Starlight
Starlight
Chapter 3: Cleaning Up The Attic

Far above, fluffy white clouds streaked the midday sky, and Jumba wondered briefly how humans could find meaning in such things. To him they were irregular and formless, completely opposite to the firm and clear world he lived in. Perhaps that’s why people found them so interesting - the clouds could be anything, so finding pattern in chaos allowed them to place certainty in their confused chaotic lives. Jumba nodded to himself, as if to confirm this thought; as he looked onwards, a red balloon floated across the sky, slowly rising through the background of blazing blue.

As he walked, he noticed the muffled sounds of choral singing; this told him he was going in the right direction; as he had rarely ventured this way, he was unsure of the lay of the land. Gradually, these noises became more distinct, until Jumba could make out recognisable words, and finally, entire verse:

 

“Ke`a mai la i Kilauea

Malamalama i wahine kapu...”

 

A large building now lay in front of Jumba. This building was, evidently, rather old – some parts of the foundation and roof had severely deteriorated – but otherwise stood strong, proudly weathering the elements.

 

“A ka luna o Uwekahuna

I ka pali kapu o Ka`auea!”

 

Beside the open doors, drilled to the wall, was a golden plaque, declaring the name of the building (the Mo’ikeha Hall and Community Centre) and celebrating its’ nearly three-hundred years of use. Jumba quickly glanced it over, then turned his attention to the young girls inside.

 

“Ea mai ke ali`i kia manu

Ua wehi i ka hulu o ka mamo

Ka pua nani a`o Hawai`i

`O Kalakaua he inoa!”

 

“He inoa no Kalani Kalakaua — kulele!” recited the girls as the music came to a finish.

And with that, the hula teacher began clapping.

“Well done, everyone, well done! Now, I’d like to thank our volunteers…”

The hula dancers bowed, and stepped off the stage, joining the few parents who had arrived early for their children.

“…and our parents, who without their encouragement, we couldn’t be nearly as successful.”

He nodded to a somewhat squat woman with slightly tan skin and straight black hair and a tall man of African-American decent who had short but rather spiky hair, both of whom were standing by the door, clapping vigorously.

“Now, remember, we’ve got two more sessions before the competition, so be here bright and early for practice on Friday. Remember, a'ohe hana nui ka alu'ia.[1] . Working together is the key to our small community.” He briefly glanced at Lilo and a fair-skinned bespectacled girl with bushy ginger hair, who were now engaged in a tongue-poking war.

“Okay, everyone is dismissed,” he said, clapping his hands twice. “Remember to practice your moves at home!”

“Finally! I have to brush my hair about a thousand times, and I’ve no time to waste.” Mertle Edmonds, the redhead, had a slightly obnoxious voice mixed with a slight whine; this gave her the air of constant vanity. While this was, for the most part, true, Lilo briefly wondered if she would better like her if that voice wasn’t so pithy.

“Not like Weirdlo would know anything about style.”

Her second, third and fourth favourite things, besides herself, were, respectively, taunting, teasing, and gloating in front of, Lilo. Suffice to say, this happened often.

Besides Mertle stood a small group of girls – Yuki, a black-haired girl who was the spitting image of her mother; Elena, a girl with rather pale skin and blonde hair tied up in ponytails; and Teresa, a dark-skinned girl with wavy chocolate-brown hair. These were Mertle’s ‘friends’, or so she called them, but they might as well be zombie yes-men for all the individuality they demonstrated.

The three girls grouped together for a few moments, whispering to each other in low tones, before they turned to Lilo and delivered their verdict in unison:

“Yeah!”

Lilo turned her nose. She had better things to do than worry about her looks, or Mertle, for that matter. Well, perhaps she could spend a few moments imagining her being dipped in molten chocolate… Lilo giggled, while Mertle raised an eyebrow.

If Lilo had noticed Mertle’s reaction, she didn’t show it. Instead, she stood and walked to one of the seats along the side of the hall, and sat down so she could watch the proceedings unfolding in front of her.

