Trash And Treasure
“A restaurant?” Nathaniel asks, instantly awake.
“Yes,” Daddy says. The four boys are immediately teleported to the couch-unit where they join the girls.
Allison slouches in her seat with a scowl on her face. “I’m hungry now,” she says.
The couch-unit rises and moves forward, leaving the ship. “Stop whining,” Mama says. Looking around, Nathaniel sees that the ship has landed on a grassy beach. The couch-unit follows a dirt road inland. They pass by many flowers.
The girls start making quick glances at the boys and giggling. What is it they could have noticed? “He’s so,” Allison says.
“When he,” Sarah adds.
“I know,” Matilda says.
“Really?” Allison questions.
“Probably makes it,” Matilda comments. They all burst out giggling.
“The girls’ brains are getting stupider. They can’t make sentences,” Nathaniel whispers.
“No, that’s normal to happen to girls sometimes,” Haticat explains.
“Girls are always stupid,” Fred whispers.
“I don’t think they,” Allison says.
“No,” Matilda says.
“Not at all,” Sarah says. The girls burst out giggling again. They are so loud and annoying.
“Shut up!” Nathaniel yells.
“You shut up first!” Allison yells.
“I wasn’t even making noise. You were the ones laughing,” Nathaniel retorts.
“All of you shut up and don’t talk that way,” Daddy dictates. This is fine with Nathaniel. He never wants to talk to the girls again.
Soon, they arrive at a farm. Following the road between two fields of pumpkin plants, the couch-unit stops at a stand. Human adults sell many kinds of vegetables. There are pumpkins, squashes, zucchinis, peppers, onions, corn, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and more. At one end of the stand is an outdoor kitchen. An adult cooks mixtures of vegetables in pans and woks and on a grill. “Hello, my name is Misses Debra. What can I get you?” the adult asks.
“Hello, my name is Mama. We would like some vegetables for Allison to try, maybe zucchini and squash in a butter sauce, please,” Mama says.
“Okay, I have some here,” the adult says, scooping a mix into a bowl. She hands the bowl and a fork to Allison.
Allison refuses to take it. “Yuck!”
“You haven’t even tried it yet,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“It looks yucky,” Allison says.
“Eat your food,” Daddy says sternly.
“No,” Allison says.
“It’s against the rules to say ‘no.’ Eat your food,” Mama and Daddy say. Allison just scowls.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel is hungry. “Do you have any apples?” he asks the adult. She just stares. “Please?” he adds.
“I have a delicious soup made with apples and sweet potatoes,” she says, now smiling.
“Uh…No,” Nathaniel mumbles, “No thank you.”
“How about eggplant fried in breadcrumbs and powdered cumin?” she asks, holding a slice up with a pair of tongs.
“Um…okay,” Nathaniel says. The adult wraps the piece in a paper towel and hands it to him. He bites into it. The taste is difficult to process. He is not sure if he likes it or not. He finally decides that he likes it more than he dislikes it, but that it needs salt.
After trying to get Allison to taste squash, zucchini, carrots, celery, and asparagus without luck, Mama and Daddy finally convince her to eat broccoli. She still scowls, but eats it anyway. The Mama-And-Daddy eventually pays for the food and takes the children back home.
After breakfast, the children are allowed to explore the beach. Allison, Matilda, and Sarah sit down in a grassy area near a patch of orange and yellow flowers and start a tea party. Nathaniel and the boys run along the sandy and rocky beach, looking for shells and interesting rocks.
There is a lot of trash here. The Humans living nearby are so rich they have no need to reuse anything and throw out their old belongings every time they upgrade to new models. In some places, the trash is heaped into deep piles. Many of the tools and appliances still function. There are clothes, shoes, furniture, carpeting, flower pots, baskets, and books. The boys pick through the pile looking for weapons and other useful things. Crabs, spiders, and birds make their homes in every nook and cranny. Doctor Bill finds a set of electromagnetic scanners. “I think I can repair these,” he says, stuffing them into a bag he also finds.
Nathaniel finds a case of pencils. They are in perfect condition. “Why did they throw these away?” he asks.
“Perhaps the Humans upgraded to digital graphics systems,” Doctor Bill offers.
“I found a lamp,” Fred announces.
“How can we see if it works with no outlets here?” Haticat asks.
“We need to find a crank-generator,” Nathaniel says.
“I don’t see any,” Haticat says, looking around, “But here are some computer disks.”
Meanwhile, the girls give up on tea parties and start poking through the refuse further along the beach. “Hey, look at this pretty brush,” Matilda says. She pretends to brush hair much longer than the short fur she has.
“I found a cute mirror,” Sarah says, “Now we can put on lipstick – if we find any.”
“Eew, there are crabs here,” Allison comments.
