A large stone pillar stuck on the floor popped into Billy’s view when the door of the car opened. A man all in white, like the milkmen of the 1960s, rushed to the side of the car and opened the door. He saluted Billy, even.
Billy looked at him with awe. “Put your hand down, sir,” he said.
The man blushed and ran off quickly. Billy’s eyes chased him. He was running toward a sea of grass. Nothing but grass was in front of them, separated in huge sixty by sixty square rectangles. In between these were walkways, so that people could walk in between the grass. At the onset the pillar, blue and crystal, shone with an almost magical quality. It was a square pillar that was at least a hundred feet up like a tall building but only about two square feet long. Billy wondered how it stayed up. “What is that?”
“It’s the equivalent to every dimension in existence. The coordinates of each dimension are written in each of the triangles. If you look closely, you’ll see that square tiles make up the entirety of this tower. Each square holds two coordinates, as it should be obvious that two triangles make a square.”
“There must be thousands of them,” Billy said.
“Nine-million to be exact.”
“Nine-million?” Billy asked, “But this tower doesn’t look like it has nine-million thingies.”
“Oh, no, us travelers can’t remember all those coordinates. There’s more than one of these pillars around the courtyard. This one stands here because these dimensions are harmless or, as we call them, with minimal infestations of the poisoned ones. They’ve all heard of vampires, though. It still is a measure of surprise to me that you haven’t. Are you sure no one found vampires on your earth? Even remotely?”
“Not that I’ve heard of,” Billy said. “But then, I didn’t get out much.”
“No matter. The council of elders will sort it out during the questioning.”
The officer waved at his car where he’d parked it on the curve and it vanished.
“Don’t ask,” he said, “It’s a thing we can do but you need to be taught.”
Billy sighed. Well, if he could open a dimension at will, he could guess where the car was. “You sent it to another dimension.”
The man stopped walking along the stone path witch grass on all sides. Even the area was a measure of big grass squares. “Good observation,” he said. “Perhaps you already know more than you let on. Come on then, let’s hurry at a brisk jog.”
“Call it part of your training,” the officer said, pausing at his last word to inspect him up and down. Billy guessed that it was another joke at his weight. It could be a joke directed at his age but he doubted that much. He said that Billy would go directly to training. Did they have that kind of time? Billy had a problem with how to get back to his own time. What was he going to do?
They began to jog forward. Ahead, Billy saw multiple buildings, all square-shaped but some of the buildings were surrounded by big towers. A bridge was above them fifty feet in the air. It was an overhead walkway that shadowed them. How did the grass even grow without the sunlight? It was yet another mystery of this earth Billy had to get used to. As they walked underneath the bridge he saw the walls on either side of them that was connected to it. Big stone walls, about twelve feet in the air that were curved downward from where the wall was in a / shape and then straightened out at a height of about ten feet until the end of the walkway where a set of stairs met them. The stairs led to the buildings and towers all white and shiny in the darkness. It was so chilly that Billy was glad to jog, even if he had just been through enough running for a lifetime. Billy checked his ear. It still hurt but not that much.
Another problem was Simon. Where had they taken him? The officer had said not to worry and this seemed like a good idea, considering the alternative had been dealing with a gang of bullies set out on exacting years of revenge on both of them.
The building where they stopped had a five foot door shaped like an arc. Guards dressed in all white and with white hats like the milkman that opened door stood on either side of the arc. These had on black utility belts and had a foot-long stick in their hands. They pointed these up and a light came out of the ends as they approached. “Don’t blind me, Greg!”
“Sorry, sir,” the guard said to the officer.
“James,” the man said, “My name is James.”
James hurried into the arc still jogging. They hadn’t even slowed down at the stairs which was tricky for Billy. He almost tripped. The guards put down their sticks and the lights were gone. Inside, the hallway was lit but just barely. The walls were colored beige and the doors a sickly-looking dark-brown that almost made them look like they were still part of the tree. The doors had lines across them, check off with a black X. Some didn’t have the X on them. They had, instead, a check mark or an O. These doors were on either side of the hall way spaced about two or three inches apart and the hallway extended fifty yards ahead.
