“I don’t get it.” Peter was standing in his room, arms crossed, staring at the Bite Mobile. Kora and Eun were doing the same.
After leaving the Bloom, they’d raced back to Peter’s house. If Bitefighter manifested, Peter wanted to make sure it happened inside his room, where they’d be able to (hopefully) keep any unexpected craziness from getting out of control.
That hadn’t been a problem. They’d been scrutinizing the unicycle for fifteen minutes, but so far…nothing.
“Maybe he was lying,” Kora said. “For his own amusement, perhaps.”
“Nah.” Peter shook his head. “Not his style. The Timekeeper’s a pro in his own weird way.”
“He mentioned mushrooms,” Eun ventured. “Do you think they could help?”
Peter shrugged. “Might as well try.” He rummaged through his backpack and gave Kora and Eun a handful of zen zaps. Once the teens had maowed them down, Peter snapped his fingers, sending their perception Slideways. Drifting fractals popped into existence, filling the room with colored haze.
[Look!] Eun pointed at the unicycle.
Due to Peter’s careless chomping, fragments of zen zaps were floating gently down, settling onto various spots across the Bite Mobile. Luminous veins rippled out from each point of contact.
Eun snatched the bag of shrooms from Peter’s hands. [If we keep feeding it zen zaps, then maybe it’ll—]
[Wait.] Peter halted her with an outstretched hand.
[What?] Eun asked, puzzled.
[It’s just that Bitefighter was…what if he comes back and he doesn’t forgive me for…for…] Peter took a breath. Held it. Deep pain radiated out from his psyche.
Kora clasped his shoulders and shook him a single time, forcing him to look at her. [This is no time to falter. We must embrace our future, lest we become mired in the past.]
[You’re right.] He nodded at Eun. [Go ahead.]
[Peter, if you need some time, then—]
[It’s been years.] he projected. [I’m ready.]
She crumpled up some shrooms and let them fall on the Bite Mobile. Clusters of light erupted from the unicycle; arcs of intricately patterned lightning—each bolt was limned with henna-esque designs—passed around and through the wheel and the frame.
[Whoa.] Peter whispered.
[Indeed.] Kora emoted. She’d witnessed fantastic magic back on Elithia, both in ceremony and combat, but this was something else altogether. The patterns were…they were…
She’d meant to keep the thought to herself, but she inadvertently sent it to Peter and Eun. They nodded in response, continuing to stare at the radiance-enveloped unicycle. Reflective flashes shone off their irises. A second later the Bite Mobile began sparking and folding. Different components snapped and popped, linking together in a clockwork sequence.
[What’s happening?] Eun squeaked. [Peter?]
[I don’t know!] He took a step backward. [I’ve never—]
A clear outline was starting to form. Rods were telescoping outward, and the single wheel split down the middle. Both halves gave birth to a new set of wheels. Near the front, a crosspiece of metal sectioned into place, settling into an unmistakable “T.”
Peter’s unicycle had just become a bicycle.
Peter stepped forward, reaching out with a tentative hand. When a burst of henna-threaded lightning jumped toward his fingers, he jerked his arm back.
[Peter.] Eun whispered. [Look.] She pointed at the handlebars.
A rectangular pad of soft-glowing green had emerged in the space between the rubber-coated grips. Letters and numbers were flitting across it.
[Should we touch it?] Peter asked.
Kora stared fixedly at it for a long moment. [Stand back.] she commanded [You do not possess my durability.]
Peter and Eun were happy to comply
Kora touched the panel, a soft boo-BOOP sounded from its surface, and a six-inch figure formed above it. At first it was staticky and broken—like Princess Leia’s hologram when she’d asked for help from Ben Kenobi—but after a few seconds, it formed into a cartoonish creature with a cute pot-belly, a spindly pair of arms, and an oversized head. Its mouth was charmingly wide, filled with fangs, and its eyes were tiny, mischievous dots. It looked like the anthropomorphic rabbit-creature Max from Peter’s favorite comic book, Sam and Max, but it didn’t have ears. Instead, it had a neat little mohawk comprised of short bristly hairs; from a distance, it could have easily been mistaken for a solid black three-dimensional stripe.
[Is that…is that…] Peter trailed off as he stared at the grinning Max-creature.
[Bitefighter.] Kora projected reverently. [His true form.]
Peter wanted to argue—Bitefighter was a dog, not some Adult Swim-style Animaniac—but a surge of surety bloomed in his mind.
This was his long-dead friend, no doubt about it.
[What should we do?] he asked. [More mushrooms?]
Bitefighter knelt down and traced a square with his right index finger, leaving four silver lines hanging in the air. Color flooded the center of the square, turning it into a white, fuzzy slat. He began writing on it with the same finger. When he was finished, he held it above his head so the three of them could see.
NOT YET, the makeshift whiteboard read. STILL ASSIMILATING.
[Bitefighter.] Peter’s lower lip trembled. [I’m sorry I let you down. I shouldn’t have—]
Bitefighter scribbled out another message and held it up.
ALL PART OF GRAND DESIGN, it read. His grin widened. NO WORRIES.
Eun clasped her hands by her waist, trying not to wring them. She wasn’t quite sure of how to address a cartoonish entity that looked like it was designed to bite anything and everything. [Uh…so do you need anything from us, or—]
Bitefighter dropped to his knees and began scribbling on his whiteboard. When he held it up, it read: SLEEP NOW. TALK LATER. He held it still for a few seconds, making sure they saw it, then set it down and lay on his side. He pressed his hands together, rested his oversized head on them, and curled his legs up to his sunken little chest. His chest and potbelly began to rise and fall in rhythmic time.
He slowly dimmed, then disappeared.
[Unbelievable.] Peter projected. [Who would have thought that my ten-pound terrier was an immortal warrior? Not only that: he’s reincarnated as a hyper-intelligent bicycle that eats magic fucking mushrooms.]
[I always knew he was special.] Kora projected. [I’d tell him what I wanted, and oftentimes, he would do it in a more efficient manner than I had first envisioned. He would disobey my order, if he saw foolishness in it.] Her gaze lifted, growing distant with long-ago memories. [I could always trust him to chock me.] She turned to Eun. [Is that the word? ‘Chock?’]
[Check.] Eun corrected. [You could trust him to check you.]
[Check.] Kora nodded. [Yes. He was good at that.]
Peter examined the bicycle with a nervous gaze. [Do you think he’s meant to be a bicycle? I mean…he started as a unicycle, right? Do you think he’ll undergo another transformation?]
The three of them studied the Bite Mobile in silence, contemplating Peter’s question. An unspoken consensus grew between them, reinforced by their Slideways-assisted telepathy: Bitefighter would continue changing.
[What do you think he’ll become?] Kora asked.
Eun’s expression turned resolute.