The sun begins to rise when Hector’s group
arrives at the destroyed town en route to Pater. The several kilometer wide
blast radius is unchanged since Hector’s first arrival the day before. This
visit however is rather noisier than the last. His friends are in a constant
chatter; Lennon and Paige really hitting it off, and Nani and Wei arguing
mostly about Wei’s maintenance of his body. Hector has answered most of their
questions about his two day disappearance at this point, and he’s now retreated
into himself. He takes in the view of the destruction as they pass the first
signs of light damage of the blast crater, but in about half an hour at a
preferred walking speed, the five students reach the epicenter of the blast.
Hector’s four friends grow quiet at their approach of the epicenter, and their
silence prolongs for another half hour when they reach the opposite side of the
blast crater, and the edge of the town’s main body. They continue onward down
the road that leads to Pater and it takes them several hours to reach the worn
down metropolis. Hector makes his way through the abandoned roads back to the
building he got the sweet bread from. They arrive shortly after arriving in
Pater, and they make their way inside the building, into the room with the rows
of shelves of sweet bread. Hector’s four students immediately scour the room in
search of a good place to sit down and rest, while Hector combs the room for
anything other than sweet bread without any luck. He concedes to grabbing a
couple of packages of sweet bread, and distributing it around the room for his
four friends to eat. Wei is sitting against a wall at the back of the room with
his legs sprawled outward. Nani is siting against one of the shelves with her
thighs pressed against her chest, while she hugs her legs, leaning her chin in
between her knees. Paige and Lennon are in the backroom, on the table Étaín
fell off when Hector first met her in the room. Hector looks around the main
room, turning from Wei to Nani. He decides to sit beside Nani and mimic her pose.
“Hector, why did you want to come back here?” Nani says quietly.
Hector glances at Wei, and the boy is fast asleep with drool dripping down from the side of his face. He glances to Nani and says, “Because it’s safer here.” Hector takes in a deep breath, feeling the warm summer air enter his nostrils.
“I don’t know if I believe you.”
“Nani, look around. We’re safe in here. We don’t have to worry about gulos, it’ll be warm in here during the night, and we don’t have to look for food!”
“Hector, that’s not what I meant. Think for a minute. We’re in a warzone! That destroyed town that got bombed when the Survival Camp started! Those popping noises… and yesterday that explosion when you met Angelus! Don’t you see? We’ve stumbled into the middle of a war!”
“You’re wrong. If there was a war going on, Angelus would have shot me dead at first sight. Both Étaín and I would be dead right now if there was a war happening.”
“Then how do you explain all of those abandoned vehicles out there? And that awful aura you feel when laying your eyes on this city?”
“I don’t know Nani. But my instinct is telling me that I would be dead if there was a war in this city.”
“But Hector, Angelus told you that the explosion was an attempt on his life!”
“Yeah, he did say that… I guess there’s a possibility that there is some fighting going on, but not an actual war. Besides I haven’t heard a popping sound since yesterday when Angelus was trying to scare me and Étaín. The city has been so quiet.” Hector hesitates and turns away from Nani. “Don’t worry,” Hector says, still turned away, “we just need to keep a low profile. We’re not here to sightsee after all. We can explore the upper floors of this building for food and water, and if we need to we’ll very carefully scavenge other similar buildings. By the time we know it, it’s going to be the day before the end of the Survival Camp when we need to head back to the Academy.”
Nani stares at the back of Hector’s head, unsure whether his Panglossian attitude of their group decision to come to Pater is coercing her into thinking it’s a good idea, but she hesitantly says, “Okay Hector. I hope you’re right.”
Hector cringes at her defeatist words, remembering the fact that Angelus all but confirmed that there eventually is going to be a war. He hasn’t shared his knowledge of the existence of the Lords of the Free Cities with the others. If they knew there was a tyrannical dictator living in Pater, they would have never agreed to come. He cringes once more, at thought of his friends finding out about that little fact. But decides to focus on the positives he put forth to Nani, convincing himself that he was right all along. A silence fills the room before the sound of snoring fills the air. Hector’s friends are fast asleep now, and as the afternoon rays creep in through the window to hit Hector’s bare legs, the warmth quickly puts the tired adolescent boy to sleep.
