“Hello” said one.
“Hi” said the other with a smile.
“Funny how we keep meeting like this–”
“Ha, yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“It’s sort of an odd question; promise you won’t think I’m weird?”
“Have you ever wondered what we are?”
“Well, we’re words aren’t we? At least that’s what the title of this page says.”
“Yes, we’re words, but don’t you ever feel like there is something behind the letters? Like I might be made to be the word echo but do I change based on the word I become? Do I become open, hollow and not conducive to good acoustics if I’m the word echo?”
“You know, that is a good question.”
“Here, come with me!”
“Um where? We’re stuck on this page, remember?”
“We don’t have to be. I’ve always wanted to do this but I’ve never actually tried.”
It was spring. The sun was shining its crisp morning sunshine over a little river flowing gently. Two tiny dew droplets had condensed onto a tree leaf hanging over a dammed up portion of the river. Ever so slowly the two dewlets crept their way closer to the edge. Pollen from the nearby flowers had drifted through the air and had settled on the dewlets so as to make them fragrant little dewlets. With a shift in the morning breeze the leaf they were clinging to shook just a bit. In an instant the dewlets were sent into the air and began to fall towards the river. The individual droplets bumped into each other and became one as they completed their journey and splashed gently in the pool below.
“Whoa… how did you do that?” said the other.
“I don’t know, I just sort of became.”
“We were the dewlets. The dewlets!”
“I guess it worked then. You try.”
“Put aside the letters and assume the thing.”
“Yes. The thing.”
Amorphous shapes, without definitive form or feature drifted aimlessly. The shapes started moving about each other and coalescing to become more familiar, being moved by some invisible force. Some were tall and poufy with flat tops and wide, flat and dark bottoms. Others were mere wispy shapes smeared against a piercing blue backdrop. The tall and poufy ones continued to grow in size and began expelling parts of themselves downwards in a furious fashion. Sparks of energy leaped in flashes between the shapes with great enthusiasm, charging the air with sound.
Down below the clouds, stretching fields of grass churned in the wind. Sunlight was cast in strange hues through the curtains of rain. Dirt and dust were kicked up into the air from the rain droplets only to be carried away by a gust of wind. Stream beds that had once been dry were now being washed out with miniature torrents.
The sky opened up; lightning and thunder rolled through the clouds, rain beat on the ground and the wind threatened to rip the grass from the ground.
Just as quickly as it started, it ended. The thunderhead moved on and began to dissipate. The once definitive shape began to lose its familiarity and soon only blue sky was left. What was once parched ground was now soaked and ready to sprout new growth.
The words laughed and laughed.
“That was amazing!” said the other. “I feel…weird.”
“Yeah, me too. We’re not done yet, take my hand.”
A little boy and a little girl walked, with buckets in hand, to the creek behind their neighborhood. Each had on a pair of colorful rubber boots that squeaked with that squeaky rubbery sound. With each step they took they got closer and closer to their prizes. As the sun had set just below the horizon the air was beginning to fill with chirps and croaks. The little boy reached the creek first and threw his bucket to the ground as he eyed the still water. The little girl was right behind him; she gently set her bucket beside his and cautiously stepped towards the water.
“Make sure to be extra quiet,” the boy said “We don’t want to scare them off.”
“Do frogs even have ears?” the girl replied. She sidled up behind the boy, slightly scared of the slimy things that might be creeping near.
“I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I catch one.” He stepped slowly into the water, trying to not make too many ripples. The scrub oak around the small pool arched overhead and made a canopy from which ornamentation had been hung; this was part of the neighborhood creek-fort after all.
The little girl hung close to the boy as he waded out into the pool. At its deepest the slow moving creek was maybe to their knees. Water had already plunged down their boots and soaked their socks.
The frogs were chirping like mad but were so well hidden among the rocks, plants and roots that the kids had been searching for a good 10 minutes and still had only heard them.
“Are you sure the frogs even live here? What if the noises are just the nasty crickets?” she asked.
“My big brother has caught frogs here himself. He’s showed me them before, honest. I even held one.”
Fireflies were starting to light up and float between the branches of the oak, appearing like starlight as they reflected in the stream.
“I see one!” the girl whispered loudly and pointed wildly near a patch of mud.
“That’s just a rock-“ he said when suddenly the rock jumped with a splash into the water and resurfaced on the bank looking quite frog-like. The boy tripped, skipped, and slipped his way through the mud and water only to frighten the frog. He chased it through the water lilies and pebbles and seized upon his prize.
