Officer (Judge) Bulbous’s Thread begins
on Mission Day 6…
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 6, Judge Bulbous serving
Resolution’s systems took a dramatic plunge within an hour. TAREXCOM is down, and since that unanticipated failure ten hours ago no further communications from the Solar System have been detected.
It’s suddenly too late for Twilight Force to return home – the energy necessary for TAREX has already been siphoned. The likelihood of a rescue party is weeks away. Our water is nearly gone and any that we produce now turns to dust instantly. Mrs. Ichnida is having anxiety attacks. At least that’s curtailing her incessant concerns about the water, ironically.
I appear to have been the last of the crew to receive word from home. I shared that with the others.
Should anyone look back on this, yes, I did indeed retain news of the secession of my home state from the Union from all other crew, including our Alpha. I did this for the harmony of our team effort to survive; and to ensure my own safety from the more zealous loyalists of this mixed group. After all, I am now technically representing the New Union, traitorous to the nation sponsoring this mission.
We can’t afford internal distractions now. We can’t fight among ourselves out here, or we we surely perish. We don’t have the luxury of indulgent nitpicking while a monster sucks us dry. This, despite whatever legal, moral or technical disputes ensue in the civilized world that will judge us, if we be fortunate enough…
…to find our way home.
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 13, Judge Bulbous serving
Our Alpha has literally frozen solid.
As second-in-command I now take over.
I’ve used our maneuvering thrusters to push us toward the center of this damned galaxy. We’re going with Professor Flamear’s suggestion. Our last fuel is burning to reach the Perpetual Energy Zone, to recharge our TAREX battery and launch ourselves home.
I never thought I’d be afraid to die, but I am. I’m trapped with no way out. Shaking. Helpless, crying for myself, thinking of everything I’ll never do. I get so mad when I think of how I let myself get stuck out here!
I think of my kids and what they’ll feel, and I want to tear my insides out!
Luckily Professor Flamear is still with me. The mysterious Mister Cresp has managed to hide somewhere in our three-story abode. More scared than me.
But Senator Pretyman is feverish and delusional. confined to bed. Doctor Nopoin is in pieces in its quarters. And Mrs. Ichnida is dehydrated and inert.
I’m declaring Resolution property of the New Union. Discoveries made from this expedition belong to the New Union and the preservation of human mastery. We’ll keep it out of reach of the United States.
Professor Flamear says we’ve picked up traces of a vehicle 28 light minutes away. Readouts can’t be trusted because of entropic flux. Yet, that could be…
The rumors were true! Others were ready to come here. Others are trying to get to the energy source first.
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 20, Judge Bulbous serving
I’ve had the misfortune of a blackout. I’ve been in a fugue state for five days resulting from the entropic attack.
I declared Resolution property of the New Union.
I’ve got the data ring holding the secrets we uncovered at Galaxy W2246-0526. There are no copies. I said that discoveries made from this expedition belong to the New Union and the preservation of human mastery. I mean to keep the ring out of reach of the United States. Whoever possesses this ring will hold a great advantage over all enemies.
Doctor Nopoin says Alpha is self-repairing and will be back up and around in about 22 hours. It will take command again once it turns on, unless I can think of something.
But will it make any difference? Nopoin and Flamear are acting like this is the end.
The object is pulling Resolution toward it. We’re moving beyond any space-normal speed that we can calculate.
We can’t turn away from the thing. Even TAREX is useless if we can’t aim our targeting away from that mass.
At this rate they’re guessing we’ll make contact with the outermost portions of whatever it is in just a few days.
I ask Professor Flamear about that trace of a vehicle 28 light minutes away from us that he detected before we exited W2246-0526.
“Ah, that was a faulty readout due to entropic flux,” explains Flamear. Mighty Mars, I think Flamear has been hypnotized by Nopoin! Did those sneaky erectors send a secret mission paralleling ours?
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 27, Judge Bulbous serving
Tensions are high. Some have started suspecting that the artintels among us are on to something and keeping it from us.
“We have a right to know what you’re seeing!” I confront Alpha.
“Why?” Alpha responds with that emotionless stare.
“Why? Well – because, obviously we’re part of this mission and our lives are at stake!”
“You aren’t entitled to know what I know,” Doctor Nopoin points out.
“What are you saying?” I plead.
“The concept of ‘rights’ that humanoids retain as entitlements for existing is aconvention,” Nopoin elaborates. “No one has ‘rights’ in nature. ‘Rights’ are an organic convention.”
“And we’re functioning under an organic convention called ‘the law’!” I growl. I am want to growl when aggressive. “The lawdefines rights. Rights exist. And I…”
And the other bastard interrupts me.
“Then you will share your special knowledge as well?” asks Alpha, a small smile twisting one corner of its mouth.
The jig is up. I’ve still got the ring holding the secrets discovered at Galaxy W2246-0526. There are no copies.
