“Nothing happens unless we first dream.”
I am Vixtan!
Words came into Jamie Richards’ mind as clearly as if someone had spoken them aloud. She was instantly awake. Nausea swirled in her belly. Pins and needles prickled her skin. She sat up against the trunk of the old apple tree and looked around Macungie’s orchard.
“Who said that?” she asked.
Afternoon shadows had lengthened since she’d laid down to nap. The sky was mirror clear except for a puff of cloud suspended lazily above.
I must collect you!
The voice startled her again. It was so clear, so distinct. She scrambled to her feet.
You do not require a mortal shell to house your spirit as we travel the strings. I will provide a duplicate of your physical when we reach our destination.
“Who’s speaking?” she shouted. “Who’s there?”
She spun around and noticed someone lying beneath the apple tree with their hands pillowed behind their head and a math book beside them. She recognized the face. Fear spiked.
“That’s me!” she shrieked and looked down.
Nothing was there. Her body, her legs, her feet, everything was gone. Her unseen hands swished through empty space where her chest and stomach should have been.
The cloud dropped and enveloped the orchard in dense mist. The mist swirled and condensed into a single, basket-ball size ball of spinning fog.
Your spirit will only be away from this dimension for a few seconds. Your body will be safe.
Jamie looked at herself asleep under the tree.
“Is this a dream?” she asked.
Dream worlds are as real as the physical.
The cloud enveloped her consciousness and they bolted into the sky. It was a weird feeling, as if she were stuck inside a helium balloon let loose. Her belly swooned. Borders of the orchard disappeared as they reached the bright white haze of the upper atmosphere. A moment later, she felt Vixtan’s consciousness leave her own. Dots of multi-colored light appeared, 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. Air beneath her feet became a solid, yet marshmallow-consistency. She patted her face, her sides, wiggled her fingers and toes; ran a hand through her long, brown hair. It all felt real.
A humanoid being, small and rail-thin, stepped toward her. Two enormous, pupil-less black eyes stared at her from above a small, knobby nose and horizontal slot of a mouth. A gray body suit covered its entire body like skin. It had hooves for feet.
“Vixtan?” she questioned.
“This is what my people looked like before we evolved into pure energy,” Vixtan replied.
“What is this?” Jamie asked, her voice quaking. “Where am I?”
“Not where,” Vixtan corrected. “When. This is the city of Phelastia, which exists three hundred thousand years in your future.”
Mist cleared as if wiping a fogged lens. Huge, ivory-colored spires 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 other geometric-shaped buildings 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. She scratched absently at a mosquito bite on her arm.
They stepped onto the shimmering path, which jiggled like gelatin as they walked. Dozens of beings nearly identical in appearance to Vixtan rose from the cloudscape and knelt as if she 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. The 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, knight-like body armor. The armor-wearing Phelastians bowed and waved them into an immense courtyard constructed of opalescent marble. A massive three-tiered fountain situated in the center, 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 is amazing!” Jamie stated.
Vixtan nodded. “Our great city of Phelastia was our pride and joy.”
Jamie cocked her head. “Was?”
Vixtan continued through a smaller gateway, across the courtyard, and into an ornate cathedral with high, ivory walls. Crystal chandeliers hung from the vaulted ceiling.
They entered a wide columned hallway patterned with varying shades of white and gray marble. Pictures of orange trees ripe with fruit 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.
“Welcome, Fen Ta,” the Phelastian greeted. “We are honored by your presence. My name is Shooka Ella. I am High Chair to the Council of Phelastia.”
An alarm blared. Mood instantly electrified. A dozen Phelastians clad in full armor marched into the room and lined up against the wall. Each held a metal tube about the size of a baton. Vixtan ushered Jamie to stand beside Shooka Ella.
“What’s happening?” she asked.
Phelastian soldiers aimed their metal tubes at a set of tall double doors at the far end of the room. Handles jiggled and the latch appeared to strain outward, as if something huge were pushing against it. Odors of raw onion overspread the room.
The doors burst open and a towering, albino, gorilla-like creature with long arms lumbered through the doorway. Fine, translucent fur covered its burly body. Knife-size talons poked from its thumbs and three fingers. It wore a brown tunic.
The creature faced Shooka Ella and then its enormous, pupil-less black eyes glared down at Jamie. A shiver raced along 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 announced. “Leader of the Dwellers and successor to become overlord.”
Core lurched back from the table and the Phelastian guards targeted their metal tubes at his head. He curled his lips, exposing long, yellow, plaque-encrusted, canine teeth and laughed a sound like a pig 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 small hairs on her neck.
“Your generation is weak, human!” he stated. “It sickens me that I evolved from you.”
He strode through the double doors and two soldiers moved quickly to close and lock them.
Shooka Ella turned to Vixtan. “Take the Fen Ta to the nutrient replenishment structure and then show her the places we discussed. Bring her to my chambers for a final briefing when your task is complete.”