Chapter 18:



    Only after the ship struggled to pull the crew from the system space surrounding the forgotten colony into a small centrally located docking terminal, it collapsed as it finally gave up on what tiny life lingered. It glided gently to the wide terminal bay that remained empty, just as forgotten as the rest of the colony.
   In the dim of the emergency lighting, Filth gave a heavy sigh after a few moments of deliberation with their new situation.
   Silje's eyes glistened under the few dim lights, reflecting back highlights of concern into Filth. "Well, now what?"
   Filth lifted himself from the pilot's seat, looking to the rear of the ship where Quil continued to cradle the unconscious starlet. "Nothing has changed." He spoke with a harsh sincere gruff. "We are still going to go to INTAL."
   Quil moved his head slowly. The vacant stare was empty, though a rage could be felt emanating from his tightened muscles. "No, we aren't."
   Filth shook his head. "This isn't up for debate, Kid."
   The vacant eyes continued their empty stare towards Filth. Unmoving. Unwavering. "My concern is her purpose."
   Filth's eyebrows narrowed. "She's damaged. She's broken. She needs to be returned to her developer."
   Quil stood up, though he kept his grip tight around the sleeping star. "We can't take her there."
   "You're the one who originally made me promise to take you there." Filth scoffed.
   "I've changed my mind. We can't give her back to INTAL. We will just have to take care -"
   "No." Filth gave a staccato motion to move Quil's remarks out of his way. "I'm not keeping her around longer than we need to. I'm not putting my life at risk for some broken, ditzy, malfunctioning android."
   "You've been at risk since I broke you out of that holding cell."
   "Kid, I've been running from the G.I.E. and their lesser half -" He jabbed a finger towards Silje - "for several years now, and I can keep escaping their grasp without a problem for the rest of my life."
   "Obviously you couldn't escape them forever. You'd still be stuck in that cell if it weren't for me. I saved you. I want you to return the favor by taking me and Lilli somewhere safe."
   "No." Filth crossed his arms as he stood his ground. "I didn't need your help." His eyes narrowed as he leaned forward. "But I did make a promise in return for your help. And that promise was to take her to INTAL. And I intend to keep that promise. She needs this. I'm not doing this for you any more. I'm doing this for her."
   Quil stepped forward as he closed the gap between him and Filth. His vacant eyes had begun to fill with an intensity. The emergency lighting lit his sharpened brow. "You have no idea what is best for her. Just like Diva, you're just going to kill her because you're too much of a narrow minded idiot to find alternatives."
   Filth stared down Quil. Quil stood braced as his ferocity leaned in towards Filth. Filth stood apathetic with crossed arms. He, himself, didn't want to show the fire inside. But it was there. He looked down at Quil. The fire inside was lit and began to burn brighter as his eyebrows descended heavily. One swift motion was all it took. Quil barely had time to flinch before he doubled over from the single powerful fist that had collided with his stomach knocking the air of his chest.
   Silje launched from her seat. "Jack!" She exclaimed in concern.
   Quil wearily lifted himself out of his curl. He winced through the pain as he stared up towards the man who stood tall with braced fists. "Go fuck yourself, Filth." Quil managed to wheeze out before spitting a small clot of blood into Filth's face.
   Quil grabbed Lilli's body and left the ship, stepping into the frigid cold that lingered inside the empty hangar.
   Silje stepped towards Filth, her eyes still wide with surprise as she stared at where Quil had exited. "Why did you do that?" Silje's ears sank with her concern.
   Filth crossed his arms as he too stared at the same place as Silje. "He's lost sight of his dreams. That's why Lilli said it was important to her."
   Silje grimaced as she looked toward Filth.
   Filth shook his head as he too moved his eyes towards Silje. "Do you know what happened to Lilli?"
   Silje shook her head. "No. The excess heat must have been from being overclocked, but I don't know how or what triggered her polling rate to rise."
   Filth grimaced with Silje's response. "And the language?"
