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Going Topside (IC)

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Main Branch of the Freedom Public Library. Friday, May 6th, 2011. 8:03 pm

Jeena thought the sun was never going to go down; she wondered if she'd ever get used to that hot orb burning its way across the sky. Everything was so big and top-heavy on this world, she wanted to walk around with her hands over her head. She'd never felt confined living in the caverns, miles beneath the surface of her homeworld; she felt safe and warm, like a meeka rat curled up with its young.

Of course, back on Tektan even a moment of true safety was as passing as heat vapor; her and her brother learned to sleep wherever they could, in barracks, on hard floors, in a pile of trash. The resistance was always moving, rarely resting, like a hungry animal digging for food. Sleep itself was often a luxury, as were sometimes even food and water; it was amazing how much punishment the Tektani body could endure and still find the strength to fight.

But now here, on this strange new world all exploding with sights, colors and smells, the struggle seemed more than fifteen light years away; it seemed as if it had never even happened. Sitting at a computer terminal in the arts section after hours, the young alien continued researching this Earth where her and her sibling now dwelled; feeling slightly bored and lonely, she sent Zach a sending.

By the Shard, this world is strange; do you know there are at least five hundred kinds of cheese, if not over a thousand? Who needs that many kinds of cheese?

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A thousand? Zach sent back. He was busy hovering outside the library, watching for anyone that might have seen them enter. But that comment struck his curiosity, Shard's light, Sis, how many animals do you think they milk on this planet? We only had the Pigmoles and the Meekas...

Zachary floated through the walls of the museum to where his sister sat at the computers. Even as he willed his molecules to spread out and pass through the solid objects between him and his twin, he couldn't help but be distracted by the lofty ceilings of the structure, not to mention the grandiose designs. Back home, such a place would have been a throne room. But here, these expansive structures were everywhere.

"Gee, the humans sure love building things." Zachary said, out loud, as he passed through the last wall to the room where Jeena sat, "What do you think they use all this stuff for?" Even as he approached his sister, face aglow with the light of the computer's monitor, he was looking around at everything his eyes could take in, fascinated.

"Move over!" He teased, poking her as he crouched down next to her, "I wanna see the cheese!"

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"Gee, the humans sure love building things." Zachary said, out loud, as he passed through the last wall to the room where Jeena sat, "What do you think they use all this stuff for?"

At her brother's approach, Jeena self-consciously slammed shut an oversize book of Goya prints and shoved it over to the next terminal. "I have no idea, but they seem to love it; they leave it all over the place."

"Move over!" He teased, poking her as he crouched down next to her, "I wanna see the cheese!"

Somewhat annoyed, she pushed her brother back. "Hey, observe protocol! We're not supposed to be seen together, mostly because you're a moron and I'm deeply ashamed to be seen with you." Of course, she finally rolled her eyes and sidled over so he could look at the silly human cheeses on the Internet. "There, you see? Gorgonzola, mozzarella, parmesan, romano; the list goes on forever."

Looking at the image of a particularly large hunk of cheese, Jeena felt her stomach rumble; she laid a hand across her tummy and frowned.

"Ur...I think I just hit hungry time."

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"Oh right. I forgot. Sorry. I was just curious." Zach's eyes widened as he looked at the "List of Cheese" on whatever "Wikipedia" was. "Par-Muh-Zee-An. Weird."

"mostly because you're a moron and I'm deeply ashamed to be seen with you."

"Hey!" Zach feigned being hurt, "I'm older than you, you know. Show a little respect." He began their age old argument, but he was cut short.

"Ur...I think I just hit hungry time."

All of their supposed sibling rivalries aside, Jeena was his little sister. Even if he was only a few minutes older. That meant, it was his job to make sure she was okay. He smiled down at her as he stood back up. Changing into his least dense form, he floated just above the ground. It was easier for him to talk with sending when he was like this, so he let her know where he was going, Don't worry, Sis. I'll find us something to eat. I think we've still got some of that green paper left from when we bought these rags the humans wear. I'll go find something and bring it back for you. Knowing he could hear her response wherever he went, no matter how far away he was was comforting. It also resulted in him taking off rather rapidly. He passed through walls and ceilings and soon enough he was outside again.

