Adam’s Apple and the Infinite Regress
Copyright 2013, 2017 by L.G. Keltner
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Cover Art by L.G. Keltner
Table of Contents
How This Story Came to Be
I started blogging back in January 2012 because I’d read that blogging is a good way to establish relationships with fellow writers. It turned out to be a great move for me. I met a lot of great people, and I began participating in some great events. I joined the , and that helped me to build my confidence. It gave me the courage to put myself out there.
In 2013 I decided to join the . The idea is to blog every day of the week (except for Sunday), and each post is based on letters of the alphabet. You start with A and finish with Z. It sounds like a simple enough concept, but coming up with that many posts is challenging. Still, I was determined to go through with the challenge. I just had to decide what I wanted to do and follow through.
I saw other writers wrote serialized stories in previous years, and that idea appealed to me. Thus Adam’s Apple and the Infinite Regress was born. I wrote it and published it on my blog. Afterwards I intended to edit and self-publish it, but I didn’t. My confidence may have been improving, but I still wasn’t sure about self-publishing. What if people hated my work? What if no one read it? Those questions kept me from going through with my plans.
I finally worked up the courage to start self-publishing my work in 2015, and I also started submitting my work to various anthologies and magazines. I recently came across this story hiding in one of my folders, and I decided to resurrect it. I’ve edited and tweaked it, and now I’m ready to send it out into the world. I hope you enjoy it!
Adam’s Apple and the Infinite Regress
The scent of thousands of decaying pages of legal proceedings, long forgotten in bureaucratic purgatory, mingled with fresh ink as new pages flew from the printers. The Federation’s Department of Universal Litigation and Lawyers, also known as DULL, had facilities on every member planet. The office on Dyntaxi Prime dealt with only the most grievous of crimes, and this was where the Magistrate, the head of all things legal, kept his office.
When Adam Evans, a human male in his mid-twenties, was pulled from a relaxing bubble bath and handcuffed for the second time in his life (the first involving a horrific misunderstanding between him and a former girlfriend), he was shocked enough.
However, when he arrived on Dyntaxi Prime and learned why he was there, his stomach nearly turned inside out. It took everything he had not to barf on the Magistrate’s desk.
“You understand the severity of the charges,” Magistrate Bibble said. His bluish gray skin glistened with moisture, and his eyestalks twirled wildly each time he spoke. In fact, most people who came before him in his capacity as Federation Magistrate collapsed with vertigo long before any useful business could be conducted.
The still-naked Adam shrugged as best he could. He couldn’t gesticulate all that well with his hands cuffed behind the metal chair. “Yes. Murder is quite serious, but only you would be crazy enough to charge me with murder under these circumstances!”
Bibble leveled all three of his red eyestalks at Adam. “You won’t do well to insult the individual in charge of your fate.”
He dipped his head. Though many in his situation might play nice, incredulity wouldn’t allow that. “She stole my apple. It isn’t my fault she took a bite and choked on it. You can’t blame her death on me!”
“The instrument that led to her death came from you. Your inability to prevent it from harming others makes you liable due to negligence,” Bibble said stoutly. “If it makes you feel better, Mr. Evans, we intend to file charges against Ms. Newt as well.”
“But . . . she’s dead!”
“Death does not prevent one from being incarcerated, Mr. Evans.” Bibble smiled. “In fact, a dead inmate is preferable to a living one. The food costs are greatly reduced.”
Adam wanted to scream, but he fell back instead on sarcasm. “Well, if you insist on applying the law that way, there’s an Earth creation myth that traces all of human sin to the theft of a single apple.”
Bibble’s eyestalks went haywire. “Thanks for that information, Mr. Evans. I’ll be sure to look into that. Maybe I can file some charges in that incident. Condemning an entire race warrants the most severe of penalties.”
All hope dissipated. Adam knew he didn’t stand a chance. “What’s my punishment?”
“Mr. Adam Evans, you are hereby expelled from existence. You may keep your living body, but you have no name, no identification, and no sentient being is allowed to have contact with you under penalty of death.” Bibble aimed all of his eyestalks at Adam, and for the first time, he actually seemed threatening. “Have a nice day.”
Adam Evans, former member of the human race and the Federation, ate his last meal the following morning in a room the size of a walk-in closet. He’d finally been given a dingy pair of gray coveralls to wear, but only after several workers filed indecency claims against him.
Though he’d already technically been expelled from existence, he had to wait for his guide. The guide would take him out to an uninhabited sector of the galaxy, explain the rules, and leave him to die a lonely, miserable death.
The meal was a courtesy to keep him quiet. Unfortunately, it was composed of flabby bologna and hard, dry biscuits. No good food would be wasted on someone in his situation.
He thought it could get no worse.
So, when a young human woman with hot pink hair looking like a poof of cotton candy bounced into the room with a radiant smile, he smashed his head into the plastic table.
“Good morning!” Everything about her oozed cheerfulness as she plopped into a chair across the table from him. “How are you?”
Adam looked up, his forehead now marred by a red welt. “Just wonderful.”
She looked intently at him for a long moment. “Something tells me you may be fibbing a little.”
He glared at her, then raised his hands toward the unfashionable polka dotted ceiling. Normally he would have inquired about such a decorative choice, but now wasn’t the time. “Please kill me,” he implored the universe.
“Don’t be silly,” the young woman said as she smoothed the wrinkles from her powder blue mini skirt. “Magistrate Bibble has already done that.”
Adam covered his face with his hands. He felt an awful headache coming on. “Please don’t tell me you’re my guide.”
“Don’t be silly!”
He heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness for that.”
“Of course I’m not going to tell you something that isn’t true! That would be ridiculous,” the girl continued. “I may be your guide, but you don’t need to use any formal titles with me. You can just call me Ditz.”
Adam would have laughed if the whole universe weren’t currently punching him in the gut. “That’s an appropriate name.”
“Thank you! That’s what my mother used to say.”
Wow, Adam thought. Where did they find someone this dense? She makes solitude seem appealing.
“Anyway, you’re lucky,” Ditz said conversationally. “The Magistrate could have decided to kill you. He had several people launched into the local sun last week. The Federation hates to make decisions like this, but if we didn’t have order, we’d have nothing. That’s why it’s important that you follow the rules I give you.”
Okay. A side dish of baloney to go with my bologna, Adam thought bitterly.
Ditz stood up. “We’ll go over the rules on the ship. First, I need to take you to medical so you can get your chemical castration done.”
Adam nearly fell out of his chair. “What?” His voice came out two octaves too high.
“Chemical castration,” Ditz replied casually. “Exile means you can’t do anything that might tie you to civilization. Since producing children would do that, celibacy is important. While it’s illegal for anyone to even speak to you, let alone sleep with you, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t happen. Castration will. The doctor will simply inject you with drugs that render you permanently impotent.” She giggled. “It’s no big deal, really.”
“You’d think it was a big deal if it were being done to you!” Adam yelled. Of all the things they could do to him, this was the worst. He’d be all alone for the remainder of his life, and this would guarantee he couldn’t even partake in his favorite solo activity. “Death would have been more merciful than this!”
Ditz grinned. “There’s no need to be so grumpy. Try to make the best of it!”
Adam shuffled into the hallway behind his guide, and the fact that she skipped like a bubbly child only rubbed manure into the wound. He briefly considered kicking her, but he felt defeated. Trying to fight his way out might only make things worse.
Then he thought about it. How could things be any worse? he asked himself. If I try to fight, a guard may catch and kill me. And compared to the fate I’m facing, that sounds like a lucky break.
It still didn’t seem right to tackle this innocent girl. Ditz was exactly the trusting, gullible type the Federation bureaucrats would use to do their bidding. She didn’t have a clue how wrong this all was. All she cared about was doing the job she’d been hired to do.
Yet even with that and all those years of being told not to hit girls, he couldn’t let her get him to the medical facility. Poised just behind her, he balled his hands into fists. It would probably only take one good hit to knock her down.
A split second before he struck, three armed guards rounded the corner ahead of them. That would give him what he wanted, right? They’d shoot him if he made his move. A quick reaction to put him out of his misery . . .
Even with these thoughts in mind, Adam hesitated. He’d never actually tried to die before. Living came so naturally to him. He lowered his hands, once again defeated, only this time by himself.
When the guards raised their weapons at the two of them, he panicked. They know what you were going to do. They KNOW.
“Hand him over, Ms. Garrison,” one of the guards growled.
Ditz’s persona dissolved in an instant. “No chance,” she growled back. With a single movement, she produced a small, round object and flung it at the guards.
The resulting flash left the guards in a heap on the floor and Adam at a loss for words.
When Ditz turned to him, she wore a mischievous smirk. “Come with me if you want to live.”
So that’s how Adam ended up following Ditz. What other option did he have?
She pulled a sleek phaser from a holster hidden beneath her light pink shirt and held it out in front of her as she walked. Moving in a crouch, she looked like an animal about to pounce on its prey.
“Ditz, what’s going on?”
“My name isn’t Ditz,” she replied. “That was just my cover, and it seems they caught on to it sooner than I hoped. My real name is Layla Garrison, and I’m here to help you. If you want me to do that, shut up and do what I say.”
“So you have a plan?” The embers of hope resurrected in his chest.
“Didn’t I say you needed to shut up?” Though her words sounded entirely serious, her eyes glittered with amusement.
Adam resisted the urge to speak. He didn’t want to give her the excuse to yell at him again.
She whipped her head around, surveying every intersecting hallway for any sign of trouble. “Hurry up, bonehead,” she urged. “They’ll be sending reinforcements any second.”
“I’m right behind you,” Adam protested.