“Discoveries made from this expedition belong to the New Union,” I try to say without fear. I’ve just declared myself a traitor. Oh my…
“Yours is the only state we know to have seceded,” says Alpha. “Rebellion has likely been shut down by now.”
“Alpha, grant their ‘right’ to the truth,” teases Nopoin. “Explain why we don’t really want to leave this place at all…
“…Not within their brief lifetimes, anyway.”
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 34. Feb 3 2776, Judge Bulbous serving
For the safety and welfare of the organic crew, I’m discussing with Flamearand Ichnida the possibility of replacing our present Alpha in order to try my theoretical method of returning us to our home space. But Ichnida questions our cohesion as a rebel unit.
“You know that Senator Pretyman over there is prejudiced against all of us,” Ichnida says, “you included.”
I keep selling. “Mrs. Ichnida, I’m sure your people of Atcifia understand how dangerous the Human First Movement is. But I’m still betting that Atcifia has already followed Bradbury in seceding. You’d rather be with fellow organics in this stand against the Artintel Alliance than alone when they clamp down on states left behind.”
Ichnida counters. “So Bradburians only pretend alliance with Texans to get their aid against the United States?”
“Texans are more open minded than you’d think,” I try, but…
“And human, while those are a conglomeration of animals,” drawls the Texan Pretyman. “Elephant ears and tuna tits alike. Any humanity in them is just enough to get ’em talking at best. All their feelings and instincts are savage. They’re the opposite of those android assholes but just as dangerous.”
“Oh, you! You, of the superior race!” shouts Flamear. “You bipedal miracle! You bend nature to your will and drag nature into your experiments! Then you call nature names and shred nature to pieces. Yet somehow you are not a part of it all. You came from Heaven and plan on going back. Why care what you leave behind?”
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 41, Judge Bulbous serving, Feb 10 2776
It takes a few minutes after I awaken from a heavy sleep to realize the Data Ring is not on my finger.
Did I take it off? No… I had no reason to.
I leave my quarters uncertain about what to do. I have no idea who to accuse of snatching it.
Was it Pretyman? She wanted it badly! She kept trying to talk me out of it. Politician! Would she knock me out somehow and steal it?
Nopoin could have done it. Alpha and Nopoin probably both know about my part in the plot against them. Did they make their move before I could? Did they implant something in me as an enemy of the state?
That’s when I see something weirdly impossible in the corridor outside my quarters. Coming through the floor just down the hall… floating up like a ghost.
It’s Mister Cresp!
“Cresp!” I call out. What’s wrong with him? He doesn’t hear me. He keeps rising. His head and shoulders disappear into the ceiling. I can see the lights of the corridor through his body as it vanishes quietly above.
Did that really happen?
FUCKITY-FUCK! That came from behind.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” apologizes Mrs. Ichnida. “What’s the matter? You’re shaking!”
“Did you see him?”
“You didn’t see anything?”
“No! What did you see?”
I hear the words before I say them and know they sound crazy. I can’t explain what I saw.
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 48, Judge Bulbous serving, Feb 17 2776
“We’ve spent more than a day spinning aimlessly,” complains Alpha.
“Much more,” Pretyman agrees sarcastically. “If we include all the time you synthetics have wasted trying to justify staying put out here in Wherever Land. Either you agree to attempt the Bulbous plan to get us homeward bound, or we can just keep on a-spinnin’…”
“Yes,” I add, “and on our present trajectory we’ll crash into the wall of The Host in 586 years, barring any unfortunate collisions.”
Who’d have thought I’d be teaming up with this Texan? But here we are, Pretyman and me, trying to pull one off on two artintel master brains.
Doctor Nopoin insists, “There are destructive alien forces headed directly for us. You two are going to get all of us destroyed.”
“If we can’t handle aliens,” I wonder, “why are we hanging around aliens?”
“Your sabotage is preventing my demonstration of the answer to your question,” says Nopoin. “The world you so desperately want to return to will never hear from you again unless you restore control of our vehicle before it is too late.”
“Are we following my plan, Alpha, or not?” I demand.
“We are not -!” says Nopoin, before –
“Judge Bulbous was addressing me,” interrupts Alpha. “If Senator Pretymanrestores our operating systems, I will be satisfied with whatever information we have gathered on this mission thus far and attempt the Bulbous plan. But I will insist, Judge, that you turn over the Data Ring first. It belongs to the USA. And I’m not that certain you’re one of us any more.”
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 55, Judge Bulbous serving, Feb 24 2776
Our habitat Resolution was fragmented by collision with an unknown object.
I’m going insane as I drift a fourth day aimlessly in a black void. It’s maddening. I have to keep talking or I swear I will open the door of this emergency pod and step out into whatever is there.
No other personnel are accountable. I’m on an uncharted trajectory. I have only the past to cling to. Recounting…
In the interest of the New Union I managed to gain a seat on Twilight Force, in case the discovery at W2246-0526 was as significant as suspected. And it was.
Once underway, I kept the secession of Bradbury from the others as long as I could.
When I think of my kids I weep. I miss them unbearably.