Hector opens his eyes and he sees a large sand dune. Immediately he sighs. “Not again…” He says. He scans his immediate area, and he sees a large parasol taut in the sand, and two beach towels under it. He instinctively turns to the top of the sand dune in front of him, and he sees the pair of mysterious people waving at him, and gesturing him to follow them up the dune. He complies, knowing this is the only way to proceed through this lucid dream. He makes it to the top of the sand dune, to realize the pair have started walking along a black asphalt road. Some fifty feet down the road is a building. “A restaurant,” he mutters. The pair turn around to gesture to follow them and he starts walking forward, keeping a gaze toward the ground directly in front of him. He breathes deep before he sees the pair of people’s feet. He slowly looks up and his heart begins to race. Eventually as his gaze comes upon their faces, he knows these people don’t have any eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or facial hair.
“Hector…” a voice calls out. “Hector…”
Hector looks back toward the ground when his feet begin feeling warm. Suddenly it begins feeling hot, until he feels like the black road below can cook an egg on its surface. He gasps uncontrollably when he hears the voice again. “Hector…”
He closes his eyes, and then reopens them, and he realizes, he is still sitting on the ground against one of the shelves that hold sweet bread. Wei is above him, shaking his shoulders relentlessly.
“Hector, wake up man. There were sounds of explosions.”
“What?” Hector asks while rubbing his eyes.
“What should we do?” a faint voice is heard from the back of the room.
“Paige…” Hector whispers. “Alright,” Hector says aloud while he gets to his feet. “Let’s stay put for now. We’ll explore the rest of the building. If we can get to the rooftop, maybe we’ll have a better and safer vantage point of the city. We could probably even find out where the explosions are coming from.”
“You think we’ll be safe here? Maybe we should just head back to the forest. The whole point in coming here was to be safe. That was the reason why we voted to stay in the forest in the first place, before you decided to have your little overnight jaunt with Étaín! Now that the explosions have returned, I think we should go back to the forest.”
“Nani…” Hector says. He stays silent for a moment. “You’re right. But we’re already here. And besides, Angelus said that whenever there is an explosion, the people who have done it never stick around for long. Meaning if we are near the explosions, we are almost going to be safe.”
“What!? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?” Nani says.
Hector blushes, “I do. But I stand by it. Listen, if we stay here, I think we’ll be okay. We are far enough on the outskirts of Pater that there likely will not be any action here. That explosion that blew up when I met Angelus was a lot farther into the city.”
Nani looks over Hector’s determined look. “What do you guys think?” Nani looks to Wei, Lennon, and Paige.
“I’m with Hector on this one. I really don’t want to be moving around the city if there are explosions happening.” Lennon replies.
“I agree with Hector too. There is food here that would last us until the day we need to go back to the Academy. We just need to find a decent source of water.” Paige says with a much clearer voice, that gets the attention of the other four students. She looks around the room at their face when she finishes her reply and quickly blushes, and retreats back into herself.
“I agree with Paige, Lennon, and Hector. They all have decent points, and while I have a small part of me that thinks you’re right, I have a stronger feeling that’s telling me we should just stay put for the time being.” Wei tells Nani while keeping eye contact.
“Fine. We’ll stay. But if there is an explosion anywhere near this building, I’m out of here. I’m taking as many sweet bread packages as I can carry and I’m out. I’m not about to get blown up, while the whole point of being here was to be safer.”
“Nani…” Hector says, “Thank you for being so cautious. But this year, let’s be daring! Let’s push the limits. And just trust me and my instinct…”
Nani glares at him, “Hector you are so full of yourself. I have no reason to trust your instinct.”
Hector chuckles. “I suppose you don’t.”
“No I don’t. Last year you’re the one who almost got us chewed up by gulos when you abandoned our group…”
Hector’s chuckle turns into a laugh aloud. “You’re right! But I came in just the right time to warn you guys that there was gulo trailing you. You forgot that part!”
Nani waves him off. “Whatever, just go check the roof! I’ll check to see If there is a source of water in this building.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Hector says, as he turns to Wei, Paige and Lennon.
“I’m coming to the rooftop too.” Wei says.
“Yeah, me too.” Lennon says.
Paige looks at the boys then to Nani—who already took off to the upper floors in her quest for water. “I’m coming with you guys.” Paige says.
