Chapter 12: Jail Break
Roy noticed his ratty mattress had been replaced by a plush name-brand mattress that felt luxurious and smelled faintly of lilacs. There was a set of high-thread-count, crisp, white sheets, and a cardinal-red down comforter on his bed.
A food tray suddenly slid through the slot at the bottom of the door.
"Salisbury steak!" Roy said out loud. It actually looked pretty good. In addition, there was a side of corn, some mashed potatoes, a slice of chocolate cake, and two cranberry juice boxes.
"My lawyer must really be on the ball," Roy thought. "It's about time I had some real representation."
The meal was exceptionally good by prison standards. With his belly full, he decided it was a good time for a long nap. Just before sleep came to him, Roy wondered if he had really made a deal with a group of highly advanced alien scientists.
Don't be crazy, he thought to himself. You were malnourished and sleep deprived. You just imagined all that shit.
Three days after Roy met with his lawyer, a cheeseburger arrived through the tray slot. It was topped with crisp iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a slice of white onion. There was a big basket of golden-brown french fries on the side, a slice of apple pie, and an entire bottle of Heinz 57 ketchup. That's when he started to suspect there was actually a group of highly advanced alien scientists working behind the scenes to spring him from prison.
"Well, I'm gonna at least enjoy this meal," he said as he poured copious amounts of ketchup all over the cheeseburger and fries. "Then I'll just play it by ear."
The cheeseburger was delicious, and afterward, he retired to his cozy bed for a little nap. He dreamt of baseball games, cicada songs, and a summer that had no end. When he woke, he was completely paralyzed, and the floating feeling had already engulfed his entire body. He felt Lindsay's presence, and he called out to her telepathically, "I'm ready."
"Good," Lindsay replied. "Follow me, Roy. Stay close. Don't look back, and you'll be fine."
Outside, the stars were singing again -- maybe they had never stopped. A harvest moon peeked out from behind the clouds, and the first real pangs of anxiety seized Roy.
"You're fine. Trust me on this," Lindsay said.
"Okay. I trust you."
Earth fell away from them, but something was tugging at Roy -- some profound sadness.
"Don't look back, Roy," Lindsay said. "Keep up with me."
The tiny water droplets that hung in the clouds acted like prisms and diffracted the moonlight. Roy marveled as he watched the light waves bend around the droplets and collide with other light waves. Sometimes the trough of one light wave would run into the crest of another, and the light would cancel out. And sometimes the crest of a light wave would collide with the crest of another, merging into an amplified wave that glowed with a silvery brilliance.
"Are you seeing this, Lindsay?" Roy called out.
"Yes, Roy. It's very beautiful, but I need you to focus. Remember?"
"Okay. I'm right behind you."
Lindsay emerged from the clouds, and reluctantly, Roy followed her and left the water droplets and the light waves to play out their strange drama without him. Once beyond the clouds, high in the arid mesosphere, the moon hovered there in the naked sky. In one moment, it seemed like a very profound, very massive object. In the next, it seemed like a trifling little trinket purchased by a child from a coin-operated vending machine. There was no horizon line, no landmarks, nothing at all for reference, so Roy's mind wavered as it tried to invent its own sense of scale.
Roy looked out to the moon of indeterminate size. He didn't feel like trying anymore. "What did you call it, Lindsay?"
"Call what, Roy? We're running out of time."
"Decoherence? Is that what you said?"
"Yes. I said you would decohere if you don't stay focused."
"Does it hurt?"
"No, Roy. Decoherence doesn't hurt. Your consciousness loses its frequency, like when you're in a car listening to a particular radio station and the signal starts to fade. At first, there's a little interference, then the crackling becomes louder. It's hard to hear the music, and sometimes voices from other stations crossover, and then there's just static. That's kind of how it is."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"Roy, listen. I know this is hard for you. The sense of loss you feel. The regret. The fear. You're human, Roy. These emotions are woven into your DNA. Now I'm asking you to be brave. I'm asking you to do something profound. Something that will change the course of history. Something they will remember you for."
"Who? Who will remember me?"
"Entire civilizations. Not just on Earth. I'm talking about beings in other galaxies. Other universes, even."
"There are other universes?" Roy asked.
