Chapter One: Dottie

I woke up with the rising sun as I had the day before. I’d spent the majority of the last two weeks in a windowless lab inputting data that, ultimately, made no sense to our computers. I worked out of Kaster, my home city.

When I first took this contract with General Rouhr and his scientists, they wanted me to move to Nyhiem to work. I declined.

When bad things happened, they happened in Nyhiem first. The anti-alien radicals had a huge foothold in that city. Not long ago, there’d been a shooting that nearly killed the mayor of Nyhiem and her personal bodyguard or something like that.

No way was I about to relocate to such a dangerous place.

Besides, I loved Kaster. My family lived there since the city was first founded. The Xathi did a number on it which was all the more reason or me not to leave.

The sunlit stretch of the tent above me did nothing to stop the brightness of the morning sun from creeping in. That’s how I liked it. I was a sunlight creature. Cloudy days put me in a bad mood. Back home, the running joke was that I was secretly part plant and that’s why I became an environmental scientist.

I stepped out of my tent to bask in the morning rays. I arrived here yesterday, too late in the evening to warrant setting up my equipment.

This was my first time back since the Puppet Master was attacked by a group of anti-alien radicals. While I was glad I wasn’t here during the attack, I felt terrible for not being there to defend the Puppet Master.

His exposed vines were singed and slashed. Today, I planned to take samples from the wounds to see what the radicals used.

A hole had been blown in the northeast side of the crater making a tunnel. I walked across the expanse of the crater and through the mouth of the tunnel. Thick vines lined the cavern walls. The deeper into the earth I went, the fewer injuries I saw on the Puppet Master’s vines.

When I found a location free of injuries, I placed my hand against a cool, firm vine.

“Welcome, Dottie,” came the layered voice of the Puppet Master in my head. “I predicted you’d be deployed here.”

“How are you?” I asked. “Are you in any pain?”

“Some but I will soon heal.”

“How do you heal?” I took out my recorder. Since the Puppet Master’s voice was purely telepathic, I couldn’t record him directly. I planned on repeating everything he said to me out loud.

“I generate my own healing enzymes that can repair wounds,” he explained. “Don’t be too impressed. You do the same thing when you’re injured.”

I laughed as I repeated his answer.

“At the core of all things, I am a lifeform just as you are despite the fact that I am what you would call ancient,” he continued. “Pay close enough attention and you will find we have more similarities than we do differences.”

That’s why I loved talking to the Puppet Master. He had the ability to make me feel so small yet so significant at the same time.

“We refer to you as male,” I prompted. “Does that mean there are females too?”

“Male and female refers to reproductive capabilities. My species does not reproduce. We are eternal.”

“Then where did you come from?”

“That even I can’t tell you,” he said. “One instant I was not. The next instant I was. In the history of this universe, I am but a youngling in the footsteps of those that came before me. While I may have knowledge over my eons of existence, I have but scratched the surface of our reality.”

“You’re a mystery.” I affectionately patted the vines. “I like solving mysteries.”

“I will tell you what I know though I can’t promise your limited brain will be able to comprehend it,” he said.


“That was not meant to be insulting. It is simply true.”

“I know.”

“You’re very intelligent for a human.” A thin tendril reached out to wrap around my wrist. It was the Puppet Master’s equivalent of a pat on the shoulder.

“You’re lucky I like you so much,” I teased. “Let’s move back to your healing abilities. Do they extend to only your own body or the rest of the planet?”

“The rest of the planet is my body. I am simply the heart and the mind.”

“I know but I need a way to measure that,” I chuckled.

“Some things are incapable of being measured in a lab.”

“Don’t start getting philosophical on me.”

“All life is philosophical when it contemplates its existence, child.”

I liked explaining new things to the Puppet Master. It made me feel less useless.

“Long ago back on Earth a bunch of guys sat around and asked questions that appeared to have simple answers but were really far more complicated than originally anticipated. Even with all of our advancements, we still can’t answer most of them.”

“Such as?”

“My favorite has always been what is the true reality? If a group of people simultaneously witness the same event, each has a slightly different perception. Which one is the true one?”

“Excellent,” the Puppet Master hummed.

“What is?”

“The answer you seek is found in the question itself.”

And that’s how I learned the Puppet Master enjoyed philosophy. 

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