A little squeal escaped Toni’s lips, as she rolled over and stretch languidly. She felt something softly caressed her side and a pair of fingers hop up onto her pelvis. The fingers walked casually over her hip, across her abdomen, between her breasts and started doing a little dance. Toni slowly opened one eye and then the other, smirking down at the little dancing hand-man on her chest. He froze like a frightened deer, frantically looked (if a little hand-man with no eyes can be said to look) first one way and then the other, did a little hop and ran back down her body, leaping on her tummy, bouncing up and off to the far side of her, before scampering underneath. The strong arm that had worked its way across her body, following the little hand-man, held her tight, pulling her up and over, so that she was on top of the body attached to the arm, attached to the hand.
Toni sat up, straddled the body at the hips, and performed a long, exaggerated stretch, before looking lovingly down at her husband. “Good morning, Dummy-head,” she said sweetly.
“Morning to you, Ugly-face.” Jerry grinned at her, putting his hands behind his head casually.“You say you get up early, but you get me up instead.” His grin widened.
“Mm, so I did.” Toni said, leaning over to kiss him tenderly on the forehead. “I also told you that I would not have time to play this morning. I have to meet up with Maximilian.”
Jerry made a sound somewhere between ‘Psst’ and ‘Tthhp’. “He boring. He not like me, anyway.” He said, in a broken Latin that made him sound far less intelligent than he actually was. Given that he only began learning a few months before and it was his third language he spoke and understood it better than she had expected. Toni had become fluent in his second language and was good enough at his first language that she rarely needed to rely on the translations spell to be understood anymore, but he had insisted, if he was going to start traveling with her to her hold world, he was going to learn at least one of the primary languages. She decided that teaching him Latin, even a highly bastardized American Latin, seemed easier than trying to teach him English or Japanese. Of the all of the three great Empires, the Roman language was closest to Jerry’s original, even if he looked more like he should be speaking Japanese. Unless you were an implant from elsewhere, everyone in the North American Nation spoke all of the three Empirical languages. It may have been the British Empire that first conquered this part of the globe, but the NAN was a free country now that claimed neutrality, while capitalizing on trade all over, no matter what Empirical alliance they might hold.
“Maximilian, my Love, does not even like me most of the time. He is my brother and he did raise me when I was little. I have an obligation to him.” She smiled and kissed him on the lips this time.
“He is pain in ruckus.” Jerry said matter-of-factly.
“Tukhus, dear. He is a pain in the tukhus. And he often says the same about me.”
“I want to go home.” He said, switching back to a tongue with which he was more familiar.
Toni fluidly switched languages. “After this meeting with Maximilian. I have to pick up a few more goods and then I promise we can go back.”
“Forget about Maximilian. Forget about the goods. We will find another way to support ourselves, besides trading goods between the worlds.”
She smiled at him indulgently. “I love you, but we can’t keep stay with your cousin. I want a place of our own. That takes money. I would be stupid to not take advantage of the fact that I am the only one that knows how to get back and forth between the worlds and therefore the only one that can offer goods each of the worlds have never seen before. Once we build up the trade enough we will be able to buy bigger and better things to trade. You have to think about the long term. You, me, in our own little house, with a couple of little Toni and Jerrys running around; you still want that right?”
“Of course I do, but I do not want to be here and I do not want you to be here either.”
She caressed his cheek tenderly. “Another couple of years and we will not have to be here anymore. Until then I need to come here to get and sell goods and I need to stay on Maximilian’s graces, if I want him to keep paying for my condominium, until then.”
“Bryon says,” Jerry started, but Toni covered his mouth.
“No. No, no, no! I do not want you traipsing out into the wilds with Bryon anymore.”
“I like traipsing out into the wild and this time it sounds like he has a very good plan. We could make enough money that I could build you a castle and still have enough to live off of for the rest of our lives.” Jerry said.
