By Edele Winnie
“Jocelyn, is it really you?” Carol asked the white-coated woman up on the catwalk. “I am so…. muddled.” Carol ran her hands through her brown hair but the confusion remained. They were surrounded by buzzing machines, tubes and metal catwalks. “What is this place?”
Jocelyn laughed. “It’s definitely not the bank. The Jocelyn who works there with you is just one version of me. A sister, if you like.”
Carol pointed at one of the large glass tubes. It was filled with green liquid and an exact copy of Carol herself, floating languidly. Beside that there were more tubes and copies. Carol shook her head, unable to find words. Beside her, Gary shifted into a quivering red cylinder shape.
“I see you’ve met Gary. He’s a portal jumper. A creature that can transfer between dimensions without decomposing.”
“You make me sound so dull.” Gary complained and transformed into a star shape. “I’m actually a star.”
Everything seemed to be swirling in her head and Carol looked for a place to sit. She settled on the bottom step of a metal ladder that led to a catwalk above.
Gary changed into a rhombus. “There was a cloh enforcer right behind us.”
Jocelyn stepped away for a moment but they could hear her footfalls on the metal catwalk. She reappeared with a strange weapon-like contraption covered with dials and levels. After adjusting some of the controls she pointed it at the wall- Carol couldn’t really see anything there- and shot a zap of some kind of energy, closing the portal.
Carol was still sitting on the metal step, trying to breathe calmly. “Why are their copies of me in those tubes?”
Instead of answering, Jocelyn came down and stood beside the bewildered woman. She put a comforting hand on Carol’s shoulder. “It must be upsetting to see yourself in a tube.”
As Carol nodded Joceyln inserted a syringe into her arm. Carol’s face registered shock, anger and then she collapsed heavily onto the floor.
Gary shifted into a barrel shape.
“Oh don’t get critical with me.” Jocelyn snapped at him. “You know it’s what we have to do. Now put her on the bed in the holding cage.”
Gary became gooey and flooded underneath the unconscious Carol and floated her over to the nearest restraining cell. He flowed through the doorway and then deposited Carol on the bed platform. Jocelyn slammed the metal cage door closed and Gary morphed out through the bars.
“Do you still need me or can I roll away?” He asked.
Jocelyn flicked her hand dismissively and Gary rolled at the wall and vanished through another portal. Jocelyn grabbed a trolley cart and began filling it with the tools she knew she’d need for the upcoming surgery.
Carol’s eyes flickered open and the first thing she registered was pain. Her back, her spine hurt. She tried to move her arms but they were tied down somehow. So were her legs, her neck and her waist. It felt like there was a thick bandage on the side of her head. She called out.
A smiling Jocelyn appeared on the other side of the holding cage’s metal bars. “I’m over here, Carol. Don’t turn your head- it will hurt.”
Carol turned her head slightly and was rewarded with a sharp stabbing pain down her spine. “Why- what’s going on?”
“Let’s concentrate on you feeling better before we get into other things.” Jocelyn said with a smile.
“Why am I strapped down?”
“Because it’s fun!” she giggled. “It’s to stop you from hurting yourself after your operation.” She continued walking.
“What operation?” But Carol was alone again.
She tried not to move but even breathing caused her some pain. There was an IV bag hanging beside her and a monitor of some kind next to that. She did not understand what the dials and displays were showing- she was a bank teller, not a scientist. She’d thought that Jocelyn was a bank teller too, before all this had happened. She tried to believe that it was a dream but the constant dragging pain in her back insisted she accept the situation. Okay, so this is real. There’s clones of me- or I’m a clone. And they’ve just operated on my back. She closed her eyes in frustration. She had no clue what was going on.
“Hey baby how ya doing?”
Carol tilted her head slightly, painfully. There was a red jelly palm tree shape beside the bed, quivering slightly.
“Just thought I’d check on how you’re doing.” Gary said. “Do you feel any different?”
“It hurts. My back.” She said. “I can’t move.”
Gary shifted into a cylinder, and then quickly into a fish shape. “It’s bound to hurt. It will get better fast.”
“What did they do to me?”
Gary quivered and changed into a cube shape. Almost a blur, he was a pyramid, a cylinder, a decahydrian and then just a simple square. “I don’t know. There’s a big, big plan. I’m just a delivery ball.”
