Chapter 9:

EPISODE 2: 00001001:NINE



    The classroom was full except for one single seat - at least, as far as Trisha could tell through the massive bags under her eyes. Everyone returned to school like nothing happened. Sure, the local news reported on the strange event but it wasn't big enough to disturb the routine; everyone showed up to class and everyone continued to pretend to listen to the lectures. All of them except the missing Quil and the one girl who was stuck in the aftermath of his decision.
   She looked across towards the desk where Quil normally sat, looking past it and out the window where the light of the exterior world was already turning gold with the approach of the evening.
   Maybe it was just how delirious Trisha had become from a full night; going from launching a rocket, to chasing an idiot who thought he can solve a universe's conspiracy, to then getting scolded by her parents first, then the idiot's parent, and then both of the parents, then finally scolding the idiot herself only to get roped into helping him chasing idiotic dreams. Though the night was long, it did eventually end and even though she had the opportunity to skip school, she didn't want to stay at home.
   So, through her exhausted eyes, she pulled herself through the day, doing her best to focus on anything but home. Unfortunately for her, that golden glow that came from the outside window was a sign that school was close to ending.
   She crossed her arms on her desk and lowered her head into them. Her eyes were far too heavy to keep open, but her mind was far too active to let her sleep. Where was Quil now?
   Everyone continued to move to and fro through their daily routine, as cars and pedestrians alike returned to their home after a day’s work, passing Trisha as she walked her bike home. Yes, she could ride if she wanted to, but while everyone returned home to prepare for another day of life's routine, she had to return home to the mess that Quil left behind. This disaster only encouraged her to take her walk home as slowly as possible.
   She leaned her bike against the wall of the convenient store as she stared blankly at the fluorescently lit vending machine, with bright colours to charm her or anyone else passing by into taking a sip of a cool refreshing drink that was inside. Normally Quil was the one to purchase the drinks for her. It's not that she didn't know how to operate a vending machine, but it was weird to be the one standing in front of it, tapping her watch to the payment surface of the vending machine and being the one to make the selection.
   She paid no mind to the drink, simply grabbing it from the machine, picking up her bike and walking towards the bridge - the 'usual spot'.
   The cars whizzed by, people who walked along the sidewalk laughed about the day they had. And then there was Trisha. Trisha leaned her head into her arms that rested on the railing of the bridge, occasionally taking a sip of the drink from the black can. The sound of the flowing water below was largely muffled by the activities of the closing day.
   Trisha laughed as she looked at a man fishing further down the flow of water that passed under the bridge. Perhaps it was through her delirious mind, or perhaps it truly was that funny (it's hard to tell with the lack of sleep). She shook her head, as she spoke with a hoarse voice, "You're not going to catch anything in there," except maybe the shrapnel of their destroyed project.
   What if they had never decided to do the project? Or, what if they had decided to launch the project a different day? Maybe things would have turned out different.
   She laughed again (still uncertain if it was funny because it truly was funny or if she was just that delirious), "Things would still be the same," because Quil would still chase the G.I.E. no matter what.
   As twilight settled in and the fisherman had packed up after a day of (as Trisha had predicted) catching nothing, she took the last sip of her drink.
   Somewhere in between the bright gold of the ending day and the dim light of the beginning twilight, she had received an overly concerned call from her mother - well, that is to say, she assumed it was overly concerned. Before her mother could even say a word, she quickly disconnected the call and turned her watch off. It took far more convincing than she expected to turn her watch off. She didn't want to hear from her mother, nor did she want to hear from Quil's mother, but she did have hope that maybe, just maybe, Quil might contact her. Turning off her watch meant there was no line of communication to her. But, the more she thought about it, hearing those final words cut into her skull "I lied..." echoing over and over, all it did was help settle in an immense anger that she was too tired to express.
   Through glossy eyes, she turned her watch off. There was no one she wanted to talk to, especially not Quil.
