The Missed: The Epoch Begins

Trigger warning: Non-graphic depictions of sexual assault are included in this work of fiction. Scenes are separated by asterisks. If you want to skip that scene, avoid the section between 3 and 4 asterisks. The overall plot should still make sense, but there will be some context missing.

A young woman lay naked;
Strewn about the side of the pavement-
Open and empty like a discarded candy wrapper.

She lifted her heavy eyelids.
“Keep Portland Weird” was vibrantly graffitied,
Yet did nothing
To suggest where or when she was.

Currents of people flowed around the crumpled,
Nude frame;
Some commenting,
Others completely ignoring her.

“Mommy, who’s that girl?”
A small voice asked.

The older woman cleared her throat,
Visibly embarrassed.
“I don’t know, Sweetie.”
She said.

“Is she okay, Mommy?”
The little girl asked.

“I don’t know that either.”
Their voices quieted as they continued walking farther away.

“But is she going to be okay?”
The girl insisted.

The woman stopped and pursed her lips.
“You have a lot of questions I don’t know the answer to, Honey.
I love your curious mind,
But Daddy is waiting for us at home.”
Her words were kind,
But her tone sharpened with an impatient agitation.

“But, Mommy, why doesn’t she have any clothes?”
Asked the confused girl.

The mother huffed,
Plastered a fake smile on,
And knelt to face her daughter.
“Look, Angela-Grace,
Sweetie.
I don’t know who that lady is.
I don’t know how or why she ended up on the street;
And I don’t know where her clothes are.
Sometimes in life,
There are things we don’t know the answer to,
But we just need to trust
That the Lord has a plan,
And that she fits into His plan somehow.
The Lord works in mysterious ways,
Okay?”

The little girl’s face contorted,
Concentrating,
Processing what her mother said,
Before looking up at her
Imploring,
“But wouldn’t Jesus want us to love her?
She’s our neighbor, isn’t she?”

The mother checked her watch.
“Shoot.
We’re going to be late.
Yes, we should love her,
But love can take on many forms.
It can look differently for different people,
And right now
How we show this woman love,
Is by not getting her in trouble with the police.
It’s a crime to be naked out in the street like that.
Let’s love her by not getting her in trouble.
Let’s go home now,
Daddy is waiting for us.”

“Oh-kay.”
The little girl sighed.
She felt a pang in her heart as she turned her back
To the weakly outstretched hand,
And followed her mother.

**

Hundreds,
Thousands
Of strangers walked past the woman;
With a sympathetic smile at best
And being kicked,
Spat on,
Or photographed at worst.

A man pointed his phone at her
“And that,
Kids,
Is why you stay away from drugs.”
He said,
Recording her superciliously.

When the woman tried to reach out to a stranger,
They recoiled;
Saying,
“Ew! Put some clothes on.”
Without so much as a moment of eye contact.

***

“Ya need some help, Toots?”
A rough voice wheezed at her.
She was startled by a hand
Firmly grasping her shoulder.
“I know all the ins and outs of this place;
I could help show you around.
But first, you gotta show me yer ins and outs.”
He laughed himself into a coughing fit;
And pulled her up to a sitting position.

The woman smiled,
But looked confused.

“What’s your name Dollface?”
She blinked at him with more confusion.
“Good. I prefer my women silent.”

He pulled her farther under the bridge,
Deeper into the darkness.
She struggled to stand;
Scraping her knees on the concrete,
While being tugged off balance.

He pinned her to the ground,
Leaving dirty smudges on her skin as he groped her.

“Na, Naplarrah! Kexplarrah! Na!”
She begged, pushing him away.

“Shut the fuck up.”
He said,
Pressing his arm against her throat.

The sun hung low in the sky,
Warming the blue hues to a pleasant tangerine sunset,
As her occasional screams fell upon deaf ears.
He released her
Only after
He grunted
And finished inside of her.

She felt nothing;
Her body numb,
Heavy and hollow;
Limbs of rubber and stone,
Until-
That is-
He rolled off of her.

He chuckled low in his chest,
Then it reverberated louder.
A hot rage filled her
As she heard his deranged laughter float to her ears.

