It was bright. Derek was blinded for a moment by the harsh rays of sunlight. He covered his eyes for a moment, but they slowly adjusted. He took a deep breath, and took his first look at the outside world.
Blue sky was the first thing he saw. At first he didn't think it was possible. The sky stretched on forever, all the way to the horizon. It was so huge, even the largest rooms in The Sphere couldn't hope to match it. A massive light shone down through the air, ten times brighter then any light bulb.
He realized that the ground under his feet was shifting, adapting to his weight. He looked down and saw it was composed of thousands of tiny rocks. Sand. He quickly stepped back onto the transport, worried that the sand couldn't possibly support his weight. But then he saw the solders and other passengers walking about on it freely, and took a tentative step back on. Nothing happened. He then broke into a wild run, flinging sand everywhere as he ran across the beach.
Everything on the outside was so blue! The water was dark blue, the sky was light blue, and both stretched farther then any eye could see. The sand crunched under his feet unlike any metal or carpet. There were no walls to stop him running. It was pure, unconstrained freedom, and Derek screamed in happiness.
“Hey, don't leave the group till we make camp!” a solder yelled.
Derek skidded to a halt, lost his balance, and rolled onto the sand, panting with exhilaration. He laid there, staring up at the sky. He wondered if there was any roof at all. The rules that had always defined his world, that of a metal roof, a metal floor, and four walls, had been brought down in seconds. Truly, the outside was a wonder.
After a while, he turned his head and looked inland. It was like the ocean, only green. But as he looked closer, he realized that it was different in other ways. There was brown and red and dozens of other colors placed within the green. The green came from thousands and thousands of leaves that dotted every tree. It was completely without regulation, and without even the simplest of logical designs. Each tree was different from every other. It was unlike anything Derek had ever seen.
“We'll make camp inland, and then send out scouts to find the outpost,” Lieutenant Caver, who was in charge of the transport, announced. “Let's go!”
The passengers joyously followed him, happy to be out of the transport. Colonel Cornwell didn't look as happy. “Doesn't make sense,” he kept saying. “Doesn't make sense.”
As they went further into the forest Derek found even more wonder. It was quiet. In The Sphere you would constantly hear the bang of metal on metal, of great machines, of buying and selling on the market. Outside there was none of that. Just wind blowing through the trees and the occasional chirping of birds. It was so peaceful.
Derek realized that he wasn't thinking about his sisters. Or about his obligations on The Sphere. His mind wasn't frantic, it was calm. He was settled.
The passengers and the solders said little as they walked through the woods. There was little to talk about, they had been talking for days. The transport roared on ahead, clearing a path through the overgrowth. Finally they came to a natural clearing, large enough to hold the transport and give all of them breathing space.
“We'll make camp here,” Lieutenant Caver said. “I'll lead the scouting party. For some reason the outpost that radioed us isn't on my map. We'll have to find it manually. Anyone else who wants to leave camp needs to get permission from Sargent Rex.”
The Lieutenant gathered up a few men and set off. Derek, along with the pretty girl, ran up the the gruff Sargent Rex. “Can I go for a walk?” Derek asked.
“Yea, sure, anyone that wants to can. I don't know why the Caver said you needed my permission,” Rex said in a voice that clearly indicated he was annoyed about being given a job. “You too,” he added dismissively as the girl ran up.
“Thanks,” they both said simultaneously, and ran off in completely different directions to explore.
Colonel Cornwell eyed the girl as she left. She was very pretty. He followed her.
Derek didn't get tired of wandering quickly. He wandered for hours, looking under every rock and shrub. The forest was teaming with life. Disgustingly huge bugs and flocks of birds were everywhere. There were no mammals though. Just bugs and birds. And lush plants of course. The plants were everywhere.
At last he came to a little stream that he figured must run through the center of the island. He took his shoes off and waded in slowly. The feel of water running over his feet was incredible. He felt like it was the first time his feet had ever been truly cool.
He glanced up and down the stream, and saw it in the corner of his eye. Something moved. It was not the plodding of a giant ant or the quick flight of a bird. It was something quick, but constrained to land.
