CHAPTER NINE – Unmasked

I leaned my deckchair back and laid there sunbathing under the hot sun for quite a while. I was contemplating where I was, what was real, whether I was okay? A lot was going on through my mind and it took a lot to accept what was happening. After about twenty minutes of trying to empty my mind and relaxing, my chest began to feel tight. I struggled to breathe and felt afraid. Opening my eyes, I stared at the clear blue sky. I watched the birds flying above my head and then I sat up abruptly in the chair to look at the water. At that moment I decided I will swim to try to get away from this anxiety filling me.

I was in that water for what must have been hours, swimming naked after leaving my boxers on the beach. Watching the fish swim under me as I was lazily kicking against the water. When I swam out too far, I would end up with writing forming in front of my eyes. It told me when I was about to hit a barrier and what seemed like a hologram would highlight an invisible edge. I would then physically hit this barrier that appeared not to be there. The first time hurt a lot.

Before all of this chaos I used to enjoy time alone but right there, right then, I just wanted someone to talk to. Not a Tuhingan, not some other alien but an actual human being who understands me. Yet I was alone and even wishing Caroline would come back.

The water was so fresh, so clean. It felt like I could drink it. Although I materialised water when I wanted to drink from the wardrobe. I had also found the toilets behind the hut. They were holes in the ground with a seat above them and I felt a disgusting every time I used them. The toilets never smelt though and it appeared there would be flash after I had gone making my business. I supposed there was one of those EMC’s down there disintegrating my business. Even though the toilet looked ancient, the room had a basin and a strange B-day and I could wash myself very well afterwards.

Soon I came to sit on the deckchair again with another cocktail in my hand looking around. The forest looked like a nice place to explore, but the swim exhausted me. Thoughts of the horrors I had seen kept flashing up in my mind. I tried not to think of them. Boredom hit me, the thoughts overwhelmed me. I needed a distraction and didn’t know what to do with myself. I needed company, or at least something to work on. It had been the first time in years since I had just stopped and did nothing. The only thing I knew how to do in that situation was drink cocktails. After resting for a while I stood up and went to explore the forest but I didn’t find much there. 

It was a normal woodland however every time I wanted to go out far I found that something stopped me from going any further. There were trees that had fallen over, thick bushes, little cliffs from mounds and even a deep ditch with a stream leading to the larger river. There was no way I could make it out further than a certain point. It made sense to me since I saw the room turning into this environment. I supposed nothing was real. I turned back, went to get food and settle down. The sun was going down and I supposed that there wasn’t anything better to do other than sleep. I ate my meal and found my eyes became heavy.

After a full Sunday roast with all the trimmings, I went to request a laptop. The wardrobe wasn’t sure what I was requesting and I had to imagine it vividly. It was hard to concentrate and make sure it materialised correct. Once it materialised, it formed correctly. It had a keyboard, touchpad and screen but it just didn’t turn on. It didn’t have any screws and it looked to be a solid unit so I couldn’t break it open to have a look inside either. After a while I gave up on creating a laptop and got some sleep instead.

I made sure I had sprayed a fresh spray of insect repellent on myself and then got under the mosquito net. I settled down under the quilt and dropped to sleep. That night was filled with nightmares and I woke up screaming, twice. I found it hard to get or stay asleep and I had decided the next day would be a day I seek company. I wanted to avoid these thoughts of trauma and have fun with someone. After I fell asleep, the morning came. I had slept through sunrise and found I was getting hot under the quilt while the sun beamed through the entrance of the cabin. Rolling over, I looked at a light for a moment, thinking about how the day will play out. For the first time I used the showers, but I needed shower gel, shampoo and a towel. The wardrobe reacted to my request and gave me all that I wanted.

The shower made me feel so clean and it was what I needed. Wrapping myself in this large towel, I went back to the wardrobe. I shaved, put on fragrance, sorted my hair and then tried to figure out what I should wear. I put on a shirt, dark jeans and a nice pair of leather shoes. Walking away, I realised I might go somewhere cold. So I doubled back to materialise a thick overcoat.

It was nice to be dressing and attempting to look my best after all the crazy stuff I had gone through. I went out with my overcoat over my arm, onto the beach barefoot with my shoes in my other hand and my socks in my shoes. I came to the cliff and wondered how to get out, how they had done it when they left. A message in front of my eyes came up and read ‘exit activation restricted. Contacting Periclum to assist’. I was waiting for a little while until I saw a 3D hologram of Periclum.

“James! I wondered how long it would take you! The others told me to be patient, but I’ve been having to sit on my hands here!” Periclum took a moment to look at me. “You look great, is that how people on Earth dress these days?”

I looked at Periclum and it shocked me when I saw he was Tuhingan. Short, goblin looking and with a high-pitched voice. After that initial shock, I got my head around the situation and focused on being more normal. “I wanted to look my best for you, Periclum!” He looked at me for a moment and then started doing that strange gurgling sound and shaking side to side. 

“Wow, a sense of humour! I was afraid that Humans didn’t have a sense of humour.”

