“Are we there yet?”
“No, James.” Than mo sighed, carefully and slowly bounce-walking his way into the farm proper. It had been a few moments since the feat, and although everyone was astounded and amazed at being able to witness such glory, time was fleeting and current concerns pressed them forward. Than Mo and Laverne were still afforded the dignity of “walking”, however James had not been released from the Karnakians’ considerably-fluffy clutches. Everyone agreed that the fight for his freedom was a fight that was best fought at another time, however being sunk into fluff meant that James just couldn’t see anything.
“Are we there yet?”
“No, James.” Hence the question. It – the question – was in and of itself not a bad one, just having it repeated over and ov-
“Are we there yet?”
“For Fuck’s sake, James. NO.” Laverne growled, angrily bouncing forward in the direction the Karnakian guide, Wiggles, was leading them. “Stop asking every 5 seconds. We’re fucking WALKING. It’s going to take a while.”
There was a pause and then a soft grumble from the bouquet of puffballs, and a few minutes of blessed peace, before James decided to change the subject. “So I’ve been thinking-”
“Look y’all don’t even know what I was about to say!” James pouted, the puffball mess that Wiggles was holding shaking in concern. “Just, hear me out: What if this is an actual, real-facts quest we’re on? Like one of those old-timey stories?”
“James what the actual hell are you on, bro.” Than mo laughed as Wiggles did this weird… gasp-roar, wiggling her entire body as some un-named emotion overcame her. A single gloved fist punched out from the fluff, and began to count off on it’s fingers.
“One: Desperate situation. Heroes leave their village to stop the big bad. Two: Then Dr. Robot-Nick gives us these suits. We gain awesome and terrifying new powers based upon our affinities-”
Laverne sighed, exasperated. “I have to once again remind you that they are children, James-”
“THREE: We have gained us a helper and mentor!” The three-fingered fist wiggled, trying to point back at the Karnakian carrying it. “And we are currently on the way to our newest and next challenge. Speaking of, Are we there yet?”
“No. I refuse to ever answer that again.”
“I actually hate how dumb you are.”
“[Behold~!]” Wiggles interrupted, pointing and crouching down low instinctively before the administration building. The two “walking” humans froze in place, arms and legs akimbo in ways that, at first glance, would look like dramatic posing… not that they’d ever admit that.
The limbs being struck out of the Karnakian’s fluffy embrace, however, were totally an attempt to pose dramatically, and James would defend that choice to his grave.
Time passed. The wind gusted once or twice, then fell silent.
“What… are we looking for?” Laverne asked, lowering her arms to look less threatening. “I don’t see anything but the administration building and a tamed moth that needs help.”
“[Well it is the tamed Moth.]”
There was another pause before the starry-dust crusaders started to complain, all the pent-up fear turning into indignation. “What do you mean it’s the Moth?! You had me all worked up here!” Than mo said, frowning.
“[Oh well that’s no ordinary Moth! It’s rabid, with pointy teeth and a bad temperment-]” Wiggles explained, holding James with one hand while she made some gestures with her other. At Wiggles’ voice the Moth visibly perked up, thrashing it’s head up and down violently until the bucket discharged from it’s skull with a sound not unlike a cork exiting a champagne bottle.
“What’s it going to do? Flap at me?” Laverne mocked, sighing. “Right. Than mo, go shoo it off.”
“Yep, one spooked Moth comin’ right up!” Than mo called out, wiggling his arms to appear more intimidating as he bounce-walked forward. Bench crouched down on the wall, flattening his body against the building where his grab was.
“Go on! Get! Shoo! Hiyaa!” Than mo called, waving his arms menacingly.
“ÖÖÖÖÖÖ?” Bench questioned, trying to determine if it knew this grab, or if this grab needed help finding one of it’s Terrorbeast bretheren and had come to Bench mistakingly.
“Shoo!” Than Mo yelled.
“?owo?” Than mo’s suit questioned.
“No, that’s illegal, we talked about that.”
There was another pause, and then the Terrorbeast shook itself. “ÖÖÖñññÖÖ?”
The cerebrarizin suit seemed to ripple at this challenge of making mouthsounds, and focused on the Moth before it. “?ono?” it said as one.
“Although I say that all the time internally, no.” Than mo sighed.
“?ano?” His suit asked to the wind.
“That is the year of our Lord.” Laverne corrected, nodding.
“Öñửử?” Bench thought out loud, wings snapping shut to his sides.
“It’s like I said – we’ve each gained powers, new, terrifying-”
“Not helping, James!” Than mo called out, doing his best to ignore the radiating smug coming from Wiggles’ fluff. “What is even going on here.” Than mo mused out loud, as he stood and waited for events to unfold.
