. I mean… you don’t look good, your face is all red and puffy, and I can see this nasty vein standing out on your neck, and you look about ready to collapse… but this is still better than what you usually do. You’re more attractive now that you ever have been under the chunky glasses and the thick eyeliner and the gaudy jewelry and scarves and stupid hats. For once, I’m seeing you make a noise, and do a thing not for your own benefit or self-aggrandizement… but simply because you have to. And it’s human. And I’m glad I got to see it. You might have been a real person, one day, under all that fake, and it would have been a long trip back from the brink… but this was a good start. I suppose I should say I’m sorry to put you through pain… but I’m not. I did this specifically to see who you really are: a scared, lonely little girl who will do anything for anyone that offers her a kind word and that validation, who would stand here for someone who has been so cruel to her just because I told her that holding that useless piece of tile was important… that’s who you really are…”

He probably would have kept talking, but Adorra threw down the tile in disgust and stormed out of the room, but not before tossing a few lame expletives at his smiling face. The awkwardness continued as the setup continued, and as Faa was getting fitted with a brain scanning helmet, the awkward-looking scientist spoke up in a quiet voice.
“I liked what you did back there.”
“Oh?” Johnny said, raising his eyebrows until they disappeared under the helmet.
“Yeah, I get annoyed with her sometimes.”
She was thin and unremarkable, with pale skin that looked almost unhealthy, spotted liberally with freckles. The wire-rims she wore seemed a few sizes too large for her watery eyes and washed out hair, but her hands were still deft and nimble as they performed one last check on the helmet.
“She’s always so loud, and if you’re having a conversation she’ll just butt in. It’s like everything’s a competition with her.”
“Too bad she sucks at it,” Faa replied. The scientist tried hard to stifle a giggle. After a few more moments, she spoke again.
“I’m really going to miss you around here.”
It was a simple sentiment, but she said it with such gravity that it actually surprised the immortal gypsy for a few seconds. After that, of course, he was back to normal.
“Oh, I see… so what you’re saying is that you find me attractive.”
Color flooded to her face, turning the pallid white a striking crimson. Faa only laughed and kept going.
“Well, you’ve certainly got your own thing going on, I have to say. I’ve been admiring certain parts of you since you got here, you know. I’ve even had a little bet going on in my mind for a while, and I was wondering if you could resolve it for me.”
“Uhh…..”
Faa took that as a cue to move on.
“You see, you’ve got a terrific ass, and I always was curious as to what you were rockin’ under those pants. So tell me… bikinis? Something high-cut? Thong? G-string?”
He would have continued, but the scientists finished configuring the helmet in record time and scurried away like a frightened rabbit to hide behind the blast shield with the rest of the contingent. David pressed a button on a microphone and heard his voice ring through the room.
“You ready?”
Faa grinned back, shooting a wink at the awkward scientist, who tried to duck down behind a desk.
“Ready.”

Johnny Faa – Small Talk

Over the next few months, David Berg and the Johnny Faa went through a battery of tests to first gain an understanding of the Gypsy King’s physiology, and then to use that unique physiology to find a way to breach the space-time continuum.
“So,” David said after the first round of tests, involving a firing squad, “How did you get to be immortal, anyway?”
Faa pulled on a fresh shirt after casting aside one strewn with bullet holes and blood. Fifty spent bullets were strewn about on the laboratory floor after being almost sweat out of the Gypsy’s skin.
“Oh, you know,” Faa shrugged, digging out bullet fifty one from above his right eye, “Standard Gypsy stuff.”
“Uh huh,” David mused, checking his notes and findings, “of course.”
“One of our elders had some foresight, just like you did when you gave me Kevlar pants.”
“I didn’t particularly want to see that, anyway.”
“Psh, sure you did.”
“You’re not my type, trust me,” the scientist sniffed, shuffling through a few papers and x-rays.
“You were saying, about the Gypsy elder?”
“So yeah, she decided she’d do some of that old-fashioned juju on me. She realized that the previous centuries hadn’t been so great for our people, and she had enough sense to figure out that it’d only get worse, so she wanted to make sure at least one of us would survive and carry on if something crazy happened.”
“Like the Holocaust?”
“Shit, that’s only the beginning,” Faa sneezed out another bullet, “I know it’s not reported too much, but we Gyppos have gotten the short end of the stick so many times that the damn thing’s worn down to a nub. I’m really surprised we don’t get along better with your people, kind of a misery loves company sort of thing.”
“My people?”
“Ya know…” Faa lowered his voice and whispered for dramatic effect.
Jews.”
“Ha!” David laughed out loud, “Dude, I haven’t been to temple since I was six.”
“But when was the last time you went to a nice deli?”
“Here? In IOWA?”
“Okay, before that.”
“…”
“Well?” the Gypsy King grinned.
“…..Prob’ly about a week before they hired me here.” Berg muttered, suddenly becoming very interested in his notes.
“Shalom!’ Faa hollered, his voice bouncing hollowly off the metals walls of the cavernous underground test facility. He kept on laughing for a few minutes, until it became clear that David wasn’t paying attention to him. He sauntered over to the small, unadorned desk in the corner of the giant, empty room and sat on it, letting his feet dangle freely.
“So, Doc… will I ever play the piano again?”
David continued pondering his notes. He knew that when Faa got into one of those moods, it was best to just try to ignore him.
“Knowing you, you’d light the damn thing on fire… literally. I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with the findings, here… it’s not so much that you’re immortal, more like you regenerate tissue on an astronomical scale back to the original template. It’s like you have a combination of crazy over-healing and really beneficial cancer: if any part of you is still kicking, it’ll heal over and snap back to normal.”
“That’s the ollllld magic,” Faa said with a grin, “Good shit.”
“I’m surprised the government hasn’t been all over trying to create medical breakthroughs with this: your skin, your tissues, your organs…”
“Who said they didn’t?”
David looked up from his papers to see a very different Faa than he had just been talking to. His voice was low and dark, and his eyes lost their manic, giddy gleam, looking flat with an anger David couldn’t even fathom.
“Remember, I’ve been locked up in here since Nixon. Before that, they got me right after the Great War. I went AWOL in 1945, right after they shipped me off the sands of Okinawa to a little place in New Mexico. You wanna see how I can regenerate? You should have seen me then.”
“You don’t mean…”
“And you better believe after I survived Trinity they’d want to see if they could harvest any part of me. Too bad I’m not, how you say, compatible. Of course, that didn’t stop ’em from trying over and over and over again. Hell, I think they used part of me to make Olestra. Had to get some kind of return on investment, eh?”
He laughed bitterly, still sitting on the desk.
“It was bad enough I saw Ypres, and Verdun and the Somme, then they threw me into the meat Grinder in Normandy and Ardennes, and as soon as I healed up it was off to Saipan and those other fucking islands… then they wanted me to sit through that bomb… you know that house they show getting blown away in the A-bomb explosion? Y’know, the one in all the stock footage. I WAS IN THERE!”
His voice echoed hollowly again around the room, but differently this time: harsher, crasser, in a way that hurt the ears.
“And they wonder why I’m mad sometimes.”
“Jesus,” was all David could say.
“Never met the guy,” Faa responded, still angry but letting some of the humor back in, “Gandhi was cool, though.”
And that’s how it went. For months, it was a similar setup: horrifying experiment, followed by anecdotes and stories of Johnny Faa’s over 1000 years of life. Among the most notable:

John Kennedy:
“Cheated like hell at golf.”

