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WELCOME BACK! :D Thank you all so much for waiting through my week's hiatus (during which I became quite busy, so having that week was good), but now we can finally begin… Part Two: Transitions!
Thank you all, as well, for sticking with me through this story, for all of your awesome feedback on TWFF and IZMS Part One, and welcome to Part Two! I'm so excited, this is where the story gets rolling~ (it is the 'transition' phase, after all).
For new readers, welcome, welcome! If you have not yet read Time Warp Factor Five or The Mandylion Saga: Changes, you can find them here: .net/s/6889279/1/Time_Warp_Factor_Five and .net/s/6950449/1/The_Mandylion_Saga_Part_One_Changes. Transitions starts right off where Changes ended, so only a bit of recap will be touched upon. Again, we'll be following the same three narrators, even though these next few parts maaaaay have some 'bonus' chapters from other narrators as well... :3
Updates will once again be on Fridays… as close as I can to the 9:30pm (EST) slot. If anything needs to change in my update schedule, I'll post an announcement in my profile. I hope you all enjoy the continuation~~! ^^
Invader Zim is -c- Jhonen Vasquez! Only the events of this story, characters specific to the story, and character tweaking (heh) are mine. :3
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~The Mandylion Saga~
~Part Two: Transitions ~
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My eyes snapped open as I woke with a start from a restless, incomprehensible dream.
Sitting up, to escape back into the waking world, I surveyed my surroundings. Slowly, I started to catch up to where I was, and to what had happened.
It had been, based on the pattern of the sun, at least one week since the scuffle over the Cabochon. Since then, the dreams had come every so often, just like the other flashes that had come and gone since the Warp. My dreams were littered with scenes that may or may not have been memories. I had no way of knowing. Either way, they threw me off. I hated being thrown off. Some nights, I'd wake up and it could take up to an hour for me to realize, You woke up. That means you were asleep. That means you're human.
As human as I could be for now, at any rate. And so, I was also constantly reminding myself, were the Tallest. They'd been adjusting. I wouldn't say they were adjusting well, but they were individually making their efforts. For Red, that meant complaining every step of the way. For Purple, it was more a feeling of, This is how it is now, so go with it.
Glancing around, I noticed that both of them were asleep, passed out in the oppressive summer heat. Oops—I was supposed to be on the guarding shift; I must've fallen asleep once the flashes had settled in and become too severe for a waking mind to handle. The flashes and dreams that night had been awful reminders of the recent and unlawful paradigm shift within the Empire. My dreams had shown me past interactions with Tak that I did not remember, but knew they must have been true. We were in the presence of Tallest Miyuki. I'd believe any dream involving Miyuki. Somehow, I had to figure out exactly how I had killed her, since nobody had ever told me specifics. They had only ever told me that she was dead. One of these days, a flash was sure to provide me with proof. Not that I was looking forward to it.
Despite setbacks like that, I enjoyed being on the midnight watch. It gave me a sense of entitlement around the Tallest, and it also allowed me time to think. During the day, everything was about plowing forward, keeping on the move. Evening, dusk, and midnight were for reflection.
Once I'd fully roused myself and gotten my bearings, I leaned back against a tree and looked out over the sprawling field we'd settled in for the night. We'd been walking for days... we were sure to hit a town soon.
Gifted with the opportunity, I began to look back on the past week. A week, really? I suppose, for all I knew, it could have been longer. I very well could have passed out for twenty-four hours on an occasion or two. The Tallest slept, but erratically. I figured it was a mix of both heat and, well, learning what sleep was. I'd had trouble my first few days, too. Back before I'd learned what a luxury it was, before I'd learned how remarkable being human could be.
And I sincerely hope that I'd never complained as much as Tallest Red did.
There was one thing that Red could do, and he did it well: fight. He was a fighter, and that, for a war-obsessed Empire, made him an effective dictator. It did not, however, suit him as a human. At least, not yet.
