Wit’s World: Never Was, Chapter Fourteen by Elizabeth Watasin

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Daniel took the phone.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Em immediately said.
“I’m not going to chastise you now, but I will later when you’re both back,” he said. “Just know that your mother and I don’t like it when you decide to go into other dimensions without telling us.”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Now,” Daniel said. “Tell me what you know so far.”
Em quickly shared all that she’d learned since leaving Darque Towne.
“This power,” her father said slowly, “of making things . . .”
“I don’t want to risk it,” Em said quietly. “Pip just did, but I doubt she received the same warning I was given, or saw Edward Dently’s body.”
“Pip would still do something like that anyway,” June interjected. She was on the second phone while her husband sat at the kitchen nook.
“Yes, she would,” Daniel said. “And I agree about the risk. But if you must use it, take great care. It’s obvious that, like here, something just doesn’t come from nothing.”
After his daughter promised to be careful, he flipped through his notepad and reviewed his hastily scribbled notes from their conversation.
“I’m going to contact friends about this. We have the Carny Man’s notebook which you left for us, and Buck is supposed to send over more papers from that Dutch person.”
“And remember the film,” Em quickly reminded.
“The —? Oh yes, thank you, honey. We’ll get that developed and look at it. And all of us are going to go over everything. No matter what, we will figure out the Carny Man’s trick and get you both home.”
“And let Dad know anything else that might be important,” June said.
“I would take Fey Dently’s warnings seriously,” Daniel added. “Leave it to your mom and me to figure out what’s fishy here, who’s behind getting keys to you two. Maybe there’s nothing to it and it’s all just a mix-up, but we don’t want you to worry about that.”
“Just concentrate on Pip,” June said.
“Another thing.” Daniel sat up. “Em, are you listening to me?”
“Yes.”
He took a deep breath.
“I know you never want to hurt anyone, to misuse the things you know. It’s a noble vow, and I know why you took it. But we’re instructing you, right now, to never let anyone hurt you. Use what you know to return to us safe. And if it means doing something . . . awful, do it. No one will judge you or Pip.”
June stood behind her husband. She reassuringly squeezed his shoulder. He raised a hand to grip hers.
“Do you understand, Em?” June said.
“Yes,” Em softly said.
“Good girl.”
June hugged her husband. She knew Daniel could speak no more. He was caught up in the memory of what happened to his baby sister because of a man who deliberately left her in a magic stunt to die.

