Roman’s soul was racing over an endless stretch of golden sand on a postcard-perfect beach. He had no comprehension of the fact that he had left his body or that he’d entered the Parallel Portals, although he had a sense that things were different. He didn’t wait to see if Pauline or Jon were there to throw a ball or frisbee. The impetus moving him forward was the overwhelming desire to find his true masters.
It seemed like an eon since the automatons first infiltrated his beloved home. Now he was trying to get used to the fact that his normal, physical senses weren’t working here. An inner radar was feeding his brain with images of Jon falling into a bright light. He had no idea what that meant, but when a silver beam shot down from above he instinctively leapt into it.
His mental whimpering and excited yelps echoed in the silver tunnel, frightening him and plunging his thoughts into a whirlpool of confusion, however – when he saw a giant room with several production lines moving rapidly – he came to a stop.
He felt a kind of spiritual connection feeding his senses, which flooded his being with happiness. Somehow he knew that Jon was close, although the sneaky feeling that all was not well seeped into his consciousness. When he tried to bark he was astonished to hear a loud whinny come from his lips. He could smell something burning like an electrical fire.
When he saw several strange, dirty robots swarming towards him he panicked and suddenly reared up on his hind legs. They stopped and began to roll backwards, emitting odd pipping sounds and waving their spindly, metal arms about. Looking like rusty teapots on wheels, they scattered and spread out in the warehouse. One of them pressed a large red button on the wall and a piercing siren filled the airwaves.
Roman was terrified and the emanation he had taken over was also struck with terror, even though he ignored the separate entity’s thoughts of escape. The sensation that Jon was close overrode his fear. He snorted and stomped as he raced around the warehouse, evading the iron arms descending from the ceiling. He deftly maneuvered his way through the grabbing pincers, which tried miserably to snag him.
Following his instincts, he jumped majestically over one of the conveyor belts and headed straight for the next room, which was an even larger warehouse with countless red blocks being ferried overhead on a series of beams and pulleys.
He galloped along until he made it to the other side of the warehouse and stopped in front of a stack of melted red blocks, which looked like a large pile of lumpy wax. He couldn’t read the sign stating that these “pieces” were rejects, but he could see his reflection in the shiny blobs. In his mind, he was looking at a strange, disjointed horse. He didn’t understand that the distorted image was due to the many misshapen bubbles reflecting his own image.
He also didn’t see the ceiling slide open or the huge, dark fingers slowly dipping towards him. The fear of the odd horse was occupying his attention, but suddenly he received a jolt in his mind’s eye. One of the melted blocks glistened brighter than the others. When he bent his head down to sniff it he was filled with joy. Jon’s essence was strong.
At the same time, the massive fingers grabbed his neck and his nose gently swept over the surface of the block. In a flash of disorienting sensations and lights, he found himself falling rapidly through time. His mental whimpers were louder now, like a shrieking banshee meeting her own death.
Back in Melbourne, Pauline’s new automaton was being operated by a senior emissary sent by Ka. She was even more senior than the one operating Jon’s body. By the time she knocked on the front door, a message had already been relayed about Pauline’s successful re-entry into the portals. Jon’s emissary opened the door and bowed in subservience to her. She entered the house and turned to face him.
“There is no need for formalities, Rylo. Have you succeeded in tracking Balo?”
Rylo was obviously distracted and looking out the front window into the yard.
“Forgive me, Nax. Did you see their dog? It’s gone missing.”
“Dog? What dog? What is a dog – a beast of some kind?”
She ran her hands over Pauline’s newly plump body like a woman trying on a strange dress for the first time. Rylo nodded nervously and stood to attention.
“Yes. It is their pet – like a living plaything. Similar to the bovars on Restun. Its name is Roman.”
She grew impatient and nodded angrily.
“Yes, yes. What of it? There are far greater elements which should be concerning you now.”
When Rylo was nervous, his clicking voice became more prominent, which embarrassed him greatly. Emissaries of his standing were supposed to have gained control over nervous ticks and lowly levels of communication.
