n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
This is chapter 6 of Cliffton book 1. Some of it is vaguely based on bits of the confrontation in chapter 3 of my last rewrite. This time, it's in Kalen POV. Fun fact: this is the third version of this confrontation I've written, and the first was in Kalen POV, too. As always, concrit is much appreciated. Rip me to shreds. I don't mind. Warning for violence, rage issues and some language. Not Devin levels of language, but Brendan is very, very angry.


If you're reading Cliffton for the first time, here are the previous chapters so you can catch up:
Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5


you wouldn't like him when he's angry )
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Mustang and Huuuughes otpppp)
This is chapter 2 of Cliffton book 1. This is all new stuff. A couple people asked to see the library trip, and I needed a less expository way of explaining why Kalen and Calla decided to set off the bomb. As always, concrit is much appreciated. Rip me to shreds. I don't mind. No warnings that I can think of.


If you're reading Cliffton for the first time, here are the previous chapters so you can catch up:
Prologue | 1


it's a COOKBOOK -- okay, no it isn't )
n3m3sis43: (Team Prose (mine - phase 4))
This story was originally supposed to be a goofy mission story. You know, like "Beautiful Disaster"? Well, it didn't turn out that way. The funny thing is how much context I didn't have for what was going on here, and it's needed almost no rewriting now that I do have the context. Freaking weird, dude. Warning for violence.


I'm still not sorry )
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Kalen, it's been 3 weeks." CallaBot's voice is tinged with panic. "You have to come out sometime."

Lying on my bed, I stare at the ceiling and say nothing.

"Come on, Kalen - it's anarchy out here." My wooden door shudders as CallaBot pounds it with her metal fists.

For a moment, I consider giving in to my best friend's request. I'm supposed to be the leader of our little group, after all. How can I be responsible for anyone right now, though? I'm coming apart at the seams. I sigh and wait for her to go away.

"Seriously, Kalen," CallaBot says, "Enough is enough." I hear a low humming sound from outside my bedroom and notice my doorknob glowing bright red.

That can't be good, I think. Then there's a zapping sound, a clatter, and a stream of loud cursing from CallaBot.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, Devin?" she shrieks.

Devin speaks in hushed tones; I can't make out his response. Under normal circumstances, he isn't the quietest guy, so I'm guessing he doesn't want me to hear what he's saying. Tiptoeing over to the door, I rest my ear against it.

"If he were going to do it on his own, he would have by now," CallaBot says.

"Whatever," Devin snorts. "It's not like he can stay in there forever."

"Well, he wouldn't be able to, Numbnuts," CallaBot's tone is icy. "If somebody didn't keep leaving meals outside his door."

Devin grunts and says nothing.

Huh. I was wondering who was responsible for that. Three quick knocks, a fork and knife shoved under the door, then nothing. By the time I looked out into the hall, there was never anyone there.

How would he disappear that fast? I think. He must have been using an InvisiSuit.

"Why do you insist on coddling him, anyway?"

"For fuck's sake, Calla... he just lost his brother."

"Since when are you Mr. Sensitive?" CallaBot demands.

"Shut the fuck up, okay?" Devin's voice sounds... odd. "And leave him the fuck alone or I'll deactivate you."

CallaBot must be aware that Devin's threat is an empty one. She could take him down in a matter of seconds. Even armed, I wouldn't give him more than a 5 percent chance of overpowering her. She doesn't call him on it, though - doesn't even bother with one of her signature verbal slapdowns.

I'm still wondering why when I hear the metallic clank of her stomping away down the hall.

* * * * *

"Hey dude, you up for some SimFighting?" Wes calls through my door one evening.

Same old Wes, I think wearily. Pathologically cheerful, just like always.

"You don't even have to come out," Wes says, "We can play from separate rooms."

I sigh and continue my thorough examination of the ceiling.

"Please?" Wes sounds almost desperate. "Devin always kicks my ass and I'm tired of it."

Under different circumstances, I'd smile at that. I don't have the heart to tell him I let him win.

"Dude, you know we're all worried about you, right?"

That gets to me a little. It doesn't matter, though. As bad as I feel about freaking out my friends, I'm just not ready to talk. I don't want to see their pitying looks or hear their sympathetic words. There's no way any of them can understand what I'm going through.

"Well, I guess I'll go now," Wes says softly. "I'll leave your headset out here in case you want it."

I wait until the echo of his footfalls dies away before I crack the door and grab the headset. Though I'm not interested in a SimFighting match with Wes, I am getting pretty tired of lying around and doing nothing.

Who knows? I think. A little simulated killing might take my mind off things for a while.

Putting on my headset, I fire up "Splinternet Battle Mode". Random strangers aren't going to try to get me to open up. The mindless action of the fight is a good distraction. Since I'm damn good at this game, there's the added bonus of feeling like I've accomplished something for the first time in over a month. Before I know it, I've been playing for hours.

Reluctantly, I pull off my headset and collapse into bed. That's when the ugly thoughts come.

You don't deserve to have fun - not with Brendan dead.

Shivering, I pull my blanket up to my chin and try to think about something else.

What kind of monster are you? Taking pleasure in blowing people up after what happened to him?

"It's only a game!" I don't realize I've spoken aloud until the sound of my own voice makes me jump.

Was it a game to Brendan?

I close my eyes and will my brain to shut itself off.

It's your fault he's gone. You were the leader. You let him go in there.

Throwing back the covers, I climb out of bed. It's obvious I won't be sleeping anytime soon - might as well play a little longer. Hell, I've got all the time in the world now. Might as well not stop at all.

* * * * *

My eyes don't seem to be focusing very well anymore. The projected image of my SimFighting match doubles and blurs. I blink, hoping to clear my vision, but it doesn't help much.

"Shit!" I mutter as my SimFighter explodes.

My head feels a little funny. For the first time, it occurs to me to wonder how long I've been playing without a break. I remove my headset and stand up, thinking I'll just go to the bathroom and splash some water on my face. A wave of dizziness smacks into me like a fist. Grabbing a chair to steady myself, I wait until it passes.

Stumbling into the bathroom, I wash my face. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror I do a double-take. Not only do I need a shave in a major way, my hair is so greasy it almost looks brown instead of blonde.

Nasty, I think. How long has it been since I bathed?

Shaking my head, I punch the "on" button for my washing station. Jets of water shoot out, heated to my personal specifications. The steaming water sluicing over my body makes me feel a bit better. I stand under it for a long time, feeling some of my tension melt away.

I've just finished showering and wrapped a towel around my waist when I hear three short knocks. My stomach rumbles - who knows when my last meal was? I wait for Devin to leave so I can snatch whatever food he's brought.

Only he doesn't go away. There's more knocking, insistent this time.

"Hey buddy, you okay in there?"

Something in Devin's tone makes me want to respond, but I fight the urge. Stepping out of the bathroom, I notice a small pile of forks and knives scattered in front of the door. It really has been a while since I ate.

"Look, Kalen," Devin says through the door. "I get it if you don't want to talk. Really, I do. And that's cool. There's a lot I don't want to talk about, too. It's just..."

My unintentional fast must be getting to me, because I swear Devin's voice breaks a little.

"CallaBot tried to blast her way into your room and I told her to stop," he says.

Irritation bubbles up inside me. All I want is for Devin to stop talking so I can finally eat.

"So, um," he continues, "Do you think you could just tell me you're still fucking alive in there? Because if you're not, it's my fucking fault and I - "

My hand reaches for the doorknob when Devin trails off, but I pull it back.

"I don't want to be responsible for that too, okay?" he finishes.

Before I realize what I'm doing, I've yanked the door open. Devin almost drops the plate of food he's holding. I fumble for words - it's been weeks, maybe months, since I've spoken to another person.

"Up for some SimFighting?" I croak. "Bet I can kick your ass - I've had a lot of practice lately."

It's a really stupid thing to say, but it doesn't matter. In that moment, it's enough.



(using this story to fill the [livejournal.com profile] 500themes prompt "The Vacuum of Time" found here and the "nervous breakdown" square on my [livejournal.com profile] hc_bingo card)
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Kalen, it's been 3 weeks." CallaBot's voice is tinged with panic. "You have to come out sometime."

Lying on my bed, I stare at the ceiling and say nothing.

"Come on, Kalen - it's anarchy out here." My wooden door shudders as CallaBot pounds it with her metal fists.

For a moment, I consider giving in to my best friend's request. I'm supposed to be the leader of our little group, after all. How can I be responsible for anyone right now, though? I'm coming apart at the seams. I sigh and wait for her to go away.

"Seriously, Kalen," CallaBot says, "Enough is enough." I hear a low humming sound from outside my bedroom and notice my doorknob glowing bright red.

That can't be good, I think. Then there's a zapping sound, a clatter, and a stream of loud cursing from CallaBot.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, Devin?" she shrieks.

Devin speaks in hushed tones; I can't make out his response. Under normal circumstances, he isn't the quietest guy, so I'm guessing he doesn't want me to hear what he's saying. Tiptoeing over to the door, I rest my ear against it.

"If he were going to do it on his own, he would have by now," CallaBot says.

"Whatever," Devin snorts. "It's not like he can stay in there forever."

"Well, he wouldn't be able to, Numbnuts," CallaBot's tone is icy. "If somebody didn't keep leaving meals outside his door."

Devin grunts and says nothing.

Huh. I was wondering who was responsible for that. Three quick knocks, a fork and knife shoved under the door, then nothing. By the time I looked out into the hall, there was never anyone there.

How would he disappear that fast? I think. He must have been using an InvisiSuit.

"Why do you insist on coddling him, anyway?"

"For fuck's sake, Calla... he just lost his brother."

"Since when are you Mr. Sensitive?" CallaBot demands.

"Shut the fuck up, okay?" Devin's voice sounds... odd. "And leave him the fuck alone or I'll deactivate you."

CallaBot must be aware that Devin's threat is an empty one. She could take him down in a matter of seconds. Even armed, I wouldn't give him more than a 5 percent chance of overpowering her. She doesn't call him on it, though - doesn't even bother with one of her signature verbal slapdowns.

I'm still wondering why when I hear the metallic clank of her stomping away down the hall.

* * * * *

"Hey dude, you up for some SimFighting?" Wes calls through my door one evening.

Same old Wes, I think wearily. Pathologically cheerful, just like always.

"You don't even have to come out," Wes says, "We can play from separate rooms."

I sigh and continue my thorough examination of the ceiling.

"Please?" Wes sounds almost desperate. "Devin always kicks my ass and I'm tired of it."

Under different circumstances, I'd smile at that. I don't have the heart to tell him I let him win.

"Dude, you know we're all worried about you, right?"

That gets to me a little. It doesn't matter, though. As bad as I feel about freaking out my friends, I'm just not ready to talk. I don't want to see their pitying looks or hear their sympathetic words. There's no way any of them can understand what I'm going through.

"Well, I guess I'll go now," Wes says softly. "I'll leave your headset out here in case you want it."

I wait until the echo of his footfalls dies away before I crack the door and grab the headset. Though I'm not interested in a SimFighting match with Wes, I am getting pretty tired of lying around and doing nothing.

Who knows? I think. A little simulated killing might take my mind off things for a while.

