DREAM OF LIFE (7271)
Directed by Karina M.
7270/DoL ©2001 Justin Lo; S. Kinosamew
Little rattles in the air and leaves prostrate on the ground,
I’m here and standing on two feet as the world goes around,
Alone, maybe, because I can’t see anyone,
Thinking, maybe, because I yearn for fun.
I smile and all I get back is an empty whistle,
I laugh and all I get back is a cough-like rustle;
My life I spend achieving,
But no one appreciates it and I end up grieving …
Please love me! I
Promise I’ll love you back!
It’s lonely with no one to talk to,
And I want you by my side.
I’ll congratulate you,
And I’ll sing with you,
And I’ll paint the flowers for you,
I just want you to stay with me
So I can share my joys with you.
Joy is nothing when I can only tell it to myself,
I write it down, store it, and stick it on a shelf.
The joy wants to unfold into the essence of heaven,
It wants to bounce around, touching the sisters and brethren,
But if I can’t speak and share,
I become disheartened, filled with despair.
I want to be kind to people, and to be generous,
But with no one to personally care for, it all seems so superfluous …
Please love me! I
Promise I’ll love you back!
It’s lonely with no one to talk to,
And I want you by my side.
I’ll help you,
And I’ll answer you with truth,
And I’ll write your name ten thousand times
So I can share my joys with you.
Please love me! I
Promise I’ll love you back!
It’s lonely with no one to talk to,
And I want you by my side.
I’ll hug you,
And I’ll write for you,
And I’ll grow up for you,
So I can share my joys with you.
You open my eyes up to the world;
You tell me that the leaves aren’t dead;
Listening to me.
You tell me that the world will love me
As much as you do,
And I believe you,
I trust you.
Please love me! It’s
All that I could ask for.
Maybe you’re lonely, too.
I promise I’ll love you back.
“Ohhh! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late and Gurin’s gonna smack me silly if I don’t get this antidote to him!” wailed a young woman as she stomped on the gas pedal of her car as if it’d try a little harder just to avoid a beating.
The car’s poor exhaust pipe was already spewing out enough steam, for this was a water-gas car that ran on hydrogen, and so it decided to just quit for awhile and let the steam leak out at various other points along the pipe. The woman quickly steered off the highway and flew onto the ramp. As the green-light relieved the red-light of the duty of lighting the nighttime sky, the woman continued along until she came to the hospital, and then she turned and parked in the first space that she could find that was open; the parking lot was congested enough full of cars and she couldn’t afford to waste her time trying to find a better spot.
“Here, Gurin: the antidote that you asked for,” she said, thrusting her arm forward, holding a small bag.
“I’m surprised that you still have your youthful strength. I thought you’d slow the pace when you had your kid.” Gurin laughed a little and drank the small vial of liquid inside. “Yeah, good as ever. Thanks.”
“Any time,” replied the woman.
Outside, a policeman came up to the woman’s car and noticed, to his disgust, that it was parked in the disabled visitors’ spot.
“What kind of heartless bastard would park here? I’m gonna get mrmeow for this,” he growled, twirling out his ticket notebook and writing a ticket for CD2400 ($300). “Let’s see how many times mrmeow’ll dare to infringe the laws of Catliania and Emily the Great.”
The woman exited the hospital and returned to her car and noticed a peculiar slip of paper on her windshield.
“Oh, my!” she commented when she lifted the paper and saw the fine. “I guess I have to pay up.”
She drove over to the nearest police station to pay her fine and get it over with. However, the station was off for the night, letting the other stations take over, so the woman pulled out a set of keys and let herself in. She came to the desk of the manager of fines and wrote a check for the man, leaving a small note and the ticket. After that, she giggled a bit and then left, locking the door behind her.
The next morning, the manager of fines sat down sleepily at his desk having stayed up all night watching the men’s collegiate basketball championship; who couldn’t resist watching University of Conodee and University of Newagon at Catland, rivals for eternity, duke it out? So he let his coffee cup clatter down and stared at his days’ work.
“Huh?” he mouthed, looking at the little note. After all, it isn’t every day that one gets a note with a million dollars attached and little sorry note that says, “Oops, I guess I broke my own law. Here’s my payment. Keep the change.
- Queen Emily I of Catliania.
“Hwa, hwa, hwa, Emily-ména. That’s just sad!” blurted Anna-mié, the Queen’s younger sister who was home from college for winter break.
“I know, but it happens. Anyway, enjoying your time away from the castle?”
“Well, more cute guys in a smaller area … yeah, yeah, I like it!”
Emily just laughed and when her gentle waves of giggles ceded, she noticed that the phone was ringing with great determination.
“Oh, wait, Anna,” she said as she grabbed the phone.
“Yes? This is Queen Emily. What can I help you with?”
“Hello, this is Nisuna. I’ve got some strange news. The Oracle stones are saying that we must locate and ‘rescue’ a boy by the name of ‘Justin Lo.’”
“And? Isn’t that just King Justin?”
“Well, here’s the catch: the stones say that we must travel far to reach his world, and that he is our creator.”
“Huh? That makes no sense whatsoever. Our solar system was born no differently than any others ….”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Emily. I’ve known this for some time. You see, we’re actually … imaginary characters.”
“Then how do we go about rescuing him if he’s in the real world?”
“He has breathed enough life into us that we can go and interact with him actively now. Other people will see us, but only he can be affected by us,” said Nisuna.
“Then what are we waiting for?” asked Emily.
“Actually, nothing. I’ve got all our stuff over here. Fifteen years is too long a time to be apart.”
“Yeah, I remember 7256. Wild year, huh?”
“You were a major factor that added to the wildness,” commented Nisuna.
“Let’s just get going. Who else is coming?”
“Juliya, Justin, Jessica, Meow-Meow, Meowy, and Sara.”
“What about Henry and Alice?”
Meanwhile, the real Justin Lo was at home, drawing character sketches for his next story, Dream of Life, Episode 10 of the Catleya Saga. He felt that it would be the only way for him to defeat his greatest fears and move on with life. Little did he know that his friends would soon be visiting him.
The eight travelers, Nisuna, Emily, Juliya, Justin, Jessica, Meow-Meow, Meowy, and Sara boarded their cramped spaceship that would take them across thousands of lightyears to get to Justin.
“Why just one person?” asked Emily. “Can’t we save everyone on that planet?”
“No, we can’t. Remember, we’re imaginary?”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right.”
“Ooooh, boy. This is going to fun,” drawled Nisuna as she flopped onto a makeshift couch, taking up one too many seats.
“Meow! Get off my seat!” shrieked Sara.
Nisuna crinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue, saying, “But I’m tired! I don’t have to move.”
The other passengers promptly plugged their ears and rolled their eyes. Fun indeed.
The busy streets of Chapel Hill were just a tad bit more busy than usual, for eight shady characters sort of popped through a planar warp and landed on the sidewalk.
A boy eyed the bunch and an older boy decided that it would be a better use of his eyesight to eye, or rather ogle, a particular female cat. Sara looked around nervously, noticing the indecent boy.
Sara hissed and began to approach the boy but Nisuna motioned her aside, walking up the boy, who had switched he gaze to the really cute goddess. Nisuna frowned and swung her conscience-hammer, connecting directly with the boy’s guilt nerves. He wriggled in the pain of guilt and apologized profusely to Sara and Nisuna.
“I always get people to shape up, no?” asked Nisuna, taking her “I’m the goddess of goddesses” pose, which, strangely enough, when coupled with her wonderful proportions, tended to make people shape down a lot more than her hammer made people shape up. Oh, well, you try, don’t you, Nisuna …?
The younger boy walked up to Sara.
“Are you a cat?” he asked.
“Do you sing like a cat?”
Sara scowled and asked, “What are you trying to imply about my wonderful voice? I dare you to say that I howl like a boot.”
The boy just blinked, trying to figure out how boots howled.
“Nevermind,” added Sara when she couldn’t quite figure out how boots howled, either. “Anyhow, I’m Sara Kinosamew, the cutest and loveliest cat pop singer you’ll ever meet. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. Um … you’re not much into being humble, hmm?” the boy asked.
“Considering what I just said, not really. But I’m not a complete airhead or anything, so I can back myself up pretty well. And I am damn cute, you have to admit that.”
“Yeah,” the boy said. “Can I get your autograph … or your picture … or both?” he asked meekly.
“Sure. Let’s get onto that wall so that Justin or Juliya can use mrmeow’s camera get us both where no other people are in the way.”
Sara pranced up the ten foot wall with one leap. The boy just stood there.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” murmured Sara.
She descended and landed silently. By this time, everyone was staring at this silly cat-girl. What was she trying to accomplish? This was emphasized by the fact that Sara was now in the middle of the street. She noticed several cars coming towards her and she started running on all fours to outrun the cars.
<Fast,> thought the boy. <She could get the mile in 3 minutes, easily, at that clip. I never noticed her muscular strength before. Are all cat-people like that?>
Meow-Meow and Meowy leaned against the wall and talked to each other as Sara bounced back and forth around the town.
“Um, Meowy. About her marrying into our family ….”
“It’ll be O.K., Meow-Meow, I promise. She’s a smart one; she just pretends to be dumb.”
“She sure likes pretending.”
“Let’s hope so.”
After subduing Sara with ice cream and bringing the little boy with them for the time that the boy’s parents were shopping, the group stopped by the forest.
Sara began to speak, “Sorry about whatever mess I caused. I’ll sing a song for you.”
<Oh, no. A pop love song,> thought the boy.
As the music starts, I begin to dance,
I forget, and I know little of what I do.
I lose myself
And I feel so great, but at what cost do I smile?
As green mosses sweep down the crevices in the wall,
I’ll grab a bunch and let it trace my body.
It tugs my waist and I’ll let it dance with me
And I feel so great, but at what cost do I smile?
Tomorrow I’ll have to work again,
But every day I work ‘til dusk.
I’m working for my dream
So that I don’t have to forget everything just to smile.
When the sun tickles my pale yet mellow skin,
I feel the little bubbly feeling and I brush myself with the moss.
And then if I look at the world all over again and I remember
Then maybe, one day, I can smile without forgetting.
If fate can be defeated
And destiny defied,
I’ll climb that moss and stand atop the summit
And I’ll smile … and hope.
“Like it?” asked Sara, putting her microphone back into her right-back pocket of her cut-off denim shorts.
“Yeah. It wasn’t about love?”
“What made you think it would be?”
“A lot of my songs are about love. But this one I wrote for a movie that had nothing to do with love so I didn’t write about love. It’s just too bad I never got to sing it. I sang the opening theme for that movie, though.”
“If you didn’t sing it, then it isn’t really yours, is it?”
“But I wrote it.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “You wrote the lyrics?”
“The song and the lyrics, of course.”
“Wow, you’re amazing.”
<Not many pop singers can write intelligent songs these days.>
The eight, after leaving the boy to his parents, headed toward Justin’s house. Along the way, they encountered a homeless man walking down the street. As could be expected, Juliya rushed over to him and gave him some money.
“Where did she get the local currency from?” asked Emily to Justin.
“I think she brought some gold bracelets to sell,” suspected Justin.
“But I thought we couldn’t affect anybody except Justin.”
“Maybe we were wrong, Justin. Maybe the real Justin made us so real that we could interact as independent beings,” suggested Emily.
Justin sat down on a wooden log at the edge of the bike shoulder of the street and thought.
“Not many people’d be giving me money these days,” said the man to Juliya.
“Why not?” she asked, innocently as ever. <The model girl,> thought Justin. <Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone were as kind as Juliya?>
“People think that all we do is go and use this money to drink or shit like that.”
“I guess some people would, though. I’m trusting that you can do something better than spend this on … shit and stuff. Right?” asked Juliya.
“Yeah. Thanks,” said the man, continuing his stroll.
“What a pitiful world,” said Juliya. “Apparently, people are giving up on compassion because the other end fails to do the right thing.”
“Time for my hammer,” said Nisuna.
Justin barged into the conversation. “Guys, forget it for now. I think I’ve gotten it all straightened out. Look at your watch.”
Juliya, Nisuna, and Emily looked at their watches. Meow-Meow and Meowy looked at their furry arms. Sara tried to find her cell phone in her shorts, but failed. The three who actually had watches nodded their heads.
“Time is stopped,” said Juliya.
“But how can people move around when time is frozen?” asked Emily.
“This is a dream. Time is still passing, but very slowly.” Justin stopped for a moment and then repeated, “We are in a dream –”
“- and it’s Justin’s dream. It’ll only be a few minutes long, but it’ll serve as a month-long rescue and rehab sort of project,” finished Nisuna. “Let’s get going then. We don’t have forever.”
Sara looked over at Juliya’s watch, whose second hand creeped too slowly for fast-paced Sara to notice. “It sure does seem like we have forever.”
Jessica, Juliya and Justin’s 15-year-old daughter, just sat down. <Why am I not speaking as much as I usually do?> she wondered.
“Where are we trying to go?” whined Meowy, shooting a look of contempt at the general direction of his fur. The South isn’t pleasant for furry creatures that come from a cooler climate.
“Don’t complain,” said the snow leopard, Meow-meow. “You have nothing to complain about. Nothing at all!”
Nisuna stared a little at her map before lifting her face and aligning the world around her with the map that she had now memorized. “The house is right over there,” she motioned, swinging her arm out to point, barely missing Emily’s face.
“Watch it,” warned Emily.
“Where?” asked Juliya, who had been caught up in the elegant breeze and the smell of an exotic countryside.
“There,” repeated Nisuna; this time, both Nisuna and Juliya pointed toward the house, and their hands sandwiched Emily, who promptly stomped off towards the house. “Stupid violent people,” she muttered, not realizing that cars do not stop for pedestrians very often in the real world. She heard a screech and she jerkily leapt twenty feet into the air with ease, landing back down after the car had passed. The drivers said nothing and swore to say nothing, because nobody deserved to know about weirdos who somersaulted like grasshoppers in the middle of the road. Emily was quite frustrated by now, and with good reason, so she clenched her fists and ran over to the house, pounding the doorbell until it got sick and quit ringing.
Justin, being the only one at home, tiptoed down the stairs and looked suspiciously at the figure standing behind the door. A smiling queen turned the face him and he nearly fell off the stairs in surprise. <Emily? What in the world is going on here?> he thought to himself. <No way, no way, no way.> He was hesitant to open the door with to a complete stranger, despite the fact that she had an uncanny resemblance to his character sketches. The rest of the group caught up with Emily with relative ease, Juliya and her family via the sidewalk, Nisuna gliding by air, and the cats racing through the grass of other peoples’ yards.
Seeing his most wonderful creation (Juliya) standing out there, he couldn’t deny his temptation to open the door any longer. The eight froze, erect, for a few seconds after Justin opened the door.
“How can I help you?” asked Justin to a lot of familiar faces.
“Ummm … we’re here to resc …,” began Juliya before she trailed off, realizing the absurdity of what she was saying. She was not one to make a fool of herself, being the self-conscious and sensitive woman that she was. However, Sara was quite another story.
“We’re here to take you back to our planet,” she said matter-of-factly.
“So you’re here to kidnap me?” Justin asked nonchalantly, or at least appearing to do so.
“Pretty much,” said Nisuna. “Except it isn’t quite kidnapping if you want to come, right?”
“But I can’t go. I have too much work to do for school,” Justin argued, preparing the shut the door on these strange people.
“Give us a chance, Justin. We’re really here to rescue you,” pleaded Nisuna. Something just clicked at that moment. Perhaps it was the way Nisuna’s halo started to get tired of sitting up there and began to glide around while glittering, or maybe it was Juliya’s sad-puppy face, but in any case, Justin knew that these creatures were authentic.
“Yes, I understand. Let me get my stuff, OK?” said Justin.
“Score!” cried Jessica, who hugged Justin. “Bro, you hurry up, OK? We don’t have much time.”
“Gotcha,” said Justin, rushing upstairs to grab his stuff. Justin just blew his family and home a kiss goodbye and took his duffelbag downstairs.
Meowy simply nodded and led the group out to the streets. Some people scuttled away, some stopped and stared, and some just whistled on. A tree bent down to talk to Nisuna, who was right behind Meowy.
“Hi,” greeted the tree.
Nisuna was a bit startled, but did not show it at all. “Hi,” she replied. “Do you need something?”
“Well, maybe you could get me a cup of water. I’m downright parched.”
“O.K.,” accepted Nisuna. She threw a little sand into the sky and rain came down, watering the tree.
“Thanks,” said the tree. Nisuna smiled and walked on, feeling her ego get a little boost.
The group reached Emily’s spaceship with relative ease, and it had not been touched by anything but bacteria. Nisuna sent the bacteria on their way, for it simply would not do to have alien bacteria killing off the population back home, nor would it do to “sanitize” the area and cause the god of bacteria great anguish.
“Are we goin’ or what?” chirped Jessica, who seemed to be back in her normal mood. Of course, she never let her problems show; she simply acted nice and cheery like she was expected to.
“Yeah!” everyone yelled as they hopped in. Emily took controls and maneuvered a safe escape from the Earth’s atmosphere. Earth Justin looked around nervously.
“Looking for anything?” asked Jessica with a childish look of curiosity.
“Just making sure I didn’t forget anything,” said Earth Justin. He looked a little stressed, but he knew that this was normal for him so he didn’t really stress out about it.
Jessica gleamed and reassured Justin, “It’ll be fine. We’ve got everything you’d need on this ship and at home.”
“You’re … my daughter, right?” Earth Justin asked.
“Well, sorta – I mean you aren’t my dad but my Justin is. I think we should act like siblings, not like parent to daughter, like, you know.”
