Chapter 7 - A Little Luck
The next time One ventured out of the private section of his floor, he found Two and Wong waiting for him. Wong was playing an old game on One's massive television while Two slept with his head on the arm of the couch.
With a smirk, One slammed the door behind him, waking Two with a loud snort. One's erstwhile partner peered around the room blearily for a moment before letting out a yawn.
"Oh, there you are." Two stood up and stretched. He let out a relieved groan, the popping of various joints audible. "Wondered when you'd come up for air again."
"Morning, Two. Morning, Wong." Grinning at Wong, One added, "Thanks for helping me out the other day. I owe you one, man"
Wong beamed at him. Two, however, looked less than amused.
Approaching One as he walked to his favorite chair, Two said, "Yeah, about that; Teach just spent the better part of an hour chewing my ear off about not keeping an eye on my little friend here."
"Ah, he's just mad that I was able to slip by without him noticing." One picked up a nearby controller and joined the game to Wong's obvious delight.
Sitting down next to One, Two continued, "Did you really have to persuade the Dreamer I'm supposed to be responsible for to roll up Teach in a big wad of junk and push him out the nearest window?"
Wong interrupted, "Katamari. It's called a katamari."
"Thank you for the clarification. Shut up." Turning back to One, Two said, "It took three weeks for Atraius to happen by and free Teach from the …" he glared at Wong before finishing, "… katamari."
One looked at Two incredulously. "Wait; you're giving me a lecture? I thought you hated Teach."
"That's 'cause I do hate the bugger. Not 'hate' hate, you know, just a kind of 'ugh, this guy is annoying' hate. He's such a pompous jerk at times, all hoighty-toighty with his 'leave the universe a better place than you found it' bullcrap, it makes me want to punch him in his smug face sometimes. Still, this isn't about him being an ass; he's giving me flak about something you convinced Wong to do."
"Ohhh, sensei! Me sooooo sorry!" Wong threw himself on the floor and proceeded bow to Two over and over, his head hitting the ground with a thump every time.
One watched, feeling both amused and disturbed. "He's definitely going to fit in around here."
Flashing a dirty look at One, Two pulled Wong off the floor. Wong had gone cross-eyed, and his hair stuck out wildly in all directions.
Wong wrapped his arms around Two in a loving embrace and said, "I didn't know you cared!"
Two tried to jerk his hand away, but Wong held it with an iron grip. Struggling to release himself, Two glanced at One. "A little help?"
One couldn't help it; he started laughing.
Two shot him a dirty look. "It's not funny, One! He's been doing this since I was put in charge of him! I know you're on vacation, but give me a hand here, I'm beggin' ya!"
One applauded, a big smile on his face. The glower on Two's face made it clear he was not amused. Before he could open his mouth to say anything however, Wong began hopping up and down around his mentor, spinning Two around faster and faster like a top before finally letting him go. Two spun wildly across One's floor, narrowly avoiding the maze of bookcases as he spun to the stairwell doorway. With astounding speed, Wong dashed across the floor and flung open the door just in time for Two to spin through it.
As Two vanished down the stairwell, Wong waved back at One. "Sayonara Ichi-san!"
Still chuckling, One called back, "Take it easy, Wong!"
"Hai!" With that, Wong chased after Two, the door closing automatically once the young Dreamer departed.
After a few moments, One muttered to himself, "Well, that was fun. What to do, what to do …?"
His gaze fell on a metal door in the far corner of his floor. Shrugging, he muttered, "Why not? It'll kill some time."
Bright fluorescent lights came to life the moment One stepped through the doorway into what he affectionately called his workshop. It was actually more of a large storage bay, at the back of which knelt a massive humanoid machine that was like an old friend to One: the Final Fantasy.
One discovered the Final Fantasy in the ruins of Bridges. He had been looking for information on his past, but instead discovered the half-finished machine hidden in a facility beneath the city. The technology was most peculiar; though he could see signs of Post-Devastation Earth tech, the facility itself was completely alien to him, especially the small contingent of small bug-like robots that maintained everything. Fascinated by what he found, he brought the entire facility to his floor, the Final Fantasy included.
The humanoid mech was unfinished and unnamed at the time, but enough tech remained to form a starting point for One's designs. In a matter of months, the newly-dubbed Final Fantasy was ready for action. One broke her in fighting a giant lizard monster on a small planet orbiting a white dwarf star. A large tooth propped up next to one of his workbenches stood as a reminder of that first intense fight.
One ran his hand across the smooth metal plating of the mech's foot, whispering, "How are you, old friend?"
A holographic projection of a small girl with cat ears flickered to life beside him. Crossing her arms, she said, "Oh, that's nice. You say hello to that thing before me."
