Chapter 5

The family and Bokumb raced past the outskirts of the village to the cable car entrance as the winds steadily gained strength. More than once did a violent gust pick up large debris and hurl it in their path, much like a child would toss a small rock in a muddy creek. Panic was spreading throughout the villagers as they desperately chased after valuable possessions and searched for loved ones.

Along their journey, they were stopped by Frawesa, Bokumb’s brother, who desperately asked Nevin and Clara for guidance. “What should we do?” he shouted, out of breath. “We have never faced weather like this before!”

He certainly had a point, thought Nevin. These villagers were used to warm sunshine and mild breezes up in the tree tops. The worst weather they needed to prepare for were the seasonal rains, and even those were pleasant. No doubt, the typical Havpoi home was a product of their environment, making the most of natural light and ventilation. While their homes could certainly withstand the force of the wind, they provided no protection to their inhabitants against the merciless assault of debris in a gale.

Nevin realized he too had to yell above the din of the panicked crowd and wind. “Try getting everyone to a water cache! See if they can sit the storm out for a while under the canopy! It may be dangerous, but it’s better than being on top.”

It would not be easy convincing the villagers to climb down one of the massive superstructures that held the vine canopy in place. However, it was one of the few natural breaks in the ribbon-vine floor where most of their drinking water were collected.

Bokumb sensed the anxiety in Frawesa’s face as he realized how difficult executing this plan would be. “Now is the time for leaders, brother!” she said firmly. “You were elected to be an Elder for a reason. You may be the youngest, but they will listen to you.” Frawesa stiffened, nodded quickly and ran off, shouting instructions to all that were within the sound of his voice.

The group eventually reached the cable car. After clearing away large leaves and trash away from motors they all filed in, and Nevin activated the switch to begin their descent. Their trip down was surprisingly tranquil, except for car swaying back and forth like a pendulum. The wind was most likely putting considerable strain on the enormous vine superstructures to which the cable car mechanism was attached to make it sway like that. Nevin thought he was going to get sick. Clara had much more tolerance for motion than her husband, and fortunately, her genes were the ones passed down to their children. Layne and Liam appeared to have no fear. Bokumb, who was born and raised in the tree-tops, had no issues either.

The car touched the ground and Nevin pressed a few buttons on his wrist Communicator, and waited patiently. He looked at Clara with fear in his eyes. Clara took his hand, grasped it tightly and whispered in his ear, “I know what you’re thinking. We’ll fix this. Havpoi is not inherently unstable. It’s a solid World we built!”

“I know, I know…and if it is stable, what caused that?” Nevin stuck a finger in the air, pointing at the vortex and the chaos up top.

“Look, the Nexus to the Laboratory is opening now. We just need to get some readings. Nevin, what is Rolo doing?”

As the Nexus stabilized, Rolo sprang from his hiding spot behind the blank Scrolls and jumped on top of Nevin, toppling him down.

“Rolo! That’s a bad dog!” Nevin yelled as he got up. “Why did you do that?” The dog whined, pulling his tail between its legs, but then immediately grabbed onto the sleeve of Layne’s coat and started pulling her away from the Nexus. Layne started shrieking. Liam, thinking it was a game of tug-of-war, started pulling on the dog’s collar in the opposite direction.

“Rolo, Liam, stop!” Layne yelled. “Bad boys! Bokumb, please help me!” Bokumb stayed back with the children to break up the fray.

Clara tugged Nevin’s arm as she ran to the Nexus. “We don’t have time for this, Rolo, we need to get to the Console.” And as the two crossed the Nexus, a crack of thunder rang out from one side of the Laboratory, followed by the sound of rope slicing through the air. Before they knew it, Nevin and Clara were engulfed in a mesh net made of pearly white filaments. The ends of the net quickly tightened, sealing any escape and knocking their feet from under as they fell to the ground. Slightly disoriented, Clara’s eyes followed the netting as it connected to a thick rope slowly being wound up into the arm of a hulking RunErrand.

Clara yelled. “Nevin! What’s that doing here?”

Nevin turned around and noticed that the RunErrand’s other hand contained another red colored net blaster, similar to what was used on him and his wife. His head turned towards the Nexus when he heard Bokumb and the children running to their rescue. Oh no, Nevin thought. The other net blaster is for them. “Stop!” he yelled. “Stop where you are! Do not come any further. It’s a trap!” But they weren’t listening to him and continued running. “Rolo! Here boy! I need a distraction!”

The gray weimaraner, beckoning his master’s call, sprinted past Bokumb and the children and hurled himself through the Nexus. Another crack of thunder rang through the air as the RunErrand launched the second net blaster at the dog. But in mid air, at just the right time, Rolo curled his legs into his body as the net flew past his tail. He quickly outstretched his legs to lessen the impact as he landed with a thud on the hard Laboratory floor.

