Zach, Soter, and the doctor stepped out onto a large landing platform just above the hospital/science lab where Zach had been evaluated. Part of him was still astounded that his mistake had led to such a strange and seemingly random, yet possibly orchestrated turn of events; being discovered by a cove of alien creatures that knew who he was and weirder even, were aware of a reputation that he supposedly held here. As he walked along the hallway of the lab in nothing but the briefs he'd arrived in, he could see that many of the other alien doctors, nurses, and patients alike, all the same species as the creatures that led him around, were gazing at him in awe and surprise. He could do nothing but avoid their gazes and keep moving. He was given new clothes to wear; a slick skin-tight body suit with a comfortable thermic interior that kept his body warm and his muscles relaxed. When they reached the roof of the lab, Zach took in the landscape of this new planet that Varus had called Ichthios. The sky was a beautiful light green in contrast to the darkish palm tree-covered mountains surrounding the building.
After a few minutes of waiting, a speck came into view behind one of the clouds and gradually drew in closer like an insect growing in size right before them. Before long, a massive carrier craft which was large enough to resemble a flying cruise ship was clearly visible, making its way to the surface of the science lab's rooftop. Blue lights shined from the grey metal of its exterior as its engines stalled momentarily, allowing it to land delicately on the massive platform and drop its doors for three of them, along with a small crowd of mermen accompanying them to enter. The doctor led the way and as soon as Zach stepped on, he was taken aback by the citizens that occupied this vessel.
Elves, Angels, Vampires, Mermen, red John Stamos-looking fellows, and various other creatures were scattered together in a collection of the most diverse group of beings Zach had ever laid eyes on. He stepped past them cautiously, a few giving him the same curious glances that he'd been given at the lab, which he was forced to ignore, but not without sharing a few curious stares of his own. Most minded their own business, watching various holographic programs unfold in their lap with large earmuff-like devices that acted almost like wireless headphones and others tapped away on small rectangular devices glowing in their hands. This was becoming increasingly difficult to take in, the surrealism of the moment being the only way for him to make sense a scene like this. Zach followed the doctor and Soter to the back of the aisles between the many rows of seats where hundreds of aliens sat, many visibly young and thriving, others middle aged and old, some infant sized and being cared for by adults. Infant aliens. The mere thought of it blew his mind. They were so cute and tiny and yet....they were aliens. There was a mad beauty in the visions he was seeing, all so unorthodox but at the same time, more natural than anything he'd witnessed on Earth. It just seemed like this was a day in the life for every single one of them, nothing was even remotely out of the ordinary. Except for maybe his own presence.
"The Taxicruise 111 will be leaving its current destination: KOINE BEACH LABS, and will be embarking onward to its next destination: CHRISTOS UNION STATION, in 50 Marks," a calm voice announced throughout the ship for everyone to hear. "Please stay tuned for departure."
Finally, they reached a small space at the end of the aisle and stepped through, allowing an elevator lift to shoot up farther into the ship's interior.
"I really have no words to express how I'm feeling right now," Zach said, numb with shock at the sights he'd just witnessed. "Half these creatures I didn't know existed."
"Just relax, Mr. English," the doctor answered calmly. "In due time." The elevator finally inched to a stop on the top floor of the craft and its doors flew open to allow them to exit. They stepped through and walked down an empty corridor just as the surface of the ship rattled under their feet as it began to rise from the platform. Zach could see out of the large windows on his right side that they were lifting into the air and with a quick jolt, shot forward. It was an incredible sight; out of no where, the landscape of the planet became a massive blur of stretching colors as the vehicle zoomed across its surface.
"So quick, question," Zach asked, still staring out of the window in awe. "Am I famous around here or something?"
"You could say that," Soter answered with a smirk as he continued on. "If you're referring to the looks you've been getting, its mostly the pajamas you're wearing."
Zach looked down at the body suit he was clad in. He actually thought it looked stylish, albeit not something he'd wear on his own planet, but possibly something that he would expect to be worn in a world like this. On the contrary, however, most of the attire he'd seen from the majority of the creatures he'd passed on the floor below were somewhat similar to what was worn on Earth, with the exception of a sort of futuristic touch that would have probably started a brand new fashion trend in the United States.
