Gork and Slarb, who had not yet become beloved among the Gitfangula – that happened much later and in a better story – were about to receive a very exciting assignment. The psychic projection hit them both in their neural feeds while they were trying to smuggle food objects over the border and pay back a former acquaintance. It sounded very urgent and possibly lucrative:
“We send out this message, oh citizens of Gitfang, to request one of our kind to take on a mission that will save our quadrant of space and many lives from terror and death.”
Again, Gork thought, as he hovered over the instrument panel, this sounded very lucrative.
“During the last set of great wars – champions of Gitfang, rejoice! – we discovered that our region had many areas that remained unexplored, unconquered and unknown. As a member of the great council of our people…”
Not elected, though, thought Slarb, as he wrestled tentacled matter into the cargo hold of The Nectar. Gork often wished that they did not have to share their neural links on the same communication board when they ran these missions. His partner always interrupted at the worst times.
“…I was not allowed to reveal our discoveries to you. A great time of rebuilding and reconstruction had to take place before we could reveal our plans and let you citizens of our planet understand what we intended to do.”
Slarb was getting tired of this. They both understood that this was a mission that would require someone – some people? – to do something that the council did not want to do. That meant prestige, respect, and several, several extra credits to their credit. Why did they not just come out with their astral image and let us see what it was all about?
And at that exact moment, they did.
Gork and Slarb hovered near Tectonia, not daring to step out of their ship to see the wares of the market. They needed a moment to think.
Gork tried to start a dialogue, but he had no idea where to head next. Slarb was not so shy with this opening.
“Like having a batarch rip out your guts.”
“You are being too kind; the feeling was more like having your guts ripped out, eaten in front of you, regurgitated and then eaten again.”
“Still feel like my brains are on fire.”
Gork paused for a moment.
“That might have been the point.”
Slarb stared at his partner as if he were a stranger he had never encountered physically or psychically.
“Whoah! You mean, you think they did all of that on purpose?”
“Why not?” Gork was grateful their ship had a neural shield that kept their thoughts to themselves. “If you really wanted to separate the wimps from the champs, you would ask for help and then terrify as many people as possible before they could really get involved.”
Slarb stared off at the various star and time gates in their sector. Tectonia was at a perfect point for these jumps. And it was quite beautiful at this time of the phase out.
“I truly hate it when you begin to make sense.”
Gork tried a smile.
“I don’t mean to be. But when I’m right…”
Another short pause.
“And we did not receive a single pulse or message. Usually, they would get in touch with us to let us know that we were wanted; that we were so devious and sneaky we could do what we were told without drawing any attention to the higher-ups. They use us to solve these problems, and take all the credit.”
Gork was truly wiser than Slarb thought. All these missions and he had never even thought about this.
“So this must be serious.”
“And they will take credit again no matter who is involved.”
Gork looked at his favourite gate. The time was correct and they did not want to waste too much power outside of their home world.
It was a very brief message at the end of the council’s speech, but the results were quite clear. Gork and Slarb were lucky enough to be inside The Nectar and felt less pain than most citizens of Gifang. Several psychic connections were cut and suspended for over the space of a sonic sitting; children were taken off of their neural education nets; a few long-term exhaustions and deaths did take place (common enough, but the numbers were much higher this time). And there was the other fact that no one could shake.
No one had ever heard of the two doors.
Now, doors to other dimensions were common enough. They were the reasons why Gitfang had fought and also won two galactic conflicts. The ones in their quadrant were always monitored and had been well-mapped, going back several generations and mutations. But now they were faced with something very new, very strange…and very dangerous.
“Yes, dangerous. Not the first time we have been given such a task.”
“Maybe not, but we will be set up for a while.”
Slarb looked carefully at the co-ordinates. It was a completely mystery.
Gork double-checked the monitor and read back the co-ordinates to Slarb.
“Yeah, this is it.”
They had never ventured through that particular gate and now they could see why the council was so nervous about the doors.
They looked exactly the same.
