The First Big Adventure of Tommy Twist


Information

Recommended for ages 4 and up. WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD. May contain pieces that are hard to swallow. In fact, if you’re over a certain age it may not be for you either.

Copyright © 2017 by Jeremy Adams.
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Cover art by Jeremy Adams and George Loch

Chapter 1 Lienhar

     “Forever the rich, and forget the poor.” Lehnair remembered those words from one of his father’s numerous lectures. “You’ve got purple-skin, so learn your place.”
     He peeled his single large eye open. It was still dark of course, as you’d expect being on a planet so distant from a star.
     “Why couldn’t someone install some lamps around this place,” came the thought.
     That was his life though. Dark, dim, and never lighting up to a shining moment. You could blame his squalor on his mother had he ever met her. Or maybe on his Father had he ever listened to anything the old man taught him. As it was, he only took half of it seriously, the part about the poor being forgotten.
     Lehnair took his time getting out of bed, spending a generous few minutes stretching each of his four arms. The ceiling looked particularly normal today. Clean, and probably white, although it was gray without sunlight to reflect off of it. The beds were the most comfortable pieces of furniture in the entire structure, so why be in a hurry to get off of it?
     Reaching for his crumpled jumpsuit, he thought about how nice it would be to own a different set of clothes for each day of the week. A second shirt, a pair of pants, or perhaps even a business suit. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about how bad his sweat ridden uniform smelled each time he put it on. The odor blended in with the rest of the purple-skins and was the brunt of the green-skin’s cruel jokes.
     Lehnair huffed out mockingly, “why do you all have to smell so bad? Why can’t you learn to clean yourselves for once?” Whatever. One day very soon, things were going to change.

     The first thing he heard stepping onto the factory floor was the Foreman screaming at him, “Number 575! You’re two minutes late! Get to work before we decide to drop you into that black-hole!”
     The shop reeked and even Lehnair had to wrinkle his nose as he walked further in. Sweat, burnt chemicals, and something that was probably mold from condensation on the factory walls all mixed together into a pungent aroma.
     Surveying today’s pile of junk on his workbench he sat down in his assigned seat. With his large upper hands he hefted a metallic casing while his smaller, more agile hands strung the wiring between each piece underneath. “I’d like to see some two-armed green-skin try that,” Lehnair whispered under his breath so only his neighbors could enjoy a silent chuckle.
     “I said get to work you lazy purple-skin!” The Foreman continued shouting in random directions.
     “Yes sir,” Lehnair and several others mumbled after each shriek. It was all they were allowed to say. Anything else could get them fired, removed from their apartment, and possibly thrown outside the only complex on the surface. A dangerous proposition considering this particular planet had no atmosphere to breathe. It was all company property, and if you don’t work for the company, you’ve got no right being there.
     “Mr. Foreman? Uh, Mr. Foreman?” One of the purple-skins down the row was trying to get the glowering green-skin’s attention. The green-skins preferred to be called by their titles.
     “What?!” the Foreman’s response caused the inquiring purple-skin to fall out of his chair, and gave some of the security guards a good laugh.
     “I, uh, wanted to show you something I’ve been working on. A new design.”
     Lehnair shook his head. What an idiot. Though he kept his eye turned just far enough to glance at what was happening.
     “Let’s see it then – quickly! Hand it over.”
     The purple-skin handed a few pieces of small, rectangular cloth to the Foreman. Lehnair caught a glimpse of writing and sketches etched across what had probably been pockets from the purple-skin’s own clothing.
     “I figured it’d be something we could ship in large quantities to Earth. I’ve heard they like those sorts of things.”
     Flipping through the pieces, the Foreman eyed them over with a greedy look that Lehnair knew all too well.
     After a few moments of examination, the Foreman finally responded, “I’ll take these to the boss and see what he thinks. In the meantime, get back to work 592!”
     The Foreman walked so fast toward the boss’s office that he might as well have run. Staring over at the other purple-skin, Lehnair noticed a faint smile on the worker’s face. He knew better though. Poor Klibold was never going to see anything come from his design. The Foreman was undoubtedly handing the paper to the boss right now and explaining how he, himself came up with the idea, or, if he were in a generous mood, how his shift of workers came up with the idea under his own “brilliant” direction.
     Anything designed or thought of by an employee belonged to the company. That was a rule established by the boss long before the first purple-skin was ever shipped over. Something felt slimy about it though, no matter when or how the rule was set.

Chapter 2 Tommy Twist

     “It’s what? Red!” Or so the story goes anyway. Tommy had heard it a bazillion times by now. How he was born, amazingly, with red hair. Neither of his parents had even so much of an inkling of similar coloring, but what was the amazement for? Red headed children were born to parents with different colors of hair every day. It was a matter of simple genetics.
     Tommy was now a tall, lanky, and still quite red-headed ten year-old. Well, fine, maybe not so tall, but he was so skinny that unless he were standing next to someone else his age you’d mistake him for being at least two years older than he was. Even when he was on the phone, most people assumed they were talking to another grown-up. Before he could speak he was using sign-language to communicate with his parents what he wanted: Rubbing his chest to say please, then showing his fist just right for milk, and voila! Mom and Dad knew exactly what he wanted.
     Now, most ten year-olds are smart, probably smarter than they should be, and it wasn’t that Tommy was genetically gifted or anything remotely like it (he hated his freckles). He just knew the secret. Something that makes an average person amazing, or a below average person rise above par. There was no use sharing it with anyone though, not because he didn’t want them to be as smart, but because most people, especially adults, disregard anything a child has to say. Who’d want to take the advice of someone a third, fourth, or even a fifth their age?
     To casual observers, his room looked like a mess. Papers were strewn about the floor. Plastic vials, some filled with odd, color-changing liquids were setup next to a large box that read, “My Fourth Chemistry Set – for ages 12 and up.” There was a bookshelf in the corner, although most of the books were either open on the bed or on the floor. Tommy was sitting in an old, under-stuffed recliner with the footrest in the ‘up’ position, not paying any attention to the open book on his lap. The problem was, nothing had happened lately. Not a thing! Life had come to a halt, and that was a serious dilemma. Whenever things were this quiet, it was because something big was gearing up and getting ready to pounce. Tommy was lost in his thoughts.
     No good could come from worrying about it though, so he put his latest invention, the Cellulose-pulp Degravitator, on his thumb and rotated it about ten degrees to the right. Shiny white sparks fell out of the thimble shaped device and landed on the open page of his book. The paper rose and flopped over to reveal the next page. It was a new chapter titled, “Space, Time, and Other Mathematical Constants of the Universe.”
     “Gotta keep my mind from wandering too much,” he thought. He had already read this chapter twice, and wasn’t able to convince himself to focus hard enough to read through it a third time.
     “Repetition is the key to memorization, right?” he pondered out loud to keep his eyelids from falling. “Yeah, right.”
     Rotating the degravitator another forty degrees, he reached out towards the bookshelf. The large volume entitled “Intergalactic Geography for the Fifth Dimensionally Inclined” sprung towards him. He caught it just as its former neighbors leaped off the bookcase, landing on the floor with a loud thud.
     “Tommy, what are you doing in there?” his mom cried out from across the hall. “Nothing, just running a few experiments,” he replied while snatching the Degravitator off his thumb and shoving it in his jean’s pocket. The door cracked open with his mother carelessly taking the last curler out of her chestnut colored hair.
     “Thomas, please clean up this mess. We’ve got dinner guests coming in under an hour, and I could still use your help getting the house ready.”
     “Right Mom, I’ll be down as soon as I finish recalibrating… I mean, uh… cleaning my room.”
     She raised an eyebrow. “Please keep that imagination of yours in check tonight. Our guests are from Dad’s work, and we want to give them a good impression.”
     She closed the door gently and Tommy listened until her footsteps reached downstairs. “Imagination?” he pouted. Nobody ever believed him. Not even the time he brought his parents an actual photograph of a Subterranean Wormling. An incredibly difficult thing to obtain by the way, as they hate light, and therefore camera flashes. The whole incident could have started a planetary war. “Something must happen to people when they become adults. Something that makes them blind to things they don’t want to see or believe.”

***

     The Twists were good people, even if they appeared overly frantic at the moment. Mrs. Twist was switching back and forth between a broom and an old plastic vacuum cleaner, while Mr. Twist, wearing a silly apron over his shirt, tie, and slacks, was busy getting dinner ready in the small kitchenette. Tommy came downstairs wearing his nicest sneakers, a clean orange shirt, and a pair of jeans that hadn’t yet frayed around the ankles.
     “Oh, please try to reuse the knives dear,” Mom requested as Dad dropped another one into the sink after cutting up some strange looking vegetable that was probably something normal, nonetheless unrecognizable. It must have come from their own garden.
     The house wasn’t large, but it was well cared for. Having any number of guests over would fill up the entire dining room, which was actually a corner next to the kitchen with a small oval table. The simple wood chairs were arranged so that company would have more elbow room than anyone else. The “lefties,” Tommy and his Dad, would sit next to each other on one side, and Mom, the right-handed person in the family, would be at one the heads of the table.
     It was the same bustling mood that occurs whenever a group of Ravenous Bark-Dwellers find themselves a fresh tree to consume. Tommy didn’t understand the anxiety, since, to him, this kind of visit was a regular occurrence by now. People from Dad’s work never actually stayed for dinner. They never even came into the house when they were invited. The doorbell would ring, they would drop off a green envelope and then leave. This was the first time that Tommy would see them though, as after-school volleyball practice had come to an end. It was dreadful to think that his parents might be doing all of this to show him off as their “pride and joy.” In truth, he probably was, but didn’t appreciate the extra attention. No matter, he was looking forward to the better-than-normal meal they’d get to eat after it was declined by the visitors.

Chapter 3 Good Things

     In a terrible accident that occurred during early Solar Standard Time, the MEFIRST Corporation, or the MorgangEtter Factories for Intergalactic Research, Science, and Technologies, lost one of its facilities employing several hundred MorgangEtters in a large explosion. Intergalactic Marshals are still investigating the cause of the unfortunate mishap, although current findings point to a severe oversight on part of the factory’s now former manager who, along with numerous other MorgangEtters, were seriously injured in an explosive decompression in the main complex. The entire management group remains unconscious and are under close medical supervision. Doctors are doubtful any will have a full recovery.
     For those interested in volunteering to assist the families of the injured, please contact or visit…

     Lehnair raised his bottom-right arm and tapped his middle finger to his thumb, shutting down the audio stream in the apartment. His eye was bloodshot and darkened, but at least he wouldn’t be working on a factory floor ever again. Despite his purple skin, he had been promoted to replace the Factory Manager who, along with his entire supervisory crew of green-skins, happened to be holding a staff meeting in the room where the external wall blew out.
     “I guess he’ll never make Director,” Lehnair thought out with a chuckle. On his pad he scrolled down to the next screen of the New Manager Orientation Manual. “Perfect.” He had heard a worker mention it before. “MEFIRST corporate rule number four-hundred and seventy-four: all company employees and their families who witness, and perchance survive, a factory-related, catastrophic event are to be granted their choice of relocation.”
     Could this day have gotten any better?

Chapter 4 The Visitors

     Sure enough, the clock struck five and the doorbell rang out. It was bewildering to Tommy how someone could be perfectly on time, and not “on time,” but perfectly on time according to their own kitchen clock. It wasn’t even a super accurate atomic clock, just a plain, analog wall mount that needed replacement batteries every few months.
     Forgetting to take off his apron, Mr. Twist placed a hand on Tommy’s back and directed him towards the front room. Once all three were positioned around the entryway, Mr. Twist opened the door.
     Tommy yelped! Not a quiet yelp, but a loud, pre-adolescent screech that sent a disconcerted grin across his Mom’s face. Standing at the door were two of the strangest, oddest, most ghastly looking creatures he had ever seen (and he had seen a lot of things in his short lifetime)!
     A pinch near his ankle made Tommy look down. When he looked back up, in place of the creatures there were two strange looking people instead. Like they were made of plastic, their faces and ears didn’t look natural, but molded. Their hair was plugged into place like a toy doll. One had a green envelope in hand, and the other a large box. Both stared blankly forward as though their painted eyes couldn’t move.
     Tommy reached down to his hurt ankle and realized something that was not going to end well. He had left the Cellulose-pulp Degravitator in his pocket without turning it off. Bending over had rotated it, setting the device on high. The large box started to shake violently in the man’s plastic hands, and the green envelope shot through the doorway toward Mr. and Mrs. Twist. Tommy dropped to the floor as the box burst into a kaleidoscope of flying envelopes, decorating the front room in an animated rainbow of color. Envelopes circled the room, flying up towards the ceiling and then streaking down and to his right in a line across the front window. Orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple envelopes flew everywhere. One of the men yelled something foreign to the other as they grappled for the colored parcels.
     Fumbling into his pocket, Tommy turned off the Degravitator. The envelopes stopped in mid flight and dropped to the floor. Trying to avoid his parents glare, Tommy got to his hands and knees and began stacking packets.
     The room was a mess. Envelopes were stuck in the curtains and between worn cushions of the old couch. Some had flown under the couch, back out the side of it, and into his Mom’s treasured china doll plant (treasured since it was the only indoor plant that had ever survived his Dad’s inability to water). As Tommy gathered the envelopes, he recognized the weight and shape of each correlated to whatever the color was. Oranges were all the same, about three centimeters thick, the yellow ones had two lumps inside, both about two centimeters thick, but narrower than the oranges. There were more green envelopes than blue, and more blue than purple. Tommy thought he had seen a red one, but the visitors must have snatched it back into the box before he could verify it.
     Trying to recover the situation, his Dad blurted out, “Ummm… would you like to stay for dinner?” The two creatures, or uh, people, both double-checking for lost envelopes, spoke mechanically, “No thank you Mr. Twist.” They found and handed him a green envelope, and then walked away without saying another word. The door closed, and Tommy could feel his parents gazing down at him.
     “Thomas, we know they look a little different. They’re foreigners from a small island in the Atlantic, and they all look like that. You need to learn how to control your reactions better. You probably scared them half to death!”
     “Mom! They aren’t merely foreigners! They didn’t even look human! They only had one eye, and I swear one of them was purple! At least, when they first got here anyway…”
     “Thomas! Please, don’t make stories about them just because they’re different.”
     “I’m not! I just…”
     “Thomas, I think you’re Mom will agree with me. You need to go to your room while we decide what to do about this behavior,” his Dad ended.
     “So much for the better-than-normal meal tonight,” Tommy thought as he sheepishly marched the stairs to his room.
     Plopping down into the recliner, Tommy tried to determine what had just happened. What had he seen? What were they? Even when they walked away, their movement seemed unnatural…
     They had walked away! The company’s closest office was in the city! At least thirty miles from here! And they had walked away? Where was their car? Tommy flew to the window and opened the drapes. Sure enough, the piles of snow left over from the neighborhood plow were still sitting undisturbed in the street. A fresh layer of snow rested over everything without a hint of tire tracks. Only two sets of footprints, from the side of the road up to their doorstep, which led Tommy’s eyes to something they had overlooked. A stray envelope from the box had been left behind. The red one.
     He knew he had seen a red one. It was sitting between the bushes and the stucco underneath the front window, directly below Tommy’s room. With a quick slide, his window was open, the emergency rope ladder was released, and Tommy was on his way down. Not wanting to get into more trouble, he grabbed the envelope and quickly climbed back to his room.
     The parcel was different from the others, heavier, and not as flat. Probably why it didn’t fly into the house. Dad’s green envelope had his salary in it. A humble amount of cash that Tommy never got to see or count except for when his allowance was counted from it. He knew he shouldn’t open other people’s mail, but curiosity was a powerful force that always won out against him. Besides, it wasn’t really mail was it? No address or name was on it, sender or otherwise. The men from Dad’s work were already out of sight. What else could he do?
     A small, infinitesimal prick of guilt was there when he tore the seal open, but didn’t last long enough to change his mind. Reaching inside, Tommy pulled out a flat, rectangular device, along with a small box of multi-colored crystals. The device was the size of a small book with writing around the edges that Tommy didn’t recognize. He flipped it over and peered at the otherwise smooth, black surface. It was dark, except for several dots of light floating within. None of them stayed visible for long, and for a moment Tommy thought he recognized the star constellation Orion. It was mesmerizing.
     The movement within the device wasn’t as a television or computer screen. There were no seams around the display and no back lighting.
     Tommy pulled a crystal across the device to get a better look, and the little bits of light rippled away. He moved the crystal closer in response and it snapped from his fingers, latching onto the black surface. A quiet hum resonated from it.
     Filling his hand with the remaining crystals, Tommy started placing them around the first. Each snapped into place and harmonized with the others. Dots of light danced around the crystals, leaping and jumping as though they had been joined by long lost friends.
     Prying crystals off with his fingernail, Tommy moved them to make different patterns. The sound and dancing changed with each placement. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt happy, as though he were helping an old lady with her groceries or finding a lost pet for someone. Certain patterns made him feel better than others. If only he could find the best one…

