“How can you talk?” the old man asked, his eyes narrowed as Garth slowly turned to face him, keeping his hands raised. With his newly superhuman sight, Garth could make out that the gun’s safety was indeed OFF.
Might as well take care of that, Garth thought, using Telekinesis to flip the toggle back to the ON position.
Telekinesis proficiency has reached 3%!
“I’m human,” Garth said, hands still up. “Just look weird because of all the shit going down recently. I mean, you’ve probably seen some weird shit yourself, right?”
“I saw the people-eaters tear through the neighborhood, then fuck off to greener pastures. Thought I wouldn’t have to deal with anything after that.”
“You’re really missing out, guy. There’s a lot more going on just a few miles distant.” Garth pointed toward the nearest outpost.
“It’s Clark Simmons.”
“Clark, my name’s Garth Daniels. I was just wandering by, hoping to check out L.A. maybe get some land while property values are cheap, you know?”
Clark scoffed, his eyes running up and down Garth’s outfit and lack of obvious weaponry before he holstered his gun, stepping out from behind the house.
“You go to a crowded place like that, it’s just asking to get killed, you know? Better to settle down somewhere like here.” He motioned to his house in the middle of the desert. “Where nobody’s gonna try killing you for your little piece of dirt. You don’t seem like you’d last more than a few hours in L.A.”
“I think I could do just fine,” Garth said as the sound of Sandi running over entered his ears.
“Garth! What’s going on?”
Clark tensed, almost reaching for his gun as Sandi and Itet approached, but he seemed to think better of it, relaxing his hand away from the gun as itet pulled out her bow.
“I can see what you mean by missing out.” He said, eyeing the bug girl, who seemed to be watching Clark and his gun especially closely.
“This is Clark, he’s okay. He decided not to shoot me when I broke into his house. He’s cool.” Garth attempted to further de-escalate the situation.
“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Itet said. “Not a fan of…guns.”
Garth saw something in her antennae wiggles but he wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Sadness maybe? Guilt?
“What’s a gun?” Sandi chimed in. Of all the people here, Garth expected a gun would have the least meaning to her.
“It’s a weapon.” Itet said.
“My bad. So what do you folks want?” Clark said, keeping his hand away from his pistol.
“I was walking by and spotted your plant and was hoping for a cutting, is all.” Garth said.
“Oh really?” Clark asked, his white brow raised. “How much do you know about pot, kid?”
“Not much,” Garth answered with a shrug, glancing at the leafy plant in the window. “But I know that one is a hybrid of Green Crack with an unnamed Indica from afghanistan. It has sixteen percent THC and twelve percent CBD, and it’s great for sex because of a specific cocktail of fifteen drugs that I’m only just now seeing. I’m thinking you were trying to go for a more relaxed high and wound up getting a sex machine?”
Clark, Itet and Sandi stared at Garth.
“How do you know that?” Clark asked, his mouth falling open.
“I can see it, plain as day.” Garth motioned to the potted pot plant in the window. Plant Analysis was weird. To describe the way it felt… It was like being so high that sights register as sounds. He could see the information in the shape of the stalk and leaves, the color, the size, but it felt like a voice whispering all the plant’s dirty little secrets in his ear. It almost sounded like Beladia. It was kinda hot.
Wilson gave him a weird look, and Garth shook his head, dismissing that train of thought.
“It’s part of the…” Garth motioned to his purple skin. “shit that’s been going on recently.”
Clark absorbed that for a moment, looking at Garth thoughtfully. “I think you need to see something.”
“Wow.” Garth’s gaze ran across table after table of enormous pot plants, with camouflage netting above them to divert some of the heat and light of the Nevada sun. All of this was staged just behind the man’s house, beside a hand-pumped well rigged to deliver water to all of them at once through a strategically leak hose.
“Wow is right. After the power went out and the critters buggered off, it took me three days to move the operation into the sun. Nearly lost half my damn strains.” Clark stood beside Garth with his hands on his hips, apparently deriving vicarious enjoyment from Garth’s astonishment.
“I just have one question.” Garth said.
“Why keep this up when the world ended?” Garth asked.
Clark’s shoulders tightened for a moment before he slumped with a sigh. “Well, at first it was because I thought maybe it was an isolated incident. Maybe if I carried on like normal, one day the national guard or something is gonna come rolling through in tanks and I can give each of those boys a nice sticky joint for saving my ass. Made me feel like I still got a country to call home.”
He glanced over at Itet, who was still watching him cautiously. “Now I’m not so sure. As for why I kept it up…labor of love, I guess.”
“Huh,” Garth said, spotting a particularly fine specimen that was whispering to him. “May I?”