“Please excuse me, Nax. This realm has a strange effect on me. I’m concerned about their dog. It followed Doelanda when she left for her portal. We are not supposed to displace substantial elements.”
Nax shook her head dismissively and deliberately clicked to show her disdain, which was one of her well-known traits, among many others.
“Yet here we are with a variety of elements displaced!”
He hung his head in shame but then looked back up to attempt to show a modicum of strength, even though he’d already lost control of his number two. Nax continued.
“We must find Balo soon. We have received a strong ripple which cannot be ignored.”
She went for the door and Rylo dutifully opened it for her, then followed her into the street until they stopped at the front of the house. He tried not to notice that she was walking stiffly, much like he and Balo had done until they’d grown accustomed to the human bodies. He also did his best to appear competent even though so much had gone haywire under his watch.
“I sensed the ripple too, but it is difficult to keep an eye on all that transpires when daily lives are having to be maintained.”
Nax turned to look back up the driveway before responding.
“You have the tools necessary to ensure smooth transitions, Rylo – particularly when things go awry.” She advised dryly.
He nodded and gulped at the same time.
“I am truly regretful for my failure. If I am permitted to ask – what is the final deduction?”
She pointed up the driveway to Pauline’s car.
“We will travel in that vehicle. I know where to find Balo. We must apprehend him before he does even more damage.” Then she added – under her breath – more to herself than to Rylo: “I knew that we had no business allowing him to operate that infiltrator’s body. He’s been a law unto himself for too long.”
They went back up to the car and got in. Rylo noticed that Nax didn’t buckle her seatbelt, but refrained from advising her and making her angrier. She turned to face him with a concerned expression.
“We must be vigilant. I sense that Balo has already caused grievous bodily harm to another human.”
Rylo was shocked. Balo could be playful at times, but he’d never hurt another soul. He decided against questioning Nax’s assumption.
“That is alarming.”
She waved her hand over the wheel and the engine started humming.
“Alarming is only the beginning. If Balo has fled and we take even more time trying to locate him, there’s no telling what further harm he will do. The soul has travelled back in time to a previous incarnation. We can only hope that Doelanda will be successful in getting it back to this current emanation before anything happens to her body. A clean swap is absolutely necessary to restore order – which will still only be a small step towards correcting this whole debacle. Otherwise, she will also die and the Godhead will lose yet another pulse.”
Rylo knew the consequences. Any loss under his watch would mean delegation to a lowly rank or worse. He shuddered when he thought of the lower realms and how frightening they were, even to an emissary of his standing.
At that moment, Pauline was leading Lixian back to the room she’d arrived in. A variety of thoughts flooded her mind, with the most prominent involving Lixian’s initial entry point. How far had she traveled since she’d first entered this emanation? She realized that she herself had jumped into new emanations recently without having to go back to her initial entry point. It was all too confusing, but she had learned a long time ago never to rely too heavily on all the rules and advice she’d received while exploring the portals.
As she closed the door and turned to look at Lixian, she sensed the raging strength and determination under the skin of the waif that this Dominatrix was now occupying. Somehow she knew that this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Who are you? Am I still in a dream?” The waif asked.
Pauline decided to drop the airs and graces that bubbled up from this emanation’s consciousness. She was relieved to have such a high level of control this time around.
“Have a seat. You must listen to what I’m about to tell you. It’s important.”
Lixian slowly went to the chair and sat down like a cat expecting to flee momentarily. Pauline sat opposite her and smiled, doing her best to appear non-threatening. She knew that this soul was a force to be reckoned with, but all the same, she needed to make sure that it all went as smoothly as possible.
“My real name is Pauline. My soul name is Doelanda. You are Liona Beechum, correct?”
Lixian smiled sneakily and nodded.
“Is this a game?”
“Not at all, which is why you have to pay attention.”
“I don’t HAVE to do anything, lady. Either I’m hallucinating or dreaming – in which case – anything goes, right?”
