“Yes yes yes!”
“I love you!” Emilio shouted.
Emilio tensed, then finished. The look of surprise never left the doctor’s face.
“Huh. Woo! Oh man. I… oh. Did I do something wrong?” Emilio asked.
The doctor kept looking at him. This had been planned for a while. During the passionate throes of love making, he would let slip his “true” feelings for her. Her reaction would determine how the rest of phase two went. She blinked. She blinked again.
“You… love me?” she asked. Emilio caught his breath, dabbed the sweat off his brow with the bed sheets and nodded.
“I mean… that’s what I said, right? I… said that out loud. Oh god, I freaked you out, didn’t I?”
The doctor shook her head.
“No I just… I wasn’t expecting that. I…” her sentence trailed off.
“Yes?” Emilio urged her on.
“I want to show you something.”
She quickly threw on a robe and led him to an adjacent suite. There was a bed in here too and dressers and tables and writing materials. Emilio had never been in here before. It smelled stale and dry and dusty, but it had been used recently.
“Were you telling the truth? Do you really… love me?” Dr. Kirke asked. He’d never seen her this nervous. She had regressed to a shy and giddy school girl. Was this an act? Was it her turn to ensnare him? He swallowed hard, sweat falling down his face from anxiety and all the exercise he’d just engaged in.
“I… I was. I am. I didn’t want to admit it before but… I do. I love you.” He forced the vomit down. He had to get this right. “I’ve never felt like this about anybody. I… well I hated you at first. I didn’t want this. Any of this. But then… I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Emilio rubbed the back of his head, looking away. Dr. Kirke grabbed his hand in hers. He looked into her eyes. She blushed and smiled. Good God, this was real. He was actually doing it.
“Then. I want you to see this.”
The doctor went to a lamp hanging on the wall. She pulled the stem of it down and a section of the wall depressed and slid away.
“A secret passage. What are you hiding in there?” Emilio asked.
“Come and see,” Dr. Kirke said.
“I already did one of those things,” he said with a wink. She giggled at his joke. Her voice was grating on his ears.
They walked down the passage steps, a non-descript white on every surface. They came upon a door which slid open soundlessly.
The room they entered blew Emilio’s mind. It was huge. The size of a football stadium. Machines hummed, vats full of opaque liquid bubbled, tubes of luminescent bile squirted, glass screens clicked, energy fields buzzed, meat on enormous petri dishes pulsated, sludge dripped, lasers cut, holograms glowed, robot appendages worked faster than the eye could follow, and a hundred other spectacular things filled his senses.
This was it. Kirke’s secret lab. He’d made it.
“Lose your words?” Kirke asked.
“This is incredible,” Emilio said. And he meant it.
“I’ve been doing this for years and years and years,” Kirke said wistfully. “I’ve gone through thousands of batteries. I’ve only met a few like you. People so full of life they just keep on giving and giving and giving.”
“Guess I’m not that special,” Emilio said with a half-hearted grin.
“But you are. You’re a rare breed. Pun intended.”
She led him further into the lab. Her lab. God, he was really here. He’d done it. Now he just had to find…
“I have a rule,” Kirke said as she navigated her mind-bendingly complex lab. “I use a battery until they run out of juice, or until they bore me. You managed to do neither. I’ve been curious as to the source of your unique capacities for quite a while now, but I was never able to crack it.”
“I am a man of many layers,” Emilio said.
“Yes. I see that now. That’s why I think it’s time.”
“Time for what?” Emilio asked. He scanned her lab for any sign of the suit. It had to be here somewhere. There was no way she’d gotten rid of something like that so easily.
“Time to see what makes you tick.”
Kirke threw Emilio unto a slab. The slab locked his wrists and ankles in place. Emilio struggled, but there was no escaping this.
“You are a riddle, Emilio. And I never leave a riddle unsolved.”
“You trying to get kinky here? I thought we were saving that for tomorrow,” Emilio said, trying to play this disturbing development off.
“People are more than just meat and blood and bone. They are more than even the energy I siphon. There is a whole universe in us. A universe filled with love and hate and sorrow and joy. I want to know this universe. I want to what love is.”
