Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Me and Aldaris (p31): Human After All

There were some days when Lee Cheonha just didn't like to work.  This was one of those days.  Sure, working in a shop wasn't so bad, and the pay was enough for Cheonha's few expenses, but for the moment Cheonha was happy to be walking home.  She walked quietly down the crowded streets of Seoul, dodging all the young teens and twenty-somethings going out to have fun.  Cheonha briefly considered calling Eunha to go somewhere.

No, I do not think so. Cheonha hurried past a toekkbokki stand.  I am far too tired for the karaoke bar or the PC bang.  Eunha always wants to go to those places.

To Cheonha, nothing sounded better than simply going home and lying on the couch.  Maybe break open her english workbooks and study again, if she felt like it, though she wasn't convinced she could make a decision until she had the chance to kick off her shoes.  The rest of the walk home passed by in a daze, and Cheonha soon found herself unlocking her door.  

With a yawn, Cheonha stretched and plopped down on the couch, without even bothering to remove her purse (and forgetting entirely about her shoes).  She sat down on beside it, closing her eyes for just a moment.

Wait....that smell...

It wasn't a natural scent, that was for certain.  Smelling it made Cheonha think of a cross between old silverware and static-clung laundry.  She opened her eyes just in time to see the blue cloud of Protoss recall energy dissipate into the cold air of a place that definitely wasn't Cheonha's apartment.  In horror she realized that it wasn't Aldaris' ship, either.  It was a small square of a room, surrounded on all sides with tan tiles in varying shades of brown, other than a black door in front of her.  A small sink stood just to Cheonha's left, and suddenly she realized that her couch had suddenly become a toilet.  Cheonha jumped up to her feet.

The door opened, and a dark haired girl, not a Korean, peeked in.  Instantly the girl paled and backed out.

"Sorry!" the stranger called out as she disappeared.

Cheonha knew what "sorry" meant, and she paled.  Great, not only had Aldaris transported her somewhere strange, but it was a place where they didn't speak her language (though at least it wasn't the guy's bathroom).  What was wrong with the Protoss?  Why would he send her to a place like this? Then again, she didn't really understand why he'd teleported her to his ship the last time.  Did he want her to draw with him?  How did Aldaris know she liked to draw?  Unless the teleportation was some sort of accident that Aldaris couldn't control.  

She didn't think about it for long, but hurried out of the restroom.  Cheonha came out in a narrow hallway.  To the left was only the men's room, so she nervously went to the right, where she saw a somewhat familiar setting.  Sure, she had never been here before, but it was recognisable enough as a coffee shop.  Seoul had plenty of its own, and this didn't seem entirely different.  Sofas and soft chairs formed a circle to the right of the bathrooms' hall, near the large windows.  Further ahead was a sweeping staircase that led upwards, out of Cheonha's sight.  To the left, near the entrance of the shop were an assortment of tables, and closer on the left side was the ordering counter, with the typical dessert display and soda case.

The primary difference, and the biggest one, was the language.  Cheonha paled.  She knew the word "latte", but that was only one of few words she could point out on the menu.  To make it even worse, the assortment of mostly white people (and a few darker, but Cheonha couldn't guess their ethnicity), were all clearly non-Asian.  With horror, Cheonha realized that she might be anywhere in the world. If Bethany was from America, then Cheonha knew Aldaris' ship could send her there, or anywhere in-between, with no indication of when she could go home, or what might happen to her -

"Hey, Cheonha!"

She jumped, on instinct clutching her purse strap.  But instead of some mugger or stalker, she spied Toby, who stood at the bottom of the stairs as though he'd just come down.  Cheonha was so relieved she thought she might cry, though her only reaction was a slight sniff and a cautious smile.  She felt a little silly for not realizing right away who the voice belonged to.

"Anyonghasaeyo!" Toby exclaimed.  "Look who's decided to show her face in London.  What, is Charlie', car spazzing out again?"

Cheonha knew Aldaris' nickname, but the rest of the words were nothing more than a jumble of syllables. She wished Toby would speak more slowly.  Still, if only not to look strange to the people around her, she nodded.

"That's alright then." Toby pointed to the register area.  "Why don't I buy you a coffee?  It's no trouble at all. You can stay with me while I do some revision.  How about that?"

Cheonha nodded again.  "Uh, ne.  Latte."

"What kind of latte can I get you then?"

They were words.  Surely they meant something, but all Cheonha could do was stare blankly at Toby. She fished her mind for words that made sense, but, being put on the spot, she could only think of words that related to shoe shopping.

I am never studying with Eunha again!

