An Unexpected Visitor
“Power supply and propulsion systems are operational,” Doctor Bill reports.
“Navigation systems online,” Haticat reports.
“Pressure seals are completed and holding,” Fred reports, “Emergency life support is operational.”
“Automatic safety check complete,” Haticat reports. Haticat and Nathaniel sit down next to each other at the pilot control station. “Where should we go?” Haticat asks.
“I still haven’t been to Lectipas,” Doctor Bill says.
“I want to explore someplace new I haven’t been to before – somewhere far away where The Mama-And-Daddy won’t follow us,” Nathaniel comments.
“Go to planet Candy!” Allison yells.
“We were just on Candy,” Nathaniel says.
“I’ll scream the whole way if we don’t go to Candy,” Allison threatens.
“No, we need to stop for fuel first. I don’t think Candy Wizards will accept tools and dresses as payment,” Nathaniel says.
“Aaaaaaaaaah!!!” Allison screams. She doesn’t stop.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Nathaniel says, covering his ears. Haticat tries to cover Allison’s mouth and gets bitten. Allison becomes louder and shriller. “Okay! Okay, fine! Sit down! We’ll go to Candy first.”
“Candy!” Allison exclaims, sitting down.
The boys all sit down and buckle up. The girls do not. “Hurry up and buckle. I’m taking off now,” Nathaniel says.
“Why?” Allison asks.
“Small spaceships shake a lot during landing and takeoff,” Nathaniel says.
“So?” Allison responds.
What makes girls so stupid? Nathaniel realizes Allison might not know that spaceships shake since she is less than two weeks old, but knowing that shaking can be dangerous is commonsense instinct; everyone should know that. “I’m taking off now. Do whatever you want,” Nathaniel gruffly responds.
As Haticat powers up the thrusters, the ship starts to shake. “Boosters are ready,” Haticat reports.
“Blast off!” Nathaniel shouts, slamming a large, black button at the top of the console. The ship instantly accelerates to four times the force of the ambient gravity. The boys are pushed back into their soft seats. Allison’s legs buckle underneath her and she hits the floor. Matilda and Sarah are fixed in place. Then the acceleration gradually diminishes and the shaking increases as the ship plows through the atmosphere. Allison slides across the floor. Matilda and Sarah roll around.
Finally, Allison is able to stand. She slaps Nathaniel on the back of the head. “Hey!” Nathaniel exclaims. He reaches for her, but his restraints hold him down. He frantically undoes them. “Drive for me,” he tells Haticat, as he gets up and chases Allison in circles around the central column. Finally catching her, Nathaniel slaps Allison on the back of the head repeatedly, his teeth bared. Allison screams.
“Hey, I only hit you once; you hit me five times!” She finally says, turning around and trying to claw at Nathaniel as he rapidly backs up.
“You hit me harder,” Nathaniel counters.
“No I didn’t,” Allison argues.
“Yes you did,” Nathaniel argues.
At just that time, the ship stops shaking as it clears the exosphere of Earth. “How do I engage the overlight drive? Is it the green switch?” Haticat asks.
“Yes,” Nathaniel calls, now running from all three girls. Fortunately, the girls do not think to split up and corner him from two directions. Haticat hits the green switch and everyone on the ship is plunged into weightlessness as the ship detaches from space itself. Allison swings at Nathaniel and misses, losing her footing. Nathaniel tries to hit Allison, but only succeeds in pushing her away. Fred stumbles and bumps into Matilda, knocking her into the central column.
“Stop fighting! The Mama-And-Daddy chased Nathaniel and Haticat twice before. If we’re going to keep one step ahead of it, we have to work together. We should be on the same team,” Doctor Bill says.
“He wrinkled my dress!” Matilda accuses Fred. “We can work together after he gets punished.”
“It’s your fault! You got in my way,” Fred says.
“It’s your fault!” Matilda says.
“We can fight later,” Allison tells Matilda, “When we are safe from The Mama-And-Daddy, we’ll get our revenge.”
“Your revenge? You started it! We’re even now. If you punish me, I’ll just have to punish you again!” Nathaniel shouts.
“Later, we can fight later,” Doctor Bill says.
Nathaniel looks back and forth between Allison and Doctor Bill, trying to make the difficult choice between vengeance and pragmatism. “Fine, we can fight later,” Nathaniel grumbles. The boys and girls return to their seats, awkwardly bouncing around the cabin in weightlessness.