“Gross!” Sarah exclaims, throwing the mirror at the nearest crab. The mirror shatters while the crab skitters away unharmed. “Oh, I broke the mirror,” Sarah says, giggling. All the girls giggle at their own recklessness.
“I have an idea. We should build a play-house and pretend that we live in it,” Allison suggests.
“That’s fun!” Matilda exclaims.
The girls pick up some thin, wooden beams, tie them together with twine, and drape some old curtains over them. “This will be the prettiest house ever,” Sarah declares.
Elsewhere, the boys observe the girls erecting the structure. “The girls are building a fort! They’re trying to claim the trash piles!” Haticat exclaims.
“We need to build our own fort to defend our part of the beach,” Nathaniel declares.
“We should build ours stronger and bigger,” Doctor Bill says.
“Hurry!” Fred says. The boys start picking up metal piping and using a metal hand-saw to cut notches in the pipes. They fit them together and stick bolts in them. Not having enough of the right size, they sometimes jam two bolts together into the same hole. They attach vinyl siding to the outside. Ninety minutes later, they are finished. All four boys issue a battle cry and dance around the fort. “Our fort is indestructible!” Fred calls.
Feeling annoyed inside the girls’ play-house, Sarah asks, “What are they doing now?”
Matilda pokes her head out the side of the play-house and observes the boys whooping and running around the fort. “The boys built some kind of play-house. It’s so ugly,” she reports.
Sarah and Allison take a peek. “I don’t understand. They built a play-house, but they aren’t playing in it. Instead, they’re running around outside of it. Why are boys so stupid?” Allison asks.
“Boys are born that way; their brains don’t work,” Matilda informs. The girls withdraw back into the play-house and do their best to ignore the noisy boys.
“They went back inside,” Nathaniel reports, “They must be afraid of us.”
“Now that we have a fort, we can defend our area while we search in other piles,” Haticat says, “One of us should always stay here to guard the fort, while the other three go searching.”
“We’ll take turns,” Doctor Bill says, “I can guard first.”
“Okay,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” Haticat agrees.
Haticat, Nathaniel, and Fred sneak away from the fort, ducking behind piles, meandering their way closer to the girls. They split up and start digging while looking up periodically to see if they have been noticed. Haticat finds a pair of goggles that might be useful sometime. Fred finds a magnifying glass. The boys run back to the fort. “They didn’t try to stop us at all,” Fred says.
“It has to be a trick,” Haticat says.
“Speaking of tricks, I’ve been thinking about all this stuff we’ve collected,” Doctor Bill says, indicating the pile of electronics he sits on. “I believe we have the necessary tools and components to build a hologram projector. All we lack is an energy source. We can use the hologram projector to make it look like one of us is guarding the fort, keeping the girls away, while in reality all four of us could be elsewhere.”
“I like it,” Nathaniel says.
“That’s a good idea,” Fred says.
“By the way, the way I just brought the subject up, spinning off from your subject by saying ‘speaking of tricks,’ is called a segue. It’s a talking trick I invented while on Gruezhe. Everyone likes it,” Doctor Bill says.
“I like it too,” Haticat says.
“It’s a good invention,” Nathaniel adds.
At about that time, the wind from the sea starts to pick up. It gradually gets stronger and stronger. The girls’ play-house sways back and forth, loose parts of the curtain whipping in the wind. “The wind is getting in!” Allison whines.
“We won’t let it in by the fur on my chin-e-chin-chin!” Matilda boldly proclaims.
“Hey, you made a rhyme,” Sarah says, “That’s cute.” Allison and Sarah giggle.
While the girls continue to giggle without actually doing anything to stop the wind from getting in, a strong gust gets underneath the roof, lifts the whole structure up, and knocks it over. The twine loosens and the beams collapse in a heap next to them.
The girls immediately run over to the boys’ fort and barge in. “Our house blew down,” Allison says.
“Go away,” Nathaniel says. All the boys take defensive stances.
“Let us stay; we can make your play-house prettier,” Sarah begs.
“What’s a play-house?” Fred asks Haticat.
“We don’t want anything pretty. Just go away,” Nathaniel says.
“Grrr,” Allison growls. The girls do not budge.
The wind starts to blow harder. The structure rocks back and forth and the bolts start to come loose, working their way out slowly. “The wind is taking our fort apart, now,” Doctor Bill says. Nathaniel takes a hammer to push a bolt back in but only succeeds in loosening it so that it falls right out.
The girls turn to each other and start speaking seemingly random words and phrases. “Do the?” Matilda says.
“Together,” Allison says.
“Yeah,” Sarah says.
“We’ll stop the wind by the fur on my chin-e-chin-chin,” all the girls speak together before breaking out giggling again. The boys are totally weirded-out.
Fred pushes against one wall to stabilize the rocking structure while Haticat tries to replace the bolt. Finally, the fort caves in on itself. The children barely escape. The wind is so strong that Matilda’s dress acts as a parachute, briefly lifting her off the ground with every step. The children run into The Mama-And-Daddy.
