Chapter 5: The Grand Tour
Anxious to see what else the bazaar could offer me, I followed Trezzlepeg at a brisk pace. We passed by a handful of shelves filled with strange relics until we reached a sign that announced a new section: Essences.
Trezzlepeg withdrew a small set of panpipes and blew a short series of notes. The door to the area swung open and he led me inside. No shelves graced this area of the shop. Instead, large tanks full of colored gases, stuck up in rows across the whole room.
An elastic rubber tube, led from each transparent tank, and a small plaque was affixed to the bottom of each. I was unable to decipher the writing on the plaques, but was content to watch and learn.
Abruptly, Trezzlepeg swiveled about and stretched out his hand. His palm contained a small metal sphere a little larger than a pea. “Take this, and put it in your ear.”
I wasn’t convinced I could trust him, but I obeyed. I didn’t notice anything different.
“What’s supposed to happen?” I asked, a little frustration creeping into my voice, “do I have x-ray vision, or fire breath? Immunity to earwax?”
“Nothing so cliché,” he replied with a chuckle. “That tiny device is one of my best universal translators. It allows you to comprehend any known language. It has implanted itself in your brain and will be there for the rest of your life. Take a look at the labels and you’ll see what I mean.”
Brimming with anticipation, I glanced down at the metal labels. Incredibly, the symbols had warped to form English characters that I could understand. Each tank was labeled with the name of an emotion:
Love, hate, envy, fear, sorrow, joy, anxiety, peace, anger…
The list went on and on. Apart from the different names, each tank’s tumultuous contents were a different, vibrant color. Each tank let off an intense glow that cast strange fragments of color around the room, like light passing through a stained glass window. The colors included everything from warm, yellows, reds, and oranges, to cool blues, greens and even dull blacks and grays.
My blue guide placed his hand on the tank nearest to him that read “fear”. The ebony contents swirled and tumbled wildly. Trezzlepeg then grinned and explained, “These tanks contain the oil that greases the gears of my bazaar.” He gestured in a wide sweeping motion as if to flaunt the vastness of his collection. “Each colored tank contains a different emotional ‘essence’. All living things release these essences. However, they are normally invisible and undetectable to the unaided senses. Any living thing exposed to certain doses of any of these essences begins to experience that emotion.”
Trezzlepeg sensed my confusion and tried to clarify, “For instance, how do you think a wild animal senses that his prey is afraid of him? This is because the predator’s senses recognize the essence of fear emitted from his prey. Do you know why yawns seem to be contagious? They are. When a person yawns, he releases the essence of fatigue, which spreads to the people around him. With the proper technology, these essences can be collected, stored, and then put to practical use.
What practical use? Love potions? Laughing gas? .
“What kind of practical uses?”
Trezzlepeg grinned broadly, exposing rows of his slightly yellowed teeth, “The stuff of dreams, my friend. Almost anything you can imagine. Just think, if a person could create a weapon with fear as the ammunition and then use it to demoralize your opponents before you ever launch an attack? What if you could create a pill with the power to make a person happy, or courageous, or even jealous? Entire governments have been built and entire wars fought solely with the power of emotions. Essence warfare has almost replaced chemical and biological warfare on some planets.”
Trezzlepeg seemed pleased that he had me so enthralled, and he leaned in closer. “This stuff comes at a very high price. It’s hard to come by certain ones, and their shelf lives vary. Love kept unshared dwindles with time, while pent up anger and fear grows more potent. Time also softens the feelings of anxiety, pain, sorrow.”
Trezzlepeg closed his eyes and shook his head, “Emotions are volatile things. They are always changing and being replaced by new ones. Waxing and waning from moment to moment, as unpredictable as moonlight on water. I must constantly replace my stock to meet demand.”
Once again, I gathered up the courage to venture a question. “How do you manage to collect this stuff if it’s so hard to detect? You have some sort of device?”
