THE GREAT SPACE RACE“MAAAAAAAAARTEL!”
The helpless raven-haired intern with an armful of papers barely had a second to react before the door burst open in a flash of purple and overly excited alien barged on through.“Aaah!”
Riley yelped, literally skidding to a halt. “I am so sorry!”
Not even leaning down, she picked up the intern with her psionic powers and placed her back on her feet again. “There we go, good as new!”
“Ah, thanks I guess,” the intern grumbled, annoyed as she took a moment to collect her papers. Riley gave a double thumbs up in response.
“What in blazes is going on out here?” “MAAAAAAAAAAARTEL!”
The intern shrieked again as Riley’s excitement came back in full force and she was propelled through the door Riley came in, leaving behind a cloud of very important documents as Riley rushed up to the good (and very confused doctor).“OhmygoshIwasatthelibrarywithwandererandwewerelookingatbooksandIpetadogbutthenIsawthatbiganchorguyandrealizedthatbigdragonthingywasabigdragonthingyIsawthenIranoverthenIsmashedthroughthedoorandthen-”
“Riley, calm down, please!” Martel said, chuckling slightly. “Don’t give yourself a heart attack before you let me know what’s happening.” The alien heroine took a deep breath, her glowing dampening down a little bit before she resumed.“I realized something about my psionic dream!”
Riley said excitedly. “The creature that I saw was the same one I fought with on the Game Genie day! The one who was with the knightly girl!”
“...you’re certain?” Martel said, mildly surprised. “Because as it happens the, uh, “knightly girl” had a package arriving for her that I just finished inspecting.”
Riley’s eyes widened with excitement. “Maybe I can talk to her about the Dickens again!”
“I certainly don’t see why not,” Martel responded. “Come on, let’s get to my office before all the interns quit.”
Riley’s sudden arrival meant that Martel didn’t have time to clear his normally immaculate desk, which was dominated by a large metal crate and various tools and technical devices scattered around it to help with the tests he just finished. With a click the screen rang in Martel’s office directly from Phister’s location which Mrs. Patton was currently using. Each ring buzzed in intensity as per usual.
“Such brilliant timing,” Martel remarked going over to his viewscreen promptly. “I should perhaps buy a lottery ticket.” The camera clicked on as he stood in front of it, showing the good doctor with Riley idly milling around in the background and bouncing slightly. “Dr. Martel here,” Martel announced briskly.
Distracted by the remaining footage of the alien creature Briley almost didn’t catch the quick response from one of the leads of SPARK. “Yes. I had been monitoring for Riley and now that she’s here, I’d like you and her along with that certain package to come along to Phister’s office. There is someone I’d like to introduce, properly this time for Riley of course.”“Someone say my name?”
Riley piped in, appearing over Martel’s shoulder. “Oh, hi Miss Briley!”
“She’s...very enthusiastic to see you,” Martel said, wincing as he tried to avoid getting hit by the alien girl’s frantic waving. “We’ll make our way over there as soon as possible. I’m of the impression that Riley has business with the recipient of this thing as well.”“Knightly girl is getting this?”
Riley asked, looking curiously at the large metal case. “Ooh, I will be able to ask about Dickens then!”
“How delightful,” Martel said in a droll tone as he ended the communication. “Say, since you’re here, do you want to carry that thing with your psionics?”
Riley nodded enthusiastically, straining for a moment before the case levitated off the desk. “Goodness...it is rather heavy…”
“Nearly threw my back out carrying that thing in here,” Martel said with another chuckle. “Let’s hurry, I’d rather not keep this friend of hers waiting.”
The raven-haired intern stumbled back through the door to the main hallway, just as Dr. Martel emerged from his office alongside Riley, the giant, heavy, metal crate hovering in front of her. With a little whimper, the intern quickly stepped to the side and let the pair of them pass, breathing a sigh of relief before she tripped over the coffee table and dropped the sheaf of papers again.