   So, with that final sip of her drink gone, she walked to the end of the bridge, walking alongside her bike until she arrived at the trash bin, prepared to throw the can away before she noticed she hadn't been drinking her favorite tart flavor. Somehow, through her delirious state, she had managed to choke back - unknowingly - an entire can of Quil's favorite flavor instead.
   She squeezed the can into as flat of a shape as she could with a single hand before finally tossing it into the trash and continuing a slow waltz back to her home. She made sure to move as slowly as she could. One would assume it was simply because of how tired she was, but, no. There was that lingering disaster; a disaster still so fresh the debris has yet to of settled and still seemed far from ever completely settling. So she walked slow as she could as the few remaining people returning from their routine walked past her in a blur.
   She entered her home speaking softly, "I'm home," hoping not to alert her parents. She gently removed her shoes and quietly walked up the steps.
   Perhaps it was that lingering disaster that made the house so dark, or, perhaps, it was the far more obvious: no one had turned on the lights (the lack of sleep can really affect perception). The house was as quiet as Trisha. It only made sense. Trisha wasn't the only one who was stuck fumbling through the day on zero-hours of sleep. Perhaps her parents finally crashed from exhaustion. Trisha wanted to do much the same, but still her mind was too active.
   She lifted the window open to her room to help give a clearer view of the true stars that shined through the gaps between petals. She closed one eye as she reached out with her hand, taking a firm grip on that crack between petals, grabbing the stars.
   Trisha laughed to herself, dropping her arm onto the threshold of the window so that she could rest her head on it. There was silence. Only the gentle hum of life from the Lotus resonated through the room, but there wasn't a sound from her parents. There wasn't a sound from passing cars. There wasn't a sound from passing people. Not even a gentle wind. Silence hung tightly to the air, caressing the heavy eyelids of Trisha. That silent air that pulled on her tired eyes helped draw in the dark as everything sank away bringing the peacefulness of the silence to the tranquility of the emptiness.
   And soon this silence and emptiness married in bizarre forms that danced on the back of Trisha's eyelids as her awareness sank away before finally -

   In a single minute, like an obnoxious heckler, her stomach crashed the wedding of silence and emptiness, sucking her out of the tranquility and right back to the activity of the night; all of the sounds of the night life swelling back into existence; the lights of traffic and homes reflecting off her eyes as she looked around.
   She tapped her watch, looking at the time. Somehow, she had managed to warp through time - or, something like that. She wasn't entirely sure how it was now forty minutes later (lack of sleep can really affect your perception).
   Her stomach heckled her again, convincing her to lift her heavy head from where she had rested it on the windowsill.
   While her senses had returned (more-or-less) - the sounds of the outside world returned in a drone that filled her ears - there still remained the silence of her home. She stumbled between each step to find her balance with the weight of her sleep trying to drag her to the floor. Eventually she managed to grasp the knob to the door of her room and open it - which was more difficult than it seemed as she found herself relying on the weight of the closed door to keep her upright.
   She fumbled down the stairs, keeping a tight grip on the handrail while using another hand to wipe the sleep from her eyes. She called for her mother through the hoarse of exhaustion.
   At the last step of the stairs and still no response. She assumed perhaps she had not spoken loud enough. "Mom?" she cried again, using her other hand (now freed from keeping her upright on the stairs) to help aid her other hand in wiping the sleep from her eyes.
   And yet, she still didn't receive a response.
   Trisha tripped into the wall with a thump. "Mother, I'm hungry," she cried again as she lifted herself off the wall, making her way to the kitchen.
   She turned on the light to the kitchen, instantly making her eyes scream in pain as the brights of the light collided with her pupils, forcing her to shield her eyes.
   As the blurry bright room slowly became a tolerable level of brightness for Trisha, she was able to look around the empty kitchen. The only thing the kitchen did for her at this moment was remind her of how hungry she was as her stomach growled loudly at her again.
