s the morning sun climbed up the smoggy sky, it baked a shoddy shack with its rays. Standing shakily on the roof of Guridoh Tavern, the shack was Darek’s home. It was thrown
together with broken planks of wood, rusted nails and barely-intact shingles. But no matter how crummy it was, Darek didn’t complain. Instead, he embraced its finer points.
For one thing the place was large enough to fit everything he needed: his toiletries, a soft blanket and some clothes. There were a few other things inside. A faded photo of his childhood friends— Slade, Rex and Elize—was pinned on the wall. Catalogs from Rodrey’s shop were sprawled on his blanket. A small watch, which he used as an alarm clock, hung over his pillow. Aside from the daggers he had recently acquired, Darek didn’t have anything of much value.
The thing he loved most about this place was that he could catch the sunrise every morning. Darek continued with his daily tradition and sat on the edge of the roof to get a good view of the city. The Guridoh was not large enough to compete with towers and skyscrapers for supremacy in height—far from it. Luckily, the tall buildings were positioned in such a way that it opened a pathway for the sun to shine through. With the sunrise before him, he began to reminisce his days at the orphanage.
Back then, he was much more carefree. He didn’t have to worry about anything. The orphanage may have been small and poor, and it may have been isolated from the rest of the galaxy, but that didn’t matter. Everything he needed was there—even the best of friends. Every day there was filled with laughter and joy, and he longed to regain those feelings. Even with new friends it was never the same. No matter where he went, he could never find another place he could truly call home. Even though he tried to find happiness in this town, there was still something lacking.
As Darek gazed at the beauty of the sunrise, he wondered what everyone else from the orphanage was doing now. Slade was always a loner. Being the oldest of the bunch, he assumed the position of leader whenever they did tasks and chores. Darek imagined Slade to be a mercenary. Elize was always the kind and gentle one. Whenever someone was hurt, Elize would be the first to go and get help. Darek had encouraged her to be a nurse or even a doctor. And Rex…well, Rex was always a crybaby. Darek remembered all the times he had to help Rex out whenever he was in trouble. Darek couldn’t imagine what Rex would be doing.
“Enjoying the sun?” asked Jenson. He had walked up to the roof and Darek, consumed in his preoccupation, had never noticed. “I was looking for you yesterday. Didn’t I say I was going to show you something? Where’d you go?”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Darek said. “There was some strange stuff about a census. We had to take photos, fingerprints, retinal scans and everything. First time it ever happened. And boy was it boring.”
Jenson laughed. “I’ve heard about that and I’ve been avoiding it.” Jenson gestured to his bag. “Anyway, let me show you my latest and most spectacular invention!”
Darek searched his satchel. “Ah! I’ve been meaning to show you something also.” Darek revealed his newest pair of daggers, twirling the hilt around his fingers. “Got it at Rodrey’s. Isn’t it awesome?”
Jenson looked worried. “If Bellum catches you with that—” “Relax.” Darek cut him off and looked at him with disapproval. “You worry too much. He’ll never find out. Besides, what’ll he do? Call the cops on me? You know how he is.”
Jenson shrugged. “I guess you’re right. Anyway—as I was saying—let me show you something amazing.” Jenson opened the bag he had been carrying. “I’ve been a bit jumpy ever since I made this.” He took out a fairly small device that could be strapped on his wrist.
“Wow, amazing!” Darek said. “What is it? A wristwatch on steroids?”
“No,” snapped Jenson. “It’s a personal ITD!” Jenson couldn’t contain his excitement and squealed, “Amazing, right?”
Darek fiddled with the buttons. “ITD? Isn’t that some kind of disease?”
“What? No! It’s an Intergalactic Teleportation Device. This thing can teleport you anywhere in the galaxy. Although, it does eat up batteries like a rodent on peanut butter, so I wouldn’t call it a free ride. You’ll have to recharge the batteries after every use.”
“A teleportation device? Did you make this yourself?” Darek was skeptical. It sounded too farfetched. “And why does it look like a giant watch?” Darek strapped it on his wrist and moved his arm around. “Couldn’t you have made it cooler looking?”
