Parallel 12: Jungle Earth
Emilio had been to plenty of parties in his life. None of them were as crazy as the one to honor Iya and Jael. The food was incredible. The music was slapping. And the drugs. Oh the drugs! Emilio was having the time of his life. Jael on the other hand looked positively mortified. He was counting down the seconds until he could take the bejeweled vest and thong combo off.
Emilio had gathered a bit of an audience at one of the makeshift bars set up at the edge of the village square. The villagers were amazed by his exotic drinking skills. He poured two shots into little wooden cups and held them up.
“Where I’m from,” he said to the captive crowd, “this is known as double fisting it.” He drank the two shots simultaneously.
“Woo!” the crowd cheered.
“You. The boy in the suit.”
Emilio turned to the sound of the voice. A non-descript man stood before him.
“You talking to me?” Emilio asked. The man nodded. “Okay. What is it?”
“You are with the outsider, yes?”
“Yeah. I was,” Emilio replied, guardedly.
“That is fantastic. But I wonder, why you are not the one being honored also?”
“Great question. You want a shot?”
“Why not? It is a party after all,” the man said.
Emilio got a creepy vibe from him, but he seemed harmless enough. There were creepy dudes on every Earth, it seemed. He poured the man a shot. They toasted and drank. The man nodded, satisfied.
“I always enjoy a good party. I hope you do as well, stranger,” the man said before tipping his hat and walking off.
“You bet, buddy,” Emilio said, filling his cup again. The others at the makeshift bar cheered as Emilio drank another pair of shots at once.
“Double Fist!” one man cheered.
“Fist! Fist! Fist! Fist!” the crowd chanted.
Iya watched the festivities from her corner of the stage with a heavy but carefully guarded heart. The people in the village were so happy. One almost forgot about the encantados and the night walkers and the devil pigs and the other predators that stalked the jungle. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t afford to. For a purisma, the work was never finished.
Jael waddled up to her about an hour after the sun had set. He was still covering himself. Odd, since his ritually scarred body was actually quite nice. He leaned close, like a little boy trying to share a secret.
“I don’t see you having fun,” Jael said.
“I am. This is fun for me,” Iya said eyeing Jael’s attire. Jael blushed and covered himself even more.
“I mean… you know what I mean. Drinking. Dancing. Having a good time.”
“I… want to. But I have to keep watch,” Iya replied.
“Aren’t there other pur… puris… mas out there?” Jael asked.
“There are,” Iya said.
“Then let them handle the watch. You’re being honored too. Unless, there’s some kind of taboo or something against purisms being able to party. I don’t know, please don’t be offended,” Jael blubbered. Iya smiled.
“You are a funny one. Your dour friend has a fine partner to act as foil to his particularites,” she said.
“He’s not really my partner,” Jael said. Iya looked confused. “Never mind. Can’t you have one drink at least? Just one?” He offered her a small cup.
“It would go against my code,” Iya replied.
“Oh. I’m sorry. Not a drinker?” Jael asked as he drank.
“Of course I am. The drink is meant to purify one’s body and soul. Only to be consumed before a ritual, battle, or love making.”
Jael spat out his drink, caught off guard.
“Lord above, I had no idea. I didn’t mean…”
“Relax. Enjoy the celebration,” Iya said, smiling again. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt like this. Not happy, but, not so on edge. Pleasant. That was the feeling. She felt pleasant.
The night flew by with jubilant excess. Away from the torch light, Emilio could actually see the stars. There wasn’t light pollution here like there was in the megalopolis of Michicago. It was strangely refreshing. But then his head would start to clear and he realized it was time for more drink.
Dancers in colorful skirts and masks reveled in the square. Music players strummed, banged and played their hearts out. Emilio hadn’t felt this good in months. Not since he left his Earth. Actually, before that. He had been feeling kinda miserable for a long time. The work of getting the suit operational was fulfilling sure, but outside of the work, he had felt… well, hollow. Alone. Xiao was great company, no question, but he had been wanting more for a while. That feeling gnawing at his soul, that empty, hollow feeling. It felt like… it was like…
Emilio looked up from the drink he’d been nursing at the pop-up bar. A non-descript man, similar to the man from before, but different, but somehow still similar, stood near him.