“It’s time for mealtime,” Mama says.
“It’s very windy outside, isn’t it?” Daddy asks.
“Yeah,” Haticat says.
While eating, the boys watch as the wind tears through the bushes and grass nearby. The waves on the sea get larger and more violent. Leaves blow against the window, but they hear nothing inside. They feel no movement. “The Mama-And-Daddy is a very strong fort,” Nathaniel concludes. Eventually, the sun sets and the wind dies.
“It’s sleeptime,” Mama announces.
“I’m not tired,” Allison says.
“It’s sleeptime,” Mama says sternly. Allison scowls and folds her arms. She is teleported to her room.
Nathaniel is used to being told to sleep in when he is not tired and being woken when he is tired. He knows to take advantage of the time when the sun shines on the part of whatever planet he is on when he can and sleep during the night instead. This night, however, he decides to sneak out, gambling that The Mama-And-Daddy will not leave Earth so soon. There is a full moon lighting the beach. Aided with flashlights, he and his Gruezhlings go out to search for more tools.
Moving further down the beach than they did before and digging deeper than they did before, it is not long before Fred makes a fantastic discovery. “There’s a whole spaceship under here!” he yells.
“What?” Nathaniel calls. The other boys rush over.
“This is great!” Haticat exclaims.
“Now we can explore any planet we want!” Nathaniel declares.
“If it’s fast enough, we can get away from The Mama-And-Daddy when it goes searching for us. It won’t be able to catch us,” Haticat reasons.
“Yeah, then we never have to see it again,” Nathaniel says.
“It seems to be in good shape. I hope it has fuel enough,” Doctor Bill says.
“It has a little bit,” Fred announces, looking at the gauge. The boys all squeeze inside the cockpit. It is only a small space pod, lacking even a restroom. A central column runs through the circular room lined with seats on the outer perimeter. On one side of the room are the pilot controls and viewscreen.
Nathaniel shines his flashlight on the controls. “I think I can fly it. It looks just like the picture in the pilot-book I read.”
“Let’s leave tonight! Right now!” Haticat says.
“What about our blocks and crayons?” Fred asks.
“We’ll get new ones,” Nathaniel says, “I don’t want to give The Mama-And-Daddy any chance of stopping us.”
“We should at least collect our tools from outside first so we can repair the ship if we have to, and trade some later for fuel. The amount we have now won’t get us far,” Doctor Bill says.
“We’ll also need to trade something for spacesuits, food, and other supplies,” Nathaniel says.
“I’ll gather up what I can,” Doctor Bill says.
As the four boys crawl out of the ship, they are startled by Allison, Sarah, and Matilda crawling in. “Take us with you!” Allison demands.
“No girls allowed! This is our ship!” Nathaniel says.
“Grrr. There’s no candy left and The Mama-And-Daddy won’t do what I tell it,” Allison complains, “It even made me eat vegetables.”
“That’s your problem,” Nathaniel says.
“If you don’t take us with you, I’ll wake The Mama-And-Daddy and tell it you’re outside during sleeptime,” Allison threatens.
“Do that and The Mama-And-Daddy will wonder how you found out. I’ll tell it you were also outside during sleeptime,” Nathaniel states.
“But I’ll only get punished a little bit. You’ll get punished more because you’re older, so it’s worth the risk for me,” Allison rebuts.
Nathaniel grumbles. “Fine, but I’m driving.”
Allison looks disappointed. “Fine!” Nathaniel is sure she doesn’t know how to drive the ship anyway.
“First we need to gather some things to trade for fuel and supplies,” Nathaniel says.
“We have a beautiful collection of dresses,” Matilda says. Nathaniel just sighs.
Nate suddenly stops talking. “Hold on! How could I have known if you were really a brunette if it was just a false memory?” Nate asks, his mind suddenly snapping back to the conversation earlier that morning.
“Hmm? What do you mean?” Alisha questions.
“If you’ve been blonde for years, there’s no reason for me to misremember you as a brunette yesterday unless in some parallel timeline you never dyed your hair. I must be remembering something real. I didn’t remember you as a red-head, something I presume you’ve never been,” Nate explains.
“It’s only a coincidence. You just happened to be right this time by chance,” Alisha claims.
“No, don’t you see? This proves it,” Nate says, “How could I remember hidden truths never revealed to me unless history really is changing? No matter how overactive my imagination might get, I’m not going to make up the truth.”
“Nate, it’s a coincidence. There are only so many hair colors,” Alisha insists.
“It’s not just that,” Nate says, “You told me your father wanted to name you Allison. In another universe with some other history, he must have prevailed. That must be the universe I was just in before it changed into this one. That’s why I thought your name was Allison: In some other universe, you are.”