Catherine the Great:
“Not as big of a slut as you’d think… and I tried.”

Calvin Coolidge:
“He wasn’t as silent as you’d think; I was in the whorehouses.”

Charles II of England:
“Nice guy. But, given what happened to his Dad, he felt he had to be, or else.”

Oliver Cromwell:
“Prick.”

Josef Stalin:
“Wiener.”

Abraham Lincoln:
“Dirty as hell.”

Mary Todd Lincoln:
“The reason why Abe made dirty jokes. Yikes.”

Dolley Madison:
“Everybody in America wanted a piece of THAT ass.”

Elvis Presley:
“No way he died there.”

Hitler:
“Definitely died there. Knew his Mom: Skank.”

Emperor Meiji:
“Sucked at go.”

“Wait, wait,” David asked one day after a laser test, “you went to Japan?”
“Yup,” Faa sighed, brushing some scorched flesh away from his abdomen.
“How did you get there?”
“I walked.”
“You WALKED?”
“I walked,” Faa grinned, “Right across the bottom of the ocean. I tell ya, the shit I saw…”
“I’d like to hear about some of that someday,” David said after making a few notes.
“I might tell you,” Faa nodded, smartly nipping the pen out of David’s hand to make a point, “off the record, of course.”
David took a glance across the room, to where two armed guards stood, and smiled back at him.
“Of course.”
“See, that’s why I trust you, Bergie,” Faa chuckled, flinging the pen as hard as he could at the two officers. They ducked as it sailed harmlessly overhead.
“I really do feel like you don’t care about all the bullshit.”
“Can’t say as I do,” David shrugged, “I just like my job.”
“You know what?” Faa said with eyebrows raised.
“What?” David asked.
With a bloodcurdling yell, Johnny Faa leaped from the desk and sprinted at the armed guards. Naturally, almost in a bored way, one of the guards opened fire on him with one hand, sending the Gypsy tumbling to the floor, a bullet in his forehead. Within a few seconds, he sprung back up again, saluted the guard, and made his way back to where David sat. Sadly, even David treated this with a sense of detachment after so many months of it.
“I’m starting to like my job, too!” Faa giggled, digging the slug out of his head.
“You know, you don’t have to impress me,” David said plainly, holding up his bulging folios, “I’ve got data for that.”
“And what does your data say?” Faa replied, rolling over until he was lounging prone on top of the desk, “does it say how handsome I am?”
“I’ll ask Dolley,” Davd said with a roll of his eyes, “Or maybe you can, when you see her again.”
Faa perked up like a puppy.
“Really?!”
“Really,” David grinned, “I think I may have found a way to crack open the continuum, and I’m 99% sure you could survive traveling in it.”
“No shit?”
“No shit. The traveling is the easy bit: we can isolate certain electrical impulses from the brain and, by harnessing higher function through a combination of meditative practice and…um…..”
“Um…. what?” Faa said with arms folded, more than a little skeptical.
“A combination of meditative practice and, um, mind-expanding options.”
“What, you mean like drugs?”
“To put it bluntly, yes.”
“Gotta love the human condition!” Faa laughed uproariously, “You can’t figure out how to travel in time without being stinking drunk, and I can’t travel in it unless I’m tripping balls. Classic!”
“We’ve just got to get a mind in the right place where it completely loses all disbelief, is all,” David said with a shrug, “It’s the best option we have right now; your brain will heal too quickly for surgery.”
“Then let’s get this party started, yo!” the Gypsy King said with relish, “I haven’t had a taste of the good shit since me & Leary used to drop together.”
“There’s just one problem,” David cut through the merriment with a somber tone.
“What’s that?”
“We need something to cause a big enough rift to break you free of this dimension,” David began, “We could try locating a wormhole, but there’s no way we’d know where you’d go, and we want to be able to track you.”
“I’m sure you do,” Faa said, bitterly.
“Okay, then,” David tried again, “I want to track you. Just to make sure you’re safe.”
“I didn’t know you cared, chum,” the Gypsy’s tone was cuttingly sarcastic. David knew further argument on personal grounds was impossible, so he switched to the clinical.
“Look, Johnny… we’re going to have to try a nuke again.”
“No.”
“C’mon!”
“No!” Faa rounded on him, and for the first time ever David saw some sort of fear in his dark eyes, “I’m not going through that again! You can’t make me!”
“We need something strong enough to localize the blast energy into a dimensional schism!” David cried, pleadingly, “and that means you’re going to have to be right there. We don’t know if the rip will last forever or for microseconds… but we need to get you in there.”
“Then find another way, dammit!” Faa shouted, “I won’t be part of that again, I won’t! Call up the Emperor and put the Death Star on loan, because we’re not using nukes again!”
“Dammit, Johnny!” David shouted back as he saw the officers go for their guns. He softened his tones and tried to bring the Gypsy back to calmness.
“What the hell has got you so upset about this?” David hissed, matching his dark, scared eyes with his own clear ones.
“Have you ever seen anyone die, David?”
Faa’s voice was disturbingly clear, disturbingly level.
“No, no I haven’t,” David replied. He had a feeling he knew where this was going.
“I’ve seen millions, Dave,” Faa continued, “MILLIONS. Die right in front of me, in my eyes, in my arms. Millions over a thousand years. I’ve killed thousands, too: with clubs, guns, knives, bows, swords, spears, helicopters, axes, bombs, pointed sticks, you name it. And I still hate the fucking A-bomb. Or the H-bomb, or the XYZ-Bomb, whatever. It’s barbaric, and this is coming from a guy who used to pal around with the fucking barbarians, okay? I’m asking you, I’m begging you, Dave… find another way.”
There was a stony silence then, and it wasn’t until Dave saw the officers holster their guns that he spoke again.
“I’ve got another idea,” he said finally, slowly, “But it’s a long shot. Let me get on the phone to NASA.”
“They owe me one, anyway,” Faa said, satisfied.
“Why?” David asked with a smirk, “Did you get them to the moon?”
“Hell no,” Faa snorted, “I’m helping them get to Mars.

