N I M … He woke from dreams of flying. Free fall does that.
Soaring dreams are mythic stuff, you feel like Superman.
It started simple, vivid rich loamy soil, of foraging and goofing, lazing into a bright morning.
Discovering a jeweled puzzle-box, beget jungle-hunt through a waterlogged ruins and finally a fire-quest leading to this dry windswept pinnacle of sunlit rock baking under the setting sun. Layered sandstone cliffs over a scintillating sea of warm sunset colors in russety-oranges bravely holding back a cooling ultramarine night.
Through swampy muck and now glare of sun, the cache of gem-coals in his pocket had glowed too hot with its power for the Artifact, and his final task, but now that heat gone, and the cold dead weight adds to his sinking heart at seeing nothing at the summit. Nothing, but ancient rubble to one side breaking bleak shadows.
All paths lead here. Where’s the Artifact?!?
Feelings of wrongness and doom mix with anxiety, confusion feeds panic, and a growing fear he is missing a vital clue starts him peering over the edges with a gnawing sense of dread.
Through a growing panic he holds on to one core notion, I did everything right!
His frantic edge-to-edge pacing loosens the ancient cut stone of Watchtower ruins and he slips, scrabbling, over the steepening slope sliding further and faster. Recovering balance is easy in real life, but… he forgot this is a dream and finds little traction. Finally, using fingers and toes he grabs and holds a crumbling cliffside as no man-cub ever.
His chert ledge weakens, crumbles further, dropping him to knees on one last lip, but solid enough. He slumps, exposed and vulnerable, animal naked in rags. The idea of retracing his jungle path, the jumping puzzles and swimming dangers, daunting, but he’s a child of the pixel games and half-expects a quest reset.
A growing chill breeze stiffens, shifting his balance under the supernatural searing gaze of a glowering angel-accountant-demon marking every scratch, bruise, and smudge in a vast ledger of his mistakes.
Standing as straight as he’s been made, and straighter than his father, childhood memories flush cheeks in a red shame welling up to threaten the will to live as old pains leak tears drowning hope, My poor father.
Stiff winds keep knocking, harder. Again. Waves of raw vertigo sweep over and fights his body to control it’s ever-near animal fears and growing blood logic. He is losing.
Far above the safe branches and protective boughs of distant jungle canopy, something breaks away. It is Nim. He is falling, flailing, off balance, plunging into a telescoping tunnel ending on craggy stone shards. Long arms and legs find nothing firm, just crumbling clods ripped from his hands by the strong winds pulling his body, now falling, falling. Faster he tumbles past rippling sandstone as top turns down, then sideways, clinging to his only remaining friend, vertigo.
Awareness finally shatters the ice in his veins with shots of hot lightning and he gains enough composure to merely careen madly end, over end, yelling.
Well, that last reveals the sneaky dream right-quick!
The echo of his yelps punctuates everything. Now he knows this is dreamtime. Familiar routines of discipline, slow breathing, focus of mind with well-worn calming reflexes to cage his wild animal heart.
Time slips slower the more he focuses on details of his plunge. Unbidden, old science lessons form a wacky rationale to store his falling momentum for later, like a battery charging.
Hmmm. He sees a way to survive and is full of joy.
Venturing fingers into the rushing wind, his body turns in response this way and that, rocking and gamboling. With an eye on the approaching shoreline and a tilt of fingers like wingtips, a measure of control shifts and steadies the tumbling. Somewhere, somehow, summer sailing lessons merged with classes on fluid-dynamics to reveal his body has really been a wing all these years, and he can fly.
Just like a real boy! Sleep logic, go figure.
Banking away from the worn shards of sun-drenched rock his arms find purchase on puffs of wind and he banks away hooting. Sweeping past the same sunny cliffside he’d toiled to climb, his life as an earth hugging lizard is over, Barsoom here I come.
Using his momentum and hugging a warm updraft the heart-pounding strength of his swimming arms feels great and his back heating from a wonderful strong glow where newfound wings spring from shoulders. He marvels at his new wings, sweet delicate things of exotic gauzy string that he doesn’t control directly, but do what he needs.
His chest swells and heart nearly bursts flying through the airy glowing orange and snappy electric blue sky. His blood is hot and feels shoulders grow stronger and he pushes harder. It feels so good to be in control, against the odds.
