Earthcom

This is an excerpt from my work-in-progress story called “Dyad.” For more excerpts, see this page. I also post each excerpt with an accompanying song.

This excerpt’s music:

This excerpt is special because I intend for it to be the start of the whole story! So pretend it is on page 1. :]

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“Now.”

Jek suddenly broke her casual stride down the hallway, and dashed toward the storage room on her left. She quickly and silently lifted the door handle, stole inside the room with two seconds of light, and shut the door again without a sound.

“Did you get in too?” she tugged to Quba. Tugs were silent, subverbal, and just between one human and one Dya. Perfect when trying to avoid being heard by a dean or vice principal.

“Of course,” Quba replied with a laugh. “Wherever you are, I can get there.” Eir floating, amorphous body (“never more than three-quarters or less than one quarter present,” Quba always said) glowed a faint orange. They had agreed that orange meant fear. The light wasn’t enough to reveal the whole room, but it was enough that Jek could slowly move around without knocking anything over.

She dropped her school bag and began sifting through the storage bins, looking for nothing in particular but keeping quiet while doing it.

“Why are we even here?” Quba asked.

Jek moved to a second shelf, covered with assorted Earth artifacts, and pulled a cardboard box down to waist-height. “Because we’re not supposed to be.”

Quba made a couple white flickers of annoyance.

“Sometimes you lead, sometimes I lead. Remember?” Jek reminded em.

Quba settled down after that. Ey was a good partner, Jek thought with a smile.

She tilted the box toward Quba’s light to see inside, but the contents were still too dark to make out. A tiny glint caught her eye. She reached inside the box to touch it.

Something pricked her finger, and she quickly drew it back.

“What is it?” Quba asked, seeing her sudden movement.

“Nothing,” Jek said. “Well, actually…”

She reached back in, her fingers finding the object. She lightly pinched its tiny, cold form and lifted it toward her eyes. “This.”

Quba floated closer to Jek, to look over her shoulder. With their closeness, Jek could smell the elemental forest air ey carried, beautifully out of place in the stale, dank storage room.

“What is it?” Quba asked again, calmly this time. Ey brightened to illuminate her hand.

“An Earthcom,” said Jek, turning it over in her palm. It was a deep, dark blue. “Space blue,” they would have called it back on Earth. The color of the future, thousands of years ago.

“How’s it work?” Quba asked.

Jek tried to focus her eyes on it, with its strange, ancient twists. She ran her finger along the smooth, strong edge as it came to a point on one end and wandered around, returning on the opposite side. A Möbius strip. She felt a kinship with the design.

“It just listens. I’m not sure how. It clips on your ear, and listens, and sends everything back to Earth.” She held it closer to Quba and pointed out the tiny white spaceship logo of Mission One on the side.

“Does it actually work, though?” Quba asked. Ey reached out and part of em flowed through the Earthcom’s loop.

“Probably not,” Jek shrugged. “And I mean, it would take a few years for anything to even get to Earth even if it did still work. Or if they’re still listening for it back there and even speak our language or whatever. Who knows?”

She gripped the Earthcom more tightly, as if her fingers could apply some sort of pressure that would reveal if the device still worked or not.

“But… what if it does work?” Quba wondered.

“Then I don’t know.” Jek said. She entertained the romance of the idea. At the other end of this lifeless, obsolete piece of junk could be a vast, wise civilization, recording her every word and all the sounds around her. She could be at the center of a story wherever she went, and whoever was listening would really get her, not like everyone here on Lydia who couldn’t listen worth anything.

Only if it worked, though.

“What should I say into it?” she asked playfully.

“I don’t know. Say something about yourself,” Quba replied.

She held the device up to her lips. “My name is Jek,” she announced emptily, like the computerized voice listing stops on the train.

“No, no. Your name is just another thing your parents gave you. Say something about yourself.” Quba swirled an emphatic gesture to accent eir last couple words.

“Umm…” Jek grasped for something to say, something to think. “My name is Jek and I like to… I don’t know. I like–”

The bell rang, sterile and uncaring.

“Shit,” Jek sprang up onto her feet. She clipped the Earthcom onto her left ear and grabbed her bag.

“What, you’re just going to take it?” Quba asked.

“Yeah.”

Jek scrambled out into the hallway, luckily still unseen, and raced to her class.

The bell had already finished by the time Jek dashed into the classroom and Quba glided through the doorway behind her. She claimed a desk in the back row, even though the room was something like double the size it needed to be and the socially unmixing flow of incoming students always left a large gap of extra desks in the center.

She didn’t sit when she found a desk, as the whole class was already standing for the Mission One recital. She joined her classmates as they held their hands up in the customary salute: two fists facing forward at shoulder-width apart and at the level of the head. They turned to face the blue flag with the white spaceship logo of Mission One at the front of the room, and Jek noticed that Miss Nova was giving her a stern look for her lateness. A familiar look to Jek, by now.

“I am a member of Mission One,” the class began in its monotone half-murmur. Jek jumped in a few words late and full-murmured along.

“I am a mumbler of Mission One,” Quba tugged to her playfully, in time with the others.

“Shut up, you’ll make me mess up,” Jek tugged back, continuing aloud with the rest of the class without giving a sign of their exchange.

“I pledge to protect the human species and to move it forward–”

“I pledge to collect the human feces and to throw them forward–”

Jek smirked but hid it quickly, before Miss Nova noticed. “Quiet!” she tugged, but Quba kept going in rhythm with the class.

“To honor, freedom, and justice–”

“Until all are eaten or crusted–”

Jek bit her lip and winced to avoid laughing aloud.

“On all worlds known and all worlds to be discovered.”

“And I’ll hurl and groan and all hurl will be discolored.”

Jek sat down with the rest of the class, barely holding herself from snickering. “You are going to get me in so much trouble,” she tugged to Quba, though she wasn’t mad.

“That is 100% always my goal,” Quba replied. “But sometimes you lead, sometimes I lead. Remember?”

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