Earth Justin grimaced and probed, “Do you need to say like, like, that many, like, times?”
“Naw, I’m just playin’ with you. You know, what’s it like to be real? Is it … comfortable, or maybe painful?”
“It’s OK, I guess, but it isn’t very fun. I never put much thought to that subject before … but being real is kinda rough and saddening.”
Jessica let her head fall a little. “Since you’re like a brother, do you think I could to talk to you – in private?”
“If you trust me to that extent,” said Justin, shrugging.
“Yes, I do; and I’ll call you Bro from now on to get rid of the confusion, ‘K.?”
Jessica led Justin over to her quarters and gestured for him to sit on a small armchair next to a TV.
“Um … I was just wondering what you think I should do,” Jessica began.
“About what?” interjected Justin.
Jessica glared a little and then lightened up. “Silly, if you don’t interupt, I can explain things more clearly. You see, I’ve been having problems lately with who I am. I’m not like other people, I’ve realized. And I can’t stand being myself.”
“Why not?” asked Bro intently. <She sounds just like myself,> he thought.
“Well, it has to do with Mom and Pop, you know. They’re really nice people – really – but they’re both overacheivers. They want to push me beyond my intellectual capabilities. I’m smart and I get good grades but that isn’t enough for them.”
“Then tell them to lay off. Have you spoken to them about this before?”
“They don’t understand, Justin, because they felt that they had to be pushed that way when they were little and now they try to push me. It hurts, Brother.”
“You can cry if you want.”
Jessica laughed a bit and gave Justin a strange look. “What made you think I wanted to cry?”
Bro just sat there pensively, looking to be carefully scanning his thoughts to piece together a response. “I cried the last time I talked about feeling the same way you did. It made me feel better.”
“You go, man! That’s natural, but I don’t need to cry right now. I just don’t cry much, at least not externally. But I don’t know … I don’t feel so good right now.”
“I think you should let yourself off the hook. If Justin and Juliya really are pinning you up there, just … take off your shirt and jump down … no sick things implied.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean … but how? I ask a lot out of myself. I want to keep up my friendships – I’m outgoing even though I am a little geeky and boyish (like most of the girls Justin comes up with). It’s hard to balance that with my desire to learn and to be ranked number one in my class.”
Bro scratched his head and said, “Study with your friends. It’s the way Justin and Juliya coped with their mess when they were little. Go and watch a movie with them over the weekend and focus on your classes during the weekdays. There are times that you can sacrifice for friendship, like watching TV or lying there in bed after the sun reaches its peak.”
“It’s not easy like that, you know,” muttered Jessica.
“Sheesh, I know whatcha mean, Sis. I think that’s part of the reason why you guys came to ‘rescue’ me.”
“Um-hmm, probably so. Well, don’t tell Mom and Pop about this, OK?” Jessica implored.
“Sure thing, Sis,” replied Earth Justin as he left for the main bridge.
Jessica got up and opened her mouth as if preparing to say something, but she never got anything out before Justin was long gone.
A small wimp of a wind fluttered about its business when it was swept aside by more vicious winds emanating from a particular piece of metal flying through the wind. The view from the bridge became clearer and clearer.
“Wow … you don’t get to see this every day,” commented Earth Justin.
Juliya walked up to Earth Justin and smiled at him warmly, like a mother. “I just wanted to tell you that you’ll be staying with us in the palace. You get room #406, which is on the 4th floor, sixth room as you go down the corridor from the main left-wing elevator.”
“Sure,” said Earth Justin.
“Also, don’t fall for any of the girls on the planet, cuz none of them are real,” Juliya warned.
“Sure,” said Earth Justin.
“Here’s some spending money, so you can go and get comfortable with this place before we get to work, yes?”
Earth Justin stared at the lump of $60,000 Conodee Dollars. “What’s the exchange rate?”
“$48 Conodee to one USD, as of last week. The value’s going up pretty quickly, what with the good economy.”
Sara wandered around as the ship began to land. A loud screech jolted most people who were wearing seatbelts while it sent Sara straight into the ceiling, her claws tightly embedded into the metal frame.
“Don’t mess up my ship, girl,” said Emily.
Sara just twitched her nose and jumped back down, pouncing to the window. Little droplets of water were still there from passing through the clouds. Her nose ran into the window and she rubbed it a little. “La-la-la,” she hummed as she wiped the window with her paw, making it even harder to see through.
Emily concentrated on her landing, straining to ignore Sara. Meow-Meow and Meowy were sound asleep, and they would occasionally shed a fur and make Earth Justin sneeze. When the ship landed, Meow-Meow and Meowy were still sound asleep, now snoring. Earth Justin and Sara were staring out the window, Emily was wiping her brow, Nisuna was trying to call her sister, Justin and Juliya were hugging each other, and Jessica had passed out from dizziness.
“Ack, Sis!” cried Earth Justin when he looked at the seat next to him.
“She’ll be fine,” said Emily. “It happens a lot to her. She has a sensitive body.”
“OK,” said Earth Justin as he calmed down.
“Could you carry her to the car?” asked Emily.
“Probably not,” said Earth Justin as he proceeded to put his arms below Jessica’s shoulders and knees. She was surprisingly light, though she did not seem to be very slim – rather, she was of average size. Earth Justin didn’t complain one bit, though, and he still struggled a bit, for his strength was quite insufficient.
“You should try learning some martial arts,” said Sara. “Meow-meow-type, of course. Cats are the masters of all forms of fighting!” The cat grinned and crossed her arms.
“Ookay,” said Justin, “maybe when I have time this weekend or something I can study under you.”
Sara smiled and ran away, leaving the remaining eight to find their cars. When Juliya, Justin, and Jessica found their car, they waved to Earth Justin. Earth Justin gave quick goodbyes to the others, knowing that this would only be temporary. The four J’s got into their car and left for home.
“So, what am I supposed to do here?” asked Earth Justin.
“Well, Bro, I think that you’re supposed to release yourself from certain bonds that lock you from the outside world, like your bond to this world, for instance,” explained Jessica.
“I am not leaving this world behind!” growled Earth Justin.
Jessica cringed and said, “Well, if that is so, maybe you need to find another solution before we make you forget about this place. But that’s definitely not it.”
“What else is there, Jessie?”
“Well, you must also defeat your greatest enemies: your negative emotions.”
“Yeah, right,” said Earth Justin.
Jessica made a serious face and asked, “You do consider them your worst enemies, yes?”
Earth Justin just sighed and looked down, as if that would let him see into himself more clearly.
“You have a boyfriend?” asked Earth Justin spontaneously.
“Nope, no way; there’s no way I could ever have a boyfriend … not ever.”
“Why such a strong denial?”
“All the guys I like … they’re like me … not ready to give up time for a relationship. Like you, I guess.”
“Oh, well, somebody’ll notice you when the time is right, and don’t you turn that guy down just because you gotta study or somethin’, OK?”
“Yeah,” said Jessica, shaking hands with Earth Justin.
“Where do you guys want to eat?” inquired Catleyan Justin from the driver’s seat.
“Anywhere’s fine,” said Earth Justin.
“Yeah, what he said,” said Jessica.
“You bored?” asked Jessica. “I have a CD player and stuff if you want to use them.”
“Nah, I’m fine.”
Earth Justin looked out the window at the beautiful world around him. Everything settled into exactly the right place, a pristine landscape, built by his own imagination. Where was this?
“OK, we’re home!” exclaimed Jessica as the group marched into the palace.
“Ah, Jessica, do you need anything?” asked an administrator.
“Hmm? I don’t believe so … thank you, though. How are the finances working out?”
“Very well, Jessica. Would you like to look over the current calculations?”
“You can leave that to Mom and Dad. I’m gonna show Bro over here the town, OK? Good look on the treasury.”
“Yes, Jessica,” said the administrator as the two bowed to each other. Jessica grabbed Earth Justin’s hand and led him to his room (#406 for those of you who forgot).
“You get ready, Bro. I’ll wait for you downstairs in the reception room,” said Jessica hurriedly. She ran down the hall and disappeared down the stairs. Earth Justin threw his bags into his room and slumped down onto his bed.
<I’m really tired,> thought Earth Justin, <but I don’t want to make Jessica wait too long. Maybe I’ll take a short na-.>
Justin went down with face in the comforter, snoring away. Jessica, meanwhile, was busy watching the latest episode of Nisuna mew Norime, so she didn’t give Justin’s lateness any second thought. Soon, dusk came and Justin was still fast asleep, drooling all over the silken comforter. Nisuna stepped in to take a peek and had the courtesy to lift his head and wipe up the yicky mess.
<Just a little kid,> thought Nisuna as she flew out of the room.
Jessica walked over to the kitchen to watch her mom cook dinner.
“Jessie! Weren’t you supposed to show Justin around town?”
“Ohh!” shouted Jessica, realizing that she had forgotten all about Justin. “Well it’s his fault for not coming down. He must be pooped, so I’ll wait till tomorrow.”
“Whatever you say, Jessie.”
Jessica rushed upstairs, calling out Justin’s name as she did so. <I hope he’s alright. It’s not like him to take his time … at least that’s what I think.>
“Bro!” called Jessica.
Nisuna decided to take matters into her own hands and broke into Justin’s room, shaking the young boy.
“Hey, dude, wake up!” she said, her halo lighting the room.
“Umf … too bright … turn it off, turn it off,” groaned Justin, still half-asleep.
“Wish I could, but you’ll have to put up with it. After all, it is part of me.”
“Huh?” said Justin, puzzled.
“Sleepyhead,” muttered Jessica as she saw that Justin was perfectly fine, albeit a little red in the eyes and completely out of control of his mouth. “Let him rest, Nisuna.”
“Yeah,” said Justin, falling down. Nisuna’s grip on his hair made falling down a little painful. “Yeeouch, you idiot! What are you doing?!”
Jessica looked at Nisuna and deadpanned, “So much for respect for a goddess, right?”
“Hmph, I guess I’ll just stoop down to his level, then,” said Nisuna with a wicked smirk. She began to tickle Justin until he was laughing uncontrollably, forcing Nisuna and Jessica to fall down, giggling hysterically. Jessica, fortunately, landed on soft rug; Nisuna, unfortunately, whipped her head right into the local chair.
“Sheesh, Nisuna, you could be a little more subtle about waking me up.”
“One’d think I didn’t even try,” said Nisuna, rubbing her head after colliding with the chair.
“You OK, Nisuna?” asked Jessica.
“As good as ever – I’m resilient, you know; if I could take on five swordsmen plus the Head-Demoness of the Underworld, I’m sure I could take on a chair.”
“Whatever you say, Nisuna,” stated Jessica, poking Nisuna on the head out of impulse.
“Ow ow ow ow. Hey, I didn’t give you permission to touch my head! It hurts … damn,” cursed Nisuna, noticing a little bleed of white energy.
“Need a Band-aid?” suggested Justin.
“Yes, please,” replied Nisuna. Justin reached into his duffel bag and removed a small bandage.
“Here,” said Justin.
“Thanks … ow ow ow ow,” spat Nisuna.
Jessica and Justin left to go eat downstairs while Nisuna tried to exit via the sky except that the ceiling was in the way. The makeshift siblings heard a crash followed by some cursing from a familiar Queen of the Heavens who had just made contact with a chair earlier.
That evening, Earth Justin ate rather quietly, which was quite in contrast with the restlessness within himself. He was dying to explore the world, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask Jessica to show him the sights and sounds of the city at night. Jessica spared Earth Justin the trouble of asking when she finished dinner early and announced that she was going to take Earth Justin over to the mall. Of course, he was a tiny bit worried – and only this a fraction of a percent of the total worriedness that he had originally felt upon embarking on this trip. This miniscule hesitation, though missed by Jessica and her parents, signified the fact that Earth Justin really hated shopping; of all things to do in the city, he’d save shopping for ‘tomorrow.’
Well, Earth Justin just tagged along because he couldn’t afford to infuriate his newfound sister. They left and were immediately face-to-face with the center of the bright night-time city. People and cats rushed about, transactions were made in various languages; the signs in the city were bilingual by law, for whether or not the nation was of humans, it always had to have its signs readable by the cat population of the world.
Jessica led Justin without touching him, for she feared that others could misunderstand their relationship or something of that sort. Justin understood and acted in accordance. The mall was not far away, and Justin soaked in the glory of the sky and the stars which were barely visible.
“You look like you want to stall here for a bit,” noticed Jessica. Justin just straightened up with wide eyes and shook his head, earning a strange face from Jessica as she brushed the subject aside.
The two entered the large mall largely unnoticed by the population there, and only a few people actually recognized their princess for she dressed like another citizen – no crown, no extravagance – just a sleeveless T-shirt with the latest abstract art feature from the museum on it and glossy-looking gym shorts. This was quite customary of this day and age, for the superequality amendment by Emily made a year back, adopted by the Catleyan United Nations board, advocated equality for all in public and demanded equality for all in legal and governmental situations. The law was the same – for animals, plants, gods, and anything else that could register to be a citizen. Observed by all, it was obvious that the royalty and supernatural forces would just have to take it in stride, and to tell the truth, Jessica couldn’t stand wearing the royal garment anyhow; unlike in Newaegun, where it had long been tradition for women to wear loose pants, it was from Gonosan, and that from Aegunese, tradition for women to have to wear very awkward-fitting dresses and scarf-shawls.
So, very few people took notice of Jessica and Justin as they entered the perplexingly-designed conglomeration of buildings which were pasted together with aerial walkways (the ground, of course, was pure road. Even the trees had to live on the buildings). Jessica led Justin to a store, and Justin shuddered.
“Oh, cut it out,” scowled Jessica. “I’m taking you to check out our electronic technology, not some clothes, OK?”
“Oh, phew,” said Justin, relieved and a bit embarrassed. Jessica hit him lightly on the shoulder and led on. “Ow,” said Justin halfheartedly.
“That didn’t hurt, you wimp,” said Jessica.
“I was saying that for my shirt!” protested Justin.
Jessica stared at Justin and at his shirt and said, “You’re as weird as I am.”
The two arrived at ‘Electronic Mastery, your one stop for Sasika’s blessings,’ Sasika being the wily goddess of modern technology and cell phones.
“What a strange way to put it,” said Justin while Jessica, who was used to such casual religious tie-ins, just shrugged.
Justin nearly fainted when he saw the 65,536 bit game consoles, and the petabyte hard drives.
“What year is it again?”
“For us it’s 7271, but that doesn’t mean much because our year 0 wasn’t like yours – ours marks the end of the old regime of the humans and the beginning of cat domination. So, our modern history essentially starts with the year 0 while yours starts with 3000 or so BC. We’re not that far ahead of you – we’re on the equivalent of maybe 2200 AD for you, except we’ve figured a more important things out. For instance, we’re perfectly stable now in economy and population – 0% growth worldwide and an equal rate of inflation and wage increase. And we have a system of checks and balances between the natunata and the gods, so morality is ensured. So, even though we are only two centuries ahead, we’re millenia ahead in terms of advancement of ‘perfection,’ if you could call it that.”
“I see. Well, do you have any suggestions on what we do here?”
“Get a computer for your room, maybe,” said Jessica. “Or you could play some demo games; doesn’t matter to me. If you get hungry just get me – I’ll be over there – the food court’s out the store, to your right, and down a long way.”
“OK, I’ll see you later then.”
Jessica skipped over to the magazine section to try and figure out how to best upgrade her computer, but she had scarcely opened the cover when a loud snarl from behind her startled her into dropping the magazine on the ground, ripping it.
“Here,” she said in a daze, throwing some money at the cashier to pay for the damaged magazine. The cashier danced around to catch the coinage and managed to halt a split before it could do something discomforting to her miniskirt. <That girl is crazy,> the cashier thought before throwing the money into the cash register’s drawer, which was hungry for money – why else would it open its mouth and stick out its tongue so far?
“Hey, girl, you forgot your change and your receipt!” the cashier said, starting to chase Jessica. After all, if she didn’t follow the girl, Nisuna might whack her on the head and that would be unpleasant indeed.
Justin noticed the two and started to chase them, not realizing that he had not let go of the video game controller and was now nearly breaking the plastic case that enclosed the console.
“You idiot! Drop the controller before you cost me another $300. That dang thing keeps getting smashed about!”
Justin let go as commanded but still had a game in his hand which he had neglected to put down when he started to play the demos. Now, Jessica was following some creature, followed by a cashier, Justin, and a worker, all running like madpeople.
The monster was, in actuality, simply the personification of the emotion of anger, represented by a monster and a girl who rode it. It rampaged around, wreaking havoc on the poor civilians who tried to deter it. They threw umbrellas and smoothies at it, but it simply ate all these items up. Jessica called the police with her phone and waited in a narrow corridor. The cashier, Justin, and the worker squeezed in next to her.
Nisuna descended from the heavens to try and get the disturbed spirits out of there, but they were of extraordinary strength and Nisuna realized that she could not handle these spirits on her own. Even Faxu warned Nisuna that by approaching the creatures, she’d essentially be screwed (of course, Faxu used more offensive synonyms, but one is expected to censor the Head-Demoness).
The monster noticed Jessica and Justin and began to approach their hideout.
“Quickly! Into this door!” directed Jessica, flinging open a door for the other three to go in. They shut the door and soon heard shots being fired.
“The situation is under control,” reported a man with a deep voice that shook a bit when he fired his submachine gun. “It’s a biggie, for sure. Think we should call the gods to help us?”