Jenson dug around his bag, pulling out a number of nuts, bolts, circuit boards and wires. “Hey, it’s not like I have access to the finest materials known to man. I scrounged up all the parts I needed from the hardware shop across the street.”
Darek shook his head in disbelief. “You expect me to believe this? It’s large for a watch…but for something as powerful and impressive as a teleportation device, it looks way too small. How’d you even come up with this?”
“Okay, you got me. I wouldn’t exactly call it a new invention. I downloaded the basic schematics from the X-Net. But of course I had to change everything to match the parts I could get. The homemade aspect and the portable size of it would be my part of the invention. A homemade ITD has never been done before!” Jenson took the device from Darek’s wrist and, with a screwdriver, tampered with the inside, making several adjustments to ensure working order. “It wasn’t easy. It took me a few months to save up enough money to buy all the parts. Not to mention, it also took a few months before I could get it to activate.”
Darek continued to shake his head.
“What? You still don’t believe me?” said Jenson.
“You still expect me to believe you?”
“What you need is a demonstration,” Jenson said with a smile. He jammed a small blue vial into the back of the device and locked it in with a click. The red and green lights on the top screen blinked weakly before staying solid. The ITD emitted a soft buzzing sound.
Seeing that it was working properly, Jenson tied it on his wrist. “Oh and this is the fun part.” Jenson brought out two long boards, which had been protruding from his bag. They were simple wooden boards, but had small straps for the feet. “Follow my lead.” Jenson took one of the boards and locked the buckles on his feet; Darek did the same with the other board.
Darek stared at the board and said, “Explain to me why we’re wearing boards on top of a roof? No wheels, no engine. What is this, a snowboard?”
Jenson ignored his question and eagerly flipped the switch on the ITD. A murky green beam of light shot forth from the ground beneath their feet and extended deep into the grimy sky, past the highest clouds and billows of smoke. The light surrounded them and raised them up off the ground. As the two of them levitated for a moment, they both stared at each other, speechless and dumbfounded.
Jenson began laughing hysterically. “It works! My first test run and it’s going to work!”
Darek glanced around in fright and gasped, “You’ve never tested it before?”
In a blurry flash, they were sucked into space headfirst. The afterimages of their bodies were seemingly stretched like thin rubber while being carried off into the sky by the green streak of light. The stream of light curved and twisted into the form of a spiraling tunnel. Darek kept his eyes shut, afraid to see what was happening. What if they were actually in space? It’d be terrifying to be in space without a spaceship! Without the courage to open his eyes, Darek fanned out his arms and legs, letting his body float about.
Jenson jerked him by the arm. “Hey, concentrate! You’re drifting to the side!” Jenson pulled Darek toward the middle of the tunnel.
Slowly, reluctantly, Darek opened his eyes, one after the other. He looked around and was shocked to see them drifting about in this strange tunnel. “This is insane!” The tunnel was swirling green all around, but it was somewhat translucent; he could see the passing stars and planets on the outside.
Jenson laughed at Darek’s tense face. “Don’t worry and have fun! I was just kidding about the first test run.” Jenson crouched over and put one hand on the board. He then started to spin around. As the board shifted left and right, he drifted left and right. He had complete control over his weightless movement in the tunnel. “Come on, try taking control! This is awesome!”
Darek breathed deep. He bent his knees and leaned down on the board. He got into a crouched position and could feel a force flowing under his feet like the rushing of a river; the mysterious flow pushed him forward, and Darek felt like he was surfing across the galaxy. He began to wobble, so he tried to shift his weight to maintain his balance.
“Now you’re getting it.” Jenson cheered him on.
Darek moved left and right, up and down. And soon enough, he was doing flips, spins and all sorts of tricks. “I think I’ve got this. This is easy!” He clasped his hands on the back of his head and closed his eyes, enjoying the freedom of floating effortlessly. However, due to his carelessness, Darek started to drift away to the boundaries of the tunnel.
“Don’t get too close to the outside!” Jenson warned him.