Day one had been... eye-opening. It had taken a few hours to get the Tallest to so much as stand, let alone cover any ground. Due to the fight in him, I'd gotten Red standing first. It had gone something like this:
The Tallest—Purple, mostly—had given me ample time to go off and think things through for myself. Ample time to readjust to my human body, to my six-foot frame, to my awareness of the world around me, to the beautiful feeling of the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin... to the palette of colors that flowed so seamlessly, so perfectly together. But with the luxuries also came the distracting pain from the reopened wound on my right arm (which, thank God, Purple had had the odd sense to bandage up for me), and the sinking feeling in my chest when my mind inevitably wandered to memories of the first time I had been human.
I'd see her again. We'd talk again. I had to keep telling myself that, to keep moving. With my human conscience had come the insatiable want and need to fight for whatever mattered to her. She had saved me. She had given me something realistic to strive for. I did want to be human. Hopefully, this time, I could have longer than a week to enjoy it. Something told me, given that Tak was now the Tallest, and bent on reissuing the Elite for the purpose of making life hell for me, that I'd have a hell of a lot more than a week.
Satisfied for those first few moments of being human again, I wandered back over to the Tallest, who had barely moved since I'd left them, several minutes before. Red was sitting with one leg bent up, the other extended awkwardly in front of him; he kept himself propped up with his right arm, and was ripping at a few blades of grass with his left, scowling at either the ground or his large human hand. Or both. Purple had his back to his partner, and was leaning forward on both knees, which were bent up at an obtuse angle. His arms were folded across his knees, and he rested his chin in his arms, his right eye completely covered by his purple bangs, while the rest of his longish black hair splayed randomly over his shoulders.
"Good," Red commented, glaring up at me, "you're done."
"Aaaaand, you're still sitting," I pointed out.
"Yeah, it sucks."
I tried not to laugh, even though the impulse was itching. "Sir, with all due respect," I said, keeping things the way I was sure the Tallest would prefer I speak to them, "we're going to have to start walking."
"We're fine," said Red, his eyes narrowing behind the thin, rectangular frames of his glasses. "It's your fault we're in this mess at all, so it's your job to get us out."
That hit a bad nerve with me. Now, I did not want to anger the Tallest, but at the same time, I knew I'd have to be firm if I was going to get them both adjusted to being human. And, of course, being human was something I greatly enjoyed; I wasn't about to let those two ruin it for me. "Okay," I said, walking right up to Red and squatting down so that I could speak to him eye to eye—an action which got him to shirk a little, since nobody looked a Tallest in the eye like that, "I'll do what I can. But that involves me teaching you how to be human."
"I don't want to be human," Red snarled.
"Well, you know, sir, that really can't be helped right now," I snapped, standing again. "You got a problem with it? Fight me."
"You need to learn how to move and you need to learn how to fight back in that body!" I shouted at him. GIR, nearby, took a seat and fixed his hands over his eyes so that it looked like he was utilizing spectator binoculars.
"Who says I'm gonna fight anyone looking like this?" Red hollered up at me. He fumbled to move his legs into a more comfortable position, but was only succeeding in making things more difficult for himself.
"I do," I told him. As much as, when I had been Irken again, I'd appreciated being in the Tallests' favor, I was enjoying even more this new ability to speak on the same level as them. Another perk to being on Earth and playing by human rules. I'd keep some respect for them, of course, but I knew the rules they now needed to follow. "I don't know if you heard Tak as she was taking off again, but she's going to send the Elite after us. And as long as you look human, they'll target you, so you've gotta be able to fight back."
"Uh, no?" said Red, raising an eyebrow. "I'm not gonna fight my own soldiers."
I groaned and ran my hands through my hair, utterly frustrated. "Don't you get it? They aren't yours, they're Tak's!" I shouted.
"Don't raise your tone to me!" Red barked.
"Oh, for crying out loud, Red!" Purple snapped back at him.
"You shut up!" Red licked back.
