Houston, We Have a Stalker...
Houston, we have a stalker by shadowlurker13
8:03p.m. - Sarah Williams - out - Research Facility
Thank God, I was beginning to think that meeting was never going to end, Sarah thought as she turned the ignition key in her bio-electric car and pulled out of the Employees Only Clearance parking lot at GELA. There had been so much work lately with Nikola Motors pushing a company deadline with it's new more fuel-efficient prototypes for next year, especially a solar-battery sports model that, if it ever got off the drawing board and onto the highway, would leave maverick made-at-home fancy sports cars in the dust. The problem was getting a car with a solar-charged battery able to sustain speeds past 60 MPH without immediately draining all the available reserves, a problem that had left Sarah and her colleagues in gridlock for months, oftentimes meaning that they stayed at the aforementioned drawing board and/or in the plant until the wee hours of the morning more days than even Sarah liked to admit - it was taking a huge chunk out of what little life she had. She had to keep reminding herself that the work she was doing was not just so some automobile producer could get rich; it was information that would be important for the entire world someday. Just thinking of that trash heap in from of the gates of the Goblin City made her shudder to this day - and she had promised herself a long time ago that her world wouldn't ever look like that if she had any say in the matter. Dreams only get you so far; after that you need a definitive plan of action.
But no matter how important and logical our actions are, we still need to dream sometimes, to experience true creativity for its own sake and by night Sarah had found her outlet - at least whenever she could escape the office early enough - the Gemini Café in downtown Denver. The neighborhood was rough and trashy with a halfway house at the end of the block but the venue was well worth it, with open mic nights, poetry jams, traveling bands of musicians and actors, the occasional swing dancing upstairs and an impressive all-organic menu (the proprietress ran her car on fuel made from the cooking grease). The establishment had been made no-smoking years before the nationwide ban went into effect. Top-notch yet painfully hippie: Sarah's kind of place.
Stopping by her pad fast to change and freshen up, she had just closed the door behind her when she knew, instinctively, that something felt off.
Oh man, did someone break in? Sarah quickly turned on all the lights in her immediate vicinity and continued to do so in all the rooms. She searched the closets and behind the shower curtain, mace in hand, and feverishly looked under the bed -
...no one, not a hair out of place, the windows were closed and locked ...and yet...
Sarah turned on the radio and did her best to shake the feeling. "I've been working far too hard lately," she said to the room, "definitely time to go have some fun before heading back to the grind." The feeling of being closely watched persisted, however, and even when she left her apartment she couldn't resist the impulse to look over her shoulder more than once in the safety of her locked car as she sped off to the Gem. If she had carefully examined the backseat she would've found a tell-tale trace of glitter...
Thursday night was always one of the open mic nights for single musicians and small bands - usually a free-for-all with a willing and eager audience; you never knew who or what you were going to get. By the time Sarah got past the guy selling tickets and got shown a table in the staging area the place was already packed with regulars, musicians waiting their turn onstage, and the general, changing throng of curious on-lookers. After what felt like an eternity, one of the ridiculously overworked waitresses, her short blue dreds back in pigtails, finally fought her way over to Sarah's table and got her drink order, promising to be back sometime this century.
So she lets herself dream at night, Jareth thought, slightly amused at her choice of hangout, taking in the scenery with a sigh. Here we go...
Discreetly emerging from the shadows by the thick black velvet curtain that divided the staging area from the restaurant proper and the staircase that led to the room upstairs, he zapped his name to the top of the list at a moment when no one was looking and managed to borrow an acoustic guitar from a young man who was wearing, by Jareth's standards, decidedly odd attire: the pants looked as if they would fall off at any moment.
Why?...oh never mind, the human creatures at this stage of development seldom make sense...not unlike home,he thought with a wry smile. Just pretend that they're unusually intelligent goblins and all will be well. Once the band right before managed to drag themselves and all their sound equipment back off the small, lit stage, Jareth simply walked on without an introduction, sat down on the stool they left for him up there, and quickly tuned the guitar. He had actually never played one before but there were similar instruments in his world with which he was familiar and he conjectured that it would be relatively easy once he knew how the strings were pitched. Only a fourth-step down, not bad...
"This is for Sarah Williams."
Upon hearing her name uttered over the speaker system Sarah's gaze shot up from her newly-acquired drink to the stage and she could scarcely believe her eyes - it was him! She couldn't even pretend to understand it but there he was, after all these years, sitting placidly onstage playing an intricate guitar rendering of that song he had sung to her in that hallucination of a ballroom.
What the hell is he up to?! He's trying to blend in...and kiss up? Okay, that one doesn't make sense...
Jareth worked his way through the ending Sarah had left before hearing the first time and delicately strummed cadence. There was wild applause; the man was obviously classically trained besides being insanely gifted. With a full smile and a curt bow he was off the stage, fighting his way through the crowd to Sarah's table.
