Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 10: Terminal Thoughts
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- Introduction, Linked Table of Contents, and Chapter One of Gift of the Gruldak
Do you like robots, aliens, monsters, and misfits? Why not read the first installment of Gruldak? This serialized science fiction novel is free to read online. All available chapters are linked in the table of contents on the page.
Chapter Ten, Terminal Thoughts
It was a very bad time to realize we’d forgotten a vital piece of information. After weeks of planning in which it had never crossed any of our minds, it was both sickening and obvious.
I had no bloody idea whose body I was stumbling against the wall in. It was way worse than waking up in Guido for the first time.
I made my way out of the booth, blinking and squinting against the actinic lighting. The intense blue beams glared from all 360 degrees of the spherical chamber I was in. After ten long beeping noises sounded, the wall directly in front of the booth slid open. A pleasant female voice said, “Please step forward through the door and hold onto the railing.”
I walked into something that looked like a short narrow hallway and I startled when the door snapped shut behind me with a “snick.”
“Please hold the railing,” the synthetic siren repeated.
It felt as if the floor was dropping out beneath me so I scrabbled for the metal railing. I thought for a second or two that it was just an aftereffect. Then I heard a very faint clunk and the sense of movement stopped. The end of the hall “shooshed” open to a riot of sounds.
It must have been utterly sound-proofed.
It took a small amount of effort to release my grip on right railing because I’d been squeezing it so tightly.
Striding out the doorway, I tried to look nonchalant, as if I got beamed into a strange new body on a regular basis.
Just outside there was a large room richly carpeted in earth tones and set with cozy groupings of chairs and sofas. A bank of a four view screens about eight by ten feet each was set parallel to the wall behind me. Clusters of well-dressed people stood looking at the screens which seemed to be scrolling lines of information. Overhead announcements blended into a jumble of noise including the excited chatter of people excited to see one another.
A trim, middle-aged woman in an orange, red, and rust brown sarong looked up at me from where she was sitting. She wore a live red flower in her hair that looked as if it had been dipped in diamond dust.
Her smile lit up her round cheeks and made her dark eyes crinkle at the corners as she rose, obviously to greet me.
If they hadn’t edited out the contents of my lower bowel and bladder to save on mass my pants might have been very unhappy.
I was supposed to get out of the terminal as quickly as possible to avoid any inconveniences involving the “real” transportee who would, presumably, be popping out of a door a few moments behind me.
According to our “carefully” staged plan I was to hide out somewhere my host’s body was familiar to no one for a few days, trying to reach some of our contacts in the area. It never occurred to us that someone might be picking him up.
It was too late to run; she’d already seen me. I felt more clumsy than any degree of drunkenness had ever rendered me and sicker than any hangover could ever match.
At irregular intervals, people popped out of doors just like the one I’d exited on the far side of the room. Most of them weren’t greeted by anyone.
The woman moved closer, eying me just a little oddly and said, “I missed you,” before flinging her arms around me.
“Uh, I missed you, too?” I said, belatedly putting my arms around her.
Honestly, I couldn’t help adding the question mark. It just started rolling off my tongue and the momentum it gained made it unstoppable.
“So how was your week?” she asked, gently disengaging from the awkward embrace.
“Uh, very tiring?” I replied, “I think I need some rest.”
“You poor dear, let’s get you home right away,” she said, taking my arm and tugging me towards the center and to the right of the room. We walked down the middle of the room toward the end of the long room where there were more doors, this time with signs over them. We made a beeline to a door that said “Baggage Claim #42.
I talked about the weather and smog level in Hong Kong. At least I knew the guy stepped into a booth in Hong Kong.
The door turned out to be an ordinary elevator that took us to another floor. I wondered if the data collection ‘bots had found me yet as we stood quietly next to each other in the elevator.
The elevator opened behind me and the woman almost giggled as I turned around in surprise.
Instead of the carousel belt I sort of expected, there was a short, un-moving conveyor belt coming out of a hole in the wall with plastic strips hanging down from it.
“Wow, Bob, you must really be tired,” the woman said, lifting my right hand in her own. She pulled it across a blue patch on a shiny metal column next to the closest end of the belt and the machine made a pleasant “ping!”
A neutral female voice said, “Robert Evan Andrews, your baggage is on its way. Please wait behind the blue line at the end of the belt.”
A candy apple red piece of hard-sided luggage rolled out on the belt, followed by a shiny black briefcase.
“Please remove your baggage from the belt,” said the column.
I grabbed both pieces and allowed the woman to lead me to an automatic door that opened out into the sort of terminal I was more familiar with.
It sort of looked like an airline terminal with its high ceilings and neat lines of people dropping their bags onto conveyor belts that carried them off into large, plastic-flapped holes in the walls. There were no counters, though, and the only staff appeared to be the greeters spaced evenly along the many doors in front of the terminal. People just pressed a hand to the wall on a blue lighted square next to the belts to drop off their luggage.