Fed up, and wanting to accomplish something on that first day, I stormed up to Red, grabbed him by the collar, hauled him up and threw him into the trunk of a large tree nearby. Now, that had felt good. I was glad to find that I still had good combat strength as a human. After colliding, Red fell to the ground, rubbing the back of his head. "Ow!" he spat. "Damn it, Zim! It's not your place to—"
I rushed over to him, hauled him up again, and hit him hard with a left hook, sending him sprawling to the ground again. "Right now, I'm not under your control," I reminded him, stepping up to him and kicking him over onto his back. "Imagine what would happen if I wasn't on your side." I leaned down, and pressed the middle and index fingers of my right hand, positioned like a gun, into his forehead, and said, "Bang. You'd be dead."
That got Red's eyes to widen in panic a little, but they narrowed again just as quickly as he snapped, "I'm still the Tallest. You have no right to treat me like this."
"Maybe if you'd stand the hell up we'd see if I could gather up a little more respect for you!" I shouted right back. All this retaliation was most likely going to come back and bite me in the ass later, but I was presently enjoying it. My human mind was adolescent, after all. I'd experienced a fair deal of butting heads with my 'parents' during the Warp—as Tak had somehow given the robotic parents I'd designed real human likenesses as well—and this felt fairly similar. After all, given his position, and the fact that he looked about twenty years older than I did... damn—Red really was the closest thing to a father figure I'd ever had.
"Zim, I'm warning you—"
"I can't!" Red hollered at me, propping himself up on his elbows. "Tallest don't even need to walk, we're so much better than you! How'm I supposed to just—"
"If I could figure out gravity and how the human body works in a day, so can you!" I argued. With that, I grabbed him by the front of his shirt with both hands, hauled him up again, and rammed him into the side of the tree, making sure his feet were planted on the ground.
Well, the description of tallest had definitely stayed with him, that was the first thing I noticed. If I was six feet tall, I'd estimate Red to have about four inches on me; he had longer limbs and broader shoulders, and could absolutely be intimidating as hell if he wanted to be. In fact, I cowered under Red's authoritarian glare much more than I did his height. He could get what he wanted with a single look. Nobody fucked with Red. Plain and simple. So it was my duty to get him to incite that kind of plebian terror even as a human.
Of course, what he noticed about me was... "Why the fuck are you so damn tall?" He was furious. Enraged. The four inches meant nothing; I was still much too tall for his liking.
"I don't know," I said, grinning just to make him angry, in hopes that something would make him start fighting back. "Some humans just are. But you're still taller than me, Red. In fact, you've got a lot of real advantages with that body, and you've sure as hell got enough hatred in you to make yourself a worthy opponent, but you're not putting any of that to use, just because you're distraught. Get over it! There's nothing you can do about it till Tak decides to get her sorry ass back down here, so until then, you've gotta learn to defend yourself if you ever want to be in power again."
"But who are you to—" he began.
"I'm all you've got right now!" I snorted. I spun Red around and dropped him onto his back again, so that I could yell down at him for effect, rather than keep looking up. To get him even madder, I pressed down on his chest with my right foot. I was so going to be destroyed for this, but I didn't care. "I've been human before, this is no big deal for me. So I figure I should get you accustomed to living like this, and I hoped I could teach you a few things about fighting! Those who want to kill you aren't gonna be as easy as this."
"You were going easy on me?" Red cried.
"That, and, you're completely pathetic, and you won't even stand up!"
"I've been a Tallest for too long!" he protested. "I don't even remember how—"
"Tough shit. Deal with it, Red."
Red snarled, grabbed my foot (which I had pressed dangerously close to his neck), and flipped me over his head. I hit the ground hard, and the momentum was enough to get Red onto his own feet. I recovered and spun around quickly, standing and taking on a ready position.
"Nice," I grinned. "I got you standing. You wanna keep up the fight?"
I was suddenly punched in the back of my skull, causing me to lose my breath for a second. I turned and saw Purple standing behind me. He cracked his knuckles and said, "Let's just start with getting used to moving around in these bodies. Then we'll see what we can do about the whole fighting issue."
I rubbed the back of my head and was about to yell at him, then was hit with a shock when I noticed that, unlike Red, who had retained his height, Purple was several inches shorter than me; I estimated half a foot. And I was not subtle about noticing the difference, either. My eyes went wide, and I glanced back at Red, who looked perturbed, and then back at Purple. Down at Purple. He folded his arms and glared up at me, his face flushing red a little as he did so.
