Inside a burn tube
Chaos thought it over. How brave was a Solarian? He had no way to gauge Josh’s resolve. It was a good deal. He’d have both Fractal and the Solarian. He’d won!
“Agreed,” Chaos victoriously sneered.
“Just let me say good-bye to Emily,” Josh said. Josh turned and, to Tempo’s surprise, took her face, which was Emily’s face, in his hands. He kissed her full on the lips. Josh was trying two things he hadn’t tried before: purposely sending a complex thought telepathically to Tempo, and kissing Emily Kinicki. His thoughts held a plan. Tempo’s eyes were held open wide by both of Josh’s purposes. She had to force herself to think straight.
Josh then turned and strode into the torture chamber through the shattered doorway.
When Denso growled, “We can’t leave them here!” Tempo touched both Denso and Spindle on their arms.
“We are outmaneuvered,” she said aloud, but it was a deception. At that same instant, Tempo transferred Josh’s plan telepathically to them, and they acquiesced. Tempo, Denso and Spindle hit their burn bands and were gone.
Chaos grinned in victory and made the mistake of removing his blades from Fractal’s throat. Josh placed his hand on bloody Fractal’s shoulder. It was Josh’s arm where his burn band lay hidden under his long shirt sleeve.
“Are you all right?” Josh asked of the bloody, semi-conscious Fractal, who looked up through swollen eyes.
“What have you done?” Fractal rasped.
As Chaos stepped around the chair to take possession of his new prisoner, Josh hit the activator button hidden under his sleeve. It had been preset by Starla to return Josh to the
and the entrance to the command center. Josh’s hand was ﬁrmly gripping Fractal’s shoulder. The portal of ﬁre enveloped both Josh and Fractal. When Josh vanished, the big Kolomogoron evaporated right out of the clamps holding him down. Chaos desperately slashed at the disappearing image. His blades were aimed at the fading form of Fractal’s throat. Not at Josh, for Josh was of value. But Chaos was too late. The blades passed through nothing. Chaos paused a moment, standing there in the empty torture room. His mouth twisted in hate. His wrath grew so that his eyes became the reddest they’d ever been. He clenched his claw-tipped ﬁsts and let out a horrendous scream! Forbidden Land
Josh and Fractal ﬂew through the burn tube together. Fractal, drifting in and out of consciousness, had been badly beaten and slashed by his own brother. This sibling rivalry was a beauty, and it had implications that could affect—everything!
Josh thought of the Antonio brothers, twin boys whose ﬁghts and arguments were legendary around Josh’s school. The Antonio brothers actually seemed to be proud of their squabbles and their loathing for each other. Still, there were times when they seemed to care, seemed to beat their hate and treat each other like—well, brothers. Like the time Tony broke his arm, and Frankie took over his paper route, or the playground ﬁght when a bigger kid picked on Frankie, and Tony jumped in. The two of them thrashed that big bully. Fractal and Chaos made the Antonio brothers look like angels. Fractal and Chaos had each voiced their intention to kill the other. The Antonio brothers had threatened that, too, but they didn’t mean it. Josh was sure Chaos and Fractal did. This time, it had been close. Fractal was weak, bleeding from several angry wounds.
“You’re pretty cut up,” Josh said above the roar inside the multi-colored burn tube, a little sick to his stomach.
“Tempo will heal me,” Fractal muttered, dazed. Josh knew, however, that there was damage deep inside the big Kolomogoron—damage that no amount of Tempo’s healing powers could cure.
“Your brother,” Josh ventured, “why didn’t he kill you when he had the chance?”
“He now wishes he had, I am sure,” Fractal said with broken lips. “Don’t you see? The Huen invasion was a decoy. All part of their plan.”
“To get your burn band.” “To set a trap.”
“For you. Chaos counted on our—friendship to lure you in. That’s why Chaos did not kill me. He wanted you.”
Josh swallowed hard. He’d almost forgotten how Chaos wanted Josh’s brain. How can you forget a thing like that, Josh asked himself ?
“Fractal, if they get hold of me again. You know, like they did in Frobenius? What exactly will they do? Yank my brain out by the roots and hook it up to some computer?”
“Nothing so ordinary,” Fractal responded, his unintended humor causing Josh to smile in the face of it. “They will use the same technology they invented to supply Chaos with his mesmer eyes. Only their mesmer room is much more powerful. They will turn you to their cause. Like they did the Zebulon scientists.”
“You’re immune to his eye trip, aren’t you?” “Yes.”
“How do you do it?”
“I think of the hate,” Fractal said, curling his lip as the hate reminded him of its reasons. “I occupy my mind with it. It is the one thing more powerful.”
The prismatic walls of the burn tube suddenly began to ﬂutter. The colors jumbled slightly.
“Wha-wha—?” was all Josh got out.
“The burn’s corrupted!” Fractal shouted. “We must not touch each other!”
They had been touching when Josh activated the tube, so they were still in close proximity. They tried to drift apart, but the tube began to buckle wildly. The roar inside the dimension burn changed pitch. Its normally precise twisting motion became warped, and ﬂashed intermittently. The change in the tube’s dynamics caused Fractal and Josh to tumble wildly, preferring to bash into the walls than into each other. Since one could not advance nor drop back during a burn, they remained tumbling dangerously close to each other. They hit terminus violently and Josh was knocked unconscious.
* * *
Josh came to in his sleep chamber with Emily Kinicki’s hand in his, just her face in view. But which Emily was it? How could he ﬁnd out without blowing it?
“Uh, how long have I been out?” he said.
