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It was surprisingly warm. I bent closer and felt the bumpy surface. There were a series of knots in the wood and every time my tentacle ran over one of them, I felt a slight ping deep in my brain. Finally, I felt something very soft and fleshy, beating regularly. The spines on the back of my head started to quiver. “There! You’ve got it, haven’t you?” Uncle leaned closer to me. “Don’t be afraid, squeeze it, squeeze it tight! The Nethasian heart is strong, it welcomes conflict!” A rush of images flickered in my brain. I saw Nethasian embryos floating in the thick, black clouds of Syxyr. Images of blood rushing through the canyons of Moktokalai flashed before me. Scenes of battles on far away worlds washed over me. Expansive floating shipyards drifting in between Vush and Olm, cradles of battle cruisers, filled my eyes. Faces of ancestors I didn’t even know about emerged from the primordial soup and then sank back down. Gritty panoramas of immense factories, hosting an opera of metal, sparks, and sweat, were sprawled before me. Cities spreading out over smoldering ruins and charred enemies blanketed my vision. And the sounds – oh those sounds. The low guttural murmurings and thick convulsions of growls and utterances were like a symphony. Now what was said to me would be so much clearer – it would sound like home. But there was one last image – my sensei’s face. “Vuth Noan Torsp Ivish Gulmoag Momoag!” My uncle hissed. (“This is the gift of your birth tree!”) “Tugot Vuch.” My small tentacle rested on his chest in a gesture of gratitude and respect. Uncle left me and I remained behind. I ran my hands over the tree like it was a parent. I slowly turned around and looked at all the other trees in the forest, each one a repository of the Nethasian soul. This was the ancestral grove, the home of the elder ones, the first trees from which all other trees sprang. Nethasians touch the heart of their tree in young adulthood – something I was denied. But I was here and it felt good. I wanted to say that I walked away from that grove as a man, but I was an adult when I arrived, I would leave no less.
The journey from Oask Continent in Gash’Ib to Coal Town was strangely lonely. Was I now officially a Nethasian? Or was I still a wanderer who knew a lot about Nethasians? Should Mistress Janelle have left me to die in that burning city? I think Uncle would have said yes; it seems that a dead Nethasian is better than one living apart from his people. As I looked at the star blade curled around my arm, I wondered if it was time to put it away. My thoughts were interrupted by a lone figure in a red robe below me. It was standing on the shore of Bosk, the lonely little continent that supported Coal Town. The stranger was surrounded by three lights; each one seemed a dense cluster of points of light. They looked like miniature galaxies. It was holding a small cone of metal in its hands. Suddenly, the cone floated up and away, till it was ten meters above it. The cone flattened out and became a disc thousands of meters in diameter. As it did so, a tremendous gust of wind swept the area. The stranger’s hood was blown back and it was revealed: we were being visited by a servant of Yil-Weth-Yma. The three lights floated up until they were just above the disc; they combined and formed an image of our galaxy. Several dark spots appeared in the image. Then the lights went out. The disc shrank back into a cone and settled into the servants’ hands. The visitor then simply turned around and vanished. A chill went down my spine. I knew better than to ask why it had come.
I wearily climbed off my bike and pushed open the door. Home never looked so good. My Nethasian was good, I knew where I came from, and I knew what was expected of me. I pulled back the curtain and smiled. “Good night Coal Town.” There was a slight giggle. “Good night Coal Town.” I spun around. “Who’s there?” I pulled out my rifle. In the dim light, I could see movement under the blanket on my bed. I resolutely walked over and whipped the covers off. A little U, no bigger than my left tentacle, looked up at me and smiled. “Good Night!” “OK seedling, time to go home – well maybe tomorrow. I’m dead tired.” “Good Night!”
Sleeping on the couch in the living room of my quaint little cottage was not great, but I got up all the same the next morning. The little U was already up. It was dancing and singing, circling round and round in the sunshine that bathed the wooden floorboards. The sound it made was like a combination of a humpback whale and a blue bird; it was absolutely amazing.
“Time for breakfast kiddo.” What did U eat anyways? The little one stepped lithely into my presence and simply stood there. Its organs were slowly moving throughout its body, doing an elaborate ballet of shifting and floating. The finger like appendages on its head were slowly curling and uncurling. “What’s your name anyways?” I picked it up and walked out the door. “Good Night!” “No, no. It’s morning. Good morning!” The sunshine was warm but the glares were not. The U were trespassers to many. They were something that couldn’t be conquered, killed, or subjugated. “Good Night!” “Really. You’ve got to have a name. What do your parents call you?” “No parents.” The alien pointed to itself, “Good Night Coal Town!” Uh oh. I think I must have accidentally bonded with the creature. “No parents huh? Who takes care of you?” “You do!” It hugged me tight. I walked into the local diner at the center of town. I sat the alien down on a stool at the bar and took a seat myself. I looked at the same old menu, with the same old stuff, and dearly missed those Martian cave grubs. (“A bar isn’t a place for Jellymen – even little ones.”) The bartender warned. (“Just here for some breakfast – then we’re moving on.”) (“You’d better move on now sheriff.”) I recognized the voice. It was the same one I heard before I was put in the hospital. I slowly turned around. My star blade slid off my arm. (“Is this the way you want to start the day?”) (“Yes sir, it is.”). He came at me with a ferocity I had never known. Despite my training, he was all over me. He landed several good shots, picked me up, and tossed me like a cheap toy. (“A weak sheriff is better than a dead one. I’ll do you a favor – I’ll let you crawl out of here. Take that little Jellyman with you.”) I limped out of the bar, but left my ego behind. Even after a year, I still had a lot to learn. Maybe coming home was a mistake in the eyes of the others, but I was home – and I was not leaving. As I struggled down Main Street, with the alien behind, I got a variety of looks. Some must have felt sorry for me, others seemed to admire my fighting spirit, and still others thought I was amusing.
“Hungry.” The creature looked up at me. “Sorry seedling I don’t know what you like to eat.” “Hungry.” It repeated. “Let’s take you back to Jewel City.” I put the alien on my bike. We skimmed over the rocks and dirt.
I climbed off the bike and winced as I walked up to the force field. 784 was waiting for us. I thought the little one would have run up to him, but it stayed behind me. As I understood it, 784 was the head man, the chief of the village. He was the only one who had the courage to take an interest in us. He stretched out his hand and I was enveloped in a glowing blue sphere filled with electrical arcs. “You have suffered.” He stepped closer. I could feel my body mending and the pain lessening. “I’ve had better days.” When the sphere disappeared, I was as good as new. “Thanks.” “You’re welcome. Why did you seek us out?” “I’ve come to return one of your little ones. Her parents or care takers must be very worried.” I thought about my birth tree – I mean the one I came from. Did it miss me after Mistress Janelle spirited me away? “This one has no parents.” “They died?” “Yes. They were killed during The Persecution.” “So who is raising the child?” “No one. It simply grows.” “What will become of him? Or is it a her?” “Why don’t you ask?” “I am.” “No – ask.” 784 pointed to the little one. I knelt down in front of the little creature. “OK kiddo, now what?” “Breakfast – then home.” It hugged me tight. “Good Night has a family now.”
784 nodded. “It seems that the universe wants you to be more than just a Nethasian.” “No, no Good Night, Jewel City is your home.” “For some of us yes, it is.” 784 replied. “But for her,” he waved his hand across the sky, “this is her home.” It reminded me of the song my sensei used to sing to me at night:
I didn’t know who I was, Or who I wanted to be, That’s why the stars were calling to me.
My past is a mystery, And my parents unknown, That’s why I look up at the stars, And call the universe my home.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
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