"Well," he prompted, snorting and turning his head to the side huffily, his hair, which reached a little past his shoulders, swirling around his face as he did so, "aren't you going to make some wise remark?"
"U-um... a... about what?" I tried to cover, stepping back so that I wasn't standing directly in front of him. His height was unnerving, and more than a little strange. Why, when Red, his exact Irken equal, stood about four inches taller than me, was Purple now so different? And, even more unsettling to my mind, why did he somehow already seem comfortable with the fact that he was now almost a foot shorter than his partner?
"'About what?'" Purple chided, outstretching his arms. "It's one thing that Red hasn't made fun of me yet, but not even you, Zim? I'm short, I get it! Go ahead and laugh."
"I wasn't going to laugh!" I assured him. A laugh was stuck in my throat nonetheless. I'd already pissed Red off enough for one day, though, and Purple was the silent killer. I didn't want to get on his bad side by pointing out his decreased height. "Honestly, I wasn't!"
The Tallest's alluring purple eyes softened slightly, and he said quietly, "Stop trying to please me, Zim. I'm not 'Tallest' Purple right now, remember?" He turned away and added, mostly to himself, it seemed, "I'm just like you."
Deducing that he was simply feeling a little distraught at Tak having taken away his power, I sighed and turned to look back at Red. "All right," I said, "we can pick up the fighting later. How're you holding up?"
"Oh, just great," spat Red. "When I flipped you, I lost that... whatever it was that helped me see."
I looked around, then found the pair of glasses and picked them up, bringing them back over to Red. "These're called glasses," I said, handing them to him. He squinted down at them, and unfolded one of the temple arms with a static hand movement. "You unfold them... yeah, like that... and just like you had them on earlier, the longer part just kinda hooks behind your ears, and then the—"
I slapped a hand to my forehead. "This is impossible," I groaned, grabbing at my bangs. "Just... I don't know, just slide them on." I poked his right ear impatiently. "These're your ears, by the way. All humans have them."
Red turned the glasses over and back in his hands, then cautiously put them on, sliding them up the ridge of his nose until they rested in place, cringing a little as he did so. "Why do I even need these... glasses, anyway?" he wondered, anger in his voice. "He doesn't have to wear them!" he shouted, pointing over at Purple. "Why do I?"
Purple turned back toward us, grinned broadly and spat, "Hah!"
"Well," I said, "it's either that Tak took more power from you, or it's that they symbolize the fact that you're completely blind to just about everything! I rest with the latter," I added, turning away to retrieve GIR.
"What's up with the way you've been speaking lately?" Purple asked me, snapping back to his regular attitude as I picked GIR up by the scruff of the neck. "'I rest with the latter?' Last I checked, you did not talk like that. You've been doing it for a while, too."
"So?" I wondered, walking back over, and scanning around for a sign of a road or path.
"Zim, you haven't been rememberi—" Purple began, then slapped a hand over his mouth. He immediately drew his hand away, scowling down at it. "That's ugly," he remarked, trying to change his thought in mid-sentence. "Why do humans need so many fingers? I ruled the Empire with two. Humans must be pretty weak if they need five."
"What were you going to ask me?" I demanded, narrowing my eyes at him.
"Nothing," he covered, looking kind of nervous.
I scowled, then turned away again. "I don't remember anything," I said harshly. "That's what you were going for, right?" I saw Red shoot his partner a horrible, testing glare, and Purple looked instantly guilty. It was sort of weird seeing such a range of emotions between them. I had never known the Tallest well... I'd only ever been able to observe them, and form opinions based on how they presented themselves and how they had previously interacted with me. They were both a lot more multifaceted than they generally appeared to be. "Whatever I did before, I don't remember, okay? I understand that everyone knows my brain's a black hole. But it's there, and I'm like that, so let's drop it."
"You do remember something," Red sensed. Accurately. Shit! "What is i—"
"Look!" I snapped, almost losing my temper and throwing GIR at him.
