Universe W-2020: The Sideshows 9
Long Ago, A Galaxy Far Away
The Onyx Moon Incident
Richard stuffs the blankets under Kaytlin’s warm body, tucking her into bed unlike a caterpillar tucks itself into a cocoon, but similarly all the while. Girly was quite the rambunctious little rascal today, having her daddy chase her all throughout the forests and the parks and the busy suburban sidewalks, paying no attention at all to all the gawkers and nay-sayers and dirty looking Laridots. She really gave the old boy a run for his money – when she finally let him catch up, dude spent the better part of an entire ice cream cone catching his breath. It made the friendly lady at the ice cream stand giggle like a schoolgirl – the same ice cream stand lady Kaytlin and her daddy go to see whenever they jaunt out to the park. Kaytlin saw her daddy’s cheeks blush when the lady laughed, she thought it was cute.
“So is she my new mommy? Ooorrrrr…?”
This stops Richard’s finger from laying down the light switch. He turns, grasps the door jamb, and leans forward, making a big ol’ Y in the doorway. He looks at his daughter, his adopted daughter, mind you, with a tired smile, a smile equally as tired as it is smiley.
“Say what now, little leaf?”
“The ice cream lady!” with half of her silly head obscured under the covers. The covers adorned with the little pink hearts cut out of felt. They aren’t perfect by any means, hell most of ‘em aren’t even round, but little Kaytlin did it all by herself. It was the only thing she had left from her old life, the assholes at the adoption clinic burned off the rest. You can keep one item, you little shits, they’d squeal, according to what she told her daddy. Anything more would be just dreadfully pointless, just like you lumpen little termites. Your folks didn’t even want you, so why would all your toys?
“Oh goodness,” he says with a chuckle, accidentally dropping it under his breath. Richard never picked himself a dad when he came here, and having his six-year-old adopted daughter plop him on the spot with questions of a new mommy? Get out, just get the fuck out. “Um… that, my precious Kaytie, I will answer… tomorrow.”
He walks back in and plants a loving kiss on Kaytlin’s forehead. When he stands straight, her eyes are closed and her body is dozed. The kiss blooms; Kaytie’s spirit flits about the astral plane and walks tightropes across the crisscrossed strings of reality. She loves to play on the strings, the vibrations tickle her feet.
Richard turns the handle all the way to silently close the door to his adopted daughter’s bedroom. He tip-toes down the hall, the pink carpet absorbing his steps like a gam of sharks absorbs a dead whale, and when he touches the hardwood floor at the bottom of the stairs, his posture gets absorbed too, engulfed by a slight hunch in his back. His smile scrambles and rematerializes into a solemn frown. His hands leap from his pockets and dangle, fingers unable to close. His mouth lowers slightly, as if to let the despair out. His eyes wash from a mystic purple to a deep, dark indigo.
Once in the living room, Richard approaches the fireplace and sweeps the mantle with his eyes – if only he swept it with a duster, what the fuck, this mantle is composed of more dust than wood. It’s not the dust that matters though, it’s what it’s piled upon. Framed pictures, a couple medals, a trophy or two. The pet rock adorned in various colors of tissue paper, the one Kaytlin made for him at day-care. It still hasn’t run away, despite her prophecies on the subject, and it keeps the cactus company. The prickly pear with the googly eyes, a Kaytlin special. They were out on a walk one day and noticed the neighbors had a sprawling prickly pear garden in their front yard; later on, in the dead of night, they snuck back and shaved an ear off one of the larger growths, threw some dirt in a pot, and then jammed the cactus right in. The original sliver’s grown supremely since then too, more than well enough for it to be sheared and transplanted so their outside garden could boast cacti, too. There are other trinkets, tchotchkes, now’n’laters for days, but it’s the pictures that really get him, and one in particular. The one from the day he adopted Kaytlin. She was wearing a princess costume. It was elegant, regal, pink and frilly; also tattered with rips and tears and smudged with dirt and tears. It was the only piece of clothing she owned.
Richard wipes a tear from his eye. Then another. Then he breaks to his knees and sobs into his hands, leaking puddles of saline regret into creased palms just so they can leak the spill onto the floor. The stain’s probably ruined, there’s going to be a big nasty spot in front of the fireplace, and every morning, afternoon, and night, Kaytlin’s going to see it and she’s going to ask why. And he’s going to have to tell her. And it’s going to break her heart.
Which is why he’ll never tell her.
Which is why it has to be tonight.
Richard dries his soggy palms on the legs of his pants and crawls into the fireplace. It’s awkward to turn around once he’s in there, but he manages, and he only scrapes his face three times as he stands himself up straight and tall. Soot and more soot is coughed back into the brick chute, and Richard has time to notice the soot came out darker than he breathed it in before he slumps. His forehead collides with the inside of the fireplace.
Kaytlin doesn’t hear a thing, she’s playing on the strings. She loves to play on the strings.
“Sir, there is another way, you know. It doesn’t have to go down the way you think it does.”
“No?” he challenges, eyebrows lowered to a furrow and voice raised to a holler. “Then please, Odolf, please explain to me exactly how else I’m to handle this situation.”
“The same way we handled the Fuego situation. The Uni–”
“Oh, the Universe, She’s going to solve all this. Is that right? Motherfucker, the Universe is what got us into this mess, She’s the reason I have to fix it!”
Odolf rolls his eyes, not subtly. “Maybe if it needed fixing, it would be fixed already. Ever consider that, sir?”
“Ever consider catching the back of my hand, you intolerable little shit? Can’t you see I’m out of my fucking mind right now?!”
Odolf looks at his superior, really sees the guy, and maybe for the first time. Still, it makes no difference; no matter how much light you shine into it, a black hole’s gonna stay black, and it’ll only eat that light. It’ll only turn it to darkness.
“Yes, I can see that, sir. And I apologize for making you bunchy. But, even when you don’t realize it, especially when you’re thinkin’ she’s not, the Universe is on your side. She’s helping you.”
Odolf turns and heads for the outpost’s teleportation dock. He pauses at the door, halfway though, and over his shoulder, says, “Do what you need to do, sir. There’s no wrong move to make. You’d see that if you’d just eat th–”
An entire potted plant hits the wall next to Odolf’s head, shatters. The door closes shortly after.
As he turns to face the windows pointed at the Onyx Moon, he feels a twinge in the air to his right. The twinge turns into a quiver, and then the airspace adjacent his shoulder shatters, the force of the explosion throwing him to the floor. Before he can even stand up, he gawks at the thing, a portal, it must be. He’s never seen one up close before, and… it’s… beautiful. So colorful, so…
A ball falls from the portal. Bolt catches it in his hands and the thing feels heavy, heavier than anything he’s ever been tasked with holding. He tosses it from one hand to the other, and then back again, no idea what it could possibly be but all too sure at the same time. Then his gaze veers to the Onyx Moon and all its diseased glory – and how diseased it is; every
Zeroc being on that rock has a brain full of worms, the temple of their minds sabotaged by the parasitic harbingers of madness – and somewhere, he can hear the laughter of a little girl. The Universe is a cold bitch when She wants to be, but Her laugh could melt a star.
“There’s no wrong move to make,” he says as he approaches the BioBot station, ball in hand, stutter in step. “Do what you need to do, Bolt. Get it done.”