She gave him a dirty look. “I wasn’t talking to you!”
He was about to ask who in the world she could have been talking to, but he was distracted when a warm sensation flooded his veins. The world faded as his molecular structure lost cohesion and swirled about in a beam of golden light.
Adam’s rematerialized eyes first spotted a control panel with flashing multi-color indicators. A man in a jumpsuit sat there, and a moment later, Layla was walking over to greet him with pink hair in hand. Her real hair, a long chocolate brown that was slicked back into a ponytail, was much easier to look at.
“Where are we?” Adam asked as soon as he found his voice.
“A spaceship that’s about to break orbit,” she replied.
Adam laughed. “I guess deus ex machina works as a method of escape.”
Layla laughed too. “If you want to call it that, fine. I call it ‘George and the big red button.’ He just had to break through the building’s security to get us out. It all went according to plan.”
“The button is more of a scarlet,” George objected.
Layla ignored that comment.
Adam sighed. Layla didn’t seem to like him at all, which would make this trip decidedly unpleasant. “Why did saving me become part of your plan at all?”
“Simple.” Sitting beside George, she started tapping buttons. “There’s a lot of dreadful behavior going on within the Federation. Bibble is overstepping his bounds. After he exiled you, he announced that he’s considering exiling about half of the Sarcasian race.”
“But Bibble is Sarcasian!”
“True, but that only highlights how unstable he is,” Layla said.
Adam’s face twisted in thought. “I don’t suppose he’d be dumb enough to include himself among the exiled, would he?”
Layla snickered. “That would be nice, but I don’t think we should count on that happening.” Then she looked at George. “Course plotted. Let’s go!”
“Go where?” Adam asked.
She stood again and approached Adam. Her smile was almost seductive. “Our secret base. We’re collecting people to start a revolution, and you’re going to help us.”
Layla headed to the galley for a meal. Adam tagged along, eager to get something into his stomach that didn’t taste like it was fished from a sewer. Perhaps he might have liked better company, but anyone was better than Bibble.
The galley wasn’t well stocked, but the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he ended up with was a vast improvement over his breakfast. “So,” he began after taking the first bite of his sandwich, “if you came to rescue me, why did you scare me so bad?”
Her brown eyes glittered. “You mean that bit about chemical castration?” she said knowingly.
“Yeah, that bit.”
She dipped a plastic spoon into a can of peaches. “The room was being monitored, so I had to go through the normal spiel guides are expected to give. I hoped if I played my role well enough, no one would suspect anything.”
Adam narrowed his eyes. “So you didn’t enjoy scaring me?”
Layla shrugged as she brought a golden sliver of peach up to her lips. “I didn’t say that.”
He’d forgotten about his sandwich. “So, what’s your story? I assume you wouldn’t be here taking these kinds of risks unless something happened to you. Were you exiled?”
Dropping the spoon onto the table, she leaned back and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “My story isn’t important. All you need to know is that we have a common goal.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “My goal is to get my life back if at all possible.”
“That can happen if we get rid of Bibble and his friends in DULL. They have control over the entire Federation right now, using every means of legal maneuvering to get what they want. No one can stand up to him, yet that’s exactly what we intend to do.”
“And how do you intend to do that? What’s the plan?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think we can tell you that just yet.”
“We need to know we can trust you with that kind of information,” she said simply.
He snorted. “Why wouldn’t you consider me trustworthy? Do you think I’m going to turn you in? If I even tried that, I’d be killed.”
“You never know what could happen out here.”
As if that comment were cursed, George’s voice cut through the air via intercom. “Layla, you should know that we’re about to be captured by the Vaaldeens. There’s nothing we can do to avoid it.”
She sighed. “Adam, you might want to get on the ground facedown and put your hands behind your head.” Then she slipped out of her chair and onto the floor.
“Wait a minute! Shouldn’t we do evasive maneuvers or something?” Adam protested.
Layla laughed. “You’ve seen too many movies. Besides, George has a foreshadower. If he says we’re going to be captured, we might as well accept it.”
“A foreshadower?” Adam asked. “What’s that?”
Before Layla could answer, George called back again. “Prepare for beam out!”
The story of the foreshadower begins with a young man named O’Cyrus McMillan. He lived in the Pemdas colony on the outskirts of the Federation, where he owned and operated a factory that produced the hottest fashion accessories of the time. Glow-in-the-dark girdles were his largest seller. For some reason, the rich women of the Federation liked it when their undergarments shone through their outer layers of clothing. Such displays were frequently used as ice breakers during stuffy social functions.
This accessory alone paid the bills and then some, but he never felt secure in his fortune. He personally thought his product was hideous, and he often felt guilty for contributing to the degradation of good taste. He wanted to add something good to the universe, something more meaningful than a garment that, even after being removed, left one’s skin with an unsettling afterglow.
He thought for a long while about what people might find useful. It wasn’t until he sat alone at a bar, studying the foam in his beer glass that he found himself wishing he had a device that could show him his future. Then he could know if he ever found a worthwhile idea. He could avoid the dead ends. People would pay a great deal of money to see what lay ahead. If only such a device existed . . .
The revelation hit O’Cyrus so hard that he broke the bar’s record for competitive beer spitting. If that product didn’t yet exist, he would make it. Not only would people be able to improve their own lives, he would be able to improve his own in the process. He would be rich, and he could avoid any harm that might await him.
There remained only one problem. He didn’t know how to make anything that could see into the future. Still, a complete lack of engineering knowledge couldn’t be allowed to stop him.
After several months of drunken fraternity parties at the local engineering school, O’Cyrus had a group of business partners to help him with his project. The students built the device, and O’Cyrus McMillan funded the effort.
Soon the prototype was ready. The tiny chip would be implanted into the brain where it would input data collected from the wearer’s personal time stream. The prototype could only look a couple of minutes into the future, but O’Cyrus hoped the range would improve as they worked to perfect the technology.
The prototype was installed in the minds of 100 test subjects, including O’Cyrus. The first time he saw an image from his near future appear over top the present moment in his mind, he felt both disoriented and elated. Each time he saw one of those future images come to life in his present, he was validated. It worked.
Then he saw an image of himself stepping on a piece of glass. He kept a vigilant eye out for the offending shard of glass, but somehow, he trod on it anyway. The stinging flesh angered him, but he knew this was hardly a massive failure. Merely an inconvenience.
It didn’t end there. Each time he foresaw something bad happening, his efforts to avoid it only seemed to make it come true. Frustration turned to despair as he realized his brilliant gadget was taking into account its own existence when it foretold the future. It predicted what he would do to avoid his fate, therefore guaranteeing that he would live the moment as he saw it.
So, a few months later when he saw himself committing suicide by jumping off the roof of his factory, he didn’t question it. He walked up the stairs and onto the roof.
Just before stepping off the edge and into the arms of death, he thought to himself, This whole thing was a terrible idea.
Within a year, 99 of the original 100 were dead. All suicides.
Only George, test subject 100, could stand the reality of seeing his inevitable future. Curious scientists studied him to determine why he alone could cope. They ultimately concluded that his deep-seated, abrasive cynicism was what saved him. George had always understood the inevitability of the ills that befell him. He predicted gloom and doom before the foreshadower was installed, and with it, he still did. Except now he knew exactly when to expect it.
Adam dropped to the floor. As he lay there, he should have been thinking about all the bizarre turns his life had taken as of late. Instead, upon finding the remnants of an unidentified beige sauce plastered to his shirt, he spent the time wondering when his kidnappers/rescuers last mopped the galley floor. Within moments of casting his eyes across the tiled surface and seeing the other spots of food and grime, he was eager to be taken prisoner again.
Luckily, the Vaaldeens moved quickly. A battalion of warships surrounded their small ship within a minute. Soon the warm sensation of the transporter overwhelmed Adam all over again.
Having your atoms torn apart and reintegrated twice within a couple of hours can really be disorienting, Adam decided as he found himself lying face down on an entirely different, cold hard floor. His head throbbed from the confusion of it all.
“Don’t move!” a booming voice ordered. The sound rebounded off the walls, indicating they were in a massive room.
Curious, Adam turned his head to the side to get a glimpse of his new surroundings. He noted a vaulted ceiling and ornate sculptures lining the distant wall before George’s voice distracted him. “Adam, you’re about to get kicked in the ribs.”
“What?” Adam demanded.
Then the crushing blow came as a steel toe collided with his ribcage. His corresponding cry of agony filled the room, bouncing back at him just in time to meet the second kick.
“You were warned not to move,” his assailant growled.
“He’s going to kick you again,” George called out. “And afterwards he’s going to kick me for warning you about the impending kick.”
Once again, George’s prediction proved true. A couple of broken ribs later, Adam was pulled into a sitting position. His arms were secured behind his back with electrified handcuffs. Layla and George were placed on either side of him.
“The Great Orator will be in to see you soon,” the cranky guard informed them.
Adam didn’t know much about the Vaaldeens as they weren’t members of the Federation, though he knew from one look at this guard that they weren’t themselves Vaaldeen. That being said, he could determine little else. The round green body, four spindly legs, and single black eye didn’t ring any bells for Adam. Not that this was his main concern. He was far more disoriented by the fact he couldn’t figure out where the guard’s mouth was. He could hear her/his/its grumbling loud and clear, but where were her/his/its vocal cords?
“George, any predictions?” Layla asked.
“We’ll be waiting a few minutes,” he replied. “I see us still sitting here.”
“So, Layla says you have a foreshadower,” Adam said conversationally. “How does that work exactly?”
George turned and rewarded him with a sour look. “It foreshadows the cruddy things I can’t avoid. What else is there to know?”
