Chapter 7: A Lesson in Gorlock Table
Aurora led her guests out of the cockpit and down another hall. Sheen took the opportunity to run ahead and ask Aurora annoying questions about whether or not she had met Ultralord in her travels, and whether or not he had a freckle on his left elbow like the kids online had told him. Aurora did her best to ignore him, breezing ahead as Jimmy fell into step alongside Cindy and Libby.
“I can't figure her out, Cindy,” he whispered, casting Aurora a furtive glance.
“Your alternate self. She's like you...but something's off. I can't make sense of her.”
“Well, she is ten years older than me,” replied Cindy hastily. “People change, Neutron. Besides, why do you have to make sense of her? Life's not all about analyzing people, you know. She's...complicated.”
Libby toyed with a braided lock uneasily. “True as that may be, I gotta go with Jimmy on this one. Somethin’s weird here, big-time. I can feel it.”
“Well, glad to see you're such an optimist, Libby,” drawled Cindy.
“It's not a matter of optimism, it's a matter of followin' my gut. An' my gut says, somethin's up with Aurora.”
“Would you stop ragging on her? I mean, I think she's cool!”
“She's cool all right, but coolness doesn't answer our questions. Just trust me on this, OK? I'm your best friend; I know what I'm talkin' about.”
“Oh yeah? If you're my best friend, then why is my future self teamed up with April, hmm? Where are YOU, Libby?”
“That's exactly what has me worried. Where is everyone? Where are Jimmy, Sheen, Carl, and me? You're not even here Cindy…Aurora isn't YOU. You're gone…you've changed…and what happened to all your friends?”
“Oh please!” said Cindy. “Did you really expect me to hang around with you guys forever?”
“I'm sorry you feel that way, Cin. I guess if you don't want me around, then I'll go.”
Jimmy shot Cindy a look that could kill. “You're such a clueless idiot, Vortex. We were only trying to help.”
Libby and Jimmy picked up their paces, leaving Cindy behind. She stared at their receding figures in bewilderment.
“What? What did I DO? Guys! Hello!”
Luckily for Cindy, the disagreement couldn't escalate into a full-blown silent treatment, because after a few more steps they reached their destination.
“All right!” said Sheen, pushing ahead of Aurora. “I'm starved! Bring on the grub!”
The door slid to one side automatically, and he jumped into the room. It only took a few seconds for his elation to fizzle out, and he narrowed his eyes at Aurora. “Hey, what are you trying to pull? This doesn't look like a kitchen! Where's the microwave and the fridge? What about the chairs for crying out loud? And hot pockets? I want some HOT POCKETS!”
The rest of the kids filtered into the room, which was brightly lit and spotlessly clean. The walls were covered in chrome cupboards and panels, and in the center of the room sat a large, rectangular slab of metal. The floor was checkered black and white, and the scent of cleaner permeated the air.
“What's up with this décor?” asked Libby. “Hospital meets 1950s diner?”
“Certainly smells like a hospital,” agreed Cindy, sniffing the air. “What is that? Ammonia?”
Aurora shrugged. “I don't smell anything.”
“Well I do!” proclaimed Sheen, stamping his foot. “I expected the scent of a wholesome, home cooked meal! Or at least the stank of some greasy nachos! What kind of future is this?”
“Relax,” said Aurora. “I'll get some food whipped up in a second. I'll fire up the food synthesizer and…”
Jimmy looked up in disbelief. “Food synthesizer? You have a working food synthesizer?”
“Doesn't everyone? Like I was saying, you guys can help yourself to some chairs. They're in the top cupboard on the right.”
Cindy was skeptical. “Chairs, in a cupboard?”
Aurora walked over to a little alcove in the right wall and began pushing buttons. Jimmy stood on his tiptoes to try to open the cupboard, but found himself unable to reach it.
“What's the matter, Neutron?” mocked Cindy. “Need a little help?”
“Not from YOU,” Jimmy glowered back at her.
Aurora was quick to whip around. “Will you two get over yourselves and just get the stupid chairs? Jeez, you're annoying!”
Libby approached the blonde. “Here Cindy, I'll give ya a boost. 'Cause I'm your best friend, and that's what best friends do.”
Cindy hung her head. “Look, I'm sorry, OK? I didn't mean what I said. Could you just let it drop, and help me up?”
Libby hoisted her friend onto her back. Cindy's rifle through the cabinet produced a stack of metallic disks, which she inspected before jumping back down.