She remembered her training.
She had never considered utilizing her skills to harm,
But she did not hesitate
In her craving for vengeance.

Fueled and focused
By her rage,
She grabbed the laughing man’s face and screeched into it;
Feeling her energy mix into his,
Seeping into his pores,
His eyes,
Ears,
Nose,
And mouth.

She probed inside of him until she felt his mind,
Felt the inner turmoil,
Pain,
Grief,
Loss,
Fear,
And bitterness;
The weakness within him,
And felt no compassion.

His eyes widened in terror
As she pushed her experience into his consciousness,
Washing her perspective over his,
Forcing his neurons to fire in the same sequence as hers did.

“What the fuck?!
What are you doing?!”
The man convulsed,
Gripped within her hands;
His perceptual existence shifted,
Experiencing how it felt to be a woman,
This particular woman,
Assaulted by his own hand.
She backhanded him and spat in his face as he screamed,
Unable to escape the hell of raping himself.

****

Adrenaline thrummed in her veins.
Her heart throbbed
And her pulse washed over her ears,
Clouding her ability to hear.

She ran.
Ran out of the darkness,
Out from under the overpass,
Out into the street towards the lights.
She didn’t know what they were
Or how they illuminated the night,
But she was grateful to see that she was going somewhere.

Buildings with more lights
Shining through their ever-dwindling windows
Soared above her like mountains.

Strange carriages
With even more lights
Screamed at her as she narrowly avoided them.

She could not recognize anything from the strange world she Wandered into.
Every aspect of it confused her,
Adding chaos to her already fragmented mind.
Finally,
She saw a sign with a familiar image:
Grapes.
There were more symbols
Painted on the sign that she could not read.

She ran to the building;
Tried to slide the door open,
Tried again,
Pushed against it,
Then pulled the handle towards her,
Opening the door.

Every person inside stopped to look at her,
Even before the merry tinkling of a bell
Signaled her entrance.

Now that she was here,
And there were people all around,
What was she to do?
How could she communicate to these people
That she was from their future,
Desperate to get home,
But having no way to do so?

She could project her perceptual reality into their awareness,
But she did not have the skill to do so for so many people.
She was exhausted,
Unfocused,
Scattered,
And defensive
After being assaulted by the man with a terrible stench;
In no condition to project into one person,
Let alone dozens of people.

“Get out!”
Shouted a man behind the counter.
She flinched at his tone and cried.
“Go!”
He shouted again.
His wide frame intimidated her as he stomped
From behind the counter waving a towel
He was drying a glass with.

She heard someone scoff,
“What the fuck?”
To the left.

She didn’t stay long enough to attempt to discern what that meant.
She ran out and hid
Behind what smelled like a huge compost bin-
But worse-
Behind the building with the grape sign.

The woman shivered and wept.
She hugged her knees to her chest.
Never before had she felt ashamed of her body.
Never before had a man-
Or any person-
Touched her sexually in an unwanted way,
Let alone…
She didn’t even have a name for what that man did.

Never before had she seen flameless lights,
Or been blinded at night.
Never before had she seen those screaming,
Sprinting
Carriages.
Never before had she heard this language
Everyone was speaking-
Or so she thought.
Never before did she not have a home
To find comfort in,
And shelter her from the rain.

Her sobs cut off
As the back door swung open with a bang.

“First that crazy bitch with no clothes,
Now my best sommelier is drinking on the job;
Again?
I can’t believe this shit!
This is the last fuckin’ time, Simon.
I mean it.
You get home,
Get yourself cleaned up,
And figure your shit out.
If this happens again,
You’ll be looking for a new place to work!”

“Ah, fuck you, Ronnie.
You can’t fire me;
Mom would never let you hear the end of it.”
Simon said catching his balance from the rough shove out the door.

The man who had yelled at her
And thrown out the young, thin man looked
Furious.

“Yeah, and Mom will never let you hear the end of
You jeopardizing my business!
All it takes is one bad review, Simon.
Internet ratings are everything,
And I can’t go under because you got sauced
And made an ass of yourself!
You do realize that if I go out of business,
You really will need a new job, right?
Jesus.
We’ve been over this a million goddamn times!”
Ronnie waved his arms in exasperation.