Putting on my headset, I fire up "Splinternet Battle Mode". Random strangers aren't going to try to get me to open up. The mindless action of the fight is a good distraction. Since I'm damn good at this game, there's the added bonus of feeling like I've accomplished something for the first time in over a month. Before I know it, I've been playing for hours.

Reluctantly, I pull off my headset and collapse into bed. That's when the ugly thoughts come.

You don't deserve to have fun - not with Brendan dead.

Shivering, I pull my blanket up to my chin and try to think about something else.

What kind of monster are you? Taking pleasure in blowing people up after what happened to him?

"It's only a game!" I don't realize I've spoken aloud until the sound of my own voice makes me jump.

Was it a game to Brendan?

I close my eyes and will my brain to shut itself off.

It's your fault he's gone. You were the leader. You let him go in there.

Throwing back the covers, I climb out of bed. It's obvious I won't be sleeping anytime soon - might as well play a little longer. Hell, I've got all the time in the world now. Might as well not stop at all.

* * * * *

My eyes don't seem to be focusing very well anymore. The projected image of my SimFighting match doubles and blurs. I blink, hoping to clear my vision, but it doesn't help much.

"Shit!" I mutter as my SimFighter explodes.

My head feels a little funny. For the first time, it occurs to me to wonder how long I've been playing without a break. I remove my headset and stand up, thinking I'll just go to the bathroom and splash some water on my face. A wave of dizziness smacks into me like a fist. Grabbing a chair to steady myself, I wait until it passes.

Stumbling into the bathroom, I wash my face. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror I do a double-take. Not only do I need a shave in a major way, my hair is so greasy it almost looks brown instead of blonde.

Nasty, I think. How long has it been since I bathed?

Shaking my head, I punch the "on" button for my washing station. Jets of water shoot out, heated to my personal specifications. The steaming water sluicing over my body makes me feel a bit better. I stand under it for a long time, feeling some of my tension melt away.

I've just finished showering and wrapped a towel around my waist when I hear three short knocks. My stomach rumbles - who knows when my last meal was? I wait for Devin to leave so I can snatch whatever food he's brought.

Only he doesn't go away. There's more knocking, insistent this time.

"Hey buddy, you okay in there?"

Something in Devin's tone makes me want to respond, but I fight the urge. Stepping out of the bathroom, I notice a small pile of forks and knives scattered in front of the door. It really has been a while since I ate.

"Look, Kalen," Devin says through the door. "I get it if you don't want to talk. Really, I do. And that's cool. There's a lot I don't want to talk about, too. It's just..."

My unintentional fast must be getting to me, because I swear Devin's voice breaks a little.

"CallaBot tried to blast her way into your room and I told her to stop," he says.

Irritation bubbles up inside me. All I want is for Devin to stop talking so I can finally eat.

"So, um," he continues, "Do you think you could just tell me you're still fucking alive in there? Because if you're not, it's my fucking fault and I - "

My hand reaches for the doorknob when Devin trails off, but I pull it back.

"I don't want to be responsible for that too, okay?" he finishes.

Before I realize what I'm doing, I've yanked the door open. Devin almost drops the plate of food he's holding. I fumble for words - it's been weeks, maybe months, since I've spoken to another person.

"Up for some SimFighting?" I croak. "Bet I can kick your ass - I've had a lot of practice lately."

It's a really stupid thing to say, but it doesn't matter. In that moment, it's enough.



(using this story to fill the [livejournal.com profile] 500themes prompt "The Vacuum of Time" found here and the "nervous breakdown" square on my [livejournal.com profile] hc_bingo card)
n3m3sis43: (Default)
According to the Ancient Scrolls, our world is suspended within a Great Orb. Since we are inside the Orb, no one knows what it looks like. But the Scrolls say it rests in the hands of the One True God.

Through the ages, artists have striven to depict both the Orb and the God. Some imagine the Orb as a crystal ball, while others claim it is a sphere of glowing plasma. The God has been shown as everything from an old man with a white beard to a being of pure light. Of course, we have not seen his face. Still, some say that if you look closely on a clear night, you can see the eye of the God peering inside.

Of course, none of this means a thing if you don't believe in the Scrolls. These days, most people don't.

* * * * *

Dejected, Davey kicked at a Coke can as he walked, scowling as it clattered across the sidewalk. It wasn't fair the way Mom always blamed him for everything. Somehow, his younger brother Andy never got in trouble. Davey's forehead was still sore from the toy car Andy had chucked at him. He rubbed at it absently as he trudged along.

Of course he cried when I pushed him, Davey thought. And just like always, Mom took his side.

"But Mom, he started it!" Davey had protested.

"That's not the point, David, and you know it," his mother had said. "You're old enough to know better."

How come I'm old enough to know better, but always too young to do the things I want? he wondered now.

The strap of Davey's backpack slid off his shoulder and he hiked it back up. He wondered how long it would take his mom to notice that he'd run away, or if she'd even bother to look for him. It didn't matter, really. He had enough peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches to last him a while.

All of a sudden, Davey saw something gleaming from beneath a pile of leaves. Hoping for a lucky nickel or quarter, he squatted down and cleared away the leaves. Davey looked at the object for a moment before picking it up, perplexed. It wasn't a coin at all, but a shining sphere about the size of a tennis ball.

"Wow," he breathed, turning it over and over in his hand.

The ball was made of a metal Davey had never seen before. Its oily sheen reminded him of the smooth piece of hematite Dad had sent him once, before the cards and packages stopped coming. It wasn't exactly like the hematite, though, because it seemed to glow with an inner light. Staring into its depths, Davey thought he saw something swirling inside - fog or mist, or maybe clouds.

As he crouched on the sidewalk with his rapt gaze focused on the orb, he watched the mists coalesce into something more. Was it just his imagination, or had they formed a sphere of blue and white? It reminded him of the images he'd seen on TV of Earth viewed from space. In his mind's eye, he watched life begin on the world his dreams had created.

What if there really is a whole world inside there? he thought.

Davey knew his mom would call that "silly talk", but he didn't care. The ball was obviously magical, and now it was his. Unshouldering his backpack, he opened it and nestled his treasure within a small inner pocket. All thoughts of his family forgotten, Davey zipped up his bag and continued walking.

* * * * *

In the beginning (or so the Ancient Scrolls say), the Great Mothers and Hallowed Fathers lived in the sky, in crystal towers that sparkled like diamonds. Children played on clouds and slid down rainbows. No one was ever hurt or ill, fathers never left their children, and dreams always came true. Life was filled with love and light and everyone worshipped the One True God.

Time passed and the people grew complacent. They were too busy with their comings and goings to offer prayers to the God who had created them. No longer content with their lives in the sky, they longed to explore the land below. God, hearing their rumblings, cast them out upon land. Though the people mourned the loss of their home in the heavens, they multiplied and prospered. While they never rebuilt the beautiful glass palaces of old, they erected a City of steel and glass.

The City grew and grew, until it was so large it split in two. At first, the two Cities were different in name only. The one to the North was called Norton and the one to the South was called Sutton. Over time, the two became more and more distinct. The people of the North were excellent hunters and had a passion for inventing. In the South, the residents loved to read and write and work with their hands. The best tools were made in the North, and a university was built in the South.

* * * * *

The door to Dave's room inched open, and he jumped off his bed with a start. Hiding the object in his hands behind his back, he watched as his younger brother Andy peeked inside.

"What are you doing in my room, you jerk?" Dave yelled.

"I... I just wanted to look at your CDs," Andy stammered.

"Well, you can't!" Dave said. "I'm busy right now."

"Busy doing what?" Andy demanded, suddenly noticing that his older brother was hiding something. "What's that behind your back, naked pictures?"

"Shut up, asshole!"

Enraged, Dave charged at Andy, his left hand still concealing the object behind him. With his right hand, he grabbed his younger brother's shoulder and shoved him out of the room. Slamming and locking the door, he leaned against it and breathed a sigh of relief.

"And stay out!" he yelled, hearing Andy's footsteps retreat down the hall.

Flopping back onto his bed, Dave opened his left hand to look at the item he'd been hiding. Even in the dim light of his bedroom, the silvery orb shone. He hadn't held it in quite some time, but it still fit perfectly in his palm. Was it his imagination, or did it seem darker than before?

At 12, almost 13, Dave knew he was too old for such childish fantasies. If the other kids at school knew he still played with silly toys like this, he'd never hear the end of it. Still, as always when he looked at the ball, he imagined he could see beyond its metal surface. Inside, there were people, a world unlike his own, a place where the hurts of this life did not exist.

Those fantasies had gotten him through many lonely years. It was hard to let them go.

* * * * *

For many generations, the cities of Norton and Sutton lived in harmony. The lands to the North lent themselves well to livestock, and the fields in the South bore fruits of all sorts. Trade between the two peoples thrived and life was bountiful. Northern girls and boys were welcome in the schools of the South; the awe-inspiring devices built in the North brought convenience to all.

It was during the Age of Machines that things began to fall apart. Unbeknownst to the majority of its population, Norton was experimenting with genetic engineering. Even the subjects of the experiments, known as Project Xcellence, were unaware of their participation. Embryos were modified in secret during routine prenatal laser scans. Babies began to be born with strange blue eyes and pale hair, an unintended consequence; the scientists dismissed it as a natural mutation. No one questioned them.

The "Blondies" were superior to the rest of the population in both athleticism and intelligence. As they grew to adulthood, they rose within the ranks of every profession. They became the leaders in every field - the best teachers, doctors, and scientists. Even the police force was mostly made up of individuals with pale hair and ice-blue eyes.

Though the scientists didn't realize it at first, the Blondies' talents came with a price - a predisposition to paranoia. Before anyone knew what was happening, Norton had become a police state. Laboratories were commandeered and diverted from inventing to weapons development. What had once been little more than a security detail became a military, almost overnight.

After a few years, Project Xcellence was abandoned. Still, the damage had been done. Life in the North changed forever. And while trade between the two cities continued apace, the seeds of distrust were sown.

* * * * *

Dave surveyed the piles of belongings on his bedroom floor and sighed as he looked at the list again.

"Extra-long sheets... check."
"Can opener... check."
"Hangers... check."
"Laundry bag... check."
"Notebooks... " Dave looked around. "Shit, where did I put those notebooks?"

After a frantic search, Dave located the plastic bag of notebooks and threw it next to the other items he planned to pack.

"Hmmm, what's next?" he mused. "Clothes, I guess."

Pulling each drawer out of his dresser one by one, Dave dumped the contents onto the floor next to his suitcase. When he emptied his sock drawer, he was surprised to hear a muffled clunk.

That's weird, Dave thought. Socks don't clunk.

Dave dug in the pile of clothing until he found the source of the noise. It was the metal ball he'd played with so many times as a child. Even now, its weight felt comfortable in his hand, as if it had been designed for him to hold it. He hadn't seen it in years; hadn't even remembered it was hidden under his socks.

He stared at the orb, transfixed. As a child, he'd pretended it was magical. Looking at it now, Dave could still almost see the clouds he'd once imagined swirling at its center. Then he shook his head and forced his eyes away from the ball.

No time for this silliness now. Dad's taking me to college in the morning and I need to finish packing.

For a moment, Dave wondered what to do with the orb. Andy might enjoy it - he was an avid reader of fantasy novels, after all. His hand was reaching for the doorknob when he stopped.