"Can I ask another question? What was that thing Varus stuck in my ear that allowed me to understand you guys?"
"It was a language exhibitor. It literally breaks the language barrier and temporarily changes the native language of whoever its used on to whatever its set to. It also allows them to read and write text in the same fashion. In our case, it was set to Korian and Agnathan, our native language and the universal language spoken by most people in the North Circuit respectively. Agnathan is what you're speaking now, as opposed to when you were speaking Korian on the beach. The exhibitor works on a subconscious level, that's why you weren't aware of its effects and probably see text and hear us speaking in whatever language they speak on Earth. Weird accent you have, but it works. They only give Ichthian Soldiers the cheap stuff though. On Arias, they have the state-of-the-art language exhibitors that do this strange brain wave emitter thing which allows for any soldier to communicate with any sentient being in the North Circuit. Permanently too. I don't know the mechanics behind it, but it gets the job done."
"I hope you know that rose SO many more questions," Zach said, his eyes wide with curiousity.
"Figured as much," The doctor replied, as they came to the end of the corridor. "Soter, you scan. I need to save my Points for this week."
"No problem," Soter said, stepping forward. He held his arm out and Zach spotted a large crane-like device with a red light on the end of it. Soter put his forearm under it and allowed the red light, which resembled a scanner of some kind, to slide over the surface of a peculiar looking symbol on the fold of his elbow. There was a chirp of confirmation and the door before them slid open, allowing them to step through. The three entered an empty room with a single square transparent table in the center, a window in the back, and a large orb floating seamlessly above the table.
Zach stared at it curiously before Soter walked to the side of the wall and hit a button, causing the orb to burst to life with a bright glow that nearly caused Zach to shield his eyes. "How'd you do that without it connecting to anything?" Zach asked with surprise.
"That button sends Electrolyte particles into the air that blends with the Tenalite contents in the orb, causing a unique chemical reaction. Its how we power all of our light and devices. You didn't notice the orbs back at the lab?"
"No, I didn't," Zach answered in a bit of a daze. "And I seriously hope this entire explaination isn't like that as well."
"Trust me," Soter said with a nervous sigh. "Its worse."
"Please have a seat, Mr. English," the doctor said, gesturing for Zach to take the transparent seat by the window, in front of the table. Zach walked to it and sat back comfortably, preparing himself for the doctor's speech.
"Okay, give it to me straight, doc," he said with authority. "Who are you, what are you, where are we, and why are we?"
"'Why are we' what?" the doctor asked in confusion.
"Why are we uh....Just explain, doc. From the beginning."
"Okay," the doctor said, exchanging nervous looks with Soter before taking his own seat in front of Zach. "We are going to assume that you know nothing of the North Circuit and its contents, so I'll just explain as much as I can. Please stop me if you have any questions. This could take a while."
Zach shrugged apathetically. "I don't have anything better to do."
"Okay," the doctor responded. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the hologram projector once again, setting it on the center of the table. He toyed around with one side of the disk until a large image popped up in the center, revealing some type of map. There were two large orbs, one on the top of the map, one on the bottom. In between the two, there were three planets relatively close to each other by the top orb, three in a row in front of each other in the center, two relatively close to each other near the bottom and two pairs of planets scattered on either side of the map beside them, making it twelve in all. "This is the official map of the North Circuit. The North Circuit is a community of planets, all operating under the same government. There are twelve planets in the North Circuit: Ichthios, Alfheim, Linaeo, Arias, Olympia, Eden, Harpeia, Nix, Graye, Machina, Paradius, and Honario, all under the authority of the Unity of Stars, the Meritocratic government we answer to."
"Essentially means you are selected to rule based on your merits," Soter answered. "Whether they be intellectual, have the right credentials, competence and ability to lead; usually all of those factors come into play. Its also a given that one must also have strong moral as well."