The woman flattened herself
Against the cold, hard, large box
As much as possible.

“Okay, Ronnie.
You’re right.
You’re right.
Take it easy, man.
Remember your blood pressure.
I won’t do it again,
I swear.
I thought it was just a little bit-
How am I supposed to suggest a wine I haven’t tasted though?
I mean,
C’mon…
No?
No.
You’re right.
You don’t have to make that face.
Not at work;
Never again.”
He held up his hands.

Ronnie softened his features
And took a deep breath.
“Just go home, Simon, okay?
This business means a lot to me
And we can’t afford a slip-up.
With that crazy naked lady coming in,
I’m afraid we’re going to get bad reviews.
It was a full house,
Y’know?
I was so excited that we had so many people,
But now I’m just
Afraid
That they’ll all write terrible reviews and we’ll go under.”
He said.

“Look, man, I get it.”
Simon said.
“I’ll go home,
And starting tomorrow
It’s nothing but the straight and narrow for me.
I won’t forget it,
And you won’t regret it.”

“Yeah, sure,
Just keep your shenanigans to yourself.”
Ronnie said.

“Hey. I love you, man.”
Said Simon.

Ronnie rolled his eyes and glanced over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I love you too.”
He said.

They hugged and patted one another on the back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Simon.”
He said.

“Yeah, I’ll see yuh.”
Simon replied
As his brother went back inside.
He pulled out his phone to look up a ride.
“20 minutes until pickup?
God damn.”
The man laughed to himself,
Shaking his head,
And tapping a luminous rectangle.

The woman shrank back,
Trying to avoid eye contact
When the mildly inebriated man turned in her direction;
But the movement caught his attention.

“Who’s there?”
He asked.
“We don’t need bad reviews,
And, uh,
Some naked homeless lady creeping around
Is not exactly fodder for good reviews…
So you can’t stay here.
Sorry.”
He said walking toward her.

“Fuk’.” she cursed.
She wished she understood more than a few words
Of the conversation he just finished;
Or how to say anything to him at all,
But she still had not even identified
Which dialect of Olde English they spoke.

She pushed the sentiment of,
‘Please help,’
Into his mind.
He assumed he couldn’t see her lips move
Because she was still hiding
In the shadows.

She flinched
And shielded her genitals
When he reached out to her.
He put his hands up again,
Like with the other man he spoke to.

“I’m not gonna hurt you.”
He said.
He stepped back and removed his jacket.
He crouched to be eye level
And held it out to her,
Giving her a shy smile,
As if she were a stray cat.
“It’s okay; really.”
He said as she crept from beneath her cover.

She grabbed the jacket and put it on,
Sagging in relief
As the warmth penetrated her.
“Thank.”
She said
With a strong emphasis on the ‘k’.
“Thank, thank, thank.”

He cocked his head to the side,
Giving her a quizzical look and said,
“You’re welcome.”

Her big grin faded,
She held low on her stomach
And teared up again.
“Hurt.”
She repeated.
She pointed in the direction of the man,
Still re-experiencing how he violated her
In an endless loop,
And blubbered.

It took a great deal of focus
And emotional presence
To have your consciousness
Project and permeate
Into the mind of another;
But with the memory of her attack so new,
So painful and raw,
It was difficult for her to not think about it.

First, the panic trickled in
To the man’s awareness;
Then flashes
Of a yellowed grin with missing teeth,
Cruel eyes,
And a stench
So overwhelming it turned his stomach.
She wept
And he felt her shame as the violation began.

“Fuck!”
He shouted,
Breaking their connection
And startling her into the present moment.
“What the hell was that?”
He asked.
“How did you do that?”

She stared back at him silently.

“How did you do that mind-meld thing;
Put thoughts in my head?
Are you some kind of psychic or something?”

Again she looked at him uncomfortably confused.

