The eastern suns rise over the scrap heap. Waves of red light skitter over broken Oxy-Pacs and the molted skins of VacuuDrones.
You can hear the growl of the incinerators if you listen past the constant fire-gun gunfire.
Thousands of blue frogs bob through the gelatinous sky. No one knows how they got there but they’ve been a traffic hazard for months.
Timon watches the Windo-anemone suckle the greasy glass of his P-Zero-S Azurro as he tails the herd of cloud-bound morning commuters.
Below, crowns of skyscrapers shine like polished domes of giants haloed by toxic fumes.
Gone are the times when Timon could look down and his dull blood would grow jubilant at the thought of his likeness swimming laps in the mind of some desk-tethered life form.
No one thinks of him.
Everyone’s No One is better than Someone’s Everyone. Or was it the other way around?
He barely gives himself a thought. Or at least, he barely gave himself a thought until recently. He couldn't shake a needling suspicion he was no more than plug-ugly wallpaper in some alien imbecile's limbic system.
But why should he wallow in despair?
Why should he fear loss?
Or loss beyond loss?
Why should he —
The black wake of the OmniBus cloaks his Azurro like a death shroud. The ineffectual lapping of his slimy discount anemone is maddening.
Timon leans out the windo and shouts, Suck harder, you sucky sucker!
Pop. The Windo-anemone lifts its orifice from the glass and...
Frig, frig, freaking frig. The salesmantis warned him against any form of abuse when it came to Windo-anemones: "Those suckers can be downright vindictive. Same goes for downmarket ones."
...releases from its frontal gills a pink puff of smoke.
Timon frantically thumbs the windo command panel but he’s too slow. The fumes hit him square in the face and singe his eyebrows clean off.
If it were any other day, he’d take that anemone straight back to the dealer and demand back his Oxy-Tokens. But not before putting it into a laser-knit dress sock and giving it a good tanning against the fleshy hood of his Azurro.
Timon abandons the sky-auto on the eighty-hundredth floor of the parking tower and leaves the keys inside. For all he cares, it’s as good as a hotel for howler monkeys.
As he scales the side of the garage, he sports the gentlehuman’s style of the day: leather pants, nipple rings, holographic tungsten boots, and the compulsory Oxy-Pac.
The long, skinny tube (fashioned after the trunks of galacticpachyderms) connects his hairy face to a knapsack full of off-brand oxygen on his even hairier back.
Timon drifts back to what feels like another life. Awaking from naps to find his wife and small sons had ensnared tiny rainbow totems in his vertebral ringlets: breakfast marshmallows, a wadded parking ticket, swamp melon rind...
In a single gargantuan breath, the Event, as it’s known, (that great, air-shaped inferno) erased all breathable oxygen and thanks to a hideous twist of fate, turned all Timon cared about to dust.
It was a Sunday and Amber, Pierre, and Jamal were happily cycling home from the Transplant Emporium. Each cerebral cortex freshly installed with a simulated vacation that was guaranteed to last both summers.
Timon was traveling for work. His body in a hibernation chamber in the WorkHive, while his unplugged mind, a webbed, hovering mass, negotiated with stubborn cubes of hostile cacti in a cosmic boardroom.
"Obsidian is the answer," he'd hiss like a sick mantra in hopes it'd rub off on clients fiending exotic experiences, these skeptical cactus cubes included.
That meeting lasted for what felt like an eternity in terrayears.
Timon closed the deal and returned to fresh rubble and an aerial pudding full of dead blue frogs. Ashes and debris where there were once laughing, living, loving creatures. His dreams were all nightmare confetti-bursts from some megaton, demoniac piñata.
Timon was of the mind that Oxy-Pac Inc. was behind the Event. He wasn’t alone in that theory.
Eliminating breathable air in a major metropolitan area was a full-proof business model for a company specializing in breathing apparatuses.
-Welcome to TixToxCorp. Welcome to TixToxCorp. Welcome — 
The hallway goes on forever inside the building where TixToxCorp is located. The hall is a cocoon of black mirrors that reek of chem and madly distort reflections.
Timon hates being here but the ends justify. This is the only place in this dimension where you can do the kind of thing he’s interested in doing and have it still be affordable.
A thousand Timons watch Timon move down the ever-narrowing hall. A warped, clownish parade made all the more warped and clownish by the squeaky leather pants and clomping tungsten boots.
Timon can’t wait to leave all of this behind.
He approaches the front desk and plunks his right eye into the scanner.
