Chapter 5:

EPISODE 1: 00000101:FIVE


  Quil stepped out of the shadows of the trees that wrapped around the river of their 'usual spot', carrying the bag with various necessities.
  "Seriously?" Trisha spoke quite annoyed as she looked at her watch. "Fashionably late as usual," she shook her head.
  Quil raised an eyebrow. He looked at his own watch noticing the time.
  "It's nineteen-o'-seven, Quil." she spoke sharply as she swiftly swatted his watch out of the way of his face so he could see her impatient frustration.
  Quil shrugged, moving toward the planned launch site to set his stuff down.
  Trisha could feel the eagerness escaping her through jittery hands as she shoved Quil out of the way to shuffle through his bag of stuff. She grabbed first the most important: one tart drink. (She double-checked the label this time). Then pushed the various weird cubes he had in his bag out of the way. From his bag, she ripped the pieces for the rocket's launch base, the portable power unit and the dock for the watch, setting all of the parts up herself while Quil kept to himself, staring vacantly at the water.
  "Excited?" Quil cocked an eyebrow as he turned to watched Trisha furiously assemble their project.
  "A little," she spoke hastily, "mostly just happy that weirdo left my house finally. Not only was it awkward having him around," her eyes moved to Quil for a brief moment, "but also that means no matter how many questions you have for him, I can't get the answers for you anymore." She blew a ferocious raspberry before returning to her work.
  One of Quil's cowlicks lowered a little, almost to emphasize the disappointment he was unable to physically express. He merely stood there watching Trisha's flurry of work.
  Aside from the occasional sip of her drink, Trisha wasted no time assembling the base and planting the rocket on it, stepping back to admire the finished product of the past handful of days.
  "This is it, Captain." She saluted the rocket, speaking affirmatively to Quil, "begin synchronization!"
  Quil shook his head at Trisha's overly excited theatrics, "aye-aye," he managed to muster through the shrugging of his apathetic shoulders. He moved towards the dock to place his watch on it and launch the software. "Syncing the software with the rocket." A pause while the files booted up. "Firmware operational on the rocket." A pause for further processing. "Program launched," he spoke - mostly to himself - as his eyes scanned over the display, reading the various percentages that were climbing. "Calibrating altitude sensor."
  Trisha could feel it; she bobbed up and down as she waited for Quil to finish things on his end. To her these moments felt so slow. Why? She wondered to herself. It's a stupid rocket, this isn't something life changing. Why was she so anxious? Maybe it was because she was afraid the time she had spent working on this could actually amount to nothing. Maybe it's because it had somehow worked to bring Quil closer to her. Or maybe it was those words she said last night, "There's a part of me that hopes that someone will see our broadcast," she spoke under her breath.
  "Buffering the broadcast video to the memory," Quil spoke, alerting Trisha as she knew this was the final step of the software.
  "Aye-aye, Captain." She bounced in place anxiously awaiting the launch. "Run pre-launch checklist once buffering is -"
  "Buffering is finished," Quil interrupted Trisha, "Post-launch parachute unobstructed?"
  Trisha leaned towards the rocket to ensure the parachute could launch properly, "Check!"
  "Fuel reserves at max?"
  Trisha pulled out the solid-state fuel drive ensuring it was intact and undamaged, "Check!"
  "Launch pad stabilized and secured?"
  Trisha leaned down to the thermal panel they had taken last night to ensure it was securely fastened to the base. "Check!" She stood up, saluting Quil. "Remote launch systems properly synced?"
  Quil pulled his watch off of the dock, strapping it to his wrist and giving it a few taps before stepping a few steps away from the rocket. "Check." He spoke flatly.
  "Good!" She smiled. "Run system check."
  Quil gave a halfhearted salute toward Trisha as he kept his focus on his watch. "Remote connection is green. Memory buffer is green. Broadcast antenna is green. Fuel-air mixture green. Weather conditions seem about right," a brief awkward pause, "uhm...lieutenant," moving his eyes from his watch to Trisha.
  This was it, Trisha anxiously thought to herself as she tried to ease the excitement in her shaky hands.