"Right," the doctor said, continuing. "The Unity of Stars has been around for thousands of years and its current Chairman is a man named Tome Knightgrief. His rule is controversial because for many years now, all of the Chairmen of the UoS have been full-blooded Alfimese. Tome is half-Alfimese, half-Human."
"Wait, there are humans in this part of the galaxy?" Zach asked with shock.
The doctor once again exchanged looks with Soter. "Seems we have to go back farther than expected. Let's start from the beginning, or rather the beginning as far as you are aware. The truth is, Earth is not the birthplace of humankind."
"It's not?" Zach asked, unconvinced.
"No. Earth, in its truest purpose, is merely a failed experiment. Many years ago, the Aves of Harpeia, or what you answered in your evaluation as 'Angels,' were granted permission to conduct an experiment. For many years, Harpeia served as a, how you say, 'big brother figure' to the planet, Eden, the true birthplace of humankind. Eden was, and in some ways still is, a peaceful planet, namely because of the guidance and care of the Aves. But the experiment was meant to determine whether humanity had the ability to develop a civilization of their own without the help of the Aves. In turn, they abducted two humans from Eden, brought them to a recently discovered barren, deserted, and isolated planet on the southern end of the galaxy, and dubbed it 'Earth', leaving them on their own and silently observing their progress with limited interference to see if they could build from nothing."
"Adam and Eve," Zach whispered softly.
"Its a religious thing on Earth. Adam and Eve were the first humans, created by God."
"Ah yes, the concepts of 'God' and religion were adopted to Earth from the North Circuit due to the Aves' introduction, but the majority of what is initially known was fabricated by humans. That isn't to say that there is no infinite deity, its just that the concept of an infinite deity is different here than it was on Earth. In the beginning, the experiment was successful, the humans were able to create a primitive but stable community. However, soon the differences between them led to frequent conflict until it was ripe with prejudices and oppression, fighting wars in the name of deities of their own creation. This wasn't a cause for concern, as this is normal in the process of growing as a civilization, but as the years passed on, the deterioration of human society grew so evident that the remaining Aves gave up on their experiment, deeming it a failure and leaving the earthly humans to destroy themselves on their own. That is ultimately the fate of Earth."
"So, why is it that I actually recognize some of the aliens I've been seeing lately, like downstairs and on your hologram?"
"Because not only did the Aves make frequent visits to Earth in the past, but many of the inhabitants of the North Circuit did. Many took part in trying to shape Earth's humanity, leading to many of the encounters made to later surface in your myths, such as our Alfimese being your 'Elf' or us Ichthians being your 'Mermen'. Some say our interference was part of the reason why the experiment failed, as we introduced morally conflicting cultural ideals that drastically effected the course of humanity's history, but there's no way to say for sure."
"Whoa," Zach said slowly, taking in what he'd just been told. So mythology isn't just a fairytale. Neither is religion, as far as he knew now. Things had gotten more interesting. "So, whats the history behind this 'North Circuit'? How'd it all start?"
"Well many years before the Earth Experiment was conceived, before the North Circuit itself was even thought of, it all started with the planet, Alfheim." The doctor pointed to the planet second closest to the bottom orb on the map. "That's this planet, right by the South Sun. The sentient inhabitants here consist of the Alfimese. There are two kinds: Light and Dark. Light Alfimese are what you would consider 'Elves' and the Dark Alfimese are what you answered in your evaluation as 'Vampires.' There was and always has been tension between the two. For years, they went to war with each other over differences in race, social class, etc. However, at some point, through all of the fighting and dispute, the Alfimese were able to come together and unify for one central purpose: Colonization. They had discovered a barren planet, not much unlike early Earth, only there was an absence of wildlife inhabiting the surface, fortunately for them. So the Alfimese prepared to move in....until they discovered that another force was actually trying to do the same: the Angrefians of Linaeo." The doctor pointed to the planet closest to the South Sun, not far from Alfheim.
