“I don’t get it.” Peter was standing in his room, arms crossed, staring at the Bite Mobile.
After leaving the Bloom, they’d raced back to his house. If Bitefighter manifested, Peter wanted to make sure it happened in his bedroom, where he could (hopefully) keep any unexpected craziness from spiraling out of control. They’d been scrutinizing the unicycle for fifteen minutes, but so far…nothing.
“Maybe he was lying,” Kora ventured. “For his own amusement, perhaps.”
Peter shook his head. “Not his style. The Timekeeper’s a pro.”
“He mentioned mushrooms…” Eun said hesitantly. “Think they could help?”
“Couldn’t hurt to try.” Peter rummaged through his backpack and gave Kora and Eun a handful of zen zaps. The teens maowed them down and 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 down, settling onto various spots across the Bite Mobile. Luminous veins rippled out from each point of contact.
Eun snatched the bag of shrooms away from Peter. [If we feed it zen zaps, maybe it’ll—]
[Wait.] He halted her with an outstretched hand.
[What?] Eun asked, puzzled.
[Bitefighter was…what if he comes back and he doesn’t forgive me for…for…] Deep pain radiated out from his psyche.
Kora took hold of Peter’s shoulders, forcing him to look her in the eye. [Do not falter. We must embrace our future, lest we become mired in the past.]
Peter was silent for a long moment, then nodded in agreement. [You’re right.] He turned to Eun. [Do it.]
[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 brilliance erupted from the unicycle. 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 magic back on Elithia, but this was something else entirely. The patterns…they were…
She’d meant to keep the thought to herself, but inadvertently sent it to Peter and Eun. They responded with distracted nods and continued staring at the radiance-enveloped unicycle. A second later, the Bite Mobile began to spark and fold. Different components snapped and popped, linking together in a clockwork sequence.
[What’s happening?] Eun squeaked. [Peter?]
[I don’t know!] He stepped back. [I’ve never—]
Rods telescoped and locked into place. The wheel split and gave birth to a duplicate. Near the front, a crosspiece of metal sectioned outward, settling into an unmistakable “T.”
Peter’s unicycle had just become a bicycle.
Peter reached out with a tentative hand. A fritz of lightning jumped toward him. He jerked his fingers 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. Then: [Stand back. You do not possess my durability.]
Peter and Eun were happy to comply.
Kora touched the panel, and a soft boo-BOOP sounded from its surface. A six-inch figure formed above it. At first it was staticky and broken—like Leia’s hologram when she’d asked for help from Ben Kenobi—but then it resolved into a cartoonish creature with a cute pot-belly, a spindly pair of arms, and an oversized head. Its mouth was charmingly wide and filled with fangs, while 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, its head was topped by a neat little mohawk comprised of short, bristly hairs. From a distance, the mohawk could have easily been mistaken for a solid black stripe.
[Is that…is that…] Peter trailed off.
[Bitefighter.] Kora projected reverently. [His true form.]
Peter wanted to argue—Bitefighter was a dog, not an 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. [Feed it 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 wrote on it with the same finger, then held the slat up so the three of them could see.
NOT YET, the makeshift whiteboard read. STILL ASSIMILATING.
[Bitefighter.] Peter’s lower lip trembled. [I let you down. I shouldn’t have—]
Bitefighter scribbled out another message.
ALL PART OF THE GRAND DESIGN, it read. His grin widened. NO WORRIES.
Eun clasped her hands in front of her waist, trying not to wring them. She wasn’t quite sure of how to address a cartoonish entity that looked like it was made 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 more seconds, 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 chest. His potbelly rose and fell as his eyes drooped closed.
[Unbelievable.] Peter projected, turning to his friends. [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 more efficiently than I’d first envisioned. Sometimes, he would simply disobey me, if I was being foolish.] Her gaze lifted, growing distant with long-ago memories. [I could always trust him to chock me.] She focused on 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 bike with a nervous gaze. [Guys…do you think he’ll transform again?]
The three of them studied the Bite Mobile in silence, contemplating his question. An unspoken consensus grew between them, reinforced by their Slideways-assisted telepathy:
He would continue to change. He had to.
[What will he become?] Kora mused.
A faint smile played across Eun’s lips.