Adam’s wrists began to ache as the minutes accumulated into hours. The Great Orator finally came after two hours had moseyed on by. George, of course, alerted them about thirty seconds before he strode into the room with an armed entourage.
Adam rolled his eyes. That foreshadower sure is useful, he thought.
The Vaaldeens that descended upon them were humanoid and stood about eight feet tall. Their heads were shaped like lopsided pears, and their glittering golden skin made them look more like they belonged in a VR game than in real life. Adam wondered if this was their natural color, or if they took the time to apply some kind of body paint.
The flowing green robes set The Great Orator apart from the rest. A plume of brightly colored orange and blue feathers grew from the back of his head. A single blue eye rested in the center of his forehead. It swept over them, and Adam shivered when the eye came to a rest on him. “Welcome to our ship.”
“I thought people only welcomed guests,” Layla replied icily.
“You are guests,” The Great Orator replied. “We simply did not wish to waste precious time negotiating with you. If we tried instead to persuade you to visit us here, we may have missed our chance.”
“Your chance for what?” Layla demanded.
The Great Orator smiled. “We may have missed our chance to elude Federation detection. They’ve dispatched an armada of ships to hunt you down, Layla Garrison. They seem quite determined to capture you, and that alone makes you valuable to us.”
“Are we hostages?” Adam’s voice came out embarrassingly mouse-like, but he didn’t worry about embarrassment in that moment. He glanced at George, hoping to catch a hint of what was to come in his face. And he looked in time to see an amused smile cross the man’s face. Could he take this as a good sign? He’d only just met George, so he couldn’t be sure.
“Of course not. One only takes hostages to gain leverage in negotiations. We have no wish to negotiate with the Federation, because we want nothing from the Federation other than Magistrate Bibble’s severed head. I think it would look just lovely mounted to my wall. And as it turns out, you will be useful in helping us get it there.”
Oh. Those words sounded like a perfectly composed symphony to Adam’s ears. He imagined the sight of Bibble’s head speared with a pike and planted outside for all to see and admire before being moved to the seclusion of The Great Orator’s wall. Of course, death and decapitation probably wouldn’t be enough to stop the deluge of bureaucratic nonsense from pouring out of his mouth. Nevertheless, such a sight would make it easier to endure.
Layla’s lips twitched up into a lopsided grin. “I’m listening.”
“The Vaaldeen people have a score to settle,” The Great Orator said quietly. His lone eye narrowed. His plume of feathers spread out, revealing a little yellow eye spinning about in fury within each one. It made his head look like an angrier version of an old-fashioned hand fan. “Though we are not subjects of the Federation, Bibble just ordered our home world destroyed. As of now, our home is wherever our fleet of ships can take us.”
“This is insane,” Adam muttered to himself.
Defining insanity is about as difficult as finding a good pick-up line at an all-species speed dating session. Just as each race has a different idea about what kind of first impression serves as a suitable prelude to a night of naughty fun, each species also has different rules about defining insanity.
Interestingly enough, human socialite Derrick Hazzard recently adopted the mantra “If you don’t want to join me in bed, you can’t be right in the head.” Since this happened, attendance at his legendary parties has plummeted. It seems logical to conclude that there are a lot of people Derrick Hazzard would label as crazy.
According to the Blurnblott people, refusing to cast yourself into the sacrificial fire after your thirtieth birthday is deemed sufficient for a declaration of insanity. The punishment for refusing this suicidal plunge is, of course, having a close relative forcibly toss you into the sacrificial fire. As this is the case, the state of insanity is short-lived.
The Yako tribes segregate according to mental fitness. The insane supposedly form their own tribes, but instead of being locked away in a facility, they wander freely across the land. The trouble is, if you ask one tribe, they’ll say their neighboring tribe is insane. Go to that tribe, and they’ll tell you the one you just visited was the crazy one. Sanity is therefore in the eye of the beholder.
The Ressilians view insanity as continuing to do things that make you unhappy. Known as the most hedonistic race in the Federation, the Ressilians are also some of the most sought out party planners. (They recently cut ties with Derrick Hazzard for fear his tarnished reputation would negatively impact their economy.) They also define all other races in the galaxy as chronically insane. Why else would the people of other worlds insist on going, day after day, to jobs they don’t like? Why else would people forego spending hard-earned money on enjoyable activities to save for retirement when they can’t even be certain they’ll live long enough to use it? When the Ressilians plan any social event, they do so to give other sentient beings a reprieve from their insanity. They see it as an exercise in compassion. An exercise they’re happy to charge exorbitant amounts of money for, yes, but compassion nonetheless.
As relative as insanity is, one can hardly argue that most sentient species would find Magistrate Bibble’s actions more than a tad cuckoo. If someone trespasses against you in a way you find egregious, you’ll likely label them as being a few candles short of a birthday cake.
So, it could hardly come as a surprise that The Great Orator, head of the Vaaldeen empire, and Adam Evans, a scrawny and insignificant human, agreed on the necessity of Bibble’s demise.
Unfortunately for Adam, he had no idea what The Great Orator had in store for him. As a matter of fact, The Great Orator’s plans could, in Adam’s view, be classified as insane.
Adam Evans found himself sitting alone in a bar at Jupiter Station. He pulled the cloak forward to conceal his face in shadow. This definitely wasn’t the type of place where he liked to spend his time.
There are a few things everyone should know about Jupiter Station. They will be listed here for your convenience, though it should be acknowledged that life is rarely this orderly and considerate.
Fact #1: Jupiter Station is nowhere near Jupiter. It isn’t in orbit around the gas giant of the same name. It’s not even in the same solar system. It isn’t owned and operated by someone who claims Jupiter as a surname. No one alive today has any idea why or how Jupiter is associated with it.
Fact #2: Jupiter Station isn’t a station. It’s not a space station, nor is it a Department of Interstellar Travel outpost. You can’t catch a train there, or any other mode of transportation for that matter. Which is a shame, because most people who end up at Jupiter Station would be grateful for a speedy means of escape.
Fact #3: Jupiter Station is actually a small drinking establishment located next door to the largest smuggling operation in the galaxy.
Fact #4: Jupiter Station isn’t a legal part of the Federation, though it sits smack dab in the middle of Federation territory. Though the Federation once claimed jurisdiction over Jupiter Station, the persistent number of beheadings, shankings, kidnappings, and various other types of horrifying crimes made law enforcement throw up their hands in defeat. The chief of the Federation police for the district containing Jupiter Station is quoted as saying “This environment is in no way conducive to any form of life, with the exception of the lowest sorts of pond scum that already lurk there. Some places simply are not worth the effort.”
Of course, The Great Orator didn’t share these details with Adam when he made the decision to send him there as an ambassador. “Once you get there, order a drink and try not to draw attention to yourself,” The Great Orator had ordered him. “No one will ID you, so you won’t need to worry about the issue of your official nonexistence coming up.”
Adam knew that he was supposed to meet someone, but The Great Orator didn’t give him any details. He said only that his contact would stand out from the crowd. Of course, the man sitting next to him had a laser blaster surgically implanted where his nose should have been, and an old woman with a pet lizard sat at a small table in the corner. In a normal bar anywhere else, these patrons would have stood out, but not at Jupiter Station.
Then, as Adam took a long sip from his third beverage, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see someone dressed from head to toe in shiny, silver armor. In one hand, they wielded a knitting needle. “Excuse me, good sir, would you like to joust?”
Adam couldn’t take his eyes off the needle. He didn’t have a good track record when it came to dealing with crazy people. “Joust? I don’t have anything to joust with, so I’ll have to take a rain check.”
With a quick movement of his free hand, the knight produced another knitting needle out of thin air and set it on the bar. “Now you have a weapon. En garde!” He crouched into a defensive stance, thrusting his own “weapon” forward.
“Umm, that’s a knitting needle,” Adam said slowly.
“It’s the weapon of choice for my order.” The man’s voice rang out with a distinctive English accent. It felt both stereotypical and unprecedented.
Adam picked up the powder blue needle, though he didn’t feel prepared to do anything with it. “Your order?”
“I am Sir Edwin of the Knights of the Order of Knitting.” The knight pointed once more to the needle in Adam’s hand. “Again, would you care to joust?”
Shaking his head, Adam replied, “If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather learn more about you. Would you like a drink?”
Sir Edwin flipped open his visor to reveal cerulean eyes. “As a knight of my order, I am not permitted to partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
“You’re in a bar.”
He nodded. “Yes. That’s because the only people who agree to joust with me tend to be intoxicated.” He lifted his helmet and pulled it upward, releasing flowing locks of sweaty blond hair. Setting it on the bar, he added, “I also can’t risk jousting in most places. It was prohibited by the Federation, and our order couldn’t afford the legal ramifications. At least here, I don’t have to worry about Federation regulation. Even if they hadn’t washed their hands of this place, the patrons here are unlikely to turn me in. Most of them are running from the law themselves.”
Though Sir Edwin couldn’t have any alcohol, the bartender was able to find an old bottle of sparkling water hidden behind the whisky. He sipped at the drink, which hardly had any fizz left in it at all, and explained more about his knightly existence. “I am a knight because I believe in honor and doing good things in this world. People these days tend to sue you when you do things to help them. They care more about what they can take from you than what you willingly offer. That’s why my order took up knitting. It is a way of passing the time while we wait for an opportunity to do something noble and worthwhile again. We even used to donate the resulting blankets, hats, and scarves to charity. That is, until charities started to demand you only donate factory-made items for legal reasons.”
Though Sir Edwin sounded quite sad, Adam only heard the sound of opportunity ringing in his ears. This was the man The Great Orator wanted him to find. He felt sure of it. “Sir Edwin, I think I have a cause for you.”
