"Let machinery fake my place, who has time to chase. Digital is where it is. Love can always be replaced. Welcome to my consciousness. Welcome to our race. Everything is never quite enough."
Everything (is never quite enough) – Diop, Wasis
As I walked with the two enforcers who led me towards my doom, I realized that in the back of my mind like a tiny bell, I could hear the crystal. It was a strange noise, the kind that is heard inside rather then outside, more a vibration then an audible sound. What was it doing? I thought perhaps it might be trying to communicate with me. And so as I walked, I closed my eyes and concentrated on it, on the feel of it inside of me.
An image came to me then, a bizarre vision that took me a few moments to comprehend. I could see myself walking away from the enforcers as they merely let me go. Their hands released me, eyes going blank; they couldn't see me any more. Were they blind? What had happened, what was the crystal trying to tell me?
When my eyes opened again, I was alone in the hallway, the enforcers gone from me, just as the vision had shown. There was no answer for it, the crystal had done its task and gone silent within me once more. Now what?
"You're in dome 28, you must find your way back to dome 29 and go one level lower." 138 whispered, crawling out from beneath my hair.
"Why one level lower?" I asked, already walking towards the nearest tubing that would get us out of there without eyes on us.
"You cannot catch a ship at the upper level, they'll be checking at that stage. So you must sneak onboard while they get set to drop."
"What!? That's insane, I won't be able to get onboard, the ship will kill me as it drops."
"No, right before it's released into the well, it stops for exactly 1 minute."
"Alright, how do I get onboard?"
"There's a hatch located below the passenger levels, for items being shipped."
"There's just one problem with that," I said, swinging feet first into the nearest tube. My voice echoed slightly, "the items stored below are not strapped in like the passengers, the g-forces will kill me as well as you."
"Don't fear Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Chang has stated that where there is a will, there is a way. We will survive."
"That's good of you to say," I grunted slightly as I slid out of the tube and began walking quickly towards the next. "But perhaps Chang is full of shinalp."
"I do not see how Mr. Chang being full of feces would affect his wisdom Mr. Maxwell."
I turned my head slightly, meeting the wide green eyes. "Do you know, I don't even have an answer for that."
"It was not a question Mr. Maxwell."
Suddenly the hallway we were standing in began to shake slightly, as if something large were coming towards us. I glanced towards the tubing we'd just exited, seeing nothing out of place. The hallway shook again.
"What is *that*?" I whispered edging towards the wall, and sliding along it towards the next set of tubes.
"It seems as if those enforcers have noticed your disappearance."
"Great, so why is this hallway rattling?"
"I would say they've set a robotic finder on you Mr. Maxwell."
"Yes Mr. Maxwell, I would say so."
I began running towards the tubing that stood a good distance away. The shaking of the floor and walls increased, as if whatever was coming had started running as well. The robotic finders were not used often, to my knowledge. Due to their tendency to kill what they caught. The seconds seemed to slow as I ran, the tubes never seeming to become any closer.
Then, just as my hand fell on the hatch covering the next set of tubing, I made the mistake of turning my head. A large metallic form stood at the end of the hall. It looked like a monstrous canine made of metal, wires and tubes wrapping around its body like blood vessels and muscle. It's eyes were covered in a mirror-like substance, reflecting my suddenly fear struck body. It stood at least twice my height; its metal shod legs the cause of all the noise and rumblings.
"Creos, it's huge." I whispered, my voice cracking.
"Get in the tubing now, hurry!" 138 shrieked next to my ear.
The rattling of the huge beast shook my hands as I fumbled with the hatch cover. I didn't turn to watch, instead focusing on getting away. Abruptly the hatch flew open, a familiar voice urging me inside the tubing.
"Come on, it's right behind you!"
A hand grabbed mine and tugged me forward; the hatch slamming shut just as my feet cleared it. I found myself sitting in the dark next to Heero. Without a thought, I curled my hand into a fist and hit him full force between the eyes. There was a glint as they closed. I crawled over him and began sliding quickly down the tube and away from the scrabbling noises emanating from the hatch covering.
A grumble rose from Heero's collapsed body. "What was that for?"
"For being you."
"Nice." He muttered, and the sound of him sliding after me filled my ears.
Dome 29 again, not much had changed, except for the security that riddled the floor. I crouched in the tubing behind the hatch, Heero peering over my shoulder.
"How can we get to the next level from here?" I asked no one in particular. Heero shrugged, his arm resting over my neck, face beside my own.
"There's no robotic finders, merely enforcers, if we make a run for it we should be able to get to the next set of tubes and make it down to the level below."
"Easy to say, but how are we going to manage that?" I whispered back at him angrily.
"I don't know why you're so mad at me, I'm trying to help you." He said softly, eyes glinting in the near darkness of the tube.
