Johnny still felt like an oddity among the multitude of species….


Johnny still felt like an oddity among the multitude of species ambling and hovering and squatting in the plaza. Even though most of the Imari were as dark as he, and in features not noticeably different, they carried themselves with a strong sense of peace, a beatitude he still wasn’t used to, and he was sure, no, he knew, everyone, every species, read his tension, his preoccupations, his assumptions that he would be forever treated with disdain, or worse with disingenuous civility or solicitous over-friendliness, like on his homeworld among the pale people. Not to mention, it had taken him months to trust leaving his trumpet, indeed all their band equipment behind at an unknown club with no security system or at an open amphitheater, unlocked, and unguarded.

He sucked in the fresh, rich air and found his energies returning, Lenx’s strong Imari arm was wrapped around his shoulder and Raygoth and Rico were ambling ahead of them sorting out the clusters and kiosks, determined to find those honeyed root cakes the rest stop was famous for and that new bot/cranberry juice cocktail everyone was raving about. Their exuberance and their renewed, always renewed, spurts of energy were contagious. “C’mon, you guys,” Raygoth empathed to the dawdling lovers. “We found a great spot.” Lenx squeezed Johnny’s shoulders. “I don’t know how you did it, but I’m actually beginning to love that crazy Pomdos, even when we’re not jamming. But don’t you go and tell her.”

“You underestimate their empath powers.”

“I know how to keep them off my private channel. Now, you better keep my secret too, you hear me? Now where did those two run off to?”

When Lenx and Johnny found Rico and Raygoth, they were already setting up the tumblers and dipping sauces. “They ran out of bot/cranberry for the evening,” Raygoth said, pouring out a deep red mixture into the goblet, “so I took barcoberry instead. It’s almost the same.”

“At least not every little thing in the universe is permanently perfect,” said Johnny, accepting Raygoth’s offer to break the froth.

“To fusion empath jazz!” Raygoth empathed.

“To Imari and Pomdos friendship,” chimed in Rico.

“I’m beginning to really love you guys even though you’re Imari and,” Raygoth giggled, nodding at Johnny, “you’re a paranoid Scout recruit.”

“Well, you’re in deep trouble now,” Johnny teased. “Better make sure that Pomdos spy doesn’t see you breaking the froth with these Imari rascals. Now you surely noticed her this time, didn’t you? Didn’t you at least feel her, sense her interference? Surely you picked up her dissonant pull?” Johnny broached the subject in spite of himself. It’s too difficult to keep things from empath buddies. They would ultimately pick it up anyway. “It’s real bad, Raygoth. She knows how much all four of us dig each other too. And she’s not happy about it at all. I’m sure of that. She was just to your right in the second tier of mats.”

“Cut it out, Johnny,” empathed Raygoth. “She’s just a really devoted fan, that’s all. You do suffer from deep Imari-inspired paranoia.”

Laughter. Johnny closed his eyes and rolled the sequential tastes of bot around his tongue. He didn’t want to engage. He shielded his discomfort and listened vaguely to the empathed and out-loud banter of his comrades. Something about their next gig. Rico was always sending ahead to the next group of bookings, making detailed arrangements, checking atmospheric conditions, travel times, audience development.

No, something else was demanding his attention in his right temple. A familiar and yet slightly unfamiliar wavering line coalescing into a sharp bright yellow dot in the very front of his mind’s eye. Couldn’t be his mentor. Gir was scouting off-galaxy somewhere, and not due back for several months—no another equally powerful Imari, a Level VI at least, fully shielded yet probing, so deftly he couldn’t even raise a weak shield in defense, especially after such a concert.

“Don’t fight it, Johnny, please,” the dot empathed. “Oh shit,” he thought. “It’s too soon. Not for another three years.” He opened his eyes. Two Imari stood very still several centimeters from their mats. The tall lean Imari, of regal continence and high sculptured cheekbones, wore the travel hood of the Imari Scouts and a long flowing wishaptha with the traditional overlapping Galern patterns of reds, blues and yellows. The other Imari was a shorter, less imposing woman similarly adorned. “May we join you?” the taller one said out loud. Lenx stiffened and pulled his arm tighter around Johnny’s shoulder. They were not bringing good news.