Thankfully, the center of the city was somewhat crowded, even at night. That meant Zach was able to blend in easier, and it also meant it was easier to find food. It was only a few short minutes before Zach gave his sister another sending, I think I found something. Does the computer say anything about a ... 'Hot Dogs'? There are people eating them. So I guess they're edible. Veerlon* knows they don't look it. A few people are putting colorful goop on theirs. I wonder if some humans need to do that in order to digest certain foods? Zach looked at the few bills clutched in his hand, Anyway, these pieces of 'Hot Dogs' seem to be the right price. We're running low on money again. He sounded dejected. I don't want to have to sell another piece of Tekton just to afford eating. Maybe I can find an animal to milk instead?


*Veerlon is one of the earliest known philosophers of the Tektani and the first Prophet to promote worship of The Shard

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Don't worry, Sis. I'll find us something to eat. I think we've still got some of that green paper left from when we bought these rags the humans wear. I'll go find something and bring it back for you.

Jeena smiled and playfully passed a hand through her incorporeal sibling. Thanks, big brother; you always look out for me. Then she turned back to the computer screen and started another search; however, once Zach was out of the computer lab again, she quickly pulled out the Goya book and began flipping through the pages again, her pale blue eyes entranced by the lurid paintings.

I can't stop looking at these; this man makes such beautiful painting of horrible things. He records the horror, for others to see...

I think I found something. Does the computer say anything about a ... 'Hot Dogs'? There are people eating them. So I guess they're edible. Veerlon knows they don't look it. A few people are putting colorful goop on theirs. I wonder if some humans need to do that in order to digest certain foods? Zach looked at the few bills clutched in his hand, Anyway, these pieces of 'Hot Dogs' seem to be the right price. We're running low on money again. He sounded dejected. I don't want to have to sell another piece of Tekton just to afford eating. Maybe I can find an animal to milk instead?

Torn back to the computer by her brother's voice in her head, she hastily typed in a fresh search. 'Hot dogs'? Let me see..okay, wow; it's basically a meat tube on a little split loaf of bread, but humans put all kinds of stuff on them, depending on where they live. Ooh, you can get them with cheese on top! See if they let you do that; I want mine with Gorgonzolla!

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Okay, cheese it is! Zach sent back. It only took a few moments for the next sending to come across their mental link, Good news and bad, Sis. I got cheese, but it's not Gore-gun-zo-luh. The man only had American, which I suppose is appropriate, but I really wonder how they get away with only serving cheeses named after their countries. Are there really that many countries in this world?

He paused, and Jeena could tell he was in awe at the absurdity of it all, I'm pretty sure the big man nearly tried to eat me when I asked for the 'special cheese' he called it. He was so angry! And he charged me extra for the American, but your worth it, Sis. I'm on my way back now.

A few moments later, Zachary passed through the walls of the library once more. Emerging through the same wall as he did before, he offered one of the hot dogs to his sister. It had melted cheese across the top of it, his was covered in green chunks. With a goofy smile he told her, "I relished having relish on mine. This 'English' is darn confusing sometimes. Humans use the same words for many different meanings. Tunnel Talk is so much easier. Everything means one thing, and we call cheese, 'cheese'." He lifted his hot dog out of the paper wrapper in which it sat, "The people outside weren't eating this part. I think it's meant to be trash. Seems like a waste," He shrugged, "Enjoy, Sis!"

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I'm pretty sure the big man nearly tried to eat me when I asked for the 'special cheese' he called it. He was so angry! And he charged me extra for the American, but your worth it, Sis. I'm on my way back now.

