After a truly depressing Monday, it’s now a brand new Tuesday, which means it’s time for another chapter in the ongoing saga that is…
Today, our heroes take their first tentative steps into an entirely new world.
Let’s see how that goes.
This is the city of Boluzai on the planet Poloff Prime. It’s the heart and mind of the Star League, the absolute height of League civilization… and that height is around a hundred feet.
“Quietly,” Gar Barlybar says as we follow softly along behind him. “Don’t worry about traffic. It’ll take care of itself.”
As we step forward into the miniature city’s streets, Gar’s words prove true. The small and bulbous flying cars–a thousand varieties of trucks, sedans, station-wagons, vans–they all flow in a wide arc around us, going about their business like we’re not even there. It’s like we’re surrounded by an invisible bubble.
Meanwhile, the streets beneath our feet are mostly empty, and the few tiny creatures take off running as we approach. They stick to the shadows and hide, leaving nothing to see but eyes glittering in the dark.
It’s never the same number of eyes. Amazing.
Victor whispers, “Where are you taking us?”
“No need to whisper,” Gar replies. “Your spacesuits are quite well insulated.”
“Oh,” Victor says meekly.
It’s true — I can’t even hear my footsteps. The spacesuit’s boots are as quiet as the Seelio running shoes, which never made so much as a peep until I was at full sprint. In fact, the only time I recall them making any noise at all was back in that one instance, when I was chasing the glass praying mantis…
My eyes go wide and I say, “Whoa.”
“Is this place familiar to anyone else?” Adia asks.
“It was an instance,” I reply. “We chased…”
“The bouncing bug,” Alejandra says, finishing my sentence.
Owijer had us hunting fragile simuloids for nearly a month, and as ridiculous as it all seemed at the time, I now realize what that training was for. Every step leaves me feeling more and more like a monster… like some prehistoric beast, risen from the primordial deep with nothing better to do than smash civilization under foot.
In short, I feel like I’m going to break something, and it’s freaking me the heck out. I don’t even like walking through antique shops, and this is a hundred times worse. “What if I bump into something?” I ask.
“Soft nudges won’t harm the buildings, and they’re reinforced vertically, so you can step on any of them. Just don’t run headlong into one… that would be bad.”
We pass from quiet ranch houses into sprawling suburbs, and then into the city itself. Small single-story buildings line up in neat rows, with funny rounded doors, spidery cracks in their outer walls, and spots of brightly colored graffiti. It’s here that we begin to see inhabitants who aren’t completely terrified, merrily walking down the street carrying an assortment of briefcases, backpacks, glowing umbrellas, and bags of groceries.
The small creatures–ranging in height from a few inches to nearly two feet–turn as we approach, step back on their toes, and then watch us go by. All their tiny little eyes light up, and they wave whatever number of hands they have free.
Adia, Alejandra and I wave back awkwardly, while Victor and Cam awkwardly don’t.
“Come along,” Gar says. “We have somewhere to be.”
We pick up the pace, but my head is spinning while I look at all the different kinds of creatures. They move about on one foot, two, five, and too many to count. That one over there looks like a leather chicken rolling around on a… ummm… the end of a ballpoint pen? And there’s a pair across the street that look like alligators mated with spiders. I’m not sure, but I think I just saw a concrete block hop past me.
We move deeper into Boluzai’s downtown, where restaurants and clubs glow in every color of the rainbow. Some are several levels up from the ground, serviced by small flying taxis and buses. No matter what they’re doing, everyone turns in excitement as we approach, and my phone flashes an alert: 410 incoming callers. Answer?
I accept. In return, I hear 410 voices cheering in a big, chaotic smear of sound. It’s like playing at a championship game: there are so many voices, I can’t possibly tell what any of them are saying.
I don’t think it matters much. By their tone, I can tell just how hopeful… happy… loving they all are to see us. It feels like I’m in a boy band, and we just walked into a packed mall.
I almost smile despite myself. Despite Michael disappearing in a green bolt of lightning. Despite not knowing what the heck is going on.
Gar Barlybar leads us into an beautiful park, a long strip of cyan grass with dark red trees, broken up by square reflecting pools and fountains shooting into the air like wire whisks. He walks down the central road, paved in bright white cobblestone, and steps onto a raised platform the size of a bus-stop.
He smiles at us and waves us on, while aliens stream in from all directions to fill the space. “Come along,” he says. “Your public awaits you.”
The five of us reluctantly join him and place our backs to the wall. When we turn, the crowd is now a massive and multicolored mess like a paint shop accident, the thousands and thousands of miniature creatures dancing and cheering, shouting and yodeling in joy.
I think they’re chanting something but I can’t quite make it out. It sounds like anurthi anurthi anurthi.
“Earthian?” Alejandra says.
Yeah, she’s right.
“What’s an Earthian?” Victor asks.
“You are,” Gar says.
“That’s…” I stammer, “the stupidest word I’ve ever heard.”
“No, we’re peacekeepers,” Alejandra says with authority.
“Star League Peacekeepers,” Victor chimes in.
“About that,” Gar replies. “See… Earthian tested better with the Star League focus groups. It didn’t test very well with the human audience though, so…”
That’s why our uniforms have big Es on them. My lip is curling up toward my nose.
“Now,” Gar says, “wave to the cameras and your adoring public.”
“What cameras?” Cam asks, sounding like she has sand in her spacesuit.
Gar doesn’t say anything, but the answer is plainly obvious. The group of plasmeroids hover above us, tracking us as always with their big glass eyes, and now shining blue spotlights in our direction.
Cam lets out a deep throaty growl, and for just a second, I think she might punch a hole in that nice building behind us.
“Calm down,” Adia says. “This isn’t the time.”
Then Gar raises both of his monkeyish hands, and the crowd grows quiet. “Gentle-citizens of the Star League, the day has finally arrived! I now present the young heroes you’ve watched grow over these past few weeks… the mighty guardians of our peoples… the sword that will stand valiantly before the Vanth. Behold, the Earthians!”
Uproar. Arcing streamers. Colorful fireworks that glitter like powdered gemstones.
I and my teammates shuffle uneasily, struggle to smile, fight not to fidget with our hands. I glance over at Cam, and I can see the rage boiling inside her suit. At least it’s not aimed at me this time.
What would Michael do if he were here? He’d know how to handle this. Somehow, he knew how to roll with any strange thing the universe threw at him.
I tentatively raise a hand and wave, and the crowd goes absolutely nuts. “Jasyun!” they cry out, and I try my best not to grind my teeth.
Soon, the others are waving, too, stiff and awkward as marionettes with tangled strings. We’re each pretending to be happy because it’s all we can do.
And as the roar of the crowd swells up, fills the air and overtakes us like a crashing tidal wave, one question pushes everything else out of mind. What in the world is a Vanth?
That’s all for today. The next installment, Chapter 17: Quesadilla, should be up sometime next week!