"Wheeee!" GIR cried.
"If you don't want me to keep beating you up, I suggest you drop it!" I finished. "I'd rather not talk about it, because it doesn't really matter, okay? Now let's get outta here; it's getting dark, and I'm sure you have no idea what sleep even is. Come on."
And so we had set out. With the sun as my only sense of direction, I led the way as best I could, pretending I had some sense of where I was heading. We started off slowly, so that I could give the Tallest plenty of time to find their gaits and scramble against gravity, and the slow pace let me start considering the advantages and disadvantages those two now had.
For one thing, they'd be different fighters. Combat was the primary thing on my mind that day, since Tak's words still echoed in my ears. No doubt we were going to war. Meaning I'd have to work with the Tallest on their individual skills as humans, and get them to understand that Tak's usurped reign would be one of bloodlust. She didn't care about annexing Earth as much as she did getting revenge, or so I figured.
Red. Red still had his height, which was great. He had a durable build and plenty of rage, and could flip someone of my height and stature with little effort. He was, however, horribly, horribly nearsighted. It was true of his politics, and now it was true of his physical self. Break his glasses, and he'd be useless.
Then Purple. He really was the silent killer. I hadn't even heard him move before he'd hit me from behind. That blow had been hard, too, so his appearance was a little deceiving as far as strength went. But he was still short. Six inches shorter than me. And small in frame. I remembered Tak yelling at him that he always thought small... and thus, so much was now physically true. Hopefully, such a stature could gift him with heightened agility, but time would tell in that respect.
As for me... I had no idea how my physical appearance had anything to do with my Irken self, other than the fact that I came off as a teenager with limited experience of the world. Possibly because I still couldn't fully remember the first sixty years of that life. The years that had involved Miyuki. She'd been more or less wiped of my mind entirely. So why did I keep thinking about her?
Why did I keep obsessing over someone I had supposedly brutally killed?
It bothered me that the Tallest had brought up my vacant past so easily. Something told me it would come to be of importance. And if the flashes continued as they had been since the day Tak had cut my arm, I could be on the verge of piecing something or other together.
Well. I had plenty of time to contemplate that. I figured it was best not to do that in the heat of the day, and pressed onward.
Now, a few days later, we still had no idea where we were. Or, well, I had no idea, and GIR had long since outworn his guidance system... or had just uninstalled it somehow. Red was pissed that there were no information checkpoints or recharge centers anywhere around, and Purple kept on complaining about how hot it was. Luckily, we'd been able to keep to a path near a stream, which meant we could bathe (and had that ever been an interesting conversation that I never wish to repeat) and stay hydrated. Even so, we needed proper lodging and nourishment soon. The main complaint for all of us was how little we'd eaten.
Purple was so small and thin I was certain he'd collapse, but he was actually holding up better than either Red or I was, possibly because he hadn't yet taken part in one of our little matches. GIR, thankfully, had a stash of energy tablets on him (they were little things I'd stocked him up on some time ago; developed by Vortian scientists to be consumed by any species, they were adequate, while unappetizing, meal substitutes), but we had to ration them, and walking and sparring (every once in a while) burned more energy than the tablets provided. Long story short, screw the steak, I'd eat a whole damn cow. And yes, I wasn't just anticipating eating human food again, I became obsessed with the thought. Which made not being able to eat any, at present, that much more unbearable.
I dealt with the hunger pains that evening, though, since I'd accepted that there was nothing much I could do but keep us moving forward. Hopefully, the Tallest could behave appropriately once we finally did make it to a town, even if that most likely meant that I'd make them both be quiet and allow me to do whatever talking needed to be done. I couldn't hide my anticipation. I wanted to immerse myself back into the culture on Earth that I'd grown so fond of. I wanted to move through the world as a human, to interact accordingly, to reaffirm for myself that I had come to love the concept of human life.
Which got me thinking about the Tallest. I was in a catch with them. Obviously, there was no way I wanted Tak to stay in power, so I had to restore them to their position as soon as I was able. Which probably meant a few fights against Tak's army between now and then. At the same time, I wanted—needed—to get the real Tallest to call off the real attack on Earth that had been in the works. What a stupid move that had been, pretending that I cared so little about the planet that I could have a hand in its destruction. I loved being human, and I wanted the Tallest to understand why.
