Chapter 23:



    The heavy blunt object of the blue-and-white drone smashed the goggles on Quil's face making him recoil. He ripped the lenses from his face, tossing them to the floor before making another ferocious attempt to take on the drone. He grappled it into another drone to clear the way to the white-coated man before him.
   Quil narrowed his gaze on to the man who shadowed the fluid filled tank that drowned the starlet. Bitterness. Quil lunched his entire weight into the white-coated man, dragging the man to the floor before he could escape.
   Anger. He reeled his arm back as he pinned the man to the floor. The man struggled free of the boys grip, leaving behind only the white coat and the painful strike of Quil's fist racketing the floor.
   Numbness. Quil turned his narrowed gaze to another white-coat. The white-coat sent emergency alerts, flooding the floor of the cold room with drones.
   The drones piled over Quil to subdue him. The weight gathered. More. More. Another drone and another. He sank. He fell into the burden that weighed him, lifting only that bitterness, that anger, and that numbness. The rage boiled in his arm beneath the depth of the drones. With his struggle he removed the makeshift bandage. He pushed each drone away until he could prepare the shot. He tightened the grip of his right arm. He pulled back his right arm. He looked right at every member and every product of INTAL.
   But, it stopped. A stern yet caring hand gripped Quil's wrist before the energy could be expelled. Quil's poise tensed, his eyebrows narrowed as he turned to look at whomever attempted to stop him. Silje smiled at Quil. "That's not who you are," Silje remarked softly as she let go of Quil's arm.
   Quil looked at the cold metal object Silje held in her other hand then back at her.
   "Let me take care of this, okay, Young Master?" As her gaze shifted from Quil, her soft eyes tightened. She aimed her arm upward and pulled the trigger sending out a loud bang that silenced the whole room. She pointed the weapon towards one of the engineers. "Call off the drones." Her dominating voice wracked the silence that had fallen over the room.
   The engineer nodded, giving a few taps on his tablet, quickly making the drones retreat.
   Silje shifted her aim across each crewmember of the engineering team. "I don't want to hurt anyone here, but I will if I have to." Her eyes glanced briefly to Quil who stayed stoic, still poised in an aggressive stance. She held out a gentle and soft open hand to get him to relax. "Don't give me a reason to hurt any of you. Just leave this room and let us do our work peacefully."
   The crew nodded as they cautiously exited the room, leaving Quil and Silje alone in the brightly lit lab with only the sound of various electronic equipment humming.
   Silje waited a few quiet moments before lowering her aim. Her eyes looked across the barrel of the tool one last time before switching the safety of the device on and dropping it to the floor.
   Quil moved towards the apparatus that Lilli was contained in. He watched a single, tiny bubble slowly make its way through the thick fluid inside.
   Silje typed on the keyboard. She'd make a handful of rapid keystrokes, pressing the confirmation key, then there would be a pause. She shook her head and repeated the process several times. Her eyes shifted from her work to Quil. She bit her lower lip before returning to her work, now more determined.
   Inside Quil, a burning rose as he stared past his own reflection on the glass and stared to the bound and drowned starlet within. Each time Silje would pause and no changes would be made to Lilli's status, Quil felt that burning rise further. Each pause that Silje let out a disparate exhale, Quil would tighten his muscles. Those familiar golden ribbons returned to the corner of his view. They fluttered and faltered with each passing second.
   He raised his clenched fist, the ribbons in his eyes rattled with anger. He reeled his arm back.
   "Kid," The cool and confident voice stopped Quil. "Stop being stupid." Filth grabbed Quil's arm and lowered it. "Silje." He called back to her.
   She lifted her head from the console just in time to watch Filth make four penetratingly loud shots from his gun, each shot piercing the glass across the drowned starlet.
   Filth twirled his gun around before gripping it by the barrel and smashing the grip right into the center of the four bullet holes causing the glass of the container to collapse, releasing a surge of viscous liquid across the floor. Amongst that thick liquid and the broken shards lye the naked, unconscious starlet - still attached to the wires of the broken apparatus.