“Of course, in unfettered spirit,” said Rico, automatically switching to the ancient greeting reserved for traditional bot sharing with revered elders. He refreshed the goblet as the two Imari newcomers squatted between him and Raygoth and opposite Johnny and Lenx. The smaller Imari bowed her hooded head in silent thanks, accepted the goblet and took a small ceremonial sip. She passed it to the taller one, who also took a ceremonial sip and passed it along.

“My name is Telmx, and this is Winstx,” the taller Imari started out loud. Johnny read her disquietude, but could not decipher its content. “Please do not fret, Johnny. Your mentor, Gir, is fine. I do not come with bad news of that sort.”

“But you come with bad news,” Johnny said. “I have to leave my friends, don’t I?” Burnt briny rage and loss filled his nostrils, like when the stupid white social worker told him she had found a “nice” place for him to live, and that he couldn’t even say goodbye to his murdered parents that were surely alive, if only he could go hug them and make them sit up and hug him back.

“I’m sorry,” Telmx empathed to the other members of the band, but especially to Lenx, who now held Johnny in a stronger grip, tears trickling down his cheeks. “We’re truly sorry to take Johnny from you so suddenly. We didn’t plan for things to happen on Earth this quickly. Our faulty foresight in this matter is in itself quite troubling.” To Johnny: “We need you right away, the Mission needs you right away. An emergency. We are taking you to meet Gir, who’s speeding back to Galern II to be there by the time we arrive. Then you and he will set course for Europa, in the Earth’s solar system.” She paused with obvious pain. “We must, I’m afraid, leave immediately, without a moment’s delay.”

“What could be such an emergency that it can’t wait until we’re at least finished with this booking?” Raygoth was also crying, large globules matting her black and white fur. “You waited this long. Why not another few days, another few hours?” Johnny read Raygoth’s pain coalescing into rage. “You Imari empath scouts are all alike.” Her voice rose several octaves and echoed across the plaza. “Your words are law. Everyone’s gotta jump when you dredge up your ‘emergencies’!”

“Raygoth, please. Let me figure this out with Telmx. Perhaps there’s a way….”

“Always raising alarms.” Raygoth was shouting. “Always suspicious of new species. Nobody, nowhere ever plots against anything, yet you forge on making all your insane paranoid predictions, depleting our energies, our pleasures. You even got Johnny here hallucinating spies everywhere he goes. Pomdos spies no less. Imagine! The most un-paranoid species in the universe. I won’t let you break up our group. Not this time!”

“Please, Raygoth,” Johnny empathed. The plaza was suddenly quieter, people trying to look as if nothing was happening, but terribly cognizant of the familiar conflict between Pomdos and Imari, the very disease his little band was starting to heal. Pomdos and Imari in fusion empath jazz, music and camaraderie? Unheard of in the galaxies!

“Cut it, Johnny!” pleaded the Pomdos. “Why do you Imari Scouts always have to ruin our good times?” Her voice was fading, her eyes slowly closing, the inevitable Pomdos response to disturbing news.

Johnny looked at Lenx. His lover was extremely quiet, shielded up tight, his lips set straight in a line. Lenx was well disciplined. He knew what had to be. It didn’t make things easier.

Johnny felt a sudden emptiness, the familiar emptiness of the foster child losing his sense of self-worth to a so-called higher order of things that made no sense. “I must have my trumpet,” he said softly to Telmx, like he had said to each and every social worker who, for the umpteenth time was pushing his belongings into a bunch of shopping bags, he and his shopping bags destined for yet another unknown family that always smelled so different from his home it would make him puke and pee in his pants for weeks and weeks. At least he knew the homeworld he would be traveling to this time round, sort of. “I really need to get my trumpet,” he said again, just like his seven-year-old self. Telmx and Winstx were just like those social service pimps. They would never understand, never believe that a black orphan would cry for his mom and dad, and have a passionate talent or a possession in the world worth cherishing. In that foul-smelling world Johnny couldn’t control, his trumpet was his only refuge, the only thing he could truly trust and control.

