Sorry it took so long to get chapter four out- enjoy!
Last Days of Marconis
by Jourdan Cameron
"We've been trained for this very situation, I hope you're all ready." The squad of the Paxcatian Peace Force all nodded in agreement with their chief. The Force was ready to maintain order down at the dock, which was currently in a state of turmoil. Protesters flooded the area as a lone cargo ship glided silently above the heaving crowd, the floating machine blissfully unaware of the chaos below.
Aboard the ship, however, was an uninvited crew composed of stowaways. Their intent was espionage- they needed to understand what kind of people attacked them, and they soon realized that their assignment had suddenly become much, much easier.
"This is quite the convenience, we can slip out totally unnoticed!" Katie glared harshly at Jonathan- she was still upset at him over the small fiasco he caused. Swiftly averting her eyes to the rest of her group, she proceeded to warn them.
"Just because the crowd's completely and utterly occupied doesn't mean that a team of foreigners will be automagically accepted. For all we know, this riot could turn ugly as soon as we set foot on the ground. The best thing we can do is to sneak into the crowd and try to blend in." She suddenly looked back at Jonathan. "Without a fiasco." Sheepishly, he nodded as the vessel made a final descent.
"I think there's a-" Jonathan's fearful statement on the nature of the crowd was quick cut short- a real pity, because it could've saved everybody a fair amount of trouble. His insight into the teeming mass of humanity bordered on uncanny- but that's another story.
"…Does everybody have their civilian garb at the ready? If you're planning on getting by unnoticed, you'd best be well dressed.
Within mere moments, the ship's stowaway crew became a group of ordinary, uninteresting Paxcatian citizens. Maxwell- who much preferred to be referred to as simply "Max" bore a Dumb Lummox t-shirt. Katie smirked, amused; nobody would've ever heard the sweet sounds of the quintet that no longer existed.
Before she allowed herself to be carried away by memories, Katie dove back into managing her little invading force.
"I've got a good feeling about this" piped one spy.
Jonathan made a strange, disdainful puffing noise. "Yeah, we're running right into the land overflowing with milk and honey- didn't it nearly kill me? I think you're looking at this the wrong way. These people could destroy us if we're found out, they may as well be giants. It's not like we're going to get anywhere by-"
Another harsh glare from Katie was encouragement enough to shut Jonathan up for a few precious moments. Katie addressed the rebels once more.
"Just for the record" she said "I'd like everybody to pay some attention to Caleb's enthusiasm. If something happens to me, he's running this operation. Understood?"
In the femtosecond between Katie's having spoken and the minds of her cremates having processed the meaning of her words did a silent storm of doubts, confusion and worries as to the reliability of their leader flood the minds of every Marconi spy.
The storms continued brewing as the ship touched the ground, and at the entrance to the ship, angry fists began to pound.
"Do any of you here know the story behind Paxactia's economy? Anybody? Come on, this is elementary, surely somebody cares to- excuse me. Just… Just act like I'm not here. Work on it." Mr. Xianet was pretty preoccupied. The Paxcatian professor needed his pupils to pretend as if he weren't present. David's class sighed collectively- Mr. Xianet's methods always tended towards a certain hands-off approach that seemed more bent towards his continued convenience in opposition to his students actually learning anything. He was constantly distracted by his own pursuits, or rather, it seems, the Creative Thought class that he was supposed to be teach was a mere distraction from his pursuits. David stared into the center of the circle of the youth- these types of classes always were taught in circles for some reason, and they tended to have quite the interactive dialogue- everybody contributed something to the discussion. With Xianet, that was never the case.
After a few minutes, the class was dismissed, and the students made their ways back to their respective homes. All except for David. David, on that day, took the train to Julie's neighborhood. Upon his arrival, he found everything the way he remembered it last. The sidewalks that seemed so perfectly new, bearing nary a crack in spite of their age and the perfectly aligned houses that seemed to stretch on forever into the horizon, like an endless jaw of multicolored teeth. "The one where the sun shines" David spoke by rote. "That house-"
"Is mine." David whirled around to see Julie just behind him, smiling nostalgically.
"You know, the first time I tried to find your house, I walked around the block three times- nay- four times in search of the house the sun shone upon."
Julie shrugged. "Not my fault it was overcast. Besides, I imagine you'd have gotten over it after a good ten years?"
With a sigh, the two made their way to a beige little house. Julie's father was an artist- just the same as David's. It was through their craft that they found each other and had become the best of friends, though this is a long, old story best saved for another time.
"Dave, isn't it interesting how our fathers are both artists who wound up meeting and becoming the best of friends?"
"Somewhat, I guess. Isn't that really a long story best saved for another time?"
Julie shrugged again. "Yeah, I guess so. My dad tells it all the time."
The two entered Julie's house, which was just as unexciting on the outside as on the inside.
Like a swarm of vicious insects, a thousand angry people set their sights on the ship's main unloading bay, which opened like a massive jaw unto the pummeling masses below. The cargo ship was so blissfully unaware of it's plight as in poured the fire, the hammers, the destruction… Within moments, the contents of the ship were completely wrecked, and not too long after, the ship was no longer skyworthy- never again would it sail among the clouds.
Moments before the madness, a stealthy group of shadows slipped silently outwards, smoothly blending into and escaping from the enraged mass.
The small group had convened in a clean and unusually well-lit alley, somehow having managed to escape the attention of the already overworked police forces that were attempting to restore order as best they could.
Katie stared out at the insanity. "What are they so upset over? Seriously, it's not like they have any real problems."
"I can't say that I care to know" shrugged Jonathan. "So long as it doesn't involve us."
