by Terry L. Mirll
Frank Williamson is a man on the run. In possession of data stolen from the ultra-powerful Ouroboros Corporation, he must travel cross-country to meet his prospective buyer, Nutrisynth, which has offered him a fortune for successful delivery of the data. However, the stolen data is far more valuable than even he realizes.
Frank traverses a sere and barren landscape destroyed by mysterious Interdimensional Free Fall events, or IFFs. On his way, he must evade capture by the ruthless Dr. Richard Lohman, Security Director for Ouroboros. Frank’s prospects begin to improve after he picks up an odd hitchhiker, a four-thumbed, three-eyed, blue-skinned alien called Dippy.
Frank, with Dippy in tow, could feel the dry air slowly growing cooler as they plodded down a lonesome road. The scorched countryside was turning greener and, for the first time in days, he could see trees along the horizon.
D17 was close — perhaps they had already crossed the border. Despite his current circumstances, he felt a touch of relief. D17 was the IFF-free zone, though just as no one knew why the IFFs fell elsewhere, no one knew what made D17 safe. At any rate, over ninety percent of the NACC populace lived there.
Additionally, Frank knew he still had a chance — slim, admittedly — to reclaim his rightfully-stolen files. If he and his companion could hitch a ride or find free transport, he might still find Hildy and reclaim his fortune.
Overhead, he heard the roar of high-velocity engines approaching in flight. Within seconds, the noise grew to deafening levels. Frank searched the sky for its source. As a clawed, adrenaline hand seized him by the throat, he thought: This is it. They’ve found me!
Suddenly he spotted two black dots, which quickly grew to full size and sailed directly over his head. They emitted a concussive blast that knocked him to the ground. Then, just as quickly, they shrank away to nothing, disappearing along the far horizon.
Frank rose unsteadily to his feet. With a tone akin to disappointment, he let out a confused wheeze. “So — so, why didn’t they stop?”
He gave a plaintive look at Dippy, but his companion, still crestfallen from his shame and misdeed, made no response.
Gently taking the Tellurean by the arm, he continued along the road, his heart still pounding from the near encounter with the Grunts. He shuddered at how easily they could have eviscerated him, torn at him until there was nothing left but a greasy smear in the grass. Why hadn’t they stopped? Why was he still alive?
But, he realized, I should have been dead a long time ago. Perhaps, while they walked, he could unravel a mystery.
“Dippy,” he said, “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I have to ask: How did we survive that wreck? It should have made mincemeat out of us.”
“Please, benefactor Frank,” Dippy said, “do not ask me this question. My shame is too deep. Too deep.”
“No,” Frank replied, “I need an answer. Please.”
Dippy sighed. “Very well. In my shame I have forfeited the right to refuse you any request. But among my people there is no greater disgrace than recounting one’s shame.
“In my religion, Razhdha-ka is the fount of all wisdom and truth, but he is not the creator. The task of creating the world of the Tellurae was given over to the demiurge Brellndta-ka, a passionate and caring goddess who, so say the Scribes, emerged from Razhdha-ka’s third eye after he drank from the sacred primordial waters of the cosmos, which my people call the Rhizhali-Qa. The Scribes composed the verses of Brellndta-ka in the ancient Ad Memyiun, which means “The text of the creation, not only for this world, but for all worlds, both seen and unseen.”
He raised his head, just enough to make eye contact with Frank. “My most humble apologies, o benefactor Frank. Earthmen find Tellurean grammar most confusing.”
“No,” Frank said absently, “I get it. ‘Ad’ meaning ‘creation’ but implying a written rather than oral account, and ‘memyiun’ like ‘mes’ meaning ‘world’ but implying a contrast, so the -s changes to -m in the exclusionary case, while the semivowel y combines with the full vowel i to connote all possible contrast variants — not only ‘this and that’ but ‘not this and not that’ as well. And ‘un’ means ‘seen.’ Kinda simple, really.”
Dippy’s eyes reflected astonishment, and for a moment, he forgot his shame. “That is correct, benefactor Frank! How do you know Tellurean grammar?”
“Beats the royal crap out of me,” Frank said. “Get a load of this, too.” Frank stopped, turning north. “Tell me, am I facing magnetic north or true north?”
Dippy let out a low gasp.
“And then there’s this,” Frank said. Raising his palms, he began to sing.
“O tellur da tiklum. O mens(pop)-se randan Razhdha-men-a-a-a-a-a-a-(deep breath)-a-a-a-a-a!”
Dippy squealed, “The ancient Tellur—”
“u-san Razhdha-frigging-men! I know!!” Frank concluded. “So what gives?”
“My shame is indeed great. Not only have I usurped the holy will of Razhdha-ka, I have scarred you forever, my friend and benefactor. In the Ad Memyiun, we are told that Brellndta-ka created the Tellurae by gutting a djarz-fish, a sea creature that protects itself from predators by inflating itself to over ten times its size.