Johnny Faa – Pegging

A few days later, David found himself in the middle of a presentation  in front of a group of government scientists, special military advisers, and, as a special guest, the immortal King of the Gypsies himself.
“So, uh…” David tried hard to collect his thoughts, as he had been drinking fairly heavily over the past few days, “as you can see, the main, er, boondoggle we’re facing here is trying to find the most efficient and… safe way to remove items, probes, or even organisms from the timestream. Unfortunately, the first two will actually prove harder to remove than the last one, as the power source for the trans-dimensional will wind up having to be–”
“PEGGING.”
David train of thought ground to a complete halt as he slowly turned to his left, where Faa was sitting. As both a special consideration and as a security protocol, he was asked to sit near the head of the table, flanked by Special Forces, far removed from the other scientists. He sat, tipping his chair back on its back legs, arms firmly crossed in front of him, scowling loudly. As David looked around the large table, he noticed that either no one had heard the Gypsy speak, or that no one cared. A few seemed to be rolling their eyes.
“Er, moving on. The main power source of this operation is proving to be… uh, slide six, please?”
The PowerPoint presentation chugged forward to show a slide reading, in large letters, THE HUMAN BRAIN, along with a graphic of the item in question.
“Thank you. Ah… as you can see… the human brain. It’s the most powerful computer we have, maybe the most powerful one in the universe. It’s so powerful we don’t even know everything it can do, but it’s my theory that we can harness this power to break free of the current, um, dimension we inhabit.”
He shuffled his note cards, noticing with a little dismay that he seemed to be losing some of the audience. To them, he was this sudden wunderkind who they were told to follow without question. Some of them had worked here years, almost decades… he had been here a few weeks. David did his best to salvage the situation through his foggy mind with a little humor.
“Look, I know this sounds like something out of Star Trek, but trust me. I don’t think we’re going to run into any Klingons out there.”
He laughed a little at his own joke, and a few joined him. The laughter stopped abruptly, though, after another outburst.
“PEGGING.”
Again, the room fell silent. Again, eyes rolled. This time, Johnny Faa accentuated his displeasure by rocketing up from his chair, sending it skittering backward onto the linoleum floor with a bang. At this point, everyone fell silent, and the two Special Forces stood slowly to ease him back down. Faa bristled a bit at their touch, but did sit back down. After a rather uncomfortable silence, David continued.
“The key variable in this series of experiments is of course going to be our unique friend, Mr. Faa,” he gestured to Johnny, who turned slightly and nodded almost impercetibly. He was still grumpily regarding some of the scientists down on the far end of the table.
“Er… Mr. Faa will be using his particular… gifts to allow us unfettered access to experimental potential. To put it in layman’s terms: he’s indestructible, so we can do whatever we want to him, and, uh… we’re going to.”
He was greeted with a stony silence. He coughed nauseously and continued.
“All psychological data is showing that, despite his physical differences, his mind and brain are one hundred percent normal human. I know that might come as a surprise to some of you, but…”
There were actual some real laughs this time. Surprisingly, Faa himself turned to David and gave a little smile, but it was almost immediately shot down when his face shot back forward and he again shouted.
“PEGGING!”
The stony silence returned, and David went nervously on.
“As such, we’re going to conduct a series of experiments over the next few weeks to measure the true power of the human brain and whether or not it would be possible to use that power and enable movement outside of the timestream. I’ll be, uh, drawing up a plan of attack, so to speak, over the next few days so we can get everything moving using the technology and machinery we currently have in our possession. So, uh… good luck, and let’s see if we can do this.”

There were some general murmurs, most of which seemed confused. It had been a barely ten minute presentation: THIS was the groundbreaking announcement General Tate had called them in for? As if to quell any further frustration, General Tate himself stood to address the gathered. His deep voice covered all of the unease like a wool blanket, smothering it.
“Rest assured, this is theoretically possible. We would not have called you in here if it was not. We would not have hired Mr. Berg if we thought it was impossible. We will need the unyielding support of everyone in this room-”
He shot a quick glance to his left, where Faa was still sitting, arms crossed, chewing angrily on the inside of his lip.
“To make this possible. Unyielding. Support. That means if Mr. Berg says hop, you make like a bunny. You follow him like you would follow me. I know he’s young, and inexperienced, and new here, but–”
“GOD DAMMIT, PEGGING!”
The simple metal chair flew the entire length of the room, crashing against a pine-paneled wall and thudding, slightly bent, onto a side table full of water pitchers and glasses. In a trice, the Special Forces officers had him on the floor, handcuffed. Surprisingly, Faa said nothing as they did so, but he stared straight forward the entire time, his face a mask of infernal anger. General Tate nodded to his soldiers and re-addressed the group.
“Well, I think that’s about all we’ve got for today. Dismissed.”
As the people filed out, David couldn’t help but keep looking at Faa as he lay there on the floor, his eyes still fixed forward to a place he couldn’t even see from underneath the table. David tried to catch one of the military officers as they made to leave, but they were the first to leave. He was left at the head of the long, rectangular table with the two Special Forces and General Tate.
“Uh… what was that all about?”
“Don’t worry,” Tate replied, “He does that almost every time we have a meeting. If you hadn’t requested he be here, we would have kept him locked up for it.”
“Well, jeez,” David murmured, “He’s not an animal.
“Are you sure about that?”
Tate said with a tiny, tight-lipped grin.”

***

“So… ‘Pegging?’ You wanna explain that?”
A little while later, David was on the floor of Johnny Faa’s cell again, looking over some notes. The Gypsy King, still handcuffed, was being watched as he wriggled in his restraints by the two Special Forces officers.
“It’s a long story,” the Gypsy replied.
“I know you’ve got time,” David said with a slight eyeroll, “so, out with it.”
“Hold on…” he replied, still struggling with the cuffs, “Hold on…”
There was a sickening crack, and the cuffs fell to the floor.
“Ha!” Johnny cried triumphantly, waggling two broken wrists about, “told you guys I could do it! Fifty bucks, both of you!”
The two agents reluctantly handed the money over into his flopping hands.
“I love it when they get new guys to watch me, I always make some dough,” Faa chuckled happily to himself, pocketing the money, “you guys can go, now.”
“Actually,” one of the officers shrugged, “we wanted to know what you were shouting about, too.”
“Ah well,” he shrugged, sitting down on the floor next to David, “I took your money, might as well tell ya.”
Back in the late 60s, I worked at a government installation in LA. There was a lady there, her name was Penelope, but she went by ‘Peg’ most of the time. If you’re thinking it was weird in the 60s for a middle-aged woman to go by a nickname… you’d be right. She was in that first wave of feminism, but not like you’d think. I figured she either blew or lied her way to the top, and boy did she like everyone to know just how much of a success she was. Everything came back to her: didn’t matter if we were at a meeting, at some kind of event, working with a Congressman or something, everything was always about her. I remember once we had a Senator come down to talk to us, and the entire time she was making comments to one of her little toadies, or laughing way too loud at a lame joke, or taking every opportunity she had to drive the conversation back to her. Her family, her car, her childhood, her parents… it was downright pathetic.
I figured her Mom must have been one of those ironbox types who tried to get her to act like a proper lady, but she realized that was hard work so she hitched her wagon to this new feminism thing as a way to be unique and special and get enough attention that she thought her Mom didn’t give her, or some such horseshit. It wasn’t until that Senator came down that I really noticed how asinine and sad it was. You just start to accept people for who they are… until they start pissing off major dignitaries. So, after that Senator left, I started using the phrase ‘Pegging’ for anyone who can’t seem to sit down, shut up, and let things run smoothly without them. No overdone dramatics, no stunts to draw attention, just know your place and be genuine. If not, you’re Pegging.”
“So… why throw a chair about it?” one of the officers asked, still perplexed.
David spoke up then, feeling slightly inspired and still a bit hungover.
“I’m willing to bet he’s seen plenty of people in the years he’s lived who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, but got by and got promoted because they acted like they were special and important. I’m guessing he saw plenty of Pegs get put in places where they never should have been.”
“Spot on, Davey,” Faa said with a sigh, “Christ, why do you think I was out protesting against Dubya a few years back? Unfortunately, when I starting calling Miss Penelope out on her immaturity… I think that was about when I got turned into the authorities. They’d been looking for me since I went AWOL after Okinawa, and she gave them the lead, I’d bet. Ever since, I’ve been down here.”
There was a pregnant silence after that, where no one wanted to speak. Finally, the second Special Forces officer spoke and made to leave.
“Still, I think you’re just overreacting, just because you can.”
The other officer followed him out, whispering to Johnny and Dave,
“That’s because he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground!”
The two shared a silent laugh as the officers left. The King of the Gypsies laid back on the hard floor and put his hands behind his head.
“So…” he began, letting his voice knock around the empty room, “You see it, too?”
“You mean, the bullshit?”
“Yeah.”
“Of course,” David grunted as he gathered his papers and stood up, “that’s why I was stocking shelves for a living.”
“I hear ya there,” Faa replied with a snort, “Whenever I tell that story, I forget to tell people I was plunging toilets at that government installation.”
David allowed himself a good laugh.
“Well, I’m about to head out. I’m tired as hell and still feel like shit. I just got one question before I go.”
“Never on the first date, sailor.”
“Ha ha,” David said dryly, “You mentioned you were out protesting W, but that was when you were locked up in here. Was that another time travel thing?”
“Hell no!” Faa giggled, his narrow belly rising and falling rapidly, “I break out of here all the time. ALL the time. Remember the guy who faced down the tanks in China?”
“No way.”
“Way,” he said with a wink, “You didn’t think I was a good boy down here for forty years, did you?”
“Mr. Faa,” David said as he headed to the door, “I don’t think you’ve ever been a ‘good boy.’ ”
He opened the door, with its shrieking hinges, and turned back to the Gypsy King.
“Get some sleep. We’re going to start testing tomorrow.”
With that, he shut the door, leaving Johnny Faa alone with his memories. Mostly, at that moment, of all his memories of when he was, indeed, a good boy.

