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21. If and Only If

"Vampires!" My mind rattled like a dryer on three legs; Gypsys slap had knocked to center stage the bubbles from Izzys quickpatch. Thoughts jostled and non sequitured inside. I ran behind the salad bar and inched back and forth along the sneeze guard, ready to fling dressings at any attacker.

(These days, when I get an audience with Izzy, he likes to give me a lot of grief about that episode. He calls it the Intergalactic Food Fight.)

There wasnt much Russian left, but I was hoping to do some damage with the Roquefort and Italian, if I had to. I thought the vinegar in the Italian might blind them for a moment. The lumps of Roquefort cheese could slow them down. I could make for the dishwasher and fly us home, beating them back with ladles and meat cleavers and stuff that I found in the kitchen.

But the cheese was probably fake, I was thinking, or skimpy. I might be doomed in interstellar space by larcenous highway restauranteurs. "Vampires! Stay back," I said.

(Intergalactic Food Fight?IFF. Its a pun. "IFF" is also short for IF AND ONLY IF. I had to suffer and be a maniac ignoramus so that Abu al-Hawl could get a ride home and Johnny Abilene could ascend to the throne in the Small Magellanic Cloud; once I did all those stupid little things I had to do, the big matters inevitably resolved. IFF. Izzy knew it.)

"Vampires! Stay back!"

"This should be interesting," Gypsy drawled.

Nora walked toward me slowly. "Trust me, Mel."

"No." I picked up a metal bowl of ruffle-cut beet slices and threatened her with it. "You killed that trucker. Did you eat him, Nora? Gypsy ate the cashier. Are you fighting over whos going to eat me?"

Shaman laughed. "You shouldnt have slapped him, Gypsy. Now hes awake, such as he is."

"Mel" Nora kept walking toward me, undeterred by the beet slices. "You shouldnt distress yourself over blood. Bodies arent important, Mel. Dont you remember? You were almost there with me"

"No more love-making!" Shaman warned. "I can do an epoche too, Nora, and you might not like how youre greeted where I would take you."

"You wouldnt dare," she said, without taking her eyes off me. "You dont know how, Shaman. Youd turn the world inside-out. It would be the end of you." She was more beautiful than ever. The blood somehow appealed to me now. It made me tacitly aware of her neck, her chest, her arms. I was hungry for her, starved to the marrow. She kept coming.

"What should I remember, Nora?" I said. Then she would be mine.

"Remember the Sphinx, called Abu al-Hawl!" Shaman shouted. "Remember he who made Chephren. The Sphinx is still thumbing, and in all these millennia, none of you Sanduleans has managed to pick him up. Stay put, Nora. You could wind up in some waterless place for a long time, Nora, and thered be no WC."

Gypsy burst into flame. "Im you, Shaman!" he said.

"The hell you are. Dont try that on me!" Shaman pointed at him, thrusting his arm as if it were a fire hose, and the flames whooshed out.

"What am I?" I said. I dropped the beets.

(The Haymakers still send me tribute every three hundred years: uranium juke boxes, fake books from all parts of the universe?with performance rights granted, since they know I like to gig on the acousticals Johnny gave me in Giza?music boxes with their songs transposed to Larmor frequencies, and so on. Three hundred years is a long time on Sanduleak, but for most of my galaxy, its a blink; Johnny and the boys are tremendously grateful to me, even though I really had no choice in the matter, and if I had, frankly, I wouldnt have helped them.

I know that must sound pretty crass, given that the Italians were using Abus head for rifle practice during World War II, among other indignities that Ylemic Lord had to suffer during his captivity. Still, I thought of myself as an individual being for most of the time I was in the Milky Way. I didnt think that the Sphinx was of any importance whatever! Deluded as that may be, I think you could call it a mitigating circumstance: not guilty by reason of insanity, Your Honor. I was looking out for Number One, so I thought, as if there were any.)

22. Im You

"You are Abu al-Hawl," Nora said, "the Father of Terror, Rahorakhty, Sun God of the Two Horizons, and I am Queen of Punt, the land of incense, the land of purified desire. Gypsy is my servitor. Shaman is a foul grave robber. Abu al-Hawl, thou knowest everything. Abu al-Hawl, Soul of the Great Sphinx, Ka, I invoke you."

Nora was looking straight at me, but I could not believe that it was me she was talking to. She was talking through me, as if I were a phone tube. Behind her I saw Shaman laughing so hard he had to support himself against the glass door. "Tell the boy what you like to do in water closets, oh corpulent Queen of Punt." He made for us, stumbling and guffawing. He placed himself between us, one hand on the sneeze guard, the other on Noras bloody shoulder. Gypsy rose. "Tell him how you have to watch water swirl in toilets or sinks or maelstroms, wherever water goes down, oh Queen of the WC."

"You call it a toilet," Nora said. I couldnt see her face now. Shaman was in the way. "You think that makes it something profane. I tell you Shaman, whatever is, is an effulgence of Abu al-Hawl, whose home is Sanduleak and the stars, but who dwells in all thoughts and all things. All that swirls, swirls down to him. Feces and incense are one to him. Who shuts himself off from one shuts himself off from all."

Shaman spun to face me. "Im you," he said, "Im you, Im you," and the old feeling returned: a dumb, helpless beast, I was, stroked and prodded by my master.

"Remember, Mel," Nora said. "Remember the desert. It wasnt New Mexico, Mel. It wasnt New anything. It was Egypt, Mel, not a day or two ago, but five thousand years ago." Gypsy worked the ersatz flesh down his snakes flank and moved toward us, his hard, small eyes fixed on Shaman.

I blinked and strained for a thought that seemed just beyond my reach. I had seen pyramids in the sand, Nubian slaves, teams of men laying massive ashlars, granite facing stones, on jagged tiers of limestone. It had been somewhere between Albuquerque and Espanola, not far from Saqqarah, somewhere around Abu Sir, Cairo or Santa Fe

"Im you," Shaman said. Gypsys ichor-dripping, black maw yawned behind him. I smelled the stink of Gypsys breath. I had seen Chephren on Route 25, whose face was just like mine, just like the Sphinxs. And everything historians and archeologists had written about the El Giza Sphinx was wrong. I remembered?But how??King Chephren had not fashioned the face of Abu al-Hawl to resemble his own. It was just the opposite!

Gypsy was closing his teeth together with Shaman in the middle, but I overturned the salad bar, tumbling steam trays of soup, shattering bowls and jetting forks, knives, and spoons into Gypsys tongue and palate, or what passed for tongue and palate. Shaman, wet with Gypsy, laughed. "Im you!" he was saying. "Im you! Im you!" Nora cowered away from him, from me. Gypsy fell back.

Yes, it was I, the Sphinx who had fashioned Chephren in his, in my likeness?not the other way round?just as I had fashioned Mel, and a million other emanations of my Ka, the sacred Ka of Abu al-Hawl.

20. Inoculation | Izzy and the Father of Terror | 23. Abu al-Hawl