On the hike up the black mountain, Josh noticed that Fractal was particularly sullen. It seemed out of place, even for him, given the success of their mission.
“What’s wrong, big guy?” Josh asked.
“I failed you,” Fractal sighed.
“What? ‘Cause you overshot on your wind leap? Dude, ﬂying is a great capability. Look what it does for Denso. Yeah, you keep working on that wind leap thing. It’s cool.”
“If you hadn’t been there—” Fractal began, but Josh cut him off.
“Look, we saved a whole city tonight! Another successful mission.”
“To which I contributed little,” Fractal seethed.
“Yeah, like, you didn’t keep the DimensioNoids alive for six years ﬁghting in a war with all the odds, like, way heavy against you.”
“Actually, Tempo kept us alive.”
“Hey, you’re the one that pulled this team together.”
“We consider Starla our founder.”
“Okay, but strategy in the ﬁeld. Yo, dude, if it wasn’t for you, the team would have been toast long ago.”
Fractal scowled. “I know not this toast.”
“What does Starla’s cooking have to do with this?”
“It’s all right,” Starla popped in over the burn bands, “just pretend I’m not here.”
“Don’t you see, Fractal? We’d be nothing without you! You’re the inspiration. You have the heart to see it through,” Josh said. “Without you, there’d be no DimensioNoids.”
Fractal smiled. A smile from Fractal was rare. “Yes, I have been a good leader. I have kept us going long enough for you to lead us.”
“That’s the spirit!” Josh said, grinning weakly, and suddenly reminded of the great weight of leadership that the DimensioNoids had hung around his neck.
“Joshua Miles is very cool,” Denso said to Tempo, borrowing one of Josh’s favorite terms. “He leads us to victory, and makes Fractal feel better about himself.”
“Feelings,” Starla said over Denso and Tempo’s burn bands, “will organic entities ever get beyond it?”
“He makes me feel better about myself, too,” Tempo revealed, “and I’m not organic.”
“Be thankful for that, my dear. Organics suffer many ills, controlled by emotions, which are quite unpredictable and seldom rational. The need to breathe and to consume other organic matter? If I had feelings I’d be nauseous!”
“Don’t be so sure, Starla,” she said thoughtfully, “that we are all not more alike than we are different.”
They continued on, crunching through the snow to the secret ice cliff door and the welcome warmth of the command center. They went to the ready room, sat at the table and ate like hogs. Josh was not surprised to ﬁnd that Starla had reconﬁgured all the DimensioNoids’ burn bands to vibrate silently so the wearer could decide if he should speak freely. “As Joshua Miles had so brilliantly directed,” the glowing, ﬂoating beach ball of spectral energy noted.
“Yes,” Fractal said, “I could have used such a function that time when I was sneaking up on some Minions and Starla contacted me to ask me what I wanted for lunch!”
Everyone laughed, even synthetic, intelligent, Starla. “I was only concerned that you had been gone for some time without proper carbon-based nourishment.”
“Yo, dudes!” Spindle said, borrowing from Josh’s dictionary. “With Starla around, who needs a mother?”
Josh, Spindle, Tempo, Denso, and even synthetic Starla, laughed heartily at Spindle’s joke. They didn’t notice Fractal turn away and clench his ﬁsts as if the mention of ‘mother’ dredged up some primordial essence from the pit of his primitive being. Fractal was, after all, not much more than a teenage caveman. He was a primitive creature of limited mental capacity, yet honed by eons of evolution and, no doubt, mutation, into a humanoid entity with massive muscles, incredible inherent powers, and a fantastic vocabulary—as they all, strangely, had.
While Josh was away, Tempo had excavated private quarters for him at the end of a new tunnel complete with the skateboarder emblem over the door. Also, in the room, Starla had built Josh a shower stall and, in the ready room, constructed a ﬁfth tactics bench just for Josh.
“Starla?” Josh said, sitting down in his new tactics bench for the ﬁrst time. It hummed to life.
“Yes, Joshua Miles?” the hollow voice of the spectral light entity said over Josh’s communicator.
“How ‘bout I break in my new tactics bench with a history lesson?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“History, then. The history of interdimensional space. The astronomy, too. You know, planets an’ stuff."
“Astronomy ﬁrst, being that it’s broader in scope.”
Starla enthusiastically proceeded, ﬂashing visuals on Josh’s screen to support its scholarly dissertation. It was almost as though this was Starla’s territory, explaining it all, and supporting itself with powerful visuals. But an inorganic light entity couldn’t feel pride—could it?
“Each dimension has billions of planetary systems, but usually only one or two planets are inhabitable by carbon-based organic life. These planets must be in orbit at just the right distance from one or more of the dimension’s stars. It also has to be a planet that provides large quantities of hydroxygen, what you call water, and an atmosphere.”