A sentient orb floats over the desk. Its spirally flesh, tender, orange, with a milky glow. The orb throbs and wheezes deep in a trance. A tangy scent oozes from its greasy pores. It reminds Timon of something he can’t place.
-Welcome. TixTox. You... ?
-Timon Onn.
Its eyes flutter as it enters a trance and takes on the glow of salmon scales.
-Fill paper. Then. You see.
-See what?
-Paper fill. Then you see.
-Okay. Sorry, I’m lost. (Timon loathes to admit.)
-Lost, oh. Here TixTox, the citrus reaffirms.
-I know where I am.
-Timon Onn. You? No?
-Good. Paper fill. Fill paper.
-That part I follow. But then?
-Then. You. See.
-I. See. What?
-You? No. You no see. We see.
-Yes. We. See. You.
-You see me? Timon's voice heightens with the unpleased realization, Now I’m talking like you!
The orb stamps a smile in his brain and whispers softly, If I were arms, I’d massage your pain into nothingness.
Telepathically, the orb slides him a medieval looking hunk of tree bark. Timon stares at the wood until micro-insects attracted by the heat of his eyes’ track exit the grain and form words.
Name: Timon Onn. Address: 1001001010100010000 Old Android Zoo, Lemur Wing. Occupation: Implant Salesman. Species: Hum.
Timon stares down at a random category: Living Relatives?
In a forest, Timon leads them. His fingers entwined with Amber’s. Pierre and Jamal drift close behind, speaking in florid tones.
-Did you ever wonder what would happen if you plugged in while you were already plugged in? Pierre says.
-No. It makes behind my eyes hurt.
-Me too. Can I tell you a secret?
-I don’t care.
-I overheard Ma and Pappa fight about something called Oddsapien. I don’t know what it is, but that’s why he’s not here. He’s out selling Oddsapien.
-Not Oddsapien. Obsidian.
-How the hellfire do you know?
-Because I saw an infoholo about it in Pappa’s office.
-Night soil.
-Spill it then.
-Why should I?
-Because you’re lying’s why.
-I'm not. First thing, it’s different for every living thing in every dimension. In ours, for us, it’s toxic. The holo showed what happened if you try it, in case the salesmantises get curious and wanted to.
-How toxic?
-Dead-in-Real-toxic. You hook up, the adult way.
-Then what?
-You wait and wait-and-waitandwait.
-What for?
-The sound.
-What sound?
-It's different for every living thing, but you know it when you hear it.
-What's the sound sound like?
-If I knew, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it.
-So if you hear the sound, then what?
-Black, squirmy, hairy stuff fills your mouth, and you feel everything everyone who ever lived ever felt all at once, pressing down from up and up from down, and your body gets squashed and pulled apart at the same time by slimy black shapes until black inky stuff shoots out all hot from around your eyes and doesn’t stop.
Pierre can feel his head swim as Jamal continues. 
-And if you’re lucky, someone will hear your screams in Real and they’ll call theParaMEDrones to unhook you before it’s too late.
-But what if it is too late?
-The black slimy stuff comes out of you in Real.
-If that’s Obsidian, imagine what Oddsapien’s like!
Jamal stares dead serious, but deep down he’s cracking up. But Pierre can read him. Even if it’s not on the surf.
-Don’t laugh at me.
-I wasn’t. Check this out. Jamal pulls back his lips with his filthy thumbs and flaunts canines that live up to their name.
-What happened to them?
-Been sharpening them. It’s my pet project.
-Can you show me how in Real?
Jamal stares dead ahead, then nods. 

-Jamal. Pierre. Come quick, Amber says.
-Race, Jamal says as he elbows past Pierre, following his mother’s voice and disappears behind pink reeds into the ashen swamp. Behind him, Pierre trudges through the marshy earth.
The suns dip behind the powdery mountains. A deep croak emits from behind pink reeds.
-What’s that? Pierre asks, mesmerized by what Amber holds. 
A blinking blue frog like a slippery pearl in the fleshy oyster shell of her hands.
-I’m not a hundo, says Amber, but I think it’s a new species.
Jamal runs a finger down the creature’s spotty back. 
-It’s tex is all-weird-like. Feel, Pierre.
-I'm not sure, but I think it might be Real, Amber adds.
Timon stares at his family. We’re witnessing something truly spectacular —
The blue frog hops out of Amber’s hand and lunges toward Pierre. He dodges. He trips on a branch and goes through the chest of Timon, splitting him into a million microshards of light.
Amber: Pierre!
-Sorry, Pappa!
-Obsidian is the answer, replies Timon.
