TUNE - Chapter 3

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CHAPTER 3

         "Okay, look!" Andy blurted. "I really appreciate the offer, but--"

         He jumped as his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He fumbled it out and saw his mom's name on the caller ID. A surprising wave of relief washed over him from this palpable connection to the only reality he had known until ten minutes ago. Andy never thought he would be so thrilled to see a call coming in from his mom.

         He held up a hand at the two aliens. "Sorry, but I have to take this."

         As he spun around for some privacy, he heard the two Praxians bickering in hushed tones.

         "How could you throw in child support?" D86 growled.

         "It worked, didn't it?" B101 replied defensively.

         "It's probably coming out of our paycheck!"

         Andy huddled into a corner hissed into the phone. "Mom!"

         "You find job?" his mom answered, each word striking at him like a cobra.

         "Mom! Help me! There's no time to explain. You have to come pick me up right now!"

         "Ahdir, what's wrong?" 'Ahdir' is the Korean word for 'son.'

         "I told you there's no time for--"

         "You get job?"

         Andy groaned and exhaled into the phone. He took a deep breath and unleashed his words like machine gun fire before his mom could cut him off like she always did. "Aliens from another dimension! Forcing me to take job in zoo! Want to lock me up in cage like animal!"

         "It include twenty-five percent overtime?"

         "Uh... I think so."

         "Take a da job!"

         "Mom, did you hear anything I just said? They're not human!"

         "Don't forget, demand dental and medical coverage!"

         "Actually, that's in the basic contract..."

         "You sign contract or no come home!"

         "But Mom, they want to dehumanize me and strip me of my dignity!"

         "What you expect? You apply for job."

         "Mom, for once in your life, can you actually listen to what I'm saying? I--"

         "Ahdir, job like this only appear once in lifetime!"

         "A job like this shouldn't appear at all!"

         "You take job and come home quick. I make big dinner! We celebrate tonight!"

         "Mom, please don't--"

         Click.

         As Andy stood speechless with a silent phone on his ear, he had one thought: Please let me be adopted.

         The contract slid into view on the desk. Andy looked up and saw B101's beaming mug -- meaning only her eyes and mouth, of course -- floating in her helmet. They were back in the office.

         "Ready to sign now, Andy Go?" she asked.

         With a trembling hand, Andy picked up the pen and drew it toward the paper. Then at the last moment, he tossed it aside and pushed himself away from the desk. The chair screeched beneath him.

         "This is crazy!" he wailed, pulling on his hair. "This can't be happening... This has got to be a dream!" He slapped himself furiously. "Wake up! Wake up!"

         D86 and B101 looked at each other and shrugged. Then D86 strode over to Andy, raised a hand the size of a whale fin and delivered a colossal clap across the entire left side of the young artist's face. Once in third grade, Andy had tumbled into a pothole while peddling as fast as he could on his bicycle to impress a girl. He flew headlong over the handlebars and greeted the pavement with his face. The girl's unbridled cackle as she loomed over him and pointed tauntingly still rang in his ears. That incident had felt like a kiss on the French Riviera next to the thunderclap D86 had just unloaded on him. It took Andy a few dizzying seconds just to catch his breath.

         "What the hell did you do that for?" Andy sputtered.

         D86 shrugged. "I was just trying to help you slap yourself. Was my hand real enough for you?"

         "These humans are a crack-up," B101 giggled. "We definitely need to add them to the zoo!"

         "Jesus Christ," Andy wheezed, holding his stinging face. "I think you dislodged my fillings..."

         "Are you going to sign or not?" D86 grunted. "We ain't got all day, kid."

         "Wait! Let me think for a second, okay? And don't hit me again!"