He frowned and scrunched his face.
“Okay.”
He spoke slowly and elongated every word.
“You…”
He pointed at the woman in his jacket,
“Hear…”
He cupped his hand to his ear,
“Thoughts?”
He asked and raised his eyebrows in an exaggerated expression
Pointing to his head.

She nodded,
And projected a feeling of security and confirmation to him.
His mind translated the sensations of the sentiment to hear ‘Yes’.

“Holy shit…”
He muttered.
He pressed his lips together
And looked directly into her eyes.
‘What number am I thinking?’

It was much easier for her to receive
Than to project perceptual experiences,
Especially when the sender
Was concentrating on the thought intently.
She held up three fingers with a nervous grin.
Then seven.
She smiled ruefully,
Closed her eyes,
And projected ‘Eleven’.

Simon fled.
Panicked,
He sprinted away
Not caring which direction.
‘This chick is bad news.’
He told himself.
‘Psychics aren’t real.’
He breathed heavily,
Still sprinting.
‘She’s just some crazy homeless lady- ah!
Who now has my jacket.’
He slowed to a stop;
Resting his hands on his knees,
Breathing heavily.

He remembered her face
As she put the jacket on;
How afraid she was,
How she opened up to him
And trusted him.

You didn’t even indicate that you were thinking of a number,
Or that you wanted her to guess it,
But she got it right…
Three times
.’
He thought to himself.
He looked back towards his brother’s bar,
Determined.
Whatever psychic nonsense is or isn’t real,
She still needs help.’
He decided
And jogged back.

She was crouched down in the spot he left her,
Crying and curled up beneath his jacket.

“Hey,”
He said.
“I’m sorry I ran away.
I just got spooked.
It was a lot to process, and...”
He trailed off,
Cleared his throat,
And looked into her eyes with a fierce determination.
“We will get you help,
You hear me?
I will never hurt you like that,
And I will never let another person hurt you like that.
I will help you.”

She felt his conviction.

It became easier to receive
And interpret
The meaning behind his words,
The more she became familiar
With his energy
And the more of an emotional charge
He had to what he said.

“Help,”
She said aloud timidly,
Trying out the new word;
Though it sounded more like “hee-ill-pah”

“Yes!
Help!
That’s right!”
He nodded vigorously;
His neck loosened from the wine.
“Our ride should show up any minute.”
He said.

*****

Soon after a car pulled up.
“Hey, you Simon?”
The driver called.

“That’s me.”
Simon replied.
“Francis, right?”

“Yes, Sir.”
Francis said.

The woman followed Simon into the car.
Wonder replaced the nervous suspicion
Painting her features
As she looked around the interior.
She felt the seat’s surfaces,
The glass of the window,
The chair in front of her.

“Put your seatbelt on.”
Simon said.

She raised an eyebrow.
He buckled his.
She pulled her seatbelt out curiously,
And brought it down to her hip.
When she let go,
It recoiled.
She made a surprised,
“Oh!”
Sound.
She fiddled with the retraction and
Francis gave her a puzzled look.

His eyes widened
As he realized she wasn’t wearing anything under the jacket
And fixed his eyes ahead of him.
Simon reached over and buckled her in,
Making it click into place.
They rode in silence to Simon’s apartment.

The middle seatbelt glinted in the light of the passing street lamps,
And the woman reached out to it,
Mesmerized.

‘What is this?’
She projected to him.

‘It’s a seatbelt.
Simon thought.

The woman nodded;
Repeating the word
Over in her mind;
Feeling the context inherent in his thoughts
And understanding it was some kind of safety feature.
She could not keep her eyes or hands off the glimmering object.

‘Seatbelt.’
Again she thought to him,
Proudly holding up the little shiny piece.
He smiled at her.

He ran his hand along the length of the strap and thought ‘Seatbelt,’
Then tapped on the metal and thought ‘Tongue.’

She traced her fingers along the smooth planes,
Feeling the rigidity and cold.
Her eyebrows knit together in confusion.
How is this a tongue?’
She thought.

‘It’s called that because of its shape.
He thought.

She stuck her tongue out with a smile.