“Nate…” Alisha starts.
“Now what would cause that? Tachyon oscillations? Infra-dimensionality conversions? This high above absolute zero? What could serve as the catalyst? Anyons? Retrons? Pseudomesons?” Nate interrupts, scratching his chin and looking at the wall.
“Nate,” Alisha says, her eyes wide.
“Wait! If the tensors apply to scalar time, our rest-space would be able to change its topological probabilities matrix without causing a catastrophic inversion! That must be it! It’s a form of fifth-dimensional shift!” Nate says, leaning forward in his chair.
“Nate,” Alisha says again, her eyes still wide. She swallows.
“I’ll have to do some testing to determine whether we have an embodied or disembodied anomaly,” Nate goes on, getting up. He grabs some paper and a pen from nearby and starts rapidly scribbling overlapping circles and figure-eights, mumbling and softly laughing to himself.
“Nate, let’s see Doctor Nguyen for just a moment,” Alisha suggests.
“There’s no need,” Nate says gruffly.
“Please, I’m worried. You’re very excited and talking strangely. Let’s see him just to make sure everything is fine,” Alisha says.
“Just because you don’t understand my words, doesn’t mean I don’t,” Nate says.
Alisha sighs. “Where did you learn all that, then?” she asks.
“The library. Haticat and I read a lot of books,” Nate answers.
“So you remember everything about your past life starting from the beginning as I ask you, but you can’t remember what happened just before you came to live in the facility or how you got here?” Alisha asks.
Nate turns to face Alisha. He opens his mouth, closes it, and looks down. “No.”
The two stand in silence for several seconds. “Let’s visit Doctor Nguyen,” Alisha says.
Alisha, Nate, and Doctor Nguyen sit in Doctor Nguyen’s office. “He got very excited and started speaking gibberish and drawing circles,” Alisha explains.
“Hmm. Do you have any idea why she might think you were speaking gibberish?” Doctor Nguyen asks.
“I might have been. I’m not sure. I suddenly got an idea that made sense to me at the time,” Nate explains.
“And what are these?” Doctor Nguyen asks, holding up Nate’s paper.
“Those are Shadastine equations. It’s a non-linear writing style. They’re often used in certain applications of dimensional mechanics,” Nate says.
“How are you feeling today?” Doctor Nguyen asks.
“I feel fine,” Nate responds.
“Have you been sleeping well?” Doctor Nguyen asks.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Nate says.
“When did you last eat?” Doctor Nguyen asks.
“Breakfast. I had eggs, a pancake, and orange juice,” Nate answers.
Doctor Nguyen looks Nate in the eyes, checking for uneven pupil dilation. “Hmm, well I don’t see any reason to be too concerned at the moment. If you’d like, I can give you a mild sedative,” Doctor Nguyen offers.
“No, I’m fine,” Nate says.
“I think we should show him his records again,” Alisha says.
“That’s a good idea,” Doctor Nguyen agrees.
“Wait, won’t that contaminate my testimony?” Nate asks.
“Testimony? What are you talking about?” Alisha asks.
“You want to know why I ran away and how I eluded security,” Nate reminds her.
“You ran away from what?” Alisha asks.
“What’s the reason you’re interviewing me?” Nate asks.
“It’s part of your new therapy Doctor Nguyen and I came up with. We’re seeing how it works,” Alisha answers.
“But you said…Never mind,” Nate says.
Doctor Nguyen retrieves a large envelope and sets it on his desk. “Here, take a look at this,” he says. He pulls out a photograph and shows Nate. “This is from last April. You shaved off half your hair, claiming alien parasites were burrowing into your scalp to steal the location of your secret treasure. After that, we revoked your razor privileges.” He pulls out another photograph. “This is from June. We found you in the showers running pure cold water over yourself. You had been for hours. You said you were trying to mask your body heat to avoid being detected by killer robots.” Nate looks the two photos over. The Doctor pulls out a third photograph. “This is from August. You somehow managed to give yourself a black eye. We don’t know how. You claimed you were in a fistfight with President Andrew Jackson who had followed you through a time portal.”
“I don’t remember any of this,” Nate says.
“History isn’t changing,” Alisha says, “Your memories are fantasized versions of real events in your life, like how your race with your sister on Binerty is based on the story of the tortoise and the hare. You must have heard the story growing up.”
“It doesn’t ring any bells,” Nate says. “Well, it seems that even if history is changing, I now find myself in a world wherein I really do have perceptual problems.”
“I’m sorry, Nate,” Alisha says, “Would you like to take a break for the rest of the day?”
Nate thinks for a while, tapping his lips with his index finger. “No, I’m good. I want to keep going.”
“Alright, let’s return to your room and you can tell me what you and your sister did with that spaceship you found,” Alisha says.
“Okay,” Nate responds.