|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Hanging In The Balance
“Well this still seems a little risky, us coming here and all, but what do I know?” Chuck rhetorically asks the open air, hoping he doesn’t get an answer.
“I don’t know Chuck, it’s like Ace said. We came through the right channels. He seemed pretty confident that we didn’t pose any sort of threat to the Chairseat or his mission.”
“Yeah, but I could totally pose a threat here, like, hypothetically speaking. I could literally vaporize this entire shit with the press of a button, no–”
“Along with the rest of the continental North America, and our planet. I feel like you’re feeling yourself a little too much today boss, why don’t you throw on your Cannabis juice and let me do the talking when he gets back?”
Chuck’s sunglasses melt away to reveal that his pupils have almost completely overtaken his irises, adding, “Oh, the Cannajuice done been flowin’, son. I never turned that shit off last time I kicked it on. I’m just used to it by now,” to really drive home the point that Chuck is the master of his own reality.
Sigmund crosses his arms over his lab coat, the plastic squeaking with moisture as he twists his torso and takes in his surroundings for the third time. The interior of the craft is disappointingly similar to that of a cave. The ceiling is covered with stalactites just dripping with calcium water, that irritating droplet sound being the last thing Sigmund thought he would hear whilst on board an extraterrestrial’s spacecraft. Probe him, cut him open, inject his body with tiny little sensors so he can be tracked for the rest of his days – just don’t force him to sit through natural Earth noises. It’s not even lit very well in here, the only source of light comes from a deep puddle of glowing water around which sits a tripping Chuck and a differently tripping Sigmund atop leathery mats that have absolutely no business being used by a race of beings as avant-garde as the
Off in the distance, a mechanical whirring sound vibrates the air, followed by the slow approach of heavy footsteps through the bleak darkness. Even through his squinted eyes Sigmund can’t make out the approacher – was he slain? Did the invader succumb to the force of the invaders ballsy enough to invade an invading spacecraft?
Of course not, that would just be silly. Jolon crouches down to the puddle and dips the glistening blade of his tomahawk into its waters, giving birth to a murky red cloud that quickly dissolves into the turquoise glimmer of the luminescent liquid.
“Thank you for your patience, both of you. It is not like me to walk out on guests, but the matter at hand was especially in need of handling. Now, where were we?”
“Well I’m floaty as fuck right now,” Chuck says, his feet firmly planted on the ground, “but my buddy here was wondering, for the sake of the boys back home, why y’all are invading our homeworld. We hear that’s kind of rude, coming from your species.”
Sigmund nods his head, wishing Chuck would just let him do the talking for once.
“You are correct, an invasion of a lower lifeform’s homeworld normally goes against proper
Zerocian etiquette. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how open one’s mind is to such things, there are extenuating circumstances at play, the likes of which you two are not aware of. Just like how I am not aware of how you were capable of hacking into the encrypted Zerocian boarding channels,” as he cleans the water from his blade.
The words, “I CAN ANSWER THAT!” echo through the cavern in Sigmund’s voice after he yells them. “We were visited by some of your kind last night. Four years ago, I accidentally contacted a satellite that you guys left in orbit around our planet. It took a while, evidently, no offense of course, I just… well, anywho, my call was finally answered and after an excruciating night of calamities, they sent us here!”
As soon as the sparkles fade from behind Sigmund’s glasses, Chuck knocks him down a peg. “Except Ace literally told us that he came to visit us just so I could trip on space drugs. Why you gotta lie to the spaceman, you know he can read our minds.”
“That I can,” Jolon says, “and while I’m unfamiliar with this Ace of which you speak, I’m happy to know that neither of you are attempting to be untruthful. Allow me to pay that sentiment forward – my coming here has nothing to do with any of that. We detected a very anomalous electromagnetic signal, likely amplified by the crystals filling the mountains of your local forests.”
“Oh, we’re not locals,” Chuck says. “Just visiting. Although it’s quite a lovely area, I’d have to imagine the hiking is fantastic.”