Jeena was sad Zach couldn't get the Gorgonzolla, but she mainly wanted it because she loved the sound of the name; maybe she could get it another time and found out if it tasted as good as it sounded. She took a few last admiring looks at her picture book and then tucked it away on a shelf before her brother came back.

"I relished having relish on mine. This 'English' is darn confusing sometimes. Humans use the same words for many different meanings. Tunnel Talk is so much easier. Everything means one thing, and we call cheese, 'cheese'." He lifted his hot dog out of the paper wrapper in which it sat, "The people outside weren't eating this part. I think it's meant to be trash. Seems like a waste," He shrugged, "Enjoy, Sis!"

The pale Tektani girl eagerly accepted the delicious-smelling item, and even held it under her nose for a few seconds. "Mmm, thanks Zach! This is going to be awesome!" She took a huge hungry bite and instantly learned the hard way about hot molten cheese. Her anguished mental voice cried in his head as she howled in pain.

My mouth is on fire! Don't eat the cheese, the cheese is a trap!

Jeena dropped her cheese dog on her seat and ran to the nearest water fountain, slurping down the ice cold water; after several seconds of soothing cool, she paused to wipe her mouth on her sleeve and then pointed at Zach with a trembling hand.

"They must have been able to tell you're from offworld! And that so-called 'relish' is probably poisonous!"

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Poison?! Zach thought to his sister. His teeth were already sinking into the end of the hot dog. His eyes shot open in a mixture of surprise and fear. Hot! Hot! Mouth on fire!

"Wai' uh sheckund..." Zach talked with his mouth wide open, trying to ventilate the food before attempting another sending, Mine's hot too. How would he have known I'm not from earth? We're dressed correctly, aren't we? Zach looked down at his clothing. He had a pair of flat top shoes on, dark navy blue jeans, and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up left open at the collar and covered with a black pinstriped vest. It was a decidedly 'Hot Topic' look, but it was nothing compared the chains and and other charms another man wore when buying hot dogs. Can't be the hair. One girl outside had purple! And I thought humans couldn't grow purple hair. Maybe she's an alien from somewhere else. Maybe Humans can recognize us. Maybe the Hot Dog vendor is an alien hater! He heated the meat up in that vat of hot water just to hurt us! Zach's sending sounded slightly wounded. He couldn't believe that the man would want to cause an alien pain through such underhanded means. Suddenly, his eyes looked downward at his open mouth. Partially chewed hot dog and pickle relish were still piled atop his tongue. Jeena? What do I do?!

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Jeena? What do I do?!

The young Tektani girl swallowed experimentally a few times, and then her cheeks actually showed a tiny hint of color. "I...might have overreacted a bit; I think that cheese was just really hot. And that's really gross, by the way." She marched back to her seat and gingerly picked up her cheese dog and gave it a good sniff. "Yeah, sorry, false alarm! But seriously, they should put warning labels on these things, right? If your going to cover a food item in molten lava, there should be a bright red sticker that says 'Danger!' or something like that." She took a much more careful bite and chewed it thoroughly. "Mmm, okay, much better now! Though the roof of my mouth is still all blistered."

Cradling her cheesy treat, Jeena sat back in her chair and sighed. "How long can we keep this up, Zach? Hiding out, studying their culture and being injured by their food?" She took in the library with a wave of her hand. "We have no idea how long we'll be stuck here, but maybe one of those 'superheroes' can help us get back, or at least find out how the war is going."

Rising up from her chair, she sauntered over to her brother's side and put her arm around his back. "Back home, we were always part of a team; I don't think we can do this by ourselves." She indicated the outside world with a jut of her chin. "We need allies out there."

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The young Tektani girl swallowed experimentally a few times, and then her cheeks actually showed a tiny hint of color. "I...might have overreacted a bit; I think that cheese was just really hot. And that's really gross, by the way." She marched back to her seat and gingerly picked up her cheese dog and gave it a good sniff. "Yeah, sorry, false alarm! But seriously, they should put warning labels on these things, right? If your going to cover a food item in molten lava, there should be a bright red sticker that says 'Danger!' or something like that." She took a much more careful bite and chewed it thoroughly. "Mmm, okay, much better now! Though the roof of my mouth is still all blistered."