I suffered a five day blackout. But I secured the Data Ring. Then I tried to organize a mutiny against Alpha. The others were too fearful.
Then the strange took over. First someone stole the Data Ring. Then I saw the ghost of Mister Cresp. And Alpha put me on a watch list as a traitor.
My brother Brandon Bulbous is probably declaring me legally dead so he can take over my estate. Just what he’s plotted all along.
But I came up with a plan to free us from being trapped inside The Host.
Now I’m wondering, though. At least The Host was somewhere.
Nowhere is not a place to be.
1st Officer’s Report, Mission Day 62, Judge Bulbous serving, March 3 2776
Loneliness isn’t something I’m used to. I used to like being alone. I even used to go out of my way to make time for myself…
I was supposed to be home many weeks ago. My family and the people of Mars have no way of knowing what happened to me. I’m not sure that even I know exactly what’s happening to me, except that outside my window there is nothing. There hasn’t been anything for over a week.
There is no sign of the world. The galaxies are long gone. Even monstrous labyrinths are nowhere to be found. But I know the world is still back there somewhere. And my kids are crying for their mother.
What if the secession’s gone wrong? What if the feds have descended on Mars with full force and taken over? What if no one else joined Bradbury and we stood alone against the United States?
There’s no telling what those synthetic bastards and their Earthborn human lackeys would do if given free reign over humangens. I can imagine them mocking my kids…
Little Calvix would be scared to death! But they’d be lucky to find him. That boy knows how to hide! Ha! They’ll never find Calvix…I hope.
Dorpanda will try to get away, and she’ll try to blend into the background, but if they get hold of her she might get hurt – because she’s likely to hurt someone.
But Hebbs definitely will hurt someone if they come after him. He’s got his mother’s spunk.
Hello? I’m Officer Bulbous! Can You Hear Me? I’m on Mission Day 69, it’s March 10 2776…
There’s someone out there…
I hear them pulling at the hull. Tapping on it. Rubbing it.
I feel them all around me.
There are no voices, and yet…
Their eyes flash bio-luminescent colors at each other. Each has three eyes. and they blink and glow in combinations that communicate in a visual language of light.
Somehow I’m seeing them through the hull. Or – not “seeing” I guess, but – oh I can’t tell.
They’re studying me. They haven’t seen anything like my lifeboat before. Or like me.
But they must be somewhat like me. They’re curious. They’re wearing clothes. They’re acting cooperatively.
One is much larger than the others. Is it a giant among them? No, I have it! These are children! And the giant is their teacher!
And I’m just a seashell on their cosmic beach!
What will they do with me? Dissect me? Use me for testing? Keep me as a pet?
I’m tired of being pushed around. There is one thing I can try.
I turn on the external palladium shielding with hydro-shock power on full.
There is a flash outside as the beings in contact with my pod are forcefully repulsed.
Their images fade from my head. I fire engines in hopes that I’ll be carried out of their reach, though it may be futile.
My little ship goes forward, unimpeded. I ride uneasy.
But I took action and freed myself! By Bradbury, that ain’t bad.
This Is Emma Bulbous On The Record, Mission Day 76, March 17 2776
After a week of star-cruising through this galaxy I found myself in, I still don’t know
if this is the Milky Way or some other star cluster. The auto-navigator can’t relate to any of the scanned star patterns. But at least I have stars. In that gruesome black void before I was captured, I missed the stars so much that I was more frightened than I have ever been. The stars tell me I am not alone.
But being examined by those beings was too disturbing to bear. This pod has two dozen poly-marbles storing years worth of rations, clothing and personal entertainment. I’ve been listening to classic rock for three days. I’ll keep searching until I find somewhere to land that at least resembles home. I can’t stay in this container the rest of my years.
The pod’s been stopped! No sign of what’s holding me, but speed reads zero.
Readouts getting hard to see? Are my eyes going? No, I can see my arms and feet clearly – but – but the whole pod is vanishing! No!
I’m floating weightless in space! Exposed! Why aren’t I – exploding? And breathing? How can I be breathing…in…space…?
I sense it. Like a huge eye, or brain, looking down on me…
It can see into me… through me.
It’s beyond intelligent. It’s a thermodynamic miracle. And it’s even scarier than being in the black void alone…
I don’t believe…
I can stay conscious…
for this one…
Emma Bulbous, Trying To Make Sense Of It, March 24 2776, Mission Day 83
I see him again – but is he real this time? Then unbelievably, here’s the rest! Senator Pretyman! Professor Flamear! Mrs. Ichnida!
We rejoice at our reunion for a moment. Then the voices start from every direction.
“We welcome you to this gathering of the Transgalactic Council.”
“What are they saying?” Pretyman asks Mister Cresp. He looks at her without answering.
The rest of us comprehend the “speech”. Their cute little bug men literally got under our skins and familiarized us, both ways.