“Thus, it is said that in moments of extreme duress, a member of my race may puff up to avoid injury. Until the accident, I considered the account mere legend. But when we crashed, without thinking I thrust my arms around you, and I...! And when my faculties returned, I realized I had committed the Unpardonable Sin.”
Frank scratched his chin. “So, If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that by inflating yourself into a big blue airbag, somehow you infused me with Tellurean knowledge. I’m not going to turn dopey and annoying, am I?”
“I do not understand, o Frank.”
“Never mind. But the exchange was two-way, right?”
The Tellurean wobbled his head.
“So what traits did you inherit from me?” Frank said. “Besides a fondness for F-bombs, I mean.”
“The pie was quite delicious. I had never eaten it before — my people do not bake.”
“We prepare a dough-like substance called Nkjoll, but it is served raw. Fire for any purpose other than to provide warmth is considered unholy.”
“You don’t say. Anything else?”
He smiled sheepishly. “The woman. I thought she was quite lovely. Heretofore I found human females rather unappealing, goodness me.”
Frank’s heart grew heavy to hear Dippy speak of Hildy. Her betrayal stung deeply, not simply because it robbed him of his fortune, but because — despite their brief time together — he had fallen for her, hard. Even if he were still able to find her and reclaim the data file, he had lost her. The thought filled him with an overwhelming and debilitating feeling of pointlessness.
But the Grunts that had flown over his head made two realizations all the clearer. One: Ouroboros was still hunting for him. If he wanted to live, he needed to keep moving. Two: the fact that they had failed to stop and kill him meant either that Lohman had now turned his attention to Hildy or that he was still looking for Nick Flemel and not Frank Williamson.
Though there was a third possibility, one he had not considered until now. Maybe Lohman knew all about Frank Williamson, but the Grunts were unable to spot the profile. He remembered Hildy saying something at the hospital about his profile chip being damaged in the accident. Maybe the crash had made him invisible to profile scan. Whatever the possibilities, one fact was clear: He was still alive, and with any luck, he just might stay that way.
Up ahead, they came across an abandoned structure with a curved roof. Frank approached it, found a side door, and began to push on it.
“What are you doing, o Frank?”
“I’m thirsty,. Maybe there’s water here.”
The structure must have been abandoned for many years. Though Frank brought his full weight to bear against the door, he could only open it wide enough to allow himself to squeeze through. Dippy followed.
Once their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, they found themselves in a side room, what appeared to be a front office. There was a square, metal-framed desk covered in dust in one corner, and a number of plastic bottles of petrochemicals on shelves along the walls. A calendar dating back a full century — the old seven-day style, before Centcom established the ten-day week, hung on the far wall. It bore a large photo of a beautiful young woman, with well-manicured fingernails, holding aloft some power tool.
Frank and Dippy stepped up to take a closer look: a blonde, with cherry red lips and the bluest eyes imaginable, making a “come hither” stare at the camera. She wore denim cut-offs and a snug flannel shirt buttoned at the lower portion of her bust-line, tensely cupping her ample, bulbous breasts. She was impressive, to say the least.
“Whaddaya make of that, Dip?” Frank said.
Dippy let out a low growl. “Wanna bury my face in ’em and use my tongue to... My goodness me, what am I saying?”
Frank found another door, opened it, and entered a large room. The air had a dank, greasy smell and, in the weak light, he could just make out various pieces of equipment. To his right, he found a wide door on rollers. He undid the interior locks and tried to lift it open.
“Dippy,” he said, “help me with this, okay?”
The Tellurean obliged, easily lifting the door with one hand. A flood of afternoon light engulfed the room.
“Well, I’ll be,” Frank said.
Dippy turned to look. “By the most holy waters of Rhizhali-Qa! What, goodness me, is that?”
Their eyes fell upon a large automaton, a second-generation variety, though one of the first of its kind, able to mimic natural movement without the need of gears, pulleys, and cables. It stood taller than Frank, with a large head extending from a long, sleek neck, a sturdy, graceful back, and four legs.
Covered from nose to tail with a series of tiny, interlocking polymer plates, it stood caparisoned in a style readily associated with the previous century, before the IFFs made outdoor sport too dangerous.
“That, Dip,” said Frank, “is — or was — what people called a polo pony.”
“And what was its purpose, if I the unworthy may ask, o beneficent Frank, son of William?”
“People rode them,” Frank said. “The object was to whack a ball with a long mallet, and knock it through your opponent’s goal.”
“My people play a similar game. It is called Adj, which means—”
“But what is this place?”
“I’d say it’s a repair station, from the looks of all this equipment.”
Frank approached the pony, placing a hand gently to its elegant, acrylic mane and withers.
“No telling how long it’s been standing here. Maybe a hundred years. But it’s been sheltered from the elements. All things considered, it’s in pretty good shape.”
Frank turned to the Tellurean. “Whaddaya think, Dip? Can you get it running again?”
Dippy glanced about the room. “Are there tools?”
Copyright © 2015 by Terry L. Mirll