He was blue. Or at least bluish. That seemed the strangest thing to him, right now, out of all the strange things that were around him. And were him.
The red desert stretching around him with the black sky, somehow light overhead, no sun beaming down or fierce heat on his head but just the strange dry rock, or sand, or something, particles that weren’t like any other he’d known, all over. Things seemed to be solid and seemed to be shifting at the same time. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable. Soft, even, here as he sat on it.
But… not the stable, solid feel of what he was used to. Definitely strange.
He was overusing the word. He’d have to come up with another. Bizarre sprang to mind. Yet, somehow, this wasn’t a crime against nature, unnatural type of experience or environment. Everything felt… familiar? Was that right?
In any case, there was this strange detachment. He was looking down at himself, seated in this red-orange place, where the horizon all around dimmed away into a straight yellow line, and a soft gray sky – was it a sky? – jutted up from it, melting together into something that could, color-wise, only be described as black. At the very least, charcoal. But it wasn’t dark in here. In? Was he in something?
It had the feeling of being closed in, a particular space or room, not an open wilderness, but it was vast. Huge. He’d never seen horizons stretching out this far and visible, this untouchable yet seeable.
Why was he blue?
His feet were bare. He shifted up and hung his chin over his knees to stare at his toes. They were darkest blue around the edges and faded into lighter blue in the center of the foot, going very very pale but never white, never gray or anything but blue. Same with his fingers, his hands. Dark blue, all the edges of his fingers, and fading into light, pale, washed-out blue in the center of his palms.
And there was something else, he realized, and this was the strangest of all, he could see, somehow, through himself. He was still solid – he poked one finger into his other palm and felt the skin react just as it had before – but he could see each layer, could narrow his vision and focus all the way through, honing in even on one cell after another, all this bluish tint, though he saw, now, in varying degrees.
There were other colors in there, some dark grays and scarlets and even yellowish, and shades of green, but all – when he pulled his vision back out, marveling at how he just knew how to zoom in and out on himself that way – all obscured, faded into this blue, these blue shades.
Well, the darkest parts, there, on his knees, where the muscles bunched together around his joints, there it was almost black, it was true indigo. Hm. The mass was more concentrated there, the cells packed more tightly in, so the color was deeper there. That made sense.
But why darker around the edges of his hands, his feet?
As far as he knew – though, granted, his anatomical studies were rudimentary, at best – there was no greater concentration of cells at the edges or outermost than at the center of hands and feet. Was his whole body like that? His head? Was it blue around the edge and pale blue in the center of his face? His torso? Legs?
He stood up to try to see himself better and felt his body the way he’d been seeing it. Individually, the parts. Startling to feel them all consciously. Good thing he wasn’t having to command them all consciously. How does one say to a heart, “Beat,’ while also impelling the lungs to expand and contract?
He’d never been good at multi-tasking. He had an idea, and tried it, zooming out with his mind from the layers into a further out perspective mentally. It worked, just as with the vision.
Okay, so this was beginning to make sense. He could get the hang of this, this new state of being? Way of being? Was he still alive?
He could only assume so. He felt things, still, felt the ground or fabric or whatever it was beneath his feet. He walked forward to something that looked like a pile of rocks, one of the few features he could see in a landscape that was distinguished by an absence of features.
What flat land. He corrected himself. What a flat place. It didn’t feel like, well, like outside, the outdoors. It was too still, for one thing. No wind. No noise. No tiny noises of little creatures living and moving as you would find, if you listened, in any outdoor setting, anywhere in the world.
No, this was something made, constructed, closed in. A vast construction. A huge room, a desert in a biodome like nothing he’d ever seen before. But how accurate was he at measuring distances, anyway? He’d never been much good at it before.
He reached the pile of rocks and found that it was the same stuff he was walking on: reddish in color, a dry red, with a dry but soft feel to it, solid underneath but giving, almost spongy, on the top layer, or layers.
