Greetings on this lovely Thursday! Time for another helping of Jason Yun’s adventures in the oddity of space…
Earthian! Today’s episode is called Inspire and it’s coming your way in 3, 2, 1…
Owijer treated us to a nice warm meal that night in one of Valiant Base’s cafeterias; they got Más Rápido delivered to the Moon somehow, and I was stoked. Practically crying. It’s nice being catered to sometimes.
Then our host showed us how to operate the archways using our phone-tattoos, and we were allowed to bed down for the night.
My room was… odd. A hollowed out sphere with a flat bottom, like a scoop of ice-cream melting on the sidewalk. The furnishings were made of a soft material in dull grey, like a baby elephant’s hide.
I’ve always been a finicky sleeper, so there was no chance of real rest. Instead, I sat there for hours looking at and fiddling with my new phone… which happened to be printed on my skin. Or maybe it was a perfectly thin sticker. I really couldn’t tell. It was just there.
A swipe across its surface brought up the interface: diagrams, text, and pictures laid directly over my vision, even when I closed my eyes. They only went away when I swiped it back off.
Throughout most of that first night, it just told me to go sleep. Appointment in 8 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours…
Daylight. I can feel it… see it through my closed lids. It’s like I just woke up in a sunny field, on top of a not-too-rough blanket. I could spend the entire day like this. Just…
Why am I in a field?
I open my eyes, and I’m in my little grey pod–the baby-elephant suite–and the sunlight is coming from something floating near the ceiling that’s too bright to look at.
I hear a ringtone, and look all around for my cellphone but it’s nowhere to be found. It rings again, and my wrist itches, so I scratch it. The Seelio phone’s interface pops up and plays a short video from Owijer, explaining our upcoming training schedule.
Guess what? Training starts today.
As I swing my legs over the side of the bed, all the phone’s graphics fade, leaving only dim traces behind. But when I try to focus on them, they brighten back up right away. “You clever little squids,” I say to no one.
Across from me, there’s a weird table shaped like a brick, and a set of clothes laid out neatly on top.
There’s a one-piece jumpsuit made of something silvery, with angled streaks of blue, and more of the same color on the shoulders and collar. It doesn’t look like anything I’d ever buy… except maybe if Wiley was dragging me to a sci-fi Halloween party.
There’s a logo on the breast in a really aggressive typeface. It says E4.
I know what the 4 is… but what the heck is with the E? I suppose it doesn’t matter much.
I lift up the jumpsuit intent on putting it on, and I’m hit by an immediate roadblock: there’s no zipper. No buttons, no screechy velcro, not even a seam.
I have some aspirin in my pack somewhere.
I’ve now reverted to monkey-mode, holding the material up right in front of my face, flipping it around, sniffing it. The lightly-antiseptic odor teaches me nothing.
My inner monkey gets angry and I tug on the fabric, and it just comes apart. It splits down a perfectly straight line where I’m sure it had been one solid piece only seconds before.
I push the two sides together and they seal back into one, like two puddles of syrup on a paper plate.
“What the heck is this stuff?”
The phone interface jumps into action and highlights the suit with a glowing box. Friendly letters nearby say Polyplasmer Compound — Details Unavailable.
“Polyplasmer?” I say. “That is not a word.” At least, I hope it isn’t. Looks like someone just bashed a couple of perfectly good words together and left the mangled result on the screen.
My phone doesn’t reply, so I shrug and pull the back of the suit apart again. It splits neatly down the center, and I climb inside.
My feet pop out of the legs, then my hands pop out of the sleeves, and the back closes itself. They feel a little loose, but good. Then there’s a super weird feeling like… like I’m being sucked through a giant straw, and the jumpsuit’s snug. Very snug.
Thankfully, the material is weirdly thick, otherwise it might look embarrassing. I’m pretty sure people will just see a cool suit, and not my personal details.
I find a pair of shoes to match the jumpsuit on the floor. They’re in a style I prefer–five-toed with a pair of straps–but made of the Seelio’s polyplasmers (seriously?).
All suited up, I do some stretching and run in place for a few seconds. I do some high-jumps, pulling my knees into my chest, and the suit feels kind of incredible. These guys have mastered athletic wear.
And I seriously can’t wait to find out what else the costume does. I mean, it’s gotta do something cool, right? Maybe the it turns into armor, or a spacesuit… or maybe I can turn invisible!
As I walk toward the archway, I’m idly wondering if I can shoot lasers out of my chest. Then I’m worried that I can, and that it might accidentally go off.
It must have a safety… or, I try to remind myself, it might not even exist.
My phone-tattoo selects a destination all on its own and the archway shimmers with a wavy blue light. Blue again. I’m starting to feel like the Seelio are a little unimaginative when it comes to colors… but I guess I can forgive one minor lack of creativity.
Besides, who doesn’t like blue?
There’s a bright white gym on the other side of the arch. It’s just there all of a sudden, at least a few hundred yards long, with a subtle grid on the walls and floor. My new teammates are already out there and waiting, dressed in jumpsuits just like my own, with a swarm of baby-robots floating just above their heads.