   Quil rushed to Lilli, ignoring the sticky and slippery liquid that spread across the floor as he collapsed next to her, lifting her up out of the lightly pink and red swirl that had mixed into the liquid. With being propped up, the ribbon of her hair slipped down her hair as the oily mixture pulled the frame of the bow down her silver-stroked and frayed hair.
   Her body was invaded by wires that penetrated deep inside of her. Quil ferociously attacked each wire as he ripped them out of her body. As the wire that penetrated her the deepest left her body, it brought with it red drops of her broken insides, leaving beads of red to pool on top of the far more dense oil that was spilt across the floor.
   Quil shook her. "Lilli, wake up."
   Silje looked towards Filth with concerned eyes.
   Silence fell briefly amongst the group before the robotic voice came from the unconscious starlet. "BOOT SEQUENCE INITIALIZED -"
   Quil's cowlicks sank, though his hope remained.
   Quil's eyes danced across Lilli as he sank further into the fluid around him.
   Filth stepped forward with a heavy shadow cast over his eye. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
   He gave a single nod.
   Filth gave a heavy exhale as he shook his head. He stepped behind Lilli, peeling open one of the interfacing sockets on her back. He reached inside his jacket to pull a tiny black card, plated with golden contacts. Filth's eye kept a shallow focus on the card as he turned it gently between his fingers.
   "Someone needs to be the hero." Filth muttered to himself before inserting the card into Lilli.
   "Restore." Filth spoke in a heavy staccato.
   Filth looked with a heavy eye towards Quil. "Understand that this will not be easy for anyone."
   Quil nodded.
   Silje watched as Filth pulled the card from Lilli's back. She watched as Filth pulled out his prosthetic eye and carefully inserted the card into it before painfully shoving the implant back into his skull.
   "AN UNEXPECTED EXCEPTION OCCURED. THERE ARE [fifty-seven] MISSING LIBRARIES. CONTINUING WITH BOOT SEQUENCE MAY RESULT IN UNEXPECTED BEHAVIOR OF THE MODEL. OPERATOR CAN [continue the boot sequence normally], [abort the sequence], OR [plug a compatible visual interface in to review boot logs and boot the launch BIOS in safe mode]."
   Filth crossed his arms as he stepped away from Lilli. "It's up to you, Kid."
   "Continue." He didn't wait. He gave a single determined whisper.
   The red beads of Lilli's penetrated insides had begun to ooze and mix deeper and deeper into the viscous fluids around Lilli. With the red beads spread across the oil, the dense red faded more and more into a light red, and then eventually a light pink. The deeper the beads sunk into the clear liquid, the more it faded away, but never, no matter how deep into that viscous liquid it went did those beads ever completely disappear.
   Silje's ears continued to hang low. Her eyes glanced across Lilli's body, from the sagging ribbon to the dense liquid that groped every facet of her body to the red liquid that drained down her inner thighs. Silje found it difficult for herself to continue to look upon the starlet now that she had been stripped. She looked away, looking at the remaining mess of the room: the broken glass, the liquid that oozed across the floor, to the broken goggles and the torn lab coat.
   Filth had never looked back. Since he walked away, implant mounted, he never turned back around to look at the stripped starlet. The voice that followed him everywhere was silent. Regardless of any concern he could have possibly held towards the situation, he never turned back. He never looked back. He left the kid to handle the disparity of tragedy.
   As the eyes opened - One eye a glowing sea of breathtaking blue, the other a dim and solemn grey - there was a moment of hope that lit within Quil. He looked upon Lilli, looking deep into the blue eye that remained on her. A smile crossed over him as relief settled within her reawakening.