“I was hoping you’d ask.” He indicated a table with a thin, shimmering piece of fabric laid out on it.
“Impressive, TP, very impressive…”
The rotund creature furrowed his brow, “TP? Is that supposed to stand for my name?”
My cheeks darkened a few shades, “Yeah, sorry. I’m used to giving people nicknames. Most of my friends call me Face.”
Trezzlepeg’s pudgy features softened and he sighed, “I suppose you can call me that. Trezzlepeg is a mouthful, but on one condition: I get to call you Face, or any other nickname that springs to mind.”
Trezzlepeg raised his arms like a circus ringleader. “This lab was built to study the essences and how they react to each other. Through study, we’ve found that by mixing different essences, we can come up with useful “cocktails” that further enhance their effectiveness. Certain essences compliment each other’s effects such as hate and fear, while other opposites, such as courage and cowardice, cancel each other out. Very useful to know if you’re fighting a war with this stuff. And why not? There’s a nearly endless supply. The trick is getting what you want when you want. If someone-“
I cut him off in mid sentence, “You still haven’t told me how you collect this stuff.”
His face crinkled and his eyes went blank for a moment. “So sorry. I get carried away so easily.”
He reached down and grasped the edge of the material between his pudgy fingers. The fabric could better be described as a membrane of some sort. It reminded me of skin tissue from skin grafts that I had seen on TV, with its elaborate, system of minute tubes, reminiscent of blood vessels. Mild waves of heat radiated from the material and I could see liquid coursing through the tubes.
Trezzlepeg hovered back to my side, “Do you like it?” he whispered, “I admit, it’s strange looking. It’s a synthetic membrane that we produce here in the lab. It’s a complicated process, but to keep this short, it has the power to absorb essences. It’s extremely pliable, and can be folded easily to increase surface area. The membrane collects the essence which can then be extracted in extreme heat. We usually attach it to the inner lining of clothes so that it is as unobtrusive as possible. Even now, my robe is lined with the stuff.”
I winced, “You mean, you are collecting my essences?”
“Yes. I have a small regulator on my wrist to tell me what sorts I’ve collected and how much more the material can contain. I empty it when business is slow.” He glanced down quickly at his wrist and shook his head, “You certainly are uptight tonight.”
“Doesn’t that stuff feel strange against your skin?” I wondered.
“Not at all,” he replied, “the stuff you see on the table is a preliminary stage. You can treat the material with chemicals to feel like almost anything at all. Though, you can always tell what fabric it’s in because the stuff glows in the dark.”
I wish I had had a little vial of sunshine after my mom died. We all could have used that.
I studied the features of the material for a few more minutes, hopelessly lost in thought. Trezzlepeg rapped the table with his hand, “Time to go my human friend. We still have a few things yet to explore. You can come back later if you want.”
Satisfied, I arose and followed Trezzlepeg. With a little ditty from the panpipes, the door swung open. We exited and made our away back through the maze of tanks and back into the main corridor.
We walked in silence and Trezzlepeg carried a bright torch, which burned blue in the darkness and cut a path through the dim corridors. I paused every few shelves to gawk at some of the other customers I saw meandering down the cluttered aisles. Most of them appeared humanoid, but almost all had some odd traits. Some boasted tails; others were covered in excessive fur or scales. Many flaunted natural skin and hair color exotic even by 21st century standards. As I passed through one aisle, I almost stepped on an entire bunch of tiny bald men who all had a single elongated eyebrow. I was tempted to stop them and ask, “Is your name Dopey? Or perhaps Sleepy or Happy?”
However, one look at their stern faces, and I’m sure they should have all been named Grumpy. I quickly jumped aside and watched their parade pass by, before catching up with my tour guide.
The two of us continued back down the corridor from whence we came, but halfway through our trek back, Trezzlepeg abruptly reached into the pitch-blackness and revealed a shortcut to the library. He led me in and motioned for me to take a seat in one of the comfortable-looking stuffed armchairs that dotted the room.
