It is raining outside. The rainy season has begun. Haticat and Nathaniel are sad because they know it is against the rules to play in the rain. Suddenly, Nathaniel gets an idea. “Since it is against the rules to play in the rain, the Mama-And-Daddy will have to let us play inside,” Nathaniel says excitedly.
“Yeah, or else they’ll have to let us play in the rain since it is against the rules to play inside,” Haticat adds excitedly.
“When two rules contradict each other, we can choose which one to follow; it’s rule-relativity,” Nathaniel reasons.
“Yup,” Haticat says. They both immediately begin running through the hallways.
“Stop running inside!” Mama screams.
“You’re!” Daddy says.
“A!” Mama says.
“Very!” Mama and Daddy say together.
“Bad!” Daddy says.
“Dinosaur!” Mama says.
“Go to your room! Now!!!” Mama and Daddy yell. Nathaniel and Haticat are transported to their room.
“Aaargh!” Nathaniel roars, kicking the fuzzy walls with his foot claws. He is so angry.
“Stop kicking the walls!” Mama and Daddy yell.
They won’t even let him vent! Nathaniel only needs to vent due to the fault of the Mama-And-Daddy for sending him to his room unfairly. This makes him even angrier. He continues to kick the walls defiantly while Haticat throws pillows at the Mama-And-Daddy’s faces. Lightning bolts shoot out from both faces and hit Nathaniel and Haticat, sending them reeling. “Owww!” Nathaniel cries, hiding behind the pile of pillows.
“Stop crying or I’ll give you a reason to cry!” Mama yells.
Nathaniel was already finished, but is angered that Mama would even say such a thing. He jumps out from behind the pillow pile. Adrenalin pumping, he rushes the polyp-heads at top speed. He kicks Mama in the face and tries to bite Daddy’s tentacles off. He only succeeds in hurting his teeth. There is no damage whatsoever to the ivory-like substance of the Mama-And-Daddy. Immediately, he is thrown into his pillow pile by twin bolts of lightning. Pillows fly in all directions. Nathaniel again finds that he is frozen solid – and in a rather uncomfortable position, his back arched over some pillows. Haticat has already passed out nearby. “You can stay there until you learn your lesson!” Daddy barks. The polyp-heads deactivate.
All the previous times Nathaniel had been frozen, it felt like hours but was actually minutes or less. This time felt like weeks. Frustrated, he feels he is wasting time that could be better spent playing. Four hours later, the Mama-And-Daddy releases him. His back is so sore. “I don’t know why you’re so grumpy today, but you’d better behave yourself from now on,” Daddy says. Why is Nathaniel grumpy? He is only grumpy now because the Mama-And-Daddy started fighting with him. Why is the Mama-And-Daddy so grumpy?
“Your friends are here. They invited you to their house and you’re going,” Mama says. Nathaniel is happy to go, but cannot help wondering what might happen if he wasn’t. He picks up Haticat and carries him down to the first floor. The psittacosaur, the iguanodont, the prosauropod, and their five Gruezhlings are there. Nathaniel follows them out the door.
“Go straight to their house and don’t stay out in the rain,” Mama and Daddy warn. Once outside, the children run to the psittacosaur’s house. The psittacosaur lives in a gigantic log cabin. He shows the rest of them around, pointing out everything, including a fireplace. The psittacosaurs sleep on hammocks, and also use them for storage; they have no closets. There are no pillows in the home either. Nathaniel still thinks it weird that most people have separate houses and spacecraft – the Mama-And-Daddy is both!
They don’t stay long. The children follow the psittacosaur into his room on the far end of the house where he his parents won’t hear them. Whispering, he says, “I got some rocket fuel. We can go to Planet Candy now.” He pulls down two sealed cans from a hammock.
“Yes, finally,” the iguanodont whispers.
“Sneak quietly out the back door and run to the spaceport,” the psittacosaur orders.
“Let’s go,” the prosauropod says.
Following the psittacosaur, all the children quietly sneak out the back and run through the rain. The nearest occupied landing pad is less than a mile away, surrounded by cycads and tree ferns. While dinosaurs have been known to use money, especially when trading with humans, more often they will barter. Those wishing to procure a ride into space are grouped together by destination. So long as the group as a whole donates enough supplies for the trip, the pilots do not care to keep track of how much each passenger gives. Those more desirous of the trip often donate more and those not wanting to wait for others make sure to bring along at least some.