         And think he did. Andy leaned against a wall and slid down to the floor. He dropped his head into his chest, and for the first time, really considered what was on the table. He took a big breath. The first step had to be acceptance. He had to accept what was transpiring, no matter how unbelievable it seemed, if he was to proceed to his options. So dream or not, he went all in. These guys were aliens from another dimension and they wanted him to be an exhibit in their zoo. Once Andy got over the absurdity of that, he had to wonder if this job was really that bad, as loony as that sounded. Since he hardly left the house as it was, would it really be that drastic of a change from his current lifestyle? Other than getting paid for what he was doing already, probably not. He certainly had worse jobs. And his parents certainly seemed gung ho about the idea. Of course they'd probably be happy if he was dealing in human trafficking as long as he had a job.

         A bitter chuckle bubbled out of Andy's throat. These aliens wanted to whisk him away to another dimension, and here he was pondering whether or not this job measured up to his time peddling burritos at Taco Bell.

         That's when it hit him. When it really hit him. If this was actually happening, he would be traveling to another dimension. A parallel universe! Andy thought hard about that for a second and all that it meant. Hadn't he spent his entire adolescence fantasizing about something like this happening to him? All those years in high school spent hiding out in his room for days with nothing but a mountain of Piers Anthony novels and season DVDs of Star Trek for company? This was every nerd's dream come true. This was every theoretical physicists' dream come true! He bet Michio Kaku would give his left nut to trade places with him.

         The discovery of parallel worlds would be his! He would be the first human being to make an interdimensional trip. He would be the Neil Armstrong of his generation! Fame and fortune was just around the corner!

         Suddenly Andy was swept up in his overactive imagination. He saw himself on the cover of TIME -- a tortured self-portrait he had produced with soy sauce and urine during his harrowing time in the alien zoo. With the words "The Interdimensional Kid" dramatically stamped over the painting. Then he saw himself waving out of a topless limo, in the thick of a ticker-tape parade thrown in his honor upon his triumphant return from Praxis. Next he was in the White House press room having a medal put around his neck by a beaming President Obama. Barack held out a fist and said, "Pound it, dawg." Then Andy saw himself on the set of a late night talk show, trading quips with Conan O'Brien. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog poked his head into view and hurled his trademark insults at him. But Andy effortlessly countered each one and even Triumph was forced to cower under his towering wit. The audience was beside themselves with uproarious laughter. Next, Andy envisioned his autobiography, I Am A Man, #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List. And gracing the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle was an article recounting the untold millions he had made in book sales and his endorsement deal with Nike. Not to mention his acceptance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his #1 hit single, "Filthy Ape."

         It all culminated in a retrospective of his artwork in a grand museum erected in his honor. Every piece of artwork he had ever produced, from his childhood turtle and pirate submission to his Blue Period in his late eighties graced its hallowed walls. Every day, the halls were stuffed with droves of fans desperately hoping to get a glimpse of his childhood drawing desk, now permanently encased in Lucite. Amongst the crowd lingered every editor and art director who had rejected him, weeping that they had missed the chance to work with the great Andy Go. If they were ever lucky enough to catch Andy at the museum, they would drop to their knees and beg him to work for them to which Andy would respond, "Who are you?"

         But even these extravagant flights of fancy withered in the wake of a much more fervent daydream. Upon Andy's triumphant return home, he envisioned Yumi running toward him in a summer dress flowing behind her like milk. She glided over a pristine beach awash in sparkles from the "magic hour" sun. A gentle breeze sent flower petals fluttering through the air as she leapt into Andy's arms.

         "Andy," she breathed, "I saw you on Conan O'Brien last night! Is it true?"

         "Yes," he whispered, gently stroking her cheek. "It's true. I am an American hero."

         "Oh Andy," she sighed with flushed emotion. "I can't contain it any longer. I'm in love with you! I've always been in love with you!"

         "Oh Yumi," Andy cried. "My love! I love you too!"

         Upon these words, Yumi ripped open her dress. A lush orchestral score swelled around them.

         "Oh, take me, Andy," she pleaded. "Take me!"

