Somen, son of Soba, was spending another day on Planet Yardrat in grueling tedium. It was his turn to wash the dishes, but he did not like washing the dishes (sensible as he was), so he decided to take a little break.
Stepping outside his father’s apartment, he raised his head to the sky, but there wasn’t anything worth seeing except for several phallic-shaped clouds and the endless green. Because it was daytime, there wasn’t even one star visible to Somen’s naked eyes. He had to close his eyes to concentrate on the various planets around him, and it was real hard work. He was an adolescent or perhaps almost an adult, so concentration was not one of his strengths. Indeed, he had only ever used Instant Transmission once or twice to snag a few Maximum Areolas magazines from random refueling depots in the near vicinity of his homeworld. He had never actually gone far.
Today, he just wasn’t feeling it. Somen needed something more.
The Yardrat did not feel particularly driven by biological desires outside of his control. He only wanted to get away for a short while. His father was out buying himself a new neck warmer, so Somen knew he had an hour or two to kill before his dad would return home and inevitably rant at him for not completing his sacred duty on time.
Without thinking much, Somen concentrated on the nearest planet he could find and leapt through space and time to see what it was like.
The first thing he noticed was that everything was heavy. It was really cold too, but all he could see in all directions was endless dunes of blue sand. Neither a mountain nor civilization was in sight. He was about to leave when he noticed a crashed spaceship in the sands behind him that had left a craterous, charred gash in its wake, and which had cut through the dunes as the ship had plummeted and skidded to its ruinous end. The front half of its triangular shape was buried beneath the desert.
His breath frosted before him. Closing his eyes, the Yardrat realized there was a lifeform inside that ship. Being a good boy (or at least an alright offspring), he went to investigate. That was when Somen found the man on top of his eight-foot-tall android, going at her with such passion and masculine force that the boy felt honored just being in the presence of such potency.
The android, a bald, beige-skinned alien-looking fellow, was gasping and looking around like a space fish out of space water, throwing his hands into the air and back down again with every thrust of the good pilot’s manly prowess.
The pilot grunted and moaned and was sweatin’ real fine, steam rising from his putrid, sallow flesh, his tail wagging up and down energetically. Somen thought about saying hello, but thought better of it when he reminded himself that this was doing nothing for him. He closed his eyes, locked onto another energy source, this one far more concentrated than the pilot’s, and was gone.
A drunken space pirate was making his way down the road, pausing every few seconds to catch himself when he started to sway too severely in one direction or the other. He held in his hand a bottle of some fine liquid, probably Sailor’s Goc, but when Somen flashed into being in front of him, he screamed like a little old lady and threw his bottle at the Yardrat.
Said bottle did not have the courtesy to explode magnificently; bouncing sadly off his forehead, the wasted bottle rolled into the street, spilling out its guts for all of them to see (there were only two of them). A space rat scampered by, shitting itself wetly as it ran.
“Three million, four hundred thousand, five hundred fifty-three space pirates on this rock, but only one me!”
Somen rubbed his head. “Are you talking to me?”
“I like those odds!” the pirate burped, stumbling past him again. “Fuckin’ Goc’s gone, where’s the bartender when I need him, ain’t no one gotta put up with the hardships I put up with, it’s okay, you’ve done good mate, you’ve done good. Take a lil break, take a wee nap here, it won’t matter. I’ll be just fine if–”
He suddenly collapsed onto a pile of garbage and did not move again.
Somen shook his damn head. “I’ve never seen so much hype over nothing.”
He found a stick and poked at the slumbering pirate for a few minutes. Afterwards, he grew bored with such a trite exercise and, realizing this planet had to be some outlaw world, quickly jumped out of there again. Bitterness was on his tongue. Somen regretted not picking up that bottle of Sailor’s Goc. If he had, at least, he would be having a little bit of fun. As it was, not only was he miserable and dreading returning home to all those chores he had yet to complete, but he wasn’t experiencing his relaxation time in a state of heightened existence, as one would if one were as space drunk as that nasty pirate.
The boy envied the man taking a dirt nap on a pile of garbage, but perhaps that was too cruel of him.
He had to keep going–just a little longer, just until his thirst was quenched. He’d go back soon enough.