The dinosaurs and Gruezhlings stand under a wooden shelter with ten others – both adults and children. The pilot of the brown, saucer-shaped craft – a coelurosaur kid – checks the amount of fuel in the first can. “That’s just enough. Everybody put your fuel in,” he says. Everyone who brought fuel empties their containers into one of eight external valves and discards the empty containers into a pile for use by others in the future. The psittacosaur empties one can, keeping the second for the return trip. “All right, we can finally go,” the pilot announces. Everyone enters the ship and straps in. The straps are designed to accommodate dinosaurs of all sizes and shapes. One of the adults (a non-crested hadrosaur) walks to the pilot’s seat and straps in. “Hey…” the pilot starts to protest, but stops. He is experienced enough to know not to argue with an adult unless it becomes absolutely necessary.
“Everyone get buckled; it’s the rules!” the adult hadrosaur calls back. The copilot – a brown, rabbit-like Gruezhling with an extra set of arms on the head – gets up and walks out back to join the pilot. The adult passengers inspect to make sure that all are buckled properly. They don’t seem to trust kids at all. Soon, the antigravity engines begin to hum. Seconds later, the saucer accelerates into the sky.
“Why is he so bossy?” Nathaniel asks of the hadrosaur adult.
“Adults always think they are the bosses wherever they go. They just take whatever they want,” the psittacosaur explains.
“Grrrr,” Nathaniel growls under his breath. He is still a little angry with the Mama-And-Daddy.
Nathaniel is not close enough to a window to see much outside, but Haticat is. Haticat watches the ground slip away. He sees another ship land on the very pad they just left. Soon, they are in the rainclouds and the ship shudders. Then they are above the clouds and moving ever faster. In less than six minutes, they are in space.
The ship then enters overlight drive, speeding towards the Planet Candy faster than the speed of light. They travel much faster than the Mama-And-Daddy usually does. Fifteen minutes into the trip, they dock with another ship coming from elsewhere in the galaxy and heading towards the planet Tartock. Two of the adults get off and one gets on. This is a common practice in this part of the galaxy, saving the number of ships needed to transport people on multiple pathways. Twenty-five minutes later, they enter the atmosphere of Planet Candy and slow down.
The air seals are broken and even before they land, Nathaniel smells the difference. He smells cotton candy, bubblegum, marshmallows, chocolate, vanilla, and (unfortunately) licorice. They land. This is a smaller spaceport in a different part of the planet than Nathaniel had been before. The passengers all disembark and scatter in all directions along the silver walkways. The psittacosaur runs out and his friends follow at top speed in a mad dash for the treeline.
These are strange trees. They seem to be made of pointy sugar crystals in various shades of green, white, blue, and brown, arranged into all different configurations. The dinosaurs immediately set to work on nibbling away at them. Meekons, Humans, Hammer-Faces, Candy Wizards, Brachiosaurs, Diplodocids, Heltas, and scaly, large-toothed, tear-shaped Marboxes do the same nearby. Tasting the trees, Nathaniel realizes they are quite sour. What a surprise! “I didn’t know there were sour candies,” he says.
“There are lots of sour candies on The Planet Candy,” the iguanodont says.
“I went to a different place on Candy before. There was lots of chocolate, but no sour candy,” Nathaniel informs.
“Do you like it?” the iguanodont asks.
“I like it a lot,” Nathaniel says. There are strange, green fruits growing on the trees. “What are these?” Nathaniel asks, pulling one off.
“Those are candy-limes,” the prosauropod answers.
Nathaniel eats one. It is sour and sweet. He likes it. “I like it,” he declares. Moving on from the candy-lime grove, the children visit several different sections of the sour-farm. There are sour grapes, sour apples, sour cherries, lemons, grapefruit (Candy grapefruit are better than Earth grapefruit), oranges, cranberries, and rhubarb. There are also strange pods filled with chewy, sweet-and-sour seeds of several flavors and colors per pod. At the center of the farm is a tiny processing plant. There, a Candy Wizard hands out samples of sour candies processed into all shapes and taste combinations. White brick walkways connect the different parts of the farm. Nathaniel notices the psittacosaur nibbling on them and joins him. They are sweet, chalky, and only mildly sour.