Johnny Faa – Trial and Error

“So, we got a few main theories we’re going to have to test, here.”
“I take it you’re going to accept the position?”
After his first meeting with the Gypsy King, David immediately asked Sean the aide to take him to the person in charge of entire secret government operation beneath the  hydro-dam in Keokuk. As it turns out, it was the same agent that had recruited David from back east.
“Well, I sorta have to, don’t I?” David responded quizzically, “I mean, if I don’t you do a government memory wipe on me or something, right?”
“Not necessarily.” The agent had his hands clasped in front of his face, propped up on his desk by the elbows, making most of his expression completely unreadable. Still, there was that twinkle in the eyes that seemed to happen from time to time that subtly told David it was all right to proceed.
“Well, either way I ain’t going back to stocking shelves. Like I was saying, I want to try a few of the major theories. I’ll need to get on the line to NASA, and I mean the double top secret stuff. Wormholes: are they there, do we know about them, and what’s the timeline in getting one feasibly in our control. Third, Wave-Particle Duality: if we don’t have any info on that one yet, we’ll have to start looking into it. Next, alternative fuel sources: I’m sure the dam provides you with a fair bit of power, but if we’re gonna slip loose from this dimension we’re going to need some significant kick. Last, Quantum Foam: once again, I’m going to need the papers on this stuff. There’s only so much quantum experiments you can do in a studio apartment.”
“How do you know we have that information?” the agent replied, his flat voice gaining a little bit of life.
“If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have called me out here,” David countered with a confident jab of his index finger, “Government’s inefficient, but not that much. You wouldn’t bring me all the way out here if you wanted me to do the nuts and bolts by myself.”
“True,” the agent nodded, “Our team, some of whom you have met, have used your writings as a jumping-off point for further research.”
“I’m flattered,” David grinned, “but it’s too bad I can’t brag about it at parties.”
“You’re here to put the final pieces into place. For one reason or another, your mind possesses the abilities to bridge the gap between our research and the… meta-natural.”
That time, David was sure he saw a smile in the agent’s eyes.
“So what you’re saying is, you need someone who’s got one foot North of Normal.”
“Or South of Sanity,” the agent replied, “It was a lucky trick of reality that you suffered a breakdown following your graduate studies, the ensuing mental chaos allowed you to blur the lines between what is considered solid science and what is considered fiction.”
“Gee, I didn’t know you cared,” David snorted, “And anyway, I’m starting to believe that it wasn’t an accident. Did you know I’d met Johnny Faa for the first time months ago?”
“How would we have known that?” the agent asked bluntly. David was a bit taken aback by the force of simplicity in that question, so it took him a moment to find his footing.
“Yeah… right… Anyway, he must have already traveled back to see me at Christmas, so how do we know I don’t send him back later to make sure my life follows the right destructive path to get here?”
“I’d rather not discuss theoretical paradoxes,” the agent said, standing up and walking from his desk where David stood, almost a-quiver with excitement, “that sort of thinking is going to be your job from now on, all right?”
“I think I can manage,” David nodded. The agent extended his hand and David shook it warmly.
“Welcome aboard.”
“Great to be here, Captain.”
“It’s General, actually,” the agent smiled, “Tate.”
“Forgive my impudence,” David said with an embarrassed bow at the neck, “but aren’t you like… 30?”
“Barely,” the General said with the ghost of a smile around his features. It seemed, in fact, that Mr. Berg’s arrival had made him smile a lot more than he had in the previous years.
“Barely?!”
“I’m a quick study.”
“Uh-huh…” David mused, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, weighing a difficult question. “Look, you’re going to think I’m crazy…” He saw the look General Tate gave him and amended his statement. “CraziER… but I’m going to need one more essential item for my research.”
“Yes?”
“Well, you see… I did most, if not all of my work in an… altered state, shall we say. It would appear that I’ll need to credit some of my discoveries to Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, among others, so what I’m saying is…”
General Tate smiled.
“Make a list of what you’ll need. It will be delivered along with the information you requested.”
“Seriously?”
“If it produces the proper result, it is in the best interest of the project.”
“Gotcha. Well, see you around, then.”
“Indeed you will,” General Tate replied, watching the awkward figure depart his office. After David had closed the door, the General allowed himself a deep, silent chuckle, exposing nearly all his teeth as he made his way back to his desk, a gargantuan mahogany affair in an equally massive office adorned with bookshelves from ceiling to floor. The wall directly behind the desk was a series of plate glass hurricane windows one hundred yards square, behind which a massive waterfall from the hyrdo plant constantly cascaded, producing a steady and gentle hiss. The General sat down in his high-backed chair and shuffled a few papers, glancing down at the personnel file newly minted for one David Berg.
“Damn,” he chuckled to himself, “why do I always gotta pick the crazy ones?”