When Adam returned to the ship with Sir Edwin in tow, Layla greeted them both with a smile. “It looks like you had a productive trip after all.”
Looking around, Adam saw they’d been beamed into a little conference room. There weren’t any guards in sight, though he didn’t doubt there were some waiting on the other side of the closed door. Still, as long as they weren’t within kicking range, he could relax a little. “It turned out better than I feared it would,” he replied.
Sir Edwin promptly offered Layla his hand and introduced himself. “You are a sight for sore eyes, young miss,” he added. “It has been a long time since I had the privilege of being in the presence of such exquisite beauty.”
Adam rolled his eyes. This guy was laying it on pretty thick. Sure, Layla wasn’t bad looking at all, but he wasn’t tempted to write any sonnets about her either. His eyes strayed back to her to confirm this point, and he noticed that her long brown hair was no longer in a ponytail, leaving it to cascade gracefully down her back. She wore form-fitting black pants and a fitted green t-shirt that complemented her eyes nicely. Her smile, a direct response to the excessive flattery, lit up her face and was a wonderful change of pace from the snide, dismissive attitude he typically saw from her. She stood with a hand on her hip, lending her a sense of confidence that didn’t seem overwhelming.
Suddenly, Adam’s stomach went MIA as a tingling sensation replaced it. When she wasn’t joking about having him chemically castrated, or ordering him around without offering any clue as to what his fate might be, she was more than good looking. Much more.
The realization left him feeling more than a little cross. This was bound to make life more complicated, and he could’ve hardly believed that possible.
“I think you might be trouble,” she replied playfully.
Sir Edwin smiled. “On the contrary, I live to serve, and I pledge to serve your cause in any way I can. If I can contact my brothers in arms, I am certain they will join me here. We’ve been waiting for a chance to be bold.”
“Our hosts will be pleased to hear it.”
A guard soon appeared to escort Sir Edwin to a meeting with The Great Orator. He gave Layla a deep bow before exiting the room, leaving Adam with an impossible act to follow.
“He’s sweet,” Layla said.
“He’s also odd,” Adam added, unexpected venom lacing his words.
Layla laughed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “And what’s that mean coming from you?”
Adam ruffled. “You barely know me. Yes, you rescued me from a messed up situation, and I’m grateful for that, but that doesn’t make you an expert on me. Since I got here, all you’ve done is tease me, ignore me, and refuse to trust me.”
Layla took a step back, her eyes appraising him. “Maybe you’re right. I’m sorry.”
Adam’s jaw dropped. He cocked his head to the side, studying her right back. “Really?”
The Great Orator announced that the rest of the Knights of the Order of Knitting would rendezvous with the fleet in the next couple of days. After that, they would all travel together to the rebel base. It sounded like a solid enough plan. Not that Adam had much of a choice either way. If he didn’t stay where he was, he’d have to sit alone at the fringe of everything he’d ever known until he died. No thank you.
Even with his lack of options, Adam couldn’t deny that some things were getting better. Layla seemed to take his complaints to heart, because she was waiting for him outside his quarters the following morning. “Would you like to have breakfast with me?” She actually smiled as she made the invitation.
Adam swallowed as a solid mass seemed to appear in his throat. He definitely didn’t like this new affect she had on him. “Sure. As long as my dignity isn’t going to be the main course.”
She slid her arm through his. “I promise I’ll be nice.”
Is she planning something? Adam wondered. Or is she actually being nice for the sake of being nice?
The galley on the Vaaldeen flag ship was several times larger than Layla and George’s little ship. It was filled with hundreds of Vaaldeen crewmembers and a handful of other species. A steady background hum filled the space as people engaged in meaningless chatter before heading off to their morning posts.
Once they had their breakfast of gray nutrient mash and a greenish tinted protein drink, the two of them sat at an empty table together. “You know,” Layla commented as she stirred the mash, “the Vaaldeen people actually consider this garbage to be the finest cuisine.”
Adam’s lip curled. “Suddenly my own cooking doesn’t seem so bad.”
She laughed, though she didn’t say anything. She stared at her gastrointestinally insulting breakfast, stirring it so the film that kept trying to form over the top broke around her spoon. The silence lasted so long, in fact, that Adam even considered taking a bite of his breakfast just to avoid feeling awkward. When Layla finally spoke, she sounded apologetic. “I think your trip to Jupiter Station proved that you’re brave and trustworthy, so maybe I should tell you how I ended up working with the rebels. You wanted to know when we first met, and I probably owe you that.”
“I’d love to know, but I don’t feel like you owe me anything,” Adam said. “You saved my life.” As well as my manhood, he added silently.
She shrugged. “If we’re going to be friends, I should tell you anyway. It all started when I began working for the Motorbike Missionaries.”
Adam whistled. The Motorbike Missionaries had chapters on many Federation worlds, though they weren’t a legal organization by any means. The group flagrantly violated any law that got in the way of their objective: making money peddling their unique product. This product was something that practically everyone, minus the most masochistic individuals, sought out on a regular basis. Contentment.
People often assumed they had to acquire something specific to find contentment. A financially fruitful job, perhaps. A family. Maybe a regular dose of physical pleasure. (There were certainly services that could provide any desired kind of carnal knowledge for a price, though most were illegal.) And while any of the aforementioned things could bring about a certain level of contentment, they also had their corresponding price. Keeping that dream job meant dedicating a significant amount of time to work. Having a family required money, stability, and yet another commitment of time. That’s why many wait a good number of years struggling in a career before starting a family. People may become frustrated and fear they’ll never reach their goal. Others, however, lack the social graces to even dream of getting a date in the first place. And for them, the enjoyment derived from the available (in spite of their illegality) “pleasure services” quickly faded into discontentment once more.
By injecting nanobots into the customer’s brain, the Motorbike Missionaries provided a sense of satisfaction for a longer period of time than any drug or aphrodisiac. The nanobots were programmed to work on specific areas of the brain. When they worked properly, they stimulated those areas, creating a deep sense of serenity in spite of what life had to offer.
“I liked knowing that my work made people happy,” Layla said. “The Federation declared us dangerous. I guess they didn’t like the power we wielded We rode in on motorcycles and made life worth living for those who felt hopeless. We were daring. Rebellious.”
“Meanwhile, the Federation must have been breathing down your necks.” Adam remembered seeing news reports about sting operations intended to capture the missionaries.
“They were, but we took that as a sign that we were doing the right thing. Besides, government agents weren’t our biggest threat.” Layla gave her gray meal one last look of disgust before pushing it to the center of the table. “There were other operations out there looking to give people a good time. We were a threat to that. Our nanobots were designed to wear down after a year, so people needed to purchase replacements. People didn’t want to give up their happiness, so they gladly paid for more. We gained money and influence, and the Naughties decided they needed to stop us. They targeted my chapter in particular, since we were the largest.”
The Naughties were the largest escort business in the sector, providing beautiful men and women as dates to anyone who could afford them. Rumors circulated about some of the less legal aspects of their business model. However, the Naughties serviced a lot of prominent politicians. That helped them dodge plenty of legal issues.
Unfortunately for them, the rising popularity of the Motorbike Missionaries threatened to render them impotent.
“One night we were attacked while riding through a backwater town. The Naughties were there with all sorts of weapons: rifles, grenades, swords, nunchucks. Anything they could use against us, they had. They even paid the local townspeople significant amounts of money to join in on the attack. Everyone in my chapter was killed, and I was captured. I thought I’d die in the Naughties’ hands, but the Federation swooped in and took me.” She laughed, though it was the kind of incredulous laugh that tries to deflect the absurdities of life. “Magistrate Bibble saved my life.”
Adam tilted his head, as if the change in position would help him make sense of this. “If he saved you, why are you fighting against him?”
Layla grimaced. “I’m fighting against him because of what he asked me to do in return.”
Rage flooded Adam’s chest as he imagined all the unsavory things Bibble may have demanded of her. This feeling rivaled the strength of the feelings he experienced when Bibble handed him his fate. “What did he want?”
“He wanted to get his hands on the nanotechnology we used.” Layla sounded bitter, even deeply offended by the seemingly simple demand.
This wasn’t the answer his indignant rage was looking for, so it drained away in its uselessness. “Why’d he want it?”
“Who wouldn’t? The idea of buying happiness would appeal to anyone who feels like they can’t get it any other way.” Layla sneered. “Unfortunately, Bibble and others like him wanted it for more sinister purposes. His idea was to make the use of the nanos mandatory for all civilians. He figured he could cut down on crime that way, because most crimes are committed out of anger or a desire to have something you didn’t have before. The added bonus would also be that he could hike up taxes, grant himself a large pay raise, and pass a bunch of restrictive laws, thereby gaining more wealth and power, all without the people feeling the need to raise a complaint. He saw the contentment generated by the nanobots as synthetic, therefore inferior to the real thing, and he seemed more than happy to get ‘the real thing’ through whatever means he could.”
“So, Bibble thinks you can’t buy real happiness through the use of nanotechnology, but you can buy it in every other way?”
Layla snorted. “Yes. He displays his stripes as a true nutjob with that line of reasoning, doesn’t he? Still, it doesn’t even matter whether his reasons make sense or not. He wants people out of his way, and he sees the means to make that happen. It doesn’t matter to him if he has to do something reprehensible to get what he wants. As long as it benefits him and he can make it legal through the power he’s attained, he’ll do it. We have to do what we can to stop him.”
“I learned this much from personal experience,” Adam replied.