  "Aye, Captain." She smiled looking up to the city above, "A good night to fly, that it is." She gave a stern and sturdy salute towards those buildings that hung above them.
  "Preparing for launch," Quil spoke as he tapped his watch, bringing the rocket to life. "Ten," he began the count down as the anxiety settled deeper into Trisha.
  Those distant petals of the Lotus were feeling so much closer.
  Maybe it was this heavy air that was weighing the petals down.
  These weren't the predicted weather conditions!
  The rocket won't be able to launch in this heavy air that weighed on Trisha.
  She tried to grasp for a breath under the heavy air.
  Her eyes widened.
  Is that a building falling off of the petal above them?
  In fact, it almost looked like it was rocketing towards them.
  In fact, it almost sounded like it was rocketing towards them.
  "Lift off."
  And with little ceremony from the tiny thruster, the rocket took flight into the night sky. Quil and Trisha watched their tiny project rise higher, and higher, and higher, and higher, and highWHAP.
  A blazing object dashed through the sky, smashing into their tiny project, breaking it into an explosion of chiming shrapnel, glowing sparks, and hazy smoke.
  The object was trailed by two jets that roared overhead, making the dense golden air swirl for hundreds of meters around them. The jets being the missing applause of the maiden launch of their now retired rocket.
  To Quil, all he saw was - "G.I.E." he spoke under a heavy breath. Through his mind raced the word the strange visitor of Trisha's had said. "Anomaly."
  Trisha shook her head as she watched Quil's eyes grow in amazement and his cowlicks lift in excitement. "No, no, no!" she wanted him to stay, but she saw the energy welling deep within him and at any minu -
  Trisha's thoughts were swiftly broken by the trickle of rocket shrapnel around her, making her shield herself from any other raining parts of their defeated project.
  She peaked out from her arms - partly to make sure no more rocket parts were falling down around her, but mostly to make sure Quil was -
  "Goddammit, Quil!" She shouted into the roaring night as she watched Quil pedal off on his bike, Trisha's defeat being punctuated by the rocket parachute slapping her in the face.
  Quil shifted through all of the gears on his bike and still yet kept a quickened cadence on his pedaling as he rushed as quick as he could - the fallen star and jets long out of sight now, but with a distinct trail left in the augmentation, leading Quil right to where he needed to go.
  He ignored the pain in his legs as he pushed harder and harder up the hills, around corners, off the road, through trees and bushes, determined to catch up to where the anomaly might have landed.
  He wasn't sure if the thicker air was from how exhausted he was from pedaling or if the augmentation seemed to be getting thicker. The air did seem to change as the trees blew in the air and many of the objects the augmentation latched to seem to lose their charge making the objects appear reflective and shiny.
  In fact, as Quil pedaled through the park, he found it becoming more and more difficult to tell what was happening as entire sections of the air just turned into glistening bubbles of dense reflections, all of these bubbles slowly drifting in the direction of the trail left by the jets.
  They inched towards the crash site slowly, though gaining speed, moving faster and faster, going from their crawl to eventually speeding past Quil before all the energy was released in one large shockwave, knocking Quil off his bike, sending him rolling across the ground of golden-laced ribbon.
  He lifted himself up, only to have his cowlicks sink as he looked around him, noticing the entire park had turned glass, reflecting everything with a dense gold haze.
  The trees fluorescent and angelic in their bright glow, the augmentation that normally makes them appear to be fully bloomed with leaves now stripped of those leaves as single skeletal arms of the trunk reached through the dense golden haze.
  Even the ground seemed warped; a dense reflection below Quil as he stood on top of the city above him. A city that rained golden wisps that swirled through aerial wind currents above and gently reaching out towards the petal where the star fell and Quil stood.
  The behavior of the augmentation bewildered Quil - and he loved it. He couldn't help but notice the glass bubble not but a short distance in front of him, glowing and reflecting his distorted image back at him. The compulsion overwhelmed him, his cowlicks leaning away as he leaned towards the bubble, curiously reaching with his right arm towards the dancing, elastic surface of the bubble.