"It's alright." Toby smiled, not at all off-put by the language barrier.  "Why don't I pick something out for you?  This place has all kinds of flavors, and while I have to try every single one, I won't lead you wrong. Let's get something sweet while we're at it.  I wish I could ask if you liked cheesecake."

The Korean girl smiled politely, following behind Toby into the ordering line.  The Brit kept talking a mile a minute, but Cheonha just kept a smile pasted on her face, while she dug with one hand into her purse. Relief took hold when she felt a plastic rectangle among her makeup and pens.

Good, I have my translator.  I really hope I remember how to turn on the audio function.


Man, why does everyone I read about have something to do with communism?  I swear I'm not looking for former communists on purpose.  I'm reading this C.S. Lewis biography, and it turns out that his wife Joy was once a communist, but abandoned them when she noted their hypocrisy at claiming to help others, but then on the inside calling the desire to help a "bourgeois" value.  I swear, sometimes when I read histories and biographies, I feel like there's some great idea or wave of understanding that's just out of reach.  I'm going to obtain that, someday.

In any case, I was tired, but happy.  Well, sort of happy.  As happy as one can be when one is surrounded by still packed boxes, empty walls, and nagging thoughts of all the things I should be doing besides reading biographies and puttering on the computer.  But my bed's already been lugged up the steps, the sheets are in the wash, and my internet's already been changed over.  Hence the puttering.

That's right, after two months, my house is repaired, and I'm moved back in!  Insurance covered everything that happened.  The damage from the fire wasn't too bad.  The roof had to be entirely replaced, and there was a lot of water damage that warranted torn out insulation and new carpets, but at the end of the day the damage was pretty minimal.  Mom claims she can still smell smoke, but I don't smell a thing.  The new lavender candles I bought should take care of that, though.

But I was happy.  My mom's church helped me move all my stuff in, and they bought a whole bunch of sandwiches and drinks for everyone who helped.  I got the leftovers, so dinner's not a problem.  Of course it was this contented part of the evening that Aldaris' wonky arbiter decides it wants to interrupt and whisk me away to his ship.  With my computer.  Yay.  As the blue stuff surrounded me, I quickly jumped up and away from my laptop.

Thankfully, I appeared not underwater, or in some distant country, or in the middle of an active volcano.  It was just in one of the halls of Aldaris' ship.  Only a few little lights lit the length of the hallway, like a small trail of glowsticks leading down the passageway.  That was all I had to see by -- other than that, it was like walking through a mineshaft.

Hey Aldaris, your teleporter messed up again. I thought out at him.  I'm...uh, I don't know where I am. ...Charlie?

No response.  While I guess Aldaris might could hide his mind from me (what do I know about psychics?) he normally didn't, and it's kind of easy to sense when he's around.  You get this...I don't know, feeling that's something like power, something like disdain, fuzzing at that back of your mind. Sort of like an aura, perhaps, or a feeling you get when you're around someone you're not sure about. But at the moment, all I could feel was the strange cold of the ship.  I shivered.

Maybe he's turned down the heat to save power.  Or maybe he left, and he's at that guy Kensley's property.  Sheesh, I can't believe Kensley's been gone from his house so long.  Huh, or Aldaris could have found somewhere else to go sun himself.

The idea of being on the ship without Aldaris being there didn't feel good.  Since it takes a while for the teleporter to recharge, if Aldaris wasn't on the ship, he'd have to wait until the teleporter recharged before he could send me back.  I've been drinking a lot of Coke, and I'm pretty sure Aldaris doesn't have a bathroom on this thing.  That's a long time to hold it.  Then again, I did make it through an entire Die Hard movie on a full bladder once.  Not that I want a repeat of that episode.

Not sure what to do, I just started walking.  The ship was dark and silent, whether I passed another hall or a room.  I started to wonder how big the spaceship was.  How many people were supposed to be on it?  Could Aldaris really pilot it by himself?

"Aldaris?" I called out loud.  I think it gets on his nerves when people talk audibly, so maybe he'd notice sooner.  "Charlie!  You alright, bro?"

I chuckled.  Maybe I shouldn't call a 740 year old Protoss "bro."  But my calling sort of worked.  At least, it got someone's attention.

"Who's that?  Is that Bethany?" a voice called.

"Hey, Statkus!  I'm over here!"

The hallway I was in branched out to the right, and from that part of the hall emerged John Statkus, cranky Californian extraordinaire.  He looked, well, sort of impatient, and he was holding his cell phone in his hand.  Well, he stuck it pretty quick in his pocket after a second, before coming over to me.

"Bethany?  How long have you been here?"

"Maybe a minute or so.  You?"

