Nani and Wei make their way to the roof and they walk to the edge. “So this is the city of Pater?” Nani asks rhetorically. “Do you get a cold feeling when you look upon the city like this?”
“At first I did. But it’ll pass.” Wei
A moment passes before Nani speaks again. “Are you going to train today?”
“Of course.” Wei replies. “Nani, I overreacted when I wanted to change the subject when you mentioned my brother. I…”
“I shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place,” Nani says.
“No it’s fine that you brought it up. We’ve known each other for a while now, and you…you were just as close to him, if not more, than I was.”
Nani stays silent.
“Nani, I’m sorry he’s gone.”
“I am too Wei.”
“I still can’t believe it’s only been two weeks. If he were still alive—“
“—WEI! Keep it together. Are you the best martial artist in the Academy?”
Wei sighs. “That gets shoved in my face a lot. I mean it’s what I always wanted but it’s really nothing special. There are many other Academies in the other Eco-Cities in our Region. Multiply that by four when you include the other Academies of the other three Regions of Terra, and suddenly I’m just one of many others. Anyway, I’m happy Tien was able to see me win the title at my tournament before he attended that… that fateful Survival Camp.”
Nani shudders and can’t bring herself to say anything. Another moment passes and they both stare out into the city.
Wei points toward a small blast site on the left and breaks the silence. “That’s where Hector said the explosion happened with Angelus the other day.”
Coincidentally at that time, Hector passes through that area. They see Hector’s black sleeveless shirt and start waving at the boy. It takes some time for Hector to see the two and begin waving himself.
“What a blockhead that guy.” Wei says.
“I know right?” Nani agrees.
“So do you think Hector is going to be alright out there?” Wei asks.
“Yeah.” Nani replies.
At that moment, Lennon and Paige approach from behind.
“Where is Hector? Did you say he left again?” Paige asks.
“Uhh. Yeah, he did.” Nani answers the timid girl.
“He did!? And you let him!?” The timid girl begins contradicting her character. “Why did you do that? You knew how I felt when he left the first time.”
“No we didn’t know Paige! We don’t know because you don’t know how to communicate with others.” Nani starts, “You’re so shy, that you don’t even open up with Lennon, who is clearly interested in you.”
Lennon blushes, “Hold on you two. I’ll take the blame here. I knew how Paige felt about Hector leaving. We’ve been talking about it for a while now. But I haven’t shared it with the rest of you because I didn’t feel that would be right. I wasn’t sure if Paige was comfortable with the rest of you knowing how she felt.”
Paige shakes out of Lennon’s arm, and storms downstairs. She grabs a ruck sack and puts her share of the sweetbread along with a couple of water bottles inside. At this point Lennon is at her side.
“What are you doing Paige? I thought we told you we should stick together. Like the last time Hector ran off.”
“I’m not going to stick around with you guys like the last time.” Paige tells the concerned boy and she moves him to the side in order to get to the door.
Lennon puts a hand on her shoulder, and she instinctually grabs his arm with her right hand while turning in three hundred and sixty degrees. She sweeps her right leg backward to hit his left leg upward, breaking his balance, while at the same time she pulls his arm forward. He falls flat on his stomach on the ground, and she swiftly gets up to leave the room. Paige puts her hand on the door knob but and suddenly a hand grabs her hand before she opens it. She turns to the right and follows the hand to see Nani. She shakes Nani’s hand off hers and asks, “What do you want?”
“What is your plan? If you’re determined that badly to get to Hector that you would risk behavioral correction, then I’ll follow you. Just let me make sure Lennon is okay. Actually on second thought I think we should wait until tomorrow morning to leave. It is getting dark soon after all.”
“Wait, Nani. You were the one so opposed to going into the city in the first place.” Paige says.
“I know,” Nani says with a serious face.
“Fine… I accept your proposal. But I’d like to help you tend to Lennon.” Paige says.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, ladies. Paige, that was an awesome move. I’d like to learn it from you if you’d teach me.” Lennon says as he gets to his feet, dismissing Nani as she approaches him.
“I’d be glad to teach you. I’m sorry for doing that to you. I’m still a little mad that you guys would try and stop me. But I understand that I do not communicate with you guys and that causes you to make assumptions about my thoughts.”
Nani and Lennon nod to the apologetic Paige, while Wei strolls in and asks, “What did I miss? I heard a big bang.”
“It’s nothing.” Nani answers.
“Actually I was just telling Lennon and Nani that I will try and be more open with you guys about my thoughts. I tripped Lennon and made him fall to the ground because I was angry that he would try and stop me from going to meet up with Hector. Which by the way, I will be going to see him, along with Nani, tomorrow morning.” Paige informs Wei.