'Fraidey-Cascat' Zach teased his sister via sending before swallowing the half chewed food in his mouth, "Mmm! Salty!"

In short order Zach had devoured the entire hot dog. Years of stone rations in the caves fighting in the resistance army taught him that he'd never really have time for a meal. If he had a spare second he'd have to eat fast. He'd never know when they'd be on the move again. Though he couldn't really savor the strange human meat tube, he did enjoy it. He must have been as hungry as his sister, but just hadn't noticed it.

Rising up from her chair, she sauntered over to her brother's side and put her arm around his back. "Back home, we were always part of a team; I don't think we can do this by ourselves." She indicated the outside world with a jut of her chin. "We need allies out there."

Zach lovingly touched his forehead against his younger sister's. She was only a few inches shorter than him, but it was enough. The connection they shared ran deeper than blood, deeper than feelings, deeper than thoughts; He still always enjoyed his sister's hugs. "Jeena," He sounded sad, "I want to go home. I want that more than anything. But these humans... They're... different, alien. What if that hot dog vendor had known what I was. Are you really sure that he wouldn't poison our food? You know as well as I do what aliens are capable of. Look at what they did to our world. If they even knew we were here, well, what do you think the first thing those heroes would do? You've read the articles. The Terminus invasion? The Grue? These humans are used to seeing aliens. Hostile aliens. Worse still, they're used to obliterating them with tanks and bombs and guns and sending them back to where the came from." Zachary raised his head and regarded his younger sister. After searching her face and glancing from eye to eye he fixed her with a steely gaze. She was the smart one, but he was the sensible one of the two. He didn't like what he was about to say, but he was so sure that he was right about it, "Jeena, we have to do this by ourselves. We don't have a choice. We can sneak in here every night, and read all we want about these aliens, but we'll never really know who they are. We'll never be able to trust them. Not like we trust each other."

He pressed his head against hers again. Looking into her eyes he gave her a sending. Look at me, Sis. The only ones we can trust - the only thing we've got - is each other.

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Look at me, Sis. The only ones we can trust - the only thing we've got - is each other.

Tears began to well up in Jeena's eyes as she shook her head. We can't do this alone, Zach, even if we don't trust anybody. She broke away from his embrace and pointed skyward. "In order to get back home, we'd have to what, recreate the Fold? A feat accomplished by the greatest scientists and engineers of Tektan working around the clock for years; we're smart, Zach, we're really smart, but we're not that smart."

She returned to his side and grabbed both his hands. "I know the humans haven't always been kind to aliens, but to be honest, I think we could pass for human; weird-looking humans, yes, but there are plenty of those around." She began to count off on her fingers. "Donald Trump. Joan Rivers. Cher? They don't even look remotely human!" She held up a hand. "And yes, I know they're all rich and we're not, but I'm still sticking with my point."

She sighed and shook her head. "We can just say we're albinos or mutants or...I don't know, Dutch; anything that sounds reasonable." Then she cocked a silvery eyebrow mischievously. "Plus let's face it, between Mom, Dad, and the genework they did on us at the academy, we don't look too bad, even by their ridiculous standards. And if there's one thing I've learned form all my hours logged into the Internet, it's these humans are as shallow as an evaporation pool. They will like us."

Jeena grabbed his hands again and took a step backwards, holding him at arm's length, a pleading smile on her face. "So what do you say, big brother; hot Dutch albinos?" She indicated the computer with a nod. "I'm sure there's a website for that."

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Dutch, huh? Zach let his sister pull away, and he smiled at her. "You know, that could work. You always were the smart one." He gave his sister a playful push.

Jeena grabbed his hands again and took a step backwards, holding him at arm's length, a pleading smile on her face. "So what do you say, big brother; hot Dutch albinos?" She indicated the computer with a nod. "I'm sure there's a website for that."