***

Three hours later, David and Johnny Faa were sitting on the bare, gleaming floor of the Gypsy’s holding cell. Scholarly papers, graphs and notes scattered everywhere among a recently opened case of scotch and a few bottles of soda water.
“I dunno, man,” Faa said, leaning back and propping himself up on his hands as he sat on the floor, “None of this makes a lick of sense to me.”
“You gotta get a little drink in you,” David said with a tiny slur, making gestures between himself and the paper, “When your eyes go a little crossed, it starts making sense.”
“If you say so, man,” the Gypsy said, pouring himself another belt of scotch, “I guess I’m just supposed to be the guinea pig here.”
“Still,” David mused, swirling a glass of whiskey in his hand, “It’s not quite clicking for me, either. I mean, I  know I wrote it, and I remember what it’s supposed to say, but…”
He scanned his eyes over paper after paper until his eyes were sore. Finally in frustration, he leaned back on the floor and rubbed his eyes heavily, partly in frustration and partly to relieve the parched sensation. This unfortunately gave him a nasty case of blurry vision and, momentarily robbed of his ability to read his papers. He glanced up in frustration to the small senate of bottles that stood around him in a ring, some half empty, and some nearly full. Suddenly, through his blurry vision, it all made sense.
“Get me General Tate on the phone,” he said to no one in particular.
“Sorry, chief,” Faa snorted in reply, “I don’t have the ass to be your secretary. And I look terrible in nylons.”
Ten minutes later, David was having an animated conversation with the General on his cell phone. Tate was doing his best not to sound agitated at being woken at 3AM. By 5AM, David had all the information he needed, along with the beginnings of a nasty hangover. He burst back into the Faa room carrying a small stack of papers, grinning broadly.
“I’ve GOT IT.”
The Gypsy King, with a snort, roused himself out of a catnap on the hard metal floor.
“Got what?” he groaned, rubbing his eyes.
“Spectral analysis on the bottles, finding out how much liquid was in them at different times.”
“They scanned the room?” Faa grunted, righting himself to an Indian-style seating position, “Nice to let me know, assholes.”
“Sorry,” David said with a small smile, “but you have to admit it’s worth it.”
Why???” Faa nearly howled with a combination of sleepiness and frustration.
“Because I need to get drunk,” David said proudly, holding out the papers, “specifically, I need to imbibe this exact cocktail that I came up with one night out of desperation: six different liquors, all poured together into an unholy mess of gut-rot in certain proportions to get me just plastered enough to understand time travel. Isn’t that great?!”
Johnny Faa sat there dumbly, sitting on a hard, flat floor, looking up at this haggard, hungover, shabbily dressed yet still overjoyed, almost giddy human being. He’d lived over a thousand years, and died thousands of times through it. He’d had almost a hundred wives, countless children, seen more than any man ever could or ever would… but humans still found ways to surprise him sometimes. Granted, it was usually surprise at their stupidity, but every once in a while he found he could still be surprised by the human spirit. Not his, of course: his spirit and his humanity had died long ago. But sometimes, he felt a spark of a fire he thought had been extinguished, and when he felt that, usually twice a decade, he smiled in a way that wasn’t patronizing for once. It wasn’t a sneer, or a leer, or a cocky grin. It wasn’t a smug smirk or the kind of smile that begged a challenge, begged another sacrifice to his superior intellect and experience… it was just a smile. And even though his head was pounding and his back was sore from the floor and he’d been locked in this accursed box since Nixon was in office… he still smiled because David made him smile.
Humans are so fucking weird, he thought.
“Well,” he grumbled, getting to his feet and looking over what would only charitably be described as a recipe, “It’s five o’clock somewhere, eh? Let’s get our drink on.”

Johnny Faa – The Gypsy and the Jew

“Not really,” Sean shrugged, “He usually insults her shoes, too.”
“They weren’t THAT ugly today,” Faa said, still with his back to them, “Besides, I would have picked on her ‘look at me I’m pretending I’m twenty-one again’ glasses, instead.”
“Of course,” Sean noted dryly before coaxing David forward, “Sir, this is David Berg, he’s just been hired on for the Special Project.”
“Which one? I’m in, like, five.”
“Project Hawkeye, Mr. Faa.”
Mr. Faa seemed impressed for the first time.
“No shit, really? Well then, that deserves and introduction.” He immediately hefted and threw his full plate of food into the nearest wall at the highest speed he could muster, then spun the chair 180 degrees to face both David and Sean. David was shocked when he saw a face beam out at him from behind a shaggy beard and moppy hair, a face he thought he had hallucinated, a face he thought was merely a gremlin conjured up by Saint Stolichnaya one cold, December night.
“Holy shit,” David said breathlessly, “It’s you!”
“It usually is,” the man smiled, crossing the legs of his pajama pants and placing both hands discreetly in his lap. “Johnny Faa, King of the Gypsies. And you are?”
“Uhhh,” David stumbled for a moment, unable to remember if he had told the odd man his name before in the drunk tank or not.
“Real whiz-bang you brought me, Sean,” Faa grumbled with no undue sarcasm, “I could always just make up a name for him, instead. How’s about–”
“No!” David blurted out, immediately regretting his intensity. He tried again now that he was sure he’d gotten his audience back.
“No. It’s David. David Berg.”
“Huh,” Johnny grumbled, uncrossing his legs, “I woulda picked something more interesting than that. You don’t look like a David. Too pudgy.”
“I haven’t been eating well,” he offered a weak reply, “Got fired from the job you last saw me at, back in Christmas.”
“Huh!”
David took a break from feeling sorry for himself, his attention drawn to the guttural proclamation from the curious gypsy.
“What? You don’t remember the drunk tank?”
“No, frankly,” Faa shot back, his dark eyes boring holes through what felt like David’s very soul, “and I don’t forget things. Ever. Not faces, not names, not places.. and you said you saw me last Christmas, huh?”
“I couldn’t really forget it. You collapsed your own ribcage to escape a third-floor prison window.”
“Yeah!” Faa said with a snorting, obnoxious laugh, “That sounds like me. Hey, Sean?”
He motioned to the aide standing behind David.
“You’re good, now.”
With a small wave, Faa dismissed the aide. The gyspy king got up from his chair once Sean had left and thrust his hands briskly into the pockets of his thrift store slacks.
“So…”
He drew the word out to a very languid vowel, almost a note.
“Berg.”
“Yes?”
“So that would mean…” he held out his right hand in a lazy approximation of a gun, gesturing toward the only other person in the room.
“Jewish?”
“Uh, yeah, technically,” David responded, a little put off after remembering the comments Faa had made to the black policeman.
“Oh, don’t worry!” Johnny chuckled, “It’s nothing like that. I’ve known lots of Jews, good guys… marched into Dachau myself.”
“What?”
“Nothing, nothing…” Faa shook his head, smiling, “well… something, but you’ll figure all that out soon enough. You see, David… last Christmas… oh, first, you wanna sit down?”
He gestured to the wooden chair in the middle of the empty room.
“Er, uh, no… no, I’m good,” David scratched his head nervously.
“A’right,” Faa replied, immediately picking up the chair and hurling it violently against the wall, shattering it to splinters on the smooth, featureless metal. He then turned around and continued speaking plainly.
“You see, David… last Christmas I was in here. They overcooked the turkey, which I remember because I told them I wanted ham. Do you do ham? The ham, Hanukkah… thing? Whatever. Anyway, there’s no way I could have met you last Christmas unless your research actually turned out to be a success, allowing me to talk to you, and I would have only found you out and gone to talk to you because it would have been your research. I mean, not to be rude, but if I got out of this dump I wouldn’t go find you. You seem like a nice guy, I’m just sayin…”
“Wait… do you mean?”
“I do indeed, Mr. Berg,” Faa said, sauntering forward and throwing a comradely arm around his new “friend’s” shoulder, “you and me, we’re going to figure out time travel.”
“And my guidance counselor said I should be a teacher,” David said with a smirk.