Amber moonlight shone weakly from a cloud-scarred sky. Dully humming together in low tones, almost white noise, Somen found this world’s wildlife to be nonetheless more vibrant than what he was accustomed to in the wasteland that he called his home. Behind him, a daunting forest loomed. Ahead was the cliff, and below it the sea.
He immediately noticed the humidity, then the rich aroma of freshly-shoveled dirt. The alien was holding a shovel, or something like it, sitting on a rock, whistling into the wind.
“Hey there, over here! Hi! Hello there! Over here! Here, come here! Hey there, over here! Hi!”
The horns above his eyes were different sizes. The huge one on the left made Somen feel uncomfortable. But the man was waving, repeating the same dialogue cues over and over again, so he felt sort of bad for the man. Moreover, the sight of this strangely friendly alien made him feel a sense of comfort and excitement. He was an adventurer, not a dishwasher, so why should that feeling have been unexpected?
Somen nodded awkwardly.
“I’m so glad you came when you did! I was getting worried I’d be out of luck!”
“What is the matter?”
“Oh, dear me, it seems I, Ramponi the Ribald, have lost my fresh cuticle slippers! Please, would you fetch them for me?”
“Where did you lose them?”
“Hell if I know. They’re somewhere in the Bolongian Forest over there! I didn’t go in too deep–well, a little deep–but I can’t go back in there! Not anymore!”
“It’s too spooky for me at this time of night, traveler. Please, would you help me out? My cuticles get so cold on nights like this without my comfortable slippers.” Somen liked a good adventure, and this wasn’t one of those, so he shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. “Ahh, thank you, bless you laddie, bless you!”
It was no fun to be awkwardly embarrassed like that, so the Yardrat quickly excused himself. Ramponi’s eyes were ever on him, so he couldn’t exactly fake it or procrastinate. Instead, he ran headlong into the forest without so much as a torch or flashlight.
That was a bad idea. It was all brambly in there. Densely-packed branches whipped him, their fuzzy leaves tearing at his skin. And the brambles cut at his ankles, veritable thorns in his side poking and pressing harshly against his flesh. He had to stop after twenty feet or so, for the path grew too thick for him to proceed whatsoever at that point. He was also getting tired of this quest. It bored him immensely, and all he could think about was what kind of cool planet would he be off to next.
Pausing to catch his breath, Somen heard a voice coming from his left, deeper into the forest than he currently was. Fumbling blindly, he decided to make his way over there. Being nearly blinded by the darkness, the boy could hardly see his hands, let alone discarded cuticle slippers, whatever the heck those were supposed to be.
Through the branches, he caught a faint glimmer of light. The voice grew louder, though no less indistinct, and Somen realized that he could not approach whoever this was without alerting them to his presence. Twigs snapped, foliage tore loudly, and he grunted and groaned in pain flagrantly.
Somen came into a clearing, noticing a bearded man leaning back in a folding chair, pouring what looked like oil over his head. A lantern was at his feet, illuminating the small clearing. The boy scanned for any signs of a pair of slippers, but found none. A small wooden table was propped up next to the man, where a canister of the oil (presumably) and two full bottles of space beer were placed. Nothing else was out of the ordinary.
Trying to get a better look at what was going on, Somen stepped into the clearing, snapping several branches as he moved. The man let the empty bowl fall into his lap, shaking his head around unnaturally. His eyes milky white and unfocused, the man was clearly blind.
“Harder daddy,” he grunted.
“Sonny…? Space Sonny, is that you, love?”
He refused to speak again. His voice had already betrayed him once.
“Darling?!” a voice cried from ahead, past the clearing, in the thick of the dark forest. “Darling, is that you? What’s the matter, baby? Oh, my sweet little baby darling! Are you okay? Did you soil your space diaper again, cutiepie?!”
“Nah, I’m dry,” the blind, oil-soaked man replied. “I heard something. Come back quick. Someone’s here!”
“Damn Ramponi again!” cursed Space Sonny.
The sound of someone making their way through the thickets and low-hanging branches was all too familiar to Somen’s ears. He felt his cheeks flushing and, in a mad moment of euphoric daring, grabbed both bottles of space beer and fled.