The handle turned and the door began to open as Martel walked Riley into the room with the large crate in tow careful to set it down gently and avoid damaging anything. Knightly girl stood leaned up against a stack of books with a literal bucket of pizza in her arms from Bucket O’Things likely the greasiest fast food restaurant anywhere in the world as strings of cheese hung from her lips. Mrs. Patton welcomed the two to sit with a gesture.
“Dr. Martel, and Riley I’d like for you both to meet as you call her, Knightly girl, Eva Walsh; my niece I didn’t want you to find out some other way who she was.”
With a soft wave Eva continued munching on the pizza as Briley spoke. Riley was beside herself and looked about two seconds away from squealing with delight and tackling her with a big hug. Luckily, she composed herself this time.
“I felt guilty keeping this from you as you had kept Riley’s secret for some time before I found out, I wouldn’t want you to feel I had lied to you in any way.”
“Understandable, really,” Martel pondered. “I would have done the same thing in your shoes. I DID do the same thing in your shoes,” he added with a little pang of guilt, glancing over at the overexcited alien.
Sometimes gravity has a way of anticipating incoming transformations in space, almost like a living creature with instincts, with built in codes that let it react to outside stimuli. The reaction, in this case, was a sudden, wave-like gravitational oscillation which made several small objects in the room begin to orbit around a bit of empty space behind Eva. An impromptu asteroid belt of sorts, which grew in mass as some books and, eventually, the literal bucket of pizza, joined the clutter. The very light in the room became distorted into a bizarre series of multicolored curvatures, and the air gained a cool, crisp feeling to it, like it had been purified with mostly harmless radiation.
Then it all went back to normal. Objects fell down as they remembered where ‘down’ was. Light acted normally again. The air recovered its previous smell and texture. The bucket of pizza performed a tragic reenactment of the extinction of the dinosaurs as it crashed onto the pristine floor and violently spilled its precious, precious contents in a cheesy splatter many feet wide and long.“Aaaah, not the pizza!””Bloody worthless tosser!”
Eva exclaimed as goop covered her, the floor and parts of the ceiling. Briley looked at the mess with disdain more so that William Phister would be outraged than anything else. ”Gonna have a fu#king terrible time getting this sauce out of my hair.”
Eva said as she wiped cheese from her face, and shirt.
What the gravity in the room had anticipated revealed itself quite suddenly, in a spontaneous display of colorful cosmic energy right in the middle of where the asteroid belt of pizza, books and stuff had been. It was a sphere that was not quite a sphere, an object that was not an object at all. It was a proper rift in space, made from bits and pieces of space itself. And not just the space in that room, but the space from many places.
The rift made no sound, or at least the air around it could not reproduce it. Although, by the looks of it, whatever sound its motions could have made would have been spectacular and surreal, like the finest chillwave. There was a rhythm to its inner motions.
It must be remarked that a human body, or any body for that matter, never looks like itself while passing through a rift in space, at least until it crosses into conventionally accepted space. The cells in any body have to adapt to the fact that the space between them is now completely relative and can take nonsensical forms to maintain the body as a whole alive and sapient, and the end result of that is easily lost among the rest of the cosmic nonsense going on in the oniric spaces between spaces.
Ergo, the creator of the rift appeared at first as certainly humanoid in appearance, but a bit on the wrong side of the uncanny valley. From outside the rift, they caught a glimpse of a slender being with neon-colored hair and eyes, iridescent skin, and features that were sometimes round, sometimes sharp. And then, just as they had seen it, the being was standing in the middle of the ring of cheese, papers, pens, pencils and books, and he was unquestionably human.
Gawking, Eva stood there for a moment before she yelled. “I Assume this was your doing you giraffe-necked, carebear-reject unicorned ET wanker.”
The young human in the black and purple armor had a handful of rules he stood by at all times, no matter the context. Partly because he wanted to be a good Christian boy, but mostly because he liked them. One such rule was not engaging with abusive language.
This time, however, he had no choice but to break that rule.“Why ‘giraffe necked’?”
Asked the young man, hand immediately caressing his neck to check its length. He had never felt insecure about it. Nobody had complained before.