“Am I steering right?” Haticat asks Nathaniel as he buckles in beside him.
“No,” Nathaniel answers.
It takes one hour, five minutes, and twenty-three seconds at maximum speed to arrive in the solar system of planet Candy. Soon, they enter into low orbit around the planet. “Where should we land?” Nathaniel asks.
“Probably near a city, where there will be more people to trade with for Candy,” Haticat suggests.
“Which city?” Nathaniel asks.
“How about there?” Haticat says, pointing to a brown blotch surrounded by green.
Nathaniel moves closer to Haticat, lining his eyes up with his arm. “Okay,” Nathaniel accedes. The ship shakes as it enters the atmosphere and descends. Nathaniel looks for a landing zone as the ship spirals down. “Wait! This isn’t a city!” Nathaniel suddenly exclaims, “It’s a swamp!”
“I thought it was a city from orbit,” Haticat comments.
“Let’s try north of here,” Doctor Bill suggests.
“No, we’re in a hurry – and I wanted to explore someplace new anyway,” Nathaniel comments. “We’ll just grab some candy-plants from the forest, and if we leave behind some of our stuff for it, it’s not really stealing.”
“I hope the Candy Wizards agree,” Haticat mutters.
“We’ll have to take the risk,” Nathaniel says. “I’m going to land in those trees west of the swamp. It will be bumpy,” he announces.
“Hang on,” Haticat adds. The ship brakes with its retrorockets, decelerating to nine kilometers per hour just before it breaks through the loose canopy of the candy-forest, throwing twigs in all directions. It lands on the ground with a thud.
The children all climb out and look around. There are swirled peppermint palms, gummy-oaks, and maple-sugar maples. There is candy moss, candy grass, and candy ferns. Allison immediately starts biting chunks out of everything, chewing ravenously. “Let’s see what other kinds of candies are this way,” Nathaniel suggests, leading the way deeper into the woods and away from the swamp. He stops to gather some molasses mushrooms and white-chocolate puffballs, placing them into his bag. Matilda finds some green, flavor-crystal laden berries. Allison and Nathaniel love them. Matilda and Haticat collect the berries, trying to stay out of each other’s way. Doctor Bill finds some yellow cotton-candy-cotton and gathers as much as he can. Sarah finds a nest made of sugargrass holding chocolate-malt eggs. Sarah has good eyes.
“We’re getting far away from the ship. If we go farther, we might not remember how to get back,” Fred suddenly notes.
“I’ll leave a trail of cotton-candy bits. We’ll be able to follow it back,” Doctor Bill declares.
“Great idea!” Haticat remarks.
“You’re so smart,” Nathaniel says.
Deeper in the woods, they come across a gumdrop tree. “This is such a pretty tree,” Matilda notes.
“It’s very pretty,” Sarah notes.
“It’s not pretty; it’s tasty,” Nathaniel grumbles, picking gumdrops.
“It’s pretty and tasty,” Matilda says.
“Yeah,” Allison taunts.
“Boys!” Matilda exclaims, rolling her eyes.
“Prettiness is dumb!” Haticat argues.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel taunts. Allison sticks her tongue out. Matilda sticks her chin out. The girls return to the gumdrop tree in a huff.
The children walk deeper and deeper into the woods, picking strange and amazing plants to eat, most of which they have never seen before, each with new, exotic flavors. Some are good and some are bad. There are herbs, nuts, roots, and fruits. Nathaniel loves the nuts most of all. There are so many kinds. They walk into and out of a large depression, over and under logs, between boulders, and through a thicket so dense they cannot see each other. Finally, their bags are almost full and Nathaniel suggests they head back to the ship.
They follow their trail of cotton candy back through the confusing maze of boulders and logs, Allison eating it all and Nathaniel yelling at her, until they cross the depression. Suddenly, the children come to the end of their trail. A strange, plaid, wolf-like animal coming the other way eats up the bits of cotton candy one after the other. “Oh, hello. Where are you going in such a hurry?” the creature asks.
“We’re bringing these bags of goodies to our ship,” Allison says.
“Oh, goodies? Would you be willing to share some with a cold, hungry plaididaff?” the creature asks.
“No,” Nathaniel says, “Unless you have spaceship fuel to trade.”
“No, I don’t,” the creature says sadly.
“We have to get going,” Haticat says. The children run past the wolf-like creature.
