14 The Long and Winding Road

The Planet Sessesspressny, Andromeda Galaxy, August 2120

The Wand wasn’t working, not the same way the one on the moon had. Jens stood poised with the Wand in his hand, tilting and rotating it and feeling for the familiar vibration. The Wand was significantly less responsive than the hair-trigger response that shot him and Anjal through the universe like cannon balls in pressure suits.

“I think it’s broken.” He lamented. Anjal sighed at Jens’ simplistic determination. Jyilla approached him and held out a wisp.

“May I?” Jens nodded and handed the Wand over to the Gleeze. Jyilla gingerly touched the tip of one antenna to the Wand and stayed motionless in that posture for about 30 seconds.

“I agree. I think it’s sick. Anjelica Reyes, can you run a diagnostic on the generator? Nalla can assist.” Nalla helped Anjal to modify her scanner so she could check the energy output of the box with the symbols on it, which was the power unit that supplied the wand with energy to open wormholes. The output was below the threshold Nalla had identified as critical.

“I think this thing is toast.” Nalla used a Gleeze word that described a nectar flower that had been scorched by a hot summer day; the translator supplied the closest analog in English.

“Can we repair it?” Anjal asked. Jens had bent down to inspect the inside of the generator for any obvious damage. He peeled out the moldable material that had cradled the wand and, finding nothing but more smooth not-metal, he pushed on an indented circle on the bottom of the container.
A compartment in the bottom sprung open revealing a mish-mash of glowing circuitry, spinning spheres, random blinking things and something that looked like a sluggish transparent centipede. Jens mouth gaped as he turned to Anjal. “This shit was not covered in Applied Engineering 223.” Anjal said angrily, as she scanned the guts of the box.

Nalla reached into the box with its wisp and gently extracted the insect-like creature, touching it with an antenna. “This goojh is very ill, it may be dying.” Nalla said. Anjal, a lifelong collector of sad-looking strays (and also homeless animals), scooped up the transparent bug who had sparkling compound eyes and little antennae not unlike the Gleeze, and cradled it in her hand.

“Not on my watch.” She asserted. The centipede seemed relieved. “I’ll take care of him. Can we get another one to help us?” Anjal asked as if it was perfectly natural to request the cooperation of replacement parts. Nalla shook its antennae.

“I don’t think so. These individuals were engineered specifically to operate the Iris generators. I do not know of any goojh living independently.” Anjal looked stricken. Nalla touched her shoulder with a wing. “Do not worry, Anjelica Reyes. We will find another generator. Jyilla, does the Sacred Cube show a nearby starship?” Jyilla manipulated the Sacred Cube which projected a terrain map. Blinking pink splotches identified themselves. Jyilla’s wisps feathered over the cube until the terrain zoomed out and showed a blinking gold triangle.

“I have it located.” Jyilla reported. “It is approximately 10 kilometers from here. That way.” It pointed with an antenna. “Shall I call the moozh?” Anjal nodded briskly in agreement.

“Hell yah, and I’m driving.” She announced. Jens lifted his eyebrow and Nalla slightly bent an antenna in a Gleezian eyebrow-raising facsimile.

The moozh, whose name was Zep and who was absolutely overjoyed to be transporting the Gleeze and the humans, comported them to their destination in record time with Anjal directing it all the while shouting, “Chyah! Chyah, mule!” Zep did not know what “chyah” or “mule” meant, but the moozh inferred the flavor of Anjal’s commands from her tone and delivered like a champ. They arrived on a hilltop where they confronted another giant tree, even larger than the one where they had first met their Gleeze companions. Jyilla searched the Sacred Cube index for a key code, which it promptly tapped out on the tree’s bark. The tree split open like a curtain of bark parting and revealed a golden, insect-shaped spacecraft, 10 meters in height. Anjal thought it was a gorgeous machine- majestic and lustrous and reminiscent of Art Nouveau; while Jens failed to hide his disappointment that the spaceship was not missile-shaped. 

“Another cutesy shape.” He groused.

“Jens! Not every flying vehicle needs to be shaped like a goddam giant space dick.” Anjal scolded. Jens turned away, mortified and suddenly concerned with his unmitigated obviousness. 

A circular door just below the stylized proboscises dilated open and light shone from inside. The moozh lowered its back legs and extended the front ones to create a diagonal plank for the humans to enter the spacecraft (which did not have its own entry ramp since the people who built it had wings.)