Chapter 5 The Manager

     “But sir, it’s a community service.”
     Lehnair sat silent behind his large, glossy black desk and let out a yawn.
     “As such a vast organization, certainly we could spare a few of our worker’s to help with the cause.”
     Lehnair glowered, “do you think I care about someone else’s problem? If it cuts into our factory profits by taking our worker’s time, then it’s competition. Not something we want to reinforcing.”
     “But sir, please…”
     “No. And I suggest you leave my office before I charitably donate your job to one of that project’s would-be benefactors.” Lehnair shooed the air with his upper-right hand and returned attention to the display on his desk.
     The purple-skin stared with a blank expression.
     “Fine,” Lehnair whispered, breaking the silence.
     “You’re… you’re going to let us donate our time then?”
     “Go ahead. You’re out. Out of your job. You’re to leave this complex immediately.” He didn’t bother looking up from his desk.
     Clenching all four fists until they were pale violet, the worker replied, “If that’s the way this company is going to treat those who want to help others, then I’m glad to be gone. I’ll collect my belongings and be on my way.”
     “I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Lehnair raised his head with an unmistakable grin. “You’re out. Everything you own, everything you’ve learned, and everything you’ve become over the last seventeen years are property of this company. You leave us, you leave everything. And you are leaving.”
     The worker’s clinched fingers unraveled, “Sir, I have a family? They live in company owned…”
     “You should have considered that before coming into my office and acting like a beggar,” his already huge grin widened. “You should be grateful that this planet we’re on has sunlight. And air.”
     A small tear escaped his eye as the worker left the Manager’s Office.
     Reaching with his lower left hand, Lehnair held his fingers over the loudspeaker activation pad, “Mr. Brogus and his family have decided to leave this company.” The controlling voice echoed throughout the facility. “If there are any other employees who desire to volunteer their time to community projects, they too will be welcome to leave and donate their full attention to them.” Lehnair pulled his hand back from the pad and then snapped it back in place with another thought to share, “Oh, and Mr. Unithall, see to the immediate cleaning of Mr. Brogus’ apartment, and post the announcement for a new opening.”

Chapter 6 The Metaparlance Decipherer

     The last crystal snapped into place and the device began emitting a unified hum. This seemed safe enough. That is, until the hum turned into a high pitch whistle. “Oh great. What have I done now?” Tommy mumbled.
     The dark rectangle was vibrating and slowly lifted off of Tommy’s lap. The once solid slab now looked like a dark liquid as it changed shape and size. The surface bubbled while shrinking, getting thinner and narrower. Small dots of light that were once so docile and happy burst out in streaks across the room.
     Tommy maneuvered out of his chair and slunk back towards his bed, grabbing pillows to shield himself. The crystals melted into the molasses like goo. They rippled and oozed while seeping into the device that was now paper thin, several centimeters long, and about half as wide.
     The whistling ceased and the device came to a rest on the recliner. The whole process only took seconds, but with ear piercing noise echoing off the walls it felt like forever.
     Tommy waited for his Mom or Dad to come running into his room. He waited one, two, and then a good five to ten minutes. He was bound to get in trouble for this. Not only did he mess around with something that didn’t belong to him, but it made a terrible racket that must have reverberated throughout the otherwise quiet house.
     His parents never came through the door to save him though. So fighting against reason, Tommy put down the pillows and approached the device that now resembled a dark and shiny bookmark.
     What was he going to do with it? He just wanted to touch it, see if it was safe. The chair cushions underneath and around the object didn’t appear singed or damaged, so ignoring his inner warning about whether or not he was a moth flying into a fire, Tommy slowly reached out towards the device with the tips of his fingers.
     While his hand was still half a meter away the dormant piece of material lurched over the back of his hand and wrapped itself around his wrist, tightening down to the skin. Tommy pulled and yanked, but couldn’t get it off. The little dots of light lifted out of their darkness and began to spin about. A dull light grew out of the object, and the more Tommy fought, the stronger its grip and the surrounding glow became.
     He could feel himself panicking, his heart was ready to beat through his chest. Attempting to breathe more slowly, Tommy tried to calm down, but the creepy black thing was emitting a bright white aura that now spread across his entire arm and down his right leg. There was a tingling sensation shooting through his spine.
     Just then, the entire room lurched. Tommy was standing still while everything else started to move. First the room jumped out from underneath him, and then it was floating freely with Tommy suspended in the middle, like opening a pouch of water in space and it hovers there until being swallowed whole.
     A voice spoke out, “Calculating crease distance and trajectory.” It sounded synthesized.
     The floor immediately below Tommy turned into the same molasses-like goo he had seen the device as before.
     “Calculating subject mass and density.”
     “Stop!” Tommy cried out while scratching at the band on his wrist.
     “Beginning fold.”
     The room snapped into place and stretched upwards. Tommy’s feet were sinking into the floor!
     Now, he liked to think of himself as a rational person, one who could keep cool and collected under almost any circumstance, but this wasn’t one of those times. The terror rose in his throat. Swimming was fun, but sinking was a different matter – that involved drowning and suffocating, and Tommy was sinking, down to his waist…
     Reaching for a pile of tools near the wall, he grabbed at anything his hands could reach…
     down to his chest…
     He tried wrapping his hand around the recliner’s lever to pull himself up, but everything he touched turned into dark goo between his fingers…
     to his shoulders…
     Tommy’s eyes darted about in desperation.
     to his neck…
     In a last ditch idea, he inhaled through his nose and mouth, filling his lungs to capacity.
     chin…
     Panicked, he yelled out, releasing his breath too soon…
     and then…
     He could still breathe. Floating above the downstairs floor, he could see his parents in the room and hear them discussing what they were going to do about him “frightening” the people from work (even though Tommy was sure they were not people).
     “Mom! Dad! Help!” he shouted while reaching out towards them. They continued their conversation uninterrupted. “MOM!” Tommy screamed again.
     The sense of drowning once again overtook him as he continued down into the floor. His feet entered the gooey molasses that had been the foundation moments before. Why couldn’t they have built a house with a basement?
     Was he going to be buried alive under the house? Would anyone ever find him, or would he have to stay there, hoping for some subterranean creature to eventually tunnel its way to him? If he was lucky, perhaps he’d become a mummy exhibit at a museum in a few thousand years.
     Whatever it was, Tommy realized he didn’t have any control as his head reached the carpet.
     “Try to keep calm,” he said to convince himself.
     The layer of concrete passed quickly, and he could now see dirt, some rocks, even some small tunnels where earthworms had dug under the house. “Oh look! Annelids,” he stuttered through his clenched teeth.
     Continuing down, the ground got thicker as he went. It turned from loose dirt to rock, rock to solid stone. The worms were long gone now. He must have still been heading downward, but it was becoming difficult to gauge. “There’s some limestone,” Tommy pointed out trying to stay calm. It was a poor tactic considering he wasn’t listening to anything he was saying. “Oh, and what was that? Or that?” The ground was now moving past too quickly to focus on. Colors blurred past, turning reddish-orange. Magma? Though he couldn’t feel any heat. Actually, he couldn’t feel anything besides the tingling down his spine. At least it was comforting to know that if he was burnt to a cinder while passing through the Earth’s core it would be painless.
     That never happened.
     The downward path transitioned to a sliding motion. It was hard to make out with the ground only inches from his eyes, but as his speed continued to pick up he could faintly sense motion within the patterns of rock scrolling past.
     When that odd voice had said “trajectory,” it must have been referring to his trajectory. A path that was a large arc, down through the Earth, and now gradually moving back up. Back through all the thick layers of rock and dirt, water, and subterranean life.
     With a final lurch that made his stomach leap into his throat and want to vomit, it ended. His wobbly knees buckled under the returning sensation of gravity and a queasy head. Catching himself with his hands into what felt like mud, he kept from collapsing entirely. It was dark, and there was no longer any light emanating from the involuntary piece of jewelry on his wrist.
     “Welcome to Earth Headquarters Mr. Gholab,” a computerized voice blurted out.
     “Headquarters?” asked Tommy.
     “Yes, the Headquarters of the Intergalactic Business of Making Business – commonly referred to as IBoMB,” it replied.
     “Who’s Mr. Gholab?”
     “That’s you sir.”
     “Huh? Oh! I mean… well, okay. I was, uh, just checking your memory circuits to make sure they were programmed correctly,” Tommy muddled through.
     “Circuits!?” the voice barked out in a more natural tone. “What do you think I am?! I’ll have you know that I am a state-of-the-art Metaparlance Decipherer with integrated sentience, capable of calculating universal equations, translating any spoken language, folding space-time…”
     “Wait…” Tommy interrupted while pulling one of his hands out of the mud. “You said ‘folding space-time?’”
     “Yes, that’s what I said.”
     “So that’s how we got here then? You folded space?” Tommy ran his fingers along the smooth band clenched around his wrist. “It’s you who’s talking?”
     “Space and time, thank you very much!”
     “But how did you do that?”
     “I doubt your tiny Earthling mind would comprehe… You’re an Earthling!!!”
     “Ummm…”
     “According to my memory, Mr. Gholab is a Quadrupedal Invertebrate from the Pelioze system, which clearly does NOT fit my scans of your Earthling physiology.”
     “Well… it sort of depends on… umm..” Tommy was still dizzy, trying to balance his hand on his knee in order to push himself up. “Oh fine. Whatever. I’m Tommy Twist.”
     “Ah, I see.”
     Tommy fully expected a lecture on stealing, or in the very least, a loud alarm to sound and bring a team of police to nab the “imposter” child and lock him away.
     “Very well then. What can I do for you Tommy?”
     “Huh?”
     “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to state your questions more clearly.”
     “Aren’t you wondering who I am? Or how you ended up with the wrong person? Aren’t you going to turn me in to someone around… here…” Tommy stuttered under his rambling thoughts.
     “I refrain from asking questions whenever possible, unless of course, my host is incapable of finishing a complete sentence. Please clarify: who exactly would you like to be turned into? I’m not capable of host-based polymorphisms, so I’m afraid you’ll have to find a Polymorphism Enabler for that.”
     “A what?”
     “A device that would enable you to change into someone. Or, at least, change your appearance into someone else.”
     “That’s not what I meant.”
     “Oh.”
     “But there’s something that can actually do that?”
     “Certainly. IBoMB relies heavily on such technology for many of their interplanetary business ventures.”
     “Wait a minute! Would that technology result in an unrealistic plastic-type look?”
     The wristband was silent.
     “Um, hello?”
     “I’m sorry, but I still have 38.4 seconds to wait until the minute is up.”
     “What? Oh, sorry. You can stop waiting now.”
     “Thank you.”
     “You take everything quite literally don’t you?”
     “I take everything verbally. I’m not even capable of reading. I can only translate words spoken or heard through an organic entity such as yourself, as I rely a great deal on the mental energy emitted so as to ascertain the meaning of what is being communicated.”
     “So, why do you keep misunderstanding me then?”
     “There hasn’t been a single misunderstanding between us. I’ve understood everything you’ve said with perfect clarity.”
     “um, ok… So, then, would a Metapoly…uh, Polymur…”
     “A Polymorphism Enabler.”
     “Yes, would one of those result in an unnatural, plastic-looking appearance?”
     “It could. It depends on the client implant.”
     “The ‘client implant’?”
     “The Polymorphism Enabler is not capable of changing the host’s shape, only the way they appear. A preprogrammed, manufactured virus that’s placed into the client determines what you see.”
     Tommy was starting to feel better. He knew for sure now he wasn’t going crazy. Those creatures at his door couldn’t have been human. Glancing down where he had felt the pinch on his ankle, he began rubbing his hand along the skin. That must have been where they injected him with the virus. Without light he couldn’t see a scratch or puncture. The darkness was beginning to feel ominous, and he couldn’t make out his surroundings except for the mud underneath him.
     Wherever he was, it was cold, and he could hear regular drops of water splashing into the ground around him. Tommy finished rubbing his ankle and then reached out to find something, anything to walk against. His hands stopped against something smooth and wet, possibly stone. Ignoring the slimy feel of it, he slid his hand along, following the surface until running abruptly into another hard wall, which he then followed in turn.
     “Why is it so dark here?” Tommy thought in frustration.
     “Because a Quadrupedal Invertebrate would have liked the dark. I didn’t know I was bringing an Earthling,” the wristband replied.
     “Huh? How did you do that?”
     “Like I already said, I folded space and time to bring you…”
     “No. Did you read my mind? I didn’t say anything. I only thought it.”
     “Oh. That. We’re linked now.”
     “Linked?”
     “Let’s just say that thanks to you, I now have a power source.”
     “I’m your power source?”
     “Well, more precisely, your brainwaves are my power source.”
     “Well that’s great,” Tommy said… or, thought… sarcastically.
     At least the conversation helped Tommy keep his mind off of all the terrible things that might be lingering in the dark with them. All of this was pretty strange, and it only served to increase his already active imagination.
     Tommy’s mind wondered, “are those plastic people from some other planet? Or could they…”
     “Correct,” the wristband promptly replied.
     “Oh… uh, thanks.” he was going to have to learn to control his thoughts better.
     After a few more turns, a faint light appeared in the distance. Being so excited, he bolted for the opening, stumbling over his feet and into the mud every few steps. There was something about the age of ten that made a fear of the dark come naturally.
     Approaching the light he could start making out the surroundings: some sort of long, expansive cave. The ground he walked on sloped upwards until he reached the exit, and there, larger than any he had every seen, were trees. An entire forest! They were gigantic, as large as giant sequoias, but smelled like his backyard fence made from cedar. He had never seen this species of tree before. Moving closer to one he tried scraping some of the bark away to examine it. He was expecting it to peel away easily like it would on a redwood tree, but these trees were dense, and incredibly strong.
     “Uh, Wristband? Any idea what kind of trees these are?” Tommy tried asking.
     “I don’t know. Get them to talk and I’ll scan them,” the wristband responded.
     “Talk? Trees don’t talk.”
     “Then I won’t be able to scan them.”
     “You scanned me without any talking didn’t you?”
     “Actually, your mind doesn’t stop talking. So unless these trees are capable of saying something, you’re out of luck.”
     Tommy decided his curiosity would have to wait on this one, and since he didn’t feel like arguing with his new found companion any longer, he walked ahead to explore, climbing up the hill around the massive trunks.
     It wasn’t long before he looked up and noticed he was still in a cave – a much larger cave than the one he started in. The ground was still damp, causing Tommy’s sneakers to sink an inch or so into the mud every time he put his weight on a single foot. Through small holes in the forest canopy, he caught glimpses of the cave ceiling. It was made up of shiny quartz rock that reflected light coming from someplace distant on the ground, making it look like a sky full of stars.
     Light would be better than the dark, so Tommy figured he might as well look for the source of it.
     He walked a little ways in one direction, but if it got any darker he’d turn around and head back the way he came. If it got lighter he’d keep heading in that direction. And so it went until…
     CRRRAAACK!
     One of the giant trees imploded at its base and began to fall. It was at that moment that Tommy realized one more thing he hated about being ten years old: he wasn’t able to run as fast as someone full grown and taller. The tree was coming down, and Tommy was directly underneath. He ran as fast as his short legs would let him, knowing it wouldn’t be fast enough with the mud pulling at his every step.
     As the tree came crashing down with the force of a train wreck, this, he decided, was turning out to be a really rotten day. Tommy closed his eyes and felt a huge crushing weight against his ribs and chest knocking him to the ground.