If there was anything that fascinated Lilo, it was people. The way they acted, moved, behaved – even their shapes and sizes. It was due to this reason that at home, she had a wall devoted to her people photos – a small shrine to the wondrous world of people.

“Hey, Little Girl!”

All thoughts of revenge, that bespectacled girl, and people in general slipped away, and Lilo madly spun around to face the source of the shout.

“Uncle Jumba!” She rushed to meet her, embracing the four-eyed alien in a great bear hug. Jumba seemed surprised, but otherwise took it well, ruffling Lilo’s hair in a sign of affection.

“Heh heh… Little Girl is happy to see me, no?”

“Well, I see weirdness runs in the family,” whispered Mertle to one of her friends. Lilo ignored her.

“Well, it’s just you don’t usually leave your study often, at least nowadays.”

Jumba smiled. “I thought I’d pick you up, that way I can be sure you two help me with big attic-cleaning-out!”

“Oh.” Lilo silently cursed herself - she had forgotten again.

“Also, there is something I need to be, uh, telling little blue-furred ex…”

“Ixnay on the ‘periment-say,” Lilo interrupted in a hushed tone. Mertle had stopped suddenly, and was now pretending to tie her shoes, giving Lilo an upside-down glare.

“Er… exoplasmic detection dog… yes, so would Little Girl know where he is?”

Lilo sighed with relief. “He’s out on the porch… at least, he was, the last time I saw him.”

The porch was almost entirely deserted. To the left of the door were some ancient tin trash cans that had the appearance of having been there since around the ice age, and a single cane-bottomed chair. And to the right, on a long green bench, sat one of her fellow hula students – a young, pale-faced girl with long red hair and little freckles dotting her nose.

“Hey Lilo!” she said, waving to the two.

“Victoria!” replied Lilo. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much,” Victoria replied. “Actually – every few months or so, our family has a little picnic get-together out down one of the trails, and, well, Gran always makes far too much food for everyone to eat, so we tend to always have leftovers and – well, what I was wondering was, would you and your family like to come along this afternoon? You can bring Stitch along too if you want.”

“I’d love to,” began Lilo-

“Great!” Victoria beamed. “I’ll tell them when I get-“

“What Little Girl might be trying to say,” interrupted Jumba, “is that Little Girl would be loving to accept offer, but she is having prior commitment.”

“Yeah, sorry Victoria,” said Lilo. “I’ve got this big chore thing I promised to help out with.”

“Oh.” Her face saddened considerably, and she turned to leave.

“But the next time, we can definitely be there!” Lilo said quickly. “I do really want to come, but – well, you know my big sister: when she sets a date, she makes us stick to it.”

“Great!” She smiled. “I’ll tell my family, and we can arrange for it, okay?”

“O-kay!” Lilo replied.

“Alright, then, I gotta go,” said Victoria. “See ya!”

“Aloha!” replied Lilo as her friend ran down the road.

Almost immediately after Victoria had disappeared down the hill, a loud clanging noise rang out from one of the old beaten-up trash cans. As the two stared at it, a vivid-blue football-shaped head emerged, his mouth having ensnared a particularly worn-down shoe.

“Ah, 626! When we are done with the attic, can you… can you come down to my study? I am needing to, uh, run a few tests… you know, brain analysis, thermal scan, hormone levels, physical fitness – normal things, no?”

The experiment visibly shivered. Lilo knew he hated physical examinations, but she also knew that if Jumba said he needed to do it, he needed to do it – and besides, how else would they know if he’d been secretly injected with some kind of zombie venom?

“’Course Stitch will do it, won’t you, Stitch?” the little girl volunteered for him. Jumba smiled at her enthusiasm.

626 slowly nodded in agreement, still slightly hesitant.

“Then it’s settled.”

“So it is,” agreed Jumba. “So, shall we be off, then?”

And so, the trio made their way homewards, each watching the clouds roll by.