He glanced around and furrowed his brow a bit, a bit confused. The cheese under his boots felt dangerously slippery.“Man, I was aiming for the entrance hall”
, he mumbled to himself before turning back to Eva. “I’m really sorry about the mess. I guess my beacon was a bit off. Usually I’m very accurate with rifts.”“Wow!”
Riley suddenly piped in, hopping to her feet. “I do not mind, that was interesting. It was like something right out of Star Trek!”“The next generation or the original series?”
He asked instinctively, not taking a moment to think about what the girl looked like. A part of his brain, thoroughly accustomed to non-human people, was probably doing the hard subconscious labor of just passively accepting the blue skin, red eyes and tentacles for hair as a perfectly normal thing to see.“Hmm, I would say next generation, effects were a little better…”
Riley pondered before her eyes suddenly lit up with excitement. “Hey, you know Star Trek too!”“My mom loves sci-fi stuff”
, said the young man, “so I grew up watching Star Trek and Cosmos with her every night. We both agree that Picard is better than Kirk.”
Riley nodded with approval at this decision.”Never saw yourself come through one of your rifts yea. Looked like an elephant laid a snake egg that somewhere between smashed a rainbow. And yeah next time use a door, even Voyager knows what doors are. And she's more energetic than a Jack Russell terrier with a can of red bull.”
Riley gave an innocent wave, seemingly confirming the fact.“I did try to look at myself through a rift once”
, he answered, his consciousness on the verge of catching up to the fact that he had been conversing with an unknown alien. “Looked more like a koi fish wearing a red velvet cupcake as a wig to me...”
He paused, bordeaux eyes turning to Riley. His mouth parted slightly, a look of mild confusion briefly showing in his features, and he spoke again.“I’m…”
He hesitated, then gave his head a little sideways shake, loosening strands of his long bordeaux hair from his ponytail, and smiled. “You can call me Andromedan.”
He approached the two young women with an outstretched hand, a bit of cosmic energy lingering in the air around it like a little, multicolored cloud.“Riley!”
the tentacle-aired alien confirmed happily, much to the visible chagrin of Dr. Martel and the other humans. “Voyager works too, if you want to use the fancy name.”
Like Andromedan, a little bit of energy lingered in the air around her as well, psionic to match his cosmic.“Nice to meet you, Riley!”
He answered with a bit of a chuckle.”Pardon the sticky hands, I feel like a deep fryer fu.. I mean was smashed into a washing machine.”“No worries”
, said the Andromedan. “Mine are still coated in space dust. It’s very hard to clean properly.”
Her aunt had those eyes about her, the ones all parents give their kids that death stare when they know they’ve gone too far. “Yes well I’m glad you’re all here, but please we have a reception desk. Now you’re all mature adults here, or I’m pretty sure most of you are we haven’t quite decided on Riley yet given her unknown biological systems, far as I know she could be one.” Turning to Martel, Briley spoke. “Dr. Martel if you could open the case for Mrs. Pendragon here. And if you.” She said placing her gaze upon Andromedan. “Have any business we should get down to that.”“Oh, right!”
Said the Andromedan, reaching for Briley, his smile diminishing into a more professional style. “So… I actually have a couple things I want to ask you about. First of all, want to know what sort of equipment you’ve been buying from alien merchants.”
He then deftly pulled his phone out of one of his armor’s pockets and presented her with a picture of his newest pet. More specifically, a selfie he had taken with the alien creature and Jake, where the three of them shared a massive bowl of ice cream in bed in a sunny weekend morning.“And what do you know about Thorian Thrashers?”
he asked, not yet noticing Riley hovering behind him, looking at the selfie with stunned silence.
Briley sat silent for a minute. “You do realize we are a company that specializes in cutting edge tech, and military contracts, some are yes weapons others armor and energy consumption. While I cannot divulge all the purchases we’ve made we are just beginning to understand what makes alien technology so special. It’s use of energy and micro compression of technology. I can fit a phone in the palm of my hand, but an exosuit has more technology in its pinky or similar appendage than most home computers.” Unfazed by the picture that Andromedan showed her of a creature much like Eva’s space dragon, she calmly continued. “And that creature is what exactly.”“It’s Dickens!”