“Nah, don’t do that. They don’t need to be bothered on trivial matters like this. There’s nobody near those two monsters, right? I’ll throw a bomb to send it flying.”
Jessica started to sweat and decided to try and find a way out the back of the room that she had entered. The room turned out to be a restroom, namely, the women’s restroom. One woman was combing her hair and screeched when she saw Justin and the worker standing there, breathing quickly and sporadically in terror.
“Shut up!” Jessica said with as loud a whisper as she could manage. “There’re two big monsters out there.”
“Oh,” said the woman offhandedly. “That’s no big deal,” she said as she strolled elegantly toward the door.
“Two fuckin’ big spirits from Hell!” screamed Jessica, trying to convince the woman not to commit suicide.
“Yeesh, young lady, clean up your mouth. It’s as dirty as the air in here.”
“Yeah, it does smell like crap in here,” said Jessica with a cute girly smile, holding her nose.
The woman shook her head and bounced to the ceiling when she heard a bloodcurdling roar from right outside the bathroom. “I … think … I’ll … take my time … my curls aren’t exactly right, you know. Yeah, that’s it … so I’ll just … stay here!” she stammered, taking out her comb. Justin and the worker were searching furiously for somewhere to hide – from the potentially angry women in the bathroom rather than the monster.
“You guys, calm down. It’s an emergency, so no one cares. Besides, didn’t you know? All the bathrooms are unisex in this mall. Pretty controversial but superequality, right?”
“Oh,” said Justin.
“Yeah, that’s right,” remembered the worker. “I knew that. It’s just that most of the people in here are women.”
“Sir,” said Jessica in monotone, “there was only one person in here before us, and that was that woman who was combing her hair. That doesn’t count as being ‘most.’”
“Still a majority, I say,” breathed the worker, looking proud. “One ta zero in favor of the women. I say we blast through that wall over there.” The worker pointed at a random spot on the far wall.
“Give it a shot,” said the woman, leaning against the sink, inadvertantly soaking her jacket which went with the rest of her suit.
The worker rammed the wall with all his strength but only a tile from the ceiling fell. The plop was enough to make the worker happy and he said, “See? It is possible.”
Jessica just walked up to the wall and cried some strange incantation of sorts before slamming her fist into the wall, a ball of cool blue and pale yellow energy ripping the wall apart, revealing …
… the food court!
“I’m starving,” said Justin and the worker in unison. The cashier remembered her purpose and stuck out her hands at Jessica, one with the change, the other with the receipt.
“Oh, thanks! You went through a lot of trouble to give this to me, huh?” she said, looking at the objects now in her hand, but the cashier had fled, running and tripping as she went.
Justin and the worker tried to buy out the food from the fastfood restaurant that was right in front of their faces, but Jessica grabbed Justin and the woman with the comb grabbed the worker by the collar and the poor starving men were left whining as the women threw them across to safety.
<Men!> thought Jessica. <Cute and completely useless.>
Justin and worker had enough grace to get up and run blindly in opposite directions, both headed for a wall of sorts. Justin banged into a wood panel and bruised himself while the worker ran through a plastic boundary between the mall corridor and a store and landed on a styrofoam figure meant to advertise clothes.
Jessica nodded and the two women split up to check on the local idiots. Justin was fine and hugged Jessica, whispering to her that she was the best sister that he ever had. The worker mumbled something about hamburgers and got hit by the woman’s purse. The four now began to flee, and the storeowner of the clothes store, too startled by the orange tendrils of the monster to care about what had occurred at his store, fled with his employees. The mall was in chaos and people’s wails and clicking feet were interspersed with short rounds of gun fire. However, guns did little to stop the monster. Jessica and company met up with a hundred other people who were pounding on the dead end of the mall to try and escape.
“Do that cool magic thingy again,” said the worker.
“It’s called a martial arts energy (or chi) blast, man,” Jessica corrected. She attacked the wall and it fell to its knees. “Let’s get out!”
The group immediately regretted listening to Jessica, because the monster had grown so large that it now engulfed the entire parking lot and was closing in on the people. They rushed back inside to be met by another tendril of the monster. The woman atop the monster cackled maniacally, just like villains were supposed to, but she had the eyes of a deeply troubled soul trying to find a job that would serve as penance.
“Why do you hate us?” asked Justin.
The monsters just growled; the scene was interrupted by several gods and goddesses dressed in police uniforms.
“At your service!” they said.
They started attacking with energy, trying to send the monster back home. A large phoenix landed near the people and about a dozen were able to escape. Jessica’s party and a few other people remained for the second ride. The monster was unbelievably strong and was able to nick a few of the gods, but it was not strong enough to seriously damage any of them. What was soon realized, though, was that it was getting stronger.
Justin wondered to himself, <Was I brought here to be rescued, or to rescue these people?> He sat down and closed his eyes, meditating.
“Justin, you OK?” asked Jessica with great concern, the wind blowing her parted bangs into her eyes to cover her teary eyes that had not yet begun to leak.
“Shhh … we’ll be fine,” he said. He felt within his spirit for anger and found it greater than ever.
“I love my parents. I love my brother. I love my friends. I love my sister. I love my goddess. I love my comrades. I love the planet,” he said.
The worker gave a little laugh. <Quite a bit simpler than Jessica’s spell, huh?> However, the declaration of opposite strength caused the angry monster to recoil a bit, giving the gods enough time to knock it a hundred miles away where it would stay, bordering between unconsciousness and consciousness.
“How’d you do that?” asked a police-god, one of the officers in charge of taking care of the life of the planet.
“I think that it’s part of me. It must be related somehow to hate and anger within me, so I fought it with my purest love, which can only be expressed as love. Too bad, though, because I don’t think this’ll be enough next time around. Jessica, Sara, maybe Nisuna if you’re around here somewhere … Meowy, Meow-Meow, Juliya and Justin … Emily … teach me the Art. I will need its focus and techniques to defeat these monsters,” said Earth Justin.
“Then let’s get going, Bro,” beckoned Jessica.
“OK, Justin, first lesson,” said Meowy, master of cat-style fighting. “Sit down and look at that rock.”
“Oh – sure,” said Justin as he sat down stared at the rock.
“At first, this may seem silly, but you must focus on that rock. Now, tell it to turn green.”
Justin looked at the rock and told it to turn green, but it was adamant on staying gray.
“It’s still gray,” said Justin, looking up at Meowy.
“You aren’t doing it the right way. Try again – there are no rules in here, just like in Type I and Type II nonexistences. This is a dream, so all you have to do is contact its energy. In real life, it would take a master’s concentration, but you should be able to do it if you try hard enough.”
Justin tried again and again, but he couldn’t do it since his focus wasn’t right.
“Justin,” said Sara, leaping down from her perch in the tree above, sporting a silver floral gi and a tight band around her hair, “it’s like music. You can feel it – you are in touch with not only yourself but every point of energy in all three planes. It’s just there.”
“Or, Justin,” butted in Nisuna, dressed like a muse, “you can think of the feeling when you are writing poetry with your heart or when you draw a picture of the beauty of nature or of … me … you know what I’m trying to say so don’t look at me like that. Those are all forms of the Art. If you can recreate that power, you can use the energy. However, nobody can tell you how to do it because you must use your own personal way. Maybe music’s the way, maybe it isn’t.”
Justin hummed a little tune and quickly switched to another song. He repeated this process until he came to his violin solo – Saint-Saën’s Third Violin Concerto. The first measure was enough to fuel his spirit and he unleashed a bright red beam that flung the rock a few hundred feet into the distance, landing with a dusty ‘oof.’
“Oo,” said Justin, wiping his sweaty forehead. “It moved.”
“Yay!” cried the girls. Meowy just nodded.
Justin spent the rest of the day trying to focus different types of energy – love, anger, sadness, emptiness. Later that day, Nisuna came to visit Justin.
She spoke evenly, “Don’t waste your time preparing moves that you won’t need. As you don’t fight fire with fire, don’t fight anger with anger. To defeat anger or hatred, use love, and to defeat sadness, use happiness.”
“What’s a happy beam?” asked Justin.
“It isn’t an attack, unlike the love beam, which is essentially an attack in the form of defense of something beloved which softens the opponent. A happy attack utilizes kindness to turn the enemy to your side. You’ll understand later. Just be cautious not to attack a sad fiend with a depression blast, because its energy could increase the enemy’s strength.”
“We should work on your agility and endurance. Let’s see you run a mile; I’ll run with you.”
“No cheating with your wings,” said Justin.
“What makes you think I would?” asked Nisuna with an innocent gesture of the eyebrows.
The two took off, but Nisuna was obviously in top condition, and she was at the finish line before Justin was even half-way to the end.
“Too slow, man. The enemy is quick and capable. Don’t underestimate the enemy by assuming that raw strength is all that matters. Spar with me for a moment,” Nisuna said when Justin wheezed over to the finish line.
Nisuna enveloped the world in darkness and forced Justin to sense his foe. Justin did not complain and simply set to work, trying to hear footsteps. He threw a few punches forward to scout the area and then attempted to back flip to dodge what sounded like a strong horizontal swipe. Being clumsy, though, he fell and hit a branch, which Nisuna mistook for a rock. She quickly restored light and rushed to Justin’s side, though Justin thought that he was still to spar. Making sure that he was not caught off guard, he flipped onto the tree and held himself away from gravity. Then, he used a twirl kick on the unprepared Nisuna, knocking her back. The break her fall, she opened her wings and landed softly on a riverbed.
“Um … stop for a moment. Good job not leaving yourself vulnerable, but I meant to check if you were OK.”
“Oh, sorry,” Justin said, turning a little red.
For the rest of daylight, Nisuna corrected as many of Justin’s flaws as she could. She oftentimes grew frustrated, but she had, long ago, learned how to calm herself. Night came and Nisuna offered to spar before bedtime; Justin agreed.
The two just stood there for at least five minutes, listening to the bugs wriggle out of their nests to chirp to their loves and to orchestrate the slow waltz of the stars. The moons were bright and looked to cross each other at about 8,80 (with ten hours in a day and a hundred minutes in an hour). Nisuna swam through the air to achieve her balanced battle stance; she would keep her focus but would pull her punches and move more slowly to allow for Justin to have practice on a reasonable level.
Justin leapt up to attack with a feint-punch kick but Nisuna sidestepped to avoid this and threw a counterattack of her own. Noticing the sudden rustle of Nisuna’s sloppily-rolled-up sleeve, he lifted an arm to block but had it severely bruised in the process.
<Eep,> thought Nisuna, <guess he’s weaker than I thought.> She decided to lighten up a bit and jumped over to the nearest tree-branch, a few meters up.
Justin considered throwing an energy ball but realized that the luminescent quality of such an attack would easily reveal his position and reconsidered. Not knowing Nisuna’s current position, he stood his ground, hands shaking in anticipation of a coming assault. However, Nisuna was simply biding her time, knowing that Justin would have to either attack or would fall asleep.
Justin heard the wind start to blow in his direction and decided to leap over to a large meadow near the forest. He moved at least thirty meters away to be able to take advantage of the wind. Nisuna followed him, wondering what he was up to.
Justin waited the for the wind to blow again and tried to feel how the wind was being bent by objects around him. The wind showed a large “dent” about the size of a human coming from Justin’s front left. Twirling about, the wind changed direction and Justin jumped into it just when it gathered enough strength to disturb Nisuna’s hearing with its whistling. Nisuna noticed Justin only when he was at point blank range, and he let loose a weak stunner blast which lit Nisuna’s shirt for a little bit. Justin quickly aimed his hand at her neck and she yielded, smiling.
“You’re getting better,” she said as she picked him up and flew him over to the palace where he was staying. He noticed Jessica on the roof, starbathing or something like that in her pajamas. Justin waved at Jessica to get Nisuna to release him there.
“Thanks for the training and the ride,” said Justin.
“No problem,” said Nisuna, vanishing from the real world.
“Justin,” said Jessica softly. “You were gone for a long time; I got a little worried. Next time, tell me you’re going to be out late dating a goddess and I’ll understand.”
“I wasn’t dating her!” Justin exclaimed defensively.
Jessica walked up to Justin and poked him in the shoulder. “Too sensitive. It isn’t a bad thing, what I just said, you know? Many girls would kill to date a god, heh, and Nisuna really likes you, doesn’t she?”
“Not that way,” said Justin, “at least I hope not.”
“I was just joking, Justin! C’mon, lighten up a bit. Nisuna’d never tell anybody, but she still loves Takunan. She will never give up on him, even when she does marry a guardian god and have the first child of the new generation, where guardian and ruler-class gods will have no distinction.”
“But he died thousands of years ago, didn’t he?”
“Love leaves behind its barbed whip, Justin – its tail is dangerous. That’s why Mom told you not to fall for any girls here.”
“Yeah, I get it. But there isn’t much tail to worry about if you haven’t even fallen in love yet!”
“Do you think the stars are pretty tonight?” asked Jessica.
“Yeah, they look nice,” responded Justin. “Think one of them’s mine?”
“Nope – your star’s waaaay too dim and small.”
Jessica breathed rhythmically, her chest expanding and deflating with each breath, a sure sign of liveliness. Justin watched its quiet push-ups and was mesmerized by how it seemed to have a life on its own; he didn’t realize that there were other organs in the female chest other than the lungs that a girl could be very sensitive about.
“It ain’t right to look at your sister like that, you know?” Jessica said.
“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t doing anything, you know, I was just … watching your lungs and stuff … yeah.”
Jessica decided to minimize efforts and just hit Justin with a weak slap. “Pervert,” she whispered.
“I am not a pervert! Why do you keep giving me such a hard time about these petty things?!” Justin yelled, snapping a bit internally.
Jessica was alarmed and held Justin’s shoulders. “Are you OK? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK? I didn’t mean any harm; I didn’t know you’d care that much. I know you weren’t being a pervert, I know you don’t have a girlfriend, I was just … I guess I screwed up. I hope my prayer tonight can get me off the hook.”
“What do you mean?” asked Justin. “You’re not guilty of anything at all.”
“It’s against the teachings of Aizifa to say mean things, even if they are a joke, unless they are explicitly declared jokes beforehand. I’m sorry, I guess I sounded a little serious. I guess you think I’m an idiot just like my parents now, right? Maybe I just am an idiot, I just don’t want to accept it because I am an idiot.”
“Sis, don’t say that about yourself. You’re a very smart girl who just needs to have the mood a little lighter sometimes because your life is so serious. It isn’t your fault – I know how you feel. If you wanna laugh the night away, I can prompt you.”
“Well, here goes … and this is a joke.”
“You’d better not be teasing me!” said Jessica, her straight face not holding very well.
“Hah, you think I …”
~Fade to black~
“Jab, jab, feint, counter, flip. Yes, you're getting it!” exclaimed Meowy and Catleyan Justin while watching Earth Justin practice with Meow-Meow.
The two finished and bowed to each other; then, Earth Justin got out of the training hall and ran straight for the shower, dripping sweat as he went. Jessica noticed these drips and followed him, preparing to tell him to wipe them up. She followed him to the bathroom and noticed that it was the bathroom and didn’t think twice about it.
“Jessica, you aren’t going to enter that, are you?” asked Meowy.
“Oh … oh, my! That’s the bathroom, right?”
“Yup,” said Meowy. “And somebody’s in there.”
“Whatever, Jessica. Wait for your brother out here; I’ll tell him to hurry up.”
Jessica turned her back on the door and slid down to the ground, crossing her legs.
“HURRY UP!” Meowy shouted from where he was.
“YAAAAAHHH!!” A loud bang followed by a splash was heard.
“Justin!” shrieked Jessica. “Bro, wait up, don’t worry and don’t you dare pass out!” Jessica barged into the bathroom and saw exactly what she suspected – a figure in the shower, image blurred by the shower door of modesty, fallen over.
“Can you hear me?” asked Jessica. Justin failed to respond and Jessica began to get dizzy from the stress. She debated whether or not to open the door and check on Justin, but it wasn’t much of a debate. If he wasn’t helped, he could be drinking water while unconscious, or he could be bleeding to death. She flung the door open and found Justin quite out of it; she called Meowy to get Justin to save herself some embarrassment, but Meowy had gone to get the doctor and was nowhere to be seen. Jessica grumbled and picked up Justin in the same way he had picked her up at the beginning of his stay. She blushed a bit and decided to throw some towels around Justin; she carried him out to the sofa and laid some blankets on top of his towels. She noticed a small red stain on one of the pillows and almost went berserk thinking that it could have been the head, which would mean almost instantaneous death.
Jessica tried to find the wound and found a scrape on the back and a small cut on the backside of the head. “You’ll be fine,” she said urgently.
Meowy was leaping down the hallway to get back to Jessica; a doctor was struggling to keep up.
“There you are!” cried Meowy. “Is Justin alright?”
“He should be fine,” said Jessica softly. “Only small injuries, really.”
Justin regained his senses a few minutes or so later, but he felt too weak to get up or even to lift his eyelids to see what was going on. He could feel a warm arm bandaging his back and his head, but it meant nothing to him at the time.
Suddenly, he felt a light hammer-whack and suddenly had the urge to apologize to Jessica for this whole mess.
“I’m really sorry, Jessica, I didn’t mean to cause you so much trouble,” he blurted from out of the blue.
Jessica was startled but managed to squeak, “Oh, it’s nothing at all.”
Nisuna hit Justin again, because she felt that he hadn’t repented for all his slip-ups from his stay. Sweeps of guilt hit him again and again.
“Sorry that I exploded last night; I didn’t mean to hurt you any more than I already had.”
“Sorry that I stereotyped you and thought that you were going to take me clothes shopping.”
