Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Bladapod

Weeks later, the group was coming out of the Prototype, less one Hogarth Pudeyonavic. Missy promised to stay on the lookout for her, and find a way to get her home. Apparently Universe Prime was the safest place for her to get lost as there would be ways of accessing her homeverse from there, unlike any other random universe. Leona had selfish reasons for wanting Hogarth’s return, as she still had the Rothko Torch on her person. Out of all the objects, it was the only one that could theoretically be replaced, but it be difficult.
Things were eerie on the streets of the town they were now in. The people walking around looked normal, and the buildings looked normal, but there was something different about the air around them that none of them could explain. Khuweka followed through this time on staying invisible, and Leona tried to keep her tattoo protected. With no evident guide in the form of an old friend, the compass was still directing them to their next ingredient, which was the LIR Map. The deeper they moved toward the center of town, the more unusual things became. It started out with just little things. An out of place swing on a corner was swinging back and forth by itself, with no apparent wind moving it. A couple was on a jog, completely naked. A car drove by that looked less like it was rolling on wheels, and more like the tires were bouncing up and down one at a time, like stout legs. The driver was passed out asleep behind the wheel. A puddle of water nearly ran into them as it was trying to cross the street. It shifted directions in a way that normal water never could.
“What is up with this place?” Vitalie asked, but only loud enough for Leona to hear.
“This is Kansas City!” a bloke on a nearby roof screamed down to her. “Please try to talk quiterly! My boyfriend is trying to sleep up here!”
What the hell?
As they continued down the block, a small group of people convened between two pillars holding up a skyscraper. One of them mimed pressing a button in the air, and they started floating up in unison, like they were in an invisible elevator.
A toddler walked right up to them as they were watching the elevator riders. “You looked confused. Are you from Iceland?” He nodded to young Dubra. “Wassup, hun?”
“Why would you think we’re from Iceland?” Vito asked. “Are Icelanders easily confused?”
“Iceland is the only place outside the bladapodosphere,” the toddler answered. He acted as mature as an adult. Perhaps he was.
“What is the bladapodosphere?”
He laughed. “Even Icelanders have heard of it, they just don’t experience base modifications. Are you aliens?”
Kivi was about to answer yes to that question, but Vitalie stopped her.
“Hey, I don’t judge,” the toddler said. “I’ll just assume you’re not aliens, but are instead idiots who didn’t pay attention to the signs stopping you from falling into a memory pit. If this is the case, you can go to the movie theatre on seventh, and ask for a showing of World Introduction.”
Just then, a young woman came right up to them, and looked up at the sky. “What happened to you?” she asked, but they didn’t know who she was talking to.
Vito shut his eyes, and when he opened them, they were glazed over. “She’s looking right at Khuweka.”
“You can see me?” the voice of an unseen Khuweka asked her.
“I can,” the woman said. “Never hide who you are. We are all beautiful.” She hopped into the air, and kissed the tall white monster, presumably on her cheek, then  she glided back to the ground, as if in lower gravity.
Khuweka took the woman’s advice, and turned visible.
“Whoa, sweetheart,” the toddler said, backing up a bit. “Spent a little too much time in the milk mines, did we? I’m out.” he ran away on his tiny little adorable legs.
The woman took Khuweka’s hand in her own, and started pulling her away. “Come. I’ll take you to the theatre. It’s on my way to work.”