“We have your trumpet and your traveling sac. We must hurry,” empathed Telmx. Her urgency and compassion enveloped his temples and made him feel safe in his pain. “The next empath boosting surge is in less than an hour. We need to be there in time to catch it.”

“I gotta get away from here now before I lose it!” Lenx suddenly stood up, wheeled around, and walked briskly off through the plaza.

“Wait Lenx!” yelled Johnny, still his seven-year-old self. “Don’t just fuckin’ split! We’ll figure it all out. Maybe you could come with me! Wait!”

He leaped after him, charging around the clusters of people and kiosks. He caught up with him at the edge of the plaza, leaning against one of the huge teraforming pillars that encircled the center of the planetoid. He was wheezing and coughing. “Don’t make it harder,” Lenx managed. “Just leave. I knew it would have to end. Take your precious trumpet and the blasted Mission and leave.”

“I didn’t think it would be this soon. No one thought, I mean, certainly Gir didn’t have a clue. I bet it’s a big mistake, a big miscalculation. It’ll all be straightened out when I meet Gir. I’ll talk to him about letting you join us. You’ll see. I’ll be right back here to get you. And if I can’t bring you with me, just keep going with the band. For everyone’s sake. Please. I’ll meet you at the next gig, the very next gig. You’ll all be playing along, and all of a sudden you’ll hear this horn solo, in f sharp, you’ll see, in f sharp minor and there I’ll be taking it down, trading fours, just like it never stopped, I’ll be back in no time. You’ll see. I promise.” He could vaguely read Telmx’s pain resonating with Lenx’s across the plaza. He knew that Winstx, Rico and Raygoth in her semi-trance were resonating with him too.

“He’ll be back within a year, we think,” empathed Telmx across the plaza. “I don’t think he can take you with him. I’m truly sorry. It’s of great concern to our Imari team that we did not anticipate the emergency. I’m not able to say when he’ll be back for sure.”

“Or if he’ll come back at all! Spare me nothing. He’s not coming back at all, is he?”

“Unless we have lost more ground than we think, our scans assure us he will be back, my dear. We just don’t know exactly when. Come, Johnny. I know this is very hard on both of you, but we must hurry.” Telmx empathed.

Gir misled him. No, no, they miscalculated. It was too soon. Not predicted. He needed more time! They made it an emergency. He must be strong now. It’s not as if he didn’t know he would be called away from his bliss at some point. That was his commitment to the Mission. His advanced technical training. But look at what his band was doing! It was becoming an incredible force, building trust between the Pomdos and the Imari. Like Dizzy on Earth, he was a musical ambassador. He pulled Lenx to him, empath-whispering assurances. But there were no assurances. The Mission was dangerous. There were no guarantees he would return, or if he did, that he would return very soon. They kissed long and slow. And wept. He had to accept his commitment to the Mission. He couldn’t back out.

The clusters of species were almost silent now, as Johnny and the two Imari traveler scouts made their way back past the fountain and gardens to the other side of the plaza. He felt self-conscious, like a local hero leaving for the front in some crucial global war. Nah, he was no hero. He was angry and grieving. Well, it was a war, of sorts, yeah, well better than going to Nam. At least the war he was about to fight was for a cause worth fighting for. He would still get to teach fusion empath jazz to the guys in Chicago, some day. That was Gir’s promise, if the Mission is carried out right, if he keeps his focus. If only Lenx could go with him, if only he could have his arms around him, if only what? If only he wasn’t an earthling, the very species who posed a huge threat to the amazing serenity he was enjoying!

Okay, okay, it’s only a goddamn detour on a large, fabulous tour. “I know I can’t bring Lenx with me” he empathed to Gir, wherever he was. “I’ll even forgive you for that too. I can handle it.”

“I know you can,” empathed Telmx, as they boarded a hovercraft at the edge of the Plaza. Winstx closed her eyes and sent a narrow blue beam from her cilia to the shimmering console, and the craft lifted silently, veered to the right, and carried the trio toward the intergalactic port far on the other side of the planetoid rest stop.

Liked this? Share it with your friends!

Find more like this: Uncategorized

Comments are closed.