“Excuse me?” Emilio asked.
“The word you’re searching for. It’s Oblivion,” the man said, with a charming smile.
“How… how did?”
“The look on your face. You were searching for something. A word, a memory perhaps. I decided to hazard a guess. Was I correct?” the man asked. Emilio sneered at him.
“Go guess someone else’s brain shit. I’m drinking here.”
“Not for long,” the man said, his voice sharpening like a scalpel. Emilio threw a killer sidewise glare at him.
“Why’s that, hombre?” Emilio asked.
“Because the giving of the fruit is about to commence,” the man said, cheerfully smiling before waving a goodbye. “Trust me. You don’t want to miss it.”
Emilio decided this village full of mysterious people and ominous threats could go fuck itself. He tossed his drink back, slammed the cup down on the bar and went to the village square. He had to talk to Jael.
The throngs of villagers were dancing and drinking harder than ever now. Women flashed him and twirled their rainbow skirts in his face and blew kisses and laughed and danced and sung. It was infectious and several times, Emilio forgot what he was doing before remembering what he was doing. Emilio had trouble pushing his way through but eventually he made it to the main stage where Iya and Jael were waving, like they were on a parade float that had stalled and come to a stand still.
“Jael!” Emilio called out.
“Huh?” Jael said, looking for the voice’s owner.
“Jael!” Emilio called again.
“Who?” Jael asked.
“Show us your cooko!” a woman drunkingly yelled.
“My what?” Jael asked.
“Your cooko!” more women drunkingly yelled, miming the male genitalia with their hands or whatever prop they had around. Jael turned a shade of red Emilio had never seen in a person. Again, though, Emilio wondered why there weren’t very many men here. Before he thought that they were out, like on a hunt or something. But there was still no sign of them. It must have 4-to-1 women to men in this village. That struck him as odd. Where were all the men?
“Sorry I, um, I don’t know what that means heh heh,” Jael said, continuing to wave. The women laughed and laughed. Iya leaned in to explain what a cooko was but Jael shushed her and waved her words away.
“Jael!” Emilio called again.
”And now! The presenting of… the Fruit!”
The villagers hushed to a whisper. All eyes turned to the stage. The Chief carried a silver platter. On it, the most magnificent fruit Emilio had ever seen. And he wasn’t even a fruit guy! It was plump and ripe and the skin was shiny and the shape of it was so enticing. Emilio wondered if it was possible to be aroused by a fruit.
“Jael,” the Chief announced. “Traveler and outsider. For your brave act, you have the honor of first bite of the Chigona Fruit. And with its juices in your mouth… you will perform… a dance!”
Jael nodded, but looked like he might vomit. Emilio promised himself he would figure out how to make a camera from the helmet’s visual sensors because he never wanted to miss Jael’s embarrassed faces ever again. Or maybe, if he got proficient enough, he could design a biohack that saved memories. Now that would be an interesting challenge.
“I am… um… honored. Chief. Thank you,” Jael said, trying to make sure his thong stayed on. The Chief held the platter out to Jael.
“Take it. Put it in your mouth, my boy.”
Jael swallowed real hard, then apprehensively reached out to the perfect fruit on the platter.
One of the Chief’s body guards cricked his neck. Then he produced a needle-like dagger and held it to the Chief’s throat. The fruit and platter dropped to the stage floor, hitting with a clang and a splatter.
“No! Papa!” a young woman shrieked. The revelry stopped dead. The bodyguard’s face was insanely handsome and his sharp smile insanely unnerving.
“Hello,” the bodyguard said. “I have come to collect my due.” Emilio didn’t know the man’s face but he recognized his voice right away. That finely dressed asshole from the river was back.