The unlikely trio manage to make it away from the blast’s epicenter without taking any damage. The man is farther ahead down the road while Hector lags behind with Étaín still in hand. But after a block or two, Étaín pulls her hand away. They continue to sprint—to keep up with the man that is considerably farther ahead at this point—meanwhile Hector glances at Étaín concernedly. She returns his gaze with a confident look. Hector grins, and pushes onward in a rapid burst. “Heh.” Étaín lets out a breath while she mimics Hector in her own sudden burst of energy. She trails behind him, while Hector trails almost two full blocks behind the man. The man doesn’t let up, and this continues until they arrive at the outskirts of Pater around the same vicinity Hector entered the city originally. The man waves at the lagging students with a brimming mischievous smile.
“Ugh… look at that smile,” Étaín shouts from behind Hector, “it’s making me cringe!” Étaín explains between gasps of air.
“You’re right. There is definitely something about his smile,” Hector agrees while he similarly gasps for air.
They slow their speed and come to a full stop in front of the man. The two students hunch over and grasp at their knees while they desperately gasp for air.
“You academy kids have no stamina!” The man insults them with a look of disgust. “Our enlisted students in your age group could outlast even me.”
“What did you say? Who are you anyway?” a momentary pause and then Hector shouts, “What on Terra was that explosion for?”
The man grimly looks at Hector, “That, my young Academy friend, was an attempt to kill me. Those… despicable people… never cease their unruly acts of terrorism. They were probably drawn to my gunfire, but we needn’t worry. The cowards rarely stick around the blast for long. They know we’ll retaliate in full force if they do.”
“Wait! Who’s we?” Hector asks in frustration. “Don’t confuse me even more! Answer my previous questions first!”
“Whoa, Hector. This is a new side of you I’ve never seen since I’ve met you yesterday. I never knew you can be so whiney.” Étaín interjects.
Hector blushes, but is reminded of someone he knows. “Alexa…” He mutters under a breath.
“What?” Étaín asks. “Hector, you dazing off into dreamland again?”
“No, I’m fine.” Hector turns to the man, “So answer my questions already.”
“Alright, alright,” the man concedes holding up two hands in surrender. “My name is Angelus. People call me Angelus the Swift, because I’m the fastest man enlisted in the Free Cities of Terra Collective…” Angelus pauses for a moment. “But in reality, I’m actually the fastest man in all of the Free Cities combined!” He grins.
The students roll their eyes, and then Angelus continues.
“The we, I referred to earlier is the Free Cities of Terra Collective, abbreviated as FCTC. They are a loosely connected organization that fights the power of the Lords of the Free Cities. You see… each Free City has a self-appointed ruler we call Lords. For centuries it has been like this and is in fact one reason why the HIPER doesn’t recognize the Free Cities as a Sovereign nation, quite unlike the status of the UTG’s Eco-Cities.”
“But the HIPER created the UTG!” Hector states.
“Which is why the HIPER trades freely with the UTG’s Eco-Cities. Because the HIPER has total control over it. But the Free Cities of Terra are lawless frontiers of individual freedom. The perfect breeding ground for people like the Lords to practically enslave Free Citizens.”
“If that’s true, then why doesn’t the HIPER help the Free Citizens?” Hector naively asks.
Angelus laughs obnoxiously in Hector’s face—some spit even hitting Hector’s cheek. Hector wipes it off with a disgusted look, while Angelus speaks. “Help the FCTC take down the Lords? Why on Terra would they do that? They have no reason to ever do that. They are the HIPER. The self-appointed superpower of the Solar System,” Angelus chuckles at the thought and Hector stares blankly. “Look, the HIPER isn’t concerned with Terrabound conflicts that have nothing to do with the Eco-Cities. If they need any resources, they could just extract it from one of the several asteroids they pulled into a stable orbit around Terra. There is nothing left on Terra they would ever need that the UTG is not already supplying them with. The Free Cities are irrelevant in their mission statement.” He pauses for a longer period this time. “In any case, we must fight with our own power. We must do what needs to be done with our own strength. We needn’t rely on the UTG, or on the HIPER for help. We will crush the Lords, one by one, and liberate one Free City after the next, until all of the Free Cities of Terra are truly free.” He stares at the two adolescent students and blushes at the realization that he is declaring his resolve to mere children. But he stands proudly, hoping he’s making some kind of impression on the two.