  His fingers slipped into it, sending gentle ripples across its glass surface, a very gentle and welcoming warmth filled his entire body as he very slowly pushed his hand into the bubble further. As he moved closer, the bubble's warmth didn't just seem to be inviting him in further, but seemed to be stringing him along, pulling him in deeper by the arm where warmth wrapped tighter around his fingers, his knuckles, his palms, his wrists; that warmth malevolently becoming a searing pain.
  Panicking, he tried to pull his arm out, but the bubble continued to reel him into it. Halfway down his forearm now as the pain felt more and more like a flame was being ignited under his arm. As his elbow sank past the glass of the bubble, that flame only grew more intense, leaving the realm of distinguished pain to a pain that was unknowable whether it came from the heat or the pressure or if there was just something stabbing his arm.
  Now as the bubble neared his face, as it began enveloping his shoulder, he clenched his fist as the pain overwhelmed him, the glow shining deep into his eyes as his fear rose, the wisps of the augmentation that gave the glass bubble it's glow licked his face as they danced closer, ever so closer to him.
  He screamed in pain, clenching his fists tighter and tighter, feeling his nails dig deep into his palms. He pulled, and pulled, and pulled, struggling with everything he could in these last few moments. It wasn't until the tips of his knuckles inside the bubble could feel a serene and gentle sensation that the panic left him. Something calming, and cooling before finally the bubble burst, sending Quil flying to the ground as the wisps of the augmentation danced away into the eerie night.
  "Quil!" Trisha ran up to where Quil lied on the ground, trying to let his mind catch a breath of coherence before lifting himself back to his feet.
  "Quil are you okay?" She kneeled next to him, seeing his arm wrapped in gold wisps that were still dancing around his arm, slowly being swept away into the heavy wind that blew through the park.
  Quil sat up as his cowlicks sank, looking at his arm, watching the wisps become fewer and fewer. He clenched his fist; open, close; open, close to see if he felt any pain, but in his mind, all he could remember was that brief cooling moment before the bubble burst. He didn't remember the pain, but just that embrace he felt.
  He reached with his left arm towards his knuckles, stroking them to see if he could remind himself of the feeling, but he found he could feel nothing. His arm was completely numb in feeling.
  His cowlicks sank even further. He kept his eyes away from Trisha, "Yeah, I'm fine."
  She grabbed his right hand out of concern, only to be shocked at how hot it was, "It feels like your arm is on fire."
  "It might be." He shrugged, "I can't feel anything."
  Trisha shook her head, "This isn't good, Quil," she stood up, offering a hand to Quil to help him up.
  He swatted her hand out of his way, standing up on his own.
  "It's dangerous out here, Quil." She grabbed his arm, pulling him along, "we need to go home."
  He ripped his arm out of her hand, holding it close to his chest, away from her. "I'm not going home."
  "Quil!" Trisha stomped her foot. "Whatever the G.I.E. is interested in; it's bigger than you or me. There needs to be a point where you realize the choice of giving up is the right choice."
  Quil grabbed his bag, slinging it over his shoulder and mounting his bike.
  "Quil, you promised!" She hoped it would get him to turn around.
  She was right; it did get him to turn around to look her in the eyes as he tightened the straps on his goggles. "I lied," he spoke sharply before pedaling off, leaving Trisha defeated in disbelief.
  He could only assume he had wasted too much time; his bike was already far too slow to ever catch a jet - let alone a fallen star - but now he had wasted too much time with the bubble in the augmentation.
  They would be transporting the crashed fallen star back to their ship. He knew the quickest way to get to the industry-docking port. He would go through the Sanction.
  He slid his goggles over his eyes and gave his watch a quick couple of taps before he could possibly lose his balance on the bike. The waypoint was set for him as his goggles guided him towards the abandoned warehouse that lied deep in the middle of the abandoned section of the Nusiphera petal.
  The warehouse was all the more frightening to him as its large hangar doors stood open like a massive mouth ready to consume him, ready to send him through the carnival-ride of an elevator system through this hungry monster's digestive track, just to be passed out of its rear end in some massive sprawling place devoid of life.