* * *

With her parents’ blessing, Em packed up her paints and set out to find her sibling. She understood why her father instructed her the way he did. There was a man on the isle that Fey Dently had warned was untrustworthy. That man might be Wit, Jr., who was with Pip right then. She touched her locket.
Em entered the wide, polished boulevard of Astraopolis and found few shadows in which she could move discreetly. She wished she had her parasol.
“HQ,” she said, summoning Buck.
“HQ here,” Buck quickly answered. “I got you on speaker because —”
“Hey, Em!” Shade said.
“Witland the Fourth is here,” Buck finished sourly.
“Shade?” Em said. She stopped in the middle of the boulevard. “Did you find the door?”
“Yeah, he did,” Buck said before Shade could answer. “Fourth here thinks a ring is the key, the one that happens to be on Wayne Wally’s finger. Em,” he continued hesitantly. “I’m beginning to think, because it’s one ring, and a ‘Wally only’ door . . .”
“That it’s like our Gold Keys? One person, one admittance?”
“Yeah. Maybe.”
“We’ll find out when we come to it,” Em said. Uncomfortable with loitering in the middle of Astraopolis’s spacious boulevard, she stood in the shadow of one of the strange installations lining it. “Buck, I’m sorry, but I have to speak to Shade privately.”
“Uh, privately? I — Okay. How long do you need?” Buck glanced at Shade, who had been looking through his collection of Ray Buster Higgs Fan Club magazines. Shade perked up when he heard Em’s request.
“Em, how are you doing?” he said.
“Good. Buck, just give us five minutes. Or longer if you hear us arguing.”
“Gotcha. I’ll see you in a few.”
When Buck left, closing the bedroom door behind him, Shade turned to the speaker.
“Hey, Em,” he said with a grin.
“Wit, tell me what Wila told you about this place.”
“Huh?”
“Did you know she was friends with Thorn?” Her voice rose slightly. Shade wondered why she was upset. “She told Thorn things. Wila knew about this dimension, Never Was. What did she tell you?”
Shade was at a loss. He’d never heard of this place until Buck and Em had told him.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Think, please. Daddy needs as much information as possible to get us back. You’re her twin, she would have shared —”
“Yeah, well, we weren’t close like you and Pip, okay?” Shade said hotly. “Not all twins have it luvy duvy like you two. We didn’t go to the same schools. And when we were together we’d get on each other’s nerves. Not only that, she was just so —”
“You didn’t want to hear it,” Em said.
It was like she had a crystal ball that saw into his past. Shade shut his mouth.
“Thorn said she wanted to practice magic. The mystical kind. I’m in that type of realm, Wit. This is a dream-making place. Why did Wila know and not you?”
“She was nosy,” Shade said resentfully. “She liked the occult side of our family. And . . . she could do stuff. Weird stuff. Maybe. I don’t know. Mom was always trying to protect her because of that. I guess she didn’t want Grand-Uncle Wayne to know. But Wil’ couldn’t stop poking into things, that’s why she had to be sent away. She probably found out too much.”
“And you know nothing.”
“Yeah.” His tone was grim. “Nothing.”
“I wish she hadn’t been a secret,” Em said. “It’s a burden. Unfair to her and to you. I don’t know how you can stand it.”
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Please let Buck back in.”
Shade brooded while Buck returned to his beat-up desk and resumed guiding Em. It was rare for her to get mad although he’d come to understand that he had a special knack for making her so. He shouldn’t have told her about Wila. The weight of the secret had been unfair for Em, too, but of everyone he knew, Em was the one he could trust.
Somehow he had known that when he first became aware of her, that sad Dark Girl at school whom everyone called “Mutie.” She’d seemed above the ridicule. Her grief was the bigger pain and he realized, to his surprise, that mourning in silence was fitting for her because she could still function. He found out that she tutored by drawing her explanations, and the jocks didn’t mind. He’d seen them trade her notes. He could hardly believe that she was a stage performer. He found out about her Aunt Dawn. When Em started speaking again, he pursued her, knowing that at some point he would confide about the heartbreaking disappearance of his beloved Uncle Wittie.
As his girlfriend she was both comfort and counsel; the world made more sense in her calm presence while she did her art things. It hadn’t been all quiet times. They had tremendous arguments, most of them his fault, though he liked to think it was because he challenged her. It didn’t hurt that she could really kiss. It used to irritate him when she’d make him back off. Going to other girls because Em wouldn’t give it up was, of course, his mistake.
Shade felt the need for a cigarette.
Since his present thoughts were of no help to Em at the moment, he returned his attention to what Buck was saying.
“Do you think it’s inhabited, like Darque Towne?”
“By who?”
“Well, the Tomorrow Squad . . . or Robo Men. Sentient space rockets, maybe?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Em said. “Unless they were somehow part of a pavilion. Astraopolis feels like an empty park, a place that should shut down after dark. It’s not a habitable place like Darque Towne. I’m next to an exhibit right now. Can you tell me where to go from here?”
“What do you see?”
“Leading from the Tomorrow Clock is a very large boulevard,” Em answered. “The exhibit starts here. On either side are these installations. Each one is round, like massive lenses. They’re taller than me, and they’re dark. Should I go around them?”
“No, you can go down that boulevard. They’re the Windows to the Fantastic, a leftover from Astra City’s utopia vision. As you pass them they’ll activate and show you the wonders of the universe.”
“If those windows are still from Great-Grandfather’s Astra City, that’s not what they’ll show you,” Shade clarified. “In the beginning they were about your personal future, or about showing you an idealized world you would like to be in. Some windows acted like they had prescience, and the others might reflect your dreams or innermost desires.”
“Fourth’s . . . right,” Buck said. He gave Shade a long look. Shade just shrugged. “Wit, Sr.’s Astra City was more mystical. It’s also famous for being one of his notorious tricks. The Windows caused a controversy back in the Carny Man’s time because of what they showed people, so they were changed early on to display other kinds of fantastic stuff.”
As Em passed each huge, black mirror surface, the windows swirled to life. Like Buck had described, they seemed to show her parts of galaxies millions of light years away. There were vistas of stars and mysterious nebulae and star ships. In some were visions of alien planets, futuristic cities, and flying people. The last two discs however, remained black. Em approached one and watched her black reflection increase until the image became a smiling Dawn Daring, emerging from the dark.
Em gasped and rushed forward. The reflection met her. What she believed she had seen was incorrect. The woman in the Window was not her aunt, but herself, a few years older. Her older self smiled and mimicked her as Em raised her hand in awe to touch the mirror surface. There was no surface to touch; her fingers entered air and she expected to touch the tips of her double’s fingers.
Her double had her other hand at her belly. When Em looked down she saw her older self was swelling with child.
Em stepped back and her other did, as well, disappearing swiftly into the window’s swirl of darkness. She turned to the other window, glowing bright like a sunrise. Pip stood there, also older. She stared brightly at Em. Her hair was longer, with a streak of white. She wore a finely embroidered white shirt, open at the collar, revealing a chain and a dangling silver and gold ring; a sun dial ring, Em realized. Both of Pip’s hands rested on the long hilt of a broad sword that looked far deadlier than the short, golden Sword of Tomorrow.
“Dragon slayer,” Em whispered.
“What? Em? Are you all right?” Buck asked.
This snapped Em out of her revelry. When she looked at both of the windows again they were black and empty. Em touched her flat belly.
“I’m all right,” she said. “Let’s continue.”

