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This is a science fiction story for teenage readers, although older readers may also appreciate it. 


Gleeto's Excellent Adventure

by Ken Sanes

It happened when Josh was on his way home from school. The rain was coming down harder than usual. In an effort to stay dry, Josh held his jacket over his head and ran along the side of the road, trying to avoid the larger puddles.

It was just as Josh was taking a long step over a particularly large puddle that it happened. He could have sworn that he saw a group of raindrops stop in mid-air and start to move sideways. At first he thought he must have been mistaken. Raindrops just don’t go sideways, except maybe in science fiction movies. But there it was again. A bunch of raindrops stopped in the air and, yes, they were definitely moving sideways.

In fact, it almost seemed like the raindrops were moving around him. Wait a minute -- they really were moving around him. Now all the raindrops near him had stopped their fall and were suspended in the air, circling him.

Josh started to run faster. But the raindrops kept up with him. As he ran, he was surrounded by a wall of moving raindrops. Then something even more unexpected happened: it felt like his shoes were no longer touching the ground. He looked down and they weren’t! Was it possible that the swirling motion of the raindrops was actually lifting him off the ground?

Before Josh knew it he was being carried into the air. As he was lifted up, he was able to look through the spaces between the drops of rain that were swirling around him. What he saw wasn’t encouraging. The ground below him was getting smaller as he was lifted away. Now, he was up so high he could see his entire neighborhood, including his school. And there was his house four blocks away from his school.

Josh tried to see the place where he had been lifted up. But it was already too late. He could no longer make out individual streets or buildings.

"This can’t be good," he said to himself.

A minute later, he saw the Earth itself get smaller as he was carried into outer space. Then the sun itself shrank into the distance and became just another star.

As Josh was carried away, he was thinking and feeling so many things at once, there wasn’t any way to sort it all out. Mostly he felt exhilarated and afraid, waiting to see from one moment to the next if it would all collapse around him. But he had a feeling he was in good hands. After all, whoever had turned raindrops into a space ship hurtling to the stars, and kept him breathing inside it, obviously knew what he -- or she -- or it -- was doing.

Unfortunately, Josh soon lost the ability to see what was happening outside the whirlpool of water. Apparently, the “rain ship” had kicked into some kind of hyper-drive and everything around him was a blur -- a gray, indistinct, blur.

He was obviously stuck inside this -- this cosmic washing machine -- until someone decided to release him.

Then, all at once, the rain ship came to a stop. The water on all sides was motionless, but only for a moment. Then it collapsed, splattering around his feet.

"Hello," said a high-pitched voice, "How was your trip?"

Josh looked around. He seemed to have landed in some sort of room. And it looked like the room was suspended in outer space! He could tell because the walls and ceiling -- and even the floor -- were transparent. And, outside, on all sides, he was surrounded by the clear darkness of space, which was full of stars. And, there, standing in the middle of this transparent room was -- what was it? A creature. Yes, it was definitely a creature. It had four long arms and a tall neck like a giraffe, along with a face at the top that was mostly a big smile.

At first Josh wasn’t quite sure. But then he realized that, yes, the creature was transparent too. In fact, the creature appeared to have water inside it, and there were multi-colored plants in the water! At least they looked like plants. As the creature leaned forward, the "plants" inside its body swayed, first one way, then another. Josh could have sworn he also spotted something swimming around in there, and it had a striking resemblance to the squids he had seen in the city aquarium, only with very long tentacles that seemed to be swaying with the plants. He had been kidnapped by an alien fish tank!

"Hello," the creature said in a liquidy voice. "My name is Clayto and I’m speaking to you through a translation device so you can understand my words. Welcome to my world."

"Where exactly is your world?” Josh asked in the most assertive sounding voice he could muster.

"You’re on the planet Kaleewa. More precisely, you are in orbit above Kaleewa," the creature named Clayto said. "This is a secret fortress, hidden from the dreaded Nargonauts. They have conquered my world below and enslaved my people. This fortress, which floats invisibly in the air, is the only place left they haven’t taken. But it will only be a matter of time before they find us, unless you help me. You are the last hope to save my people."

