Happy May Day, everyone! Let’s celebrate with a little more of…
Earthian! The adventures of one normal teen in the farthest, most ludicrous reaches of space!
Let’s get to it!
Despite my slow start, things began to gel in the second week. The six of us–Michael, Cam, Adia, Alejandra, Victor, and myself–we were slowly but surely becoming some kind of team. At the same time, Owijer was turning each of us individually into Star League Peacekeepers… whatever the heck that ever meant.
All our group activities seemed to involve running and chasing in those early days, while the instances we did alone were designed around our personal skills. For me, that meant dribbling soccer balls past groups of simuloids, doing trick courses on a bicycle, free running across more weirdly shaped playgrounds, biology research in simulated forests, and… and skipping stupid stones.
I was fully onboard with the program at this point, but my little inner Wiley was full of suspicion. And much like the real Wiley back on Earth, I couldn’t shut him up. What the heck could any of this possibly train me for?
I’m not sure what the others did during their instances; we were hungry and exhausted all the time, which pretty much killed conversation. Honestly, I just slept and ate and hoped their training was as ludicrous as my own.
Something troubled me more, though: my biology training was mostly survey work, finding and describing specimens, dissecting plants and small animals… but they were all simuloid replicas of Earth animals. I still knew as much about the Star League as when I started.
The worst part? I still hadn’t seen a single giant robot. There was only the little blue guy following me around, looking on with his big glassy eye and occasionally flashing a thumbs up. He acted almost like a bodyguard, but I doubted a floating plastic baby could put up much of a fight if things went wrong.
Then one day, Owijer made me forget all about giant robots…
It’s our twelfth day and the six of us are standing in the gym again. We’re calm and relaxed, too muscle tired to be restless. Too stubborn to take a proper rest.
The lights (wherever the heck they are) seem a little brighter right now. A little more harsh. Maybe it’s just me being strung out and tired.
Owijer walks up, and for the umpteenth time, I never saw him coming… he’s just there all of a sudden like a TV character walking into frame. I don’t know if he’s the sneakiest person I’ve ever met, or if I’m truly losing my marbles. Probably a bit of both.
“Greetings, Peacekeepers!” he says with a giggle. “I have fantastic news for you!”
No one makes a peep.
“For your next challenge, you’ll be running a relay race across an entire city! Sounds exciting, right?”
Victor sighs. Someone had to.
“What’s wrong, guys? Don’t you enjoy training?”
“It’s just,” Michael says. “Well… we’re pooped, Owijer.” From the tone of his voice, I somehow think Michael’s never said those words before. They sound awkward, like his tongue doesn’t quite know the shape of them. Or maybe he’s just that wiped-out.
Did I mention that we’re tired?
“My goodness,” Owijer says in mock surprise, “you’ve all lost your sense of humor.”
“Which part of hell am I in?” Cam asks.
“There’s no relay race,” the alien says. “And you’re all so beat that it’s not even fun to poke fun. I’m poking no fun.”
He gracefully dances in a half-circle around us, moving much more smoothly than when we first met him. He barely touches the floor now, instead just gripping at it with the tips of his tentacles, and I frankly have no idea what’s keeping him upright. It wouldn’t even surprise me if he swam up into the air; gravity here doesn’t always do what I expect, and I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone about it.
Owijer stops next to a large table that wasn’t there a minute ago. He loves to make things appear behind our backs, and in all honesty, it annoys the crap out of me. Life here on Valiant Base is like living with a magician who won’t stop doing tricks: fun at first, but sometimes you just want them to hand you a salt shaker instead of pulling it from behind your ear.
The top of the table is too bright to look at, gold like a summer sunset and a touch warm. It dims some, and I can see six shadows in the light. Curved and sharp. Long barrels with handles, just the right size to hold in hand.
When only a soft glow is left, I can see the six weapons clearly. They’re bright red like fire-engines, and made of another slick Seelio polyplasmer. The shapes are something like cartoon rocketships, attached to handles that are padded, squooshy and inviting.
If they shelved these things in a toy store, ten-year-olds would snap them up… but my teammates and I, ranging in age from 16 to 20, are squinting and crossing our arms.
“Today, Peacekeepers, I present to you the mighty weapons that will help you guard and defend the Star League. Behold… the VegaRay!”
Why do I feel like I’m reading one of my grandfather’s ratty old sci-fi magazines?
“Please, take them, take them. Choose whichever is at hand. They’re all identical down to the smallest detail.”
I step forward and pick one up. It’s got a nice heft, and doesn’t feel much like a toy, so that’s a plus. The padded grip is just as comfortable as it looks. But the whole thing still looks kind of dumb.
The others have all taken theirs, and look about as impressed.
“Come along,” Owijer says, and he beckons us to follow with a wave of his tentacle. A cylinder rises up out of the floor and he leads us around it, then into another instance.
An overcast day. A clearing in an old and scraggly wood, with splotchy patches of grass scattered around the beige dirt. It looks and feels like it could rain at any moment, and the occasional breeze has a knife’s edge.
“The VegaRay is the most advanced personal weapon to ever exist within the Star League, designed by the greatest Seelio engineers in order to meet your unique needs as Peacekeepers.”
Most advanced. Greatest. Unique. I could set my watch by this little guy’s exaggeration. I mean… I like him and all, but this is getting to be a bit much.
“You’ll find the controls through your phone. There, you can unlock it and set it to either Beam or Blade.”
“Did you say blade?” I ask greedily. My pulse quickens at the idea we’re actually about to get something cool.
“Indeed!” Owijer says, and he pats his tentacles together like he’s clapping. “Please, try it! Try it!”