  He hesitated before stepping in. It wasn't the dark that scared him. It wasn't that he was chasing after something unknown that scared him. It was that looming memory of the last time he took the elevator and how much it twisted his stomach.
  He stepped in, one step at a time, trying to convince his stomach to keep its contents down.
  "Okay," he reassured himself (as best as he could), one syllable at a time. He stepped into the elevator, one foot at a time. He slid his feet into the locks of the elevator, one centimeter at a time. He closed his eyes as he gripped the handles and reassured himself, one breath at a ti -
  And in a few brief seconds, the elevator quickly accelerated, turning his stomach's contents upside before screeching to a halt and flinging him out into the halls of the Sanction, slamming his face against the far wall, triggering his stomach to release its contents as his lunch orbited around his limp body in the low gravity.
  He looked at the chunks that drifted around him. "Gross," he weakly watched the floating chunks.
  He pulled himself together (and out of his chunks), tapping his watch to turn off his tracking. The waypoint arrow that guided him on his goggles wasn't helpful in the forlorn tunnels, as the arrow just wildly pointed in every direction.
  The tunnels greeted him with its cries and howls of the various mechanisms that worked tirelessly in them. Perhaps the cheering of the various parts was greeting the fallen star to the Lotus. Regardless, to Quil, it was hard to say if, in fact, the Sanction itself was more active than usual or if it was just the rush of blood to his head that seemed to magnify the excitement.
  There was something haunting about it that he didn't remember from last time he came through. Perhaps it was thanks to the company of Trisha that he didn't realize how consuming the place was as it's cold fingers and ever-extending tunnels wrapped tight around Quil in this indefinite maze.
  He shook his head and moved through the tunnels, trying his best to remember the way that he and Trisha had taken. Aside from a few wrong turns, which Quil had quickly turned back on, correcting his course, he managed to make his way to the exit onto the floor of the industrial harbor, hidden behind the various delivery crates and forgotten supplies, concealing Quil from the active port. Even from this distance, obscured by the mountains of forgotten goods, he could still hear the activity of the port.
  Before stepping out of the maze of boxes, he peered around the corner to make sure he was safe and out of view. The massive capitol cruiser rested inside partially docked, too large to actually fit within the port.
  The G.I.E. definitely seemed concerned about whatever the fallen star is, as a convoy of various transport vehicles guided a small crew of mobile frames that guided a loader frame carrying the now recovered star.
  He scanned up and down the port of the docked ship, looking for the best way for him to gain entrance to it. The loading bay was the busiest section - obviously - with the convoy and the workers surrounding it as they directed the loading crew to mount the fallen star onto the ships own cargo transit system.
  Figuring that the waste management route was probably unguarded was always an option, but it wouldn't exactly be the most pleasant to crawl through. On the other hand, he did just release his entire lunch and dinner, so it's not like there is much left in his stomach to blow more chunks. And the bright side is he would actually be crawling through waste to begin with, which means if there were more chunks, the chunks would be right where they belong.
  He shook his head.
  The cargo transit route is lined with the ship's own internal oxygen delivery system, which would be a viable option for penetrating the deeper parts of the ship, however, that means somehow managing to sneak past the crowd of workers.
  It certainly would be stupid to move now with the group of mobile frames in the area. It's not as if one kid could ever take down one of those.
  At some point, they would need to withdraw the convoy. They probably wouldn't use the cargo transit system to deliver the frames and other vehicles to the deployment bays. It might be possible if Quil just waited for a little bit. Eventually the main body of the crowd will clear out, giving him a chance to quickly hop into the cargo transit system then hop into the vents of the ship and make his way to wherever they might store the fallen star.
  He moved up to another crate closer to the ship, taking a closer look on the activity and closing the gap between him and his goal.
  The best thing to do at this moment while he waited was try to move as close as he could, so the minute the opportunity arises for him to move to his planned point-of-entry, he could make it in as quickly as he could.
  He glided to some parked supply vehicles that waited for any arriving ships, where he ducked behind them, just another few meters closer to his destination.