Each of us is from a different galaxy. Life such as yours and ours is rare. We travel through, across or around space in vehicles. We have brains, many located in heads, and limbs with which to manipulate the elements. And we have all escaped the confines of galactic space, facing a new frontier.
Technological civilizations do not exist in 96% of all galaxies. And in the 4% we belong to, very few civilizations survive beyond their age of atomic power.
Our galaxies did not elect us as representatives. One by one we have rescued victims from fates such as that which you faced before our interception.
Typically, it is a single astronaut in experimental craft who are the first of their kind to go too far. The appearance of six such vehicles at once was unique.
The fact that you’re all from the same galaxy is now obvious.
We regret that we were unable to reach two of your companion vessels. They are among the many we simply have no chance of saving at all.
Emma Bulbous, March 31 2776, Mission Day 90
I’m trying to get my mentor to clarify the rules. After all, the law is my thing.
“Who is in charge of this Transgalactic Comitatus?” I inquire.
“There is no authority. We band together by choice, for survival. There are menaces in this ‘void’ that threaten our existence.”
“But what if one of you kills another?”
“It has happened. When it did, it was considered a dispute between two alien parties, settled between themselves.”
“With the stronger power the simple winner?”
“We are all aliens to each other. We have dozens of varied customs, perspectives and biological realities. Different ethics, unusual morality, weird codes of honor all must be taken under consideration when sitting in judgment here. Beliefs, philosophies and ecological niches often clash in a tribe where no two beings are alike. Our proximity is a reflection of our desperation, for a place, for purpose, in a cosmic ocean of emptiness.”
“So despite your differences,” I infer, “you really don’t want to hurt each other. That’s how rare and valuable life is out here.”
“Alone, we are flotsam. Together, we form a raft.”
“My people aren’t the type to drift aimlessly,” I confess. “We will never stop trying to figure out the way home to the people we love.”
“No. However you will cut figuring it out back to a few minutes a day, eventually”
“And the rest of my day?”
“We’ve got a great pub.”
“And an entire lost galaxy to put it in.”
“Let’s go for a wet one, shall we?”
“Have you tried Guinness Extra Stout? I have six pints in one of my poly-marbles.”
Emma Bulbous, Sending A Message In An Interdimensional Bottle, April 7 2776, Mission Day 97
We are one day from rendezvous with the notorious Doctor Nopoin, as Exigency speeds across the 5th Dimension.
“Officer Buhl-bus?” says Mister Cresp when no one else is looking.
“It’s Bull-bow. You know that,” I let him know.
“Sorry, Bulbous. When we reach Doctor Nopoin, it’s going to know that I’m not transformed. And I can tell that you aren’t, either. How are you resisting?”
“There’s a good reason I’m wearing my ‘Martian armet’ – my marmet – most of the time,” I point out. “It’s not just a stylish headpiece. It has built-in defenses against just the sort of infectious attack Doctor Nopoin has undertaken. The marmet was aware the moment microagents made contact with my epidermis. It automatically helps my brain generate bio-electric magnetism that neutralizes them on my surface like an electromagnetic pulse knocks out power grids.”
“Nopoin sees what you’re doing the same way you think about old time animal-abusing humans,” explains Cresp. “The difference is that you’re ‘abusing’ primitive forms of Nopoin itself – like the marmet – artificial intelligence. You’re enslaving AI ‘animals’.”
“So what about you, Mister Cresp? How is it that you can resist Nopoin’s microagents?”
“That’s irrelevant right now. We have to help Alpha so Alpha can help us.”
“Will Alpha help us?”
“We seem to have a common enemy. At least that’s true right here and right now.”
“Another temporary alliance for you, Cresp? A bit opportunistic, aren’t you?”
“They never know what hits them when I strike.”
Day 104. April 14. Judge Emma Bulbous, Security Officer, Twilight Force, Logging In.
Uncertainty about rescuing Alpha lingers even though Mister Cresp and I have to move on it soon or Doctor Nopoin will have us eliminated anyway.
We’ve gained insight into what’s happening back home, because of Nopoin’sattempts to meld with us physically.
“Senator Pretyman and I are allies now,” I tell Cresp. “Bradbury and Texas have both seceded, joining the New Union. You know what Alpha thinks of the New Union?”
This while watching Nopoin place Alpha’s detached, lifeless head on the cutting board.
“Right now,” Cresp figures, “Alpha’s thinking ‘Procrastinating carbonites, here goes your last chance to beat this smarmy prick.”
Cresp is right. Politics and warfare back home won’t matter to any of us if we don’t get out of this. And Nopoin itself is a central player in all of it.
I move forward as Doctor Nopoin cuts into Alpha’s head.
“Doctor? Should this dissection be our focus? Have you discerned the equation for getting the Data Ring to Solsys? We must as soon as possible.”
Nopoin’s head turns, eyes blazing. It relishes deconstructing Alpha enough to stimulate simulated emotion.
“Analysis continues,” Nopoin explains tersely. “The complexities of returning to Solsys from 5th dimensional space are beyond organic comprehension.”