I wake my phone and see VegaRay listed under Connected Devices now. I choose Blade just about as fast as I can, and feel the weapon moving in my hand.
It’s now straight like a sword’s handle, but nothing else happened. Do I have to pull the trigger? Let’s just squeeze this, and… Panic! Where am I pointing it right now? Is it gonna put my eye out?
I reach out my arm just as I hear the blade turn on. It’s a hissing noise with a warble, like someone overfilled a balloon and didn’t shut off the valve. And there, streaming out from the end of my hand is a green bar of light.
Green! It’s not blue!
I wave it around carefully, and I just can’t believe this. Why do I suddenly have an urge to go cut holes in the walls?
Adia says, “What is it? Plasma?”
“Light,” Owijer replies.
Now she’s incensed. “How can that be possible?” she demands hotly. “Light has never been observed behaving this way.”
The alien smiles bashfully. “Tell me… Have you ever observed photons with extradimensional spin?”
Adia scrunches her forehead. I’ve got the impression most of her A Grades are in different sciences, and yet she looks as confused as I feel. “I don’t…” she stammers. “I don’t know what that would do.”
“We do. We call them drunk photons because of the way they stumble around and bump into each other.”
“What can it cut through?” Victor asks, and I’m glad he’s steering the conversation in a different direction.
Owijer smirks and says, “It can’t cut through anything.”
Michael’s offended. “Come again?”
Owijer’s reply is simple. He says, “Think quick,” and points toward the sky.
A swarm of bat-simuloids fill the air like shards of a broken window. It’s a flapping, glittering mess of glowing glass, slicing down out of the sky at us.
There isn’t time to think; only react. The six of us tense up, hold our breaths for a beat, and begin swinging. Flash! Flash! Every hit feels like an exploding firecracker, and sounds like a bass drum slapped with a big wet mackerel.
Flash! A simuloid tumbles backward with a quick jolt, glitters and skitters along the ground. Flash! One flies high into the air and arcs back down, bouncing and finally coming to rest.
In the span of a few seconds, the air is clear and my team is standing in a loose circle, all on guard and ready. Shoulders heave all around. I hear panting in the exact same rhythm as my own.
Then the strangest thing happens… one by one, the simuloids get up, shake themselve’s off, and waddle away. Not a single one is shattered across the dirt.
Owijer is there again, from wherever (sigh). “You see… the VegaBlade doesn’t cut anything. Just drives it back, stuns it…”
“And protects it against the fall,” I say. They’ve invented the universe’s most perfect wiffle bat.
Before anyone can say another word, I lift my vegablade up and swing it back down into the ground. Flash! A big pile of dirt blasts out in every direction, leaving a divot as smooth as one made by an ice-cream scoop.
I clearly didn’t think that one through; I lost my weapon, I’m covered in dirt, and my eyes sting . Good job, Jason. Thankfully, I hear a clatter like a plastic food container, and it has to be the vegaray pistol coming down.
I wipe my eyes, only to find the rest of the team similarly covered in dirt and glaring back at me. So I shrug.
Owijer doesn’t look particularly pleased either. He says, “Yeah, so… the technology isn’t quite perfect. When you hit something that’s anchored in place… well, it can be a little destructive.”
“Sorry,” I peep.
“Jason,” Owijer says, “go get your pistol.”
As I trot over to retrieve it, I notice a few new additions to the instance: a big marble column and a simuloid shaped like a deer. The simuloid is walking calmly around the column, stamping at the dirt, and waving its tremendous antlers around.
My weapon is once again shaped like a pistol and is lying on its side. I guess it shuts off the moment it’s out of hand… the instant it’s disconnected from my personal network.
I pluck it up and it luckily looks no worse for wear. This polyplasmer is smooth as glass, and didn’t pick up a scratch in all the commotion.
When I get back, the team are all waiting at a small wooden fence. I fall in line and Owijer begins his lecture again. “Now, let’s move on to training with the Beam mode. By overlapping a large array of lasers, each with varying wavelengths…”
Jargon, jargon, blah blah blah…
“…we can induce a number of different physical effects.”
Geeze, will he ever stop?
The deer downrange suddenly looks frightened, and it ducks behind the column.
“Mr. Oxbow, please set your VegaRay to Level 5 and fire on the column.”
Michael lifts his pistol up, sights down the top fin, and squeezes the trigger. That same instant, a too-bright beam of crimson shoots out and strikes the column dead-on.
The column explodes in shower of rubble, and the glass deer is suddenly out in the open.
“Excellent!” Owijer cheers. “Now set it to Level 1, and pacify the simuloid.”
Michael aims carefully, pulls the trigger, and another crimson beam blasts out. It hits and… the deer explodes in a shower of glowing glass. The trees behind it burst into a shower of splinters. The hillside behind them explodes. I would imagine something behind the hill also exploded, but it’s hard to be sure.
“That…” Owijer says with a very long pause, “that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“Wow,” Cam says.
Victor’s eyes are wide, and for a second, I think he’s about to drop his gun. Adia (as usual) is smiling, while Michael and Alejandra share a look of concern.
Me? I light up my phone and turn the dang blaster off.
“We’ll have to look into that,” Owijer say. “In the meantime, uhh… please keep your VegaRay holstered, and ummm… only use it in blade mode should the need arise.”
“I’d be glad to holster mine right now… if I had a holster,” Alejandra says.
Owijer simply smiles and points at her thigh, and though we totally shouldn’t be surprised at this point, we still are. We each have a holster now, apparently melted out from the side of our uniforms. And in short order, all six holsters are filled with remarkably dangerous red pistols.
Next up in the continuing saga of Earthian, we’ll spend a little time outdoors with Chapter 12: Luna, coming your way next Tuesday. See you there!