Continuing past the farm, the children enter a busy plaza. They pick up some chocolate milk, milkshakes, candy corn, and candied fruit. Nathaniel asks for candied Earth apples, but the Candy Wizards only carry sweet Candy-apples and sour Candy-apples. Stopping in a store afterwards, the children examine strange novelties. There are mirror-coated candies, candies with elaborate pictures and designs, and edible sticky-tape. The other dinosaurs introduce Nathaniel to vibrating hard candies and jumping hard candies. Even after chewed or melted into pieces, each piece continues to vibrate or jump in the mouth. They feel so weird. The psittacosaur dares Nathaniel to taste a chocolate-coated jellyfish tentacle. Nathaniel likes spicy food, but this food hurts. He decides never to do it again. The psittacosaur declares Nathaniel the most daring dinosaur of the day. Nathaniel’s favorite candy in the store is the candy that automatically reshapes itself after every bite so as to always have an easy-to-bite corner. Nathaniel loves cornered food. He wants to stuff a bunch in his pockets for later, but he knows he has no money and stealing would be wrong.
“I haven’t seen these before,” the prosauropod says of the always-corner candies.
“That’s because they’re new. We just released them three days ago,” a nearby Candy Wizard explains.
“Oh, I like it,” the prosauropod remarks.
“Me too,” the iguanodont agrees.
“I like corners on my candy!” Nathaniel excitedly declares.
Leaving the plaza in the opposite direction from the way they came, they enter another farm with mostly low-growing plants. The prosauropod informs Nathaniel between mouthfuls that the plants are named spearmint and peppermint. These are very strange plants. They taste…cold. This is a flavor Nathaniel had never tasted before – another surprise! He gobbles them up. While grazing, the dinosaurs do not notice a storm approaching. “Hey, I think that maybe a storm is coming,” Haticat says.
“Oh goody!” the iguanodont says, “Storms are awesome.” Nathaniel and all the Gruezhlings jump up and down. They all run towards the storm to meet it as soon as possible. Soon, the wind picks up. It turns out to be mostly a windstorm with very little rain, which is good because Nathaniel and Haticat do not want to go inside, and it’s the rules to go inside during rain.
The wind stirs up a cloud of minty powder all around them, permeating everything with an exhilarating feeling of cool. This is a strange, magical effect. The dinosaurs breathe deeply. The Gruezhlings absorb the smell into their fibers. They all dance and leap for ten minutes until the storm blows over. It moves through very fast.
Returning to the plaza, the dinosaurs seek out a store carrying mint-cold candies and sour candies. They want to try all kinds. Suddenly, they see the Mama-And-Daddy couch-unit speeding towards them. It glows blue and red. Behind them follow the psittacosaur’s parents, the iguanodont’s parents, and the prosauropod’s parents. Nathaniel has never seen adults walk so fast. Usually, they are too tired. “You’re in big trouble, Nathaniel!” the Mama-And-Daddy says. The dinosaur parents round up their children and spank them with their tails. The psittacosaur runs off and his parents chase him down through the crowds.
“Climb on!” Daddy orders. Nathaniel hesitatingly approaches the couch-unit. “Get on right now!!!!” Daddy shouts. Startled, Nathaniel steps back. Haticat just watches, not sure what to do.
“You’d better start doing what we tell you!” Mama and Daddy say. Nathaniel and Haticat are suddenly trapped and forcefully dragged by an invisible tractor beam towards the couch-unit. Being caught by surprise and having never felt a tractor beam before, Nathaniel and Haticat instinctively react by struggling against it.
“Don’t fight us,” Daddy commands, “You’re being punished.” Stuck to the couch-unit, Nathaniel and Haticat are whisked away at high speed. A million thoughts pour through Nathaniel’s mind, one of which – interestingly enough – is why the Mama-And-Daddy didn’t just teleport him to his room like it usually does when it wants to fight. Wouldn’t it be easier?