I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears over the background noises and I was certain the real Robert Evan Andrews was due to pop up any second. I was getting more and more nervous. One can only talk about Hong Kong and nothing but Hong Kong for only so long.
The air was warm and fresh outside and the sun was streaming through translucent cut-outs in the awning over the sidewalk. Palm trees in raised pots alternating with rectangular hedges of orange hibiscus dotted the brick plaza artistically. Trash cans were evident but there were no benches, presumably to prevent seated loitering. The open design of the area made escape from Bob’s wife unlikely. I decided to play along and sneak away at the first opportunity that presented itself.
She lead me through a scattering of people to what looked an awful lot like a train composed of small, sleek cars partially wrapped around a semi-circular platform. She pressed her hand on the now-familiar blue square next to the door on one of the compartments. The square flashed and chimed. It slid open, she entered the car, and reached back to take my briefcase. I followed her inside and the door chimed and the patch flashed as I passed through the opening.
The door closed behind us and I sat peering fretfully out the window, hoping the real Bob wasn’t right behind us. Within moments, the train began to move once the cars on its length filled up.
The woman said, “OK, we can talk now, Bob. What the Hell is going on?”
I let out the breath I’d been unconsciously holding and said, “I’m just really tired. Do you mind if I nap?”
“Go ahead and nap, but as soon as we get home you’re going to tell me what’s going on.”
I squirmed and shifted in the unfamiliar seat and body and tried to get myself into a convincing nap position. She leaned over with a strange look on her face and hit a button on the side of the seat to make it recline.
Meanwhile, the train was slowly accelerating until it reached a speed so fast all I could see was a blur out the window. I made no attempt to actually fall asleep, I just closed my eyes and tried to take stock.
I knew the guy’s name, but I didn’t know his wife’s name. According to Cap, women almost never took their husband’s last names anymore unless they were some kind of religious kooks. I couldn’t get away with calling her Mrs. Andrews, even if that hadn’t been an option that already sucked. And I had huge feet!
I couldn’t help thinking Cap should have done this. Thinking brought me to a state of near panic. So I decided I’d just focus on my breathing. I had no idea what to say to her as I had no idea what business her husband was even in.
The train started to slow and I opened my eyes. The woman sat across from me, braiding her dark curly hair. I started to remove my bags from the webbing pocket they were secure behind and she raised an eyebrow.
“Do you need something out of one of those?”
Realizing my mistake I said, “I just want to check something in my briefcase.”
Obviously we weren’t getting off there so I decided to see if I could figure out what Robert’s occupation might be.
I’d just opened the briefcase and our car suddenly shot sideways right out of the train! It seemed to surf over a cushion of air and moved maybe fifty miles an hour through what looked like some kind of paved strip winding through jungle.
Retrieving the contents of the spilled briefcase gave me an opportunity to look away from her face and hopefully conceal my confusion.
Rolling her eye, she asked, “Oh, Bob. What did you do that for?”
“Sorry,” I said, taking an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the very few items which had fallen onto the floor. I came no closer to knowing Bob’s job.
Shortly thereafter, the car slowed down and pulled into the driveway of a cozy-looking plantation style house fenced in with a hedge of hibiscus. There were no neighboring houses in sight and an open area of maybe two acres surrounded it. From what I could see of the natural greenery and trees beyond that clearing, I guessed we were probably somewhere on one of the Hawaiian Islands.
It only took us about ten minutes to get there from the terminal.
I grabbed the other bag from the cargo net and stood up, following Bob’s wife out of the car. It pinged once as each of us exited the vehicle. I lurched a little as the thing took off the second the door closed behind us.
“Out with it, Bob. What’s wrong with you?”
She way too obviously knew I wasn’t acting right. Even I knew I wasn’t acting right. In that moment, I decided I could trust her. Besides, I couldn’t think of anything to say about Hong Kong that wouldn’t just make me sound weird or blow my cover anyway.
“I’m not Bob.”
“What is this, some kind of mid-life crisis?”
I looked her in the eye and repeated, “I’m not Bob.”
“Come inside and I’ll get you some iced tea.”
I followed her in and sat gingerly in the delicate wicker chair she gestured me into, setting the suitcase and briefcase down on either side of it.
She brought me an icy-cold glass of tea, fragranced with something fruity and tangy. I took a sip and it was delicious. I smiled and gulped about half of the glass down.
“Thank you,” I said.
“OK, now this is getting really weird,” she said.
“What’s so weird about tea?”
“You hate tea.”
“I told you, I’m not Bob.”
“You’re really starting to frighten me,” she said, sitting in a comfy-looking easy chair set kitty-corner from my own seat.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “But the real Bob is probably going to show up minutes from now.”
“Oh,” she said, drawing out the ‘o’ quite a bit before adding, “I see. So Bob is going to come out after you have a chance to sit and relax a little?”
