In the blink of an eye, I’m on a new adventure. Another I’m less than eager to be on.
I’m hopping from bubble to bubble again, going higher than I ever dreamed, Rider by my side. We pass some other platforms, but luckily night bars are more regularly frequented at night. It’s like no one else exists in the entire world, earth or sky, except Rider and I.
At one point I take a jump and surely would have toppled to my death if he didn’t grab my hands to steady me beside him. Suddenly I go from dangling to being caressed. In his arms, my heart carries on a racket, and not just from my near miss.
“You know there’s a better way to sky hop, don’t you?” he asks, hands still on my waist.
“Is that what you call it up here, sky hopping? Isn’t bubble hopping more accurate?” I ask the questions in a rush, not at all caring what the exercise is labeled, only trying to keep his focus off of me since I can’t get mine off of him.
I’m close enough to see the skin around his eyes wrinkle with a smile. “You’re right, stupid term. Glad I’m not the idiot who came up with it.”
I laugh despite myself, for all of a second carefree. Then self-consciousness consumes me again and I push against Rider’s chest just enough to keep my feet on the levitating bubble and my body out of his personal space.
Rider beams down at me behind his draping eyelashes. “Anyway to ‘bubble hop’ you should focus all your thoughts into summoning the nearest bubble. I know it sounds ridiculous, but they’ll respond.”
I don’t argue with him, though it does sound ridiculous. If hopping from bubble to bubble were that easy, why was there ever the unfortunate accident of someone going kersplat in the middle of town. Surely someone risking their life on a jump was already focusing, begging, for that next bubble they so desperately needed to be in leaping range. Still, I do as Rider says with my next leap, willing a bubble near, and though I can’t confirm his claim that the bubble came to me with the thick cloud cover obscuring my vision, I can say that it felt like an easier jump than the last.
My android is still blasting away at whatever it deems a threat, anything and everything in other words. Every now and again a laser beam passes dangerously close to me and Rider and I can’t be sure if my treasure is out to kill me or has horrible aim. Rider never told me how he plans to stop my old android, but I haven’t forgotten the new one I have in my messenger bag, pressing reassuringly against my sweaty back.
The android above us goes from being a dot to a smudge to an oversized blotch. We’re close enough to breath its dirty oil fumes, close enough to get blasted away because my android certainly couldn’t miss us from here.
Instead of waiting for Rider’s plan of action, I snatch my bag from my back, zip it open and pull out Gidget II, named after Gidget I, the one throwing the temper tantrum.
“Another android?” Rider sounds surprised.
“Yeah,” I say, “’Cause obviously I’m not going to go up there and get in Gidget’s face myself.”
“That’s Gidget?” Rider asks, pointing at my antique of an android, zigging and zagging for all she’s worth.
“That’s right. And this,” I hold up my homemade android, “is Gidget II.”
“Now who’s unoriginal with names?” Rider mumbles, not worried about my hearing him.
My answer to him is the flick of my wrist, the toss of Gidget II into the air. She unfolds from ball form into her full self, armored torso and two dangling arms under the bump of her head. Her only resemblance to Gidget I is that she too is a Cyclops with her one eye. Her outer layer is gold as compared to Gidget I’s silver and her eye has the glow that Gidget I’s used to carry, a crystalline blue so like Rider’s about thirty minutes ago at the black soap bar.
I look to Rider now. With a shiver, I see that his eyes have now gone all scum green, whites and irises alike.
Gidget I and II are engaged in combat, Gidget II holding the ballistic robot at bay while it wheels chainsaws in place of its arms, a feature I didn’t even knew she had. Sparks are flying from the two, but they work as fireworks against my vision, highlighting Rider whom I’m no longer able to break contact with. He raises his right hand, eyes still alien, and a line of bubbles forms in the sky, all of them heeding his silent command.
“Whaa—” I say, unable to form the first word in a question. I don’t expect a reply anyhow; don’t believe that someone who looks as possessed as Rider does right now has the mind to comply the standards of un-awkward conversation.
I don’t expect words or logic. But I get them.
“It’s like I told you,” Rider says, green unblinking eyes on the line of bubbles. “Focus and the bubbles will listen.”
Now that one question is answered, I find I can in fact ask others. “B-but how are you doing this? How did you know you could do this?”
“I’d have to be quite the schmuck not to know how to operate my own inventions.”
“You made the bubble levitation devices? You! But . . . But they’ve been around for ages. You can’t have! You’re too young!” I hear the squealing of metal on metal against my voice, but don’t pay the dueling robots any mind, importance in the inanimate objects forgotten as a consequence of shock.
“What makes you think that I age like you?” Rider asked, not hostile but with icy calm.
I’m thankful he doesn’t tell me his age, I don’t want to know. Words stop passing between us as he walks up a stairway of his own creation, his right hand still outstretched though I don’t know why. I can’t see anything more he could be doing.
Until I notice the clouds.
Above Rider’s head, the white balls of cotton fluff are growing angry, changing to a hissy-fit black and a shape like fangs threaded into a necklace, a perfect circle of blackness spinning and thickening with increased speed.
I first believe that the clouds are out for Rider, that he is beseeching them to attack himself for some reason. But, no, the cloud ringlet is descending slowly, while still spinning rapidly, right over the androids.
A scream dies in my throat before it is even generated; instead it comes out a pup whimper.
The ring of clouds is shrinking as it falls, aiming right at Gidget I, Gidget II out of its line of fire. Rider, who has been walking steadily while the elements worked for him, is in on the action now, no more than two or three bubbles separating him from the androids.
Gidget I is enveloped in the thick haze of cloud hate, for some reason unable to blaze free. It’s as if the clouds have hardened around her. Gidget II has backed away from the black ball holding her rival and, like Rider and me, waits.
There is nothing like waiting when you don’t know you’re waiting for. You wind up battling your brain, wondering if you’re looking at a wait equal to peregrine falcon dive speed or the time it takes paint to dry.
Turns out our wait was somewhere in between.
Black clouds vanish from the sky as if they were never there. Gidget I remains in midair, rustic brown exterior, eye lens a darkened void. A second later, she falls, into Rider’s arms.
Rider turns and takes his sweet time coming down, a guy dressed like a groom strolling like a bride down the aisle. The image sticks and I have to control an inappropriate giggle. But, I mean, he even has the shy smile and the dead android functioning as his bouquet.
Gidget II follows behind him, slowly – his bridesmaid trailing behind him.
When they are all with me, Gidget II reduces in size and meets my outstretched palm, my self-defense reduced to the volume of a tangerine. Rider hands me Gidget I.
“I don’t know what happened,” I start. “Not in the slightest. But I don’t even want to know.”
“Good,” Rider responds. “Because I’m not telling. Way too long a story with way too complex a jargon. We’d be here till the earth tucked in the sun. And we both know what night means.”
“What?” I ask, truly oblivious.
He grins. “Your arrest, Illegal.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
Rider turns to face me, his pub behind him. “Maybe.”
“That’s not a good answer. Yes or no?”
“If there’s one thing you should have learned from all this, it’s that sometimes answers aren’t apparent. We don’t know why your skyward android went haywire.” He points to Gidget I cradled in my arms. “And I don’t know why you were here to begin with, and I’m not asking.”
“A dare, made by my brothers,” I answer regardless. “And to get this.” I lift Gidget up a bit. “My brothers sent her up here, always trying to burst my bubble.”
“You kidding, your bubble’s un-burst-able,” Rider jokes. He takes a moment to stare at his feet, comfy-cozy in shiny shoes. He looks up with starry eyes; blue-violet, shifted like the season. More seriously he says, “So you succeeded in doing two things you sought out to do, and then one more.”
“You met the person who changed your world.” Rider stretches his arms to indicate the great expanse around him with bubbles on the breeze. “In more ways than one.”
I don’t ask what he means. Instead I lean in to him and kiss him smack on the lips.
The moment lasts for infinity and a millisecond. Once it’s over I’m confused as to whether I’ve already forgotten the sensation or will recall it for a lifetime. I pull away holding my lips like I can keep the kiss there. I take hold of one more of Rider’s smiles and turn away to make a running leap.
The bubble that makes my stop takes me as if I beckoned it, but I know it wasn’t me that did it.
I feel a bit guilty, but there was no way I could say goodbye to Rider, not when I had the hope of returning to him again in two years. I hold Gidget tighter to my chest. I had back my memento of good times with my mother. And I had a memento of the good time I had in the sky. More importantly, I had a story to tell. One I couldn’t tell without giving away my unlawful venture, no less, but a story all the same.
Too late I remember that I am one short a beer for my brothers. I guess I’m just going to have to leave them disappointed. I smile. Not such a bad way to leave them, at the end of the day.
Rider was right. Thanks to him, my bubble is un-burst-able.