For a few seconds, no one spoke as the sound of Malek’s footsteps faded off in the distance. Will sighed. He looked first to Matt and frowned before looking at the other two.
“I know this place is a different but it was the first one that answered and I knew Malek would be okay to talk to about a new Buck,” Will began. “At least it’s full of people that are super easy to get along with. It’s also pretty easy to get back from here too.”
“How did we get here?” Matt asked. “How did you guys get here?”
“There are ways through the rifts that don’t need to cross through our world,” he explained. “It’s how I got around when I started to show the differences. I can teach you how. It’s not hard and you’ll need it when you start to show too.”
“But how did we get here? We went from having a big monster charge at us to having a break in the middle of the street,” Lydia said. “And how did it turn my ears into these metal ones? I wasn’t actually wearing any.”
“We told him when we got here,” Dolly replied. “Malek is from our world so he knew how to find you. His partner, Kayode, made sure that they could transfer you with the car, just in case you were running. I’m glad that they found the three of you.”
“And you told him about my stutter?” Stuart asked, quietly.
“You’ll note that this is a place where people congregate a lot,” Will said, gently. “They expect things like that introduction you guys had to do. It’s part of their traditions and how they learn to trust people. We get a little bit of a pass for being different but they wouldn’t have been able to accept one of us not speaking. And again, Malek will go to bat for you if you say that you have some minor issue but you still had to do the minimum. Sorry, Stu. I know it’s uncomfortable but hopefully the chip is working okay for you.”
“It is now,” Matt said. “It was a little bit less than helpful in the carriage. And that reminds me, what happened to our phones?”
“Those are super complicated to use and honestly, if you don’t have to, I wouldn’t bother,” Will sighed. “The disks work but it requires some doing. And now that we’re all in the same room, I don’t know that this is going to be a worry.”
“Well now that we’ve brought it up, what are all of us doing here and what are we going to do?” Matt replied. “I’m not exactly dressed for a party and we have to worry about what those things are doing back home. Plus I’m sure that someone’s going to have something to say to me about all of this when Blair doesn’t show up later.”
“One thing at a time,” Will said, his spider paws going up like his hands would have. “First of all, this place is the safest place we can be for all of us. It’s well guarded and there are a lot of means to keep predators out, which is important right now, especially for you, Matt. This is doubly true because it’s almost Halloween, which is the time of their carnival, as you’ve seen. The nights of costumes have only just started but they are very protective of their space during this time to make sure that things keep happy and fun.”
“So, like a police state?” Matt said, skeptically.
“More like a tech state,” Dolly replied. “You’ve seen the lanterns but we got to see a whole lot of other machinery that is put in place. This area is brimming with the kind of technology that can stop an invasion in its tracks.”
“And they let us through?” Lydia asked, sheepishly.
“Again, I have talked to Malek before and, if I’m being honest, I kinda leaned on our show a bit to get us here,” Will replied. “To be fair, we probably would have been welcome anyway, but the show was a bit of extra insurance. For the record, Bucks aren’t seen as being a huge threat but when you can report that you have a new one, it’s a bit of a concern. The time for them to be getting their antlers has passed, somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be triggered in the frenzy and that’s when they can get unpredictable.”
“When you say that you leaned on the show,” Stuart said, now visibly uncomfortable. Will frowned.
“They do know about us here,” he said, reassuringly. “They aren’t asking us to do much but we might have to do something like a little promo to thank them for sheltering us. And for the record, this is mostly to thank Malek and Kayode. They were the ones that said yes and are giving us the space here, as guests.”
“That’s great for you guys but what the hell am I going to do here?” Matt said.
“Well, this is a bit of a hard sell but we kind of told them that you were part of our crew, Matt,” Dolly replied. He looked at her funny. “We had to give them a reason to include you and Will was already trying to play down that we weren’t a threat. They were aware of the PranKingz too and that would have been a deal breaker for them. We told them that we were taking you on as a part of our crew to get you out of a shitty deal with them. Malek is kind of aware that we’re trying to keep everything positive but he still let us come here.”
“They know about that shit?” Matt muttered.