The shelves were back, but this time, they were chock full of hardbound books of all shapes and sizes. In the middle of the room sat a gigantic globe picturing a world that I didn’t recognize. The configuration of the entire room seemed centered around the globe, because the majority of the armchairs formed a wide ring around it. I took my seat in the nearest intricately patterned arm chair, and gazed about to see if I could locate a title I could recognize. No such luck.
Trezzlepeg fluttered to the center of the room right next to the globe and commenced speaking still accompanied by his exaggerated gestures, “Welcome to my intergalactic library. After I’m done explaining a few things, feel free to look around.”
I nodded contently and he continued, “You may have held the idea that a library is only a place for books. My library contains millions of volumes: the greatest works of authors and playwrights from countless planets. Have a look. I think this one is from your planet,”
He grabbed a thick, green hardback from the shelf and tossed it in my direction. An end table ejected from the floor in front of me and caught the book on its surface. I brushed the dust from the cover and read the title etched on the surface, “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy.
Trezzlepeg wasted no time. “However, a civilization’s writings are not the only thing worth saving. In order to fully paint an accurate picture of a culture, one requires records of their music, their art, and even their very thoughts. Of course, a two-dimensional book allows a very flat and limited way of getting inside the author’s head, but what if we could take it one step further? I can, and maybe it could be better explained if I just show you.”
The blue creature took off down the shelves, and returned a few seconds later with another volume, which he also tossed in front of me. “Go ahead. Look inside. I think you should also be familiar with this work.”
Again, I brushed the thick coating of dust from the cover and read the inscription: “Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address”
Strange, the address was only a few minutes long. Why so many pages?
With great anticipation, I carefully lifted the cover to reveal the contents. To my surprise, that did not include pages and writing. The interior of the book swam with patches of luminescent color moving in and out and on top of each other, but never exceeding the boundaries of the book. A garbled noise, like a sound of too many people taking at once in a crowded room, sprang from the book. With trembling hands, I reached into the depths of the colorful vortex until I could feel myself being drawn in.. The colors expanded rapidly to fill my field of vision and the sound intensified until I was completely swallowed.
The next thing I knew, I stood in a crowd among many people all dressed in their Sunday best. All the women were clothed in long old-fashioned dresses and many of the men had donned suits, vests and hats. Sprinkled in with the crowd, I noticed men dressed in military uniform from two different factions. Some of them wore blue and the others gray. A widespread feeling of reverence attended the scene and no one spoke in full voice. In the front of the crowd, an important looking man with jet-black hair and a stovepipe top hat walked up to a podium and the crowd went silent. The speaker removed his hat, and then reverently began to speak, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers…”
My heart pounded in my chest. Is this what I think it is? How is this possible?
I looked down at my feet, and realized that my pajamas had been replaced with an old style suit, dress shirt, and bow tie.
What is going on? How am I here?
The man at the podium, who I recognized as the 16th President United States’, continued speaking for only a few minutes, before he closed his address. In accordance to the solemn nature of the occasion, no one applauded.
I gazed intently at the face of the man who I’d only seen gracing the front of the five-dollar bill. Relentlessly, I fought my way through the crowd until I could see into his eyes, but as my eyes finally locked into mine, I felt myself being pulled upwards and back out the book from whence I came. The colors of the scene blurred into blackness, and suddenly I found myself back in the library clutching the sides of the armchair for dear life.
“What was that?” I demanded breathlessly. Trezzlepeg’s eyes widened, “That, was a memory. A memory of a man who witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on earth many years ago. I tried to pick something that you would recognize.”
“You mean, you can record people’s thoughts in books?”
“Yes Face, I can. The brain works very well at creating an accurate picture of a person’s life, which it buries deep in the subconscious. I’ve recorded entire lifetimes within the pages of these Books of Remembrance. With these special books, I can record any thought or memory from a living brain and store it away for later viewing. If a picture is worth a thousand words, as people on Earth say, then this book is worth millions.”