Craning neck stiff with corded muscle, he can just make out the far-off sunlight temples, like fingers reaching from a hazy distant foliage to touch the gods. Retracing quest steps didn’t seem so awful with wings.
Wings sweeping in time with his powerful arms, he laughs swimming high across a deepening sky. The satchel of shiny relics and glowing fire-jewels stolen from the Humming Ruins sway and bump against his backside. Maybe, I misread the Parchment.
Out of the setting sun a fuzzy smudge of confusing blurry visual noise like a bad video feed pops, glares, and flares, washing out all color and dimming light to a dull gloom that still fails to light the scene.
Nim finds himself tumbling, knocked to-and-fro, defending against swarms of giant bees jealous of his newfound wings. He tries to protect the fragile gossamer strands, but angry stings shred hope and he falls tumbling to earth helplessly trailing ragged tatters behind. Falling and defeated, the thickening air whispering sweet nothings, but dark fates in one ear and dire destinies in the other.
With dreamy slowness he gapes at the growing cloud of hungry bugs turning to devour a screaming Moon. Painted in a bloody stark red luminescence, it looms so large and close he feels the tug of its gravity slow his falling body. An angry molten Moon fills his sky with a glare so hard and howl so deep it torments his soul.
He doesn’t remember hitting the ocean though water obviously stopped his fall, because he’s laying in a greasy shallow pool of tepid blood. Moon gone and cloudless skies flame red magenta and purple bruises. Jungle dried, burning, desiccated, and in the distance bees patrol eating everything that moves. The sea a drying lake soaking up the blood staining his world with pain. All is lost.
Drenched in gloomy red twilight, he weakly sits on hands and leans on knees at the edge of crimson ripples stretching to meet tideless seas. Focusing on a small white daisy spinning under him like a water skipper on the oily waterline, he thinks, Too much.
Life is heavy. He was taught to carry the weight of a whole planet on his tiny shoulders and every family in his shorts by would-be demigods and the gaze of a lab-suited Zeus. He has failed another test.
Waking mercifully with a start, the angry bees now fill his glorified closet with the staccato buzz of an alarm bot. He is drenched in sweat and hairy body tense from exertion and anxiety. A bad dream punctuated with restless sleep.
He slows his breathing and listens. Beyond the whispering ventilation system are various signals squawking mellow tones of caution and through the bulkhead his keen hearing notes earnest figures bumping while his large nose catches stress signals floating on the clinically stale air. I stink of fear.
Wriggling out of his sleeping baggy, bumping forehead against the ceiling of what earthbound engineers generously termed a “cabin,” running fingers through short dark hair he hits another wall with elbow.
Death by a thousand blows, he yawns trying to stretch in the cramped space.
Rubbing eyes, Nim slaps off the alarm glyph splashing across his lower sleeve and sprays oder-kill to mask his unwashed musk before opening the cabin-hole to the tight corridor. The shape and color of junction glyphs tell him where to go to feed the hungry curiosity in his belly, but purposefully keeps his linq turned off until arriving for duty. No fire alarms, or air escaping, no dire evacuation,
Bleary, blinking, squinting in brighter light, the air is a thickening soup of fear, anxiety pheromones, and human adrenaline rolling down his throat in a chemical wave smothering any remaining sleep pixies still nestling in his hind brain.
He has great mechanical and math puzzle-solving skills thanks to his grandfather. Beyond simple breeding, Nim is the result of early DNA-modification focused on cerebral cognition enhancement, unfortunately leaving vocal cord and limbic rewiring for other teams. His many failed throat surgeries taught mankind enough his grandchildren will speak without vocoder, and he wears those scars with pride - mostly. He truly loves his human friends and makes good-natured jokes about odors burning his throat, but he is often irritated by his circumstances in larger ways he can’t find words for.
Launching and bouncing off walls with an easy rhythm, Nim gracefully avoids obstacles and flailing crew without awareness. Swinging from hand-hold to hatchway into upside-down corridor, long neochimp arms and grabber feet made tumbling arcs and faster time than bumbling thumb-sucking humans.
Starswept from the Web of Worlds
Jonathan Gibson ©'22 All Rights Reserved. All Wrongs Revenged.