   A brief moment crossed between them as Lilli remained motionless, unreactive to Quil's presence. As the seconds began to tick, her eyebrows began to sink and a fear nestled deep within her, clouding her own mind as tears enveloped her vision and panic pushed her into a frightened frenzy. She pushed away from Quil as she tried to escape him. She tried to lift herself to her feet but collapsed in the now pink pool of thick liquid. Tears streamed from her face as she pulled herself out of the liquid.
   Quil attempted to try to help her, but this only sent her further into panic, making her ignore the slippery surface as she stumbled and slipped across the pool away from Quil. She made her way out of the oil, away from Quil, to a dim corner of the room. She shook her head as gasping breaths of fright left her. Now that she was trapped in the corner, she felt the only thing left she could do was hide herself as best she could. Pulling her legs tightly around her as she hid her face behind her hands, only allowing the dim grey eye to peer between the cracks in her fingers so that she could watch Quil closely.
   There was a pain settling across Quil. A pain that was brought with confusion. He didn't understand why. Any movement he made towards her would cause her panic to resurface, pushing herself further into the corner.
   Silje stepped forward. Though her ears remained low with concern, she tried to give Lilli a warm smile.
   Lilli still remained tense around Silje, but she didn't try to hide from her. She let Silje dry her off as Silje ran the scrapped lab coat across Lilli's body to pick up the dense oil that clung tightly to her skin. Silje continued to give the small warm smile as she tussled Lilli's hair to catch the remaining liquid, ending it by running the now soaked lab coat down the tails of Lilli's ribbon.
   Lilli's defensive position began to relax. Her damaged eyes looked up into Silje's eyes with expectance. There was a feeling of safety that had begun to course through her. However, a sense of returning to normalcy did not come until Silje presented her with a stack of well-folded clothes. Her clothes. Lilli's clothes.
   Silje gently lifted Lilli with a single hand, helping her get dressed.
   Once dressed, Silje gave Lilli a single hug before stepping back with Filth, leaving Lilli to remain in the cold corner by herself. That fear settled over her again as the gap between her and warmth and normalcy widened further and further. She collapsed back to the floor where she braced herself against the wall. She wished the walls were not so close as she tried to push back against it more and more as Quil began to step forward.
   She shook her head, denying his presence, refusing his existence, she wanted him away from her, but that rush of panic ceased quite quickly as the warmth of Quil's outstretched hand made her stop to look at the object he held.
   There in Quil's open palm was a small, sealed plastic cup that contained a green jiggly snack.
   Lilli's eyes moved from the cup to Quil who managed to give a small warm smile even through his sincere gaze. Her eyes moved back to the cup again where she moved one soft hand - still ever so slightly shaken with doubt and fear - to take Quil's gift.
   That doubt still lingered over her, but she tried to embrace Quil's presence now that she had received his gift. Her eyes darted between the cup and Quil, as she removed the small plastic spoon that was glued to the side of the cup. Her shaky hands made a few attempts before finally lifting the seal off the top of the cup so that she could finally welcome the nostalgia of normalcy.
   With the cup now empty, guilty eyes looked upon Quil. She looked at the broken goggles that lied on the floor, then back to Quil's naked hair. She reached towards her own hair.
   With an outstretched palm, she offered her sleeping mask to Quil.
   Quil smiled as he took the mask from her and strapped it to his head.
   "Touching," a hollow sincere voice echoed from the far side of the room. The towering man took deliberate steps out of the shadows. "The gallery of ignorance has arrived to use their petty morality to liberate their hypocrisy."
   The man's tired eyes reflected his hollow voice. He gave a crooked and exhausted smile. "I too was a man trapped in the black-hole of societal morality. A man shunned for being too different. That's when I sought to found the campus you stand upon now. If you have come here to advance the collective knowledge regardless of any perceived cost of ethics, then allow me to welcome you personally." He stepped towards Quil extending a hand to him, grasping at Quil's own hand in a ferociously tight grip. "I'm pleased to meet you, lossless child. Please just call me Rheiser."
   Quil's brow narrowed. "I thought you were dead."
