Happy Thursday, everyone! Let’s have some more adventures in space…
Tonight’s episode is called Gloss and it picks up directly after Tuesday’s chapter, Farther.
And away we go…
Owijer. He’s unmistakable, and I’m amazed at just how easy it is to tell two of these aliens apart. If someone put two squid in a tank and asked me to recognize them by face, I couldn’t do it. But the Seelio… their features are as big and bright as a cartoon character’s. They’re human-like somehow, despite having heads like half-filled water balloons and mouths surrounded by tentacles.
So many tentacles.
Owijer stretches up on his tippy-tentacles and waves again. He’s got on a big smile, looking as eager as I am on pancake day.
So I start to walk, and I hear other shoes on the carpet around me. June bounds forward, and I grab the loop on her backpack to slow her down.
It’s right about then, mid-stride, that something funny strikes me. I’m walking. Pretty casually, actually. On the Moon. Why aren’t I bouncing like a spastic kangaroo? By all rights, I should be on my face right now, but I’m not.
At the same time, the metal chain around my neck seems to be bouncing oddly. You know how you never notice your jewelry unless it does something weird? Yeah, well I’m noticing it right now.
As we near the speckled little blue being, I’m struck by his size. Now, I have to be completely honest with you… I’m not a tall guy. I tell people I’m 5’5”, but there’s at least a half-inch of fiction in there, and if my folks are any indication, this is the end of the line for me.
When I get near Owijer though, it’s like I’m standing in front of a sixth grader. Even June is a head taller than him, and she’s not even five-foot yet.
She giggles, and Owijer’s cheeks blush green.
“Hello! Hell-OH!” he says cheerily. As he speaks, the small robots hovering above him are glancing around, watching everything with the big lenses on their heads. Made of shiny plastic in pastel colors, they’re nevertheless shaped like humans… like tiny chubby babies who are lounging around in the air.
The robots wander away from Owijer, and they each take up posts above the candidates. Mine is a shade of blue-green, and he offers a wave of his pudgy little hand.
I shrug, smile and wave back, while June’s arm is swinging around so hard, I’m worried she might dislocate her shoulder.
“Welcome to Valiant Base, new friends. As I’m sure you know, I’m Owijer Tot-Alain, official representative of the Seelio, and administrator of the Peacekeeper Project. You can just call me Owijer, if you like.”
He dances lightly on his four stubby leg-tentacles as he speaks, and I can’t help but smile. There’s something so charming about him and his sing-song way of talking that I just want to walk up and pinch his cheek.
He goes on. “I’ve searched across undiscovered star systems great and small, facing dangers as I had never thought possible, and all of it to find you… an amazing and altruistic species, and you six individuals in particular who are most extraordinary among your kind.”
I frown while a ripple of self-doubt wiggles inside of me. I’ve never felt extraordinary. I think I’m pretty good sometimes, but I’ve never really managed to stand out. How on Earth is this happening to me?
“Should you graduate from training here at Valiant Base… and I have no doubt you will… you’ll all become the first Star League Peacekeepers, charged with defending the entire League against dangers inside and out.”
“Mr. Owijer,” June says. Of course she’s the first one to interrupt him. “What is the Star League exactly?”
Is she taking notes on her tablet?
Owijer takes her rudeness in stride with a warm smile. “The Star League is an alliance of more than 1,200 species, whose cooperative civilization spans the galaxy.”
“Could you tell us more about…”
Owijer cuts her off and says, “You’ll learn more in due time. I promise, Ms. Yun.”
I can see from her expression (scowling bitterly at her tablet) that she’s not satisfied, but she’s at least pacified. That’ll have to do.
“Follow me,” Owijer says, and he begins to trundle off toward a large archway leading deeper into Valiant Base. We all follow slowly behind.
“Your training here is scheduled to run for 28 days, during which you’ll undergo physical conditioning, learn about the Star League and its laws, and qualify with your new equipment.”
I may not be a sci-fi junkie like Wiley, but I’ve seen enough movies to suddenly have a few awesome ideas about this equipment. Powered armor. Spazer cannons. Light swords. Hologram projectors. Sonic spanners… Jets that turn into freaking robots!
I’m smiling like I just walked into a car dealership after winning the lottery, but the smile turns into a look of confusion. We cross into the tunnel, and it’s… not a tunnel. I’m sure I saw a tunnel through this archway earlier, but now we’re in a spacious meeting room instead. No one else looks confused, though. I must have been mistaken.
The room is a hollow sphere (I’m sensing a design motif here), with some kind of machine in the center that throbs with blue light. It’s shaped like a bulb of garlic, and if you made me guess at its purpose… I’d fail.
It throbs meaningfully, encircled by egg-shaped chair, while everyone stands around staring at it.
“Have a seat,” Owijer says congenially.
Everyone’s butt finds a chair, then the flying robots give a thumbs-up and descend. They hand each of us a blue bracelet made of something shiny like a butterfly’s wings. It feels silky smooth, but it stretches like elastic.