“Sorry that I called you guys kidnappers.”
“Sorry that I carried you a bit awkwardly when you fainted.”
“Sorry that I accidentally dropped the soap in the bathroom.”
“Sorry that I didn’t rush you out to safety and shield you during that incident at the mall.”
“Sorry that I’m such an idiot, Jessica, just forgive me!”
Jessica was shocked by the onslaught of apologies and, for a moment, couldn’t react to them. “Stop, Justin! Have you gone mad? Did the bathtub fray your neurons or something?”
“It’s Nisuna! [To Nisuna:] Why the hell are you messing with me like this?! This is way overboard! I already said sorry! No, no, no!” he shouted, clutching his head with his hands. Jessica caught him as he collapsed onto the ground in tears of pain and guilt.
“It’s OK, Justin,” whispered Jessica, mentally reproaching Nisuna. Nisuna immediately retracted her arm and flew away.
“Ack,” coughed Justin as he began to vomit; Jessica barely dodged the vile liquid. “Doctor!”
The doctor quickly pulled out a bowl to handle the mess, and she checked Justin’s temperature. He was heavily sweating and seemed to have a fever. “Are you sick?”
“Not in the normal way. I think my internal stability is breaking down. Maybe this is a sign that it is time to face my emotions,” reasoned Justin.
“I understand,” said the doctor, “but I am no psychologist, so I would not know what exactly is wrong with you. All I can say is that I hope that you get better.”
“Thank you,” said Justin. “Where’s Nisuna, by the way?”
“Probably at some shoreline sniffling or something,” said Jessica crossly.
“Why are you so pissed off?” asked Justin.
“That girl … overstepping her bounds like that – she’s gonna drive you to suicide or something if she keeps that up! She needs to know when to stop; you shouldn’t have to feel guilty so much … you know … you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about messing up once in awhile, about feeling natural desires, about every little thing!”
“It’s OK,” said Justin. “It’s her job.”
Jessica looked at Justin and he returned the gaze weakly with as definitive a smile as he could make.
“Let’s go and see her,” said Justin. “I can’t stand the thought of her crying into the sea because of this, especially because she is such a good goddess.”
“Good goddess …,” said Jessica, dripping irony.
“She’s a good girl, let’s not antagonize her for a minor slip up and make her feel guilty, cuz that’d be doing the same thing she did to us. Judge her by the Aizuna; she perhaps harmed me, but she has been keeping me from getting hurt.”
“Don’t think I’m ignorant to your random bouts of depression and occasional thoughts on self-destruction. I’m like you … I’m part of you, remember? I’m your imaginary buddy here, and I know what you think. Remember our first conversation on that airship?”
“Yeah,” said Justin, remembering the brief chat.
“She’s been hurting you for a long time. Go and give her a piece of your mind.”
“She’s hurt enough as it is. I’m going to apologize, whether you like it or not.”
“It isn’t her that’s talking, is it?”
“No, it isn’t. I have a conscience apart from Nisuna, you know.” Justin jumped out the window and landed on the grass, making a small whoosh before leaping off toward Nisuna.
guy … the shore is at least a hundred miles from here,” said Jessica to
herself. “Mom, Dad?” she called. “I’m going to go and get Justin, OK?”
“Just be back as soon as possible, Jessie.”
Jessica met up with Justin at a crossroads; he was somewhat tired and completely aloof.
“Bro, you’re on a wild goose chase. You may know that Nisuna is near the sea, but she could be anywhere; plus the shore is a hundred miles from here.”
“Wha?” exclaimed Justin. “How am I supposed to get there, then?”
“Use a ship,” said Jessica as she whistled for Emily who had been following the two.
Meanwhile, Nisuna had long since quit crying and was now readying her mind and spirit to fight, for she had resolved to take care of the anger spirits herself to regain Justin’s trust and love. She felt that she had betrayed her creator and that he no longer cared for her, as the Heavens had ceased to care for her true love, who was mercilessly murdered by the gods seven and a half thousand years earlier.
She drew her staff-wand and planted it into the ground to gather light energy to fight the spirits with; this action attracted the attention of the spirits, who began to close in on the lone figure on the beach.
“Hey, long time no see,” said Emily, smacking Justin on the back. “Welcome aboard; need anything?”
A cheery voice came from behind. “La-la-la?” it sang.
<Sara?> wondered Justin.
Sara faced Justin and pointed backwards with her thumb, almost as a hitchhiker would, but obviously pointing at something. “Mawy there has something to say to you, I think.”
“Yah, Mawy,” said Sara as she yawned.
Justin walked prudently to the meeting room, wondering what was wrong.
“I’ve been tracking the spirits,” began Meowy, “and they seem to be heading for the coastline.”
“Nisuna?” asked Justin.
“Exactly what I’ve been suspecting. We have to be prepared for anything; Nisuna may not know that she is great danger, even if she is a High Goddess, because she has little experience, unlike Shennchusko for instance, who’s been around for 200 million years and knows quite a bit about fighting spirits. She’s young and hasty at times, wise as she may seem.”
“What about Juliya and Justin?” asked Justin.
“We’ve contacted them and they should be docking with us momentarily.”
“Maw-Maw is back there,” said Meowy, looking back and earning a wave from a fuzzy paw.
“What’s with you cats’ pronunciations of ‘Meow?’”
“We’re tired of saying ‘Meow’ so we say ‘Maw’ for now,” stated Meowy.
Justin blinked and bit and left, thinking about the imminent clash. <Will I win? Do I really die if I lose this battle?>
<Yes, you do,> came a floaty voice. <You’ll go mad. But there is nothing to worry about, because if you believe, then you will win.>
<Who are you?> Justin asked.
<Why, I’m the fish next to you!> came the same voice.
Justin pivoted to search for fish and found a big rainbow trout sitting in a chair, smiling.
“Nice t’meetcha, huh?” said the fish. The fish let the rainbow flow around, each scale changing color every few seconds.
“You’re … Shennchusko right?”
“Yeah,” said the fish as she transformed into a middle-aged woman with purple-blue hair. “Don’t think that we’ll just be sitting around watching you fight. Everybody’ll help you, at least on this first battle.”
“There’ll be another battle? Tell me – I know you know – you’re the goddess of destiny!”
“Well, there’s a 69% chance that you’ll have to fight a second battle right after the first one.”
“What about the chance that I win the first battle?”
“I can’t calculate that for you because your faith is foreign to me. Not your faith in God, but your faith in what is,” said Shennchusko, flipping her hands up and raising her shoulders as to say ‘too bad.’
“Oh, well. I think we’ll be fine.”
“That’s the spirit. Unfortunately, Nisuna in quite a crunch right now. Poor idiot, I must say. She’s trying to beat it herself so that no one else has to get involved. She knows that thousands will die if they try to fight it, but she might die, too.”
“Argh,” said Justin, his own conscience filling him with genuine guilt. “Let’s hurry up, then.”
“Good idea,” said Catleyan Justin and Juliya from behind. “Everybody ready?”
“I need to distribute the weapons,” said Emily. “Just hold up, everybody, I’ll get them in just a sec.”
Meowy waved her off. “Don’t bother to get up; I’ll get them.” He grabbed a large package from an overhead compartment and opened it. This revealed eight weapons, one for each member of the party.
“Normal citizens won’t be involved, will they?” asked Earth Justin.
“Only top soldiers will be allowed to participate. We want only a winning team, and quantity isn’t quality.”
“RPG-like?” asked Earth Justin.
“Sorta, but everyone’ll be there and you don’t need to give out instructions. We all know what to do, but only you can tame the beasts. The spirits will be drawn to you, so we will divert it but you’ll have to hurry up or we’d be dead meows,” said Meowy.
“You mean dead maws?” corrected Earth Justin.
“Shut up,” said Meowy. “Just grab your weapon.” He threw a multi-bladed sword-rod to Earth Justin.
“You hit stuff with it,” described Meowy.
Meowy handed out the rest of the weapons: a throwing knife with a small bit of spirit within it to bind it to its good user for Jessica, a long blade for Juliya, a normal-sized sword for Justin, a gun for Emily, a rod for Meow-Meow, a lance for Sara, and a spear for Meowy.
“These are tools for delivering the blasts, but are useless in contact with the spirits if not charged. Do you understand?” verified Meowy.
“Yes,” said everyone in various intonations.
The spaceship hurtled along its path to the coastline where Nisuna was still fooling around with some rituals and her little wand.
“Spirits of Natu and Nata, sense my presence and aid me in battle!” she yelled into the wind. Natu and Nata were sprawled on their bellies, used to being the world and nothing else. They managed a small grunt before their spirits returned to Catleya where they belonged.
“Oh, well, it was worth a shot,” said Nisuna with resignation. “It looks like Catleya’s too busy protecting itself from harm to take the offensive. I hope I don’t screw this up because more than my honor is at stake here.”
She drew her wand out of the sand and let it start absorbing energy – it radiated a seafoam green aura and turned the beach into an impressionist’s dream. Large red tendrils shot out from the horizon, tugging the giant spirit with it.
Nisuna hurled several streams of energy at the spirit, causing some of its tendrils to double back, throbbing in pain. However, the body was undaunted and it rose up as a column and many heads budded out of its one, all rushing towards the goddess, who dodged with relative ease. The spirit drew on its own anger to bind its heads back into one long body and instead grow thousands of arm-like branches to overtake Nisuna. Taking to the air, she could only dodge the branches as they inched closer to her.
Though her prowess was world-renowned, the creature was far too strong, and it seized Nisuna’s frail body in one swipe, bringing her into its heart where the second spirit was sitting, a hatred so deep that the spirit glowed the emotion. Nisuna transformed her body into a strange monster, hoping to be able to slither out of the prison, but the second spirit caught her leg and drew her in.
“Loser,” said the spirit, clenching her teeth in anger, not even able to form a malicious smile.
Nisuna recalled a proverb and recited, “A hidden desire is a greatest weakness.”
The spirit looked puzzled and flashed a quick cameo of her sharp teeth before lunging toward Nisuna, who was cornered within the larger red spirit.
“What is your motive, miss?” asked Nisuna respectfully.
The spirit’s attack faltered for a moment, and she had scarcely enough time to scream before she was knocked aside by Emily’s starship.
“Grab the ladder!” cried Juliya as she flung down a really long piece of string.
“You call this a ladder?” screamed Nisuna over the roar of the engine.
“Just hold on and we’ll be outta here as soon as possible!” instructed Juliya.
Nisuna just flew up into the starship, leaving Juliya to smack to her head in shame.
“Well,” Nisuna said, brushing off her off-white shirt and shorts, “thanks.”
“Nice to see you again … and alive,” said Earth Justin.
The ship landed a few hundred meters from the large spirit’s center and commenced a foot-assault on the enormous blob.
“Emily, Nisuna, Meow-Meow, and Catleyan Justin, you attack its left side; Juliya, Meowy, Jessica, and Sara, you attack its right side. Earth Justin, you do your stuff; we’ll be available for back-up if you need it,” said Shennchusko.
“Where exactly are you gods going to be?” asked Jessica.
Shennchusko pointed at the sky and said, “We’ll be attacking from above to distract it and stuff be we aren’t strong enough to face it; you have been endowed with amazing supernatural strengths by the world, so use them. We will also be trying to get everyone to keep their spirits in the realm of the goodness and to be at peace with the world. Only then can you succeed. This monster is more than just Justin’s hatred; it is also the hatred of every inhabitant in this world.”
“Can’t I fight with Justin?” implored Juliya.
“Sweetie,” cooed Shennchusko before changing her voice, “of course you can! The love you and Justin generate when in close proximity could kill that spirit before anyone else could! Who’ll switch with Juliya?”
“I will,” volunteered Emily. Juliya and Catleyan Justin were blushing their faces away and looked to be doing so for a long time until Emily and Nisuna pushed them together. They gently kissed each other before everyone departed from the ship.
The larger spirit choked the land below it, causing a large crack and a big black line streaked across the beach. One of its arms grabbed the smaller spirit and the two combined into a large beast with many tentacles and legs.
“Ror?” it said in a light voice as a warm-up to, “ROOOOOAAAARRR!!!”
Everyone’s hair was blown back a bit, and Nisuna’s meticulous style was slightly ragged up, which wouldn’t have been so bad save for the fact that her bangs, without being lifted in their usual fashion, could completely block her view. She knocked her bangs upward with a slight jolt of her wand and discovered a cheap form of hairspray.
Emily took aim and fired rapidly at the red monster’s tentacles near its heart to open a path for Justin to take. Jessica caught on with the plan and threw her knife at the ground so that it bounced up and hacked of several tentacles before returning safely to her hand. With shrieks of confidence, Sara and Meowy launched a double-cat attack to hinder the monster’s ability to see. Noticing aches in his right side, the spirit spun ninety degrees and started the flood the area with its cytoplasmic fluid to trap the four fighters. Earth Justin took this opportunity to leap up and try out his new weapon.
Focusing on his love of the four rightside fighters in peril, he spun the twin-bladed bouquet-sword and sliced at the creature, which bellowed in confusion as its antithesis energy entered it and swirled around in its blood. “For my world and my life!” shouted Justin before he drilled the sword into the monster’s head. The spirit was merely irritated and knocked Justin down; he was caught by Juliya, who cradled him until his eyes opened again and he scrambled out of her arms. On the other side, the monster’s left (as in our right), Justin was checking on Juliya while Nisuna was following the gods’ instructions to forget about the tentacles and attack directly into the innards of the creature, where the source of its power lay, feeding on hatred in the world.
The gods began a campaign around the world to get people to genuinely get along better, for that would be the only way to save the world, but there was still great hatred of the aliens who had attacked continuously during modern times, disrupting the peace that the post-technological age was supposed to bring. People unknowingly and unwillingly continued to fuel a large hatred of the Ifuexians, commonly known as the “Badguylanders” for their lack of order and moral. Unbeknownst to our characters in Catleya, the “Goodguyland,” something was stirring in Ifuexia which could help the heroes in Catleya.
Historically, the Ifuexians had been nothing but pure trouble for the Catleyans, considering their direct involvement in corruption, robbery, war, and so on down the list of evils that could be committed. As would be expected, they were soon stereotyped as dark lords as evil as the demons, which was as untrue about the Ifuexians as was an equal statement concerning the demons. Just as the demons were known to occasionally perform a nice deed, such as when Faxu rescued Nisuna at the end of the Holy-Human Wars, the Ifuexians were willing to accept change for the better. It was the influence of the corrupt government and the untamed greed that turned their society into the mess that it was in at this point of time.
“You must pull out, now!” shouted Shennchusko from the gods’ sniping post in the sky. “There is a strange source of energy that is feeding this monster so that it can regenerate far too quickly. We must resolve this problem quickly, but in the meantime, you should pull out and let us hold it at bay. You go and find out the energy source and take it out; don’t worry about us.”
Earth Justin nodded at the others and raced back to the ship, constantly looking around the make sure that his colleagues were fine and that the monster was not following; it was indeed stationary.
“Who do the people hate?” wondered Justin aloud. As if on cue, a small spaceship hurtled out of the sky and made contact with a mountain, shaking the rocks and awakening a few trees.
“Huh?” said Justin. “Let’s go and see what that was all about.”
Jessica was not convinced that that course of action would work. “Bro, we have little time here, so, no offense, but we can’t waste our time exploring alien spaceships.”
“I have a feeling that this was not just a coincidence. The ship must be important in some way, and, perhaps, may even lead us to find out source of hatred.”
Emily believed in Justin and landed her ship next to the smoldering piece of space junk.
“How could anybody’ve survived that kind of impact? Must’ve been in a rush.”
A small knock on the door made everyone take a deep breath. Justin walked towards the door, weapon in hand, with the other eight ready for action. He opened the door and revealed a young woman who instantly started to shiver in fear.
“What’s wrong?” asked Justin, but he was pushed aside by Emily, who was apparently trying to do much more than just blast poor woman’s head off.
“Emily, calm down! What’s gotten into you?” asked Justin, but Emily would not respond. She held the gun at the woman’s head and everybody else simply froze. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered.
Only Jessica stuck up for Justin at first, but Juliya was quick to agree with a peaceful resolution. However, their expressions were far from being the same. Jessica’s eyes held innocent thoughts, and her thoughts were that Emily must’ve gone mad. Juliya’s eyes held an air of experience, and her thoughts were centered on forgiveness.
“Let her go, Emily,” said Juliya with great force. “It does no good if she is dead, especially with that monster feeding off of your hatred at this very moment.”
Emily did not move, nor did she even appear to be listening to Juliya’s advice.
“What’s going on?” demanded Earth Justin.
“Dude,” said Meowy, “she’s the stupid queen of Ifuexia. Only surviving child of the royal family after Intergalactic War II, commonly known as the Final War.”
“Um, everybody?” said the supposed queen, who looked more like a troubled college student than the symbol for evil, for the first time, catching everyone’s attention and having the gun nuzzle her hair a little more affectionately.
“What are your final words?” asked Emily, face red with rage.
“I … uh … came here for your help,” said the queen.
“Pretty sucky final words, if you ask me,” spat Emily.
“I guess you could kill me if you wanted to, if it would calm down your hearts, though I’d really appreciate it if you’d put that gun down.”
“Emily, give it up,” pleaded Juliya. “Your mom was killed by her mom, and they’re both in their graves now, so let it be. Ninoma here hasn’t committed any atrocities.”
Emily finally let her guard down and relctantly let Queen Ninoma into the ship.
“What makes you think that we’d want to support your treachery?” asked Emily.