The slab started to hum as some servo matrix began to power up. Emilio struggled to free himself again. Again he found himself stuck.
“If you want to know what love is I gotta tell you, this isn’t it,” Emilio said, trying not to scream. “If you want to know I can just tell you.”
“You don’t do science by talking. You dissect it and examine it under a microscope,” Kirke said, with a cold look that made Emilio want to piss himself.
Parallel 12: Jungle Earth
They arrived at the river just as the sun peeked above the horizon. The golden orb itself wasn’t visible beyond the tree cover, but the sky signaled its impending rise with a brighter shade of blue. Iya knelt on the moist riverbank.
“Here?” Emilio asked.
“The tracks end here. This is where they entered the river,” Iya explained.
“Great. How do we get to their kingdom?” Jael asked.
“We swim,” Iya said.
“Swim? Swim where?” Emilio asked.
“Down as far as you can go,” Iya replied.
“That’s not very specific,” Jael remarked, rubbing the back of his sore head.
“That is how the story goes. To reach the encantado kingdom, swim until your lungs give out. Then you will see them.”
“As a scientist, I have a few questions about this whole, kingdom under the sea business,” Emilio said.
“I don’t know what that is,” Iya said.
“Which part, science? Business?” Emilio asked.
“Are you mocking me right now?” Iya growled, fist and teeth clenched.
“The chief’s daughter is waiting for us. We should hurry before the rest of the village arrives,” Jael reminded them.
“I know! Mirabella is… who knows what they’re… Let’s go,” Iya said, wading into the river’s waters.
“There’s not a trick to this? A… a magic scuba suit or an ancient submersible of legend?” Emilio asked.
“Stop speaking words, outsider. Just follow my lead,” Iya said, fastening her holy machete to her waist extra tightly.
“This is her world, Emilio. Let’s just trust her, okay?” Jael whispered.
“It’s not her I don’t trust, it’s her people’s understanding of the mythographical underpinnings of her world that I’m more concerned about. I mean magic dolphin people? An undersea kingdom? Gods of the jungle? The fucking Loving Tree?”
“Well, how would you explain it?” Jael asked.
“I don’t know! Mutation? Aliens?” Emilio offered.
“Quit wasting your breath back there. Save it for the swim,” Iya called back to them.
“Are you sure you’re up for this? I mean, I dragged you here. You didn’t ask for this and you don’t owe these people anything,” Emilio said softly.
“You’re right. You did drag me here and I didn’t ask for this. I’m not a hero, Emilio. I’m not doing this because I want to save the day. What I am is a man of faith. And I believe that what’s happened here is the strong triumphing over the weak. The cruel exploiting the meek. I know this because I’ve lived it my whole life. Even before I became a follower of Clarity, I survived the predation of the depraved and insane on the streets of Michicago. I found a place in Clarity because I keenly understood the message they were preaching.”
“And what’s that?”
Jael unbuttoned his needle coat and whirled it around like he had back on his Earth so it was inside out, needles facing out in all directions.
“You can choose to let the world stomp on your face, or you can choose to be a thorn that gets stuck in it’s foot.”
Emilio smiled and shook his head.
“Okay. Fucking hell, man. Let’s do this.”
“Ah shit. I guess this is the end. After pouring my heart out to you, this is how I go,” Emilio said, trying to bring on the tears and the sniffles. He found it wasn’t very hard.
“You’re not going to die,” Kirke said, typing a line of command code in a nearby console. “Not for a long time.”
“Now. Open up to me again. Tell me how you feel while my machines scan you.”
“When I’m non-consensually strapped down like this, that’s kinda hard to do.”
“You’re kinda hard,” the doctor said with a chuckle.
Emilio looked down. Indeed he was fully erect. Actually he was more than that. He was so erect that it hurt. Everything down there hurt. He felt like he was going to explode.
“What the hell are you doing to me?”
“Tell me, Emilio. Tell again how you love me.”
“Tell me why you love me. How you love me. Tell me everything. And make sure you speak clearly for the recorders.”
