5: Bloodshow: Plasmodium Summit
Above the apex of the Plasmodium, a rough peak surrounded by tanglewire, she finally shook him loose. Edwin fell into a pile of fungal goo at the base of Leppor's Lookout Stalk, a simple red spike shaped like a crowbar. Thousands of these smelly pits pocked the summit like sores.
The woman loomed overhead, looking annoyed. Edwin looked around for help, but he was alone. The nubs trailed behind, far below.
The woman extended her free hand. Another finger-weapon? Edwin hunkered down in the goo.
But she only checked a readout on her wrist. "You all right?" she asked.
Edwin rose, filthy but unhurt. "Give back that Reality! It's not yours!"
"Sorry, no. Orders." Floating there with her index finger up, she looked righteous. Her blond hair shone against the crimson sky. "How'd that pressor get torched? I didn't see it. Not good."
"I, uhh --" No point in confessing that he himself had blown up the pressor. "Why 'not good'? What will happen?"
"You can't produce more Reality, that's what. The Null will move in and zero out Bloodshow." She whirled in the air, scoping out the landscape. "I've heard worse ideas. What a sump."
Edwin knew she had a point. Steaming hills, piles of ruddfruit brush, swarming formations of spywasps -- clean up the place, and all you'd have is a dressed-up sump. Brainwashed mobs had chased him and Elinor -- Elinor died, because of him -- really, why not wipe the whole show?
But he remembered Skeet and Willa. They never, ever gave up. And what did Elinor say? If you improve the world….
"No!" Edwin cried. "Think of all the people who live here. We have to fix the pressor!"
Her tone, for once, was kind. "Don't worry, we'll rescue your people. But the pressor's not my call. I'll try to requisition an emergency replacement from senior staff. Meanwhile, this is the center of this krome, so it'll go last. Stay in place. I expect everyone will retreat here. If we can't slot in a new pressor soon, we'll evacuate from the summit."
"'Senior staff'? Who are you, anyway? Where did you come from?"
Her finger chirped and spoke. "Meep meep. Charge low."
As she looked up at the rotor, her high collar slipped, exposing a shiny corner of the strange box at her throat. "Great. You've run down my batteries. Gotta hit home." With her unrotored hand she flipped open her gold belt buckle and thumbed a button.
The air went cold and still. Above the Lookout Stalk, the sky rippled. (Here's what it looked like: In a clear pool, float just beneath the surface. When something drops from overhead, look up. Circles expanding.)
A ring of sky turned liquid. It flowed down in gentle arcs, trailing streams of color. Edwin watched, hypnotized by the first true beauty he'd ever seen.
A rainbow spectrum enveloped the woman, bright crimson at boot level, orange around her sheathe-like leggings, yellow at thin hips. Her clinging doublet shone emerald, while bands of blue and indigo light flickered across her shoulder epaulets. In a halo of violet, her short hair blew back as if in a high wind.
She looked down and waved, a quick sharp motion of confidence. She said, "Now you stay here!" Then she seemed to recede in the distance, smaller and smaller. The violet light reached down, all the while deepening in color. Now Edwin could hardly see the woman, and the deep purple light grew dim.
Fading, fading -- there! In a finger-snap instant he glimpsed another color. Beautiful, hypnotic, it brought forth no name in his mind.
He had no time to wonder, for it flashed and vanished with a clap of thunder. The woman was gone. The air, like his heart, stood still.
As the spots faded from his eyes, Edwin whispered aloud, "That wasn't just 'up into the sky.' That was somewhere else." He felt a weird mix of suspicion and fear and longing.
The nubs floated up, whining. "Missed her!"-- "We're stuck in this flea-trap krome!"-- "I wanna go home!"
Edwin was still thinking about the woman. That box under her collar -- was she some kind of machine? He shook his head. "Huh?"
"Close your mouth, boy, a bug will fly in." -- "Did she say she'd come back?"-- "What about the Reality pressor?"-- "Does Leppor know you're here?"
