Chapter 25:

EPISODE 6: 00000000:--------


    "Communications open." Silje kept her eyes focused on the makeshift command bridge they had strung together with the help of the deceased Rommel's tablet.
   The tired eyes of Lorie appeared on the screen of the tablet.
   "Don't shoot!" Silje barked immediately upon connection of the communication with the Core-Two fleet.
   "Miss Yuritan?" Lorie raised an eyebrow in shock.
   "The G.I.E. has stood down. They are without command and captain. They are currently in a state of cease-fire. We have commandeered this ship to help one of our own."
   "You were the one who mentioned the Lotus was in danger from the G.I.E."
   "Yes sir." Silje nodded. "However, there was an unknown entity aboard the G.I.E. That agent is the one who put the G.I.E. into their current state of cease-fire, and currently is heading towards the Lotus."
   "If he is a threat, then we need to protect the Lotus."
   "You can't. There is no risk if you evacuated the Lotus per my request, right?"
   "There's risk in property damage is there not? This is not a matter of just people's lives, but also their own livelihood. One person is not worth -"
   "You can't. If you open fire on the agent and our ally, you will only kill the ally."
   Lorie leaned back with a cocked eyebrow. "And why might that be?"
   "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
   Quil pushed the controls forward, ignoring the temperature monitors of the heads-up display of the frame. The horizon filled with the massive glowing flower before him, racing through glistening trails of exhaust from the frame just ahead of him.
   A screen opened on the display of the console, showing the face of the sinister man inside the cockpit of the other frame. "And what do you plan to do? Do you not understand I am immortal?"
   The frame just ahead of Quil shifted it's weight, turning to face down Quil.
   Roule thrust an arm forward sending a small barrage of missiles seeking towards Quil's location.
   Through the turbulent explosions and debris of paneling expelled from Quil's frame, he cut through the twinkling orbs of explosions from Roule's assault. Quil pushed through the oncoming assault, only drawing closer toward the grand set of the stage as each colossal giant descended upon the glowing flower.
   Quil swatted away the next barrage from Roule as he closed in, giving him the chance to take a tight grip around the leg of the opposing frame.
   He attempted to clamber up the frame, against the ever-accelerating force of their great fall towards those glowing petals below.
   "The humor in your pitiless attempt is that you, yourself know you can't use lethal force lest you risk killing the reason of your campaign. I, however -" A gun snapped into the hand of his frame, aiming it direct to the head of Quil's frame. The blasted of the weapon rocketed Quil into the deep of space, leaving behind little but a trail of metal shrapnel.
   Roule slowed his descent as he let the silence overtake him. Nothing could be seen but the black curtain of space and the glowing spotlight of the flower below.
   Roule shifted back towards his destination, preparing to launch. However, he was swiftly rattled by a massive weight that shoved him and his frame faster and faster towards the petals of the flower.
   Quil's determination and rage boiled into the heat of his thrusters. A magnificent sparkle of flames and exhaust lit blazing trails through the curtain as he pushed. He pushed with ferocity. He pushed with anger. He propelled Roule into his descent.
   Each second, another handful of kilometers were cleared. Soon, only a few petals could be seen in Quil's field of vision, and moments past that only a single petal could be seen before finally details of the streets and buildings could be made out against the golden haze.
   "The hubris of your actions will reap its consequences, boy." Roule spoke as he did his best to shake loose Quil's tight-gripped descent.
   Roule pushed his own thrusters, attempting to slow the terminal drop into the petal.
   The ground welcomed them with a shake and a shudder. Roule made impact first, sending metal shrapnel across the field. Quil was shook loose from the impact, using the momentum to send him cascading in spiraling bounces across the field until finally the energy was released.
   Lilli opened her damaged eyes. From the pilot chair that cramped her into the tiny cargo space to the display at the front of the small cockpit, there she could see the various warnings of damaged components of whatever craft she was inside.
   She was too exhausted - too tired - to want to fight back. She didn't want to get up. She couldn't.
   Through the fatigued creaks and cries of metal, Roule's frame stood up to face Quil.
   "Is this not what you want?" Roule spoke to Quil.
   Quil lifted his own frame to its feet. He looked at this place. It was a familiar place to him. This was his home. The augmentation lingered. The synthetic world still thrived, just as it had before he had started his star-faring journey.
   Roule spoke again. "You - just like every other privileged being - want to see your dreams reached, right? Is this not what you want, boy?"
   Quil shook his head. "Not like this. We all need to climb higher to reach our dreams."
   Roule laughed. "Isn't it the childish notion of a universe of everything for the price of nothing? You and every other person will see their meaningless dreams met. Meanwhile, I will finally be able to rest and end this curse."
   Quil's cowlicks lowered as he shook his head again. "Not like this," he repeated slowly. "There is adversity to conquer to reach higher and achieve our dreams. We can't just have them given to us."
   "And how high is it that we need to climb? Do you know?" Roule retorted, crossing his arms.