A glitch causes Timon’s face to twitch hideously. The pixels rejoin wrong, giving him the momentary resemblance of a warpy holopoppet.
-Obsidian is the answer.
-Nice move, you hyped-up pupa, now Pappa’s caught in a work loop!
-And gone for good is whatever that blue-blurter was, Amber adds.
-Obsidian is —
-Stop crowding me, I hate when you crowd me, Pierre shouts as he trudges further through the weeds. You make me wish I was born dead.
-Another vacation ruined by your fucky worm shit, Jamal says. Amber slaps his mouth and pinches his cheeks with her strong, scarlet fingers.
-Watch your fucky mouth, Amber’s black irises swim watery laps around her obsidian pupils. You know your brother.
-Bahh, Jamal bites her hand. His sharpened fangs penetrate her bloodless hand.
Pierre scatters through the weeds, shattering into a shimmery flecks of nanolight.
Amber yells, Pierre!
-...Is the answer.

Floating in a tank of DarkMilk is the pale, hairless boy whose body failed years ago. The tubes and wires form a spider-like caretaker, pumping life into the feeble canoe of skin and bone tethered to his wild mind.
Spittle forms on his white lips as he pours himself into an attempt to dream a name for the blue, croaking vessel of roped-up nerves, fears, and exotic impulses.
-Oddsapien? Thinks Pierre.
Outside the liquid glass, Amber watches the buoyant boy-thing. If she weren’t full of mandatory mood stiflers she’d be overcome by blue, watery flames. She regrets volunteering for that focus group while pregnant. Now the fruit she bore is versed only in dreams. PupaPierre.
That fucky tainted tech. Timon peddling it off in other dimensions to sentient beings she could never fathom.
She runs her hand over the implant at the base of her neck. Pierre’s bailed on Surf before but he can never quite fully escape its pull.
Rather than off peddling Obsidian to arcane Otherworld corporations, Amber wishes Timon were here with her. She wishes so hard for a moment she mistakes a play of light as an echoed twinge in the shiny crown of Pierre’s eellike head.
Her baby.
Then there’s a flash like the blink of a god’s eye and the only thoughts that exist are held by inanimate objects.
Inside the ShapeshifteR-X, Jan emptied her stomach into the bone-colored vortex. The hibernation state had woven her psyche into a radiant tapestry of hellfire stingers.
As she climbed back into her Spacedex tights the vortex kindly thanked her for her deposit.
Jan entered the sluice room and was roughly scrubbed clean by the mega-legs of centipedes genetically enlarged and bred as valets, medics, and...
At the table Jan chomped into a mega-leg, served to her by its source, hovering inside a jello of injected vitamins. Green fluid ran down Jan’s scaly cheeks as she chewed.
Jan had been in the ShapeshifEr-X for the past three years. And in that time, she had known a spectrum of emotions, many alien.
Love, fear. A virus of vulnerability.
Something, or things, was, or were, tracking her throughout her dimensional odyssey with a vow to crack open her life like a crustacean and gut it of its pillowy meat.
Because Jan created enemies everywhere her claw-footed boots touched terrain.
Scorching tidal beings in the soaring seas of Oscion didn’t earn her any new pals. And the whole drowning of all the sentient magmaflora of Vuul thing didn’t end in her praises being sung. 
Needless to say, the constant obliteration of the elder tribe of regenerative mammoths on the surface of Jura didn’t once end in the rapturous dance for which the slain and slain again were famous the galaxy over.
For starters.
Needless to say (but I will anyway, because I’m a narrator and that’s my sort of my thing) Jan’s enemies were teeming the star system and chomping at the bit to find her achilles’ heel and chomp it to bits.
Since her youth, soured by a caustic cocktail of barbarity and entropy, she had raided many planets and dimensions. Mostly for the purposes of survival and the latent urge to keep alive the destruction encoded in her design. Always solo.
But our story begins when Jan hit the marshmallowy atmosphere of the JellyMoon sector.
With a hunk of moonbug exoskeleton, Jan picked her fangs of lunar elfin gore and idled the ShapeshIFter-x in a pool of night.
-Blurgh, I’m so bored of boring, dumb boredom, Jan mumbled as she picked the residual rubble and ruin of a minute planet from her paw beds. The cries of a seething emperor went unheard between Jan’s toes.
A yawn exposed the purple of her throat as Jan eyed the starless horizon through the nav-bubble. Its abstruse depths created a cosmic crypt for astronomical corpses. For the first time, Jan felt truly alone. Oblivious, of course, to the minuscule ruler’s death rattle between her toes.