Instead of capturing Nevin’s children, the RunErrand in fact captured a well-worn divan covered in dog fur. Realizing its failed attempt, the robot severed the net attached to the divan while drawing in the line attached to its main prize, Nevin and Clara. With its mission partially accomplished, the RunErrand folded its legs into its torso and shut itself off.

Rolo slowly got up and realized his back left paw was hurt. He limped over to his masters and licked their faces and thought, I’m so sorry. I tried to warn you.

Clara reached a finger through one of the holes in the net to pet the dog’s snout. “Good boy, Rolo! You saved them! And you were trying to warn us. I’m sorry we didn’t listen to you.”

“We’re not out of this yet, Clara.” Nevin turned his head towards the Nexus. “Bokumb, kids! We don’t have much time. Get in here!”

They hurried into Laboratory and the Nexus closed behind them. At the sight of her mother and father in a net, Layne started crying and ran to them. “Mommy, Daddy! What happened? What is that big machine?”

Nevin looked at the Console and then to Bokumb. “It looks like this RunErrand was tampering with the Console while we were in Havpoi. It may explain the vortex we saw and the winds. If you go over to the Console, I can show you what to do.”

“But Nevin, couldn’t I just cut you out of this-”

“No. It’s made of an impossibly strong material. The only thing that can cut this is…is. Damn! I can’t even remember. We haven’t used RunErrands in over 15 years, Clara! Where did this thing come from?” It was all becoming too much for Nevin and he started shaking.

Clara grasped his face firmly with both hands. “Nevin! You can’t lose it now. Focus! We can’t get out of this net, so you need to tell Bokumb what to do. The Havpoi are counting on us.”

“Ok, ok. Bokumb? Bokumb! Stop staring at the RunErrand – it’s asleep now. It’s not a very intelligent machine. It shuts down once it has finished its task until it receives more instructions. Now pay attention. Go over to the Console and tell me what position the third lever from the bottom is set to. No, not that lever. The one on the right. No! The other right. Bokumb!”

“I’m sorry Nevin, I don’t think I can do this!” Bokumb started to cry.

Clara was used to her pupil’s frustrations. “Nevin, please don’t yell at her. She hasn’t been here in years. This is all too much for everyone.” Turning Bokumb, “It’s ok, Bokumb. We’ll start over. Can you put your finger on what you think is the right lever? Ok, now one more over. See? You were close! What does it say?”

Sniffing, Bokumb whimpered, “It’s set to a triangle, or is it called ‘delta’?”

“Great job! It is called ‘delta’. Can you move it to the symbol that looks like a house with a wavy top?”

Bokumb turned the lever as instructed. “OK, I turned it to ‘pi’,” she smiled.

“Excellent – that should start reducing the upper atmosphere pressure a little. Next, we’ll need you to…Oh, now what?”

The Nexus machinery sprang back to life and Bokumb bolted from the Console. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!” she cried.

“No, you didn’t do anything.” Nevin said, studying the Console again. “It’s an incoming Nexus. Looks like the RunErrand is going to get some new instructions. Or we’re getting more guests.”

Clara grabbed Nevin’s arm. “The RunErrand! It’s turning back on. Bokumb, we need you to take the kids somewhere safe.”

“But where, Clara? Your home isn’t that big and there aren’t many spaces to hide! Where should I take them?”

“Mommy!” an urgent voice came from the other side of the Laboratory. “Rolo needs to go potty, Mommy.” Liam was holding the dog’s collar in one hand and the front of his pants in another. “And I need to go too!” The dog then pushed the bright stone to engage the smaller Nexus to the Meadow World.

Clara and Nevin looked at each other and almost at once said, “Bokumb, in there!”

Bokumb immediately understood. “Layne, hurry!” And the three got on their hands and knees and entered Rolo’s beloved sanctuary just as the RunErrand rose to its feet.

Nevin yelled over the noise of the moving RunErrand. “We’ll see each other soon, I promise! Rolo! Make sure you clean behind your ears! We love you!”

And with that strange final request, the small Nexus vanished, leaving the dog, two children, and an overwhelmed Havpoi bride-to-be in a strange world of eternal Spring.

Tell me what you think!

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Chapter 4

The Bridal Canopy was a symphony of chaotic joy.

Thirty four female members of Bokumb’s family were frantically putting together the finishing touches on the bride’s dress and the garments of her attendants. The most elderly women were sitting in comfy chairs along the sides, laughing while regaling about many disaster stories from their weddings of long ago. The middle age women were arguing over the method to pleat Bokumb’s silky sash that was truest to Havpoi tradition. There were several younger girls chasing each other amongst the throng, trying to sneak away with some the bridal makeup and apply it for themselves in a concealed corner of the Bridal Canopy. And sitting in the middle was Bokumb – frustrated with the fussiness of her mother yet trying to remain a calm and collected bride-to-be. Every now and then, she would look at the cacophony that was enclosed in this great Canopy and smiled.