“Wait. I’m coming. I don’t want to be stuck alone in this building with Lennon.” Wei declares.
“Okay, that settles it, if Lennon will join us, then we all will head out at dawn tomorrow morning to meet up with Hector. I’m still on the fence about it, but it looks like Paige and Wei are adamant about joining up with him. But I’ll be honest and admit that we should have met up with him in the first place. I was still angry that he left the first time that I wanted to refuse anything he suggested. But after taking the time to search through this place, when I found that two handed mallet, I realized I was being selfish. I’m sorry I’ve troubled everyone.” Nani says.
“Nani it is fine. Don’t be so apologetic all of a sudden. It’s really not like you.” Lennon tells her.
“Alright let’s get some rest and pack up whatever we’ll need.” Wei says.
“Okay.” The other three agree.
At dawn, Hector’s four friends leave the safety of the bakery shop to head into the city in hopes of finding Hector. They follow his initial path by going through the blast site he was waving at Nani and Wei from and continue on the road from there. They realize it will be almost impossible to tell what direction he went, so they decide to just keep walking straight down the road.
Hector opens his eyes and sees a black asphalt road. To the left he sees a beach and an endless ocean beyond it. To the right he sees an endless ocean of sand dunes. He turns around and sees two figures almost fifty feet away standing in front of a restaurant. He sighs and walks toward the two but on the way, he trips on a pothole, and lands face first on the ground. He gets into a sitting position and wipes off his hands, and wipes his eyes. When he reopens them, he sees the ocean once more. In front of him is a mess of several piles of sand. On his left is a perfectly shaped sand dome modeled after the Lunar Domes, completed with the pressurized air docks attached to it. “Aghh!” He screams. When he reopens his eyes once more, he sees Étaín laying on the bed in front of him. On the floor are her four group mates fast asleep, filling the room with the sound of snoring. Étaín waves a hand and whispers, “Good morning.”
Hector’s heart sinks but he beams. “Good morning,” he manages to blurt out, with his voice cracking half way through the greeting.
“Do… Not… Scream…” Étaín struggles.
Hector frowns, “I won’t,” he tells the girl.
He walks over to the window sill, stepping over two of the boys. He looks over the city aimlessly. “This is a nice view Étaín. Would you like to see it?” Hector asks the bedridden girl.
She looks at him with a puzzled look and tilts her head. It reminds him of what the gulos do when they realize you can see them—they would tilt their head to make you think they are harmless, but they will pounce on you once they think you’re vulnerable. ‘But this is different,’ Hector thinks. ‘Étaín is a human. A sick human at that. She is tilting her head in confusion, because her brain can’t process what I’ve asked her.’
Hector holds out a hand to her, and she looks at his hand. She tries to take his hand, but she can’t move her arms. She looks back at him and he thinks he sees sadness in her eyes, but the rest of her facial expressions indicate a blank stare. Hector bends down toward her and lifts her into a sitting position, but he quickly realizes her back muscles don’t work so they both fall backward onto the bed. He stares up at the ceiling in embarrassment, hoping none of the other boys in the room wake up. He quickly gets up to reposition her the way she was sitting originally. He sighs and resumes his position in front of the window to look down onto the city.
He sees the blast site Angelus almost died at the other day, and realizes there are four tiny figures moving past it. His stomach sinks for the second time, “Nani, Wei, Lennon, Paige?” he whispers to himself.
“Étaín, I have to go. I’ll be back soon.” He tells the paralyzed girl.
He runs out the door and heads down the staircase and finds Damius sitting at the staircase of the main entrance.
“I have to go outside,” Hector tells Damius.
“Can’t let you do that, boy.” Damius says.
“Why not? I have to go. You can’t force me to stay here. I’m not some kind of prisoner.” Hector tells the man.
Damius can hear hints of anger hidden in Hector’s voice, so he steps back and takes the rifle from his back to position it on his side. Look at that wall. How do you suppose you are going to go outside? I’m saying I can’t let you do that, because I’m not the one with the high tech power suit that can do that,” Damius says as he points toward the wall created by Angelus’ suit the night before.
Hector glances at Damius’ rifle for an instant, then turns his full attention toward the wall that was created over top the cylindrical glass door. He hides his blushed face and says, “Okay, I suppose you can’t let me through. Do you know where Angelus is?”
“I can’t tell you that.” Damius says.
“What!? Why can’t you tell me that!? I have a right to leave this place. And that means I have a right to know where Angelus is…”
“Boy, do you hear yourself speak? I can’t tell you where Angelus is because—“
“—Because you don’t know.” Hector interrupts.