   She shook her head as she flipped the light off in the kitchen, releasing the tension in her eyes.
   She shuffled into the living area. "Mom?" she spoke softly.
   No answer.
   It was hard to tell through her delirious eyes but all she could really see in the room was the harsh blue glow of a tablet - or maybe it was her parent's watch on a dock, or maybe they forgot to turn off the illumination on their glasses.
   She moved to a lamp in the room and turned it to the dimmest setting (a rather impressively intelligent decision considering how tired she is).
   She looked at the blue glow. There was a strange disconnect happening in her mind. She could tell she was looking at something, and she knew what it was, but her mind wouldn't bridge that gap of what exactly it was.
   It wasn't until her eyes came to focus a little bit more that suddenly a more sobering shock of adrenaline hit her body as she looked at the man with strange hair as he calmly read off of the blue glow of his tablet.
   She stepped forward to address - "What are you doing back in my home?"
   The man folded the tablet and clipped it into his watch before standing up, the sincerity of his eyes piercing Trisha. "Hello, Trisha." Rommel spoke in a smooth, collected tone, "I hope you are doing well."
   "Yeah." She spit, "Maybe breaking-and-entering isn't exactly the best place for pleasantries. Why don't you tell me what you are doing back in my home before I call the cops?"
   Rommel let out a gently stitched sigh. "Shortly before a Lotus stowaway stole G.I.E. property, network packets were sent from an encrypted signature protocol number to a similarly encrypted signature protocol number here on the Lotus. Coincidentally, the day I visited your home there was a similar signature protocol handshake that happened on this home's network just after you berated me with your questions."
   "I'm just a kid, I don't know what encryption you are talking about." Trisha stepped away as Rommel stepped closer.
   "Oh, don't play dumb," he laughed calmly as he stepped toward Trisha again. "You should take pride in your skills."
   Trisha's back pressed against the wall as the looming figure only began to tower even higher over her.
   "Regardless," his smooth tones wrapped around the cool night air. "My concern isn't your encryption. My concern is whom the other person was that you committed the handshake with. This person has stolen something incredibly valuable from me."
   Trisha shook her head. "Quil," she spoke under her breaths of disbelief.
   "Is that his name?" The looming man smiled. "Yes, well, I simply need you to give me his unencrypted signature protocol number so that I can locate him."
   Trisha smiled. "If he made it this far and has still eluded you, you aren't going to catch him, and I'm not going to help you catch him either."
   Rommel stepped into Trisha's reach - a massive man that was surely twice as high as she was. "All in due time," the silk of his words weaved through the air. "It seems all you need is a little coercion."
   Trisha cocked an eyebrow. "Is that your plan? Is that why my parents are missing?"
   Rommel laughed, "Oh goodness, no," he put a hand to his head to try and support him through his hysteria. "You really think I am that barbaric to - what? What do you think I did to your parents? Kill them?"
   Trisha tried to move away but he had her pinned against the wall.
   He cleared his throat returning to his collected posture. "I will ask you clearly what I want one last time; will you give me the unencrypted signature protocol number of your friend?"
   Trisha stared down the goliath in front of her with sharp eyes, determined - or perhaps stubborn - with her decision. "No," she made sure the word cut through the silk he had weaved.
   "So be it," his silken words painted a somber shade of disappointment. He lifted his coat open to grab one of a small handful of pens that lined his coat pocket. Without hesitation, he pressed Trisha's head against the wall and in one swift movement, he jabbed the pen into her neck as a small needle punctured her vein, releasing a cooling sensation that quickly spread through her body. Within seconds that sensation helped return that exhaustion she had felt throughout the entire day; her eyes weighed heavy, her muscles reluctant to cooperate with the slowed signals of her brain.
   "What did you do?" She managed to weakly speak through the exhaustion that was slowly overtaking her body.
   "The same as your parents. I'm simply giving you a chance to sleep a little. Perhaps you will wake up with a clearer mind to help you reconsider your decision."