A red light began flashing.
“What does that mean?” Carol asked nervously.
Gary shifted into a ball shape. “I don’t know but it’s kind of turning me on.”
Jocelyn came running up, with an identical Jocelyn following right behind her.
“Cloh.” The first Jocelyn said.
“We have to shut down- evacuate.” The second said.
They unlocked the metal holding cage and quickly unbuckled Carol. She screamed in pain when they pulled her to her feet.
“We have to leave!” The Joceylns both shouted together.
There was a crash as one of the lab robots came crashing down from one of the catwalks and bounced apart in a crashing jangle of panels, circuits and small metal parts.
“Oopsy!” A cheerful old lady voice said as the cloh’s front stinger appendage came into view, followed by the rest of it and its three mouthed face. “Just hold still dears while I clean up.” The front appendage spasmed and a yellowy fluid shot out onto the smashed robot, which began to sizzle and smoke.
One of the Joceylns pulled Carol out of the cell by the hand. “Run!” She screamed. “Run!”
There was a flash of blue followed by an explosion and Carol was thrown painfully against a wall. She turned her head saw that she was still holding Jocelyn’s hand, but that was all that was left of that Jocelyn.
The red puddle of Gary flowed past her. “Follow me!” He screeched.
Carol let the dead hand drop to the floor and stood shakily to her feet.
“Now don’t move, let me help you.” The kind old lady voice said.
Adrenalin flowed through Carol and she tensed, expecting another energy blast. But instead she felt intense spinal pain and something behind her moved and lifted her up off the ground. She moved quickly through the air in the direction Gary had gone. The blast hit where she’d been moments before, spraying burning debris and smoke. She kept moving through the air and finally realized that she was flying. Explosions and screams erupted all around her as the cloh destroyed everything.
“Over here!” A very tall thin red cylinder shouted.
Carol swooped to Gary and he began to cover her with his body. Her last glimpse was of one of her clones- another Carol, running, terrified, panicked, and the blue energy blast that tore her in half. Then Gary pulled her into the wall, another portal, and all the noise, fire and screaming abruptly stopped.
Gary flowed off of Carol like a piece of silky lingerie. Carol blinked her eyes and breathed in the sights of this new place. They were standing in a bunch of flowers beside a large tree. The tree and a hunk of earth beneath seemed to be floating in space. There were other floating islands as well, each with a single tree as its center.
“Step out of the way.” Jocelyn appeared from the other side of the large tree trunk with a portal gun. She fired, closing the portal Carol and Gary had just come through.
“What is this place?” Carol asked.
“Just another dimension.” Jocelyn explained.
“It’s my home.” Gary said.
“And a beautiful place it is.” Jocelyn said. “Gary may we sit and talk?”
“Of course.” Gary said proudly.
Jocelyn sat wearily in the flowers, her back against the tree. After a moment Carol joined, her back still hurting. The wings that had been there had folded back into her body. Gary rolled up too and long jelly tubes came out of him and went into the tree.
“You have many questions.” Jocelyn said.
Carol was feeling the bandage on the side of her head. “What’s been done to me? What’s this bandage? And I have… wings?”
Jocelyn nodded. “I know what you’re thinking. That this is wrong. But what if I told you that this is actually correct? This is what you were made for.”
Carol shook her head and her back hurt.
“You’re from that Milky Way galaxy- earth, isn’t it? You were sent there to gain experience. Your model has been training, developing and evolving for a specific purpose. You’re the first model to return, and that is a great accomplishment.”
“I worked in a bank.” Carol said.
“Yes. You learned how other beings behaved, reacted, how things think. That’s the difficulty in our cloning process. Clones don’t have any idea how other beings behave.”
Carol was silent for a moment, trying to take it all in. “It doesn’t seem possible.” She said. “It doesn’t seem real.”
“What is my purpose?”
Jocelyn smiled. “That’s the spirit. You’re a freedom fighter. They want to keep all of the dimensions separate. They rule them like ruthless dictators. We want to unite them.”
Still attached to his tree, Gary began to flatten out. “The cloh are their soldiers.” He said dreamily.
“Yes.” Jocelyn said. “I know you can’t understand all of this Carol. It’s very complicated. I have been created to create you.”