I stood up and glanced around, to make sure both were still around. Red was sprawled out rather close by. He tossed and turned a lot in his sleep, and I hadn't had the courage yet to ask him if he'd yet discovered what dreams—and nightmares—were. Purple, on the other hand... I had to walk a few paces before I saw him, lying on his left side in a softer patch of grass. He could barely be heard breathing in his sleep.
Glad to have, despite my fading out for a bit, done my duty as midnight guard, I let out what I thought was just a small sigh of relief. Apparently, though, I'd made enough noise to cause Purple to jolt awake. He sat up quickly, and with a swift, fluid motion he grabbed a thick, sharp stick that had been lying close to his right hand, and turned in my direction in such a way that he could be on his feet and using that stick as a weapon at any second.
"I—woah, I'm sorry!" I ran my words out, taking a step back and holding out my hands to indicate that I meant no harm. "I-I apologize, I didn't think you were awake."
"Oh," said Purple in an unreadable tone as he lowered his makeshift weapon, "it's just you." I stood there frozen for a moment, unsure of what to do. Luckily, as it had always been back in the Empire, he made the decision for me. "Have a seat, Zim," he said, shifting to sit cross-legged as he set the stick to the side. "I've been meaning to talk to you."
"All... all right," I gave in. I did as he asked, and took a seat a couple feet to his right. "Are, um... are you adjusting okay?" I decided on asking.
Purple, to my surprise, smiled a little. "I'm managing," he answered. "As for you... so you've been this way before?"
"Human, you mean?" Purple nodded. "Yes," I replied. "As I mentioned, I have. I... I didn't want to tell you before. On the Massive. I didn't want you to think that I was unfit for work because of this experience, or..."
"Oh, you're incredibly unfit," Purple laughed. Should have known that was coming. I felt myself flush red, and tried not to look at him. "Unfit for the position you were trying to grasp at, anyway. It's obvious that you're rather comfortable with being human."
"Is it?" I wondered. I was at once delighted and petrified. Suppose I had come off as obvious of that fact, even as an Irken. I really did have a difficult time trying to figure out exactly where I was supposed to fit in. Hopefully, opportunities would open up now that I was back on Earth.
Purple nodded. "I wish you'd come clean to me before," he added. "We could have been more prepared for what Tak was gearing up to do."
My heart sank. I hadn't thought of that. The Cabochon, the ancient Irken Talisman that Tak now had sole possession of, the gem that had given her the ability to shift the three of us to human form, was the power source she had been trying to obtain all along. The machine that had originally altered my DNA was based on that ancient stone's ability. "I'm sorry," I tried.
"Apologies can't change what's done," Purple said gravely. "All that exists is what is." That sounded incredibly prophetic of him, but I decided not to call him on it. After all, I was hopeful that this was not going to be the last of our talks. I did enjoy talking to him, since I felt that I could get out my worries and thoughts, without Red interrupting and being pushy. So, as long as we were talking, I figured I could try to get some of my present nerves out.
"You... you don't suppose she's going to keep on using that thing," I wondered, "to create her army?"
"Who knows?" said Purple. "I'm glad you're thinking the same things I am, though. Tak simply cannot be trusted with that thing. Plus, with that ability she has on her own... she'll raise up followers in no time." Her ability must have meant her hypnosis. Tak has always been able, based on what I always assumed was a fluke in her design, to gain mind control based on a spark from her eyes.
We weren't able to get much further in the conversation, though, since at that moment, Purple yawned. Coming from him, it was actually a very delicate motion; he covered his mouth with one hand, which is generally an involuntary action, but for him it seemed like something new, yet already perfected. "Sorry," he apologized. "Let's talk again at another point. This heat is getting to me. Hate to say it, but I'm exhausted."
"Oh," I said. After a beat, just to check in, I asked, "Sir, really, are you adjusting o—"
"Don't call me 'sir,'" Purple muttered.