   Silje shrugged as she shook her head again. "I don't know. I think it's Japanese, but the language is inconsequential. It is only evidence to a system error that I believe she is experiencing during a system boost clock. What I believe happened is that there are missing registry files. Due to the gap in system information, her system probably attempted searching for the missing libraries to repair her system before its clock speed became unmanageable, but due to the missing files, the system crashed during its search in the different system localization archive. It could have crashed in any language archive that is onboard her."
   Filth sighed. "I just got the same answer twice." Filth moved a sincere gaze to some invisible entity to his left, "So you don't know either, huh?"
   Silje raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Uh, no."
   Filth shook his head with disappointment as he stepped towards the exit of the ship.
   "Where are you going?"
   "To find out how we are going to get to INTAL."
   "What about the young master?"
   Filth stopped at the threshold of the exit. He pulled himself to the floor to prevent the lower gravity from carrying him away. His eyes turned to glance around the empty cavity they had landed at before returning his eyes to Silje. "The kid is fine by himself. Let him be alone for a while."

   Quil had moved far from the ship. The hangar was wide, expansive, and still so empty. The pile of junk that was once their ship was the only shape on the wide empty horizon of the empty dock. Even with the distance Quil had put between him and the ship, it was still visible as the tiny blemish that is was.
   He had glided through the low gravity as he carried with him the limp body of the unconscious star. He wanted his own place away from everyone on this colony; and that everyone, of course, was the crew he had come here with. He wanted his space away from Silje, but, more importantly, he wanted his space away from Filth.
   That is when he found himself bracing himself against the dock wall, clinging to it as the catwalks above him cast dark shadows across his face. He traced the cold walls. The walls that only reflected the frigid temperatures of the forgotten colony. Though, at this moment, the cold didn't bother Quil as he escaped further and further away with the starlet in his hands. His focus was entirely on her. He didn't want to face the fact that, due to her damage, the only way to fix her would be to take her back to her developer. He didn't want to face the fact that the brightly cheerful, inquisitively curious girl that he held was flawed.
   He knew that it was his own perseverance that helped him find his way off his home, so he knew that with the same perseverance he could move on with Lilli by his side. He knew that he didn't want to take her to INTAL because it might mean confronting the end of Lilli. He was not worried about the small chance that it could end him. He wasn't worried about how there was the high chance he could be locked up for days, months, or even years inside a cell. He was worried that it was the end of her.
   If it meant never understanding who she is or what she is, he didn't care. He wanted to stay with her, and he wanted her to stay with him.
   That's why he found it. Just like back at his home, there remained the curious door. The foreboding door. It was thick as it separated the frigid air of the vast open cavity from the frightfully frigid air of the claustrophobic halls. As Trisha had claimed it to be, "The Sanction". The vast expanse of narrow halls and corridors to route the infrastructure of the entirety of the colony. It was that lust to remain with Lilli that pushed him into the door. As it clanged shut, an endless ripple of sound waves reverberated into that deep dark. Deeper and deeper the echoes extended into those lonely halls.
   Quil found that even in the low gravity, he still felt a heavy weight pull him to the ground. Perhaps it was the uncertainty that he faced as he stared down that endless pitch darkness of the Sanction. He took a moment, collapsing at the threshold of dim light that bled through the door and overwhelming shadows of the deepening halls.
   There was silence. This silence filled his mind. During his journey from the ship to the curious door he had ran the same thoughts through his head over and over. He ran over those thoughts many times that the only one left was the silence that followed. That silence was all that existed with him, and with that lack of thought came the creeping frigid air.
   He shivered under the cold. He pulled Lilli closer to him, trying to blanket as much of himself as he could with Lilli's warm hair.
   His breath condensed into thick clouds as each of these clouds escaped his body in infrequent gasps. Each cloud was a reflection of Quil's own body as it made each muscle shake, the largest clouds would come during the moments of control that he had - those moments when he could control his body's shivering. The smaller clouds would come as the shivering overwhelmed him, shaking his lungs into hyperventilated gasps.