“Anyone there?” Derek called. A figure in a black cloak, stepped out from behind a tree. It's face, and all of it's skin was completely covered.
“Are you from the outpost?” Derek asked, although as he said it he knew what the answer was.
The figure didn't not answer. It moved slowly toward him, gliding across the ground like it wasn't walking. There was no audible splash as it entered the water. It started to speed up.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Derek exclaimed, backpedaling and holding out his arms in defense.
The figure increased speed even more, and Derek turned and ran. He had barely turned when something seized his arm with inhuman strength. Everything became confused. He caught a glimpse of pure white skin, the kind that had never been under lights. He saw two eyes, emotionless, and without any color. And he saw a needle, just before it was jammed into his arm.
He fell back into the water. Stars swam before his eyes. They started to form shapes, shapes that danced in front of him. He heard violin music being played, music that seemed to sum up all the pain in the world. The violin was joined by a piano as the shapes turned into a cyclops, slaughtering and leaving a trail of dead. It was coming for him. Derek ran, although he wasn't really running, and he knew it.
Their was something crimson in the sky, and then he saw a man with two pistols. One pistol he pointed at the cyclops, the other he pointed at Derek. He pulled both triggers.
Derek saw a radio, one with legs and feet, running after him, shouting, “You must not leave The Sphere! No matter what happens, no matter what people offer, you must never leave! You cannot leave!Your father's greatest achievement will have been for nothing! And I am your father! I am your father! I am your-”
Derek felt cold water on his face. He was in the stream. Cold water touched his face, shaking him from the delusions. He sat bolt upright and looked for any sign of his attacker. The dark figure was gone.
He felt pain shoot through his arm as he moved it. A small hole had been drilled into it by the attacker's needle. He figured the scar would remain for quite some time.
He was only slightly back to his senses when a scream echoed through the woods, short but high pitched.
“Someone else!” Derek exclaimed, and pushed himself out of the water. He was hit by a wave of dizziness, but it wore off quickly. He tried to gauge which direction the scream came from. When he thought he had the right direction, he started running.
No more screams came to help direct him, so he kept running in the same direction. His vision swam and he fell several times. Whatever the attacker had given him was potent. He had no idea whether he was any closer to the screamer then he was when he started running. But he hit upon a bit of luck when he heard a hoarse but violent order.
It was Colonel Cornwell's voice. Derek crouched down and slowly made his way toward the colonel's voice. “Faster!” the colonel added with impatience.
Derek brushed away a few branches and got a clear view of things. The young girl was striping in front of Cornwell, tears running across her cheeks. In his right hand the colonel had his pistol, aimed directly at the girl's head.
“Faster!” Cornwell demanded again, and shoved his pistol into her forehead, prompting another round of tears. He slowly took his left hand to unzip his pants. “Aren't you a lovely one?” he said with a disturbing contempt. “It's been a long time sense I've got one as pretty as you. Savage girls just don't obey like civilized ones do. They always get damaged before I have them. It's a real pity. But that won't happen with you will it? I'd hate to have to break that pretty face of yours.” The girl broke down in sobs as she took off her shirt.
Derek was so horrified that he couldn't stop a sharp intake of breath. He saw a twitch run through Cornwell's body. He silenced his breathing as the colonel swung slowly around.
“Whoever is there, you'd better come out,” Cornwell said, grabbing the girl by the neck and forcing her face first onto the ground. He placed his pistol on the back of her head. “Come out now, it's not wise to piss off someone who can't die you know. Especially when such an excellent woman could have her brains blown out at any second.”
Derek's mind raced. He needed to help, but how? He slipped a small pebble into his palm, slowly and quietly as he could. Then he flicked his arm and sent the pebble flying into a tree ten feet from him. It knocked against the wood, although barely audible.
Cornwell heard it. He whipped around and put five shots toward the noise. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Had anyone been standing there, they would have been killed. But now the deadly weapon remained pointing in wrong direction.
