21.1 - I Hear the Bugs Echoing Tonight [Joe’s Tale]

So Hellbinder was all practically pushing us out the door, and saying we needed to take Tahi and Gothwitch with us, cause they were either targets or in trouble or both. Arizella offered us a place to hide out – I think – but we’re all “Hey, Africa road trip,” only with more urgency to get moving and less chance of beaches and parties on the other end.


Everyone grabbing stuff to take, and I realize there’s not much for me to grab, except a few extra pairs of pants, because nobody really wants to see me running around butt-ass naked, y’know? Oh, and I grab my band.

Your --?

The plastic band the Quill medical guys put on me after I was recovered. They actually had to connect two of them together to go round my wrist. I kept 'em though, after. Not really a souvenir, but … well, I grabbed 'em. Good luck charms, maybe. It doesn’t make a lotta sense, I know –

Those sorts of things rarely do. What matters is what sense they make to your feelings.

I guess. Anyway, I stuffed it in a pocket and headed to the Excelsior. Then we had to explain to Gothwitch where we were going and why, and she started getting into my face over me being me and comparing it to when she becomes Amethyst Fairy and she’s still her, which doesn’t match up because she gets to change back and I’m – well, I don’t.


So we’re off to Africa, though it’s kinda complicated what we’re doing there, especially since we don’t quite know what we’re doing, y’know? I mean, we’re there to try and stop whatever happens in history to make Mette’s future, and that’s around where her ship took off from, but we’re also there to try and stop Fluvis and that’s where the Kiln temple comes in, which is also maybe where I got dubbed over into this giant gorilla body, so we’re also there to fix that, maybe.

It sounds complicated.

It sounds crazy and kinda improbable. But, I mean, here I am in a giant gorilla body, and I’d call that complicated and crazy and improbable, too, so who am I to talk? Anyway, we stealth outta Halcyon, then take off into low sub-orbit Africa. And everyone’s busy looking out the windows and going ooh and aah, except Gothwitch, who’s catching a nap, and me.

Why not you.

I’m – well, part is because I really don’t like the weightlessness. Not quite lose my lunch time, but it still feels a little queasy. I mean, you’d think someone who jumps around so much would be used to the hang time, but … well, it kinda put me off. I was also … kinda in my head.

What about?


It’s like this. All this time, I’m feeling trapped in this body, right? Now I’ve learned, I am this body. There’s no old me, new me kind of thing. Who knows what else I’m gonna find out?


But it’s more than that. I haven’t known any of the answers to the shit-ton, excuse me, of question I had about this – who and why and can they fix it and what it all means. I mean, I know Dr Quill’s been looking into stuff, but it just all was kinda hanging there, balanced. I had question, I had no answers, and I hated that, but I got used to it, y’know?

And now, going to Africa –

– I know I’m gonna get some answers. That balance is off, and the whole thing’s falling down, and now I have to be scared of it, because it’s falling on me and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Isn’t it better to know, to face those fears?

Sounds good on paper, ma’am. Not so good when you see that light at the end of the tunnel and you don’t know if it’s the sky or an oncoming train, but you’re gonna find out reall soon.


So anyway, between this and that, and Tahi trying to map what she knows about the temple location there to Alex’s actual maps, we land nearby, and get out. Well, after Alex sends out his drones. I – well, I kinda hang back getting out, which is kinda stupid because, y’know, it’s not like I’m gonna stay on the ship. I just – I knew if I stepped out that door, it would make it all real, whatever was coming.

Sounds hard.

It was. Mette locked everything down, stepped out, waited for me. So, like, I had to go. And it – yeah, it all felt familiar, like I’d been there before, or close enough. The same area as where my folks – where we were, before the guys in the khakis and guns and everything.

How did you feel?

Like all that fear from that day washed back over me. Which is, like, I dunno, 'cause if those guys showed up now, I could just take them apart, y’know? And I would. But it wasn’t about them, it was about just fear in general, and this place looked and felt and smelled the same, and then Mette touched my arm, just gentle pat, and I almost jumped out of my skin, and she was just looking at me with that serious smile she gets. And I tried explaining it to her – how much I hated all this, and not being sure what we were going to find, bue I never knew what might be found, just that now I knew I was going to find something.


And she’s, “We’re all in this together. We don’t know the answers.” And I’m like, I don’t even know the answers. And she gives me that smile again, and I – I’m still scared, but I feel like, maybe, I can handle what comes up.

Being together is a force-multiplier, as they say in the Army.

And everyone else is kind of chatting with each other, a little nervous, too. And Alex is reporting on what they’re seeing through the drones – yeah, temple stuff up ahead, but also signs of like a battle had happened, not new, but not too long ago, and then there’s like interference with the drones, and then Alex, like, yells and grabs his head. And that point, start hearing this sound, like cicadas buzzing only more, and then there’s like bugs, Doc, zillions of 'em, charing toward us, and some are small, and some are like dog-sized, some even bigger, and Alex is staggering around, and Roddy’s yelling something, and everyone’s getting ready …

And you?

Well, me, I let out a roar, and jump to the front. Because now I have something I can hit …