Nah, Andy's almost 15. Way too old to be messing around with nonsense like this.

Tossing the ball into a half-filled box with the word "Attic" on its side, Dave shook his head again. Packing for college was stressful and he'd be glad when it was over. His thoughts turned to the things he'd do when he finally left this place behind.

I can be anyone I want to be now, Dave told himself. He didn't give the metal ball another thought.

* * * * *

The fighting began over a trivial concern, a business agreement gone sour. That's what it says in the Archives, anyway, but I've come to believe it's not the whole story. The people of Sutton, you see, had grown suspicious of their neighbors to the North. They didn't know about Project Xcellence, but they'd have been fools if they didn't notice the Northerners' changed appearance and aggressive demeanor.

After the trade agreement crumbled, the Southerners began some experiments of their own. While their scientists weren't as skilled with technology as the ones in Norton, they managed to invent some formidable surveillance equipment. Soon they were spying not only on the Other Side but also on their own people. Books were burned, lives were destroyed, and no one trusted anyone.

The records are sparse from that point onward. Though some books were preserved in the Archive, there was no one left to write new ones. In the fabled schools of Sutton, reading and writing were no longer taught. Instead, children learned to fear the Enemy, never knowing the worst Enemy of all was their own fear. By the time my story began, no one even remembered what caused the War. My brother and I were betrothed to it before we were old enough to question why.

I hear the armies pounding at the gates of the Archive where I hide. Their fear is a fire that will rage until it's consumed everything we know. There's no hope for me to escape, but perhaps my robot friend can. After years of friendship and fighting side by side, I bid her goodbye. My writings will go with her - let my legacy be this record of what came before.

If they've found me here, you see, our plan has failed. The last chance to end this War is gone, and the lives of my friends and brother with it. My only hope is for CallaBot to make it out alive. If she succeeds, our story will live on through her, a warning for future generations.

I only hope there will be someone left to heed it.




This story was originally written for Champions Week in LJ Idol. That means we had to find a Champion to write an Idol entry for us. [livejournal.com profile] thehobbit was awesome enough to accept this challenge on my behalf. Not only is her entry really cool, she was also the one who came up with the concept that unites our two posts. Please check out her story over here.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
According to the Ancient Scrolls, our world is suspended within a Great Orb. Since we are inside the Orb, no one knows what it looks like. But the Scrolls say it rests in the hands of the One True God.

Through the ages, artists have striven to depict both the Orb and the God. Some imagine the Orb as a crystal ball, while others claim it is a sphere of glowing plasma. The God has been shown as everything from an old man with a white beard to a being of pure light. Of course, we have not seen his face. Still, some say that if you look closely on a clear night, you can see the eye of the God peering inside.

Of course, none of this means a thing if you don't believe in the Scrolls. These days, most people don't.

* * * * *

Dejected, Davey kicked at a Coke can as he walked, scowling as it clattered across the sidewalk. It wasn't fair the way Mom always blamed him for everything. Somehow, his younger brother Andy never got in trouble. Davey's forehead was still sore from the toy car Andy had chucked at him. He rubbed at it absently as he trudged along.

Of course he cried when I pushed him, Davey thought. And just like always, Mom took his side.

"But Mom, he started it!" Davey had protested.

"That's not the point, David, and you know it," his mother had said. "You're old enough to know better."

How come I'm old enough to know better, but always too young to do the things I want? he wondered now.

The strap of Davey's backpack slid off his shoulder and he hiked it back up. He wondered how long it would take his mom to notice that he'd run away, or if she'd even bother to look for him. It didn't matter, really. He had enough peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches to last him a while.

All of a sudden, Davey saw something gleaming from beneath a pile of leaves. Hoping for a lucky nickel or quarter, he squatted down and cleared away the leaves. Davey looked at the object for a moment before picking it up, perplexed. It wasn't a coin at all, but a shining sphere about the size of a tennis ball.

"Wow," he breathed, turning it over and over in his hand.

The ball was made of a metal Davey had never seen before. Its oily sheen reminded him of the smooth piece of hematite Dad had sent him once, before the cards and packages stopped coming. It wasn't exactly like the hematite, though, because it seemed to glow with an inner light. Staring into its depths, Davey thought he saw something swirling inside - fog or mist, or maybe clouds.

As he crouched on the sidewalk with his rapt gaze focused on the orb, he watched the mists coalesce into something more. Was it just his imagination, or had they formed a sphere of blue and white? It reminded him of the images he'd seen on TV of Earth viewed from space. In his mind's eye, he watched life begin on the world his dreams had created.

What if there really is a whole world inside there? he thought.

Davey knew his mom would call that "silly talk", but he didn't care. The ball was obviously magical, and now it was his. Unshouldering his backpack, he opened it and nestled his treasure within a small inner pocket. All thoughts of his family forgotten, Davey zipped up his bag and continued walking.

* * * * *

In the beginning (or so the Ancient Scrolls say), the Great Mothers and Hallowed Fathers lived in the sky, in crystal towers that sparkled like diamonds. Children played on clouds and slid down rainbows. No one was ever hurt or ill, fathers never left their children, and dreams always came true. Life was filled with love and light and everyone worshipped the One True God.

Time passed and the people grew complacent. They were too busy with their comings and goings to offer prayers to the God who had created them. No longer content with their lives in the sky, they longed to explore the land below. God, hearing their rumblings, cast them out upon land. Though the people mourned the loss of their home in the heavens, they multiplied and prospered. While they never rebuilt the beautiful glass palaces of old, they erected a City of steel and glass.

The City grew and grew, until it was so large it split in two. At first, the two Cities were different in name only. The one to the North was called Norton and the one to the South was called Sutton. Over time, the two became more and more distinct. The people of the North were excellent hunters and had a passion for inventing. In the South, the residents loved to read and write and work with their hands. The best tools were made in the North, and a university was built in the South.

* * * * *

The door to Dave's room inched open, and he jumped off his bed with a start. Hiding the object in his hands behind his back, he watched as his younger brother Andy peeked inside.

"What are you doing in my room, you jerk?" Dave yelled.

"I... I just wanted to look at your CDs," Andy stammered.

"Well, you can't!" Dave said. "I'm busy right now."

"Busy doing what?" Andy demanded, suddenly noticing that his older brother was hiding something. "What's that behind your back, naked pictures?"

"Shut up, asshole!"

Enraged, Dave charged at Andy, his left hand still concealing the object behind him. With his right hand, he grabbed his younger brother's shoulder and shoved him out of the room. Slamming and locking the door, he leaned against it and breathed a sigh of relief.

"And stay out!" he yelled, hearing Andy's footsteps retreat down the hall.

Flopping back onto his bed, Dave opened his left hand to look at the item he'd been hiding. Even in the dim light of his bedroom, the silvery orb shone. He hadn't held it in quite some time, but it still fit perfectly in his palm. Was it his imagination, or did it seem darker than before?

At 12, almost 13, Dave knew he was too old for such childish fantasies. If the other kids at school knew he still played with silly toys like this, he'd never hear the end of it. Still, as always when he looked at the ball, he imagined he could see beyond its metal surface. Inside, there were people, a world unlike his own, a place where the hurts of this life did not exist.

Those fantasies had gotten him through many lonely years. It was hard to let them go.

* * * * *

For many generations, the cities of Norton and Sutton lived in harmony. The lands to the North lent themselves well to livestock, and the fields in the South bore fruits of all sorts. Trade between the two peoples thrived and life was bountiful. Northern girls and boys were welcome in the schools of the South; the awe-inspiring devices built in the North brought convenience to all.

It was during the Age of Machines that things began to fall apart. Unbeknownst to the majority of its population, Norton was experimenting with genetic engineering. Even the subjects of the experiments, known as Project Xcellence, were unaware of their participation. Embryos were modified in secret during routine prenatal laser scans. Babies began to be born with strange blue eyes and pale hair, an unintended consequence; the scientists dismissed it as a natural mutation. No one questioned them.

The "Blondies" were superior to the rest of the population in both athleticism and intelligence. As they grew to adulthood, they rose within the ranks of every profession. They became the leaders in every field - the best teachers, doctors, and scientists. Even the police force was mostly made up of individuals with pale hair and ice-blue eyes.

Though the scientists didn't realize it at first, the Blondies' talents came with a price - a predisposition to paranoia. Before anyone knew what was happening, Norton had become a police state. Laboratories were commandeered and diverted from inventing to weapons development. What had once been little more than a security detail became a military, almost overnight.

After a few years, Project Xcellence was abandoned. Still, the damage had been done. Life in the North changed forever. And while trade between the two cities continued apace, the seeds of distrust were sown.

* * * * *

Dave surveyed the piles of belongings on his bedroom floor and sighed as he looked at the list again.

"Extra-long sheets... check."
"Can opener... check."
"Hangers... check."
"Laundry bag... check."
"Notebooks... " Dave looked around. "Shit, where did I put those notebooks?"

After a frantic search, Dave located the plastic bag of notebooks and threw it next to the other items he planned to pack.

"Hmmm, what's next?" he mused. "Clothes, I guess."

Pulling each drawer out of his dresser one by one, Dave dumped the contents onto the floor next to his suitcase. When he emptied his sock drawer, he was surprised to hear a muffled clunk.

That's weird, Dave thought. Socks don't clunk.

Dave dug in the pile of clothing until he found the source of the noise. It was the metal ball he'd played with so many times as a child. Even now, its weight felt comfortable in his hand, as if it had been designed for him to hold it. He hadn't seen it in years; hadn't even remembered it was hidden under his socks.

He stared at the orb, transfixed. As a child, he'd pretended it was magical. Looking at it now, Dave could still almost see the clouds he'd once imagined swirling at its center. Then he shook his head and forced his eyes away from the ball.

No time for this silliness now. Dad's taking me to college in the morning and I need to finish packing.

For a moment, Dave wondered what to do with the orb. Andy might enjoy it - he was an avid reader of fantasy novels, after all. His hand was reaching for the doorknob when he stopped.

Nah, Andy's almost 15. Way too old to be messing around with nonsense like this.

Tossing the ball into a half-filled box with the word "Attic" on its side, Dave shook his head again. Packing for college was stressful and he'd be glad when it was over. His thoughts turned to the things he'd do when he finally left this place behind.

I can be anyone I want to be now, Dave told himself. He didn't give the metal ball another thought.

* * * * *

The fighting began over a trivial concern, a business agreement gone sour. That's what it says in the Archives, anyway, but I've come to believe it's not the whole story. The people of Sutton, you see, had grown suspicious of their neighbors to the North. They didn't know about Project Xcellence, but they'd have been fools if they didn't notice the Northerners' changed appearance and aggressive demeanor.

After the trade agreement crumbled, the Southerners began some experiments of their own. While their scientists weren't as skilled with technology as the ones in Norton, they managed to invent some formidable surveillance equipment. Soon they were spying not only on the Other Side but also on their own people. Books were burned, lives were destroyed, and no one trusted anyone.

The records are sparse from that point onward. Though some books were preserved in the Archive, there was no one left to write new ones. In the fabled schools of Sutton, reading and writing were no longer taught. Instead, children learned to fear the Enemy, never knowing the worst Enemy of all was their own fear. By the time my story began, no one even remembered what caused the War. My brother and I were betrothed to it before we were old enough to question why.