They were the only ones in the theatre. On stage was a man holding a glowing water bottle, who couldn’t help but overact. “I am a traveler from faaaaaaaar away.” He placed one hand over his brow, and scanned the auditorium. “I come with this canister of lights. Oh, oh no!” He dropped the bottle, and it started rolling away, so he scrambled to pick it up again. Then he struggled to twist the cap off. “I said, oh no!” He dropped it again, but this time, the water spilled out. Two spotlights flickered above the bottle. The man threw some confetti and glitter. “What have I done?” he asked, and then he ran off.
A man and woman wearing black walked on stage from the other direction, and set two crabs down on stage. Knives were haphazardly tied to their legs. Hopefully they were fake. A group of people walked on in lab coats. “We are scientists, and we have found this new species,” they said in fractured unison. One of them picked up one of the crabs. “Shit!” he whispered. “You weren’t supposed to use real knives. Goddamn.” He set the creature back down, but held his hands up in front of him, pretending it was still there. “I shall call you the bladapods, for your legs are made of blades.”
“How weird?” another scientist remarked, causing the others to laugh, but were distracted by trying to remember what they were to do next. The audience was probably meant to laugh as well. The actors grabbed crates from upstage, and placed them on either side of the crabs, who couldn’t care less what was happening.
“Oh no!” one of them shouted.
“Wait,” they could hear someone order her offstage. A stagehand ran on, and handed one of the the other actors a bag. The actor clambered to get the bag open, then started pulling plush crabs out. Others came over, and did the same, throwing each one onto the floor, next to the real crabs. Once the bag was empty, he nodded at the one who had spoken her line too soon before.
“Oh no!” she repeated, on the right cue this time. “We have placed our new subjects in captivity, and they have bred out of control. Let us distribute them all over the world, and hopefully things will go back to normal.”
“Yaaaay!” the other scientists agreed as they started changing the scenery.
“What are we watching?” Kivi pondered.
“I don’t know,” Vito said to her, “but I can’t get enough.”
“Shh,” Khuweka scolded them.
The show continued. The two stagehands came back and carefully removed the real crabs. The scientists started haphazardly throwing the other crabs around to spread them out. A man in a suit walked on, and stepped to the edge. “For legal reasons, we are no longer allowed to use a fog machine in this building. We ask that you use your imagination.” He bowed graciously.
“Oh no!” the main scientist cried. “The bladapods have released gasses into the atmosphere.”
They pretended to be shielding their faces from the imaginary fog.
“What do the gasses do?” another asked.
The first one turned to the audience, and said overdramatically, “anything.”
And then music played, and everybody picked up one of the bladapod dolls to dance around with. After a few minutes, they started to bow to the audience, smiling widely. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” the apparent lead actress said to the audience, who couldn’t move, let alone clap along. Well, Kivi was clapping, because everything was wondrous to her. The man who played the traveler returned with the most fanfare, but again, only from the rest of the cast members, and Kivi.
The man in the suit came back. “Thank you for coming. Please wait in the alleyway to greet the cast and crew in a half hour.” Then they spent the next few minutes bowing again.
“Wow, that is a lot to unpack,” Vitalie commented.
“Have you heard of this universe?” Leona asked Khuweka.
“I’ve not, though I wish we had known about this forever.”
“How do the gasses work?” Vitalie asked.
“They seem to rewrite reality, in various and unpredictable ways,” Leona supposed. “It would explain the kinds of things we saw the street.”
“You call that an explanation?” Vito asked. “It rewrites reality, just like that?” He snapped his fingers.
“It’s more like they rewrite the rules for reality,” came a voice from a seat behind them.
Leona jumped forward, and looked back, heart racing. A man was sitting there, legs propped up on nothing.
“Avidan?” Vitalie asked. “Big boy Avidan.”
“In the flesh.” Avidan leaned forward and shook everyone’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you all. I’m not sure about you, though.”
“I’ve always been an ally,” Khuweka informed him.
“That doesn’t make you good.”
Khuweka didn’t want to argue with him about this. “Those lights that they described in the play. They sound like—”
“They were,” Avidan interrupted. “I was in the lab when the Crossover exploded. They came with me, and ultimately created the bladapods. The play took some liberties, and it was certainly the most wretched performance you’ll ever see, but it was pretty accurate. I’m glad you chose to come here. I wouldn’t have known you were in this universe if you hadn’t bought tickets. No one’s come here in years. Those actors are the understudies to the understudies, and budgetary constraints has severely limited production. They should just let it go. No one doesn’t know what the bladapods are, except for you guys, of course.”
“So these changes the gasses make are completely unpredictable?” Leona asked him.
“I wouldn’t use the word completely. There are a few common changes. You often meet children who’ve matured too quickly, or adults who regressed. Water is always dangerous. Do not drink the water if you don’t know what kind it is. Irony water, saliva water, oh, and twinkle water. It’s just best you stay away from all food and drink while you’re here.”
“We keep offering this to friends, and they never take us up on it, but you’re more than welcome to come back with us,” Vitalie told him.
“That’s kind, but this world is my responsibility. I did this to them, and I have to help in any way I can. It’s not all bad, though. I see your frowns. Dancing cats, mealpeas, and trains that run on watch batteries have been great additions to the world. Astronomy gets a little complicated since each star has a companion near it that’s just an illusion, but the night sky is more beautiful than ever. Plus, the bladapodosphere negated all the planet’s air pollution literally overnight. I should be offering to let you stay with me.”
“We’re just here for the LIR Map,” Leona said, still with a frown.
“I’ll stay,” Khuweka said, and immediately almost wanted to put the words back in her mouth.
“Is that a good idea?” Kivi asked her.
“What better universe for me to live?” Khuweka posed. “I can’t go back to Ansutah. Salmonverse hasn’t yet encountered aliens, and may never. I feel comfortable here. Accepted.”
“People would assume the gasses mutated you,” Avidan warned her. “You wouldn’t be able to tell them the truth.”
“I’ve spent millennia secretly hating my own people,” Khuweka said. “I know how to lie.”
“I have more conditions,” Avidan added.
“I agree to everything outright,” Khuweka claimed. “As long as they get what they came for.”
He sat there for a minute, considering her offer. Then he reached into his bag, and retrieved a reusable water bottle. He twisted off the bottom to reveal a secret compartment full of sand. “You have no idea what we had to go through to get this away from Arcadia.” He poured the sand onto the floor, and sent an energy beam towards it. The granules rose up in the air, and coalesced into a solid form, ultimately in the shape of a flat sheet of paper. “She only left because she didn’t know Lucius’ time power could reverse entropy.” Avidan lifted the sheet and handed it to Dubravka, which inspired Khuweka to hand Vito the Jayde Spyglass. Upon all this happening, Leona’s tattoo began to warm. She pulled her sleeve back to find fish jumping out of the center of the compass, and fading away in midair. They were finally going back home.

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