“Slathered up nicely for ya, daddy, real nice,” the bearded man continued to mutter to himself as he fingered the hair around his chin. Red-faced and portly with thick jowls, Sonny’s darling wasn’t much of a looker. But who was Somen to judge? Maybe that’s just what Sonny liked. Somen, on the other hand, much preferred the wind at his back, a fresh locale laid before his eyes. That was true beauty.
“Did ya find ‘em, traveler?” Ramponi asked sharply upon Somen’s return.
Panting, the boy leaned forward, hands on his knees, to catch his breath. He was woefully out of shape. The condition of his body left him nonplussed. “Yeah, uh… there were a couple of guys in there… didn’t see your slippers anywhere though, sorry.”
“Wh-what…?! You were barely in there for ten minutes! Get back in that forest, traveler! My slippers could be lost in the deep! Sonny’s spot is not the only place I visited!”
“Yeah, uh, I’m bored, so I’m gonna bounce.”
“Yes I can. I don’t owe you anything, man.”
“You promised me you would find my cuticle slippers, biped! What kind of space traveler goes against his word?!”
“Find your own slippers, man.”
Taking a sip of space beer, Somen’s blood warmed instantly, and he wretched. The taste was foul, like what he imagined concentrated sourness itself tasted like. Coughing, his eyes watering, the boy hardly noticed Ramponi the Ribald charging him, his fist pulled back.
The punch took him in the collarbone. It was enough to make his vision blur and darken in spots, enough to make the air suck out of his lungs, but it wasn’t enough to drop him. He may have been out of shape, but this probably said more about Ramponi than it did him.
“Find my slippers, damn it!”
He didn’t drop his beers, which impressed Somen. He liked to impress himself; the shot of adrenaline coursing through his body now was enough to make him entirely lucid again. Jumping back from the man, he spun around him, gaining some distance. When Ramponi didn’t immediately pursue him, he took another sip of the space beer. This was Crumpus Tortuleen flavored beer–a flavor he was entirely unfamiliar with, to be sure, and one he would never choose again if he were ever given a choice.
Nevertheless, the feeling the Tortuleen produced in him was second to none. He much preferred feeling like this as opposed to remaining normal. After taking another cheeky sip, Somen’s lackadaisical behavior enraged the horned alien enough to induce him to charge again.
He closed his eyes, trying to focus. It was harder than before, but not impossible. There was another planet not so far away–faint, but there. He could detect more life coming from it than he had felt coming from this planet, or the one before. It took only a heartbeat to lock on.
Ramponi was moving too fast. He was already upon the Yardrat boy, his fist pulled back again. Somen’s collarbone was throbbing with pain; he didn’t like feeling uncomfortable. Taking another blow would be the worst thing in the universe. So, in reflex, he dodged to the left, ducking under the man’s errant lunge and sidestepping him again. He noticed at once that he was much faster than Ramponi when he exerted some effort.
The alien, his eyes bloodshot, spittle running down the side of his mouth, reacted too late. The force of his attack sent him flying forward, and it was at the moment his fist struck pure air that he realized he had messed up bad. Momentum is a fickle thing, as is the first law of thermodynamics, and Ramponi could blame no one but himself when he went flying over the edge of the cliff, falling like a rock into the waters below with an echoing crash that was within seconds swallowed up by the monotonous repetition of waves crashing against the shore.
Like a good boy, Somen waited for two minutes in polite silence, but Ramponi never showed his face again.
“That’s a shame,” the boy sighed, feeling the wind on his face. Those hollowed-out spots behind his eyes were itching. He couldn’t resist any longer. Closing his eyes again, he focused on the energy he had felt earlier, then felt himself being hurled through the Teleportation Zone. The feeling was not entirely that of helplessness, being more akin to riding a wave than piloting a spaceship, he thought vaguely.
In the throne room, hanging energy torches reflected blue and black light off all the stone pillars and tiles. They were gathered around the throne itself, an inky-white stone chair that seemed to drink in the light around it. Sitting on the throne was a small alien with blue skin and a spiky grey-black exoskeleton.
Gathered around him were beings not of the same species–these were bugs, and giant ones at that. Their own exoskeletons were black, their legs too numerous to count. Their bodies were tapered, almost like a space centipede’s, though their two hands were more like pincers or claws, extending twice the length and three or four times the thickness of their legs. Each was standing on its hind legs, their flat faces and black, pupiless eyes reflecting the light like shimmering gems. A few were clicking their mandibles loudly; Somen felt a full body myoclonic twitch shiver down his spine.
