Chapter 11 A Friend

     The box spilled over, knocking Tommy onto the floor and landing the buckets on top of him. The ship was rocking back and forth. They must have just launched into space!
     “Why didn’t you wake me up when the aliens got back?” Tommy thought out to the wristband.
     “I didn’t know! When you sleep, I sleep. That’s the way it works,” the wristband replied through something like a yawn.
     Running over to one of the portholes, Tommy peered out into space. The porthole was in the rear of the ship, letting him see where they were coming from. The moon! They had been inside of the moon! No wonder people on Earth didn’t know the station was there. They had launched from one of the craters on the surface.
     “Who are you?”
     Tommy jumped and banged his head against the rim of the porthole. He didn’t know which scared him more, hearing the young female voice, or the fact that the wristband had started vibrating without warning. Or it was a combination of both.
     Flipping around, he saw what almost looked like an Earthling. She was young, probably about the same age as himself, with olive-colored skin, and incredibly green eyes. Not green like an Earthling’s would be – which is why Tommy figured she wasn’t human – but a florescent, jade green. She had shiny, brown hair? Or were they feathers? She was as skinny as he was, and wearing something that resembled a traditional Chinese dress, riddled with bright, elegant colors, but mostly red.
     “Excuse me, but I asked who you were?” she reiterated.
     Tommy’s face flushed red. He had been caught. Would he have to go back?
     “Uh, I’m Tommy.” he finally answered.
     “Well Tommy, I’m Sabreen,” she stated as she held out her hand.
     Reaching out cautiously, he tried to figure out what the girl would do if he took her hand.
     Seeming a bit impatient, she grabbed his hand and shook it. The curiosity escaped his mouth before he had a chance to reel it in, “For an alien, you sure do act a lot like an Earthling.”
     “What do you mean? You sure act a lot like an alien,” she said with an obvious stress of the word “alien.”
     The wristband was translating her speech into words that made perfect sense. “I’m sorry, it’s just that everything I’ve seen around here has been so odd, and well, you look so human!”
     “So human huh? My Dad always told me you Earthlings were strange. Now I guess I know why.”
     “Me? Strange?”
     “Yeah. You talk funny, and your eyes are all blue. That’s so weird! And you think I look like an Earthling? Think again Tommy,” she said as if struggling to pronounce it correctly, “it’s Earthlings that look like the rest of us.”
     “The rest of who?”     
     “Everyone else. Don’t you know the majority of species throughout the universe look like me?”
     “You mean most aliens are green-eyed girls?”
     “NO! Most aliens certainly are not green-eyed girls!”
     “Sorry, I just don’t know how else to say it.”
     “I meant that most of us have limbs, appendages, as well as auditory and visual receptors.”
     “What about Glibs?”
     “Who’s that?”
     “They said he was the ‘Foreman’.”
     “Oh, them? You’re probably referring to a MorgangEtter. Did he have one big eye, bright skin, no hair?”
     Tommy remembered now! That was exactly what he saw when his parents first opened the door and the people from his Dad’s work were there.
     “Sort of,” Tommy replied. “I think that’s what they actually look like, but now they all look like a girl’s toy doll or something. With plastic faces and the sort.”
     “A girl’s toy doll huh?”
     Tommy flinched at realizing he had said something wrong again.
     “Sounds like they pinched you,” she continued.
     “Huh? Wait! I do remember feeling a pinch. Right before I started seeing them as a – uh, as dolls.”
     “Yep, they got you then. Too bad really, I like how colorful they are. It’s really pretty when there’s a bunch of them all together at a gathering or in a group.”
     “Pretty? I thought they were hidious!”
     “Yeah, my Dad always said Earthlings didn’t like things that were different from themselves.”
     “He was sure right about that,” the wristband interjected.
     “Hey! You stay out of this,” Tommy snapped back out loud.
     “What’s that?” Sabreen asked, pointing to the faint glow coming off the wristband. “Is that a Metaparlance Decipherer?!”
     “Um, yeah. I guess so,” Tommy replied.
     “Can I see it?”
     Tommy held his wrist up to Sabreen, who appeared genuinely curious about the band.
     “Can he hear me? Is he working?” She asked.
     “Of course I’m working, and of course I can hear her,” the wristband thought out.