“My head advisor is trying to assassinate me because the people are slaughtering each other in my name. They’ve been committing crimes with my name, and he considers me a threat to public security, though his crew is just as subversive and amoral. I need someone to help me restore stability to our land … it has been too long. Believe me, I’ve mourned for all the people my parents killed, and I have just as much a right to hate you as you have to hate me. You guys were the ones who killed all my siblings, including my big sister, who was the most innocent lady ever born to our family. She tried to call my other brothers and sisters in but she got blown up with the same bomb that blew the rest of my family up. And you blasted my mom until she died and did the same to my dad. Do you think that I do not have feelings, too? But the past is the past and I am willing to forgive everyone because I’ve seen the carnage of war and I don’t want it to ever ravage the galaxies again. Please, I entreat you,” spoke Ninoma.
nine paused in thought and Nisuna felt that it was her turn to say something.
“Ninoma, I will forgive you in the name of Aizifa. My teachings say that forgiveness should be given where it is deserved. Without a doubt, you are honest in your words, for I can see through your thoughts and they are pretty much pure.”
“Can’t I at least punch you?” asked Emily.
“Just don’t kill me,” said Ninoma mock-seriously. Emily gave a weak hit to Ninoma’s chest and then bowed.
“Let’s get to business, shall we?” Emily said, returning to her normal, upbeat mood.
“Yeah, let’s,” said Ninoma with a smile.
The table was pretty big and was pretty bored (not to be confused with it being boring). It just had to sit there all day and be a table, one of the most mundane jobs ever invented for a piece of metal.
“I know how to stop the monster,” said Earth Justin.
“Well, no duh, we all knew that the moment Emily blew up at me,” said Ninoma.
“We did?” asked Jessica. Ninoma just chuckled uncomfortably and gave a cute smile.
“Maybe if we can get Ifuexia a new start, people will finally begin the true peace of this new era in history where things have finally settled down,” offered Earth Justin. “We must hurry, lest the gods will be … uh … dead.”
“That monster’s quite a doozy,” commented Ninoma. “I’ll help you fight him.”
“No,” said Emily. “You have a queendom to rule, and you should focus on that.”
Everybody started to laugh.
“What’s wrong?” asked Emily.
“Nothing,” said Earth Justin as he looked at the clock: 5,50 – just after noon.
The peace talks were going violently, with brawls breaking out every few minutes, even over the most minor of things.
“Sir!” saluted a soldier to the head advisor of Ifuexia, Mr. Goov. “We have reports that Ninoma has defected to our traditional enemies! We must seize this opportunity to show the public that you are the one made to rule!”
“Then get to work,” ordered Goov. Goov strutted around his, or rather Ninoma’s, palace in his extravagant garb. <I am goood,> he thought.
“Now, as I was saying,” started Goov, “I am sure that we can come to an agreement – your citizen representative group and my administration. We will allow you your rights but I must be allowed to be king if that is to be assured. Ninoma is out of the picture; I now proclaim myself legitimate heir to the throne, for she has fled to some scum Catleyan location to seek refuge.”
“I see. I have no objections to your rule, given that we do not end up in the same sort of mess as under King Urujius and Queen ‘Slimy Salamander,’” said the representative.
“Very well,” said Goov. “That will be honored.”
“That will not cut it, Sir Goov; you must sign this contract which binds you by law.”
Goov grumbled but grudgingly signed his name at the bottom of the contract.
“Ninoma, are you sure we can get there in time?” asked Jessica for the fourth time.
“Yes,” replied Ninoma simply, restraining frustration because it could ruin her chances of regaining the Ifuexian throne.
Emily fidgeted with the controls, because the incredible speed meant less maneuverability and more big rocks to dodge per minute.
“Hey, Emily,” said Nisuna casually.
“What? Can’t you see I’m busy?” Emily groaned irritably.
“Don’t mess up,” advised Nisuna.
“Do you want me to hurt you?!” said Emily. “Well, thanks for the advice, anyway. It’s as good as any I’ve heard lately. Of course, now I’m going start sweating and my hand’ll slip, but that’s all in good fun, right?”
“Exactly,” answered Nisuna as she went back to pacing around.
“You’re bored,” said Ninoma.
“So am I.”
Nisuna just dropped to the ground, nearly asleep.
“Sis?” called Justin.
“You think I’ll ever wake up in the morning?”
Jessica looked puzzled and said, “What do you mean? Like you’ll die?”
“I mean like I’ll never escape this dream. Like I’ll never want to or something.”
Jessica looked at Justin sternly. “There’s nothing for you here, Bro, you need to find your place in your world, not in mine. We’ll all miss you, but we understand. Did you have anything else you wanted to talk about?”
“Yeah, but it’s … sorta private.”
“You can trust me,” said Jessica.
“But …,” hesitated Justin.
“Listen to me, Bro! You don’t open up then you’re stuck like a crab for the rest of your life. If you keep your secrets to yourself, you’ll go crazy. What is it?”
Justin closed his eyes and started his rant. “I am sick of feeling obligated to do things. I don’t want to do a project for a change. I don’t want to study. I want to be myself and have my own time to write and stuff.”
“Hah, I feel like we’ve had this conversation already.”
“We probably have, but I need to say more. I feel lonely a lot, but I am afraid to open up. Tell me what I told you when we had this conversation last time.”
“Yeah, that’s right!” chirped Jessica. “About my friends and my parents? You said –“
“Don’t tell me that I said it. Say it in your own words.”
“Be who you are, Bro. You don’t need to do everything that other people tell you to do. Be good and that’s enough to let God know that you care about His teachings. Study but don’t get so used to living your life in work that you forget how to play. Have fun; God won’t mind,” said Jessica.
“Aren’t you an Aizifalianist – lots of gods and all?” asked Justin.
“Silly, that’s all the same to me. Nisuna and all the other gods put together, they are symbols of God in a way. They’re your way of handling religion because you are a scientist. This is your world, and you put it together. I may not be Christian or even monotheistic, but you can sense something there, in the universe. The spirit of the world, do you understand? Maybe you can achieve peace by coming to terms with the world.”
Justin was a bit peeved at this. “I don’t want to be dependent on God for guidance.”
Jessica shrugged and continued, “You don’t have to be. I am happy and I don’t bug Nisuna every day for help. If you can find your own way, be my guest and follow it!”
“What has this got to do with friends and studying?” asked Justin, becoming confused once again.
“I know what you seek,” said Jessica quietly. “You want to know the meaning of life, and I know it.”
“What?! Then tell me!” said Justin.
“Don’t be so hasty, Justin. I cannot speak it, but I can describe the path for you. Close your eyes and fall into yourself.”
“OK,” said Justin.
“Now, look around. What do you see?”
“Kind faces, a beautiful fountain … but it’s so foggy I can’t see much else,” admitted Justin.
“What color is the fog?” asked Jessica.
“It’s red and purple,” said Justin.
“Then you are not at peace with yourself nor the world. It looks like I’m gonna hafta leave you at this cliffhanger till we go and beat up those spirits that are eating at this world.”
“No prob, Bro; you can always talk to me if you need help, though it’d be much better if you could talk to some of your real friends. Just know this: a feeling of perfect sense will touch you when you stumble upon the meaning of life. Love people and you’re halfway there.”
Justin shook Jessica’s hand and went back to the crew.
“How’re we doing?” asked Jessica.
“We’re almost there,” said Ninoma, drooling.
“Ewww,” said Sara.
“Oh, sorry!” said Ninoma. She quickly wiped up the mess and straightened herself out.
Sara bounced over to Emily’s side.
“Ya think we’re being played with?” asked Sara , cocking her head towards Emily to check her facial response.
“Yeah, that’s what I think, too,” said Sara.
“What?” asked Emily.
Sara said, “This is the only thing we can do.”
Ifuexia was officially under the rule of King Goov, and the first thing he did was award the citizen representative group governmental positions to secure public support. His agenda was less than spotless, though; among his plans were an attack on Catleya for resources, the execution of many people to strike obedience into the people, and many more bad things (of course!).
Suddenly, a large ship appeared in the skies.
“Ah! Just like the old times,” shouted Emily with glee. “Action and adventure, here we come!”
“Hey, watch it,” said Ninoma. “There’s a big twist this time, and that’s me.”
“Oh? You’re completely at our mercy, Ms. Ninoma, so it’s just too bad if you don’t want to come with us.”
“Just be quiet,” scowled Ninoma. She scanned the view and pointed to a castle.
“That’s my home.”
“OK, then let’s head there,” said Emily.
“Eeeeek!” screamed Sara.
“What, see a mouse?” asked Meowy.
Sara fumed a bit and said, “No! Like, Ninoma, you got a bathroom in your house?”
“What’s wrong with the one on this ship?” asked Emily.
“It’s clogged and there isn’t any plumbing device!” said Sara.
“Oops,” said Justin. The others just looked at him with disappointment hanging in their eyes.
“Just piss out the window, Sara,” said Emily.
“Unlike some uncultured people here, I don’t pee on people’s heads and cars. I am a cat and I’m proud of it!” said Sara, holding up a fist before starting to dance around in a frenzied state of having to go to the bathroom.
Justin rushed to the bathroom to try and unclog it by flushing the toilet. Catleyan Justin smiled as he remember previous bathroom experiences and Juliya looked at Catleyan Justin with suspicion. “What’re you thinking about?” asked Juliya.
“Nothing, just people getting flushed down toilets.”
“What is it with you people and toilets?!” screamed Ninoma, thoroughly disgusted. Jessica had told her about the bathroom incident at the mall, and she still remembered being a little girl and entering the bathroom to see a shoe of one of the royal guards.
Catleyan Justin just smiled when Justin made the announcement that he was being attacked by the toilet water. Ninoma gagged and stormed over to the window just in case she heard anything else about toilets.
Justin rushed in and said, “Hey, guys! Um … everything’s under control except that it is not recommended that you open the bathroom door anytime soon. And Sara, here’s a milk jug if you need it. Just go over to your quarters and pretend you’re reading a book.”
Ninoma vomited out the window at the mention of the word toilet.
“Yick!” shouted one of Goov’s guards when the stomach acid hit the pavement.
“What is it?” asked Goov.
“Oh, no! We’re done for!” shouted Goov as he ordered his army to prepare for a war.
“Just like old times,” said Emily with a big grin. Nisuna handed Ninoma a towel and went to chat with Justin and Juliya about stocks and universal currency. Ninoma rushed to the control panel and swerved the ship to dodge incoming fire. With a quick swipe of her hand, she was able to land the ship safely in a field near the castle.
“We have to get out quickly,” she said. The rest of the passengers nodded and escaped from the ship, crawling on their bellies over to the forest.
The moment the ten slipped into the forest, Goov and his troops arrived at the ship. He ordered the people to search the ship and to burn down the forest.
“Listen to me,” said Nisuna to the forest. “You will be under attack, so prepare for the worst.”
She tried to get some rain to fall but the clouds were stubborn and held out. Fire began to consume the outer edges of the forest, and many trees held the aliens to be responsible. Other trees immediately recognized Nisuna and stood up to the fire, sacrificing themselves to slow the spread of the burn so that the goddess could escape. In any case, the trees were quite angry and it wasn’t long before a large red tentacle grew out of the forest.
“Aaaahhh!” screamed Goov’s guards as they were consumed, one by one, by the demonic spirit that had entered the planet. Dead trees’ spirits joined the monster and began to attack.
Ninoma was getting an overdose of madness. “You people are being helped by your enemy so that you can defeat your enemy?”
“Just hang in there, Ms. Rationalist. We can defy logic and reason,” said Emily.
Ninoma muttered, “Well, thanks a lot.”
Meowy and Meow-Meow were way ahead of everyone else, racing through the forest as if it were a highway. Sara was not far behind them, though her lack of physical training left her a bit weaker than the two veterans. The slowpoke people were tripping over tree roots and burning their adrenaline like the fire was burning the forest right behind them.
“Don’t you wish you were a cat?” asked Justin.
“Yeah,” said Jessica.
Nisuna realized that they couldn’t keep up the pace because of fatigue problems, so she concentrated on changing her body, hoping that she could do it in time; the farther the creature from the current form, the harder it would be to rearrange the DNA and energy.
“Hurry!” cried Ninoma as Nisuna sat down and started to meditate. Suddenly, her body scattered into stray energy before regrouping into a large dragon.
“Hop on my body and not my wings and let’s fly out of here.”
Nisuna flapped her four large wings methodically and was able to reach two hundred kilometers an hour (much slower than a lot of normal birds when they dive, but a dragon is not a small bird). She spotted the three cats ahead, who were running at about eighty kilometers an hour without tiring. She dove down to try and catch them but they were not prepared and missed on the first dive.
“The fire is far behind us,” noticed Ninoma, relieved.
“Celebrate tomorrow,” said Emily, “because we still have a lot of work to do.”
Nisuna did a loop in the air and crouched into the forest once again; this time, the three cats were able to hop on and cling to the shiny scales. The goddess took them over to the edge of Puresiu, capital of Ifuexia, and then turned back into her given form (a human with a tail and two angel-wings).
“We need to find proof of Goov’s masquerade before we can convince the citizens to support Ninoma. After all, her only followers right now consist of a group of citizens who are advocating a new war on Catleya for revenge,” said Nisuna.
Meowy nodded and added, “The people are faced with a biased decision here – to support either Ninoma or Goov, but Goov’s propoganda and Ninoma’s insane followers are causing a popular leaning toward Goov.”
“If only Big Sister was here, she would be queen and she could convince the people, in her gentle tone, that revenge isn’t the right way,” said Ninoma, tearing a bit.
“But what about Goov? What exactly is he planning to do? Doesn’t he want revenge, too?” asked Sara.
Ninoma said, “Of course he does; we all do. Right now he’s telling the people to restrain themselves, but the slightest mistake on Catleya’s part will trigger all-out war. I can sense it; in fact, I can almost guarantee that he’ll set up one false step on some obscure trade route for the Catleyans so that he gets his excuse at exactly the right time. People’ll go mad and fight in the name of Goov and Ifuexia.”
“So all of these idiots are just the same,” said Emily.
“We’re not idiots,” rebutted Ninoma softly.
“Good, that’s what I want to hear,” said Emily. “Then we have a chance. Let’s raid the palace at night and try to sabotage some plan files that clearly show Goov’s setup for a war. You guys, be smart and don’t be dumb. It’s stupid to be an idiot.”
Justin and Juliya went over to a table and set some markers onto it.
“So, there’s Goov and Ninoma. The people are divided into pacifists, who follow Goov, and warmongers, who pretend to follow Ninoma. We incriminate Goov and convert the pacifists and Ninoma’s the queen, except that the original followers will be angry. How do we subdue this imminent revolution?” asked Juliya.
“Maybe a formal apology is in order. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. Maybe Ninoma can pull it off, especially if she’s got the same parents as her supposedly ideal sister,” said Justin.
Ninoma stepped into the planning room and said, “I’m definitely not as smart as my sister, but I know what I have to do.”
“What?” asked Juliya and Justin.
“I have to get married to the minority party leader – leader of the ones who are supposedly under my name, not the ones who are currently in Goov’s government,” said Ninoma with resolve.
“What if you hate him?” asked Sara.
“That’s too bad,” said Ninoma simply. “There’s a responsibility to the country that a queen has.”
“I just don’t want to see it come to this. Queen Emily, King Justin, King Meow-Meow, King Meowy, Goddess Natuna – heck, even me – we’re all married or engaged to people who we have personally loved; close friends,” said Sara.
“I guess it’s just punishment for my sins,” said Ninoma. “I’m sure I can find happiness even without a happy marriage.”
Nisuna frowned and said, “You’re not thinking of divorce or extramarital activities, are you?”
“No, not really. I mean more like if I see joy in my people, I can find happiness. I know that divorce and stuff are against your teachings, and I honor that, though I am not an Aizifalianist,” said Ninoma.
Justin interjected, “How come, if Nisuna is a real, breathing goddess, not everyone is an Aizifalianist in this universe?”
“Only about 57% of the people on Catleya are Aizifalianists,” said Nisuna. “I don’t understand what you are trying to say, though.”
“Well, if the object of religion is true, then can’t there only be one concluding religion from it?”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Justin. It’s all about the interpretation; there has always only been one object of religion. There are plenty of religions on Catleya and in the universe, and they’re all acceptable to me given that they are … good. You believe in God, right? Who is to say that there isn’t just one God, that there are many like me and Sasika and so on? I respect your religion, Christianity, and people respect mine. I am perfectly content with that,” said Nisuna while staring out the window.
“Why can’t you just go in like a bacterium and then transform into a goddess when you sneak past security?” asked Earth Justin.
“Bacteria don’t live very long, Justin,” said Nisuna. “I will, however, try to use my skills to infiltrate the base. I will impersonate one of the guards, who’ll be conviently knocked out and captured in this ship for the time being; we have to minimize casualties or we’ll be the bad guys and that wouldn’t be good at all. I should be able to get the information by myself, but I’ll give you a call if things start to get rough. Thinking about it, it should be near impossible for them to shoot me, but they aren’t what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of that big red blob that’s roaming around.”
“Let’s start,” said Ninoma.
The group’s tent was situated in a hole in the cliff near the royal palace. A dark figure could be seen escaping from it, but it soon vanished.
<No one suspects chipmunks, I hope,> thought Nisuna as she scampered down the steep incline towards a guard. She sat down at the foot of one of the guards, who was still looking at the cliff for the shady figure with her binoculars. In a great flash, an exact copy of the guard appeared in front of her, and she was too surprised to say anything before the clone covered her mouth and dragged her over to the cave.
