Thinking about the green rock he frantically grabbed at his pocket and was relieved to find the strange lump nestled snuggly there. Next, he looked for his bag and found it tucked underneath the cot. A strong wave of déjà vu swept over the boy as he unzipped, and took inventory of his belongings. This time, something was missing. His paperback copy of Into Gold wasn’t in the bag. Jack-o thought about the feeling of being in the ship and reading from the book. There was no way of knowing anything that had been happening around him, he’d felt like he exploded gently into a billion pieces of green light. Perhaps he simply dropped the book, or maybe they just didn’t come with you into their… world? After all, he didn’t have his copy of Saving Esrevinu either.
Jack-o zipped the bag and stared through the strange looking device into the world beyond. They were in a large forest that would soon be destroyed by the rays of the sun. The boy didn’t have to move from the spot where he sat to know the layout and look of the forest. He was undeniably standing inside the world of Into Gold, which meant that Temron would be along shortly.
Meeting another one of his storybook heroes in what felt like the same day, would normally be any little boy’s dream come true. But Temron wasn’t the kind of hero he was entirely sure he wanted to meet. Reading about the man, and following him on his journey through in his imagination was fine, however meeting face to face made Jack-o uneasy.
On the Earth of Into Gold, the majority of human civilization had moved below the surface due to the steadily increasing temperature of the sun. The people who remain up top are called outliers. Some wander, scouring the Earth for a safe haven. Other’s simply prefer the life of constantly staying ahead of the sun and living off what’s left of the land that hasn’t been scorched into desert.
Temron isn’t like any of these people. He searches, through a portal gate of his own creation, for another world that can sustain human life. Or at least, that’s what the book wants you to think, really he’s looking for a way to save the planet they currently inhabit and could care less about the people who live on it.
Staring through the strange metal structure, Jack-o watched for the main character to return. There was no telling at what point in the book he’d just woken up in. Temron could be searching some other world right now and may appear through the portal at any moment, but the sun was also up so he may be out charging the solar batteries. Jack-o tried to stand up from the cot, his body felt heavy and loose and he swayed falling back onto his butt. He looked for a spot on the floor to focus on as the room spun and his stomach made threats of climbing up his throat and out of his mouth.
“Easy,” the voice surprised the boy and he looked up, “go slow.” A muscular, bald man with tattoos covering his face walked toward Jack-o holding out a bottle of something purple-green.
“Drink this,” said Temron opening the bottle and handing it to the boy. Almost snatching it from the man’s hands, not realizing how thirsty he was until he saw the drink, Jack-o chugged the whole thing greedily. The man chuckled next to him sipping his own bottle of strange liquid.
“Aggghhh,” the boy let out a sigh of relief and a deep burp as his head cleared and his body stabilized.
“Better?” asked the man. Jack-o met his eyes warily, smiled, and nodded. He’d chugged the liquid so fast that he didn’t taste it until it was in his belly. Now the grassy, undertone began popping up on every bud of his tongue. His face squinched in dislike and he opened and closed his mouth, trying to lose the taste of the drink.
“You get used to it,” the man said with another chuckle. “It’s my own creation, full of house made nutrients, vitamins, electrolytes, minerals, a little bit of water and whatever edible vegetation I can find,” Temron’s voice was proud and surprisingly pleasant as he relayed to Jack-o all the things the boy already knew. “It works wonders for revitalizing the body after world jumping,” I call it Jumpa Juice, thought Jack-o. “I call it Jumpa Juice,” said Temron.
“Once your body gets used to the feeling, though, you don’t need nearly as much. If you need any at all.” He took another sip from his bottle, capped it, and placed it on a table next to him.
“Which actually leads me to my next point,” he said chuckling again and taking a step toward Jack-o. He kneeled in front of the boy so they were eye to eye. “Who are you and what are you doing in my world?” Everything about the man’s demeanor changed. His voice growled the words and his eyes stared hard into the little boys. This was the Temron Jack-o knew from the book, the one he’d been nervous to meet.
Jack-o thought about his family, thought about how his mother and father may be out there somewhere, in some place. He thought about Captain Rona Ehti and watching him charge fearlessly into what may be the last fight of his life. Then his mind moved to the man in the red cloak and he felt his pocket get warm.
The little boy met Temron’s eyes fiercely. He wouldn’t be afraid.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“No?” Temron asked raising his tattooed eyebrows. “Listen I have a lot going on right now, so if you don’t make with the truth, I’m gonna take you to whatever world I decide to visit next and leave you there. We’ll see if that jogs your memory on how you just magically appeared next to me in the desert.” He spoke like a businessman who didn’t care for the word no and never waited for anything.
Jack-o held his focus on Temron’s eyes while he took in the face through his peripheral. The tribal tattoo’s each had a meaning though in the book they only tell you about the one covering the scar on his left cheek. It was a strange spirally, infinity-like symbol that meant re-birth. It was the first one he gave himself when he decided to become an outlier.
“I’m not lying, I don’t know,” it wasn’t entirely a false statement. Jack-o was just beginning to figure out what exactly was going on with him. The only somewhat conclusion he’d come up with thus far was that he was able to enter into his favorite books by reading them. “One minute I was hurdling through space, the next minute I was here.” Temron didn’t say anything and the two just stared at each other in silence for a time, until finally the man stood.
He walked to the left of the portal gate where the control panel sat at waist level and began pressing buttons rapidly. Jack-o craned his neck, trying to see the small screen over the man’s shoulder. It was a strange feeling for the boy, knowing exactly how all the things worked around him, including where the life of Temron was going, all the way to the end. An immense feeling of déjà vu washed over Jack-o and he felt as if it was more than him just having read the words from the page, it was like he’d been in the exact seat, with his neck craned precisely the same way hundreds or thousands of times before.
“Let’s go,” said Temron as he turned from the control panel, meeting Jack-o’s eyes. A low hum sounded from the portal gate and the ground underneath their feet began to vibrate.
“Where?” asked Jack-o trying to keep his jaw from hanging down in wonder as a vibrant purple light began to shine from seemingly nothing in the middle of the gate. He didn’t really know what he’d expected a portal to look like, in pictures they were always wavy and resembled some form of shiny goo. Or in space novels, there were the ones that looked like a billion galaxies flashing by before poof, there was the ship right out of the black hole. Temron’s portal was nothing like any of these. The purple light continued to expand until it reached either side of the gate. As it grew brighter, Jack-o found himself being more and more drawn to it.
“Grab your bag,” said Temron not acknowledging that the boy had spoken at all. Jack-o picked up his bag obediently, entranced by the purple portal gate that was so bright now it was almost white. Suddenly, as he felt his feet slowly moving him toward the gate, he understood how the bug felt flying toward the zapper.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the man impatiently as Jack-o reached the platform. “I know it’s just amazing. Now, get in there,” he said the last word with a huff as he shoved the boy into the light.