Linth turned and began walking away from them. Nabel walked forward quickly till he was pacing beside the tall man in the glowing robes. Mirenda followed behind them. It was very, very strange to walk on nothing and through nothing but darkness. The only light was coming from Linth’s clothing.
“Say,” said Nabel after a moment, “I’ve got a question.”
Linth paused and looked down at Nabel expectantly. Nabel suddenly felt really, really short. Even with the lack of any spatial comparison other than himself, Nabel could clearly see that this guy was a giant! After taking a moment to regain his composure, Nabel continued. “There isn’t supposed to be any light here. I mean, we are in a hole, where light does not exist… or isn’t supposed to. How come your, dress—err, robes are glowing?”
Linth laughed. He seemed very fond of laughing. “Simple. It’s not really here.”
“Not here. It’s still on the other side of the ‘hole’, as you call it. My side, not yours, of course.”
“Oh,” said Nabel, not understanding at all.
“Ehnh,” said Linth with a shrug, “I don’t think you are going to understand until you see my side.”
“Oh, ok. I’ll ask again once we are there?”
“Sure, if you like.” Linth began walking again.
After a few minutes, Nabel broke the absolute silence again. “How long till we get to the other side?.”
“Well, I’m not sure.”
“Just what I said—I’m not sure. Once I walked for days through a ‘hole’ and I was nearly fainting with hunger when I finally emerged on another side. A couple days later, I entered the same ‘hole’ and it only took about five seconds to get where I was going. You just never know until you’re through.”
“Oh,” said Nabel. Then, after a moment’s pause, he continued. He didn’t like the complete silence that surrounded him when they weren’t talking, “That doesn’t seem very convenient. Anybody every tried to invent a machine to predict how long it will take to get, uh, ‘through’ a hole?”
“Nope, not that I know of. But you should try. I’d buy your machine.”
“Thanks.” There was another bit of silence, which Nabel again interrupted. “Say, what kind of currency do you have on your side?”
“Oh, all kinds. Strong, Lost, Magnifying, Multiplying, Reappearing, Disappearing… I could go on.”
“No, I mean like, what kind of money do you have—what do you trade with?”
“I just told you.”
“But, well, how does anybody know how much he has? Or how much something is worth?”
“He doesn’t. That’s the point—I think.”
“But, how does, well,” Nabel was very confused, “how does anything work, or get done?”
“Look dude,” said Linth, “I’m sure those are both valid questions, but you’re asking the wrong guy. I’m the man with the glowing robe who gives tour guides of ‘holes’ and other spatial anomalies and sometimes does a favor or two for some of my friends in the government. I’m no economist.”
Silence descended for a while, until Mirenda decided to say something. “About this war you mentioned,” she began—but didn’t get to finish. For at that moment the darkness disappeared entirely and they found themselves standing on a large rock in the middle of a boiling hot and terribly humid desert.
“What!” cried Nabel, “what just happened?”
“We’ve arrived!” replied their guide. “I think.” He reached into his robes (which no longer glowed, at least, not in comparison to the blinding sunlight) and pulled out a tiny silver box. He proceeded to pull on the sides so that the small object expanded into a hand-sized rectangular object. He pushed a few buttons on it and put it to his cheek. After waiting for a moment, he spoke into it, “Gah-a-breth-din-tina.” He said.
It took Nabel a moment to realize that Linth must be speaking a different language.
“Gres-ni-lato.” Linth paused while someone responded on the other end. “Keep-ko-nest-orma-eh-onst. Ish-linkordin-par-ee-lo.”
Nabel and Mirenda waited patiently in the heat while Linth had an argument with whoever he was talking to. It was clearly an argument because by the end, Linth was shouting and waving his fist in the air. When he was finally done, he violently re-shrunk the silver machine into a little box and sat down on the dusty ground. Sitting, Linth’s head came up to Nabel’s chest.
“Sorry about that,” Linth said after a moment. “You know how relatives can be.”
“Relatives?” asked Mirenda.
“Yeah. Cousin. Funny how I love him to death and at the same time want to strangle him.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” said Mirenda.
“You have relatives?” Nabel turned to her in surprise. “You’re not supposed to know who your relatives are!”