“Who created you?” Carol asked.
Jocelyn smiled. “I don’t know. This struggle has been going on for longer than recorded history. I’ve heard we’re slowly winning, but it’s taking a very long time.”
“I don’t know what to do.” Carol said.
Jocelyn shrugged. “Keep going. Fight the power.”
Something moved behind Jocelyn- it was another red jelly ball.
Gary suddenly pulled away from the tree and morphed into a very tall hooked shape, something like a twisted clawed hand.
“Get out of here!” He shrieked. “I will destroy you.”
“Relax Gary, we’re going.” Jocelyn said. The red ooze covered her and they rolled away through another portal.
“Was that- another of your kind?” Carol asked.
Gary has changed into a barrel shape. “Yes. They had no right to be on this Verge. It’s mine.”
“So this really is your home then.”
He relaxed into a ball again. “Yes. It’s the most beautiful place there is.” He changed into a large phallus shape. “Tanya?” he called out into the other floating tree islands. “Tanya?”
“Is she … your partner?”
“No.” He morphed into a spoon shape. “She’s a goddess.”
In the distance an orb of light appeared and zoomed towards Gary’s tree, where it stopped. Slowly it danced downwards, then became a mist and finally a glowing bright woman in a white robe.
Tanya frowned. “Gary, you were not to bring strangers here.” Light pulsed through Tanya’s body as she spoke, though her mouth did not move.
“Oh, I just wanted you to meet Carol. One of the Carols. I saved her life.”
The glowing woman’s face looked unhappy and offended. “Gary, you promised me that you wouldn’t do this. Why didn’t you do as you were told?”
“Tanya, I’m sorry, I just thought you’d be happy to meet her. I saved her.”
Tanya’s mouth changed into a grim line, but before her voice sounded Carol stood and peeled the bandage of the side of her face, to expose a small metal tube and blinking yellow lights.
“Now I understand.” Carol said. “You’re a dictator.”
A bolt of energy shot out the tube on her head and struck the glowing Tanya. The Goddess recoiled, pain and shock on her face, and then she rose into the air and flew off the floating islet. Carol extended her metal wings and gave chase, blasting with her head gun.
“Stop!” Gary shouted, changing into the longest tallest string he could. “Stop! I don’t want this! Tanya!”
Carol could feel that she was quickly running out of energy to power her face weapon. She stopped firing and tried to catching the fleeing goddess. But Tanya was faster and could alter her size. The goddess flew among the islets and then through the branches of one of the trees. Carol tried to turn away at the last moment but smashed into the branches, breaking several and becoming entangled. Red gooey sap leaked out of the broken wood and formed into bands that restrained Carol as she struggled. Tanya appeared beside her, and reached a glowing hand out to touch Carol’s shoulder. There was a blinding flash of light and then the metallic implanted pieces clattered to the ground, blackened by the ash of Carol’s incinerated body.
From several islets away Gary watched in horror. He shrank into a cube. Tanya appeared beside him.
“Gary, you’ve got to stop. You have to stay away from the portals.”
“I’m sorry Tanya, I’m so sorry.” He morphed into a puddle at her feet. “I’m just curious, so curious. And other dimensions are so much more interesting.”
Tanya grew brighter. “I will allow the cloh to take you if this happens again. It is your final warning.” She became a speck of light and whooshed away faster than could be seen.
There were still four hidden portals on Gary’s verge. He wouldn’t use them, he promised himself. He’s stay away from them. He wouldn’t talk to Jocelyn when she came looking for him, describing other worlds, asking for help, making promises, talking about freedom. He changed into a long snake shape and reconnected with his life tree.
The beeping alarm clock woke Carol. She struggled to find the off button and then finally figured out how to silence it. She felt very disoriented, but she knew she had to get up and prepare for something- she just wasn’t sure what.
She was supposed to dress so she did that. She recognized the fridge and was just eating half of a grapefruit when there was a gentle knock at the apartment door. Carol went over to it, momentarily puzzled about how it should open, and then she remembered and turned the handle.
Jocelyn stood there smiling and Carol smiled back, delighted to see her helpful friend.
“This is a new place for you.” Jocelyn said kindly. “I’m going to show you how things work in this dimension. You have a family here and a job. Come on, grab your things, we’re going to walk to a place called a bank.”