“Nothing happens unless we first dream.”
Mid-afternoon shadows lengthened over Macungie’s orchard and covered the valley floor like a gray river. The hills were cool and fragrant. Birds sang, insects chattered, and little green grasshoppers popped around the drying, early-fall brush.
Jamie Richards scratched at a mosquito bite on her arm, un-tucked her brown button-down shirt, and dropped her ninth grade math book onto the grass. She pulled her long brown hair into a ponytail, gazed up through the twisty, fruit-heavy branches of the old apple tree and yawned into her hand. The sky was mirror clear except for a puff of cloud suspended lazily above.
A spidery tingle started in her ankles and crept up to her head. Stronger pins and needles trickled through her. Suddenly, she was exhausted. As tired as she’d ever been in her whole life. She leaned back against the tree, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
I am Vixtan!
The words came into her mind as clear as if someone had spoken them into her ears. Jamie was instantly awake. Her eyes fluttered open and she sat up straight.
“Who said that?”
Tree branches wavered and appeared to freeze in place. Air felt gelled. She scrambled to her feet.
I am here to collect you.
“Who’s talking to me?”
The cloud dropped from the sky and enveloped the orchard in dense mist. She looked down. Her body had disappeared. It wasn’t concealed in the mist, it was gone! It was as if she were two disembodied eyes looking over the world.
She flapped her hands through the empty space where her chest and stomach should have been. Fear spiked.
She noticed someone lying beneath the apple tree with their hands pillowed under their head. Disbelief jarred Jamie’s senses.
“That’s… that’s me!”
The mist swirled and condensed into a thick ball of continuously curling fog.
You do not require a mortal shell to house your spirit as we travel the strings. I will provide a replica of your physical when we reach Phelastia. Your body here will be safe. Your spirit will only be away from this dimension for a few of your seconds.
An overwhelming feeling of incredulity swallowed her. In a shaky voice she asked, “Is this a dream?”
The dream world is as real as the physical.
The cloud of Vixtan enveloped her consciousness and they bolted into the sky, soaring elegantly, riding the soft thermals. The borders of the orchard disappeared as they reached the haze of the upper atmosphere and entered into the diffusion of thick clouds.
Her belly swooned.
The cloud of Vixtan pulled away from her consciousness and disappeared into the cloudscape. Dots of multi-colored light appeared out of thin air, swirled in a tornado around her, and assembled into her body complete with the brown button-down shirt and blue jeans she’d been wearing in the orchard. The air beneath her feet became a solid, yet marshmallow-consistency. She patted her face, her sides, her thighs, wiggled her fingers and toes. It all felt real.
A human-like being, small and rail-thin, rose from where Vixtan had disappeared. Two black, goose egg-size eyes stared at her from above a small, knobby nose and horizontal slot for a mouth. The being wore a gray body suit that covered from head to toe like the skin of a drum.
“Vixtan?” she whispered. “That you?”
The being nodded. “This uniform is what my people looked like before we evolved into pure energy.”
Jamie scratched at the mosquito bite on her arm. “Where am I?”
“Not where,” Vixtan said. “When. Welcome to the city of Phelastia, three hundred thousand years in your future.”
The mist cleared.
A sprawling growth of huge, ivory-colored, geometric-shaped structures jutted into the pearly atmosphere and sparkled in the ultra-bright light shining from a pinpoint sun. A clear spheroid dome formed a soaring roof above the city’s gleaming spires and encased the entire metropolis within a colossal, arcing, transparent shield. To their left, a shimmering, silver path cut through the swirling cloudscape and led into the great city.
Jamie stood stunned, slack-jawed, and stupefied.
They stepped onto the shimmering path which jiggled like gelatin as they walked. Dozens of beings identical in appearance to Vixtan rose from the cloudscape and knelt respectfully, as if Jamie and Vixtan were passing royalty.
“Those who are able wanted to greet you outside the city despite the danger of drifting patches of Ru,” Vixtan said, and quickened his pace. “Most have never seen a pre-nova human, especially the chosen Fen Ta.”
Jamie kept up beside him and nearly stumbled into one of the kneeling figures before regaining her balance on the wiggling walkway. She glanced back along their path. A crowd of Phelastians followed a few yards behind and formed an entourage that swelled in size as they neared the city.
They approached two ornate iron gates guarded by Phelastians wearing full body armor. The armor-wearing Phelastians bowed and waved them into an immense courtyard constructed of opalescent marble. A massive three-tiered fountain bubbled glacial-clear water that bounced and refracted brilliant winks of light. Manicured bushes covered with various shades of blue and green leaves grew in gold cylinders along the perimeter. Thin wisps of cloud-haze pooled in the uneven grooves and corners of the floor.
“This place is amazing,” Jamie said.
Vixtan nodded. “Phelastia was our pride and joy.”
Jamie cocked her head. “What do you mean, was?”
Vixtan led her through a smaller gateway into an ornate cathedral with high ivory walls. Crystal chandeliers hung like ice sculptures from the vaulted ceiling.
They continued down a wide columned hallway patterned with varying shades of white and gray marble. Pictures of orange trees lined the walls. The hallway ended in a spacious room draped with elaborate tapestries of vivid color. Four Phelastians sat around a rectangular table carved from a huge purple gemstone. The Phelastian at the farthest end stood up and focused on Jamie.
“Welcome, Fen Ta,” the Phelastian greeted. “We are honored to have you with us. My name is Shooka Ella. I am High Chair to the Council of Phelastia.”
An alarm blared. The mood instantly electrified. A dozen Phelastians clad in armor marched into the room and lined up side by side. Each held a sleek metal tube about the size of a baton. Vixtan ushered Jamie to stand beside Shooka Ella.
“What’s happening?” she asked.
The Phelastian soldiers aimed their metal tubes at a set of tall double doors at the far side of the room. The handles jiggled and the latch appeared to strain outward, as if something huge were pushing against it. The doors burst open and the odor of raw onion overwhelmed the room.
A towering, albino, gorilla-like creature lumbered through the doorway and up to the table. It had huge, pupil-less black eyes like those of the Phelastians, but a fine, translucent pelt covered its burly body. Knife-size talons poked from its thumb and three fingers. It wore a brown tunic.
The creature faced Shooka Ella and then glared down at Jamie. A shiver rolled up her spine.
“Is this the pre-nova human?” the creature growled.
“Yes,” Shooka Ella replied. “She will be the Fen Ta at the signing as Delegate Zare agreed.”
“I am Core!” the creature stated. “Leader of the Dwellers and second in line to be successor and overlord.”
Core lurched back from the table and the Phelastian guards targeted their metal tubes at his head. He curled his lips, exposing yellow, plaque-encrusted canine teeth and laughed with a sound like a pig being slaughtered.
“No need for this aggressive display,” Core said. “If I wanted to destroy you, Shooka Ella, you’d already be a pile of dust sifting across your beautiful courtyard. We meet two hours before lights end at the Shrine of Bella to sign the treaty and formally end the hostilities. This is all I came here to say.”
Core loomed over Jamie and glowered. Fear prickled the fine hairs on her neck.
“Your generation is weak, human!” he stated. “It sickens me that we evolved from you.”
He strode through the double doors. Two soldiers moved quickly to lock them.
Shooka Ella turned to Vixtan. “Take the Fen Ta to the nutrient replenishment structure and show her the places we discussed, then escort her to my chambers for a final briefing.”