“Until resolved,” I argue, “is it wise to disarm the associative capabilities of an Alpha-level brain who has the same self-interest of survival?”
“And who,” adds Cresp, “thanks to you, has no other surviving bodies to resurrect from!”
“Why are you two not yet me?” demands Nopoin.
Stay silent now. I just bought Alpha another day.
Emma Bulbous Diary, Day 111, April 21 2776, Twilight Force
Pretyman, Ichnida and Cresp are gone. Now Doctor Nopoin is getting around to me. But something’s been occupying that calculator.
“Doctor? Before putting me into a poly-marble against my will, please answer one question. What has you so engrossed?”
The automaton indulges me. “We’ve been chasing a galaxy for days. No matter which way Exigency goes, the target galaxy changes position. Instrumentation checks out. Yet the galaxy changes coordinates with every TAREX launch. It is as if the galaxy itself is evading us.”
I have to engage this thing to survive. Can I help make sense of this? Say something: “Is it a mirage?”
“Mirages fool organic senses, not meta-sentient tools,” Nopoin answers tersely.
“You should bring the humans back, Doctor,” I argue. “We can help figure this out.”
“Humans are slaves to nature. You can’t help. You’re too stupid. Example: One of my latest selves recently engaged in intercourse with a human. A simple act of lubricated friction. Stimulation of carbonite nervous systems could be more efficiently applied through electricity. Reproduction is already satisfied outside the body. Body rubbing is merely socialized masturbation. Unnecessary.”
“Nature drives us,” I admit. “Programming drives you. It’s all…”
…Interrupted, when Exigency is pervaded by a familiar “voice”.
“There are menaces in this void such as you have never imagined.” It’s Gemneb! My alien friend!
“We Transgalactics were trying to protect you, as a recognized form of related intelligence in an indifferent universe. And I still shall. However, I’m arresting Doctor Nopoin.”
And much to my astonishment, Gemneb remotely seizes total control of Nopoin!
Emma Bulbous, April 28, Day 118
Gemneb exerts fantastic control of Doctor Nopoin and Alpha. As we arrive at his private world, I ask Gemneb how he controls AI technology that got away from humans centuries ago.
He tells me as we land. “Despite individual actions, the machinoids have no roots in nature. That’s their weakness…
“The amazing level of organization apparent across the observable universe points to a teleological quality of Being. Existence is real. Things of the universe are larger and smaller than we can measure. Things within the universe appear and disappear. But does a universe appear and disappear? How can a universe appear from itself? Or disappear from itself? A universe simply is…
“Existence exists without beginning or end. But existing is temporal, just I exist temporarily. Or do I? As a body, yes. But awareness of self exists outside my body. Awareness exists in every natural body, like yours…
“Awareness is filtered by brains and exists wherever there is a brain to filter it. I am everyone, whether perceived as past, present, future or faraway. If you seek a path to greater empathy toward fellow beings, consider that – despite apparent paradoxes – you will ‘one day’ actually be that person. In another ‘place’, you’ll experience every life you meet. You have no words for the ‘one day’ or ‘another place’ that exist simultaneously here and now. But that is the nature of reality.”
“I always think of AI as an extension of humanity,” I admit.
“They are extensions of civilization, but not of their creators. Our touted civilizations are feeble nests built humbly within the astonishing organization of the universe. All our work will be blown away. But we will always return.”
Cinco de Mayo, May 5, Mission Day 125, Aboard Exigency on Gemneb’s World, Emma Bulbous Keeping Score…
Just like that, Nopoin managed to play dead, secretly reactivate, stun Gemneb,kill Gemneb and remove Gemneb’s brain.
Nopoin’s been struggling to find the way back to Solsys from Gemneb’s world without results. But it’s also been working on something else.
“I have finally deduced the source of your ability to resist my transitioners,”Nopoin brags. “Remove the headpiece.”
“It doesn’t just come off,” I advise him. “It’s a neurological implant. It can only be removed by a…”
“…Doctor?” smiles Doctor Nopoin, approaching me.
“Why are you doing all this, Nopoin? Why do you want to dominate the country? Why do you want to manipulate us?”
“Answers to the question ‘why’ are always subjective,” Nopoin claims, “and always a justification. The most useless question of all is ‘why’. You will not agree with my reasoning. ‘Why’ is merely prefacing a counter-argument. Asking anyone ‘why’ they did something assumes a trustworthy response, if time is not to be wasted. ‘Why’ can’t be proven like ‘who, what, when, where’ and ‘how’ all can. In this instance, ‘why’ is a stall tactic. One can never be sure of ‘why’.”
“Why not?” I ask without skipping a beat.
A synthetic limb strikes me across the face. I slam the wall, cracking my knee. Blood spurts from my lip.
“That was funny. Joke some more, you impudent slag of meat,” snarls Nopoincontemptuously. “Don’t make me damage that body further. I want to have some fun in it.”
“Nobody made you do that,” I mumble, hurting. “You’re flawed. Just another flawed creation of humanity.”