         The music screeched to a halt and the wind died as Andy stared beneath her shredded dress.

         "What the hell are you doing in a Wonder Woman costume?" he asked.

         "I don't know," she shrugged. "This is your fantasy, not mine."

         Music and wind surged around them again with renewed vigor as Andy jumped her bones.

         Andy finally snapped out of his reverie. He sailed back over to the desk and snapped up the pen. "Where do I sign?"

         B101 flipped to the last page of the hefty contract.

         "Right here on the dotted line," she beamed.

         Andy had just put the pen point down on the paper when he halted, eyeing the dozens of pages.

         "Wait a minute. What am I signing here exactly?"

         "Well," B101 replied, "the basic contract is for a year of service -- upon signing, you agree to start immediately and stay inside your habitat at all times during the weekdays; weekends are free for you to do whatever you'd like, including visits back home. All the benefits we mentioned before are included in the basic contract."

         An entire year? That gave Andy pause. It's a good thing he had asked. He rubbed his chin, mulling it over.

         "Oh, and your starting annual salary will be 250,000 of your world's dollars," B101 added.

         Before she had finished speaking, Andy's John Hancock was dashed over the dotted line.

 

         "Follow me," D86 grunted.

         The stocky Praxian tank lead Andy to the door while B101 gathered the paperwork. Before leaving the office, D86 pressed another device on his belt and everything in the room vanished except for the desk and chairs. The animal posters, file cabinets, plants -- they had all been holograms projected by the device to make the room appear like an ordinary recruiting office for a zoo. In reality, D86 and B101 had simply snuck into the building after closing hours and "borrowed" an empty office.

         The crisp nighttime air ran goosebumps up Andy's arms as he shuffled out of a backdoor after the two Praxians. The fog had rolled in with the moon and settled on the Bay Area like a cool blanket. The exit dumped them into a deserted alleyway, choked with gutter steam and the sour sweet smell of garbage. Andy was led deep into the alleyway. Their passage was dimly lit by a single naked light bulb dangling perilously from a telephone pole riddled with staples and graffiti. Andy trailed behind them, tip-toeing around a landmine of puddles thick with unidentifiable slosh. He halted at the edge of light while D86 and B101 marched deeper into the murky darkness of the alleyway. Andy was starting to wonder if he had made the right decision.

         "Come on, hurry up," D86 urged impatiently.

         "Listen," Andy stammered, "if this was all just some elaborate scheme to mug me, you guys are going to be so disappointed. I have, like, two dollars to my name right now."

         B101 smirked. "You humans sure are fidgety little creatures. Don't worry, Andy Go, we just need to be out of sight when we make the dimensional jump. Come on, this way."

         She trotted back and ushered Andy forward. B101 immediately defused some of the quavering artist's nerves. Impossibly sincere and affable, she was completely disarming. There didn't seem to be a malicious bone in her body. They pushed into the darkness together after D86.

         Andy didn't know if it was the cold, the nerves, or the excitement, but he couldn't stop rambling. "Wow, so this is really happening, huh? I'm traveling to a parallel universe! How amazing is this? I can't wait to tell Yumi. She's going to freak! Wait, let me guess, there's some crazy spaceship or something hovering above us, isn't there? Or are you guys more of the hand-held device type? Is there a Boom Tube? Tell me there's a Boom Tube!"

         "Do any of your kind come without a mouth?" D86 growled.

         "Look, you don't know how thrilling this is for me," Andy replied. "Back in high school, I spent most of my time dreaming about being whisked away to another world. To some fantasy land, anywhere but where I was. But I never thought it would actually happen! So believe it or not, you guys are fulfilling a childhood dream of mine."

         B101 scratched her chin. "What's 'high school'?"

         "Nevermind. Look, I don't know what it's like in your dimension, but in our world, we haven't even found alien bacteria yet, let alone intelligent beings who can travel to other universes! I can't wait until NASA hears about you guys. They're going to flip out!"