“Yeah, just like earth—er, I mean like Solaria,” Josh said, pleased to learn that interdimensional space was not as diﬀerent from his own world as he had thought.
“All the atmospheres are nearly identical on all the carbon-based planets,” Starla continued. “It is water, atmosphere, and starlight that bring forth the evolution of organic entities. Four ﬁfths of all entities are organic. Entities who breathe approximately the same air, and need to intake nutrition, eat in Solarian terms. One ﬁfth of the dimensions have evolved planets of inorganic beings, like Tempo and myself, who need none of the amenities of carbon-based origins. These are dimensions that do not follow the Theory of Lowellian Law.”
“Lowellian Law?” Josh said inquisitively.
“A dictum that only dimensions with carbon-based origins could be admitted into the Great Coalition. It was an early pronouncement by Lord Eddington Lowe, but it was rescinded within his own lifetime. This was after his explorers made contact with several non-carbon-based dimensions and found many of us to be intelligent and an important contribution to the Great Coalition.”
“Great Coalition? Lord Eddington Lowe? What’s up with that?”
“That’ll be in the history portion,” Starla said, almost nasally, sounding a bit like a testy Solarian school teacher. “Before the Dimension Wars, there were over one thousand dimensions with civilizations, some primitive, but all well on their way up the evolutionary ladder. Half the beings believe it all happened by chance; the other half insist it could only have been brought about by divine intervention, a spiritual belief in a God being very much a part of the civilizations of interdimensional space, both organic and inorganic.” Starla actually seemed to pause for effect. “Except for the Outer Dimensions.”
Grainy pictures of hostile worlds beyond imagination ﬂashed on Josh’s view screen, as Fractal, Denso, Spindle and Tempo got up from the table and gathered around Josh’s tactics bench to watch.
“In the Outer Dimensions, bizarre creatures lurk in the shadows. Some believe in more than one god, and use all visitors as sacriﬁces to them. Some believe in no God at all. They are too primitive to even conceive of it. Yet many have already achieved fantastic powers. These powers often develop before the mental capacity to control them,” Starla explained. “During the Great Coalition it was unlawful for travelers to enter these underdeveloped dimensions. Still it happened, treasure hunters, misguided explorers, but usually they were never heard from again. Not until a dimension was fully developed was it beﬁtting, by majority vote, for the Great Coalition to contact this chosen dimension, and bestow upon it the ability to dimension jump.”
“But you haven’t given that to my dimension, yet,” Josh blinked. “Hey! Do you consider my dimension underdeveloped?”
“Precisely,” Starla said, taking a great measure of satisfaction in saying it. “It’s not that you’re not intellectually sufficient. It’s that Solaria is a dimension whose inhabitants, in this case exclusively carbon-based, and quite diverse, I might add, unfortunately have no special powers. You would place yourself in danger every time that you dimension jumped.”
“We don’t say ‘dimension jump’ anymore,” Denso contributed. “It’s dimension burn, now. Fits the times, yo?”
Starla explained that though many dimensions claimed to have been the ﬁrst to discover the ability to dimension jump, there was good evidence that the dimension jump was invented by a Peitgen. “A light energy being like myself. Its name was Spectra. Interdimensional space had been in a downward spiral for millennia. It is believed that this Peitgen used the ﬁrst dimension jump to scour the dimensions for a being that could save all the dimensions from disease and famine and war. Spectra found Eddington Lowe.”
The image of a young man appeared. He was fourteen or so, clean shaven and wide-eyed with wonder, much like Josh was at the moment.
“Eddington Lowe was the ﬁrst Solarian to venture into interdimensional space. A savior from what you call your early 20th century.”
“He was—from earth!” Josh gasped. “Solaria!” A new image of Lord Lowe appeared, twenty years older, tall, blond, with shaving brush mustache, long sideburns, regal clothes and conﬁdent stance.
“Lord Lowe became ruler of a thousand dimensions, bringing them together in what he named The Great Coalition. There followed a long period of peace and prosperity. Lord Lowe was a genius who guided us for a hundred of your Solarian years.”
“And now you have come to guide us,” Fractal said.
This sent a lump into Josh’s stomach. “Hey, I just want to help out,” Josh sheepishly shrugged, “but you can’t believe that I’m going to, you know, like, save the world.”
“A thousand worlds,” Starla corrected.
“Look, I’m just a kid from Kansas that this— this Chaos creep saw in a vision. A vision from some giant machine. Machines screw up. It’s not, like, cosmic.”
“But it is,” Starla said. “The great Peitgen prophet Glint spoke of a new age. The Age of the Second Solarian.”
“You are surely the Solarian of that prophecy,” Tempo said, with a certain sympathy in a voice more her own than Emily Kinicki’s. “You can’t run from your destiny, Joshua Miles. Embrace it.”