“Change into these clothes,” said Nisuna, handing the guard a T-shirt and a denim skirt. “You can go over there and no one would see you, but if you start a racket, we might have to … damage you.”
The guard gulped and did as told, changing out of her uniform. In actuality, she was much more comfortable in the casual clothes than in the tight and itchy uniform.
“Thank you very much,” said Nisuna as she changed into her disguise. “You can have some baked beans if you want.”
“Of course,” said the guard as she headed over to the tent. “Hi, everyone. Let’s not get too cruel to the enemy, right?”
Everyone stared at the guard and she wondered if it would’ve been better to have been killed on the spot. But then a teenager handed her a bowl of the best baked beans she had ever tasted and she knew that she had made the right choice – the choice that she was destined to make.
“Ahhhh, these are so good,” she said as she sat down. The T-shirt fit fine because it was a T-shirt, but the skirt was a little too big. “Does anyone have a belt?”
“Just eat more beans and the skirt’ll fit fine,” said Emily as she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
The guard just tugged on the skirt a little and tried to make a makeshift belt out of onion grass.
“Don’t kill the grass,” said Emily. “That’ll piss Nisuna off.”
“Oh, well then, you seem like you must have an extra belt somewhere because you’re wearing one right now. Couldn’t spare one for me, at least until I get my uniform back?” pleaded the guard.
“Pay me a Conodee dollar for rent,” said Emily offhandedly, holding out her hand in anticipation of the miniscule amount of cash.
“Sure,” said the guard reaching into her back pocket and realizing that she wasn’t wearing her uniform. “Um … that woman who looked just like me, well, she just took my clothes and my wallet. And my purse is at home. Want some onion grass instead?”
Emily just threw the belt at the guard; it hit her in the face and she yelped.
“You don’t have to be that mean to me. I’m just another worker here.”
She slid the belt on and continued to eat as the others blew out their concealed lights and went into the tent.
“So, what do you think of your job?” asked Juliya.
“It’s pretty boring. All I do is ask people to swear allegiance to Goov and to only let authorized personnel through the gates.”
“What about Goov?”
“Him? He tried to hit on me once, I think, but he’s twenty years older than me and at that time, he was still a lowly worker like me, so I kicked him in the face and he fell into the moat. The only reason why I’m still here is cuz I hooked him up with his current wife. They’re a perfect match – both are complete idiots,” said the guard.
Juliya giggled and continued the conversation as Catleyan Justin, Meowy, and Meow-Meow prepared their equipment in case of battle. Jessica had fallen asleep with her weapon in hand in case that she might be attacked during the night. Sara was moping around because Meowy had taped her mouth shut with duct tape; she had been trying to compose a new song a little too loudly and was almost caught. Earth Justin and Emily were cleaning up the bean pots (as in they were slurping loudly as they took one pot each and started to pig out).
“Yrum!” exclaimed Emily.
“Yarr,” said Justin, the beans stuck in his braces. “I carrnn srrm tr grr zerz eens ouamy brarcrs.”
Emily couldn’t understand a word of what Justin was saying and just shrugged and resumed eating. If only she knew what Nisuna was going through ….
<Ack! How can this girl stand having such long hair?> internally screamed Nisuna as she tried to brush it away from conquering her entire body. The uniform was tight and itchy, and it was the most ugly shade of brown that anyone could think of. Nisuna considered spicing it up a bit but decided against it. <After all, if I made myself cute enough, the guys would play catch the chick and I’d be done for.>
Nisuna walked as ‘normally’ as possible, taking modest yet inconspicuous steps. She made her way into the heart of the palace, where the information was sure to be stashed. However, the passwords became harder and harder, and she wished she had squeezed the passwords out of that guard.
“Guys, your friend who’s trying to break into the palace is gonna have a hard time with the passwords,” said the guard. “Just to get back at Goov for that really embarrassing advance he made in the park, I would’ve told you the codes if you’d only asked.”
“Well, what’s been done has been done,” said Emily. She was trying to wait as long as possible before having to go and really wash the pot that she was holding down at the river.
“I’m wondering … how did she become so good at disguises?” asked the guard. She stood up to go to the river to get done with her bathroom business. At this moment, Emily decided to go down to the river and wash the pot out. Juliya answered for Emily instead.
“Well, don’t tell anyone, but she’s a goddess.”
“Ooh, yeah, sure,” said the guard. “You know what? I think I’ll go down to the river to take a piss because I can’t get back into the palace now that I’m wearing these clothes … by the way, can I keep them?”
“Ask Nisuna; she’s the one who bought them.”
“How did she know my size or that I’d be a girl? Most of the people here are guys; I would’ve bought sweatpants or something androgynous like that.”
“Like I said, she’s a goddess.”
The guard shook her head and left for the river.
At the river, Ninoma was washing up and getting a drink of water because her canteen had run out.
“Hey, Em!” she cried when she saw her adversary going to clean out a large metal pot.
“Wait up a sec so that I can get fresh water for my canteen, not bean flavored water.”
Emily asked with innocent hurt, “What, you didn’t like my beans?”
“That’s not what I meant!” said Ninoma, a bit shocked. She finished filling up her canteen and left.
“Emily?” called a voice from behind.
“What now?” asked Emily, swearing in her mind that everyone always had to bother her. “Let me go to the bathroom before you wash that pot, OK? I think we can agree that’s the best order,” said the guard.
Emily had the courtesy to leave for a few minutes; when she arrived back, the river was abandoned. She got to work a bit upstream and washed her pot out in peace.
Ninoma bumped into the guard on the way back while drinking from her newly refilled canteen.
“What were you doing down there?”
“Oh, just taking a piss cuz the toilets are off-limits to me now,” said the guard matter-of-factly.
Ninoma let out a nerve-wracking scream and dumped the water out of her canteen.
“I am going to blow up all the toilets in the palace when I get home, I swear! I think I’ll do that!” screeched Ninoma.
“It ain’t the toilets’ fault,” said the guard, checking to make sure her belt was on properly. Ninoma took this as proof that she had just drunken toxic water. She started to pound the guard weakly while the guard stared at her with a blank expression.
“I’ll handle this girl; you just go back to the tent, and no wandering, you hear?” ordered Emily.
“Yes, ma’am,” the guard said.
“Don’t ever call me ma’am or Your Highness!” warned Emily.
“Yes, whatever your name is,” said the guard honestly. She didn’t know what Emily’s name was and didn’t even know that she was queen of one of the most powerful nations in the galaxies.
Emily dragged a now-unconscious Ninoma back to the tent compounds.
“Ninoma,” said Emily.
“You refilled your water before the guard went there. You aren’t going to die from contamination.”
“Oh, phew,” said Ninoma.
Emily wondered why Ninoma didn’t care about the fact that hundreds of fish peed in that river every day.
Nisuna wandered down hall after hall, mentally recording her path so that she could return easily.
“Halt!” cried a guard.
“Wha?” said Nisuna, straightening out like a deer caught in headlights, or more like a guard caught in a flashlight.
“You wanna go out with me tomorrow?” asked the guard.
“Huh?” asked Nisuna, getting a little angry.
“Just kidding. Actually, I came to tell you that the hallway that you are proceeding down ends down there. The area beyond it is off-limits,” said the guard as he pointed the flashlight down to the end of the halls. “You’re a newbie around here, right?” he asked.
<You must be new,> thought Nisuna, <because the person I’m impersonating has been here for at least eight years now. That’s why I chose her from that roster that I got Sasika to hack into while on our ship.>
“Y-yeah, it’s kinda hard. You see, I’m actually trying to find the bathrooms,” she lied, pretending to have never seen those women’s rooms scattered everywhere.
“Oh, actually, I haven’t seen any myself,” said the guard. He had never been in any part of the palace except this hallway, so he had not seen the bathrooms in the other halls. “You need in to go to the bathroom?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Nisuna, cringing and hopping around like Sara did on the ship to try and seem realistic enough.
“Whoa, you go ahead. Here’re the keys; I’ll open it.” The guard ran down to the end and opened up the door.
“Thanks,” said Nisuna, blowing the guard a little kiss to soften him for her planned late return.
Nisuna sidestepped until she was sure that the guard could no longer see her, and then she snuck behind a small palm tree. She was about to go to the next palm tree when she heard a loud burp. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw the guard pass through the rotunda that she was in and out into the hallway. Feeling quite lucky, she climb the stairs and entered the second floor. The main collection of information would be nearby, she reasoned. She checked each room until she came to a dead end in the hallway. Another burp came from downstairs and footsteps could be heard climbing up the stairs. Nisuna panicked and searched around, finding a small number pad on the right. She desperately patted all her pockets – the one on her chest, the two in the front of her pants and the two in the back. In the right side on the back, she felt an object. She pulled it out and found it to be a wallet. Desperately, she flipped it open and found a small card. She slid it through the slot near the pad and was granted access, though the card should likely have only gotten her past the first few doors because her character, at least according to how she was stopped, was only a low-level guard. Thanking Ianjisuko and Shennchusko, she ran through the now-open continuation of the corridor as silently as possible. She ducked into an empty lounge and hid there until the guard passed her.
Matching the guard’s footsteps, she followed him through the corridor until he turned away into his quarters to activate the late-night guard. Nisuna took a left and came to a large glass door; she could see a library ahead.
<This must be it,> she thought. She slid her card through the pad to her right and hoped that it would work. To her surprise, the door opened and she went in.
“Hi,” came a voice. “Welcome to the palace library. May I help you, Ms. Hiwena?”
“Oh!” cried ‘Ms. Hiwena.’ “I’m simply here for a good read. It’s been a long week and I want to relax with some nice ol’ history.”
“Of course,” said the librarian. “You’re always welcome here; you’re one of my best members – you check out a lot of books and always return them on time!”
<So,> thought Nisuna. <This guard comes here regularly. Maybe that’s why the card worked.>
She looked up to find the nonfiction section and lose the librarian’s eyes. Patiently, she sat down and began to read a boring book on Ifuexian history. Occasionally, she’d look up to see what the librarian was doing. The librarian met up with another librarian and began to chat. Nisuna took this opportunity to go to the computers in the back of the library.
[Hi, what is your name?] prompted the computer.
Nisuna checked the ID and typed in ‘Alina Hiwena.’
[What is your password?]
The ID was no help on this, so Nisuna had to flip through the wallet to find a small wad of paper that had barely legible writing on it. She recognized this as the passwords sheet. Making sure that no one was looking, she typed the password in, number by number. It would be ignorant to overlook that fact that a veteran worker doesn’t just forget a password that has become an identity.
[Welcome, Ms. Hiwena.]
Nisuna got the computer to look up confidential plans, many of which were general and not very bad at all. All of a sudden, she came across a strange file which was hidden from the guards, for it was off-limits. It was titled ‘National Unity.’
“Hey, are you, by any chance, Queen Ninoma?” asked Alina (the guard).
“Yeah, I am,” said the diminutive woman.
“Wow! I’ve always wanted to meet you in person. So, you probably want to retake the country, right? I worked under you before the riots started.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, too.”
The guard smiled and said, “I’ll get another uniform so you can get into your castle. From there, you can retake the country.”
The guard led Ninoma several blocks away from the palace to a large building, entering it and telling Ninoma to duck out of sight.
“Hello,” said the guard to a receptionist at the department of local defense.
“Oh, hi. How may I help you?”
“Well, you see, I accidentally left my uniform at home, eighty kilometers away, because I was washing it; I was planning on changing here and getting to my post, but I was in such a rush I came here dressed like this without my uniform. You understand that it is completely unacceptable to wear a T-shirt and a jean skirt this short to work and I can’t go back home now,” said the guard.
“Did you leave anything else at home?” asked the receptionist.
“I don’t think so,” said the guard realistically, checking her pockets.
“Then, may I see your ID?”
The guard faked a shocked look and cried disbelievingly, “No way, how could I have forgotten my ID, too?!” She looked so pitiful that the receptionist clapped his hands and decided to let her go.
“Name?” he said after a long pause.
“Oh, thank you so much! You have saved me from losing my job! My name is Alina Hiwena, Class B slash two palace guard.”
“You’re listed here, so I’ll have your uniform ready in thirty minutes unless you would like a generic one from over there on that rack. Do you need it custom made or are you in a rush?” asked the receptionist.
Remebering how horribly her ‘custom made’ uniform fit, she opted to go and pick out one herself, trying to picture Ninoma’s size. Ninoma was short and slim, while she was tall and average in width. The guard gestured toward the rack and the receptionist nodded; he knew firsthand how horrible the computer records for sizes were and how the workers always messed up somewhere.
Alina grabbed a small blouse and matching pants (and the funky little accessories like a belt, scarf, sunglasses, and bracelet that were necessary for recognition) for Class B/2 and bagged them, paying the receptionist the fifty thousand Ifuexian iu (two hundred Ifutian ius to the Conodee dollar) fee. She slipped out and the receptionist searched his files to see if Alina was single, and if so, whether she was already dating someone. It was strange that the Ifuexian technology included a database of pair-ups of workers yet didn’t have automatic scans of the lands around the palace that would have detected Emily as she danced with Justin, Juliya ‘not one bit jealous.’
Alina hopped out and said, “Ta-da! A uniform for Ms. Ninoma. So, won’t you try it on?”
“Not out here,” scowled Ninoma. “You have a dorm?”
“I wasn’t lying about living pretty far away; I live in an apartment at least seventy kilometers from here. We don’t have cars like on Catleya here. Despotism has had its toll on the technological development; we are stuck in time in the industrial age. What a mess our land has become … I have faith in you, so don’t you be crowning yourself empress on me or I’ll have to kill you.”
“You sound serious,” said Ninoma, shivering a bit at the thought of a knife tickling her throat.
“I am,” said Alina without any sign of sarcasm or humor.
“How will I get past the guards?” asked Ninoma.
“Goov was careless and never deleted your file. Do you remember your old password?”
Ninoma nodded vigorously, her hair bouncing up and down.
“Good, then you’ll be fine. Use your passwords while if anyone stops you, say that you are Alina Hiwena. Of course, I won’t be taking you to the side that I normally work on, because everyone would know my face if you went there. You have to enter from the left wing, not the right.”
The two walked back to the tent outside of the palace and Alina went into the tent to read a magazine while Ninoma changed.
“I’m ready!” called Ninoma from outside. Alina shushed her and climbed out of the tent.
Alina shook her head and corrected Ninoma, “You have to button the very top button of the blouse even if it chokes you, and you have to wear your pants at your true waist. Otherwise, they’ll know that you’re not a regular because the dress code is very strict.”
Ninoma fixed up her clothes as was told and waited for Alina’s next command.
“Now, wrap your scarf below your collar – ah, I’ll just do it for you.” Alina whisked the scarf around Ninoma’s neck and tied a series of intricate knots. “Finally, slip this bracelet onto your right hand. Now you’re ready to go. Address people as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ so-and-so according to their name tag; yours is on your blouse pocket. That’s all you need to know.”
Alina bid Ninoma farewell and fell into the tent once more.
“Aha!” said Nisuna out loud. <Oh, my! Did I just say that out loud?> she thought. She quickly downloaded the information to an outdated floppy disk and quit out of what she was doing. Just in case anyone had heard her, she continued, “I think I know exactly who has that book. I’ll go and get him, that lazy idiot.”
The librarians were chatting too loudly to listen to Nisuna, anyway. Nisuna pulled what seemed to be an interesting book and checked it out under Hiwena’s name.
“Thank you for your business,” said the librarian. “I hope to see you soon. Perhaps we can have coffee together again sometime in the Class B lounge?”
“I will consider your offer; thank you very much,” said Nisuna. She controlled herself, holding back the urge to bolt out of the building. <Regular guards are bored and take their time. And they burp a lot.> Nisuna faked a burp and earned a laugh from the guard who she had been avoiding earlier. She didn’t sweat it one bit because what she thought was off-limits to Class B guards was nowhere near off-limits.
“Heyai, Alina. See you’ve been eating … or have you been drinking?” he asked.
“Just ate too quickly, I guess. I have a stomach ache now,” Nisuna said, groaning. All this lying was really giving her a pain because goddesses just simply don’t lie.
“Good, ‘cause I’d be consairned if you took up getting droonk, you know what I mean. Lots o’ us are succumbing to bad ol’ beer an’ liqair.”
Nisuna giggled and said, “I wouldn’t get drunk.”
“Yeah, raight, like I didn’t see you at that pairty, dancing with all dos guys!” said the guard with his strange accent.
“Oh,” said Nisuna while blushing a bit.
“Well, your shaift ainds soon, raight? See you tomairroo, oka?”
“Okamew,” said Nisuna without thinking twice about the language she was speaking in. “I mean ‘yeah.’”
“You say ‘okamew?’ Must be dat training for spies or something. Good work on your Cat Language pronainciaition; they’ll be hairing you in noo time.”
“Heh, thank you very much,” said Nisuna, bowing at the compliment.
“Nice and cairteous. Just like a laidy,” said the guard as he headed down to the lounge.
Nisuna strolled off towards the exit as if she were at the end of a strenuous day. She came out into the hallway from which she had entered.
“Dang, lady, you sure take a long time to go to the bathroom,” said the guard who had let her through.
“I thought you said that area was off-limits!” said Nisuna impatiently.
“For newbies, at least,” the guard said meekly.
“No wonder. Those guys must’ve all been veterans, who I encountered down there. Well, if you must know, the ladies’ bathrooms always have long lines,” said Nisuna haughtily.
“Oh, yes, I’ve seen those lines with my own eyes,” said the guard. “Well, you be on your way, now.”
