|The Transformation Story Archive||The Paradise Saga|
Locking Paradise (3)
Aaron tugged at the diaper in disgust. Whatever Martha had used to fasten the soft cloth held firm, and it was too snug to pull off. Not that he wanted to run around naked, but there was something humiliating about wearing bright purple Pampers.
The octopus-like creature did have her reasons for his new wardrobe. He couldn't help blushing at the memory. Somehow, he didn't think peeing on the boss's arm was one of the top ten ways to get ahead. Even if the boss in question had seven other arms to spare.
He shook his head and turned his attention back to the drawing board. Rhudi, his other boss, had somehow managed to come up with a drafting table and assorted tools sized perfectly for his 3-year-old's body. Aaron's physical form hadn't been the problem, though. It was just that this incredible haven't of complex technology had almost forgotten how to use such 'primitive' instruments as pens and pencils.
Of course, what they considered to be primitive was still a source of amazement to an artist who had been working with Rapidograph pens and lead pencils just a week ago. Writing implements here changed ink color, line width, and even density in response to the user's thoughts. And if a mistake was made, you simply ran the pen over the offending marks and they disappeared as if never drawn. The new 'pen' was very thick, very much like the oversized pencils he used to have when he was a little kid. Er, when he was a little kid before. But older than he was now.
Damn! It was all so confusing. Better to concentrate on his work. This picture was almost done. He traced the triple suns with a shading of green, and let the color bleed outward. Perfect! Stepping back, he admired the finished product. It was a landscape like nothing ever seen on Earth, except in nightmares.
Yellow mountains thrust out of flat, gray desert like shards of broken glass. The sky was olive drab with thick, orangish clouds. There was no sign of life anywhere, plant or animal. Yet there was something beautiful in the desolation. Aaron hoped he'd managed to capture the feel of the landscape. For this was no nightmare, but a real world that he had just left.
"Very nice." Aaron spun around to see Rhudi behind him. "Don't do that! How can you sneak up behind me with those hooves?" The centaur grinned and lifted up a forehoof to show him what looked to be thick galoshes. "Haven't you ever heard of shoes?" Aaron shook his head. Not for horses. At least not rubber ones. But then I never had much to do with horses, anyway. I'm a city boy."
Rhudi gave a very horse-like snort as he picked up the drawing. "City? Those grotesque anthills your people call cities are unbelievable. How can you live like that?" Aaron shrugged. No point in starting that discussion again. Ever since he stumbled into this odd place, the locals had made a point of how primitive his species was. However, they certainly didn't mind making use of his 'primitive' art skills.
"Very good. I am sure we can use this to form the filter." Aaron gave him a puzzled look. "What kind of filter?" Rhudi gave him that infuriating condescending smile that was another habit Aaron hated. He knew he'd used the same expression when dealing with children, and he swore he'd never do it again.
"It's hard to explain without getting too technical for you. I suppose the best description is that a filter prevents random portal access by scrambling the connection between this world and the multiverse. Sorta like blurring a visual so that you can't really tell what the subject is." He frowned at the artwork. "Not that anyone should ever want to go there. Ugly place. But a nice drawing." He started to leave.
"Wait a minute!" Aaron put down the pen and ran after the centaur. "Why are you blocking off this place? I mean, why don't you want other people to go there?" Rhudi shook his head. "I don't expect you to understand everything, Aar-ron, but this should be obvious even for you. Our technology doesn't work there. It's very dangerous. We're preventing others from going there for their own good. Just like all the others."
"But it's not your world!" Aaron couldn't decide if he was angry or bewildered, or both. "It's not even your universe! How can you lock it off from other people? Don't they have a right to decide things for themselves?"
Rhudi looked genuinely surprised. "Would you let an infant play with a sharp object? Or leave poison out where a pet could get to it? If we did not take action, there is no telling how many beings would get hurt, or lost, or killed exploring portals. Besides, someone has to control this multiverse to keep things orderly."
Aaron decided on anger. "Just because it's a place you don't like doesn't mean others wouldn't want to go there. Maybe your precious technology isn't up to the job doesn't mean somebody else's won't work!" The centaur seemed amused by his outburst, a reaction which only infuriated Aaron even more. "Little one, there is no better technology than ours. And even if there were, we would still need to make sure that access was properly controlled. All of these universes represent danger." Rhudi gestured at the artwork which represented Aaron's work for the past week. "Until you came along, we couldn't get a proper image to focus the filter. Now we can protect those who might blunder into them."
"But I've been to those worlds. All six of them can't be dangerous!" Aaron grabbed the artwork depicting a lush forest filled with beautiful birds and flowers. "This place was wonderful! It was beautiful, and peaceful." The centaur shook his head. "That's just the part you saw, Aar-ron. What lies beyond those trees? No one knows. And until we can research it carefully, we must make sure no one strays into that universe."
"What's all this about?" They both turned to see Martha standing in the entrance. "Are you teasing our little artist again, Rhudi?" The centaur shook his head and snorted. "He doesn't seem to think we should be using filters. Even on tech-void places like this." He showed her the drawing. "Pretty. Too bad it's tech-void." The octopus looked down at Aaron and clucked her tongue. "You must understand, Aar-ron. The multiverse is a very dangerous place. Why, look what happened to you! We must protect those unsuspecting portal travelers."
The absolute conviction in both their voices finally persuaded Aaron to drop the subject, and he simply nodded his head. He'd heard that tone before - religious fanatics, though they bowed to technology instead of a deity.
Rhudi seemed to accept Aaron's nod as a victory, and cantered out with the drawing in hand. Martha remained behind for a bit. "Aar-ron, you shouldn't worry about things that are not your concern. You enjoy drawing. That is good. Devote your energy to doing what you love, not questioning that which you cannot understand." She patted him gently on the head with a tentacle, and then left.