“Boy, you don’t interrupt a superior officer.”
Hector grins, “I’m not one of your cadets. You’re not a superior officer. Your just the door man.”
Damius’ nose scrunches up almost immediately, “You little runt. Get out of my sight before I shoot your ass.”
Hector chuckles and runs off toward the staircase. “You should try the rooftop. Angelus has been hanging around up there ever since he got that suit.” Damius shouts.
“Thanks!” Hector shouts back as he turns the corner to enter the staircase shaft.
It takes Hector less than ten minutes to climb the stairs to the rooftop. He comes upon a red door, similar to the one at the bakery. He knocks on the door in hopes that Angelus would open it on the other side. He would rather not have the alarm going off, assuming the alarm works. The door promptly opens and Hector recoils. The morning sunlight blinds Hector’s view so he covers his eyes instinctually.
“Watch out Hector, you might fall down the stairs if you step back any further.” A voice says.
“Angelus?” Hector calls out.
“That’s me. Why don’t we take this conversation outside? The staircase shaft always has this suffocating smell to it.” Angelus replies to the dazed boy.
The pair make their way to the edge of the rooftop and Hector looks down. The ground looks to get farther away so Hector steps back as his stomach knots up. Angelus chuckles as he observes Hector and he says, “You should get used to that feeling Hector. Especially if you plan on going to space.”
“Heh. That’s nothing.” Hector bluffs.
“That’s not what your facial expression is telling me.” Angelus tells the boy.
Hector blushes and looks away. He searches the city to find his friends travelling. He spots them not too far away from the blast site he saw them moving past when he was in Étaín’s room. “Angelus, those are my friends down there.” He points in his friends’ direction.
“Ohh. Those are your friends, huh?”
“Yeah! I need to reach them. Can you release the wall at the main entrance?”
“No. There are—“
“—Why not!? I have to get to them. There are explosions happening. I need to make sure they are—“
“—I know there are explosions.” Angelus raises his voice over powering Hector’s weak pleas. “I almost died in one of those explosions. You were there. As well as Étaín. I can’t release that wall until I know it’s safe. This building is the FCTC Pater Headquarters. I’ve reinforced the entire building with the suit’s material, inside and out. I cannot release that wall at the main entrance until I know the threat is over. The Lord of Pater is ramping up the violence. He has been for a while now, long before your little Survival Camp.”
“Aghh!” Hector screams. “Just open the damned doors and you’ll never see me again. I’m taking Étaín back to the Academy, and I’m bringing my friends with me!”
“Hector, this building is the safest place for you and your friends.”
“So why can’t you let me get them!”
“I never said that. Hector I’m going to take you get your friends. We are just not going to go through the front door.” Angelus says with a smirk.
“Nani, you said we’d be able to spot Hector if we just went straight.” Wei says.
“We decided that as a group Wei. Don’t try and blame me for that.” Nani says.
Behind the four students, several armed men follow their trail. The four students keep their attention toward their destination that none of them notice their pursuers. One pursuer takes out a large cylindrical weapon from his back. An enlarged bullet shaped projectile waits inside the large barrel of the cylindrical weapon. “Rocket man, steady your aim!” The lead pursuer whispers. The rocket man aims a reticule at the four students.
“Ready, sir.” The rocket man whispers.
“Fire!” The leader shouts.
The four students look back when they hear a man shout an order. They see something being propelled by fire heading in their direction and their eyes widen. Time seems to slow down but Paige is able to take Lennon’s and Nani’s hands, while pushing Wei to start running in the opposite direction. In an instant before the rocket hits their location, the ground shakes violently and all light seems to vanish except for about thirty feet above. Nothing can be heard at this point except for the sound of the explosion, but it comes from above and not to the side, where the rocket was aiming from. A man and a boy their age is above where the light seems to be entering from and they seem to be suspended in the air by a black substance supported by the black walls made of the same material. The man and the boy descend very slowly down the abyssal black shaft that surrounds them.
“Hey!” the boy shouts out.
“Who are you?” Wei shouts back.
The boy in the air chuckles. “It’s me! Don’t you recognize me?”
As the boy descends further, they are able to read his sleeveless shirt, ‘To The Stars!’ scrawled out across his chest in yellow.
The four students sigh in unison.
“Hector! Get down here quick!” Nani shouts.
“I don’t really have control of this thing.” Hector replies.
“That would be me,” the man speaks.
“Oh yeah, this is Angelus you guys.” Hector says with moderate volume.
“Thanks for the introduction, Hector. Like I was saying this entire shaft was due to my suit’s ability. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say this performance was my first time doing this sort of thing.” Angelus says.