One grinned. "Hi, Rebecca. You doin' okay?"
Rebecca was an artificial intelligence that had been in a hibernation cycle until One accidentally activated her while exploring the facility. Fortunately, she took a liking to him, though her mood was always a little hard to predict.
She sniffed. "For your information, I've been running a thorough scan of your tinker-toy over there ever since your last scrap. The right leg booster's power converter is damaged and the armor plating on the core has been badly corroded by that monster's acid; you'll have to replace it. Of course, my skrievers could have taken care of it if you'd just let them."
Three of the little bug-like robots unfolded themselves from their perch on a nearby workbench in a manner that could only be described as eager.
One smiled and said, "Thanks, but you know me; I like working on her myself. Go ahead and extend the damaged plating while I get Headache."
She crossed her arms and looked away, pouting.
Sighing, One added, "Pretty please?"
"Fine! Opening her maintenance hatches and extending plating." The armored plating of the Final Fantasy extended outward, revealing coiled wiring and complex machinery.
He wasn't sure why, but One always felt more relaxed while working on the Final Fantasy. Of course, he couldn't work on the Final Fantasy without his Headache. He glanced around until he found the twin units laying on top of a nearby workbench.
The original UBT (Universal Builder's Tool) was originally designed and built by the Builders of the Ranger's Collective. Builders would use the multipurpose devices to build and repair heavy machinery. During combat, an experienced team of Builders could turn the tides of battle, repairing dreadnaughts like the Final Fantasy and other heavy machines while under fire.
A standard UBT is equipped with electromagnetic generators (useful when working on tall ferrous machinery), fusion welding gear, a grappling hook, a standard riveting gun, a fully functional robotic hand, and a self-adjusting active strengthening system that effectively increases the user's lifting strength.
Of course, One customized the two UBTs he referred to as 'Headache'. The fusion welding system in each unit was capable of producing a fusion energy blade about three feet long for short durations. The riveting gun was modified to fire armor piercing shards as well as the thick three-inch rivets it was designed to shoot through thick sheets of metal, and the energy-based grapple was able to project an anti-gravity field, giving One the ability to lift even heavier items without injuring himself, although the effect was limited and consumed a massive amount of energy.
Shaking his head, One put on his tek-boots. They lacked the armored plating of Mikaen's set, but One's tek-boots allowed him to hover in the air for limited periods of time, a upgrade given by a grateful norm once helped by the Dreamer.
"Well," One said, looking over the Final Fantasy, "Guess I'll start with the armor plating."
He hefted a sheet of the synchrome alloy he used to reinforce the original selanium-steel plating. The sheet was as thick as his arm and almost four times his size, but Headache allowed him to lift it with ease.
Retracting the mechanical hand and activating the fusion blade of the right-hand Headache Unit, One cut the armor plating to match the damaged plating on the core. He paused a moment once done to admire the neon-blue sheen of the energy sword before deactivating it.
"Activate the platforms, would you, Rebecca?"
Still sulking, Rebecca waved a translucent hand in his direction. Several segments of the floor rose into the air around the Final Fantasy. Once the final platform was in place, One shot into the air, his tek-boots trailing a stream of blue energy. He circled around the Final Fantasy until he was hovering in front of the dreadnaught's chest. Setting down on the nearest hovering platform, he took a moment to examine the damaged plating.
The right breastplate was badly scarred, the work of a rather nasty monster he fought on a previous assignment. The gash wasn't as bad as the bubbles; the corrosive acid the creature had spit at him had formed several air pockets within the metal, weakening it throughout the entire plate.
Peering into the cockpit through the holes, he muttered, "Wow … closer than I thought."
Shrugging, he got to work pulling out the foot-long bolts that held the plating in place. He was just beginning to wrest the damaged panel from the core when a soft giggle gave him pause.
"Hello?" Hearing nothing but silence, he shrugged and started to pull off the heavy plating. The lights along the sides of Headache began to shine as he tried to heft several hundred pounds of metal from the framework surrounding the dreadnaught's core. He just managed to wrestle it free when he heard it again; a faint giggling sound coming from somewhere nearby. Given that he was a good twenty feet in the air, this was more than a little disconcerting.
"I know someone's there," One said irritably, "Either show yourself or get lost."
Once again, there was no response. It was probably one of the other Dreamer's children; Atraius, the Dreamer of the floor known as 'The Forest', had seven half-siren kids who were constantly poking their little noses where they didn't belong. Alex's youngest daughter had a habit of sneaking into his workshop as well; an eight-year old shape-shifter can be surprisingly cunning.
Just as he finally managed to pry the second panel from the core, he heard someone shout, "BOO!"