Pauline felt a pulse of panic in her solar plexus.
“This is neither a hallucination nor is it a dream. Your soul name is Lixian. You have traveled back in time to a previous incarnation. I get the sense that this emanation – the body you have entered – is a prostitute. Now, I’m not casting any aspersions, but your current emanation is a Dominatrix, correct?”
This seemed to shock Lixian. Her eyebrows nearly shot to her hairline, but soon she settled into a look of defiance and suspicion.
“How could you know that? No one knows that, even my mother. This has to be a dream!”
She got up in a temper but Pauline raced over and grabbed her right hand.
“Listen to me! Your mortal life is hanging in the balance. An emissary has taken over your body back in Melbourne. I have to get you back to that time and place before he does any damage, otherwise you’ll be stuck here.”
Lixian laughed and snatched her hand back.
“Wow, this is so vivid. I never knew that valium had such a crazy effect on me.”
“Lixian – Liona – you don’t understand. I was in your body when you took that valium. It was my fault that your body ended up at my house, which was when the emissary took over.”
Again, Lixian seemed to be shocked.
“How do you know about that? That’s impossible!”
Pauline instinctively blocked the door, trying to make it look like a natural act.
“That skinny little man was disappointed that you ended the session too soon. You tried to give him the money back, but he refused. He said that you were worth it.”
“I am worth it, lady. This has to be a dream. That explains why you know so much about me.”
She tried to push past but Pauline was physically stronger in this emanation.
“Wait! Listen to me!”
“Tell me where your initial entry point was. Indulge me. Think back to when you first entered this time and place. Where were you? What was happening?”
Lixian laughed and tried to push Pauline away.
“I was being fucked by a hairy bastard in a hideous brothel!”
She was obviously annoyed with the fact that Pauline was not surprised.
“Where? Which brothel? Do you remember the location?”
“What does it matter? Get out of the way!”
She darted around and tried to get back to the door but Pauline blocked her again.
“Lixian – you will die if you don’t listen to me!”
She ran at Pauline and pushed her against the wall. The women struggled until the little Chinese man came rushing into the room.
“Yes!” They both answered in unison – confusing him further.
Lixian took the opportunity to flee. Racing out of the door at top speed, she nearly knocked the servant over. Pauline tried to get to the door but the servant clumsily tripped her over in his attempt to help.
“Oh, please forgive me. Sorry, sorry!” He stammered as he tried to help her up.
“Get after her! Don’t let her leave!” Pauline commanded as she struggled to get to a standing position.
The tight dress was inhibiting her ability to move normally and the shoes were annoying so she kicked them off, hiked up the bottom half of the dress and scrambled through the door.
When they got to the hallway she was nowhere to be seen. Pauline felt a cold chill rush through every cell. Moving quickly from door to door, she continued yelling out Lixian’s name, while the servant spoke hurriedly to a large security guard in Chinese.
In the meantime, Lixian had made it to the opium den. Almost delirious with excitement, she thrilled at the idea of having such a wonderful adventure, regardless as to whether she was dreaming, hallucinating or truly inhabiting the body of a previous incarnation.
When a young man pointed to one of the floor-beds and started preparing a pipe, she felt another thrill run through her veins. She’d never been averse to imbibing now and then but she’d never tried opium before. She pulled the small curtain around her bed and started waving her hands frantically at the attendant.
“Come on, man. I haven’t got all day!”
The urgent noises coming from the hallway momentarily distracted him but he dutifully brought the pipe over and handed it to her with a snooty look on his sweet, young face. She snatched it and waited for him to light it, then inhaled deeply.
“Slow, slow. Easy!” He cajoled, but she ignored him and took another drag.
She was already drowsy with the heavy air in the room, but when the first wave came over her, she was pleasantly surprised.
“This is an amazing dream!” She said happily.
“It certainly is.” A man to her left replied.