“?awoo?” The Cerberarizin hivemind finally concluded, howling weakly but determinedly to the skies. There was a shift in the Terrorbeast, and with what seemed like a grin, the animal juked to the side, revealing a sign. A notice. A warning.
“$350 fine for A.W.O.O.?” Laverne said, furrowing her brow. “What the hell is- Than mo!” Laverne cried out as she watched Than mo’s suit ripple with frenzied emotion.
“Sssh, shh, look, it’s ok!” Than mo cooed, doing his best to pat the potats that were currently circling him in confusion and fear. “It’s ok, don’t worry. You’re not in any trouble – he is.”
“And now the hero’s battle music would play-”
“Shut up James.” Laverne roared, wiggling in anger before bounce-storming off. “Just, shut up.”
“[What’s uh, going on he- oh hey! Wiggles!]”
The Karnakian turned her head only slightly – doing her best to keep an eye on the spectacle before her but also to speak to the person who just showed up. “[To be honest I have no idea but it’s reall- OH Tipo! Oh wow it’s been a while! How are you doing?]”
The Dorarizin chaperone shrugged, dusting off the last bit of brittle grass that still stuck to his clothing. “[I’m been better, but I’m doing better. I hope my group has not given you any, ah, problems while I’ve been putting myself together?]”
Wiggles laughed and shook her body. “[Oh, wow. Yes, but only in the best of ways – your team is up to dance, so to speak.]” She grinned, tilting her head to indicate that something else amazing was going to happen. “[Also, once this is all over we totally need to catch up.]”
Than mo stood triumphantly, pointing a finger accusingly at the Moth. “I Object to this interpretation! Firstly, they are minors and as such the laws don’t apply! Also, I know enough about Mothing to know that A.W.O.O. stands for Asynchronous Wingbeat Overshoot Orienteering, which is illegal because it stresses the animal! However, awooing itself is legal!”
Bench lowered itself against the building again defensively, as the Cerberarizin pups began to awoo to their heart’s content.
“Furthermore! OYO.” Than mo called out, arms outstretched.
“ÖýÖ” Bench replied, confidently.
“ÖẘÖ.” Bench said, nodding to himself. The Moth made compound-eye contact with the grab and the froze – the grab was radiating too much smug, too much righteousness to be properly terrified at the battle of wits that befell him.
Almost above a whisper, Than mo looked up and smiled. “No. That’s illegal.”
Bench, The Right Honorable and now Fugitive Terrorbeast tensed up before spazzing out, it’s multiple limbs dancing a cadence of concern and anger. To be honest, it didn’t know exactly what just happened, but the tonal shift and change of the conversation hit something deep and primal in the Moth’s mind.
That grab’s tone was the tone of no brushies.
Looking left, right, then up, Bench the Terrorbeast took to the skies, beating his wings to gain altitude and to run from his crimes. The group – sans James – watched him go with curiosity.
“[What just happened?]” Tipo asked, looking around at the assembled group. “[What… what did I just see?]”
“[I have no idea.]” Wiggles shrugged, watching her arch nemesis retreat in defeat. “[But I suggest you grab your pups and let’s continue.]”
“[Ah. Than mo?]” Tipo asked as he loped over to the triumphant human, the ripple of Dorarizin pups getting more excited as a dad came over. “[May I carry you for expediency’s sake?]”
“Yes. I ride eternal on this moment, fluffy and chrome.”
“I told you. We’re in a hero story, I knew it!” James triumphantly called, his limbs flailing in vindication.
Tipo picked up the human, letting the pups attempt to burrow into his chest and arms as he held the group with an inscrutable expression. “[I… just… alright.]”
There was a pause as the group looked at each other for a few moments, before it finally clicked.
“Hey, wait a minute. Where’s Laverne?”
= = = = = = = = =
Squek squek squek squek
Laverne’s boots made a rubber-on-linoleum squeak every time she stepped on the recently-polished floor. She was fine with this; it just meant her boots had excellent grip, and she would not be falling and crushing her precious cargo. She had finally had enough of the bullshit of this unpaid-overtime adventure; enough of watching shenanigans, enough of the songs, enough of everything. The group she was with seemed to have forgotten that lives are at stake at this very moment, and they were running against the clock.
So when Than mo took center stage to have a battle of wits with an animal, she left. Originally just to get some distance between her and James, who was actually going to get a beating once this was all over – but as she walked around the corner the solution to her immediate problems presented itself: An open door. An open human-sized door, propped open to let the cool breeze in. Without hesitation Laverne walked triumphantly in, her Orobornissian suit looking around curiously at the change of scenery as she wandered the halls. The plan was simple:
1) Find Juan Esteban Aleman
2) Follow up with him
3) Ask him to come back to the hospital if necessary
4) Kick James out the short bus without a suit for acting sus
Laverne rounded the corner into another hallway, this one empty save for the sounds of light industry echoing down from the open double-doors at it’s end. She could see some movement of a machine – pulling fabric over to somewhere else, but no people.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
Laverne waited for a few moments before repeating the question, the sound of machinery pausing for a moment once she asked a third time.