Havpoi custom stipulates that the size of the Bridal Canopy be proportional to the number of aunts the bride has. When the builders learned that Bokumb in fact has twelve aunts, they shook their heads in disbelief and realized they would need more material. After four full days of labor, Bokumb’s canopy was complete. It spanned nearly 25 meters across, supported by several poles to hold up the delicate saffron colored fabric. By comparison, the default Canopy size for brides with no aunts is around five meters supported by a single pole. Additional fabric draped around the perimeter ensured complete privacy to the bride and her party. The two youngest aunts were chosen as the bride’s “Shadows” to guard both entrances on opposite sides of the Canopy. Their obvious task was to ensure no one caught of a glimpse of the bride. For this wedding, however, the Shadows’ primary goal was to keep out the sunlight so that the flower buds that were meticulously coaxed to grow from Bokumb’s Locks would not bloom before the ceremony commenced.

Bokumb technically has eleven aunts, but she asked Clara to take the role of the twelfth aunt in the wedding. Clara was awestruck at the honor this request carried, considering Bokumb had to get special permission from the Elders. Bokumb insisted it wasn’t difficult to justify the inclusion of Clara as part of her family. It was because of Clara that Bokumb finished her studies on time and allowed her to take over her fathers textile business. Hours of patient tutoring each day for nine years was the only way Clara could overcome Bokumb’s mild learning disability as well as her impetuous craze for Havpoi youth of the opposite gender. Bokumb’s tenacity, humility and perseverance through those years sparked a deeper connection between her and Clara. She was even entrusted with babysitting a newly born Layne while Clara and Nevin continued their work on other Worlds. In fact, Bokumb is one of a handful of Havpoi who have seen the wonders of the Laboratory and watched a Nexus to another World come to life.

Bokumb felt wave of relief come over her when Clara and Layne entered the Canopy two hours ago. “You will not believe how crazy my mother is. She rearranged my headpiece five times because it didn’t look right!”

“Kumi, it wasn’t perfect. It looks fine now…except for this fan-reed right here. Let me get it.”

Bokumb flinched. “No, mother! It’s fine. Beside, I don’t like it when you call me Kumi. I’m not a child any more.”

Layne put a hand on the bride’s lap and rolled her eyes. “My mom still calls me ‘Lulu’, which is what she called me when i was four! I’m going to be ten soon. So I need to be called ‘Layne’. OK, mom?”

Clara looked at Bokumbs mother and laughed. “They’ll always be our babies, right? Whether they like it or not!”

“This is true, Clara. But they won’t know until they have children of their own. Which hopefully will be not very long for my little Kumi, right?”

“Mom! Let me get past this wedding first before you drive me crazy.” Bokumb paused and looked at the entrance. Then she turned to Clara. “I think someone is calling your name.”

“Yeah, I hear that too. Is that Nevin? They should be seated at the ceremony.”

Now here’s the rest of the story.

Before Clara could turn around, a flash of light pierced the Canopy as the flap of the door opened briefly. In burst forth an excited and sugar-filled Liam with willowberry jam covering his face. The Shadows ran in trying to chase the boy, but he ran two full circles around his mother and Bokumb before stopping, putting his hands on his hips and exclaimed, “Mommy, Mommy! I ate four tweats real fast by myself and spin around fast like the toilet in the sky!” Liam grinned and squealed as Nevin rushed in to pick him up. While a toddler boy maybe excused for his intrusion, ladies of the canopy certainly gasped disapproval at the site of an adult male in the Bridal Canopy

“Nevin! You aren’t allowed in here!” Clara said sternly as she was pushing her boys out towards the entrance. “Why are you ruining Bokumb’s wedding? And, why are you out of breath?”

Gasping, Nevin took her by the wrist and gently pulled her outside. “Honey, you weren’t answering your Communicator, and this was the only way to get you out to see it. Put these on and look at the main sun.”

Outside the winds were starting to pick up briskly. Clara squinted as her eyes adjusted to the hot sun. “Why did it get so windy? And why put these on? Nevin, what in the worlds are you talking about?” Clara placed the sun shades on her and looked up. “I’m not sure what I’m- What’s that?”

“Exactly – that’s what I said. I sent you some readings to your Comm, but I don’t think you read them. It’s a atmospheric vortex. There’s a huge hole in the sky that’s sucking out the air about eight miles above us.”