"You recognized them as 'Lizard Men', but the Angrefians were a powerful force that heavily opposed the Alfimese stronghold, wanting to claim this new planet as their own. And so it began: The 500 Year War. It was a bloody massacre that heavily changed the way of life and culture of both species through the drastic measures either side went through to ensure their victory. In the end, the Alfimese came out victorious. They took their win as an arrogant testament to the "undying passion" present in them all to achieve whatever they wanted and not stop until it was obtained. Their victory resulted in the enslavement of the Angrefians and the Alfimese declared this new planet of theirs, Arias, named after their ruler at the time, King Arias Lockmore." The doctor pointed to the bottom of the three center planets that were in single file on top of each other on the map. "Believing that they were on some kind of a winning streak, the Alfimese grew even more arrogant, seeking out other planets in the area to invade and conquer. They then went after Olympia, the planet of Titans and Golems, what you saw as 'Giants'." The doctor pointed to the middle planet in the three central planets in the row at the center of the map. "Its safe to say that this battle wasn't as successful for the Alfimese. They garnered heavy casualties but retreated quickly enough to come out virtually unscathed. Deciding to try again with another world, they went after our planet, Ichthios." The doctor pointed to the right side of the map where two planets were designated beside each other. The one closest to the center was the one he identified as Ichthios. "While they did not suffer the same loss in numbers that they'd received when going after Olympia, they were still forced to retreat and their invasion was ultimately a failure.
"Beaten but not broken, their attempted conquest continued. They traveled across the North Circuit, past Paradius," he pointed to the top planet of the row in the center and moved his finger up to the planet third closest from what could be identified as the North Sun, "To Eden. As said before, the Humans of Eden were peaceful and did not suspect the impending invasion, but due to the protection of the Aves from the planet, Harpeia," the doctor pointed to the planet just next to Eden, which was the second closest to the North Sun, "the invasion was short-lived. A large-scale battle that nearly rivaled the 500 Year War erupted between the Alfimese and the Aves, and though the Aves suffered the most casualties, as they are notorious for focusing heavily on offensive tactics and next to none on defensive, the Aves came out victorious, driving the Alfimese back to their own planet with nothing. The Alfimese were weakened by the turn out of this war, but their spirit was still intact, so they went after the Angrefians once again, targetting their homeworld, Linaeo. Many years had passed since the 500 Year War and most of the Angrefian slaves had been freed by freedom fighters renegading to Arias and Alfheim to free their brothers. Now that the numbers were back in their favor, the Angrefians could fight back. The invasion was, again, unsuccessful in the odds of the Alfimese and they were sent back to their planets empty-handed once again.
"As if they had not learned their lesson from the countless failures in the past, years later, the Alfimese went on the offense again. They had discovered a new planet on the far end of the North Circuit called Machina." The doctor pointed to the left side of the map at the planet on the farthest. "Their first and biggest mistake, was going in not knowing what to expect. They were arrogant and proud, they didn't know or think they would need foreknowledge on the enemy they were trying to intercept. Little did they know, Machina is completely inhabited by AIs and sentient machines. To this day, no one knows who created them, but the reasons why they still remain so mysterious is pretty obvious given what happened when the Alfimese invaded.
"The invasion was unsuccessful, but not in the same way it had been in the past. The Alfimese weren't allowed to just go back to their own planet, beaten and try again later. The AI's of Machina retaliated harder than anyone could have ever expected. They proceeded to slaughter the Alfimese, decimating over half of the population of Alfheim in the process. And they could have went farther. They could have pursued complete and total genocide of the Alfimese race. Fortunately, the AI's soon retreated back to their planet and never returned, leaving a chilling reminder of what happens when a species is pushed too far. It was a lesson learned by all of the races of what would later be known as the North Circuit at that time.
"Needless to say, the Alfimese finally had a change of heart. As they spent years rebuilding from the catastrophic losses caused by what is known today as the "Alfheim Purge," they discovered that their thirst and drive to conquer everything in sight was misguided and if they continued on that road, it would lead to their eventual downfall. After many years of re-populating the planet and re-evaluating their belief system, they came to the conclusion that the only way for their species to thrive was by living in harmony with the other planets and breaking cultural boundaries between them in order for them all to grow as a community."