Riley interjected into the conversation, bouncing on her feet like a child with too much sugar. “But...a little different. Do you know more of them?”“...Dickens?”
Muttered the Andromedan. “Not a bad name.”
He gave the alien girl a closer look of the creature in his phone screen.“This is a Thorian Thrasher”
, he said to her, giving Briley a sideways glance. “An invasive, predatory and very, very powerful animal… at least when it’s all grown up. If you’ve seen one on Earth, that’s… a bit of an issue. It’s an issue if you see one anywhere near any inhabited planet, really.”
Briley sighed but she supposed that was to be expected. “What if I saw one in my head?”
Voyager asked innocently.“You mean… like a vision?”
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow.“Yes, exactly!”
Voyager said, pleased that someone understood at last. “That is why I came over here so urgently, because I wanted to ask about Miss Knightly Girl and her Dickens. I think...someone is sending me a message, and it involves Dickens in some way. At first I thought it was some dream, but it felt...too personal.”
“It’s not out of the question that what you saw could have been a direct message,” Martel explained helpfully. “Some of the resonances in psionic energy that I’ve observed have been similar to brain wave patterns, and if so they could be deciphered by a psionically attuned system.”
The Andromedan stared expressionless for a bit, his voice even, if a bit softened, when he spoke.“Okay, so… I’m majoring in humanities and stuff, so I’m gonna need you to dumb that down for me. A lot.”
“Sorry, bad habit,” Martel said apologetically. “In essence, the energy force that Riley can wield can also function as a messaging service. Essentially someone sent an e-mail with a message saying ‘Dickens is important, go find him’.” Martel’s grin faltered slightly, then his eyes widened in realization.“Neat”
, said the Andromedan, mostly to himself, nodding. “But why that particular ThorianThrasher?””Right what the hell is up with Riley getting spammed with visions of Dickens. How does he factor into, well, anything?”
“It just occurred to me...Riley, you’re certain that no one on the planet could have sent you this vision?”
Riley shook her head no. “Only one other psionic person I know about, and he could not have sent it. Why?”
Martel scratched his head. “Well, if the message came from deep space, which the Thrasher seems to indicate, then…the only way it could have reached you is from a similarly attuned system. In layman’s terms,” Martel said, giving the others a look. “The message would have to come from someone of the same species.”
There was a stunned silence as Riley clapped her hands over her mouth.
Briley surmised that considering her vast psionic capabilities that is was more than possible there would be others of her species that had similar or stronger powers or ones they haven’t encountered yet. “Perhaps your kind is trying to reach out to you whatever their intention may be. I’d be a bit careful of anyone able to enter another’s mind even to convey a psi-mail.”
Martel nodded in the affirmative. “It is a highly reasonable explanation.” He then backed away slightly as Riley started to float into the air.“You mean...there’s more of me out there?”
she said, her hands still clamped across her mouth in sheer surprise.
The Andromedan seemed to be on the verge of speaking for a moment. He hesitated. His mind had caught up to Riley’s technically-not-human appearance, but it was more than that. When he did speak, his voice sounded rather subdued.“It’s… possible”
, he said, looking at the alien girl as he stuffed his phone back in his pocket. “I have never seen someone like you, but I’ve heard of species with psionic powers. Not a lot of them, and I think most of them are extinct… but there’s that.”
He was quiet again, pensive, but this pause was shorter.“Riley, what do you know about who you are? Do you know anything about how you got here?”“Um...not much. I just sort of woke up in a box when Miss Fletcher found me,”
Riley said, her spirits faltering slightly. “The rest is sort of...foggy.”
The Andromedan nodded and remained quiet for a little while.“Well, whatever this all means, it involves a Thorian Thrasher, so I need to be involved”
, he said, arms crossed over his chest. “Where is Dickens?”