The thick, rich scent insinuated itself into her nostrils while she slowly turned her head to look at the thin man, who was dressed in a shabby suit and lying on his side. She enjoyed inhaling the dense cloud of white smoke, which filled her lungs in an expansive way. At one point, she felt like she was smoking licorice, but the sensations were distracting her.
There was a creepy kind of pressure growing in her head, but she soon felt like she was floating on a warm ocean at twilight. While she experienced the all-encompassing warmth and the overwhelming peace taking over her body, she didn’t notice the door being flung open by the guard. Pauline stepped forward and began racing around the room until she found Lixian, already out of it and smiling like a stoned Cheshire cat.
Back at Liona’s apartment, Balo tried to revive the client, whose head was nestled in a bloody halo. He eventually tried a forbidden maneuver, which was to enter a dying body to re-activate or kick-start the cells into a frenzy of regeneration, but the soon-to-be corpse was not responsive. Already panicking over the fact that he’d inadvertently caused the unplanned demise of an entity, he dashed into the bedroom and did his best to find suitable street clothing.
After wrestling himself into a tight pair of jeans, bulky red sweater and moccasins, he charged outside – still wearing the smeared and thickly applied make-up – looking like an animated Picasso painting. The heat from the sun quickly caused the body to break out into an uncomfortable sweat. Balo was not thinking straight. All he could focus on was finding somewhere to hide until he could figure out what to do.
He knew that Rylo would soon be hot on his trail and the remorse was rushing through his system like a hurricane. He only wanted to have a bit of fun, after having spent what he felt was an inordinate amount of time in someone else’s humdrum existence. He thought of Ka and how angry he would be when he found out – if he didn’t know already.
He made it to a nearby park and found a huge oak tree to rest under. Being in a human body was like lugging a dead elephant on his shoulders. The heat was too much, so he threw the heavy sweater off and breathed a sigh of relief when the cool breeze hit the dark skin. He didn’t see the horrified family trying to shield their children’s eyes. They giggled while the mother swept the picnic blanket and basket under one arm and gripped the hand of the little girl, while the father picked the toddler up in a temper.
“Bloody drug addict!” He snarled as they strode off to their car.
Balo had at least made sure he was wearing a bra, but one large breast was hanging out from under it, while the other sat neatly restrained, making it look like he’d put it on in a hurry – which he had. He barely paid them any mind, also ignoring the occasional gasp of dog-walkers and people strolling along the path.
By the time a policeman cycled by and stopped with a sudden skid on the gravel, the heat had melted the make-up into a psychedelic mess on Liona’s usually attractive face. The policeman was in his early twenties and obviously not happy with having to deal with a supposed drunk or drug-addled prostitute causing a ruckus in the park.
He carefully crept towards Balo with his hand on his radio; eyes wide in apprehension.
“Miss? Miss? Are you alright?”
Balo opened his eyes and groaned in an annoyed tone.
“Leave me alone. I’m fine. I’m resting.”
The policeman stopped in his tracks.
“Miss, you’ve…exposed yourself. This is a public park. People bring their children here. If you’re inebriated or under the influence of illegal substances, I’ll have to arrest you. If you leave now, I’ll forget I saw you. Okay?”
Balo realized that it would be best if he left rather than cause a scene, so he got up and started making his way back to the main road. The policeman was horrified that he made no attempt to lift the left breast back into the bra and didn’t bother to put the sweater back on. He chased after Balo with the sweater and did his best to get in front of him, to shield him from more bemused or disgusted onlookers.
The Dom’s body was taller and faster than him, so it was a major feat for the policeman to keep up with Balo.
“It is alright officer. I am leaving. Be gone!” He advised haughtily.
A carload of hooligans drove past, hooting and hollering out of the windows.
“Show us the other one, Baby!”
Balo was completely oblivious to the taunts and what they were referring to. The policeman was now reporting the incident on his radio.
“Send a divvy. I’ve got a spaced out pro on the loose.”
Balo made it out onto the main road, but he decided to cross rather than walk along the footpath. After only three steps, he was collected by a huge semi. Multitudes of screams came from the onlookers on either side of the road. Liona’s body was splattered and twisted into a messy pretzel in seconds. The semi screeched to a stop that seemed to last forever, while dragging her body with it, under the front wheels.