Then he pointed to the buckle and thought, ‘Buckle.
He hooked a finger through the hole
Of the metal tongue
To demonstrate the seat belt clicking in.
‘It keeps you safe.’

The woman rubbed her hands all over
The different textures within the car.
What is this made of?
She asked him silently,
Feeling over the tongue,
Then the seat cover,
Then inside of the door.

That’s metal,
Uhhh fabric,
And plastic.

He thought.

She jolted in her chair,
Jumping so abruptly the seatbelt locked around her.
She looked at the belt perplexed,
Pulling against it,
Feeling it tighten around her.
Her anxiety rose;
Flashing back to the restraints
Of the man’s arms.

She struggled with the belt
For a few seconds
Before Simon reached out
And put a hand on her shoulder.
She looked up at him
Breathing rapidly.

‘Slow.’
He thought,
Showing her how to lean forward
In a way that the belt would move freely.

She mimicked his movements
And was delighted when the seatbelt loosened
To let her move easily.
She took a steadying breath
And glanced at the driver,
Who very politely kept his eyes on the road;
Though the expression on his face suggested he had seen the incident.

Plastic?
She thought with a horrified expression,
Clutching her hand away from it.

He looked at her with a vague confusion,
But nodded.
Yes, plastic.

“Okay, we’re here.”
The driver said,
Idling in the parking lot.

“Thanks, man.”
Simon said.

“Nah, thank you.”
Francis said
Seeing the generous tip
That Simon added.

He unbuckled himself,
Then pressed the release for the woman’s seatbelt buckle as well,
Anticipating her confusion.

They went home to Simon’s apartment.
“Sorry about the mess,
I wasn’t really expecting visitors.”
He said opening the front door.

She shrugged and followed him inside.

“Do you want some lasagna?
My mom makes the best,
And I have leftovers from our last Sunday Dinner together.”
Simon offered.

She had never heard of ‘lasagna’ before,
But nodded at the image he remembered,
And the satisfaction
Of a delicious meal she felt
From his memories.

“Yi kexplar.”
She said.

Simon’s head snapped back,
Looking at her bewildered.
“What?”

She looked bashful and thought,
‘Yes, please.’

“Cool.
I’ll heat some up,
And you can make yourself comfortable.”
He said.

She looked around the apartment.
There was a full-sized bed towards the back
With a dresser that doubled as a side table next to it.

She followed him into the kitchen.
He opened a tall,
Rectangular chest and pulled out the lasagna.
The woman shivered in the cold air.

“Oh! Yeah,
I don’t have any lady’s clothes,
Sorry,
But you can wear some of my clothes.”
He said.

He set the lasagna on the counter
And rifled through his drawers.
The woman gave a curious poke at the food.
He waved the clothes at her then
Left them on the bed.

It took her a minute,
But she had gotten the sweatpants
And t-shirt
On by the time he finished heating their meal.

Simon almost dropped their food
When he turned and saw
Her less than a foot away;
Shirt inside out,
Pants on backward,
And beaming.

‘Thank you, Simon.’
She thought and hugged him.

He set the plates down on the countertop,
Then returned the hug.
He thought to himself how nice it felt
To hold her,
How she felt in his arms,
How her breasts felt through the thin shirt…
He shook his head.
She had just been through a trauma,
She didn’t need him objectifying her too,
Even if she couldn’t hear his thoughts.
He let her go and stepped back putting the food between them.

“Hey, so, uh.
My dad is a cop;
He used to get me in trouble all the time,
But maybe we could call him
And figure out how to report,
You know,
What happened.
‘Cause we can’t just waltz into the station
And have you telepathically show them what happened.
It’s just not going to work that way.”

‘I can feel your discomfort,
But I’m not sure what you’re meaning,
Something about your dad?’
She thought.

‘My dad will help us
To take that man off the streets;
So he can never hurt anybody else
Like he hurt you.’
He clarified.

She looked at him with apprehension,
But nodded.

‘What will happen to the man?’
She thought.

‘He’ll be put away for a long time.’
Simon thought.

‘Put away?’
She questioned.

‘Yeah, in jail.’
He thought.