   He looked down at the unconscious Lilli. Though she too had cloudy breaths. They were slow, they were gentle. She remained relaxed even as the cold fondled every inch of her body.
   "Rabito," the soft voice came as a warm whisper.
   Quil looked at Lilli. Her eyes were open and lit with a bright intensity - bright enough to fight the dark of the halls. Part of Quil was relieved to see Lilli awake, but as the light of her eyes fought the dark away, it also chased away Quil's relief.
   "Anata wa jibun no yume o akirame kire tenai wa."
   Quil's eyes lingered and moved to every part of Lilli in hopes of maybe, just maybe, understanding her. But, instead, Filth's voice was the only thing that rang through his mind, reminding Quil that she is broken. "Lilli," he spoke soft.
   Through the weight of her weak body, she still managed to move one soft hand to Quil's head. The hand clutched one of Quil's cowlicks before losing grip and sinking across his face, her hand gently stroking Quil's cheek. "Gomen'nasai, Rabito." A crystal drop, lit by the light of Lilli's eyes, rolled down her cheek. "Gomen'nasai."
   Quil watched her as the glow disappeared behind her eyelids. The hand that comforted Quil fell to Lilli's side.
   He remained frozen as he racked his mind for answers. Once again, he was able to ignore that creeping cold as his entire focus was on Lilli. He wanted her to be awake. He felt like he needed her to be awake. He needed her to jump from her sleep in such an exuberant state that she would hit the ceiling. He needed her to collide into his head with vigorous energy as she awoke. He needed her to grab his cowlicks. He needed her.
   But, instead, he only heard that voice echo in his mind. It echoed throughout each thought he had of Lilli, reminding him of her condition. Reminding him that perhaps the Lilli he knows is only a result of the damage.
   That's all she is: damaged. Or, so said the voice in his head. She's broken. She's flawed. Filth grew louder and louder in his head. Like the creeping cold, it wrapped at the extremities before growing into an overwhelming feeling that began to overtake his body.
   "Enough!" Quil slammed a fist into the wall, sending a silencing wave reverberating down the ever-extending halls.
   He was still too close to Filth. Quil rose to his feet, keeping Lilli close to him. He faced the pitch of the deep shadows of the halls. The little light that penetrated the dense door he sat next to was barely capable of fending off the pitch of the Sanction. Quil made the two steps it took from being in the protection of the dim light to being absorbed into the darkness of the shadows.
   He pulled his goggles over his eyes and turned the illumination on before continuing his journey, descending into the frightful dark and creeping cold. Step by step, Quil's own silhouette began to merge with the dark of the halls until ultimately the shadows consumed him entirely.

   "What do you expect to find?" Silje stared blankly at Filth as he pulled himself over the railing of the uppermost level of the catwalks that surrounded the perimeter of the empty hangar.
   "Our way off of this place." He began moving forward, realizing Silje remained stiff in her position.
   She shook her head. "You sound so certain that we will be able to get off of this place."
   Filth looked across the railing of the catwalk, looking across the empty field of the hangar. The only blemish on the open field was the remains of the tired ship that brought them this far. "Of course I sound certain. This isn't where we are going to die."
   Silje's eyebrows flattened as she rested her head into the palm of her hand.
   "There's a way off of this place. It might not be here in this hangar. It might not even be another ship. But, this is not where it ends," his eyes narrowed in sincerity, "even if that means fixing the ship ourselves."
   To respond to Filth's sincerity, the ship exploded.
   Filth kept his sincere focus on Silje, though her eyes were somewhere between an 'I told you so' and concern. "Even if we have to fix it ourselves." Filth repeated.
   "I'm glad we decided to move away from the ship." She remarked as she pulled out her glasses. She gave a few taps on her watch as she inspected various log reports.
   Filth turned to face the long walk ahead of them. "That's not going to do you much good."
   "I realize this. I was checking the last pinged signature address."
