Episode 1

Day of the Deux Ex Machina

Chapter 1

Damn it. Why the hell did I come here? I should never have listened to him… What was I thinking?
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

The second that James saw the deformed statue, he deemed it painful to look at. The sculpture depicted a man, but not one of normal proportions. The arms were far too long, paired with short legs, and the right eye appeared thrice the size of the left—nothing compared to the elongated spike forming the nose, or the mouth contorted in a grimace. Now that he sat leaning against the grotesque shape, the figurative ache turned literal as the sharp stone dug into his back.

Even with the intense heat, James shivered. The recent revelations chilled his blood, and no matter how hard it tried, the sun couldn’t warm him again. He rubbed his chin, pondering all he had learned. His hand brushed against his stubble, and he scowled at the itching sensation. Usually he shaved every day, a habit his unplanned trip had broken. Then again, next to his companion, a bit of extra hair was nothing…

The freak still stood a few feet behind, laughing to his heart’s content. What a horrendous chortle. How James yearned to shut him up via his fist. “Gwa ha ah aha ha! Ha ha aha! Ha ha! Come on, why do you take things so seriously? You still don’t get it, do you? Gwha ha ha ha ha! You should laugh more; it’ll do ya good! Gwha ha ha ha ha! Wha ha ha ha! Gwa ha ha!”

With considerable effort, James ignored the taunt and focused on his current predicament instead. A cruel decision lay before him, and it required thought. As he considered his situation, a gust of wind blew dust into his mouth. James coughed before shielding himself with his hand. Though now gone, the gale had shattered his concentration. He sighed, about to resume his musing, but then his stomach churned, causing him to gag and cover his lips. How long since he had taken his medicine? Panicked, he reached for the brown pouch lying beside him. A search inside it produced a syringe offered earlier by the one they used to call Doctor Death.

James gritted his teeth while he contemplated the needle. Between an injection and a fatal sickness, the latter choice appealed to him quite a lot. He rested the syringe against his arm like the cyborg had demonstrated. Fear paralyzed him, except for a slight trembling. At that moment, the despicable voice said, “Gwa ha ha ha! Radiation kinda sucks, huh?”

James took a deep breath and relaxed. A touch of pressure and the needle pierced his vein. Pain assailed him, so he countered by imagining the sweet melody his good friend often played on the violin. He pushed on the plunger, and the brownish liquid left the plastic tube for his bloodstream. The task done, James exhaled while he peeked at the sky. A small white bird flew around the scene. How did a living being survive here?

After chirping a few random notes, the avian landed on a rock a couple of feet away from James and waited, studying the human intruder. Gauging him. Blue eyes… did his imagination trick him? Could birds even have blue eyes? He’d never paid attention to such details before. In any event, the feathered observer troubled him. Maybe he should scare him away. Perhaps he could throw something. Biting his lip, he grabbed a pebble, only to drop it with a groan. Despite his anguish, pity stalled his hand, and he endured the staring bird. In the end, the animal showed mercy and took flight, leaving him alone with his torments.

How did it come to this? I mean, it’s crazy… I’m just a regular guy. I have no business here. I wish… I wish I could erase the last few years, forget everything that happened. My life used to be so simple. Back then, I hated it; I found it boring. Let me tell you: boring’s good. Boring’s great! I should’ve been thankful…
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

Chapter 2

October 16, 2007

Just another day; another day like so many before, or so I thought. As it turns out, it was the most important day of my life. The day everything changed. The day of the deus ex machina.
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

At least it didn’t rain. Humid air weighed on their shoulders, but so far they remained dry. Between steps, James sneaked a peek toward the gray clouds. They grew more ominous by the minute, so he halted for an instant and studied them. As he brushed a bead of sweat off his forehead, his fingers grazed his black hair. He pondered whether they’d reach their destination before their luck ran out. He hoped so, since he’d suggested the stroll. Nadia had wanted him to borrow his dad’s car, but he’d insisted he needed some fresh air.

The second his girlfriend entered his mind, James glanced sideways toward the woman next to him. Her shoulder-length blond hair bounced with every step. The poor soul shivered and rubbed her own arms in hopes that the motion might warm her up. Her cold body matched the frigid reaction she’d offered when he’d suggested they walk in this weather. Not helping matters, he’d begged her to attend the matinee showing. Despite the harsh temperature, however, the furrows on Nadia’s brow subsided and her crimson cheeks returned to their normal color. In short, any sign of grumpiness vanished from her delicate features now that the date had started.