   Rheiser's grip tightened around Quil's hand as he slung him to the cold floor. "Funny, that." He stepped towards Lilli who backed away from the chilling air that surrounded the man. "Your adventure is over, Number Zero-Two. It's time to return home."
   Filth pointed his gun towards Rheiser.
   Rheiser turned to look at Filth with a cocked eyebrow as his smile fell to postulation. "And what in the name of the logic might you be doing here?"
   Filth's aim relaxed a little as he looked around. He pointed a finger towards himself. "Me?" He waved Rheiser's concerns away. "Oh, I know this probably looks bad. Don't mind me, I'm just here to play interstellar tour guide. Just following through with a promise."
   Rhesier gave a weary shrug as he returned his eyes to the cowering starlet.
   Rheiser gripped Lilli's arm, squeezing it tightly. Lilli resisted, thrashing against the man.
   "Not yet!" She pulled back against Rheiser.
   Quil pulled himself back to his feet, reeling his right arm back. "Let go of her!"
   Lilli's eyes darted to Quil, her eyebrows descending with the cold vacuum between them. She shook her head, pushing Quil out of the way before her eyes stared back at her creator. "Stop it, Rabbit." She spoke with a sorrowful exasperation. "Tell me what I am." Her eyes fluttered briefly back to Quil before narrowing back on Rheiser.
   Rheiser let go of Lilli. He tilted his head as his eyes switched between Lilli and Quil. He laughed as he turned away with crossed arms. "Riddle me this, Rabbit Boy." His eyes glanced across the broken and severed apparatus. "What do you call an android that bleeds, an android that emotes, an android that has dreams and aspirations?"
   Lilli looked towards Quil who did not engage, he only stood poised for attack against Rheiser. Lilli shook her head as her eyes glanced back at Rheiser. "I don't understand."
   A solemn consideration fell upon Rheiser. "She was a bright eyed innocent girl beloved by her parents." He remarked as he smeared the red-coloured oil and shards of glass across the floor. "Unfortunate to her beloved; however, fortunate for my sanctuary. When we located a Hallowed Daughter of superior Everstream composition, we decided to take action for the betterment of the future of society, even at the cost of her beloved."
   Rheiser grimaced as he lifted one of the wires that had penetrated Lilli prior. "Through years of neural therapy and careful surgery we replaced her biological system with a system tailored to INTAL's specifications; a system designed to process external blood and stabilize the energy contained within the Everstream and the blood that flows through herself among the blood of the daughters she consumes."
   Rheiser turned towards Lilli with a smile. "To solve this riddle is to not think of the subject as an android. The answer is that it is not an android. An android does not bleed. An android does not emote. An android does not dream. You, Unit Number Zero-Two, were that bright-eyed girl."
   "That doesn't matter." Quil interjected, stepping in front of her. "Lilli is still L-"
   Lilli shoved Quil out of her way. "Stop it."
   Quil's cowlicks sank as his eyebrows parted.
   "Then," Lilli stepped towards Rheiser with a grimace. "Then tell me what my purpose is, Rheiser."
   Rheiser cocked an eyebrow. "Purpose?" He laughed. "You speak as if there is a meaning to your life beyond your designation. Purpose? If that is what you want to call it, then I can tell you that you were only the bridging gap between phase one and phase three of the Everbridge Project. Your purpose was to test the reliability and stability of your internal kernel, and to test this, you must consume those daughters whose blood is drawn to you.
   "You are a Hallowed Daughter; you are the queen to the filth of this world. Your blood's concentration of the Everstream is far greater than most of these dirt covered vessels. Your existence speaks to them. Your call beckons to them. And as they come to you, your own natural instinct as a Hallowed Daughter is to consume them to further bring yourself closer to the Everstream."
   "Ultimately, your composition as a Hallowed Daughter pales to Unit Number Zero-Three. You were merely the guinea pig. With the conclusion of our tests, you will be consumed by Unit Number Zero-Three so that she may bring herself closer to the Everstream."