   "Well it looks like an s-o-s ping was fired from our ship just before we made the jump. The routed signature was to an unfamiliar address."
   Filth shrugged as he looked over at Silje. "Well, unless any ship who could receive that s-o-s ping knows where we jumped to, I don't think placing our bets on hitching a ride with some fellow space voyagers is in our favor."
   "And so what exactly do you plan on doing?"
   Filth pushed himself with a gentle glide through the low gravity. "Find our way off of here, just like I said."
   Silje followed behind Filth. "Again: how exactly do you plan on doing that?"
   "The Lotus is a pretty big place. I think there are more favorable odds that maybe one of the many ports and hangars might have a left over ship or two just hanging around. We'll just check with the traffic terminal to check any reports of docked ships and then," Filth shrugged, "I don't know. We'll go from there."
   Silje rolled her eyes. "What a promising plan."

    The clouds had grown dense with each heavy breath Quil took as he pulled himself each heavy inch by each heavy inch. He could only assume he was nearing the center of the forgotten Lotus as the gravity had increased. Each step he took under the new weight was a trying effort under the shivering that racked his muscles. The creeping cold gripped each toe. The creeping cold choked his calves. The creeping cold wrapped numbing needles from Quil's fingers to Quil's shoulders.
   This cold had befriended the silent audience of the halls. These shadows clung to every corner, every twist, every nook, every cranny, and it only seemed to get darker the further and further Quil descended into the halls. It felt like there was a point that Quil had gradually crossed. A point where the illumination of his goggles fought harder and harder to fend this grand audience away from him.
   Now, among the tired journey he took, the creeping cold was in a winning battle against the warmth of each gasp of breath he took. Each breath he took in this cold, he could feel it getting closer and closer to entering his body. And as that creeping cold breached his breaths, he felt the bitter sting of the harsh cold fill his lungs, toppling him to the floor. Lilli rolled out of his arms, lying unconscious on the frozen floor.
   Quil reached to her. He clawed at her. He wanted to hold her. He needed her. The warmth of her hair was the only, miniscule amount of warmth he had, and now he had lost that warmth. Her body was still within his view. The silent audience had not consumed her yet, as the shadows lingered foot bound. However, the friendship of the cold and the shadows seemed more and more apparent. Each bitter breath Quil grasped for only seemed to draw the shadows closer. He needed the air, his body tried forcing him to breathe, but every time he watched those shadows creep closer and closer over Lilli, a fear sank over him. A fear that drew icy tears in his struggle. He attempted to pull himself closer, but even the most minor exertion of energy forced him to take a breath, drawing the shadows ever-closer. He extended his arm - the shadows crept closer. He extended his hand - the shadows crept closer. He reached with each finger - and so did the shadows. With ribbons of darkness, they began groping the collapsed star.
   The tear rolled down Quil's face until it stopped at the frozen floor, leaving behind a trail of bitter needles that stung Quil. "Lilli," he spoke the name with the last breath as finally the ribbons of shadows overtook her body.
   With Lilli now but a vacant hole of pitch in front of Quil, he lied on the floor, alone. He lied on the frozen floor, alone and lost. He lied on the frozen, bitter floor as a lost kid, alone as the ever-consuming crowd of silent shadows over took him in the dark.

   Filth pulled himself around the threshold of the dark unlit room. His eyes glowed in the dark as the illumination helped him cut through the long forgotten control room.
   Silje remained at the threshold where she watched Filth climb over various piles of litter and junk that was piled in the room. Her glasses remained on her face. She turned on the illumination of her own glasses just moments after Filth had collided with some miscellaneous junk that had hidden in the shadows of his own illumination.
   "I think your bet was lost before we could even play the hand," Silje remarked from the door as she looked across the long forgotten and silent room.
   Filth pushed past the piles of junk (now being more careful), "Nonsense. They call me Filth Full-Flush."
   Silje groaned. "Who calls you that?"