I hear the armies pounding at the gates of the Archive where I hide. Their fear is a fire that will rage until it's consumed everything we know. There's no hope for me to escape, but perhaps my robot friend can. After years of friendship and fighting side by side, I bid her goodbye. My writings will go with her - let my legacy be this record of what came before.

If they've found me here, you see, our plan has failed. The last chance to end this War is gone, and the lives of my friends and brother with it. My only hope is for CallaBot to make it out alive. If she succeeds, our story will live on through her, a warning for future generations.

I only hope there will be someone left to heed it.




This story was originally written for Champions Week in LJ Idol. That means we had to find a Champion to write an Idol entry for us. [livejournal.com profile] thehobbit was awesome enough to accept this challenge on my behalf. Not only is her entry really cool, she was also the one who came up with the concept that unites our two posts. Please check out her story over here.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
I've memorized my bedroom ceiling. There's the grease spot near the center. Wes threw a slice of pizza once. Who knows why, except he's Wes. Near the window is a greenish splotch - a spill in Devin's attic lab. I analyze the shapes of those stains like a child watching clouds.

The burn mark by the door, though - my eyes skate away from it every time.

Brendan lost his temper - fired a nanoblaster. That's my brother, so hotheaded, always ready to sacrifice himself for a cause. And he did.

I don't look over there. Looking makes it true.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
I've memorized my bedroom ceiling. There's the grease spot near the center. Wes threw a slice of pizza once. Who knows why, except he's Wes. Near the window is a greenish splotch - a spill in Devin's attic lab. I analyze the shapes of those stains like a child watching clouds.

The burn mark by the door, though - my eyes skate away from it every time.

Brendan lost his temper - fired a nanoblaster. That's my brother, so hotheaded, always ready to sacrifice himself for a cause. And he did.

I don't look over there. Looking makes it true.

Pain

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:32 am
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Ow!" CallaBot yells. "You're hurting me with that thing! Are you almost done?"

"I warned you it was going to be painful," I tell her, "It's big."

"That's not what Devin's mom told me last night," Wes snickers.

"Yeah, right," Devin mutters, not even looking away from the wall in front of him, where his SimFighting match with Wes is projected. Seconds later, a large explosion appears, engulfing Wes's SimFighter.

"What the hell?" Wes yells. "How did you even do that?"

"The fact that you suck at this game helps a lot." Taking off his SimFighting headset, Devin comes over to watch me work. I make the final adjustments to CallaBot's circuitry and set the laserdrill back in my toolbox.

"That should do it," I tell her. "Your translator nanochip should be up and running now."

"So, how does this thing work?" CallaBot asks.

"Hell if I know," I shrug. "Devin's the one who designed the chip."

"I modified your nanoblaster with a new 'language nanites' setting," Devin says. "When you fire the blaster, it stuns your victim and shoots nanites into his brain. There might be a little sting, but it shouldn't cause any other ill effects. Then the chip Kalen just installed will communicate with the nanites so you can speak and understand the other person's language."

"Well, unless you run into people who speak some sort of really atypical language," Wes cuts in. "You know, like on that one episode of NebulaQuest?"

"My translator nanochip apparently doesn't work for Dweebenese. What the hell are you talking about?" It's amazing how proficient CallaBot has gotten with her death-glares, even with a robotic face.

"Basically," Wes says, "The crew of the Discovery encounters a race that speaks only in metaphors. Their translators don't help much, because the metaphors of that culture mean nothing to them."

"Yeah, except that would never happen in real life," Devin interjects, "because it's fucking stupid."

"Well, if it's so 'fucking stupid', then how come it's consistently named one of the top 10 NebulaQuest episodes of all time?" Wes demands.

"You guys are like an old married couple," I say, shaking my head.

Just then, the door to the basement opens. My older brother Brendan lumbers into the room, dressed in formal attire and looking irritated. His gait is oddly stiff.

"What's going on, bro? You pull a muscle working out?"

Unlike me, Brendan has kept up with his exercise regimen since he moved into Wes and Devin's house. In fact, if anything, he's even bigger and brawnier than before. It's probably because he doesn't have the same interests the rest of us do. Most of the time, he keeps to himself, training for the day he'll get his very own part in the War.

"No, it's this fucking suit," he grumbles. "It's tight as hell. Who'd they design this thing for, a male model?"

"It's a prototype created for marketing purposes," Devin reminds him, "So, probably."

"Couldn't you have had it altered, though?" Brendan demands. "You dorks can stockpile enough weapons to end the world, but you can't find a fucking tailor?"

"Maybe you shouldn't have waited until the last minute to try it on." Devin raises one eyebrow at my brother. "Anyway, if you take it off, I'll run it through the duplicator and modify the specs to generate a larger version."

"Condescending asshole," Brendan mutters under his breath as he strips down to his boxers.

"You might want to stop calling me names, you lunkhead, or I'm going to turn these pants into a tutu."

"You wouldn't," Brendan growls.

"Try me," Devin smirks.

Here we go again, I think, rubbing at my temples. The constant bickering in this house makes my head hurt. If I thought Wes and Devin squabbled a lot, well, that was before Brendan moved in here. Devin and my brother have never gotten along. You'd think they could put that aside for today, since it might be the last time they see each other alive.

You'd think so, but apparently you'd be wrong.

* * * * *

"Okay, Brendan, let's review the plan one more time." My stomach is roiling. I think I'm more nervous than he is.

"We've been over it ten times already. I think I've got it." Brendan says.

"Come on, just one more time, for me?" I'm stalling for time. What if he doesn't make it back?

"Fine, bro, whatever." Brendan's being unusually patient with me. "CallaBot and I will turn on our InvisiSuits and go to the WeaponsDev building."

"You should be able to just walk right in." Devin breaks in. "The security nanochip I've wired to your neurovision interface should command the doors to open. Since the explosive suit technology is so new, the bomb-sniffers shouldn't be able to detect it. If you run into any security robots, CallaBot's universal translator should allow her to communicate with them and convince them you're no threat."

"Then I just head for the center of the building, remove the explosive suit, and run. Right?" Brendan finishes.

"You got it, bro," I tell him.

"Once you're clear of the building, let me know. I'll use the back door I created in the suit's interface to explode it, along with WeaponsDev itself," Devin's eyes are shining with excitement and he seems like himself for the first time in months. "This is gonna be fucking epic!"

I'm glad someone's feeling happy about this. Me, it's all I can do not to vomit on my boots. This is my brother putting his life at risk. If anything happens to him, I'll be in a world of hurt.

"Hey Brendan," I say, clasping him in an awkward man-hug. "I know we don't always see eye to eye, but - " He doesn't let me finish.

"Come on, Kalen. You know I'm no good at this feelings crap. No need for teary goodbyes. I'll be back in an hour, maybe two. Besides, this is what I was born to do." Brendan punches me in the arm so hard I wince.

"Brendan, seriously," Devin says, "If anything goes wrong, run like hell. Don't try to be a hero. Just get out."

"Why, Devin," Brendan simpers in a high-pitched feminine voice, "I didn't know you cared."

"I don't, man. But without you around, there won't be anyone Wes can beat at SimFighting."




Author's Note:
In case you were curious, the comments about NebulaQuest in the opening section were inspired by the "Darmok" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. If somehow Devin didn't make my thoughts on the episode crystal clear, check out this super-old Green Room Thread, courtesy of the fact that I rarely clean out my comment notifications.

Pain

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:32 am
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Ow!" CallaBot yells. "You're hurting me with that thing! Are you almost done?"

"I warned you it was going to be painful," I tell her, "It's big."

"That's not what Devin's mom told me last night," Wes snickers.

"Yeah, right," Devin mutters, not even looking away from the wall in front of him, where his SimFighting match with Wes is projected. Seconds later, a large explosion appears, engulfing Wes's SimFighter.

"What the hell?" Wes yells. "How did you even do that?"

"The fact that you suck at this game helps a lot." Taking off his SimFighting headset, Devin comes over to watch me work. I make the final adjustments to CallaBot's circuitry and set the laserdrill back in my toolbox.

"That should do it," I tell her. "Your translator nanochip should be up and running now."

"So, how does this thing work?" CallaBot asks.

"Hell if I know," I shrug. "Devin's the one who designed the chip."

"I modified your nanoblaster with a new 'language nanites' setting," Devin says. "When you fire the blaster, it stuns your victim and shoots nanites into his brain. There might be a little sting, but it shouldn't cause any other ill effects. Then the chip Kalen just installed will communicate with the nanites so you can speak and understand the other person's language."

"Well, unless you run into people who speak some sort of really atypical language," Wes cuts in. "You know, like on that one episode of NebulaQuest?"

"My translator nanochip apparently doesn't work for Dweebenese. What the hell are you talking about?" It's amazing how proficient CallaBot has gotten with her death-glares, even with a robotic face.

"Basically," Wes says, "The crew of the Discovery encounters a race that speaks only in metaphors. Their translators don't help much, because the metaphors of that culture mean nothing to them."

"Yeah, except that would never happen in real life," Devin interjects, "because it's fucking stupid."

"Well, if it's so 'fucking stupid', then how come it's consistently named one of the top 10 NebulaQuest episodes of all time?" Wes demands.

"You guys are like an old married couple," I say, shaking my head.

Just then, the door to the basement opens. My older brother Brendan lumbers into the room, dressed in formal attire and looking irritated. His gait is oddly stiff.

"What's going on, bro? You pull a muscle working out?"

Unlike me, Brendan has kept up with his exercise regimen since he moved into Wes and Devin's house. In fact, if anything, he's even bigger and brawnier than before. It's probably because he doesn't have the same interests the rest of us do. Most of the time, he keeps to himself, training for the day he'll get his very own part in the War.

"No, it's this fucking suit," he grumbles. "It's tight as hell. Who'd they design this thing for, a male model?"

"It's a prototype created for marketing purposes," Devin reminds him, "So, probably."

"Couldn't you have had it altered, though?" Brendan demands. "You dorks can stockpile enough weapons to end the world, but you can't find a fucking tailor?"

"Maybe you shouldn't have waited until the last minute to try it on." Devin raises one eyebrow at my brother. "Anyway, if you take it off, I'll run it through the duplicator and modify the specs to generate a larger version."

"Condescending asshole," Brendan mutters under his breath as he strips down to his boxers.

"You might want to stop calling me names, you lunkhead, or I'm going to turn these pants into a tutu."

"You wouldn't," Brendan growls.

"Try me," Devin smirks.

Here we go again, I think, rubbing at my temples. The constant bickering in this house makes my head hurt. If I thought Wes and Devin squabbled a lot, well, that was before Brendan moved in here. Devin and my brother have never gotten along. You'd think they could put that aside for today, since it might be the last time they see each other alive.

You'd think so, but apparently you'd be wrong.

* * * * *

"Okay, Brendan, let's review the plan one more time." My stomach is roiling. I think I'm more nervous than he is.

"We've been over it ten times already. I think I've got it." Brendan says.

"Come on, just one more time, for me?" I'm stalling for time. What if he doesn't make it back?

"Fine, bro, whatever." Brendan's being unusually patient with me. "CallaBot and I will turn on our InvisiSuits and go to the WeaponsDev building."