   Rheiser turned his back to Lilli as he stepped away. "Purpose, as you say. You were purpose built from the very beginning, and to the very end your purpose is to be a failure."
   What a fragile and frayed thread we weave.
   "Your silly ideals of who you can be; these ideals of being an idol or someone meaningful enough to 'save the universe' makes the same universe laugh at you. I built you to step past these laughable ideals. I built you to look beyond fantasy; because that is all these dreams are. Fantasy. I built you to carry out every function I specified, by design. Yet in the end, you have been a disappointment. If you want to fulfill your designated purpose," Rheiser turned back to Lilli, stepping towards her, "then it's time to give up those ideals." He extended his hand to her.
   "It doesn't matter how you designed her." Quil stepped behind Lilli as he faced Rheiser. "Lilli believes she can be these things, and I will be by her side the whole time."
   Lilli's eyes danced: her focus was far away from her and the two that stood over her.
   "Drivel." Rheiser spat. "A child like you simply cannot understand that your dreams will remain dreams; all the struggle, all the strife for these vapid and pointless ideals will only lead to disappointment and pain as the realization settles that they truly are vapid and pointless ideals."
   Lilli closed her eyes tight, drawing away from the argument.
   Quil swatted Rheiser's rhetoric away. "These ideals give us our purpose. Dreams are our identity. And when we lose those dreams we lose our purpose."
   Lilli clutched her head. "Stop it, Quil." She whispered a quiet whisper barely audible between the two that towered above her.
   Quil looked towards the cowering starlet. "Isn't that what you believe, Lilli?"
   Lilli shook her head as she clutched it tighter. "Stop."
   Rheiser gave a condescending laugh before crossing his arms. "Your beliefs and ideals are merely abstractions of a reality you cannot confront. When you can't cope with what life truly is, these absurd abstractions are created. Tell me, Rabbit Boy, what were your own abstractions after you escaped your life? Were you content with reality? Did you settle and accept life as it is?"
   Quil bared his teeth. "My focus never changed from Lilli."
   "That's enough!" Lilli shouted as a gunshot punctuated her protest. A gunshot that rang ad infinitum in the claustrophobic lab that silenced Rheiser's grand rhetoric and Quil's rebellious revolt.
   Filth holstered his gun. "Look, we really don't have time for this."
   Rheiser clutched his chest. "Shooting your competitor's C.E.O. is going to be quite a difficult one to explain to your board." Rheiser laughed as he let the blood drip through his fingers, splashing onto the floor; splashing so that the lace of gold could be seen as it was sewn through the red that left his body.
   Rheiser moved his hand from his chest, displaying the golden ribbons that licked the wound.
   The group stood bewildered at the cascade of the goldthread-tied-crimson that dripped drop by drop to the floor.
   Filth reached towards his gun again. "Really I was just trying to get things moving. There's an armada headed our way, so it would be nice to get out of here before the storm hits. But, I do have another bullet if it's necessary."
   Rheiser straightened his back. Though the blood still emptied from him, his smile echoed a full recovery. "I'm afraid killing me isn't an option. Such is the curse of flirting with the daughters of the Everstream." He dusted himself off before stepping back into place with a hand extended towards Lilli. "It's time to come home. Give up these silly ideals of yours and carry out your designation."
   Lilli looked at the hand, following the arm to the cold, pale man before her. Her eyes drifted down to her own hands, looking across her costume, looking across her skirt and across her leggings down to her shoes. Each moment she lingered on her costume, the weight fell heavier on her, drawing her eyes downward.
   "To fulfill your designated purpose will help bring about a change to the universe, in a certain matter of perspective. That is what you want, is it not?
   "Give up your ideals so that you can allow Unit Number Zero-Three to change the universe. Reach your vapid ideals as you so dearly want by sacrificing yourself."
