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.
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.
Panicked, he yelled out, releasing his breath too soon…
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!!!”
“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?”
“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 device that would enable you to change into someone. Or, at least, change your appearance into someone else.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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…
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.
…on to Chapter 7 Capture