Nisuna thanked the guard and left the building triumphantly. When she got to the tent, she found that Ninoma was missing.
“I get the evidence and Ninoma runs off to who knows where?!”
“Chill,” said Alina. “She’s going to try and retake the castle. I’m trying to find a potential husband for her.”
“You mean she’s serious about that marriage thing?” asked Nisuna incredulously.
Alina turned and raised an eyebrow at Nisuna. “Aliens,” she said, turning back to her work.
“So how do you plan on finding a husband with that news magazine?”
“I’m gonna find the cutest minority party leader here and call him up,” said Alina. “I’m sure he’d marry his idol, though I can’t stand the way they treat people. Maybe Ninoma’ll soften him up.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t do anything rash,” sighed Nisuna, collapsing onto the ground to help Alina in her one-dimensional matchmaking.
On the other side of the tent, Jessica was talking to Earth Justin.
“You think we’ll have peace after we settle this mess with the monsters and Ifuexia?” asked Jessica.
“Don’t worry yourself to sleep every night, Sis, because that’ll only hurt your body. Rest up and be happy. It’ll all work out, I’m sure of it,” said Justin.
“Bro, you’ve come a long way. You don’t complain about your life anymore, did you realize it? You’re an optimist, now, for Heaven’s sake.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Justin. “I’m happy here, and I’m sure I’ll make myself happy back home.”
“I’m glad to see that you’re on your way to being rescued,” said Jessica. “It’s cold out here; do you want me to get you a blanket?”
“No,” said Justin.
“Wanna have mine?” asked Jessica.
“No,” said Justin.
“Hey, hey, don’t be afraid to ask for favors. People are willing to do them for you as long as you do something in return. Mercantilism is not the way.”
“Well, then, could you please get me a blanket?”
“Of course, Bro,” said Jessica.
Ninoma was near her chamber on the third floor. She only had a short distance to go. Suddenly, guards osmosed in and blocked her way.
“Ma’am, we can’t let you past here.”
“Why?” asked Ninoma.
“These are Goov’s chambers. Set up an appointment at the front desk first and he’ll see you.”
Ninoma was shocked that Goov had moved into her room.
“But …,” she began, trailing off. She wouldn’t be able to restore herself without her crown and computer, both of which were in her room. Luckily for her, ropes came out of the ceiling and familiar figures dropped out of the ceiling.
“Miss us?” asked Emily.
Ninoma nodded and smiled, pulling out her tranquilizer gun. The three cats, Meowy, Meow-Meow, and Sara, hurled light shockers of energy at the guards to knock them out while the rest of the people pushed the guards over to the side so that Ninoma could enter.
“Ah,” came a low, obnoxious voice. “So Ninoma has returned for revenge, eh? Well, too late!” bellowed Goov. “The country is mine, and when I push this button,” he said, pointing at the trademark ‘red button on a small gray remote,’ “my agents, I mean the ‘Catleyans’ on board trade ship 458, will have ‘launched a missile’ at the space port of Ifuexia, triggering Intergalactic War III. Bwa-Mwa-ha-ha-ha!!!”
“Oh, please,” said Emily, pushing the stop button on her pocket recorder. “Cut the crap and die.”
“I will press the button!” said Goov with a deranged grin.
The heroes stood their ground and waited; Goov took the opportunity to grab Ninoma as a hostage. Ninoma crumpled into a heap on the ground next to Goov after he elbowed her in the chest. Goov cackled again and again, his fingers centimetering toward the red button.
Justin looked away in fear that guards would be coming, and when he looked back, Goov was in pain, apparently kicked in the groin by someone. Ninoma was laughing, dismantling the remote and backing away from Goov. Goov roared in anger and pain and started to advance on the group, calling his guards.
The ceiling decided to give way at that moment, revealing a large red tentacle and a large eyeball staring out of the tentacle.
“Hey,” said the tentacle of the monster. “I feel like killing some people today.”
“Yaaahh!” screamed the ten; Emily quickly struck Goov’s weak points with an energy shock while he was distracted and then dragged him out as the rest began to escape. They were near the exit when a large amorphous blob broke through the concrete wall and blocked their path.
“Hey, big idiot!” screamed a high voice from another part of the building. The blob shifted position and the group was able to make it out. “Yeeargh! The anger!” screamed the voice, which belonged, Ninoma noticed, to Alina Hewina, guard Class B.
“I have to go back for her!” said Ninoma.
“Argh, heroics; so clichéd,” said Emily. “But I guess we have to. Think we’ll die trying to save a stupid guard?”
“Let’s not plan on it,” said Earth Justin. The group prepared for an all-out attack on the monster that represented the spirit on Catleya. Without hatred driven out of people’s hearts, though, the monster had an advantage.
“Hang in there, Alina!” shouted Ninoma. “We’ll save you.”
“Idiots, get away from here!” came the voice echoing across the concrete chasm. The palace was crumbling at amazing rates, but the monster shook off the rocks like a dog shakes off water.
Stubbornly, Ninoma tried to attack the monster with her knife, but her anger only fed the monster.
“Ninoma, you’re only making it stronger. You have to focus on love,” said Nisuna, now changed into her normal clothes.
The group launched simultaneous blasts that combined into a whirlwind of energy from the heart, knocking the beast away. It staggered a bit on its hundred legs and let loose several tentacles, sweeping the ground away from underneath the group. Nisuna had no problems because her wings unfolded immediately, but the other members were clinging for their lives to the edge of the new cliff.
Earth Justin, clearly the weakest, seemed ready to drop when his hands started to bleed from the friction and weight of his own body. He was determined not to die, though, if only to see Sis and the rest of his family one more time. It was a strange moment, when time seemed to slow and the monster’s attacks became a pattern, a recognizable equation that could be solved. Justin flung himself upward with a flick of the arm and concentrated on his feelings for his family, his extended family, and he was able to let loose a seismic attack before falling into the crack in the planet. The monster reeled back as it gasped for life, dropping Alina, who leapt down into the crack to save Justin.
Nisuna dove down also, while others struggled to climb out, watching the monster lose shape and vaporize. The goddess caught Justin with a record six hundred kph dive and would’ve missed Alina, who was preparing for a landing via a blast of downwards energy, if Justin hadn’t pointed her out. The others stood up at the edge of the cliff which now bordered a huge crater where the palace had been but had collapsed. Hundreds of guards were sprawled everywhere.
Juliya ran up to one of them and asked, “How many were still in when the palace fell?”
“I think,” gasped the guard weakly, “about a dozen or so. Do you think you could do something for them?”
“Other than a proper funeral? Perhaps Nisuna will be willing to go and retrieve their bodies, but they are likely to be mortally wounded.”
“It’s OK. We had it coming,” said the guard as he fell asleep in the cool night breeze.
Nisuna rose from the crater carrying Justin on one side and Alina on the other.
“I win,” said Nisuna.
Of the thirteen guards who went down with the palace, seven survived and were in various states of recovery in the hospital by the next day, claiming to have been saved by an angel. The rest were buried in a local cemetary.
“People of Ifuexia,” said Ninoma, still dressed as a commoner, “our world has fallen to chaos and hatred, but there is a way out of the cycle. First, we must realize the truth, and the truth is that Goov was far from planning to keep his promises.”
Nisuna revealed the plans and recording and showed them off on a large screen to the audience, which numbered in the tens of thousands. Even skeptics had to acknowledge that the man seen in the recording (which was video plus audio) was indeed Goov. People, being easily swayed by evidence, began to favor Ninoma, and after a few days, Ninoma was restored by popular vote to the office of Queen, which she promptly resigned from, making herself president of Ifuexia, instead, and appointing people from across the board to serve as her advisers. As predicted, everyone was calmed except for the radicals who felt betrayed by her.
Alina and Nisuna told her who she would have to marry – a young man named Kuvis Rons. Ninoma proposed to him and he accepted; the two were married promptly by Nisuna and they went to live in a little house before they rebuilt the palace. When the Catleyan group was satisfied that Kuvis was a good man, they said goodbye to President Ninoma of Ifuexia.
“We’ll likely see you some time soon,” said Emily. Everyone waved goodbye and boarded the ship.
With the new democracy, Ifuexia was able to open up its trade ports and good relations meant that people in Catleya began to forget the old Badguyland in favor of the new Ifuexia.
“Um, hi,” said Ninoma to her new husband. “What’s your name again?”
Kuvis nearly fainted on the spot. “It’s Kuvis, dear.”
“Sorry,” said Ninoma, looking at the ground embarrassedly. “You wanna go out on a date and so we can get to know each other?”
“It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” asked Kuvis.
“Perhaps,” said Ninoma, “but I think we could both use a break. And if you start to try and advise me to go through with a war ….”
“Don’t worry, honey, I know you want good relations, and we owe them one for beating up that big monster,” said Kuvis, brushing Ninoma’s hair with the back of his hand.
“Stop it! You’re making me uncomfortable,” said Ninoma, squirming.
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t call you honey any more, dear,” said Kuvis, continuing to brush Ninoma’s hair.
“I meant stop brushing my hair!” screamed Ninoma, edging to the other end of the sofa.
“Oh, honey, you could have just said so!” exclaimed Kuvis.
“Argh, romantics,” said Ninoma, turning on the TV. She successfully lost Kuvis when she turned to some wrestling match and she, as quickly as possible, ran out of the house and screamed very loudly.
“Honey, you OK?” came a voice.
Our friends dozed off in the ship on the way back; Emily was chugging down her tenth cup of coffee to keep herself awake.
“Yoooooou knoooooow,” yawned Sara, “you shoooooudn’t drink too muuuuuuuuuch coffee behuuuhuuse it makes you –”
Emily pushed Sara into the driver’s seat as she went to take care of some business.
“Ack, I don’t know how to flyyyyyyyyyy this thing,” said Sara as she began to fall asleep on the wheel. She steered it clear of all incoming stars for the next lightyear and dropped to the ground.
Earth Justin woke when the ship began to wobble. Sara was stirring in her sleep, hitting the joystick in random directions. Emily rushed in, hands still dripping wet, and wiped them on her shirt before hopping over to take control.
“We’ll be delayed probably thirty minutes at most. Let’s just get things back under control.” Emily felt herself slipping out of control again and she reached for some coffee before deciding that that wouldn’t be such a great idea.
Nisuna got up and said, “I’ll hit you on the head if you fall asleep.”
“Don’t,” said Justin, causing Nisuna to grimace when she remembered the earlier incident.
“I’ll give a pleasant wake-up call if you fall asleep,” said Nisuna.
Emily managed to take the ship back to Catleya, but there was a visible red blob that encompassed a quarter of a continent.
“Oh, my God!” cried Nisuna, covering her mouth as she began to tear at the horrid sight.
Justin gave her a funny face and told Emily to dock in Craterland, a desolate desert where the blob would not venture to.
“Without its source of energy, that thing can’t get bigger,” said Meow-Meow. He retrieved all the custom-made weapons for everyone and they hopped into a rented car. Catleyan Justin was chosen to drive and he pounded the gas pedal as hard as he could, breaking it off.
“Oh, well, looks like we have to go the old-fashioned way,” said Nisuna. Justin paid the rental office for the broken car and the group hopped onto Nisuna-phoenix’s wings. It took four hours but they managed to get within a hundred kilometers of the beach; the monster spanned ninety-five kilometers in from the coast and another twenty-five kilometers into the ocean. His many legs and tentacles polluted the beach and people had long since evacuated from the entire area. Coast City, second largest city in Justinland, was now a ghost town, with only a few slow packers left in the city.
“Let’s go now!” shouted Earth Justin.
The gods cleared out a path for the group to enter by, leading straight to the head and heart. The gods, now, were reverted to their Urimènt forms, balls of light energy, and many leaked golden-white energy as blood, wounded by the red tentacles. The tentacles were translucent, looking as ethereal as the gods themselves except that the tentacles were pretty ugly.
One ball drifted down in front of Earth Justin, turning into a human with large bruises and cuts, and a shirt and jeans that were ripped to the point that they seemed fashionable by modern standards. The figure lifted her right leg, and Earth Justin couldn’t help but notice that the blue jeans were dyed red.
“Hey,” said the goddess, giving a weak smile to cheer him up.
“Shennchusko, you alright?” asked Nisuna.
“Of course, now go on and finish the guy off. He stopped getting bigger probably a day ago, but we are tiring quickly and we must conserve energy lest we shall run out of our life supply!”
The group leapt into action, causing relief from Shennchusko, who staggered over to an inn to take a break (pass out on the floor). Positions were restored: Meow-Meow, Catleyan Justin, Juliya, and Nisuna hacked at the left side to keep the spirit at bay; Emily, Sara, Meowy, and Jessica attacked the spirit’s right side. Together, the groups managed to keep an open channel for Earth Justin.
<I have to focus now,> thought Earth Justin. He held out his left fist and let it converse with the air. A gust of wind swept up around his fist and he quickly grabbed his weapon with his left hand. Energy burst out of the tip of each blade of his sword, connecting with the spirit and causing him to fly upward. It rested in the sky, only sending down his tentacles to do his dirty work.
Earth Justin tried to attack him again from the ground, but it was futile because the spirit simply dodged the relatively slow energy. <How do I reach him?!> mentally screamed Justin. He had to do something or the tentacles would start to ravage a larger radius.
<Believe in Catleya’s strength,> thought Jessica. <Natu and Nata are still here.>
Justin put his hands on the ground, pressing hard on the earth, challenging Natu and Nata to do something. Catleya responded by giving him strength and he thanked the planet for its kindness.
Looking up at anger itself, Justin started to twitch and was overcome by a strange sensation – wings sprouted from his back and he was able to fly up to meet the spirit; only the gods followed him, for everyone else was quite incapable of flying.
Unfortunately, Justin didn’t see that he was entering a trap until he was completely surrounded by the tentacles once more. He closed his eyes for a final attack that would use his entire spirit, just in case the tentacles were not to stop. A black ring surrounded him, though, and he opened his eyes when he could no longer sense the pulsating, bright spirit in front of him. A dark black and purple aurora was held in place around him, and he could see tentacles trying to enter and falling back, limp. When the cover was lifted, the amputated spirit was howling in pain but was still taking injuring the gods. A finger poked Justin’s shoulders and he turned around, face to face with a scantily dressed demoness with long, strangely styled black hair and a small ribbon tied around her horn.
“Hi,” said the demoness.
“Ahhh! Are you trying to kill me, too?” cried Justin.
“No, don’t get all riled about a little demon, hmm? I’m the one who just saved you. I suppose I could give you my name. My name is Faxuda, nice to meet you,” said Faxu.
“Aren’t you bad?” asked Justin.
“No, no, little child. I may have been evil, but I found a calling, so to speak. You see, demons don’t have to be bad, and they usually aren’t. We care about the world as much as the gods do, it’s just that we are bound by the powers that be to provide a counterweight to the gods or else the world will be an unbalanced mess, and that isn’t pretty. Now quit listening to my rants because the monster’s right behind you,” spoke Faxu as she stabbed the tentacle behind Justin with her staff, causing it to evaporate.
“Well, I owe you one,” said Justin.
He took a last look at the demoness before turning around, sure that he would never see her again. Justin regained his concentration and saw the monster’s weak point; he was distracted by a strange cage within the spirit. Within this cage were his eight friends, trapped in the spirit’s heart. Emotions flashing all over Justin’s mind, he had to isolate the one that meant the most, love, and keep it in place. In a strange fit of power, he spun out a multi-pronged attack. The spirit blocked a few of the bolts but was struck in the heart as the remaining bolts converged. Though not dead yet, the spirit was struggling to keep afloat.
<Don’t let it trick you,> thought Nisuna.
The monster started to torture its prisoners, breaking minor bones and cutting through skin and clothes. Justin’s friends’ screams were loud and agonizing.
[Don’t you hate me?] asked the spirit.
Justin felt like eating the stupid spirit for what he was doing – first, slow-roast him while he was still alive, and then cut out his inner organs, piece by piece. He could feel himself getting angry and he began to slice towards it in rage. At the last moment, he felt his arm constricted by a light energy. He looked around at a world nearly frozen in time, and nobody was holding his hand. Whatever it was, it had saved him from destroying himself.
Justin gathered himself together and plunged his sword into the spirit’s collapsing point at his spiritual center. It shattered into infinitely small pieces, leaving behind nothing. Justin’s friends began to drop from their prison, so he swooped down to catch them. A blinding light came from the skies and Justin felt like was falling, not flying ….
A small crater could be seen on the surface of an alien planet. A cold, distant star was high in the sky, surrounded by two large columns of rigid clouds. Not a single life form could be seen for miles, and the brown surface was dry and chafed.
“Ugh, where am I?” asked Justin, getting up from the small impact crater, aching all over but hardly scratched.
Justin looked at the body that he was in and nearly fainted when he realized that he was currently in some female body. Then, he remembered an old saying – “To be at peace with the world, one must be at peace with oneself.” He would have to accept his female side of his spirit, a necessary balance to her male form and mind.
“It’s strange out here,” Justin said in a soprano voice. “Hee-hee-hee!” she laughed into the air. The echo took its time to return to the Asian girl who headed down to the river. “I guess I’ll be back to normal after a show that I can accept the attributes of this form.”
She nearly fell several times because of the different center of balance. The rocks crackled under Justin’s bare feet, which were calloused from an hour of walking.
“Has it already been so long?” asked Justin to herself after checking her watch. “I do not believe this; what am I supposed to do?” She followed the river downstream, taking drinks occasionally. The world was cool and Justin was tired.
