Bernard looked at it for a moment and let it go. It floated back into Artemus' open pouch, and the flap closed.
"sign, sign," the dog said irritably, nodding towards the clipboard.
He pulled it forward, to read the document. Slowly, he became aware of the sound of voices. He looked up and stared, open mouthed, at two blobs of diffused light that appeared to be having a conversation in midair.
One of the blobs had the recognizable voice of Bernard, and the other voice was Guide.
"Where are the dog and cat?" Artemis blurted out.
As he stared, one of the blobs suddenly became the burgundy dog he thought of as Bernard. The other blob made a short, high pitched sound, and winked out.
"Do you have a dog and a cat in your family?" asked Bernard as he floated back behind the desk and took a seated position.
"They are my immediate family. They're staying with friends while Im on this journey. What's that got to do with anything, anyway?"
"Your limited human mind is not capable of viewing us in our true forms just yet. It would spin out of balance, out of control. We simply allow you to see us in forms you can relate to, forms that are already uppermost in your mind."
"They aren't burgundy and fuchsia, though."
"Of course not, we were were just having fun with forms we rarely use, unless we have visitors. Are you ready to sign in?"
"I haven't read it all yet."
He leaned once more over the clipboard. Bernard frowned in a puzzled way, and the clipboard floated back to him. Bernard flipped several pages, pulled one off of the clipboard, and handed it to Artemus.
"These are all the the negotiation terms. You won't need them yet. All you you need to do right now is sign in."
"Negotiation? To do what?" He wrinkled his brow in confusion.
" To bring your clan here to safety, before the ocean drowns the entire world above."
"Are your people willing to take in complete strangers that don't even seem to be the same species as you?"
"That would depend on how the negotiations go. Now sign in so we can get started."
Artemis looked at the page before him. It was written in swirling calligraphy.
"I agree to abide by the laws of Otherworld as set forth by the High Court, and state my case at the assigned time of 08972.11 "
There was a space beneath this statement, presumably for a signature. Below the space, it said that applicants would be received in Linear Lower Court.
"I don't understand this time reference. It's not like anything I've ever seen before. I don't know what time it is now, let alone what time I'm supposed to be in court."
Bernard was still sitting quietly across from him. He put one paw behind his ear, and cocked it forward, as though listening.
"It is now 08962.0."
" That's a difference of ten, but ten what? Ten hours, minutes, seconds ... ?
"Ten of your days, eleven hours into the tenth day. Sign the form, and I'll take you to a habitat where you can prepare your case."
He signed the form, and as he applied the last stroke to his name, the pen, page and desk disappeared. He stood up, and his chair disappeared as well.
Bernard came toward him with his arm stretched out. Scout took Bernard's paw and shook it.
"What are you doing?" Puzzled, Bernard stepped back.
"You offered me your paw and I shook it. It's what we do to say hello, goodbye, sign a deal, to thank someone. There's a number of reasons to shake someone's hand. In this case, because I had just signed in, I assumed you were welcoming me to your city."
"Oh. Curious. I just need you to touch my arm so I can take you to your guest habitat. You have not yet earned any other form of transport."
The explorer rested his hand lightly on Bernard's forearm. The air swirled around them in pulses of light, sound, motion and images.
He felt nauseous, and his head ached, so he closed his eyes tightly against the visual onslaught. He would have put his hands to his ears to shut out the sound as well, but they were immobile.
His eyelids seemed to be the only part of him he was able to move. When the sounds ended abruptly, he opened his eyes to the most fantastical sight he had ever seen.