  If he could move towards the rear of the ship, there is the possibility it would be a lot easier to be unnoticed by the crew. He could then climb onto the ship and hide in the external infrastructure until the chance arose.
  He leapt out from behind the vehicle, darting towards a pile of various tools and parts covered by a tarp. Then, he dived towards another crate that kept supplies for port workers. He jumped swiftly behind objects keeping his exposure time down as he made his way to the rear end of the docked portion of the ship, and within moments, he was staring down the towering monster of the capitol cruiser. One powerful jump in the low gravity should get him to the bottom of the ship, and from there he could climb to the top.
  "Right," he tightened his goggles around his face, lifting off towards the ship, reaching out with an outstretched hand to grab onto the first object he could to pull him onto the ship.
  He climbed up the towering ship as quickly as he could, jumping from one bit of who-knows-what to the next bit of who-knows-what.
  Once he reached a comfortable height that was out of sight, he moved up the ship towards the cargo bay that was still currently surrounded by the crew securing the fallen star aboard the transit system.
  It looked like they would probably be finished any time now. Once they finished, they would close that cargo bay door and it would be over for Quil - it would mean having to climb through the waste management system.
  He shook away the thoughts of him having to crawl through the pudding of bodily waste. His cowlicks lowered from the sickening thought of pudding chunks.
  He crawled underneath the various ballistic shields and infrastructure that lined the ship as he neared the area just above the cargo bay door. He watched the men finish their work. They were wrapping things up as crew members instructed the vehicles and frames to return to the deployment bay.
  A few of the remaining support staff ran through a checklist before radioing their management to inform them they had secured the fallen star.
  This was Quil's chance! He jumped up from his crawling position, slamming the top of his head into some various crap that lined the ship, making him wince in pain. He saw the cargo bay door closing, making him stumble over himself as he very ungracefully clambered over the parts that lined the outside of the ship. He dived (mostly headlong into more crap) towards his destination, trying to get inside just before the door closed.
  And with one final, not-very-graceful jump, he leapt inside the door before it slammed shut with a pressurizing sigh from the reformed airtight seal.
  Quil drifted down to the rails of the cargo transit. The halls were dark, barely even lit, other than a few security lights marking where the bulkhead doors are for emergency purposes. What he could see was the dim, metallic glimmer of the large ventilation shafts that hung overhead.
  He tapped his watch, turning on the illumination of his goggles before making his leap towards the ceiling where the shafts hung above.
  He peered up and down the shaft looking at different vents, looking for one that might have been loose - or at least loose enough that he might be able to force it open. He didn't have much luck.
  He held himself up against the end cap of one of the shafts, looking down the vent. It was plenty spacious for him; he just had to get into the space.
  He threw a right punch (very lightly, worried about how much it might hurt) at the vent just to see how loose it might be, and to his surprise; he felt nothing.
  He looked at his arm. It was still numb.
  He shook his head and took a deep breath. He had an idea, thankful that he couldn't feel anything in his arm.
  A gentle tap with his elbow against the vent to align the shot, and then one swift and powerful hit, knocking the vent in on the shaft - along with a thin trail of blood released from Quil's now very bruised elbow.
  He shrugged it off - not that he could really feel anything - pulling himself inside of the vent, navigating the ventilation shaft like the Sanction of the Lotus. Except this Sanction was a little bit tighter and only got tighter as he rounded more corners and delved deeper into the hollow maze.
  The tight, narrow halls were far quieter than the Sanction, although on a few occasions there were a few extra thumps that came from somewhere deep within the makeshift passageways.
  Quil ignored these thumps as he pursued his goal - this being a pretty bad idea, as the thumps became louder as they came closer to him.
  It was once Quil reached perhaps the narrowest part of his journey that he realized those thumps were a sign trying to tell him that he should leave the vent shaft as soon as possible. But, since he did not heed it's warning, a vicious roar of wind blew through the shafts - ice cold - as it pushed Quil through the labyrinth, tumbling him in an uncontrolled flurry through the roaring shafts, hitting his head against the top of the shaft and the bottom, from side to side, and all around. He was tossed from one end, around a corner (punctuated by his face smashing into the hard right angle before inertia caught up with the tight turn) and through the vents until he arrived at an end-cap on the shafts, smashing him quite violently against the ventilation grating, knocking it loose and throwing him headlong into the ground where his face was stamped by the grill of the grating.
