There was one rule on the island. Don’t interrupt the good doctor when she’s in her lab. One could go to the restricted areas of the island. There wasn’t a rule against that. You would just die really quickly if you did. But it wasn’t a rule. Emilio had been tempted to break the one rule numerous times. If only because he couldn’t take being here any longer. But, he soon realized, there were things worse than death. One of those things happened to be walking past the tent flap where Emilio liked to take his meals.
It was a terrifying creature. Body was that of a young woman, head a jawless black skull with horns curving up and around like an ibex. It wore a black and white ensemble that resembled a maid’s outfit. Maybe. A maid if it went to basic training. What was this military maid creature doing out here? Was it one of Dr. Kirke’s? Emilio had no idea. He just watched as it walked past the mess hall tent and towards a cluster of shacks by the sleeping quarters. It disappeared into one of them. Then it reappeared with an emaciated man in tow, dragging him by the ankle with seemingly little effort.
“What the fuck is that?” Emilio asked.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re busy at night,” one of the other men said. Phil was his name. Probably. “That is Kirke’s ace in the hole. They come out at night. Not sure what it is they do, but it must be important because Kirke made them strong, fast, and practically unkillable.”
“There’s three of them. Well, three that I’ve ever seen. Hard to see them after lights out.”
One of the new guys rushed the creature, hoping to save the screaming man. The creature dispatched him in such a violent manner that Emilio lost his appetite.
“Wonder what it’s doing out here in the daytime then,” Emilio said.
“Kirke must be running low on test subjects. Hasn’t been any new blood in a while,” said Phil.
“That sounds ominous,” said Emilio.
“That’s what I was going for,” Phil said before returning to his meal.
Emilio had been running out of time for a while now. The doctor’s lab was a fortress. The mansion itself was a fortress. He didn’t know if he had the gumption to take on a double fortress. If Jael where here he might have a shot. Poor Jael. His mind wandered back to the jungle.
* * *
Parallel 12: Jungle Earth
The village was a mash up of modern and antiquated. Most of the dwellings were wooden and thatch roofed while a few in the center of the village were made of crude stone. People dressed in homespun clothes, wore sandals or shoes, and worked with rudimentary metal tools. Occasionally, Emilio and Jael would spot someone dressed only in leaves and body paint but they were few and far between. Emilio had so many questions while Jael only seemed interested in finding essentials and figuring out a way home. The woman with the machete parted ways with them right as they entered the village. Clearly she wanted nothing to do with them.
Emilio noticed quickly that there was very little in the way of security here. A few men armed with spears and one important looking guy with a rusty revolver seemed to be the extent of it. Maybe the warriors were out on a hunt or something. They found shelter in a wide tent at the edge of the village. The more they saw, the more Emilio’s hopes faded. If this was the extent of civilization on this Earth, there was no way either of them were getting home. If this was just a remote and isolated village and much more advanced nations could be found elsewhere, then their chances looked good. He wasn’t exactly sure how to broach the subject. Everyone was wary of the two travelers and the suit and Jael’s needle coat didn’t help any. Another problem they discovered quickly was that no one seemed to understand what they were saying.
“We need to find the hotty again,” Emilio concluded.
“The one who saved us?” Jael asked.
“Who else could I be talking about?” Emilio replied.
“We’ve met a fair number of beautiful men and women. It’s not right to assume things,” said Jael.
“Either way, she could speak the same language as us. We’re not getting anywhere without picking her brain for a bit,” said Emilio.
“That better be a euphemism,” said Jael.
“Why?” Emilio asked.
“Because this is a completely different Earth! Who knows what kinds of diseases we’ve been exposed to. Or what we are exposing them to. There could be dire consequences to our presence here that we haven’t considered.”
“You consider them. I’ll get us pointed in the right direction,” said Emilio.
“Just don’t let anyone cough on you. And don’t cough on anyone,” said Jael.
“Hey, I lived on your Earth for months and guess what? No epidemics happened,” said Emilio before heading out. Jael shuddered at the revelation.
Emilio went into intel gathering mode. He approached everyone, asking if they understood him. Few did, and fewer were willing to speak with him for longer than two seconds. He was able to glean a few things after an afternoon of effort. One was that this was a trading village; a remote outpost out here in the jungle before travelers continued north into the flatlands of Arcadia. Another was that the nearest bit of actual civilization was many miles away. The kind of distance that took weeks or months to cross.
Emilio was standing near a stable, wondering how much people on this Earth would care if he stole a couple of horses when a familiar face approached him.
“Where is your friend?” the woman from before asked him.
“Why? Is he in trouble?” Emilio asked.
Begrudgingly, she crossed her arms and said, “No. The elders of the village wish to thank him for his brave actions earlier today.”
“Oh! Oh. What about me?” Emilio asked.
“What about you?”
“I helped. I kept him distracted while you swung in and saved the day,” Emilio said.
“I saved you from him. You did nothing worth thanking,” she replied.
“Okay, sure, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way to look at it is I bravely caused a distraction and your friend didn’t end up in the river.”
“You have a flexible view of the world,” she said.
“By the way, what was that… guy, thing, whatever it was?” Emilio asked.
“You never heard of the Encantado?” she asked. Emilio shrugged. “You must be from very far away. They inhabit the rivers of this land. They are creatures of illusion and enchantment. They prey on young women, pretending to be handsome men, full of ravishing passion.”
“I assure you, despite appearances, I’m not an Encantado,” Emilio said with a wink and a smile. She rolled her eyes so hard they almost fell out of her head.
“Find your friend and bring him to the village center. It’s the one with the big red canvas out front.”
She left him then. Emilio didn’t know what to make of her. She was very beautiful, she was eloquent, she seemed self assured and confident. Why wasn’t she digging on him? Maybe it was the suit. It looked weird, even on his Earth. That had to be it. If he could figure out how to take it off before he saw her again, he definitely had a shot. He suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be doing something. Looking for horses? One of the horses turned in his direction and whinnied.
“Oh, right. Jael. Later, guys,” Emilio said.
He found Jael about an hour later in a market eating some weird looking fruit.
“You have to try this,” Jael said.
“What is that?” Emilio asked.
“They call it Puni fruit.”
“Yes. It is so juicy and delicious.”
“How’s the mouth-feel?” Emilio asked.
“The what?” Jael asked.
“Heh. Nevermind. Save me some Puni for later,” Emilio said before bursting out in laughter. Jael arched an eyebrow and took another bite, wondering what was so funny.