"Fifteen minutes." Statkus said.  "I've been wandering around, but I can't find Aldaris at all."

"I hope he's alright.  Or that he's not hanging out at Kensley's."

"Kensley?  That's the guy that owns that house we went to a while back isn't it?"


Statkus pointed to the hallway ahead of me as he talked.  "I haven't been this way yet, so let's look here."

"Lead on, brave leader." I saluted.

"Anyway," Statkus said as I walked up beside him and we went down the hall together.  "Who is this Kensley?  Do you know anything about him?"

"Aldaris said he didn't do anything to him, but that his daughter was in some kind of accident." I shook my head.  "Must be a pretty bad one if he left the house for so long."

"You're sure Aldaris didn't do something bad to him?"

"Uh, he said he didn't."

"And you believed him?"

I shrugged.  "Name one point in Starcraft when Aldaris ever lied.  It'd be harder for him to stay undercover if someone found a body or a neighbor tried to talk to Kensley and found out he wasn't there."

"Eh, I guess..." Statkus shook his head.  "We've just got to find him before he beams up half the planet."

So me and Statkus kept on wandering.  Actually it took us only a minute to find a familiar-ish place. Statkus knew this part of the ship from helping Aldaris once, so he lead us to the room Aldaris had stashed us in before -- the one with Aldaris' drawing stuff and a large window that overlooked Earth. I call it in my head the observatory, because what else is a room like that good for?

The door was slightly ajar, so we could see the big ol' window and Earth waving hello at us.  The light was on too.  I took a quick peek around.  I didn't see anything at first, but luckily something caught my periphery.  Aldaris was there, sitting at the table.  Because the chair he sat in was positioned so far to the left of the door, I almost didn't see him.

"Oh!" I gasped, almost jumping out of my skin.  Calming down, I whispered to Statkus, "Hey, dude, he's in there, and totally fast asleep.  I don't know why, but that just scared me half to death."

"Well, what are you waiting for?  Go wake him up."

"What?  Me?"

"Yes, you.  Stop being such a wimp."

"Fine, whatever."

I opened the door, and tip-toed inside.  Not sure what I was so quiet for, as I was supposed to be waking the guy up.  In any case, I circled silently around the table, resisting the temptation to try and see if there was anything on it.

Y'know, when Aldaris is asleep, he's...well, not exactly adorable, but definitely peaceful, with all the dignity of a king dozing in a throne.  His hands were folded in his lap, and his head was bowed over his chest, which, strangely enough, moved as though he were breathing with ordinary lungs.  Maybe Protoss do have normal lungs, and we're just tricked into thinking they don't because they don't have noses.

But that was a musing for another time, preferably one where I wasn't near a telepathic creature. Then again, Aldaris didn't look like he was faking being asleep.  It probably explained why I couldn't sense his mind.

"Would you hurry up?" Statkus half hissed, half whispered at me.  "I really need to get back home."

"Feel free to come in here and wake him up yourself, why don't you?"

I turned back to Aldaris and shuddered.  There was no getting around it, so I tried to think of all the best ways to wake him up.  Eventually I just settle on poking him in the arm.  That way I'd be at his side and at a better angle to run for my life.  I poked the dark crimson of his embroidered sleeve, then poked a little harder when nothing seemed to happen.  After a moment, he suddenly swatted away my hand, and stared at me through eyes hazy through exhaustion and irritation.  I immediately regretted all my life's decisions.

"Um, hey, your teleporter's buggin' out again."

And there was that mental presence I knew and "loved."  It's weird.  As Aldaris snapped out of his chair and paced out of the room (good thing I wasn't in front or bro would've run me over), his aura just went nuts for a second.  It's like he was cursing, except not using words.  The sentiment of cursing, I guess.  Cool.

Well, not really cool.  Aldaris was pissed off, and being around a pissed off giant ain't all that fun. Statkus was smart enough to hurry into the observatory before Aldaris shoved him in -- Aldaris totally had his arm ready to grab John -- and the Protoss left with a slam of the door.  Me and John just stared at each other in the horrifying moment that followed.

"I hope..." my weak words trespassed on the cold silence, almost like it was mad at me for trying to break it.  "I hope Aldaris was asleep for a while before we woke him up.  I do not wanna deal with the guy short on sleep."

Statkus chuckled, not seeming all that put out by circumstances.  "What's this 'we woke him up' you're talking about?"

"You're awful." I laughed.

It helped that we could joke, but I was still kinda nervous.  It's rude to wake a guy up, and I felt bad. Aldaris is stuck orbiting a foreign planet where he can't show himself, and he can't even have a night's rest.  Well, nothing for it but to stand around in the observatory, not really feeling like talking. Actually, now that I think about it, Statkus was more chill than I was.  He was relaxed, just looking around and wandering over by the huge window.