Eva looked at Andromendan still pulling toppings out of her hair. ”What's it to you?” “I have a sorta moral responsibility to keep Thorian Thrashers away from inhabited planets”
, he explained. “They’re no evil creatures, but they are apex predators and they never stay docile for long. You can’t keep one on Earth.””I don't see any harm in it, he seems pretty happy, even though I don't know much about Thorian Thrashers. Anyways he's safe at home. Probably sleeping, he does that alot.”“Look, I keep my own in my dorm room and they’re very sweet”
, he said. “But one day he’s going to try to eat you or someone you love. I just want to preempt that. Find your Dickens a safe place in the galaxy where he can eat and grow and not be a danger to anyone.”
He pulled his beacon from his pocket, felt its energy, and thought of planets where a Thorian Thrasher might be comfortable and harmless.“I’m going to be taking my Thrasher with me soon, but I would really like to make sure that there are no more of their kind on Earth. If something goes wrong with mine or yours, I’m the only cosmomancer available to help and I know I’m not strong enough to fight a fully grown Thrasher.”“Do you think I could come with you?”
Riley asked, her excitement coming back in full force. “I think it is what the vision wants me to do, to help you bring the Dicken Thrasher home!”
The quiet hesitation from before returned, the Andromedan’s face suddenly impassive.“I’m not supposed to leave Earth at all, so I was already breaking a promise by going away for just a couple hours to get the Thrashers away from the planet.”
He seemed to be musing aloud, but as soon as he was finished he was smiling again, and he spoke to Riley with a bit of enthusiasm.“Might as well make it a long trip”
, he said and chuckled. “Just so we’re clear, though, we might be going to some really far away places and you’re absolutely going to need to pack warm clothes, some snacks and old jazz vinyls, if you have any. I assume you don’t have any cash from any interspatial currency, so old jazz vinyls are the next best thing. Xenomusicologists love them and will trade you fairly for them.”
“Not that I don’t trust you to go galavanting through the cosmos,” Martel interjected cautiously. “But Riley, are you sure you’re in a position where you can take this trip?”“I HAVE already been to space, somewhat,”
Riley said, pleased with herself. “Plus if the city is in danger I know someone who can come to its rescue. I met her earlier, she is quite capable and a force to be reckoned with!”
Halfway across the city, Maddy Fen Ling was passed out on her sofa watching Jessica Jones on Netflix.”So, what you're like the Space Police, Space Marines? You go around in battleships and mop decks? Assuming I do believe all that, and yeah Dickens has had some people before, they were villains and I scolded him so he shouldn't do it again; I'm still not exactly ready for space, breathing oxygen and all that.”“Well...”
said the Andromedan. “To answer your first question, no. I’m not really a space cop or marine or anything like that. We cosmomancers are more like diplomats and occasional rebels. And I rarely go around in battleships. Rifts in space are faster.”
Martel cleared his throat. “And in answer to your last statement, I believe this would be helpful.” Turning his attention to the heavy crate, he quickly entered a passcode into the locking mechanism, and with a shrill tone the lock snapped open, letting off a dramatic depressurized hiss. “I’ve been double checking some of the features on this bit of equipment, I think it will suit your needs, no?”
The armor was simple and knightly, pauldrons were clean and without any pronounced edges and spikes, the gauntlets had plenty of finger joints and covered the forearms, a raised chest plate would deflect blows and allow ample space for her chest. A leather looking material was underneath even though Eva assumed it was far from normal cow hide, the legs and knees had protection and the helmet was closed and seemed like it would actually hide her identity. With a cute capelet hanging off the back. ”No shit, you make this Doc? It looks more like a hero suit than my hoodie ever did.”
“I helped with the less interesting systems, power and connections and the like,” Martel said with a slight chuckle. “The design is mostly Lion’s work, it’s an impressive bit of engineering.”“It does look especially knightly!”
Riley said, admiring the sleek design.
“Speaking of which, if you are planning on heading across the galaxy, I have a suit for you as well Riley,” Martel announced. “Nothing too different from your usual, just some better armor and some backup life support, so you don’t need to rely entirely on your powers to function out there.”“Ooh, that would be helpful,”
Riley admitted, giving a nervous gulp at the thought of her barriers breaking down when she was out in the vacuum of space. Naturally though the idea of being in space reminder her that she was in fact going into space.“We’re going to spaaaaaaaace!”