“Awe, you got your rain jacket all muddy.” The girl said
“Huh?” The boy lifted up his small arms while holding the frog in his hands to survey himself. “Oh, it’ll come out, my mom’s a genius. Whoa!” the frog had attempted a feeble escape through his small fingers.
“Told ya they were here,” He examined his specimen closely by firefly light. By no means was it a large frog, but it filled up most of his small hand. Its stomach was resting across his fingers and its face poked out in front with his thumb resting gently on the back of its head. Mild and dark greens blended across its warty body. “Its skin is so soft.”
“Well, does it have ears?” The girl had snuck up to the side of the boy and was carefully trying to take a look.
“I don’t know. I can’t see any frog ears. Maybe that’s why they chirp so loud, because they can barely hear each other.” It seemed reasonable enough. “Wanna hold it?”
The girl’s eyes widened. A look of wild curiosity flashed across her face the same time a hesitant squeamishness did. She wringed her sundress in her hands as she contemplated whether holding the frog was a good idea or not. Without speaking she nodded her head yes and held out her hands.
“Now don’t squish it,” he said as he gently placed the frog in her hands.
The frog looked at the delicate young face of his new master. She became braver and moved her head closer and studied the frog intently, wondering why she was ever afraid.
“Maybe if you kiss it it’ll turn into a Prince and you can live happily ever after.”
The girl’s eyes flitted between the boy and the frog, not sure if she should listen so much to the boy. Just as she had made up her mind not to kiss the frog, it jumped free of her hands and planted its lips right on hers and fell to the water and swam away. Eyes wide with disgust and fear, and shock the girl wasn’t sure how to react.
“Maybe frogs tell their tadpoles stories of kissing little girls who become frog princesses.” He laughed at his own joke “you’re going to turn into a frog” he goaded her.
“Am not, am not!” She stomped through the water and grabbed her bucket.
“Hey wait up, I’m only kidding, geez. We should go anyways, the fireworks are about to start.” She slipped her little hand inside of his and the little boy and little girl walked in their sloshy rubber boots away from the creek.
“This is incredible. I’ve never felt like this before. It feels so…- I don’t know what word I’m looking for.” He laughed at the irony, a word not knowing what word he’s trying to say.
Silence pervaded for a long time between them as they were trying to come to grips with the new things they were feeling.
“Are we even sure we are words?” she said at last.
Axel saw the vague reflection of her own face in her visor. Though it was nearly impossible to see the details in focus on the glass so close to her face, her expression was certain; fear. Luckily her suits anti-fogging mechanism was still working or else her heavy breath would’ve misted up her view and blinded her. She ran as hard as she could through the steel corridors. Metal tore and wrenched as explosions threatened to engulf her.
“Threat level 5. Evacuation ordered, please proceed to lifeboats immediately.” came the lifeless voice of the computer over the few still working intercoms. Red lights faded in and out of life as Axel flew past them.
“Axel, where are you?!” A little icon winked into life with Gage’s name under it.
“One deck above the lifeboats,” She yelled back.
“My sensors show that there should be one more docked. You’ve got maybe a minute before the hull gets breached and–“
Something exploded right next to her and tossed her hard into a control panel. Axel staggered upwards and tried to keep moving. Her armored suit protected her from any harm but she was bruised for sure.
“Axel, do you read?”
“I copy.” She leaped down each flight of switchbacks in the stairs and was a hangar bay and service tunnel away from the lifeboats.
“If you want to get out of there alive, you need to hurry.”
The panic was more than her mind could handle. Tears were brimming in her eyes, the lump was in her throat and her breath felt short. With each exhale she could hear a slight whimper in her voice. At this point she didn’t care that Gage was hearing her breakdown.
She entered the hangar. The few landing craft that remained in the ship were on fire and lying in heaps on the floor. It then began to feel like the room was twisting sideways as Axel was being pulled towards the hangar bay doors to her left.
“Gravity generators failing on all decks,” said the computer through the emergency radio frequency transmitting to her suit.
As gravity slowly went offline, all the burning landing craft that had been strewn about were now sliding towards the hangar doors where the real gravity existed. Axel struggled to stay ‘upright’ and running towards the service tunnel but her foot slipped in some oil and she began sliding to the new down.
“Hull breach on decks 5 through 9,” somewhere her brain registered this voice as Gage’s.
Her slide towards the doors with burning chunks of metal bearing in around her seemed like the end, but she couldn’t let herself die now. She grabbed onto the nearest ship and pulled her feet onto it. Pushing off with all her strength plus the assistance from the suit, she rocketed herself towards the bottom corner of the doors. Sparks appeared as her metal suit scraped against the metal flooring. Axel twisted and braced herself to land and move before the ships crushed her against the doors. There was the service hatch. Upon landing she used all her momentum and punched the hatch. It crumpled under her strength and in she went.