“No, but I do.”
“Later, Nabel,” and she too sat down.
Nabel stood there for a few minutes, and then asked, “What are we waiting for?”
“That,” replied Linth, point across the barren wasteland to strange object that was coming towards them. It appeared to be a shiny lady-bug shaped vehicle of some sort that was trailing a stream of what looked like water. Across the empty wasteland, the vehicle was speeding towards them atop a little, fast moving river that it was some how producing. Just a short way behind the vehicle, the water cascaded a hundred feet to the ground below.
Linth stood up.
“That wasn’t a very long wait,” grumbled Mirenda, getting to her feet.
“I’m a hasty man,” Linth reminded them.
“How does it work?” asked Nabel, gazing with awe at the vehicle that was approaching.
“Oh, I don’t know exactly. The water comes out of the air—you’ll notice that it is quite humid. Then the boat rides on the current. Something like that.”
“Oh,” said Nabel, not at all satisfied with the vagueness of the answer.
A moment later, the vehicle sped to a stop in front of them and a side door slid open with an impressive swoosh, revealing a bus-like interior. The driver looked back from his place in the front.
“Hurry up. The heat is bad here.”
They climbed in. There was an elderly lady with a huge cloth bag on her lap sitting in the corner of the vehicle and snoring loudly—otherwise the vehicle was empty.
All three new passengers found themselves separate seats and the vehicle sped away. Nabel had been thinking that he would ask the driver questions about how the machine worked, but the driver’s quick, gruff words had made him change his mind.
The landscape outside deserted wasteland for miles and miles. Everything was a shade of kaki sand to dull light grey. The strange vehicle didn’t make any more stops until the entered a huge metropolitan city. As Nabel watched this world through the tinted glass of the transport vehicle, he began to feel very small and insignificant. He had always felt insignificant, back at the space station. He imagined himself just another bolt in a complicated machine. But here—this, this was mind-blowing. First the strange emptiness of the hole, now this great expanse of a planet. And who knew what other worlds there could be on this side of the hole?
The city they entered was massive and strange. Rectangular buildings rose up to incredible heights; covered bridges linking them to each other in complicated maze of passageways. There were other vehicles like theirs, which spouted water into the air as they floated along at an amazing speed and at all levels among the buildings. Water from these vehicles rained down on the canals far below where regular boats could be seen—mere specks from this distance. This city was bigger and taller than Nabel thought possible.
“Where do all the people get food?” Mirenda asked Linth.
“Interplanetary trade. It’s a logistical nightmare, or so I hear, but not much can be grown here. It’s the chemicals in the air.”
“Were there always plant-killing chemicals in the air?” Nabel asked.
“No, not here. There are planets like that—that can’t grow their own produce. But no, here the war destroyed the air.”
“The war that you mentioned earlier?” asked Mirenda.
“Yup, the very same.”
“It must be pretty bad,” she said, a frown pushing itself across her brow.
At last they came to a standstill, hovering in a pool of falling water beside a balcony-like platform.
Linth went up to the driver and handed him something that he had produced from somewhere in his robes.
“Not enough,” said the driver.
Withought protesting, Linth handed him more.
The three passengers got off, leaving the old lady still snoring peacefully.
There was a tall man who looked just like Linth waiting for them. Nabel knew right away that he was going to have trouble telling these two apart. The two huge men embraced warmly, thumping one another on the back. Then Linth turned back to his guests.
“Nabel, Mirenda, this is my cousin Anith,” he introduced them.
“Wait,” said Mirenda, forgetting to be polite, “how do you know our names?”
“All will be explained in due time,” Linth replied. Then turning to his cousin, “Anith, did you get the permission I requested.”
“Yeah, Linth, anything for you. But they were not pleased. Oh no, not pleased at all.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think they would be.”
“Who’s they?” asked Nabel.
Linth continued without acknowledging Nabel’s question.
“The plan was, that you would go meet the council first, then, after they explained a bit, they would take you to see the man who started the war. But we arrived on this planet, not the one where the council is, so we’ve changed the plan. You’re going to see the man who started the war first.”
“The man who started the war?” asked Nabel in surprise. “Do you think that is a good idea?”
Linth just laughed.