* * *
Someone knocked at the front door of the apartment. Buck urged Shade to go through the dark living room and answer it. He took the pile of notes Buck handed him.
Rif was there. Shade had seen him around school, and he recalled the rumor that Rif had killed a competitor during a wrestling match at his old school. He gave him the stack of papers.
Before Shade could close the door, Rif held it open.
“Is Em okay?” the ex-wrestler asked, his tone low and intense.
Shade looked him in the eye and recognized the personal interest there. He’d seen that look often enough in other guys where Em was concerned. Girl suitors were a little harder to spot, but Em had her share of them, too. It used to amuse him that she had no clue that her popularity as a tutor wasn’t just because she taught well.
“She’s good.” He tried to close the door again but Rif held firm.
“You want to get that to the Darings as soon as you can, right?” Shade said. Rif finally let go. He looked down at Shade as if he was going to enjoy killing him later. Shade shut the door and went back to Buck’s room.
“Ray Buster Higgs,” Buck was saying excitedly, breaking out a pack of cold Astro Fizz from his mini fridge. He handed one to Shade. “He was a pilot and a dreamer. He loved flight. He worked briefly in rocketry but found his best visions could be realized in fantasy with Wit, Jr., who was also a space enthusiast. The new Tomorrow Maiden and Tomorrow Man were Higgs’s creations.”
“My great-grandfather never had a Tomorrow Man,” Shade said. “Besides the new Tomorrow characters, I don’t think Higgs’s better ideas ever had a chance of becoming reality. They were pretty ambitious.”
“Well, at least one idea gets to exist in the other dimension,” Buck said. “Em can see the Sky Flight.”
Shade nearly popped his can of Astro Fizz all over himself. He looked at Buck in astonishment.