   "I don't know." He shrugged. "I'm sure there is someone out there." Filth leapt over some piles before finally making it to the far wall. "Point is: there is still a hand to be played, so I'll go until that hand can be played."
   "This place is in disarray." Silje commented from her relaxed poise at the threshold. "I don't think there is any hope that any of the consoles will still work, let alone actually getting the power back on in this place."
   Filth looked over his shoulder as he scanned the perimeter of the far wall. "It's either this or dying either from hypothermia, hunger, or thirst. Where is your hope in our final hour?"
   "I left it back inside our ship."
   Filth pulled various other objects that might have (at one point) been valuable equipment and shelves stocked with perhaps an archive's worth of data, documents, and supplies. He threw them into some corner of the room, sending wires, supplies, documents, and 'valuable data' across the room in a torrent. The objects drifted lazily like forgotten particles of a dusty home.
   Silje swept some miscellaneous object out of her face before any of it struck her. "Well, if there ever was any chance the consoles might still work, I think that chance is gone now." She stared at the pieces of 'valuable equipment' that began its lazy descent to the floor.
   Filth paused a minute, scratching his nose as he looked at the scrap that was lying on the floor. "Nah, that stuff isn't important."
   "You sound so certain." Silje muttered.
   Filth turned back to the wall he had revealed from behind the piles of 'valuables' he had pulled off it. A flat panel had been hidden, now staring naked back at Filth. "The only thing I am certain of is the hand I have been dealt." He smiled as he opened the panel and flipped a switch, bringing with it a bright intensity and a gentle hum as the lights and systems inside the control room came back to life.
   Filth gave a sincere thank you to the air as the illumination of his eyes dimmed. He turned to face Silje with a smug grin.
   "Luck." Silje's eyebrows rested flat as she turned the illumination off and removed her glasses.
   Filth shook his head. "It's not luck. I couldn't have done it alone."
   Silje raised an eyebrow.
   Filth jabbed at his temples as he gave a confident wink, "It was all up here."
   Silje shook her head, moving into the control room - pushing the still-lingering pieces of debris out of her way.
   Filth waited as the old systems cycled through their boot sequence. While waiting he inspected the different pieces of scrap that floated lazily around him. The papers contained non-sequiturs and numbers, all of the values and integers added to nothing. The scraps of paper were unhelpful to him as he crumpled them and tossed them out of the current cloud that surrounded him. He pried through form after form, inspecting them to see if he could make any new sense of them. Some contained a nonsensical phrase relating to something unknown. Some just contained a list of words, again, relating to something unknown to Filth. Some contained numbers aligned like a date. Some contained numbers aligned like a time. Some contained date and time. Some contained number entries. Perhaps the number entries were serial numbers for a product, or a catalogue.
   Silje had begun inspecting the systems almost immediately upon them finishing their boot cycle. "Jack," She spoke in a quiet staccato as she peered through the system logs.
   Filth crumpled and tossed a nonsense sheet into the cloud of other nonsense sheets before moving his eyes to the screens. "It looks like someone must have been here within recent years."
   Silje nodded in agreeance.
   "The log data shows they connected from nearly every control terminal on every petal. You don't honestly want to journey to each just looking for a way off, do you?"
   "If that is what it comes to; then, yes. But, right now, just tell me if there are any records you can access."
   Silje nodded her head with determination as she scanned over the logs. "There are some records left behind." She pulled up a segment of some sort of documentation of whatever crew had been to the forgotten Lotus before them.
   Filth gave a grim grimace towards the huge file lengths. "Did you remember to pack your over-night bag?"

    The motionless swirls. The bright blacks and the dark lights. The infinite speckles. The rocking of standing still. Blood still pumped through each vein of Quil's. He woke first delirious from his unconscious state. The air still gave him a bitter bite, though it was warmer than the forlorn halls of before.