A far-off aqua speck glistening in the Nethersphere caught her eyes.
-What's that? She barked at Singularsson, the ship’s hybridmind in a vacuum tube.
-Yarf, it belched back in digital telepathy.
-Give me any of that guff and I’ll squirt milk into your drive, Jan thought loud enough for Singularsson to hear. And it wasn’t a barren threat. In fact, she had done just that to Singularsson’s predecessor. The hot, pink milk of Jan’s myriad teats had fried Singularsson The First to a metallic pulp.
-That's Yarf, Singularsson clarified, in as panicky a tone as a monotonal entity can muster. Home of the Yarfians. A peaceful, furred species known for monogamy and... Singularsson prattled on, but Jan was transfixed.
Reflections of the planet Yarf multiplied in Jan’s honeycomb eyes. Mushroom clouds of anticipation rose in her bowels and cubes of euphoria tiled her flesh as the foreign, tantalizing morsel sparkled in the deep.
-No. That was Yarf, Jan burped as she turned the wheel of SHapeshifter-x toward the aqua dot, spelling imminent doom.
Planet Yarf had been the first where a native creature had left an impression on her beyond a faint dimple of annoyance. This anomaly was Thom Watt.
The planet Yarf was formed by small aggravations. Howling moons, fitful stars and moody glaciers with minds of their own anderratic nomadic patterns. Home to the Yarfians: innately tender, extraterrestrial marsupials with bluish fur and sleepy features.
That surprise effect led Jan to make said creature a willing captive on her tireless brigade of brute force and isolation.
The orchestrated attack was unseen. Brought alive by a vile conductor, veiled, beyond evil. The league of microscopic assailants and their monstrous plot to immerse her in a vat of solitude. What a loathsome triumph it had been, thought Jan as she patrolled the corridor.
A yen for vengeance made her bones sing.
The bubbles of light aboard the vessel shuddered as they did that night in the shadow of a cosmic colossus.
The mind-sized version of T.W. implanted between her ears as a protective measure awoke Jan from hibernation with its cries.
By the time she reached his hibernation egg it was too late, his fur charred and skin sucked empty beyond recognition. The culprits safely portaled far-off.
Thom Watt’s body, now vacuumized in a jellypak.
It stung to think of the smooth surface she carefully folded and tucked in his hibernation egg. His tangled, cyan fur. The barren pouch meant for the postnatal development of the young he’d never see. His long tail that once excited her with its many possibilities, now void of spring, repulsed her. His muzzle once vibrant sapphire, now warped to odious brown.
She noticed on the alloy floor, a cyan tuft of velvety fur.
The cave reeked of death. A ribcage of rock, bone, and sludge kept the place intact. The cadaver of a chandelier hung from the ceiling tangled in black vine. The lisp of the wind excited spores into the air. Phantom kisses on the necks of specters.
Blanketed in mold was a putrid family of miniature obelisks decked out in handmade dresses of mollusk shells and knotted locks of green hair. Eroded cavities, once tenderly carved in the shape of faces, graced each small figure.
Someone or someones loved and capable of love once long ago lived here before the age of plagues, before wrath and rot and ruin.
Outside, a storm lit up the sky. Fiery spinal columns of bodiless gods tumbled through what was once thought to be heavens.
The ShapeshifteR-X spiraled terrain-wards, impregnating the membranous wings of native fauna and desert coral with exotic brands of fear.
Jan’s boots ground spiraling adders and groping scorpions into the ruby sand. Faint rings of light gave the tiny corpses the glow of warped jewels as she crouched to hammock them in what remained of her fingers. Her armor croaked with every gesture along the way. Viscous purple meat gushed from the wound in her shoulder. The pain whispered to her in alien tongues.
Jan stuffed her face full of the bursted creatures and devoured with her eyes what had once been home.
On the table sat a pale, veined globe. Gleebo. A childhood pet, caught, tamed, slain. Its impish toes now void of plasma and sentience. In the wan bulbs of its cheeks Jan saw echoed acts of violence the planet round. Acts buried by time that no one could any longer do anything about.
Jan knew the acts were reverberations and nothing more. But pangs of torment rose within her all the same. Anyone else that would respond with vested interest now rests in the bezel of the planet’s mantle, or is celestial dregs.
The black sand made his hind legs howl with pain. But as he trekked, he hoped the cool blue grass of which he dreamed awaited across the terrain.