“What’s the big problem? I’m not that close.” But the closer he got to the edge of the tunnel, the less control he had. When he tried to return to the center of the tunnel, he was no longer able to move the board. He flailed his arms, but nothing he did helped.
Jenson surfed to Darek’s aid right away. “Take my hand!” Jenson stretched out his hand.
Darek used all of his might to reach Jenson. The moment their hands interlocked, Jenson reeled him into the inner part of the tunnel.
“That’s the second time!” Jenson said, exhausted. “Do not do that again!”
“Sorry, I got carried away.”
“That’s okay,” said Jenson. “I was just afraid you’d be sucked into outer space where you’d be devoid of a living, breathable atmosphere and die a relatively quick, but painful death, subject to freezing temperatures, radiation exposure, bullet-like projectiles and an inescapable vacuum—which would also cause your insides to swell and boil.”
“There’s no need to explain,” said Darek, sounding appalled at the thought of it.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
The ITD started beeping.
Jenson said, “Oh, time’s up. Try landing feet first or else it’ll hurt. Point your feet at the direction we’re headed.”
The beam of light fell from the sky and touched the ground. Darek and Jenson followed through the light and landed smoothly onto the outskirts of an industrial city.
They stood there in silence for a moment before Jenson said, “Well? What do you think?”
“It was fun.” Darek couldn’t quite find the words to express how he felt. “It was exciting…a little scary, but exciting.”
“I’m not talking about your experience,” said Jenson. “Think of how it can help us with deliveries! We can go to any planet we want, anytime we want and it’s extremely fast too. No more sneaking into freighters or paying for cheap roundtrip passes on the ferry. With this device, we can handle all the long distance deliveries! We’ll practically have a monopoly on it. And ITDs aren’t even mainstream. Once I market this baby, I’ll be rich!”
“That’s great and all, but where are we now?” Darek looked over the surroundings. There was a city nearby and forests all around.
Jenson checked the screen of the ITD. “If everything went well, this should be a planet called Whardhime.”
“Whardhime…” Darek paused as if he were contemplating. “No wonder…”
“You know of it?” asked Jenson.
Darek shook his head. “No…not really. I remember hearing them talk about this place on the news. A planet with high poverty.”
“It wasn’t always that way. There was a civil war a while back and it devastated the economy and depleted their resources. After the war, the Federation thought it’d step in and offer aid so that the population could rebuild the infrastructure. Their plan failed. So the Federation decided to provide transports for the people to emigrate off this planet. No one really lives here anymore. There are a few small towns and cities. But that’s it.”
“I’m impressed.” Darek smiled. “I thought you only knew everything about our planet.”
“I always research where I’m going. There are precautions to take wherever you go.”
Jenson started walking towards the city.
“Where are you going?” asked Darek.
“Ah, I have a job here,” Jenson said. “It’ll be quick. You can walk around. Just make sure to meet me back here in a few hours. Don’t stray too far. I’ve been told some intergalactic criminals may be lurking around since the Federation rarely patrols this part of space.”
Darek watched Jenson enter the city gates. When Jenson was no longer in his sights, he followed the dirt roads. The roads stretched far past a small forest and into an old, rundown town. The aged buildings cast their decrepit shadows over the scraped, untidy paths of dirt. Weeds were everywhere, taunting a lonely gardener with their resilience. In this ghastly town, there was no banter of children or strolling of tamed dogs. It was a town inhabited by only the elderly. The townsfolk shuffled along the sidewalks, and with their kind eyes, they looked at one other and smiled.
Darek had lied to Jenson. He knew of this place. In fact, he had lived here most of his life. “Marwood hasn’t changed much at all,” commented Darek as he took a stroll around the block. “Same old stores…same old houses…”
He wandered to the front door of a red brick house. The windows and doors were boarded up. Darek tried to take a peek through a crack in one of the broken windows, but it was too dark to see anything. A cobblestone path led the way to an open backyard where the grass had grown too tall for children to run around freely. Though he saw nobody in that playground, the subtle echo of laughing children rang in his ears. With glazed eyes, he watched as a pair of butterflies rested at the top of a metal slide. With his imagination, Darek started to see his old friends—Elize, Slade, and Rex—playing tag around the field.