"This is all your fault. If you hadn't put this crystal inside of me... "
"Shut up both of you." 138 whispered tersely, a small, threatening claw appearing between Heero and myself. "Right now it is more important to get you to safety than to argue, we must go down another level."
"Any idea on how we can do that?"
We sat in silence for a few contemplative moments, staring out at the crowded floor, the enforcers walking like plated death. Their armor was lightweight metal alloy, the kind ships were made from, it covered them from head to foot, only a pair of eyes visible from the shield that covered their faces.
"We need outfits like those." I muttered, turning to look at Heero.
"There's no opening in the back for wings, they'd spot us right away."
"The whole problem is these idiotic wings, thanks to you we can't get off the planet without me being noticed. What were you thinking Heero? That'd I'd be happy this way?"
"Now isn't the time Duo, we have to get out of here, after that I promise, you can yell at me all you want."
"Thanks," I said wryly, glaring at him through the darkness. "So, what do you think 138?"
"The armor can be modified without tools, there's a seam in back that can be spread to accommodate your wings. But even then, you'll be noticeable. I would suggest stealth, what you need now is a lack of notice."
"The crystal... as it did with the enforcers. That's what you're thinking, right 138?"
"Yes, Mr. Yuy needs not hide, and the crystal can help you I think, ask it."
"Ask it, do you have any idea how hard it is to ask something that doesn't speak my language at all?" They both gave me looks of mild surprise. "I'll try." I said heaving a sigh and closing my eyes.
Once more, I searched for that elusive awareness; it's shining light a guide to it. In images, I tried to explain what was wanted, ask it if it could repeat what it had done with the enforcers only, more so. There were certainly many more people to elude on the floor of dome 29. The drop point was well populated, being the only drop point on the planet.
After a few minutes had passed of me trying to explain there seemed to be a sort of acquiescent agreement from the consciousness of the crystal. It would try to do as I needed.
"It's going to try," I muttered, glancing at Heero. My eyes opened in surprise when he didn't respond, his face showing puzzlement as he looked at me. Though, he seemed to be looking through me, as if I was not there. Quickly I connected to the crystal again, trying to explain the need to be seen by Heero and 138. I showed it an image of the two of them talking to me, seeing me, and my invisibility to the rest of the world. The next time I opened my eyes, Heero met my gaze, nodding in a slow show of understanding.
"I didn't know you could do that."
"Neither did I, but I think it will work. What do you think?"
"It's perfect, I shall go with Mr. Yuy, the crystal has not hidden me. Follow us down to the level below, if you follow closely no one should bump into you." 138 said briskly, gesturing with one tiny claw first at me, and then at Heero.
We nodded in collusion, Heero easing open the hatch and sliding out in a graceful movement. He stood for a moment on the other side, waiting as I crawled out behind him. No one glanced in our direction; so far, the hiding abilities of the crystal were working.
We made it down to the next level with no encounters, most people kept their distance from Heero, perhaps the coldness in his silvery eyes was what kept them at bay. I didn't bother to question it closely; it was helping me now.
Besides, he didn't scare me, and despite myself, I found I still liked him, even after all of his betrayal. There was just something about Heero, a wall I knew only I had gotten past, and it gratified me to no end. Because I knew, he was mine. And he wouldn't be lying to me again, because if he did, I had a surprise in store for him.
"Now where do we go?" I asked as we entered another hallway, the crowds of the well far enough away for me to speak again.
"Now we need to get into the outer rim of the well, the first level is safe enough to get into." 138 said, and then paused and rubbed its paws together. "At least it should be."
"I feel so safe now 138, thanks for that reassurance." I said dryly, turning towards Heero. "Well?"
"Yes, it seems the only way to get you off planet... "
"But? You have doubts?"
"Yes, this is extremely dangerous Duo. If we don't get on the ship fast enough, we could be trapped as the well opens and if that happens... "
"If that happens we're dead." I nodded, "Alright, let's go, standing around isn't going to get this over with any faster."
We began walking towards the end of the hall towards the exit that would lead us to the outer rim of the well. Abruptly Heero held out his hand, stopping us in our tracks, he tilted his head to one side, listening. I paused, listening too, trying to figure out what he could have heard. Then I felt it, the low rumbling in the floor, like footsteps that were too heavy.
"Oh Creos, it's a robotic finder... "
"What?" Heero's head whipped around. He didn't look very optimistic.
"They've set the robotic finders on me, don't you remember what was chasing me earlier?"
"I'd... forgotten we had to deal with those too... " He said, a worried expression on his face.
"Move! It's heading this way!" 138 shouted, its tiny voice rising to an almost painful pitch.
