Ahasuerus

It makes his legs itch abominably, like sleeping in a nest of spiders, but the view is terrific, an impossible bowl of blue skies and the ground spread out below like an apron. And silence — he can’t remember a quieter day. Too quiet, really; he leans far too far out of the basket, locks his eyes on the ground unrolling beneath him, but it’s not enough, the spiders are dug deep, and for all the hundreds of miles the wind is carrying him he can’t stay still, paces the narrow basket endlessly, trying to stay ahead of that impatient Aramaic commandment.

An incredible view, though. He wonders if they’re running after him still and laughs and laughs. Conscience is a long-dead beast in his soul; he’s been too much in the wild places, eaten too many rocks in hick villages to feel he owes anything to anybody, and what’s a balloon anyway but an acre of oiled silk and a lot of hot air? You can’t own the air.

Eventually the wind starts to carry him out to sea, and he takes the quick trip down to the rocks. The pain is tremendous, and when he pulls himself together enough to care about his surroundings again he’s somewhere on the far side of the Sahara, but it was worth it. A hell of a view, absolutely unprecedented.

Ahasuerus

He’s poking his way through the sewers beneath Vienna when he stumbles across a body. It takes him a second to recognize it. “You look terrible,” he tells it.

The body rolls one mildewed eye, blinks, focuses. “Oh,” it wheezes. “Perfect.”

“How long have you been down here?”

The corpse pushes itself up, dislodging the nest of rats carved into its chest.  “Are they still fighting? They’d just started.”

“Six years. No, they’ve stopped now. What happened?”

That patient Roman skin starts to push itself back together. Something meeps down inside, and he picks one eyeless pink raisin out and glares at it before gently putting it down with the rest. “Oh, some asshole stabbed me and dumped me down here and I figured I’d show the Fucker. What are you, come to fetch me back again?”

Ahasuerus stares at him, turning it over. “No,” he sighs at last, “but I guess you never know.”

“Christ,” Longinus says, a prayer and a curse, all at once, inseparable, immiscible.

Ahasuerus

He’s a warning come too late, and they’re a fallout shelter. —Starpilot

The explosions darken the sky behind him, and the blast wave tears at his clothes; he feels his guts shred away, but his death is a dark wave frozen inches from breaking. He limps down the side of what had been a broad lawn, little swirls of ash rising with each step. For the first time in almost three thousand years, he can’t travel fast enough; he lurches as fast as he can, broken legs a disregarded agony, desperate only to get away, to move. An epoch of travel has shown him horrors enough to breed a mighty shell of humor, of ironic distance, but this is beyond all human coping. Poor immortal, he weeps now as Jesus wept, broken by the pointed, specific cruelty of the species.

One step thuds hollowly. He stares with eyes half-boiled away down through lead-lined glass into bloodless, shocked faces pressed against the shelter door. He’s a horror, momentarily godlike in his anger and his disappointment, and he raises his arms and wails at them, a wordless, empty sound, of judgment beyond death; then the old curse descends again, and Ahasuerus shuffles on, weeping dustily, tears boiled away by a completely avoidable disaster.

Ahasuerus

He comes through Heliopolis and everyone is talking about the phoenix, mostly he thinks because it’s a town full of temples and there’s not much to talk about except religion. Phoenix this, phoenix that, immortal bird with a blue beak and a thing for dramatic gestures, ha. He keeps his eyes open whenever he’s in the neighborhood, and figures he sees it maybe a handful of times over the next few centuries, or at least something that might be it, about the size of a hawk, always in the distance, always flying.

He tries following it, once. They walk through the high, dry mountains for days, neither of them stopping for as much as a drink of water, but he loses it in a sandstorm coming down again and writes it off. Probably that was it; he’s pretty sure about that one.

He sets out for the south pole, seeing as how he’s never been there, and puts it out of his mind. He’s honestly forgotten the next time he comes back through, a lot of miles and a brand new calendar since he saw the Nile, but there it is, almost waiting for him, miles up on an updraft. He wipes a dry face and waves at it.

It maybe dips its wings in recognition, one damned immortal to another.

Ahasuerus

He wakes up on Mars, which is fairly unpleasant since there’s not enough air there to get his lungs around, but at least it’s a change. He can see the remains of the lander off in the distance, the famous wreck, so he trudges over to give it the once over. Everything else is all rocks and dust, anyway.

Close up, he can hear muffled sobbing coming from inside, which maybe explains how he got here. He knocks on the door, just to be polite, and positively savors the cold, shocked silence that cuts off the tears.

He knocks again.

After a long, long pause the door opens. He grins at the blank slate of the helmet and shoulders his way inside. The astronaut just stands there, anonymous and unreadable inside the suit. He motions toward the inner door.

There’s air inside. “Hey,” he said. “I thought you had all died.” She’s ravaged under the helmet, gaunt-cheeked and dead-eyed. She’s looking into her death, and she knows it. “I like the plants,” he says. “Very green.”

“They block the radiation,” she says, and her voice is like nothing he’s ever heard, not once in two thousand years of wandering. “And give us air. Air’s one thing we didn’t have to worry about.”

They talk for hours, but then the old itch comes over him and he leaves. He tries to make it back a few weeks later, but that door has closed. He says a Kaddish for her, the first time in centuries.