  He pulled himself up only to be pulled right back down as the artificial gravity of the ship kicked on, welcoming Quil aboard with a hearty slap to the face by the very same grating he had already been stamped by.
  "There isn't going to be much of me left at this rate." His cowlicks sank as he dusted himself off, trying to wipe the imprint of the grating off his face. He pulled himself together, straightening his goggles, and otherwise just trying to undo the disheveled look the ventilation had given him.
  He peered out of the door to see if anyone was around that might have been concerned about the commotion of Quil's face-slamming in the ventilation shafts. All signs were clear.
  He stepped out into the large hallway as the lights and external displays dimmed and brightened: a warning sign to passengers, crew, and staff that a departure would be happening soon.
  The halls were empty. Maybe it was because lift off was about to happen, or perhaps the violent and frightening banging from Quil's tumble scared everyone away. It was hard to say. Judging by the wide hallways it seemed like it would service high traffic, but there didn't seem to be a lot of rooms or intersecting hallways.
  The lights finally dimmed completely
  So this was it. He was aboard a G.I.E. capitol cruiser. Ships so massive, each one was uniquely designed with different layouts depending on the architect. They were modern works of art that Quil could only drool -
. The sudden shudder of the ship roaring to life knocked Quil to the floor, the flickering phosphorescent displays giving all passengers and crew a view of the receding port as the ship left its dock.
  His collapse to the floor was the mark that his choice was now permanent. He had committed to chasing this fallen star and now his curiosity landed him here; with his butt on the floor as the ship prepared to leave the dock, the support cruisers outside that helped taxi the massive capitol ship out of its bay safely, leaving behind Quil's home, Quil's family, and Quil's friend (only the one).
  He pulled himself to his feet in uncertain stumbles from the bumpy ride, moving towards the external displays, watching the port bay drift away slowly, then slowly away from the port itself, then away from the petal. The lights inside began to brighten slowly again as they drifted further away from Quil's home, watching the massive colony glow in the backdrop of the sea of stars behind it. First, he could only see Nusiphera drift away, but soon each petal one by one entered his field of vision, the sea of rainbow wisps of augmentation refracted the external lights like a prism. This stream of colour being the parting confetti of Quil's own maiden flight as he left.
  The feeling slowly settled into him, his two cowlicks perking up with that liberating realization that he did it! He escaped his home. He left everything behind to...
  His cowlicks lowered with that painful realization; he left everything - EVERYTHING - behind to chase some stupid fallen thing. He didn't even know what it was. It could just be a block of trash for all he knew. He felt like an idiot. Was that why he left everything behind to become some stupid "space voyager"?
  He shook his head, his eyes lighting up as his cowlicks perked up with equal excitement. He let that last thought roll off his tongue, "space voyager". He couldn't contain his excitement, letting out a small little jump to release the excess excitement; a type of energy not even Trisha had seen before out of -
  He froze in horror, thinking about how pissed Trisha was going to be. How was he supposed to explain this to her? She wouldn't ever forgive him for making a run like this. What was the last thing he had even said to her?
  His eyes and cowlicks sank further, as he looked at the ground, regretting the choice he had made. It was ill planned. He had just acted without thinking and the result is that he is now going to be lost in space for who knows how long. A day? A Week? A year? Forever? He had left his home behind with a stupid decision.
  He lifted his head, his cowlicks lying flat, as he watched the Lotus sink further and further away from him. As it shrank into the stars, his eyes grew bigger with excitement.
  He had made a choice and now he must live with consequences. He shrugged. What is done is done. So why worry now? "I'm not home anymore," he smiled to himself.
01100101 01101110 01100100 01100010 01101100 01101111 01100011 01101011 00100000 01000101 01010110 01000101 01010010 01000010 01010010 01001001 01000100 01000111 01000101