Angelus and Hector are half way down when Angelus is confident to speed it up. They descend five times as quickly and are soon on the ground greeting Hector’s friends.
“What is this thing? And how do we get out?” Lennon asks innocently.
“This saved your lives. If I hadn’t done this you would have been blown up.” Angelus says grimly.
“Would we have...” Hector hesitates. “Would we have been vaporized? Like atomic decomposition?”
“Really Hector? We literally almost died and you’re asking something like that?” Nani shouts.
“I’m sorry, it’s just. I was wondering why there aren’t any bodies around. This is a warzone right?”
“Hector… There aren’t any bodies around because no one has died. Not yet anyway. The day before the huge explosion on the little town in between Pater and Eco-City #9, the Captain pulled everyone out of that town, the other neighboring towns beside Pater, and everyone from Pater itself, to go north to Mater, the Free City near Eco-City #10. There was global news that Pater was going to be inflamed in civil war a couple days ago, so the Captain was proactive in moving all the civilians out. The Lord of Pater stayed and ever since the huge blast, he has been wreaking chaos around the city but he kept relatively near the city’s center. In fact, I can point to his skyscraper from the HQ rooftop. The Captain has kept all FCTC personnel stationed in Pater at the HQ building to quell the Lord’s childish outburst. Now if you five will excuse me, I need to clean up some of the Lord’s trash.” Angelus salutes, and bends his knees while looking straight up.
Hector notices the stance and shouts, “Not alone! I’m coming with you!” Hector runs behind Angelus and grabs his neck just as Angelus begins his take off.
Angelus sighs, and the suit incorporate Hector into it by surrounding Hector in its material. They are in the air, after Angelus takes off, as this happens, and Angelus lands on the wall of the black shaft. Angelus looks toward the direction the rocket came from, and sees another rocket being propelled in his direction. He grins, as he jumps once again into the air toward the rocket man. His momentum and angle brings him landing directly atop the pursuers but before he lands, he extends his hands and feet at the pursuers and the suits material starts shooting out in stream. The pursuers are soon covered entirely in the suit’s amorphous material which creates a bubble of the substance three meters high. Angelus lands in the sphere of the material, and sinks slowly into it which disperses all of the gravitational energy of his fall. The material moves him downward into the sphere and he shouts to Hector, “Hold your breath.”
After a meter and a half, Angelus’ feet pierces the sphere and he quickly falls through to land on the street below. Four bodies covered generously with black suit material from neck to toes surround Angelus. Their mouths are also covered with the material, but their facial expressions clearly show their cursing. It’s as bright as day on the inside of the sphere, despite the opaque outside surface of the sphere.
“Hector, I’m going to cover your ears with the suit’s material, so don’t panic. But I’ll leave it up to you if you want to see what happens to these four despicable men. These men who tried to murder your four friends. These men who tried to murder children… of the Academy. Children of Terra.” Angelus says.
The four pursuers’ eyes widen at the mention of the Academy. Their muffling voices slowly disappear as Angelus’ suit covers Hector’s ears. Angelus then touches the suit material covering one of the men and his mouth covering vanishes almost instantly. The man begins to visibly plea. But Angelus continues to speak calmly. Angelus touches the material once more and the man’s mouth covering is reapplied. Angelus walks over to the leader and touches the suit material. The leaders’ mouth covering vanishes, but he doesn’t say a word. Angelus stares at the man until he says something. He touches the suit material once more, and instantly the leader’s head tilts to one side with his mouth ajar, his eyes still, and eyelids similarly still.
“Angelus! Angelus!” Hector screams. “What did you do!? Angelus… Angelu—“
Hector can’t complete the last word because Angelus is in front of one of the other pursuers. Hector closes eyes and focuses on his breathing. He forces himself to breath steadily before he starts counting his breaths. One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths. Hector feels Angelus moving once again. Six breaths. Seven breaths. Eight breaths. Movement once more. Nine breaths. Ten breaths. Eleven breaths. Movement at last. Twelve breaths. Thirteen breaths. Fourteen breaths. Fifteen—
“Hector. We’re going.” Angelus says.
Hector’s ear muffs have vanished while he was caught up counting his breaths, and he notices they are on the road moving toward the black spire his friends are currently inside.
“Don’t look back at those despicable men. You won’t like what you see.” Angelus warns Hector.
Hector stays silent as they move closer to the spire. Eventually Angelus touches the spire and it vanishes into thin air starting from the point of contact with his finger. His friends appear to be on the ground chatting about the day’s events. He smiles at the sight and quietly requests to be released from the suit. Angelus complies and Hector falls to his feet. He joins his friends and together with Angelus, they walk to the FCTC Pater Headquarters.