Ignoring that, Jolon continues. “The anomaly the Council has detected is unlike anything we’ve seen for millions of years, and it may point us towards something our kind has been seeking out since our invention of fabrication technology. Considering the fact that you were so open about having contacted the transmitter, Sigmund, I’ll move forward with assumption that you had nothing to do with the tragedy that followed its launch to your planet.”
“At first the anomalous signal was very sporadically picked up; we mistakenly thought it was a glitch in our equipment. But over the past few, what do your kind call them…” Jolon wonders, searching through the lexicon part of Sigmund’s cortex. “Days. Over the past few days, it’s occurred with a frequency that the Council deemed unwise to ignore.”
“So what’d y’all pick up?” Chuck asks whilst searching for a lighter to light the joint he almost forgot was in his pocket.
Jolon, a being of class, conjures a small fireball in his palm and then flicks it at the end of Chuck’s Cannabis canoe to light it for him before continuing.
“A shifting of something between dimensions, Chuck, a dense, massive something that should not be sporadically traveling between planes of reality. If it was happening infrequently enough to register as a glitch, as it had been for the billions of what you call years up to this point, then I would not be here. But such rapid, unmanaged phasing between planes is unstable, it could rip a hole in the fabric of Existence and cause irreversible damage to the many universes in the immediate surroundings of this one, as well as any universes existing in the Inner Rim of the pocket of multiversal space that the aforementioned universes occupy.”
Chuck and Sigmund say nothing, sharing a look of unparalleled fear they can safely say they’ve never shared before. And that’s saying something; they’ve been in some pretty stupid situations, as they’d be sure you could imagine if they were even a little bit aware of your onlooking presence into their Universe.
“What could it be?” Chuck asks, getting vibes from Sigmund that he should ask. “The thing giving off the signal, I mean.”
“I know what you meant,” Jolon assures the humans, sheathing his dagger, “but the
Zeroc are still are unsure. All we know is, when it appears, it sends an anomalous signal reverberating through the strings binding our Universe to Existence. And, the signal starts at a point that is roughly eight hundred eighty-eight human feet above sea level, synchronistically enough.”
“Oh… shit, that’s bigger than I thought.” Turning to Sigmund, Chuck says, “I guess that rules out that bullshit from last night.”
“Decidedly,” Jolon says. Then, “The
Zeroc Council of Life is aware of yesterday’s psychephrenic episode, it’ll be looked into… eventually. It’s not very high on the list, to be straightforward with you; human children and adults experimenting with high-powered consciousness catalysts occurs more often than you would think on your planet. We usually just ignore it, but since the recent event involved our species’ Dee-eff- Zee-Tee, we figured we should eventually look into it.”
“Wait, yesterday’s what?” Chuck demands, entirely confused by the alien’s morphing of his most-favorite and least-favorite words. “What did you just call it?”
“Psychephrenic. It’s our symbol for when a mind-manifesting experience takes a certain turn, coined by the Council of Creation. Pay it no mind Charles, you specifically are past those days; besides, the term schizophrenia is a beautiful string of sounds, you shouldn’t allow hearing a similar word to lower your vibrational frequency. And, nothing for nothing, in most human cultures outside of your Untied States of America, those referred to as schizophrenics are bestowed a similar reverence as your politicians once were.”
“Well that’s certainly good to know,” Chuck says, giving his ego one hell of a massage, happy ending included. “So now what? You comin’ with us to look for the signal?”
“I…” Chairseat Jolon begins, not sure whether to be flattered or put off by the human’s ambitiousness, “…had not considered that possibility. You would be willing to assist us?”
“Hells yeah, boi!” Chuck celebrates, “C’mon, how often is it that extraterrestrials come to Earth in search for an anomalous signal that just happens to be emanating from the very patch of hairy land that Sigmund and I just happen to be visiting while giving some kid the experience of a lifetime for winning a contest that was my idea in the first place?”