     “Well, can he?”
     “Oh, uh yeah, of course he can,” Tommy replied.
     “How did you get one? I heard that before they attach themselves to someone, the person has to prove themselves worthy somehow. Is that true?”
     Tommy didn’t know. “Um, well, sure,” he replied, not knowing what else to say.
     “I let you off easy then,” the wristband joked.
     Tommy thought back a silent “shh.”
     “So, why are you on a cargo ship? Can’t you just fold space to wherever you want to go?”
     “Sort of, I think. But I’m not sure how to do it. Apparently, he needs to charge up for a while before he can do it again.”
     “Oh, of course. An Earthling’s brain activity would probably be too low to charge a Metaparlance Decipherer. What a pity, that would have been really neat to instantly go anywhere in the Universe.”
     “Hey! Who’s making fun of who now! What do you mean ‘an Earthling’s brain activity would be too low?!’”
     “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t making fun. It’s just that Earthlings are so primitive.”
     Tommy had often felt in the minority at school, but never for being an Earthling. He had always thought of himself as a rather intelligent person too, and was feeling his pride and emotions coming to the surface again after being told otherwise.
     “So, what are you doing on this ship anyway?” he snapped back.
     “What am I doing on this ship? I think that’s the question I should be asking you,” Sabreen retaliated.
     “I’m just trying to get back home.”
     “What were you doing up there in the first place? Did you accidentally fold space or something?”
     “I think Glibs took me up there when he found me in their forest cave.”
     “Oh, I see. You were snooping around down there. You know, you can get in a lot of trouble for that.”
     “Obviously. Look, I just want to get back home. Can you or the pilots up there take me?”
     “Well, I would, but there are no pilots. The ship is on automatic right now, and I don’t have my license yet. I’m just heading down to Earth to see my Dad… It’s my turn to spend a day at work with him.”
     “Your turn to spend a day at work with him? He works on Earth?”
     “Yeah. He actually works down at IBoMB HQ, near the, what did you call it? The forest cave. I’m excited! I only get a turn every few of your Earth years.”
     “Well, at least we’re headed back to Earth,” Tommy said with a sigh of relief. “Why do you only get a turn every few years?”
     “It’s hard when you have 287 siblings who all want a turn. IBoMB doesn’t like him bringing one of us every day you know.”
     “287 siblings! What?… How?… When?…”
     “Oh yeah, another Earthling trait – small families. Mine is pretty average for my species. Don’t tell me, you probably only have one or two children in your family? Maybe four or five if you’re lucky?”
     “Lucky? I’m actually the only child in my family.”
     “The only one?! Don’t you ever get bored or lonely?”
     “Sometimes. But most of the time I enjoy the quiet so I can read my books.”
     “Earthlings read now?! I guess your species is coming along pretty well then.”
     “Um, yeah, we read,” Tommy mumbled out the side of his mouth. “So, how long until we reach Earth?”
     “Oh, soon. Once the lightdrive starts we’ll be there near instantly.”
     “Oh no, I hate lighdrives,” the wristband thought out.
     “What’s wrong?” Sabreen asked Tommy, who was looking down at his forearm again.
     “Huh? Oh, he said he hates lightdrives.”
     Sabreen started giggling, “I bet he does. That’s so cute.”
     Tommy looked at Sabreen perplexed. “I don’t get it.”
     “It’s just cute how he’d think that. You know, with being able to fold space and everything? I bet he’s never had to ride on a spaceship his whole life.”
     Tommy could hear the wristband groaning. “What’s wrong?”
     “The lightdrives are starting,” the wristband grumbled back.
     “How can you tell, I can’t even feel anything?”
     “How can you not? As you approach the speed of light, time starts to differentiate against the normal flow of… ohhhh.” The wristband continued its moaning.
     “We’re here!” Sabreen called out after a few seconds.
     “I wish I could throw up,” the wristband groaned.
     Tommy started to panic again.
     “You don’t look so good. What’s wrong?” Sabreen asked.
     “I, uh, need to hide,” Tommy replied.
     “Why? You’re back on Earth. You should blend right in.”