   Lilli's eyes fell back to the hand that was stretched before her. The cold that surrounded the man had perhaps become so bitter that his hand seemed warm. An invitation to her.
   Quil shook his head. "Don't do it, Lilli."
   Her soft, glassy eyes looked upon Quil. The bright blue eye shining bright with the reflection of him. The damaged grey eye didn't share such a vivid reflection, only an echo of a hollow disbelief adorned across Quil.
   Her eyes danced across Quil dancing across the shallow cowlicks, the parted eyebrows, and the arm that loosely gripped at himself. "What is your purpose," such a cold and distant whisper left her lips, "Little Rabbit?" A final wisp of breath to part ways with as she turned away from Quil.
   As she departed him, Quil reached out to stop her, but only managed to catch the very tail of her ribbon, loosening the knot. The ribbon hung loose and low on her hair as she took Rheiser's hand, stepping away from Quil. Step by step, each click of her heels sent a cold and bitter shockwave through his heart, toppling him to his knees.
   As the group was left behind, Lilli looked back at the three people she had spent her entire conscious existence with. She looked at the man who had faced his own past for the sake of a promise that could have easily been broken at any moment. A man who portrayed himself as an independent, yet at every moment he had bound himself to helping the people he met along the way.
   Lilli looked at the young woman. A young woman who had struggled out of her own culture, far away from the domain of everything she knew and understood and yet she stood tall and powerful against everything she didn't know. Even when she lost the net of comfortability, she pursued the people who took that net away so that she could once again find peace.
   And then there was the boy. Perhaps purposeless. Perhaps the path he walked had skewed off the path of his main purpose. But, an ocean of endless stars laid before his life. Perhaps he was settling too early, or maybe he didn't even understand what it was he was after. But, there, in the corner of her eyes she could see the empty plastic cup that rested on the floor, just to the left of the boy.
   She turned her head to look at her creator as he guided her to the far exit of the small lab. He had given her a designation. Her purpose was built by him. And he wanted nothing more but to guide her to that designation. A confusion swept over her. There was a bitter cold around him. Or was it that there was an intense heat. Was she frightened by him? Or was she comforted by him?
   He knew what was best for her. He would be the guide to allowing her to make an impact on this universe. He could guide her to making a change. But, was it the change she would want?
   She looked at her hand. The air was cold.
   A turbulent rumble shook the room, the arrival of the anticipated storm had begun.
   "It's time to go." Filth remarked as he looked at Quil.
   Another rumble that came from outside shook the floor again, but Quil did not budge. Even as the emergency lights came on prompting evacuation. Quil stood, gripping his right arm as he watched Lilli sink into the red of the emergency lights.
   "Kid," Filth took a pause in his departure to call back to Quil. "The welcoming party has arrived. Nothing more can be done unless you want to die under the weight of the G.I.E.'s anger."
   Lilli turned back one final time before exiting the room entirely. She turned back to watch Quil leave with the group - or so she had hoped. But, there, the black silhouette under the red emergency lights did not turn away with defeated acceptance. The silhouette sank, embracing the increasing vibrations that began to rattle the building more and more.
   Lilli shook her head as she watched Quil drop further and further until he could sink no lower. Her eyes flickered back to her creator. She stopped.
   Her blue eye danced across the silhouette of her distant rabbit. Why did he just sit there? Why is he not leaving her?
   Her grey eye traced the boundary of the black shadow against the red highlights. He's stupid. He's purposeless. Why does he bind himself to Lilli so tightly?
   Her creator had stopped in his departure as well to let his weary eyes look upon his starlet who lingered in her confusion. He was angered by her rebellion, but the hysteria of his weariness settled deep. Such a wicked smile stretched across his face.
   Lilli's blue eye watched empathetically upon her rabbit. She loved her rabbit. The grey eye anxiously pulled her gaze back to her creator. She loved her rabbit.
   What was his purpose? What was her purpose?