Makes journal writing with pen and paper seem quite a waste of time.
Trezzlepeg produced a brand new book without a title from under one of the armchairs and held it open in my direction. “Since you have been such an attentive guest, would you like to try one of your own? I’ll you have to do is press your hand against a page and your brain will do the rest.”
Once again, he gently offered the book to me. I took it, still a bit confused how it worked, “What will the book record? Anything that I want it to, or is it just random stuff?”
“That white book has enough space to record one day in your life,” Trezzlepeg explained, “others can record weeks, months, years, and some don’t even record days. They are designed to record music, art, or entertainment. Simply think of the events of that day you want recorded, and the brain will take it away in moments.”
So, which day do I want to keep forever?
It didn’t take me long to decide. Mentally, I pictured my wife’s face staring at me across the altar as the priest read us our vows. I placed my hand on the blank pages and let my thoughts slip away.
Gradually, my brain did take over, and the events of that wonderful day unfolded in front of my eyes. I saw myself leap out of bed after a long nervous night of thinking and wondering. I saw my mother and Christine’s mother bustling about the house making last minute preparations. I saw myself suit up in my tuxedo and then link arms with my sweetheart to walk her down the aisle. I watched the reception afterwards; where my Uncle Robert initiated a wedding cake fight, much to my mother’s dismay, and finally I watched Christine and I dance all alone in the middle of the dance floor.
The day closed with me snuggled next to her, a broad smile across my face. I watched my own eyes close, and as they did, I found that my consciousness had returned to the library. I collapsed back into the armchair, letting the thick stuffing take me in. The memories filled me with a warmth that lingered like the tingle after a bubble bath.
“I’m guessing you liked that?” Trezzlepeg smirked.
I nodded, and released a contented sigh, my mind still high off the experience. “Very much, TP. I could live that day a million times and still enjoy it.”
He grinned back warmly, “Glad to hear it. I’ll let you keep that one as a new customer incentive, but don’t get used to handouts.”
I don’t care. This is about all I need. I’ll have to show it to Christine.
“TP, I was just wondering. Is there any way when I’m in these books that I could change what happened? You know, use one of your gadgets to make things turn out differently?”
Trezzlepeg frowned, causing deep creases to appear in his forehead. He remained silent for almost an entire minute, “Changing the past is a very powerful thing, Face. Are you sure that’s something you want to toy with? The materials required to undertake such a task are expensive, and it’s very hard to reverse any unwanted effects you cause.”
“I don’t care what the cost is! Anything would be better than living with the guilt that I have been living with for the past ten years. I am responsible for my brother’s death. I challenged him to race and pushed him beyond his limits. It’s like I pushed his bike off that cliff myself!”
Trezzlepeg hovered over to my side and placed a hand on my arm. He spoke softly, “I’m sorry, Face. If there is one thing I’ve learned through my dealings here, it’s that at some time or another, we all lose something very precious. Sometimes it’s a prize possession, sometimes it’s a person we love. Myself, I don’t have any kinsman remaining. My race died out a long time ago and I remain to carry on my race’s merchant tradition. This sadness is why you have come to me, but before you make your decision, I want to show you one last section of my library.”
I just know he’s going to say, “Sign on the dotted line” soon.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, “as long as it’s our last stop.”
Trezzlepeg had already started sauntering down the hall and he called back to me, “Come along. It’s nothing too terrifying.”
He led me through the back corridors of the library until we entered a new section filled with blue bound books. As I observed them, I realized that most contained titles like textbooks from my high school/college years while some seemed completely foreign: Organic Chemistry, Differential Calculus, Galactic History and Law…
“This kinda looks like a school, TP. I thought you said it wouldn’t be scary.”
My guide shook his head, “No, but you are going to learn a lesson. The books you saw in the other room were record books. They presented the facts are they were recorded and let you draw your own conclusions. These however, contain a much more efficient style of learning. These books give back. Whatever knowledge and experience has been recorded in these books, can be transferred into your mind with the touch of the hand.”
