Behind? Catch up now!
When Godfrey woke the next morning, it was to Sennett and Liam whispering together. He sat up, blinking blearily at them. They were both still in their pajamas, standing in the doorway between the two rooms. From the way Sennett’s brow was furrowed, it wasn’t a nice conversation.
Sennett saw that he was up, and gestured for him to come over. He crawled quietly out of bed and shuffled over to them.
“What’s up,” he asked.
“I wanted the three of us to get a chance to talk before Mason and April get up. I want us all to be on the same page,” Sennett said.
“The same page about what?” Godfrey asked.
“Whether or not we should go home today,” she replied.
“Alright. What page are you on?”
Sennett shrugged. “I think we should go home. If the Core knows what April is, and it’s pretty clear that they do, then we’re safer on Station 86.”
Liam snorted. “We ain’t any safer on 86 as we are here.”
“We know people back home,” Sennett snapped.
“Yeah,” Liam nodded. “People who can’t do a damn thing about the Core, so far as we’ve seen.”
“I don’t think we should go home yet,” Godfrey said. “There’s too much going on here that we don’t understand. And not understanding the situation might kill us.”
“Besides that, Gene’s coming back with us when we go. That could mean trouble for some people. I’ve rung some warning bells, I want to make sure some people get a chance to hear them,” Liam said.
“Are you suggesting we should risk April’s life for your criminal friends?” Sennett snapped.
“They got kids too,” he said softly.
“Oh,” Sennett replied. She looked away, brushing hair from her face.
“Let’s stay for another few days, at least. I honestly think we’re as safe here as we would be on 86,” Godfrey said.
“Alright, yeah. I guess that means we can go see a taping of Howie’s House today.”
“Really, Sen?” Liam asked. “You expect us to go watch a taping of a kid’s show?”
“You don’t have to come,” Sennett said casually.
“Yeah,” Liam muttered. “We’ll let you and April go off alone while multiple people are trying to kill you.”
Godfrey had never heard of Howie’s House before meeting April. His own children’s cartoon watching days were long behind him, and he’d had no younger relatives around who might have introduced him to it. Even now, he knew very little about Howie’s House. Except that April and every other child on the station went out of their mind with excitement every time a new episode was available.
Walking into the building in which Howie’s House was filmed, he had the feeling that no amount of foreknowledge could have prepared him for this sight.
There were so many different brilliant, luminous colors that Godfrey had to stop a moment to get his bearings. All along the hall were shops that sold clothing and toys, and all of them seemed to be blaring the same song. He assumed that it must be music from the show, but he had no way to tell. He couldn’t hear a single word of the lyrics over the screaming children.
“Sennett, I might kill you for this,” Godfrey muttered.
“Look how happy April is. Were you never a little kid?” Sennett asked.
Looking down at April, Godfrey didn’t think that she looked happy. She looked, with her wide frozen grin and her eyes twice their normal size, as though she’d literally never experienced more joy in her entire life. She was clutching Bailey in her arms, looking around in every direction at once. He sighed and put a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want a balloon, Little Bit?”
She looked up at him as though he’d offered her something far more extravagant than a bag of air. “Yeah!” she gasped.
One quick trip to the balloon kiosk later, the group moved through the crowd to find seats in the studio. Godfrey settled himself between Mason and April, in a cushioned theater chair that was bright orange. They were in a circular room, ringed in the same orange chairs. In the center of the room was a flat blue stage, completely bare.
“Any of those places out there selling something for a headache?” Liam muttered, from Sennett’s other side. “These colors are making my teeth hurt.”
“This really is obnoxious,” Mason said.
“I know you still have a Howie’s House t-shirt in your closet, Mason,” Sennett snapped.
Mason muttered something unintelligible at her, while the lights above them flashed.
A woman’s voice came over the sound system. “Welcome, everyone, to Howie’s House! Howie will be joining us in just a minute. Are you ready?”
The kids, including April, started to scream with glee. Mason rolled his eyes and started looking at something on his wrist pad.
A flash of green smoke appeared in the center of the stage, showering gold glitter into the air. As it dissipated, there was no one in it. Instead, Howie appeared through a door on the back of the stage, as the children laughed. He was wearing a purple suit with a bright red tie. His long hair, rainbow striped, was knotted into a braid that reached halfway down his back. His face, lined with age, was lit with a brilliant smile as he tap danced through the door and to the center of the stage, still littered with gold glitter. There, he tried to bow to the audience but fell forward into a somersault.
“Woah!” he said, getting back to his feet. He held up his head with one hand, as though it weighed too much. “I think my brain weighs too much. I learned something new today, and it’s heavy!”
Howie scratched his head, then said, “I wonder what I can do to get my head a little lighter? Ah, I know! I can give some of what I learned to all of you. That should lighten my head.”
The stage behind him changed, furniture and kitchen appliances seeming to grow right out of the floor. A bright yellow table with green chairs sprouted in the middle of the room, accompanied by a red fridge and a blue stove and counter. The table was set for two, with plates that held hot dogs and sliced horchee. The vegetable from Toth glowed bright green, like almost everything else on their bio-luminescent rich planet.
A blond woman with a lab coat walked onto the stage. Howie gestured toward her and said, “It all started when my friend Professor Jane invited me to lunch.”
He turned to her and waved. “Hi, Professor!”
“Hello, Howie,” Professor Jane said, taking a seat at the table. “Thanks for joining me today.”
“Thank you for inviting me. I’m starving,” Howie said, sitting as well. He took a bite of the burger, then said, “This is great!”
“Thank you,” Jane said, taking a bite of horchee. “I just made it in my simulator.”
“Simulator? What’s that?” Howie asked.