   Her grey eye darted back to the boy collapsed to his knees. How fragile these dreams are. What a silly notion it is to define ourselves by a dream.
   She shut her eyes tight. "You still have a purpose." She pushed her creator away from her.
   It was just at Rheiser's apex of laughter and Lilli rejoining the group, a thin golden beam split the building in half. As the thin golden beam sliced through, it ignited gases and electrical fuses, blowing massive gashes in the walls and floor, destabilizing the supports, causing the floor the group stood upon to sag.
   The explosions of the split floor tossed the group back, tumbling Lilli into Quil. Filth grabbed Silje before the sagging floor tried to drag her to the floors below.
   Upon the groups recovery all four looked across the gash in the floor to Rheiser. Rheiser, who stood with those deep, heavy eyes of exhaustion, stood stoic. Unmoved by Lilli's own act of rebellion.
   Rheiser's tired eyes remained unphased by the destruction of his own building as he watched the gash in the building separate him from his own creation. "Do as you will," he scoffed from across the lab. "Your designation is set."
   A massive robotic hand ripped the split-seam of the building wider. The gaze of a G.I.E. frame peered through the gash from Rheiser to the group. It allowed its hand to create a barrier between the group and Rheiser, ensuring that Rheiser could not make any attempt to recover his creation.
   Between the split-seam of the building, the group could make out the motion of the frames head, motioning the group onward to leave the building.
   Across the seam, a dense black cloud cascaded across the floor and dripped into the gash of the building. The mysterious menace stepped from the cloud to confront Rheiser.
   Rheiser's head tilted. The tilt of his head almost seemed to come more from exhaustion rather than the perplexity of the arrival of the menace. "I see you are using your power to make more people break to your will."
   The menace didn't move. It remained motionless, prepared as the first line of defense between Rheiser and his rebellious creation.
   The group didn't remain to watch the feud between the menace and Rheiser unfold. Knowing that the G.I.E. had already arrived and had sent frames to aid in their recovery of the sought after anomaly, the group tried to make a hurried escape from the Everbridge division and to the aerospace hangar to try and commandeer a flight off of the campus.
   However, with the departure through an emergency exit of the Everbridge division, it was upon this higher vantage point that all of the campus could be seen. With campus grounds ignited in red emergency, the overhanging dome's refraction reflected a purple sky. A purple sky that was dotted with descending figures. For every square kilometer of campus grounds, two frames descended through punctures in the dome, descending from the massive armada of ships that lingered outside of the dome.
   An army of defending drones pushed back against the G.I.E.'s force, but the strategic control of grounds put INTAL at a disadvantage as the frames, one after another, cut down forces of drones and blockaded the dispatch silos.
   The brief and dramatic illuminations of each cut down drone reflected brightly off the entire crew as they stood atop the emergency exit looking across the field. This destruction and the brutality of the forces that had arrived whispered ominously through the crews' idea of an escape plan.
   And, if any doubt against those whispers lingered, it was quickly put to rest as the frames began to slowly establish a perimeter. As one force of INTAL defense after another was cut down, the G.I.E. assault moved in closer, creating an impenetrable wall between the crew and the INTAL defense. These walls lead the crew safely through the destruction that was ripping through the campus.
   Silje's eyes parted as her ears lowered. She looked towards Filth. "What happens now?"
   As another frame approached the Everbridge division, it motioned towards the crew to move on.
   Filth shook his head with a shrug.
   "We try." Lilli did her best to speak with confidence as she fidgeted with her blue hair streaked silver. The grey and damaged eye looked from Quil to Filth to Silje and finally it panned across the campus grounds.
   Through her playing with the clump of hair she held on too, she had successfully parted all of the blue strands from the silver strands. Once she was able to move her gaze from the scene of the battle, she focused her eyes on the strands of silver hair she held in her hand. Her grey eye danced across the frayed tips of each strand.