Johnny Faa – Red Jell-O

“I gotta warn you; he’s a bit… unstable.”
Deep below the Hydroelectric dam in Iowa, David had showered, shaved, and even gotten settled into his new apartment (which was literally full of boxes containing everything from his apartment… even the fifty or so empty Whopper wrappers, Coke bottles, and all other trash) before being lead into his new place of business. The secret government installation in Keokuk seemed to go on forever, floor after subterranean floor accessed by freight elevator. David had always found those things terrifying, and he started to realize why most regular elevators had nice carpet or paneling or soft music.  Without it, elevators are plain creepy. Upon reaching what he hoped was the last floor, he was escorted out, shown his new office, desk and workspace (which was substantially more plush than the cubby he’d occupied at the local grocery store) and explained that all of his research was waiting for him, printed in a massive stack. His personal website had been blacked out by the government due to the accidental sensitivity of his projects: David knew in all honesty that he honestly didn’t remember writing most of it, and thought momentarily about giving a co-author credit to Jim Beam.
He hadn’t gotten a chance to sit down when a gaunt male aide with tiny, wire-rim glasses urged him on impatiently. The man’s voice was surprisingly smooth and gentle, which belied his willowy and nebbish appearance. The two approached what seemed to be some kind of corner office, except that it was guarded by what looked like a metal blast door. The aide had said the sentence above whilst swiping his card and hearing the door clang open with the release of an electromagnetic lock.
“Unstable’s my kind of people,” David replied sarcastically. The door swung open with a shriek, like some kind of Al Capone vault, opening into a room that was so cavernous that it belied the simple corner appearance in the sterile office setting that they had entered from. It was immense, and brightly lit in harsh, white light, looking more like the inside of a fluorescent tube than any kind of office or room meant to hold a human being. Perhaps, David thought as they took a few steps forward which echoed like thunder off the white walls, the room looked so large because it was almost completely uncluttered. The white walls, floor, ceiling, all of it lay bare except for one paradoxically brown and well-worn wooden chair that looked to be made centuries ago.
“He tends to break a lot of furniture,” the aide said softly as they approached, “So we go to local thrift stores a lot.”
“I  LIKED the one you got me four weeks ago.”
The voice seemed to come barreling out of the center of the room like it was fired from a rifle. It wasn’t deep, or high, but right in the middle. It was a sardonic, sarcastic, ascerbic voice, whose slight bit of nasal tones worked into the very fiber of your cells like a thousand drills.
“Yes,” the aide countered, “but you still smashed it into a million pieces, Mr. Faa.”
“It’s not my fault,” he countered simply, still not rising from the chair and keeping his back to the two, “I wanted red Jell-O.”
Any further conversation was cut short by the shriek of the metal door again, followed almost immediately by a stream of chatter.
“Yeah, I’ll have to call you back. Yep, I’m there now.”
A young woman entered the room carrying a tray. She was under thirty, but the lines of age were just beginning to show on her face beneath a youthful chopped haircut and garish pink lip gloss. Her outfit seemed out of place with the standard collared shirts David and the aide were wearing, with a shirt that had one too many frills and a pair of slacks that were too tight. Her footfalls rang very heavily on the floor, sending up a cacaphony of echoes due to her impractical, but expensive shoes as she approached the chair where Mr. Faa had yet to turn around.
“Sorry bout that,” she apologized to David and the aide, “had the boss on the phone, you know how it is, always wanting to know everything around here. I don’t know why he wants to call me, I’m, like, the most unpopular person here.”
She tottered over to Mr. Faa and set the tray down on the wooden arm of the chair. David noticed, with a bit of relief, that red Jell-o complimented fried chicken and peas.
“We were just talking about my son,” she continued, “he’s doing great at preschool. Did you get those pictures I sent you of him, Sean?”
“Yes,” the aide said with a small sigh, “he’s very cute.”
“I know!” she replied with a gleaming grin, “but, of course, he gets all that from his father. I was looking at my hair this morning and I was just like, eegh, you know? Too bad Gregory got my hair, too… trying to comb it in the morning is just the worst, and that’s not even the worst part of my morning. Gotta make his lunch, pack his inhaler, drive him over–”
“RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU REALLY GIVE TWO SHITS ABOUT THIS WOMAN’S CHILD PLEASE.”
Mr. Faa’s voice, nasal and cutting, roared around the empty room. No hands went up. This seemed to please him immensely as David saw him settle further into his chair.
“That’s what I thought,” he said proudly, “Thanks for the Jell-O, now go annoy someone else.”
“Jeez,” the woman sighed, rolling her eyes and appealing comically to David and Sean, “You don’t have to be so mean to me all the time.”
“Yes, yes I do,” Faa replied immediately. David thought he saw a bit of a twinge across the woman’s face before she spoke again.
“Well, I just don’t see why you think that. It just makes no sense to me. I mean, I try to be nice to everyone I meet, so–”
“Exactly!’ Faa replied, rounding on her so quickly that the tray rattled in place, “You feel as if you have to TRY to be nice to people. Do you know why I hate you so much, Adorra, aside from your stupid name? Because, rest assured, I do hate you very, very much.”
Adorra stood there, poleaxed. David heard the aide Sean heave a little big of a sigh, which seemed to tell him that this sort of thing happened often… if not daily.
“I hate you because you’re offensive to me. And yes, I know that will immediately crash the woefully tiny processor you’re trying to use for a brain, so I’ll explain further. You see, I find you so offensive because you go out of your way to make sure that you’re NOT offensive: everything you say, everything you do, everything you think, whether you want to admit it or not has been rethought, processed, and scrubbed clean of anything that might have made anyone mad, ever, and why? Why do you try so hard to be inoffensive? Why do you go out of your way to be self-deprecating and modest, while at the same time brag about your communications with a low-level ‘boss?’ Why do you try so hard to convince us that you’re cool and friendly and inoffensive even when it seems that you yourself don’t believe it for a second?”
“Oh, boy,” Sean muttered to David, “here we go.”
“You offend me because you try not to offend,” Faa continued, spitting out his words, “You don’t have a personality. You don’t have a soul. You’re a construct of too much shitty television and wishy-washy psychology. You don’t even know what you think anymore, or what you stand for, because you feel so scared of ever being alone or not being accepted somewhere that you’re willing to change your very makeup on a whim just to fit in. You’re nothing but slogans and empty phrases masquerading as a human being. Look, look at your wrist. What does it say? Here, here, hold it up so the two over there can see it. What does it say, fellas?”
She refused to hold up her hand.
“It says ‘this too shall pass.’ She’s written her bullshit on her very flesh, a tattoo to try to makeup for the fact that she can’t even make her own personality. You’re such an empty person, defined by everything around you and nothing inside you at the same time, that your very presence offends me. You can tell your jokes, you can pretend like pushing a crotch dumpling out of your lady-box somehow validates your existence, you can glom onto one group and trend after the other… but you’ll always know your life is completely hollow. Even a dog knows when its life has no meaning anymore. But what sets you apart is that dogs will sit at a train station for years waiting for a dead master to come home, but you don’t even have the courage to stick to the same hairstyle for more than a year at a time. You have been given all the wondrous tools of humanity and you choose instead to ignore every single one of them and live life as some kind of heartless doll… and that offends me.”
There was a long silence, except for the occasional sniffle from Adorra.
“Now where’s the straw for my chocolate milk?” Faa asked finally, holding out his hand. She slammed the item into his outstretched palm and sprinted from the room, sobbing.
“Jesus Christ,” David said to Sean, “Is… is that normal?”
“Not really,” Sean shrugged, “He usually insults her shoes, too.”