Arriving inside the ship, Nathaniel notices that it is humming loudly. Some spots glow blue and others glow red. A few spots glow green. He is teleported to his room. Haticat lies comatose beside him. Nathaniel rubs his shoulder and realizes that he has lost some feathers from struggling against the tractor beam. “When we tell you to do something, do it right away!” Mama and Daddy say.
“You didn’t give me a chance!” Nathaniel argues.
“We had to tell you multiple times; don’t go to Planet Candy without us,” Mama and Daddy say.
“You never told me that!” Nathaniel says.
“Yes we did, and you agreed to it,” Mama and Daddy insist.
“I don’t remember that! It never happened,” Nathaniel claims.
“I remember differently,” Mama and Daddy claim.
“You used to be such a good dinosaur until today,” Mama says.
“Since when? You always punish me,” Nathaniel says.
“We’ve never punished you before,” Mama insists. Nathaniel suddenly feels very strange. Was the Mama-And-Daddy sick? Why couldn’t it remember right?
“You punished me this morning,” Nathaniel says softly.
“No, that wasn’t fighting. We just had to punish you,” Daddy says.
“I said punish,” Nathaniel says timidly, feeling even stranger.
“Don’t talk that way to Mama!” Daddy yells. Nathaniel thought he had been talking to both – and why not talk that way?
“We had to teach you not to play with those animals on Trachoos so they wouldn’t get hurt,” Mama says. What is she talking about? What is going on?
“We only want what’s best for you,” Daddy claims.
“Don’t break the rules again,” Mama and Daddy say. The polyp-heads deactivate. Nathaniel is left bewildered. Just in case, he pushes on the door to see if they forgot to lock it. They didn’t.
Haticat eventually revives and asks Nathaniel to tell him what happened. Nathaniel fills him in on all the perplexing details. “That’s very strange,” Haticat remarks.
“It’s very very strange,” Nathaniel says.
“It’s very very very strange,” Haticat adds.
Nathaniel stares at the wall for a long time. “We need to get out of here and not come back,” he says.
“Yeah, that will fix everything,” Haticat agrees.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel says.
That night after dinner, Nathaniel and Haticat grab their library books and sneak out into the dark. It has stopped raining. The Mama-And-Daddy still glows blue and red inside and out. They run into the night until they come to the first landing pad. A different saucer-shaped ship sits on it this time. “Do you want to go to Earth?” the pilot asks.
“Yes,” Nathaniel answers. What luck! That was exactly where they wanted to go.
“Okay, join the group,” The pilot says. Nathaniel and Haticat stand next to three triceratops kids, an iguanodont kid, and ten Gruezhlings. The triceratopses wear matching red blouses.
“You don’t have any fuel?” the iguanodont asks.
“Nope,” Nathaniel says.
“Aarg! I’ve been waiting fifteen minutes already; I wish somebody would bring more fuel,” the iguanodont says.
“Wow, that’s a long time,” Nathaniel comments.
“What are you going to do on Earth?” a panda-like Gruezhling that seems to be with the iguanodont asks.
“I’m going to eat lots of apples!” Nathaniel declares.
“That’s what I’m going to do too,” the iguanodont responds.
Finally, a purple-striped dimetrodon and dog-like Gruezhling arrive with a bottle of spaceship fuel. Everyone gets on board the saucer and straps in. Including exiting and entering the atmospheres, the trip to Earth only takes twenty minutes.
When the doors open on Earth, it is daytime, cool, and foggy. Nathaniel and Haticat run out the door. They take a deep breath (Nathaniel through his nostrils, Haticat through his skin). The air smells faintly of pine needles. The ship sits on a large, raised pad. There are stairs, but Nathaniel and Haticat jump the three meters down instead. They follow the iguanodont and his Gruezhling, guessing they know where the apples are. “We need money for stuff on Earth. Where can we find money?” Nathaniel thinks out loud.
“I have money,” the iguanodont says, “If you do a dance for me, I can give you some.”
“That’s a good idea; we can be dancers to get money,” Haticat says.
“I don’t feel like dancing,” Nathaniel says.
The iguanodont thinks hard for a moment. “I know! You can pick apples for me so I’ll have twice as much! Then I can pay you to buy your own apples,” the iguanodont suggests.
“Yeah, we’re good at picking apples,” Nathaniel agrees.