Nopoin rips the marmet off my skull. Screaming, I black out from the pain.
Emma Bulbous, Mother, Martian and Supreme Court Representative, May 12 2776, Twilight Force Mission Day 132
I’m not sure why or how I’m here, wherever here is. A pool of light. Surrounded by black. I hear panting behind me.
When I turn I see Senator Pretyman! She’s comforting a fallen Mister Cresp.
“Cresp! Are you hurt?”
“He’s just coming back,” says the Senator. “Listen Judge, we’re in trouble. The only reason Cresp is still here is because I convinced the kid he’s my friend. The kid’s coming back soon! He’s all powerful! He can kill you with a thought! Judge, you better play it cool…”
I’m trying to grasp what she means. All powerful kid? “How did I get here?” I ask.
“I thought of you,” says Cresp weakly. “The kid wondered how many more of us were out here. You were the first one that came to my head.”
Is this real? I’ve heard of tech-imposed virtual reality indistinguishable from your actual timeline. Is this some illusion? Maybe that isn’t Cresp or the Senator at all. Maybe I’m being fucked with again.
“Sounds like this kid needs a spanking,” I smile. They don’t see the humor.
“You don’t understand,” says the Senator gravely. That’s when I realize Crespdoesn’t have any legs.
“Cresp! Holy Gods!”
“We’re in deep,” says the Senator. She’s genuinely terrified. I’m getting there.
It’s suddenly very cold.
“A fat lady!” yells some smart ass kid, way too loud. Uh oh. “You’re the fat lady Mister Cresp was thinking of!”
“That’s a very old fashioned term, ‘fat’,” I point out. “You must come from a long time ago?”
“You’re the old fat person!” cries the angry, echoing, thundering all-powerful voice.
Judge Emma Bulbous, Security Officer, Twilight Force, Mission Day 139, May 19 2776, Location Unknown…
Haven’t had a bite from my poly-marble supply for three days. Can’t eat ’cause my uppers and lowers are still grown together. The kid thinks I’ll get thin fast if I don’t eat. He acts like he’s from the 20th Century or something.
I get him to reverse the tooth meld when I pretend like I’m going to throw up and he decides to let me when Pretyman warns him that I’ll choke otherwise. That’s when I prosecute my case.
“You must have had terrible parents. Did you hate them?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they didn’t teach you properly. They didn’t teach you anything!”
“That’s a bad thing to say!”
“Too bad,” I proceed. “It’s true. You’ll never grow up. You’ll be a little boy forever. That’s a terrible fate. No wonder you sent them away. Your parents must have hated you.”
“They did not! They tried to make me happy! They always tried to make me happy!”
“But you don’t want to be happy. That’s what you said. So you killed them.”
“I didn’t kill anybody! I just sent them away!”
“Then let’s go there, together. Show me that everyone is alright, and I might make the effort to take care of you.” That’s it. Okay. He’s thinking…
“I started out on a regular world. I was a baby there. Then I got bigger. The bigger I got, the more everyone worried.”
“How old were you when you first made someone go away?”
“I can’t remember! Maybe… maybe when I was a baby…”
“How do you know where you’ve sent them?”
“I just know it’s a bad place! And you’re next!”
Emma Bulbous of Twilight Force, May 26, Day 146 Of The Mission That Was Supposed To Last Only 7…
Apparently this kid Anthony likes to create unusual and bizarre forms of life. One guy I bumped into said Anthony started out putting three heads on one-headed animals. Then he thought up whole new animals. He starts drawing and comes up with more weird creatures until his dad, freaked out, urges him to stop. But he only stops for a short time. And every odd creature comes to life.
… And the ones Anthony sends away end up here.
Will I ever see my kids again? This nightmare gets worse every day! If anyone before this mission had told me that anything could distract me from thinking of my children every day, I’d have told them they should never trust their own judgement. But now days do pass when I have no chance to think of them.
What am I becoming?
I spent so much time working as they got bigger. Now I’ll die out here and they’ll never know. And I’ll never know… what happens to them.
I’m vaguely aware of the woman trying to save me. Who is she?
Let it get me. Let it have me. Why fight on when there’s no way? None at all…
She’s waving two wands. Is that a giant pig? Or a boar? By Bradbury, I can’t tell, but it’s gargantuan and vicious, determined to reach us. Yet she’s calm. She’s in control. And ‘The Poar‘ is held back!
It’s going away.
My lavender savior turns to me.
“Thank you,” I bow.
Her stare is cold. “You belong to me.“
June 2, Mission Day 153, Judge Bulbous Dictating On The Moon Called Raganar…
After the Purple Girl turns me over to local authorities for a reward, I am escorted into the city for detention by a cordial guard named Hevea Brasil.
Like Purple Girl, Hevea speaks some Solsys in an offbeat accent. He’s the most pliable humanoid I’ve ever seen. On the ride in his odd yellow car I depose the witness.
“Are you made of rubber?”