 


 

The attic was, in all respects, the dustiest thing Experiment 626 had ever seen - in fact, he doubted whether there was even a square inch of space left untouched by dust. Books were scattered everywhere, and a number of boxes were stacked precariously against each other, looking as if the slightest nudge could topple them.

Stitch selected a book from a pile that had been hastily shoved along the side of a box of platters. It was about something called “horticulture” – a word that seemed to mean “farming stuff” – and half of it was filled with statistics. Boooring.

He was about to toss it aside when he noticed a picture of a cow. Something intrigued him about the picture, so he dog-eared the page (having learnt better than to rip pages out willy-nilly) and threw it over his shoulder (having not quite learned how to put stuff away.)

The next book was about various kinds of seedless plants. “Naga,” he affirmed to himself, and it too joined the horticulture book in soaring through the stuffy attic air on a parabolic path.

A census book was next. “Naga.”

“Er, ahem!” came the gruff voice of Jumba behind him.

Stitch turned his head, and as he did, he couldn’t help, in spite of Jumba’s stern looks, but smile – the census book was now balanced on his head, with his crown wedged between the pages.

“Would evil genius experiment please stop throwing rectangular projectiles at my cranium!” he growled angrily.

“Oh, soka, Jumba!” Stitch, of course, hadn’t meant to hit Jumba, but he still felt it was polite to apologise.

“Hey, what’s this?” asked Lilo, pointing to a particularly dusty box.

Stitch examined the box. On the side facing towards him and Jumba, he could see a label, slightly smudged as if it had been damaged with water. The box itself looked like it had not been moved for years – the layer of dust that coated everything else in the room was thickest on the box, and the tape that sealed it, browned with age, was peeling slightly at the edges.

He squinted, trying to make out the words on the label.

‘Kalani’s Videos’, he thought, scratching his head. Where had he heard that name before?

Lilo nudged the box slightly, and the sound of plastic shifting could be heard. “I think… these are video tapes,” she concluded, folding her arms. “I wonder what they’re about?”

Stitch still couldn’t remember the name, but he had thought of something else – he knew that the only people who’d lived in the house, besides himself, Jumba and Pleakley, was Lilo and Nani‘s family, and he’d surmised from what little bits of information that he’d overheard from the both of them that at least their parents were… well, no longer living.

If the box did belong to their parents, its contents might be somewhat sensitive, especially since Lilo had been having nightmares about them. It was bad enough that she dreamt about them, but if she saw them again during her waking moments, she might…

Stitch didn’t know the exact word for the sensation, only that it involved great pain, pain which he couldn’t bear Lilo suffering though. He’d known it too, once before, once when he’d thought he’d had no family…

Lost. Lilo might feel lost again.

As he realised what this could mean, a great sadness began to well up in him like a balloon, filled almost to bursting; a sadness that threatened to engulf and overwhelm him…

And before he could prevent himself, he rushed up to Lilo and embraced her in an almost smothering hug.

No harm will come to you, he silently promised her.

He heard Jumba say something, but the words didn’t register. What it did do was prompt his logical side into action, and, realising what had happened, he broke off the hug gingerly.

 


 

“Er, soka.”

As Stitch let her go, Lilo felt herself flush slightly. 626, the Experiment 626, was giving her a hug? It had surprised her because Stitch so rarely even showed that kind of emotion, only even receiving hugs very begrudgingly. When had he ever hugged anyone?

Well, there was that time in the dog shelter, when they had first met…. But Stitch’s programming had probably been processing the poster behind her. It probably wasn’t for real.

Because we’re ‘Ohana. It had to be the reason. Stitch might be troubled, and something might have triggered a memory of those troubles, and he’s turning to family for comfort.

Well… whatever the problem, she was sure he would tell them eventually. For now, he wanted to keep it to himself, and that’s OK.

“Er… that’s OK,” she said, giving Stitch a big smile, although she was sure she was still blushing a little.