Chapter 7 Capture

     Still in pain, it was hard to breathe, and the last thing Tommy wanted to do was get up or even open his eyes. He was probably dead, so it didn’t matter if he opened his eyes or not, but, since he had never been dead before, he was too curious what it would look like.
     “What are you doing here little guy?” a husky voice said floating somewhere above him.
     Tommy peeled his eyes open one at a time. Standing over him was a middle-aged man, an Earthling by the looks of it, and a stocky one at that, with a well trimmed beard and squinting brown eyes.
     Tommy couldn’t fill his lungs with enough air to answer him, and with the still lingering feeling of having the air knocked out of him, he wasn’t sure if still being alive was so great or not.
     “Jim about felled that tree on you there. You oughta be glad I wasn’t too far off to tackle ya out of the way.”
     “I… I…” he tried to reply, but his chest ached the more he spoke.
     “Well, don’t you worry little guy. The Foreman here’ll getcha to your parents soon enough.”
     Tommy glanced over to see the Foreman walking towards them. The man with the beard may have been an Earthling, but Tommy recognized the odd looking alien. Just like the two that had come to the front door delivering his Dad’s envelope: plastic face, dead eyes, hair plugs, even his eye-lashes could have been painted on. The Foreman came a little closer, and then glanced down at the dark band on Tommy’s wrist. He may not have been able to read the expression on the alien’s face, but Tommy could tell he was in trouble. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it from here.” That synthesized sounding voice was the last thing Tommy heard before passing out.

***

     At least he could breathe now. That lumberjack had not only tackled him square in the ribs, but must have been at least ten times his size. Maybe the tree falling on him would have been lighter? Whatever. It wasn’t worth complaining about. The man had saved his life, for which Tommy was truly grateful. Now there was a new problem though: the Foreman hadn’t taken him to either of his parents, which wasn’t a surprise, but being thrown into what resembled a prison cell wasn’t exactly what he had expected either.
     There weren’t any bars, only a shimmering wall of yellow static covering the way out. He couldn’t see much through the field; the yellow was thick and the field throbbed back and forth, distorting everything beyond a few feet away, serving to make Tommy’s head ache even worse. The field made a faint crackling sound, warning him that exploring or touching it wouldn’t be pleasant. Tommy had enough will power to control his curiosity when it made sense – once in a while anyway.
     The rest of the cell was plain enough. It had smooth metal walls with occasional polished bolts protruding from them, along with a thin carpet floor. The most outstanding thing in the room was a hexagonal panel in the wall that had similar strange writing as Tommy had seen on the Metaparlance Decipherer before he had messed with it. A slab outcropping looked to serve as both a bed and chair. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but he could at least lay there until his chest felt better.
     He would have anyway, except that it wasn’t long before he heard one of the familiar, synthesized voices past the faint hum of the static barrier, “he’s awake sir.”
     “Finally,” another strange voice answered in return.
     One of the doll-faced creatures faded into view on the other side.
     “Do you know who I am?” the creature inquired.
     “No,” Tommy said sheepishly.
     “I know what he his!” the wristband yelled out.
     Flinching at hearing the wristband, Tommy worried that the cover story he was concocting had just been ruined. The creature continued talking however.
     “But you think I’m not human?”
     Tommy let out a quiet sigh of relief when he realized no one but him could hear the wristband. “Telepathy?” he thought out towards the wristband.
     “If that’s what you Earthlings call it I suppose. I like to refer to it as Thought Transference,” the wristband quipped back.
     Tommy returned his attention to the creature. “Well, you are sort of weird looking, but my parents said you were just foreigners.”
     “Hmm, that’s right… just a foreigner. I’m completely human. As human as you are in fact! Not even in the slightest way anything else…”
     “Not true!” the wristband shouted into Tommy’s thoughts again.
     “Shhh…” Tommy thought back at it.
     “But he’s lying! He’s in violation of U-L-O-S-T, section 4! And I can prove it!” the wristband objected.
     “Against what?” Tommy thought back.
     “ULOST: The Universal Laws of Successful Transaction.”
     “What does that have to do with anything?” Tommy cinched his forehead in frustration.
     “Thats what he his! He’s a….”
     “What is the matter with you?!” the creature yelled out.
     “Umm, well….”
     “It’s the, uh, well, the parasite sir,” the Foreman stuttered out from behind.
     “Parasite?” The creature looked directly at the wristband. The emotionless eyes surprisingly widened as large as door knobs, “You didn’t tell me he had the MeDai!”
     “Oh, right, sorry sir” the Foreman cowered back out of Tommy’s sight.
     “SO, little Earthling! You know EXACTLY what I am now, don’t you?”
     “Well, not really. You sort of interrupted us before we got to that.”
     “Glibs! Get it off of him! Now!” the creature shouted.
     “I can’t sir.”
     “What? Why not?!”
     “It, well, doesn’t want to come off.”
     The creature swung around in a fury, grabbing the Foreman and dragging him off into the distance. Tommy tried to watch where they were headed but had to settle for the sound of gurgling pleas coming from the Foreman as they faded out of view.
     “He sure seems upset,” the wristband quipped.
     Tommy wasn’t sure what had just happened. His mind was full of a thousand questions with no reasonable answers.
     He blurted out the biggest question first:
     “What’s that about you being a parasite?”
     “Common misconception. I feed off of a host’s brain activity in order to recharge.”
     “So, in a way, you are a parasite then.”
     “Let’s refer to it as a symbiotic relationship. You feed me, and in return I translate languages that your Earthling mind can’t possibly comprehend, take you places you’d like to go by folding space and time, and…”
     “Of course! Can you fold us out of this cell then?”
     “Well, actually, no.”
     “Why not?”
     “First of all, I can’t fold space-time again until I’m recharged – and you’re going to have to start generating substantially more brain activity before I can start doing that. Secondly, there’s some sort of energy field near us that has a sub-dimensional dampener interwoven within its electrical fibers. I can’t go anywhere while it’s activated.”
     Tommy didn’t like the idea of being helpless. Of all the possible, hopeless situations in the world, he considered them as scenarios where he failed to see the available options. “and, well, if that’s the case…”
     Marching up to the smooth hexagon panel that protruded slightly from the wall, Tommy inspected it closely. It looked as though he might be able to squeeze his fingers in through a thin slot on either side.
     The creatures must never had intended to hold a child, or someone with small fingers in this cell. Their mistake. For once, Tommy was glad to be small. With a couple of strong tugs, he was opened the panel a bit wider. Then, peering inside, Tommy found what he was hoping for. Circuitry! Or, at least, something similar to it. He reached further inside…
     “Ouch! Get it off of me! Get it off of me!” the wristband cried out.
     “Get what off of you?”
     “The Nanite! Ouch! A Nanite!”
     Tommy had no clue what it was talking about until he pulled his hand out of the panel and saw a blue spark jumping across the wristband’s surface. The spark made a popping sound, turned blue, sizzled out and then popped again on another section of the wristband.
     “Ouch!”
     “What do you want me to do?” Tommy asked frantically.
     “Something! Anything! Just get it off!”
     After thinking for a moment, Tommy started rubbing his feet across the floor as fast as he could.
     “What are you doing?!” the wristband whined.
     “Hold on…”
     “Ack! Ouch! No! You try holding on!”
     Leaning over to the wall, Tommy touched his finger to one of the metal studs, sending a static shock through his hand and into the wristband.
     “Ouch! You shocked me!”
     “Yep,” replied Tommy.
     The blue spark had stopped.
     “Ah. Nice thinking.”
     “So, what was that?” Tommy asked.
     “That was a static shock, generated by the friction between the carpet and your…”
     “No, not that. What was that spark flying around?”
     “It’s a security nanite. They’re a race of microscopic organisms that corporations often use to repair and defend internal circuity. If you attempt to change or override anything they attack. This one must of thought you were trying to link me to the system, so it retaliated.”
     “Can you do that? Can you link yourself to the system?”
     “No. Just the nanites.”
     “To the nanites? I thought you couldn’t communicate with something that didn’t have a brain?”
     “You Earthlings are so judgmental of other species! You think that just because something is small it doesn’t have a brain, or that if it works with something electronic it must be inorganic. Try looking at yourself some time little Earthling! I’ll have you know that nanites have colonized entire worlds! They’ve been around since before your planet even knew what fire is!”
     “You mean, they’re alive?”
     “Of course they’re alive. Well, all but the one you may have just fried. You should try apologizing.”
     “Apologizing? I was trying to save you!”
     “Still, ULOST section seven clearly states that if one harms another, even in self-defense, all due diligence should be enacted to aid said subject in whatever medical, mental, or emotional loss was caused by such action.”
     “ULOST? You said that stood for the Universal Laws of Successful Transaction, right?”
     “Correct.”
     “So what are they for exactly?”
     “What are they for!? ULOST is the compendium of laws that govern all relations, business, activities, and henceforth for the known universe. Ratified by Intergalactic Monarch Tesselak the 4074th who forcefully usurped the corrupt and unjust throne of his grandfather, Tesselak the 4072nd, in order to establish greater order than the previous Monarch’s governing laws referred to as IRULE, or the Intergalactic Rules Underlying Legal Enterprises.”
     “Sounds like the rest of the universe has as many problems as we do here on Earth.”
     “Not even remotely. ULOST was established over four thousand of your Earth years ago, and the Universe has been mostly at peace since that time.”
     “So, if these are universal, why didn’t anyone ever share ULOST with Earth?”
     “They did.”
     “Then how come I’ve never heard of it?”
     “You’re the Earthling. If you don’t know, then I certainly won’t.”
     Tommy rubbed the sides of his head with his fingers. His frustration with the wristband was growing, and although the way it worked and what it could do was fascinating, he was beginning to wish he could find a way to take it off. One major problem though: Tommy had no idea where he was, and he was afraid that the only thing capable of getting him back home was going to be the annoyance with a deathgrip around his wrist.
     “Well, since I don’t know how much time we have before that Foreman comes back, can you translate to the nanite for me?”
     “Of course.”
     “Umm, Mr. Nanite? Are you still alive?”
     The wristband emitted a faint glow while vibrating, causing Tommy to jump at the tickling sensation.
     A faint blue spark appeared on the floor across the room from where he was standing. “Who z’ere? z’I can’t zee! You blinded me! Zpeak foe!” the echoing voice entered Tommy’s mind through the wristband.
     “I what? I’m sorry I…..”
     The wristband interjected, “excuse me for interrupting, but nanites can’t be blinded. They don’t have eyes.”
     “Um, ok. Hi, I’m Thomas Twist.”
     “That zoundz like a z’Earthling name! Why would a z’Earthling be here!?”
     “I wish I knew.”
     “z’Earthlingz shouldn’t be here! z’Earthlingz do not belong here! z’Earthlingz are z’till too primitive! z’Earthlingz are…”
     “All right! All right! I get it. I shouldn’t be here. So can you help me get out?”
     “z’Of courze! z’you z’ouldn’t be here! What can z’I do to help?”
     “Well, I was told you’re able to work with circuitry?”
     “Yes zir! That ziz my duty zir! z’I am za zecurity Nanite! z’I guard zyztemz! z’I fix whatever ziz changed!”
     “Could you change the circuitry in your panel to deactivate this field?”
     “Yez zir! z’I mean…NO zir! z’I can’t do that! z’If my fellow zecurity Nanitez caught me changing z’it, they would zertainly deactivate me.”
     “What if I guided you to make sure the other Nanites didn’t catch you?”
     “No zir! Too rizky!”
     “You said yourself that an Earthling shouldn’t be here, right? How else can we resolve the situation? You help me deactivate the field, and then, when I’m gone, you and the other Nanites can put it back the way it was.”
     “z’Ummm….”
     “Unless you have a better idea.”
     “Z’alright then! z’I’ll get to work z’immediately zir! z’Awaiting your z’inztructionz!”
     Reaching out, Tommy let the blue spark hop into his hand, and then gently carried it over to the panel. In a streak of light, the Nanite flew into the exposed circuitry.
     “You sure you can really guide him through changing that circuitry without the other Nanites catching him?” the wristband asked.
     “I hope so,” Tommy replied. “As long as they can’t see each other and I can see them, we have the advantage.”