She looked sympathetic. “You were banished from existence over an apple someone else chose to steal and eat. It sounds stupid, but there’s reason behind it. Bibble’s been hard at work for quite some time now, looking to interpret law in a way that benefits him. Did you know that most of the expulsions have been retroactive, including yours?”
“What do you mean? Are you saying I never officially existed at all?” That sounded utterly absurd.
Layla nodded. “Yes. That also means your family couldn’t legally inherit your possessions after your exile. Even if you had a will, it’s been invalidated. Bibble is kicking people out of existence so he can take their things and sell them for profit. That profit is being used to fund his quest for the nanos, among other things. If he gets the nanos and successfully subdues the population, we’re all doomed.”
After his discussion with Layla, Adam wished he could focus on the fact that she was nice to him. He wished he could even indulge in a few fantasies about her. Not that he expected anything like that to happen, but having the freedom to do so would make him feel normal again. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the luxury of free time.
The Knights of the Order of Knitting came on board, and they were anxious to get down to business. They all displayed a fondness toward Layla that mirrored Sir Edwin’s. This much was obvious when they gathered in a conference room for a meeting to bring everyone up to speed. Three senior Vaaldeen crewmembers were already seated around the large circular table. The knights, thirteen in total, were filtering into the room. None of them could sit without attending to Layla’s needs in some way, regardless of whether she had any needs or not.
“Here, my lady,” one of them announced as he pulled out a chair for her. A different knight took over the duty of scooting her up to the table. Then another asked her if she needed a beverage, and another offered her a bag of pretzels.
Meanwhile, Adam sat beside her, more than a little annoyed by the throng of chivalrous men in metal armor. They clinked and clanked as they bumped into the back of his chair, all of them seemingly oblivious to his existence.
Adam leaned over to say in a not-so-quiet tone, “I’d offer you something as well, but it might be another ten years before I get my turn at wiping your chin for you.”
Layla rolled her eyes.
George sat on Adam’s other side, smirking at the entire display. “It’s rather ridiculous, isn’t it?”
“That means it makes sense in my life right now,” Adam replied.
“They’re trying to make up for the loss of chivalry in society, and in so doing, they’re being decidedly unchivalrous by jacking up my blood sugar levels to the point I might end up comatose before the end of this trip.” George paused as he tapped his chin. “Then again, that might not be so bad for me. We’re going to fail anyway.”
Adam’s stomach knotted. His ribs still ached, reminding him of George’s previous predictions. “I thought your foreshadower could only see a couple of minutes into the future.”
“That’s true,” George said. “That prediction is based on my natural pessimism, and it’s fortified by my cynical view of others. Unfortunately for us all, I’m usually right.”
“Hmm.” Adam looked over at Layla, who had finally been attended by the final of the thirteen knights. “Why didn’t you use the contentment nanobots on him?”
She smiled, her eyes sparkling. “I did. Nothing changed. As it turns out, George is perfectly happy being his normal, gloomy self.”
Before Adam could comment, a circular hole irised open in the center of the table. Moments later, The Great Orator rose through it, seated in a golden chair. The platform holding the chair clicked into place, leaving The Great Orator to look down on them all. His back faced Adam, giving him a rear view of the feather plume. This side was also dotted with little yellow eyes. A few too many of them focused on Adam for his taste.
“As we all know, we need to come up with a plan to stop Bibble from plundering our galaxy of all that is precious to us,” The Great Orator said. “He has already taken our home, but we will not cede that which is most precious of all.” A dramatic pause followed. “Our autonomy.”
“Hear, hear!” the knights cheered in unison.
“We must begin by answering the most difficult and important of questions,” The Great Orator continued. “That question is this: what name shall we give to this organization?”
“Choosing a name is the most important decision we have to make? What kind of nonsense is that?” This vocal protest, so loud it made the whole assembly draw back a little, came from George.
Though Adam wouldn’t have stated it quite so brashly, he felt the same way.
All eyefeathers turned to bear on George, though The Great Orator didn’t go so far as to turn his chair. “Word choice is everything. Public opinion is frequently swayed by choosing a strategic name. We must also label the actions of our adversary according to that same principle.”
“But . . . this is a secret operation,” Adam objected.
The Great Orator waved a dismissive hand. “It is only a secret for now. However, the galaxy will one day know of what we did here. Our actions will be inscribed on the pages of history books from every inhabited world. Those histories will be informed by our actions, yes, but also by our rhetoric. By choosing our name, we build our legacy.”
“History is written by the winners,” George said. “If we fail, it won’t matter what kind of thought we put into this. Bibble will spin it to make us look like inept terrorists. Heck, he’ll try to do that the moment we make our first move!”
Layla leaned forward, her eyes aimed confidently up at The Great Orator. “He makes a good, if somewhat gloomy, point. I’m all for honing our rhetoric, but we need to make sure we have a solid plan of action as well.”
The Great Orator flipped a switch on the armrest, and the platform beneath his chair turned until he faced Layla. “Trust me, Ms. Garrison, that will be the second order of business. Perhaps you’d like to speed things along toward that end by proposing a name for our cause.”
Layla sat back and stared intently at the ceiling as she searched inwardly for inspiration. “I can’t say how this would translate in your native tongue, sir, but I have a name that would mean something to my people.” She looked over at Adam and winked. “I suggest the name ‘Apple.’”
Adam stared back at her, more than a little curious where she was going with this. “Why?”
“It stands for the Alliance of Persons Pursuing Lifelong Existence. The title speaks to what happened to you through the acronym and by addressing your unjust banishment.” Layla spoke to the room, but she looked only at him. “What happened to you would frighten anyone. You did nothing. A crime was committed against you, and they came for you in your own home. If it happened to you, no one is safe. And now, even while you live, they’ve done all they can to erase you. This name gives us a clear idea of what’s at stake, and a living, breathing spokesperson that embodies it.”
Adam didn’t know how to respond. He gaped at Layla, trying to decide why she would choose to focus this on him. Does she actually think my story is that compelling, or is there something else motivating her?
The Great Orator nodded thoughtfully. At least from a human perspective, it looked like a thoughtful nod. One couldn’t truly be sure without a deep knowledge of the Vaaldeen culture. “That is an efficient title. It accomplishes a lot in a clever way. Thank you for your input, Ms. Garrison.”
The Knights of the Order of Knitting all raised their knitting needles in salute. Sir Edwin stood. “I think I speak for all of my brothers when I say that Ms. Garrison’s suggested title is perfect. We approve.”
George nodded dismissively. “If using that name is what gets us to move on to other matters, then by all means, let’s use it.”
The name was officially approved. However, the Vaaldeens still had to come up with a name that would work with their native language. This order of business took much longer. The Great Orator, having greater familiarity with his own language, couldn’t accept any proposals from his people without picking them apart. He was also just as hard on his own ideas. Adam and his fellow humans, none of whom could understand a word of what they were now saying, had to sit through the entire painful ordeal.
At one point, Adam leaned over and whispered to Layla, “I feel like I’m about to drown in my own boredom.”
Layla smiled. She hovered only a couple of inches away, and Adam’s senses were clouded by her proximity. “If you do, take me with you. It would have to be better than this.”
“Be careful,” he warned playfully. “We’ll start sounding like George in a minute.”
“I can hear you, you know,” George interjected.
Everyone else in the room seemed to be ignoring the three of them, so they talked amongst themselves while a heated debate about word choice continued around them. Adam personally wished that George hadn’t joined their conversation, though this feeling had nothing to do with any ill will he held toward the man. He simply wanted to have Layla to himself.
At long last, The Great Orator approved a name composed of alien sounds that made no sense to Adam’s ears. They moved on to the real planning that would compose the actual bulk of their mission.
Layla had a suggestion for that too. “Bibble wants to get his hands on the nanotechnology, but I’ve managed to keep it from him so far. I have access to all the nanobots we could ever need, and I think I should give Bibble what he wants.” A mildly maniacal laugh escaped her lips. “After they’ve been properly reprogrammed, of course.”
The preliminaries of a plan had been drawn up, but all of it was contingent upon finding the manpower to reprogram the nanos. Layla knew plenty about the technology, but she would need some good engineers to help her.
Adam walked away from the meeting feeling hopeful about a few things, and one of those things was the fact that Layla walked out with him. She had her hands jammed into her pockets, and the corner of her mouth was turned up in a smirk. “So, do you think sending George to find engineers is a good idea?”
George had volunteered for the mission, which was odd in and of itself. If he was so sure they would fail, why bother to make the effort? Of course, the choice did make some kind of sense. Layla had to get on with her own work regarding the nanos, and Adam was barred from going anywhere you could hope to find anyone respectable. The knights would attract too much unwanted attention given that they went everywhere in their armor. “It’ll be all right. Who could resist his personality?”
Layla patted his shoulder, triggering a cascade of sensations that weakened his knees. “Remember, not everyone loves sarcasm the way I do. If you’re going to be our top secret poster boy that no one’s going to know about for years to come, you need to watch that.”
“You’re right. I need to work on my charm. Maybe a quotable line will sell our cause,” he joked. “How about this? An A.P.P.L.E. a day keeps the magistrate away.”
When Layla laughed, her face glowed. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. “You’re funny,” she replied at last. “I like that.”
This compliment emboldened Adam. “Why did you decide to make me the poster boy, anyway? I’m just a normal guy who tends to get stuck in odd situations.”
“That’s one of your best qualities. People can relate to you.” She sighed as she stopped in her tracks. She turned to face him, and his heart jumped. “The reasons I gave in that meeting were good ones, and they were real. Even more than that, though, I have a feeling about you. It’s like you’re important for some reason I can’t quite understand. I look at you, and I want to figure you out, but I can’t get there. Not yet.”
