LOBBY | EXCURSIONS | STORE | APPENDICES | CONTACT
“Long time, no see, my curious adventurers!” Yuki says with a smile from her lab. “I see you’ve not lost your way, even after a few months.”
“Oh, hey everyone!” the assistant chimes in from the computer station nearest to the Void. “We’re finally ready to get this under way”
“It’s been crazy here. Weather all over the place. First we have a monsoon season, then a dry spell for a couple weeks, and back to cold and rainy.” Yuki explains with an exaggerated sigh. “Despite all that, only one power outage that interfered with our work.”
“Three, actually,” her assistant corrects. “Once while you were having a nap and the next time you were getting ice cream sammiches at the shops.”
“It’s okay, I was able to recover the data those times. Not a significant setback aside from the few minutes to run the system.”
Yuki slumps against a filing cabinet. “Geez, kid. Lead with the ‘no setbacks’ thing next time.”
“Anyway, let’s get on with tonight’s excursion. It’s a direct link from a previous trip through the Void: Relocation to Columbia Hills. So we have space pirates, a mysterious artifact, death, destruction, and a weird cat. So get ready!”
The explosion resulting from the ship colliding with a lone house in the middle of a thick wood went largely unnoticed by the locals. Perhaps if a shit-kicker of a storm hadn’t been looming on the horizon someone might have called in a report to the authorities right away. Lightning flashed across the sky and thunder crashed and the winds howled. All hell was being unleashed, so of course the roar of cold rain sweeping sideways over the region soon added to the cacophony. If the ground had quaked from the ship’s impact, the nearest inhabitants might’ve mistaken it for a violent clap from above. The scent of wet earth and gray-out of the downpour masked the burning timber.
A figure stumbled from the emergency hatch at the underside of the vessel’s nose. Briefly it went down to one knee and took its time before getting back up. The helmeted head swiveled around and took in the surroundings and turned attention to the burning dwelling. A great crackling of support beams snapped them out of their trance. The pilot tentatively approached what was left of the home. Only when the lone occupant of the ship noticed two bodies at the base of the house, half-covered by brick and other masonry, did they drop to the ground and cry out. Tears splashed on the visor made to protect them from solar rays and the suited body wracked with each sob until another shriek cut through the storm.
There was another in the house.
The ship’s pilot struggled to climb back up from their knees and hobbled to the source of the sound. The icy rain shielded from the immense heat of the fire. Wood continued to crackle and snap as the pilot limped around the corner of the house—the far side remained undamaged and the sizzling kiss of the flames had yet to reach that end. All that was in the way was a locked screen door. That was of no consequence to the pilot; one swift kick to the flimsy material gained them quick access.
The cries grew louder, more distinct; it was an infant.
In the corner of the lounge room was a small playpen; a baby was on its back wailing, desperate to get someone’s attention. Not exactly a wonder either, the crash would have been deafening and the heat, far away as they were from the flames, was fast becoming unbearable.
The pilot scooped up the child, draping it in a nearby blanket and moved hastily to the busted screen door.
Transferring the weight of the crying baby from one hand to the other, the pilot rummaged for the fob in their pocket. A red LED blinked in the upper-right portion. The pilot clicked the button in the centre with their thumb.
“Internal fires: extinguished,” a robotic voice came from the speaker on the back. “External fires: ninety percent extinguished. Drive systems: damaged, but seventy-six percent functional. Safe to board in forty-two seconds.”
The pilot looked around at the surroundings, nothing but mostly bare trees and a smattering of evergreens. Not another house in sight…probably the best damn news regarding the whole mess. Both of them could get the hell out before the nearest person could get halfway up the road. There was an overwhelming hesitation to take the child off-world
The baby was starting to settle—surprising as all hell what with them trudging out of an ever-growing inferno.
Destruction of property…Murder…child endangerment… kidnapping. Probably a dozen more charges that could be filed, easily.
The bastards that ran the ship down were still out there. The police would be in orbit by now, too. Two sets of assholes to fight—no place for a baby. Maybe there was a place to drop the kid off. A neighbor had to be out in the trees somewhere.