He wondered about something. If he could see into his own layers…
He stopped and focused on the pile of reddish stuff in front of him, sending his vision in one layer at a time, finding that it worked, finding that he could zoom in microscopically to the level of what he guessed must be cells, or molecules, packed into a distinct order. Oh, yes, it made sense: the order, the pattern was much denser, closer together in the middle of the rock (he couldn’t help thinking of it that way, though probably likening it to a couch was more accurate an analogy) and then in the uppermost, outermost layers, the pattern expanded, the order relaxed, the molecules were further apart.
Varying degrees of density within what appeared to be a uniform substance. It was as if it was in the midst of a change in states, like water changing to steam, but in this case there were no visual clues, the whole thing looked the same… but the feeling was different in the layers.
He pulled his sight back out, and turned to sit down on the rock and examine what he could see of himself. He was dressed, in something, a short skirt-like thing that draped over one shoulder, like a toga. It seemed sheer, but when he actually tried to look through it, all he saw was vague blue emanation, almost light but not, color, coming through, but he couldn’t distinguish the shapes of what he knew was beneath it: his chest, stomach, groin, thighs. It stopped just above his knees.
He laid back on the rock and stretched his legs out, seeing the same appearance of darker to lighter blue, from the edges to the inner, the core, he was beginning to thing. He checked his arms, found the same, then pulled the toga off his shoulder and let it sit around his waist as he looked down at his chest.
And there, there was something different.
Oh, all the anatomy was there. He could zoom in and see the beating of his heart (blue) and his lungs (darker blue) and the muscles and veins stretching out and around, connecting, his ribs, could even look through his chest to his spine there, could see all the parts of his body in various shades of blue, darker at the edges and coming in toward a pale, light blue in the center of his chest, or torso. But there, on the midline, just below his heart and a good hands’ breadth above his belly button, there was something else.
It looked like a tiny orange flare. It was a tiny, miniscule thing, but definitely a different color, and as he zoomed in on it, he found a mass of the tiniest orange particles there, in the center, in constant movement, blurring as they moved so fast, and yet somehow staying in that same small area. There were thousands of them, and they looked like nothing he had seen, in life before or in his bizarre layer-by-layer examination of his own now-blue body.
All blue, with a tiny orange center, he thought. Some strange kind of popsicle I have turned out to be.
He felt chilled, suddenly, and thought how the power of mental suggestion had made him feel that sudden chill. Until he realized that there was a definite and cooling – no, chilling, icy – shadow on his bowed head. He zoomed his vision back out, so quickly it left him a bit dizzy, and then slowly, slowly raised his head.
This was where he faced his fears, this had to be where the monsters came out to see him before they feasted. This was the realization of what he was, where he was.
He began trembling as he looked up, only to see that what he faced was just another man.
Dressed like him, looking every bit as lost as him, only, something with the color of his blue was different. It was darker? No. The actual shade seemed the same, at the edges, but somehow more subdued, or faded, or… dirty.
That was it.
The blue looked dirty, coated in a layer of grease or sand that needed to be wiped off. He reached up a hand without thinking to wipe the fellow’s arm but stopped himself with his hand in mid-air. He tried to turn it into a wave of greeting. Idiotic, he thought. But he flapped his hand a bit anyway before letting his arm fall down, and said, Hello, just as if this was a normal conversation in a normal place.
The other man looked at him, straight on, and said, How long, for you, here? How long? What have you found?
Oh, he said. I’ve just been here, well. Well, he paused. I don’t know, I guess. Seems like just a few hours. I just walked over to this rock from that flat place, there – he gestured behind him. Well. It’s all flat.
The dirty man nodded.
And all I’ve found is this, um, this rock I guess we can call it. How about you? What do you know? he asked.
That rock? the man shrieked. You mean that pile of bones! How do you sit on it like that so calmly? It is vile, vile!
Oh. He was taken aback by that. He looked down at it again. Had he missed that, somehow? No. It did not look like, was not a pile of bones. Just layers of reddish cells, more dense at the center.
