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?”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.’”
“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.
…on to Chapter 10 Reality Check