“Knock yourself out.”
Garth walked up to the plant that was promising him the most interesting effects and had the seven foot tall pot plan lean towards him with Control Plant, offering him a branch. Garth snapped off the small branch while Clark looked on with a frown.
In Garth’s hand, the branch bloomed and budded out, becoming heavy in his fingers. Garth kept it up until the seeds were easy to shake out into his cupped palm. Once that was done, he put the pot seeds into his bandolier and tossed aside the quickly drying branch.
When Garth turned back to Clark, he had to suppress a yelp, as the old man was only inches away from his face, having watched the entire process over his shoulder. Garth felt the old man’s rough hands seize his. Itet tensed.
“How did you do that?” Clark demanded. “Can you show me?”
“Sure,” Garth said, pulling out one of the seeds and sprouting it in his hand. Under Clark’s disbelieving gaze, the roots wrapped around Garth’s palm, and the seven foot tall bush soared into the sky.
“Holy God almighty Jesus Christ in all the nine hells how the fuck did you do that?” Clark asked, his speech slipping into his native country boy accent as rambled.
“I’m what’s known as a phytomagus. The new world we’re in has different laws of physics that allow people like you and me to do magic.”
“…Can I learn how to do that?” Clark asked.
Garth thought about it. One more Beladia follower would probably be a drop in the bucket, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. A lack of apostles might even be the reason she’d been cut off.
“You got a pen and paper?” Garth asked.
“Okay, so become an apostle of Beladia when and if possible, choose the phytomagus class if possible for Plant Analysis and Mana sight.” Clark said, his pen ticking beside all the bullet points Garth had given him.
“I need a Status band, the spells Plant Growth, Design plant, and Control plant. And that’s it?”
“That’s it.” Garth said, maturing Clark’s crop and having them store themselves in labelled baskets. “Oh, and make sure you buy and eat plenty of Heartstones to raise your ability to do this stuff. You can probably miss one or two of those things, but for maximum effect you want all of ‘em.”
“Great.” Clark said, making another note before tearing off the piece of paper from his notebook, folding the little yellow square into eighths and sliding it into his front pocket. Shortly afterward, he began stacking the bud into a massive backpack while Garth returned to Sandi and Itet, who were chatting in the shade.
“We’re gonna head back to the last outpost,” Garth said, pointing a thumb at Clark, “Make sure he gets there safe, then keep going to L.A.”
“Why would you do that for him?” Itet asked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do.” Garth said with his arms crossed. Wilson bit him on the ear.
“Agh! Okay!” Garth pulled Wilson away from his earlobe. In the last couple weeks, Sandi and Itet had gotten used to his sudden behavioral tics. They almost didn’t look at him like he was crazy.
“It’s also because I’m going to be a private investor in his attempts to expand his pot business to the natives of the Inner Spheres.”
“Ah, that’s more like you.” Itet said, nodding.
“I can be nice and practical. Clark got a great deal! He was practically glowing!”
Garth was half sure that they were pretty much trying to trade seashells to these people in exchange for gold, but who knew? Maybe in the presumably trillions or more habitable plants in countless universes, nobody had ever cultivated anything better than pot.
Still, it was a curiousity from a new planet, so it would probably hold people’s attention for a time. If Clark could market it aggressively enough, he could create a thriving business. Maybe market it as fancy and convince people to use it during operas? That actually sounded not half bad.
Garth could easily imagine upper crust people toking on fancy pipes filled with pot to get through yet another boring show they’d been dragged to. Yeah, that might work.
Itet raised a hand, getting his attention.
“What’s so great about this plant, anyway?” Sandi asked, drawing a grin out of Garth.
“I’ll show you.”
“This ‘pizza’ dish is remarkable. I can feel the oils frolicking on my taste-spear. How can it be sweet, salty, savory, crunchy, and soft all at once?” Itet said, her mandibles snipping off chunks of Clark’s homemade pizza.
The old man had an entire basement full of flour, canned tomato paste and preserved meats and cheeses for whenever he had the munchies. He’d actually been living off them for the last month, which said a lot about how often that happened.
The Tzetin was sprawled on the couch between Garth and Clark, her thorax under the coffee table. It didn’t look comfortable to Garth, but she didn’t seem to be complaining.
“That’s just how Earth pizza is. If there’s one things humans know good, it’s food.” Garth neglected to mention that a good portion of her newfound senses probably came from the pot. Let her figure that out on her own, and just enjoy the buzz. “We’re gluttonous bastards. Well, Americans are, anyway.”
“Guys!” Sandi’s voice came from outside the house. The sun had gone down, but Garth could make out where her real body lay outside the window, making a depression in the gravel of Clark’s front yard.