That was a poor feeling. He didn’t like it. The boy sucked the remaining beer from the first bottle. The taste was as bad as ever, but he found he did not care so much anymore. He just wanted to stay like this.
A man came into view–this one yellow-skinned, wearing deep indigo and crimson robes. He was a biped, an alien of a species Somen had seen somewhere before, though he couldn’t place the memory at the moment. The man’s hair was gelled back, his forehead creased with wrinkles, his fingers glimmering from all the gold and silver rings he was wearing.
Holding in his hand a jagged onyx knife, he made his way to the throne, bowing deeply before it and raising the dagger above his head as he did.
“Rise, Nectarian,” the boy king proclaimed somberly. “You may proceed.”
“With this act, I proclaim Haimaru, son of Cooler, the rightful heir to the Planet Trade Organization. Ours is a righteous cause! Rise, my lord, and seek those powers which are rightfully yours!”
“Blood for blood!” the congregation murmured. Their voices were thick, high-pitched, alien, and frightening. The Yardrat made sure to crouch behind a stone pillar before chugging his second beer.
“Blood for blood!” Nectarian boomed, raising the glinting knife again. He approached young Haimaru, halting one step below the throne and bowing again. “Lord of the Woebringers, hear me now… Bestow upon this boy that which is rightfully his… give to him all that he deserves, all that is his by rights… Reveal yourself to us, oh noblest Time-Eater!! We ask only for that which is rightfully ours…! Bestow upon us your grace, Lecculini’s Son! Hear me now…! I am Nectarian, Admiral of Emperor Haimaru’s glorious empire. We are your faithful servants, wisest and most terrible harbinger! Come, come now to us in the name of the emperor! Blood for blood!”
Suddenly, he brought the blade down upon Haimaru’s forearm, cutting it open. A spray of bright purple blood burst forth, decorating the ground below the throne. The congregation parted to either side, allowing the blood to remain visible to Somen.
He was just about finished with his second pisswater Crumpus Tortuleen when a flash of black energy pooled above the throne, making him freeze. Everyone else was frozen as well. And then from the portal slithered an unnatural thing, a monster of the worst sort. The Yardrat’s blood ran cold. Its eyes were bright and golden, now blue, now green, now red. It floated, but its movements were all wrong. It was swimming through the air, but facing unnatural resistance as it moved. Slowly, but surely, it convulsed its way down to the base of the throne, where all the emperor’s blood had now gathered in a dark pool. The boy, for all his worth, had neither screamed nor whimpered. He held his forearm up, letting blood continue to flow down his elbow, dripping down the stairs to the floor.
The beast shuddered. He could feel its sighs in his bones. He had to leave. He wasn’t supposed to be here. This wasn’t something he was supposed to have seen. Somen didn’t want to see it. He’d just as well forget all of this if it meant escaping with his life. He tried to think, tried to focus on some other planet, but his mind was moving too fast for him to focus on any single thought. He was so anxious that he kept moving from one thought to another, yet it was in those actions that his anxiety increased. Somen knew not how to stop this endless, paralyzing cycle. He felt helpless, naked, and vulnerable. All anyone had to do was turn around and they would notice him. The pillars weren’t thick enough to hide him completely.
Still, they had not realized he was there so far. He just needed to calm down. That was easier said than done. The beast lowered its black face to the pool of blood, pressing its lips against the warm liquid. As it did, its wings unfurled, bony and black, the shadows they cast upon the wall reaching at least twenty feet in height.
He hadn’t meant to scream. He hadn’t even realized he had until the creature looked at him, its red eyes like two balls of pure energy. There was nothing conscious in the gaze it laid upon him. He felt only desire and rancor coming from it. The bottle fell from his hand, shattering against the stone floor.
They were all staring at him now, most of them clicking their mandibles slowly. No one spoke. The creature opened its mouth wide, showing him how many daggers for teeth it had. His heart was beating so fast. He felt sweat running down his forehead. This was too much… he needed to leave. There was still time. He tried bargaining his way out, but his voice was lost. Somen’s mind was running wild as a wind tunnel, but there wasn’t anything going on inside.