Cocky as ever, she thought as he brazenly pulled out the other chair and sat down across from her without even being asked, still smiling. Her response was level and a bit irritated.
"Why are you here?"
"I thought that dedication would've made it obvious," Jareth teased. He was in too high of spirits just being able to talk to her again to take anything seriously at the moment but he knew he had to try, she was none too happy to see him.
"What do you want? Is there a real reason for this unpleasant little surprise visit or did you just feel like taking a quick side trip before heading back home to torture somebody?" Her voice was practically dripping with sarcasm and thinly-veiled malice.
"Do you really think me such a monster?"
"What do you call sending a hall full of spinning knives after someone?Kindness?!"
"I'll admit it was a bad decision to scare you like that but if it had actually caught up with you the whole machine would've stopped on a coin, now can we please stop talking about the past long enough for you to hear me out?"
There was a desperation in his voice that stopped Sarah cold: did he just beg her to listen? He took advantage of her momentary lapse into silence and quickly continued.
"When you declared that I had no power over you...I lost all of my power."
"What? But...why? I mean, that should've only affected me, right?"
"Apparently the Labyrinth itself believes in 'winner takes all.' I have been living in your world for the past 21 years..." he swallowed and embarrassedly looked away "as an owl."
Stunned, Sarah could only sit there, staring in disbelief. Suddenly the idea of him eating mice hit her and it was all she could do to keep from laughing - he could tell.
"Yes, yes, I know, laugh, it was a great victory, Sarah," he stated with sarcastic hauteur. "Now for the reason I am here to talk to you tonight; it seems that the fates have decided to cut my humiliation short. Today in fact..."
"Why? What happened?"
"Apparently I finally have more devotees than you have power," he stated smugly, knowing that would get a rise.
"And 3,500 was the magic number of wishers needed to restore me this far-"
"All right, you stuck-up pansy, what is the real reason behind all this bullshit? You've got about 30 seconds to explain yourself or I'm leaving and you can go get a job at McDoogles for all I care!"
His response was barely restrained and over-articulate as he fought the impulse to scream it at her.
"I need more power to make the crossing; I still can't do it! However much you may dislike me I need your help! If by some miracle this works and I still repulse you in the end I, for one, will gratefully leave you alone for the rest of your short human lifespan!"
Sarah had never seen him so emotional - she had half-expected that he really didn't have any. It took a lot to bring him this far...that took a lot of guts and nerve to admit...but what was that comment right before...?
"...I know I'm probably going to regret asking this but what's all this about you having 'devotees'?"
"Have you ever seen "Labyrinth"?" he said with a bit of a teasing smile, remembering Anne's incredulity only a few hours earlier. This was going to be fun.
"The movie they made more or less from the book? Yeah, I went and saw that one back-in-the-day out of sheer, morbid curiosity."
He smirked at the confession as she continued.
"They really didn't do the place justice, though, and the critics just hated it. It didn't make much money in the theater, either. I guess it still has some kind of a cult following but-!" Sarah mentally stopped dead in her tracks and almost smacked herself in the forehead. A cult following. Devotees. David Bowie had portrayed Jareth. Oh no, Sarah winced.
Jareth was having a ball watching those lovely gears of hers click away and come to the right conclusion.
There'll be absolutely no living with him after this. Just do whatever it takes to get him out of here quick. "Just what all does this 'plan' of yours to get more power involve? Be painfully specific."
"And that, I fear, is the place where I cannot help you for, at least right now, there are no clear-cut answers as far as I can tell - it will depend entirely upon us. Ultimately it will involve you...losing a bit of your power."
"No way. I'm not about to sign a blank check on my life just because you decided to waltz back into it and asked me for it nicely."
Headstrong, stubborn and suspicious as ever. Don't let her get under your skin; if she can't trust you now she never will. He started again, working on keeping his cool. "As I was trying to explain, Sarah, there are no guarantees here for the simple fact that I have never tried to do this before, nor are there any records of it being done in the history of my kingdom. There has never been another champion but you. The country is, no doubt, in a state of anarchy as we speak if I have been lucky enough to have not been invaded by one of my neighbors in my absence," he tersely smiled. "I do employ a prime minister but the job is strictly a figurehead position and, frankly, considering who they elected for the last term before I left," and at this he looked up like 'why me?' "that yeti who was following you about when you were there is better mentally equipped to run matters of state. I must get back, can't you see? The majority of my subjects are so stupid that they need someone telling them what to do simply in order to function! If you won't do it for me, do it for the safety of your friends."
Sarah was in a bind. On the one hand...but on the other...damn it was risky, but unfortunately he did seem to hold the argument if the denizens of Goblin City were the majority demographic for creatures in his kingdom. How could she be absolutely sure he wouldn't take more than necessary (providing that he was telling the truth)? But one matter had to cleared up and now in Sarah's mind before she made any further obligations.