From the Larder – Johnny Faa

Poor David Berg wouldn’t have to worry about that night in the drunk tank for too much longer after that. He wouldn’t have to worry about the failed relationship that got me there, either. He would, however, have to deal with the man that he spent the next five years convincing himself was simply a manifestation of too much tequila and bad hair-metal power ballads on a weak head and a weaker romantic heart. There was no way he had actually met a man who broke half his skeleton to fit between the bars of a prison window, or just as easily repaired an arm broken on prison bars directly in front of a startled jailer, all while warbling the Pogues “Fairytale of New York?”
It turns out that getting dumped that Christmas Eve was probably the best thing that ever happened to him: career-wise, salary-wise… even in matters of the heart.  It turns out that his previous infatuation had had a bit of an activist background, so when the government came looking at his credentials as a theoretical physicist, she would have thrown the proverbial wrench in the plans… if it were not for the man called Johnny Faa. The chance meeting David had had with the self-proclaimed Gypsy that night proved to shape his life in ways he could have only begun to imagine through a haze of bottom rail scotch and soda. A few months after the drunk tank incident, David Berg was awakened by a knock at the door of his apartment.
“Rent’s not due til Friday…” he mumbled as he opened the heavy door. He found to his surprise not to be facing his grumpy landlord, but instead a team of what could only be described as Men in Black, standing in perfect formation like a set of bowling pins.
“David Berg?”  the one on point asked.
“Uh-huh,” he muttered a reply, rubbing grime and sleep from his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he showered; after his girlfriend broke it off he’d sunk into a nasty depression. Within one week, he was fired from his part time job for, as the official complaint noted, suggesting his supervisor perform “a rude and physically impossible act.” David had insisted the “physically impossible” part be added into the file. In all truth, he hadn’t really stopped drinking since that night in the tank, but he’d done his best to keep it discreet, and mostly within the walls of his studio apartment. The men in suits seemed to not mind his unkempt appearance, his hovel of an apartment, or the wholly unpleasant smell that emanated from him as nine of the ten agents bullied past him and his door and began packing up everything he owned within those four walls.
“H-hey…” he started weakly, only to be cut off by the main agent. If he hadn’t stayed behind and continued talking, David never would have been able to tell them all apart.
“No need for alarm, Mr. Berg,” the agent said curtly, “we’re simply here to help facilitate your relocation.”
“Whuh?”
“You’re being relocated to a new position in Keokuk.”
“Where?”
“Keokuk.”
“Keokuk?”
“Iowa. I’ll explain on the way. Your affects will be brought to you within 24 hours, but now I am afraid that time is of the essence.”
“Whyyyy?”
“Because your expertise is needed, Mr. Berg,” the agent had the ghost of a smile around his marble-slab-like features.
“Expertise, huh? Well, I make a decent Tom Collins these days…”
“I’m afraid the US Government has something more… complicated in mind for you.”
“The government?” David snorted derisively, “Now I know you’re shittin’ me.”
“This would be quite an elaborate prank for your friends to pull on you if we were… plus, our records show you have no friends.”
“Huh!” the word tumbled out of David, almost vomited out, “You’re right on that one.”
He tried again in vain to slick his hair back into something presentable, but the tawny mess refused to obey.
“So,” he said after blowing out a long breath that smelled foul even to him, “That after years… after YEARS of applying for grants, and fellowships, and doctorate programs, and graduate programs, and any other program I possibly could… now the government wants me to work for them.”
His voice began to pick up in volume and pitch as the agents continued dutifully packing up his apartment with boxes they seemed to procure out of nowhere.
“Me. Now. Not when I was bright eyed and bushy-trailed right outta college, not when I was working my ass off for zero, that is, ZERO money as an intern at this chemical company or this automotive start-up… not even when I spent two years stacking… sorry, STOCKING shelves at the damn A&P down the street, just so I’d be able to pay my RENT… but now… now, when I spend more time drunk than I do sober, when I’ve given up on what little social life I had, when I….”
He did a quick test smell of the soiled t shirt he was wearing and recoiled.
“When I smell terrible… now Uncle Sam decides he’s going to whisk me away from this….”
He gestured to the lower-end apartment trimming about him in a grand, sarcastic fashion.
“This CASTLE… and just give me a job, no questions, no interview, no nothing?”
The agent’s answer was immediate.
“Yes.”
Having truly nothing to lose, David threw his hands into the air again with a flabbergasted sigh.
“All right, then!”
“Get a pair of shoes,” the agent cautioned.
“Can I get a jacket?”
“Yes, but hurry.”
“What about the smell?”
“You can shower on the plane.”
“I can SHOWER on the PLANE?”
“Yes.”
“Hot damn!” He said as the two of them walked down the hall and out of the building, where a black Lincoln Continental was waiting. David thought, only for a moment, that it could all be a sham: they could be here to abduct him, to murder him, or worse. But then he thought, almost immediately and completely correctly, that he honestly had nothing anyone would want. An apartment full of empty bottles, a non-existent social circle, Dad gone, Mom senile and wasting away in Florida…
“Hey,” he muttered as the agent opened the door, “Am I getting paid for this?”
“Of course,” the agent replied.
“…Can I send some of it to my Mom?”
The agent smiled then. A real smile.
“I’ll work something out.”
“Thanks,” David said as he leaned into the doorway, “How did you guys decide on me, anyway?”
“There was some theoretical and practical information posted to your website that has interested the government.”
“Really?” David said, almost incredulous, “someone actually READ that? Guess I should start watching my language.”
“No need,” the agent replied, easing into the driver’s seat, “due to the sensitive nature of the information, your website has gone dark.”
“Of course,” David said with a groan, “I don’t suppose we can stop at Burger King or something before the airport. I got a hankering for a Croissan’wich.”
“We may have time.”
“Okay, but you’re buying,” David leaned back into the plush leather seats, thinking of the rough cloth ones in the car he’d sold off months ago, “I’m flat broke.”
“Not anymore,” the agent said as they drove away. Within an hour, David was sitting on a government jet with three empty Croissan’wich wrappers at his feet, a coffee cup in his hand, and the first full belly he’d had in recent memory. Within hours, he’d touched down in Keokuk, and been given a tour of the city, complete with a sworn-to-secrecy walk-through of a secret government installation beneath Lock and Dam #19 under the Mississippi River, where the mighty river’s power was siphoned off to power the massive installation to uncover one secret: how to travel in time.

