"We'll come through for you!"
Starla, last of the Peitgens
Josh and his party reached a sheer cliff of ice. They were covered with snow like a pack of lost yetis. It was abominable. They stood a moment before the ice cliff then a huge secret door cantilevered open in the cliff face. They all went in and immediately Josh felt welcome warmth. Strips of square blue lights ﬂickered on along the ceiling and walls and Josh was able to study the snowﬂakes rapidly melting on his shirt sleeves. Each snowﬂake was different and each melted silently into droplets of water. Josh felt a certain comfort knowing that at least snow was the same here in the vast warring worlds of interdimensional space.
A glowing ﬂoating orb the size of a marble ﬂew up to hover right before Josh’s eyes. It was prismatic, ﬂashing all manner of colors, much like the walls of a dimension burn did. Josh shrank away in fear, but Fractal calmed him with, “It’s just one of Starla’s security orbs.”
The glowing marble scanned the boy with a prismatic beam, then zipped away to hover near a bend in the tunnel. A much more powerful multicolored light began to emanate from around the bend. Slowly, a glowing orb the size of a large beach ball ﬂoated around the corner and the marble zipped in to meld with it. The large orb moved to hover before Josh, as though looking him over, though it had no eyes. It pulsated with each word it spoke. “Welcome to our command center, Joshua Miles,” the large orb said in a vacant synthetic voice. “I am Starla. Follow me, please.”
“Good manners, for a glowing beach ball!” Josh joked. No one seemed to get the joke.
“Starla is the guardian of our command center. In charge of our comforts and security. It brought us all together in the war’s early days. Created our burn bands,” Fractal explained. “Starla was an inhabitant of Peitgen, a dimension of spectral light based beings. The Peitgens could not be converted by The Evil Cluster, nor would they allow themselves to be enslaved.” Fractal’s tone of respect shifted to one of pity. “Yet they could not ﬁght back, for their most basic belief was their faith in non-violence. Much like my dimension, of Kolomogoro, used to be. The Cluster and its Minions destroyed Peitgen. Killed every inhabitant—except for Starla.”
“We Peitgens have no gender, as do most other life forms, whether organic or inorganic,” the glowing ﬂoating orb said in that vacant voice. “Yet like most sentient life, it takes two of us to procreate. Two interacting spectral light entities to create a third. Since there are no other Peitgens, I am—the last of my kind.”
“That sucks,” Josh said, wondering if this was why Starla’s voice seemed so empty.
Josh’s mom wouldn’t soon be seeing the rebel command center featured in her “Better Homes and Gardens.” It was a crude network of simple tunnels and chambers dug deep under the black mountain by Tempo morphing herself into a mining device. Josh came to learn that this was common practice in her home of Quaternion. It was a dimension honeycombed with mines and excavations. The construction was Tempo’s, but the command center was Starla’s domain. The glowing orb led them into a large central chamber where Josh found table and chairs and four plush lounges. The lounges had electronics built into them, but no keyboards. Each lounge had a large video screen that ﬂoated in the air in the best position for easy viewing. This was the DimensioNoids’ ready room.
Five tunnels went off the main central cavern. One was the main tunnel through which they’d entered. The other four were very short and led to what looked like private quarters. Each had a strong metal door. Each door was open. A different complex symbol was emblazoned into the rough-hewn rock over each door. Josh found the four symbols somehow familiar. They reminded him of Mandelbrot Sets from Geometry class. Each symbol glowed with the prismatic tint that seemed so prevalent in this interdimensional world.
Denso carried Tempo into one of the chambers and laid her down on a thick foam square. She brieﬂy awoke and smiled up at him, still in the form of Emily Kinicki.
As Denso returned to the main chamber, Starla said, “First, you must eat, rest and plan for the mission.”
Two of Starla’s remote glowing marbles ﬂoated in from the main corridor. Each was supporting large metal trays with some sort of anti- gravitational force. One tray had metal bottles, bowls and cups; the other held what in this upside- down world passed for food. The two marble-sized orbs set down the trays on the table then zipped right in to unite with the large orb that was Starla.