Derek charged. Cornwell was caught off balance, expecting his opponent to appear elsewhere. Derek tackled him to the ground, putting one fist into the colonel's stomach and another across his jaw. He arm shot out to grab Cornwell's wrist and prevent the gun from being turned on him.
Cornwell barely noticed the punches, if he did at all. He got one good hit to Derek's ribs in, producing a sharp scream of pain, and Derek had to use his free hand to stop it from happening again. The colonel's muscles were like iron, his resolve even stronger. He grinned as Derek tried to stop his counter-attack and realized he couldn't do it.
The colonel flipped Derek onto the ground like a toy. Derek still had a death grip on both of his wrists, and Cornwell came down on top of him as a result. They faced each other on the ground, Cornwell was on top. He slowly began to work his hand holding the gun to point at Derek's head, and Derek tried desperately to stop him. But Cornwell was clearly stronger, and he had gravity on his side. Derek would have a bullet through his head in seconds.
The girl, who had been crying in hysteria this whole time, finally began to take notice of her surroundings. When she saw the struggle, she quickly moved to help Derek. Cornwell tossed her aside like a rag doll. The effort did buy Derek a few more moments, but not many.
“Run!” Derek screamed. “Get back to the camp!”
The girl, after looking around hopelessly for a weapon, decided that running was the best idea. But as she ran fast and hard through the woods, Cornwell flicked his wrist up. The pressure on his arm lifted, and Derek though for a moment he had succeeded in pushing the gun away. Then a shot echoed through the woods.
It was a shot only a master could have made, and Cornwell was a master. The girl's legs lost their support, and she stumbled and fell onto the dirt. She was dead.
“No!” Derek screamed. A new rage swept through him. With a battle cry he punched Cornwell across the jaw, and then in the stomach, and then in the head, over and over again. He supposed Cornwell was hitting him back, but he couldn't feel it such was his anger. He bit the colonel's arm, forcing him to drop the gun. He punched again and again, never letting up for a moment.
The rest of the fight was a bit confused. Derek remembered seeing the gun and picking it up. He remembered bashing a bloody line into Cornwell's face. And finally, he came face to face with his opponent, pointing the gun directly at his chest. And suddenly, Cornwell's eyes showed fear. Derek smiled, knowing he would put an end to the horrid colonel. He pulled the trigger.
There was an audible click. No bullet though, the gun was empty. Cornwell's eyes lit up.
“I can't die!” he screamed, tackling Derek to the ground. “I can't die! I can't die! I can't die!” he screamed over and over again, punching Derek to a bloody pulp.
Derek felt life slipping out of him. The colonel was beating him to death. He had won. It was in moment before his expected death that Derek realized that hanging from the colonel's belt were rows of pistol clips. And then he remembered the exact spot where the colonel's war wound was.
He didn't really have a plan, but he attacked like he had one. Derek's right first punched strait into Cornwell's old wound, while his left, grabbed and and tore off the colonel's belt.
The effect was immediate. Cornwell stopped his attack and screamed in pain. His belt came off, along with the pistol's ammunition. Derek grabbed a clip and slotted it into the gun, the colonel still screaming.
Cornwell had felt pain before, and even the intense pain off the wound didn't distract him for long. It was just long enough for Derek to reload. And when he saw Derek starting to level the gun, the colonel's mind instantly reacted.
He ran. He ran as only a man desperate for life could, covering ten feet in the blink of an eye. Derek never had a chance of hitting him. He had never been trained how to aim a pistol, and one of his eyes was obscured by blood. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He fired three shots, and all went wide. The colonel had gotten away.
Derek lurched to his feet, instantly dizzy. When he reorientated himself he couldn't see Cornwell anywhere. The colonel had gotten away.
He started off in the direction Cornwell had run, but soon saw it was pointless. The ground was to hard for footprints and Derek wasn't exactly a trained tracker. The colonel had gotten away.
Or maybe he hadn't. When Derek got back to camp, there could be a whole platoon after Cornwell. They could catch him and kill him. Derek gained new strength at the thought. He started off towards the direction he thought camp was.