And that is where David Berg met Johnny Faa for the second time, and where Johnny Faa met David Berg the first…

but that is a story for another day…

Jailtime

“IT WAS CHRISTMAS EEEEEEEVE, BAAAABE….IIIIIN THE DRUNK TAAAAAAAAANK!”
The new prisoner was being just as unruly in the holding cell as he was in the middle of a busy downtown shopping season. If he wasn’t clanging the door back and forth or throwing the few possessions around the cell, he was singing off-key and very, very loudly.
“YOU SCUMBAG, YOU MAGGOT, YOU CHEAP LOUSY FAGGOT!”
And so on. Finally, the officer on duty couldn’t take it anymore. Sane or not, this guy was being flat out annoying. Clanging his baton on the bars, he was able to get the man to stop singing for a moment.
“Would you mind knocking it off, buddy? It’s fuckin’ Christmas Eve, and I’d really hate to go home with a screaming headache.”
The man responded by laughing maniacally and leering at the officer.
“Ah can it, Coalie. Coupla centuries ago you’d have been in here and me out there, and they’d be busy tying the noose.”
This caused the officer to get slightly perturbed.
“You listen here, you sick fuck. I don’t care if you are nuts, you try that again and I’ll beat you to within an inch of your life.”
“Oh really?” The man grinned in defiance, “You sure about that? Well then, I guess I’d better mind my manners…”
He thrust both pockets into his slacks and walked dejectedly the few steps over to the back of the cell. Then, with a bloodcurdling scream he turned on his heel and made as if to karate chop the officer, taking no heed of the metal bars separating the two. As physics would have it, the man’s forearm hit the bars before the officer, and neatly turned into a wobbly, broken mess.
“Jesus Christ!” The officer swore, taking a step back as the man’s arm flopped around uselessly. Rather than being upset, or even in pain, the man kept smiling and chuckling, his mad eyes fixed on the cop. Without a word, the officer tremblingly ran off to inform the rest of the station of the now obviously insane man in the holding cell. When he was certain the cop had gone, the man made a “crack the whip” motion with his right arm and, in a trice, it was healed, good as new. Flexing the fingers as if checking a phone connection, he waved to his cellmate, who had been all but invisible for the entire ordeal.
“So what are you in for, Tex?”
The man’s eyes were immense, he couldn’t speak. He merely sat huddled in the far corner of his bed, trying to seem as small an inconspicuous as possible.
“Come on, Tex. I won’t hurt you. Look, I’ll even sit all the way over on the other side of the cell…and I’ll act like a normal person.”
He sat on his bed, placed his hands between his legs, leaned forward and smiled sweetly.
“So…what’s a churchmouse like you doing in the joint?”
The young man’s lips trembled slightly as he tried to form the words.
“If you don’t tell me soon I’ll just start making up some depraved story…public sodomy good for you?”
“Am I still drunk?”
The strange man seemed confused.
“What? Oh, this?” He waved the repaired arm at the young man, “nope, this is 100% real, and you’re 100% sober. I take it, then, you’re here for booze? Drinking it? Stealing it? Lighting something on fire? Or did you just order an Appletini and they locked you up for being a moron?”
The young man smiled slightly at this.
“Classic story,” he laughed nervously, “Got dumped, drank too much, smarted off in public, got tossed in here.”
“Ah, she probably wasn’t worth it. You seem fairly upwardly mobile if you ignore the smell of gin that doth swaddle thee.”
“I’m a physicist. I work downtown.”
“Name?”
“David Berg.”
The strange man’s eyes lit up for a second, and a grin stretched across his features.
“Yeah…it would be, wouldn’t it?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Nothing, nothing. I’ll…tell you later. Now shh, the coppers are coming back and I have to keep acting crazy,” he winked as the door opened again and the officer from before entered, flanked by two superiors. The strange man was sitting Indian style on his bed, grinning like a small child about to be told a bedtime story.
“He broke his fuckin’ arm like it was nothing, then just stood there smiling about it!”
“You sure, Terrence? He looks perfectly fine.”
Officer Terrence’s eyes goggled out of his head.
“What the hell is this? Your arm was broken, wasn’t it? Hey, other guy!” he jabbed an accusatory finger at David, “you saw it, right?”
David shrugged weakly. “Well…his arm isn’t broken now.”
“Fuck. Fuck!” Terrence just kept swearing until his buddies led him out.
“Just head on home, Terrence,” one of the officers said, “take a nap, you’ve had a long day. Go enjoy Christmas, all right?”
Only responding with more profanity, Terrence finally exited with the other officers. As the door closed, David turned back to the odd man.
“How did you do that, anyway,” he asked, pointing to the arm.
“You know, I’ve asked myself that for centuries and I still don’t know.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t,” he kept grinning, “now if you’ll excuse me, I have to jump out the widow.”
“But that’s three stories straight down! And the window’s barred!”
“No problem,” the man dismissed him, taking a moment to break and dislocate a few more of his bones and joints, finally lifting himself as a shapeless mass into the window and wiggling between the bars.
“Wait, wait!” David cried as the man was almost gone, “just who the hell are you?”
“I’m Johnny Faa, David Berg. I’m the King of the Gypsies, and we’ll meet again.”
And with that, he slipped past the bars, and was gone.

Channel Chasing

“…Leaving the hippopotamus mostly unharmed.”
“Amazing story, Leanne. Now from the stranger side of the news, a man was arrested in a downtown Chicago park this afternoon for disturbing the peace, and he definitely made the most of it!
At around three thirty this afternoon a man literally stood on a soap box (we can only guess how old the box actually was) and began what eyewitnesses described as a ‘hate-filled, profanity saturated tirade’ against the current United States government, calling on people to ‘wake up’ and ‘heal the wounds being done to the government of the people,’ concluding with what was described by officers at the scene as a “lewd suggestion to the entire Cabinet.’ Police were called to the scene before things got too out of hand, however, as the strange man was taken away and his soap box confiscated. In a channel Six exclusive we have attained an amateur video taken of the arrest by a nearby Christmas shopper. We apologize for the poor quality of the video, but try and listen as we share this with you….okay, there appears to be a large group of people who have gathered around this individual, and yes…there’s the police escorting him away in handcuffs…whoa, look at the fight he’s putting up! Oh, wait! Wait, I think we can hear something…”
“This is madness! This is a travesty! I fired the shots at Boston and Lexington! I spent four months at Andersonville! I have seventeen Purple Hearts! I fought for this country when no one else would! Down with King George! Down with King George! Rise up, rise up! Defend your rights and break free of tyranny as I have! I’m Johnny Faa, I’m the King of the Gypsies, and you can’t kill me!”

“The man, we can only assume, is awaiting psychological evaluation and a possible prison sentence….heh heh, maybe all the stress of holiday shopping was too much, eh Leanne?”
“Ha ha, maybe Kent!”
“Ah… Coming up after the break, we’ve got Billy with sports and Melissa will tell us what we can expect for our Christmas travel plans…will it be a White Christmas? We’ll tell you after the break, you’re watching Channel Six news.”