You know when you wake up somewhere unfamiliar, with weird smells and sights, and then you get all uncomfortable because this is not your home? I hate that. Especially when you're in a place where you don't have spare clothes, a toothbrush, or anything to eat other than cans of beans. I don't like beans unless they're refried. But no, I'm in some stranger's house on the wrong side of the country, sharing the lounge with Cheonha. She was pretty fearful of the guys last night for some reason, so she just sat with me, on the other side of the lounge. We all fell asleep in the living room, which is pretty fine because I don't think any of us want to sleep in a stranger's bed. Just weird, that.
Because Cheonha was with me, that meant John got to crash out on the couch all by himself. Toby was still on the cushy chair, with one of those leg-extender things (I'm so good at words and english, no?). When I woke up, everyone was still crashed out. Heh, John snores. I got up, too dang headache-y to lay down anymore. I get that way when I sleep for too long. Actually, I missed most of the night by being in China and staying up late with everyone the night before (We stayed up really late watching a dumb movie -- it was the only one with korean subtitles), but with all the stress of what's going on, I just can't sleep. My laptop was in my house when it was on fire, and even if the fire didn't get going that much, who knows what the water damage is?
Stress-waking turns people into zombies, so I just kind of wandered through the kitchen until I realized that I was looking for aspirin. No such luck. With equal thought to what I was doing, I went outside. Dunno why. Sunlight makes me feel better, and I hadn't been awake for a sunrise in who knows how long. The digital clock on the microwave said 6:07.
It was a good idea to go outside. The sun was freshly up, and only a small wave of dark remained in the western sky. I smiled. It's always nice to wake up for these sorts of things, even if it only happens once a year. I stood there for several minutes, weighing the pros and cons of making a can of baked beans my breakfast as I absorbed the early morning waves and let them clear my mind. Ah, so nice. As is my habit when I'm alone, I started to sing one of the few songs I can manage: I Want Tomorrow, by Enya. Aaand I get all the way through the second verse before seeing the curious Protoss sitting in the early morning sun. Great.
"Dang it, Charlie." my blush nearly burned my face off as I stammered like an idiot. "Warn a girl when she's about to embarrass herself."
"If you were not astonished at your lack of manners at our previous meetings, then you can have little shame." Aldaris kept his gaze up at the morning light. He seemed to find it relaxing. "Your voice is not offensive."
"It's not polite to lie." I walked off the patio area and went to Aldaris. Even sitting on his little stool he's still a behemoth, and I felt even more like a grasshopper when I sat beside him. "Um...so Charlie....I don't mean to be a bother, but I really do need to get back soon. My house caught on fire yesterday, and I need to check on it."
Aldaris said nothing, and when he turned to me his face bore an expression I hadn't seen from him before -- his eyes were all....well, do you know what I mean when I say they were empty? They were the eyes of a ghost, and not the Starcraft kind either. Instead of their usual red, they glowed a deep yellow, and somehow that was even more creepy.
"You expect that this reasoning will earn you a quick return to your home." he finally answered. "Yet what reason have I to deliver you there?"
"Uh....well...there's this whole thing where if I don't show up, people will notice I'm gone."
"Yet your disappearance cannot be attributed to me." Aldaris continued to stare at me with deadened, yellow eyes. "As much as they searched for you, and even if they found the body, it is more than possible that your death might have other reasons, depending upon where it is found."
My jaw dropped. Aldaris frowned, and his eyes switched back to red as again faced the sun.
"The disappearances of the others will have little significance as well." he continued. "Toby has done nothing of worth, and few will miss John. Cheonha has only one acquaintance of importance, and she is no matter."
Well, I was just flabbergasted. What the crap did any of this mean? Seriously, I already had a talk with this guy about killing people. You'd think he'd get it already.
"Look, dude, if it's really important for you to kill someone, then fine, kill me. Just leave Cheonha out of it." I protested. "You don't even know what kind of crap she's been through. If anyone deserves to live, it's her."
"You do not understand." Aldaris went on, calm as ever. "It is not a matter of earning my wrath. It is simple self-preservation. If I cannot trust you to keep your word, then I am required to take appropriate action."
"Okay, now it makes sense." I sat down next to Charlie, and almost instantly regretted it. Sitting down makes me feel even more dwarved. "Charlie, may we pursue the path of logic for a couple of minutes? You're all alone at a foreign planet, with no discernible way to get home, and you're threatening the people who are your only potential sympathizers. Cheonha in particular is probably pretty grateful you saved her from North Korea. There's no reason to mess with that, particularly since we don't know if you even have a way back."
"Do you believe I have not considered these things? I know full well the depth of my own troubles, but I take a great risk in trusting you. No, I have made my choice. I shall remain hidden from the humans so long as it is possible. This naturally requires me to weigh the worth of allowing the four of you to live. Now that John has proven himself untrustworthy, such questions grow to the forefront of my mind." He he turned back to me. "Bethany, do you understand why I speak to you of this?"
I almost spoke, but then paused a minute to think. Of course, it's sort of hard to think when it seems like a red stare is almost burning a hole through your mind. Not that his point was all that hard to grasp. I took a deep breath.
"You are telling me this," I said slowly. "Because you want me to understand there are consequences to us not keeping our mouths shut. And that it's my job to make sure John, Toby, and Cheonha don't say anything."
"Precisely. You see, it is not so difficult to understand." his eyes smiled a faint, patronizing smile at me. "If you are so intent on saving them, you must accept this responsibility. For if you fail, then it is your own undoing."