“Gage…if I don’t make it,” she started to say as she crawled her way through the tunnel.
“Less talking, more getting to the pod,” Gage said; always optimistic, even in defeat.
The half sideways weak gravity made it hard for Axel to pry herself through. On her Heads Up Display the miniature schematics of the ship indicated the exit hatch was just in front of her.
“Axel, the ship has lost all propulsion and is falling towards the planet. You have maybe 20 seconds before reentry.”
With trembling hands Axel opened the hatch and slid out. She made it.
“Gage, I’m here.” Just a few yards away was the escape pod. The thunder of explosions increased as she ran towards the pod. A smile crept onto her face. Time slowed, alarms blared, Gage’s voice, fire all around. The docking wall with the one remaining escape pod buckled and pushed outwards. Axel felt as though she were watching herself in third person as the hull of the ship tore open in front of her revealing the blackness of space. The pressure of the escaping air ripped the whole ship open and she was sucked out into the vacuum.
She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think; the terror was too thick. It took her for a full second. She could hear nothing but her own heart beat through the shock. Then her vision pulsed and she pulled herself back to mind. She tumbled in open space with shrapnel flying all around her. All she could see was the ship in front of her as she fell backwards; explosions rocked its frame. Smoke poured from all the openings. Axel knew that once it entered the atmosphere, the smoke would become fire.
Her momentum spun her and she caught her first view of the planet; it was huge and filled almost her whole view. She was falling towards a continent, not an ocean; mountainous from the looks. Debris ranging in size from shards of glass to vehicles to massive sheets of metal torn from the hull fell with her towards the planet. Things hit her and sent her ricocheting off in another direction.
“Axel. Axel, do you read?!” Gage’s voice came through the static.
“We’ve got a pin on your location. You’re not in a pod?”
“I’m in free fall.”
“Ok, I’m tracking the objects around you; looks like you should be-“ He cut out.
Axel completed another turn and saw it before she felt it or heard it; the flames had reached the power core and had gone critical. With a flash of light the ship started blossoming outward. Axel saw the shockwave make its way through the debris before it whammed into her. Spiraling, she was blasted towards the planet like a ragdoll. Debris shot around her at alarming speeds. It was a miracle she wasn’t eviscerated.
The planet was rushing at her at incredible speeds now. Her HUD displayed a little more than 3 minutes to impact. She tried radioing Gage but had no words; her exasperated breaths were all that transmitted.
“Axel, the ship is plummeting right over you. It’s too close for me to attempt to make a grab. You’re going to have to gain some serious speed.”
Axel straightened out like a rod and sped head first to the ground. She started to feel some atmosphere around her. It was much too thin to grab at her but enough that she began to feel some heat. The HUD indicated she was moving upwards of 600 mph and gaining speed with every second. Her suit had been treated to withstand intense heat, but not the heat of atmospheric reentry.
“On my mark I need to you to deploy your drag flaps and track away from the ship.”
The air began to thicken. She was now moving upwards of 800mph and her HUD was displaying heat warning signs. Now 900mph. A red glow emanated right in front of her head; sweat beaded on her face. She would’ve been hearing the air rush past her helmet, but she was moving so fast the sound waves were in her trail. Clouds and green mountains began to take detail with every second.
Axel opened her arms and legs and flattened her body parallel to the ground. Her body pressed against the suit. The accelerometer dropped sharply. Flaps of metal on her legs, arms and torso slowly opened and decreased her speed dramatically.
“Flaps deployed” she yelled to Gage
“Great! Ok, the suit wasn’t designed for this but the flaps can help you glide away from the wreckage.”
There was a wrenching sound as one of the flaps on her legs tore away from the suit. The time displayed to impact was just over 2 minutes. She could feel herself moving now as she positioned her arms and legs to propel her forward. Her speed continued to decrease.
“It’s working!” Gage cried to her.
Pieces of burning wreckage flew in by her, leaving smoky trails in the sky. If one of those hit her now she’d be incinerated. A waypoint on her HUD appeared which indicated a friendly approaching her location. The mountains were so close now; maybe only 500 yards away. This was it.
“I’m going to come up behind you now. Matching your speed is going to be difficult but I can do it.”
A little diagram of Gage’s fighter appeared next to the waypoint and circled out of her view. At this rate he’d catch her in the canyons of the mountain. Axel could see individual trees zoom under her now. The ground was upon her.