At this point, the winds were picking up and Clara had to hold her sun shades to her face. She could see the other villagers remark about the wind while holding down their head scarves lest they fly away. Leaves were strewn from the decorations surrounding the Bridal Canopy and other areas of the ceremony grounds. Clara then noticed darker clouds far into the horizon. It was all coming together. Quickly, she looked down at the her Communicator to view the analysis Nevin sent to her earlier. “My God, Nevin, the vortex! The winds! They’ll tear this-”

Nevin stopped her. “Not so loud. I don’t want there to be widespread panic. We need to get back to the Laboratory to see how to fix this.”

“Fix what? We’ve never altered a stable World before. That goes against the Code, Nevin! You can’t interfere once a world is classified as stable.”

“I know the Code, Clara. But this is different. Something changed this. Nature doesn’t plop a vortex above you for no reason. We need to get to the cable cars and to the Lab now! And I need you there. I don’t know World Chemistry like you do.”

“Is everything OK?”

Clara and Niven turned around to see Bokumb without her head dress. “Well,” Clara hesitated as she glanced at Nevin. Her husband nodded. She continued calmly yet with a seriousness Bokumb had not seen before in her tutor. “There’s a problem with Havpoi. We’re not sure what it is, but we know it’s the reason for the winds here. I can’t explain everything now, but Nevin and I need to get to the Laboratory. Believe me we wouldn’t consider leaving your wedding unless if it was absolutely necessary.”

“Well, without all my aunts present, we can’t have a wedding. The Elders won’t allow it. But that is fine, I understand. In fact, I want to come with you.”

“With us? Why?”

“Because i want to help you save our home. And if I cannot do that, at least I can watch the children so that you can concentrate.”

Nevin looked at Clara desperately. “That’s fine. Bring Bokumb and the kids. Free babysitting is always a plus. Please hurry!” Before bride-to-be could thank them, a large section of saffron roof of the canopy tore itself away, a victim of the steadily increasing winds. Bokumb could hear the ladies inside shriek as they exited frantically. She saw her mother run out with a frightened Layne in her arms. Bokumb quickly explained why she was going with the family. Surprisingly, her mother did not mind that the bride was leaving her own wedding. When it came to Nevin and Clara, there was never an argument.

“Mommy, we need to go back to the Lab, right?” Layne looked at her mother with a tear in her eye.

Clara, always impressed with her daughter’s ability to analyze and reason beyond her years, nodded her head and took her daughter’s hand. “Yes dear, Bokumb is coming with us. Your father and I need to fix Havpoi.”

“I know you can do it, Mommy.”

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Chapter 3

Rolo, the lazy weimaraner paced the floor of the Laboratory in a circle, sniffing for crumbs of food that the children may have left behind. Unfortunately, nothing this time. He was bored no doubt, but was more content in the comfort of his lab than the tree-top madness of Havpoi. The family took him there once when he was younger and he hated it. The swaying of the ground caused such nausea that he threw up multiple times. And the smells! Nothing smelled the same for more than a few minutes before the winds came through, bringing their own scents from far off lands.

Besides, the twin suns of Havpoi made his dark grey coat unbearably hot.

After exhausting all possible locations for food, Rolo climbed on his favorite divan and eyed the smaller Nexus on the opposite side of the Laboratory. Clara built it for Rolo to relieve himself whenever he wished. He merely had to approach this smaller Nexus, place his nose on the bright stone and the gateway to a lush sun-lit meadow would open before him. Every now and then a rabbit would appear in this world of eternal spring, and he would give such a chase. He would never catch it, but it was just enough exercise to allow him to eat whatever he wanted. Near the stream was a tree that dropped morsels of food that looked, smelled and tasted an awful lot like poultry or fish. The crystal clear water from the stream and the food from the tree were his primary source of nourishment, though it was nice to steal a piece of willowberry treat whenever the family came back from Havpoi.

While he loved his meadow, he decided he didn’t need to go and would take his fourth (maybe fifth?) nap of the day. Perhaps the wedding was cancelled and the family would come early? A dog can only dream…

Suddenly, the mechanism of the main Nexus sprang to life. Could this be true? They came back so soon? The wedding was cancelled? He leaped off the divan and stood anxiously as the generators powered up to form the gateway to Havpoi. Tail wildly wagging, Rolo took a few steps back and crouched down, waiting for the Nexus to form, and decided to rush to his masters to lick and smell and sniff and smell and..wait, where were they? This isn’t Havpoi…

The Nexus had formed but instead of the serene misty jungle clearing of Havpoi, a dimly lit corridor appeared. The walls were made of thick metal plates crudely assembled to each other with large rusty bolts. Every few meters, large curved girders were built along the walls, floor and ceiling as if to reinforce the structure from tremendous external pressure. Rolo sniffed the wet, dank air coming from this mysterious World, searching for clues. He could hear the sound of dripping water echoing throughout. Rolo could also hear the faint humming of some kind of machinery – similar to what his own Nexus sounded like when activated.