Well, it’s certainly softer than rock, like bone is, but it’s not bone, he said to the dirty man, who just stared at him and shook his head.
No, said the dirty man. No, but everyone I have met here is mad, anyway, so you are too then.
You must be, said the dirty man. You do not see what is right before you.
Tell me, he said to the dirty man. Tell me, can you see down into the layers of your body, seeing even each cell? Can you do that also? And do you see how the blue fades darker from the edges to lighter in the middle? And do you know what is that small orange light in the center, below the heart?
I don’t – I – I – the dirty man stuttered. He shook his head. I am not blue. What are you talking about? I am black, dark dark black, do you see, and like tar, like pitch, like asphalt. What orange light? I can’t… I don’t… I don’t know. What are you talking about?
Here, pull this aside, he said, and reached to pull the dirty man’s toga down. The dirty man jumped back in terror, yelped, Don’t touch me!
Oh, I’m. I’m sorry, he said. I just wanted to show you, there. If you’ll – see – if you’ll pull that aside, you’ll see the orange light.
That’s where mine is, see?
And he pulled his own toga across and down, baring his chest to the man, glancing down to find the exact spot. It was warmer in that spot, too, he realized. He looked back up to see the dirty man cowering down, hands over his face, eyes squeezed shut,
What? What is the matter? he asked.
The dirty man put one hand out, waved it at him. Cover it up! Cover it up now!
Fine, he said, and pulled the fabric back into place. Fabric wasn’t the right word, he thought. But what is?
It’s so bright, said the dirty man. What is that? I haven’t seen that sort of thing here. You nearly blinded me.
He was standing back up now, his hands down at his sides, but his face still looked horrified.
Oh, well, I didn’t think it was so bright, he said. I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to, um, hurt you, or frighten you. Is it really so bright?
Yes. God! Yes. Don’t uncover it again! So warm, too! Could have burned my face off, the dirty man said. His face grew calmer.
You must be insane like all the others I’ve met. I’m leaving.
Wait! Wait – first, before – please, he said. What others? Where are others?
Oh, back there, the dirty man was already walking away, past the rock. He waved back over his shoulder. Where I came from, that direction. More of you crazies there.
The dirty man walked off.
He sat on the rock and waited until the dirty man was well away, then pulled the toga aside again, and looked down at himself. It didn’t seem so bright to him. Brighter, maybe, than it was before? A little bit bigger, the orange ball, in size? He zoomed in.
Was it that the particles were getting bigger, or that there were more of them, he wondered. Let’s find out, he thought, I can do that, just zoom on in and look at particles in my body. I think he’s probably right, and I am crazy. He zoomed in closer. The particles seemed the same size, in relation to the blue cells and molecules around them, but there were more of them. Their movement was so fast, but somehow not frantic. Impossible to discern a pattern, so quick they moved, but there was some sort of gracefulness, or order, it seemed. It was definitely warmer, there, in that part of his torso.
He felt worried.
What if the ball kept expanding, and increasing in temperature? Was he going to explode, or combust? Which would it be? He couldn’t quite remember the difference between explode and combust anyway. It didn’t feel threatening, though. The cells around it seemed perfectly fine, normal, functioning. Wait. What… What was happening, there, in that layer right next to the orange? The cells were tinged with a different color. Not orange, but almost white, gold-white, translucent.
He zoomed back out, stood up, having to pull back mentally too from feeling every layer of his body move.
There must be some sort of default setting I can fiddle with, he thought. Get it to stay on the outer perspective as a matter of course, unless I decide to zoom that in. Something to think about.
He looked down at his blue feet, placed one hand carefully, gently over his midsection, felt it, yes, felt the warmth seeping through in a small circle. He pulled his hand away and turned it over, looked at it. A small perfect circle on his palm was glowing, warm, golden.
Huh, he thought. Well, it doesn’t hurt, whatever it is, so there’s that.
Then he strode off in the direction the dirty man had pointed. Time to find these other crazies.