"We're spying this place out, I think it definitely deserves our attention" piped Peak. "I bet it probably involves whatever was in those crates…"
"Well, I guess now's probably a good time for a confession" said Jonathan. "I think I might actually be omniscient."
There were a few stifled laughs in the tiny crowd. Even Katie had to try, and try hard to avoid busting out laughing. "What exactly do you mean?" She put on her harshest, coldest, staunchest voice and it was barely enough to restrain her mirth.
"Can you explain the nature of your… Ability?"
Jonathan shrugged nonchalantly. "I know what's behind walls and stuff."
This was Katie's breaking point. She bust out laughing, a quite likely was responsible for bursting eardrums within her radius.
"Alright then" she said after gaining some control over herself. Leading Jonathan out of the alley and into the street that was curiously devoid of vehicles, she made a request of Jonathan. "Stare at that building in front of you. The red one that looks like it's made of old-fashioned materials, what do you see?"
"Well" said Jonathan squinting "I see… I see points of light, like stars, they're moving around. Some are just still, though."
Katie sighed inwardly. "What are they?"
"Well, there seems to be one coming out of the front door… Wait, it's stopping and turning around and… Now it's coming out."
And right on cue, Mr. Xianet exited the school.
Through the atmosphere, a pair of machines discussed, in their own tongue, the situation and how to handle it.
"It's simple- we kill the escapee. Black Ace, what's the problem? Whatever slave was responsible for the early activation is now running wild in Paxcatia. Why not-"
"Because of Trust, Baron, that's why not."
"…Your line of reasoning seems vaguely human, it almost seems feeling." Of course, Ace was merely a complex computer system and was, to its own knowledge, unencumbered by something quite as human as emotion. Pride, greed, joy, love… None were present.
"My current directive is to ensure the happiness of the Paxcatian people. They must continue to trust, and knowledge of a breach in any capacity could jeopardize that."
"What else do you know about the stowaways?"
"Their numbers are limited, though they seem to possess specialized knowledge. These aren't escaped slaves, they're something else. I've never seen any of them until now."
"Very well. On another note, I lost four slaves from the factory, and I suspect they had with them the foreign body, as it's no longer anywhere in the factory… I only managed to kill two of the escapees. I have a party of stoats patrolling the forest, we'll know of their wherabouts soon."
Mr. Sere woke up. Nothing seemed to make much sense- it's as his world had been drowned, wrung out, left in a dark, damp place to mildew and finally exposed to the brilliance of the sun. He let out a weak groan- after opening his eyes, he was blinded and suddenly jolted about as the pair of escaped slaves carrying him through the woods rejoiced upon the realization that he'd finally regained consciousness.
Gently, the pair lowered Mr. Sere to the ground as he began using his eyes again and tried speaking.
"Wha- whe- who-" he gasped, making a few vaguely intelligible noises that could be construed as the beginnings of questions.
"My name is Marcia, Marcia Aveherb. My brother and I have been carrying you away from the factory."
The other escapee nodded at Mr. Sere. "My name's Will," he sighed, "Will Aveherb."
"You shouldn't worry about speaking yet, sir. It'll be awhile before the gas wears off."
"We'll explain that later. Right now, we need to find shelter before night." Cautiously, Mr. Sere stood up- his burly legs were a bit unstable still, and a small flurry of dead leaves sprung up behind him as the siblings rushed up to support him, he gently waved them off.
"Don't worry, I need to get used to my legs again" he said weakly. "Just keep your eyes open for shelter. My name is Casey Sere, by the way" he said.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Sere" said Marcia. Her brother remained conspicuously silent.
"Where are your parents?" Casey asked in an attempt to break the metaphorical ice. "Are they still trapped at the factory?" Marcia stared down at the ground; it was her turn to be silent as Will spoke up.
"They died carrying you. The factory killed them."
Around the same time, a small party in Paxcatia sat down outside a quiet restaurant. The scratched wooden chairs they rested on seemed out of place, almost as much as the group of spies did. Katy, for the first time, was well-fed and somewhat nervous. The Paxcatian economy is a simple system of complex ideas, but the primary concept behind it is the idea that happiness is of greatest importance- a piece of art that makes people happy will earn an artist more merit than an artist whose work was insipid and unoriginal.
Katy was nervous- for the first time, she'd be paying out merit with an identity that was cobbled together for her by her friends back in Marconis. It had been injected by some miracle into Black Ace, and would work just fine- but there were still a thousand things that could go horribly, horribly wrong, and right know about a hundred of those things were swirling through Katie's mind.
Yet, somehow, none of them came true as she tapped out a few words on the translucent data-collection sheet handed to her by the waiter, stood up and lead her party down the well-lit streets to the nearest train station, and after a brief ride in the pods, they exited, staring silently up at the stars. The small group of strangers in a strange land were quiet for a good few moments. A few let out sighs of relief and homesickness- none of them had ever been quite this far away from home- none except for Gabriel, but his story is one for another day. Peak dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans- in spite of his tall, thin build they still seemed too tight- and pulled out a small black rectangle that glowed to life in the palm of his hand. With a few barely noticeable finger movements, the device had an objective. It glowed a bright green in one corner, pointing the group down the street towards their new home.
Elsewhere, a pair of Paxcatian youth were about to bid one another farewell.
"I've been worried about my dad lately. People aren't reacting to his art as they once did."
"I'm pretty sure it's just a weird trend" replied David. "Besides, isn't there that one guy who's always just blown away- like, completely and utterly amazed by your dad's work?"
Julie shrugged. "I guess you're right. It's just that there's not much of a demand for photorealistic oil paintings. As of late, everything's so abstract."
The two stared down the street at a small group people heading into the house next to Julie's.
"Huh" said Julie. "That house has been empty for a couple years now. Looks like somebody's moved in and I didn't even say hello."