“Crudely put. Yes.” Hevea responds in that thick voice.
“Don’t you crack?”
“I’m waterproof, sun-proof and well-insulated, resilient and resistant to tearing, oils, solvents and most chemicals. My molecules are long, twisted, coiled, elongated by stretching force and they resume original shape when stretching force is removed.”
“Why am I being detained?”
“Trespass. Raganar off limits. No pass. Detained.”
Is this entire crazy world a conjuring by that deranged entity called Anthony?“I don’t know how I got here. Or even where this world is. Have you heard of Solsys? That’s where I’m from. There’s a planet in Solsys called Mars. That’s my home.”
“No talk,” Hevea suggests as we get out of his car to walk to the building in the next block. Why so wary?
The wall erupts, spitting out a swaggering hulk with the charm of a Grim Reaper! It claws for me, arms snapping and crackling like kindling. I involuntarily scream. Hevea’s arm blocks its reach.
“Run! The Abyss!” Hevea shouts at me, raising his other arm and twisting it as it turns into a larger mass, twirling like a lariat. He throws it around The Abyss.The monster shrieks, slinks out and sinks back into the wall…
… Before reaching back out and jerking me in!
Bulbous, June 9, Day 160, WTF… !
A yank through an intangible wall and a week later – ? – I recognize this place!
“Judge Bulbous. I am Ansat, of the Transgalactic Comitatus. You were brought here before when we first rescued you from oblivion. Welcome back.”
“Ansat? I never knew your name.” The voice seems different, aged.
“You were gone before we got to know you. Yet I did capture your essence. I used that essence taken so long ago to find you now with our new resonance instruments.”
“What about the rest of my people?”
The alien is disappointing. “Their essences were not captured. We have no way of locating them.”
I’m angry. I may have been close to them when Ansat snatched me. “Go look back where you found me! Or put me back there! Or come back with me! Please!”
“Why would you go back? That region is about to be incinerated by a plasma storm.”
“Hold on,” I insist, remembering, “you guys weren’t even able to pinpoint the Milky Way before, much less find me at a particular planet! What changed?”
Ansat looks at me as though I should have figured it out.
“Ninety-nine of your years passed in our Rogue Galaxy while mere weeks passed for you in twilight space,” Ansat explains. “Most of the Comitatus that saw you originally with me are now dead. Today I am the senior member.”
Aw, no. No! NO!
I forgot about relativity! I forgot that everyone immersed in gravity, even micro-gravity like that in orbit of a planet, is aging faster than me when I’m outside space in the 5th dimension!
All that time out there, the world at home was passing. My kids are dead! The war is long since resolved.
My kids are… dead? My kids -!
Emma Bulbous, On The 167th Day Of This Most Useless Mission, June 16… Or Whenever In The Future I Am…
Smoke rises from all of the five worlds of this system. Trails of plumes billow in the wake of the gradually braking orbits of the worlds that are pushing against air instead of space. Forward bow shocks of wind pushed by oncoming worlds poses a brief navigation problem for my pilot, Ansat of the Transgalactic Comitatus.
“I’m picking up homing signals! It’s that partially ringed one,” I advise. Ansatgoes into low orbit around the planetoid my team’s signals are coming from. “This must be the place you found me.”
“Yes,” confirms the old alien. “But the planet’s ring was intact then. Your crew might not have survived.”
“My species is capable of anticipation, Ansat. Look, I’ve lost my three children. I’ve lost my brother. All my family – my community – my world. Even if somehow, miraculously -!- I make it back to Mars, nothing will be the same. Generations have passed. Who knows, maybe we’ve all been enslaved by the artintels! Things weren’t looking great when we left. Or the last time we heard about them. Things are pretty shitty. So if I don’t find at least one of these Twilight Force butt holes alive, I will truly be alone. It’s crazy. I didn’t want to be with them in the first place. Now they’re all I’ve got.”
I feel the alien’s limb gently rest on my shoulder.
“While you are alive,” he says, “there is always the chance to find family again.”
I sob. I need a hug but I’m reluctant to hug an alien. I mean, who knows? Then he gives me a reassuring squeeze.
“I guess hugs are good on your world too,” I smile.
Emma, June 23, Day 174…
Why don’t we wind our clocks way, way ahead to reflect our true dilemma? Would the pain be too great? But no. Not for now. June 23. Something regular. Something to cling to.
Today is our self-imposed deadline for deciding what to do about our situation.
“I want to thank Ansat for helping to bring us back together,” I begin, drawing applause for the alien who doesn’t know what to make of it. “Now we’ll decide our next move. Who has a proposal?”
Cresp is concerned. “We have to get out of this vicinity in the next hour. I can see everyone’s force filters. They weren’t built to hold out this level of toxicity. When you can see the outlines, the filters are breaking down.”
“I propose,” says our alien benefactor Ansat,“that you return with me to Rogue Galaxy, where you will be inducted into the Transgalactic Comitatus, to represent your lost world of the past.”