“Awhile,” was all Emily said.
Brief, concise, like Tempo speaks.
“Fractal?” Josh asked, worried.
“My ‘mother’ is healing him, or something. This white light came on and blood started moving around. I had to get out of there! It was, like, real icky!” the girl groaned.
Josh smiled. Could there be any doubt? Josh sat up and quickly looked to see if she wore a burn band and a purple bathing suit—just to be sure. She was still in that yellow dress, made pristine by the sonic chamber.
“Your big green friend was hurt a lot worse than you,” Emily went on. “The big light bulb says—“
“You know. The super smart beach ball thingy?”
“Yeah, anyway, the big light bulb says the green guy has to go ﬁrst! Of course, my mother agrees. She is sooooo easy! I was, like, But what about Josh? And they were all, He’ll have to wait. I mean, what kinda friends are they?”
Josh smiled again, as Billy came running in. “Man, you shoulda seen it, Kinicki! Fractal was all like that, then your mom—the morph, she, like pulled all his wounds right out of him. And there were some doozies! They all just—went away! Then your mom, I mean the morph. She gets all the same wounds on her! Same ones! Then those go away! I’m tellin’ you, she was badical!”
“I’m sure she was all over it,” Emily sighed as though a miracle were a mirage. “So,” Emily said, close to Josh’s face, “this Tempo. What do you two do when she’s—me?”
“Uh, nothing,” Josh weakly replied.
“Yeah, and handbags don’t need to match.” Josh looked at her quizzically.
“That’s just a joke, kinda. A saying. We—me and the girls in school? We make up, you know, cool sayings we hope will catch on and sweep the world. The ‘matching handbags’ one. That one’s mine,” she said proudly.
For a moment, Josh thought it was a goofy idea, then he reconsidered. It was actually kind of touching. Emily and her pals, though a total clique, wanted to leave their mark in the form of a phrase that deﬁned them. Think about it: to be the one that thought up ‘Get a helmet!’ or ‘That’s not my dog!’ They must feel legendary! Then Josh thought about Starla, whose people invented the dimension jump, yet still didn’t get credit for it.
“So really, you and Tempo—” Emily asked, with the dead on stare of a girl who was taking no prisoners.
To Josh’s relief, Starla ﬂoated in the open doorway.
“What were you thinking?” Starla scolded, pulsating its most emphatically. “I told you: Never burn out of an enclosed structure, especially those constructed of minerals. It can distort the burn tube! You didn’t come in contact with each other inside the corrupted tube, did you?”
“No. What would’ve happened?” Josh asked. “You might have come back with Fractal’s head and he with yours! It was fortunate that you came back at all!”
Denso helped Tempo, in the form of Emily’s mom, into the room. She was weak from absorbing Fractal’s injuries. “Tempo insists on joining with you in the healing exchange,” Starla dryly noted, “to see if you have any internal injuries she needs to repair. Because Fractal had so many wounds, Tempo’s feeling a bit debilitated.”
“Tired,” Josh offered.
“She’s inorganic,” Starla corrected. “We don’t get—tired. Merely energy depleted.”
Tempo settled heavily onto the ﬂoor at Josh’s bedside. Her eyes were Emily’s mother’s eyes, and they were tired, as tired as the real Mrs. Kinicki’s must be by now, with her daughter vanished. Tempo went to touch Josh, but he recoiled involuntarily. Having only seen the real Mrs. Kinicki but a very few times, and never spoken to her, he was uncomfortable. Tempo understood, and evolved herself from Mrs. Kinicki into the synthetic Emily.
The real Emily recoiled. “Oh, no! She’s me again!” and she ran out of Josh’s room.
The eyes of the imitation Emily, younger than her mom’s, but still tired, looked into Josh’s. She smiled weakly. Tempo, in the form of Emily Kinicki, reached out to Josh and he welcomed her touch. The white light that magically emanated from the therapeut enveloped them both. Though Denso, Starla and Billy were looking on, it was easy for Tempo and Josh to talk privately. Her touch not only healed, it connected them telepathically.
“You have no injuries,” Tempo said in pure thought.
“Good,” he said back the same way. He was getting better at talking with her like this.
“You are strong. Healthy,” she telepathically said.
“Not as strong as you,” he replied.
“Fractal was bleeding while the two of you were inside the corrupted tube,” she continued telepathically. “You didn’t come in contact with him, but you contacted some of Fractal’s blood. It became part of you.”
“I’ve got Fractal’s blood in me?” Josh yelped out loud.
This caused Denso and even Starla to react alarmed, and Billy to just whisper, “Whoa.”
“A very small portion,” Tempo said aloud for all. “It will do no damage. Fractal’s blood seems to have bonded with your circulatory system quite proﬁciently.”
“Organic beings and their simplistic circulatory systems,” Starla sighed. “If only you poorly designed organic sacks of protein could see, and even comprehend, the complexities of my internal machinations.”
“Did you just sigh?” Denso blinked in mock surprise. “Hey, everybody! Starla just sighed! How very organic of you, Starla! You aren’t the cold unemotional ball of spectral light we’ve all come to know and love.”
“Yes I am,” Starla dryly replied.
But neither Josh nor Tempo heard any of the exchange. They were talking telepathically about deeper things.
“It was very brave, what you did, rescuing Fractal with a dimension burn. I should have warned you about burning out through the thick walls of that place. But I was—distracted.”
“My kiss?” Josh thought, then he was totally embarrassed, for he never meant for her to hear it.
“Your kiss,” she honestly replied inside his head.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR: DUTIES