“Vessel safe to enter,” the robotic voice spoke up from the fob.
“Alright,” the pilot muttered, “looks like we’re doing that.”
The pilot readjusted the infant and held it close. The winds were whipping up again and the rain was starting to sting. Boots planted firmly in the ground, the pilot slogged to the emergency exit and made way back to the cockpit.
As soon as the pilot sat in the captain’s chair, they realized the current predicament: the ship was not designed for infant passengers.
“Shit,” the pilot sighed.
The baby started to kick up a fuss.
“Is there some kind of autopilot mode or hovering or camouflage?”
After a beat the metallic voice replied, “This ship is capable of all three. What would you like to do?”
“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. First, make sure no one can see us.”
“Very well…Cloaking mode enabled.”
The pilot strapped into the chair and made sure to keep the infant held tight. “Now, take us up three hundred meters so I can get a three-sixty of the area.”
The computer complied and took the ship to the desired altitude. The pilot eyed the monitors. A smattering of houses spread far and wide over the hills. In the distance, a church sat higher than most of the dwellings. A cemetery sat much closer, offering its residents an amazing view. A small town rested in the distance in one of the lower valleys. Not much in the way of options. The baby couldn’t tag along and with the storm raging all around, leaving the kid at a local doorstep was well out of the question.
“Computer,” the pilot said after a moment’s thought, “take us to the nearest town, upwind of the storm system.”
The computer obliged, made its calculations and set off. It was only a matter of seconds until they were out from under the gray clouds and surrounded by flawless blue sky. All the buildings were still spread out, but not to the degree of the other place; it was a little bigger, too—a proper city.
“Computer, can you point out any emergency services?”
“Scanning radio frequencies and translating. Fire services, hospital, and police detected.”
“Hospital. Set course for the nearest one and go. Keep us cloaked,” the pilot commanded and braced for acceleration. The jolt never came and the pilot released the tension.
Of course, it’s somewhere in the city below. “Not the main entrance. Find an alternate entry that’s not populated, one that may have the least eyes on it.”
The craft hovered in place for a number of seconds and listed to the eastern side of the building. Still invisible to the naked eye, the ship touched down and the main hatch opened.
The pilot unfastened the safety harness and made way for the exit and stopped partway.
Can’t leave the kid on the ground. The pilot retreated to the living area of the ship, looking for a container of some sort. The first cardboard box that could be found was dragged outside and placed off to the side of the metallic double doors. Carefully, the pilot rested the bundled infant inside. Once convinced it was sturdy enough, the pilot rapped on the door as hard and fast as possible.
The pilot hauled ass back into the cockpit and waited. “Stay here ‘til I give the go-ahead.”
“Awaiting your order now, Captain.”
The pilot sighed. “I’m not your captain, but thank you.”
Striking emerald eyes locked on to the monitor and stayed with the kid until a stout man in light blue scrubs carrying a clipboard peeked from the door. He immediately noticed the child, picked it up and held it close. He kicked the box toward the exit and propped one of the doors open. The nurse—or doctor—jogged a few steps out and looked in all directions, searching for the culprit that left the baby behind. When he was satisfied that no one was around, he retreated back inside and the problem was now officially his.
“Alright, Ship,” the pilot called out, “crisis averted. Get us the hell off this rock.”
“Roger that, Captain.”
The pilot buckled in as the ship angled upward, fired up the thrusters, and was up in the stratosphere in the blink of an eye.
The silver Pontiac Sunbird rounds the cul-de-sac and the headlights catch the eyes of Luna, a small calico cat, off in the distance, lounging in the next door neighbor’s yard. She freezes up and stares down the old car until it finds its usual parking spot out on the street. Chris Starbrook kills the engine. The golden glow of the eyes disappears in the expanse of darkness that is his home. He unbuckles his seatbelt and waits.
