Chapter 17: Multiverse Cereal -- A Good Source of Fiber
Roy was trying to get a plan together before his generous host regained its faculties and realized it had been possessed by a parasitic entity. Then, he saw the answer in the distance parked outside the docking station. It was the intergalactic cruiser that had carried him from Earth's moon to this Godforsaken hunk of space shit. The ship wasn't much to look at -- you'd think something that could traverse galactic distances in less than a fortnight would have lines like an Italian sports car. But this thing looked kind of dull and oafish, like a big lead rugby ball.
The visual stimuli of seeing the docked vessel caused a memory to materialize in the host alien's mind. The memory flowed freely between the Gray's consciousness and Roy's. In this vivid recollection, the same intergalactic vessel was docked on a seemingly never-ending expanse of pastel desert. The vessel seemed relatively close -- maybe a quarter mile away -- but the wind picked up, casting an ominous haze over everything. The sand was ultra-fine, pale pink in color, and as the gales increased in ferocity, the towering dunes shifted so quickly they created the illusion of enormous, undulating waves moving through the desert.
The Grays' meteorological instruments failed to detect the atmospheric disturbances in time, and the entire exploratory crew was caught off guard on this decidedly inhospitable planet. Visibility was almost zero and moving across the constantly morphing landscape was treacherous and exhausting. It was like being inside a giant hourglass that flip-flopped intermittently. One minute, the stinging granules seemed to be raining down from the sky, their cumulative weight trying to bury you alive. In the next moment, the sand was disappearing from beneath you, a hungry void opening up to devour you.
The constant sandblasting was threatening to compromise the integrity of the space suit soon, and it would mean his ass if that happened. But somebody inside the ship had the wherewithal to activate the main beacon, and it cut a path of salvation through the darkness. The light displaced all other thoughts -- the light was the only thing that mattered at that moment. The Gray scrambled toward the light, fell, but continued crawling, slithering.
Finally, the Gray arrived at the vessel. It was half-buried, and it had to claw its way through the sand to expose the airlock. Once inside, the banshee wind was reduced to a whisper. The adrenaline subsided, and the alien staggered onto the bridge. By some miracle, all six crew members were accounted for. The Gray took its seat at the control module and established a telepathic interface with the Navi-Computer. Its mind synced intuitively with the system, and it plotted a course that would take the vessel to sub-orbital altitude, well above this meteorological nightmare. The thrusters engaged, and the ship rose effortlessly out of the chaos.
Years had passed since that day, but the bond this particular Gray had with the vessel was evident. Roy was a little surprised by this. He would never have thought a Gray could feel for a machine the way a man can feel for a car. It was a fortuitous turn of events. Roy was inside the mind of a qualified pilot, and it just so happened that its favorite intergalactic cruiser was gassed up and parked right outside.
"Let's just hope the last guy left the keys in the visor," Roy thought as he gently coaxed his host toward the craft. The Gray was compliant and still quite dazed as it made its way toward the vessel, weaving like a drunk old man. There were no guards in sight -- only a biometric security system that scanned the Gray's big eyes before authorizing it to come aboard.
Once inside, muscle memory took over, and the Gray shuffled toward the control module, almost as if it were sleepwalking. It switched on the Navi-Computer and established a telepathic interface. The Gray hesitated when prompted to establish galactic coordinates, but Roy gave it a gentle nudge by thinking the word Earth.
A holographic representation of Earth suddenly materialized in front of the Gray's face, followed by a persistent and decidedly annoying beeping sound. It occurred to Roy the beeping sound was a prompt that was insisting on more specific information. Where on Earth did he want to go?
With its index finger, the Gray spun the little holographic Earth this way and that while Roy mulled over his options. He couldn't exactly land an intergalactic cruiser in the middle of Central Park. It had to be somewhere remote.
Antarctica? No, that's too fuckin' cold. Are you gonna live off of seal blubber and penguin gizzards? Come on man, think. Think, think, think. What about the Amazon Rainforest? No, too many mosquitoes. I'll end up with malaria or something.
The digitally-generated, basketball-sized globe spun around lazily.
I don't have one Goddamned friend left on that whole planet, Roy lamented. North America cycled out of view and then came back a few seconds later. He considered the American Southwest. It was fairly remote, and there always seemed to be some half-baked story about eyewitness accounts of a UFO over Arizona, or Nevada, or New Mexico. Even if someone did see the vessel, the mainstream media would just write it off as an experimental military craft, or a weather balloon.
But then what? Are you gonna get a job dealing blackjack in Vegas? You're wearing a Gray alien, remember?