“They also know that you were the one who got picked on by the others the most,” Will said. “It wasn’t hard to convince them that you were sick of the treatment you got there. Especially here. Considering the differences in the world here, the idea that a black man would be made the feel like he wasn’t worthy of the respect of other people didn’t fly at all. And if nothing else, Malek gets the prejudice more accurately than other people here do. It’s how he ended up here in the first place and he wouldn’t toss you out when we could make the argument that you were on board with us instead.”
“Maybe he gets it but the video of them making fun of Dolly is already up,” Matt sighed. “I appreciate what you’re saying but I’ve come across this lots before. Even people who still thought I wasn’t the person behind it still saw me as part of the Kingz in the end and it’s not like they didn’t see me helping them. Even in that video, I’m there. I don’t know how easy a sell that’s going to be if people have seen it.”
“You’ll be happy to note that your former friends were disregarded as a group in our world here,” Malek said, standing in the corner now. They started when they saw him now, dressed fully with his mask on. He just smiled warmly. “Now, my dear old friend, Will, has given me no reason to doubt his account and just from looking at you, I can tell that you are as he said. There would be no place for a Buck, new, young or otherwise, within that group. The Midnight Hart would not allow for it. Not from one such as yourself. You are going to be a contender for a very strong position when you grow into the role and that is something that could not be held back by such a small group, especially if the way they described your treatment is true.”
“It is true,” Lydia interjected. Matt looked at her funny. “It is. That boy you saw before we found you didn’t care about you. He only wanted to beat you up. You said that he would have gone after me and Stuart if he’d seen us before.”
“And he took off when the Buck charged us,” Stuart added. “If you hadn’t grabbed Lydia, she would have been thrown into the car and probably died.”
“And you talked to it and made it stop when it was going to hurt Stuart,” Lydia reminded him.
“Which is how we know that you have a very strong showing already and that when the day comes, you are going to be a contender for a much higher position in the hierarchy of the Bucks,” Malek finished. “Besides that, no one would believe that you could stay with that group you were with. They weren’t simply rude but cruel and that has no place in this society. We are aware of them but their behavior holds no interest for anyone as far as I know. Dolly and Will, on the other hand, are of a much more fascinating breed. They cultivate and laugh at fearful situations, which is very different here. Horror does not have much of a place here either but the stories are interesting to see. Even more interesting when we are faced with a group such as yours in a world that doesn’t particularly foster spaces for any of you.”
“How do you mean?” Matt asked.
“Well, simply take a look around yourself, my boy,” Malek said with a good natured laugh. “You have the more obvious differences such as yourself or Will. In the world we came from, your skin marks you as being in a different category than the rest of society, despite the fact that it is harmless. You were born to simply be and yet from the moment you took your first breath, you were destined to be seen as different. Will, on the other hand, was born to be a part of the main group and yet still didn’t fit into it. Through no fault of his own, he made some choices that created someone who is a man and yet not. A spiderling and yet not. Both of you have to take up space but despite there being room, that world does not wish to give you any. And your fellows here are among the same, even if they don’t look the part. Our dear friend Dolly cannot move without assistance and yet the world is reluctant to provide her the means. Your comrades there are less obvious but find their membership the group tenuous at best. One has difficulty with speaking and the other is forced to hide what allows her to be comfortable. None of what we talk about here, your skin, Will’s form, Dolly’s legs, young Lydia’s penchant for animal ears nor Stuart’s difficulty with speaking has any inherent reason for anyone here to reject you. The fact that you have been and still find space despite the difficulty is interesting to this world.”
“This place sounds a bit like a utopia,” Matt sighed.
“To a younger man who had once been fired from his job when his coworker, a man he’d been hopelessly infatuated with, exposed his sexuality to not only his bosses but his community and his family, it was salvation,” Malek said, thoughtfully. He sighed. “My beautiful Kayode will never know what it was to have his own brother watch and do nothing as a group of people who were supposed to love him made him fear for his life. He will never have to wake up in the ditch, bloodied up and crying for comfort in the dirt while the world tries to squeeze him out of existence. There are many things that I miss from our world, to be sure. But what I have gained here is worth everything I have given up.”