‘The Exile Gate’
Chapter 2: Wikus Makes a Decision
by Duo Radon
Night had fallen over Oolund but Wikus and his family were happily enveloped in the little bubble of warmth and light their living room supplied. The logy human had stretched himself out on the padded bench that ran along the wall, resting an overly full stomach. The kitchen's cooking appliances made meal time a cinch; each device was so accurate that it could detect what type of food you put in it, then choose the correct method and amount of time to cook it. Even someone with no culinary prowess like Wikus could prepare a tasty meal. And yet, there was something about the way Yeen did it that made everything taste so much better.
The soft-spoken green drone sat on the floor beside his Sugati, playing a game with the children while Tookanuk and Hlu found cozy spots of their own to curl up in. The serenity of late evening would have been enough to send the human off to sleep where he lay was it not being wrenched apart by the customary squabbling of Brutus and Lek. The pair were, in actuality, every bit as close as Wikus was to Yeen, but they were a couple that seemed to thrive on animosity. They'd been together since they were children and yet each was too stubborn to call the other "Sugati". Instead, they rolled through a perpetual cycle of Brutus's stupidity and Lek's intolerance of it.
"You let go! It's my turn to pick!"
"You picked last time!"
"But you always pick something stupid!" Brutus groused, attempting to pry the data port's remote out of Lek's tight grip. "I want to watch the Torona fights!"
"So watch it upstairs on your OWN port!" Lek growled back, refusing to budge.
"It's too small! I want to see them on...the...big monitorGIVE ME THAT!"
Yeen flicked his antennae in annoyance at the inevitable string of profanity that followed, but it was clever Tookanuk that resolved the issue.
"Fight's postponed anyway," he lied with a yawn, knowing Brutus's attention span was far too short to permit the ebony drone to check up on it.
"What?" Brutus whined, releasing Lek's arm. "Why?"
"Something about a contract that didn't get renewed in time...."
"Ohfp! That sucks..."
"Times are tough all over...." Lek grumbled as he resumed searching for something interesting to watch.
Wikus observed the entire interplay lazily, gazing at the monitor with half-lidded eyes as Lek flipped from one channel to the next. And then, a news broadcast passed by momentarily and something in it snapped him back to consciousness. "Hey! Go back a minute!"
"For what?" Lek puzzled, and began to retrace the channels he'd surfed.
Wikus shoved himself upright and scrutinized the visual information parading by. "There! Stop!......Now, back it up a few seconds...."
"What is it?" Yeen asked.
"The Majhatugha Honorary Ceremony, looks like...." Lek replied, still confused as to why it should be significant of anything.
Wikus stood without rejoinder and squinted at the frozen image on the monitor. The lanky, camel-rabbit aliens that had plagued his memories for the past three years stood regally in all their royal finery, in the midst of some sort of ritual honoring one of their own. Amongst the grouping of the most significant individuals sat a smaller Majhatughan, wrapped in the same green silks as the human woman Wikus could not shake from his thoughts. He drew closer, inspecting its face, his heart thumping in his ears.
"S'wrong with you?!" Brutus blurted grumpily, still sore over losing possession of the television.
"That's her!" Wikus cried, turning to a room full of perplexed faces and jabbing a finger at the still frame.
"Who?" Brutus asked for the rest of them.
"The one I saw! On Keehar! I'd recognize her anywhere!"
"You said you saw a human on Keehar...." Lek responded slowly.
"He did," Yeen added, his concern growing with his partner's enthusiasm.
"Well that's not a human," Brutus pointed out sardonically. "You think I'm stupid."
"No, no, look....look at her eyes, they're different..." Wikus leaned toward the screen and gestured at the face of the smallest royal.
"That's Princess Abayomi," Yeen explained, leaning sideways to see around the man's body. "The only daughter of Liina and Posacam. Her family line has ruled over the Western hemisphere of Maj for thousands of years. That's not the person you saw, she's just wearing a similar costume..."
"She's wearing a disguise!" Wikus interjected strongly.
"I know how badly you want to find her," Yeen soothed, "but you're letting your imagination rule your judgment. We talked about that...."
"Yeah," Wikus sighed. "I know."