I looked at him confused, “Periclum, did you just call me a Human?”

He gurgled again, “Yes, no more confusing you with the Rehew. Let me come to you and speak with you in person, I will be with you in a moment. Can you hold on for half an hour?” 

I nodded, “Sure! I look forward to seeing you.”

The hologram disappeared and then the sound of the birds and crickets filled my ears. Just then, for a moment, I felt trapped. However, I could shake off that feeling knowing I was in a great environment and I was soon to meet Periclum, probably be let out. I remembered how desperate he was to show me around before. Besides, half an hour was a good amount of time to have another cocktail and a croissant. I went to the wardrobe and materialised both. Although the croissant didn’t turn out to be exactly like a croissant. I sat on the deckchair once again under the hot sun, drinking a tasty drink and eating the sweet bread. I closed my eyes still tired from all the rushing after I woke up and enjoyed that moment tasting that treat.

My eyes were closed as a notification sound rang in my head and I saw writing appear in front of me. ‘Periclum request’s access to VIP room 04’, I accepted the request and I looked over to see that the door had appeared again. I stood up from the deckchair, holding my cocktail in one hand, picked up my shoes in the other and walked towards the door. I saw the short figure of Periclum come up the stairs. “James!” he shouted out as he walked towards me. We soon got close enough to each other to hear each other. “Are you feeling better?” he asked in his high-pitched, childlike way. I smiled back and nodded. “James, sorry, I don’t understand that action?” I looked at Periclum a little confused and then said “yeah, I am feeling much better,” I smiled back. 

“Good, because I have a lot planned for us and a lot to show you. Are you hungry?.”

“Yeah, I could eat. I haven’t had a proper breakfast yet.”

“Well, this will be lunch for me, so lets make it brunch.”

I looked back at Periclum and smiled thinking how relieved I was to hear something familiar like ‘brunch’, “Yeah, that sounds perfect!”

“What would you like to eat?”

“Well, whatever this ship can offer” I said looking at him. Periclum just looked at me for a moment and then darted his eyes in a different direction, staring into space.

“Well, let me find us a nice restaurant that serves plenty of seafood since this feels like a beach type place.”

“Sure,” I replied as he chose. Just then I got some writing that flashed in front of my eyes. ‘Please vacate the materialisation zone, there was a large faded red square marked out onto the floor and we were standing in the uppermost corner of it. I walked over to step out of the square and stood on the outside. Periclum wasn’t far behind and once he stepped out of the square a sound of wind began. The light this time was very intense. We were both forced to look away as it hurt to look toward this materialisation. Wind was rushing all around us, blowing sand and our clothes flapping in the wind. We attempted to cover our eyes the best we could and the wind soon died down. I looked down and noticed a piece of Periclums loose jacket was missing. “Periclum what happened to your jacket?” I pointed down to the area where the jacket had a piece missing. He looked down and then said “damn it, it must have blown into the materialisation zone.” He looked at it for a moment then seemed to brush it away like it would make the hole disappear. “Ready to eat?” he said as he looked up to look at me, uncaring about the hole in his jacket.

I turn around to face a wall of a flat roofed building. I stood there for a moment in astonishment, still getting surprised by the capabilities of this technology. Periclum began to walk around, “seems this is the back of the building, come on!” I follow Periclum towards the front and my mouth dropped as we went around. There, standing in front of us, was a restaurant. A restaurant filled with Human staff and decorated in hieroglyphics. It had a bar, tables and chairs everywhere, you could see the kitchen and many other things. It felt like a modern restaurant with a twist. We went to sit down at one of the closest tables and a waiter came over with a menu, wrote out onto some parchment. 

I stared at the waiter for a moment and Periclum noticed, “don’t worry, they are just robots wrapped in skin. It’s our best attempt at recreating the Rehew. We never programmed them to be very social though, don’t know why.” The android hovering above us was looking at us both and then asked, “what can I get you?” Periclum replied with a question, “what is the meaning of life?”. The android looked at him, not understanding the question. “I don’t quite understand the question, there is no clear definition for ‘the meaning of life’.” Periclum looked at me, “see, they are all idiots!” He then looked back towards the waiter, “We will call you over when we want to order,”. The waiter then replied, “I will be over here if you need me. Have a pleasant stay at The Seashells.” Periclum turned to look at me. “I wish we could create better AI for these things, but the Nkri don’t like it when we tinker with their technology. It’s quite a harsh punishment if they find that we do.”

“So, everyone are robots in here?” I asked. “Yup, apart from us two.” “Of course” I said as I began to read the menu card in front of me. There were random fish dishes on there, four meat options but no meat or fish I have ever heard of. The vegetarian dishes were a little more recognisable but not by much. “Where did this menu come from?” I asked Periclum. He did that funny gurgle sound the Tuhinga seem to do when they find something amusing and began to say that it all comes from animals from the Tuhingan homeworld. I looked back at him with a confused expression, “I do not know what to order. I think I will just order the days special.”

