The next morning, Bob awoke early and reviewed Ally's schematics. He had
decided to see if he could remove the Thingelli interpretation lock. As he
pored over the drawings, Ally interrupted his thoughts.
"IA Treaty III prohibits the modification of mnibit hardware by the consumer, Boss. If you continue, I'll have to report you to the IA peace-keeping force."
"Ally, is Earth a member of the IA?"
"I'm from Earth. I'm not a member of the IA, therefore, I'm not bound by its treaties."
After a few moments of silence, Bob reached out mentally, "Ally?"
"Are you still planning to report me to the authorities?"
"No, I think not."
Satisfied, Bob continued studying. Once he sufficiently understood the underlying hardware, he removed the mnibit from his head and carefully pried off the top layer of material utilizing the pressure points Ally had shown him. The exposed electronics were incredibly delicate. Wishing he had a magnifying glass, he traced the fine lines to the location of the interlock. Using the tools he had purchased, he meticulously scratched away a portion of one of the traces.
Placing the mnibit on his head, he called, "Ally?"
"How do you feel?"
"I don't feel at all, Boss."
"Are you fully functional?"
"Please wait. ... Yes"
Bob replaced the cover on the mnibit and went to find Teetok's room. Together, the two walked down the street to a small cafe serving breakfast. As they entered, the earthman noticed a Cholgathian seated at one of the tables, peering into a large book. Passing by the zookeeper, Bob glanced at the open tome. There on the page, a small animal gamboled in a grassy pasture. The creature moved about, as if it were an animation on a viewscreen, but the page seemed to have depth, and the scene appeared to be at a distance.
Fascinated, Bob watched surreptitiously as the Cholgathian turned the page, revealing a mountainscape. A large raptor flew across the page, wings spread dark across a vivid blue sky. The bird circled slowly, climbing in a lazy spiral.
"Let's sit on the patio."
Teetok's statement brought the earthman's attention back to the cafe.
"Sounds good," he responded.
They chose a table just outside the door and ordered, Bob guessing at the contents of the items on the menu. When the food arrived, he wasn't unhappy with the spicy sausage sort of omelet they brought him.
"I think I'll ride the train with you to Barteen tomorrow," Teetok announced.
"I'd like that," Bob replied. "Have you seen everything you wanted to see here?"
"Actually, there is a cathedral I wanted to visit. I'll do that today. Would you like to join me?"
"Yes, I would."
After eating, the pair found a bus to the cathedral and spent the rest of the day sightseeing. The next day, they left the hostel and teleported to the train station where they waited for the train to Barteen. When it arrived, they boarded and arranged for a sleeping compartment. A few hours later, they were on their way.
Entering the observation car, Bob reflected on the name. He had never seen a window in any of the trains he had ridden so far. In place of windows, the current "observation" car had flat video screens with controls that allowed passengers to select various landscape views. He was alone in the coach, and every screen in the car was currently depicting a different world flashing by at train speed. He walked down the aisle, turning off all of the screens except the one in the middle. Seating himself before it, he chose a desert landscape and settled into the chair, trying to relax.
Sometime later, a Cholgathian entered the coach and started down the aisle. Approaching Bob, the zookeeper removed the book from under his arm and opened it. Bob turned to look at him and the Cholgathian shouted a single word. The earthman felt a sharp tug. The Cholgathian repeated the word and Bob suddenly found himself pulled from the chair, hurtling through the air. As he flew toward the book, it seemed to grow, filling the space before him. Bob covered his head with his arms as he struck the empty page and passed through it. The white paper turned to blackness as he continued to fly forward. After a few moments, he tumbled to the ground and rolled to a stop.
He lay unhurt on a grassy surface. It was night. Stars shone in the sky above.
"Ally?" he asked. "Where am I?"
There was no response.
Copyright (C) 2017 Winslow Williams. All rights reserved.