Turning to Sigmund, “Speaking of which, this has to be the most underwhelming, lame-ass prize for winning a contest that kid’s ever received. We should do something about that.”
“I concur, all he got was a drug trip that he only embarked on because he inadvertently took some less potent drugs you had laying around your office. The poor kid… maybe I could throw him in the BioBot chair or something, let him take one of the drones for a spin.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Chuck says, contemplatively stroking the hairs of his chinny-chin-goatee. “You know, he seemed kind of put off by me too, can’t imagine why. We should fix that.”
The humans turn to see Jolon staring at them, patiently waiting for his turn to speak. “I will have to confer with the Council before I can give you an answer regarding my joining you, it may take some time. In the interim, why don’t you try to bridge the gap you’ve wedged between yourself and young Jack, Charles?”
Chuck’s vertebrae realign themselves, then, “Why do y’all outer spacey types keep calling me that, by the way? My name is Chuck.”
“Because you need to have some respect for yourself. The name you choose to go by rhymes with the word fuck, it makes you seem like a degenerate lowlife.”
“But that’s the point! The rhyming with fuck part, not the lowlife part. That’s cool though, take your time, big guy. We’ll get a jump on the mission and fill you guys in when you’ve cut away enough red tape to fit through the doorway.”
Jolon opens his mouth to say something but closes it a moment later, this human’s arrogance utterly lost on him. “No, I believe you misunderstood me. I need to confer with the Council regarding your inclusion in our operation, not the other way around. We already have two teams scouting out the area; if you or any other human is seen searching the forests for our anomaly, you will be disintegrated from this Universe on sight. Under no circumstances are you to go looking for the anomalous signal; one wrong move in this matter and the whole thing goes up in flames, metaphorically speaking. The fate of this Universe quite literally hangs in the balance, and at the moment, that balance entirely rests on your inaction.”
The Local Hotspot
“YO!” Chuck shouts as soon as enough of his molecules have been reassembled in the belly of the Dirt Eater Mk I to do so. “Jack, Hippie Dude. Where y’all at?”
“We’re both right here Chuck, what the hell?” Jack says from the couch, controller in hand and a lack of Sam sitting next to him.
Chuck sees this as soon as the eyeballs form in his head, causing him to feel foolish. “My bad. SO! We talked to the alien in charge of the ship, pretty cool dude. Got this whole Native American vibe going on, I dig it. Anyway, he said that there’s an anomalous signal protruding from deep within the forest behind your house and that it’s our duty to go find it. I tried to correct him by saying that it’s our privilege to do their job for them, but then he got all shy and hid in a corner. Real cutie pie, you would’ve liked him.”
“From my forest?” says Sam’s voice from inside the television screen. Chuck and Sigmund, once the girth of Sigmund’s large body of bodily mass finishes reassembling, turn around to see Sam on the screen, hanging from the U in the word PAUSE that’s superimposed over a brawl between three popular anime characters. “It’s probably that weird-ass mountain I climbed the other day, the one with the old dude living on it.”
Jack resumes the anime fight. Sam lands on the blonde character dressed in an orange sweat suit. The combatant does a summersault, then turns into a demonic red fox and tries to eat Sam alive, but stops when Sam pulls out a large cartoon hammer and turns Foxy into a stain. Then one of the other fighters, this one wearing a blue tee with a rendition of a fishing bobber on the back, summons a ball of lightning in his hand and attempts to decrease the number of fighters from three to two, but is stopped by a bald kid with an arrow on his head who controls the wind. The two then join forces and bumrush Sam. He blinks onto the couch a moment later, following a flash of colored light.
“Well that was a fuckin’ trip if I’ve ever taken one. Woo!”
Chuck is quite amused by these antics, as is the wallaby that’s perched on his shoulder. Then his tummy starts growling.
“Okay, before we explore that whole old man on the mountain thing, I need breakfast. Is there anything good to eat around here?”