"Sorry," I said, shirking back a bit, "I just wanted to make sure you were holding up all right. I mean, i-in the heat, and getting used to being on Earth, and being human and all—"
"Stop treating me like I'm weak," Purple commanded, looking away from me and out at the field again. "I'm not weak, I'm just short."
Stupidly, I pressed the issue. "And... and doesn't that bother you?"
Purple's eyes narrowed in frustration, but he didn't lash out. For someone whose life had been so drastically altered in the course of minutes, he was behaving in an eerily rational way. And that terrified me. If there was one thing I was learning about him, it was not to expect or suspect anything. "My height doesn't bother me as much as other things do," he answered in his gliding tone. "I have plenty of other things to worry about."
"Such as?" I wondered.
"Stop asking questions, Zim," Purple warned me. He turned, and glared right at me. Whereas Red's human appearance seemed to suggest a lot of the way he carried himself as an Irken Tallest, Purple seemed more like me... given a visage that barely called an Irken to mind at all. The strands of his hair that fell a little longer than the rest, in front of his ears, seemed to suggest antennae, but it was in his eyes that I truly saw nothing human at all. They were a beautiful, strange, Irken color of purple, sure... and while the shape of them was molded to suggest that he was human, there was a coldness in them that no one else on Earth possessed. Red's eyes, too, gave off that frigid feel... even more so, in fact. Red did seem to be the more dominant force, after all. He called most of the shots. But Purple was every bit as much of a Tallest as Red was.
"I'm sorry," I apologized, looking away to escape those eyes.
Purple sighed, then shifted and lay back down, his back turned to me. I figured that meant that our conversation was over, but after a few quiet moments, he said, "So are you still obsessed with this place?"
"Eh?" I glanced down, but he remained in that position, not allowing me to see his reactions. Which, I suppose, was for the best. This way, I could avoid more eye contact. It was terrible, but the glares that he and Red were still capable of were able to put me in my place, and I didn't like it. My ideas about human life—what it meant, what it offered—kept on shifting and evolving, and presently I'd begun equating it to freedom. I'd never really known freedom, come to think of it.
"You heard me. Are you still obsessed with Earth, and whatever it is you found here?" Purple wondered.
"I..." I began. As an indulgence, I glanced down at my hands, and instantly my mind was transported back to the first night I had accepted everything; the night that the concept of human life began to settle in, and ultimately change me. That night on the roof of Gaz's house, when she had allowed me to make one of the boldest moves I had ever made, when she had listened to and helped dispel my nerves. When it became clear in my mind that I would do anything for her. "I did find something," I answered Purple, even though the slowed pattern of his breathing suggested that he had fallen asleep. "Something incredible. And I'm more than obsessed. I'm enamored."
He did not answer, but that was fine. I could talk to him more about what I loved about Earth later. For the moment, the planet graced me with one of those very reasons as a slight breeze rose up, rustling through the grass and orchestrating a ripple among the trees.
Through the wind, I caught the scent of wild lilacs. I only knew it at all because of her. Closing my eyes, I took everything in. The rush of the wind, the scent on the air, the quickening pulse of my heart. Relaxed as I had been in a very long time, I ran my hands through my hair, my fingers catching once or twice in the thick tangle before I locked them together at the back of my head, creating a makeshift pillow as I lay back onto the soft summer grass.
I opened my eyes again and looked up at the stars.
I could be anywhere, I realized. Anywhere on Earth. Not necessarily even North America, even though the terrain suggested something familiar to me. But the sky gave me some hope. Because somewhere on Earth were people I knew. People I—both happily and reluctantly—trusted. People I could go to for help, no matter how long it took.
"I'm coming back," I said, very quietly, into the night sky.
I'd find her. I had to find her. I had to apologize, and come clean, and make amends. And tell her how much that week had changed me, how much I'd missed her through everything. And take her side, and take her hand as we took on whatever was to come. If being human meant being near her, I thought, I'd take it.
If being human was a symbol of freedom, she'd been the one to make me realize that.
I at least had to thank her for teaching me what freedom was.
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