A loud metallic clang shot out from deep within and echoed throughout the entire hallway. What sounded like a heavy door creaked open from around an unseen corner, followed by the ponderous footsteps of someone, or something, of considerable dimensions. As the sound of these steps got louder, Rolo began to growl, cockles raised, teeth bearing.

This lumbering thing turned the corner and Rolo could see in full view what manner of beast was approaching the corridor. He recognized it immediately and instead of valiantly defending his home, he turned in his tracks and dove into his favorite hiding spot – behind a stack of blank Scrolls that Niven kept for the creation of new Worlds.

Finally, the creature reached the Nexus, crossed through it and started slowly scanning every detail of the Laboratory.

Now here’s what happens…


From a small opening within his hiding spot, Rolo was watching this eerily familiar intruder. Calling it a “robot” would be too kind, since “robot” describes an object endowed with at least a modicum of intelligence and the basics of aesthetic design. Standing just under three meters tall, this hulking machine was constructed of thick metal plates that seemed to have surrendered to decades of rust and decay. Its legs were thick rusty cylinders connected to the torso with a variety of hinges, swivels and pneumatic pistons. The body, which was nothing more than a large rusty cube, was able to rotate 360 degrees around its waist. Two massive arms were attached to shoulders but neither appendage had anything that resembled hands.

After a few moments its tiny head stopped scanning the room when it saw the Console. The machine then thrust the ends of both its stubby arms into holes in its torso. After a few seconds, it pulled them out to reveal delicate hand-like tools now securely attached to the ends of its arms.

A RunErrand! It was all coming back to Rolo. He remembered when Nevin and Clara built these things to take measurements or perform tasks on Worlds that were unsuitable for humans – or anything living for that matter. He wasn’t sure why his masters would ever create any environment that could kill them, but that was during a phase where the two were fascinated with extremes. Worlds of intense heat or cold, noxious atmospheres, crushing gravities, how horrible! But they stopped building such Worlds long time ago – before the children were born, even before Havpoi became a stable World. What was a RunErrand doing here? Where did it come from?

Click for image source.The robot lumbered over to the Console and turned several levers – seemingly at random – while the head spun around to view the Nexus behind it. No, please don’t do that, groaned Rolo. All those levers had to be set just right to keep Havpoi stable. What have you done?

After a few tries it came upon a lever that shut down the current Nexus. Satisfied with its work, the RunErrand moved slowly over to the far side of the Laboratory and turned its torso completely around to face the Nexus. Once again, it thrust its arms into its body and pulled out two bright red spheres where the delicate manipulators once were. Finally, in an astonishing move, it lowered itself on the ground, folded its legs into its torso, and quietly turned itself off.

Nearly twenty minutes passed, and the dog waited patiently for the RunErrand’s next move. Do I reveal my hiding spot and investigate? What are those red balls? Can I try to call for help without it noticing me? His collar had a Communicator built in to it. It was similar to what the rest of the family wore but was only used to locate the dog when he would go chasing rabbits in his sunny Meadow World.

Another twenty minutes crept by and Rolo was getting restless. Also, his stomach began rumbling as it most certainly was past his meal time. How he longed to be in the Meadow, frolicking in the grass. Unfortunately for him, the RunErrand decided to deactivate right in front of his smaller Nexus. That’s it, he thought, I’m going to be the brave one and step out there. Yes, I’m going to do it. Here I go!

And just as the brave canine placed his first step out of his hiding place, the generators of the Nexus sprung to life. Rolo yanked his paw back in the hiding space and watched as the RunErrand’s lights also blinked and rumbled as it woke.

Rolo laid down, paw over his snout. Oh no, what now?

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Chapter 2

Upon entering Havpoi, one may think it’s a typical jungle world. But instead of trees, Havpoi’s jungle fauna consisted mainly of vines. Some were as thin as human hair, where tufts of this type collected dew for small insect-like creatures. Others were several meters thick and intertwined with others of similar size to create superstructures over 50 meters across and several hundreds of meters tall. There were no branches to obscure the view, so it was easy to see staight up. The tops of these structures sprouted large flattened vines and connected to other superstructures nearby. This canopy was so densely networked that one could not make out the sky. Yet a little light still was able to pass through since the flattened vines at the top were slightly translucent. Havpoi’s jungles were in reality one massive tent with thousands of massive “poles” keeping up a “canvas”. The diffused light along with the misty atmosphere created a surreal, almost dreamlike environment in the sub-canopy jungle.