“What rubbish!” Étaín says.
“What!?” Hector and Angelus shout in unison.
“I said that’s rubbish! The very nature of the Free Cities are a breeding ground for people like the Lords. You said it yourself! But what happens when the current Lord dies?” Étaín asks but doesn’t give Angelus time to answer, “I’ll tell you. Another Lord takes that Lord’s place, either as a successor, or by force. So by that logic, it’s inevitable that your band of merry men in the Free Cities of Terra Co~Whatever, will be fighting Lords in every Free City on the planet indefinitely.” She waits a moment until she continues. “So I say, its rubbish. All that talk about beating the Lords.
Hector realizes he’s heard this kind of talk before—from Nani. Étaín and Nani’s speeches are about completely different topics initially, but the underlying message in both essentially state that the Free Cities are doomed to live in agony. A familiar feeling starts churning in his stomach once more. An overwhelming anger builds exponentially when Hector begins to speak. “So you’re saying we should just let the Lords do what they please? To let the Free Citizens suffer under their rule?”
Étaín blushes, “No. I’m just saying that it’s the nature of the Free Cities. No matter what anyone does, they will always breed someone that will think like a Lord, and sometimes, that person will achieve his/her dream. It’s just inevitable.”
Hector and Angelus stare at the girl and Hector thinks deeply about what she says. He feels angry at her statements, but a small part of him believes in what she says. Just as a small part of him wants to believe in Angelus’ seemingly empty declarations. Torn, he decides to change the subject. “Well we shouldn’t worry about this too much. I mean we can’t really help your cause Angelus—“
Suddenly the truth comes to Hector in a flash. “Actually! I can help your cause! It’s the reason I came looking for you in the first place. There is something I need to show you. It’s at the edge of the forest that hugs Eco-City #9’s tall wall.”
“What is it?” Angelus asks.
Hector hesitates, but decides to tell them. “It’s a strange looking sphere made out of HIPER-grade material. It came crashing down on top of me in a ball of fire. I nearly died when it landed.”
Angelus’ eyebrows twitch, and he very coolly strokes his chin. “Alright Hector, show me this sphere.”
Angelus slowly walks up to the sphere that is still sitting in its shallow impact crater. He rolls up his left sleeve, revealing a PEC very similar in style to the one Hector wears. Angelus palms the surface of the sphere with his left hand, his clunky PEC tapping the surface of the mysterious sphere. Instantly the surface dissipates into thin air, revealing a mechanical looking inner spherical container. Angelus cranks a singular lever counter-clockwise and the mechanical sphere starts to churn out a grinding sound, while there is multiple movements along its surface. After an eternity—relative to Hector’s frame of mind—of hissing sounds, Angelus lifts a black full body suit out of the opened mechanical sphere.
“That’s it? That’s what I almost died for?”
Immediately the black suit starts to liquefy over Angelus’ hands. Soon after, the liquefied suit completely spreads and covers Angelus’ body.
“What is that?” Hector asks.
Angelus just grins and says, “Thanks for bringing me here, but I have to go.”
In one sudden move, Angelus bends his knees then almost immediately he is ejected forward, the black suit seemingly pushing him forward by extending itself outward toward the ground. Angelus is next seen halfway toward the horizon, and in another leap disappears into the destroyed town at the end of the road. What’s left of Angelus in the forest, is two diagonal holes in the ground where the suit initially pushed off.
“So cool!” Hector says with drool dripping from the side of his lips.
Shortly after the suit’s unexpected demonstration, Hector finds himself alone once more. Étaín having rejoin her group after arriving at the forest. Hector sighs, and runs off toward his group's rendezvous point, in hopes to find any clues about their whereabouts. On the horizon, the twilight colors of the sunset is slowly swallowed up by the moonlit evening sky.