Sheen leaned in to peer at them. “I thought we wanted chairs, not Frisbees.”
Aurora’s voice sounded exasperated. “They're not Frisbees. Toss them up in the air and see.”
“You mean like a Frisbee?”
“Will you just do it!?”
Cindy chucked the lot into the air, and the kids followed the disks as they plummeted towards the floor. An instant before impact, the edges began to glow, and they bounced back up and hovered around waist height.
Libby’s eyes grew wide. “Wow! Floatin' chairs!”
Sheen climbed onto one. “Hey, how cool is this? Butt Frisbees! Check it out babes! I'm a bird, I'm a plane, I'm…really getting higher! Waaahhh!” His chair spiraled upward, and he cracked his head against the ceiling. “Ouch! Jeez! Hey…hey! I can control how high it goes by how hard I push my butt down! Ha ha!”
He began bouncing up and down, then swirled round and round until dizziness got the best of him.
Libby clapped her hands once in delight, then hopped up as well. Sheen was swooning in a blur of vertigo, and Libby floated over to him.
“Sheen? How many fingers am I holdin' up?”
Sheen squinted. “Uh…Five? Eight? Pah, who cares! Let's dance, baby!” Grabbing her by the hands, he spun her round and round in the air.
“Wow oh no...whoa…wow wa ha ha ha ha! Cind, you gotta try this girl!”
Cindy jumped onto hers, and Jimmy followed her example. They rose upward into the air in unison.
“Incredible!” said Jimmy, running his hands over the smooth surface of the chair. “The aerodynamics on these are top notch, and they're just furniture!”
Cindy leaped to her feet, then cast him a competitive glance. “I bet you can't balance on yours, Neutron!”
“Oh yeah? Watch me!” He sprang up with a defiant smile. “I bet I can go faster than you too. I'll race you…first person to do twelve laps around the kitchen wins!”
“Guys, don't do anything stupid...”
Cindy blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “What are you talking about Libs? I'm just gonna teach this obnoxious big-head an important life lesson, that's all. That is, if he's still conscious by the end of the race.”
“Let's just hope you're lucid enough to grovel when I win.”
Sheen rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “All right, let's get crack-a-lackin'! On your marks…”
Libby looked around worriedly. “Guys…”
“Aaaaand...SNOW! Ha, almost tricked you didn't I? GO!”
They took off in a blur, whizzing along the walls at breakneck speed. They rounded the first corner, Cindy slightly in the lead. Sheen and Libby cheered them on as they completed the first lap, then the second, then the third. They accelerated with each passing round, until the spectators had a hard time keeping up with them.
“Take it easy, you two!” shouted Libby. “You're gonna get hurt!”
Cindy and Jimmy were focusing with everything they had to keep from crashing. Knees bent, they whizzed through the air, hair whipping and clothes rustling. Aurora returned from an adjoining room, carrying a stack of boxes.
She looked up at them. “What the…what the heck are you doing? The chairs aren't meant to handle that kind of abuse! Get down from there!”
Jimmy was adamant. “Not a chance Aurora! I'm beating Cindy at her own game!”
“Ha, I'd like to see you try!”
They neared the final lap of their race, and Jimmy pulled ahead into the lead. Cindy, desperate not to lose, gritted her teeth and whacked her chair against his. The impact sent them both careening into the wall, and within seconds they lost control and tumbled through the air, landing with a crash in the hallway outside.
“Guys!” cried Libby, darting out into the hall. “Are you OK?”
Jimmy jumped up. “Way to go, Vortex! That little stunt could have gotten us seriously injured!”
“Way to keep your balance, klutz! It wasn't my fault you lost control!”
“Klutz?” he shouted. “You're the one that plowed into me! You just couldn't bear to lose, could you?”
Aurora appeared in the hallway. “Will you two get a grip? You've only been on my ship for fifteen minutes, and already you're at each other's throats. Quit the fighting, or you two can go for a solo ride in one of the escape pods. Got it?”
The kids were silenced, and Cindy and Jimmy grouchily returned to the kitchen. The gloomy expressions vanished from their faces when they saw the stack of pizza boxes and six-pack of Purple Flurp on the table.
“You...you made pizza?” asked Libby, incredulous. “And Purple Flurp? How did you do that?”
Aurora was decidedly smug. “The food synthesizer is pretty handy, isn't it?”