Aaron plopped down on the floor, feeling disgusted. His bosses were nice enough, but they treated him like he was retarded. Well, maybe he was, compared to their standards. And Martha was right. He did love drawing, and there were still lots of these new gadgets to experiment with. The past week had been wonderful, seeing new worlds for the first time.
And the last time. He picked up a pen and stared at it. The artwork he had so much fun creating was being used to close off the very places it illustrated. No other travelers could visit that beautiful forest. Or the world where you floated among swirling clouds. The pleasure he had taken in his drawings suddenly soured. Each work of art was another roadblock, a way for these self-appointed police to shut down the portals..
He stretched and yawned. Time for another nap. already? He'd been sleeping a lot the past two days. Fatigue helped drive the anger from his mind. Nothing he could do about it, anyway. Lying down on the small mat Martha had provided for naps, he closed his eyes and dreamed of yellow mountains.
A hard shake barely roused him from slumber. "Aar-ron! Wake up!" Martha's voice registered dimly in his ears, and he struggled to open his eyes. God! He felt awful. Not hurting, or sick exactly. It was like every cell in his body needed something, and that need had become a physical drain. He tried to answer, but found that he didn't have the strength. Tentacles slipped under him and lifted his small body effortlessly. It was hard to concentrate, but he was aware of other voices around him. Then even the voices faded, and he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Mud. He was lying in mud, sucking his thumb. Realization sent a shock of adrenaline through Aaron's body, and he exploded out of the thick goo. They'd sent him back to NeverNever Land! He was gonna lose his thoughts, he was gonna be a mindless child, he was.... "Calm down, Aar-ron." Rhudi's voice broke through the wild panic, and he looked around. He was in mud all right. But the mud was in a large box, which was itself in the middle of the room he had been in before.
He plopped back down in the mud, almost fainting from relief. Then he looked at the goo in confusion. "What is this for?" The centaur grinned. "Turns out you need it, my little friend. I should have checked out your body type more thoroughly, but I just assumed you'd tell me if you got hungry or wanted anything. My fault, really. You couldn't be expected to know."
"Know what?" Aaron shifted uneasily. He felt fine, now. Whatever the strange weakness was had vanished. Rhudi cleared his throat, and shook his head. "What you told us about NeverNever Land was true, at least from your point of view. You said that they never ate or drank. And they didn't. Not in the way you thought they should. But all life forms have to have some sort of sustenance. I checked on the Class 3, and found out that the creatures there use photosynthesis to draw energy from sunlight, and absorb water and necessary elements through their skin." Photosynthesis? A little alarm went off in Aaron's head, and he stared down at himself. "But that means they are all..."
"Plants." Rhudi finished the sentence for him, and then snorted. "And I'm afraid that the same applies to you. You've been able to use the artificial light here, and draw plenty of moisture from the air. As a matter of fact, that's what caused your 'leakage.' This station has a higher humidity than the Class 3, and your body absorbed more water than it needed. So it eliminated it."
Aaron shook his head in disbelief. "But I'm human! I'm a boy!" he stared at his hands, his arms. "Besides, plants are green!" Rhudi laughed. "Come now, little one. After what you have seen in just the past few days, even you should know that the rules for your world don't always apply. Besides, even on Earth, there are many different colors for plants."
The centaur paused, and then sighed. "Might as well tell you everything. I'm afraid that you are not only NOT human, you are also not male. As far as all of our tests can determine, you are a sentient plant that is completely asexual. The simulated organ between your legs is only for elimination of excess water. And the rest of your internal structure is quite different from anything you might have had before."
Aaron plopped back down into the mud, seeing the truth while wanting desperately to deny it. "But I look like I did when I was a little kid. Everything feels normal, it all feels human!" Rhudi cocked his head. "Are you so sure? Every part of your body was changed. Perhaps your memories of what being human felt like was changed as well?"
Now that was a scary thought. Aaron concentrated hard, remembering his human form of just a few days ago. No, he was sure that sensations were the same. And if his memories had changed, he wouldn't be able to draw, would he? Or remember his past life. He shivered, remembering the empty eyes of the eternal children he'd almost joined. Maybe some things had changed, after all. And if they had, how could he tell?
He pushed the thoughts away, and picked up a handful of the dark brown glop. "Why this?" The centaur snorted. "That's what you were missing! That mud contains the nutrients that your body needs to live. You absorb them through your skin, especially through the soles of your feet." Rhudi grinned. "And part of the process involves a vacuum pressure you create when you suck your thumb!"
Aaron stared at the pink digit, which showed signs of recent use. "I'm a plant that looks and acts like a baby?" It was more statement than question, and the centaur simply nodded. "Apparently your subconscious desires chose early childhood as the preferred form. The portal simply took you to a place where the right appearance could be combined with the total lack of worry and need."
Rhudi patted his head. "Don't worry. You just need to start sleeping in the mud again. Hydroponics is setting up a better place for you, but this will do for now. And you should be ready to work tomorrow." He turned to leave. "I'll let Martha know you are OK. She was worried about you." Then he trotted out.
Aaron sighed and lay back in the gook. It did feel good. And the strange sensation of need had vanished. But his whole world had turned upside down again. The body that had seemed like a return to his own physical past was really something so alien he couldn't really comprehend it. Worse, the artwork he took such pride in was being perverted by these ... what? Monsters?
No. He closed his eyes, feeling frustrated and tired. Rhudi and Martha were not monsters, no matter what they looked like. They had shown care and concern, even if he was more a pet than an equal. Both truly believed in what they were doing. And he couldn't really say for sure that they were wrong. But as he drifted off to sleep, he was afraid that he would never again dream of yellow mountains.
- end -
Locking Paradise (3) copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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