“Please,” Owijer says. “Put them on. It’s no harm… they’re only translators. We call the device the Brain Annihilator 5000.”
I can only hear the strange machine throbbing. Everything and everybody else has gone silent all at once. Stopped breathing. Did he say…
“Oh!” Owijer says, followed by one of his singing laughs. “You should see the looks on your faces!” Our tiny squid-like host then (and I kid you not) collapses on the floor laughing. It’s a funny noise he makes, something like a baby playing with its tongue.
As for us poor humans, we’re all stunned. It’s just not fair. After what I’ve seen, I’d literally believe anything. Owijer could shed his skin to reveal a giant, leg-eating mantis, and I think I’d take it in stride.
“You little jerk,” June says.
Owijer’s laughter dies away, and he just kind of splashes back up into a standing position. The way he moves in that instant confuses my eye, and its easily the most alien thing I’ve ever seen him do. The one thing that’s now clear though, is that there aren’t any bones inside of him. He must be tensing his whole body in order to walk around like that. Why? Is that his imitation of us?
“Ahem,” he says, “but seriously. It’s just a simple phone that also translates between any languages in our codex. The device needs to be tuned to your particular physiology first, though.” Looking embarrassed and maybe a little queasy, he says, “Please, just slide it over your wrist… it won’t bite… then we’ll begin.”
June looks at me and the expression on her face isn’t one I see often: questioning and afraid.
I’m not the one she’d normally want for support, but I’m here and I’m all she’s got, so I smile and slide the bracelet over my hand. It sits snug around my wrist, and my head’s still right where it should be. I give June a nod and say, “Looks like my brain’s still intact. At least, flargle jum french-toastly.”
She squints, slugs my shoulder and puts her shiny new bracelet on, while I glance around to the others. They’ve all got there’s on, and it looks like our antics are holding up the show.
I shrug apologetically, and the blonde guy snickers. I already know I don’t like him.
Then things get creepy, and I forget about hating him. The room’s lights dim down, while the ones on the machine begin racing from the ceiling to the floor. It’s hypnotic, and more than a little terrifying.
I raise my hand up and see the bracelet crackling with little fingers of blue lightning, dancing in time with the machine. I notice a rushing noise somewhere in the room, but no breeze.
The lights come on and I’m still staring at my wrist, and my eyes are bugging out because the bracelet’s gone. Sort of. Where it used to be, there’s now a shiny blue ring printed on my skin. “How the hell?”
June says something completely out of character: “I don’t know.”
“Are they working?” Owijer asks.
“How would we know?” the Kenyan girl asks. Adia Mathaai. Her lips are moving strangely, and I feel like I’m watching a live performance of a badly dubbed kung-fu movie.
“I think that answers the question,” the blonde guy says. Victor Dassler, I think. He’s supposed to be Austrian but I don’t hear any trace of an accent. No one has any particular accent, actually.
“Whoa,” I say, and somewhere in the back of my mind, Wiley’s making a snide comment about how garrulous I am… or whatever ten-penny word he’s hooked on today.
Adia is examining her wrist using the magnifier app on her phone, and she seems to be perfectly fascinated. “Amazing,” she says.
The Vietnamese girl, Cam Trinh says, “It really is. I’ve never seen anything this advanced.”
“Well,” Owijer says bashfully. “We did come zooming all the way across the galaxy. Did you expect walkee-talkees?”
Cam smiles but it disappears quickly, and she looks dead-serious again.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand.” This guy’s black and a couple years older than me. He’s not dubbed over, so he must be Michael Oxbow. “How could we understand you before we got these?” he asks. “I don’t think I get how this works.”
He’s right, and thinking about it makes my head hurt a little.
Owijer giggles in his precocious way. “Oh, it’s all so very complicated. Let’s not get bogged down on the details right now.”
June is fully bogged down already (deep at the bottom of the bog, with a snorkel that isn’t long enough), and she’s biting her lower lip in consternation over Owijer’s brush-off.
But me? I can do without the technobabble. We’ve got more information to cover than how their toaster makes toast. Although, there was one particular toaster I couldn’t get out of my head…
“Mr. Owijer?” I say, raising my hand like a dork.
“Just Owijer is fine,” he says. “What is it, Jason?”
“What about the doorway?”
“I’m sorry. Come again?” the tiny Seelio says in return.
God, am I going crazy? Just ask. “When we got here…” I stammer, “the archway led into a tunnel… but it took us into this room instead.”
Owijer squints at me then flashes a tentacle-smile. “You’re a sharp one, Mr. Yun,” he says. “Don’t ever stop surprising me.”
With that, he bounces up onto his tentatoes and begins to waddle toward the door. “Come along,” he says. “It’s easier if I just show you.”
That’s all for Chapter 7. We’ll be back here on Tuesday with Chapter 8, called Here. See you then!