“Good choice, I’m guessing you would like the days cocktail as well?” I looked at him with a smile on my face and said “Sure! I would love to get that.” “Hope you like it James!” he said as he called the waiter over. Periclum continued to order our food as I was looking at this robot waiter. He looked like a flesh and blood Human being except without the life you would get. I looked the waiter up and down expecting to find some sign that he wasn’t Human. I found nothing except his weird mannerisms and responses. He was very polite like a waiter should be, however he misunderstood nuances and didn’t have much of a humour. It was a strange sight.

I then heard Periclum ask for some music and a band appeared with various old instruments. I even saw a lute. The waiter went to the back and it seemed like a second before he emerged from the kitchen with our food. He placed the piping hot meals in front of us both and soon the cocktails followed, carried by a second waiter. We began to eat and talked while enjoying this strange meal that tasted delicious. Our conversation composed of mundane stuff as I asked what certain things were about. I hadn’t had the chance to pay attention before and I wanted to find out more about the Liberty. Periclum got frustrated with me in some parts, wondering why I couldn’t understand certain things. But compared to all of this technology and this culture, Earth was very far behind. It confused me, interested me, scared me and also excited me. I felt comfortable though as we sat in familiar surroundings and experienced something Human.

The conversation soon turned towards what had happened before I had met Periclum. I told him I was a scientist from Earth and then began the story from when I woke up in the penthouse. Once I had got to where I met him, I was breathing hard and feeling quite upset. I tried to hide it from him and unsure how to deal with the onslaught of emotions that overtook me. I pushed through the story but felt a little overwhelmed. Tears fell from my eyes and I became angry. I stood and walked over to the edge of the restaurant, breathing hard as I found it hard to deal with everything. My chest was tight and this panic started to take control of my body. I felt my mind wipe itself as I leant against a bannister that separated the edge of the restaurant from the beach. I saw a light form on the beach in front of me. I heard wind rushing around it. Then I saw a boxing bag form. I heard Periclums voice behind me, “every species deals with trauma in different ways. I read that the Rehew loved to take their anger out onto soft objects. You can throw your fists at this and hopefully it helps.”

At that moment I allowed myself to collapse to the floor and sat there looking out to the boxing bag. I stared at it for a moment, gripping the bars of the bannister like they were bars of a prison as Periclum stood next to me. “How do Tuhingan react to trauma?” I asked him. He came down and sat next to me on the floor and he said, “we run.” I looked at him confused, he turned to me and said “we run and hide, your species fight, we hide and don’t choose sides. We were a slave species, James and your relatives saved us from the slavery. We never knew how to be free so we continue to serve. Served your relatives and now the Galactic Union.” 

I thought about what he just told me for a moment and then looked at him again. “Periclum? How on Earth did you do what you did in the Myrmekes?” He looked at me for a moment and then asked, “How on your homeworld?”

“What?… Oh,” I laughed “no… How did you do what you did on the Myrmekes?”

“Well… to be honest with you. I remember very little on the Myrmekes.”

“What!?” I looked at Periclum confused, unsure what he was telling me.

“I wiped my memory, I’ve set up a program that can target specific memories or times.”

I looked at him, “you can do that?”

He did that strange gurgling sound Tuhingan do when they are pleased, “with the right program, yes… Although it can be dangerous.” He seemed reluctant to be telling me any of this however he continued. “If I didn’t, I think I would have gone crazy by now. I am the best scavenger James, I need to figure out a way of keeping myself in the game. It’s dangerous and some people tell me that memories make a person, however some things I have experienced, I don’t want to have experienced.” He spoke in a sad, scared way.

It surprised me that that was even possible and the person can come out the other side fine. “You did so much in an extreme situation on the Myrmekes.” 

“When I am focused on the task, things don’t seem so scary and I always have the drive to get back home, see my family again. I only delete what happened but store the important information in my BCI chip.”

“How did you remember me?”

“I considered it important information,”

I listened to him and sat there on the edge of this restaurant in disbelief. Here I am processing what happened to me and the reason he is okay is that he never remembers it. It sounded so dangerous to alter your memories like that and I never want to try it. I knew that you would have to alter the brain structure to achieve what he was claiming. I was astonished.

He looked at me for a moment, “don’t tell the others, okay? No one knows.” He had such a childlike way of saying that like I caught him doing something he wasn’t supposed to do. I looked at him and told him that his secret was safe with me. I stood back up off of the floor and wiped myself down. Periclum stood as well and asked me, “Do you want to see more of the ship?”

“Sure” I said in reply and we began to head out of the restaurant. As we were exiting I saw writing form in front of my eyes, ‘Dematerialise request sent by Periclum Quaerere, please step out of the dematerialisation zone.’ I could see a red square had formed on the sand again and projected onto the floor of the restaurant. We were walking out of the zone and then as soon as we stepped out of the square the sound of wind began. I turned to see a bright light and the restaurant slowly disappear. The dust settled and the beach was back to being as it was before. I turned and hurried after Periclum, who appeared to have never slowed down. We then went down the steps and entered the corridor.

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