"Sorry," said Josh. "I have a policy against getting involved in interplanetary conflicts."

Apparently, the joke was lost on this Clayto creature. Josh decided not to ask what kind of space-hopping villains go around the universe conquering planets with a name like "Nargonauts."

"You’ve got to help me fight the Nargonauts," Clayto said. "It’s just you and me. This is your weapon."

Clayto then seemed to detach part of a hand and gave it to Josh. Josh looked closer and realized the creature had actually given him a transparent weapon it was holding, which only looked like a body part.

Josh held the weapon in his hand and examined the settings on the dial at the top. They were labeled in English. His choices were mangle, slice, cause excruciating pain, poke holes and vaporize.

"Is this a gun or Edgar Allan Poe’s food processor?" Josh asked.

Clayto didn’t get the joke. Something must have been lost in the translation. Josh set the weapon to vaporize. He wanted to make sure no Nargonauts survived the first shot.

Then there was a loud and horrible noise that sounded like something was screaming in pain.

"Oh no," said Clayto. "The Nargonauts --"

Suddenly, a mass of mechanical parts appeared out of nowhere and hovered in the air. Apparently it was a Nargonaut. But that still didn't explain what it was. It didn’t seem to have anything that could be called a top or bottom -- or even sides. In fact, there wasn't much of any there there, just a mass of disconnected parts. Josh could make out wires, conveyor belts, spinning wheels, some kind of long spring, pistons, and lots of flashing lights. The parts were all rotating around each other in mid-air while a set of mechanical jaws kept consuming the parts that strayed too far from the main group. The devoured parts were then exiting out the other end of the jaws and rejoining the main group of parts floating in the air.

So it was the Alien Fish Tank versus the Evil Science Fair Project!

But Josh had trouble seeing how this thing could pose much of a threat. It seemed too busy eating itself.

"Quick. Vaporize it," Clayto said.

Josh didn’t know what to do, so he pulled the trigger. Nothing came out of the gun. But the Nargonaut dissolved in mid-air, leaving a trace of dust that floated ever so slowly to the transparent floor. Another Nargonaut appeared and immediately took its place. But this time it quickly headed Josh's way while a large set of mechanical jaws began to chomp up and down. Josh pulled the trigger again. The second Nargonaut then dissolved into dust like the first.

Unfortunately, the Nargonauts kept appearing out of nowhere and coming at Josh, each one with bigger jaws than the one before, and each one chomping away. So Josh kept firing, as one Nargonaut after another had a rendezvous with nonexistence. But still they kept coming, chomping, chomping, chomping at Josh.

Then an enormously complex Nargonaut appeared and just hung there, suspended in the air. Josh pulled the trigger. But it didn’t have any effect. The Nargonaut began to move in his direction as its enormous jaws opened and closed hungrily. Josh pulled the trigger again. It still didn’t have any effect. Now the Nargonaut was picking up speed. Josh yanked on the trigger over and over, and then screamed, “Help me! Help me!”

“Jump on that space scooter,” Clayto said back to him.

Josh looked to the side and realized there was some kind of scooter there that looked like an elaborate bicycle. So he jumped on the seat and, before he knew it, the space scooter was circling the room in the air, while he steered with the handlebars. But the Nargonaut was in hot pursuit behind him, chomping, chomping, chomping, and almost in reach, while Josh steered with one hand, and fired his gun with the other.

Then, just as the jaws of death were about to get him, Clayto pulled a gun from out of somewhere and fired at the Nargonaut as it disappeared like all the rest. Clayto didn’t even seem disturbed that Josh -- the last hope for his civilization -- had almost been torn to pieces.

That struck Josh as odd. But there was something else bothering Josh even more. He could have sworn the chomping jaws got close enough to have touched him at one point. But Josh hadn’t been chomped to death. In fact, he didn't feel anything, and he didn’t even get a sense there was something there.