At the end of the hallway was another arc with more guards. These were so tightly enclosed that they stood one in front of the other or else no one would be able to pass through the arch without having to shove each other aside. The hallway broke after this arch into a large room.
When they passed all the doors, they entered a room sort-of like a courtroom but with a large number of stadium like seats on the walls themselves. They looked like big couches popping out of the walls. They were all at the termination of the jog. A wooden wall about three feet high stopped the jog. James came up in front of the wall and stopped short.
On either side of the aisle were people seated in benches, a lot of people in black, dressed almost exactly like James, except some had pins on their arms. Men and women but some were Billy’s age. None looked like Billy, meaning that they were all a little too skinny for Billy’s tastes. Billy watched them uneasily. So many people had showed up at this time of the night for a trial?
Of a sudden, all the couches on the walls, sixteen from what Billy had counted, had people on them. These were older fellows with red baseball caps and wearing buttoned shirts and blue jeans like cowboys on television did. This all didn’t add up. The council was full of country people who happened to like couches?
The couches were so high up that the council people could look down on everyone easily.
“If it pleases, the council, I present the unknown traveler, Billy.”
One of the men spoke in a strange accent but Billy couldn’t tell which one. They were all looking down at him.
Billy looked to the side of him where a row of kids that were just about his age were smiling at him. They were happy to be here.
“Another? Well, we’ll have to send this one back. It doesn’t look like we can do much to train him.”
“With all due respect, sire, this one here claims there are no vampires in his world.”
“Are you daft? Obviously, the boy is scared. He knows the value of good traveler training. However, you know the consequences of the worlds merging and the dimensional breaks that this is causing. To maintain stability, we have to send those back who we deem will not pass the tests.”
“But, sire, we are going to send him back where? Every dimension that we know of has vampires in it.”
“We’ll find out his sign. Take him to the trained, James. And pick up the little fellow along the way. He is much too inept to be trained as well.”
“We’re sending both of them back, sire?” James asked, as though this was the most unfair thing in the world.
“Why do you question the council, James? Look, the kid obviously belongs to an earth with vampires. If he says he’s not heard of them, then that is ridiculous. We can not tolerate such a misuse of justice. It is yet another reason why he can NOT be trained here. The boy lacks integrity. I sensed it the moment he walked in with his confused demeanor and lying glare.”
“Very well,” James said, staring meanly up at the judges, “I respect the council’s decision. However, I employ a service in return.”
“Do you now, and how do you propose the council will respond to a bribe?”
“Then let it respond to a threat,” James said.
The crowd now “ooohed” in response.
“If I do not get my proposed service, then I will seek the judgment of a seeker and the lineation may take so long that Billy here may be done with his training or at the onset of taking and, as you say, failing the tests. Seekers are known for their patience in determining the nature of their travelers.”
“We will hear of your proposal and see to its consideration among the council. Please, speak.”
“My wish is that the next boy I come upon with the talent will be accepted for training without question.”
The crowd uttered phrases aloud at this. “That’s ridiculous!” And “What is that man thinking!”
Some even said, “Forget this man. Let the fat boy come to training. We’ll show him a thing or two about what it really means to travel.”
Yet the crowd fell to stunned silence at how quickly the council responded.
“Yes, yes, James. Bring your son and he will be trained.”
Without warning, a void opened and Billy was dragged into it along with James.
They appeared in the same cold street from where he had come.
“Are you sure there weren’t any vampires in your earth?”
“No,” Billy said, “I never seen any or even heard of them until I picked up a book.”