"You should be able to just walk right in." Devin breaks in. "The security nanochip I've wired to your neurovision interface should command the doors to open. Since the explosive suit technology is so new, the bomb-sniffers shouldn't be able to detect it. If you run into any security robots, CallaBot's universal translator should allow her to communicate with them and convince them you're no threat."

"Then I just head for the center of the building, remove the explosive suit, and run. Right?" Brendan finishes.

"You got it, bro," I tell him.

"Once you're clear of the building, let me know. I'll use the back door I created in the suit's interface to explode it, along with WeaponsDev itself," Devin's eyes are shining with excitement and he seems like himself for the first time in months. "This is gonna be fucking epic!"

I'm glad someone's feeling happy about this. Me, it's all I can do not to vomit on my boots. This is my brother putting his life at risk. If anything happens to him, I'll be in a world of hurt.

"Hey Brendan," I say, clasping him in an awkward man-hug. "I know we don't always see eye to eye, but - " He doesn't let me finish.

"Come on, Kalen. You know I'm no good at this feelings crap. No need for teary goodbyes. I'll be back in an hour, maybe two. Besides, this is what I was born to do." Brendan punches me in the arm so hard I wince.

"Brendan, seriously," Devin says, "If anything goes wrong, run like hell. Don't try to be a hero. Just get out."

"Why, Devin," Brendan simpers in a high-pitched feminine voice, "I didn't know you cared."

"I don't, man. But without you around, there won't be anyone Wes can beat at SimFighting."




Author's Note:
In case you were curious, the comments about NebulaQuest in the opening section were inspired by the "Darmok" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. If somehow Devin didn't make my thoughts on the episode crystal clear, check out this super-old Green Room Thread, courtesy of the fact that I rarely clean out my comment notifications.

Tumbler

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:29 am
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"This is gonna be fucking epic!" Devin yells, bursting into the room.

"It better be, dickcheese," Wes grumbles, pulling off his SimFighting headset with a glare. "You just made me die."

"Riiiiight," I snicker, "What's your excuse for the other six times I beat you today, then?"

Devin clears his throat and we both turn to look at him.

"Don't you two losers want to know what I found?" he asks, holding out his cupped palm to reveal a silvery nanochip.

"Looks like an IdentiChip," I say after squinting at it for a moment, "but whose?"

"Mine," Devin replies. "Met a guy from the Splinternet who makes them - impossible to distinguish from the real thing. With this baby installed, not only am I officially born in this City, I also have security clearance."

Wes lets out a loud sneeze that sounds suspiciously like the word "bullshit".

"Ought to get that cold checked out, buddy," Devin says, cocking an eyebrow in Wes's direction. "Anyway, once I install the IdentiChip, the possibilities are endless. I can get a job anywhere. We can fight the system from the inside!"

"Well, Kalen, what do you think?" Wes asks, still dubious.

For whatever reason, both Wes and Devin treat me as their leader. Although I find this ridiculous, given the fact that my famous act of heroism was a complete accident, I do the best I can. Now I consider Devin's words. While he isn't known for his street smarts, he's a genius with circuitry. With the proper identification, he'd be an asset to any military research team.

"It's kind of insane," I finally say, "but it just might work."

* * * * *

Wes is helping me put the finishing touches on a new, more humanoid body for CallaBot when the front door slams so hard we both jump. Devin walks into the living room, anger clouding his features. Pulling off his white lab coat, he tosses it on the floor and collapses on the couch.

"Who pissed in your VitaFlakes, dude?" Wes asks him.

Shooting me a sour look, Devin undoes his dark hair from its "professional" braid. He rakes a comb through it while staring moodily at the wall. Dress code at WeaponsDev isn't even supposed to allow long hair. However, after his performance on their technical tests, I wouldn't be surprised if they let him show up to work stark naked.

"Hey, pretty princess," Wes says, "What's wrong?" Devin grunts and points at his lab coat, still lying in the doorway.

"Oh, so now I'm the maid? You'd better buy me a pretty dress, then!" Wes begins strutting around the living room with an exaggerated swing of his hips. Devin sighs, and I retrieve the garment myself. I'm heading toward the coat closet to hang it up when Devin finally speaks.

"Inside pocket," he says.

The large pocket feels empty at first, but I feel around inside it anyway. Finally, my fingers close around a tiny capsule. Holding it up to the light, I examine it. It appears to be some kind of medication - one half is pink and the other is white, printed with numerals I can't quite make out.

"Ohhhhhh, I get it," Wes says, "You forgot to take your meds today. No wonder you're in such a funk." That, at least, gets a laugh. It's dripping with bitterness, though. I've never seen Devin in a mood like this and it worries me.

"Squeeze the top and bottom."

I comply with Devin's directions, and the pill's two halves separate, revealing some sort of mechanical device inside. A tiny pink laser shoots from its center and I nearly drop it in surprise. Devin laughs; it almost sounds genuine. He points across the room.

Projected on our living room wall in stunning detail are several sets of clothing. There's a formal dress, a men's suit, and several male and female outfits of the more casual variety.

"They've got you designing fashion?" Wes screeches with glee. "Dude, I knew you should've cut that ponytail."

"I'm assigned to work on the neural interface for it," Devin's voice is bleak and he's still looking at the wall. "This is the point where you should ask yourselves why a cocktail dress needs a neural interface."

"Don't look at me," I say, "I'm clueless about fashion."

"It's not about fashion, Kalen," Devin's eyes are hard. "Well, actually, it sort of is. They're explosive outfits for suicide bombers, undetectable by any existing security devices."

"So... they're for undercover agents, then?" I ask. I'm still not sure why he's so upset.

"Not exactly," Devin sighs again. "They're going to be marketed to the general public."

"What?" Wes and I shout in simultaneous disbelief.

"They wouldn't," I say, my heart sinking as I realize I don't even believe myself.

"Come on, Kalen," Devin says, "You know better than that. Fighting squads have waiting lists of a year or more, and the qualifications for soldiers are pretty stringent. Your own brother was disqualified from the military; he's by far not the only one. And he's not the only one who'd risk death to fight anyway."

"If our government is willing to go this far in the name of the War," I say, "we'll never be able to stop it."

"Exactly," Devin replies.

"Are you sure this is really what they're planning?" My stomach is churning.

"They're already putting together the preliminary ad campaigns. Full-page spreads in the neuromags. Marketing team's even come up with a slogan - 'Go Out In Style'."

* * * * *

"Are you guys sure I'm the best person for the job?" I ask my friends for the millionth time as I pull on my InvisiSuit. "I'm not so great under pressure."

"That's like saying Wes isn't so great at SimFighting," CallaBot snorts.

"Hey!" Wes protests, punching CallaBot in the arm with a loud clang. "Ow!" He rubs at his knuckles.

"That's what you get for hitting a lady," CallaBot snickers.

"Come on, guys, let's stay focused, okay? Kalen, it has to be you. You're the only one who's agile enough to get past the security lasers protecting the prototype." Devin hasn't been the same since he found out about Project FashionXplosion. His months of work on the project have taken their toll. Not only has he lost his sense of humor, he looks exhausted. His olive skin is sallow and there are dark circles under his eyes.

"It's just... I'm worried about messing up." After the incident with the bomb, no one can really blame me for that.

"You'll be fine," Devin says, with a smile that's a shadow of its former self. "Just don't sneeze."

"Let me just make sure I have everything straight. The security nanochip you installed in my neural implant should get me into the building. I just walk in through the back, right?"

"Exactly," Devin nods. "I stole that chip from a custodial robot. It'll give you access to any door or EleTube in the building. Once you reach the area where they keep the prototype, my modifications should also allow you to see the security lasers."

"Okay," I say, "I guess this is it. Wish me luck."

Turning on my InvisiSuit, I step out into the night. Its added bulk makes running harder, but I do it anyway. The sooner I make it to the WeaponsDev building, the faster I can steal the prototype and get back home to safety. As I run, my mind churns with questions.

What's the point of any of this? If Devin's right and we'll never stop the War anyway, how will stealing this prototype help? They'll just make something else even worse, won't they?

I know I can't just give up, though, so I keep sprinting. Nearly a year of living with Wes and Devin hasn't been conducive to staying in shape. I have to pause to catch my breath once I reach the back of the WeaponsDev building. Once I'm no longer huffing and puffing, I step toward the rear entrance, half-expecting to hear piercing alarms. Instead, a green laser scans me and the doors slide open.

So far, so good, I think, walking to the first EleTube I see and punching the button for the 69th floor. Turning right out of the tube, I force myself to take slow, measured steps. Invisibility won't help if someone's here working late and hears me crashing about like a wild beast. When I push through the double doors at the end of the hallway, my stomach drops.

Nothing Devin's told me could have prepared me for the sight of the security lasers that surround the prototype. Crisscrossing each other in a glowing network of red, blue, and green, the lasers form a complicated latticework.

No way would any of the others be able to slip through here, I think. I'm not even sure I can.

For a moment, my thoughts whirl as I try to remember the endless hours of floor routines my Combat Gymnastics instructor made me practice. Then I take a deep breath and turn my neurovision implant to the dance music channel. If I'm going to make it through this, I can't think too hard. Bending my knees, I leap into the air and dive through a gap in the lasers. I clear my mind of everything but twisting and flipping and hope for the best.

Tumbler

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:29 am
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"This is gonna be fucking epic!" Devin yells, bursting into the room.

"It better be, dickcheese," Wes grumbles, pulling off his SimFighting headset with a glare. "You just made me die."

"Riiiiight," I snicker, "What's your excuse for the other six times I beat you today, then?"

Devin clears his throat and we both turn to look at him.

"Don't you two losers want to know what I found?" he asks, holding out his cupped palm to reveal a silvery nanochip.

"Looks like an IdentiChip," I say after squinting at it for a moment, "but whose?"

"Mine," Devin replies. "Met a guy from the Splinternet who makes them - impossible to distinguish from the real thing. With this baby installed, not only am I officially born in this City, I also have security clearance."

Wes lets out a loud sneeze that sounds suspiciously like the word "bullshit".

"Ought to get that cold checked out, buddy," Devin says, cocking an eyebrow in Wes's direction. "Anyway, once I install the IdentiChip, the possibilities are endless. I can get a job anywhere. We can fight the system from the inside!"

"Well, Kalen, what do you think?" Wes asks, still dubious.

For whatever reason, both Wes and Devin treat me as their leader. Although I find this ridiculous, given the fact that my famous act of heroism was a complete accident, I do the best I can. Now I consider Devin's words. While he isn't known for his street smarts, he's a genius with circuitry. With the proper identification, he'd be an asset to any military research team.

"It's kind of insane," I finally say, "but it just might work."

* * * * *

Wes is helping me put the finishing touches on a new, more humanoid body for CallaBot when the front door slams so hard we both jump. Devin walks into the living room, anger clouding his features. Pulling off his white lab coat, he tosses it on the floor and collapses on the couch.

"Who pissed in your VitaFlakes, dude?" Wes asks him.

Shooting me a sour look, Devin undoes his dark hair from its "professional" braid. He rakes a comb through it while staring moodily at the wall. Dress code at WeaponsDev isn't even supposed to allow long hair. However, after his performance on their technical tests, I wouldn't be surprised if they let him show up to work stark naked.

"Hey, pretty princess," Wes says, "What's wrong?" Devin grunts and points at his lab coat, still lying in the doorway.