I bit my lip. "Uh, I see. I'll talk to the others about it."
"You will not speak of our conversation, I hope."
"Probably not. That's the sort of thing that would get John talking."
"Are you certain you understand?" He examined me with suspicion, and I think I felt him poking my brain. I think. It's hard to tell. "Even now, you do not fear me, and I could kill you in a moment's time."
I chuckled at that. "Heh, don't take it personally. It's just the way I am not to react to emotional stuff right away. Besides, Charlie, you can't feel special. I'm not exactly known for my strength. You're just one person on a list of many that could potentially kill me."
Even as I finished talking, my face felt sort of numb. Then all at once it was as if my mind was a firefly caught in a jar, and the rest of me was swimming in an ocean. I couldn't feel anything -- not the sun, not the grass poking at my ankles, or even my own skin. Everything went dark, and even though still conscious the world was cut off.
In a minute, however, the darkness faded, and streaks of orange sunlight cut through to my mind. And then, all of a sudden, it hurt. Almost like having someone drop my brain directly back into my head. I couldn't stop shaking. All of a sudden, snap! My head cleared up instantly, and all that remained of the effect was a lingering feeling in my head that's sort of similar to how it feels when you drink too much coffee. And as refreshing as the smell of grass is, it's quite uncomfortable to realize that you're face first in the scratchy stuff. I didn't even know I'd fallen.
"Yes," Aldaris replied. "But to my knowledge, I am the only one with reason to do so. Now, when do you need to return?"
"Uh..." still shaken, it took me a minute to answer. I checked my ringwatch. "It's a little after six now, and that means its nine in my time zone."
"Is an arrival before ten acceptable?"
"Um...probably, but no later than that."
"Then you shall go shortly." Aldaris looked past me. "Are the others awake yet?"
I turned around to see a bright and peppy Toby standing in the middle of the sliding glass door. Either that guy is the most obnoxious morning person ever, or the time zone difference got to him, because Toby looked ready to run a marathon, not even rubbing his eyes. And he was up later than me, too.
"No." Toby answered. "Do they need to be?"
"Yes. You will be going shortly."
Toby glanced at Aldaris uncertainly, probably thinking the same thing I was -- that if Aldaris really wanted to save the energy for his teleporter, he really shouldn't have come down here. But Toby disappeared again, and Aldaris turned to me.
"Now," he said. "Convince me that John's mistake does not breach my goodwill towards the four of you and obligate me to take unfortunate action."
No pressure, huh?
"Uh...well, the good news -- for you, at least -- is that China is a communist country, and so they don't talk about their internal goings-on to outsiders." Oh good, my brain was still working. I worked up my brainpower as best I could. "I've been to China before, but since they didn't take a picture of me this time they have no way of finding me out. Also, probably no one's going to believe a story of disappearing westerners." I winced. "Man, it's good that Cheonha didn't get sent there. They'd've sent her back to Chosun in a heartbeat."
"You are altering the topic at hand. John has broken his promise to remain silent, and I must deal with him appropriately."
"Well don't confront him." I said. "Statkus doesn't trust you, and telling him to keep his mouth shut will only make him more eager to blab. You really have a chance here to show how reasonable you are, by allowing him to go back even though he told the Chinese. It'll make Statkus feel like an idiot, because you're being reasonable and he wasn't."
"That method leaves me with little assurance of his honesty." Aldaris replied. "I can only trust you to restrain him, if you are able to do so."
At that point Toby returned with Cheonha and John, and the Protoss could say no more about it. In his ever dignified way, Aldaris rose from his chair and faced everyone. He stared in particular at John, with those stern eyes that seem to weigh a ton, heavy with meaning. John glanced down only once before returning a stare of his own.
"You will all be returned immediately." Aldaris said, letting his glance slip to the rest of us. "Prepare to return."
With that, Aldaris touched something on his shoulder and vanished. We stood there an awkward few seconds (seriously, what does he mean be "prepare"?) before vanishing ourselves. As soon as the blue...uh, nebula stuff faded away, I found myself, much to my relief, in the back yard of my house. With, however, everyone else.
"Huh?" Toby asked. "What is this place? And what's that smell?"
"It's my house." I sighed and pointed upwards. "I didn't tell you it caught on fire yesterday? Eh, good thing we got here before the fire department came to open the door."
"You are to help her." Aldaris' voice sounded in my head, and from the looks on everyone's faces, theirs too. "With whatever she needs done."
"Are you doing that because you're being nice," Statkus raised an eyebrow. "Or because you used up too much of the teleporter energy?"
"Neither." Aldaris retorted. "It is because I am 'the Doctor', and you shall do as I say."
"Aaagh!" Toby nearly fell over laughing, and leaned on the side of the house for support. "Charlie has a sense of humor! I don't believe it!"
"See, Toby," I grinned. "I told you he was the Doctor."
Aldaris didn't say anything after that, so I think he left. Anyway, we were all starving, so I called my Mom and got her to bring us some food before she came to help with the house. The firemen got there before Mom did, so we went to work before she got there. Thankfully, almost nothing was damaged. My laptop, my baby, was downstairs on the table and just fine. I packed it in its case, and the very instant Mom got there I stuck it in her car. Sadly, I lost a lot of clothes, but I didn't lose too many, and the fire department had given me some money the night before to buy some (not that I'd had the time to buy any...). I let the guys haul away the furniture while I sorted through my remaining belongings and thanked God for my obsession with plastic bins.