Bugs. They were suddenly everywhere. Not too big but big enough to buzz and be seen landing on arms, legs, faces and so forth.
No one had seen them before – or felt them, their little nibbles and pricks taking their toll across the land.
The medical staff told me it was over. I’m cured. My brain knot is supposed to be untied. I went to sleep. But I wake up here.
The temperature of this world had risen in recent years. Some theorists suspected that this climate change reawakened an ancient insect species long dormant. They were creepy things that came from every direction, origin sources untraceable.
At first the bites swelled into hard lumps the size of a nickel. The next day the lump would turn green and itch inconsolably. Removal of the lump required surgery, but these open wounds instantly became infected with flesh-eating bacteria.
After the first wave of deaths around the world, people tried to shield themselves with special clothing or by living indoors indefinitely. But the bugs got into clothing and buildings alike. Nothing killed them except a very hard swat. Swatters were in high demand.
Swarms of the little monsters started blackening the skies. Within five days of the first appearances of this infestation there wasn’t refuge from them.
I’m nobody special on this Earth, but I did happen to awaken near the only person on this Earth who is immune to the bites of the invading bugs. Inexplicably, Marta Cruz doesn’t react to those bites whatsoever.
I don’t like to blow learning opportunities on any new Earth, so I seek Marta out. She recognizes me. This brain’s memories of her are vague – or at least my access to them is. But I do know one thing for certain. She has changed radically since that last memory was formed. Her claims are fantastic, though I have to drag them out of her as this crisis escalates and ever more deaths occur.
Marta Cruz now has access to the total recall of every person ever born who has died; and that’s a lot of people. She has access to memories the dead had; the ability to speak in the voice of the dead; even to take on the face of the dead and momentarily gain the skills of the dead, while the mask conceals her morphing facial muscles – unless she chooses to freak someone out by taking it off during the effect.
A priest’s daughter who had dead people to converse with instead of imaginary friends, Marta could not shut out the residual traces of the departed.
Sensing that Marta was the intended recipient who had been predicted to appear one day, a charismatic stranger gave her something that had been boxed and locked up for centuries. It was called the empathy mask, made hundreds of years before from strange clay oozing out of the banks of the Zava-mahagaga River.
It had not been worn since its creator wore it once, then put it away to wait for its true recipient, even if it took a thousand years. On the wrong face, the mask would surely cause madness.
With the mask on, her insight goes far beyond her contemporary mysteries and into the distant past, even to knowledge once widely known but now long lost in society. The mask combined with her brain has turned Marta Cruz into an inventory of all the humanity that’s passed on… including the amazing maker of the mask itself, one Bijaksana Lama Satu!
Apparently my old pal appeared to Marta. “Where is he?” I beg her. “B Lama Sat” is the man behind my Earth-tripping, and maybe the only one who can stop it.
“I don’t know,” Marta says. “He was cryptic. He told me that the mask would allow the preservation of my people’s knowledge and culture, through me. He said that his power was the power to give powers to others…”
“I am able to bestow upon you alone the power to resist the death bites of this infestation,” Bijaksana told her, giving her the mask.
“I asked him to give me a power to destroy the bugs instead,” Marta tells me. “He said no. He wouldn’t explain, only saying…”
“You want to destroy them,” B Lama Sat admonished her, “But what they’re doing is completely natural, exploring, and exploring in every direction into the unknown.”
Hold on. That’s exactly what he said about those alien brain snatchers from the plasma world when I last saw him and he said I needed brain surgery to end my Earth-hopping. What is this guy, an apologist for planetary invasions?
“Many creatures of these Earths sleep for eons between awakenings,” Marta knows now. “There was a freakish warming of the planet several millennia ago that temporarily revived these bugs before. I know this from those who lived at the time, many of whom died by these things. But it was nothing like this.”
Indeed it was not. The human species is about to be extinguished on this Earth. Wherever I look, people are being covered by bugs. I am being covered by bugs.
I swat frantically, hurting myself more than doing any good. There are just too many bugs. My skin crawls.