“That plaididaff ate our trail!” Allison complains.
“How will we find the ship?” Sarah asks.
“Let’s spread out, but stay in sight of each other,” Nathaniel suggests.
The children spread out and start running, making sure to stay in sight of the ones next to them. Suddenly, Sarah notices a small cottage. “There’s a house!” Sarah exclaims.
“Yaay!” Matilda says. The girls run towards it. The boys follow. As they approach, they see that the cottage is very much in need of repair. It appears that no one has lived in it for a very long time. Nathaniel is disappointed. He wants to trade.
The outer walls of the house are made of candied fruits and nut-based candies. There are sugared kiwis and mangos. There are chocolate and caramel coated peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. Nathaniel and Allison scrape the walls with their teeth. “We need to find a stick or something to help us break off a big piece, so we can carry it back easily,” Nathaniel says.
“Let’s try this rock-candy on it,” Haticat suggests, struggling to pick up a stone and carry it to Nathaniel.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says, taking the rock.
Just then, an adult steps out of the narrow, doorless doorway at the other end of the house. “Hello, what are your names?” she asks. All the children jump. Allison stops eating the house.
“Do you live here?” Haticat asks.
“Yes, of course,” the lady says. She looks much like a Candy Wizard, but the candy ferns covering her body seem diseased and tattered. Her limbs are longer and thinner, too.
“We didn’t know anyone lived here when we started eating your house,” Nathaniel says.
“Oh, that’s okay,” the lady says, her eyes sweeping the forest. She seems easily distracted.
“Are you a Candy Wizard?” Nathaniel asks.
“Um, yes. No. I’m a Candy Witch,” the lady says, gazing into the canopy and laughing softly to herself. Nathaniel looks up. What is so funny up there?
“We have some tools, dresses, and other stuff back at our ship to trade for candy, spaceship fuel, and other supplies if you’d like, but we’re in a hurry,” Nathaniel proposes.
“Oh, alright,” the Candy Witch says, “I have candy.”
“Do you have any nut-candy?” Nathaniel asks.
“Oh, why yes of course. Come in, come in,” the Candy Witch beckons. All the children cram into the tiny cottage. There is a large hole on one side of the roof. Mushrooms grow through the floorboards. In the middle of the room is a wood-fired oven topped with a chimney. The shelves along the walls are filled with jars containing unknown objects of every kind. The house smells faintly of gingerbread, cheesecake, moldy lemons, and urine.
“Here, have some licorice. Children always love licorice,” the Candy Witch offers.
“Not me. I don’t like licorice,” Nathaniel says as Allison gobbles the candy down.
“Not like licorice? My! Well let’s see what else I have here, what else I have here,” the Candy Witch mutters, “Yes, I have pineapple pops and banana pops.”
Allison covers her mouth and nose. “Yuck!”
“I like pineapples and bananas,” Nathaniel says.
“Oh, you do? You do,” the Candy Witch says, putting the pieces back without giving Nathaniel any. This adult is even stupider than the average adult! “I’ve lived here a long time, experimenting with all sorts of new candy combinations. I’ve created carrot-apple, carrot-mango, carrot-rosemary, pumpkin, squash, potatoe, cucumber, jalapeno, red chile, parsnip, onion, sesame seed, fennel seed, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, tomatoe seed, apple seed, beef, crab, shrimp, skunk, cricket, dragonfly, calamari…Do you like enzergch?”
“I’ve never heard of it,” Nathaniel says.
“Well, you have to taste some. Here you go,” the Candy Witch says, handing Allison and Nathaniel a thin, green rectangle each. Nathaniel places it in his mouth. It is chewy, grassy, and disgusting. He hates it.
Allison jumps and smiles. “More!” she demands.
“Of course,” the Candy Witch says, turns as if to get more and then instead turns to Nathaniel and asks, “How do you like it?”
“It’s not very good, but it’s much better than licorice,” Nathaniel says.
“Oh, you like it then? Enzergch is made from a cactus adapted to grow on low-gravity worlds. Now, which one was it that I found this batch on? I can’t remember,” the Candy Witch mutters to herself, staring at the floor.
“No, I said I didn’t like it,” Nathaniel corrects. “Do you have any nut-based candies or spaceship fuel? We’re in a hurry.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” the Candy Witch says, walking to the other side of the room. She pulls down a jar, opens it, and holds out a bar of chocolate and peanuts towards Nathaniel. “Come and get it. Come and get it,” she says, laughing softly. Nathaniel tentatively walks towards her, reaching for the bar.