“Hello! My name is Laverne Roberts, I’m a registered nurse working out of Caring Touch Hospital and Clinic. I’m here to follow up with Juan Esteban Aleman?”
“Ah!” A male voice called out, followed by a single cough. “Madre de Dios! You guys are persistent! Come on in, let me wind everything down.”
Laverne bounce-walked as fast as she could down the hallway, the sounds of light factory machines shutting down one by one. As she walked through the double-doors she found herself in the harness-making room; a spartan light factory that was half warehouse, half workshop. Bare concrete floors removed her squeaking steps, fabric and outside dust coating the ground in wisps as Laverne looked around. Perpendicular to the entrance she came in was the machine she saw in the hallway, a long loom pulling kevlar and other synthetic fabrics into tight bound ropes, going from one machine into the next in some unknown pattern to her. The end result was probably something useful, but Laverne wasn’t interested in anything but the man at the end of the rube-goldberg machine; a tired-looking young man, still visibly weak from overexertion, but cured.
“Ai, sorry. I know you’ve been calling, and I’m sorry, Perdon.” Juan said, looking up from the controls. “I’ve got your ves…t… in. The. Back.” Juan trailed off as he squinted, then pulled a glove off his right hand to rub his eyes, muttering something that Laverne’s translator could not hear in spanish.
“What a-oh. Yeah uh. Yes. These are baby Jornissians.” Laverne explained, suddenly realizing that to the outside world she looked like she was insane. “It’s an incredibly long story, but I have both QR and RFID credentials if you need to scan them.”
“No, no, it’s fine. You came here for a specific reason, so, I can at least humor you for a moment before checking things out.” Juan Esteban smiled weakly as he stood up, grunting. “But please, where are my manners. Juan Esteban Aleman – though you knew that – proprietor of TTT farms and the accidental inventor of the sport of Mothing.” The two humans closed the gap, Juan reaching out to shake Laverne’s gloved hand.
She gripped his hand as hard as she could through the suit, smiling warmly. “Laverne Roberts, TCRN, OCN. Pleasure to finally meet you when you’re awake!”
The two of them shared a chuckle, before a flash of confusion crossed Juan’s face. The Jornissian infants facing Juan realized that (1) The new warm is also warm and (2) the new warm likes hands and had decided, as one, to stretch out and place their hands on the new warm. The humans shared a look between them as the infants began to gurgle and hiss with glee, patting the un-suited human with their tiny hands.
“Well that’s certainly something.” Juan mused, grinning.
“Yes, just. This whole ordeal has been something.” Laverne sighed. “So we’re here to-”
“Pick up the suit? I mean, I was going to crate it and mail it back with some preserves as a thank you-”
“No, no.” Laverne interrupted, continuing her hold onto Juan. “Listen. You came in with a case of what we’re calling Dust, a respiratory illness that we have no cure for.”
Juan Esteban thought for a moment, furrowing his brow. “What do you mean, no cure for? If that’s the case, how did I end up home, recovering in my own bed? I thought…”
Laverne pressed on, squeezing his hand while her Orobornissian suit looked at him with soulful eyes and tiny hand-pats. “Anything you can tell me will help, but we absolutely need to have you come back to the hospital with us. We have no idea how you survived, let alone recovered-”
“I, I don’t know.” Juan said, frowning. “I thought – I was told I collapsed at work, fine. My chest was getting tighter every day, and I thought it was just stress that would pass. Then the next thing I know I wake up at home with your vest on my chest, doing it’s thing.” He looked up at Laverne, questioningly. “If… if you didn’t let me go to recover at home, and the vest wasn’t the cure, then how did I survive? How did I get home?”
An errant red bucket smacked against the skylight window, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.
“Let’s focus on one thing at a time.” Laverne said, keeping the conversation on-topic. “How did you get in bed? What happened after you regained consciousness?”
“Oh. That? Ah.” He looked behind Laverne, nodding his head. “You’ll have to ask her.”
Laverne turned, and smiled at the new elder. “Oh! Good afternoon – I’m sorry for intruding, I know you’re all very busy. I’m Nurse Laverne Roberts, from Caring Touch Hospital and Clinic. Who are you?”
No one bothered to comment on the Orobornissian’s jazz hands of welcome at the newcomer. The small, frail, bean-shaped woman stood almost wholly supported by her walker-harness, the hunch of her spine not dimming the fire in her eyes.
“Por favor, call me Abuela. I’m Juan’s grandmother.” She said, with a shaky, yet warm smile. “How can I help? Have you eaten yet?”