Clara shivered. The temperature was roughly 8 degrees above freezing and this was the reason for coats. The masks were for the high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane towards at the jungle floor. Fortunately, the temperature and climate was more friendly at their final destination. She watched her children and they didn’t seem to mind the cold. They were too anxious for the cable car ride up.
“Hurry daddy, we’ll be late. And i want to try out the new cable car,” Layne was pulling Nevin’s arm around the corner of the clearing. The rest of the family finally came upon a cable car painted an unnatural bright red. The contrast of colors was even more accentuated with the verdant green of the jungle around it. On either side of the car were several broad ribbon-like cables stretching from the car all the way up to the canopy. These cables were not unlike the broad translucent vines that comprised the jungle canopy. Upon entering the car, which was spacious enough to fit at least 8 occupants, one could see a massive wheel fixed to the back of the car containing giant spools of this broad vine.

Nevin situated himself in front of a decorative handle that hung from the ceiling of the car. “Ok, next stop – Betrami Village. Let’s see if our ride is smoother this time.” With a swift motion, Nevin tugged on the handle that released the spring-loaded wheel behind the car that slowly reeled in the vines. Within seconds, the family began their ascent up to the canopy.

The duration of the trip was roughly 15 minutes, but for the children, it seemed like 15 seconds. Even though they traveled to Havpoi several times a week, they never got tired of the ride. They could spot a different species of animal or insect every time. They could see various creatures in their mating dance or hear the songs of the mouse-like animals as they spread their skin flaps and glided from vine to vine. A favorite for Liam was the fireflights – similar to a hummingbird but with a bright bioluminescent bulb on its back that would fly to the ascending cable car to greet it’s passengers with a wild dance. If Liam happen to have bird seed, it would call its friends to perform acrobatic stunts while changing the color of its light from a bright orange to red to green. All for the hope of sharing Liam’s treat.

Finally – the trip to the top came to an end and the ribbon-vine canopy above spread apart with the help of a large unseen mechanism. This let the cable car penetrate the thick canopy and rest securely above it. Nevin was the first to step out to secure the cable car with anchors and let the rest of his family out in to the sunlight and back to the warmth and bustle of Betram village.

Bokumb’s brother, Frawesa greeted them at the cable car, which was at the edge of the village, with a warm smile and hugs. “It is so good to have you all come. Clara, Bokumb is driving me crazy. I need you to help her relax. If she gets more stressed, her Locks will loose their blooms and she will be even more upset. She is with her mother in the Bridal Canopy getting ready. Can you please go there if I take you?”

Clara laughed as she and the rest of the family took off their coats and masks. “Pre-wedding jitters are not uncommon you know. But i will see what i can do.” She took Layne’s hand and turned to Nevin, “Can you and Liam find a seat for us at the ceremony? No boys allowed in the Bridal Canopy.”

“Sure thing,” he said as he picked up Liam and put him on his shoulders. “I’m sure we could find some willowberry tarts before we head to the wedding. They are in season you know.” Liam’s eyes widened. “Yay my favorite!”

Clara pursed her lips with a sly smile. “If it’s not work, it’s food that distracts you. Please don’t take too much time. See you soon.” She kissed Nevin and Liam goodbye. Frawesa locked one arm with Clara’s, as is Havpoi custom, and they walked to the ceremony grounds chatting about Bokumb’s wedding.

With Liam on his head, Nevin turned to the main pathway and started walking while taking in the sights.

The ground below was a network of thick and wide ribbon-vine, so tightly enmeshed that it felt like solid ground – with a slight sway. A new comer would feel “seasick” with this motion but Nevin and his family were used to it quickly.

Up ahead was Betram Village, the largest village of Havpoi. Over three thousand lived here in this tree-top paradise. The twin suns provided almost daily tropical sunshine – but just enough heat where the shade and a light breeze was sufficient to cool down. Few clouds dotted the azure sky and in the distance, Nevin could see the formation of rain clouds. By judging the slightly drooping foliage around him, Nevin judged a good rainfall would be welcome.

The outskirts of the village were where most of the the Havpoi lived. The shell of their domiciles were made of the same ribbon-vine material that comprised the floor. In fact, the builders somehow spliced the thick network of broad vines on the grond to grow on top and over a large rectangular pergola-like scaffold until it rejoined the network on the opposite side. This main space was then divided by wicker walls to create bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom. A family of four could comfortably eat, sleep and bathe in this living structure and was a strong and resilient as the ground itself.

As Nevin and Liam continued to walk, the number of Havpoi walking the streets became more numerous and they all met the two with warm greetings. Though Nevin knew quite a few by name, almost every Havpoi knew of Nevin and his family. They certainly didn’t have celebrity status. But the family certainly looked a little different from the villagers of this world.

The typical Havpoi looked mostly humanoid – two arms, two legs, a head, two eyes, mouth, nose. There were two major differences. First, the Havpoi hands and feet were nearly twice as wide as a human and were slightly longer – for better stability over the unique Havpoi terrain. Second, their hair were made up of thick braids of green vine-like tissue usually worn in braids down both sides or down the back. Since time immemoriam, the Havpoi have had a symbiotic relationship with a semi-sentient plant life form. The Havpoi provide the plant with a safe place to live, while the plant provides necessary nutrients and food energy as a by product of its very unique photosynthesis. Some say the plants increase memory and brain capacity, but Nevin didn’t beleive it was capable of that.