"Do you turn the children that are wished to you into goblins?" The question itself made her feel physically ill but if he said yes she would wash her hands of him - either that or try to kill him right then and there with her bare hands the thought filled her with such revulsion.
"Goblins are dumb as bricks with hides to match their thick heads and they multiply faster than rodents on their own - why in the world would I voluntarily create more?! The humans that are offered me are sent to a province just outside my jurisdiction as a part of a very old truce agreement between myself and a neighboring queen. There is a small settlement town there. Some are taken in as general servants, midwives, even a musician or two if they show talent - there are even rumors of an occasional love affair - but on the whole they are free to live their lives as they wish - forever. That is what it means to "become one of us" - to become practically immortal but to never be able to return home, and before you accuse me of being a tyrant and a slave-trader it has to do with how the time-space continuum affects the different worlds. Time is a tricky thing and it happens to move exceedingly quickly in yours - it was no jest that I had to reorder time while you were there. A human who is suddenly 800 years old cannot survive in this plane," he gestured roughly to their surroundings. "We have had a few cases where wishees have tried to escape but only two - a pair- ever made it: the moment they touched Aboveground soil they crumbled to dust," he spat coldly. "We warn them and warn them and tell them why they can't return - it's no secret - but some people never listen," he said with a slight shake of the head and an irritated sigh, looking away.
Truce, eh? It isn't hard to imagine the Goblin Army losing - or causing a war, for that matter. Human captives, though...still an unsavory business, it's almost like selling souls. ...at least they get to stay human, and the trade-off is eternal life. Eternity in Fairyland - how many people have wished for that over the centuries? And he says that apart from leaving they have complete liberty, it's like having a colony on Mars. Sarah mentally gritted her teeth at what she was about to do. "...you said some of my power."
"...how much?" she cautiously ventured.
"It will all depend. It could be as little as a bit of trust, perhaps more, I don't honestly know. Could you ever find it in yourself to trust me, Sarah?"
Sarah certainly wasn't ready for that! The question was so gentle, but the man behind it was so dangerous...or is he? Oh! Her response was only an anguished whisper and a small headshake. "I barely even know you."
His voice became equally soft. "How true." He sat there, quietly taking in her eyes, his steady gaze almost mesmeric. Suddenly self-conscious, Sarah looked away and tried to change the tone back.
"Besides, if I do have that much power over you, why can't I just wish you back?"
"Oh come now, do you really want to be held personally responsible for every time I have to transform? Every time I make a crossing to this world or elsewhere? It would have to be flawless, on the dot, and verbal, no matter where you are; no, no, no, far too complicated. In any event, easily given and easily taken away. I would much prefer to earn what I need."
"You mean I could just wish anything about you right now and it would really happen?"
"Yes, and before you get any brilliant ideas with which to torment me, please don't wish me dead - I will die."
My god, he is serious. Sarah made a mental note to turn his hair pink if he turned out to be too much of a jerk, though.
"One last thing and I'm afraid this one is a bit of an imposition: while my current magical capabilities seem to be limited to what I would consider parlor tricks - the odd crystal, disappearing, teleporting, things of a very basic nature - I have no way of providing for myself in this form and certainly no place to stay."
Sarah thought for a moment.
"Would you mind being an owl again?"
"Are you really that cruel, Sarah?"
Sarah winced her eyes closed and rested her forehead on her hand - there wasn't much of a choice. Besides, what could he even do to make a living? He'd probably never worked a day in his life. Dancing on tables maybe, shut up brain.
She doesn't personally like me at present but she still finds me attractive, now that's interesting. Perhaps this isn't as lost of a cause as I was beginning to think. "I'd been meaning to ask but there were far more important things to be discussed first; who's Pedro?"
It took Sarah's brain a second to register what he'd seen her 'Vote for Pedro' tee. She sat back up smiling. "Oh it's nobody, it's a character from this movie Napoleon Dynamite. You could kind of sum up the idea as a 'root for the underdog' sort of thing - don't do it because it's popular, do it because it's the right thing to do."
He started again, softly. "Just give me a chance, Sarah, that's all I'm asking for. You seem like the type that would do it." He laughed a little. "You want an underdog? You're looking at one," he said playfully, opening his arms. "I've literally been made into a storybook villain. Who on earth is going to vote for me?"
"3500 pubescent girls," she said flatly.
"No, no, that's besides the point," he teased, shaking his hands slightly as if to fend off the idea "now work with me here-"
"And I hope you all have a really good time together," she began to tease him back.
"Alright, I'll do it!" she laughed "but you have to admit it's asking a lot."
"I will work to make myself indispensable," he inclined his head toward her with a hand to his heart, playful mischief dancing in his eyes. Sarah noticed the waitress coming back to their table. And sighed.
"Are you hungry?"
"Famished. Haven't eaten since this morning."
"Because that poor girl over there" she pointed "is serving about 40 tables on her own and even if we did managed to order, I don't think we'd see her again. Let's go."