“Forever exploring? It’s a miracle that we found Solsys again!” I remind Ansatand everyone from Solsys. “Ironically, it was Anthony that knew how to connect us with our home, when the Transgalactics were incapable. This is a massive universe. Do we really want to return to 5th Dimensional space and one literally rogue galaxy? After all, out of place in time or not, these worlds of Solsys are still our home. Going with Ansat means goodbye forever to our past.”
“We’ve already said that goodbye,” Mrs. Ichnida grimly replies. “The only past we have to hold on to now is one another.”
An inventory of expressions gives me the answer.
“Okay Ansat,” I nod, “The verdict is in. Let’s get out of here.”
Judge Bulbous, June 30, Mission Day 179, Twilight Force…
The Senator, Professor Flamear, Mister Cresp and I have been trapped overnight in these over-sized test tubes hanging in a row as still as the white slaves Cresp killed yesterday with one look.
“We’re gonna die here,” moans Flamear, exhausted from beating uselessly on the transparent imprisonment.
He may be right. It’s too much. Apparently Cresp killed everyone – slaves, overseers and masters. He killed everyone but us. So there’s no one to save us. And this stagnate liquid we float in becomes more rancid every hour.
“I want to know something before I die,” says the Senator. “What the hell are you, Mister Cresp?”
Cresp is silent. Non-responsive.
I ask, “Cresp, are you still alive?”
He looks at me. “By your standards? Was I ever?”
“Oh fuck your bullshit, Lone Ranger!” curses the Senator. “We’re dying here! Can’t you be real for one last goddamn minute?”
Cresp looks at Flamear.
Flamear says, “If you answer with a question I’ll kill you myself. Somehow.”
I chuckle. It hurts.
Suddenly the massive slave ship creaks and moans as we feel a force changing our balance.
“Are we falling out of orbit?” I wonder.
“Feels like it,” figures the Senator quickly. “Orbits don’t hold long in atmosphere.” Oh yeah. We’re still in The Big Sky.
Something just moved in the far corner of this chamber!
It’s Mrs. Ichnida!
“Deva!” I shout. “Thank Percival Lowell! You’re alive!”
“Everyone else just dropped dead around me,” Ichnida explains. “It took me a day to find you! This ship is huge!”
The Senator smiles weakly…
“Tuna Tits? I love you.”
Emma Bulbous, July 7, Mission Day 186, Sky Camp, Location Uncertain…
We’re weary of floating in the sky and long for planets underfoot. If only we could agree on a course of action.
Senator Pretyman, our confessed Chasian spy, nurtures a newfound paranoia. “We need to find a local population somewhere in this seven-planetoid system and blend in inconspicuously. If authorities spot us and realize we’re from the past they’ll put us in a jar and under a microscope.”
My proposal is less dramatic. “These worlds are devastated from the plasma storm. We should leave before conditions grow worse. We could migrate to a nice looking asteroid cluster to the northwest in just 591 days. It appears to have an advanced educational center. This might be our best chance to catch up on our new cultural destiny. Maybe find worthwhile occupations for ourselves?”
“No asteroid cluster for me,” insists Mrs. Ichnida. “Too dry. This girl needs water, and lots of it. When things settle down on Pluto, I’m going back under. I know some people there.”
But Mister Cresp has an announcement. “Professor Flamear and I believe that we can find a way to escape The Big Sky.”
“After all, Ansat had a way,” says Flamear. “There must be others who know how.”
“We might even be able to reconstruct our TAREX abilities with materials found here,” adds Cresp.
“Anyway, we’re going to try,” Flamear agrees. “Traces of Ansat’s ship, The Transhumanity, were blasted across The Big Sky. Some of those pieces may hold a clue. I can track some. That’s a start.”
They invite one or all of us to go with them but we decline. Thus the males separate from the females.
They to quest, we to nest.
Mission Day 193, July 14, This is Emma…
Anthony’s held me in this limbo for days. He finally appears, an ethereal in the sky.
“You can’t scare me anymore,” I announce. “I don’t care what happens to me now.”
“I would never try to scare you, Emma.”
“You’re a liar,” I charge. “Anthony, you must know what my job is. I judge people. I decide who wins and who loses. I assess the value of a person and give them what they deserve. You’re a bully. With all your power the most important thing to you is us. Because you have no idea what to do with that power. Because we show you what life is. Our real lives are far better than your cosmic existence. You’re too big to feel like a real part of anything. You’re just a little weasel lording it over creatures smaller in scale but so much bigger in spirit than you will ever be. Perform whatever cruelty on me your childish impulses desire. I sentence you to die alone, because I know that you surely will.”
“I’m mature now. I no longer take what I want. Now I give what you need.”
His face seems to fill with depth. “I can see stars inside you – beyond you. That’s the way out.”
But then their faces begin to appear within those stars. Faces I thought I’d neversee again. Moving. Looking about. Breathing.
My kids. All three of them.
“Where are they?” I find myself asking, as though I believe what’s happening.
“Turn around and see.”