"And if there's one thing I've learned, there is a website for everything on this planet." Zachary sat in front of the computer his sister had been using. He only gave the art book in front of the keyboard a passing glance before he pushed it to the side so his hands could rest in front of the keyboard. "The Terranet back home really has nothing on this internet they've got here. 'Hot Dutch Albinos', here we go. Let's see what we're supposed to look like." He narrated as he typed on the keyboard.

"Woah!" :shock:

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"The Terranet back home really has nothing on this internet they've got here. 'Hot Dutch Albinos', here we go. Let's see what we're supposed to look like." He narrated as he typed on the keyboard.

"Woah!" :shock:

Jeena looked mildly alarmed as she rushed to stop her brother. "Hey! I was just joking when I said-" Suddenly she stopped and cocked her head to one side. "I don't even think that's possible..." Then she vigorously rubbed her face. "Gah! Make the bad pictures go away, Elder Garillon!" She hit the power button on the monitor, grabbed Zach's arm and dragged him and his chair away from the computer.

"We don't have time for disturbing human websites! We need to study up on the Dutchians, and then figure out who to talk to on the surface. Maybe the Freedom League?"

In a flash, Jeena froze; there was a soft chime in the distance as an elevator door opened on the floor. Due to their native darkvision, the twins needed no light to read by, but their audible discussion had become rather animated.

Meeka piss, we've made too much noise; the human security personnel are coming! Quick, turn off your computer!

The Tektani girl instinctively began to shrink, rapidly growing smaller and smaller until she was no more than an inch high on the carpet.

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"Gah! Make the bad pictures go away, Elder Garillon!" She hit the power button on the monitor, grabbed Zach's arm and dragged him and his chair away from the computer.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Her brother replied, equally astonished and horrified, "I didn't know that was going to be the first website in the list! How was I supposed to know what order 'The Google' would put them in?"

Meeka piss, we've made too much noise; the human security personnel are coming! Quick, turn off your computer!

On it! Her brother leaped into action. Rather than fiddling with the screen, keyboard, or mouse, he grabbed hold of the power cord in the back of the computer and gave it a tug. The lights on the computer dimmed rapidly and the fans spun to a quick stop.

Zachary ran to where his sister had shrunk herself, and willed the molecules in his body to expand their molecular bonds. He quickly became less and less dense. Only able to control his movement with his mind in this form due to the lack of friction created from his failure to actually make any contact worth speaking of with physical objects, he willed himself to begin sinking through the floor.

He cupped his miniature sister in his hand, and performed the same transformation on her. Cradling her miniature form, he allowed the two of them to pass through the floor, below the street, and into the sewers that ran below the streets of Freedom City.

Once he set down on a small metal platform near an exhaust pipe, he set his sister to the floor, and returned them both to their natural density. "That was close." He sighed, "All this running and staying out of sight really is getting old fast, as the Earthlings say. I think the Freedom League may be a good place to start, however I don't think we have enough information about dutch people yet. We'll need at least one more chance to go topside before we're ready to move on, I think." He eyed his miniature sibling, expecting a sending with her opinion at any moment.

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"That was close." He sighed, "All this running and staying out of sight really is getting old fast, as the Earthlings say. I think the Freedom League may be a good place to start, however I don't think we have enough information about dutch people yet. We'll need at least one more chance to go topside before we're ready to move on, I think." He eyed his miniature sibling, expecting a sending with her opinion at any moment.

Jeena returned to her normal size, hands on her knees as she took deep breaths. "I know, we can't keep doing this." She peered upwards, towards the surface world. "One more trip should do it; we learn all we can, come up with our cover story and stick to it." She shrugged. "I don't think we'll have to make it too elaborate; at least in this country, it looks like everyone wants to talk about themselves." Grinning at her own little joke, she took a seat on the dirty floor and sighed. "Soon this will all seem like a bad dream; we'll get back home, you'll see..."

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