"Good! Can we watch something now? Anything?!" Brutus interrupted testily, ignoring the smack he earned from Lek.
"Yeah, go on. I think I'll turn in early anyway. Let's go, you." With a grunt, Wikus stooped to heft his pet into his arms. Roly couldn't climb the ladder to the second floor and depended on someone to take him there and back.
The man bid his family a weary "good night" and Yeen watched him ascend the ladder with increasing trepidation. It definitely wasn't in Wikus's character to give up an argument so quickly; they hadn't heard the last of this one.
Several hours later, after the house was still and each person in it was tucked inside his own bed, Yeen left his room and quietly pulled Wikus's door open. As he expected, the man was wide awake, propped up on his cushions and pelts, his face illuminated by the data port sitting on his chest. He'd called up the news broadcast and was scanning the footage of interest one frame at a time, face contorted in concentration. Yeen entered with a huff and closed the door behind him.
"I knew you'd be awake."
"You shouldn't dwell on this," the worker reminded him, carefully overstepping the human's form to lay down in the bed between Wikus and the wall. "You know I trust in your instincts, but this.....it's....."
"Crazy. I know."
"Impossible. I remember when she was born," Yeen recalled, looking at the footage of Abayomi along with Wikus. "It was a big deal to them, she's the only female child. It was shortly before we left on that mining expedition....the one that went so wrong....."
"Something's up with her, man."
"They're our allies, Wikus. They use our technology, we use their textiles, their spices; they don't even have their own army. We protect them. There are poleepkwan soldiers in that palace right now, as we speak. If they had a human, we'd know. And Ruwala would tell you, he'd never keep something like that from you."
"Then how can you let yourself believe something so-"
"'Because' what? I know you miss your people and you're desperate to make a connection with them again. Believe me, I know how that feels. But you can't make something out of nothing."
Wikus sat quietly for a moment, disheartened, gazing at the portable monitor until eventually, he opted to shut it down.
"I'm sure you'll find your answers someday," Yeen said gently, "but in the meantime, you have a family here that loves you."
"I do, don't I?" Wikus smiled, finally meeting his partner's kind eyes.
"Indeed. And it's been a while since you and I spent any time together..."
"Why do you always use that to distract me?" Wikus interrupted, feigning annoyance.
"Because it always works," Yeen grinned back.
"Hmf. You just said it was love...what's to keep me thinking you only do it to shut me up?"
"Well," Yeen replied warmly, taking the port from Wikus and returning it to its wall receptacle, "let me show you."
The week that followed Wikus's strange outburst could only be described as ordinary. He made no further mention of anything relative to the Majhatughans and most of the household forgot all about it. Yeen, however, was not so readily convinced that his human had had a change of heart. No matter how independent and strong Wikus might become, the green drone would always consider him his responsibility, just like Joji would always be his son. So he kept a close eye and ear on the man, and Wikus was acutely aware that he was being studied. For a week, the two played an unspoken game of espionage, neither one entirely certain who was winning.
And then, on the final day of the week, a significant move was made. It was typical for the three parents and Wikus to assemble at Exit 3 before they left work to pick up the children. But today, Yeen was dismayed when he reached the meeting place to find the group one member short. Even before he could look into the matter, he knew something was wrong.
"Where's Wikus?" Yeen asked warily.
"Don't know," Hlu shrugged, "haven't seen him in hours."
The green worker didn't waste any time on a visual scan of the area; he knew the man wouldn't be nearby. "Do me a favor.....pick up Joji for me. I'll be home a little later...." And he trotted back inside the factory, leaving a perplexed pair of drones behind.
Yeen wove in and out of the throng of night shift workers filing through the complex towards their respective positions until he found Po, the assistant foreman. "Sir!" he clicked hastily, "Did you see Wikus before he left today?"
Po gradually turned to face his lead engineer, his attention absorbed in the typical shift-change red tape. "Hm? Yes, of course...."
"Ah. He left hours ago. After he finished replacing the lift gaskets. Said he had something important to take care of at home."
"And you let him go?" Yeen exclaimed in a tone he wouldn't normally have taken with a superior.
Po lifted his brow in surprise at this uncharacteristic outburst. "Was he not allowed to leave?"