Tup-tup, tuptuptuptup, comes the familiar sound of pawpads hopping on to the trunk, up the rear windshield, and all around the roof. Some muffled, confused meowing comes next, as if to ask: where are you? What’s taking so long? Why aren’t we going in yet?
“Geez, losin’ patience already?” Chris says. He takes his Toys R Us name tag off and puts it in the glovebox and gets out. Luna is already waiting for him on the roof. Chris brings his head in and allows the calico to headbutt him. “There. Been waiting long? C’mon, let’s go in.”
Luna chirps her reply and jumps down to the pavement. She sprints ahead a few paces and comes to a stop and looks over her shoulder, waiting for her human to catch up. Once Chris is close enough for her liking Luna darts forward and glances back again. This continues until he reaches the front door.
Chris leans down and gives the cat a few loving pats to the head and a scritch under her chin. For months now, she’s taken it upon herself to ensure his safety on his treacherous walk to the front door after dark. But Luna has kept an eye on him as far as he can remember—perched upon the wooden railing of the porch watching him run from the school bus in the afternoons and over the summers when he played in the back yard with his friends on the street. She was always there for him.
“Mom n’ Dad said they made some burgers on the grill. You want me to share some with you?”
Luna flits her tail across the cement and blinks slowly twice.
“Hey, I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Luna meows politely and scurries into the house the second the door opens.
Chris checks his watch: 9:23p.m. Plenty of time for a bite to eat and to finish his homework before settling into bed for Toonami’s Midnight Run.
Luna paws impatiently at the refrigerator.
“Okay, okay, I’m comin’. I’m not breaking my promise.”
A curt meow answers him as if to say: goddamn right you’re not!
Chris pulls a plate covered in tin foil from the fridge and pulls three burgers out; two for him, one for Luna. He crumbles her share into her food bowl after nuking it in the microwave along with his (she’s not a savage). While she begins attacking her late night snack, he adds salt, mustard and ketchup, and pours himself a glass of Pibb Xtra. He leaves Luna to her devices and creeps down the hall into his room, putting the plate and glass on his desk (once used hours at a time for doodling his little cartoons, now almost exclusively used for homework). Over on his bed sits his backpack; the work awaiting him isn’t much, but he also has to ensure Billy Merrill, another one of his classmates, gets his own filled out with a reasonable passing grade.
You have a full-time job, a car, and you can come and go as you please in your free time, but, Christ Almighty, you can’t stand up to a freshman!?
At least the worksheets are multiple choice and true/false questions. All the bastard would have to do when they got to school is sign his name and date the paper. His handwriting and spelling are atrocious at best and Chris is thankful there’s no essays for the homework.
Fortunately for Chris, he is able to power through the work and even has enough time for a quick shower before the start of DBZ.
And while all this is happening, Luna makes her rounds and checks the perimeter via the windows. Satisfied that nothing is awry, she curls up on the living room couch and stays asleep until Chris emerges from his room the next morning, ready for school.
The thing about bullies, as many, many children out there know very well—they are experts at finding every single opportunity to torment their victims. It’s like they have this special intuition that all assholes are born with that tells them when nobody’s paying attention—at least nobody with any authority over them.
Billy Merrill is one such bully; suspended and put in detention numerous times throughout his middle and high school career. What is concerning about that fact is that he’s never been disciplined formally for bullying, intimidating, or straight-up beating the piss out of his fellow classmates. All the detentions he’s ever had stem from class disruptions. Only two suspensions came about; the first came about from an upskirting in the stairwell while in the 6th grade (to prove that Mandy Summers wore no panties as claimed by some of the other girls—the administrators did not view this as bullying since no teasing was involved, just typical boyish curiosity; Mandy was also suspended for not abiding by the dress code policy); the second suspension occurred in the 8th grade for smoking in the boys’ room with a couple others (Mr. Pfetzer didn’t catch Billy in the act, but the scent of tobacco was heavy in the air and the World Civilization teacher told the students to extend their hands for a scent check, to which Billy replied, “Anything to get a smell of ass, you faggot.”). So far this year, Billy hasn’t been given either type of punishment, but the trail of bruised and bloodied bodies going back to elementary school has continued through the seasons without hiatus. Sneakiness keeps adults from catching him in the act of pummeling others; fear for what he can do in retaliation keeps everyone from ratting him out.