Its bony form became more pronounced when it leapt at him. He screamed then, closing his eyes, falling to the floor, waiting for the moment he was taken. The anticipation sent a harsh tingling feeling down his body that was almost too much to bear. He was losing consciousness. All Somen remembered then was his father, the stacks of dishes next to the sink, the look of disappointment on the old man’s face.
He was a bad son, a loafer, a coward, a lazy, pathetic excuse for a Yardrat. His dad would think he’d just run off, not wanting to finish his chores. But he wouldn’t ever be coming back. He was done for. Dad would never know the half of it. Shame beat him down. That was more than he deserved. He wondered where the monster was. Was it taking its time? He dared not open his eyes again.
Pale light bloomed from beneath his eyelids, and he was flying–against his will. A pink and bulbous face peered out from the haze, glancing at him once, too sternly to give Somen much comfort, and then was gone. The darkness pressed down upon him from all sides, and he felt suddenly weary and more than a little nauseous.
I know that face… I know him… I know him, I know I do… Somen thought desperately. That wasn’t his father, but did it matter? Father? Father?! Save me, father… I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, father, please, bring me home…
“Well, that was unexpected.”
Jimeze’s body was briefly silhouetted by by the light coming in through the window as he walked over to Somen, a steaming cup in his hands.
“Where are we?”
“Home–well, my home. Please, drink. This sorghubie tea will help you regain your stamina, Somen.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Particles of dust drifted between slanting light beams, moving without reason. His head hurt. Jimeze’s house was not unlike his father’s, being made up of stone and glass and wood. The place had an earthiness to it that refreshed him. They were high up, too. No doubt Jimeze lived in an apartment complex as he and his father did. Closing his eyes, he felt the presence of several dozen other Yardrats nearby. It was good to have control over his mind again.
“You’re lucky I was making a jump when I found you. Otherwise you would have been dead. What were you doing, Somen? Those creatures were–”
“I got lost, that’s all. It’s not a big deal. Hey, can you take me home? I have to get back before it gets too late.”
“An inter-universal Instant Transmission requires significantly more stamina than a regular jump,” the taller Yardrat informed him. “I won’t be ready to make such a jump for another day or two at the earliest…”
“But, that’s too long, Jimeze! My father’s going to kill me if he finds out I ditched.”
“But you did.” He looked down upon Somen severely as he continued to slowly pace through the room. “Actions have consequences, Somen.”
The boy was losing patience. The sorghubie tea was too bitter for his liking. “Look, I have to go. Can’t you teach me how to do a jump like that? That way you won’t have to work up a sweat.”
“Hasn’t your father taught you?”
“Strange. I would think since our last meeting he would have done that. Nevertheless, this is not an easy technique to master. It could take you weeks or months to master it. Soba once told me that he had never heard of this technique. It appears that the Yardrats of Universe 7 have forgotten about it. That will only make teaching it to you more difficult, I suspect.”
“Can’t you just try, Jimeze? Please? I’ll owe you big time.”
“Don’t you already?” the man smiled. “Don’t forget I saved your life just now.”
“Right, yeah. I’m really grateful that you were there… I don’t know what to say. How can I make it up to you?”
He was rubbing his chin, his mouth slightly agape, as if he wasn’t sure if he should laugh or not. Then, Jimeze pointed to a dusty crate in the corner of the room. “If you could take that package to my good friend, Doctor Zarbuto… well, we’ll call it even.”
“Th-that’s it…? That’s all you want me to do?”
Chuckling, Jimeze waved him off. “I don’t need anything from you, Somen. I’m already indebted to your father for saving Planet Yardrat, so now we’re even, alright?”
Finishing his tea, Somen stood and walked over to the box. “What’s inside it?”
“Don’t open it. It’s not for you to find out, Somen. Just take it to Zarbuto, and when you come back, we’ll go over some of the basics for mastering inter-universal Instant Transmission, alright?”
“What are they?”
“When you get back–”
“Aw, c’mon Jimeze! I can handle it. If you tell me now, I’ll have some time to think it over before I return. That’ll make everything go faster.”
He poured himself a cup of that awful tea, sitting at the table to sip it slowly. He did look weary–that much Somen knew he wasn’t faking. But still, the itch of impatience, of adventure, of getting back home, was pulling at the boy’s heartstrings with too much force.
