Jim Hawkins awoke with one of the worst headaches he’d ever experienced. His mouth felt like sandpaper and the whole room seemed to be whirling around him. He sat up on the edge of the bed and almost fainted. His stomach lurched and he had to swallow the urge to throw up. He held his head in his hands until the whirling subsided and then he tried opening his eyes. A wall with brightly winking lights greeted him. An overhead light cast a soft glow over the room which by turning his head slowly he could estimate was about twenty by twenty. There were no windows or doors. Wherever he was, it wasn’t on the Annabelle Lee.
He got to his feet and with a hand on the wall he staggered along trying to determine how big his cell was. He grunted as his shin smashed into an obstacle. He looked down and saw a sleeping figure inside a white chest. On looking closer he realized it was the navigator pirate from the trip to Treasure Planet. But wasn’t he dead? He’d seen him burn to death in the inferno as the treasure was destroyed. There were three other cubicles and he thought he recognized the other pirates who’d died in the inferno. He looked closer and saw they were still breathing.
He heard a small chime behind him, whirled, and managed to gasp out. “Is there anyone here?”
In answer a column of light nearly as tall as a person appeared about seven feet in front of him. “Yes.” It flashed as the almost musical word hit his ears.
“What happened to the Annabelle Lee and my crewmates?” He demanded.
“I do not have that information. Sorry.” The light column pulsed.
Jim pointed at the four white boxes. “What are they doing here? I thought they were killed.”
“I will endeavor to answer your questions but first I see you’re thirsty and have other needs.” A luminous portable toilet sprang into existence. “I will return shortly with food and drink.” The light vanished.
Jim was just straightening his uniform when a luminous table with a glass of water and warm food appeared. The light column was also back. “I took the liberty of preparing your favorite meal, a porterhouse with baked potatoes.”
It was all he could do to keep from barfing. “I’m not ready to eat.”
The light flashed. “I took the liberty of placing a mild restorative in the water. Forgive me for not mentioning this. Drink it and you should be fine.”
He cautiously sipped the water, not tasting anything odd. Abruptly his nausea was gone and he was hungry. After he had devoured the dinner, he leaned back in the bed and rested the back of his head against the wall which felt warm to the touch. “All right.” He said. “Who’re you?”
“I have been called the caretaker or the steward. It is my job to see you are prepared.” The musical reply came.
“Do you have a name? I don’t want to keep shouting ‘hey you’ or caretaker.”
“They never gave me a name. It was not considered necessary and no one has ever asked before.”
“You must get some pretty dull people here. Suppose I give you a name. Is that allowed?”
“I am not certain, but there is nothing that forbids it. What name would you give me?”
Jim considered before replying. “You have a very sweet voice. It sounds like a popular singer I heard. Would Diane be all right?”
“I can see a mental picture of her and I would be honored.” The light pulsed back sweetly. It flashed and then coalesced into an image of a young woman in her early twenties with strawberry-blond hair and wearing a white pants suit.
She was so pretty he whistled appreciatively. “Diane it is. Now Diane, if it’s allowed, where am I?”
The young woman frowned and considered before replying. “Room 735, Tower 11 of the City.”
“Diane, can you be a little more informative? What city?”
“It is the City of the Future. It has been the City of the Future for I believe what would be thousands of your years.”
Jim sighed. “What planet is it on?”
She replied. “I know it by a name that I see would be meaningless to you. However, those of your species who visited here before called it Treasure Planet.”
“Treasure Planet? That’s impossible.” Jim got to his feet and faced her. “Treasure Planet was destroyed along with those four pirates over there. I know because I fled the destruction after they were killed.”
“Yet here you are on Treasure Planet once more.” She said with a smile.
Jim shook his head. It was like arguing with jello. “What happened here? Flint set the whole planet to self-destruct. It should’ve exploded.”
“It did. Your escape pleased me because it was so resourceful and you cut it so close.” She clapped her hands in delight. “You are the best player I’ve seen in centuries.” She then made a curtsey. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad you liked it.” He growled.
“Oh I did. I recorded it and placed it in the archives and then I reset this part of the planet for the next game which you are playing in now.”
“This just a game to you?” He asked incredulously.
She frowned and even that she managed to make pretty. “It is all I’ve ever known. It is my purpose to manage the players of the game. Do you realize how lonely it gets when no one comes to play here? You did so well last time that I’m bending the rules and talking to you. It’s also why I gave you this longer break so you could play the game better. You have no idea how very badly hurt you were. Your fellow players who are taking the part of the opposition seemed to take great pleasure in hurting you before they dumped you on the bed to heal. Do you mind if I talk to you in your mind during the game? I will try and not disturb you, really.” She made a small pleading smile.
Jim looked at his hands and rolled up his sleeves. The laser burns he’d received when Flint and his men had burst into the communications room were gone as well as the broken bones and bruises from the kicking and blows to his head which they’d given him for escaping and getting the message off to Silver. Having someone who could heal you on your side had to be a plus even if they wouldn’t give you a lot of privacy “No, I don’t mind, but there’s got to be more to life than just playing a game.”
“And what would that be?” She asked expectantly.
“Enjoying yourself by experiencing beauty or sharing good times with your companions and your family, falling in love, having children; there’s just so many. But to know these things you have to feel. It’s not enough to look like a human but you have to be one and then you might understand and find more purpose in your existence.”
She considered this for a moment. “I’ve never tried that. Can I briefly merge with you so I can experience yours? This will tell me if I want to continue this experience.”
“I don’t know. Will this affect me in any way?”
“Physically, no. As to how you react to me and my comments that will of course affect you. It will be as if I was standing beside you. The experience will be brief and not unpleasant.”
Jim considered for a moment. It would be an advantage in having a being on his side with powers like hers. “Well, yes.” He said and then he wondered what would happen if he got hurt. How would she react then? “I’m not…”
He was interrupted as a door flashed into existence and a menacing shadow appeared in it. Diane vanished and then he heard her deep inside his mind. “The game begins.”
A pair of pinchers grabbed Jim and jerked him off his fleet and high into the air. “So pleased to meet you again, cabin boy.” The creature growled.
“I feel from your reactions that this being scares the heck out of you, but he also amazes you.” Diana said in his mind.
“You can say that again.” Jim replied as he stared in horror at Mister Scroop whom he’d last seen floating to his death.