* * *

Em stood beneath the slim, silver tower that Buck assured her was a ride that would take her through most of Astraopolis and to the next dock point to Mystica. The sign above the entry gate read: SKY FLIGHT. Wit, Jr.’s version of the futuristic, blonde Tomorrow Maiden, her Sun Gun at her hip, proudly gestured to the sky above.
“Em, can you see if the ride is working properly?” Shade asked.
“There are sails,” she answered, looking above. The white sails flowed in a smooth formation along nearly invisible cables. “And they’re launching regularly. Everything looks in working order.” Other cables ran small platforms up the side of the tower. She jumped and easily mounted one. The platform rapidly rose to the landing area far above.
“Em, I don’t know about this,” Shade said. “There had been several attempts to design a Sky Flight that wasn’t dangerous. Basically, it had to be idiot-proof, and the original version just couldn’t guarantee that. It’s windsailing way up in the sky. Regular people couldn’t handle it.”
“Em can walk a tightrope,” Buck said.
“Right, and flying through the air while suspended on a cable is just like that,” Shade said.
“I’m going to do it,” she said, interrupting and ending the discussion. “And I haven’t walked a tightrope since I was twelve, Buck.” She hopped off her elevator platform and stood on the landing site, high above Astraopolis. The view revealed the building-populated terrain and the little planets that orbited the building tops. She saw a tower like the one she was standing on, in the far distance, receiving the Sails. The ride would take her easily across more than half of Astraopolis. She approached the launch area of the Sky Sails. A safety diagram was posted on the wall.
“Welcome to the Sky Flight,” an automated voice pleasantly announced overhead. “When boarding your Sky Sail, please remain on your Sail’s platform with your feet in the locked position. Your safety belt should be securely fastened around your waist.”
Em mounted one of the Sails and placed her boots in the locking mechanisms. She found the belt and, per the safety diagram, looped it around her waist, securing it firmly.
“Please keep hold of the Sail handle at all times. Thank you, and enjoy your flight.”
When Em took hold of her handle, her Sail moved forward. It stopped with a gentle jerk before a Puppetron attendant shaped like a rocket. The attendant beeped and scanned her. It made a mild adjustment to her belt and tugged firmly.
Em looked to the skyline ahead, beyond the tower platform. A smile grew on her face.
“Ready for launch!” the automaton said with a salute. “Enjoy your flight!”
The Sail accelerated and dropped into the sky. The fabric suddenly billowed, catching air, and her Sail began to rise.
“Em, are you flying?” Buck asked. The wind beat her all around, nearly drowning out his words. When she leaned into the Sail’s board, she could see all of Astraopolis sweep beneath. Another tilt and the entire sky was hers. She put her free arm out, wind catching her clothes and hair. She flew like a black bat hitching a ride on billowing white across the sunlit sky. She laughed in delight.
Back at HQ, Buck leaned back at his desk.
“I think she’s flying,” he murmured. Shade sat in the other chair, biting his fist. He listened to the harsh wind and imagined his former girlfriend high up in the sky.
“I’ve never heard her laugh like that,” he said.
As she sailed, Em saw the same sign Pip had seen, the WIT’S WORLD logo, defaced with the red letters of NEVER WAS. Below, she saw the light rail car with its glass canopy that Pip had ridden, zooming along on its lone, thin track. Em looked to the sparkling lake and saw past Mystica to the mysterious land that lay beyond it. Smoke rose from the crater of a volcano and Em saw the jungle shore of a wild land. Her view began to dip to the horizon as her Sail descended. Her flight was ending.
When she reached the landing platform she disembarked with little difficulty, the belt and locks releasing easily. She stepped away and found the elevator for the ground below. She was on the other side of Astraopolis, and it had taken only minutes.
“So how was it?” Buck asked as she rode her platform down. Em smiled.
She looked to the Sails that flew serenely above. The exhilaration of flight still thrummed through her body. “Beautiful,” she said.

end Chapter Fourteen

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