"Something like that," Soter interrupted with a tad bit of attitude. "Part of me thinks it was for the sake of avoiding an eventual invasion from the other planets while they were still going through reconstruction."
"Well their exact reasons behind the change are still speculated," The doctor continued. "But bottom line was that the Alfimese wanted for things to change. So they formed what would later be known as the Unity of Stars, which spread quickly throughout Alfheim and Arias. They extended their services out to the other worlds, but it took a lot of persuasion and hospitality to get their reluctant goverments to agree. After many many years, they all eventually fell in line; First Ichthios, then Linaeo, then Harpeia, and then Eden. Eventually the planets, Graye, which is where the so-called 'Martians' you mentioned earlier reside, and Honario, home of the red skinned individuals from the hologram, joined the technocracy, but it took the most convincing to get Olympia to join in. The two forces had to work through a lot of tension before that happened; the Titans and Golems are and have always been stubborn beings."
"What about Machina?"
"They didn't even bother with them," Soter answered. "Its technically considered part of the North Circuit, but its government has repeatedly reiterated that they do not want anything to do with any of us. They want us to stay on our planets while they stay on theirs. Anyone that is caught dead on Machina is just that, dead. In a heartbeat with no strings attached."
"He's right. So basically, this is how things have been in the North Circuit for the last few thousand years, with the exception of the relatively new political party that has surfaced through the efforts of the wealthy Dark Alfimese of Alfheim. They call it the Aristocratic Commonwealth. They are a plutocracy; they want the world to be run by the wealthy."
"When has that ever worked out for anyone?" Zach asked, shaking his head.
"Hardly. However, their counter-argument is that the majority of them worked from the ground up to achieve their wealth and therefore, would be able to do the same for the North Circuit. But the days set aside for the AC to take over are too far in the future to worry about with the UoS thriving the way it is today. At the moment, as it has been from the start, Arias is the current capital of the North Circuit. Its where our current Chairman, Tome Knightgrief, resides and it is also the location for the headquarters of Star Crest, the Unity of Stars Military....And that's where you come in."
"How exciting," Zach said with a smile, tapping on the table as he waited for them to continue.
The doctor reached forward and pressed the center button on the hologram, toying with its side panel again until it displayed a Three Dimensional figure of Zachary English. The image startled him; he hadn't expected to see himself or have any involvement in this fantastical environment he was being introduced to. The image of him spun around on an invisible platform in a sharp uniform as a clear deep voice began to speak through the hologram projector.
"Zachary Pharaoh English of 82 Arian years is a decorated MIE Soldier who was made famous for his heroic efforts in preventing the savage assassination attempt of current UoS Chairman, Tome Knightgrief. Tome was scheduled to give an address on the evening of Vanir 21, during which a high-profile assassination was planned under the orders of an unknown proprietor from Alfheim. The plot was ultimately foiled, garnering Zach English a reputation as a hero as well as earning him several badges in honor of his bravery."
The doctor reached forward and turned the hologram off before staring at Zach, studying his reaction. Zach darted back and forth between him and Soter.
"Wow," was all he could say. "Um....I....don't remember that. Any of it."
"We know," Soter responded without emotion. "That's what we're trying to figure out. Thing is, shortly after the event occurred, you disappeared, fell off the grid. You were relieved for some time after the event and you weren't scheduled to return to active duty for at least two Arian years but when no one had heard from you after four, that's when people started to worry."
"I've been gone for four Arian years?" Zach asked in confusion. "How long is that exactly? That thing said I'm like 82 Arian years old."
"That's the equivalent to twenty years on Earth. All of the North Circuit operates based on Arian Time. A year on Arias is approximately three months on Earth, 24-hours-a-day/31-days-a-month. The months are Aesir, Vanir, and Nair, in that order before the year is over and the cycle starts again with Aesir. However we don't have weeks and we don't have labels for our days. You were gone for a full Earth year."
"And just to clarify, what exactly is the MIE?"
"Motor Infantry Epsilon. The equivalent to your 'Navy'."
"Right," Zach said in thought. "So what do you think happened?"