“I will continue to monitor Chaos and The Cluster,” Starla announced in that artiﬁcial voice, “and alert you of any movement that might be a threat. For now, rest. Eat. You’ve had an arduous time rescuing the Solarian. I hope he can help us turn the tide.”
Turn the tide? Josh thought. It could only mean that the rebels were losing the Dimension Wars.
The main course, it seemed, was a thick brown soup made from roots and water. It was steaming hot, so Josh thought he’d give it a try. The command center was toasty, heated by some sort of central energy, but Josh could still feel the chill of the trek up the mountain. He was famished, and even the bitter soup was acceptable. It was hot, and it didn’t seem like it was a poison to him. He dipped a kind of green bread into the brown soup. The others found his bread dipping idea intriguing and tried it themselves. A more cynical kid might have found it to be almost monkey-like. To Josh, it was just another example of how unschooled the DimensioNoids seemed to be, how open they were to suggestion, how much they needed—help.
It seemed that the subtleties prevalent in human existence were beyond their collective experiences. It still didn’t explain why an average person from Solaria, a dimension they seemed to treat with reverence, would be a marvel to this band of rebel warriors. These warriors specialized in brute force and fantastic weaponry, but depended on a glowing orb for comfort and security, an overseer who also seemed at a loss for real strategic thinking, and a terrible cook, as well! Josh suspected that the energy needed to operate the entire command center, all the supplies, tracking information and electronics, came directly from Starla.
“I found it most interesting this name you have created for our humble band,” Starla said. “One that will, as Tempo put it, strike fear into hearts of our enemies.”
“Oh, well, I was just—”
“Psychological warfare. Very creative. I shall spread the word to all the dimensions. Let them know of our new name,” Starla said, “and that Joshua Miles, the Solarian of the prophecy, has arrived in interdimensional space.”
“Uh, spread the word on the name. Don’t mention the prophecy, okay?”
“As you wish, sir,” Starla said with what looked like a bow, but was really a slight forward revolution. Then Starla ﬂoated up the main tunnel and away.
Josh didn’t want to hear any more about this prophecy thing. He was more concerned about Tempo’s welfare.
“This soup might make Tempo feel better,” he suggested looking through the open door into Tempo’s quarters where she was recovering from the healing of Denso’s wounds.
“Don’t count on it,” Denso said, wincing as he tasted the thick brown concoction.
“Tempo doesn’t eat,” Fractal said. “She’s inorganic. Assimilates her nourishment the same way Starla gets all its energy from spectral light.”
“The rest of us are like you, Joshua Miles,” Spindle chimed in. “Organic. We must intake water, air, and nourishment through our speaking oriﬁces as part of our normal daily life.”
With that, Spindle popped a huge berry into his beak and swallowed it whole, raising his head to the ceiling and convulsing it down like an ostrich. Josh could see the shape of the large fruit in Spindle’s throat as he swallowed it.
Josh walked down the little corridor and stuck his head into Tempo’s room. She opened her eyes, which were blue, like Emily Kinicki’s. She smiled Emily’s smile.
“Feeling better?” Josh asked.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Well, if it’s all right with you, I mean, I want you to feel at ease, but—well, maintaining this form, any form, takes energy. If I could return to my normal state it would be easier to recover from the healing exchange.”
“Sure, go ahead. I can take it.”
Tempo smiled, and in an instant, returned to the gelatinous mass Josh found abhorrent. He said nothing.
“Tempo will remain here,” Fractal said, suddenly standing behind the boy with Denso and Spindle. “She needs time to recuperate. The four of us will burn into Cadavra and assault the time accelerator.”
“But don’t they have a huge army? An army of zombies, I believe?” Josh asked as they all returned to the ready room, Denso quietly closing Tempo’s door.
“Yes, the Minions,” Fractal responded. “They are capable, but we should be able to ﬁght our way through.”
“How’d I get into this?” Josh fretted.
“Uh, we rescued you from Chaos, then we brought you—” Fractal began, but Josh cut him off, irritated.
“Yeah, yeah. I know how I got here, it’s the why! Aw, forget it. Look, the sitch here reminds me of something I’ve seen in video games.”
“Video games?” Denso said, raising an eyebrow. “Are these like the wrestling games of Ramanujan?”