Chapter 8 Klibold’s Designs

     It came as no surprise (to everyone but Lehnair) when the message had come from MEFIRST Headquarters, transferring his managerial assignment to a new location. Several solar months had passed since then, and the newly assigned factory was still struggling under his rule. The Directorate had anticipated another amazing turn-around with a struggling factory like he had done previously.
     Lehnair often locked himself in his quarters whenever he thought about his new home. A planet with only one distant sun and nothing but ocean on the surface. The factory was located several hundred meters underwater, and because there was no plant life, there was no breathable air outside the factory’s confines. To make matters worse, Lehnair was dealing with personnel issues all day, every day. Unhappy workers, health problems, even the occasional fight that was bound to happen with so many workers trapped in such a small space. His personal quarters were the only place he could go for a quiet moment, even if it did resemble a prison cell.
     “Hey, get out here! There’s about to be another a fight,” the voice came through his thin door from the hallway.
     “Who is it now?” Lehnair groaned back from under his bed sheets.
     “It’s Liehkwon and Copshed again.”
     Lehnair sat up on the edge of his bed. “Can we fire them this time?” He already knew the answer, but firing someone, anyone, would have made him feel more in control.
     “Nope. You know headquarters won’t send replacement workers out to non-profitable factories.”
     “Yeah, I know,” Lehnair sighed as he stood up and walked towards the door. “Open,” he spoke out, waving his lower-right hand next to the door handle. “Oh right,” Lehnair reminded himself, “I’m buried under an ocean in a sinking junk heap.”
     He grabbed the handle and pulled it back until the latch released and the door folded open. Not far down the hall, two purple-skins were flailing at each other with all four arms. Their upper arms would knock the other purple-skin into the wall, while their lower arms would hit or scratch at anything they could reach.
     Junk was now strewn throughout the hallway from the confrontation and several sections of wall had been torn open. With his large upper arms, Lehnair grabbed a thick metal pipe through one of the damaged areas and ripped it out of the infrastructure, causing a large burst of steam to come pouring out.
     Approaching the chaos through the cheering crowd, Lehnair offered a brief, but nearly silent warning, “stop.” Then, with a single swing, Lehnair wrapped the pipe across Liehkwon’s head, knocking him out cold. Copshed staggered to regain his balance and stared in disbelief as several gaping MorgangEtters stepped back in silence. Lehnair smiled, and then, with another swing of the metal pipe, Copshed fell to the ground next to Liehkwon.
     “Make ‘em work double shifts after they wake up,” Lehnair addressed the remaining crowd as he surveyed his handy work. He shuffled back to his room as every eye in the hallway followed him in shock. “Oh, and clean up this mess,” he added as he tossed the metal cylinder over his shoulder and closed the door behind himself.
     Lehnair knew he couldn’t turn this factory around like he had done with the last one. He had chosen the last one because he knew it was already on its way back to making a profit. He had another option though, one he had been holding onto for the right time. Breaking up that fight was going to draw a lot of attention, so today would have to be the day he’d share it with the Directorate. It was good timing anyway, as his current Director would give credit to employees for their ideas. Most importantly though, he would let the rest of the governing Directorate know about the employee if their idea was amazing enough – and this one certainly was. So amazing in fact, that it couldn’t fail. It wouldn’t turn this particular factory around, nor the hundreds of others across the universe, but it would make the company vastly more profitable as a whole. Even more so than when they had first started using MorgangEtters for hard labor.
     The screen was dark and silent, and Lehnair was trying not to fidget, but his bottom-right hand trembled as he raised it off the table and tapped his middle finger to his thumb. The screen lit up, displaying the words, “Contacting Director Omnitym at MEFIRST HQ. Please Hold.” Lehnair took in a deep breath and then slowly exhaled.
     “What? Over here? Oh! This old thing?” Lehnair could hear the Director’s voice through the glowing screen. “Oh, hello there Lehnair!” The Director spoke as his picture appeared in place of the text. “Sorry about that. I haven’t used one of these old communication booths in forever!”
     “Yes sir. I’m sorry about the inconvenience, but as you know, our factory is substantially out-dated,” Lehnair replied cynically.
     “Well, what can I do for you today?”
     “I wanted to show you something I’ve been working on. A, uh, new design.”
     “What was that? A new design you said?”
     “Yes,” Lehnair shouted out so the Director could hear him.
     “Oh, oh please, transmit it on over then!”
     Lehnair took a couple pieces of old cloth out from under his bed and put them into a bright red envelope. Most of the pieces had burnt corners and were covered with black residue, but the writing on them was still legible. Only one piece was completely clean, the one that Lehnair had written himself. He placed the envelope on top of a shiny black square resting on his nightstand and then placed a small triangular crystal beside the package. The crystal snapped into place as the envelope hovered up over the device. The shiny black surface emitted a faint green glow as the envelope spun around, shrinking down into the glassy darkness.
     With a pop, the envelope appeared in front of the Director and fell on his lap. “Oh! That scared me!” he mumbled out as if no one else were listening. “I thought you were out-of-date with technology there?”
     “We are. The MeDai is mine.”
     “A MeDai? Wait, you’re a MeDai?”
     “It’s a long story sir. If you would please look at the documents I sent you, I think you’ll be pleased.”
     “Well, certainly. Anything for a MeDai.” The Director tore open the envelope and pulled out the blackened papers. “Yes… Yes! This is good,” he spoke with excitement as he flipped through the pieces.
     “Thank you sir, I’ve been working quite hard on that.”
     “Yes, well, this is certainly good news. I haven’t seen anything like this since right before that decompression at our tertiary mining factory a couple years ago.”
     “You, you mean someone else showed you this, uh I mean, a similar idea already?” Lehnair’s fidgeting was getting worse.
     “Well, yes! Almost identical to this as I recall, but the explosion occurred before the manager could finish giving us a full explanation of his design.”
     “Oh, well, uh, you see…”
     “I’m just glad someone else had the brains to come up with it again! Where did you learn so much about Earthlings?”
     “Well, uh, it’s a hobby of mine.”
     “Simply amazing! But yes, from what I understand, Earth would be perfect for this!”
     “It will be sir, I’m sure of it.”
     “I think you just came up with the greatest idea this company has ever had Lehnair! We may need to transfer you to company headquarters to oversee the manufacturing process behind your design.”
     “I would be honored sir.”
     The Director continued flipping through the pieces of cloth as Lehnair tapped his middle finger to his thumb, turning off the communication. With a long, drawn out sigh, Lehnair whispered, “thanks Klibold.”

Chapter 9 Breakout

     The yellow field fizzled with a pop. A few crackling yellow sparks lingered in the air, but that didn’t stop Tommy from jumping through the space. The entire room was visible now, although there wasn’t much to see; only a slightly ajar door on the far wall, and a metallic black desk with a tall chair behind it.
     Tommy’s heart was beating fast. That yellow field had offered him the assurance that if he couldn’t get out, then at least no one else could get in. Now what was he going to do? What would happen if he got caught? He knew they weren’t human. Would they harm him? Or kill him outright to protect their secret?
     “Of course not!” the wristband blurted out.
     “What?” Tommy nearly jump over the desk in surprise.
     “Of course they’re not going to kill you! That would be in violation of ULOST section two, and NOBODY breaks ULOST section two.”
     “Well, if he’s already broken the rules in ULOST section 4, what would stop him from breaking that one?”
     “Intelligence. Because even though he’s shown how unintelligent he is by not following ULOST in its entirety, only the most abhorrent beast would dare consider a violation against section two.”
     Tommy lowered his eyes to the floor. “What about the Nanite I almost killed?”
     “First of all, you didn’t kill it; killing a Nanite is nearly impossible. Secondly, you stunned him in self-defense because he was attacking me.”
     “I didn’t know it, I mean, he, was a living, breathing creature when I shocked him.”
     “For your information, Nanites don’t breathe, and we can talk about your species’ intellectual inadequacies later. I think for now, we should concentrate on getting out of here before we’re caught.”
     Tommy couldn’t agree more. His heart felt like it could leap out of his chest, and their conversation would have worried him if it had been spoken out loud rather than privately thought.
     Glancing at the open door, he peeked through the crack to see if anyone was on the other side. Once convinced all was clear, he creaked the door open and crept into the hallway. Was it a hallway? It couldn’t be described as anything else, but it had to be the most technologically advanced hallway he had ever seen. Round glassy arches were positioned every ten feet or so, illuminating the otherwise dark pathway in hues of blue and white with flashes of conducted electricity arcing within.
     Tommy stepped out of the room and had to grab the door frame. His shoes hovered slightly above the ground as they were yanked to the right by some invisible force. It only took a second for Tommy to decide to let go of the door frame and allow the mysterious floor to take him where it may – anything was better than waiting where he was.
     …or so he thought before his feet slid out in front of him. Tommy dropped backwards, stopping his fall by planting his hands down first. He was tempted to stay sitting as he was driven through the bright archways, but the floor sent an uncomfortable prickling sensation through his fingers. Without anything to grab onto, Tommy bent at the knees and tilted himself back up with his hands, and then slowly straightened out his legs while trying not to fall down again. The hallway had a gradual curve to it, hiding the future from view, and likewise hiding Tommy from anything that might come from behind.
     “Any ideas how to use this thing?” Tommy directed his silent question towards the wristband.
     “Just tell the hallway where you want to go.”
     “But I don’t even know where I’m at, moreover where I need to get to,” Tommy snipped back.
     “Tell it ‘Crew Quarters’ or ‘Offices’ or something else that sounds official.”
     “OK,” Tommy glanced back to make sure no one else was close enough to hear. “Offices,” he blurted out.
     A low pitched voice bellowed from the next arch, and the wristband vibrated and glowed as it translated, “Please state a valid destination.”
     “Crew Quarters,” Tommy tried.
     “Please state a valid destination,” the next arch rumbled in response as they flew past it.
     “Try asking it for a list of valid destinations.”
     This time Tommy yelled out, “please give me a list of valid destinations.”
     The next arch’s voice echoed back, “please state a valid destination,” the please sounding anything but sincere.
     Tommy lifted the wristband up to his eyes and spoke out loud as if it would help them communicate better, “does it not understand me? Are you working?”
     The next arch bellowed back its usual question.
     “As I have previously tried to explain to you,” the wristband sounded exasperated, “I can’t translate to a non-organic entity.”
     “Then we’re not going to get very far,” Tommy dropped his wrist back down to his side and resumed their conversation by thought, “I guess this hallway doesn’t understand English.”
     Without any other ideas, Tommy took the time to experiment. The sliding sensation reminded him of skateboarding, so he tried putting one foot in front of the other. At first it was difficult to keep his balance, but he got better as he moved along. He could slide his front foot to either side, directing himself towards the edges of the hallway. Though, no matter what he tried, he couldn’t figure out how to slow down. Putting both feet together or digging in his heels only caused him to flip around or lose his footing.
     The wristband lit up again, “I hate having to visit Earth. They’re so technologically deprived.” The vibration at his wrist let Tommy know it was something translated.
     “Yeah, but I sure appreciate how well this corporation has been doing since we started using the Earthlings. Did I tell you? Last cycle I received a small planet in orbit around G8-67 as a bonus!”
     The voices grew louder as Tommy continued being pulled down the hallway.
     “I hope that works out well for you. Of course, you always did like the snow and ice. I got an Interstellar Traverser with lifetime fusion cell for my bonus. It’s one fast ship, complete with a full set of living quarters.”
     “Life has been good hasn’t it?”
     “You bet.”
     Tommy gripped at the wall with his palms as he realized there wasn’t anywhere to hide, but his hands glided smoothly along the corridor.
     “Did you remember to dock the ship?”
     “Oh wait… Yeah, it looks good.”
     “Great. We’re not scheduled to take it back to Earth until tomorrow, so enjoy the night off.”
     “Hey, thanks.”
     The voices were just around the bend in the hallway. What would they do when they caught him? Was he moving faster, or did it just feel that way since he couldn’t stop? He tried clawing into the walls and grabbing a passing archway, anything to slow himself down.
     Then, in a moment of luck, or the kind of brilliance that comes from true panic, Tommy saw the door the aliens had barely come out of as it was closing. Reaching as far as he could, Tommy clenched the frame and pulled himself into the room with all the strength he could muster. His feet flew in first, followed by the rest of him. His shoes then gripped the floor and came to a screeching halt, causing the rest of Tommy to lunge, literally, head over heels, with his forehead hitting the ground in a reverberating clunk, followed by his still sore chest.
     He couldn’t take it anymore. Mentally, physically, and most of all, emotionally, he was exhausted. Taken to his limits and beyond, he closed his eyes and began to cry. He missed his Mom and Dad, his room, his books, his experiments, even school. Would he ever get back home? He never thought he’d miss being away so much. Most of the other kids at school considered him that strange “braniac” who was too weird to hang out with, thus leaving him with few, if any, real friends. Mom and Dad had never believed anything about his adventures, which, by comparison to this current one, seemed rather small. Yet, despite that, Tommy yearned to be home right now, to hug his parents, and to hear them say they loved him. To tell them about this, the biggest adventure he’d ever had, even if they didn’t believe him. To enjoy the security of knowing that everything was safe while Mom and Dad were there.
     “Somethings wrong with you” the wristband started.
     “Nothing’s wrong,” Tommy replied, not wanting to talk or argue.
     “You’re crying.”
     “I doubt your humongous alien intellect would be capable of understanding,” Tommy snapped back.
     “Unlikely. I am however, receiving a large number of images coming from your mind right now, although they’re all rather jumbled. School, kids, parents…”
     “Shut up!” Tommy screamed through his sobbing.
     “Excuse me, I didn’t mean to intrude, but it’s not something I can turn off or ignore.”
     The tears were heavy and warm now, but Tommy didn’t care. This was usually when his Mom would hand him a tissue to wipe his face off and then give him a big hug.
     “Think of it that way then,” the wristband whispered into Tommy’s mind.
     “What?”
     “Well, if it’ll help, don’t think of me as some kind of parasite stuck around your forearm.”
     “Then what kind of parasite are you?” Tommy replied sharply.
     “I’m the kind that’s a big hug… well, around your wrist anyway.”
     At first, Tommy wanted to try ripping the wristband off again, but only for a moment. Perhaps it actually did understand how he felt? Obviously none of Tommy’s thoughts were a secret anymore.
     “Do you have a name?”
     “Yes, I’m a Metaparlance Dec…”
     “No. That’s not what I meant. A name that I could call you.”
     “I’m just ‘the wristband’ I figured. That’s what you’ve called me since we met.”
     “Well, if we’re going to be stuck together like this, you need a name,” he thought out as he wiped his face with his sleeve.
     “What name did you have in mind?”
     Tommy smiled at hearing the wristband ask a question, “I’m not sure, but let me know if you have any good ideas.”
     The wristband didn’t respond, which was fine, since now that Tommy was calming down he needed to focus again on getting home.
     Giving his eyes one last rub with his hands, he glanced around. There were large boxes everywhere. Yellow, green, red, orange, purple, and several different shades of each. He didn’t have to fight the curiosity to open any of them since there was a whole stack still waiting to be closed.
     Inside each were several sealed buckets that matched the color of the crate they were in. Tommy searched through several more to verify that each was the same.
     Every bucket had a wire handle on it and was sealed like a paint can with the lid pushed down into the top and held in place by pressure around the edges. Tommy hefted a light red bucket out of its box and tried prying it open with his fingers.
     “It’s too tight,” Tommy mumbled to himself.
     Looking around for something he could use to loosen the cap, he stopped, and then carried the bucket over to the wall and swung it hard by its handle.
     Not only did the seal break when the container hit the wall, but its red liquid contents splashed out over the floor. Tommy jumped backwards to avoid getting any on himself. The fluid was too thin to be paint, but it still stained everything it landed on.
     “Ink?” he asked out loud. “And what are they doing with so much of it?” Grabbing a couple of lighter boxes, he dragged them over the mess he had made.
     The room was large, and seeing around the stacks of crates proved difficult since they were as tall as he was. Tommy was a pretty decent climber though, and within minutes he was surveying the room from atop a small hill of boxes. It was then that he noticed, in the far corner of the room on an elevated ramp, the ship the aliens had mentioned. It didn’t appear to be built to travel through caves of trees, or even the air, as it was only a dull cylindrical hull with a large metallic coil wrapped around the back of it. No wheels, no jet engines, no tracks. What kind of ship was this? At the other end of the ramp there was a large circular door in the wall, covered with white specks and big enough for the ship to enter and exit through.
     “Time to take a closer look.”
     Climbing down, Tommy made his way over to the stairs leading up the ramp. His throat tightened and his stomach felt queasy as he approached the circular passage. It wasn’t covered with white specks. It was an opening into space, and they were stars! What had the aliens said? Had they just gotten back from Earth?
     “No. I have to stay focused,” Tommy convinced himself as more tears blurred his vision. “Any chance you have enough energy to fold space yet?”
     The wristband was silent.
     “Are you there?”
     “Huh? Oh yes. Now lets see… There was Jim who almost dropped a tree on us, and Glibs the Foreman. Which of those names sound better you think? I’m not sure if I’d like an Earthling name or not.”
     Realizing the wristband had been occupied by its own thoughts, Tommy smirked a little. Not only was the wristband asking questions, but it was the first time it hadn’t been focused on his every brain wave, and that was a relief. “How close are you to having enough energy to get me back home?”
     “Not close at all. I got a little when you directed the Nanite over the circuit board, but you’d have to do that several more times before I could even transport us a kilometer or two.”
     “That isn’t going to help. We’d only end up in unbreathable space somewhere.”
     “Let’s try their ship then,” the wristband suggested.
     “The space ship? I don’t think I’d know how to fly one. I’m not even old enough to have a driver’s license yet!”
     “We could hop on board and wait for the aliens to come fly it. They mentioned they were taking it back to Earth.”
     “It’s not big enough. Where could I hide that they couldn’t find me?”
     “There you go again, judging something by it’s appearance. As a very wise Tesselak the 4074th once said, ‘Don’t judge a Hideous Carsitoid by it’s shell.’”
     “A what?”
     “Just take a look inside before assuming.”
     Looking over the ship, Tommy found the only thing that resembled a door handle. Once his hand got close, the ship gave a slight whirl and two panels slid open in opposite directions. The inside of the ship was enormous! Much larger than the outside hull suggested, and filled with the same colored boxes and buckets that were in the room.
     “Tomorrow,” that’s what the aliens in the hallway had said. It was going to take another day before he could get away from this place, wherever it was. He imagined his Mom and Dad walking up to his bedroom to dish out his punishment and not finding him there. He had probably left his window ladder down, which would make them both think that he had been disobedient and gone off to play.
     Actually, considering he had been unconscious for some amount of time, his parents may have already called the police, suspecting that he had ran away or been kidnapped! If the police could find him here he would gladly face any punishment they doled out.
     Tommy searched for a spot to hide. With so many boxes and such a large area, it wasn’t a problem. He climbed into a half empty box and curled into a ball. If he couldn’t be home, at least he could dream about it.