Edwin waved his hands. "One at a time!" But the mention of Leppor brought him wide awake. If Leppor returned after his mysterious vanishing act, here Edwin would be, lounging at the base of the ruler's own observation post.
Edwin looked around. "Listen."
The nubs went silent. Their dot eyes darted warily. The green one understood first: "It's gone quiet. I don't hear buzzing."
Here atop the Plasmodium, a city-sized pile of millions of Verminax, there should have been a constant thrum of nestors. They would beat their wings at the neon-crusted entryways to drive hot air from the giant incubation chambers. But there was silence. Out in the ruddfruit fields, no planners screeched their commands, and no spywasps flew patrol. The trundlers wandered loose. Incredibly, they seemed even stupider than usual. Not even a flickfly buzzed the summit.
He's really gone, Edwin thought. But where?
In the hot humid air, he suddenly shivered. The Null boundary was closing in. He knew it, though memory never told that the Null had moved. And it was all his fault!
Could Leppor stop it? Edwin had no idea. Leppor commanded Bloodshow's Reality, but perhaps even he would be helpless without a pressor.
And now, with Leppor gone, the Null would certainly consume the Ambit very soon. Edwin would forget that it had ever existed; he would probably forget the word "Ambit"; if his Aunt Elinor's body still stood there, he would forget her too. And after that….
Edwin fought terror, and a guilt that burned like acid. "Once the Ambit goes, we'll forget about the broken pressor. Then the Null will take everything, and we'll all vanish. Where can we get another pressor, quick?"
"I think we have them in Zur," the blue nub said eagerly. "That's my home. Get me back there, and we'll talk."
"Hem-hem-hem!" The big indigo nub floated forward and tried to clear his nonexistent throat. "Pressors are common in Indic, where I come from. If you have some means of interkromal travel --"
"Travel from this krome up to the higher kromes. Great Reality, boy, haven't people in this one-color trash heap even heard of other kromes?"
The green nub spoke kindly. "The kromes are parallel realities, other dimensions -- umm, places -- like this one," she said. "They lie atop one another, touching but invisible to each other, like pages stacked in a book."
She continued hastily, "-- Or, if you don't have books, then like, like --"
"Like things that are stacked up," the blue interrupted. "We come from the other kromes. Not that we're mentioning this as an inducement to take us back."
The yellow nub said, "Although if you'll do that, I could try to guide you around my krome. Not that I'm real great at it or anything."
The little orange one sounded like a child. "I don't wanna be a bubble. Fix me!"
"There, there, dear," said the green. "We'll change back if we can get home."
"Somewhere else," Edwin whispered. His strangest ideas were true. Other universes! He remembered Elinor's suspicions: "We came from somewhere else."
Leppor and the mysterious woman must have gone to some other krome, or kromes. Different places, probably better -- he knew they couldn't get much worse. His fear gave way to excitement and an urge to explore. "I could try to take you home and get a pressor. But that woman said to stay here, and she'd rescue us."
The indigo harrumphed. "I recommend against trusting the woman."
"At this time I will not explain my reasons. I only say that I doubt she will return. In any case, you can take us upward under your own power."
"I can?" Edwin could have asked more about the indigo's strange certainty. On the other hand, the nub was saying exactly what he wanted to hear. "Let's go!"
The indigo bob-nodded approval. "To save this place, you need the pressor to make more Reality, and the realizer to shape it. You're halfway there already -- you've got the realizer, assuming Leppor doesn't hunt you down and take it back."
"No one's taking it back!" Edwin surprised himself with his desire to keep the realizer. But he pushed on: "I should find that woman. She sounded like she knew where to get a pressor." At least, that sounded right. Maybe.
He had to try. If he didn't, Bloodshow and everyone in it might vanish into the Null. Because of his own impulsive act.
"All right," he said. "How do we get to these other kromes?"
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