   Her eyes refocused back towards the group again. Filth remained stoic with arms crossed. Silje still showed signs of concern as her ears drooped lower. And, Quil still defeated, his eyes echoed hollow as his cowlicks hung low.
   "We have to try. Otherwise, there isn't a chance anyone will get to experience their dreams." She clutched the silver hair tightly.
   Filth shrugged. "I think it's safe to assume its checkmate. But," a wave of his hands as he turned to look at the perimeter of frames, "whatever you say, Miss Starlet."
   An odd somber respect was cast across the crew as they made their way from the emergency exit across INTAL campus. Not a single G.I.E. frame or soldier dared to raise a bit of aggression towards the group. Rather instead, they kept their backs turned towards Quil; they kept their eyes off Lilli. As the crew crossed further and further across the campus, with the dimming sounds of a successful battle from the G.I.E., the perimeter closed behind them. Leaving only the trail ahead, leading them through safe lines to the hangar that the G.I.E. wished for them to depart from.
   There at the aerospace facility was a dock for many of INTAL's own developed and manufactured ships. The G.I.E. only guided the crew as far as the entrance to the dock of the facility before saluting them and leaving them to their own devices.
   Perhaps a glimmer of hope could settle upon them that there was a chance to escape the grasp of the G.I.E. However, the guide to this facility only spoke of the confidence of the armada that had amassed simply to reclaim the starlet. It was apparent to Silje, as she seemed to have accepted that they had been played right into the plans of the G.I.E.
   Filth collapsed into the pilot's seat of a moderate sized personal craft as the remaining crew found their own place in the cabin of the craft.
   "Last chance," Filth kept his focus forward. "What do we do now?"
   Yet again, Lilli had clutched a small clump of her own hair in her hand. She began sorting each strand of hair apart from one another, gripping the blue strands in one hand while the other hand held firmly to the silver, frayed strands. Her grey eye focused intently onto Filth. She seemed unwavered by the presence of the G.I.E. The broken spokes of her grey eye didn't shimmer bright. Instead, it echoed her stoic demeanor. "We try." The words came with an equal certainty.
   Silje's eyes looked across Lilli's hand that held the silver strands tightly. Her grey eye showed no weakness in her choice, yet no happiness either. The weakness of Lilli was found in the other hand, the hand that fidgeted uncomfortably with the blue strands of hair. Her blue eye was bright and fathomless with uncertainty.
   Her hand's tight grip on the silver strands softened before ultimately releasing the strands, letting them sink back into the mess of streaked and frayed hair that came to rest flat and characterless. Lilli too sank back into the seat as her other hand continued to fidget with the strands of blue hair she had separated from the rest.
   Her blue eye looked deep into Quil as her eyebrows parted. "Rabbit," a soft whisper left her quivering lips.
   Quil's gaze focused on her blue eye.
   "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I am not the answer to your dreams."
   Quil shook his head. "I've only wanted to believe in you."
   Lilli looked from Filth back to Quil as she continued to fidget with the blue strands of hair. She curled them around her finger before letting them unravel so that she could repeat the process. Her hair was warm. It was much warmer than the air around her. In particular, it was warmer than that cold atmosphere that surrounded the crowd of ships just moments outside of the dock. Perhaps it was looking at that cold atmosphere the armada created that seemed to make the air around Lilli feel much colder. That shivering bitterness gripped at her, slowing her fingers as they fidgeted with her blue strands. The cold fought back against her toying with her hair. It didn't want her to touch those warm blue strands.
   Her eyes drifted across Quil. She found it difficult to meet his eyes.
   Her hand let go of the blue strands so that her soft hand could gently embrace Quil's hand. It didn't hold very tight. It simply remained softly woven between his fingers. "I'm scared." She whispered the words so that only Quil could hear them.
   Quil's cowlicks lowered empathetically. "The stage will be set for your debut." He matched her volume.
   She wanted to believe that was true. She looked across her hand that weaved into Quil's. It was a comforting warmth to help her embrace her purpose.