One little note: many Gitfangulans believe that there is a prophecy about the appearance of two paths. In their particular mythology, the appearance of such things is an omen of bad tidings; a sign that things can only become worse.
And here it was, right in front of them.
The Nectar hovered between them.
“You understand why the council said nothing too solid about all this.”
Gork just stared at the screen.
“Yeah, yeah, I am still here. What was that?”
“What was what? I just said I understand why they did not talk too much about this. Would have destroyed the more superstitious.”
“They’d think this was the end of the world, or something.”
Slarb was beginning to realize that he really did not know his partner that well.
“You think this is a sign.”
Gork looked carefully at his partner.
“Listen, I grew up with the stories. I heard all about what is supposed to come next if we make a mistake with this choice.”
“We? Gork, those are tales for our younger units. You don’t really think…”
“I did not think of a thing until I saw them. Did you?”
Fair point, thought Slarb.
Both doors were not giving off any readings that they could trace. They could not tell if they were time gates, star jumps or even less-aggressive black holes (always a possibility).
“We have to choose.”
Two black spaces stared at them; the doors were surrounded by purplish-red dust and effluvia.
“Toss a unit to decide? Fangs or tentacles?”
“No, just aim and go.”
It was a very long time before they were conscious enough to notice where they were. The Nectar had shut down all power and they were on a planet that Gork had never seen before.
“Slarb, wake up!”
“Hmm…mm…yeah. I’m up. What..?”
“We have landed.”
“Great. Another nightmare. Where did we...?”
“Nectar is off; we need to figure things out first.”
They looked outside.
“Is it safe?”
“Seems so. No life forms around. Nothing trying to eat our ship.”
“I will go first.”
An impossibility, really, thought Slarb. Any experience would be connected through their psychic connection. And anyway, they were both curious.
They opened the main airlock and stepped out.
And it was beautiful.
“What is this?”
Gork had a private scanner installed into his suit and could read a detailed list of information on flora and fauna in their immediate region.
“This is something called…wheat.”
“Wheat… Is it harmless?”
“Are we being harmed now? No. This is a food source.”
“Interesting. It tickles and can feed people.”
They both walked through the field. It did not cover a great distance, but it was incredible for two life forms from Gitfang to behold such a wide expanse of gold and brown swaying in a breeze (they also discovered what a breeze is). The sunlight was warm in the dull blue sky.
“Wonderful. No harm.”
Slarb looked over at Gork. “So cynical. Let’s just see what we can find.”
“Okay. But I will be monitoring…hey, what is that?”
Slarb looked ahead. There were four figures staring off into the fading sunset of whatever planet they happened to be on.
“Life forms. Definite life forms.”
“Right. And what do we do?”
Gork did not have an answer. The figures were staring in the other direction and had not noticed their presence.
“Great. Make sure your shield is up. Full-body protection.”
“Already up.” Gork double-checked and kept moving.
“Should I call out?”
Slarb beat him to it.
The four figures kept staring ahead. Gork and Slarb kept moving closer.
“We are using the right volume, right?”
“Of course. Not that different from any other life with auditory sections. They can hear us.”
“But they cannot see us.”
They were right behind the four. The sun seemed stronger now.
And then they faced them.
Gork and Slarb had no way of knowing that this was a trap. It was something that they had not seen before; no one from Gitfang or even Jemictar 8 would have seen this coming. The four figures had not noticed them because they could not have noticed anyone. Seriously, how do you expect an album to say hello?
When they eventually do escape, Gork and Slarb will explain how they were trapped and forced to listen to noises that they had never experienced before while attempting to repair their ship. Someone kept saying, “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me you name?” Often, there were words about “an unknown soldier” or “she lives on Love Street”. Slarb really lost patience at this and almost lost his psychic connection to Gork when the noises repeated themselves (No one here gets out of alive, indeed). But they did record what they heard before returning to the door.
Maybe there was something special in that trip, but they still wondered if they should have picked the other door.