I want you to try. He considered reaching out to touch her, but something held him back. Fear perhaps? All of his past relationships ended badly. The incident involving a go kart, a peach, and a turtle almost scared him out of dating altogether. Now here he stood, tempted to do something that could complicate a situation that already went far beyond complicated.
The fragile moment shattered as George bumped past them both. “I apologize in advance if I come back plastered in feathers,” he called back. “It tends to happen when I go to frat parties.”
The rebels had established their base on a neglected space station orbiting a red dwarf star. According to The Great Orator, this star was once the source of life for a thriving civilization. When war broke out, the warring species decimated one another. That had been tens of thousands of years ago. The only thing that remained was the story of the terrible war, and the unfortunate event the precipitated it. These two races of people initially got along well. They had an annual banquet where heads of state from each government dined together in celebration of their mutual good will. One year, food poisoning killed more than half of those in attendance. Cooks from both worlds had been in the kitchen, and fingers were pointed, each accusing former friends of carrying out a mass assassination. As it turns out, one cook simply forgot to wash their hands.
Adam found this tale unsettling. The rebellion faced steep odds. The thought that even the tiniest mistake could kill them all made him question whether or not he should even involve himself in this.
He sat next to Layla in the space station’s science lab while she peered through a microscope. “The nanos look good,” she said. “It seems the time they spent dormant didn’t harm them at all.” She’d retrieved the nanobots from the ship used in Adam’s rescue. Stored away in a stasis field hidden behind the refrigerator, they’d been safe from any scanning devices the Federation may have used to search for them.
“What are you reprogramming them to do?” Adam asked.
“I’m hoping I can reprogram them to last longer. When this was a capitalistic venture, we wanted people to keep coming back for more. Now we need to make sure Bibble remains under their influence for as long as possible, no matter what happens. I also want them to self-replicate. If one of the nanos were to suffer permanent damage, I want the nanos surrounding it to repurpose the parts and build a replacement.” She bit her lower lip. “I could program them to spawn continuously, but they’d have to take material from his body to do it. And at that kind of rate, they’d kill him quickly.”
“We may have to kill him anyway,” Adam said softly.
“I know. I just want to avoid it if possible.” Layla’s eyes locked with his. “I may be many things, but I’m not a killer.”
Adam opened his mouth to speak, but he was stunned into silence when George burst into the room. Or fell into the room, to be more accurate. Sprawled out on the floor, he wore only a fluffy multi-colored tutu, clown makeup, and a sombrero. “I found your engineers,” he announced, looking up at them with a grin.
“Good. I need them.” Then Layla frowned. “George, I think you need to go to bed now.”
George laughed. “I knew you were going to say that!”
The science lab was a flurry of activity over the next few days. Layla coordinated the efforts of the engineers effortlessly. Adam admired the way she asserted her authority, and he couldn’t deny her intelligence. She was confident in what she did. That quality, which he initially perceived as arrogance, didn’t seem so abrasive now. He wanted to use every excuse to be around her. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about nanotechnology, so he could hardly justify getting in her way.
The Knights of the Order of Knitting occupied their own part of the station. They were tasked with knitting as many blankets as they could. The knights were going to be providing us with a large, infuriating distraction when the time came. The more they knitted now, the better their distraction would be.
The rest of the rebellion, an awkward conglomeration of humans and several other species, were studying the schematics of the DULL offices. Since Adam wasn’t officially part of the shoot ’em up segment of the plan, they didn’t want him around.
That left him spending his time with George, who’d finally recovered from the frat party. “When smart people get drunk, they become even more eager to prove how smart they are,” he explained as they walked down the same corridor they’d been pacing for hours. “Parties are a hotbed for recruiting the best and brightest these days.”
“What role did the tutu play in your strategy?” Adam asked.
“That was just a side effect of my strategy. I had to assimilate to the environment, and since I was playing beer pong with physics and engineering students, it just made sense to get plowed.” George shrugged. “It was also fun.”
“I didn’t know gloomy George could have fun.”
“Only when I’m too wasted to know who I am,” George replied nonchalantly.
When they passed the science lab, Adam decided to pop in to say hi. He hadn’t been there since breakfast, after all. George rolled his eyes and continued on his stroll down the corridor.
Layla was in the middle of an intense conversation with several engineering students. Seeing this, Adam felt a bit awkward about his timing. Yet when she caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, she waved him over. He joined the group, astonished at the amount of technobabble being tossed about between them. Determined to look like he was keeping up with the conversation, he casually put his hands in his pockets and nodded as people spoke.
After about a minute, Adam noticed a young man in a lab coat wandering toward him with a scanner. The scanner chirped and screeched, and the young man’s eyes widened with wonder as he stared at the readout. “Oh wow. This is unexpected!” he declared.
“Emmett, I thought you were supposed to be monitoring the nanos,” Layla said pointedly.
“I was,” Emmett replied off-handedly, “but when he walked in, the readings went all whack-a-doodle.”
“I suppose that’s a technical term,” Adam jested.
Emmett ignored the comment and held the scanner within an inch of Adam’s ear. “His bioelectrical readings are bizarre. These are the same measurements one would expect of the theoretical Ludicrous Field.”
“What?” Adam, suddenly the center of attention, felt distinctly uncomfortable.
“Are you serious?” Layla rushed to the young man’s side and craned her neck to look at the readout. After several long moments of astounded silence, she muttered, “Oh my.”
“Adam, have you led a disturbingly illogical life?” Emmett asked.
When Adam nodded, the inertia within the room shifted dramatically. Before he knew it, he was sitting in a corner recounting every embarrassing and irrational moment of his life while a small group of eager students took notes. He silently regretted that Layla was hearing this too.
“This discovery could win us the Nobel Prize,” one of the students whispered excitedly.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” another cautioned.
After hours of interrogation and measurements, they all seemed to agree on one fact. Adam Evans was the biggest scientific discovery of the century, and all the absurdities of his life could be reasonably explained.
“We could use this to our advantage,” Emmett said. The excitement oozed from his words like sludgy old hospital coffee from a dropped paper cup. “This data shows that he’s had a mixture of both good and bad results from this unique bioelectric field. If we could calibrate it properly, we could guarantee that the bizarre events that befall him during this mission would only be positive. If things were to go wrong in there, it might be enough to save them.”
“Could you really do that?” Layla asked.
“I think so.” Emmett paused. “Of course, if I got it wrong, it could also kill him.”
One might say Adam was crazy for agreeing to undergo a highly experimental procedure that could possibly kill him. Layla certainly jumped at the opportunity to do so. Within seconds of him agreeing to the task, she grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. “Are you mad?” She was trying to yell at him while also keeping it quiet enough to be discreet and she ultimately failed on both fronts.
“Probably,” Adam confessed, “but I need to do something. I’ve just been killing time here, but I want to do something useful. If this is it, then I’m willing to try.”
“You’re already the face of this rebellion. Can’t that be enough?” she pleaded. Her hand remained on his arm, and he felt it trembling.
“And how will I ever be able to earn the respect of the people who learn about this rebellion if I didn’t actually participate in it?”
Layla looked away as she considered his argument. “If you do this, you may end up being a martyr instead.”
“Which means I’ll still be useful to you in my original capacity,” Adam said lightly. “Causes love martyrs.”
“That isn’t funny.”
“I know that.” He touched her cheek, prompting her to look back at him. “Still, I have to do this, and it may not be as big a risk as you think. If I really am surrounded by this Ludicrous Field, then the ridiculous odds against the procedure being a success may work in my favor.”
A smile slowly crept across Layla’s face. “That’s actually solid reasoning.”
So many factors that contributed to his risky choice remained unspoken, though he was aware of them. Like the fact that he desperately wanted respect. He wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment. He also wanted to feel like he had control over his life. With all that had been happening to him, he needed this. And, on top of it all, he wanted Layla to feel like she could count on him to do what needed to be done.
The procedure necessitated the donning of a surgical gown, which was embarrassing enough to trigger some second thoughts. How could he hope to gain the respect of his colleagues while private bits of his person hung out through strategically placed openings for all to see? Then he thought about the time he spent entirely nude in the DULL offices after his arrest. If he could endure that, he could get through this.
When the time came, Adam was seated in a cold chair, and Emmett set about attaching electrodes to specific points all over his body. This part was done quickly. Afterwards he’d use his scanning device (which conveniently seemed to perform every function imaginable) to regulate and adjust the electrical current.
“This will feel insane. At least, I assume it will. I’ve never done it myself, so I can’t be certain,” Emmett said.
I feel reassured, Adam thought.
Layla hovered directly behind Emmett, her eyes fixated on the scanner’s readout. She bit her lower lip, and Adam hoped she hadn’t seen anything to justify her obvious nerves.
“All right. Here we go,” Emmett announced.
The current began, and Adam’s senses were consumed with fire.
And memories of a giant cake.
Though every part of Adam’s body felt like it was ablaze with energy, it wasn’t painful. It was just . . . odd. With each cell vibrating with power, it seemed as if he might just come apart. His molecules would simply drift away from one another, spreading throughout the room. Yet, even with all the implications this result would have, Adam didn’t find it alarming. His brain no longer seemed to have room for concern.
That enabled him to focus on the vision of the giant cake. The icing was white with yellow and blue flowers piped around the outside of each tier. The whole assembly stood about ten feet tall. This cake came from one of his earliest childhood memories. The whole debacle had been too weird to be forgotten.
Why is it here now? he wondered.
His curious four-year-old self been leaning out the third story window of the apartment his family lived in. The cake was set up on the patio below for a wedding to which his family had not been invited, while almost every other family in the building had been. Little Adam was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to eat any of that impressive cake, but that wasn’t going to stop him from looking.