Perhaps sensing his gaze, Nadia smiled and said, “You’re not thinking of canceling on me again, are you?”

James scratched behind his ear. “Uh, what? Oh, of course not!”

“Good! You did it twice already, and I’m working next weekend.”

“Sorry, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.” The moment he uttered the words, James tapped the pocket where he kept his wallet. His own touch surprised him.

“Don’t worry”—Nadia paused for a sigh—“I’ll pay for your ticket… and the snacks.”

“No, I have money. I’ll—”

“We’ve been together for over a year now. I recognize the signs.” She patted his shoulder. “Frank screwed you again?”

“Kind of. He swears he’ll pay me tomorrow. He always does, it just takes a while. Really, it’s fine, Nadia. Patrick lent me a few bucks.”

“Keep it. Frank thinks ‘day’ and ‘week’ are synonyms.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand why you’re still working for that asshole.”

“I know it’s a sucky job, Nadia, I know.” James couldn’t conceal the annoyance in his voice. “It’s not like I have any options. What the hell do you want me to do?”

Until then, their footsteps had echoed on the sidewalk in unison, but at that moment, the duet morphed into a solo. Nadia stopped and glared at him with crossed arms. Blushing, James spun around and faced her, though his stare met the ground instead of her deep blue eyes.

“Oh, James… I can’t believe you said that.”

“Please, let’s not go there. Not today. Let’s not ruin our date again.”

Nadia bent her neck and rubbed her brow. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight over this. James, I don’t care if you work for Frank or not, but you do. You hate that job, and I can’t stand watching you give up on yourself, because I love you!”

“I, uh…” James shrugged. “Look, it’s not like I didn’t try. I want to do better. I really do, but I keep failing. I tried to study, I tried to be somebody, but I guess I’m not all that smart.”

“Then try again. You’re worth the shot, and I’ll be there to cheer you on no matter what.”

“Nah, I’m too old for that stuff.”

His girlfriend giggled. “You’re twenty-seven, not exactly over the hill.”

“Yeah, but it feels like seventy-two. I’m sorry, Nadia.” He approached her and grabbed her wrists. “I’m not special; I’m not a unique snowflake. What can I say? I’m a total loser, I know—”

“You’re the only one who thinks so. And, James, you’re special to me.” She hugged him, and James wrapped his arms around Nadia’s waist. Her head rested right under his chin and, as a reflex, he kissed the top of her hair.

Special to her… she said that right before it happened. A sweet thought, but she meant it less and less every day. She began wondering why she wasted her time with me. Realizing she could do better. Seeing me as a loser. I can’t blame her. She was right: I was a loser. Still am. I’d even say I’m a sort of ultimate loser—an all-time loser.
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

At that instant, a spark flashed in his peripheral vision. Curious, he focused his attention toward the trees along the road. The wind explained the leaves’ motion and yet… was somebody there? He had the distinct impression someone was watching them, but why would anybody spy on him of all people? Growing ever more suspicious, he pushed Nadia away, breaking the embrace.

“What’s wrong, James?”

“Nothing, I just want to check something out.” He took a few steps toward the trees in order to prove himself wrong.

“Where are you going? The movie’s starting soon.”

He peeked over his shoulder before fixating on the dubious bush again. “I know, I know, baby. I’ll be right back.”

That feeling of being watched—I’d had it before. Everybody does from time to time. There didn’t seem to be anybody around, but to be sure, I got a bit closer… and poof! A flash of light… Deus Ex Machina…
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

Chapter 3

Mashar 17, 2133, on the Nirnivian calendar

The world whirled around James. Soon, all distinct shapes vanished, superseded by a haze of colors. Shades of green, red and blue filled his vision. An agonizing pain flared across his body, and James screamed. His stomach floated up to his throat, while his intestines… he preferred not to think about them. Then, at last, the forms returned, though muddled. The sensation lasted only a few seconds, but it brought James to his knees as he gagged and vomited on the pavement. Once done, he wiped his mouth and coughed. Revolted screams erupted around him.