Well, there's ways around that. I'll have to find a human host, that's all. Maybe I could sneak into a hospital and find a coma patient plugged into a ventilation machine. I'll just hop into his brain, open my eyes, and ring the call button next to my bed. And when the tall blonde nurse with big tits who moonlights as a pilates instructor comes in to check, I'll tell her that I had a religious experience and God is giving me a second chance. Then I'll ask for a ginger ale and a sponge bath.
Roy decided on a landing location in an especially inhospitable looking part of the New Mexico desert, about sixty miles outside of Albuquerque. The Gray touched the location on the globe with its index finger, and the globe vanished. The gentle hum of the engines engaged, and they were on their way.
When we get there, I'll ditch Mister Gray, jump into the brain of a desert rat, or a beetle or something, and make my way to the nearest truck stop. Then, I'll quietly sneak into the cab of a tractor-trailer just as a toothless lot lizard is wiping her chin and stepping out. Once the rig arrives in the next big city, I'll hop out and look around until I find a hospital where there's bound to be a few coma patients.
The plan sounded pretty solid to Roy, as plans tend to do at their onset. Of course, the ship had only gotten a few feet off the ground when things started to fall apart. A telepathic message boomed inside the Gray's head. Initially, it sounded like garbled gibberish to Roy, but within three or four seconds, he had total comprehension of the language.
Apparently, there was some technicality about not having proper authorization to initiate flight sequence, blah blah blah, and the vessel was to be grounded at once, blah blah blah, The Council will assess punitive measures, blah blah blah ...
Well, Roy didn't have a lot of time or patience for the red tape, so he blurted out in plain English, "Go fuck yourself. I got shit to do."
That little outburst caused Roy's host to shake its head abruptly from side to side and blink its eyes repeatedly, like a boxer who was finally getting the cobwebs out after having walked into a stiff right hook. It suspected, for the first time, that something was horribly amiss as it looked around the vessel trying to figure out what in the hell was going on.
An alarm sounded, causing an automatic override in the thrusters. Apparently, the ship's scanners detected a massive obstruction in the flight path, so the Navi-Computer opted to abort the scheduled trajectory and, instead, return to its origin point.
"How do you override the override?" Roy tried to say out loud, but the Gray's vocal chords and tongue weren't accustomed to speaking the English language. The words sounded more like a gasping croak as if somebody had put a big bullfrog in a vice and cranked it down real tight. Roy took a second to compose himself and then reestablished the telepathic link with the Navi-Computer.
"Proceed to the destination, please," he said, trying to sound authoritative as he spoke the words in his mind.
"Flight path obstructed," Navi-Computer informed him. "Maintaining hover at fifty meters."
"Uh, fly around it then," Roy suggested.
"Flight path is obstructed 360 degrees."
"Uh ... I don't have a visual of any obstruction," Roy said.
"Obstruction appears on the electromagnetic spectrum as an artificially-generated, high-energy plasma field," the Navi-Computer informed him as it projected another basketball-sized holographic visual aid into the air. This one was of the Asteroid surrounded by a giant, resonating bubble.
"Oh," Roy said, "yeah, I see it now. Well, can you shoot through it with missiles or phasers or something?"
Roy checked the visible spectrum monitors and noticed, to his chagrin, a small army of Grays that were congregating on the surface of the asteroid and staring up at his ship in disbelief. A heavy transport machine that had treads like a tank was pulling what looked like a flatbed trailer with a big-ass cannon on it.
"Fuck me," Roy thought.
"Clarify," Navi-Computer said.
"Sorry, I wasn't talking to you."
Meanwhile, Roy's host egghead was about to shit its space pants. It felt like the situation had become dire, and there were only three options available:
One, it could regain control of the Navi-Computer, land the ship, and take its chances on trial in front of The Council.
Two, it could wait to be vaporized by the impulse cannon that the ground crew was currently readying for operation.
Or three, it could try to remotely deactivate the plasma shield by breaching the security network with an old password.
This password was common knowledge among all the techs on the Asteroid. It was a lot faster and easier to have a bypass code that could grant them access to the various systems. Otherwise, they'd have to formally request to be keyed into a particular system by their superior officer (even an uber-evolved race like the Grays hadn't been able to eradicate all of the annoying bureaucratic inefficiencies). The superior officers didn't want to be bothered with the trivial details of systems maintenance, and the techs didn't want to draw the ire of their superiors by bothering them with the trivial details of systems maintenance.
To the Grays, thinking that one of their own could possibly pose a threat to the security on the Asteroid Colony was tantamount to a worker bee going postal inside its own beehive by opening up on the queen with an Uzi. It was an unimaginable scenario, so top brass agreed to let the techs have their bypass code.