Without words we began running, the sound of those horrid and heavy steps following us. The last barrier to escape appeared before us; quickly I keyed in a code, hoping it was right. I'd designed most of the programs, but a few had been changed in the years since then. To my relief, the door slid open, a small chamber waiting on the other side. We slipped into it, turning to see the robotic finder just rounding the corner of the hallway.
"Shut it Duo!" Heero bellowed, pushing me towards the small keypad on the inside of the chamber.
In a matter of seconds, the door slid shut, the sound of a large body slamming against it almost immediately heard.
"We'd better hurry and get into the drop zone, the next ship leaves in a few minutes." 138 said, crawling up Heero's body until it sat perched near one Steelshift wing.
I took a deep breath, trying not to see an image of myself gasping for air as we fell into the well and missed the ship completely. "Yes, let's go." One more combination on the keypad opposite of the one I'd closed the door on. I noticed all of us were taking deep breaths in preparation. The possibility of being exposed to vacuum during the opening of the well was extremely good.
"Duo," Heero said quietly, taking hold of my arm. "I want you to stay as close to me as possible, if we miss the ship I might be able to save us."
"Alright, but hopefully we won't need to worry about that."
"Hope is a futile thing, just do it if you must." 138 piped up, working its way around until it sat just beneath Heero's chin, snuggled inside the armored plate Heero was wearing over his chest. Up until that moment, I hadn't realized the plate was connected to Heero's wings, merely an extension of the Steelshift, if I'd had more time, I would've stopped to examine it. Then Heero removed his hand from my arm and his cloak hid it all from me. I went back to inhaling as much air as I could, remembering the imminent death that awaited me on the other side of all doors.
"Are we ready?" I asked, fingers poised over the keypad once more.
The scrabbling sound on the other door became louder.
"Now!" 138 yelled.
My fingers flew across the keys, and the door slid open.
This was a place for awe.
When I had been much younger, I had once asked Fina what a well was.
"A well, is a manmade hole that extends through a planet and exits on the other side. The speed that is built during the journey through the gravities within the well, is enough to break high fields on dense planets. The drop pad that sits over the well is a large plane made of metal alloy that covers over 5.2 thousand kilometers, it is able to hold over 3 thousand ships on it's surface, shifting to accommodate larger ships. Mr. Maxwell," She'd asked after a pause, "Do you know how the ships are released into the well?"
I'd sat there, smiling at the vidscreen images she'd been flashing during her lecture. And responded automatically when she'd asked. "The pads beneath them open up, and release the ships into the second level of the well. At the second level, pressure is released and an energy field that keeps the vacuum in place is cut, allowing the ships to descend through the planet."
"Very good Mr. Maxwell, do you understand how vast a space is needed for this?"
"A good amount I think Fina, it doesn't look so big on the screen though." I'd said, eyeing Halid Prime's well, then the Yackuton well as she showed them on the screen.
"They are much larger than you think Mr. Maxwell."
Much larger than anyone would think, it was almost impossible for the human mind to wrap around something so large. It was almost beyond comprehension, there were no words to describe such a space.
"Duo, pay attention." Heero hissed, grabbing my arm and tugging me around the catwalk that wrapped the inside of the well.
I jerked my eyes away from the incredible space that shimmered beside us, the endless sea of energy that for the moment covered the death of vacuum. "Ok."
"Breathe." He suggested, squeezing my arm.
"Right, sorry." The floor began to rumble gently, and we stopped.
"It's opening... " We turned together and looked at the ceiling. Nothing happened.
"Stay still, and get ready to run."
Out of the corner of my eyes, I watched Heero's head turn incrementally. "There's a finder about 30 feet behind us. Whatever you do, don't let go of me."
I tried to nod without moving my head, gave up and blinked instead. I could almost feel the finder, sense it.
I was expecting Heero to yell, shout for us to run, instead he squeezed my hand and tugged, and then we were running. Barreling towards one of the spires of metal that poked out over the drop, feet barely touching the ground as we sprinted.
"Spread your wings and balance!"
The command had seconds to register as we ran, and then I threw off the cloak I'd been wearing and spread my wings. Just in time to balance as we ran along the 2-inch wide spire that grew increasingly smaller as we went further out onto it.
Heero skidded to a stop, and caught me as I swung past. We spun for a moment and then stood, balanced on the end of the spire together. I made the mistake of glancing down, and quickly looked up instead. The ceiling was opening in spots; the ships were entering the second level.
They were silent, the only noise our breathing and the faint hiss of the energy shield. The ships lowered gently, one of them a mere yard or two away from us. I could see the hatch we needed to get to, so close.
"Keep a hold on me." Heero said tensely, slowing moving his hand from its fierce grip on my arm.