“Okay, let’s find some apples,” the iguanodont says. They soon find a map that tells them where they are. “I know an orchard three hundred twenty-four kilometers from here. It shouldn’t take long.”
“Where is the library on the map?” Nathaniel asks.
“Which library are your books from?” the iguanodont asks.
“Is there more than one library?” Nathaniel asks.
“There are hundreds. Let me see,” the iguanodont says, taking one of the books and turning over the cover. “Oh, that’s on this continent.” He peers at the map. “The library is nine hundred twenty-three kilometers from here. Let’s go there first.”
“Okay,” Nathaniel says.
The iguanodont leads the way to the taxi plane pickup. He pays the taxi pilot thirteen money-dollars to take them to the library/museum. The trip takes twenty-three minutes. Nathaniel marvels at the large numbers of aircraft zipping through the air in all directions. They land in the parking lot of the large, white, stone building and walk inside. Nathaniel goes straight to the librarian’s desk to return the books. The same librarian is there. “Thank you,” she drones.
Nathaniel begins to walk away, then turns back and says, “You’re welcome.” Even as he feels good for having remembered the rule, he feels angry that there is a rule, and then he remembers that he is still mad at adults. He is especially still angry with the Mama-And-Daddy.
The children then run down the hall to the bookshelves, the iguanodont shaking the floor with each step. “No running inside!” the librarian calls, but the children are too excited to hear. The children split up. Haticat sees some books about money and how to earn it. One method that intrigues him is finding it buried underground. He pulls down a book on mining and a book on treasure hunting. Another method that intrigues him is printing it, but he quickly figures out that it takes money to buy the printing press first. Nathaniel finds a whole bookshelf with nothing but books about spaceships. He skims through them. Opening a fat, blue book, he sees that it is divided into eighteen chapters – each describing a different way to design an overlight engine. This is a good book to have so he and Haticat can build their own spaceship to live in. He takes it. Nathaniel gets so engrossed in reading the blue book that he forgets to keep looking for others. He also starts to feel tired. It is getting near his bedtime.
Suddenly the library is gone and they are standing in the entrance room of the Mama-And-Daddy, minus their books. The entire structure vibrates and hums, but in a way he has never heard before. Moving spots on the walls glow yellow. The eyes of Mama and Daddy blaze intensely yellow. “We’ve chased you a long time!” Mama yells.
“You’re a bad dinosaur!” Daddy yells. Several lightning bolts shoot from Daddy’s face in all directions. One hits Nathaniel directly in the face. Haticat dodges one only by stepping into the path of another bolt ricocheting off the wall. Nathaniel lunges at the polyp-heads in anger, but is teleported to his room in mid-leap, smashing himself into his door. Haticat appears a second later.
“How did it find us?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know. It must be really good at finding things,” Haticat responds.
“It found us on Earth, on Candy, and on Trachoos,” Nathaniel says.
“We can’t get away. It makes me mad,” Haticat says.
“Grrr!” Nathaniel yells, kicking pillows around.
Finally, he and Haticat slump into the pillow pile. They start to feel sleepy. “I think the Mama-And-Daddy somehow knows when we get too far away, like when we leave the planet, but not when we just leave the common field,” Nathaniel says. There is a long pause.
“We tried reasoning with it. We tried running and hiding from it. We tried fighting it. Nothing works,” Haticat summarizes.
“I know,” Nathaniel responds.
“But we still need to play and explore,” Haticat says.
There is a very long pause as the two of them think. “We can’t stop exploring or playing; that’s impossible. We also can’t beat the Mama-And-Daddy; that is also impossible,” Nathaniel finally says. There is another long pause. The cumulative weight of the past few weeks since his birth presses upon him. “We can still explore only if nearby and not during mealtime or after sleeptime, or during raintime,” he concludes, adding softly, “That’s just what we have to do.”
This is Nathaniel’s Final Choice: He will explore. He will play. He will not stray too far. He will always be back on time. This is the fate he accepts. He thinks over all this as he sets out to explore the next planet the Mama-And-Daddy lands on. Wading through the warm, luminescent, blue-white slush swamps of the planet Hoosh with Haticat on his back, he attempts to catch the native slushfish. What an amazing planet!