"Oh, so now I'm the maid? You'd better buy me a pretty dress, then!" Wes begins strutting around the living room with an exaggerated swing of his hips. Devin sighs, and I retrieve the garment myself. I'm heading toward the coat closet to hang it up when Devin finally speaks.

"Inside pocket," he says.

The large pocket feels empty at first, but I feel around inside it anyway. Finally, my fingers close around a tiny capsule. Holding it up to the light, I examine it. It appears to be some kind of medication - one half is pink and the other is white, printed with numerals I can't quite make out.

"Ohhhhhh, I get it," Wes says, "You forgot to take your meds today. No wonder you're in such a funk." That, at least, gets a laugh. It's dripping with bitterness, though. I've never seen Devin in a mood like this and it worries me.

"Squeeze the top and bottom."

I comply with Devin's directions, and the pill's two halves separate, revealing some sort of mechanical device inside. A tiny pink laser shoots from its center and I nearly drop it in surprise. Devin laughs; it almost sounds genuine. He points across the room.

Projected on our living room wall in stunning detail are several sets of clothing. There's a formal dress, a men's suit, and several male and female outfits of the more casual variety.

"They've got you designing fashion?" Wes screeches with glee. "Dude, I knew you should've cut that ponytail."

"I'm assigned to work on the neural interface for it," Devin's voice is bleak and he's still looking at the wall. "This is the point where you should ask yourselves why a cocktail dress needs a neural interface."

"Don't look at me," I say, "I'm clueless about fashion."

"It's not about fashion, Kalen," Devin's eyes are hard. "Well, actually, it sort of is. They're explosive outfits for suicide bombers, undetectable by any existing security devices."

"So... they're for undercover agents, then?" I ask. I'm still not sure why he's so upset.

"Not exactly," Devin sighs again. "They're going to be marketed to the general public."

"What?" Wes and I shout in simultaneous disbelief.

"They wouldn't," I say, my heart sinking as I realize I don't even believe myself.

"Come on, Kalen," Devin says, "You know better than that. Fighting squads have waiting lists of a year or more, and the qualifications for soldiers are pretty stringent. Your own brother was disqualified from the military; he's by far not the only one. And he's not the only one who'd risk death to fight anyway."

"If our government is willing to go this far in the name of the War," I say, "we'll never be able to stop it."

"Exactly," Devin replies.

"Are you sure this is really what they're planning?" My stomach is churning.

"They're already putting together the preliminary ad campaigns. Full-page spreads in the neuromags. Marketing team's even come up with a slogan - 'Go Out In Style'."

* * * * *

"Are you guys sure I'm the best person for the job?" I ask my friends for the millionth time as I pull on my InvisiSuit. "I'm not so great under pressure."

"That's like saying Wes isn't so great at SimFighting," CallaBot snorts.

"Hey!" Wes protests, punching CallaBot in the arm with a loud clang. "Ow!" He rubs at his knuckles.

"That's what you get for hitting a lady," CallaBot snickers.

"Come on, guys, let's stay focused, okay? Kalen, it has to be you. You're the only one who's agile enough to get past the security lasers protecting the prototype." Devin hasn't been the same since he found out about Project FashionXplosion. His months of work on the project have taken their toll. Not only has he lost his sense of humor, he looks exhausted. His olive skin is sallow and there are dark circles under his eyes.

"It's just... I'm worried about messing up." After the incident with the bomb, no one can really blame me for that.

"You'll be fine," Devin says, with a smile that's a shadow of its former self. "Just don't sneeze."

"Let me just make sure I have everything straight. The security nanochip you installed in my neural implant should get me into the building. I just walk in through the back, right?"

"Exactly," Devin nods. "I stole that chip from a custodial robot. It'll give you access to any door or EleTube in the building. Once you reach the area where they keep the prototype, my modifications should also allow you to see the security lasers."

"Okay," I say, "I guess this is it. Wish me luck."

Turning on my InvisiSuit, I step out into the night. Its added bulk makes running harder, but I do it anyway. The sooner I make it to the WeaponsDev building, the faster I can steal the prototype and get back home to safety. As I run, my mind churns with questions.

What's the point of any of this? If Devin's right and we'll never stop the War anyway, how will stealing this prototype help? They'll just make something else even worse, won't they?

I know I can't just give up, though, so I keep sprinting. Nearly a year of living with Wes and Devin hasn't been conducive to staying in shape. I have to pause to catch my breath once I reach the back of the WeaponsDev building. Once I'm no longer huffing and puffing, I step toward the rear entrance, half-expecting to hear piercing alarms. Instead, a green laser scans me and the doors slide open.

So far, so good, I think, walking to the first EleTube I see and punching the button for the 69th floor. Turning right out of the tube, I force myself to take slow, measured steps. Invisibility won't help if someone's here working late and hears me crashing about like a wild beast. When I push through the double doors at the end of the hallway, my stomach drops.

Nothing Devin's told me could have prepared me for the sight of the security lasers that surround the prototype. Crisscrossing each other in a glowing network of red, blue, and green, the lasers form a complicated latticework.

No way would any of the others be able to slip through here, I think. I'm not even sure I can.

For a moment, my thoughts whirl as I try to remember the endless hours of floor routines my Combat Gymnastics instructor made me practice. Then I take a deep breath and turn my neurovision implant to the dance music channel. If I'm going to make it through this, I can't think too hard. Bending my knees, I leap into the air and dive through a gap in the lasers. I clear my mind of everything but twisting and flipping and hope for the best.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Fucking Brendan!" Devin bursts into the room where I'm napping, startling me awake.

"What did he do this time?" I ask with a weary sigh. These days, it feels like half my time is spent breaking up fights between these two.

"It's what he didn't do that's the problem," Devin replies. "Remember how he wanted to raid that weapons stockpile, and you told him to wait?"

"Yeah," I say. "I wanted to rebuild our robot army first. That way, he'd have reinforcements."

"Apparently, he had his own ideas," Devin says, "He went ahead on his own, and now he's in jail."

Guess I'll have to catch up on my sleep some other time. Rubbing my eyes, I follow Devin into the living room where our other roommates are already sitting.

"Can't we just leave him in there?" he asks. "It's his own fault for being stupid."

"I second the motion. It's quieter here without him anyway," CallaBot laughs, raising her hand.

"He's my brother," I tell them. "We have to break him out."

"Yeah, and anyway," Wes says, "What if they torture him and he spills all our secrets?"

"Helloooooo, this still isn't an episode of NebulaQuest," Devin rolls his eyes at Wes.

"For once," I say, "Wes is actually making sense. In school, we had classes about interrogation techniques and how to resist them. So that must be a real thing. Although knowing Brendan, he's too stubborn to give anything up."

"And how exactly do you propose to free him?" CallaBot's voice drips with condescension.

I really need to adjust her attitude chip, I think.

"Maybe he could have another sneezing attack," Devin says.

"Laugh it up, pretty princess," I say. "I don't see you coming up with any ideas."

"Hey!" Wes objects. "I'm the only one who's allowed to call him that."

"No one is allowed to call me that," Devin snarls. "What's so wrong with being serious about personal hygiene? Man, catch a guy deep-conditioning one time..."

"Dude!" Wes shouts, interrupting his diatribe. "I know how we can bust Brendan out of jail. We can sneak in subdermal implants and use them to make lasers, like they did on this one episode of NebulaQuest!"

"Are you freaking kidding me?" CallaBot looks like she's about to fry Wes with her own lasers. "That is the worst idea I've ever heard. Well, except for all the other ideas you've ever had."

"That plan could work, in theory." I've never seen Devin look so reluctant. "There are subdermal transponders that use a crystalline energy source that shouldn't trip your standard weapons sensors. Exposing the crystals to light would create a primitive laser. Using that, we should be able to subdue a guard, allowing Brendan to escape."

"See? I do have good ideas!" Wes yells in triumph. "I can easily score us some of those transponders!"

"I'm with CallaBot," I say. "That sounds like a terrible idea."

Wes's face falls.

"But since we don't really have any other tricks up our sleeves, we might as well try it anyway."

* * * * *

"Kalen, cut it out! Your pacing is making me anxious," CallaBot says.

"I'm sorry," I say, sitting down on the couch. "It's just that Wes and Devin should have been back by now. I wish we could have gone with them to spring Brendan from jail."

"Yeah, but you know that's not possible. As the best-known terrorist in the land, you can't exactly just show up for visiting hours at a public prison."

"Maybe I could have worn a disguise or something - "

"Riiiiight, that's you. Master of subterfuge," CallaBot says, cutting me off.

I'm about to start pacing again when the door flies open. Wes and Devin stomp inside, looking sweaty and irritated. Cruising along behind them is a large, squat security robot. The robot is carrying my brother, unconscious and trussed up like a pig.

"What the hell happened, you guys?" I ask them.

"Everything was going fine at first," Wes says. "Brendan was out of his cell in no time. Then on the way out, he got in a fight with another inmate and almost got us thrown in the brig!"

"It's not called a 'brig' in real life, you tool," Devin hisses.

"Anyway," Wes continues, "Devin sneaked up behind Brendan and conked him on the head."

"Yeah, but since this mental deficient must weigh a ton and a half," Devin says, gesturing at my brother, "then we had to reprogram this SecurityBot to carry him home. It was a real clusterfuck."

"But dude, on the bright side?" Wes says. "My plan totally worked!"




Author's Note: For those you of you who are not giant NebulaQuest Star Trek geeks like I am, the escape plot in this story is based on this episode of Star Trek, the original series.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
"Fucking Brendan!" Devin bursts into the room where I'm napping, startling me awake.

"What did he do this time?" I ask with a weary sigh. These days, it feels like half my time is spent breaking up fights between these two.

"It's what he didn't do that's the problem," Devin replies. "Remember how he wanted to raid that weapons stockpile, and you told him to wait?"

"Yeah," I say. "I wanted to rebuild our robot army first. That way, he'd have reinforcements."

"Apparently, he had his own ideas," Devin says, "He went ahead on his own, and now he's in jail."

Guess I'll have to catch up on my sleep some other time. Rubbing my eyes, I follow Devin into the living room where our other roommates are already sitting.

"Can't we just leave him in there?" he asks. "It's his own fault for being stupid."

"I second the motion. It's quieter here without him anyway," CallaBot laughs, raising her hand.

"He's my brother," I tell them. "We have to break him out."

"Yeah, and anyway," Wes says, "What if they torture him and he spills all our secrets?"

"Helloooooo, this still isn't an episode of NebulaQuest," Devin rolls his eyes at Wes.

"For once," I say, "Wes is actually making sense. In school, we had classes about interrogation techniques and how to resist them. So that must be a real thing. Although knowing Brendan, he's too stubborn to give anything up."

"And how exactly do you propose to free him?" CallaBot's voice drips with condescension.

I really need to adjust her attitude chip, I think.

"Maybe he could have another sneezing attack," Devin says.

"Laugh it up, pretty princess," I say. "I don't see you coming up with any ideas."

"Hey!" Wes objects. "I'm the only one who's allowed to call him that."

"No one is allowed to call me that," Devin snarls. "What's so wrong with being serious about personal hygiene? Man, catch a guy deep-conditioning one time..."