James almost mumbled an apology for the mess, but then he realized: who was yelling? He and Nadia stood alone and yet… wait, those dark figures surrounding him on the ground… shadows? And over there, feet and legs… where had these people come from?

Perplexed, James tried getting up, but he wobbled and fell. His new position gave him a view of the trees he had scrutinized before the incident, except they had morphed into a yellow brick building. James’s heart raced and his body tensed. Trying to relax, he took a few deep breaths through his nose and scowled. That stench, a mix of decayed food, feces, and puke, permeated the air. Of course, his own actions explained the last odor, but still, Moncton never smelled so bad. No wonder, with all the garbage littering the street. However, the road he’d strolled along had been so clean just moments ago.

As he pondered the change in scenery, James’s vision cleared. He took it as a good sign and attempted to stand up again. Though he swayed, he remained on his feet. Perhaps because of his movement, the confused chatter around him intensified. Bronze-skinned people glanced at each other and recoiled, a few pointing at him. James scanned the crowd in search of Nadia. Unable to locate his lover, he found his attention drawn to a stranger in the distance instead. The man held a leash, but without a dog at the end. A pink glob of goo replaced the expected canine. The horror waved its many tentacles, sometimes caressing passersby. James gasped. Covered in perspiration and shaking, he averted his gaze and spotted a young boy with a miniature leg sticking out of his belly through a hole in his shirt.

Propelled by a burst of adrenaline, James dashed in the opposite direction. A mere three steps and he almost crashed into a woman with a single gigantic eye and a flesh-colored lobster claw for a left arm. James’s mouth gaped. In a panic, he shielded his eyes as he collapsed on his knees once more and whimpered. Tears streamed down his cheeks. What kind of nightmare was this? He must’ve fallen asleep; the movie had ended up being boring, so he’d dozed off in his seat. No worries, though. Soon, he’d receive an elbow in his ribs from Nadia, who’d scold him for his rude behavior. After such an ordeal, he’d enjoy his girlfriend’s ire. Seconds passed, but the anticipated blow didn’t come.

I was in a different place, like nowhere I’d ever seen before. I guess it’s obvious, but I was terrified. If I had known more about this new world—if I had known what would happen there—I would’ve been even more scared.
—Thoughts of James Hunter, Hocmar 28, 2134, on the Nirnivian calendar

“Hey, you, the visitor!”

Loud footsteps accompanied the gibberish-filled shout. Swallowing hard, James risked a peek toward the source. A man and a woman wearing black uniforms approached. Something glimmered on the upper left of their vests. The closer they got, the clearer the shape became, and James discerned some kind of badge he’d never seen before, though he found himself reminded of police officers. If only they hadn’t aimed their guns at him, he might’ve been relieved by the presence of law enforcement. Under the circumstances, however, he patted his abdomen while shuddering.


“Yes, you. Please stay calm and put your hands up where I can see them.” James obeyed without hesitation. “Sorry, visitors can be unpredictable, so we have to be careful.”

“Uh, visitors?”

Before the cop could answer, the kid with the belly leg James had spotted earlier said, “Sir, what’s going on?”

The officer glared at the child. “Shut up, you filthy mutant! I’m busy, get out of here.” Then he sighed and returned his focus to James. “Visitor is our name for beings from another universe. They’ve been popping up once in a while, and you appeared out of nowhere, so I think you’re one of them. Good thing we can understand each other. That’s rare with visitors. Can you tell me your name?”

“My name’s James Hunter.” He gulped. “I don’t mean any—”

“I’m sure you don’t, and I know you must be confused and afraid, but could you please tell me what you call your species? We’re trying to keep records of visitors.”

James resisted a nervous laugh and shook his head. “Is this a joke? I’m a normal human from Earth, are you saying you ar—”

Before he could finish his sentence, the people started yelling at each other. Most ran away, glaring at James. Even the cops grew a touch paler. The duo stopped moving as if unsure how to proceed. Breathless, James looked around. Only disdain answered his gaze. He rubbed his brow, puzzled by this turn of events, when a groan echoed from his right side. James spun around: a bare-chested brute towered above him. Before he had a chance to duck, the club the goon brandished collided with James’s skull with a resounding bang that was followed by a sharp pain. Blood dripped into his eyes as he tumbled onto his back. In a hazy chaos, the officers ordered the assailant to drop his weapon, and then there was darkness.

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