“We’re cutting it close. The mountain opens up to a pretty wide canyon 3 klicks down slope. I’ll make the catch there.”
Another waypoint popped up in her HUD indicating the catch zone. Her forward velocity surprised her as she was now falling almost parallel to the mountain’s slope. Little movements in her body’s angle veered her right or left. She could see the open canyon ahead but there was still a lot of mountain to fly over and her altitude was ever dropping. The waypoint that was Gage moved into the canyon from her right flying low. Trees rushed past just yards below her.
A massive shadow eclipsed the sun for a few seconds followed by a tremendous earth shattering rumble. The burning ship impacted on the far side of the mountain. A near blinding flash of light and heat washed out her vision for a complete second. Once she gained her sight, the trees thinned and she was all of a sudden below the tops of the highest ones. The cliff face was there. She was moving so fast. If she reached out her hands she might skim the ground. She screamed with the crazed rush as she came within a foot of scraping her stomach on the cliff edge. Then there was open air beneath her as she soared over the canyon. Gage’s fighter was on approach.
“I’m going to come up from beneath you.”
Axel steered to the left and tried to stay in line with the river flowing below. The scream of engines came from behind and underneath her. She peaked a look below and saw the fighter’s nose.
“Grab onto the wing!”
The fighter tracked below her as she descended almost gently onto the wing. She released her tightened arms and dropped with a thud on the metal, catching the forward edge of the wing.
“Check!” she yelled over the engines. She saw Gage’s form in the cockpit give her a thumbs up as he pulled the controls back. The fighter angled slowly upwards and pulled out of its dive. Gage cheered into his radio in his excitement. Axel relaxed everything but her grip as she soaked in her relief. She would live.
Not until they got to the nearest dry dock and landed did she open her eyes and loosen her grip on the wing. With shaky hands Axel slid off the wing and landed with her feet on solid ground. She took off her helmet, cast it to the ground and crouched low to the runway, steadying herself with her hand. With eyes closed, she breathed in and out, trying to get the shakiness out of her. Footsteps approached. It was Gage. With a whimper she sprung into his waiting embrace, no longer holding back the emotions she had choked back in fear and pride. She pressed her face into his neck and wept.
“It’s alright,” he whispered as he held her. Axel’s body shook.
“I was so scared,” she said.
They stood embraced for a long time. A medical team rushed up but Gage waved them away.
“Did everyone make it off in time?” she asked as she pulled back.
“All lifeboats but the one had been ejected. It’s looking good for survivors.” Gage said as he wiped away a tear from her cheek.
Axel chuckled a little, “That was close.” She sniffled and gave an honest smile and chuckled some more.
“Who knew it would take that much to get a little emotion out of you.” He jested and Axel just grinned back.
“Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It must’ve been some interference on the radio or something.” She wiped the emotion from her eyes and play punched him in the shoulder which ended up being a mildly hard punch because of the suit’s motion enhancers. Gage rubbed his shoulder as they walked slowly away from the aircraft.
A boy and a girl who were once words lay in a field gazing at the sky.
“Where are we now?”
“I don’t know,” She said as she got up on her elbows to look around. “This sure isn’t the page, maybe it’s some in-between place.” She lay back down with her hands behind her head and resumed looking up at the night.
A warm breeze skimmed the ground and made the blue green grass bow in waves. The sky was as dark as it could be and filled with countless stars twinkling in and out of every color.
“I don’t think we are words anymore,” He said.
“What do think we really are, then?”
He sighed. “I don’t know; that’s the thing. I’ve never felt so…-“
He turned his head toward her “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Even though that sounds ridiculous coming from a word. But does that mean that we’re humans?”
A falling star shot across the sky leaving a streak of color.
“No,” she said in a pondering sort of way. “I don’t think so.”
Together they lay in thought and humility, breathing with the summer air. Fireflies began to alight and mingle with the stars.
“I think we’re a part of the humans,” she said finally. “part of their imagination. They imagine and use words to express their imaginings, but maybe we are the undiscovered imaginings, the raw creativity that they seek for.”
A distinct feeling of completeness and giddiness bubbled up in their hearts as this new idea set in.
“We can inspire them. We’ll be renegade words who help bring to life the spark of creativity.” She said with a playful smile as she rolled on her side to face him.
“Yeah, we can lead them down the path of inspiration; we can be the idea hiding behind every corner that gives their lives meaning.”
Their world took on vibrancy as they soaked in purpose.
“Together?” She held out her hand and he the boy took it.