The voice was so loud and so close that he dropped the panel. The heavy metal plating hit the ground with a resounding clang.
Inside the core, lounging in the pilot's chair was someone with long red hair, mischievous green eyes, and a friendly.
They stared at each other in silence until she leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the tip of his nose. This had the effect of both breaking One's bewilderment and making him blush.
"Oh! Luck! I didn't-"
Luck threw her arms around One the moment he set down on the edge of the exposed cockpit. "I missed you, One!"
She abruptly let go of One and punched him playfully on the arm. "Why didn't you tell me you were back? I was worried about you!"
"Well, I … uh …" One felt his face grow warmer as he struggled to form a cohesive sentence.
She gave a light-hearted shrug. "Oh well. I'm sure you would have got around to it sooner or later. Besides, I heard Teach tried to push another job on you."
"You and everyone else." One replied, finally finding his voice. Rubbing the back of his head, he continued, "I'm beginning to wonder if I should have taken Elduran up on his offer and stayed in Homestead."
"Aww! Poor One!" Luck cooed as she rubbed One's cheek with a gentle hand. "You haven't had much of a vacation, have you?"
One felt his cheeks burn at her touch. "Y-yeah. Um … listen, I'm glad to see you, but I really should finish fixing the Final Fantasy."
"Oh! Carry me down to the floor, would you?" Before One could respond, Luck hopped off the chair and wrapped her arms around One's broad shoulders. Letting her head rest on One's chest, she said, "Okay, I'm ready."
His cheeks an even darker shade of red, One lifted Luck's light body with ease and leapt from the cockpit. He landed with a loud clang; thankfully, the boots slowed the descent enough to keep One and Luck from becoming a splatter on the floor.
Luck hopped out of One's arms and asked, "You'll stop by my floor later?"
He nodded, unable to think of a reply. Luck kissed One on the cheek before vanishing, a flurry of butterflies in her wake. He breathed a sigh of relief before moving to pick up the damaged armor plating.
One and Luck had been friends ever since she joined the Elsewhere Incorporate. They'd even worked together on a few assignments, a rarity among the often stubbornly independent Dreamers. As of late, she made no pretense of her desire for the two of them to be more than friends.
One was fond of her, there was no denying that; she was quite pretty, and she seemed to project an aura of happiness around her that made it impossible to be angry when she was nearby. She was also very tender-hearted, a trait One found very endearing. When it came down to it, One liked her every bit as much as she liked him. There was just something stopping him from reciprocating; a small voice of doubt in the back of his mind that just wouldn't go away.
"She's definitely marked you for her own, that's for sure."
One turned to see Teach sitting on a nearby workbench, picking at some of the machinery One collected for integration into the Final Fantasy.
"You know that can rip the iron out of your blood." One commented. "Not fatal to us, but it'll still hurt like hell."
Teach quickly withdrew his hand. Flashing a distasteful glance at the part, he said "You're still working on integrating some of the Headache sub-systems into the Final Fantasy? I thought you determined that a fusion blade of sufficient size would take too much energy to sustain."
One didn't respond as he set a new piece of metal plating on a workbench. He activated his fusion cutter, the loud whine of the blade drowning out Teach as he tried to continue talking. Eventually, the elder Dreamer gave up and waited until One finished cutting the armor plating.
"Look, I understand why you're angry." Teach said.
"Sure you do."
After inspecting the plate again, One nodded with satisfaction and picked it up. Teach hastily stepped back, only just avoiding being bashed by the side of the plate as One headed back to the Final Fantasy.
Hurrying forward, Teach said, "I honestly had no intention of giving you another assignment when you came back. When I said you deserved a break, I meant it."
One continued walking as though he hadn't heard anything.
Teach sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "Come on, One." he said, "Aren't you even the least bit curious about Mikaen?"
With a sigh, One set the armored plate against the Final Fantasy's leg. "Of course I'm curious, Teach. It isn't every day that someone falls out of the sky, even in our line of work, but after two decades of continuously getting into one big mess after another, curiosity just isn't enough of a draw."
"Look, this job's not as bad as the last few you tackled. It's practically a flick assignment; a few nudges in the right places and you'll be done."
"It's never that simple, Teach." One said, unable to hide the irritation in his voice. "You know how it is; you finish a job, and someone else pops up with a problem. It sounds small, and you figure it won't take long, so you help out. Next thing you know, what started as a small assignment has become another complicated quest. You finally finish that job when you're approached by someone with another problem, and suddenly you're back at square one again."
Teach put his hand on One's shoulder, saying with genuine sympathy, "I know, friend. Believe me, I know."