The image of a huge, intimidating structure
Filled with people
With less freedom,
Less agency,
Than the horses from her home.
Her stomach turned.

‘You live in the time of punitive justice?’
She asked.
She felt a pang of guilt;
Not only had she punished him
With the excruciating pain she felt,
But also effectively cursed him
To relive that pain indefinitely.

‘I was defending myself.’
She thought.

‘But he wasn’t even trying to grab me anymore.’
She argued with herself.

“Hey.”
Simon said gently.
‘As sad as it is,
You’re probably not the first person he’s hurt.
If we call my dad,
And tell him what happened,
That man won’t hurt anybody else.
You could prevent him from hurting others;
If you want to.’

She bit her lip and thought.
‘I want you to call your dad,’
She decided.

“Okay.”
He said.

‘Maybe after we eat?’
He thought.

She felt his hunger
And remembered her own.
She nodded
And gave him a self-conscious grin.

There was a table across the room
With a keyboard,
Laptop,
And several papers strewn over the top.

“Maybe eating here would be easier.”
He said.

The woman shrugged and nodded,
Then slid into a tall bar stool.

‘What happened to your piano?’
She asked, taking a bite.
She made an involuntary noise of appreciation
And gave him a thumbs-up.
He wondered how she knew what a thumbs-up was,
And not a seatbelt,
But put that out of his mind.

“It’s good, right?”
He said.
She nodded, taking another big bite.

“So, kinda weird I haven’t asked before,
But…
What’s your name?”
Simon asked.

She finished chewing
Then cleared her throat and said,
“Anit’a Yonderling.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Anita-”

She touched the back of his arm and shook her head,
“Anituh-ahh,”
She repeated,
Emphasizing the accent on the ‘t’.
She looked in his eyes and nodded,
‘Try again.’
S
he pressed;
Encouraging him.

He felt mildly embarrassed as he tried again,
This time creating the space between the syllables.

She clapped and smiled broadly.
‘That’s my name!’
She thought.
Her eyes shone with a brightness
He had not seen from her before
And was struck
By their colors.
One eye was a mix of brown and green
While the other had brown and blue pigments.

“I have so many questions, Anit’a,”
Simon said as a series of questions
Floated to the surface of his mind.

‘Where are you from?
Where is your family?
Why do you not know what cars are?
Why do you like shiny stuff so much?
What language do you speak?
What are you doing here?
How did you get here?
Why were you naked?
How do you read minds
And push your thoughts into other people’s minds?’

Anit’a laughed as his curiosity bubbled up in her consciousness.

‘Imagine all you know
Is a cluster of clouds adrift in the sky.
Your world,
Your time,
Your way of being,
Impermanent and fading.
Imagine the wind blowing those clouds away,
And with it,
The world you know.

Open your mind to a new way of living
And I shall reveal my home to you.
Allow the clouds of old to pass and disappear
From your view to make space for new clouds,
A new configuration of what is known,
A new society.
And you shall understand.’
She thought.

Simon closed his eyes and settled into his chair,
Turning so he would face her.
She set her hands atop his,
And synchronized her breathing with his.
She felt their heartbeats align
And felt her perspective strengthen in presence within Simon’s mind.

They both were looking up at the sky.
The clouds blew away and the blue sky shifted to a dazzling,
Exquisite violet and peach sunrise.
They looked down to view the seemingly infinite horizon line.
Anit’a projected a 360-degree replication of her homeland.

There were almost no manmade structures
For as far as he could see.
There was a settlement;
What looked like a village or small town,
Bustling with citizens
In strange, yet beautiful clothing
That billowed in the gentlest of winds.

There were transparent clouds,
Crackling with electricity,
Moving about as the people did.
She gestured to the group of people,

“This is my home down Yonder.”
She pointed to a mountain range.
“That is the home of the Mountain Folk.
I do not know where an entrance is
To the Underfoot’s home,
But some of them live among us above the surface.”
She said.

“Over there are the stables where our animals find shelter
And the fields to which they graze.
Over there is our cricket farm,
And see that there?
Where all the people are,
We call that the heart of Yonder,
You would call it…”
She paused,
Probing his mind,
“Downtown.”
She said.