"Dude!" Wes shouts, interrupting his diatribe. "I know how we can bust Brendan out of jail. We can sneak in subdermal implants and use them to make lasers, like they did on this one episode of NebulaQuest!"

"Are you freaking kidding me?" CallaBot looks like she's about to fry Wes with her own lasers. "That is the worst idea I've ever heard. Well, except for all the other ideas you've ever had."

"That plan could work, in theory." I've never seen Devin look so reluctant. "There are subdermal transponders that use a crystalline energy source that shouldn't trip your standard weapons sensors. Exposing the crystals to light would create a primitive laser. Using that, we should be able to subdue a guard, allowing Brendan to escape."

"See? I do have good ideas!" Wes yells in triumph. "I can easily score us some of those transponders!"

"I'm with CallaBot," I say. "That sounds like a terrible idea."

Wes's face falls.

"But since we don't really have any other tricks up our sleeves, we might as well try it anyway."

* * * * *

"Kalen, cut it out! Your pacing is making me anxious," CallaBot says.

"I'm sorry," I say, sitting down on the couch. "It's just that Wes and Devin should have been back by now. I wish we could have gone with them to spring Brendan from jail."

"Yeah, but you know that's not possible. As the best-known terrorist in the land, you can't exactly just show up for visiting hours at a public prison."

"Maybe I could have worn a disguise or something - "

"Riiiiight, that's you. Master of subterfuge," CallaBot says, cutting me off.

I'm about to start pacing again when the door flies open. Wes and Devin stomp inside, looking sweaty and irritated. Cruising along behind them is a large, squat security robot. The robot is carrying my brother, unconscious and trussed up like a pig.

"What the hell happened, you guys?" I ask them.

"Everything was going fine at first," Wes says. "Brendan was out of his cell in no time. Then on the way out, he got in a fight with another inmate and almost got us thrown in the brig!"

"It's not called a 'brig' in real life, you tool," Devin hisses.

"Anyway," Wes continues, "Devin sneaked up behind Brendan and conked him on the head."

"Yeah, but since this mental deficient must weigh a ton and a half," Devin says, gesturing at my brother, "then we had to reprogram this SecurityBot to carry him home. It was a real clusterfuck."

"But dude, on the bright side?" Wes says. "My plan totally worked!"




Author's Note: For those you of you who are not giant NebulaQuest Star Trek geeks like I am, the escape plot in this story is based on this episode of Star Trek, the original series.
n3m3sis43: (Default)

I'm so fucking stupid. What have I done? I wanted to stop the War, but I've only made things worse.


Ears ringing, I dash through the trees. Branches scratch at my face and arms. My heart hammers in my ears and my breath comes in gasps. It's hotter than blazes and the air is so humid it's more like breathing soup. Still, I force myself to keep going. For once, I'm grateful for my years of mind-numbing physical training.

I'm too busy trying to get away to even think about where I'm going. So when I find myself in front of the house where my friends Wes and Devin live, I'm a little surprised. Still, it's as good a place as any to hide out. My hand is poised to knock when the door flies open. I jump backward so far I nearly tumble off the front steps.

"Kalen, dude!" Wes exclaims, grinning from ear to ear. "You're a living legend! I can't believe you 
did that."

"Uhhhh, yeah," I hedge. "About that - "

"No, seriously," he cuts me off. "You're a hero! Your name's 
all over the Splinternet."

"Hey, um, do you think we could go inside? I'm pretty sure there are troops looking for me."

Moving aside, Wes lets me in and triple-bolts the door. "Don't worry, dude," he says. "We've got a top-notch security system here. If anyone's coming, we'll know in plenty of time to take care of business. That's how I knew 
you were coming."

"Yeah, you scared the shit out of me."

"Pretty jumpy for such a big damn hero," calls a raspy voice from another room. A moment later, Devin appears, rubbing his eyes. He's still in his pajamas and he's holding a steaming mug the size of his head. Yawning, he rakes a hand through his rumpled dark hair.

"Late night, Devin?" I ask.

"Yeah, I stayed up gaming. Wasn't really expecting all this fucking excitement." He looks at me pointedly. "You've been holding out on us, buddy. Why didn't you 
tell us you were planning to stage an attack on the border?"

"The funny thing is - " I begin, but Wes cuts me off again. While Devin is clearly on his first cup of SynthBrew, Wes looks like he's drunk a whole pot already. He's practically crackling with excitement, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.

"So, what's next on the agenda, partner?" Wes asks. "We could hit an armory or something."'

"Uh, well..." Suddenly, the realization hits me. In my hurry to save myself, I've forgotten one very important detail. Big damn hero, my ass. "Shit, you guys! I was supposed to meet Calla at the tree. I've got to go back and find her."

* * * * *


Stomach churning with anxiety, I survey the scene before me. Border patrols are stationed every few feet along the fence, armed with laser cannons and probably nanoblasters as well. The gap in the barbed wire where the explosion occurred is especially well-guarded. There's no way to get past them to return to the hollow tree. If my partner in crime made it out alive, she'll be waiting for me there - unless she panicked like I did.

"Maybe we can create some kind of diversion?" Devin ventures.

"How are we going to do that?" I demand. "We're completely unarmed."

"Hmmmm," Wes strokes his bleached-blonde goatee for a minute, thinking. "I know! I'll limp over to those guards and pretend to be hurt. Meanwhile, you and Devin can jump 'em from behind. We'll take their uniforms so we can pass as patrolmen."

"Um, Wes?" Devin's voice is filled with scorn. "You've been watching too much neurovision. This isn't a fucking episode of 
NebulaQuest. Shit like that doesn't work in real life."

"Oh yeah?" Wes looks hurt. "How would 
you know? You dropped out of Multiversity before you even finished Strategy 101."

Maybe bringing these guys along wasn't such a great idea. Between the brutal heat and their bickering, my head feels like it's going to explode. Though I'm not the best at thinking on my feet, at least I have combat training. Wes and Devin are smart guys, but they grew up on the Other Side, and the only "battle experience" they have is from playing SimFighting.

"Well, Kalen," Devin says. "You're the fucking military expert. What do 
you think we should do?"

"With the way they've beefed up security, there's no way we can get through without reinforcements. Maybe we can go back to my parents' house and pick up my robots."

It's an hour's walk to my parents' house. By the time we're close enough to see the security gates of their neighborhood, I'm drenched in sweat. It's Reaping, the beginning of fall, but the weather doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. At the moment, though, that's the least of our worries.

"What'll we do now?" Wes yells, clutching Devin's arm. "This place is crawling with troops!"

"
Wes. Keep your fucking voice down." Devin hisses. "They'll hear us!"

Repressing the urge to deck them both, I ponder what to do next. If I can't get my robots, I'll just have to build new ones and hope Calla can survive on her own until I'm finished. Wes and Devin might lack common sense, but they've got more than enough connections to find me the supplies I need.

"Guys," I say, fighting to keep the irritation from my voice. "I'm starving. Let's go back to your place and eat something while we plot our next move. Do you know where we can find some spare parts?"

* * * * *


Taking a deep breath, I climb the fence. Once I'm on the opposite side, I breathe a sigh of relief. Security seems to have slackened a bit in the three weeks since I was last at the border, and my robots had no trouble subduing the few patrolmen we encountered. Still, I'm keeping my InvisiSuit cloaked as long as I can - I'm pretty sure being caught here would mean certain death.

Gathering my robot troops, I begin moving toward the hollow tree where Calla and I were supposed to meet. I've only been underway for a short time when I notice the sun glinting oddly off of 
something metallic up ahead. While I'm puzzling over what it could be, a loud voice barks out an order.

"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, INTRUDER! IDENTIFY YOURSELF!"

For a moment, I think it's more troops. But the voice sounds distorted, like it's coming from inside an InvisiSuit like mine. Why would border patrolmen need to be invisible? Pressing the "Talk" button on my own Suit, I respond. "Uh... why don't 
you identify yourself first?"

How come my words sound so quiet? The "Talk" function on my Suit should have amplified my voice. A purple laser scorches the air, inches from my face, and I shout in surprise. Shouldn't I still be invisible? Either my Suit's malfunctioning, or I pressed "Uncloak" instead of "Talk". Great.

"YOU DIMWIT!" shouts an oddly feminine robotic voice - how's 
she know I made a mistake operating my InvisiSuit? It takes a minute before I realize she's not talking to me. "Haven't you done enough damage with your substandard weapons? Besides, your aim sucks."

By this time, I'm close enough to see that my adversary has a robot army of his own. It's unusual to encounter someone besides me with mechanical minions, and what's more, these robots look strangely familiar. One of them even has a custom paint job with glowing blue flames that looks just like something I'd do. In fact, 
all of the robots look strikingly similar to the ones I left at home. They can't be my creations, though, because they're fitted with awkward off-brand weaponry I'd sooner die than use.

Wait a minute. Those can't be my robots, unless...

Before I can finish my thought, the feminine robot speaks again. "KALEN?!"

"H- how do you know my name?" I stammer.

Before the fembot can respond, another purple laser streaks past me.

"KALEN, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" Suddenly, it all makes sense - the robots that look like mine, the familiar anger, and even the shoddy weapons.

"
Brendan?"

"I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! YOU RUINED MY LIFE, AND YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO DIE!"

Blue spheres hurtle toward me - nanoblaster fire. A loud "Bzzzzzzt!" sound issues from Brendan's general vicinity. "OW!" Brendan screams, dropping the laser pistol on the sand. It's only after the danger's passed that I realize - blue nanoblaster fire means he had his weapon set to kill, not stun.

"Where did you get these weapons - Discount RoboMart?" the fembot snickers. Her body - an insectile thing with lots of segmented legs and vicious pincers - doesn't match her voice at all. I remember building that robot, but I definitely 
don't recall making it female.

"SHUT 
UP, CALLA!" Brendan yells.

What in the world is going 
on here? Why in the world would Brendan modify my bugbot to have a female voice? Why would he name after my best friend? And most important of all, why would my own brother try to kill me? "Um... Brendan?" I ask, dodging yet another purple laser from one of "his" robots, "Why did you name that robot Calla?"

"He didn't 
name me Calla," the fembot snorts.

Robots can snort? I definitely didn't program my robots to do that.

"I 
am Calla," she continues. "Your idiot brother turned me into a robot!"

"YOU TURNED MY BEST FRIEND INTO A ROBOT?" I shriek, "I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" Pulling a remote control from the pocket of my InvisiSuit, I press the button that says "Robot Troops Attack". I watch with grim satisfaction as my metal soldiers fall upon Brendan like a pack of hungry wolves.

* * * * *


"Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Kalen," Brendan says, staring at the smoking rubble that surrounds us. Scattered about are the melted remains of our faithful mechanical allies, gone from this world too soon. Both Brendan and I are covered in soot and grime. Our InvisiSuits are destroyed, and the clothes we had on underneath are in tatters. The CallaBot is nowhere to be seen - she must have left at some point during the fracas.

"
Me? You shot first," I retort.

"Yeah, and then you told your entire robot army to attack me!" Brendan's voice is indignant.

"You turned my best friend into a robot!" I can't believe Brendan's trying to blame this on 
me.

"It's not my fault 
your robot malfunctioned and shot her," Brendan grumbles.

"It malfunctioned because you modified it... badly!"