Darek never thought he would return to Marwood so soon. It had only been three years since he had departed from this town. He had always believed he would only return here when he was close to death. It’d make a fine grave.
While Darek was silently reminiscing, he was knocked off his feet. A man had run into him from behind. The man glanced at Darek and left without a single word. Darek didn’t really get a good look at him. But for the split second that their eyes met, Darek felt uncomfortable: he saw an undeniable fear etched on that man’s face.
“Kid, you all right?” A police officer saw the whole incident over the chain link fence. He rushed to Darek’s side to help him up. “Just goes to show you, you shouldn’t space out. It’s dangerous. Sometimes we get people with a screw loose, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know. I was just—” Darek broke off when he saw someone crossing the road. A girl had appeared out of nowhere. She smiled gently at Darek. It was Elize. Darek was sure of it. A mysterious, hazy fog formed around her feet. A sudden gust of wind blew across the street, causing the fog to rise up and cover her from his sight. Darek shouted out, “Elize!” She didn’t respond. He leapt over the fence. But when the fog dissipated, she was gone.
“What’s wrong, kid?” The police officer followed him. “You seem a bit high-strung.”
“Did you see a girl standing here?” Darek pointed to the road. “She was standing right here.” Darek scratched his head, puzzled by her sudden appearance and disappearance.
“Can’t say that I have,” the officer replied.
“Then do you know of any girls that live around here? Have you seen any teenage girls around here lately?” Darek pressed hard for answers.
“Son,” said the police officer, “after the orphanage closed, I haven’t seen a single girl around these parts for years. Now if you are looking for a girlfriend, I must say, this is an odd spot to begin your search. The only ‘girls’ here would start around the age of fiftyfive.” The officer paused. “You do seem like a fine young man though. If you’re interested, I have some relatives who live in the city over and they have a daughter—”
“No,” Darek interrupted him, “that’s quite alright.” Then he turned to leave. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
Running from street to street, Darek searched for any sign of Elize. It’s not an illusion! Darek thought. The only image of her in my head doesn’t resemble what I just saw. She looks different, yet I know it’s her! Is it her ghost? Is she trying to tell me something?
Darek struggled to make sense of what was going on, but no answers would dare come. However, in his heart, a strange feeling began to take shape. It was as if he could suddenly sense her presence nearby. In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a shadow flitting across the rooftops. The shadow was moving toward the far end of town.
Elize stooped over, examining the dirt. After a quick study, she immediately concluded that the trail was fresh. She looked up and, by visualizing the tracks, determined that the trail ended at a house just a block away. She approached the door of the building and pressed her ear against it, listening for any sound. Elize heard a panicky breath through the wood. The target was here, and better yet, he was standing right behind the door.
Her hand shaped in the likeness of a gun, Elize touched the tip of her index finger against the door. Then she drew circles with her finger, wandering about until she could find the perfect spot. Her finger stopped just a foot above the center of the door.
“Gotcha,” she whispered. Her fingernail hardened like steel and extended forth, piercing through the door. The sound of breathing was silenced.
“Target eliminated,” Elize whispered, “I’ll dispose of the evidence now.”
“Elize!” Darek finally caught up to her and gasped, “Elize, it is you!”
Elize turned back to see Darek coming down the road in a hurry. She took one powerful leap and landed on the roof of the building. “I’ve been…compromised.”
“No, it’s the one we’ve been waiting for.” Sullen, she stared at him for just a moment. Then, as another thick fog swept across, she disappeared into the sky.
“She’s gone…again,” said Darek. “But what was she doing here?” Darek walked up to the door where he last saw her standing and looked around for any clues as to what was going on. He analyzed the ground, then the surrounding environment, and lastly, he examined the door. That was when he noticed it. A tiny, misplaced hole near the middle of the door. But there was more. Out of the hole leaked a dark liquid.
His eyes wide, Darek whispered under his breath, “Blood…” CHAPTER 3 The Judge