While Roman continued to plunge into an endless space, he was under the impression that he was having one of those strange dreams he usually had when sprawled out on the rug in front of the TV. Still, he continued to mentally whimper and yelp as he plummeted further and further down. When he finally landed in a fast-moving current, he had no idea that he was caught in a seemingly infinite whirlpool in a dark realm.
Once again in spirit form, he tried to perform a dog-paddle in what he assumed was the ocean. All he could do was go with the flow, along with countless other spirits who were screaming and moaning as they raced along with him. He heard the human voices crying out like they too were dreaming.
“Where am I?!”
“Mummy – Daddy?!”
“God; Jesus – help me! Somebody – PLEASE!”
He could barely see in the black, swirling waters. He continued yelping and started to bark loudly. He was confused with the fact that his voice sounded like an echo coming from the outside. Several of the other souls were now trying to grab onto him. He was not aware that, seeing as he was still attached to a living body, his light was brighter than anyone else’s.
“Help me! Help me – please!” One old soul pleaded as it tried to get a hold of him.
“I can come back with you! Take me with you!” Another cried out.
As more and more hungry ghosts flocked to him while they were being swept along the current, Roman heard a familiar voice from higher up.
He looked up and saw another bright spirit trying to climb up the face of a steep cliff. Other souls were trying to hang onto him as he clambered and fought the onslaught of bitterly cold rain. Roman lurched himself upwards and was able to propel himself out of the whirlpool and onto the slippery cliff. He noticed several impish creatures pushing souls back into the angry, swirling ocean.
Without thinking, he leapt towards one of them and was suddenly inside its body. The imp was a grotesque, grey monster the size of a small teenage boy, with jagged fangs and squinted, black eyes. The only thought preoccupying his mind was to get to the bright soul. Somehow he knew that it was his master. When Jon’s spirit looked down and saw the imp coming after him, he screamed and tried to kick it. Roman yelped and barked in his mind – hoping against hope that Jon would recognize his voice.
The moment was frozen in time. Jon looked into the hellish eyes of the evil imp.
“ROMAN?! IS THAT YOU?!”
Roman tried to wag his tail but the effect made him look like a bizarre demon trying to wiggle his hips. He barked again and crept closer to Roman, then began whimpering and yelping as he approached. Jon reached his hand down hesitantly and Roman grabbed it. He saw the black talons enclosing his master’s hand.
Jon pulled him up and hugged him tightly, then reared back momentarily to double-check. Roman began licking his face with a long, gnarled tongue that appeared to be covered in tiny barbs. Even though Jon was in spirit form, it was obvious that he could feel the barbs scraping him. It didn’t matter to either of them. Now there was hope.
At that moment, Pauline was crouching over Lixian’s emanation and slapping her face, while the guard, the servant and the attendant peered from behind her.
“Lixian! You idiot.” Then she addressed the servant. “How could this happen so quickly? Oh my god!”
The attendant bowed his head and muttered in broken English.
“So sorry, Mistress. She crazy for it.”
She slapped Lixian’s face again but was soon facing the realization that something had gone terribly wrong. When one last, long breath escaped the emanation’s mouth, Pauline knew that she was dead. She jumped up and grabbed the attendant by the shoulders as he grimaced and shrunk back in horror.
“What did you give her? What did you do?!”
The servant and the guard managed to pull her away, while the attendant dropped to his knees and bowed so low that his forehead touched the floor. His long, black braid slid over his silk tunic and slumped quietly alongside his body.
“Only poppy! Only poppy!” He cried, before devolving into a weeping mess.
“Mistress!” The servant pleaded over her shoulder. “She young. She inexperienced.”
Pauline watched as the body slumped into an obvious state of demise, like an item of clothing settling after being discarded or tossed onto the ground. The overwhelming sense of loss washed over her.
She had failed.