“Or you could get killed. Why do you think everyone else stopped traveling with Bryon? He is reckless and unreliable. Unfortunately, he can also be charismatic enough to keep talking people into joining him.” Toni said.
Jerry folded his arms across his chest and glared at her icily. Toni knew that it was a tender subject with him. He hated when she told him what to do and he hated even more when she put Bryon down. Jerry was one of the few that still believed that Bryon knew what he was doing and still considered him a friend.
Toni sighed heavily. “We will talk about it when I get back. I really need to get going.”
Jerry grinned at her; sure he was going to win this round. “Hurry back. I want to have some fun before we go home.”
“Oh, definitely.” Toni kissed him deeply, before rolling out of bed to get dressed.
Toni waited impatiently in her oldest Brother’s office, trying not to squirm in her chair like a nervous child. No matter how old she got or how rebellious, there would always be a part of her that was intimidated by the man who used to correct her and put her in the corner as a little girl. Even her father, the powerful businessman and politician, did not intimidate her as much as Maximilian did. She was also positive that he knew just how he affected her, too, which was shy he had kept her waiting in here stewing for the last half hour.
She cursed herself for jumping when he came bursting through the door.
“My apologies for making hour wait. I do not have much time today, so we will have to be quick.” Maximilian said as he strode confidently past her and sat across the desk from her.
“I do not have much time either, so if we…” Toni began.
“What exactly do you have to do, besides spend mine and father’s money and get yourself into trouble?” Toni opened her mouth to answer, but he put up her hand to stop her. “Do. Not. Do not tell me you want to go back to that other world that what’s-his-name believes he is from. There is no such thing as alternate dimensions, and even if they did exist, I would think the scientist, no my little sister, who found the means to travel to them. You need to stay away from that man, Tonelle. He is insane and if you keep telling people about this world of his, they are going to think you are, too. You will end up in a psychiatric facility just like that Jap mother of yours.”
Toni bit the inside of her cheek to keep her from snapping at her older brother over the comment about her mother. If it had not been for their father turning his mistress over to the Roman authorities as undocumented, after Toni was born, then she never would have been tortured until she gone permanently insane. “Toni,” she said as soon as she could find her voice without yelling.
Maximilian waved off the correction. “My little sister is Tonelle Maria Aquilla LoveLaw. I do not know who Toni Love is, and I do not pay for a home and necessities for anyone by the name of Toni Love.” He fixed her with a stern glare. “And it will be Tonelle Maria Aquilla LoveLaw, who will be coming back to Rome with me and taking the citizenship exam.”
She bit down her anger again. They had this discussion many times before. She had no interest in becoming a Roman citizen. That was the entire reason she had moved to the NAN as soon as her family had offices here. Being a supposedly neutral nation, the NAN acknowledged not just their own citizenship, but those of the Empires, but there was also enough of an underground here that one could still survive here above the poverty line, without any sort of citizenship. She might not be able to get medical insurance, or vote in any elections, or a multitude of other things, but she could survive here. She did not let it show on her face how upset she was, or let it reflect in her voice. “But Max, you know I fall on the John side of that argument.” She smiled sweetly at him. When she was growing up, she would drive him crazy blasting Beatles music at him, when he tried to talk to her about things she did not want to hear, especially when it came to citizenship. Just as Maximilian was born a Roman citizen, three of the four Beatles had been born British citizens. After the band split up, John had moved to the NAN and renounced his British citizenship, but Paul became the poster boy for doing your civic duty. Sure he claimed to still believe in the ideals that they sang about in their music, but he said there was no contradiction in believing in peace, love, and freedom, and being a good citizen of the Empire. It had become a very public feud between the two former friends that continued until this day, with John starting his own “Army of Peace” to fight against the tyranny of the Empires and Paul using his political and media influences to make “Johnny’s little Army” seem sad and pathetic, so that no one would take it seriously. George and Ringo refused to take sides between their former band mates and held a strict “no comment” policy on the subject. Last anyone heard of the two, George had disappeared into the mountains of Tibet, technically a territory of the Japanese Empire, but the Japanese had never managed to get a full hold against the savage Buddhist monks who lived in the mountains, and Ringo had taken up as the God of some tribe deep in the Rainforest of the South American Wilderness.