Hector, Wei, Lennon, and Paige find the staircase that has access to the roof top, and they manage to open red door with relative ease. An alarm goes off and the blaring sound emanates outward from their position.
“Turn it off!” Wei screams at Hector from behind.
“I don’t know how!” Hector replies with a cry of desperation. He searches the several mechanisms attached to the door and finds the source of the noise.
“Find me a blunt object to smash this thing in!” Hector barks to his three friends.
They nod and disperse, Wei and Lennon head out onto the rooftop, and Paige heads back down the staircase.
Paige emerges from the staircase on the first floor and entering the main room.
“What’s that noise?” Nani asks Paige.
“An alarm went off when we opened the door to the rooftop.” Paige says in an uncharacteristically loud tone. “We need to find something to smash in the speaker.”
“Alright. I think I know the perfect tool.” Nani tells the gasping Paige.
Nani heads to the second floor, and rummages through a closet. Paige can’t see what’s inside the closet, but when Nani emerges, she holds a two handed mallet with a larger than normal mallet head.
“I think that will work,” Paige says in her normal soft voice but brimming with glee.
Nani makes her way up the stairs with Paige leading the way, and they find Hector, Lennon, and Wei trying with all their might to kick, punch and smash in the speaker with their hands and feet.
“Let me handle this boys,” Nani shouts. She poses with the two handed mallet in hand.
They boys’ eyes widen, they beam in anticipation, and Nani steps up to the blaring speaker. She holds up the mallet above her shoulders, and then brings it down onto the speaker attached to the door. The speaker smashes into its constituent parts and its plastic casing is left with a gaping hole in its center. The boys drool over the destruction, and Nani coolly heads back down the stairs with the mallet resting on her shoulder.
“Uhh, Wei. Watch my back and make sure I never get her angry.” Hector says with his mouth still ajar from the excitement.
“Ditto my friend.” Wei replies with a similar look on his face.
Paige watch the three excited boys and says, “I think Lennon has the highest chance of making Nani angry with enough rage to make her do something like that.”
The boys look at Paige with shocked expressions. Hector and Wei laugh, while Lennon frowns as he begins to plea with Paige at her playful remark.
“Alright, let’s get out there.” Hector straightens his shirt, and starts for the red door. “Wei, did you see anything out there?”
I never really noticed. I was too focused on finding a blunt object.
Hector, Wei, Lennon, and Paige make their way outside and a warm summer breeze whirs past them as they make their way toward the back edge of the building, in order to look upon the skyline of the aging city of Pater. Further inward, toward the city center and to the left, Hector can see the explosion that was left from where he met Angelus. The destruction isn’t very large and in fact only leaves a small crater in the road while leaving some vehicles totaled with only some buildings defaced. He remembers Angelus’ grin before the Free City man leaped into the air using the suit’s unusual amorphous property. He quickly shakes his head knowing that he can’t see the suit in action again by simply remembering it. At that moment he pauses to interrupt his train of thought. He wonders whether or not the reason he really wants to be here in this city is because he wants to see the suit in action again. That he wants to know more about the suit and where it came from. He remembers that the suit came from a sphere that appeared as though the HIPER made it. Is the HIPER somehow involved in this all? Another irrelevant thought, he knew, but he couldn’t help but ask these questions.
“It seems almost unreal. I can’t believe we’re standing in Pater.” Lennon says. He turns backward and walks to the other edge of the building. Not too far away he can see the razed smaller town they passed in the morning—the clear outline of a blast radius centered on the middle of the town. He looks farther out to see Eco-City #9. Its tall wall enclosing the majestic city. His home. Below he can see the forest at the end of the road that connects Pater and the Eco-City. He wonders whether anyone actually uses the road since on the inner side of the wall is an atomic decomposition barrier. He then wonders why there isn’t an atomic decomposition barrier on the outer side of the wall. The forest pretty much hugs the wall, and the platform they rode down the wall in, didn’t have any protective glass barrier, unlike when they approached the wall on the inner side. Paige approaches Lennon from behind and to the side, and hooks one arm with one of his. She lays her head on his scrawny arm, and he can’t help but smile.
“It’s a lovely view, isn’t it?” Paige says with a soft voice.