"There are infinite universes, Roy."
"I'd like to see that."
"You'll see it all if you come with me right now."
"I'll try, Lindsay."
Roy became vaguely aware that he was moving again. His memories began to bleed away. He couldn't remember the street he grew up on or the high school from which he graduated. The faces of the people he had been closest began to blur and fade. His recollection of life had been reduced to a ghost town of nameless bipeds wandering nameless streets. Even Sarah's beautiful features vanished, and there was only a blank oval where her eyes, nose, and mouth used to be.
Insect-like buzzing sounds intermittently erupted into his consciousness. The sounds were strange, but they had a certain cadence -- the hallmark of language. I wonder what they're saying, Roy thought absently.
"Keep it together, we're almost there," Lindsay said.
"Where?" Roy asked. Anywhere seemed just as good as nowhere, and vice versa.
Lindsay guided him across the face of the moon, and they came to the edge of a crater. It was about a hundred and fifty feet wide, and twenty feet deep. Roy could make out the silhouettes of two people who looked to be wearing space suits. They were sitting back to back in the lunar sand. Lindsay prompted Roy toward the larger of the two people, and he peered through the fishbowl helmet. The man's eyes were frozen open in a death stare, and Roy saw that he was looking at his own corpse. Lindsay's lifeless body was inside the other spacesuit, but somehow, she managed to look graceful in death.
Roy felt himself becoming heavy -- he was sinking down into his corpse, but he didn't want to go any closer to that cold slab of beef with the empty eyes and the sardonic smile. There was something driving him into it. Roy sunk through the synthetic material of the spacesuit, through the cadaver's ribcage, and the still heart thudded back to life with a series of erratic convulsions.
Suddenly Roy was seeing through the corpse's eyes. At first it was just a kaleidoscope of jumbled images -- geometric fragments of light and shadow constantly moving like a psychedelic jigsaw puzzle. It felt like there was a hot poker in his chest as his heart struggled to regain a regular rhythm. The only sound he could hear was this horrible ringing, and then the ringing became more of a buzzing, and then he could hear a faint voice that sounded like it was coming from miles away. Roy thought someone was warning him about bees.
Bees, Roy ... Roy, bees ...
"Breathe, Roy! Roy, breathe!" Finally, he realized it was Lindsay urging him to get oxygen into his lungs. It took him a second to remember how to inhale, and when he figured it out, he sucked in a huge quantity of air. The lungs had atrophied a bit while the body was in its suspended state, and it felt like they were stretched to the breaking point. For a moment, Roy feared they might pop like a couple of balloons, so he expelled the air with the suddenness and fury of a five-year-old extinguishing the candles on a birthday cake. The effort sent him into a violent coughing fit, and Lindsay started patting him on the back and saying, "Are you all right? Are you okay?"
Roy got the coughing under control, and Lindsay directed him to take nice, even breaths. The hot poker sensation in his chest evaporated, and he assumed the old ticker was back in rhythm. Gradually, his vision started to come into focus, and he saw Lindsay's beautiful face staring back at him through the bulbous fishbowl helmet that encapsulated her head.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Holy fucking cotton mouth! I need a glass of water!" Roy shouted.
"Jesus, Roy, we're in radio contact so you don't need to yell. God, that's so annoying," she said.
"Oh, excuse me," Roy said dramatically. "I haven't had time to learn the protocol around here. I just escaped from solitary confinement by projecting my soul out of my body all the way to the moon, and now I'm inside my doppelganger's body that some alien scientists genetically tailored for me!" he ranted before sulking off across the lunar sand.
"I'm sorry, Roy. Where are you going? Roy?"
"I don't know," he pouted. "Somewhere, I guess." Roy was surprised at how awkward it was to move across the lunar surface. He thought it would be kind of easy since the gravity was so weak there, but the spacesuit was bulky, and he felt like he still had a touch of rigor mortis. He struggled to climb up and out of the crater, and quickly became annoyed by the whole process. The gradient was not steep at all, but the sand was very fine -- so fine that it swirled like a fog around his ankles. Every time he gained a foot, the sand would give out from under him, and he'd be right back where he started.