“You must possess a clear mind for starters. And you must have intent–you must believe that you can break through to other universes when you use Instant Transmission. When you enter the Teleportation Zone, you can’t let yourself merely be carried by the force within. You have to fight it, break away, and swim against the current. Once you do, the universes will open up to you like the stars in the sky. You won’t be able to sense your destination until you get to this point, however. So you must enter the Teleportation Zone without focusing on any location with your energy sensing abilities. Use your memory alone to remind yourself where you wish to go. It will take a lot out of you, even if you fail. So do be warned. This may take a long time to master. We’ll go over the specific techniques when you return, Somen.”
“And how do I break through the current? I didn’t think that was possible.”
“If your willpower is sufficient, it will happen more readily than you would believe. Regardless, you have to test yourself against the Teleportation Zone’s force. You won’t know if you are capable until you try.”
“I see. Very well then, sir. We’ll try this when I return. Anyways, where is Doctor Zarbuto?”
“Close your eyes, Somen.”
He did. The earthy smell of the room became suddenly more acute. Nostalgia was in his throat, and he had to swallow to stop himself from losing it. Why was he suddenly so sentimental? Where did that come from?
“Do you sense three vibrant worlds nearby? They are to the north. You are facing them now.”
“Past them are another five, spread out evenly, though their signals progressively get stronger the farther out they are.”
“I sense those too,” Somen whispered, feeling the heat and energy of those worlds wash over him with alien vigor. He always thought that he could get somewhat of a sense of what kind of world it was just based on the quality, texture, and color of the world he was focusing on. In these cases, each world was yellow, fuzzy, bursting with light. None of the worlds in Universe 7 had had such energy to them. Yardrat was a green world, opaque and weakly-lit. Not so here.
“To the east of those, past another trio of inhabited worlds is Zarbuto’s homeworld. Do you sense it now?”
He stumbled, lost his way, and started over again. On the second attempt, the path became clear. “I do, yeah.”
“The capital city is where he lives. His lab is located downtown, in the highest spire. You will see the landing pad near the top. That is where you go. Take this box to him, then return to me, and we can begin our training, alright?”
“Sounds good, Jimeze.”
“You better get going, then. It’ll be night soon, and if I know one thing, it’s that Zarbuto hates to miss his nightly space soap operas. You better be quick.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Darker skin than mine–or yours, for that matter. Has a puffy white mustache. He’s older than you would guess. You won’t miss him, though. He always answers the door himself.”
“Very well. I’ll be off then.”
Jimeze stood, setting both empty tea cups gently into his sink, then washed his hands. “Good luck, Somen. Don’t get lost again, please. I can’t afford for that package to be lost in transit.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Don’t open it. Please.”
Somen smirked. His headache had faded somewhat, and he was feeling cocky again. “Not a problem.”
“Lucidity is the main factor,” Jimeze said suddenly, as Somen picked up the box and prepared to leave. “Fighting against the current is the only difficult part. As long as you are mindful and aware, you will be able to break through. Consider that while you’re out.”
‘Thanks, sir. Anyways, I’ll be right back.”
His eyes closed, Somen found it easy to find Zarbuto’s world again. In an instant, he was riding the wave, feeling it press over his body and carry him away from Jimeze’s home. Its force was resolute and unrelenting, but nothing he feared. Indeed, this feeling was, if anything, pleasurable to the Yardrat boy. His mind was clear and his intent obvious. And before he knew it, he was once again in the midst of a new world, this one populated heavily and covered in advanced cities, the skyscrapers all around him truly living up to their names.
There was one skyscraper that rose higher than the rest. Its place was unmistakable, its veracity guaranteed. He could even sense the beings inside it from this distance, and some of them had energy signatures that felt ever so vaguely familiar.
Plumes of pollution and exhaust rose towards the sky from many different points within the city. Spacecraft had formed endless lines coming to and from the surface. It was remarkably lively, yet it all felt so far away to Somen, like he was looking at a picture rather than experiencing any of this firsthand.
“Is that Jimeze’s delivery, boy?” the helmet-and-cape wearing Zarbuto asked, peeking out of a metal slit in his door. “You must be Somen. Got the package?”