Before Roy's Gray host had become a certified intergalactic pilot, it had been a level 5 tech on the Asteroid Colony for several years. The egghead thought it likely that the old skeleton-key password hadn't been changed, so it used the ship's mainframe to pull up the operating system for the Colony's artificial magnetosphere. The magnetosphere was generated by a massive superconducting magnet at the Asteroid's core, and a network of rings made out of exotic metals that wrapped around the asteroid's circumference in one-minute increments of latitude.
Besides being responsible for the magnetosphere, this superconducting system was used to generate the powerful plasma shield that could envelop the Asteroid in a protective bubble whenever it crossed paths with bothersome space debris or a hostile life form. At the higher end of its setting, somewhere in the ballpark of 250 terawatts, the plasma shield was capable of deflecting massive meteors, and even sophisticated technological weapons such as proton missiles and fermion cannons.
The plasma shield also made a damn fine jail cell, as Roy and his host found out. They had one ace up their sleeve, though, and they had to play it in a hurry. The Gray typed in the old standby password -- a simple series of five symbols: an isosceles triangle, a dot, a squiggly line, another dot, and finally another isosceles triangle. Since Roy's consciousness was synced with the Gray's, he immediately understood what the symbols spelled. The English translation was shockingly simple: Password1.
Sure as shit, they were in. After tweaking a few parameters in the superconductor system, the plasma shield powered down. The Gray jacked up the thrusters and zoomed off into space.
"I know who you are," the Gray spoke to Roy telepathically. "And they're going to come for you. They want you alive. Otherwise, they would have vaporized us already. They want you alive, and they'll cut my brain out of my skull to get to you."
"Well, we're safe now, right?" Roy said. "Home free. It's all downhill from here."
"Not quite," was the curt response.
"What do you mean, not quite?"
"They have ships and personnel stationed throughout your solar system. They have a base on Pluto, a base on Jupiter's moon, Europa, a base on Mars, a base on Earth's moon, and a base under the arctic ice on Earth; your home planet is not a viable option."
"Then where?" Roy asked.
The Gray touched a button on the Navi-Computer, bringing up a holographic projection of the Milky Way. It threw its hands up in the air as if to say, you figure it out, Einstein.
Roy studied the 3D representation of the galaxy as it twirled around slowly like a pinwheel in a lazy breeze. It was a big projection -- about the circumference of a hula hoop. Roy found that you could zoom in on any point, kind of like Google Maps. Then he zoomed out so far that a dozen other galaxies came into view. Hundreds of blinking red dots were moving from the neighboring galaxies toward the Milky Way. They seemed to be closing the distance rather quickly.
"Uh, is this map to scale?" Roy asked his host.
"Yep," the Gray said.
"Well, then those things look like they're moving pretty fast."
"What the hell are they?"
"Those are Class-5 vessels."
"What's that mean?"
"Those are vessels capable of intergalactic voyages."
"Like the one we're on?"
"Yep. Like the ones we're on."
"So, who's piloting all the other vessels?"
"Some are Grays, some Blues, some fucking Magentas. It doesn't matter what you call them. They all work for The Council, and they're coming for us."
It was obvious that the red blips were making a coordinated effort to form a dragnet around the entire perimeter of the Milky Way. Worse yet, the ships inside Earth's solar system were closing the gap in a hurry.
"Can't you go any faster?" Roy said.
"We're in the middle of the fucking Oort Cloud! There are rocks floating around here bigger than mountain ranges. You can't just haul-ass through this shit," The Gray explained as it carefully maneuvered through the minefield of ice chunks, planetoids, and comets.
"What'll they do if they catch up to us?" Roy said bleakly.
"I'm guessing that as soon as they get within range, they'll hit the ship with a magnetic pulse that will paralyze our propulsion and the Navi systems. Then they'll drag the ship back to the Asteroid with a tractor beam, use fusion torches to open her up, and cut my brain out of my skull. After I'm dead and my body has been chopped up for fertilizer, they'll toss my brain, with your consciousness inside of it, into the blue fire that burns on top of the tallest mountain. Then you will be absorbed into the Asteroid's collective consciousness where you'll spend eternity wandering around the Multiverse doing I don't know what. That's my guess."
"Oh," Roy said. He suddenly became aware of a presence closing on him -- closing with the speed and fury of an F-14 Tomcat piloted by Maverick and Goose who were still frothy from an impassioned beach volleyball game. Except Roy knew it wasn't Maverick and Goose -- it was a Gray alien, or a Blue one, or perhaps even a fucking Magenta coming to get him and drag him back to the Asteroid Colony. If they caught him, he'd have to taxi that pompous consciousness to all ends of the Multiverse.
Multiverse -- Roy thought absently -- sounds like a breakfast cereal for constipated people.