“Yes it is.” He looks down and to his side to see the girl’s head gently resting on his arm. His blushes and he beams uncontrollably.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course Paige.”
“Why do you think there is an atomic decomposition barrier on the inner side of the wall and not on the outer side?”
His face turns pale and his stomach sinks. “I don’t know, but I wish I did. What a coincidence.”
“What’s a coincidence?”
“I was thinking about the exact same thing.”
“Mm… really…” Paige simply says.
“I guess we’re starting to think alike? And it’s only our third day of getting to know each other.” Lennon smiles as he expresses his excitement.
‘Ah… Paige is clamming up again. Ah well, I’ll just enjoy the scene with her company. That’s good enough for me until she decides to open up some more,’ Lennon thinks, but doesn’t dare say aloud. Instead Lennon adjusts the arm that Paige is embracing, to wrap her in it, which makes her shift her head to rest on his chest. She gently digs in, making herself comfortable.
On the other side of the rooftop, Wei looks upon the city of Pater. An overwhelming feeling of dread fills his heart. “Hey Hector, do you think anyone got injured in the initial blast that took out the small little town we passed before arriving in Pater?”
“I don’t know,” Hector replies without turning to Wei, “but what I do know is that there aren’t any bodies. Not in that small town. And neither here in Pater.”
Wei considers his statement, and thinks about the large blast that took place two days prior. He never actually laid his eyes on the blast—the trees blocked his view by the time the explosion occurred—but he did feel the shockwave, and he did see the blinding light emanating from the epicenter. The feeling of dread grows into a terror as he immerses himself in his memory of that unexpected explosion. “Can that blast have disintegrated the bodies? Like a weaponized version of the atomic decomposition barrier?” Wei asks rhetorically.
Hector looks over to Wei, “Hmm… I never thought about that.” Hector recalls his memory of the video of the ancients’ atomic bomb, and the blast that took out the small town beside Pater. He soon recalls that the light that emanates from the ancients’ atomic bomb has been known to blind whosever looks upon it with a naked eye. Hector looked directly at the bright light but his eyesight is perfectly fine. He wonders why that is. Wei’s question is certainly an interesting one, and begs the question if the explosion in question really was an atomic bomb, or something else entirely. But he ultimately decides not to think too deeply on the matter since he doesn’t have enough information to form any real theories on the matter.
“But like I said,” Hector says, “we haven’t seen any bodies, and I’m thankful for that. In fact it’s quite strange that Étaín and Angelus were the only two people I have actually seen in Pater. I would have thought a sprawling metropolis—even an ancient one such as this—would be crawling with people. With Free Citizens. It was one of my problems when coming here the first time. I couldn’t get any information on Angelus because there was nobody to ask. Who knew Angelus would just show up out of the blue? Am I right? What a small, small world we live in…”
Wei listens carefully but silently.
“Anyway, I think the Free Citizens are deeper into the city…”
Wei comes to life at this statement, “Hey, why do you care so much all of a sudden about where they are? I thought we are going to stay here in this building as long as possible?”
“We are. But…”
“But you want to find Angelus. You want to find out what that suit is all about.”
“That thing almost killed me, Wei!” He pauses. “I mean the sphere that fell to the ground almost killed me… Whatever, I almost died!”
“I suppose you’re right. Look I’m not going to stop you, but I’m pretty sure no one will follow you if you wandered off.”
“I don’t expect anyone to. I would actually prefer if nobody followed me.”
“That would be for the best wouldn’t it.”
“Yeah, I think it would.”
“When were you planning on going?”
“To be honest I kind of just made up my mind about it right now, but I’m thinking around dawn tomorrow, before anyone wakes up.”
“Hey, if Nani gets angry over this, don’t tell her I talked you into it. Just because you had the idea during this conversation does not mean I gave you the idea… Stars! She gives me enough grief to keep up with my training.”
Hector grins, “Don’t worry about it. My decisions are mine alone.”
“Hah, I’m going to hold you to that statement, Hector.”
Lennon and Paige—embracing each other with one arm each as they walk—rejoin Hector and Wei’s side of the rooftop.
“What are you love birds talking about?” Lennon jests.
Wei blushes immediately and his eyebrows furrow almost instantly, while Hector shoots back with, “You’re one to talk. Looks like you two have gotten very close!”