“Guys I’m so hungry. Give me a slice of pizza too! Or like, five Bantas. Could you imagine how they would taste if you covered them in garlic honey first? Kolath, that sounds amazing!”
“I said you’re not coming in until you’re yourself again!” Garth stood, shouting at the door. He was never letting Sandi smoke pot again, for safety reasons. She’d been eyeing Clark with a hungry stare, and acting a bit uninhibited before Garth had banished her from the room. uninhibited was a dangerous state for someone like that to be in.
“But I’m hungry! I promise I won’t lick you again.” she whined.
“You ate yesterday Sandi and you know it!” Succubi could go weeks without eating, and they certainly shouldn’t feel hungry again the day after. Let alone lick people.
Silence descended from the other side of the door, then she spoke again.
“I’m tired. When did I lay down?”
“Just take a nap. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Okay I guess, but you’re getting me garlic honey Bantas when we get to the outpost tomorrow.”
“Sure,” Garth said, sitting back down on the recliner and picking up a slice of the delicious smelling pizza. It was a simple meat cheese and sauce on homemade bread affair, but it was the closest thing to real food he’d had in weeks, since the Inner sphere’s apparently didn’t have tomatoes, that magical fruit that made everything freaking amazing. Note: Sell tomatoes to Inner Spheres.
Wilson took another hit of his joint, the lizard’s head bobbing in time to some music only he could hear. Jerk’s gonna make me completely unable to function. But what the hell, it was a party. It wasn’t like they had anywhere to be. The closest kipling was hundreds of miles away, there just wasn’t anything for the flesh eaters to drink around here, not knowing how to use pumps and all.
As long as they didn’t let Sandi in, no one could get hurt…probably.
As Garth was lining up the first bite of the stone-fired pizza, a skittering sound of claws against the window caught his attention. Garth snapped his gaze up and looked at the window, but there was nothing. Maybe that was Sandi?
“You guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” Clark said, exhaling a long stream of smoke before he was wracked with coughs. The pot must have really hit Itet hard, because the bug warrior simply stared at the coffee table, rocking back and forth, still chewing the same piece of pizza.
“Sounded like something at the window.” Garth said, tottering to his feet and heading to the window, pulling the joint out of Wilson’s claws on the way by. Gotta stay…gotta stay focused. When did I become responsible for making sure everything’s safe?
“Was that you, Sandi?” Garth asked, opening the window and looking around the neighborhood. As far as he could tell there wasn’t anything out there except the Succubus. There certainly wasn’t anything more dangerous, anyway.
Sandi’s Lure was lying on the gravel, one boob mostly popping out of her shirt, hair mussed up, head propped up on her palm. The Lure seemed to flicker in front of him like it couldn’t decide exactly where it was, like one of those horror movies with frames removed from the monster’s movements. Long story short, she looked creepy as hell.
“You got a…message..thing.” she said, pointing up.
“A what?” Garth said, looking up.
A bat-winged form dropped down from the eaves and rammed into Garth, toppling him over.
When Garth opened his eyes again, there was a little green frog-man standing on his belly, a holding a tube under his nose.
“Oh,” Garth’s eyes slowly focused on the messenger humunculous. He’d gotten used to using them in his recent correspondences with the Inner Sphere to get himself Citizenship. Maybe it was news from the lawyer. Maybe she’d made a breakthrough in his case and gotten him approved ahead of schedule.
Garth took the tube out of the messenger’s hand and popped it open.
“You order something online?” Clark asked, eyeing the little green man. “That the alien’s Amazon?”
“What is it?” Sandi asked, leaning through the window, the sill pushing her flickering breasts up into a glorious valley.
Garth refocused, took the letter out and unrolled the scroll before clearing his throat, reading aloud for everyone’s benefit.
“Garth Daniels, as a One Star Iron Soldier and the most powerful apostle of Beladia, you have received many blessings from the Inner Spheres, but those also come with responsibilities. In our long history as a free society, many threats have... Yada yada yada…” Garth skimmed through the fluff.
It is our duty to inform you that you have…been…drafted.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Clark said with a frown, but Garth was too busy skimming through the letter for the highlights. At the end of the form letter was a strange paragraph.
“To assist in the dungeon subjugation on the Usinian planet in the Sphere beneath yours, You and your adventuring party will be teleported to the battlefront in five seconds.”
“Wait what? Sandi said, becoming alert.
The number shifted as Garth watched, becoming a four. Oh, crap.
“Calm down and stay together.” Garth said, trying to rally his senses. There was nothing they could do about it now.
A kaleidoscope of colors seared into his eyeballs as the world around him disappeared.