Chapter 10 Reality Check

     “Wake up Thomas! It’s time to get ready for school!” Mom was opening the curtains and pulling the covers off of him in one graceful movement.
     Waking up made the light coming into the room all that brighter, and in turn, made his eyes want to stay closed even more.
     “Come on Thomas! Breakfast is already cooking downstairs.”
     Tommy let himself fall out of bed. He loved learning, nothing wrong with that, but going to school was different. It was tedious. That wasn’t Tommy’s fault, but it wasn’t the school’s either.
     “Thomas. Get dressed!”
     Throwing on whatever clothes were strewn on the arm of the old recliner, Tommy hurried down to breakfast. Pancakes were the usual, and this morning was no different. He had picked up an interesting habit from someplace he couldn’t remember, of drawing letters on each pancake with the syrup. This morning he wrote out “U-L-O-S-T” and then proceeded to gobble them down.
     The elementary school was only a block away from his house, which would have been a nice, relaxing walk for him – except that he had to make it all the way to the high school across town. That was what made school tedious: it was the other students, all of which were older than himself. No real friends to play with, homework that he could easily finish before coming home, and unfortunately, the bully that liked to pick on the “runt” as he was often called.
     Tommy reluctantly followed his Mom out to the car and buckled in.
     “Do I have to go to school today?” he asked in the saddest sounding voice he could make.
     “What kind of a question is that? Of course you have to go to school. Unless you’re feeling sick.”
     He wasn’t really sick, but certainly wasn’t feeling all that well about going to school either. “Well…”
     “If you’re not feeling well you can stay home. Just remember that if you stay home you’ll miss volleyball practice after school today.”
     Of course she’d have to pull that trick on him. The only thing ever worth waiting through school for was volleyball practice. Tommy would endure entire days of social torment just so he could be bussed away from the high school and participate on a local team of the Children’s Volleyball League with other kids his age. Admittedly, he didn’t know any of those other kids, except for his friend (more like an acquaintance) Blane who happened to live next door. There was something about jumping and hitting as hard as you can for nearly two hours though, with no one caring how well you did it, that provided an outlet for the daily tedium.
     “No, I’m fine,” Tommy mumbled out.
     The trip to school was non-eventful. As always, his Mom dropped him off near the main entrance with a kiss and an “I love you,” and then waited until he was inside to drive off. Most kids would feel embarrassed to have their Mom kiss them in front of their peers, but Tommy was already so different from the rest that he had given up long ago on gaining any sort of popularity. Besides, with his ever-empty group of friends, Mom and Dad were the center of his social universe. They were the ones who cheered him on at volleyball games, the ones who approved (although discouragingly) his grade skipping, and they were the ones who were always there to give him a hug whenever he felt low. “Like now,” he supposed.
     Rarely is it a good sign to have the first class of the day be the one to go so wrong. It was English, and they had a creative writing assignment due. Tommy always preferred the science and math classes over language and arts, but that never stopped him from doing his best on an assignment. They were told to write a one page short story, but since he had found so much spare time during the last week, he just kept writing. Sixteen pages worth, and all single-spaced.
     Having written that much actually made Tommy feel quite a sense of achievement. Language and arts had never been a strong subject, but he liked to push himself to see what he was capable of. And today was full of surprises, because not even five minutes after handing in the paper, the teacher requested that Tommy take the rest of the period to read his story, out loud, to the whole class.
     Why would she put him on the spot like that? The teachers liked to show off the “smart little guy,” but didn’t they know how that made his social life even worse? Maybe it was because the teacher hadn’t prepared anything else for the day’s class? Whatever. It didn’t matter, since he always had to do what the teacher said anyway. So, with a reluctant rolls of his eyes, he stood up and started reading the paper, the whole time listening to the snickers and feeling the glares of his classmates.
     As he turned to the second page, he could feel the laughs increase and the looks focus. The teacher spoke out, “quiet everyone! This is a good story that Mr. Twist has written, and you should all be appreciative of his willingness to share it with us.” It really didn’t help for her to say that, especially since she made it sound like he wanted to be up in front of the class.
     After a couple more pages, one of the larger students guffawed, causing a roar of laughter to spread through the classroom like a wave. Tommy stood there, silent, trying not to cry as some of the kids jeered out, “look at the runt!”
     Glancing down past his handful of papers, a wave of dread swept over him as Tommy noticed he was still wearing his pajamas, decorated from neck to ankle in multicolored, one-eyed aliens and cylindrical spaceships. He could have sworn he had put on some clothes before running down the stairs this morning! And why wouldn’t his Mom have said something in the car? Or the teacher when he came into class? The laughs got louder and louder until Tommy burst out of the classroom and headed straight for his hiding place – the second stall from the left in the boy’s restroom.

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.”

Chapter 12 The Operations Center

     “Ah, here we are!” Sabreen shouted with glee. “I love this place. Coytibahn!” No sooner had she said the last word, she and Tommy’s trajectory moved towards the opening door.
     “Hello? Are you still awake?” Tommy thought out.
     “Of course I am,” the wristband replied.
     “What’s wrong then? You didn’t translate the last word she said”
     “She said Coytibahn. There’s no translation available.”
     “Well, it’s not anything I understood.”
     “Then maybe you should ask her what it means.”
     “You know, you’ve been awfully quiet for a while. Are you OK?”
     “I suppose. I’m still meddling over what name I want, but more than that, you two have been chatting so much that I couldn’t interject a comment anyways. Besides, it’s rude for us to have a conversation when there’s someone else present and they can’t hear it.”
     Tommy shrugged, “Hasn’t stopped you yet, though I guess you’re right. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t feel neglected or anything.”
     “No, no. Don’t worry about me. I’ve been treated far worse by previous hosts.”
     “Sabreen, what was that last word you said?” Tommy decided to ask before they were through the door.
     “Oh, it’s the passphrase for the Operations Center.”
     “So, is that how you get through a door? You have to know the passphrase?”
     “Around here anyway. Just about every door at IBoMB is locked. They don’t want Earthlings stumbling into something that might make them uncomfortable you know.”
     At first Tommy resented the remark. Why would an Earthling feel uncomfortable? He thought he was adjusting just fine, until the door finished opening anyway.
     The Operations Center was large room, filled with, well, people? Most appeared at least somewhat human, considering Sabreen’s earlier comment about most aliens looking the same. The similarities were a relative assessment rather than an exact one. Some of the beings were extremely tall, while others were extremely short. Some appeared to have similar eye coloring as Sabreen, while there was also a wide variation in skin colors. Not only white, black, or brown mind you, but white, black, brown, yellow, pinkish-red, and even some bluish-purple. Hair colors were more varied, adding a collage of hues to an otherwise drab room.
     Most of the “people” were sitting down at stations scattered throughout the area. Tommy couldn’t tell what they were doing, as there didn’t appear to be anything in front of them to work with. They were all staring upwards toward the ceiling. One would occasionally point in some general direction, look straight ahead for a while, and then proceed to stare at the ceiling again.
     As he stepped into the room a few of the plastic-looking aliens turned in his direction. Tommy flipped around and bolted for the hallway.
     Sabreen grabbed him, “What’s wrong with you?”
     “It’s uh, they’re uh…” he mumbled as he pointed towards the staring creatures.
     “It’s alright Tommy. You had a bad experience with one of their species. That doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be mean to you.”
     Tommy examined an alien as they passed within inches. One of the others gave Tommy a quick look-over and then continued with the empty point-and-stare routine at their seat.
     “So, which one is going to help us?” Tommy asked while darting his eyes about the room.
     “Right here,” Sabreen started.
     “Sabreen! Hi there,” one of the individuals spoke as they stood up.
     She was amazing. Tommy had never seen a woman so tall before. She must have been seven feet in height (which, to someone his own size seemed even larger), and was, in his opinion, very pretty. She wore a form fitting, olive-green blouse with short sleeves and a triangle of white fabric fixed to the front. Her slacks were the same color and flared out slightly at the ankles. She had light brown skin with long, curly, jet black hair that hung in a loose ponytail down to her waist, and eyes that were a deep red.
     “Hi Leij!” Sabreen ran over and hugged her leg.
     “Sabreen,” (even her voice was pretty Tommy thought), “who’s your friend?”
     “This is Tommy. He needs your help,” Sabreen mumbled the words out of her loving deathgrip on Leij’s leg.
     Sabreen let go after one more squeeze, and Leij started towards Tommy. He might have been terrified by the giant walking towards him if she hadn’t of walked so gracefully. She appeared to glide over the floor with each sweep of her feet.
     “Sabreen, he’s an Earthling. You’re not supposed to bring Earthlings in here.”
     “Oh, he’s not a normal Earthling. Look, he’s a MeDai,” Sabreen said from close behind her.
     Leij looked down at Tommy and scanned him over, pausing for a second on the wristband. Leij’s face curled slightly with confusion. “I’m sorry, I’ve never seen anyone, so young, as a MeDai before.”
     Tommy didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even understand what a MeDai was supposed to be.
     “Yeah, pretty cool huh?” Sabreen let out.
     “Well, as a MeDai you’re welcome to go wherever you like, considering we couldn’t stop you anyway,” Leij still looked confused.
     Tommy then realized they must be referring to the Metaparlance Decipherer on his wrist. He smiled awkwardly and thought out to the wristband, “I take it that you’re a celebrity of some sort?”
     “No. More of a rarity,” the wristband replied, “which makes you the celebrity since you’re the one wearing me.”
     “Well, what can I do for you two then?” Leij asked.
     Sabreen, with no hesitation, blurted out, “He’s pinched. It must have been an accident or something, since it’s illegal to pinch a MeDai isn’t it?”
     “It’s not a law, but a MeDai shouldn’t be pinched. It can interfere with their symbiotic link.”
     “So then, can we ‘unpinch’ me?” Tommy interrupted.
     Leij took a deep breath, which told Tommy the answer wasn’t going to be a simple one: “When someone is pinched, their mind is controlled in such a way that something else, such as a Polymorphism Enabler, can send a signal directly into the part of your brain that manipulates the flow of information from your eyes. It makes you see things differently from what they actually are, or can even stop the flow entirely, making something invisible. That’s why you shouldn’t pinch a MeDai, so that they don’t fold space and accidentally land inside of something, or even worse, someone, else.”
     “That would be painful for everyone involved,” the wristband interrupted.
     “Unfortunately, there’s not a cure to being pinched,” Leij said with an apologetic look on her face. “Not an easy one anyway.”
     Easy? Was anything ever going to be easy again? Tommy was getting used to being challenged and pushed harder than usual. “So what is it I need to do?”
     “The mind is an amazing thing…”
     “Even an Earthling’s?” Tommy couldn’t resist.
     Leij’s face took on a sympathetic look, “especially your’s Tommy. You’re still young, and so your mind is adapting and growing. Given time, it would probably compensate on its own against the Polymorphism Virus.”
     “So, I just have to wait then?”
     “No, there are ways to speed up the process, but it’ll take some effort on your part.”
     Tommy stared up into Leij’s eyes, waiting for her to volunteer the information before neck was permanently kinked.
     “The truth Tommy. You have to learn the truth.”
     “So how do I go about doing that?”
     “How about you try sitting at my station for a while? You can teach yourself how to use it.”
     “You can’t show me?”
     “Because the truth, like many things, can only be believed if you have to figure it out for yourself.” Leij paused before a sudden burst of information. “After you get in, why don’t you try tracking the history of a certain alien named Lehnair.”
     “How will that…”
     “You might just find it enlightening.”
     Tommy gave a worried look over in Sabreen’s general direction.
     “Go for it Tommy. Leij is trying to help you,” she offered.
     Tommy looked over at the empty station. Then, glancing around the room, watched the aliens perform the point-and-stare dance as they had been since he arrived.
     “Take a seat,” Leij said while gently pushing him towards the chair.
     Sitting down, Tommy looked around at the three short walls that made up the station. He pulled himself and the chair in closer.
     There was nothing to see! There was nothing there!
     “Are you going to help?” Tommy thought out to the wristband.
     “Nope, sounds like this is for your own good,” it replied.
     “You sound like my parents.”
     “They must be very wise for Earthlings then.”
     Tommy continued staring forward for several minutes, focusing his eyes to different spots in the cubical, searching for something that wasn’t there.
     Maybe he was imagining it from trying so hard, but after a few more minutes a faint shimmer of a ball slowly came into view, hovering straight ahead, barely out of reach. Concentrating harder, he squinted to see more detail. Was it spinning? Tommy tried to follow the rotation with his eyes to focus on a single point long enough to make out what it was. He couldn’t keep up with it though. How fast was it moving? What was it? It had to be more than some ghostly ball hovering in mid air.
     He reached out as far as he could, trying to touch the device. His hand rubbed against the far cubical wall. Had his hand passed through it? Or was it somehow farther away than the wall was? It looked like it was right in front of him. Tommy again focused his mind, trying to see something, anything, on or inside the ball.
     There was something there, but he couldn’t make it out. It looked like a speck of color that was spinning in the opposite direction within the sphere. What color was it? Black? No, it was purple. No, it was green! Wait, there was two of them now, spinning side by side!
     Before his eyes, Tommy saw the specks of color breaking apart, spinning in all directions within the ball. The axis, there was something wrong with the axis. Had he done something wrong? The sphere was shaking and spinning off center. Did he break it? How? He hadn’t done anything. The ball continued to shake and Tommy could see a small crack forming across the surface. Without thinking, Tommy reached out to grab the ball and hold it together. This time he was able to firmly grasp it with both hands, causing his arms to shake back and forth with the movement.
     Looking around the room, Tommy was puzzled that no one else had noticed his predicament. All the aliens continued pointing and staring at the emptiness as they had been. Even Sabreen and Leij didn’t notice what was happening as they stood off chatting with each other.
     Tommy didn’t know what to do. The crack was growing, so he tried squeezing it back together. He could feel his fingers pushing into what felt like dry pizza dough. Then, without warning, Tommy’s hands slapped together, shattering a thousand specks of color throughout the entire room. Red, green, blue, yellow, black, white, bright, dim, florescent, neon, everywhere. On the walls, on the ceiling, even on the people. Tommy and his chair fell back onto the floor.
     From his new perspective of the ceiling, he finally understood what everyone else had been doing. The specks of color where shaped like galaxies, solar systems, stars, and planets. It was a scaled down map of the universe.
     Leij stepped over Tommy and helped him back up. “Are you alright?”
     “Uh, yeah, I think so.”
     “You’re doing great Tommy. Keep concentrating.”
     For the first time, Tommy noticed that when Leij spoke to him, the wristband wasn’t translating. She spoke English. The wristband only vibrated when she spoke to Sabreen.
     Tommy lifted his chair up off the floor and climbed back in. By following the same movements as the other aliens he learned how to point to what he wanted and have it zoom across the room for closer inspection. Galaxies became solar systems, solar systems became planets, planets became cities. There were strange lines that connected some planets to others, and symbols that made a path from one location to the next. What had Leij said he needed to do? Oh yes, track the history of someone named “Lehnair”…