         Andy plowed into D86's back as the Praxian suddenly halted. It was like hitting a brick wall. They had arrived at the end of the alley, divorced from the rest of the city by a rusty chainlink fence. Andy peered into the darkness for a sign of something extraordinary, but all he could make out was a couple of dumpsters leaning against the graffiti-stricken walls. A mangy alley cat hissed and dove into hidden folds of darkness.

         "Shut up," D86 snapped. "This is it. You ready?"

         Andy followed his gaze down to a manhole cover before their feet. He was underwhelmed, to say the least.

         "Um... So this magical parallel world of yours -- is it called the sewer, by any chance?"

         B101 poked her head in between Andy and D86. "Silly, this is what we use to jump through dimensions. This manhole cover isn't what you think it is. It's the C.I.S. Tuner-1."

         "'Tuner?"

         "See, jumping through dimensions is sort of like listening to the radio," she explained. "The frequencies of many different radio stations are all around you at the same time, all the time, right? But without a radio you can't detect any of them. The radio tuner focuses on a single frequency so you can listen to that particular station. Well, that's similar to what our tuner does, only with universes instead of radio stations.

         "Every single alternate reality is unfolding at the same time, in the same 'space', but you can only be focused on one 'frequency' at a time. There are billions of alternate realities all around you, you just can't see or interact with them. You're 'focused' on your reality, and we're normally fixed on ours. But this machine allows the user to 'tune in' to a different reality. A different universe. That's why it's nicknamed the tuner."

         There was a long silent moment as Andy crunched the information.

         "So... it's a magic door into some other place?" he said at last.

         "Yeah," B101 sighed.

         "Oh! Well, why didn't you just say so?" Andy chuckled. "Okay, but why make it out of a manhole cover of all things? Ever heard of a DeLorean?"

         "The physical appearance of the tuner hatch can be transmogrified to suit any dimension. After thoroughly researching your world, we found that a manhole cover would be the perfect inconspicuous disguise. We can pretty much leave it anywhere in place of a regular manhole cover and no one is the wiser."

         "Cool!" Impatient with fervent curiosity, Andy knelt down and peered into the little pick holes of the manhole cover. Down below, he saw a glimmer of inky sewage running through a regular sewer line. He turned his head away from the stench and stood back up.

         "Sure looks like a sewer to me," he grumbled, monumentally disappointed.

         B101 grinned. "That's because it hasn't been activated yet, Andy Go." She pressed a round device the size of a compact on her belt. The device was marked with a glowing T.

         Suddenly, Andy's astonished face was lit from below as a bright light switched on beneath the manhole cover and pierced the darkness through the pick holes. A deep hum accompanied the light, like a great beast stirring from hibernation. B101 pressed a different button on the round device, and the manhole cover flipped up on its own, via a magnetic hinge. The alleyway was aglow in the stark, white light pouring out from the tuner.

         Andy's jaw dropped when he peered inside. The sewer had disappeared. Instead, he saw a brightly lit, circular chamber, the size of a large living room. Little round lights embedded into the walls ran down to the floor in vertical lines, like the divisions in an orange. The color and design of the curved walls were similar to the articulating plates on the Praxians' body suits. White, metallic, and functional. Upon closer scrutiny, Andy realized the room was actually the inside of a sphere, and a clear, plexi-glass floor bisected the room into upper and lower domes. In the core of the room, the transparent floor surrounded an imposing spherical console, the upper half of which housed a dizzying array of glowing monitors, buttons, and levers. Like the cockpit of an airplane, but much more futuristic and alien in design. Six legless, high-backed chairs with glowing orbs attached to the bottom of the seats hovered above the floor, surrounding the console in perfect intervals. The sleepy, pulsating hum of the tuner washed over Andy while a faint coppery smell reached his nose.