Without any incentive to keep walking, Justin set up camp next to the river, huddling into a ball to keep herself from freezing to death when the star set. It was when Justin decided to look up at the stars and try and name some new constellations that she realized that her wings were still there, hurting when she laid atop them. Instead, Justin just sat up again and draped her wings around her body.
<It’s cold and I’m lonely.>
<It’s been six days, now, and I’ve had nothing to ingest except water,> thought Justin. The past day, she had started to vomit from lack of sustenance. She came across a small pit and noted that there were strange roots sticking out of its inner walls. Thinking quickly and desperately, she first tried to eat them, but they were of no value to her ailing body, so she instead started to pound them to try and make them soft. Then, she wrapped them around her feet, which were in great need of shoes, rubber or root. They turned out to become almost cloth-like when she worked with them a bit – soft and pliable like cotton, and she began collecting the readily available roots to make a shirt, which would require her to pull apart the fibers and put them back together with water.
Justin limped back to the river, noticing that her body was slowly growing thinner; this seemed good at first, but she now realized that when her body reached a nice, slim stage, atrophy could begin. Looking nice was … nice, but dying from the inside out wasn’t Justin’s idea of fun.
She was walking during the afternoon when she came across a fish.
“Yippie!” she cried, clasping her hands together and performing an improv dance that was far from artful yet not quite as bad as watching a fish stranded on land. Without any second thought, she grabbed the fish and killed it as painlessly as possible. While eating the raw flesh, she had an afterthought.
<Is this what life comes down to?> Of course, Justin put her own life above the life of the fish, and she wasn’t about to change her position on that. It was just a bit depressing that life was death. <Isn’t that in the Aizuna? ‘Life is death, end is beginning, all dimensions are infinite.’>
Justin looked at herself in the river after eating the entire fish, except for its bones and organs other than the meat. Her bloody hands and mouth disturbed her, so she washed her hands, knowing that their cleanliness would not mean her innocence. She buried the fish in a small grave and covered it with rocks. Then, she continued along her journey, wondering if she had just ingested a fatal virus.
Nightfall came yet again, the seventh that Justin had witnessed. The sunset never once failed to impress her, and each day, she’d sit down and watch the sky turn deep colors before shutting down for the night. Whatever excess fat she used to have had long since been used up, and one fish a week couldn’t keep the energy coming in.
“My body is too frail. My muscles are only a little stronger than they were when I first arrived here, and I can’t even fly any more,” remarked Justin as she crashed into the rocks for the night. <Gwah, it hurts,> she thought, rubbing her nose.
It was only on the tenth day, after encountering several more fish and eating all but one, that Justin came across something special. It was a baby, wrapped in a small square quilt, very bony and weak.
“Oh!” cried Justin as she stumbled over to the sleeping form. “You must be starving, poor thing.” Was this what she was supposed to do? Realize her maternal duties even when she would become a father some day?
Justin’s female side was composed of his creative and motherly attributes, attributes that she drew upon often were commonly denied the right to surface – her habit of hiding and passwording her stories, storing her drawings in obscure locations, singing only in front of her family, closing her door when playing her own compositions, and hiding the desire to hold a child. Perhaps it was time that she let herself be who she was; it was not like dominance of the female side of the spirit entailed transformation into a woman nor did it mean that Justin would become female in tastes; on the contrary, when she returned to her normal body, she would be male forever. The male body and mind simply was a state of being male in producing children and could not deny Justin his dreams. Besides, who was to say that his ‘female’ attributes were not ‘male’ attributes in other bodies; it was a matter of spiritual sorting.
Justin decided that while being a girl wasn’t that bad, she really wanted to be herself again. She took the baby into her arms and cradled him, whispering, “You’ll be fine, child.”
The baby’s tear-stained face showed signs of starvation, but Justin had little to offer. She had no fish with her, and her body was nowhere near capable of providing milk for the baby. Justin held her head in shame because the baby would die soon and she would be helpless to aid it.
The baby awoke with a jolt and began to cry. He cried through the night, but Justin did not grow impatient. She knew that the baby was going through the same kind of pain that she was going through. Instead, she kept humming soft tunes to him that she made up on the spot using her soul to try and calm him. He listened for a few brief minutes before continuing to cry.
She caught a few fish the next day with her bare hands a few rocks. She washed out the meat and gave a small portion to the baby and ate some the rest herself. The baby kept begging for more, but she knew that until the baby adjusted to eating, the extra food would either be wasted or make him sick; plus, food couldn’t be used up in one shot in this desolate world. Discipline was a necessary part of raising a child. Of course, Justin couldn’t keep herself completely square in the face of the poor child and she kept a few pieces of meat tucked away in her pocket for him for later. She fed him a few times that day, giving him a little more each time. He seemed to like her, though he still cried a lot.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” said Justin as she let the baby cuddle her chest. They mutually warmed each other up, though the baby’s tears felt like daggers to Justin because they meant suffering. “I love you, child, and maybe that’ll be enough to get us out.”
“Wawa,” said the baby.
“What do you want, little one?” asked Justin, her fingers tangled with the baby’s.
“Wawa wawa wawawawa.”
Justin was completely incapable of understanding the baby. It wasn’t soon before the baby started to cry again, and Justin just got sadder. She had to handle some unpleasant baby matters, but the work was pretty straightforward because there were no diapers and no toilet paper, just rock-hole toilets and a constant water supply.
Justin could not afford to become impatient because that would be wrong, betraying the baby. His parents would have to answer to Justin if she ever found them. The two traveled, Justin holding the baby in her arms.
“Kuuui?” asked the baby.
Justin gave a gentle, midrange laugh, a sound that she hadn’t heard for too long. “Can you laugh, Paul?” asked Justin, using the name she had given to the baby a couple days earlier. Suddenly, she tripped and fell onto the rocks, managing to keep the baby from touching the floor by rolling into the river.
“Yaaah!” yelled Justin as she floated headfirst down the rapid river. “Why didn’t I think of this earlier?”
“Waaaaah! Wawawawa!” yelped the baby in joy. Little water droplets splashed about but it wasn’t too bad until a relatively large wave washed over the two. The baby began to cry and Justin checked to make sure that the baby hadn’t inhaled any water. She dried him off with a corner of his quilt, the only remaining dry cloth.
“Kukuku,” said Justin.
The river brought them to a nice plateau many kilometers away from where they entered, but the quick and easy trip costed a few bumps on the head.
“Owww,” grumbled Justin.
The baby went, “Muwuwu wawawa?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” answered Justin to an imaginary question.
“Wa!” shouted the baby. Justin had five minutes of peace before the baby started to cry. The girl slapped herself in the arm for forgetting to go fishing today.
“Wait here, Paul; I’ll go get some food. Now stay put, you hear?” Justin shivered when the wind was made blisteringly bad by the dampness of her clothes. Making sure no one was watching her, she took off her clothes to laid them where the sun was brightest to let them dry, going to fish in her boxers and pounded-root undershirt (it provided nice waterproof insulation). She swiped at the water, hoping to see a fish fly out. It took eight swipes to get a midsized fish, which she caught with her mouth and hands and laid into a root basket. <Lots of roots, no trees.>
When she came back to her camp with a basket of fish, she put her dried clothes on and started the ritual of cleaning out and breaking apart the fish. She sorely missed fruits and vegetables and wondered whether she and the baby were going to die from a very unbalanced diet. Raw fish, every day, and Justin marveled at how foody it tasted every day. The baby was no longer starving, though it was hungry for a lot of the time. By now, Justin had realized that the baby would need almost as much food as she did because it was growing up.
“You enjoy the fish, OK? I’m going to go and take a look at our route for tomorrow,” said Justin, not venturing more than ten meters from the camp in fear that the baby could get hurt or hurt itself. <You are very attached to that baby, are you not?> she asked herself. Night was coming soon and she was forgetting how many days she had been on the planet.
Justin’s friends were gathered at a nice feast at Meowy’s castle in Catland, Newagon.
“Where is Justin?” asked Jessica for the nth time.
“He’s fine,” said Nisuna, though she had been searching all day and found no trace of him whatsoever. “He has to face this task himself. We cannot help him this time.”
Shennchusko walked in, dressed as usual (neat jeans and a T-shirt), hands in her pockets.
“I told him that there’d be a 69% chance that he’d have to fight another battle because of his instability. I was quite wrong, you know, and that tarnishes my record. It was an inevitable event. I wonder why I couldn’t predict it …,” she said, pulling her hands out to eat.
“He’s a real person,” said Juliya, hoping that her insight would be helpful.
“Maybe that makes him unpredictable,” suggested Meowy.
“Meow!” meowed Meow-Meow.
“Tharrt warrs rarrndorrm,” commented Shennchusko with her mouth full. Everyone looked at her in surprise. “Oh, sorry! Excuse me for speaking with my mouth full. Hee-hee-hee!”
Justin didn’t have much to laugh about. The baby was sleepy quietly in her lap and she was staring out into space. <What am I supposed to do here?> she asked herself like she did each night. When she finally let herself drift off to sleep, the baby climbed onto her belly and curled up on the soft and warm bed.
When Justin woke up the next morning, she came across a small bunch of plants. Surprised, she began to run forward, hoping to find more plants. The trip over a hill revealed a whole forest that was about five hundred meters across. She spotted a woman on top of a palm tree and knew at once that that was the spirit that needed to be ‘defeated’ so that Justin could escape from this dream.
“What are you doing?” shouted Justin to the woman.
“I’m trying to jump off this tree!” replied the woman. “Now, please let me be.”
“You aren’t thinking of suicide, are you?” asked Justin.
“If you’ve been in this damn desert for a hundred years, you’re bound to want to just kill yourself.”
Justin was disappointed in the woman’s response and said, “You want this baby to learn from you? You want to have him kill himself after your example before he can even experience the joys of life – learning and loving?”
“Damn you, stupid girl. Wait … do you have wings? Are you an angel?” asked the woman, terrified and frozen in place.
“Well, I’m neither an angel nor a girl. I just happen to look like one at the current point of time.”
The woman climbed down the tree, deciding to postpone her suicide attempt. Justin noticed that her eyes were faded and her body was pale, covered in worn out rags that once were a beautiful robe. Her hair was white from worrying and her face was wrinkled from depression, a sadness that Justin knew all too well.
The woman pointed at the baby and inquired, “Is that your son?”
“No,” said Justin. “I found him on the river a few hundred kilometers from here.”
“You walked that far?! What for, young lady?” asked the woman.
“To get out of this place.”
The woman scoffed, “There isn’t any way out of this place, haven’t you figured that out yet? This is a prison of the worst kind. Better to just die now than die later. Heh, everyone stupid person in the whole universe is gonna die sometime, anyway. People don’t get better, people only get worse.”
Justin tried to ignore the woman’s words and shot back, “What about friendship? And happiness?”
“They all last for only a short time and they’re sooo fake.”
“Got dumped, eh?” asked Justin.
“A hundred too many times,” said the woman. “You going on?”
“I think I’ll rest here for a bit. The baby needs some nourishment.”
“You go on and die or you stay here and die, I couldn’t care less. Actually, I think I know you!”
“Oh?” questioned Justin.
“Yes, yes. You are that boy from the real world, aren’t you? Don’t you realize that life is so worthless? Look, people just use you and throw you away just like materials. The world doesn’t need you, it doesn’t need me. If people are smart, they are depressed. You know you are a failure. Failures aren’t welcome to this world, and everyone fails. Therefore, people aren’t welcome to this world. You know you want to kill yourself – it takes just one slit of the wrists or the neck,” said the woman, sitting down.
Justin looked at the woman and absorbed what she had just heard. It reminded her of all of those thoughts buried in the back of her mind. “I … I do not agree.” Her voice cracked a bit and she began to drip tears.
“But you know you do despite anything you say. What do you live for? Knowledge? Why do you need to know? Pleasure? What value does that have in the end? Money? That can buy happiness and ignorance.”
“I guess … I want children of my own,” said Justin.
“But they’ll die, too. The whole human race will die out.”
Justin thought about it and answered, “I am here for a reason.”
“Hah! So God gave you a mission, eh? God doesn’t exist.”
“Whether He exists or not is irrelevant. I am here and the spirits are everywhere. That is reason enough for me to live,” said Justin, wiping her eyes with her hand.
“Suit yourself. I’m going to go and try to kill myself again.”
The woman headed over to the tree only to be grabbed by the leg by Justin.
“Why, you -!” exclaimed the woman. Justin laughed and put the baby down, running away from the woman.
“Don’t think you can cheer me up,” said the woman solemnly.
“Well,” said Justin, “I can give you a better reason. I live because my friends want me to live.”
“How do you know they care about you?”
“Countless times, they have backed me up, they have helped me, they have saved me. I owe them at least to live as long as I can.”
The woman said, “Maybe you can … help me?”
Justin picked up the baby and kissed him tenderly on the head. Then, she lifted her wings into the air. In a flash of light, he was back to normal, no wings, no female body.
“Yes, I can help you. I will be your friend. Try living without worries. It’s pretty fun, trust me. Jump in the water and swim, don’t try to drown yourself. The water will talk to you if you listen to it.”
The woman dipped her toe into the water and the water licked it gently.
“Ha!” laughed the woman, her eyes restoring to a vibrant blue and a light blond hue spilling all over her hair. She hadn’t laughed for so long, and it was so heartwarming. “Thank you, whoever you are!”
“You can call me ‘friend,’” said Justin. He sat on the edge of the river but the sun was bright so Justin took off his shirts, happy to be himself again. The baby jumped around him, apparently not confused about the gender change. “Hey, Paul, you wanna meet your new babysitter?” He handed the baby to the woman.
“Aaaahh!” yelled the woman. “I don’t know how to handle that baby.”
“Don’t worry … he’s pretty smart. He can swim, too. Just hold him and you’ll know what to do from there,” said Justin.
The woman held the baby and he laughed on cue. The woman smiled and the world faded away.
Justin appeared just in time to eat dessert with his imaginary friends at Meowy’s castle.
“Hi!” he greeted. The woman that appeared with him bowed and the baby cried, “Wawa!”
“Well, looks like you made some new friends, huh?” asked Emily.
“Yup,” verified Justin. He went to get two more seats – one regular and a high stool. After he set them next to the table, he sat down and grinned at the beautiful foods. He ate happily, not having eating anything but raw fish for the past two weeks.
“You look tired,” said Jessica. “You OK?”
“Of course,” said Justin. He scarfed down his dessert and waited for the others to finish.
“I guess this is where we say goodbye,” said Jessica. The eight members of Justin’s party were lined up in the hallway. Earth Justin figured he’d have to shake their hands.
Sara eagerly shook Justin’s hand and said, “Good job, kid. ’ you need some lyrics or tunes, call me! I’ll always be home.”
“Thanks. I always admired your voice,” said Justin.
Emily beamed at Justin and complimented, “You’re one special guy. I’m honored to be your friend. You’ve brought me up from my little years – remember the little princess in the funny pink dress? Now I’m almost married and I can’t believe that its been so many years. What’s even more amazing is that we have so many years still to go! Enjoy your life, man.”
Meow-Meow was next. “Good luck on your years to come.”
“Thank you. You’re a good and soft meow-meow.”
Nisuna wet her lips before saying, “Hey, you’re awesome. I love ya just like I love everyone! Take it for truth cuz I’m a goddess!”
“And the best one, too! Goodbye, and I offer great gratitude to my goddess and muse.”
“Cat food is good,” said Meowy. “Anyway, have a nice trip home and I hope you have fun. Don’t forget about us!”
“I have a stuffed animal to remind me of you forever. Thank you for being here for me.”
Juliya high-fived Justin, saying, “You have the greatest creative mind that I know of. Good luck on all your learning and creative workings! Remember, life is precious.”
“Thanks; I’ll remember that.”
“Well, Justin, it’s been interesting working with myself. I would like to congratulate you for being a real good partner. See you around,” stated Catleyan Justin.
“Thank you. I’ll see you later.”
Finally, Jessica hugged her brother and said, “I always wanted a really close friend, and you’ve granted my wish. Thanks, Bro, for everything you’ve done for me. I’m happy now. You take care and be yourself.”
“You’ve been a great buddy for me, too. Thank you,” said Justin.
Justin backed up to the other side of the hall and spoke, “I guess this is it. I … never get to see you guys again.” He choked back tears and glanced around at everyone.
“Silly,” said Nisuna. “We’ll always be with you because we are you! We are the manifestations of various sides of your personality and your imagination. You can talk to us at any time, any place. We can always advise you, and we’ll always be your friends. Keep that in your heart. I now send you back to the real world ….”
Justin woke up and leapt out of bed, realizing that it was ten o’clock on a Sunday morning.
“Bang,” said Michael.
“Huh? Oh, good morning,” said Justin. He changed and brushed his teeth. It wasn’t long before he was outside, looking at the sky. The real world was just as he had left it.
“Hey, Justin!” came a cute voice from down the street.
Justin turned and saw a familiar girl from his Calculus class who had just moved to Chapel Hill a week ago. She had pretty short hair that had a single curve that let it poke the middle of her neck and a small ornament of a dragon that tied a small bundle of hair together in the back of her head.
“Hey, I was wondering if I could get your notes for Science class,” said the girl.
“Sure, I’ll go get them,” said Justin, about-facing to go back to his home.
“You know, Justin, I’d really appreciate it if I could talk to you while I copied them … maybe, over at the café downtown?”
Justin smiled and said, “Of course; I’d love to.”
“Way to go!” shouted Jessica into Justin’s head. Justin just gave a small laugh and went to get his stuff.
~ Attacca ~
To reprint: 4, 11.