Chapter 13 History of IBoMB

     Tommy reached out and put the last symbolic link in place. The planets and stars dissolved away to reveal a thick, leather bound book sitting on the desk in front of him. Tommy reached out and pointed to the cover which promptly flipped open to reveal the title: A History of IBoMB: Excerpts of Lehnair.
     “Whoa!” the wristband blurted out as it began glowing and vibrating.
     “What’s wrong with you?” Tommy thought back.
     “I’m recharging. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
     “What?! I only read the title of a book.”
     “Then do it some more! That’s the most energy I’ve gotten from you yet!”
     Nearly shaking, Tommy thought back, “you mean to tell me, that all I had to do was read a book to get you to send me home?”
     “I guess. Don’t let me distract you now though! Keep going!”
     Flicking his finger toward the title page, the book opened to the first chapter. Adjusting his eyes to the bright white page hovering in front of him, he began to read…
     “Whoa…. nice….”
     “Will you please be quiet!” Tommy mumbled out between his teeth.
     “Forever the rich, and forget the poor.” Lehnair remembered those words from one of his father’s numerous lectures….
     Tommy’s eyes perked wide open as he continued.

***

     It must have taken some time to get through the information, as Tommy looked over at Sabreen before reading the final segment and noticed she was asleep on Leij’s lap.
     “I’m sorry for taking so long,” Tommy whispered to Leij.
     Leij replied in a similar quiet tone, “you’re fine. Please finish.”
     The room had become incredibly quiet after he started reading. Leij’s whisper was the loudest noise in the room. Glancing about, Tommy saw only a few operators still performing the point-and-watch dance at their stations – the rest were all staring at him!
     Most were watching him with two eyes, but some, the ones who had been perceptibly plastic, only had a single eye to use. Some had green skin, and others were purple. The purple skinned ones had four arms, while the green only had two, but both had the single glowering eye, inset above a flat nose in their smallish heads. The upper set of arms on the purple-skins were large, and Tommy imagined they were strong enough to throw him several meters if that was their intention.
     Tommy sat there, frozen, staring at the aliens who were staring back.
     “It’s alright. Please, keep reading,” Leij interrupted in something a bit more than a whisper.
     Peering back at the book, while keeping one eye on the aliens, he started reading the final memory segment:

Chapter 14 The Merger

     “Lehnair? Are you there?”
     “Of course. Please come in.”
     “I suppose you’ve heard about our ‘restructuring’ by now?”
     “Yes.”
     “As I understand it, all of us Directors are to be laid off in favor of a sole individual who’ll run the entire company. Apparently, someone had a long talk with the Universal Governing Organization Over Business and Economic Reformation, and convinced them that we’re all incompetent!”
     “I see.”
     “Aren’t you worried? Oh, I suppose you’re not, are you? You’re the only Director without a family aren’t… I, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.”
     “Sure you did.”
     “No, really, I apologize. This whole thing has just got me stressed a lot more than what I’m used to.”
     “Personally, I’m fine with it.”
     “What?! How? How could you possibly be fine with it? I heard the new Boss is even going to change the name of the company! To something like IBMB, IBB, or something.”
     “The Intergalactic Business of Making Business.”
     “Right! Exactly! Who would come up with such a ridiculous name?”
     “I did.”
     
     “What?”
     “And as the new Boss over IBoMB, I would ask that you remove yourself from my office and vacate the premises immediately… before something worse happens to you.”
     Lehnair sat at his new desk, fiddling with the crystals and the shiny black device. Being a Director is fine and all, especially when you get to oversee the use of the newest and largest cheap labor force in the history of the MEFIRST Corporation, or now, IBoMB. Being the Boss was even better, even though it was proving to be more boring than he had anticipated.
     Some of the crystals simply didn’t make sense, and Lehnair was becoming frustrated in his attempts to fully activate the Metaparlance Decipherer. He’d move the last crystal into place, thinking he’d figured it out, but the device would remain silent and he’d have to start over yet again. He’d reach up with one of his small arms and rub the back of his neck as the frustration crawled up through his head and ended behind his eye.
     “Glibs!” Lehnair shouted.
     A small, green-skinned MorgangEtter came trotting into the room.
     “Yes sir?”
     “I need to solve this,” Lehnair snapped, pointing to the crystals.
     “Of course sir, we’ve had our corporate scientists trying for days.”
     Lehnair scowled, “then they’re not trying hard enough. Haven’t they been working extra hours?”
     “Sir, they’re working over the normal…”
     “Then work them some more!”
     “But they have families they’ll want to go home to at the…”
     “What? Why does everyone worry so much about families around here? That’s all I ever hear about! We hire them to work, not to raise children! Tell them to forget their families unless they want them to starve.”
     “Sir, you can’t be serious.”
     “Glibs! If you ever…”
     “Yes sir, right away sir. I’ll tell them. However…”
     “What?!”
     “May I once again suggest sending the device to Mr. Gholab?”
     “What could he possibly know that our scientists don’t already?”
     “Our researchers say that he’s the foremost authority on ancient sciences, and that he could possibly…”
     “No! I’m not letting it out of my sight.”
     “Sir, begging your pardon, but I could have our own people deliver it by hand. It would be safe that way.”
     Lehnair stared down at the puzzle. His eye could barely focus on it any longer.
     “Sir, I’d have it delivered by the same purple-skins that deliver the Earthling’s paper.”
     Lehnair remained silent, keeping his eyes on the device.
     “Sir, some Earthlings can go crazy when they see the colored paper. Our deliverers have proven time and time again that they can protect their cargo.”
     “Alright then.”
     “Sir?”
     “So long as it’s delivered by the paper couriers.”
     Lehnair hesitantly put the device and crystals into one of his red envelopes, sealed it, and hesitantly, handed it to the green-skin. “If you lose this…”
     “Yes sir. I understand.” Glibs began walking, backwards, out of the room, bowing towards Lehnair as he did so.
     “Have the scientists finished their secondary project yet?” He spoke before Glibs could get out of the room.
     “They’re very close sir. It will require the Time Crystal when we get it, and the rest of the set back, from Mr. Gholab.”
     “Understood,” Lehnair spoke as Glibs exited the room.
     Lehnair looked further down, examining a single crystal he was still fingering in his lower-right hand under the desk.

Chapter 15 To Save a Planet

     Tommy stood and backed away from the console, keeping particular attention on the purple-skinned aliens.
     “What did you see?” Leij asked, right before he backed into her.
     Sabreen was awake now, and Leij was standing at her full height again, making it difficult for him to look up at her. Picking the angle that would be easiest on his neck, Tommy replied, “they’re horrible. All of these purple-skins are horrible. They lie, they’re selfish, they’re…”
     “No they’re not!” Sabreen snapped back.
     “But they are! I saw it!”
     Leij kindly interjected, “Tommy, what you saw was only one of their species. You can’t judge them all for what one of them has done.”
     Tommy’s breathing was heavy, and he was fighting the urge to run out of the room.
     “What did you see? We need to know,” Leij spoke as she cupped her hand around the back of his head and calmly stroked Tommy’s red hair with her thumb. His panic oozed out through her fingers.
     “Why do you need me to tell you? Sabreen told me that you knew everything.”
     Leij gave Sabreen a sideways glance and replied, “we learn a lot from monitoring the known universe, and we can often see truth in watching people’s actions, but Lehnair used the Metaparlance Decipherer to scramble our monitoring streams over him.”
     Thinking back to what he had seen at the console, Tommy realized that although Lehnair hadn’t fully activated the MeDai, he had been able to use the black tablet and crystals to some extent. He had teleported Klibold’s designs to his boss, which meant he may have done much more.
     “I didn’t want him to use me,” the wristband projected into Tommy’s thoughts, “but I couldn’t stop him either. He knew how to control me. And that’s how you ended up here – he pre-programed me to bring Mr. Gholab to company headquarters in case he succeeded in activating me.”
     “How did he find you in the first place?” Tommy thought back.
     “On that barren planet, when Lehnair worked at the factory, he found me buried in one of the mines.”
     “Are you feeling well?” Sabreen interrupted.
     “Yeah, I was just thinking.”
     “There was something that Lehnair did that was pretty bad, wasn’t there?” Sabreen whispered.
     “I think there were a few things he did that were pretty bad,” Tommy spoke so more people could hear it.
     “What do you mean?” replied Leij.
     “I think Lehnair caused that factory explosion, and he used the MeDai to cover it up so no one could see it was him.”
     “Why would he do something like that?” Sabreen said amid audible gasps of air.
     “He likes being in control of things, of other people in particular.”
     Leij put her other hand onto Sabreen’s shoulder to keep her from crying. “Some people crave power above everything else,” she said while shaking her head.
     “I think it’s more than that. I think he wants to be rich. Something his father used to tell him – forever the rich, and forget the poor. I think he took it to heart.”
     Leij stared down at Tommy with a confused look on her face.
     Sabreen spoke first. “The saying actually goes, forever are the rich, and forgotten are the poor, or that’s how my Dad always tells it.”
     “What? That’s a terrible thing to tell someone,” Tommy snapped back as he pulled himself away from Leij’s calming hand. “Why would anyone say something like that?”
     “It’s not terrible,” Leij began, “…if you know the meaning of it.” The last part sounded like a question rather than a statement.
     He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What story could make that right? It sounds as if someone should be dismissed just because they’re poor!” His curt reply showed no attempt to hide his temper. His mind flashed back to the simple home he lived in and the old car his parents shared between themselves while everyone else he knew had so much more. They weren’t poor, but they weren’t rich either, at least not by Earth’s standards, or even their neighbors.
     “Yes Tommy, and no, it’s not what you’re thinking,” Leij continued, “I realize that Earthling’s have a hard time understanding it.”
     “What’s so hard to understand?!”
     Leij took a sighing breath, “Most Earthling’s have a different idea what being rich really means. A person doesn’t need to have things to make them rich. It’s about friends, family, and loved ones. Someone who has good friends is not only rich, but is also never forgotten.”
     His temper cooled down ever so slightly. Tommy missed his parents, and even though he was going to be in oodles of trouble, he wanted more than anything to get back and be with them again, at home, where he felt safe. “Lehnair doesn’t really understand it either then? Does he?”
     “I’m sure he does, but he doesn’t want to think of it that way,” Leij offered. “People often see things the way they want to see them.”
     There was a moment of awkward silence as Tommy tried to take it all in. Until it dawned on him: the Time Crystal! Lehnair kept one of the crystals – the one they referred to as the “time” crystal. Tommy thought out to the wristband, “can you actually fold time right now? Or just space?”
     “I can fold space AND time, thank you very much,” the wristband sounded hurt.
     “Are you sure? I don’t think I had all the crystals when I activated you.”
     “You couldn’t have activated me without all the…”
     “What? What is it?”
     “It’s, it’s missing. You were right: I can’t fold time, only space.”
     Breaking out of his thoughts, Tommy spoke out loud to everyone in the center, “why would a Time Crystal be so important to Lehnair?”
     Leij looked around at the other Operators, waiting for anyone to respond. After several of them shrugged their shoulders, “we don’t know,” she finally replied.
     Tommy thought back to the underground trees, and the buckets of ink. Why was the company headquarters on Earth raising underground forests and cutting them down? What had Glibs said to Lehnair? Something about delivering paper that made Earthlings go crazy? They must be using the trees to make paper!
     “What about the paper though? What would he be doing with paper and time?” Were the buckets of ink poison perhaps? Was he poisoning the Earth’s paper supply? “Is he planning to destroy us?” Tommy blurted out.
     “They’re not mind readers. They’re not going to know what Lehnair’s planning,” Sabreen said, trying to calm him down.
     Looking at the vacant expression on Leij’s face, Tommy waited for a solution, or at least, an answer. “Then I have to find out,” he said with a hint of nervousness in his voice.
     “No, you don’t!” Leij started in, “you need to get back home to your parents. While you were reading about IBoMB I had one of our Operators check in on them. They’re worried sick!”
     It was too late. While Leij was attempting to convince him not to do this very thing, Tommy was asking the wristband to take him back to the Moon station.
     “Calculating crease distance and trajectory,” the wristband replied.
     The room began to illuminate a soft white color coming off of Tommy.
     Sabreen cried out, “Stop! Where are you going?”
     “I have to find Lehnair. He’s the one that needs to stop,” Tommy’s voice echoed back as he began to fade out of sight.
     “And what are you going to do when you find him?” Leij tried.
     “I don’t know yet,” his voice was almost gone along with the rest of him.
     Sabreen tore away from Leij and jumped, “then I’m coming along too!”
     Leij grappled towards Sabreen, but she had already wrapped both arms around Tommy’s neck.
     “Recalculating mass index,” the wristband thought out. “…beginning fold.”
     At that moment the room snapped into place and stretched upwards. Tommy and Sabreen began floating through the gooey molasses that had once been the ceiling. To everyone else, they simply faded out of existence.