Parallel 12: JuNgle EaRth
Emilio realized two things right away. The first was that Jael and Iya were much better swimmers than him. The suit had not been optimized for underwater function. He figured it was that and not how out of shape he was. Sitting in an alley for months did terrible things to a person’s physique.
The second was that this river was much deeper than he first thought. Much much deeper. So deep he couldn’t see the bottom. An instinctual fear gripped him. Swim until your lungs give out. He would be down there in the depths, in the dark, when he couldn’t hold his breath any longer. There would be no time to swim back up. He would fucking drown, here, on the this backwater Earth and no one would ever know. No one would ever find him. This would be his eternal watery grave.
He felt a panic rising in his chest. Or perhaps it was his air supply running thin. Iya and Jael were both trailing bubbles, let out in little bits as they swam. Emilio remembered something about that in a swimming class he took once. People don’t “run out of breath” right away. The CO2 builds up too quickly and their body signals the brain to let it out and let in more Oxygen. He let out a bit of air. That helped a bit. He let out a little more. He tried to keep up with the other two, only to realize they were nowhere to be found.
He looked behind him. The surface was so far away. The blue of the early morning sky was barely visible. He couldn’t make it back. Oh shit. Oh shit! He looked all around him. Where were they? Where were Iya and Jael? Why had he agreed to this?
His lungs burned. His body needed air. He let out more of his breath until his lungs were damn near empty. Shit shit shit. He couldn’t do this. Why was this the way he was going to die? He should have never funded Xiao’s research. He should have never agreed to fight next to Jael and his crazy Cenobite battle monk brothers. He should have never faced off against that encantado bastard and his minions. He should have kept his mouth shut.
His body spasmed. It seized. He needed some damn air now! But he couldn’t swim back. He couldn’t… he couldn’t…
He breathed out the last of his air. He had seconds before the river water filled him. Then a slow agonizing few minutes of actual drowning. The darkness enveloped him. This was the end.
Then something glomped on his mouth and nose like a suction cup. What the fuck? Tentacles wrapped around his head, securing the creature tightly. Emilio grabbed at the thing, trying to get it off his face. Then air. Precious precious air. His lungs filled with it and he breathed deeply of it. It tasted like seaweed and pussy.
Whatever was hanging on his face began to glow with a low bioluminescence. It was some kind of octopus/cuttlefish hybrid. It’s eyes were the familiar yet alien looking octopus eyes he’d seen on the other side of aquarium glass. It had a good hold of his face and was in fact the source of his newfound air. It had little fins on the sides of its giant head that delicately fluttered, and two giant bulbs on its head that looked like a hilarious pair of floppy tits.
Something grabbed his ankle and he screamed, though no noise came from him but a soft yelp. He looked down and saw Jael with a similar looking creature on his face. He waved Emilio on. Further on, Emilio saw Iya, with another creature on her face as well. Emilio swam down to hug Jael, then remembered he was a pin cushion and opted for a fist bump.
They swam for what felt like an hour. It was completely pitch black down here. No light except for the creatures on their faces. Emilio had seen something like this back on his earth. Giant sinkholes filled with groundwater called cenotes. They blanketed the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and were believed to be holy sites of the ancient Maya and the Aztec, long before the colonizers came. Emilio understood why that was now. It felt like he was in another world. Well, he was actually.
Then he saw something up ahead. Lights. The same strange glow as the creature on his face. Then more. And more. Until there were millions of lights all around them, covering the floor of this massive underground cavern. This really was a kingdom, Emilio thought.
On they swam, until the stalagmite towers themselves came into sight. They were massive things, covered in glittering stones and bioluminescent algae. The tallest spires were decorated with banners. But when Emilio got closer he realized the banners were actually women’s undergarments. He felt sick. Something so sexy shouldn’t be profaned like this. Then he thought of the women that were down here and he wanted to vomit even more.
Iya paused in the water. Jael and Emilio caught up with her. She looked around. Then she pointed at one particular stalagmite spire. The biggest one and the one adorned with the most undergarments. She looked at her companions. They each nodded in turn.