The effect was very much like running on a treadmill, and Roy always hated treadmills. Yuppies with fake tans and expensive memberships to posh gyms ran on treadmills. He dug his hands deep into the sand and drove furiously with his legs, and eventually, he managed to pull himself over the lip.
Roy swiveled his head around and surveyed the desert lunarscape that stretched out in all directions. His eye caught Earth hovering there in the sky. The swaths of white clouds against blue oceans reminded him of a marble he had as a child. He looked at his mother planet for a long time, and when he couldn't bear to look any longer, he turned his back and walked away.
Lindsay caught up to him with several effortless bounds and put her arm around his shoulder. It occurred to Roy this wasn't her first time on the moon.
"Come on, Roy. Let's go this way. There's something I want to show you," she said as she took his hand and tugged him in another direction. She led him back into the crater where the bodies had been waiting for them, and Lindsay pressed a few buttons on what looked like an oversized wristwatch she was wearing. There was the hiss of hydraulic fluid moving through pipes, and a man-sized door suddenly parted in the wall of the crater.
"After you," Lindsay said pleasantly as she gestured for Roy to enter.
"What the hell," he said, "this day has been so fucked up I guess there's not much that can surprise me anymore."
"You'd be surprised," Lindsay said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The hydraulic door closed behind them, and Lindsay led Roy through a maze of corridors and airlocks. She told him to pay attention to the marks on the walls so he would be able to navigate through the sub-lunar complex on his own if he had to. The marks just looked like chicken scratch to Roy -- a lot of dashes, and dots, and wavy lines. They entered an airlock that was marked with three dots in a row, and a wavy line just above them.
It opened up into an expansive room that was on the scale of an aircraft hangar. Roy saw the three-story tall, metallic orb that was perched on something that looked like a launch pad. He finally made the connection.
"Is that a spaceship?" he asked.
"Yes, and our departure time is any minute now," Lindsay said.
"Where we going?"
"We're going to dock on an asteroid."
"Do they serve those little bottles of booze on this flight?" Roy asked.
"I'm guessing they don't," Lindsay said.
"Shit," he muttered.
Another airlock door opened, and six or seven people entered the room. Roy could see that one of them was really tall -- like Wilt Chamberlain tall. He wondered if Tall Guy had banged one-tenth as many chicks as Wilt the Stilt.
Suddenly, an androgynous voice sounded off in Roy's mind.
"The tall being you wonder about is not equipped with reproductive organs," the voice informed him. "It does not exhibit sexual behavior."
"Did you say something, Lindsay?" Roy said.
"No. They communicate telepathically, so don't let it freak you out," she said.
The group approached, and Roy finally saw they weren't people. A primordial fear pulsed through his veins, and he reflexively turned to run but was seized with paralysis.
"We are friends," the androgynous voice telepathically informed Roy. "Don't be afraid."
"You're aliens," Roy shot back at them, just by thinking the words.
"And you are alien to us. It's all relative," the voice said.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Roy said, "I've heard that spiel before. I can't move. Un-paralyze me, asshole."
"Of course," Androgynous voice said, and Roy could move again.
Six of the aliens looked pretty cliché. They were about five feet tall with slender arms and legs, oversized bald heads with large, dark almond-shaped eyes, nostrils without noses, and pallid gray skin. Roy was shocked to realize all those nut cases on Earth who wouldn't shut up about Gray Aliens weren't so nutty after all.
The big one was a different story altogether. It was about seven feet tall, with a kind of orange skin, and disproportionately long arms and legs. Roy guessed it might weigh about 250 pounds on Earth. It was bony and sinewy, and its head kind of looked like a big jack-o-lantern perched on top of a skinny chicken neck. The eyes looked human, but instead of a nose and mouth, the thing had a beak like a squid.
"What's that supposed to be?" Roy said.
The Voice chimed in, "It's just another being like you or me, or an elephant, or an ant. Its physiology frightens you because the sight of its beak is triggering an instinctive response that served your distant ancestors well when birds of prey hunted small primates. But you must know that you fear is unwarranted now. This tall being is your friend."
The hairs on the back of Roy's arms and neck suddenly stood up, and he felt a strange electricity sizzling in the air around him. "What's happening?" he asked.
"Our vessel is powering up," the Voice informed him. "We should board now."