   During the first few minutes of his awakening, he wasn't entirely sure of the image he was looking at. He could faintly make out a piece of cloth next to his pants. He moved his head to look before himself. First, he could see a black streak smear across the floor, drawing a dark line back to him. Then, further ahead he could see a bright glow. The only glow that seemed to light the entire room. The glow seemed to dance, outlining a slim figure who stood at the center of the otherwise solemn stadium.
   Quil pulled himself together, wiping the sleep from his eyes so that he could try to understand the stage he was on. He looked back down towards his pants and noticed what he had thought was a piece of cloth was actually his outturned pocket. The dark streak was a dense shadow cast by one of the mysterious cubes that now lied open on the floor. And at the center of the great room stood Lilli. Her hair was glowing, waving in the drafts of heat expelled from her.
   Quil lifted himself to his feet, which he found was not easy for him to do as his body's weakened state protested the movement under the increased gravity found at the center of the forgotten Lotus. "Lilli," he spoke in a hoarse voice as he pulled himself through the weight of the stadium.
   Lilli turned from her center stage, rising high above Quil. Though her bright eyes stared back at Quil with a piercing sincerity, there was confusion laced in each moment she spent staring at Quil. "Dare mo anatanotameni anata no yume o kanaeru koto wa dekinai no." Her voice barely carried itself from the stage across the stadium. "Naze anata ga yume o akirameta no ka, watashi ni hanasenai no? Anata wa watashi o aisenai. Watashi wa anata no yume no kotae janai."
   Quil gave a weakened shake of his head. "Lilli, I don't understand." Quil spoke as loud as he could.
   "Watashi wa anata no yume no kotae janai no, Rabito." One of her appendages snaked into the stage. Once the stage accepted her connection, a massive wave of heat was expelled from Lilli, knocking Quil to the ground.
   Quil fought back against the onslaught of energy, bringing himself to his feet so that he could face Lilli again. "I'm not giving up on you."
   Another appendage was accepted by the stage, sending another ferocious heat wave across the stadium, knocking Quil further away. "Watashi wa anata no yume no kotae janai no."
   Quil continued to fight, lifting himself back to his feet. "I want to help you save the universe, Lilli."
   Another appendage was accepted into the stage. The wave that was sent out whipped Quil into a tumble across the floor. "Watashinoyume o watashi igai ni dare ga kanaeru no yotsu!"
   Quil wheezed as he lifted himself to his feet. He struggled through a single, solemn breath. "I need you, Lilli. I need you to save me."
   A final wave roared across the stadium, pushing Quil into the far wall. The cold tried creeping back around Quil, but the waves of heat whipped Quil awake. Lilli's hair now glowing brighter than ever before. The drafts of heat rose high above the stage while white glowing drops dripped from her hair to the stage. She focused on her stage and spoke in a solemn, regret filled whisper, "Watashi wa anata no yume no kotae janai no yo."
   Massive gears began to churn overhead in the stadium. Golden ribbons twisted and wrapped from center stage to the ceiling of the stadium. The ribbons licked the walls and floor as they arced from the columns that rose from the stage. Each ribbon stitched a glowing trace behind it as it stitched the walls and floors.
   As the gears above began to spin faster and faster, the glowing traces began to ignite in the walls of the stadium. The entire room began to shake. At first, the tremors were mere shivers, but each revolution the massive gears made brought with it a mightier shake that grew with tremendous proportions. The illuminated trails guided the ribbons like the circuitry of a board, drawing the golden ribbons away from the center stage where a massive bright column began to drip from the ceiling. A prismatic mist swirled in the drafts of heat that rose from the grand performance of the star. The rising heat seemed as if it was trying to connect with the massive dripping column that descended from above the stage.
   Quil struggled his best through the intense vibrations to pull himself to his feet. "Stop!" His concerned voice tried to penetrate the overwhelming cheering of the whirling machine overhead the rumbling stadium.