It didn't take long for him to realize that he was hopelessly lost. He walked for hours, his head pounding in pain and his feet stumbling. Night was beginning to fall and he thought he was making progress. And when he saw the belt and pistol lying on the ground, he knew he'd been going in one big circle.
He sat down next to the gun, giving up. He decided that it would be prudent to carry a weapon, even if he couldn't hit anything. The belt was torn, but with a little fiddling he was able to latch it around his waist. He fit the pistol into it's holster, and checked to see it anyone had tampered with it.
When he looked up and was caught completely by surprise. The black cloaked figure stood in front of him. He pulled up the pistol and was about to fire when it spoke. “I have been sent to help you find your way.” It had a forceful, assertive, but strangely bland and emotionless voice. It produced from it's cloak a bone white arm. It made motions for Derek to follow it.
Derek got up, with his gun pointed at it the whole time. “What are you?” he asked.
“I cannot answer that question,” the figure said, and began to glide over the ground. Derek followed it, keeping a good distance behind.
“Why not?” Derek asked.
“I do not know the answer.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence. It was almost pitch black by the time the figure stopped.
“Your camp is just ahead,” it said. “Say nothing about me to your companions.”
Derek nodded. “Thanks,” he said, holstering his pistol and walking toward the sound of talking. He took a glance back, but the figure was gone.
He entered the small clearing were they had camped, and immeasurably, all eyes were on him. Lieutenant Caver and his scouts were back.
For a few moments they just stared at each other. Then someone spoke up. “You really did a number on his face colonel.”
A feeling of dread ran through Derek. Colonel Cornwell was sitting next to Lieutenant Caver. An evil grin was spread across his face. “Tisk, tisk, boy,” he said slowly. “I'm surprised you had the stupidity to come back after what you did to that girl.”
“I didn't do anything! I didn't do anything!” Derek exclaimed, panicking. “Whatever he told you is a lie!”
“Right,” the colonel said in a mocking tone. “So you didn't assault that girl, steal my gun when I tried to stop you, and shoot the poor thing dead? Your a horrible liar.”
“No, no, that's not what happened at all!” Derek shouted to the camp. “Look at my face. How did I get such horrible wounds if I was the attacker?”
“Oh come on boy, I was overpowering you until you stole my gun. We both know that.” The look on the Cornwell's face was one of pure glee.
“Derek Wheeler, you're under arrest for assault, attempted rape, and murder,” Caver said. “Put the gun down a come quietly.” Two solders started moving forward, guns in hand, to arrest Derek.
“No, no, no, no, no! NO!” Derek screamed.
What happened next is rather hard to put in writing, as it all happened in the blink of an eye. The solder closest to Derek was shot through the head. Dozens of shots sounded throughout the camp. And a mass of savage warriors that were dressed in bark and leafs charged into the clearing, screaming war cries at the top of their lungs.
“Ambush!” Caver screamed. The solders opened fire up on the warriors, and the warriors, many of which were armed with Sphere issue rifles, started cutting them down. The passengers screamed and ran for the relative safety of the transport. Dozens died in only a few seconds.
The solders and passengers started running for their lives into the transport. The doors would be closed and they would run as fast and as far as possible. Any that were wounded would be left to die.
Derek was forgotten in the chaos. He didn't really know what to do. But then he saw Cornwell crouching in the transport, unarmed. Nobody was guarding him. Nobody was in front of him. Nothing would stop a well aimed bullet.
Derek drew Cornwell's pistol, and took careful aim. His hands steadied themselves, knowing the importance of the shot. He pulled the trigger.
The bullet traveled strait into the colonel's head. Derek left out a scream of elation. He had got him, right in the head. The metal doors slid closed a second later, blocking any further actions. The transport drove off as fast as it's engine would go.
It was a few moments of joy before Derek realized that the savages had surrounded him. He was the only living civilized person left in the clearing. They had a dozen guns pointed at his chest.
He smiled awkwardly. “Hey, I'm just short of passing through, and I would love it if you didn't kill me.”
Something extremely hard hit him in the back of the head. With a grunt he fell to the ground, unconscious.