“Yeah, he sent me since he was tired.”
“You didn’t open it, did you?”
“You sure about that, kid?”
Somen laughed hollowly. “I mean… what makes you think I did?”
“For starters, I can see the bite mark on your neck.”
“I, uh… that’s not what you think it is! I got that chasing space-badgers back home and–”
“You better come inside, boy.”
He felt a little hot around the collar. He hadn’t meant to disobey a direct order like that, and yet… A part of Somen, neither insignificant nor dominant, had compelled him to act, and he had. And now he was probably going to be in big trouble.
“Do you know what they are? Did he tell you about them?” Zarbuto asked, closing the door behind Somen and leading them down a poorly-lit stone hallway, drab grey and utterly stark in appearance.
“Um… no, not really. He just told me not to open the box.”
“Mhm. And for good reason–pity, really. Now you have no way of getting back. I’ll have to send Jimeze a message.”
“What are you talking about, sir?”
“The Jatli are known to cripple a Yardrat’s ability to use Instant Transmission if their poison enters the bloodstream. Having been bitten,” the weirdly-dressed scientist said, gesturing to the two tiny bite marks on the boy’s neck, “you will have lost this ability too. Come, let me to show you the others.”
“The… what?! Hey, hang on a second… what are you talking about? What do you mean I can’t use Instant Transmission anymore?”
Zarbuto paused before a blue-faced door. “Ah, Somen, it’s rather simple really. The Jatli’s poison affects your species in a bizarre way, almost as if they were engineered specifically for that purpose. Of particular note is the fact that members of other species who know the Instant Transmission technique are seemingly unaffected by this creature’s poison.”
“B-but… I don’t understand… why did you want these? Are you studying them?”
“Oho, now that’s none of your business,” the man replied hastily. “Here, give me the box. All of them are still inside, aren’t they? You didn’t lose any, did you?”
“They’re all in there,” the boy replied quietly, handing over the box in embarrassment. “Is this permanent?”
“I… how could Jimeze not tell me about that before sending me here?! He can’t do that to me!” Somen snarled, anger flaring up within him like a great flame brought to life. “It’s his fault! There better be a solution… I’ll tell my dad… I’ll have him deal with all of you! How dare you force me to transport hazardous material like that and not tell me about it!”
“We told you not to open the box,” Zarbuto replied. “Nasty little creatures though, eh? They look furry and cuddly and have those big green eyes, but their looks are but a deception. What speed they possess, indeed. My goodness, they could have the quickest acceleration of any catalogued species!”
He opened the door, ushering Somen inside. Setting the box on a nearby desk (which was quite messy, being covered in papers and books and the like), Zarbuto cleared his throat and gestured to what lay before them. Somen, still too shocked to properly comprehend what had happened to him, tried to form words and failed.
Not only was that due to his grief, but due to what he saw before him. They were all Yardrats, pink-skinned and green-skinned, men and women, adults and children. And they were all in cages.
“What is this, Zarbuto?” the boy asked, remaining on guard. He felt extremely vulnerable now that his Instant Transmission was gone.
No. It cannot be. I won’t believe it. He’s wrong… he’s just a liar! I don’t feel any less than I did before. Sure that little furry beast bit me, but so what? I don’t feel any worse!
“These are the next generation of Yardrat… much like you. They call their group ‘Health at Every Consciousness’. Has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?”
“What are you talking about, man?”
“These are the first test subjects, Somen. I would not have brought you here had you not been bitten yourself…”
“Ooh, a new recruit, eh?” a woman cried lustily from a cage near the back. “Ooh, bring him to me, to me, Zarbuto! Now! Oh, I can’t wait much longer, Zarbuto! Do it!”
“He hasn’t been quarantined yet,” the doctor replied. “I have to run my tests first…”
“Aw, give ‘em to me. I want a clean one, nice and pretty, knows his place, entirely decontaminated. Mmm, that’d be… delicious,” a gaunt-looking man said hysterically from a cage to their left. He reached between the bars, grasping at air, hoping so recklessly for his dreams to come true.
“I… I don’t understand. What is this place?”
“Health at Every Consciousness was started by those who were bitten by the Jatli… back when the effects of their poison were unknown. But now, it is becoming an increasingly popular way of life–a willing way of life, I should clarify–that many Yardrats are joining.”