   The waves of heat, the wrapping ribbons, and tremors of the floor all resisted Quil. Each wave nearly striking him back to the floor, but he stood his ground. Each ribbon licked his numb arm, reawakening the nerves as golden arcs flickered across his hand, sending shocks of pain through him. But, he stood his ground. Each tremor tried to trip and tumble Quil to the floor as the tremors rattled his legs through his knees, all the way to his heart, making it painfully skip beat after beat. But Quil stood his ground. "Lilli, stop this!" He shouted as he approached the stage.
   The only response Quil received was another wave of heat that splashed over him. The massive column above Lilli was nearing the performing starlet. Her remaining, unattached appendages reached high above her head, grasping at the golden drop the oozed from the ceiling above.
   But, something happened. The tremors slowed with the whirring of slowing gears overhead. The cheering of the stadium had begun to dwindle. The illumination of the walls and floor dimmed as the ribbons pulled away. Quil saw glistening crystal drops of water fall from Lilli's head, floating gracefully to the floor of the stage. She turned her head upon Quil. One eye remained lit brightly, her other eye was colourless, and dim. The glowing drops that came from her hair had begun to fall like an intense rain. And from the torn stump of her damaged appendage came blue arcs that spit at the purity of the golden energy that surrounded Lilli.
   "Son'na no dekinai," She spoke solemnly. And with that, everything halted in one final grand explosion. The golden column splattering into the ceiling above causing one of the massive gears to fall loose, descending to the floor. The explosion racked Quil in a mighty blow, knocking the air out of him as he flew across the stadium. The explosion gave an equal punch to Lilli, knocking her from the stage.
   Under the calming silence that came from the eruption was only the sound of falling tiles from the walls. The center stage slumped and collapsed under its tired weight.
   The petals of the Lotus each were wilted. Perhaps there was a time long ago that each petal also raised life quite successfully like the Lotus that Quil was familiar with. But, this Lotus crept quiet as it moaned and groaned under the years of its forgotten life. Perhaps this Lotus too had been augmented by the golden haze. A golden haze that brought to life the different cities, the different environments, the different colours of the Lotus, but now, all that remained is the rust and shadows of years gone by.
   "It's fascinating the trace of infrastructure that runs the system of the Lotus." The voice on the recording spoke through what sounded like years of fatigue.
   "From the tip of each petal all the way to the core of the Lotus." The Sanction was cold and lifeless with echoes that extended into infinity.
   "It's unfortunate this pathetic force of 'Unification' that sponsors our research was unwilling to sponsor our research beyond our preliminary efforts. With scouts taking up base in multiple parts of this artifact, we spread ourselves as thin as we could to cover as much ground as possible in hopes of extending our own understanding." It was inside those cold hallways that the quiet shadows grew in volume as the clicks of mechanical life rose slowly from its slumber.
   "The veins of the Lotus itself don't just seem to be there for maintenance; it's not just the tunnels the Engineers walked when they were developing this colossal. There are rooms of various purpose hidden throughout these halls." From deep in the farthest depths of the halls came a glow. Golden lines traced circuitry as this glow spread slowly at first from the grand meeting point of all the halls to veins that spread outward, rising in speed as the glow spread across the entirety of the forgotten Lotus.
   "Due to our short investigation, our brief time here only raised more questions. And judging by how reluctant the Federation was on this small sponsorship, the potential for answering these questions soon seem slim." The glow broke free from the vein of halls beneath the Lotus, as each trace of glow began to catch ribbons that streamed between the traces. Inside each hangar, each port, and every branch of the Lotus, it had ignited with this golden glow.
   "Of all our questions, there is one we may never know the answer to, but we are afraid we may know the results of whatever the answer is. What is the purpose of these massive colonies? We cannot say. But there is a growing fear as we delve deeper into the halls: Whatever the purpose is, its ability to support life is merely a side effect of its core tenant. Once the requirements of its purpose are met, there will be no room for life to exist on it."
   And from those deep bowels of the core came a roar of life that began to awaken the long dormant flower.
   "We can only be thankful that there is no certainty of what the requirements are, for fear of those who might hold that knowledge."