“Awesome!” said Sheen, throwing his hands into the air. “That food syntha...synthosaurus...whatever...is every candy addict's dream! If I had one of those, I could make all the anchovy candy cane Jell-o pie I wanted, and nobody would look at me weird!”
On cue, they all threw him a weird look.
“What!? It's good!”
They didn't bother to dignify this with a response, and instead pulled up their chairs and began helping themselves to the meal.
“Mmm-mmm!” approved Libby. “Pizza never tasted so good!”
Footsteps approached a moment later, and April, Goddard, and Carl appeared in the doorway.
Jimmy almost jumped out of his chair. “Carl! You're OK!”
Sheen, whose mouth was stuffed to the brim, offered a less articulate greeting. “Caaaawl, Mmmpfhhh ump lockmmph stumphff!”
“Jimmy! Sheen! I missed you guys!”
“Rrr, bark bark!”
“We were wondering when you'd wake up,” said Jimmy. “It seems you have a pretty low threshold for heat stroke. How do you feel?”
“I feel really good. Thanks to April.” He glanced over his shoulder at her, smiling childishly. “She's a REAL good nurse.”
“C'mon over Carl!” said Sheen. “We've got pizza!”
Carl perked up. “Pizza!?” He cleared the room in one bounding leap, grabbed a slice in both hands, and began to alternate biting each one. He gulped down a can of soda and punctuated the last swig with a giant burp, then daintily dabbed at the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “'Scuse me.”
April sat down. “Oh! You made Earth food again? Aurora, I thought it was my turn to cook!”
“You can cook tomorrow, April. I didn't want to freak out the kids by making them Gorlock food. They've already seen enough scary things for one day.”
April wrinkled her nose in disgust at the pizza. “But Aurora…”
“Don't flip out. I made you something to eat too.”
She opened a box at the far end of the table and handed April a plate of wriggling, gelatinous THINGS that squirmed and crawled and twitched about. The scaly, greenish purple mass made a sort of squelching sound as its various parts pulsated and quivered on the plate's surface. April beat it into submission with her fist, and then began shoveling the stuff into her mouth with one clawed hand. The kids all watched in revulsion.
“What is THAT?” asked Cindy, curling her lip.
“Teg-nog-Shii len,” replied April, licking her fingers. “A common dish on my homeworld. Would you like to try some?”
They all threw their hands forward simultaneously. “NO!”
April smacked the food some more, then gobbled the rest up. She burped loudly, pushed the plate away, then put her feet up on the table and started picking her teeth. The kids stared at her, eyes bulging.
Aurora looked over at them apologetically. “You'll have to forgive April, everyone. Gorlock cuisine and table manners are...um…adventurous. It's actually considered an insult in Gorlock culture if you don't burp after a meal and put your feet on the table.”
“I see…” mumbled Jimmy.
Carl shifted uneasily. “I don't know...my dad says we shouldn't ever put our feet on the table. It could transfer foot and toenail fungus into our food.”
“Don't be silly Carl!” smiled Sheen. “My dad says that the best way to build up a strong immune system is through exposure. Like this!” He stuck his foot in his mouth.
“Ewww!” shouted Libby. “I'm eatin' here!”
Cindy put down her piece of pizza. “Aurora, how do you know that it's an insult in Gorlock culture to do these things? Have you ever been to Planet Gorlock?”
“Been there? I've lived there for the past ten years!”
“You what?” stammered Jimmy, nearly dropping his food. “How? Why?” When she avoided responding by taking another drink of soda, his look of surprise faded into a an angry frown. “All right, this is getting out of control. It's high time you answered a few questions. I want an explanation for all of this! Now!”
“All right, all right, you win,” sighed Aurora. “I'll tell you everything. But before I begin, I just have to make sure of one thing. I have a question for Libby.”
“Yes, you. Libby, how old are you now? And how long ago was your last birthday?”
She thought for a moment. “I just turned 12 on December 11th. It was a couple a months ago. Why?”
“A couple of months? And everything's still the same?”
“More or less.”
“I was right, then. OK everyone, I'm going to tell you a story, and through it I hope I'll answer most of your questions.”
“Oh goodie, I love stories!”<>Aurora glared at Carl. “Hopefully, I'll be able to get through it without too many interruptions. This story spans the length of ten years and will be very disturbing for some of you. It is the story of me, and how I came to be what I am now.”
-> Chapter 8
Guest art by suiseiusagi <3 Love your outfit design, sweetie!