Jyilla and the others passed through another circular door and into a room that appeared to be a control center with consoles and perches for non-sitting persons such as the Gleeze. Jyilla plugged the Sacred Cube into a cube-shaped vacancy at a console. Now when it requested information, the holo-display was much larger, and projected a three-dimensional swatch of star-speckled space in the center of the room.

Anjal looked back and forth at the two butterflies who were gamely performing a launch pre-check like a couple of seasoned astronauts. “Hey!” Two sets of antennae flew into the air. “How is it you two turned into a veteran starship crew overnight? Yesterday you had to borrow a translator because you lack technology. Today you’re the fricking USS Enterprise bridge officers??” Nalla turned to Anjal from its position at a console.

“That is an excellent question, Anjelica Reyes!” And then it turned around and fiddled with the controls again. Anjal scowled at Jyilla until it spoke again. Nalla felt the force of her stare behind it. “We do not know. Maybe the use of the Sacred Cube has awakened ancestral memories in us.” It continued working on the console, then swung around to face Anjal. “Either that, or we’re just ‘winging’ it. Really well, don’t you think?” Jyilla replied pertly and enhanced his pun with an antenna maneuver that served as a wink. Anjal rolled her eyes, and Jyilla reached an antenna over and placed the tip gently on one of her eyelids. “Stop.” Anjal batted the antenna away.

While Jyilla was partially correct in its conjecture about the Cube augmenting their abilities, that is not precisely what had happened. The Gleeze had small node in their brains that had lain dormant for their entire lives, except for the instances when they came into contact with the Sacred Cube. When accessed, the Cube produced nanites that entered the Gleeze physiology through skin contact. These nanites then stimulated the heretofore extraneous organ. Each time a person searched for a specific subject, the nanites delivered the information directly, making that person an instant subject matter expert. Their Gleeze ancestors, knowing that their descendants would be leading simpler lives on this planet that had been engineered to provide their every need or desire. had genetically altered themselves in that way in case of an emergency where technological expertise would be needed. s

The Gleeze did not know any of this (because it never occurred to them to ask the cube about it.) Nor did any of them realize that the humans, having an amygdala similar in structure to the Gleeze node, were also susceptible to the information nanites every time they touched the Cube.

Nalla searched the Cube’s index for the coordinates of the next nearest Iris signal, and when it was located the position showed on the projected star field, a rotating, blinking blue circle. “The Iris generator is on this little moon.” It gestured with a wisp, and the moon zoomed into view. “An airless moon, like yours, is an excellent location for a portal; from a security perspective, I mean. It’s more difficult for an intruder to sneak up on you when he unknowingly arrives in vacuum. Takes the sting out of the surprise.” Nalla concluded with an antenna-wink. Jens looked perplexed.

“Do other species have access to the Irises? Could someone from another planet arrive on our moon?” Both Gleeze performed a wing shrug.

“Our ancestors left Iris units behind in many systems in your galaxy, usually on a moon or large asteroid or a neighboring planet. As we mentioned before, the recipients would have been unable to find them until the civilization in question could achieve space flight. So, yes, Jens, others may be operating Irises if they are space-faring and if they, too, were able to locate a generator and Wand. But the chances of another species transporting to your system via the Iris are slim, at least not on the first try. All the Irises were originally programmed to bring travelers directly to Gleeze.” 

“Have any others ‘reported in’? Besides us?” Anjal asked. Jyilla flicked its wisps at the cube.

“Yes.” It turned immediately away, communicating in the frustrating Gleezian style in which the individual would answer a question affirmatively but then fail to provide an explanation unless prodded. Anjal did just that.

“Who are they?”

“Let’s see. Well, there were the Trebbes, cute little things, quadrupeds who apparently communicate with smells. The Centaurans, the Kreekus, the Ik-Tak from Cygnus…” Jyilla rattled off a long list of alien civilizations.

“Wait, the Centaurans? From Proxima Centauri?” Jens asked with some surprise, recalling the view of the bustling planet they had seen on the sphere display while he was searching the Milky Way sector for Earth.

“The same. There’s something interesting about them I’m trying to remember.” Antennae rotated in unison. “Something that relates to your people. Nectar! That’s it! They are your ancestors. Or rather, you share a common ancestor.” Anjal put her hands on her hips and tilted her head in disbelief. But not nearly as much disbelief as she would have felt and projected a few months ago before the wormhole lobbed her and Jens like an intergalactic tennis ball. Her natural inclination towards skepticism was being systematically replaced by a singular, bland acceptance. Each new fantastic thing she encountered now evoked a “Why the hell not?” as opposed to her previous customary, “No fucking way.”