   Filth was startled from his relaxed position. Without a word both Filth and Silje left the terminal control room to look across the empty port. They scanned the emptiness as they braced themselves, straining their eyes to help them try to concentrate on their search.
   "The young master," Silje spoke in hastened concern towards Filth.
   He couldn't see him from the catwalk. He leapt over the railing, pushing himself towards the ground as he glided between the ribbons that danced from glowing trace to glowing trace. He sailed at first with a gentle grace, but quickly found that either he was accelerating or the floor was moving towards him.
   Filth slammed into the ground, unable to stand from the newfound weight that held him to the floor. The vibrations of the Lotus only grew heavier, rattling the entire hangar, shaking loose tiles and bolts from the withering plant as they began to crash to the ground. This grand symphony of debris crescendoed as a massive wire hidden by the now fallen tiles finally gave way under the vibrato of the symphony, colliding with a massive boom as it struck the floor of the hangar.
   Then the silence began to set over the hangar as the glow faded back to the dark recesses it came from. The loosened parts of the forgotten Lotus made its decision whether to continue to hold firm or to let go and fall, but even those that loosened its grip merely drifted in a slow graceful descent.
   Filth pulled himself to his feet. Silje landed next to him gently.
   "Do you see the young master?" Silje moved her eyes to Filth.
   Filth kept his focus on that spot far in the distance where Quil had once been seen. "No. Nor do I see Lilli."
   They stared at each other as the recording they had just listened to moments ago rung through their heads.
   "If Lilli really is some sort of 'key' to launching the Lotus, then maybe the kid is right for the wrong reasons; we can't return her to INTAL." Filth grimaced, "at least, not until we understand their motives with her."
   Silje's eyes lit up with shock as she looked beyond Filth. "We may learn what their motives are sooner than you'd hope."
   The low rumble of the approaching white and blue crafts caught Filth's attention. "The kid isn't going to be happy about this. I guess it's time I tell you about 'Escape Plan H'."

   Quil pulled himself from the layer of soot that covered him. Before he could find his own footing, the panic pushed him into a stumble as he scurried over to Lilli in a rush. Her body rested cold on the far end of the stadium. Her hair had completely dimmed, leaving the both of them in the dark, cold, forgotten stadium.
   As he lifted Lilli into his arms, there was one thing he could see. Even through the pitch of the dark room, he could see her open her eyes. One eye greeted him with its innocent blue colour. The other eye only shared vague hints of blue behind the cracks that wrapped around the dim iris. Like small holes, parts of her iris's spokes didn't even show a hint of colour. They only reflected the dark shadows of the empty stadium.
   Her hair was ragged and frayed. The tips that had not merged showed colours of rust and black as streaks of silver ran inconsistently throughout her hair. The charming frame of the ribbon sagged further down her head as the tails drooped with heavy frayed ends.
   Her varied eyes scanned over Quil's embrace. She scanned over him from the tip of his cowlicks to his chest. Each moment that passed, her eyebrows grew more and more concerned. She pushed Quil away from her in one grand gesture. "Why can't I do it?" the words escaped her in a cry of desperation before she slugged Quil across the cheek, sending him to the ground.
   Quil pulled himself back upright as he kneeled a short distance away from Lilli. He looked upon her.
   She hid her face behind her hands, hiding her damaged eye. "Please, Rabbit, make it stop."
   Quil shook his head. "I don't -" an uncertain pause - "understand."
   "And you never will." Her harsh tone cut through Quil even with her whisper quiet voice. She removed her hands from her face as she took in a deep breath before staring sincerely into Quil. "I am required to go to the Lotus."
   Quil cocked an eyebrow. "This one?" he pointed to the ground.
   She shook her head. "No. Your home."
   Quil stared back quietly. "Why?"
   The ribbon slipped. "What is your purpose?" She spoke harshly again as she stood up, pushing Quil out her way. She walked into the shadows, departing from the stadium, and departing from Quil.