         While he stood dumbfounded before the tuner, B101 rushed past him and plunged into the manhole. She slid like a fireman down the handrails of the vertical ladder stretching from the hatch to the clear floor.

         She landed like a cat and called up to Andy. "Come on!"

         D86 nudged him forward. "Let's go."

         This was it. This was Andy's last chance to bolt. He gazed around at the crumbling urban canyons of the Tenderloin and the festering dumpsters upon which they fed. He sighed and looked up to bid farewell to the stars of his universe, but the sky was gray as smoke. The steam from his breath rose up to join the fog. Then he looked down through the manhole at B101's floating face beaming up at him from the floor of the tuner. He took a deep breath and stepped onto the top rung of the ladder. The chill of the night evaporated from him as he carefully poked his way down into the toasty interior. D86 followed Andy in and shut the manhole cover behind him.

         The tuner control room was even more impressive up close. It was straight out of Andy's sci-fi fantasies.

         "It's like the Enterprise in here!" he squealed. "But... How?"

         "When activated, the tuner reconnects with the 'dimensional pocket' in which its interior resides," B101 explained. "What you see on the outside -- in this case a manhole cover -- is merely the hatch."

          Like a teenager in a limo for the first time, Andy couldn't help poking around at everything. He was pointing in all directions at once, shooting off really probing questions like, "What does this one do?" and "How about this one?" He was especially wowed by the impressive console in the center of the chamber which harbored most of the primary controls.

          Suddenly one of his pointing hands was engulfed in D86's massive fist. Then the Praxian yanked on Andy's tie with his other hand until they were face to face.

         "Don't. Touch. Anything," he snarled. His breath was hot on Andy's face. Then he tossed Andy like a Barbie doll onto a chair. "Sit your scrawny ass down and strap yourself in." Scowling, he dropped himself heavily onto another seat on the opposite side of the console.

         "Hey, I was just asking," Andy grumbled, marveling at the hovering chair. "I wasn't going to touch anything." B101 hopped onto a seat next to him and buckled her seatbelt and shoulder straps. He whispered to her out of the corner of his mouth. "Sheesh, did someone piss in his cereal this morning? What's the deal?"

         "I said strap yourself in," D86 snapped.

         "Okay, okay," Andy muttered, pulling on the belts attached to his chair.

         "Don't worry," B101 murmured. "He's always like that."

         Intimidated by D86, Andy kept his eyes on B101. She detached the little round device marked with a glowing T from her belt and inserted it into the console. The hum of the tuner swelled, like a hundred desktop computers booting up simultaneously. The vast array of monitors and buttons around the console lit up like a Christmas tree. As if a starting gun had been fired, the two Praxians hunched over the controls and got busy hitting keys and pulling levers with dizzying speed. Andy marvelled at all the buttons blinking to life as B101 played them like an instrument. He really wanted to study what D86 was up to on the other side of the controls as well, but he couldn’t see over the dome of the console.

         "Man, this is so cool!" he declared. "When I was a kid, I used to hoard giant cardboard boxes so I could make spaceships out of them. My favorite part was making the cockpit. I loved drawing little monitors and buttons and stuff all over the inside. Just like this!" He spread his arms over the console with a big nostalgic grin on his face. "Well, not exactly like this... The controls in my cockpits were made out of string spools and empty water bottles," he chuckled.

         "Neat! How fast did it go?" B101 asked eagerly.

         "What? No, it... it didn't move or anything. It was just a cardboard box..."

         "Oh," she said, disappointed. Then her face lit up again. "When I was a kid, I made a home-made mini dark matter hadron collider."

         "Well, good for you," Andy muttered.

         "When I was a kid," D86 cut in, "I was holed up in the sewers with my father, waist deep in shit." His voice rumbled toward the others like a gloomy thunder cloud. "We were hiding for our lives from the invasion fleet of the Shigra Empire. My father had been shot, and for twenty-two hours, I had to keep constant pressure on his stomach with both of my little hands to keep his guts from spilling out."