I wrapped my hands around his waist, glancing over his shoulder, the finder stood at the end of the spire. It's mirrored eyes showed nothing, but it was watching, one deadly foot poised to step onto the spire.
The slim needle we stood upon shook, and once more, everything slowed. I felt Heero flex to jump, my grip tightening on him, the spire trembled, and I heard a splintering, metallic shriek as it broke.
I know that only seconds passed, but what took place seemed to last an eternity. Heero's hands wrapped around me, pulling me completely against him, without a word his mouth met mine. I couldn't even begin to wonder why he was kissing me when we were about to die... and then... I felt it, the Steelshift was melting over my face, covering my nose and eyes, our mouths where they met. It slipped over my arms and down my legs, and I realized I was breathing through Heero.
I felt the brush of his wings as they folded over us, tightening and flexing to enfold our bodies. To my shock, the crystal on my back began to pulse, pushing through the Steelshift and bending to fold around us as well.
In the blackness behind my eyelids, I could see nothing, only feel the strange binding sensation of the Klishana and the Steelshift as they worked to protect us from the drop. I felt a rolling of energy pass over us as we went through the shield and then only coldness as we fell for eternity down the well.
Transpod: A dimensional traveling device. The transpod will transport human mass within any area that contains another transpod. The time taken for each journey will always be exactly 10 nanoseconds, as time is folded as well as matter to create no ripple within the dimensions.
Slosta: A drink created from organic matter grown on Jilad, the Slosta is filled with nutrients that heighten awareness and energize.
CR chips: Two microchips implanted behind the ears, the connectors that allow a direct linkage to the VR modules.
Shinalp: A form of cursing, Shinalp is somewhat akin to saying "shit" or "ah shit"
Kajacrap: The Kaja is a life form located on the planet Neskin, a large beast known to produce huge amounts of feces. The phrase kajacrap is akin to saying "Bullshit"
Fliogan Warriors: The Fliogan is a race that attaches metallic wings to their young while they are still being formed within the incubators. The wings are partially organic, fusing with the young so as to become part of their bodies. This warrior race is known to be extremely high tech, and very vicious, most normal humans will not go near them, as they are known to kill without reason. Very little is known of the Fliogan or their ways.
Feed Tubes: Connectors that feed information and nutrients to any life form connected to any long-term device.
Lavablue 6: The planet on which the society of Fliogan reside at this time.
Levels: Technological knowledge is rated by level; most societies only have an average of 30 levels. The common level of most humans is 5, techmaster levels tend to be higher and in the upper ranges.
Steelshift: 1 of over a million different charted elements, Steelshift is partially organic, allowing it to be integrated with human DNA, testing is still in experimental stages, most distinguished users of this element are the Fliogan.
Slipshot Diskwings: A style of wing known to be common among the Fliogan, Slipshot defines the integration of movable parts, Diskwing is the style of the small circular patterns of metal that form the wings of Fliogan.
Contract: A contract is a more binding way to say, "Promise or swear?"
Optilenses: Cyber optic lenses, which can be used during a VR program only.
Creos: The original form of the name Christ has changed with the passage of time, modern form of the word when used as a curse is Creos.
Orstras: A plant matter grown in dark caves on the planet of Trinition, considered a delicacy on most planets, the plant is dark purple with small white bells that can be plucked and cooked. The taste is said to be sweet and delicate.
Realtime Call: The difference between a realtime call and a regular call is in the distance, all realtime calls infer off planet residence of the caller, communications run at high speeds, face to face talking is still difficult between planets.
What is your task: This is the way most people will ask what your job is, what career you're in.
Crèche Technician: Most people are born to the incubators and raised in crèches, the technicians help care for the many children being raised in such places.
Grower: The still forming body of a child within the incubator, a delicate time that must be carefully overseen to prevent accidents. A grower is usually designated as a child in a womb-like state. Between –1 to –9 months, or the time a child would be inside of a mother's body.
Youlin: I manmade mammalian life form, these animals are specifically created to improve the technology behind cloning. Most tests are performed with a small VR module; with which the creatures are filled with the only knowledge they know, as the Youlin is created with a blank slate for a mind.
A Set: A group of Growers that have reached maturity.
Trance state: Every few months of a citizen's life is recorded during REM cycles, the consciousness is stored within a neural processor called a memory chip. Occasionally when one wishes to know another, an exchange of such chips may occur.
Wetwiring: circuitry and modifications that can be installed within the human body without harming it.
The System: There are 3 levels of the system. The first is that which take cares of the minor systems such as basic maintenance, the second level controls techmaster training, medical facilities, and knowledge. The final level of the system controls all other functions between worlds, each detail is observed, and stored within it.
Klishana: A crystal found during an expedition of exploration, it is not only organic, but sentient as well.