 


 

It was inappropriate, wasn’t it? Stitch’s mind was reeling from what had happened. Lilo couldn’t possibly have known what he was thinking, so she must be feeling completely weirded out after he had hugged her, especially so suddenly. Even if she had said it was okay, she may be trying to hide her feelings on the matter.

Weren’t there protocols of some sort? Social practices to initiate before hugging someone?

And besides, of course, Kalani could always be an acquaintance of Jumba or Pleakley. Although it definitely sounded more like a Hawai’ian name than a Qweltian or Plorgarian name, Stitch thought. Either way, it still probably contained sensitive information. He should probably consult with Jumba or Nani first before letting Lilo see it.

And with that thought, he walked up to Jumba and, keeping his voice low, asked him a question in his alien tongue.

“I don’t… think I am remembering a Kalani, although I will be checking my contacts to make the surest,” Jumba muttered, more to himself than to Stitch. “But yes, am agreeing with you that best option is talking to Older Girl first.”

“What’d he say, Jumba?” Lilo asked inquisitively, having only heard the distant murmurs of the conversation they had held.

“Er… 626 is saying, and I am agreeing, that is best to leave box of moving-picture records where they are until we are knowing more about them. 626 is concerned they might be, er, how you say…”

Jumba chewed his lip, as if trying to think of the right word to describe them without giving too much away.

“… well, delicate.”

“Delicate?”

“Private, I should probably be saying.”

“Oh.” Lilo appeared slightly crestfallen. She was an avid collector of old monster movies, so perhaps she had thought she’d find a few in the box. And she was very curious, so being told to keep out was like being told she wasn’t allowed to have any of the coconut cake everyone else was enjoying.

“Well, erm, why not you two play hide-and-go-seeking to be clearing heads, no?” Jumba suggested, obviously trying to break the awkward silence that had followed the ‘oh’.

“Ih!” said Stitch, leaping dramatically behind another dusty old box.

Lilo looked from Jumba’s smile to Stitch’s hiding place and giggled. “Okay,” said the little girl, smiling brightly. “C’mon, Stitch, I’ll start, you go find a better hiding place!”

 

*

 

After several rounds of hiding and seeking, Stitch was exhausted. Where did she get so much energy? He guessed that two years chasing experiments had given her a lot of exercise – or perhaps it had merely been using up a reservoir of energy that previously had not had an outlet? Whatever the reason, it had 626 bushed.

He had decided to rest for a while, and had found the perfect hiding spot – one of the boxes at the bottom of a rather precariously-stacked pile. With precise balance, he had lifted the other boxes and quickly jumped inside. No one would find him here.

The space was much like most boxes he’d ever been in – small, cardboard, slightly dusty and full of stuff. It was dimly lit by a slight opening where the box above wasn’t quite in line with his own little box. The beam that emanated from this slit lit up little particles of dust in the air, resembling little fairies, or dandelion seeds floating on the breeze.

Stitch smiled, watching the particles hang in mid-air, spiralling around little vortexes formed in his breath. One of them floated towards what looked like a picture frame.

His interest piqued, he picked up the frame and examined it carefully. Stuffed hastily inside was a flat screen panel of some kind, with a oddly-shaped slot at the top, obviously for some kind of memory card. A quick flip of the protective cover showed that it was already holding such a card.

He pressed the only button he could find. The screen flickered on, and on it appeared a picture of two figures standing in front of a fountain. One was obviously Jumba, at a time when he was shorter, slimmer, and had had hair of some description. The other, who had poked two fingers behind Jumba’s head without him noticing, was a purple humanoid, short, stout and with two eyes instead of four, his face somewhat resembling that of a rhinoceros, only without the horns. While Jumba was wearing the same tattered lab coat he often wore even now, the other figure had donned what was obviously some kind of uniform, royal blue with gold accents and stitching, and two pins adorned on his collar. While Jumba looked relaxed, the other had a look of fierce determinism about them, one that emanated from every characteristic, from the person’s yellow beaded eyes to the way they held themselves.