This morning on the bus is no different. Only 6:51a.m. and he’s already shaken down one kid for money and hounding Chris for the worksheets.
“C’mon, hand that shit over,” he whispers from the seat behind Chris.
“Hang on, I’m gettin’ it now.”
“Don’t tell me to hang on, queer-bait, move faster.”
Chris bites his tongue and pulls out his Trapper Keeper, finds the aforementioned homework and hands it over. Billy scans the pages too fast to check for answers and supplies an ample warning, “Better be getting a good grade on this.”
“Almost exactly like mine, but not close enough for it to be suspicious.”
Billy crams the paper in his backpack and pays Chris no further mind. The smaller upperclassman collapses against the back of his seat and lets out a sign of relief. He was probably safe for at least two weeks now—that number is on the optimistic side of things, but he can hope, can’t he?
Luna is a very particular cat and Chris knows that better than anyone else. She absolutely hates cat food. Like, she will look you dead in the eye after a bowl has been poured, offended as hell that you dare put that shit in her bowl. And, much like her human counterparts, Luna prefers a clean bowl or plate for her human food. If you try to put down food on a plate that is crusty with remnants of an earlier meal or has the tiniest bit of dust on it—nope! Not even a plate that holds food for a time is good enough for her; Chris’s mom found that out the hard way.
For instance, whenever the family cooked out on the grill, they always make much more than required for the meal, usually chicken, burgers, or hot dogs. The humans eat their share and the rest goes on a plate under a sheet of aluminum foil, they then pick off the remainders one at a time as the days pass. Luna was offered the last burger on the plate it sat on straight from the fridge—cold and rock-hard with crumbs and congealed juices. Luna yelled at her mother like she was hungry but kept pushing the plate away. Mom eventually got the hint and plopped the burger on a clean plate.
And on the subject of food, Luna has never had the urge to go after insects or mice or birds. No dead animals have ever been left at the doorstep as a gift to the family or to show them what shit hunters they are. Chris can’t exactly call her fussy either, he sure as hell wouldn’t eat off dirty plates or go after live animals to feast on.
Unlike most cats, Luna also enjoys the hell out of getting a bath or shower.
No, for real!
One of Chris’s earliest memories is him sitting in the bath, toys floating around the sudsy icebergs created by Mister Bubble, having a good ol’ time. He was splashing away despite being told not to numerous times by his mom (seriously though, what builder voluntarily puts carpet down in a bathroom), but he was careful not to splash toward the outside of the tub. It was Luna who had done that. He hadn’t even seen her enter the room, only saw her flying at him out of the corner of his eye and landing in the middle of the water with the heaviest kerplunk he’d ever heard.
“Chris, dammit,” his mother called out from down the hall and stomped her way in to the bathroom, “I told you I don’t know how many times—” and stopped cold at the sight in front of her: Chris and Luna sitting perfectly upright in the bath, looking up at her with eyes wide as saucers, dripping with water and covered in bubbles.
Chris didn’t even break eye contact and stated quietly and matter-of-factly, “She did it.”
And from that point on, Luna had regular baths like the rest of the family.
The list of Luna’s eccentricities goes far beyond those few things, but the one Chris is fixated on is her insistence to escort him home like a worried guardian. Which is why a tendril of worry wiggles its way into his gut when he doesn’t see her waiting for him Friday afternoon. Neither of his parents’ cars are in the driveway, very probable that she is locked in the house.
She was asleep somewhere and one of ‘em was in a hurry. Gotta be it.
That rational thought doesn’t ease the pounding in his chest as he steps off the school bus and walks home solo. She’s not in any of the windows. Nervous fingers fumble for house keys; they rattle in the lock as he struggles to make it work. There is no urgent pawing or meowing from the other side.
