DaVic had heard about people regaining consciousness slowly and becoming aware of their surroundings bit by bit. That wasn’t how it worked in his case though — it all hit him like a speeding rocketship slamming into a planet, and no retrorockets to slow down the ship either.
His first reaction was that he must have a fever. It was hot. Torridly, blisteringly hot. And the steam wasn’t helping much — it felt as if a sauna, volcano, and a pressure cooker had gotten together for a party and had fallen out. It was so humid and steamy, that you could probably cut it with a knife and sell cubes of the stuff.
DaVic peered through the almost solid curtain of vaporised moisture, trying to figure out where he was. He had a vague recollection of being attacked by somebody (or had it been something?) in the alleyway, but that’s as far as his memory went — it was all darkness from then on.
Maybe he’d been kidnapped by RaBlu’s goons? But why were they trying to cook him with steam? Was this some sort of torture that they were experimenting with?
“Hello? Is anybody there?” he asked in a shaky voice.
DaVic peered around the room. The light was extremely bright and he should have been able to see clearly, but the steam made visibility difficult.
As he was about to call out again, he could see some movement through the fog of steam off to the side. Somebody appeared to be coming towards him.
He watched the approaching figure with some confusion. They appeared to be almost stumbling around. Or rather, they looked as if they were falling forward, then abruptly stopping themselves, whipping themselves back, and then falling forward again rather than simply walking. Were they drunk?
The next thing he noticed was the stranger’s head — it looked as if they were wearing a ridiculously large hat. Or, they had a large head? Was he a rastafarian perhaps?
By now the person was much closer and DaVic still wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Was it a woman? Was it a tree? Perhaps some kind of weird robot that the aliens had brought in?
It looked very much like a tree, but that couldn’t be, right? After all, it was walking towards him!
Whatever it was, DaVic figured that he had better make sure that it was real and not a nightmare vision born of a fever dream.
“Umm … hello?” he tried as an opening gambit.
“Hello,” replied the stranger, matter-of-factly.
“So you’re real?”
“Of course I’m real. Otherwise I wouldn’t reply, would I?”
That was very logical. But what wasn’t logical was the stranger before him. DaVic tried hard to see where the voice was coming from, but he could not see anything like a face on the stranger — just a huge head that seemed to be covered in green hair that seemed to droop down covering anything that might resemble a face.
“But … but …what, or who, are you?”
“My name is Salix.”
“Why do you look like that?”
“Like what? I’ve always looked like this.”
“Well … umm … you’ve got no face.”
“None of my people have faces. What good is a face anyway?”
“Umm … so that I can see what you look like?” DaVic was floundering.
“You can see what I look like perfectly well, can’t you?”
DaVic knew when to leave something alone — after all, he’d lost many a debate with his five year old nephew. So, much like he did with his nephew, he tried a different tack.
“What are you then?”
“I’m an Obnitorian,” replied the other, as if this was self-evident.
“Obnitorian?” repeated DaVic, trying to dredge up a memory that had gotten lodged at the very back of his brain, like an irritating piece of food stuck in his teeth.
He had a vague recollection of having heard the name before, but then again, there were so many alien races around these days coming to the planet and one couldn’t keep track of them all.
“Most humans don’t know much about us,” said Salix, almost sounding as if he genuinely wanted to help.
“Our initial interactions with most humans did not go well. There seems to be some plant-prejudice amongst your kind since we look like your trees …”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” said DaVic nonchalantly.
“Well, you did respond much better than most of your compatriots on seeing me.”
“Might have something to do with the fact that you guys drugged me and then dragged me in here. Or was that dragged me in here and then drugged me?”
“We did not drug you.”
“But you did drag me in here?”
“I wouldn’t say dragged, carried more like …”
“Ah, ha! And why would you do that?”
“Well, it’s a rather complicated story …”
“I’ve got time.”
“As I mentioned before, we Obnitorians have not been received well by most humans. However, your planet has some resources that we are in dire need of on our planet.”
“So you guys are here stealing our resources?” asked DaVic, eying Salix accusingly.
“Not at all. We are here to trade legitimately for the resources that we need.”
“But you said that humans didn’t react well to you!”
“I said most humans did not react well to us. There are those who seem to be swayed more by the credits we’re paying them than our appearance. They seem to have no compunctions about dealing with us.”
“Ah, the blackmarketeers!”
“Amongst others. They are not the only ones though.”
“OK, so what has this got to do with you guys kidnapping me?”
“We did not kidnap you. You are free to go any time.”
“Really? Then why am I here in the first place?”
“I’m getting to that,” repled Salix, sounding a bit annoyed but without any facial expressions to go by, it was hard to tell. “As I mentioned, humans don’t seem to like seeing, or interacting, with us. So, we generally stay underground in bunkers we’ve built to suit our needs.”
“You mean this soupy environment is what it’s like on your planet?”
“No, we don’t get the luxury of this heavenly steam and the bright sunlight on our planet. At least not anymore. It used to be bright, steamy, and ideal for our physical wellbeing eons ago. However, now our sun is growing old and it doesn’t have the warmth it used to have. So now we have to augment our environments for us to be comfortable. And that’s why we like your planet.”
“So you’re tourists?”
“Sort of. We do love visiting your planet for trade because we can bask in your bright sun and the natural luxurious warmth. But there’s something I haven’t told you …”
“Oh? Do tell!”
“My people have become addicted to the torrid warmth of this planet and these underground lairs are sort of equivalent to your drug dens …”
“Ooh, so you guys are junkies soaking in the steam?”
“I wouldn’t use the term junkie myself. But on my native planet, this sort of behaviour is frowned upon, yes.”
“And yet, you do it anyway?”
“Yes. Don’t you have people who are addicted to various narcotic substances who are frowned upon by society?”
“Fair enough. But what has any of this got to do with me?”
“Sometimes our people get a little disoriented when they come down here. The sensory input is too much for them and they become a little irrational, erratic even.”
“They get lost in the weeds?” asked DaVic, chuckling at his own cleverness.
“Something like that,” replied Salix dryly.
“Well, one of my associates got a little overwhelmed last night and we think he stepped out without our knowledge. While out, and this is pure conjecture mind you, we think he saw you as something out of his dreams, I have no idea what, and carried you in here …”
“None of us actually saw him. We just found him, and you, lying on the floor several hours ago.”
“Hold on, you said last night — how long have I been here?”
“We found you after midnight and it’s been about eight hours or so since then …”
“You mean it’s morning already? And nobody came looking for me?”
“Why would anybody be looking for you? Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Nah, nothing like that,” replied DaVic hastily.
If it was morning then it looked as if he’d given whoever his tail was the slip. Maybe he should stay here till evening and then head to BoBo’s since nobody seemed to know about this place?
“Do you really want to be steamed down to a shrivelled prune?” his inner voice interrupted.
Well, that was a consideration, he conceded. But wasn’t it worth it to stay under the radar of whoever might be looking for him?
He was about to ask Salix about the possibility of staying with him when a deafening klaxon went off with the force of a baby who’d had their pacifier taken away just as they were drifting off to sleep.
“What’s that?” asked DaVic, looking alarmed.
Salix looked flustered. Or at least, DaVic assumed that was what was happening since all this tentacle arms — at least, he assumed those were arms — twitched quickly, one after the other. But maybe that was a sign of anger, fear, or surprise? Who knew?
“Keep quiet and stay here,” Salix said as he limped and rolled — or was that glided? Did he even have feet? — away through the steamy fog.