"We think you went to Earth," the doctor answered. "And that's obvious at this point. But that still wouldn't explain why you had a lifetime worth of earthly toxins stored up inside you and why you have those strange markings on your body."
"Oh you mean my tattoos? Yeah, my friend Ward coaxed me into getting them. I was initially regretting it but now I think they're pretty cool. Hell, that whole Alpha Mu Delta thing was pretty cool. Wish I'd actually given it a chance."
"Let's try to stay focused, English," Soter said. "That's one thing we can cross off the list. You're still as absentminded and carefree as ever."
"But thats the thing, I can't have just spent a year on Earth. I have memories of spending my whole life there. And that ship that actually brought me here I remember seeing in the sky not thirty minutes earlier."
"You mean clicks?" Soter asked curiously. "Sorry, that confused me for a mark. Here we say Marks to your Seconds and Clicks to your Minutes. Hours are the same for both of us though."
Zach looked at him in confusion and finally shook his head. "Okay, this is going to take some serious getting used to, I can already tell. Anyway, yeah I saw that ship and I went after it. When I got on board, I stumbled over the altar in the center, tripped the ship's navigational system or whatever and it brought me here. What does that mean?"
"You saw the Bon-ship moments before it brought you here?" the doctor repeated, trying to get an understanding. When Zach nodded, he looked away with a puzzled look. "I don't know what to make of this. I'll look into it. The important thing is that you're back now and there are things that need to be done, like getting you to Arias to speak with Tome."
"Wait, hold on a second," Zach said, leaning forward. "I mean, mark....whatever. I need to be getting back home, I've got important things I need to do there too."
"You can't go back to Earth," the doctor said, chuckling. "You think your government would let you back on your streets with this kind of knowledge in your head?"
"Don't they know about all of this too?"
"They've known for years but not as much as you know now. A Grey, one of the inhabitants from the planet Graye, made contact more than a century ago, the equivalent to your....how you say, 1940's, I think is the term? Anyway, things have been stable and they've been keeping our existence from your public for years, due to their inability to accept the idea of extraterrestrial life existing beyond their own. But if you go back, you can believe they won't let you leave their sight, knowing you know more than they do. You could never go back to whatever life you had there."
"And be honest with yourself, Mota," Soter said, intervening. "Would you really like to go back to whatever life you had there? At the bakery or whatever its called? Or would you rather be at a place where your life has meaning? Where you can actually make a difference?"
"How exactly would I be making a difference?" Zach asked curiously, gauging Soter's reaction.
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough."
A calm voice suddenly filled the air with sound throughout the vessel. "The Taxicruise 111 will be leaving its current destination: CHRISTOS UNION STATION, and will be embarking onward to its next destination: ARIAS GRAND CENTRAL, in 50 Marks. Please stay tuned for departure."
"Thats the last stop," the doctor informed. "Its where we're headed."
"You might want to hold on to something by the way, Motas."
Zach stood up along with the doctor and watched as he and Soter walked to opposite corners of the room and grabbed hold of a single handle that protruded from the corner. Zach looked to either side of him and spotted two more, going for one and grabbing hold of it as well as he speculated its purpose.
"Can I ask you a question, Soter?" Zach asked curiously.
"What does 'Mota' mean exactly?"
"It means friend, colleague. Equivalent to your 'dude' or 'mate'."
Zach smiled. "I'm flattered you consider me a friend when I barely know you."
"You're not just a friend, English. I owe you my life."
"Really? What did I do?"
"I'll tell you after the jump."
"What? What jump?"
"The Taxicruise 111 will be embarking onward to its next destination: ARIAS GRAND CENTRAL in five marks. Entering hyperdrive in 3....2....1-"
On cue, the entire ship began to shake violently, nearly throwing Zach off his feet as he used the handle by the corner to keep his balance. He felt as if the ship itself was experiencing an earthquake or assault of some kind but by the calm and comical expressions on Soter and the doctor's faces as they watched Zach struggle to keep his hands glued to the handle, he could tell that this was normal. All of this was supposed to be....normal. Pretty damn far for me, Zach thought to himself.