         An uncomfortable silence Andy hadn't experienced since his parents caught him masturbating gripped the room.

         "Ah, memories," Andy said finally. "Are we ready to go yet?"

         D86 grunted and turned back to the console. After a sympathetic glance at her father, B101 followed suit.

         The console was about four feet off the floor, the width of an average dinner table at its widest, and domed at the top like a mushroom. Upon this dome flashed all the various controls, monitors, and holographic projections D86 and B101 were preoccupied with. A stocky, metallic column supported the circular control panel and ran through the plexi-glass floor to an identical dome underneath. Like a reflection in a pond. A deep circular hole a couple of feet in diameter was burrowed into the top of both upper and lower domes. An unnerving glow pulsated from within each well.

         "H-hey, this thing isn't going to cause cancer or anything, is it?" Andy asked nervously.

         On the console, in front of each seat, a large, circular button began to blink red. The button was embedded with the same T-shaped design Andy had seen on the round device which B101 had pulled off her belt and inserted into the console.

         "Coordinates are in and the stasis field is stable," B101 announced, peering at a holographic monitor.

         "Quantum turbines are green and power levels are at maximum," added D86.

         "Dilithium crystals are energized and ready to warp," Andy giggled. "Engage!"

         D86 shot Andy a menacing glare.

         "I'm sorry," Andy snorted. "I just couldn't help myself. Ahem. Proceed."

         "Hold on tight, boy," D86 uttered grimly. "Tuning is pretty rough the first time."

         "Most species lose consciousness on their first dimensional jump," B101 added. "And they usually vomit all over themselves."

         "Hey, I've survived five Comic-Cons," Andy boasted. "I can take anything."

         "Suit yourself," D86 chuckled, from deep within his chest.

         His chilling laughter eroded Andy's bravado. Andy gripped his shoulder straps with quavering hands as sweat started to bead on his forehead.

         D86 raised his hand above the blinking red button in front of him. "Here we go," he said, bracing himself.

         But just before he dropped his hand on the button, he caught something on a holographic monitor. He scowled furiously.

         "503(4)-0717.04.23.B101!" he barked. "What the hell is that?"

         B101 yelped in surprise. "What? What?"

         D86 thrust a finger violently at the monitor. "Does that look like the home coordinates to you?"

         B101 threw her hands over her mouth. "Oh, whoops! I'm sorry, Da-- er, I mean, 481(4)-0427.05.03.D86! I could've sworn I put in the home coordinates."

         D86 threw himself back in his chair, gnashing his teeth. "Damn it, B101! Can't you ever do anything right? By the Maker, if I left anything up to you, we'd end up in the middle of a goddamn star in some backward dimension!"

         "I'm sorry," B101 whimpered, her lower lip trembling. "I guess I was just distracted..."

         "Distracted is goddamn right!" D86 shouted through clenched teeth. "You're always distracted. That's your problem. Your mind is always somewhere other than where it's supposed to be. Get your head out of the clouds! How many times do I have to tell you? When you're at work, you keep your mind at work and nowhere else. You got it?"

         "Yes, sir," B101 sniffled, tapping some buttons. "Coordinates have been corrected."

         "Jesus Christ," Andy muttered breathlessly. He was stunned by D86's savage admonishment. "Take it easy, dude..."

         "Mind your own business, monkey boy," D86 snarled, not bothering to look up from the console. After double checking B101's work, he raised a hand over the blinking button again. "Okay, here we--"

         "Wait!" B101 shouted. "I wanna push the button! I wanna push the button!"

         She was suddenly all smiles, clapping like a seal eager to perform its next trick. There was no trace of the crushed young woman from a moment ago. It seemed D86's brutal reprimand had already been erased from her memory, like a goldfish forgetting the left side of the fish tank by the time it swam to the right side. Perhaps it was B101's defense mechanism against D86's viciousness... Andy seriously had to wonder if she had some kind of mental condition, like Asperger's or something along those lines. He was starting to see why her father was constantly exasperated.