They swam toward their destination with haste. Luckily, they hadn’t come across any encantados yet. Emilio wondered where they all were. Then he decided to stop wondering. Had to focus on the mission. Find Mirabella. Get her out of there.
They swam next to one of the windows. Iya peeked inside. She signaled to Jael and Emilio. They had no idea what the signal meant. She swam inside. They followed her. The room was a big one. The size of a ballroom or a gymnasium. Still, they saw no one. Emilio noticed one particular door light up. He tugged on Iya’s waist strap. She slapped his hand away. He pointed to the door. She nodded and swam toward it. The door was ornately carved and made of solid stone. Emilio was worried it would be too heavy, but it moved like a feather when it was pushed inward. The next room was smaller, but no less grand. And there in the center was a great throne. Emilio cracked a joke about compensating for something but nobody heard him.
They swam inside, looking for another door to inspect when the door behind them shut with a great boom. They looked all around them. There wasn’t any one here. Except…
There. On the throne. A lone figure slow clapped his big flippers.
“Bravo,” the encantado said. “Bravo.”
“You!” came a muffled cry from Iya.
“Where’s Mira- what’s her name?” Emilio cried, also muffled.
“I can barely hear you with those things on. Care to remove them so we can converse like civilized folk?” the encantado said.
Emilio saw now that it was still wearing the his helmet. The helmet had changed its shape, adapting to the new head dimensions. It was a very unnerving sight, but it didn’t matter. He fiercely swam toward the throne.
“Tsk tsk. You’re all out of your depth here. I think you made a big mistake. You just haven’t realized it yet,” the encantado said.
“I’m gonna make a big mistake on your face!” Emilio shouted, again very muffled.
“Such silly creatures. You fight so desperately just to survive. Most of you have no idea how vast this multiverse is. Worlds beyond worlds. Worlds beyond counting. Beyond imagining. You are so narrowly defined by your bodies. By your senses. It’s kind of sad, actually. You don’t know what you’re missing out on.”
“You’re gonna miss out on your face!” Emilio screamed. He was about halfway to the throne now.
“Honestly, boy. You should have run away. You should have found a nice quiet village a thousand miles from here and settled down. Had a few kids. Forget all about this messy business.”
“Your face is gonna be messy… business… Rah!” Emilio shouted. He was two thirds of the way to the throne.
“You call that swimming? This is just sad,” the encantado said.
“Why don’t you try some of this?” Emilio cried, pressing a button on his wrist. His body puffed up as the engorge biohack came online. The encantado laughed. Then he swam like a missile to the hapless Emilio and batted him away with his tailfin. Emilio flew back, narrowly missing Jael and Iya and slamming into the wall.
“Okay, purisma. Thong boy. Let’s make this quick. My new bride awaits me in my bedchamber and I intend to consummate this marriage all month long.”
Jael and Iya sprung into action. Iya with her holy machete and Jael with his martial skill. But they were in the encantado’s world. To him they were just playthings. Emilio got the engorge function turned off and started swimming back to the fight. He watched helplessly as the encantado batted his allies back and forth, laughing, toying with them.
They were in his world. How were they supposed to win this fight? Maybe his best bet was to get Mirabella and run. Er, swim. But Iya and Jael would surely die.
“Okay, I’ll admit I’m having a bit too much fun with you,” the encantado said. “But honestly, it’s getting late in the day and I have to come up to destroy what’s left of your village eventually. Care to take one last shot?”
Iya struck first, her machete slicing through the cold murky water like a hot knife through butter, but it missed by a mile. The encantado whirled around and slapped her unconscious with his tail fin. Jael watched the dolphin-man’s moves carefully. He had a pretty good feeling he was fucked, but he wouldn’t let an opportunity like this go. When the moment presented itself, he swam forward and grabbed the dolphin-man’s tail, digging his needle coat into the softest looking bits. The encantado squeaked but otherwise showed no sign he felt any pain. A quick flick and Jael was sent tumbling through the water and into the throne.
Emilio kept swimming. He was almost there. Almost there!
“You’re not giving me much to work with. I need you to express yourself like you did before.”
“My dick’s going to explode!”