"Don't you have to get home soon?" I asked.

"Well yeah," he shrugged with a smile.  "But I can't do anything to get me back quicker."

Not that there was anything to worry about in that department.  Only one more minute of silence passed before the angry 'Toss returned.  Well, Charlie wasn't too angry, I guess, but he did glance back and forth at us like we smelled rancid.  To give Aldaris some credit, he didn't yell at us.

"How has it been since the two of you arrived?"

"I got here like a minute before we woke you." I said.

Aldaris let his stern gaze linger on me a minute before turning to Statkus, who casually nodded, glancing and pointing over in my direction.  "I was here just a little bit before her.  I saw her out in the hall, and we wandered over this way."

The Protoss glanced over at me a second, and I said nothing.  It's not like I knew anything about how long Statkus was on the ship before me.  The Protoss guessed this, and his stare went right on back to John, with all the firey distrust it entailed.  Apparently, not misplaced distrust either.  Statkus started to squirm uncomfortably, and made really, really noticeable signs of hiding it.  Even I noticed. Instantly Aldaris grabbed his jacket, and with a momentary struggle, pulled out John's cell phone and threw it at me.  It was a quick, sideways throw (plus I catch like a girl), so it hit the floor.  I picked it up automatically.

"My phone!" John gasped.

"Be silent!  You!" Aldaris turned to me.  "Remove everything he recorded."

"Oh Statkus...."

I shook my head and started checking out John's phone.  After getting out of sleep mode (it wasn't password protected), it immediately popped up with pictures.  Oh boy, it was Charlie's ship -- lots and lots of pictures of various hallways, consoles, rooms, and a couple of window shots with Earth in the background.  It occurred to me that he might have videos too, so I checked.  Yup.

Poor Statkus.  Why does he have to get himself in trouble like this?

"Don't delete it!" Statkus snapped at me.  "If you do, you're a traitor to the whole human race!"

"Huh." I answered.  "Kinda no point in keeping them.  'S not like Charlie'll let us go home if I don't delete 'em.  You want your phone, right?"

Of course, there was the whole issue of Charlie letting us go at all.  If Statkus is willing to spy on him, then he's a threat to Aldaris, and that means he'll try again.  Unless Aldaris knows for sure his teleporter won't recall us up again....we just might be dead.  I started deleting the videos.

I didn't hear anything for a minute, but I could feel something buzzing in the air.   Looking up, I noticed Aldaris holding on Statkus by the top of his shirt.  Judging by their expressions, whatever they were saying (why were they talking with thoughts?) didn't appear to be pleasant.  Was...was Aldaris doing something to his brain?

Well, I had to do something about that phone.  Instantly reviewing the logic of the situation, I knew immediately that whether me and Statkus lived or died had everything to do with how Aldaris' reacts to the situation.  Deleting the pictures wasn't going to make a difference.  Trying to think about it as little as possible, I checked for a memory card.  With a pluck of a fingernail, out it came.

You know that feeling you get when you're absolutely, most certainly doomed?  You know, that feeling you get right in your stomach when you begin to understand that something's happened that you can't fix, and it's all your fault.  That moment happened to me right then, and like a year in two seconds I found myself caught in it.  I dared look up...oh crap, Aldaris still had Statkus' collar, but was now focused on yours truly.  Funny, despite his anger, he looked surprised.

There was no point in pretending I'd done anything else but tried to keep the pictures.  I stared right on back at Aldaris, jutting out my chin with true Irish overconfidence.  Sure, he's a ten-foot telepath that apparently can fry my brain at any moment, but I'm still not going to let him intimidate me, the scrawny nerd who once read a Krav Maga book.

"I'm sorry," I spat out sarcasm.  "But I wasn't aware we were supposed to simply allow you to yell at us while we have to be polite at every moment.  'S not something particularly tolerable.  Now, it was wrong for John, to take pictures of your ship, but you're not getting this chip unless you let him go and we can talk like people.  Now is that really too much...?"

I continued to talk, but suddenly had no idea what I was saying.  I couldn't see anything -- the ship, Charlie and Statkus went in and out of focus.  My body wouldn't move, and the whole world withdrew like my eyes were suddenly nothing more than a television screen.  It didn't hurt when I hit the floor, and Statkus' scream was only a faint buzzing in my ears.  The last thing I saw was John slamming into the floor, his face frozen into a mask of horror.

And, for the second time in the space of ten minutes, I regretted all my life choices.

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