Chapter 16 The Meeting

     Sabreen kept tightening her grip around Tommy as they flew higher and higher. Traveling through space was different from traveling through a planet. One can see over a long distance and it was much easier to notice that they were traveling in an arc. Folding space wasn’t like flying however, as neither of them could feel the wind whip past their face. Tommy imagined that he was spared the displeasure of having thousands of feathers driven into him as they shot through a flock of birds.
     The atmosphere cleared, the stars broke out, and shining flakes of silver dotted an enormous black canopy. The Earth below was radiant blue, swirled over by white and gray clouds. It was so peaceful, and so small. All those people, living in such a small, yet beautiful place together.
     Space was silent, and that’s the way Tommy liked things. Silence had been his best friend back on Earth. It helped him read his books and hear his own thoughts, and now, like two friends brought back together after a long time apart, he immersed himself in the peaceful lack of sound. It felt better this time though, more so than it ever had, if only for the hug that he was getting from Sabreen. The thought of having to face Lehnair alone would have been terrifying.
     Why was Lehnair so interested in Earthling’s anyway? From what he read at the Operation’s Center, the IBoMB corporation was interested in cheap labor; but why Earthlings? And why then, would he want to poison them and make them crazy? None of it made sense, and not knowing was frustrating.
     His train of thought was ripped away by a quiet whimper from Sabreen. Something was wrong. She was looking pale. “What is it?” Tommy asked quietly, not wanting to break the silence any further than it had to be.
     “Na morugess neh ode calripti.” The words came out of her mouth, but Tommy couldn’t understand any of it.
     “I… I’m sorry, what was that?”
     Sabreen’s crying got louder as she tightened her grip onto Tommy and planted her face into his shoulder. “Na morugess neh ode calripti,” she muffled into his shirt.
     Tommy thought out to the wristband, “What is she saying? I can’t understand.”
     There was no reply.
     “Are you there?”
     There was no reply.
     Not knowing what else to say, he held onto Sabreen a little tighter, hoping it would make her feel better.
     They must have been traveling incredibly fast, as it wasn’t long before the Moon came into view. Tommy noticed something new this time: there was a large structure floating in orbit around the otherwise barren landscape. It was two pyramids, one pointing down on top of the other with their points overlapping to create a diamond shape between them. The diamond was what first caught his attention, as it was radiating bright white, illuminating the surface of the Moon below it.
     Even Sabreen, whose head was still tucked into Tommy’s shoulder, noticeably stared at the strange satellite. Pulling her head back a ways to look Tommy in the eye, she rattled off some more words he couldn’t understand, “Moousen fer choong.”
     Tommy wished the wristband would start working again. He tried responding, “What? What are you saying?”
     Sabreen got a confused look on her face and glanced down at Tommy’s arm, toward the wristband. It was radiating the same bright white, and emitting little diamond shaped sparks that streaked back along the path they were traveling. He glanced back at Sabreen who then turned her head to look towards the pyramids and the diamond they formed between them. He then understood what she was trying to tell him. Somehow, in some way, that structure was related to the wristband.
     The exhilarating sensation of flying turned into the horrifying sense of falling as the Moon’s surface got closer. Tommy knew what to expect, but Sabreen let out a shriek of terror and planted her face into the crook of his neck.
     Both of them plopped through the gooey surface caused by folding space, and continued traveling through the ground for a few moments. Sabreen didn’t look up until they stopped.
     The wristband’s glow faded, and Tommy recognized where they were. Back in the cargo bay that was loaded with all the crates and buckets.
     “glreeso we there?” Sabreen quietly whispered as she carefully opened one eye.
     “What? Say that again!” Tommy blurted back.
     “Are… we… there… yet?” She slowly repeated, happy at the realization that Tommy could understand again.
     The wristband was vibrating and glowing as she spoke.
     “You’re back!” Tommy thought out to the wristband.
     “Of course. I never left,” the wristband replied.
     “But you weren’t translating while we were traveling?”
     “Hey, you try folding space and translating simultaneously. I doubt you could even rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.”
     Making a motion to move his hands into place over his head and stomach, Tommy let out a huge laugh, “it’s great to have you back,” he roared out loud.
     Sabreen looked at him funny, “sorry? Did I say something funny?”
     “No, no, no,” he replied through his laughter, “it’s the wristband. I didn’t realize that he couldn’t translate while folding space.”
     “Hey!” the wristband shot into Tommy’s mind.
     “Just saying!” Tommy said out loud while holding the wristband up to his face so Sabreen could see which of them he was talking to.
     Sabreen took a step back to get a better look at their surroundings and immediately fell to the ground. Tommy reached down to help her up but the whole room twisted on an angle, causing him to fall down beside her.
     “oooohhhh… I feel sick,” she mumbled, putting her hand over her forehead.
     It felt as if they had been spinning in circles for hours and suddenly stopped.
     “Me too,” Tommy mumbled back.
     “Is this normal after folding space?”
     Tommy thought back to the last time the wristband had transported him. He arrived in a dark cave and couldn’t see anything – no spinning, and no dizziness apparently. “I don’t know. I couldn’t see anything last time.”
     “Last time? You make it sound like you’ve only folded space once before?”
     “Well… actually… yeah.”
     “What?! How long have you been a MeDai?” she blurted out through closed eyes, while still grasping her head.
     “Including today?” he replied with a sheepish look on his face.
     “Yeah, including today.”
     “Then… It would be… well… about a day and a half.”
     She just stayed on the ground moaning.
     After a few minutes, the room stopped spinning and Tommy carefully picked himself up off of the floor. He reached down, grabbing Sabreen’s hand and hoisted her up to her feet. She still had the other hand over her forehead as she steadied herself.
     “Come on. We’ve got to find Lehnair.”
     “And what are we going to do when we find him?”
     A large rush of air sped past them as the door to the warehouse room swished open. “Yes, what ARE you going to do once you find him?” the dark, four-armed figure spoke out across the room.
     Tommy’s heart sank. He honestly didn’t know, but he had hoped for more time to plan.
     Sabreen wasn’t going to wait for Tommy to say something, “the Operations Center knows we’re here Lehnair. They’ll know if you hurt us.”
     The shadowy figure stepped into the light, revealing his dark purple skin and bright single eye. Tommy could still see a transparent silhouette, forming the plastic doll figure he as before, but now he could see through it, to what Lehnair really was. He was dressed in a fairly normal looking business suit, with a tie and a sleeve for each arm. His lower-right hand was holding a briefcase, and his lower-left was fiddling with something Tommy couldn’t make out.
     “Where I’m going, it won’t matter,” Lehnair replied matter-of-factly.
     Tommy’s face cringed into a scowl, “and where is that?”
     “Away, I’m afraid. I just received notice from the Operations Center that someone,” he glowered at Tommy as he spoke the word, “has decrypted several files concerning my history and laid out some rather unfortunate accusations against me.”
     Lehnair continued walking along the edge of the room around Tommy and Sabreen, heading for the docking ramp. Tommy saw a small ship sitting there, like the one he and Sabreen had used to return to Earth. “So, you’re going to run away then?”
     “Oh no. I never run from a good challenge,” Lehnair replied without looking at them.
     Sabreen couldn’t contain herself, “then what’s your plan?” she blurted out.
     “Tsk, tsk,” Lehnair spoke while shaking his head back and forth. “Secrecy is my best strategy now.”
     Tommy looked hard at what Lehnair was fiddling with in his lower-left fingers, until he remembered what it must be. “Time! You’ve found a way to travel through time, haven’t you?”
     Lehnair chuckled, “ah! So some Earthlings are actually intelligent? I’ll have to remember that.”
     “And what about your plans to poison Earth with paper? Are you going to continue?” Tommy shot back accusingly.
     “What?! And to think I just paid you a compliment for being intelligent. I guess I was wrong.”
     Tommy clinched his hands into fists. “Then why are Earthlings losing their minds when they get your paper?”
     “Ah, it’s more than losing their minds! They go stark raving mad!” Lehnair was looking straight into Tommy’s eyes as he spoke the last few words. “They can’t control themselves when they have it. They’ll argue and debate, lie and cheat! They’ll drop every pretense of being good or nice. But most importantly, they’ll worship anyone who controls it, and they’ll do anything to get more of it.”
     “What have you done?”
     “What have I done? Nothing! That’s the beauty of it. I didn’t have to do anything,” he spoke as he dropped his briefcase into the cargo-hold of the ship.
     “You had to have done something…” Tommy replied in wonder.
     “I only give Earthlings what they want, and in turn they do whatever I want,” Lehnair shot back.
     Tommy was confused. “What are you talking about?”
     Lehnair laughed and walked over to a large panel near the forcefield at the end of the ramp. As he reached out to press a large button, Tommy grabbed onto Sabreen, expecting something awful.
     The inner walls of the room slid open, revealing their secret. There were stacks and stacks of paper, piled from the floor to the high ceiling. There were different colors. Most were hues of green, but there were reds and purples, yellows and browns. Tommy walked over to one of the walls and took a closer look.
     “Be careful Tommy!” Sabreen spoke barely above a whisper. “Don’t you lose your mind on me.”
     Tommy reached out and took a few pieces into his hands. It was money. Euros, Dollars, Marks, Yen, Won, and every other kind of currency he had ever read about. Millions, perhaps even billions of dollars worth of cash was stacked along the walls of the cargo bay. He remembered the envelopes his Dad received from the company, the ones filled with money. Tommy’s Dad would give him his allowance from those envelopes every week before paying their bills and setting a budget.
     “But money is more than just paper Lehnair. It’s valuable because it represents something. Work, Gold, silver,” Tommy spoke so Lehnair could hear him. He nearly leaped out of his shoes when the reply came from directly behind him.
     “Oh yes, I didn’t forget. The only thing Earthling’s value more than paper happens to be something they dig out of the ground like dirt.” Lehnair was towering over him like a juggernaut ready to smash something, or someone. “So that’s the trick? I need to use specific kinds of dirt to control the Earthlings? Tell me, do these different dirts and rocks work better than paper?”
     Lehnair’s plan was sinking into Tommy’s mind, “not… not all Earthlings are like that,” he stuttered out.
     “Oh yes they are Tommy. And the ones who are not, easily become subjected to the ones that are. Whoever has the most paper and dirt has the most power on Earth.” Lehnair chuckled as he spoke. “It is so easy.”
     With tears welling up in his eyes, Tommy replied, “you have nothing of real worth in your life do you? Don’t you have family or friends?” He had obviously said something wrong – or perhaps, it was right.
     A growl came from deep inside Lehnair’s chest as he gripped Tommy around the neck with one of his large upper arms, holding him up against the stack of money. With his other large arm, he grabbed Tommy’s wrist above the Metaparlance Decipherer, and then restrained Tommy’s other wrist with one of his lower arms. He began tugging at the wristband with his last free hand.
     “Let… me… down…” Tommy struggled for breath as Lehnair tightened his grip around Tommy’s throat. “Please… let… me…” The room was growing darker, and Tommy started to wonder if this was the end. What had he been thinking anyway? How could a small child have possibly stopped this monster? What about his Mom and Dad? He so much wanted to see them again. Maybe he should have just gone home?
     Lehnair suddenly jarred to the right and loosened his grasp.
     He dropped Tommy’s wrist with his small arm as Sabreen batted him over the head with a bucket again. The green dye spilled out over his suit and onto the floor. Lehnair, with his small arms free, pushed Sabreen with a casual swipe that sent her flying into a stack of buckets.
     “Give me the MeDai!” Lehnair shouted into Tommy’s face as he began tugging at it again. Tommy tried fighting back with his loose arm as Lehnair once again tightened his grip.
     The wristband thought out, “I… I don’t want you to get hurt Tommy.”
     “Then fold space and get us out of this!” Tommy thought back in a panic.
     “I can’t. We already used all the energy I had to get here.”
     Tommy was seeing spots as he gasped for air, kicking and scratching at Lehnair’s leathery arms to no avail.
     “You’ve been a great friend Tommy,” and with a snapping sound, the wristband lit up and loosened from around his wrist. Lehnair stopped tugging and stared in anticipation, focused entirely on the glowing MeDai. Tommy didn’t have the strength to fight the massive alien. His head was pounding, and his neck felt like it was about to snap. Tommy closed his eyes and let his loose arm fall limp to his side… and discovered something he had forgotten.
     “NO!” Tommy cried out and started kicking again with all the strength he could muster. Lehnair didn’t budge. He was so large that Tommy might as well have been a mosquito trying to push an elephant. A gap in the wristband opened, falling off of Tommy’s arm and landing into Lehnair’s greedy hand.
     “It’s mine!” Lehnair shouted with a grin.
     “No Lehnair,” Tommy calmly spoke as he slipped his free hand into his pocket, “it doesn’t belong to you, or to anyone.”
     The entire room shook, and Lehnair looked at Tommy in amazement. “What?” Lehnair couldn’t finish the single word as hordes of money shot out from behind Tommy, pushing the giant back. Tommy snatched the wristband out of Lehnair’s hand and dropped to the ground, splashing green ink in every direction with his feet.
     Sabreen held her head as she slowly stood near the buckets she had been thrown into.
     “Get down!” Tommy yelled at her as he lifted his hand out of his pocket to reveal the Cellulose-pulp Degravitator on his index finger. The device emitted bright blue sparks as the whole room became dense with flying money.
     Lehnair groaned from the floor, “you little…” and he jumped through the air like an ape to grab the Degravitator. But with a flick of Tommy’s finger, an entire stack of money pulled from the wall and plummeted into him, sending Lehnair staggering across the room and landing near Sabreen.
     Tommy piled stack after stack of money on Lehnair, knocking him back down as he tried to get up.
     Catching on to the game, Lehnair grabbed a bucket and hurdled it into the flying pile as another stack of money came zooming across the room, breaking apart the bills and sending them in a thousand directions. Lehnair picked himself up, and Sabreen screamed as he grabbed her around the neck.
     “Let her go Lehnair!” Tommy shouted.
     “Come and get her!” Lehnair responded as he ran towards the ship.
     Slipping the MeDai back around his wrist, “You there?” Tommy asked as the smooth material wrapped itself tight around his skin.
     “I’m back,” the wristband replied. “Let’s go save our friend!”
     Tommy grabbed a few pieces of the currency as they floated to the ground. “I’ve got an idea.”