“We’ve been praying for the coming of the second Solarian since Lord Lowe died,” Spindle said in his bird-like squawk. “In Frobenius, we have songs about it.”
“Yeah, but you don’t want to hear them sung by a Frobenian song squawker!” Denso joked.
They all laughed, then a London Times newspaper headline circa 1900 came on the screen, and Starla went on.
“By the age of fourteen, in Solarian years, Eddington Lowe had completed rudimentary Solarian education and had nearly ﬁnished several ﬁelds of study at a learning center in Solaria known as Oxford. He went missing one night when, witnesses said, he was taken away by a portal of ﬁre. Sound familiar?” Starla pointedly asked.
Josh was too engrossed to answer.
“At twenty, he came to power. The ﬁrst thing Lord Lowe did was spread the Universal Word, the language all civilized dimensions speak as a second language, making communication between them much more productive.”
“So, that’s why you all can speak English,” Josh chuckled. “Veddy proper English.”
“Yes,” agreed Starla. “Lord Lowe made it mandatory that anyone engaged in dimension travel speak the Universal Word. This became a key to the future, where all civilized dimensions found common ground.”
A beautiful world materialized on Josh’s viewer.
“Kolomogoro, Fractal’s home dimension, became the showcase of the Great Coalition,” Starla said. “Back then, it was an untamed world, but soon lush gardens and fantastic cities resembling those of Solaria’s ancient Aztecs and Egyptians sprung up, all inspired by Lord Lowe.”
Pictures of the architecture Starla was describing appeared with thousands of Kolomogorons milling about under a cityscape congested with anti-grav vehicles.
“Kolomogoro was the place to be, for it was the dimension in which Lord Lowe chose to live,” Fractal stated, with a hint of nostalgia, and perfect English.
There was a long silence as Josh tried to absorb it all. “This Eddington Lowe. What made him such a great leader?” Josh asked.
In-depth video ﬁlled up Josh’s screen as Starla told the tale of the Great Coalition.
“Eddington Lowe came to us in a time of desperation. Famine had wracked many of the organic dimensions. A variety of diseases were running rampant in almost all the dimensions, many affecting even inorganic beings. Lord Lowe had been studying medicine in your world, and brought with him great formulas for defeating the diseases. This was his ﬁrst great accomplishment. Once the epidemics were under control, Lord Lowe fashioned methods for bringing nourishment to the crops of dimensions suffering famine. By his third year in power he had brought most of the organic worlds back from the brink of starvation. In his ﬁfth year, he began to lay the ground work for interdimensional peace using Spectra’s dimension jump to send delegations of Kolomogorons to bring all advanced worlds into what he named the Great Coalition. Kolomogorons have great powers, able to control the forces of the weather and harness the powerful stresses coming from the core of any planet. Lord Lowe and Spectra chose Kolomogoro because its inhabitants had these powers. They were a non-aggressive force, the only type Spectra would condone, but it served to put any resistant dimension on notice that they could not win a confrontation with the Great Coalition and its Kolomogoron army. Dimensions fell into line, and found this decision most productive to their overall well being. But it all came undone with the rise to power of The Cluster and the onset of the Dimension Wars.”
Then, the image of an aged, bed-ridden Lord Lowe ﬂashed onto Josh’s screen.
“During the ﬁnal years of Lord Lowe’s life, Cadavra became a dimension of military force ﬁelding huge armies that threatened the Great Coalition.” Pictures of heavily equipped soldiers massing in Cadavra came on the view screen. “Just before Lord Lowe died at a hundred and eight, a plague came to Cadavra. It killed all but four Cadavrans; four scientists who had found a way to rearrange their genetic structures to defeat the viruses.” Pictures of The Evil Cluster appeared. They were dark forbidding inhuman creatures, each cloaked in a black fog. Josh’s stomach curdled. Starla continued. “Their ﬁrst decree was to ban interdimensional travel, keeping the capability for itself, its Minions, and its chief disciple, Chaos.”
Chaos appeared on Josh's screen. Fear clutched at Josh’s throat. Fractal noticed.
“Of course, we are rebels,” Fractal grinned, “so we don’t really care a lot about Cluster Law!”
This brought a laugh from everyone, even synthetic Starla. It seemed to Josh that Tempo had been right. All intelligent creatures laugh—even Starla, even Fractal.
Images of massive zombie armies ﬁlled the screen.
“After Lord Lowe died, the Cluster found a way to reanimate their dead armies. They invaded Kolomogoro ﬁrst, causing the collapse of the Great Coalition. They enslaved nearly all the adult population. Dimensions continue to fall under their dominion. The Cluster’s lust for power has yet to be satisﬁed,” Starla said with ﬁnality as Josh’s screen went blank.
“Geez!” Josh gulped, dizzy from it all and realizing that if it was his destiny to win the Dimension Wars, it was the biggest challenge he would ever face!