I nodded and he continued, “Have you ever wanted to learn calculus and never could quite bring yourself to sit down and plough trough it?”
Again, I nodded, “I guess I only got up to Trigonometry in high school, and I didn’t take much math in college.”
“Then,” Trezzlepeg announced, “come take the ultimate shortcut.”
He flipped open the book and revealed an interior spinning around with numbers and formulas in constant motion, as if they had never been fastened to the page. I brought my hand down on the page, and immediately, my brain surged with information. It was as if a tiny architect was rummaging around renovating my gray matter, tearing down old rooms, repairing the ones that were already there, and constructing new ones. I leapt from my chair, “I know calculus!”
Trezzlepeg beamed, “Yes, you do. I’m sure it is an exhilarating feeling. However, at the moment, there is something of greater importance that you must learn.”
Trezzlepeg browsed the nearest shelves quickly and then selected another blue volume ornamented with fancy, golden trim. Bold, embossed lettering leapt out from the cover.
Time Travel: What to Know Before You Go
“I’ve already made up my mind, TP. Nothing you say, or anything contained in that book could possibly change my mind. I’m mean, what could be worse than living with the shame of bringing down my family? It wasn’t just my brother who suffered. My mom lost her fight with cancer not long after Fred died. The downward spiral didn’t start until after the accident.”
Trezzlepeg hung his head, “You have no idea, my friend. You must at least read this book. Do it as a favor to yourself, alright?”
With slightly offended pride, I slipped the book out of his hands and opened it. The pages glowed in strange random patterns like static from a television screen. Wanting to get this over with, I jammed my hand onto the surface and again felt the tingling sensation invade my head.
However, this time the feeling did not produce the exhilarating rush of discovery, but instead assaulted my brain with frightfully disturbing thoughts and images. Thousands of shocking stories about time travelers, whose alterations of time had ruined their lives, families or even the course of entire nations. I realized that the shop that I stood in now, held many of the few known time altering devices in the galaxy, and that such devices where considered both extremely valuable and dangerous. Most devices were built with limited capabilities to prevent serious tampering with history, although others gave almost limitless control.
The barrage of information continued to pound for a few moments longer, before loosing its death grip on my mind. Exhausted, I collapsed to the floor and lay motionless, and gasping for a good breath.
Trezzlepeg spoke sternly, “Did that clear up anything for you?”
Silently, I searched my mind, rummaging through my feelings.
No! It won’t change anything. I’m not an idiot, and I’m only changing one thing. What could be wrong about trying to put my family back together?
But as much as I tried to reassure myself that all was well, I couldn’t rid myself of the terrible feeling in my gut. No matter the outcome, I was no longer ignorant.
Trezzlepeg said nothing, letting me wrestle with myself. Finally, I burst out, “I don’t care about stupid consequences. I just want my brother back!”
Trezzlepeg fluttered to the ground and paused solemnly. “As you wish.”
He turned and started to exit the room back towards the main corridor, but then added as an afterthought, “I don’t need to remind you that you must accept full responsibility for your actions. There are no refunds and I can’t guarantee that if things don’t turn out your way that I can reverse them. One last chance, are you sure you want to do this?”
I nodded, firm in my resolve.
Immediately, Trezzlepeg reverted to his normal, carefree, countenance. He shrugged his shoulders as he started off down the hall, “Just thought I would ask. I always do, though I don’t know why I bother. The concept is so wonderful that almost no one passes it up. I get thousands of inquiries, ‘Send me here, or take me back there one more time.’ I always tell them, ‘I can get you almost anything that your heart desires--for a price.’”
What kind of price? All this time he’s been showing off the goods and not telling me what the price of admission is.
I followed Trezzlepeg into the next room, picturing my brother’s grinning face, my family sewn back together.
I’m finally getting a chance to make things right. I’m going to save Fred.