“I am serious, Tonelle. You are too old to keep playing these little games of yours. Father and I pulled a lot of strings to allow you to take the citizenship exam. You will come back to Rome with me tonight and you will become a citizen, or you will be cut off. No more free ride. No more Big Brother and Daddy making deals so you can be treated like a citizen, even though you are not. You can go off and be Toni Love and not a single family member will raise a finger to help you in anyway.”
“So be it then,” Toni said. Maybe Jerry would get his wish after all. The next time through the portal would be the last. They would just have to find a way to make it work in the land of swords and sorcery.
“Do not be so hasty to make your decision.” Maximilian said. “You should know that I am aware that your little friend Jerry is at your condominium. I can’t have him arrested as undocumented here in America, but I can call in a potential mental health threat. I already have people ready to take him upon word from me. Do you think your little Jap lover will fare any better than your mother in the hands of the authorities?”
The colour drained from Toni’s face.
“I do not understand why you are not coming with me,” Jerry said, holding her tight, like he thought he would never hold her again. “How will your brother know? Just come with me and we will never have to come back to this place again.”
Toni smiled, caressing his cheek with hers. “I will be fine. Once I have taken the test for Roman citizenship and Max is sure that I have passed, he will be bring me back here and I can come across to meet you. It should not take more than two weeks, I promise.” She took his face in her hands. “You do not need to worry.”
He took her hands into his and pulled them to his chest over his heart. “I do not want to be away from you. And I do not trust Maximilian.”
She kissed him deeply, and then pulled away, so she could open the back door to an abandoned Virtual Games store. She was not sure why the amulet only seemed to work in very few and specific places on her world, but that was how it worked, so here she was in the worst part of town, in a dark back alley, about to send her husband away to another world. “I promise,” she said, as she activated the amulet and the portal opened in the doorway, “no more than two weeks. Meet me at that little place in HarborPort.”
“I will be there.” He said and then grinned. “And I will be ready to play.”
They kissed one more time before he stepped through the portal and it closed behind him.
“Terra!” Toni called, as she walked up to the little dockside restaurant with the outdoor tables, where she was supposed to meet her husband. It was a bright, sunny, warm day, with a sweet, pleasant breeze and Toni was in a positively marvelous mood. It had been a while since she had seen her friend, Terra, so the sight of her just added to the good vibrations of the day. Darr came out of the little hole in the wall place with two drinks in his hands and sat down beside Terra. A sudden tightness began to form in Toni’s chest. Even though she considered the two of them to be her best friends, they were not very close and never just hung out with each other. When they both looked up at her with the same sad and tense expression on their faces, she knew without a doubt that something was wrong. She ran the last several yards to them.
Darr stood, stepping out to take her into his arms before she could reach full panic. He guided her down into the seat he had just vacated. Terra reached out and took her hands. She barely heard the words being spoken to her. Jerry did not want her to have to be under the thumb of her brother and father anymore. He did not want her to have to go back to that place again. He had taken Bryon up on his offer. They were only a few days gone, when they became trapped in the cave and died, but it was only yesterday that the survivors had made it back to tell everyone.
Toni got up and started walking away. They tried to stop her, but she pulled away from them. She could hear them following her, but she did not care. None of this was real. It could not be real. Max had said it. There was no such thing as alternate dimensions. Toni was insane, just like her mother. She was tucked away in some psychiatric facility somewhere; her daddy’s dirty little crazy secret. That had to be the truth, because if this were the truth then that meant that this pain, this loss, was also true and that was not possible. As long as she was insane, she could just go to sleep and when she woke up she could be safe in her elaborate little delusion again, crazy, but with her very live and loving husband.
Original work, characters and all revisions © SAM Blaize and Self-Spirit Jo.