“No no, love, my dear. Talk about your love for me.”
paRaLLeL TwelVE: Jungle Erf
Emilio was too far away. He was going to watch Jael and Iya die. The Encantado looked in his direction.
“Don’t look so sad, boy. Death is a part of life. It happens to everyone. The critters on the river bottom have to eat too, you know.”
“Fuck you!” Emilio cried, but his words were caught by the air sack creature on his face.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you so well with that ridiculous thing on your face.”
“Hear this!” Emilio said as he scrolled through the holo-menu on his wrist. Unfortunately, the suit didn’t have any sonic weapon biohacks. But it did have speakers…
“Hmm? Hear what, boy?”
“Suit. Give me a beat!”
The suit’s speakers flared to life with a high pitched screech. The sound carried much better underwater and the encantado’s specialized ears got the full brunt of it. The dolphin-man squealed in pain, writhing, twisting as the suit’s speakers chirped and warbled.
“Stop! Stop it!” the encantado screeched.
“Had enough, you bastard?” Emilio called out.
“Make it stop! Please!” The helmet clicked, changed shape. The dolphin-man stopped writhing. “Oh. Audio filters. What a neat feature. This helmet of yours is a marvelous piece of engineering, I must say.”
“Talk to me. Let the scanners do their work, lover,” Kirke said.
Emilio struggled against the restraints. He was dying. This machine was killing him. He couldn’t escape. He had to do something. But his hands were tied. How was he supposed to get out of this without being able to…
“Oh. Of course. It’s been so long I almost forgot I could do this,” Emilio said.
“What?” Kirke asked.
Emilio closed his eyes. The energy clogging and enflaming his member began to flow again. His chakra channels dilated and soon his whole body was coursing with energy. Kirke’s eyes widened with surprise.
“What is this?” she stuttered.
“Manifest your true nature. Manifest your true nature,” Emilio mumbled.
“My oh my, this is incredible. These readings are off the chart. They’re unbelievable. They’re…”
It crashed onto the lab, it’s ectoplasmic legs and astral pincers ripping through the ceiling. It was the size of a train engine and its every move shook the lab. Emilio’s Bound Scorpion roared as it entered this universe.
“Thanks, doc. That’s just the kick in the dick I needed to pull this old trick out of the bag,” Emilio said. The giant scorpion bull rushed forward, knocking rows of lab equipment over and destroying countless experiments. Kirke dove out of the way as it ran past her.
“What are you doing? Call it off!” she demanded.
Emilio zapped his restraints with his mind lightning biohack and landed on his hands and knees.
“Where’s my suit?” he demanded back.
“You bastard. This was all a trick. I’ll kill you! Rah!” she screamed.
Her body changed, all of her biohacks coming to the surface. Monstrous soldiers appeared around Emilio, hemming him in.
“Not even gonna let me dress?” Emilio asked.
“Kill him and the scorpion!” Kirke commanded. The lion and crocodile and bull headed soldiers charged. The Bound Scorpion intercepted them, having made a full circuit of the lab. Emilio hopped on its claw and onto its back, his head bursting with a crackling aura.
“Taste my lightning, motherfuckers!” he shouted as he shot bolts of plasmic energy from his head and the scorpion ripped Kirke’s monstrosities apart.
Kirke’s body emerged from her shell. She was sharp and ribbed and shiny and bristly and five tons of lethal packed in a hundred pound package. The demonic battle maids appeared at her side.
“New Experiment Log,” she said to her wristband. “Battle testing the Anomalous Nexus. Test One begin.”
“Bring it on, bitch. This is for all those weeks of being your bottom!”
Prrllell Twel: junGLE Errrrrrr
“That was a clever gambit. But it didn’t change anything, did it?” the encantado asked.
“Maybe. But it felt good anyway,” said Emilio.
“Foolish traveler. I’ll make sure this happens very, very slowly.”
“That’s my line.”