When born, the Havpoi are bald and require quite a bit of nourishment from the mother. After reaching their first birthday, every Havpoi child undergoes a painless cermony where they wear a cap of a special peat-moss material. During this time, the young plant life in the moss binds with the head of the young Havpoi and slowly starts to grow. By the child’s second year, the Havpoi toddlers have small sprouts. By four, a full head of “hair” is grown – the consistency of long grass. As both get older, the vines start to intertwine and grow thicker. You can judge a Havpoi’s age by the length and thickness of his or her Lock. Locks are never cut lest the host suffer from malnurishment – though sometimes the very ends are trimmed for convenience or fashion.

And on special occassions, such as a wedding, one could even coax a female’s Locks to bloom vibrant orange and white flowers – assuming the host is calm and collected. Excess stress leads to the release of hormones toxic to the flower. Good luck with your kind of family, Nevin chuckled inside, thinking of Bokumb’s frantic brother and mother.

“Daddy – we’re there! Treats!” Liam exclaimed as they came upon the smaller outdoor markets and vendor that sold the best willowberry tarts.

“Shamesh! It’s been a while. How are you?” Nevin greeted the vendor behind the stand filled with pastries and fruit.

“Nevin it’s been so long. I was sick the last time you visited. How is your family? I can see Liam is here for the willowberry treats?” Shamesh said as he handed a fresh pastry to Liam’s eager hands.
“Everyone is great, Shamesh. Are the kids ok? Is the medicine that Clara provided helping?”

“Oh yes it is. Their vision is clear now and their balance is much better. They couldn’t swing down the tree line for almost 2 weeks. They can see, but it is just too bright outside.”
“That reminds me,” Nevin took something out of his pocket. “These glasses are for your kids. They are tinted dark to shield them from the suns’ rays. It should be another week before they are completely back to normal.”

“Oh thank you so much Nevin,” said Shamesh as he put one of the sunglasses on himself. He smiled goofy smile at Liam. “How do I look? You know, i kept telling my children that unless they want to keep getting sick, they cannot play outside in the rain whenever-” Shamesh went silent, mouth gaping, staring at the sky.

Nevin, who was busy selecting his treat from baskets looked up. “Whenever what? Shamesh?”

“N..Nevin! The…the sky. I don’t…I’m not sure what that is up there!” Shamesh walked out of his stall and into the street to get a clearer view. “I didn’t notice it before because it is so close to the sun, but I can see it now with your special glasses. What is that? It looks like…an eye!”

Nevin looked up at the bright blue sky and looked toward the sun. He had to shield his eyes with his hands and could barely make out the strange object in the sky. “Shamesh, can i see those glasses?” With aided vision, Nevin had a clearer view.

Above, maybe eight, ten miles in the air was a small dark swiring vortex, like looking down on a tornado. The perimeter of this object was covered with wispy white clouds, and darkened to pitch black closer to the slowly swirling center. it really did resmble an eye – with the dark pupil in the middle surrounded by white. No one else in the busy market seemed to notice until they saw Nevin and Shamesh staring and pointing at this strange phenomenon.

Nevin called for Clara on his wrist communicator. “Clara? You there?” No response, must be busy with the bride. He picked up Liam on his shoulders again and begain walking to their home in Havpoi. “I need to get a better look. Shamesh – i need to head to our canopy and get my eye-piece. I’ll let you know once i find out more”

“Good luck Nevin, I have never seen anything like that in the sky. I does not make me feel comfortable.”

After a short walk, Nevin entered their canopy and put Liam down in front of his toys. Moving to the rear, Nevin picked up his eye-piece from its case and climbed the ladder to the top of his home and extended the eye-pieces stand. This deviced consisted of two flawlessly clear crystals held at an arms length with a brass metal rod. THe collected image was sent to a screen downstairs for further analysis.

NEvin returned to his living room and engaged the screen on the wall, making minute adjustments to the image of the swirling vortex. After viewing it in different wavelengths of the visible and non-visible spectrum, he paused in thought. “What could be causing that formation?”

Nevin walked back to Liam – who was playing a typical Havpoi game where shiny magnetic marbles were spinning around a labyrinth of magnets and holes. He was a little too young for it and kept dropping the marbles down the large hole in the center.

“Daddy! I spin and spin and spin and the balls go down!”

Suddenly, Nevin made a realization. “Wait…A hole? In the atmosphere? My God, could that be possible?” He rushed to the view screen and added additional filters to the image. What he saw shocked him, and he rushed out the door, grabbing his confused son on the way.