“Oh yeah, Jersey’s got the best breakfast in the country,” Jack touts. “The whole town’s deserted though. I doubt anybody’s gonna be working.”
“Well we can still try, can’t we?” Sam adds, having hardly eaten anything since yesterday. “Let’s hit Alps, I haven’t had a tee-ache-cee in a minute.”
“A place called Alps that sells Tee-acHe-Cee, you say?” Chuck confirms Sam’s saying. “Well that sounds like a hotspot and a half! Or a hotbox, I’d be okay with either.”
Jack ughs at Chuck, then, “No Sam, we can’t. Besides, I think you’ve had enough tee-ache-cee in your life for all of us,” knowing quite well that his brother is referring to a Taylor Ham and cheese but choosing to lob insults anyway.
“First off,” Chuck says, his hand leaping into the air and landing on Jack’s shoulder, “you need to learn to speak for yourself, lil’ homie. Second, you’re right. We can’t try.”
Sigmund, knowing exactly where this is going, walks over to the fabricator and peels off all his clothing (except for his underwear) so he can feed the garments into the IN closet. Then, he takes out his tablet and taps the screen a few times.
Trying to ignore the sudden odor of soggy potato chips, Chuck continues. “What we can, and more accurately will do, is break into the establishment, preferably by throwing a big-ass rock through the largest window they own. We’ll raid their fridge, cook up whatever y’all use for food around here, and leave a note with Karen’s phone number telling them to contact me so I can buy their business and replace their window for free. Boom, simple as cake… speakin’ a’which, how we feelin’ about pancakes?”
“Nah I just had them yesterday, I’m good. I’m not really hungry anyways, I’ll just uh, I’ll just wait here for you guys. Somebody’s gotta watch the bunker and all, make sure Mom doesn’t find out we have guests over without her permission,” Jack says in an obvious attempt by his subconscious to exclude himself before anybody else has the chance to do it.
It’s too bad that Chuck, terrified of this clone of his younger self, isn’t having it.
“NO! You need to get the wax out of your ears, make it into candles scented by the various herbs and berries that probably grow all over in this actual jungle of a fuckin’ forest y’all live in, sell said herbaceous candles for money, and use the profit to buy yourself a fuckin’ backbone, kid. I mean really, free breakfast from the future owner of the local hotspot? Ain’t nobody turning that down.”
“That’s another thing, they’re prob not gonna sell it to you.”
Chuck rolls his eyes, then realizes he’s got his sunglasses on and melts them away, rolling his eyes again.
“No, he’s got ya there Chuck. Alps has been in business for like. Probably forty, fifty years now. They wouldn’t sell it to you if you offered them a million bucks.”
Chuck looks bewildered. “Why would I only pay them a million bucks? That’s hardly enough to buy a good jetpack, like, what do you take me for? Besides, it won’t be the first time I’ve bought a business that’s been around longer than I have.”
“So it’s settled!” Sigmund says out of left field, suddenly clad in a very roomy gray sweat suit. “I got all dressed up already anyway, so we have to go. Don’t want these threads to go to waste!” the word threads said in a way to attempt to come off as trendy.
As our squad of humans file up the ladder into Jack’s bedroom, prepped and ready to break and enter, one room over in the Monta household a certain Daisy opens her eyes, the lids audibly creaking and making her hangover headache all the more intolerable. With her head buried beneath the seven comforters she sleeps with, she reaches a hand out into the cold air and blindly searches for one of the several wine glasses she keeps on her night stand. After the sound of shattering glass stops bouncing back and forth between her pounding ear drums, Miss Monta wobbles out of bed and drags her feet up the stairs, wincing in pain as her hips pop and crackle with every step, the bones of her legs snapping in and out of their sockets.
Jack opens his bedroom door and, after hearing the pops for himself, immediately closes and locks it, spinning around with a worried frown to address the rest of the group.