I’ve got an optimistic feeling looking at them. None of us spoke much during the first day’s tour, and we’re from all over the place, but this feels like a team all of a sudden. Just wearing the same uniform makes me feel like I belong.
On the other hand, I’m late. Nothing messes with my nerves like having the class watch me wander in.
“Hi,” I say, and offer an awkward wave. “Jason Yun. How’s it going?”
One of the robots breaks away from the group and floats over to my shoulder. He offers a wave, and I wave back.
Next thing I know, there’s a hand shaking mine. “Michael Oxbow,” the hand’s owner says. “You can call me Mike.”
“Pleased to meet ya, Mike.”
He’s casually charming. His eyes are always smiling, and everything he says sounds like a coach’s pep talk. His style of handshake seems less like a greeting, and more like we’ve just struck a deal. I instantly feel like I know him despite the fact he’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before. Michael Oxbow is magnetic.
Alejandra, the Peruvian girl, is next. She nods to me and says, “Alejandra Solis. Charmed.”
“Victor Dassler.” says the Austrian. He looks unimpressed at the sight of me in a way I’m… well, pretty much used to.
“Adia Maathai.” The Kenyan. She offers a curt wave and a wry smile.
The Vietnamese girl is standing further back, and reluctantly says, “Cam Trinh.” She doesn’t come off as shy, though; she looks quiet, strong, and like she’d rather be anywhere else.
I guess a trip to the Moon can’t please everyone.
At that point, I want to say something to keep the conversation going, but I can’t imagine what. The only one here I could possibly have anything in common with is Michael, but something tells me we travel in different social circles. So instead, my lips twitch like I’m about to say something, I look to the side, and I’ve got nothing.
Michael gives my shoulder a friendly pat. “Don’t sweat it, Jace. We’ve all been failing to make small talk for minutes now.”
I smile and laugh, and everyone else chuckles. Then awkward silence falls. According to my phone, twenty minutes pass that way. The gym is a big empty cavern of a room, and I can hear every time someone sighs or scratches an itch. Both become more frequent until I can’t take it anymore.
Victor finally breaks the silence with a growl. “This is ridiculous,” he says. “They invited us up here to stand around like a bunch of monkeys.”
I don’t think monkeys stand around a lot, but I don’t necessarily disagree with his point.
“It could be worse,” Adia says with a mischievous grin. “They could’ve served us for dinner.”
“Just keep cool, guys,” Michael says. He’s standing with his hands behind his back. Parade rest, I think they call it. He adds, “They just want to see how we react.”
“He’s right,” a small and cheerful voice says.
Everyone turns at once, and there standing not five feet away is Owijer, dressed in his shiny vest and smiling like he just ate the canary and blamed it on the cat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a creature this giddy… not even June.
“And I must say, you’ve all acquitted yourselves most admirably.”
Adia says, “Great. We passed a waiting around without murdering each other test. My nursery school teacher would be so proud.”
Owijer raises an eyebrow… or whatever that reddish streak above his eye is. “Yes,” he says, “be that as it may, I’m still so very pleased. You could have argued, fought… even, as you said, murdered each other. I find your kind to be a little difficult to predict sometimes.”
Victor clears his throat. “So, are you going to tell us what we’ve gotten into?”
Owijer smiles politely. “Yes, yes. I guess I’ve held you in suspense long enough.”
The lights blink out all at once, and we’re in perfect darkness. I’ve never been in such an all consuming shadow in all my life. Then I see a point of light. It vibrates and wobbles and spins like one of those ground flower fireworks.
“Welcome,” Owijer says in the swollen blackness, “to the Star League.”
The point of light expands, as if all the popcorn in the bag popped all at once, and we’re overwhelmed by a luminous cloud of stars. It’s a swirling spiral of blue and gold. The Milky Way, spinning drunkenly on one edge like a coin about to fall.
The galaxy’s gyration slows as we plunge inside of it, a million stars in every shade of the rainbow streaking past like torches burning in the night.
“One-hundred thousand worlds and twice as many species, living together in peace and unity.”
Didn’t he only say thousands of worlds on TV? I make a mental note and keep listening.
“And among all this diversity, we’ve come to you for help. I’ve personally come to ask you six to stand tall and fight for freedom as the new heroes of our republic.”
The galaxy fades, and the gymnasium’s lights return. I feel befuddled. Is that a word? I think it’s the right one.
I glance at my new teammates and they’re all pumped up. Michael has water jiggling in the corner of his eye, and Alejandra’s smile is as bright as the sunshine. Adia is nodding, Cam looks pleased for the first time I’ve seen, and even Victor’s wince is gone.
But I’m befuddled. First off, what did he actually reveal? It was just a pretty light show and some moving words. There was zero new information.
Second, he dove straight into the flattery again. Maybe I’m being dense, but I can’t figure out how skipping stupid stones is supposed to make me the greatest living creature in the whole galaxy.
I don’t want to rock the boat, though, so I smile. I nod. I wonder when someone’s going to realize they got the wrong guy and ship me back to Earth.
Guess I’ll just have fun and enjoy the ride until they do.
Next up will be Chapter 10: Jump, which I hope to deliver sometime this weekend (maybe Sunday). Keep your eyes out!