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Chapter 1

“There, that should do it.” Nevin Essex stepped back from the wall-sized painting and sighed as he put down his paint brush and palette. He slowly walked across his large but messy Laboratory, sat down in his work chair and stared at his work: a huge and colorful landscape of a beach at night, but with dark purple sand and a blue-green ocean splashing gentle waves on the shore. The water was filled with with thousands of small glowing things that ended up in the sand as well. The glowing things that had been in the sand had grown a large stem with a fan-like flower on top. The beach was covered with these glowing flowers. In the distance, there were two small moons – one blue, the other pink. The light from these two suns cast strange shadows on the scenery below.

Nevin looked around his Lab and found his dog, Rolo, in his usual spot. “Hey Rolo, what do you thi? ?”

The grey weimaraner on the divan raised its head, looked around the Laboratory thinking that Nevin’s question had something to do with a treat, and returned to sleeping with a grunt.

“Well, I wish I had your enthusiasm. Now at least we’re one stop closer to finishing the Shulvi world – hopefully in time for Liam’s birthday.” Nevin glanced at the massive mural to his left depicting a pristine beach with flowering plants, opal sands, and two small suns about to set in a dark purple ocean. He stared at it for a few moments musingly. “I’m not too happy with the color of the water.” He motioned towards the brush and pallette. “Maybe if I -”

“Oh no you don’t, mister.”

Nevin spun around to notice his wife Clara with a pointed expression on her face. “Bokumb’s wedding is in 15 minutes and I can’t have you launch into that project. We’ll be late as always. For once I’d like to not be late. Liam and Layne need to get their coats and masks on.”

Nevin sighed. “But honey I do think the ocean could be a different shade, don’t you think?”
Clara handed him his coat, “Honey, no, we went over this. Changing the ocean’s color requires reworking the algal bloom chemistry, which, I believe, gives you that opal sands that you really wanted. You can’t have everything when it comes to Life.”

“I know, I know don’t remind me. For once, it would be great to create a World that says, ‘To hell with physics and biology,’ and just see what happens.”

Clara laughed, “Right – and that almost killed us the last time when you created the World of Chocolate for Layne’s birthday.”

As if on cue, Layne entered the Lab holding her brother’s hand. “I didn’t like that World at all, Daddy. I won’t be forgetting my ninth birthday any time soon. I think I still have chocolate in my ear and that’s been over three weeks ago!”

“I’m sorry honey – we’ll get it right for your next birthday.” He picked up Liam to put on his mask. “What kind of World would you like for your birthday next month?” The 4-year old boy struggled against the mask. “I don’t wike this mask, daddy.”

“Son, I know – but we need them to breathe. Remember when you took it off last time we visited Bokumb’s village? You started coughing and got a really bad headache. Just stay still and I’ll adjust it. Look, if you wear the mask like a good boy, maybe we’ll get you Shamesh’s famous willowberry treats.”

“Tweats? I wike tweats.” Liam smiled and stood still. Nevin turned the dial on the back of his mask until it shortened the straps around Liam’s head for a snug fit.

The rest of the family did the same and Nevin walked toward the Console to manipulate the various levers and dials of the Nexus. The mural that depicted the beach on Shulvi melted away and in its place was an equally detailed mural of a thick jungle clearing with towering vines casting large shadows on the myriad broad leafed plants. A misty haze permeated the entire scene and large birdlike creatures could be seen perched on a few of the vines.

“Ok, everyone ready? I’m opening the Nexus.” The family moved directly in front of the mural and a small platform raised from the floor and stopped waist-height. Nevin placed his palm in a small recess on the platform. The lights in the Lab dimmed slightly and various lights and dials around the Console began flashing. Nevin heard the familiar low vibrations as the various mechanisms of the Nexus sparked to life. It began exerting appreciable amounts of power to generate the portal to Bokumb’s jungle home, Havpoi.

Liam grimaced. “Laynie, I don’t wike this. Too shakey,” Liam held his big sister’s hand tighter while he complained. “Liam, I told you already. Bokumb’s world is so big that it takes a lot of power to make the Nexus. All the generators need to turn on.” That answer didn’t seem to satisfy the young boy.

Then slowly, as if the mural was dangling off the edge of existence, it began to blur and ripple. In a subltle flash of light, the image was thrown into the third dimension and finally sharpened to crystal clarity. As the Nexus was stabilizing, one could see what lay on the other side: the World of Havpoi, Nevin and Clara’s most cherished and most stable creation. For decades, Nevin and Clara saw this World grow from concept to a mature civilization. Clara gave birth to Layne and Liam there. Their friends, who were close to them like family, lived there. Havpoi was truly their second home.

The lights in the room steadied, and the vibrations ceased. The Nexus – a gateway to another World – was ready, and the family stepped through it.

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