Suddenly, strips of metal burst upwards through the gaps in the floorboards at such an angle to form a cone-shaped cage around Nathaniel. He jumps in surprise, hitting his head on the side of the cage. “A trick! I caught you! I did!” the Candy Witch exclaims. The girls laugh while Haticat, Fred, and Doctor Bill attack the Candy Witch’s long legs, hitting her with their soft hands. She easily kicks them off.
“Let him out!” Haticat yells.
The Candy Witch ignores Haticat and starts humming to herself and looking through her jars. “Dear, do me a favor and fire up the oven. Put in more logs,” she says to Allison, “I’m going to eat boy tonight! This will be my greatest experimental combination. What shall I cook him with?”
“Cook him with licorice, because he doesn’t like it,” Allison suggests.
“You’re going to get eaten,” Matilda taunts.
“No, not licorice! It’s so disgusting!” Nathaniel says, struggling to get out of the cage.
“Ha, ha, ha,” Matilda says. Fred and Haticat try to push apart the bars, but cannot. Allison places more logs under the oven.
“Let me out!” Nathaniel yells.
“I think I’ll use my special baking pan,” the Candy Witch says, pulling out a large pan from somewhere. She carries it over to the oven and struggles to fit it inside.
“Why are you helping her?” Nathaniel asks Allison.
“Once you get eaten, we’ll have the spaceship and all the candy all to ourselves,” Allison says.
“But you don’t even know how to fly the ship,” Nathaniel says.
Allison says nothing. The Candy Witch still struggles to fit the large pan into the oven, oblivious to all else. Allison stares at her, thinking. Just as the witch finally fits the pan in, Allison shoves her into the oven and closes the door, latching it from the outside. The Candy Witch screams and pounds the door. “Let me out! Let me out!”
Allison ignores her and tries to pull apart the bars of the cage. Even with Nathaniel’s help, they cannot move them apart enough to allow Nathaniel to slip through. “I have an idea,” Doctor Bill says.
“What is it?” Nathaniel asks.
“The bars are able to move more at the top where they are unattached. If we give you something to stand on, you can squeeze through and jump out,” Doctor Bill explains.
“Here, give him these jars. They will fit through the bars,” Haticat says.
Allison, Matilda, Haticat, and Doctor Bill grab jars from the walls and push them through the bars. Nathaniel stacks them up and climbs on top to the point he can squeeze through the bars at the top and jump down. “Let’s go,” Allison says. Leaving the Candy Witch behind screaming in the oven as it continues to heat, the children grab their bags of candy and run back into the woods.
“Now we don’t have to trade anything because it’s okay to steal from people that try to eat you,” Nathaniel comments.
“We have to hurry; The Mama-And-Daddy is probably almost here,” Haticat says.
The children spread out again, searching for the ship, keeping just in sight of each other. Haticat sees the ship first. “I see it! Over here!”
The children all run to the ship. Just as they approach, the couch-unit exits the ship from its open door and hovers in front of it, blocking their path. It looks different. It has changed again and Mama and Daddy look very angry.
“What big ears they have,” Fred whispers.
“What big eyes they have,” Doctor Bill whispers.
“What big teeth they have,” Nathaniel whispers.
“Those glowing yellow veins are new,” Haticat whispers.
“You’re all in very big trouble,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“Wait a second, they switched!” Nate exclaims, “Mama was always on the right of the couch. That is, when you faced them, Mama was on the left and Daddy was on the right. That’s the way they were all over the ship, but on Candy, Mama was on the right and Daddy was on the left! My whole life, I thought their changes were because of anger, but how could anger cause a left-right switch?”
“I don’t know. What are you getting at?” Alisha responds.
“When I was separated from them/it on Trachoos, they came back with glowing, purple eyes. When I visited Candy with my friends from Lectipas, they developed blue, red, and green spots. They also couldn’t remember properly – they even claimed they had never punished me before! When I ran away to Earth on my own, they developed moving yellow spots and glowing yellow eyes. When they caught me and Allison on Candy, they had visible yellow veins, bigger teeth, bigger ears, bigger eyes, and they switched sides! The changes don’t happen when they get angry – they get angry all the time – the changes happen when I become separated from them by astronomical distances,” Nate summarizes, “It must have something to do with the overlight engines.”