“Aw, come on.  How can that be? If what you said is true, there’s no way they could have used our Iris. How would they have gotten off of Earth?” But Jens was already thinking ahead of her.

“KT.” He said solemnly.

“What?”

“Chicxulub!” Jens shouted with animation. Anjal thought he had lost his mind.

“Cheek-sha-what?”

 “The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. The dinosaur-killer asteroid. It shot megatons of ejecta out into space.” Nalla searched the cube quickly and then nodded its antennae.

“Confirmed. Our ancestors determined that rocks carrying DNA made their way to Proxima Centauri and brought a new pattern for developing organisms.”

“Dinosaurs are living on Proxima Centauri? Show me.” Anjal demanded and Nalla wisely complied, lest she glower in the antennae-melting manner that both it and Jyilla expected from her when she her wishes were thwarted. Wisps a-flying, Nalla interfaced with the Cube until the center holo-display showed a bipedal velociraptor-ish being. It was wearing a suit and walking down a futuristic-looking city-scape, carrying a briefcase. “I wonder if they know we’re intelligent. I mean, we’re neighbors, right? Proxima is only 4 light years from Sol. How can they not know we’re here?” Gleezian shrugs commenced.

“I think it would depend on the quality of their sensing devices and their level of technological advancement and on the speed and strength of your signaling media.”

“We were building a deep space laser communications array on the moon when your Iris interrupted us.” Jens pouted. The Gleeze nodded. Anjal eye-rolled and simultaneously stopped the antennae shooting at her eyelid with her palm.

“Then again, they may simply not be interested in meeting others unlike themselves.” Nalla concluded. Anjal decided if that were the case, it would be support for the theory of the Centaurans being related to humans. Because type of prejudice sure sounded like an asshole human convention.  

“You and Jens should take a perch, Anjelica Reyes. We will lift off in a few seconds.” Nalla warned. Anjal reached into the pocket of her jacket where she had stowed the sickly goojh. She removed it and spoke quietly to it for a few minutes.

“You’re going to be fine, Jefe.” She said, using the name she had given it. The goojh sighed and curled up in her palm like a tiny multi-legged kitten and pulsed with a purple light which Anjal interpreted as a goojh purr. When she sat on the perch, it surprised her by rearranging itself into a chair. “Shit! What the hell…” She watched as Jens’ perch did the same. Programmed nano-material that senses weight distribution, she guessed. Or does it read DNA and produce a seat for your genotype? A perch for a winged creature, a chair for a biped, maybe a tank for a life form with flippers or gills? Just one more unbelievable thing—the undeniable reality of which was becoming less remarkable as each hour passed. “Nanoids. That’s pretty fucking cool.” She said to Jens, who was just settling into the reconfigured furniture.

“Are the nanoids customizable? I’d really like a recliner.” Before Jens could finish his words, an ottoman shot out from his chair. He smiled like a child who just realized the vending machine is broken and he can get all the candy out by holding down the button. “Lager??”

“Ha! You’re on the job, Ulrich.” Anjal quipped.

“For 1 or 2 months straight? Well, I’d better get paid overtime, yah.” He smirked.  “And mileage.”

Restraints flew out of the floor and connected to the humans like a seatbelt and to the Gleeze like a tether around their thoraxes. A small bubble floated up and engulfed the goojh, answering Anjal’s question about how to protect it.

No one spoke during the liftoff, which gave Anjal some time to reflect on the last few months and the accident that brought her and Jens here. She had blamed Jens for the entire incident and refused to speak to him for the first 10 days (or so she estimated; they had yet to determine how much subjective time had passed).  Eventually, she started communicating with him again when her conversations with her living house became tiresome.

Jens was strangely easy to get along with since they had arrived. He was courteous and thoughtful (for him) and his observations were more intelligent than in her previous experience with him. She had just gotten to the point where she could talk to him without exploding into a verbal barrage every time he opened his mouth, when he started doing something completely unacceptable: he began complimenting her. On her hair that was looking shiny and silky, or her skin that was radiant, or her smile (which he had to subversively catch when she didn’t know he was watching). And it was freaking her the fuck out because she liked it, and that was just too unsettling. So she reverted to high-bitch mode in order to make him stop doing that (while inwardly wanting him to continue and then alternately hating herself for that thought.) Anjelica Reyes was one fantastic engineer, but a complicated woman.

Read all chapters here.