Chris pushes the door open. No Luna. He frantically goes room to room, calling out her name.
No sleeping cat in any of the rooms…no dead one either.
She’s at least seventeen, Chris tells himself every so often, knowing full well most of his friends’ pets barely made it past nine. Deep down, he suspects he’ll find her body somewhere in the house.
He can’t find her anywhere. After checking every blind spot and every crevice, he decides to look out back. To his knowledge, Luna has never done any unnecessary climbing in her life. However, with the few small patches of wooded land out back, there is the smallest chance she’s tree’d herself.
Approaching the back door, Chris notices a familiar figure out in the back, unmoving between the blinds. His stomach turns and his pace slows significantly. There’s no way Billy can see him, right?
But he knows he’s just gotten home and neither of his parents are around. Chris stands at the door and stares at the knobs, breathing deep, trying to psych himself up. He draws in a deep breath and steps out onto the patio.
“Hey, Billy. S’up?”
Billy cocks his head toward the woods beyond the yard. “Follow me. Got something to show ya.”
Chris’s stomach flipflops again. He finds himself needing to shit and piss at the same time—maybe to vomit for good measure. “O-okay.”
He shuts the door and steps out onto the lawn, feeling queasier with every step to the larger boy.
Billy isn’t tensed up or moving impatiently in any way. He doesn’t look angry, rather, his facial expression is vacant. He’s simply there. Chris doesn’t know why, but this unsettles him even more.
“Follow me,” the bigger kid says and leads Chris into an enclosed patch of woods. Neither his house nor any of his neighbors’ are in direct view.
Chris’ stomach begins to actually throb. Tears well up in his eyes. He’s being led to his execution for sure. He doesn’t know how he knows it, but a beatdown is inevitable.
They enter a small clearing, one of many that he and his friends on the block used to play in. On the far side, Chris notices a tree stump with a cat carrier perched on top.
All the color drains from Chris’s face and his blood runs cold. A familiar face peeks out from behind the metal bars and lets out a timid meow.
“What the hell!?” Chris, to his own surprise, cries out (albeit shaky) and advances.
Billy sidesteps into his path. “That grade you got me was too low.”
“It’s not gonna be enough to pass me for the year.”
“How do you know? We haven’t gotten them back!”
Billy continues on as if not hearing Chris and turns his back to him, walking to the carrier. He keeps talking in the same noncommittal, almost bored tone, “They’re gonna make me repeat freshman year—”
“I was only helping you with one subject! I can’t help for classes I’m not in with—”
“—so I’ve gotta punish you.”
Chris isn’t dumb, with Luna right over there, he knows exactly how Billy is going to go about making him suffer. Under any other circumstance, Chris would have stayed frozen in place and ready to receive a beating or watch one of the other kids get their asses kicked…but this is Luna…and with the battered bodies he’s personally seen in Billy’s wake, not to mention all the horror stories that made the rounds in the halls of John Cabot High, he knows that the bastard is going to kill her.
As Billy nears the crate and extends his hand to unlock the door, Chris rushes him. He doesn’t cry out as he charges, he crosses the clearing in silence, leaps with his arms outstretched, and manages to shove Billy away from the carrier. Billy stumbles and goes down but only ends up on his knees. He gets up and turns his attention to Chris, his face is scarlet, bordering on purple, with veins sticking out at his temple and neck. The only damage done is to his blue jeans, the knees marked with green and brown stains. The wild and crazed look in Billy’s eyes suggest he and Luna would soon be much worse off.
Chris takes a wild swing once Billy is close enough, it glances his side, far from the intended target. Billy doesn’t miss; in a flash, his balled up fist makes contact with Chris’ stomach. All the wind expels from his body and he crumples to the ground. Tears stream down his face and a pain blossoms from his midsection as he tries to breathe; it hurts so bad, like he hasn’t eaten in weeks.
And Billy isn’t done with him. He punches Chris on the side of his head. Now his ear is throbbing and ringing; his balance is thrown off. The tears burn his eyes and his vision blurs. Pain explodes in his ribs as Billy kicks him and Chris falls onto his side.