Chapter 17 Rescue

     It was like volleyball, but with a lot more running. Lehnair threw bucket after bucket, and Tommy used the flying stacks of money to knock them away while chasing after him, the whole time dodging and weaving between crates. Lehnair was nearly at the ship, but Tommy was faster.
     Reaching out for Sabreen, he leaped over the last crate separating them, but with a triumphant roar Lehnair caught him in mid-jump, wrapping one of his thick upper hands around Tommy’s throat.
     “I thought you would have learned by now,” he said with an exhausted grin on his face. Lehnair’s hands trembled with anger.
     As he began tightening his grip on Tommy’s throat the door to the storage room burst open and a small army of green and purple skinned aliens filed in, led by none other than Leij. “Put them down Lehnair!” she yelled out.
     “Ah, one of my own employees has come to meddle then?” Lehnair spoke impatiently. “You’ll lose your job for this.”
     Leij’s eyes flared. “You’re no longer in charge here. Put them down.”
     Placing a foot into his ship, Lehnair positioned Tommy and Sabreen between he and Leij with his big hands. With one of his small hands he took the crystal out of his pocket and placed it into a circular indention on the dashboard. All the buttons and displays lit up, starting from around the crystal and moving outward.
     “Lehnair, PUT THEM DOWN!” Leij repeated.
     “No, I don’t think so,” he responded with only half of his attention as he pushed seemingly random buttons on the dashboard. “I think I’ll be taking them with me…”
     Sabreen had a tear coming out of her eye and was too tired and out of air to struggle anymore. Tommy grabbed her hand, and with his other he slipped the dollar bills out of his pocket.
     “Not quite finished yet?” Lehnair chuckled at Tommy’s reaction.
     “Nope, not quite,” Tommy gasped and read the bills in his hand. “E pluribus unum.“
     The wristband glowed in response. “Out of many, one.”
     Tommy flipped the bill over, “novus ordo seclorum.”
     “A New order for the ages” the translation echoed back into Tommy’s mind.
     “Got any juice now?” Tommy thought out.
     “Barely,” the wristband thought in reply.
     “Alright then. Everything but the big bad alien.”
     “You got it… Calculating mass index, crease distance and trajectory… Beginning fold.”
     Tommy smiled as Lehnair’s blank expression gave away his surprise. Tommy and Sabreen faded away and his hands slipped through the both of them.
     The fold was quick, and extremely short. Up a few meters and then back down to the ground next to Leij. They both still collapsed to the ground as soon as they appeared.
     “What now Tommy?” Sabreen said in a sickly voice.
     Lehnair yelled once he saw them. “Hand the MeDai back over Leij, or I’ll destroy this entire station!”
     Leij appeared to gain an extra foot of stature as she stood up straight and stepped towards Lehnair. Tommy reached up and grabbed her leg before she could go any further, “no, wait,” he said looking up at her.
     Everyone then saw what he was trying to say. Little blue sparks were falling from the folds of Lehnair’s suit coat. All the money in the room spun and swished around him, building up into a massive tornado of color.
     Lehnair desperately grabbed onto the inside of the ship’s door. “Leave, and take your paper with you!” Tommy shouted as Lehnair pulled himself into the ship. The money funneled into the vessel behind him, filling the cockpit with blinding distraction. Everyone in the room could hear him growl as the door closed and the ship launched through the circular doorway, leaving a trail of multi-colored paper in its path. Using Leij’s pant leg to steady themselves, Tommy and Sabreen laughed as they helped each other up.
     Leij looked down at Tommy with a smile on her face, “how did you do that?”
     “Inspiration,” he replied, “and my lastest school science project.”
     Sabreen wrapped her arms around Tommy and kissed him on the cheek, “thank you.”
     “For what?” Tommy blushed a bright red.
     “For saving me silly.”
     “For saving you?” he was surprised. “You saved me first, remember?”
     Sabreen got a big smile on her face. “Yeah, you’re right… and don’t you forget it!” She pointed her finger at him.
     “Thanks for coming along,” he offered back with a huge hug.
     “You need to come see this Leij,” one of the purple-skins had gone over towards the doorway to see where Lehnair had gone. Everyone followed to the far side of the room to get a better look.
     Tommy’s expression went vacant as he stared at the large pyramids they had seen on the way back to the base. They were spinning opposite each other, emitting a bright light around the now blinding white of the diamond between them. The whole sky was lit as Lehnair’s ship traveled towards the structure.
     “What’s he doing?” Leij wondered out loud.
     “He’s about to travel through time!” Tommy instinctively added, “shoot him down or something!”
     “What?” several of the aliens and Sabreen all blurted out at the same time.
     Tommy could tell he must have said something wrong, and felt flushed with embarrassment.
     Leij watched the ship as it began to glow the same bright white as the diamond. “No Tommy. Hurting someone is never a good solution.”
     Tommy replied quietly so that only Leij and Sabreen could hear him, “but, he tried to kill us.”
     “And do you want us to be like him?” Sabreen responded as a flash of light illuminated the sky. The entire structure, along with Lehnair’s ship, had vanished.
     “You lost…” Leij whispered out as everyone stared into the sky which was now filled with thousands of pieces of aimlessly floating money.
     Tommy looked confused, “what? I lost?”
     Leij smiled, “no Tommy, U-L-O-S-T. It’s unfortunate that Lehnair doesn’t understand it better.”
     “So I guess that means, he lost?” Sabreen chuckled, causing several of the aliens to snicker. Tommy realized they were making fun of the way Earthlings pronounced it.
     Letting out a small laugh, Leij directed everyone back towards the door, “come on you two, we need to get you back to your parents.”

Chapter 18 Home

     The trip back to the corporation’s Earth-based headquarters was uneventful, except of course for the wristband complaining again about how uncomfortable traveling at light-speed can be. Leij sat between Tommy and Sabreen with her arms around both of them as they each peered out a side window from the back of the ship. They were exhausted but couldn’t sleep. Tommy could only think about the nightmares he was going to have about big purple aliens.
     Earth approached rapidly, and the whole trip from the moon lasted only a few minutes. Corporate Headquarters looked large even from miles above. It was made up of hundreds of small structures that surrounded several large, warehouse style buildings. Tommy could now see through the illusion and noticed several giant spires shooting beams of blue light up into space. The ship flew alongside one until it reached a docking platform, where a couple of green aliens directed the remainder of their approach.
     The landing site was oddly crowded this time. Hundreds of people, Earthling and alien, standing around. He could still see the plastic outline around each of the aliens, but was no longer fooled by it. The wristband began to vibrate and glow as it picked up a few of their conversations near the ship.
     “Do you think they’re going to shut us down?”
     “I don’t know. I heard they brought in a MeDai to investigate.”
     “a MeDai? Was it that serious?”
     “It must have been a ULOST violation or something.”
     Leij stood as the door of the ship opened with its usual swishing sound. She stepped out first to help Sabreen and Tommy down the stairs and to the ground. Tommy could hear the gasps as the aliens in the room noticed the still glowing wristband on his forearm.
     “It is a MeDai then…”
     “They’re going to shut us down.”
     “Something terrible must have happened.”
     “Or something big is about to happen.”
     All the Earthlings stood quietly, trying to figure out what everyone else was saying and why they were gathered around a limousine pulling into a warehouse.
     “Who are these kids anyway?”
     “I think they’re related to the owner.”
     “They must be. Look at the security they have!”
     Tommy hadn’t paid attention to it before, but they were in fact surrounded by a contingent of green and purple skinned aliens. He looked up at Leij who was leading the way through the crowd, but didn’t dare ask his question for fear that someone might hear it. He could, however, safely think out to the wristband:
     “Why is everyone so amazed with you and I?”
     The overheard voices died down in Tommy’s head as the wristband replied, “I suppose it has something to do with the history of my species.”
     “What kind of history would cause all this commotion?”
     “As I told you before: I’m a rarity. And I think most creatures become suspicious when they don’t know much about someone or something they’re confronted with.”
     The answer settled his mind for time being, but Tommy knew there had to be more. There had to be a reason for so many people feeling so mesmerized. There had to be a reason for all the aliens, except Lehnair of course, giving Tommy the “royal treatment” whenever they met him.
     Leij led the group down a corridor, and then, when they were out of sight, through a door that opened into one of the advanced alien hallways. Everyone hopped onto the automatic floor, even Tommy, who was becoming more comfortable using it. Something was wrong though. Someone was…
     “Missing! Where’s Sabreen?” Tommy darted around as he realized she was gone.
     Leij reached back and pulled him up close to her, “she met up with her Dad back there. You must have been pretty distracted to have not noticed.”
     “She didn’t even”, a small lump formed in Tommy’s throat, “say goodbye.”
     “Why would she say goodbye?” Leij looked perplexed but caring.
     “I just thought we were friends, and well, that’s what friends do.”
     Leij placed her hand around the back of Tommy’s neck and gently stroked his red hair with her thumb. “Oh, I see. It’s an Earthling custom. I’m sure she didn’t know, or even figure that’s what you would want, being a MeDai and all.”
     “What do you mean? ‘being a MeDai and all’…
     Leij raised a single eyebrow. “You haven’t been a MeDai long, have you?” she asked, already knowing the answer. “I imagine she was thinking that you could come and visit her whenever you want to.” She finished with a wink, “so you see, this wasn’t really a farewell.”
     The ride back home took substantially longer than the trip back from the moon. It was because Leij was taking Tommy back in a regular, Earth style automobile. It was an older, boxy model, probably so it would be large enough for Leij to fit in comfortably. She also happened to be quite a good driver for being an alien and all. Tommy was at ease on the heavily trafficked roads through Illinois. He even considered chatting with the two green-skinned aliens in the backseat a few times, but whenever he’d start a conversation they’d act too nervous to respond.
     Tommy hadn’t forgotten about the trouble he was in, even before disappearing from the house. He was supposed to stay in his room while his parents decided on a punishment for him “scaring” the people from Dad’s work. He also remembered that he had been sent to his room without any dinner last night. His stomach grumbled so loud at the reminder that it made the aliens in the back look around to see what caused the odd noise.
     Everything being covered in snow, but Tommy recognized his old neighborhood the moment Leij turned the corner onto his block. He leaned his face into the side window and curled his fingers tight around the door handle. The car followed the curve of the street and Leij found a place to park between the piles of snow in the street west of his house. Tommy threw the door open (wedging it into a snow bank) and ran towards the front door. He slowed down, surprised by how cold he suddenly felt. The company’s headquarters and the car must have had amazing climate control. Leij and the two aliens (who’s outlines transformed into plastic dolls in police uniforms) caught up before Tommy reached the house.
     “Hold up,” Leij said as she came along side him, “let me do this.”
     She pressed the button for the doorbell, and Mr. Twist came and opened the door. As quickly as Tommy could imagine how much trouble he was in, his Dad shouted out his name, picked him up, and gave him a gigantic bear hug. Mrs. Twist came charging down the stairs and joined in the embrace. “Where have you been?!” she asked as tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
     “I think I can help there,” Leij interrupted.
     Mr. Twist looked up at her, “Leij? How did you… I mean… how? Well, I mean, why are you here?”
     “Hello Mr. Twist. I happened to be in the neighborhood when I saw this young man wondering down a road in a not-so-nice part of town. I recognized him from the pictures you keep on your desk at work. These two fine gentleman,” she pointed to the aliens in police garb, “thought I should come along to help drop him off.”
     “Well, thank you! Thank you so much!” Mrs. Twist reached out and gave Leij a big hug.
     Hugging her back, Leij cupped her hand behind Mrs. Twist’s neck, instantly soothing her. Tommy gave Leij a curious look, to which she winked in reply. “He mentioned he was in some sort of trouble when he left home. You might want to take it easy on him – he’s had a hard day.”
     Mrs. Twist barely reached Leij’s shoulders, but looked up and asked her, “would you care to stay for dinner?”
     With her lips spreading into one of the biggest smiles Tommy had ever seen. “I would love to,” she replied.
     Tommy broke free from his dad and reached over to join in the hug with Leij and his mom. “Thank you Leij.”
     Looking down at Tommy, his mom cringed, “but not until after you’ve had a bath. What is that all over your shirt and pants?”
     “Oh,” Tommy had ignored all the ink stains on his clothes. “I guess I fell into something.”

***

     Tommy got dinner that night, as well as what most kids would consider to be a pretty hefty punishment.
     His Dad explained over the kitchen table, “I hope you’ve learned that running away is never a good choice. It sounds like you had a pretty rough time out there in the cold.” He glanced at Mrs. Twist, and she nodded back confirming that now was as good a time as any. Leij sat quietly, enjoying her third helping of lemon chicken and potatoes. “We’ve decided that in order to help you understand why we should treat the people from my work so nicely, that we’re going to take away your portion of what it is they give to our family.”
     Tommy looked at his dad with a raised eyebrow. His parents rarely made sense until they got to the point.
     “What I’m saying is: we’re going to take away your allowance for a few months. If you want any money, you’re going to have to earn it by working around the house.”
     Letting out a surprising laugh, Tommy pushed his chair out and ran around the table to give his Dad a hug. “Thank you! Thank you SO much!”
     Leij choked so hard that she had to spit some of her chicken into a napkin. His Mom and Dad didn’t know what to think.

Chapter 19 The End?

     Now, if you’re one of those readers that like a nice, tidy, and happy ending to their stories, I recommend you stop reading here. I can’t guarantee that such a reader would enjoy knowing what happens next. I’d love to leave it out just for you, but that wouldn’t be telling the whole story now, would it?

***

     After dinner, Leij called a taxi to come pick her up. Strangely enough, a large yellow car appeared only seconds later, and Tommy could see the purple-skinned alien sitting at the driver’s seat.
     Leij looked down at Tommy on her way out the door. “Even though I probably don’t have to say it,” she spoke with another wink, “goodbye Tommy, and thank you.” She walked down the driveway and got into the back of the taxi. The cab sped off, and Tommy smirked as he saw through the illusion that its wheels were actually hovering a few inches off the road.
     His room was as he had left it, and Tommy couldn’t wait to snuggle in under the warm covers of his bed. The pillow was softer than ever, and he had never been so grateful for the thick stuffing that his mom had used to make his quilt. After reading a few more chapters out of “Intergalactic Geography for the Fifth Dimensionally Inclined,” his dad stopped by the door and offered him one last “super-tuck” as Tommy drifted away into his dreams.
     A few purple aliens popped up here and there in the random images that came into Tommy’s mind, but nothing as scary as what the previous day had brought. The wristband kept asking for a name as Tommy would magically teleport from one location to another: sometimes on top of a house, or other times into a vast part of space filled with nebulae or other beautiful objects that could only be found in the distant reaches of the universe. He eventually stopped on top of a high mountain, where the winds were cold and biting. In fact, they were really cold! Tommy could feel them getting stronger and stronger as he became more conscious of where he was.
     “Hey, look at this!” he heard someone say in the distance.
     “What on Earth!?” Another voice let out from close by.
     Opening his eyes, Tommy took in his surroundings. He wasn’t on top of a mountain, but the wind was still freezing. The bed was gone, along with his pillow and quilt, and in their place was nothing but hard, black pavement with yellow parking lines painted on it.
     “Frank, get a blanket or something!” The man shouted to the other. “Are you alright?”
     It took Tommy a while to realize the man was asking him a question. “I, uh… I’m not sure.” The man in a police uniform threw the blanket around his shivering arms. “Where… I mean, where am I?”
     The policeman began to respond, but his answer was drowned out by the wristband, “we’re right where you fell asleep.”
     Tommy forced his mind to wake up. “How can that be? I fell asleep in my bed. Did you fold space while I was dreaming?”
     “No, I didn’t. Believe me, I know how to pinpoint any location in the universe precisely, and you are exactly where you were when you fell asleep.”
     It was a good thing he didn’t have to speak out loud, his lips felt entirely numb. “Then, what happened?”
     “Calculating crease distance and trajectory.”
     Tommy was caught off guard. “What? What are you doing?” he said as the familiar sensation of folding space began.
     “Your presence has been requested,” the wristband replied.
     “Requested? B.. b.. b.. by who?!” Tommy spoke out loud through stuttering lips.
     “Mr. Gholab.”
     “Mr. Gholab? Wait! Isn’t he the one who…”
     “Calculating subject mass and density.”
     “Wait!” Tommy cried out.
     “Beginning fold.”
     The police officers stood silent, wondering where the little freezing boy could have run off to.

***
...to be continued, someday, in
Tommy vs. the Time Bandit



The Little Poem
Many creatures there are,
Seeking a path in life,
two I wish to speak of,
named Happiness and Strife.

Happiness was a goodly fellow,
filled with joy and glee,
Strife was a miserable one,
as you will plainly see.

Happiness had friends and love,
serving others was his saying.
Strife had toys and many things,
yet he hated sharing or playing.

Through love and service Happiness grew,
though his hands were often sore.
The work was worth it, he would say,
“to always help others more.”

Staying inside and away from others,
Strife overlooked his hoard.
“I think it might rain today,” he’d say,
the needs of others gone ignored.

So sad was Strife at that time,
if only he had learned before:
For forever are the rich,
And forgotten are the poor.

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