Stitch racked his memory banks. He remembered that this was most likely a trainee, or, at least, had recently been a trainee, in the army, as the studs on his jacket were the same ones a junior ensign wore. He thought this was odd, as never in the five years since his creation had Jumba mentioned knowing anyone from the army, let alone anyone he was friends with (as was indicated by the fun atmosphere about the picture - almost whimsical, in some ways.)

He put the photo aside. He’ll ask Jumba about it later.

Twiddling his thumbs for a bit, he staring at the gap in the boxes, watching the dust fairies dance in the spotlight they had been placed under.

This was boring.

He decided to start scratching out a picture in the sides – not too far as to tear through it, though. With swift movements, he etched out the outline of a comet, hurtling through space. He then drew the Earth, and a geometric cube. He didn’t know why, but the sight of the cube hovering above Earth gave him the shivers.

He stared at the imagery that he’d drawn. Something seemed out of place-

“Found you!”

Stitch jumped suddenly, his head hitting the bottom of the box above him. The box shifted slightly, but otherwise remained steady.

He looked around for the source of what was undoubtedly Lilo’s voice. Two familiar eyes peered through the slit between the top of his box and the bottom of the box above. Evidently, Lilo had perilously climbed the precariously stacked pile of boxes herself.

“Sorry, Stitch!” apologised Lilo quickly.

Stitch rubbed his head – it was slightly sore, but otherwise he was unhurt; he thus decided to grin back in acceptance of Lilo’s apology.

“You should be more with the quiet of etching whatever-it-was it was,” said the voice of Jumba Jookiba from lower down.

At that moment, Stitch felt an ominous shudder rivet throughout the pile. It was probably nothing, he decided.

But then, just as he had finished dismissing it, very slowly, the box he was in slid forward a little.

Chuuta.

“Lilo, sasa!” he cried, in an effort to get her to jump off and away from the stack before the inevitable happened.

“What?”

The box leaned forward somewhat. Stitch cleared an area of the things that were stored in the box and dug his claws into the bottom of it to prevent slipping against the other side, thereby causing the stack to topple.

“Woah!” Lilo had definitely felt it that time.

“Jump… off!” Stitch yelled, his voice tinged with urgency.

But the slot was still covered (with the left side of her head instead, her ear and some of her hair poking through the slot.) Therefore, Lilo must still cling to the box face, either unable or unwilling to jump.

The box was now at an angle of about 35 degrees from normal. Even his previous insurance was starting to wear thin – he was still sliding, albeit rather slowly, only now his claws were tearing through the cardboard bottom of the box. His own weight was now bringing him further along, causing the box to deviate even more in angle due to the redistribution of weight inside the box.

Thirty-seven degrees. He felt a shake, and the stress and instability of the stack seemed to lessen slightly – two crashes confirmed his suspicion that two of the boxes had fallen off.

“Little girl, please to be listening to 626! You must jump!”

Jumba was probably below her, in a position to catch her and, if necessary, shield her from the falling contents.

Lilo’s head disappeared from view, her hair quickly flowing up the side of the box, and then down below the slot – she had jumped, and not a moment too soon, because the moment after, he, and the box he was in, was toppling down towards the floor.

It took less than five seconds – in fact, it took four point eight two nine seconds – for the box he was in to hit the ground, roll over several times, and come to a stop against the wall. Stitch found himself with his body sprawled against the backwards side of the box, and his head laying against the ground.

It was not a position he enjoyed being in,

He pivoted his legs in an attempt to roll over forwards. It didn’t work in the slightest, the most probable reason being that in this position, his body could not act as much of a fulcrum, and his legs could not provide enough torque for him to turn over himself.

He needn’t have worried.

Suddenly, the box was lifted from around him, and now that his head was no longer supported, he could slide forwards, which he did until his body lay flat on the ground.