“Okay,” the man said, kneeling to explain something to him, “Since there’s no real time to train you, you should know this much, traveler Billy. The void that you opened at first, it was because of the light. And you can invoke the light as you see fit and reach for those stars. The stars are coordinates like the X check mark and O you saw on those doors. When you move these three stars around, the void will open. Below the stars are numbers, maybe you seen them, maybe you didn’t. Advanced travelers do not see the numbers, Billy. Pay attention because this next is important and we don’t have much time. The councils orders are obeyed immediately upon the closing of the decisions. Look at the stars, that’s how you’re able to travel. Only by night or if you can see stars during the day. In some earths, you can. There’s no time for questions, just listen. In case these travelers do not send you to your exact earth, you may open a portal to travel away from it, should you find that you want to leave. I give you this choice, Billy. Make sure you want to leave an earth before you do it because traveling is forbidden by the council outside of your own dimension. No, no don’t ask. It’s like teleporting but what you’re doing is moving into your own dimension at a different location, it has to do with the light and how it’s opened. In order to read your coordinates, you have to think them up, like X2, O3, check mark 2, these are the coordinates to this place, very easy, probably why you ended up here the first time. Your earth may have complicated coordinates. In particular because no one’s heard of it. All earths have vampires. Remember that. And, that’s it.”
Another void opened and they entered into a large room with a single man at the front. There was a bubble shaped sphere rotating next to him. The man had blue gloves on. He waved them to come forward. Then, Simon appeared almost stumbling. Simon looked back at the darkness of nothing in a confused way, shrugged and waved at Billy with a smile.
“Horrible place,” Simon said, “The ice-cream is good but you should see their television shows. Craig and the Bee. It’s a show about a bee catcher, can you believe that?”
“Where were you?” Billy asked him.
“Waiting room,” Simon said, “Then, they said, there was nothing they could do. They were sorry but I was going back to where I came from. Like I had just lost a bet or something. It’s the best news I heard all night. It’s too freaking cold here, Billy.”
“I wish I’d talked to Mark before coming here,” Billy said with a sigh.
James interrupted their talk. “Mark?”
The other man echoed him. “Mark?”
His blue-gloved hand went to his chin and he stared at them pensively.
“Yea, a strange man with answers about dimensions,” Billy said, “But he was really mean to me.”
James and the blue-gloved man exchanged a look.
“Step into the globe while we talk.”
Billy and Simon stepped into the sphere. Rings appeared around it and they began to spin slowly.
“You think they’re talking about Mark Piersley?”
“And the council wants to send them back?”
James was the man with the two-word answers.
“Don’t you think they should know about this?”
“They made their decision without even questioning him. What do you think they’ll say about this?”
“But every traveler that knows Mark Piersley has been great and there hasn’t been one in a decade.”
“Time changes in the dimensional world,” James said, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll get another one that knows a Mark Piersley. It’s not our concern. The council has made its decision.”
“Oh, here comes the coordinates. Hmm. Strange.”
“What, what’s that?” James asked, distracted.
The blue-gloved man was looking at a digital device on the side of the spinning sphere in which Simon and Billy stood. The rings didn’t touch them; they were digitally formed like neon lights but these were pink and red and they glowed. They had spun slower and slower until they stopped. That’s when the blue-gloved man had spoken about coordinates. He was staring at the readings.
“There’s an extra X here where there should be just one.”
“When you look at the light, do you see an extra X star?”
“No,” the blue-gloved man said, “But I got their coordinates. It shouldn’t take long.”
James was writing something down. “Do you mind if I do it?”
“I need the practice. There’s talk in the office of promotion to ambassador.”
“Yea, yea. I’ll just oversee it. What are you writing there?”
“Just notes. I never done this sort of thing before, you know.”
“You never traveled?”
“No, I mean traveled others out. I’m trying to record what I find.”
“Of course. Can never be too careful with traveling. Don’t step out of the globe kids. James can do it from here.”
James walked forward and looked like any normal person to Billy. Yet he had an extraordinary gift to teleport wherever he wanted. Billy was impressed by this. “Did you want to leave?” Simon asked.
“Oh, yea,” Billy said, “I’m mostly interested in finding out if Meryl will apologize to me.”
“Yea,” Simon said, “The great mystery of life, if a girl that never liked you will suddenly fall in love you, yay.”
“Ooops!” James said, stumbling onto Billy. A paper fell out of his hands but he made it vanish into a void. And he was careful not to let the blue-gloved man see it for some reason.
“Sorry,” James said, “Just nervous.”
“Take your time, James,” the blue-gloved man said, “And remember the coordinates. Usually, that’s the most important thing.”
James took a step back and he said to Billy, “Good luck, traveler. Remember what I told you.”
Suddenly, they were gone