“Hurts to think that hard. Don’t you feel it too?” one of them rasped at him. “Nice and calm now. No more feelings beyond my body. I feel me and me alone. Don’t close my eyes no more and get all that noise.”
“Aye!” another concurred, banging his wrist against the bars repeatedly. “We’re sick of all that noise! Damn that noise!”
“Y-you can’t feel energy anymore?” Somen asked them, stunned.
“That’s right. Neither can you, boy. Come on, join us. We won’t bite!”
“But…” Somen blinked, looking from the cages to Zarbuto and back again. “I can still feel everything.”
“Impossible!” Zarbuto said casually, waving him off. “Now come with me, Somen. We need to run some tests. I must make sure the Jatli didn’t infect you with a lethal dose…”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not any different than before. I can still feel it all! It’s all the same!” The boy defiantly stood in place, closing his eyes and focusing on Jimeze’s house on Planet Yardrat again. At once, the familiar feeling returned to him, and he honed in on the energy without trouble.
“Come, then let’s test this and–”
“No, I don’t like this! I’m not going to do it!”
“We’re perfectly healthy, sane, and fit. You cannot tell one’s mental fitness level by how conscious they are!” a Yardrat spat at him.
“Don’t conscious-shame me! You don’t know me! You don’t know what I am capable of! It takes bravery to not succumb to the shame! I am braver than any soldier, than any worker, than anyone!”
“Everyone is conscious to a different degree. No consciousness is better than another. We’re all equal. We’re all beautiful and sane. Let it go, kid. Join us. Sometimes it’s good to blind yourself when what you’re seeing is just garbage and noise!”
“Silence the noise!”
“Silence is bliss!”
“Quiet!” Zarbuto boomed. “Look, Somen. I understand your frustration and fear… but please, I am only trying to help you. Come with me now. We’ll run some tests to make sure you aren’t fatally poisoned. Then, we can discuss if you want to join Health at Every Consciousness or not.”
“No way man. I’m outta here. See ya.”
The scientist lunged for him, reaching errantly as that prisoner had moments before. Like the deluded Yardrat, he too grasped only air.
Somen found himself in the Teleportation Zone, being carried along the stream without a destination consciously in mind. He thought of home, but could not feel it nearby. He thought of his father and Jimeze, of Ramponi and Sonny’s lover. They were all living in different worlds, in different spheres… but he had reached all of them. He may be lazy, he knew, but he was not unaware. Never was that the case. He knew who he was, where he was, where he wanted to go, what he desired most. These thoughts were not separate categories to Somen. He could access them all at once, in concert with one another, without feeling tired.
The stream carried him along for another few minutes. Somen’s mind began to ache as it had after he had downed those two beers. He didn’t like the feeling. He was tired of waiting, tired of drifting, tired of being carried along. Twisting himself around, he looked behind him and noticed the colors were moving only in one direction–forward. Behind, all of the stars and planets were hung in the sky like splatters of paint. He wanted to go home. He had to go home. He missed his father. He had to wash the dishes… he couldn’t disappoint his dad. He wouldn’t disappoint his dad. No, that was not even a possibility. He could not be trapped. The poison was nothing. It was false. It was a lie.
Somen roared, thrusting himself up. His eyes were overwhelmed by the colors, by the movement, by the currents. His body felt like it was being dragged back down. He closed his eyes and continued. Now he could concentrate more easily. The force of the Teleportation Zone waned, and, as he felt himself breaking through, leaving behind Universe 2, the pain, and all his shame, Somen sensed again that familiar energy signal–far off though it yet was–of home. But not just home. He felt the universe: the stars, the planets, life, in so many different examples. The intensity of it all took his breath away. He would have drowned, he knew, if not for that beacon calling him home.
Dad can’t be too mad. I’ll just tell him I learned a new technique… and the dishes can always be done when I get home, can’t they? What’s the rush?
He was flying–surging through space-time–and all Somen could think of was how relieved he was that this adventure was finally over.
|Brennandi||Dyspo Sucks • Appetent Justice • Filthy Monkeys|
|Nú||Old Nishi • He Needs Some Space Milk • The Naptime Championships|
|Nóg||Leap • Really Big Scary Monsters • The Mortal Flaw|