He picked himself up. Jumba was standing in front of him – in one hand, he held the box. And leaning against Jumba’s leg, apparently unscathed, was Lilo.

Stitch sighed with relief.

“Well… we best be cleaning this mess up,” declared Jumba.

He walked up to Lilo.

“And please, no mentioning to Nani – Jumba is in enough trouble with her without her misconstruing this.”

“No problem,” replied Lilo. “It was an accident, and you did the best you could.”

“Thank you.” Jumba smiled. “Now for to be cleaning up!”

At these words, Jumba plunged his hand in to a pile and emerged with it holding a purple vase with some odd symbols on it.

“Ah, my old vase! Have been looking for this – might make good windowsill ornament.”

Lilo nodded, “It looks kinda cool – you should totally ask Nani to put… her… geraniums…”

At that moment, her pupils darted across her eyes – she had noticed something from the range of her peripheral vision. She waded a few steps across the pile of stuff, and from the mess picked out what seemed to be, despite having no visible openings, a small titanium container, circular in shape, its surface gleaming in the light.

“What’s in this?”

Jumba’s face, when he saw what she was holding, drained of colour. He started gripping the vase he was holding tighter, his arm shaking steadily.

“’Tis… ‘tis nothing!”

Stitch’s curiosity was piqued. After all, Jumba usually was keen to reveal his inventions. Whatever this was must be extra-secret, and thus, extra-illegal.

Lilo must have had the same idea, since she was now looking for an opening or button of some kind.

“Er, would little girl please be handing to me!”

Jumba trudged towards Lilo, but Lilo walked backwards, holding the device away from Jumba at arms-length

”Why?”

Jumba furled his forehead.

“Does it matter?” the scientist muttered irritably.

“Yes.” Lilo stuck out her tongue as if to emphasise her point.

Clearly annoyed, Jumba tried to run towards Lilo, but even in the sea of objects she easily sidestepped him.

“Just give it to me!”

“Not until you tell me what this is.”

“But-w-‘tis being top secret!”

Jumba made one last attempt at running towards Lilo.

“Catch, Stitch!”

She threw it, as carefully aimed as she could in as few seconds she was provided, at Stitch. Or so Stitch assumed; he could see even then that it wasn’t going to make its target.

He rushed over the sea of stuff to try and catch it, but before he could do so, he found himself over a cavity – an empty box was below him. He waved his arms in a desperate attempt to displace enough air to lift him, but to no avail - gravity pulled him down into the box, head first.

“Oww.”

He rubbed his head again. He’d had enough of falling for one day.

The experiment picked himself up and quickly scanned the mess of objects before him. The metal orb was not among them.

He looked up towards Lilo, as to give her a ‘what now?’ look, but stopped as he saw what was between them. Then he blinked and rubbed his eyes.

The orb was floating. In mid air. Not only that, but it was moving towards Jumba.

Smiling, the alien scientist grabbed it out of the air, deactivating a odd prong-like device with his other hand as he did so.

“Ah, magnetic gravimetric field simulator. Was looking for that!”

Obviously, he had, by luck, came across the field simulator and used it to levitate the other device towards him. Stitch growled – that wasn’t very fair.

“Now,” Jumba continued, “I will be putting small container where you two cannot be putting nose into it...”

And with that, he wading though the mess and plodded down the steps to the corridor below.

“Well,” said Lilo, leaning against the wall, “we do know two things: Jumba’s hiding something, and the thing-a-ma-bob is definitely a container. We’ve got to-“

Some loud noises indicated Jumba was coming back up the stairs.

“I’ll talk to you later about it,” she said, and with that, she picked up several small devices with screens.

Stitch nodded. Whatever it was, it was important. And whatever it was, he had to know exactly what it was, and no matter what happened, he was going to find out.

 


Footnotes

[1] ^ A'ohe hana nui ka alu'ia – In unity there is strength.

 


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Copyright © 2013 Mark Kéy-Balchin.