"ARE YOU CALLING ME INCOMPETENT?" Brendan screeches, running at me with his fists, the only weapon he has left now that our robot armies have blasted each other to bits. I grab him by the hair and elbow him in the gut. He doubles over, making an 
oof sound.

"Are you fools 
still fighting down there?" The CallaBot's voice asks from behind me. I jump and turn around to see her climbing down the side of the ravine created by our hours-long robot confrontation.

"CallaBot!" I shout, overjoyed, "You came back!" She may 
look like an enormous metallic insect, but she's still my best friend.

"Yeah, but I'm leaving again if you two don't stop pummeling each other." Her voice drips with contempt.

"But he ruined my life with his terrorist attack!" Brendan shouts.

"Speaking of ruined lives," Calla says, sounding none too pleased. "Why 
did you set off the explosion? I thought the plan was not to push the button unless we were in mortal danger."

"Yeah, um," I say, feeling my ears start to burn. "That was... it was kind of an accident."

"
What?" both Brendan and Calla say with simultaneous incredulity.

"I was backing away from the fence, keeping an eye on the Enforcers to make sure they weren't going to open fire. Just as I was getting ready to give you the signal to run, I-" I pause, too embarrassed to continue.

"You 
what?" Calla demands.

"Um, I sneezed," I say, my face hot with shame. "I sneezed, and I squeezed the button by accident."

For a moment, Calla's mechanical eyes glow as if lasers are about to come out of them. Then she laughs.

"Worst. Terrorist. Ever."

n3m3sis43: (Default)
I'm so fucking stupid, I think to myself. What have I done?

Ears ringing, I dash through the trees. Branches scratch at my face and arms. My heart hammers in my ears and my breath comes in gasps. It's hotter than blazes and the air is so humid it's more like breathing soup. Still, I force myself to keep going. For once, I'm grateful for my years of mind-numbing physical training.

I'm too busy trying to get away to even think about where I'm going. So when I find myself in front of the house where my friends Wes and Devin live, I'm a little surprised. Still, it's as good a place as any to hide out. My hand is poised to knock when the door flies open. I jump backward so far I nearly tumble off the front steps.

"Holy crap, dude!" Wes exclaims, grinning from ear to ear. "You're a living legend! I can't believe you did that."

"Uhhhh, yeah," I shuffle my feet uncomfortably. "About that - "

"No, seriously," he cuts me off. "That shit is all over the Splinternet."

"Hey, um, do you think we could go inside? I'm pretty sure there are troops looking for me."

Moving aside, Wes lets me in and triple-bolts the door.

"Don't worry, dude," he says. "We've got a top-notch security system here. If anyone's coming, we'll know in plenty of time to take care of business. That's how I knew you were coming."

"Yeah, you scared the shit out of me."

"Awfully jumpy for such a big damn hero," calls another voice. A moment later, Devin appears, rubbing his eyes. He's still in his pajamas and he's holding a steaming mug the size of his head. Yawning, he rakes a hand through rumpled dark hair.

"Late night?" I ask.

"Yeah, I was up gaming. Wasn't really expecting all this excitement." He looks at me pointedly. "You've been holding out on us, buddy. Why didn't you tell us you were planning to stage an attack on the border?"

"The funny thing is - " I begin, but Wes cuts me off again. While Devin is clearly on his first cup of SynthBrew, Wes looks like he's drunk a whole pot already. He's all but crackling with excitement, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.

"So, what's next on the agenda, partner?" Wes asks. "We could hit an armory or something."'

"Uh, well..." Suddenly, the realization hits me. In my hurry to save myself, I've forgotten one very important detail. Big damn hero, my ass. "Shit, you guys! I was supposed to meet Calla at the tree. I've got to go back and find her."

* * * * *

Stomach churning with anxiety, I survey the scene before me. Border patrols are stationed every few feet along the fence, armed with laser cannons and probably nanoblasters as well. The gap in the barbed wire where the explosion occurred is especially well-guarded. There's no way to get past them to return to the hollow tree. If my partner in crime made it out alive, she'll be waiting for me there - unless she panicked like I did.

"Maybe we can create some kind of diversion?" Devin ventures.

"How are we going to do that?" I demand. "We're completely unarmed."

"Hmmmm," Wes strokes his bleached-blonde goatee for a minute, thinking. "I know! I'll limp over to those guards and pretend to be hurt. Meanwhile, you and Devin can jump 'em from behind. We'll take their uniforms so we can pass as patrolmen."

"Um, Wes?" Devin's voice is filled with scorn. "You've been watching too much neurovision. Stuff like that only works on NebulaQuest."

"Oh yeah?" Wes shoots back. "How would you know? You dropped out of Multiversity before you even finished Strategy 101."

Maybe bringing these guys along wasn't such a great idea, I think, massaging my temples. Between the brutal heat and their bickering, my head feels like it's going to explode. Though I'm not the best at thinking on my feet, at least I have combat training. Wes and Devin are smart guys, but they grew up on the Other Side, so most of their battle experience comes from SimFighting.

"Kalen, you're the military expert here," Devin says. "What do you think we should do?"

"With the way they've beefed up security, there's no way we can get through without reinforcements. Maybe we can go back to my parents' house and pick up my robots."

It's an hour's walk to my parents' house. By the time we're close enough to see the security gates of their neighborhood, I'm drenched in sweat. Summer should be turning into fall by now, but it doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. At the moment, though, that's the least of our worries.

"Shit!" Wes yells. "This place is crawling with troops!"

"Can you keep it down, Captain Obvious?" Devin hisses. "They'll hear us!"

Repressing the urge to deck them both, I ponder what to do next. If I can't get my robots, I'll just have to build new ones and hope Calla can survive on her own until I'm finished. Wes and Devin might lack common sense, but they've got plenty of connections.

"Guys," I say, fighting to keep the irritation from my voice. "I'm starving. Let's go back to your place and eat something while we plot our next move. Do you know where we can find some spare parts?"

* * * * *

Pressing the "Uncloak" button on my InvisiSuit, I breathe a sigh of relief. Security seems to have slackened a bit in the three weeks since I was last at the border. My robots had no trouble subduing the patrolmen who were still there, and climbing over the fence was a cakewalk.

Gathering my robot troops, I begin moving toward the hollow tree where Calla and I often meet. We've only been underway for a short time when I notice the sun glinting oddly off of something metallic up ahead. While I'm puzzling over what it could be, a loud voice barks out an order.

"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, INTRUDER! IDENTIFY YOURSELF!"

For a moment, I think it's more troops. But the voice sounds distorted, like it's coming from someone in an InvisiSuit like mine. I've never known patrolmen to utilize that technology. Pressing the "Talk" button on my own Suit, I respond.

"Perhaps you should identify yourself first, my friend. I've got enough firepower to blow you into next Reaping."

"Oh, really?" comes the disbelieving response. "We'll just see about that." A purple laser scorches the air only inches from my face.

"YOU DIMWIT!" shouts an oddly feminine robotic voice. "Haven't you done enough damage with your substandard weapons? Besides, your aim sucks."

By this time, I'm close enough to see that my adversary has a robot army of his own. It's unusual to encounter someone besides me with mechanical minions, and what's more, these robots look strangely familiar. One of them even has a custom paint job with glowing blue flames that looks just like something I'd do. In fact, all of the robots look strikingly similar to the ones I left at home. They can't be my creations, though, because they're fitted with awkward off-brand weaponry I'd sooner die than use.

Wait a minute, I think. Unless... Before I can finish my thought, the feminine robot speaks again.

"KALEN?!"

"How do you know my name?" I reply. Before the fembot can respond, another purple laser streaks past me.

"KALEN, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" Suddenly, it all makes sense - the robots that look like mine, the familiar anger, and even the shoddy weapons.

"Brendan?"

"I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! YOU RUINED MY LIFE, AND YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO DIE!"

Blue spheres hurtle toward me - nanoblaster fire. A loud "Bzzzzzzt!" sound issues from Brendan's general vicinity.

"OW!" Brendan screams.

"Where did you get these weapons - RoboWalMart?" the fembot snickers. Her body - an insectile thing with lots of segmented legs and vicious pincers - doesn't match her voice at all.

That's odd, I think. I don't remember making that robot female.

"SHUT UP, CALLA!" Brendan yells.

"Um... Brendan?" I ask, dodging yet another purple laser, "Why did you name that robot Calla?"

"He didn't name me Calla," the fembot snorts.

Robots can snort? I didn't program my robots to do that.

"I am Calla," she continues. "Your numbnuts of a brother turned me into a robot!"

"YOU TURNED MY BEST FRIEND INTO A ROBOT?" I shriek, "I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" Pulling a remote control from the pocket of my InvisiSuit, I press the button that says "Robot Troops Attack". I watch with grim satisfaction as my metal soldiers fall upon Brendan like a pack of hungry wolves.

* * * * *

"Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Kalen," Brendan says, staring at the smoking rubble that surrounds us. Scattered about are the melted remains of our faithful mechanical allies, gone from this world too soon. Both Brendan and I are covered in soot and grime. Our InvisiSuits are destroyed, the clothes we had on underneath are in tatters, and I've lost both my shoes somewhere along the way.

"Me? You shot first," I retort.

"Yeah, and then you told your entire robot army to attack me!"

"You turned my best friend into a robot!"

"It's not my fault your robot malfunctioned and shot her," Brendan says.

"It malfunctioned because you modified it... badly!"

"ARE YOU CALLING ME INCOMPETENT?" Brendan screeches, running at me with his fists, the only weapon he has left now that our robot armies have blasted each other to bits. I grab him by the hair and elbow him in the gut. He doubles over, making an oof sound.

"Are you dipshits still fighting down there?" The CallaBot's voice asks from above. I look up, expecting to see her atop the lower side of the ravine created by our hours-long robot confrontation. She's not there, but I do see a line of troops marching by like ants as they investigate the source of the commotion. The CallaBot must be on the higher side of the ravine, using her using her built-in vocal amplifier so we can hear her.

"Calla!" I shout, overjoyed, "You came back!" She may look like an enormous metallic insect, but she's still my best friend.

"Yeah, but I'm leaving again if you two don't stop pummeling each other."

"But he ruined my life with his terrorist attack!" Brendan shouts.

"Hey, that reminds me," Calla says, as she climbs swiftly down the side of the ravine. "Why did you set off the explosion? I thought the plan was not to push the button unless we were in mortal danger."

"Yeah, um," I say, feeling my ears start to burn. "That was... it was kind of an accident."

"What?" both Brendan and Calla say with simultaneous incredulity.

"I was backing away from the fence, keeping an eye on the Enforcers to make sure they weren't going to open fire. Just as I was getting ready to give you the signal to run, I-"

I pause, too embarrassed to continue.

"You what?" Calla asks.

"Um, I sneezed," I say, my face hot with shame. "I sneezed, and I squeezed the button by accident."

For a moment, Calla's mechanical eyes glow as if lasers are about to come out of them. Then she laughs.

"Worst. Terrorist. Ever."


This story is part of an informal intersection with the always-amazing [livejournal.com profile] alien_infinity. Please read her post, which can be found here, to see Calla(Bot)'s version of this story.

Profile

n3m3sis43: (Default)
n3m3sis43

March 2017

S M T W T F S
   1234
5 67891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 21st, 2017 10:37 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios