Chapter 3

2017
Polaris, New York

I didn’t know what to do other than sigh and breathe heavily. All I’d done filled my lungs, drowning me, and all that had been done to me weighted down on my chest, crushing me. My fingers curled, clenching nothing but air and the keys Sam had given me. I had no family. I had no friends. I had no redeemable past. I had nothing but Sam’s attempt at forgiveness and self-repair.

But I also had a bed and a place to store my stolen bag and clothes. I had a few electronics, technology I recognized when I’d first visited this planet. One lone, flat television screen. A primitive computing tablet. A sleek mobile phone.

Although large, the apartment lacked some of the luxuries I expected. There were no properly enclosed rooms aside from a massive closet and a place to shower and clear the bowels, which these Gaians oddly kept in the same room. Two stools accompanied the island counter that framed the narrow kitchen. A dining table sat below a simple hanging light fixture, boxy but oddly beautiful. A sofa faced the television. Two pointless steps led up to a stage with a naked bed framed on all sides by an equally naked floor. Packaged bedclothes lay on the mattress.

Could I conceivably achieve redemption in this place? For all the contempt Sam and I held for each other these days, I had to admit that using a furnished apartment instead of a city sidewalk as a home would make things easier. But cleansing oneself of sin should not be easy. Did I want to return to the chill of an uncovered night? Would it be more harmful to Sam’s own journey if I were selfish enough to take my piece of it away from him?

I made use of the primitive tablet right away and studied what I could about this planet and what had changed since I’d last stepped foot upon it. It didn’t take long to learn how to use the device. I’d watched Gaians use them before and understood how their creators had set up their basic interfaces. Still, I found a startling amount of misinformation abound on the Gaian information network, a place I had not ventured to during my last visit here because my former companions had done that for me.

I did discover how to use my washing machine and clothes dryer. I got to work on the bedclothes first, and when I pulled them out of their plastic sheaths, they smelled like the filthy factories they had likely come from. I happily stuffed those smelly bedclothes into the washing machine, following the instructions on the package.

I sat back down with the tablet and stared at the page for the search engine. What did the Gaian people know about me? I typed in the romanization of my name and paled. Before I could even complete the search command, the page suggested a list of topics:

  • solin sweetener
  • solin fellwing conspiracy
  • solin fellwing crazy alien
  • how do you spell solin fellwing or felwing
  • solin felwing united nations
  • where can i buy solin sugar artificial sweetener
  • solin fellwing videos
  • solin nyc UN
  • solin felwing magician
  • is solin felwing a terrorist
  • is solin fellwing really magic
  • solin fellwing debunked
  • solin felwing con artist magician
  • solin fellwing 2012 fire
  • who shot solin fellwing

I deleted my name from the search and replaced it with “dragon.” The suggested searches were no less worrisome:

  • dragon
  • how to cut dragon fruit
  • dragonball z
  • dragon ball z watch
  • dragon sighting philadelphia
  • dragon in philly 2012
  • dragon age
  • dragon conspiracy
  • dragon age fanfic
  • dragon philly explosions 2012
  • is the dragon in philly connected to solin fellwing
  • philadelphia UFO or dragon video
  • philadelphia dragon lizard people
  • how to draw dragons
  • dragon con 2017 tickets

Despite the hollow pit in my stomach, I selected one of those worrisome suggestions and found hundreds of results: some in languages I understood and others in those I did not. Some pages speculated about my existence in long pieces of writing. Some hosted pictures of me, or rather, one pixelated photo of me and dozens of people who looked like me. Messy videos had proliferated on one site in particular, many with thousands of views, with one damning but misleading video breaking the million mark. One video showed a large, dragon-like mass crossing the night sky in Philadelphia. Wrong date. A video of me sitting amongst delegates in New York City, awaiting my turn to speak. Right date. Actually me.

Dizzy, I closed the search engine and set the tablet down. To regain my appetite, I searched the kitchen cupboards to take stock of what I now owned. Sam had not put anything but milk in my refrigeration unit and a loaf of pre-sliced bread with ingredients listed that I had never heard of before. I poured a glass of milk and found myself immediately disappointed in its bland taste and mucous texture. I’d never enjoyed milk from any animal without honey added. I reluctantly ate a slice of the soft bread.

I didn’t know what I was in for, but I didn’t care either. My stomach hungered for food, but what food I’d stolen had been mostly a mix of greasy meats stashed between flat breads and looked nothing like what I knew from Cydrithenna. I’d seen Gaians eat that before. Those under my brief command had partaken in such strange meals, but I had not. I had only eaten what I knew was pure and similar to Cydrithennan dishes. It’s not that these delicacies were beneath me. No. I’d feared them. I’d feared how they’d make me feel. I’d feared what poison could be within them. I did not want to know if I could be taken down with but a taste of soy lecithin and a sprinkling of monosodium glutamate.

The information network had very extreme things to say about monosodium glutamate.

The bread neither broke nor met my expectations. According to the tablet, the bread consisted of enough preservatives to mummify one’s body overnight. I doubted the science, but not my taste buds. I discovered a place to purchase healthier, tastier food nearby.

When I was younger and still considered Drakon royalty on Cydrithenna, I hadn’t been permitted to go to the market without an escort. My father feared an interloper from another faction stealing me away, and not so much because I was a prince, but because I was his and his alone.

Yet I stole myself away, nonetheless, cloaked in various disguises of my own magickal devising using illusory magick. Some disguises were better than the others since I often used this time to experiment with new techniques. Had I studied the bounce of flat hair properly? Could I hold that illusion whilst also maintaining the illusion of a cloak?

Over time, what had once taken great focus became as natural as breathing. Long before this exile began, I had deftly woven complex illusions, both personal and environmental, with little effort. None had my reputation for illusory magick, which informed my father’s decision greatly, no doubt. If I could mimic the shape, the gait, the sound, the scent of another, whom couldn’t I depose?

Now stranded on Gaia and unable to sail away on my own accord, I became that young Drakon boy again, experimenting with ways to exist undetected. What if I slipped and called this planet by my people’s name for it? What if I did something else to identify myself as an alien? I had to rely on one of the Gaian people’s flaws. I’d noticed many during my other visits to this planet and my first few days without Sam’s gifted shelter, but one stood out: Gaians do not pay attention if they don’t need to. A malfunction of a survival mechanism, perhaps. If something is not important to a goal, why should the brain bother?

Given how prone Gaians were to distraction, the sunglasses, I figured, would suffice in lieu of magick.

The city’s lights turned on as I walked toward the market, making those sunglasses oddly out of place on my eyes. My brainpower hadn’t suffered from the curse placed upon me, but my body had. Last night, I’d slept outdoors. A frosty breeze threatened tonight’s warmth, and the damp air made my bones ache. Sam’s gift would be put to good use tonight. I hurried along the route I’d memorized and found my market.

I stood stunned at the entrance; the extravagance of this large grocery store challenged my sense of a market. Drakons have wealth, and Drakons have technology, but we still cling to many of the old ways of life partly because we believe it honors our Dragon ancestors. I do not know what takes up so much of the Gaian people’s time, what drives them to such vapid consumerism that they need establishments like this, but I must say, their stores are ingenious.

What little knowledge I had of Gaian cuisine came from the tablet. I found produce also found in Cydrithenna. Perhaps the Last Dragons had allowed the ancient Gaians to bring seeds with them, or the plants were smuggled over. I picked out what I could, but after fifteen minutes of this, it became obvious to me I hadn’t come to the market with a plan. I just wanted bread without all those unknown ingredients and something to go with it. Nothing in the basket that weighed heavily on my weak Gaian arm seemed to create a cohesive meal. I needed to learn how to cook.

I made my way around the store, hoping to avoid recognition. Some did stare at me, but I figured the sunglasses had a lot to do with that. I eventually let the glasses rest atop my head, which helped to keep my long hair out of my eyes, but I found myself more paranoid than ever. Surveillance devices were everywhere. Here, I did not fear the Drakons; here, I feared the Gaians that had once hunted me. The Shadowfall Alliance would be delighted to know of my whereabouts.

I froze in front of the milk coolers, stopped by the profile of a broad-shouldered man with a stern look and an even more stern haircut. Captain Lufan? He examined the milk with the same suspicion he’d held for me before my first arrest. Any sudden movement by me could alert him to my presence. Was he here to make sure I abided by my exile?

“Honey?” he called out, turning my way. My hand clenched around the handle of my basket. “They’re out of two-percent.”

Behind me, a voice responded. “Whole milk’s fine.”

I turned. The short, stocky woman reached into the cooler for a carton of eggs. She brought them back to a shopping cart near the Lufan lookalike. He turned with a gallon of red-labeled milk in hand and smiled at her before noticing my expression.

“You looking for the two-percent too, huh?”

“Oh, no. Well, yes,” I said, stammering more than I ever have in all my centuries of my existence. “Not anymore, though. I’ll have to come back another time.” Inwardly I chastised myself; did lying about a love of milk really protect me? It was about as good as these useless sunglasses on my head.

I headed to the front of the store where I unloaded my food-burdened basket onto a conveyor belt. The basket’s tiny handles left a mark in my palm. I waited in line, massaging out the mark while I observed the nature of transactions in this place until I had to pay.

The cashier smiled at me and complimented me on some of my food choices. The tag on her collared shirt read Marilyn, and random tattoos covered her exposed brown arms.

“Making a salad?”

“Yes,” I replied without understanding her question. In time I knew I would. In Cydrithenna we have salads, but they are nothing like what the Gaian people eat. I didn’t see any semblance of a Cydrithennan salad on the conveyor belt.

“I love a good salad. My sister says I’ll turn into a rabbit.” She let out a little laugh at what must have been her sister’s joke.

I didn’t find her sister’s humor amusing, but I adapted and played along. “I’m sure that won’t happen.”

She smiled and laughed, and I found myself smiling back. Conversing with Gaians would get easier soon. One cannot be a deceiver and not understand the most basic part of deception.

She gave me my total, and I handed her the credit card that Sam had given me. She showed me how to access the funds myself, but just before I went to swipe the card, she stopped me.

“I almost forgot. I’m supposed to ask if you want to donate a dollar to end child hunger.”

How peculiar. The marketplace, her employer, clearly had more than enough food to help end child hunger in this neighborhood, yet asked its customers to do this job for them. I pondered how something as disgusting as child hunger still existed in a society at this stage of advancement. Gaians became even more primitive to me. Surely, they didn’t need dragon blood in their veins to understand poverty.

“Yes, I would,” I said, validating the market’s idea of charity while also redeeming myself. My account, according to Sam, could afford it. “I’d like to donate more, actually.”

“Okay,” she said. “One, five, or ten?”

“Dollars?”

She gave me a quizzical look. “Yes.”

I had knowledge on Gaian currency, and these denominations were too small to end child hunger. Still, I may as well have announced my alienness to her right there. I chose the largest number, and she asked me to write my name on a thick piece of paper shaped like an apple. “Solin” wouldn’t work. Even if I wrote it in Drakon, someone might recognize it. I’m sure my father counted on that. I’m sure he wanted our Gaian cousins to do his dirty work for him.

“You can just write your nickname if your full name won’t fit.”

The credit card. Of course. She had seen my alias on the card. I wrote down “Jon” in English and handed her the apple. She set it aside as I paid for my groceries and then bid me farewell. I slid the sunglasses back onto my face, and then I bundled the bags into my arms and headed for the exit. I stopped at a curious mess of postings on a bulletin board that I’d failed to see when I’d arrived.

Small cards and torn scraps of phone numbers and lost animal photos papered the board. Psychics sought to help me get in touch with deceased relatives. A cleaning service could come to my apartment weekly for a small fee. I could join a band if I knew how to play the drums and “didn’t want drama.” The postings were unlike those I found with the tablet. The curl of the papers, the blend of the handwritten and typed text, the messages deemed too important to cover, and the gall of those who’d claimed additional space.

A somewhat disorderly bulletin board. A flyer with line-drawings of two people high-fiving, a soup can, and a soup pot with ladle sticks out from the center of the chaos. The flyer reads: Help your community. Volunteers wanted. Food kitchen at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Call Victoria at." The phone number is covered with a piece of tape from another flyer.

Help your community. The text peered out from beneath a flyer for a sidewalk sale and another for a local school’s fundraiser. The paper had been pierced several times by pushpins, and a piece of tape had faded the top of H in “Help.”

I tilted my head and checked my surroundings. No one cared that I was staring at this board. I set down my bags and attempted to pry the buried flyer free. The flyer for the sidewalk sale slipped. I reached out with my magick to catch it. Nothing. My telekinesis, as precious to me as illusory magick, had been locked behind the curse as well, and habit kept outdoing memory. The paper slid to the end of Marilyn’s station. Her current customer looked up at me, looked at the paper, then back at me before picking the posting up.

“You dropped this.”

I took the wayward flyer. “Thanks.”

The customer nodded and returned to their purchase.

My heart pounded. I should have just taken over the microphone at Marilyn’s station and announced to the store that I come from the planet Cydrithenna and am a half-Gaian, half-dragon alien with none of the good parts of either.

Without making a fool of myself again, I pried the flyer I wanted free and tacked the rogue flyer back in place.

“Have a good one,” said the customer who’d helped me as they exited.

“You too.”

My eyes caught the wall of paper apples. Jenny. Michael and Steve. The Merry Millers. And now, with Marilyn free of customers and thus able to display the latest donor’s apple, Jon.

I read the flyer in my hand. Help your community. I folded it in half and stuffed it into a bag before heading back to the apartment I temporarily called home.


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