The encantado shot forward like a bullet. Emilio barely swam out of his way. With a skillful flourish, the encantado spun around in the water and rammed into Emilio’s side with his pointed helmet. Then, he followed up with a slap of his tail fin, knocking Emilio away. Emilio tried to counter attack, but the dolphin-man swam circles around him. He was true to his word. This was slow. And painful. Emilio was rammed again and again, always in his ribs and kidneys and other vulnerable spots. Emilio ran through the suit’s biohack list. Nothing in here was long range. Nothing was going to help him win. That’s when he saw the helmet’s remote function menu. Now that was interesting.
The encantado rammed him again.
“Fuck! Knock that shit off!” Emilio yelled.
“You’re in no place to demand anything from me. Unless that’s begging I hear now.”
“Fucking fuck your fuck!” Emilio cursed as he swam after him.
“Not so cerebral now, are we? It always come down to this. No class. No style. Your ass gets riled. You sass, you child. But you’re not coming out on top. Your past victory was a flop. A fluke. Cuz you tried to duke it out and all it came to was reasonable doubt that humans are worth the time. At least, outside this bedroom of mine.”
“Shut your yapper,” Emilio said, exhausted, sore and slowing down.
“What’s my name, you little shit?” the encantado said before ramming into him again.
“What’s my name, fucker!”
Right into his ribs. Emilio’s sides burned. Something was definitely ruptured.
“Your name’s… fuck…”
“What’s my name?” the encantado yelled, readying another charge. Emilio paused. He would have smacked his head if he could move his hand that far. Of course. Of fucking course!
“I do know your name,” Emilio said, manipulating the helmet’s remote function screen. “And I know exactly what dolphin organ you used to say it!”
He slammed his hand down on the holo-button. The helmet’s inner speakers blared the encantado’s name at maximum volume.
“No! Nooo!” the dolphin-man screamed.
The high pitched whine of the encantado’s name pierced straight through his blubbery skin and into his melon, where all his vocalizations were modulated and focused. The dolphin-man writhed, seized, and then his head exploded.
“Take that you fu-“
The creature on Emilio’s face slithered off and swam away, frightened by the helmet’s speakers. Emilio gagged and swam toward the helmet as fast as he could.
Shit. He had no breath left. Shit!
The scorpion crashed into one computer bank after another, crushing the doctor’s hybrid fighters in its pincers. Emilio exploded soldier after soldier trying to leap onto the scorpion’s back to take him out. Kirke observed and waited, documenting Emilio’s every move. She was furious, but more than that, she was fascinated. The data from this could complete her research. Years of work was being destroyed all around her, but this one missing piece of the puzzle that eluded her for decades was finally revealing itself before her very eyes. She plugged the data into her processing algorithms. This was it. Yes. Yes!
“Yes!” she screamed orgasmically. “I have it! Oh God yes! This is exactly what I needed all along. Oh, Emilio, you’re a miracle sent from Heaven, aren’t you?” Kirke said as she set up an inconspicuous looking machine about her height.
“What the hell are you up to?”
“The same thing I’ve been up to all along. The aim of my research since I landed on this island. And you just gave me the last piece.”
Emilio urged his scorpion toward the doctor, but the demon battle maids intercepted him. They were lightning fast, cutting a leg and a pincer off the scorpion before he even knew they were there. He focused his mind blast on them, but they moved quicker than his eyes could track.
Kirke pulled a big red lever and the machine hummed to life. Great arcs of dimensional energy shot back and forth between its pylons. The air hummed with a dark, foreboding power. A power Emilio knew quite well.
“Oh shit. Oh shit! Stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Emilio shouted.
“Actually I do, little boy. More than you ever will.”
The universe split open. The very fabric of Evertyhing fell away. Oblivion spread from the wound in space. Emilio screamed, but no sound escaped from him. There, down there, in the infinite black, was everything that was Not. It stared back at him, filling him with terrible knowledge. He was falling. He was falling forever. Through the layers. Through the endless parallels.
How many years had he done this? How long had he fought and traveled? This was all that waited for him at the end. Oblivion. Always it would be there. As it would be for everyone. The pressure of dimensions crushed him. He felt like he would get flattened. Flattened so thin he would be imperceivable.
Emilio felt every bump of the tracks as his train car rattled along. In his hand, a letter. The last one his father ever sent. The one that told him to go to Sappa; the greatest city in the world.