"....I'm sorry Sir, excuse me!" Yeen sputtered and took off at a jog without any further explanation. Whatever his partner was up to, he had a long head start. He desperately hoped he'd find Wikus at home and out of trouble, but he wasn't going to waste any time getting there. Yeen sprinted to the train station and just made it on board the express heading south.
When the transport reached his stop, Yeen was surprised to find that he recognized another passenger among the departing.
"HEY! Green!" Brutus called from a few yards away. "What're you doing here? Why aren't you picking up your kid?"
"The others're getting him," Yeen explained hastily. "I have to get home..."
"Why?" Brutus wondered, but his housemate was already running down the well-worn dirt road towards home. Irrepressibly intrigued, the big drone set off after him.
They reached their front door nearly together, but the heftier poleepkwa was considerably shorter of breath. "Wikus!" Yeen called, inspecting the first floor in vain. There was no response but for Brutus's labored breathing.
"Wouldn't he....uhf....why isn't he....with...you?"
"Po said he came home early....Wikus!"
"I don't know," Yeen huffed, looking this way and that through the back window. "The Fescalt's still here...."
"Well....there's a text message for you....on the comm dock..."
Yeen turned from the window but remained rooted to the spot, and the pair panted in silence for a moment.
"Well?!" Brutus prodded. "Aren't you going to read it?"
An uneasy feeling gathering in his stomach, Yeen slowly approached the house's communication center and opened the file that would only respond to his own touch. Curious, Brutus read over his shoulder.
Knocked off early, taking a little trip to Maj. Don't worry about me, I just want to ask some questions. I'm not going to start any trouble. Please don't come after me, I'll be back in a couple weeks.
Love you, and the Fam - Wikus
Also, please make sure someone feeds Roly"
"Maj? What th'hell's he going there for?" Brutus thought out loud.
"The woman, Brutus!" Yeen growled in frustration, shoving the drone aside and heading towards the stairs.
"Okay!" Brutus pouted. "What are you so upset about?"
Yeen turned to face his friend. "I have to go after him. I'm going to pack, listen....I need for you to tell everyone what's happened. You have to file an absentee report with Po or Lona for both of us, and I need you to feed Roly one cup of Pellet every day. Can you do all of that for me?"
"Well....yeah. I will. But, what's the big deal? Maj isn't a dangerous planet...."
Brutus was displeased when he didn't get an answer, but Yeen wasn't in the mood to force his worries through the meat cutter's thick skull. He hurried upstairs and tossed aside his work satchel, fetching a carryall instead to hold his few necessities. Brutus was right, Maj wasn't anything like Keehar. There would be plenty of poleepkwan soldiers there....but something told him the human was poking at an animal that might turn out to be venomous after all. He didn't blame the Earthling for being tenacious; instead, his fear seemed rooted in his own insecurities. The entire household inherently regarded him as their head, the most intelligent and responsible, the one everyone could lean upon. Yeen was desperately afraid that he wouldn't live up to their expectations.
On board a shuttle bound for the planet Maj, Wikus lay curled up in a room that was more of a closet than a cabin. Evidently space was at a premium on these vessels. There was scarcely enough floor room to turn around, with a compact bunk taking up one side of the room. The other side featured a toilet, otherwise known as the hole in the floor, a replicator with a limited menu and a tiny table and bench bolted to the wall. There wasn't a window, or a data port, or even any color painted on the walls. Everything was gray. Wikus had made it a point to pack light and that left him with little to occupy himself on the four day trip.
He was also without his pelts and the bunk on which he lay offered only a firm plastic pad for comfort. So he bundled himself in his jacket, used his duffle as a pillow and lay quietly with his thoughts. In spite of everything, he couldn't help but feel excited. Within a few days he might have answers to the questions he'd labored over for three years; maybe even a new human friend. Not that there was anything lacking in his current relationships, but wouldn't it be wonderful to speak with someone who knew what he was going through? Of course, Guilt was there as well, poking him in the back of the brain with a sharpened stick. Yeen was likely a very unhappy person right now. Wikus couldn't deny that he'd had some pretty bad luck with adventures in the past. But there would always be time to smooth it over later, once he could show his Sugati that his hunch was right. If his hunch was right.....