Then came the point when he’d leaned too far. He felt something shift, and gravity seized him with iron fingers. He recalled the sensation of falling, and the bewilderment. He didn’t have time to get scared as he tumbled headfirst toward the waiting world below. A sugary scent filled his nostrils, and a split second later, he was plunging through the spongy layers of cake. He stopped when he was buried head-to-waist, leaving his little legs flailing desperately in the air. At first he thought this was a dream come true. What kid finds fault with being covered in cake? Then he realized he couldn’t breathe, and his arms were pinned firmly to his sides.
The cake that kept him from smashing into the cement now threatened to suffocate him. That kind of death definitely would have made the news. Fortunately, rough hands grabbed his ankles, and soon he was pulled free. His rescuer left him alone on the patio to lick away the cake and icing that plastered his body while an irritated wedding planner sent a guest to find his parents.
The cake had been ruined, and he was the only one who got to enjoy any of it.
Adam recalled that incident with absolute clarity. The sense of euphoria that accompanied this brush with death was indistinguishable from the sensation that filled his body as the recalibration procedure continued. It felt like it always did when things inexplicably worked out for the best.
It took Adam a minute to realize that the electric current had disappeared. He blinked several times, and the vision of the cake faded, leaving in its wake Layla, Emmett, and a whole crowd of observers. He pushed himself out of the chair, hastily yanking free the electrodes that hindered his movements.
“Let me get those!” Emmett exclaimed. “The equipment is delicate!”
More time passed as the scanners became intimately acquainted with Adam and his altered bioelectric field. “The readings look good,” Emmett confirmed. “We’ll watch how you do the rest of the day to be sure. Still, we’ll have to move quickly. The human body has a way of resetting to its default over time. I doubt this change is permanent.”
When Adam left the science lab, Layla walked out with him. Though she had plenty to do, she wanted to see that he made it back to his room okay. “I’m telling you, I feel great,” he insisted. “You don’t need to worry about me.” And it was true. The rush of euphoria had settled into a constant feeling of well-being. He felt invincible. He only hoped this effect wasn’t psychosomatic.
“I hope you’re right,” Layla said. “I just want to be careful. You went through a major experimental procedure, after all. I don’t think I’m overreacting.”
Adam knew she wasn’t overreacting, and it felt good to know that she cared this much. Maybe things with Layla could work out the way he’d been hoping.
This thought was cut short as George came catapulting down the corridor. He flew past Adam and Layla, generating a significant breeze as he went. “Sorry, I don’t have time to stop and talk right now!” he yelled behind him.
Adam laughed. “See? Mr. Misery doesn’t have time for us. My luck is improving already!”
Adam’s day only got better from the moment he stepped out of the science lab. Once Layla was satisfied he would be all right, she returned to her work, and he went for another walk around the space station.
During this walk, he found a turquoise hat shoved behind a trashcan. The thing was made of an itch-inducing material and was covered in glitter, but he figured someone might be missing it. When he went to turn it in, he learned that The Great Orator had been searching for it for days. Tradition dictated that he had to wear this hat while using the toilet facilities. If he didn’t have it . . . well, it’s obvious why someone might have taken it upon themselves to hide it as a joke. As one would expect, The Great Orator was elated to have the hat back, and he promptly rewarded Adam with a meal of edible meat and vegetables.
It is interesting to note that the current Great Orator was the one who declared this a tradition in the first place. He wanted to add more ceremonial flare to everyday mundane tasks. As the initiator of this tradition, he could have dispensed with it when days without a visit to the toilet started to make him feel significant discomfort. This Great Orator, however, was a man of principle and would not be swayed by such devious tactics.
After this incident, Adam had no doubt the recalibration was a success. How could avoiding the nasty gray mash, even if only for a single meal, be viewed as anything but a ridiculous miracle?
When Adam returned to his room, he found it laden with sweet treats from all over the galaxy, courtesy of the grateful orator. Some were nothing short of exquisite, while others were undoubtedly an acquired taste. Either way, this was a welcome change of pace. He lay back on the bedspread, feeling content for the first time since he was yanked from his home.
A knock at the door roused him from his blissful relaxation. “Come in!” he called.
When Layla walked into the room, Adam pushed himself immediately from the bed and onto his feet. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t mean to bother you. I just wanted to see how you were doing.” Her eyes traversed the room, taking in the multicolored, multi-shaped landscape of culinary delights scattered about the furniture. “Part of your reward for being of service to The Great Orator, I presume.”
“You presume correctly.”
“I’m going to have a hard time leaving here with all this stuff taunting me,” Layla said lightly.
“Then don’t leave,” Adam replied, motivated by a new sense of confidence.
She rewarded him with a playful smile. “All right.”
They started speaking about the mission. “The knights have completed their knitting. The blankets are being shipped out tonight, and they’ll be flooding charities all over the sector for the next couple of days. Hopefully that will have most of Bibble’s enforcers out of the DULL office.”
If that part of the plan worked, it would make things a lot easier for them. When Adam and Layla walked into Bibble’s office, they would be alone. Yes, they’d have backup in case the primary plan failed, but the goal was to avoid shooting. Adam and Layla’s survival hinged upon avoiding the backup plan.
Though Adam had to acknowledge the possibility of a grim outcome, he didn’t believe it would come to that. He still felt unstoppable. “It’ll work.”
“George says it won’t.”
“I may not have a foreshadower, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. George’s foreshadower feels too much like a badly conceived plot device anyway.” Adam stopped for a moment and laughed. “Then again, so does my whole life.”
Layla sat on the bed, and Adam followed suit. “Either way, this is risky, and I got to thinking about what I want to do before we go. I don’t want to leave anything unsaid. You know what I mean?”
Adam nodded. “I know exactly what you mean.” Undeterred by the memory of his disastrous attempt at kissing the last girl he had a thing for, which resulted in a trip to the hospital and an embarrassing video that millions of people ended up viewing, he leaned forward. Her hands found their way to his shoulders as she met him partway. His concerns about the mission melted away as the warmth of the kiss spread through his body. Yet, even after a full minute spent in that embrace, one stubborn concern remained.
Breathless, he pulled back. “Are you sure you want this?”
Layla, whose cheeks were flushed, furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve been having a lot of good luck since I went through that procedure. How do you know this is what you want? What if you’re just being manipulated by my bioelectric field?” Even as he said it, Adam noted his statement could easily become a bad pick-up line.
Layla shook her head. “I liked you before this, so maybe you should accept the fact that you’re getting lucky tonight.” Her voice was irreverent. Uninhibited.
Adam, content with and excited by that answer, kissed her again.
The knitted blankets succeeded in their task. The rebels intercepted subspace transmissions declaring that a significant number of enforcers were being dispatched from the DULL office on Dyntaxi Prime. Knitted blankets were serious business, after all. A proliferation of lawsuits decades before had led to the Federation outlawing the donation of handmade items. What if a knitted blanket caused someone a mild case of skin irritation? Such a possibility simply could not be tolerated.
Adam, Layla, and George set out on the little ship they’d used to escape from Dyntaxi Prime. Now they were returning voluntarily. The dynamic this time was vastly different from before. Adam was no longer the outsider. Though the two of them hadn’t officially worked out the details of their relationship, Adam couldn’t deny that the night he spent with Layla was the best he’d ever had. And even with all the tension regarding their mission, he caught her giving him little smiles now and then.
George, who quickly grew disgusted with both of them, largely kept to himself. He’d be there with the transporter when needed, but he remained scarce the rest of the time.
Layla and Adam strolled casually into Magistrate Bibble’s office. Each of them had syringes filled with nanobots tucked into their clothing. She’d called ahead and demanded a meeting with Bibble, saying she was ready to negotiate with him. He happily granted it.
They were welcomed by Bibble’s twirling eyestalks. Adam looked slightly to the side to avoid vertigo.
“Hello, Ms. Garrison.” One of Bibble’s eyestalks regarded Adam. “Why did you bring him?”
“He’s part of the negotiation,” she replied. “I want you to give him his life back.”
Bibble twisted his thick lips into a sneer. “Even assuming such a thing were possible, why would you choose that as your demand?”
Layla held her head high, refusing to buckle under the abrasiveness. “That’s simple. In the time since I took him out of here, I’ve fallen in love with him. I didn’t plan to do it, but it’s happened, so his future naturally matters to me.”
Though Adam knew this statement was part of the plan, he still felt something stir inside him. Could her words have a ring of truth to them?
The eyestalk that had been focused on Adam whipped back around to bear on Layla, sending several items from his desk clattering to the ground in the process. A book about the history of Federation law came to rest by Adam’s feet. “If I were able to make that happen, you would give me the nanobots willingly?” Bibble inquired.
Layla nodded firmly. “Yes.”
Bibble opened a drawer in his desk and sifted through its contents. “You know that’s extortion, and extortion is highly illegal, especially when it involves a high government official.”
Layla gripped Adam’s hand, and he knew she felt as scared as he did.
“I thought of it as a simple negotiation,” Layla replied, somehow holding her voice steady.
“The law doesn’t look at it that way, Ms. Garrison.” Bibble grinned as he found what he was looking for. When he pulled his hand out of the drawer, it was wrapped around a shiny blue phaser. They watched as he cranked the dial over to an undoubtedly lethal setting. He aimed it at Adam’s chest. “Now, since you attempted to extort me, I can have you arrested. Any nanobots in your possession would go to me. As for your friend, he clearly violated the terms of his exile. Given that he no longer officially exists, I could shoot him and dispose of his body with no legal repercussions. So, Ms. Garrison, can you explain to me why I should go along with your plan when I have an option available to me that will work within the parameters of the law?”