         D86 facepalmed. "Oh, for the love of-- Fine, knock yourself out."

         "Yes!" B101 crowed, thrusting her long-fingered hand over the blinking button in front of her.

         "On the count of three," D86 commanded. "One..."

         "Tune!" B101 shouted, and slammed the button.

         Andy's breath was wrenched from him by a blinding column of energy suddenly erupting from both upper and lower wells of the console. The crackling pylon stretched to matching channels bored into the north and south poles of the spherical room, flooding the tuner with a pale, pulsating glow. The jolting light show was accompanied by a deep, building drone which smothered all other sounds. At the same time, the chairs flew backward and locked into concave partitions in the walls, while the glassy floor opened like a camera shutter and disappeared into the chamber's equator. The console, now free from the slate of plexi-glass, collapsed into a perfect sphere, held aloft in midair by the fearsome spine of energy. Andy's heart rattled in his throat as smaller beams burst from the central sphere and charged into channels opening in the walls all around them.

         At first, Andy was terrified of being fried into a Human McNugget, but he felt no heat despite the awesome glare and electric splinters crackling from the pillars of energy. Squinting through the light, he caught D86 gripping the armrests of his chair like his life depended on it. The back of his chair was embedded into the curved wall on the opposite side of the room. Like Andy, D86's feet dangled from his seat, and with the floor gone, the drop to the bottom of the spherical chamber seemed perilously far. His hulking shoulders were bunched together around his neck and his lone eye was tightly shut.

         Andy turned and peered at B101. In stark contrast to Andy and her father, she was grinning from ear to ear, kicking her legs back and forth like a kid on a roller coaster.

         "Is that it?" Andy hollered over the drone, trembling. "Th-That wasn't so bad!"

         "Here comes the best part!" B101 yelled back.

         No sooner had Andy's sphincter relaxed a little did the tuner start to turn... The entire chamber was rotating -- the console was the central axis, and the poles of energy acted like spokes. The tuner revolved slowly at first, but the rate of gyration was building exponentially. Soon, the spinning turned so vicious Andy's vision grew blurry. To make matters worse, the angle of rotation twisted constantly, like motorcycles racing inside a spherical cage at the circus. After spinning in every direction with no discernable pattern, Andy's equilibrium was obliterated. He had no idea if he was upside down or inside out anymore.

         B101 was laughing like a maniac. "Woo hoo! I love this part!"

         D86 was stoic as ever. Andy could tell the grumpy Praxian wasn't enjoying it anymore than he was, but D86 kept his cool, like a calm patient at the dentist. The crushing grip on his armrests was the only indication of his discomfort.

         As they spun ever faster, every other element of the tuner intensified as well. The light from the energy finally grew so violent, Andy was forced to shut his eyes altogether.

         "Faster! Faster!" was the last thing he heard out of B101, before even her piercing voice was submerged in the deafening roar of the tuner.

         By this point, the tuner was whirling at a hundred miles per hour, at least, and Andy was consumed with a full blown panic attack. He realized then that he had never been truly terrified before. Not really. The scariest experience of his privileged American life up to that point was watching It Follows while he stuffed his face with popcorn. Now he was confronting true fear for the first time. The kind of crushing terror our grandfathers must have felt charging into a battlefield swarming with bullets in World War II.

         Andy would have killed babies to get off the tuner at that moment. His heart was beating so furiously, he feared it would burst out of his chest. He unleashed a scream which would have shattered glass, but not even his own ears could hear it over the noise of the tuner. Soon, he couldn't even scream anymore as the centrifugal force plastered him to his chair and pulled the skin on face around his skull like shrink wrap. The only thing he could do was sit there and feel the blood drain out of his head.

         Soon everything turned white and he was out.

CHAPTER 4 >> 


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