That cool blue grass had sprung from a field of souls. In dreams, it grew from watery heads whose breath could heal and whose tender songs would give his sore bones the weight of light.
Under the many suns, he felt his insides twist. And when he closed his eyes, he’d watch his knees buckle and his contorted body sprawl over the many upturned heads dotting that plush blue. Their rolling eyes and amber melodies would cure his war-worn hide.
Hexahedrons of hope flexed through the coils of his biology.
The power of that hope kept the dark spells at bay and his furred legs in motion against the myriad geysers of magma and the bone traps set by sadistic dunedwellers who wished to wring his inert pelt into a Mobius strip. A purple, limbic pain sometimes filled his throat with neon seeds of toxic fruit, if he focused long enough, for they knew his origin and despised him.

The sorcerers that summoned him by occult means had perished long ago. The memory of their hairless, fluid bodies was strung across his mind like an infinite string of diseased pearls. Recalling those rituals, crucibles, and runes was like climbing a ladder of sand to an inversion of heaven.
But the dream lure of cool blue grass kept him going.
He traveled alone. This sole creature. The last holdout of the ancient furred wanderers. 
The memory of when he was nothing but white moss carpeting jagged knives of obsidian floats dimly in his mind.
With psychic tentacles, Bernard brings an onyx pot of neon overlapping crater eels in opaque fluid to a boil. The eels howl in their native tongue as fire-colored bubbles engulf them.
To Bernard, the eels’ cries are indecipherable gibberish, but their pain is palpable in the minute, bending waves of air.
Bernard slurps down an eel and feels it release primordial nutrients inside him before passing through the blue labyrinth of his digestive system, still intact and ready for the evening round.
A neon white hive of egg-shaped tech vibes across the structure. The change in room pressure signals Bernard to invite spirals of telepathy into his pointed ears.
"Bernard,” a million disembodied voices say polytonally at once. 
"This is he."
"A question that was not."
Bernard considers this and thoughtfully adds, "Well, it was to avoid confusion."
"Confused we were not."
A pregnant pause with an unquestionably hostile tone.
An uninvited balminess saturates Gerard’s hide. The pallid walls’ visible glands bead with fear.
"We're coming, Bernard."
The crystalline floor judders beneath his woolly pads. Bernard watches the jettisoned eels penetrate the filmy floor of his panicky domicile and burrow beneath the transparent surface underfoot, towards the planet core’s organic tubes and circuitry, presumably back to their craters or creators.
"Who?" is all he manages to blurt before the room pressure returns to a tolerable state and the polychromatic voices dissolve into silent hues.
Bernard skitters across the miasmic floor and peeks through the scalelike blinds of his domicile at the membranous terrain beyond.
He watches his wife, Donna, in her elaborate breathing gear and the yellow, heated shorts constricting her hind plumage as she sits cross-legged, incubating a soon-to-grow-conscious patch of young terrain. 
Everyone puts in their time. It’s mandatory for survival, survival of the planet and its occupants. An arrangement reached between the land and its intruders.
The domicile gifted to Bernard and his wife Donna by the native species of clairvoyant fog is a nondescript, impenetrable sphere. 
One of many nondescript impenetrable spheres forming a circular fortress.
The planet is a living and breathing life form. A spherical mammoth ping-ponging eternally through the void of space.
Hordes of fetid organisms clamor beneath fields, both monstrous and wondrous. Demanding sacrifice.
Bernard's neighborhood is modeled after the planet itself. Bernard knows because he designed it after the planet in hopes of it. Was that not sacrifice enough? He thought.
Apparently not.
I lost my job at the fan blade factory.
They hired a SOULLESS MACHINE to do MY job.
(Now THERE'S a job interview, I would've liked to've seen!)
I covertly moved into a rented storage garage in the burbs.
I started frequenting the bulk stores.
That's how I met them.
That generous bunch in their bargain basement football jerseys and grass-stained sneakers.
They invited me into their world.
(No questions asked.)
At night, I wore the fabric arm protector of an old armchair to conceal my identity.
I bought a shovel at a thrift store.
I dug and dug and dug until I was a vital part of their network.
The one under the cul-de-sac.
Oh, what a summer that was.
I knew he was sleeping around.
My own handsome knight in Van Heussen armor.
That's why I did it.
I wanted to catch him in the act.
That's why I hollowed it out with an electric carving knife.
That's why I stocked up on saltines and pouched drinks.
That's why I began spending my days (especially Wednesdays) in a hollowed-out Sleep Number mattress with a dollar-store snorkel.
READY to catch him in the act.
And spring.

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