“Those are our homes where we live,
Our gardens,
And down that path is the bathing house with the hot springs
And cascades-
Showers, you call it.
That’s the gathering hall!
Oh, I miss it there.
That is where we would gather as a community;
Play games,
Sing and dance,
And feast together.”

Simon felt her heart swell and ache
Revisiting the illusion of her home.
“Wait, how are you talking?”
Simon asked.

“We are in your mind.
The meaning I intend to convey
Is automatically translated
And everything you intend to convey
Automatically translates for me, too.”
She said.

“Trippy.”
He murmured.
“Where do you guys work?”
Simon asked,
Amazed by the vast swaths of raw nature.

“Wherever it pleases us.”
She said.

“But what do you do for money?”
He asked.

“We don’t need money.”
She said.
“Sometimes the Ocean Voyagers will travel to far lands
That still use money,
So they will bring goods we and the Mountain Folk have made to trade,
But we all have our needs met
And can acquire the things we want without money.”
She said.

“If you don’t need money,
Why does anybody work?”
He asked,
Perplexed.

“Because we do what we love;”
She said,
“Because we enjoy going through the process of doing it.
When we can contribute,
To provide,
And meet our family’s needs,
It fills us with joy
And replenishes our spirit.”
She said.

“So what do you do when you’re not working?”
Simon asked.

“Whatever we want.
Reading,
Writing,
Art,
Music,
Playing,
Feasting,
Relaxing,
Enjoying nature,
Dancing,
Or traveling to new places
If you don’t find what you’re looking for here.
Some people desire to integrate with the Mist,
And spend their time studying Misticism,
Like I did.
Some people seek to learn the ways of the Mountain Folk,
Or study their Deathly Dance.”

“That sounds incredible.”
It’s all so beautiful here.
How is there so much nature?”
Simon said.

“The Earth reclaimed much of the land and sea
After the near-extinction of our species.”
Anit’a said.

“Wait, what?
Like humans?”
He asked.

“Yes.”
She sighed.
“Long ago,
Sometime in your future,
Unrest and disharmony gripped the human race.
Leaders preferred to send their people
To slaughter one another
To settle differences,
Instead of finding mutually beneficial solutions.
From this fighting,
An illness grew and spread to every civilization.
It killed almost all the people of the Earth.
It devastated our ability to bear children naturally,
And that disease still echos in our daily lives as we Yonderlings,
Mountain Folk,
And maybe even the Underfoot themselves,
Rely upon Underfoot technology to procreate.
The Underfoot are very secretive.
That was one of the reasons I decided to train as an apprentice of Misticism.
The Underfoot and the Mist are very closely intertwined.”
She said.

“Interesting.”
He said.
“What is the Mist?”

She pointed to the heart of Yonder.
“Those sparkling vapors,
They are an alien lifeform that contacted the Underfoot
At the beginning of the war.
They originate from another solar system
Where their species transcended physical embodiment
To become an integrated collective consciousness.
The Mist are seemingly infinite.
I don’t know if you can quantify
The number of consciousness streams within the collective,
Or even how many species have integrated their consciousness into the collective.
A group of them decided they wanted to experience physical reality once again
And searched for host bodies they could live with symbiotically.
They found us.”

“Woah.”
He said.
“This place is amazing!”
Simon exclaimed.

“It is.”
She agreed.

“Anit’a,”
Simon reached out,
But hesitated.
Anit’a met his hand with hers.

“Yes?”
She asked.

“I don’t know how,
But I want to help you get back home to Yonder.”
He said.

They opened their eyes.
Simon jolted at the stark contrast between environments.
His roomy studio
Now felt claustrophobic
Compared to the endless acres of forest
And open fields he had just perceived.

He looked into her eyes.
“And I want to go with you.”

He, too, understood the need to return.
Her voice wrapped around Simon’s language in an awkward,
Heavily accented way,
But their bond was completed to the degree
That she could speak her native tongue
And still, he would understand the intended meaning of what she said;
Even outside the projected thoughtscapes.

She grinned
And said,
“Let us begin.”

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