Billy kneels down beside him and puts his face inches from his—Luna is yowling in the background; her little body thumps against the carrier—and he says low and steady, “I was just gonna snap its neck and leave…now I’m gonna rip the guts out right over you.” Billy gets up and lumbers over to the carrier.
Chris wants to get up and stop the psycho, but his body won’t let him. He wants to call for help or at least convince Billy if he does this, there will be overwhelming evidence against him, ending him up in juvie or jail or a goddamned asylum…but he can’t. His stomach is cramping too hard and what breaths he can muster are fire.
Stop, you asshole! You touch her and I’ll kill you!
Billy pries open the cage door and grabs Luna by the scruff of the neck and pulls her out of the carrier with vicious force.
Luna thrashes around and continues growling.
Billy stomps back over to Chris and pulls out a knife from his pocket with his free hand.
“This is what you get. This is your fault,” Billy states in an unbothered tone. He places the knife point at Luna’s neck despite Chris’s hoarse pleas.
Slowly, very slowly, Billy presses the blade inward. Luna hisses and jolts around even harder, becoming too much for the bully to handle. She manages to wrap her legs around Billy’s forearm and buries her claws into his flesh. Billy shrieks in pain and drops the knife.
Chris watches in horror as Luna’s form starts to become larger. Billy is too preoccupied with the cat eviscerating his arm to notice, but Chris swears he can see…something flowing into Luna as she grows. Billy is crying now and speaking gibberish between the sobs, either due to the shredded flesh or to the impossibility at the end of his arm—or both.
Eventually, Billy falls to the ground under Luna’s weight. Not only is her body expanding, it is changing form as well: her back widens and her legs lengthen; her paws sprout ten fingers and toes; her head and face become human. Before he knows it, a woman—still with a calico pattern, pointy ears, and a lengthy tail—has Billy pinned to the ground, and she is staring daggers into the bloodied teen. She grabs his shirt by the collar and pulls him up so hard Chris reckons he might have gotten whiplash.
The feral growl is still in the back of her throat as she speaks, “Kiddo, you’re lucky I don’t gut you right now.” Luna casts a sideways glance to Chris and brings her attention back to the much larger boy. “If we were alone, I wouldn’t hesitate to tear you apart and spread your entrails all over your front yard.”
Tears and snot coat Billy’s face as he continues to blubber.
Luna lowers her voice so that only he can hear, “From here on out you don’t mess with Chris. Got it?”
Billy nods his head quickly and says nothing.
“And while we’re at it,” Luna adds, “you don’t mess with any of the other kids either. Like I said, I won’t hesitate to kill you. And it will be slow and agonizing.”
Luna keeps the pressure down on her prey as she reaches over and picks up the knife. “Now, I’m gonna keep this and when I get up you do the same—slowly.”
“Okay,” Billy says, barely audible.
Luna takes her hands off the teen and stands up. Billy struggles to do the same and eventually brings himself upright. His face is sweaty and pink now and his shirt is covered in blood; the left sleeve is the worst, soaked deep red and tattered. The crotch of his jeans are also dark, the patch is still growing down the inseams.
Chris is shocked at how pathetic he looks…and how small he is in comparison to Luna.
She’s still staring down the former tough guy, arms crossed and tail flitting angrily. Luna and Chris watch Billy hobble off in silence until he’s out of view.
Chris turns his attention to his (former?) cat.
“A hell of a start, isn’t it folks?” Yuki says having a look at the readouts on multiple screens across the lab. “And she’s holding up very well.”
“Now comes the unfortunate part where we must ask you, our generous friends, for a helping hand,” the assistant says. “So that we have adequate funding to keep the equipment running and keep the details for this excursion going.”
“We’ll have a link provided here, as well as on the store page…yes, that under construction sign is going to fuck right off! Our third-party friends assure us that the continuation of this excursion will be up within the next 72 hours.”
“Thank you again for your time and patience!” the assistant adds.