Shrugging Teach's hand away, One lifted the plate again and boosted up to the floating platform in front of the Final Fantasy's chest. With one hand holding the plate in place, One took careful aim and fired a series of thick metal rivets through the newly cut armor until it was secure. After firing a few more rivets, he lowered his hands and nodded in satisfaction.
Landing near Teach, One said, "Not that I've had much of a break since I got back. You've been pestering me about an assignment, Two's been wanting help training the new Dreamer, Max needs some assistance with one of his inventions, and to top it off …"
Teach nodded as One trailed off, correctly guessing, "Luck."
One laughed, feeling slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, Luck."
Teach smiled. "You two would make a good couple. Of course, if you were to marry, we'd be brother-in-laws."
"I'm sure Karma would just love that. Honestly, I'm not sure what the problem is; I just don't feel totally comfortable with the idea of Luck and I being together."
After a long moment of silence, Teach let out a sigh. "Mom would kill me for telling you, but your feelings for Luck probably have something to do with this."
He set a silver ring on a nearby bench. It looked like a simple ring; no jewels or gold adorned it. From the moment One set eyes on it, however, he felt the strangest sense of anticipation and a desire to hold the ring and reclaim the memories that lay within the silver bit of metal.
Unable to take his gaze away, One said, "Last time I checked, Mom kept these under lock and key."
"Yes, and typically, I would agree with her feelings on the matter. Stored memories are typically unpleasant and emotionally scarring, which is why they were stored in the first place. Still, memories are what make us who we are. Even if we store them away, some trace of them remains. I think this is why you find yourself conflicted."
The ring looked like such a simple thing. It must have had some significance to the memories that were stored inside, but One had no idea what that might be. Had the ring been a gift? Had he picked it up in some shop on impulse? Had he found it in some cave or facility and taken it as a souvenir? He knew that he must have had a good reason to deliberately suppress his own memory, but anyone who's ever had a nagging question burning in the back of their mind can appreciate the temptation of what he faced.
Picking up the ring, Teach said casually, "I could ask Mom to reintegrate the memory for you. All I ask in exchange is-"
Teach fell silent for a moment, no doubt surprised by One's sudden response. "Wow. Even with the ring, I didn't expect … are you sure you don't mind?"
One let out an exasperated sigh. "I need a break, but I'm obviously not going to get one here. At least if I'm on assignment, I've only got one thing to do. Here, I have to deal with the whole Elsewhere vying for my attention."
A smile slowly spread across Teach's face. "Well, despite the circumstances, I'm glad you've changed your mind. Your skills as a Dreamer and experience as a Builder make you the only Dreamer capable-"
"Yeah, whatever. Look, I expect something in return for this, and not just the ring, either." One disengaged Headache and set the twin units on a workbench. "After this job, I want a vacation away from everything; the Dreamers, the Elsewhere, the mainstream. I'm talking months, years … hell, decades maybe. No more favors, no more assignments until I'm ready."
"Then it's a deal." Teach handed him a small piece of paper and the ring. "Keep this on your person, and the memories will start integrating in a matter of days. Here's all the information you'll need on the assignment, including a quick list of basic actions. As usual, feel free to improvise as long as the basic conditions are met. There's a short time delay involved. Seven months, though you've already slept through a chunk of that."
"Why so long?" One asked.
"Mikaen will be going through extensive psychological counseling in Homestead … good job in sending him to Elduran by the way. In seven months, he'll have put enough of his inner ghosts to rest to make your assignment considerably easier. I've already taken care of the time adjustment, so you can head out whenever you're ready."
"Might as go now. I'd like to have a little talk with our little knight friend before we get started." One gave the list a quick glance before he folded up the paper and stuck it in his pocket. "Any special gear?"
Teach handed him a small device attached to a leather wristband. "Just this: a holographic projector for stealth purposes. He calls it a 'Wile'."
One examined the unit, chuckling at the name. "A wile, huh? Cute. I don't see any kind of battery here. What's this thing use for power?"
"Ah, that's one of Max's new ideas. It draws power from local lifestream sources. Vintan technology is lifestream-based, so try not to use it in tech-heavy areas as the energy loss will be traceable."
"Don't use it around heavy machinery. Anything else?"
Teach said, "Just one thing that I want to make sure is perfectly clear. Your assignment is not to help Mikaen return to Earth."
One raised an eyebrow curiously. "You're kidding."
Teach nodded solemnly. "I understand your confusion. Yes, this is not a wayward child job."
"Fair enough." One said, shaking his head. "Well, if I'm not bringing him home, what am I doing?"
"It's quite simple. Your assignment is to see that he doesn't go back at all."
"Oh. Right then."