Unfortunately, Josh didn't have time to reflect on any of this. Another Nargonaut appeared and was heading his way.

Josh had a hunch.

"Don’t fire!" he said to Clayto, who was about to shoot the Nargonaut.

Clayto then delayed firing for an instant as the Nargonaut headed for Josh, who was still sitting on the scooter. The jaws grew large as it approached him. There was only a moment to impact. Then the jaws stretched out revealing an enormous gaping hole as it encompassed Josh -- and went right through him, leaving him unharmed.

The Nargonaut had simply passed through Josh and the scooter like it didn’t even exist!

"Nargonaut ghost?" Josh asked sarcastically as he got off the scooter and looked over at Clayto.

"3-D image" Clayto said, with what looked like a sheepish grin on his face.

Then a mouth appeared on the transparent wall behind Clayto. "It’s a popular game," the mouth said. "It’s called 'Attack of the Nargonauts: the Deluxe 3-D Edition.' Useful for testing students. Congratulations for seeing through the illusion so quickly. You did well."

A transparent creature similar to Clayto then formed around the mouth as it emerged from the clear wall. Suddenly the walls and ceiling were alive with smiling eyes and mouths. A moment later, dozens of transparent creatures that looked like Clayto had emerged from the walls on every side.

The first Clayto-like creature that had separated itself from the wall then looked directly at Josh and said: “You have now passed the final part of your test. Your aim and your ability to figure out each situation was perfect. Good job, Gleeto. You can now resume your normal identity."

“Resume my normal identity? What are you talking about?” Josh responded. “I’m not the one who was pretending to be part of the wall, and passing off a game as an interplanetary battle.”

“No,” the alien responded. “But you are pretending to be Josh.”

Josh didn’t like the sound of that. Suddenly, he felt very strange. It was like his body was stretching out. Then, as Josh looked down, he realized that was because his body really was stretching out. Then his arms and neck grew longer, as two additional arms emerged from the side of his body. And a wide smile appeared on his face.

Of course! He was really Gleeto of the planet Kaleewa, and he had been talking to his friend Clayto, and his teacher, Krayto, who had emerged from the wall. His teacher had used telepathic powers to impose a mind illusion on him, so he believed he was a visitor from Earth named Josh. And the illusion had been very convincing. His teacher even made him believe that he had traveled on a "rain ship" from Earth through outer space. A rain ship! Then his friend Clayto had played a role as a someone who was seeking his help, to save the planet Kaleewa from the dreaded Nargonauts.

But Gleeto wasn't the only one who had to experience an illusion like this. All the kids on his planet had to assume another identity and forget who they were for a brief period of time as part of a test that measured their ability to deal with difficult situations.

The good news was that Gleeto had passed the test with honors, by quickly and accurately firing on the 3-D image of the Nargonauts, and by driving the space scooter around the room without any collisions. Oh yes, and by figuring out the Nargonauts weren't real.

Now that he had passed, he would be allowed to fly to all the nearby planets by himself on his own space scooter. Finally, he could get rid of those squid-like helper-creatures swimming inside his body, telling him how to steer and making driving decisions for him. Let's see if his friend Clayto did as well on his test.

Clayto and the teacher, Krayto, and all of Gleeto's other friends then extended their many hands to congratulate Gleeto for passing the test.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, an eleventh grader named Josh was just getting home from school. Little did Josh suspect that a group of extraterrestrials from the planet Kaleewa had temporarily imposed his personality patterns and appearance on a creature named Gleeto, as part of a test.

"Did you have a good day?" Josh's mother asked.

"Pretty routine," Josh said. "But I felt a really weird chill when I was running home in the rain. I feel okay now though. I think I'll watch some TV.”

After your homework!” Josh’s mother said sternly.

Altogether elsewhere, the inhabitants from the planet Kaleewa were celebrating in their orbiting transparent room. They smiled with a mixture of mischief and benevolence as they looked at Josh from a distance, and thanked him for unknowingly helping Gleeto pass his driving test.

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