Neither of them had an answer. Layla dropped Adam’s hand, and he sensed she was preparing herself to make a desperate move.
If there were ever a time for the Ludicrous Field to do its work, this would be it, Adam thought.
“I didn’t think you could,” Bibble said.
From the corner of his eye, Adam saw Layla reach into her pocket. She had to be going for the nanos.
Then Bibble’s finger was on the trigger. It would take the slightest of moves to end Adam’s life. He instinctively stepped backwards while Layla lunged across the desk at Bibble with the syringe in hand. A beam of energy shot out of the weapon, passing her on the way to its target.
Adam’s confused mind couldn’t make sense of anything as he hit the floor.
Everyone knows that in a time of great peril, a person’s life may flash before their eyes. What is the function of this phenomenon? Is there even a function to it at all, or is it simply a byproduct of the evolutionary process?
Federation scientist Myrtle Mump thought about these questions a lot after surviving an explosion in her laboratory. When her life flashed before her eyes, she saw all the various bowls of ice cream she’d ever eaten. She was astonished by the feeling of serenity that overcame her.
She went on to write a famous paper on the subject, and in it she described the experience of a hypothetical man named Cliff. Cliff had a decent job as an advertising executive. He had a spouse and two kids. He occasionally traveled. He led an average, but overall good, life. One day an angry ex-employee came in with a knife and threatened to slash Cliff’s throat. Confronted with the possibility of death, Cliff saw his family and so many of the wonderful moments they’d shared together.
Myrtle Mump hypothesized that this retrospective on Cliff’s life, or life flash, was nature’s way of giving him the impetus to fight that much harder to save himself. It reminded him that he had a lot to live for. Even if it wasn’t enough and he ultimately died, Cliff would have found a little solace in those final moments.
The hypothesis sounded good, but that didn’t make it right.
Mump tracked down thousands of people who’d had near death encounters and reported having life flashes. An alarming number of them claimed to have had negative life flash experiences.
Ten percent reported deep depression following the incident. Many of them said they’d never realized how unsatisfying their life was until they saw it as a danger-induced slideshow.
Another seven percent were finally able to admit that they didn’t much care for their family.
A full two percent not only realized that they were dissatisfied with their current career, but decided that the appropriate response was to threaten the life of their boss. Poor hypothetical Cliff might well have been a victim of one of these people.
Business gurus Jessica Blythe and Horace Glimple looked at the data and saw an opportunity inside those bleak statistics. People who feared the possibility of such outcomes might pay to change that. They started their business and began peddling fake lives for a hefty price.
Customers got to choose the kinds of things they’d like to see during their life flashes. Did you intend to vacation at a tropical paradise but never got around to it? Did you ever wish you’d splurged on that space liner cruise or gone sky diving over an erupting volcano? No problem! Experts would specially create any life flash a customer could afford to pay for. They were guaranteed to be triggered by any hazardous situation.
Of course, people wanted to experience their custom-made life flashes. Anything that expensive shouldn’t go unused. It’s interesting that so many customers engaged in reckless activities to induce them. Some tried bungee jumping. Others started wrestling dangerous animals. One man jumped off a tall building and landed in a wading pool filled with pudding. One can only hope he enjoyed his life flash, because the pudding didn’t do a good job of breaking his fall.
People routinely went out of their way to do the exciting things they’d once avoided. Sure, a certain percentage of them were maimed or killed, but those who weren’t ended up living the sort of life their life flashes had been designed to depict. No scientists have ever decided to investigate what percentage of these people understand the irony of that.
Adam’s life didn’t flash before his eyes, but that was probably for the best. A person facing death really doesn’t need to relive past humiliations on top of everything else. What he got instead was a single thought.
I shouldn’t have worried about being attractive to women.
It may seem a strange time to be thinking such things, but it’s possible to connect the dots and see what brought this thought to the surface.
On the day Adam bought the apple that led to this whole fiasco, he hadn’t even wanted it. He’d actually wanted a greasy pizza, but he’d been trying to get healthier. Why? He wanted a date, and he figured being lean and in shape would help with that. Except he didn’t eat the apple right away, because he ended up caving and getting the pizza an hour later.
His neighbor, Philisandra Newt, had come over to chat for a few minutes, and on her way out, she’d spied the infamous apple on the counter and swiped it. The temptation was too great, and she ultimately died as a result.
If he hadn’t been vain and wanting a girl to notice him, he wouldn’t have ended up looking down the barrel of Bibble’s phaser.
As far as final thoughts went, Adam could have done worse.
Pain and disorientation replaced that thought when he smacked into the hard, unforgiving floor. Am I dead now? he wondered.
No. He couldn’t be dead. The pain wouldn’t make sense then. The shot mustn’t have been instantly fatal, so he’d have to suffer a bit before the end.
A few stunned moments later, Layla entered Adam’s field of view. She seized his shoulders and shook him, a distinct edge of panic revealing itself in the action. “Hey! Are you all right?”
Adam pushed himself into a sitting position. He looked down, and it became clear from his physical appearance, in addition to the rather pleasant fact he was still alive, that he hadn’t been shot. The book that had fallen from Bibble’s desk now lay open on the floor, and several pages were torn. It didn’t take a genius to realize that, in his futile attempt to escape the blast of the phaser, he’d tripped over the book. A new charred crater adorned the wall behind him, and the smell of burnt paint wafted across the room. The fall, which should have been embarrassing, actually saved his life. “Yeah, I am.”
Layla wrapped her arms around him, squeezing so tight he couldn’t move. “You scared me. Don’t do that again!” She sounded as though she was on the verge of tears, but she held it together.
“I’ll try not to,” Adam promised. Then his synapses kicked into gear, the initial shock dissipating in light of a far larger concern. “Bibble! What happened to him?”
“Come see,” Layla said, offering Adam a hand.
She led him to the other side of Bibble’s desk, where the wild-eyed magistrate sat on the floor, drool running down his chin. His eyestalks had twirled into a braid from which they couldn’t seem to untangle. The syringe was still buried in his neck.
“You got him!” Adam’s tension was washed away by an overwhelming sense of relief.
“We got him,” Layla corrected.
“It worked so quickly.”
Layla grinned. “No. The nanos take time to do their magic, so the syringe was also loaded with sedatives.”
“Brilliant. So, that was it? We’re done?”
Layla shook her head. “I need to call the rebels in here and have them come collect Bibble. Then we’re done.”
“I just . . . I thought it would take longer than this. All that planning leading up to this moment, and it was over in a couple of minutes.”
“That’s because we planned well,” Layla replied.
“I guess.” Perhaps Adam was spoiled by movies and total immersion games where the final conflict often took a minimum of ten minutes. Or books, where the climax spanned a number of pages, embarking on a number of twists, turns, dips, and dizzying highs.
This . . . was certainly not that.
Layla put her hands on her hips. “Are you actually disappointed we didn’t have some grand battle here?”
“No! Of course not.” Adam knew he wouldn’t be any good in a fight. “It’s just . . . maybe when we tell this story in the future, we can embellish a bit to make it sound more epic?”
She considered that for a moment before nodding. “Sounds good.”
When the rebels arrived, they hauled Bibble to his feet. His drugged smile and limp, tangled eyestalks made him seem so ridiculous no one could quite believe he’d ever posed a danger to anyone.
Adam and Layla decided to take a walk along the streets of Dyntaxi Prime before heading back to the ship. The sidewalks were paved with emerald green stones, which paired surprisingly well with the golden sky overhead. During his first visit here, he didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of this world. Yet now, as he took in the sights, it only fueled his uncertainty.
“I’m not sure what I want to do with my life now,” Adam said softly, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “I could try to go back to my normal life once the details get sorted out here, but all my things have already been sold. I’m sure someone else already has my old job. One way or another, I have to start all over again.”
Layla slipped her hand into his. “You want something different, don’t you? This whole ordeal, as odd and dangerous as it was, made you want more, didn’t it?”
“It did,” he admitted.
“You could come with me.” Layla shrugged. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do now either, but I have a spaceship. We could zip around the cosmos, seeing where life leads us. It could be fun.”
The prospect filled Adam with the kind of excitement he only recalled feeling as a kid. “All right. I’ll stay as long as you can stand me.”
George, sickened by the idea of sharing close quarters with two lovebirds long term, departed to find his own way. “If you need me, you know where to find me. Just try not to need me,” he told Layla before she beamed him down to the surface of Warmickan 3. Despite his words, his tone had Adam suspecting he wouldn’t actually mind as much as he claimed.
A week passed. Adam and Layla had already visited two worlds on the fringe of the Federation. They were in transit to a third when they received a transmission from Dyntaxi Prime. Layla read it first. Her jaw dropped as she perused the text.
“What is it?” Adam asked as he strode into the cockpit.
“It’s a message from the new magistrate,” she replied. “It says that she’s grateful for our service to the Federation, and that Bibble is doing well in his new prison cell.” She paused. “She’d also like to remind you that you owe a fine for the nudity complaints lodged against you while you were in custody.”
Adam was dumbfounded. “They wouldn’t let me get dressed! How can they fine me for that?” He shook his head. “It looks like my bad luck is returning.”
Layla laughed. “Oh well. At least it’ll keep things interesting.”
About the Author
L.G. Keltner spends most of her time trying to write while also cleaning up after her crazy but wonderful kids and hanging out with her husband. Her favorite genre of all time is science fiction, and she’s been trying to write novels since the age of six. Needless to say, those earliest attempts weren’t all that good.
Her non-writing hobbies include astronomy and playing Trivial Pursuit.
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Also by L.G. Keltner
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