“A simulator is a machine that creates things like food, and drinks from other things,” Jane said. “They rearrange molecules to turn one thing into something else. A molecule is a basic building block that everything is made of.”
“Wow,” Howie said, looking at a piece of horchee. “So, this used to be something else? But, but it might have been an old shoe or something!”
Professor Jane laughed. “It might be. But by the time the simulator does its job, there’s nothing left of the old shoe.”
“That’s a relief,” Howie said. He took a bite of the glowing vegetable. “This doesn’t taste the same as regular horchee, though.”
“We don’t quite have all of the fruits and vegetables taste down right yet. Especially the ones from new planets. But we’re still working on it. And they’re already just as healthy for you.” Jane said.
“And it still tastes good, even though it’s different,” Howie said, taking another bite. “Why doesn’t everyone eat simulated food?”
“Oh, I’m not the right person to answer that,” Professor Jane said. She stood up, and Howie did as well. “But my friend, Dr. Carl would be happy to talk to you.”
The kitchen scene melted away, and another scene rushed onto the stage from the right side, complete with a loud whooshing sound that made the kids in the audience laugh. Suddenly Professor Jane and Howie were standing in front of a crop field. There was a handful of chickens nearby, pecking at the ground.
A man was standing near the chickens, carefully sprinkling seed from his hand. He was dressed in a plaid shirt, causing Godfrey to growl. “Why do they always have farmers in plaid. I grew up on a farm, do you want to know how many plaid shirts I’ve worn? Not a single damn one.”
“Can you not swear in a theater full of kids?” Sennett hissed.
“Hey, Dr. Carl,” Howie said, waiving.
“Hello Howie, Professor Jane,” Dr. Carl said, waving at them. “How can I help you?”
“Howie’s just learning about simulated food. He wants to learn about natural food, too. And why people still eat natural food.”
“I can help with that, Howie,” Dr. Carl said. “There are a lot of reasons why people like me still eat natural food. Some people don’t believe it’s right to eat simulated food. Some people can’t, because their bodies can’t digest it as well. And some people, like me, just aren’t sure that it’s as healthy long term to eat simulated food.”
“But Professor Jane said that simulated food is just as healthy,” Howie said.
“That’s right,” the professor nodded. “And I feel that way because I’ve looked at the data and facts over the last 100 years and decided for myself that I’m comfortable eating simulated food.”
“I think that there might be long term effects that we just don’t understand. Things that might not show up in humans for generations yet.” Dr. Carl said. “That’s why I chose to eat only natural food.”
“But we both agree that it’s important for everyone to have a choice,” Professor Jane said.
Dr. Carl nodded. “I would never want someone to tell me I had to eat simulated food. And I wouldn’t want someone to tell Professor Jane that she had to eat natural food. That’s just not fair.”
“That’s right!” Howie said, turning to the audience. “It’s all about having the choice. We should choose for ourselves if we think simulated or natural food is better. And why is choice so important?”
“Because we all have our own minds to make up!” the crowd called.
“Exactly,” Howie said. He moved to the center of the stage, suddenly alone. The field and chickens were gone, and he was standing in a rainbow pattern of light. “We all have our own minds to make up. That’s the most beautiful thing about this big wide universe. We all have a mind that is all ours, and it’s up to us to make it up.
“Well, my brain doesn’t feel any lighter. Because once you learn something, it’s yours to keep. But I hope your head is a little heavier now.
“Let’s check in with Calico, and see what she thinks about natural food.”
The stage lights faded, and several screens appeared. A cartoon started to play, about Calico the cat.
“Kind of a pointed message,” Liam whispered.
“But a decent one. Hope the people in charge of this station were listening,” Godfrey replied.
“Really? I thought you were all about natural food,” Mason chuckled.
“Guess I feel a little different when people can’t afford to feed themselves,” Godfrey said.
He tried to stretch his legs, finding that he didn’t have enough room in the seat that was obviously built for a child. “I’m gonna take a quick walk around,” he said.
“I’ll come with you,” Mason said. He nearly tripped over Sennett’s feet in his haste to hurry after Godfrey.
“This is a freaking nightmare,” Mason muttered once they were out in the hallway.
“It’s not that bad, stop complaining,” Godfrey replied. “I’m sure your mom and Sennett took you to lots of dumb crap like this when you were a kid.”
“Taking April to dumb crap like this doesn’t require four adults,” Mason replied.
The boys neared a corner that led to a backstage area. Just as they were passing the door, they were startled by shouting from behind it.
“What the fuck gives you the right to come here and talk to me like this?”
Godfrey and Mason both stopped in their tracks. That was Howie, unmistakably. It was answered a moment later by another voice they recognized, Gene.
“Hey, calm down. I’m here because Mom wanted to handle this quietly. She could have sent someone loud, Howie. She could have sent soldiers. So, you want to calm the hell down?”
“You’re coming into my studio, telling me what I can and can’t talk about on my show? Do you know how long I’ve been in this business? I’ve earned the right to say whatever the hell I want.”
“Look, we know how long you’ve been in the business. I used to watch you myself. But you can’t encourage kids to break the law. And simulated food is against the law here.”
“I’m not encouraging kids to break the law,” Howie growled. “I just want them to question it. I wish I’d gotten that through to your generation.”
Godfrey grabbed Mason and pulled him back down the hallway. They moved as quietly as possible until they got out of earshot.
“Wow,” Godfrey whispered. “Who’d have thought a kid show host would have such a brass set.”
Mason, however, was grinning. “The guy’s my hero,” he said.
They made their way back to their seats, just as Howie came back on stage for the final skit. Godfrey sat down, troubled. As glad as he was that Howie was standing up to Gene and the council, he wondered how many others weren’t.
Copyright © 2019 by Nicole C. Luttrell
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.