“I, uh, doubt it,” Josh chuckled. “You sit in a chair and use your thumbs to manipulate a control device.”
“What fun is that?” colossal Denso curiously asked.
Biting his lip in thought, Josh went on. “Sometimes, in these video games, you trick your opponents. You know, create some sort of diversion.”
“Diversion?” Fractal blinked, bewildered.
“A decoy. Make them think you’re attacking one place, while you’re really going after another.”
Again, the light of understanding ﬂitted across the face of the sullen Fractal. “Yes, a deception. We have always been straight forward. It is time we used the deceitful methods often used against us.”
“There you go,” Josh grinned.
“Are all Solarians so devious?” Fractal wondered.
“Oh, some politicians and corporate insiders, I guess. But most people only play dirty in video games.”
“Come, “Fractal said as he went to one of the plush foam lounges, “you must learn how to do this.” The instant he sat in the lounge, the video screen came on and ﬂoated up to his eyes. The others took their places in their lounges.
“I knew it!” Josh laughed. “These are video games aren’t they? Like those big arcade games!”
“These are our tactics benches,” Denso shrugged as all their screens came on. “How Starla tells us what to do.”
“You can use Tempo’s,” Fractal said to Josh, gesturing to the remaining empty lounge. “In time, Starla will build one for you. When Tempo has recovered, we’ll have her excavate your permanent quarters.”
As Josh settled into Tempo’s tactics bench, he thought about Fractal’s statement concerning permanent quarters. He didn’t want to break it to this band of interdimensional bozos, but he didn’t plan to stay that long. He was going home as soon as possible. Fractal barked out an order, breaking into the boy’s thoughts.
“Starla. Map of The Cluster’s Fortress, please.” All the video screens ﬂashed into an overhead view of The Evil Cluster’s stronghold. “This is what we know of The Cluster’s Fortress,” Starla said as the vast walled complex at the map’s center glowed. “The time accelerator is one of a kind. I monitored its construction. Rare elements gathered from distant and dangerous dimensions make constructing a new time accelerator virtually impossible for The Cluster. The machine is huge, and is housed here, guarded by a legion of Minions day and night.” A section of the fortress at the southern wall ﬂashed red rhythmically.
“Hmmmm,” Josh mused, “it’s in a room built against an outside wall. Why didn’t they put it at the center of the fortress where it’s better protected?”
“I would suggest they feared it might be dangerous to have an experimental machine that unlocks the fabric of time too close to their center of operations,” Starla said.
“Whatever the reason, if we can just—”
“Yes,” Starla interrupted over the burn bands, “they have left it open to attack!”
“We’ll make the assault at night, for darkness is our ally,” Fractal said. “It is still day where the fortress is located.”
“How long do we have to wait?” Josh asked.
“Enough time to prepare, and to eat and to sleep,” Fractal yawned. Then Fractal called out, “Tactics, Starla.”
Denso smiled at Josh. “Now you see why we call ‘em tactics benches.”
The map instantly grew to a distant overhead view. Icons of two symbols matching two of those over the doors, and representing Fractal and Spindle, appeared on the map.
“As Joshua Miles has instructed, Spindle and Fractal will burn into these positions on the other side of the fortress from the time accelerator,” Starla said over their burn bands. “Joshua Miles, you and Denso will delay your burn to give Fractal and Spindle’s attack time to draw off the Minions.” Two more symbols appeared. One was the same as the symbol over Denso’s quarters. The other—Josh could not believe it—depicted a skateboarder just like the one on Josh’s shirt! It had become his Superman symbol!
“You and Denso will terminus here, far enough away from the chamber holding the time accelerator so your burn will not be seen,” Starla continued. “You’ll have to breach the wall using a magnetic mine placed against this outside wall. That will save all eight of Denso’s missiles for the time accelerator itself. On your command, Denso will ﬁre his missiles into the breach at the exposed machine.”
“On my command? You make it sound like I’m in charge, or something!” Josh sputtered in disbelief.
“You are the Solarian of the prophecy,” Fractal shrugged. “I am turning over leadership to you, Joshua Miles. The DimensioNoids are under your command.”
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER SIX: LEADERS