   Trisha tried to catch her breath before speaking through the harsh of her exhausted throat. "I won't, you bastard," She coughed, trying to conjure as much spit as she could to hock her disrespect into his face, however, the exhaustion was nearly entirely settled in. The spit left her mouth with little propulsion, landing on her as she collapsed to the floor.

    Maybe it was the daze that was finally wearing off or maybe she had just entered some strange alternate reality where suddenly her home was finely dressed in warm decorations and equally as warm wallpaper.
   A man sat on a couch only a few a meters or two away from the futon that Trisha was tucked into.
   Trisha lifted herself up, pushing the layers of blankets off her as the grogginess of her sleep protested her movement.
   "Dad?" She wiped the sleep from her eyes.
   The man turned his head from the tablet as he folded it and clipped it to his watch. "I'm afraid not," the silk choking Trisha wide awake. "I left them back on the Lotus. My concern is no longer with them now that I have you."
   Trisha grabbed her head in pain. "And where am I?" She spoke through bared teeth.
   Rommel placed a tiny cup containing two pills on the nightstand next to Trisha. "The idiots who moved you to this room weren't exactly careful while in transit. The soreness in your head can be blamed on them. If the pain is too unbearable, these pills will -"
   Trisha swatted the pills away. "You think I'm gonna take medicine from a person who just injected me with some shit and then kidnapped me? Answer me; where am I?'
   Rommel let out a single breathy laugh. "If you had let me finish explaining, I was getting to the point of welcoming you aboard the Zveihand - Capitol Star Cruiser of Fleet Corp One: the pride of the Galactic Imperial Empire."
   Trisha narrowed her eyes, staring down Rommel. Nothing. There was nothing she could do or say. She flopped back into the bed, pulling the covers over her as she faced away from Rommel.
   Something small flopped on the bed next to Trisha.
   "Seems you have the protection enabled on your watch. Smart girl."
   Trisha remained silent as she tightened the blankets around her.
   She could hear him shuffle as he placed a tray down on the night stand. She could smell the fresh cooked meal. She could feel the moisture of the steam rise from it.
   His heavy footsteps shrank as he moved away. "So this is your plan?" Trisha spoke in soft, blanket-muffled anger. "To keep me as a hostage until I either wither and die or tell you Quil's signature?"
   The footsteps paused as a very brief moment swept over the room; perhaps a moment for Rommel to compose his thoughts.
   Trisha turned around to look at him. It seemed something heavy loomed over him as he reached inside his coat pulling out a small vial. "I'm afraid there are larger plans with you if you are unable to cooperate," he twirled the vial between his fingers as the deep red liquid sloshed around inside. "We are playing a game," he turned his now cold eyes to Trisha, "and it's only a matter of time until a play is made in my favor. Already your friend has helped create a trail to him.
   "His escape was aided by a prisoner; a bounty hunter that we had caught breaking in." He unclipped the tablet from his watch, unfolding it to open up a document which described reward, terms of employment, and various other facts about a job. "A paper trail back to this man's employer, and certainly not far behind will be the escaped prisoner along with your friend. You giving up his signature will only ensure you can return safely."
   He placed the vial back in his coat and turned toward the door, stopping in front of it. "Oh, and I wouldn't make any calls from your watch. We are monitoring all incoming and outgoing packets. It'll only take one slip up from you before we crack your encryption," and with that, he stepped out of the door - the door lingering open for just a second longer, taunting Trisha with her new prison.
   She grabbed the tray of food and hurled it with all her might, slinging a whirlwind of crumbs, sauce, and whatever other foodstuff across the floor until the tray collided with the door, sending the remaining dishes to rest at the door's threshold, awaiting freedom from the cage just like Trisha.
   "Please include a list of your food allergies next time, Miss Trisha." Rommel called from the other side of the door, "I'll have a guard send up another tray."