“Perhaps…” Alisha starts.
“Aha! The engines must operate on an anti-polar modality principle, thereby creating an unstable light cone. That’s what causes the changes in history. It is a fifth-dimensional shift! It’s been happening my whole life. I must have been separated from them for so long now that it finally caught up with me, and that means it must be an embodied anomaly. I can prove it!” Nate rambles. He gets up and starts drawing circles again.
“Nate,” Alisha says. Nate ignores her. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” she finally says.
Nate continues to draw until he runs out of paper. He reuses it, making smaller scribbles in the margins. “Nate,” a nurse says, suddenly intruding on his thoughts, “It’s lunchtime. You’ve almost missed it.”
“Oh, thanks,” Nate says. He rushes down to the cafeteria hall. He takes a heap of chop suey and a carton of milk and sits next to Derek, who has almost finished.
“Hey, Nate,” Derek greets.
“Hey, Derek,” Nate responds. Nate tastes his chop suey. It has too much tomatoe and not enough meat or salt. It is rather bland.
“It’s been a while since Pierre has made chop suey, but he hasn’t forgotten how. I think he might have even outdone himself. Mm-mmm,” Derek comments. “So what did you do all day?”
“Uh…” Nate mutters, “Nothing much.”
“Come on, what did you do? You’re always up to some weird thing,” Derek probes.
“I was just working on a theory of mine,” Nate says.
“What theory?” Derek asks.
“You won’t understand. It’s about the potential manifestations of a fifth-dimensional shift,” Nate answers.
“See, I was right. You are up to some weird thing. What’s a fifth-dimensional shift?” Derek asks.
“It’s uh…how do I explain? It’s when time moves sideways,” Nate says. “If you think of time as the fourth dimension, one who time-travels moves in the fourth dimension. If, while in the past, one takes action that compels history to take a different course, and then returns to the future, they will find themselves in a different timeline wherein history ran differently. It’s as if the universe branches into two parallel universes. In this model, it can be thought of as if the traveler moved sideways across time – moving in the fifth dimension. Sometimes, however, the universe will shift on its own without any time travel. When this happens, physicists call it a fifth-dimension shift.”
“Oh, okay,” Derek says.
“I think this is what’s happening to me. I’m now trying to find a way to prove it,” Nate says, before drinking his milk.
“Oh, that’s why your memories are different,” Derek comments, “But aren’t your memories always based on real events? That’s what I heard. If you’re really shifting around, why would there be any similarity?”
“Because the universe prefers consistency as much as possible. Whatever is causing the fifth-dimensional shift is forcing there to be inconsistencies, but it doesn’t have infinite power. It has to work against the natural order. Because the universe prefers consistency, events from my past life ensure that I continue to find myself in timelines with analogues of those events – such as Gruezhlings being replaced by stuffed animals. It’s not that stuffed animals are the basis for my Gruezhling fantasy race; it’s that Gruezhlings are the basis for my finding myself in a universe with stuffed animals,” Nate says.
“Stuffed animals?” Derek says before he cracks up, spitting milk all over his plate. “Why doesn’t this happen to anyone else?” Derek asks.
“Actually, it does. The moment I leave this timeline, it will start to happen to you, too – but then I will find myself in another timeline with another Derek who it has not happened to yet. From each of our perspectives, we will seem like the only one. To find ourselves in a universe wherein others experienced the same effect would mean that we were converging onto the same point in hyperspace, rather than radiating away from it. While possible, it is highly unlikely due to entropy. It’s for the same reason you can’t unscramble an egg,” Nate says, “The universal preference for consistency also explains why I don’t remember how I got here. I remember vague, isolated facts – such as being centuries old and that the culture used to be different – but as soon as pressed to remember events in time, I only remember things in order from the beginning – each new memory immediately after the last. Since my past must match my present in an analogous way, and the present unfolds linearly, so to must my past. Causality is relative.”
Derek looks confused for a moment. “I hate relativity!” he finally says, eating the last of his Chop Suey.
After lunch, Nate returns to his math, filling several new sheets of paper with circles. He becomes increasingly frustrated trying to make the math come out right. Still, he is hopeful. That night, as Nate struggles to sleep, he longs to have his old life back. If he can find the hyperspace anomaly causing the fifth-dimensional shift, he believes he can.