     The doors to the ship swooped open, and Tommy could see dozens of people, Earth people, many of whom appeared to be standing around waiting for something, while others were driving forklifts for unloading. “Wouldn’t it seem odd to an Earthling to be unloading cargo from a spaceship?” Tommy wondered as he stepped out of doors behind Sabreen.
     Climbing down the steps, he turned around and almost fell. The spaceship looked like a big semi truck. He and Sabreen were climbing out the passenger side door, while most of the people began unloading the boxes and buckets of ink from the back.
     “I’m really confused now,” Tommy whispered to Sabreen.
     Not bothering to whisper in return, Sabreen replied, “Why? Don’t you remember? You got pinched, right? That means IBoMB can put a Polymorphism Enabler on nearly anything and you’d see it as whatever they want you to.”
     “Isn’t that the same as lying about something?” Tommy asked in return.
     “Not really. Earthlings are so judgmental of things that it’s a way to make them feel more comfortable about their jobs.”
     “Hey, I’m an Earthling, and I’m not judging things,” Tommy blurted back.
     Giggling once again, Sabreen replied, “Oh, is that why you’re suffering from shock and paranoia right now?”
     He didn’t bother replying. She was right. He had seen more since getting swooped away than all the rest of his life combined, and yes, he was in shock from it.
     Sabreen walked towards a set of doors on the far side of the room. Tommy stayed close behind her.
     “Why are you following me?” Sabreen asked, turning around.
     “Huh?” Tommy blurted out in surprise.
     “Why are you following me? Don’t you want to go home now?”
     “Oh, uh, yeah. I just don’t know how to get there from here.”
     “Ugh, I almost forgot you were an Earthling. Look, it shouldn’t be too hard. We’re back on your planet, so couldn’t you ask one of these other Earthlings to take you home?”
     “But I don’t know any of them. I’m not supposed to ask for rides from strangers.”
     “Don’t Earthlings trust anyone? I mean, if you can’t trust your own species, who can you trust?”
     “Hey, I’m trying here. Obviously Earthlings do things a little differently, OK? Who’s judging who now?”
     With a raised eyebrow Sabreen looked at Tommy and smiled, “You’re right. Follow me.” Changing course for the opposite wall, Sabreen motioned for Tommy to follow her. She continued walking towards the solid cement slab, and then right through it! Tommy stopped in his tracks and stared at the concrete. On the other side he could hear Sabreen yelling, “get used to it. Nothing around here is going to look like it really is so long as you’re pinched!”
     Staring hard at the wall and concentrating on the pock marks in the cement, Tommy wondered if he was going crazy or not. Spaceships that look like semi-trucks. Space stations in the moon. Aliens that look like plastic dolls. People have been committed to mental institutions for less. But why stop now? His only way home was probably through that wall, and so, with a sigh of determination, Tommy walked through it, eyes wide open.
     The other side was a hallway like the one on the space station. Sabreen was already several meters ahead as she hadn’t bothered to wait.
     “Push off will you?!” Sabreen shouted out.
     If Tommy had been British, he would have taken what she said the wrong way, but understood that she meant he could speed up his pace by making a skate-boarding motion with one of his feet. After a few pushes with his back foot, he began to catch up. Slowing down was still a problem though. He was moving too quickly as he approached Sabreen and would soon shoot right past her. Sabreen reached out and grabbed his shirt, nearly knocking him over. Tommy wrapped his arms around her waist to regain his balance.
     “So, where are we going?” Tommy asked.
     “The Operations Center,” Sabreen replied as she hoisted him back up.
     “How’s that supposed to help me get home?”
     “The Intergalactic Operations Center is the center of all IBoMB commerce. They know everything. I’m sure someone there will know how to get you home, maybe even how to get you unpinched.”
     “Unpinched? You mean you can fix whatever is making me see all these crazy things?”
     “Well, not me exactly, but someone will be able to.”
     “So… why would you do that for me?”
     “Haven’t you ever heard of going the extra parsec?”
     “Going the extra what?”
     “The extra parsec? You know, if someone asks for your help you should not only help them with whatever they ask for but any other problems they might have too.”
     “Oh! The extra mile!”
     “Whatever you Earthlings call it, but yeah, that sounds like the same thing.”
     “Cool! So how does one get unpinched?”
     “I don’t know. That’s why we’re going to the Operations Center.”

on to Chapter 12 The Operations Center

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