“No, ma’am, your husband is going to come through that door we just used, already mad as Hell because I stole his luggage and wondering why you weren’t at the terminal to greet him.”
“I’m listening,” she said, looking around like a nervous antelope catching a whiff of leopard. Or whatever it is that eats antelopes.
Anyway, she leaned in as I said, “I really don’t want to stick around for him to show up but I guess it will prove I’m telling the truth.”
“I’m sure you are. Just stay calm while I go make a call.”
“Wait! Are you turning me in? You can’t turn me in!”
“No, honey, I’m not turning you in. I just want to give your doctor a call.”
“Please, just wait a... wait an hour. When the real Robert Evan Andrews shows up you’ll have to believe me.”
She let her bottom settle firmly into the easy chair with a sigh and said, “One hour. Then I’m calling a doctor.”
“I can live with that. Meanwhile, give me a chance to explain.”
“Take your time. You’re sure you don’t want to move to the couch and maybe lie down a bit?” she asked, concern forming a line between her brows.
I got up and moved to the sofa but didn’t lie down. That wicker chair was no one’s idea of comfortable or at least so I thought until she plunked into it.
“You certainly aren’t acting yourself but who is it you’re supposed to be if you aren’t Bob?”
“I’m Kevin Wang, eh, I’m sort of Kevin Wang.”
“Who is that?”
I gave her my life story, starting with the important part, the fact that matter transporters killed every person who went in one except for her husband and only the one time.
Just after I finished rambling about my childhood and started winding my way back around to the Gruldak and the solar system fault, the doorbell chimed.
I exclaimed, “Oh, God! That must be him!”
“I know I said I’d give you an hour. I’m starting to really wonder if it is true, if you are someone else---”
“Starting?!?” I squeaked, “You must not know your husband very well...”
And the doorbell rang again.
“I’m sorry B... uh, Kevin, I can’t..."
“You’ll know for sure when you let him in!”
None of the men at the door was Robert Evan Andrews.
My mind obviously didn’t properly process any of what she said to them or what they said to her. While my memory has become superhuman or at least savant level, all I got from the conversation was that they wanted to talk to me.
I clutched the sides of my head and thought, “Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap!” over and over and over again. Hugging a sofa cushion to my chest, I pulled my feet up onto the couch. It didn’t even occur to me to look for a back door. I later found out it wouldn’t have made any difference, anyway.
Besides, I couldn’t leave her alone to face all those goons even if I didn’t even know her name yet.
I acted like I was freaked out and didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t hard because I was freaked out and didn’t know what was going on. I was also pretty sure I was going to die very soon and it wouldn’t be quick. I didn’t want Bob’s wife to join me in the vat of bloody diarrhea I imagined drowning in.
“So who are you?” asked goon number one, a beefy six and a half footer in a remarkably well-tailored deep blue suit.
“Robert Evan Andrews!” I shouted!
What? I had to convince them I was nuts somehow.
Anyway, I pretended to switch to a Kevin persona and started talking like an alien abductee conspiracy theorist.
"They can hear what I’m thinking!” I wailed.
The short, wiry goon in hospital scrubs and white lab coat asked me, “Who can, Mr Andrews? The aliens?”
“Yes! Yes! Those two right there!” I exclaimed, pointing at two of the four men filling Bob’s cozy living room with muscle-bound hostility.
“No, no, that’s just, uh... That’s just Don and Kelly. Wave to Mr. Andrews guys.”
The goons looked at each other, eyebrows raised and waved at me. The ugly tanned one attempted a smile but it looked more like he’d found a rotten onion with his bare hand. The uglier, pasty-looking one seemed to be stifling a giggle.
Clearly, waving at the mentally disturbed wasn't in their job description. I didn't exactly know what their jobs were but I was 100% sure they were not in any medical profession.
I wanted to ask when she called them, then I remembered her bathroom break, “too much tea” my ass!
The smallest guy kept asking questions and I pretended to slip in and out of the Kevin persona, acting confused and saying I was Bob or Bobby at other times.
Bob’s wife sat in her wicker chair crying silently. When the time came for them to hustle me off to the waiting car she got up and touched my arm.
“Wait!” I yelled to the guys holding my upper arms on either side.
“Wait! Let me kiss my wife goodbye!”
The brains of the outfit asked her, “Is that OK with you, ma’am?”
She nodded and rushed towards me, wrapping me in her arms. The goons allowed us to continue our desperate, tear-salty kiss for some moments before “Kelly” cleared his throat loudly and reached for my arm.
The woman began sobbing as they dragged me away.
“Your name,” I shouted, “What’s your name?”
“It’s Kira, darling, you know that!” she yelled back.
Continue Reading Gruldak with Chapter Eleven, Bubbles Within Bubbles
- Gift of the Gruldak, Serial Installment #11
The corporate goons have got Kevin now. Find out what happens to him next in chapter eleven, Bubbles Within Bubbles.
© 2015 Kylyssa Shay