   Quil's eyes drifted lower.
   "Does anyone ever know how high it is we have to climb? When do we stop?"
   Quil shook his head. "We climb until we reach our dreams."
   "And when is that? When can we say we truly reached our dreams? We grasp new heights so we can reach higher heights. So, what of those who climb high but don't reach their dream? Do you know?"
   Quil's eyes glanced across the screen. His cowlicks remained low.
   "They fall. And it's quite the awful tumble back down to that bottom below. How many do you think actually survive that fall?"
   "Then you get up and try again." Quil defended.
   "You think it's that simple, Boy? When you face a world of adversity, and you fight with every breath to reach as high as you can, only to slip and fall; how many breaths do you have left to make the same climb again just to reach some vapid and pointless dream?"
   "Dreams are how we define ourselves," Quil's eyebrows sharpened. "We fight for them because they are who we are."
   "So you believe the losses we face from those who lose their way to their dream are worth it? You want this universe to remain as it is?"
   Quil drew the massive blade of his frame. "For Lilli's sake, yes. She will realize her dream."
   "Petulant little boy." Roule smiled, drawing the blade of his own frame.
   They clashed in screeching shivers of clanging metal. Roule's own prowess and understanding of his weapon showed through as Quil stumbled between each swipe of the blade. Each defensive maneuver rocked him backwards and closer to the ground.
   From behind Roule's chair, Lilli kept weak and tired eyes on the external view. She watched Quil's struggle with each near-successful block of Roule's onslaught.
   Each blow Roule threw pushed Quil back further and further. Even through her tired eyes, Lilli could see Quil's forthcoming defeat.
   Quil held his blade forward in an attempt to block a powerful strike, only managing to have his blade severed, sending a cloud of shattered metal collapsing to the ground below. He managed to roll out of the way of the strike, allowing him time to recover before Roule's next attack.
   Even unarmed, Quil still fought. He watched Roule's attacks, trying to find some sort of pattern. Opportunity opened, giving him a chance to throw a retaliatory punch right into the chest of the Roule's frame in a grand crunch of sparks and metallic debris. Roule staggered for just a moment long enough for another right hook across the cockpit, ripping the cover from the hinges with a flurry of blue arcs from severed wires.
   There, the open air of the artificial flower touched Lilli gently. The thick clouds and dancing sparkles were whisked away by the drafts of the flowing golden haze of the flower. Through all of it Lilli saw Quil and Quil saw her. Her eyes now only looked upon Quil in a dull grey. There was no deep innocent ocean of blue within her eyes, only cracked and damaged spokes of black and grey wrapped the irises of both her eyes.
   Quil reached with his frame to pluck Lilli from Roule's cockpit. A deafening blast knocked Quil away. The cloud of shattered metal debris cleared to reveal the firearm gripped tight by Roule.
   Lilli shielded herself from the cascade of metal shards.
   As she lowered her arms, her eyes changed focus to Roule. She looked across his person, looking at every cold tool he equipped himself with.
   Quil didn't stop. Even as his frame warned him of the severe damage it had sustained, he kept pushing it. He channeled his anger into the thrusters of his frame once more, letting forth a burst of exhaust that sent him colliding into Roule's frame, sending Lilli - amongst the rest of the debris shaken from the attack - falling from the cockpit to the ground below.
   Quil remained unrelenting. He swatted at Roule's frame, pushing it back further from where Lilli had collapsed onto the stage of the grand act.
   Yet there on that stage, Lilli found she could not rest her tired eyes. Each step the frames took sent awakening trembles through her.
   She watched as the two fighting giants collided in rumbling collisions. They both stumbled and shook under the attacks of each other as they departed the field Lilli lied upon. There in that field was the debris and shrapnel left behind by their clash.
   Resting upon this field - this stage - were objects that had fallen from Roule and objects that had broken from Quil's frame. She looked across the stage at this audience; an audience made simply of just finely trimmed grass. The boom and rumble of the distant act continued ever on. Yet here, silence took this stage.
   There, resting in the audience, an oddity. To Lilli's eyes she saw a blossoming white flower, fallen from its stem. How peculiar. This audience seemed to offer it to her.
   She crawled to it, lifting the rather cold and heavy flower from the hands of her audience. Her breath trembled. Her tired eyes needed a rest. She made peace with the audience's offering, hugging it as she closed her grey eyes.
   Her tendrils snaked around her legs, helping her through the intense pain to stand upright. She kept her grip tight on the cold white flower as she looked towards the sky, letting the glowing reflections of above overtake her re-opened eyes. At the furthest reaches of the sky twinkled bright lights.
   The augmentation licked and lapped the air around her in gentle gold ribbons and prismatic sprays of gentle glowing particles. The augmentation had come a great distance across this flower just to greet Lilli, making a great descent from the twinkling stars above all the way to this lonely stage.
   A gentle, somber breeze blew across the stage. The hands of the gentle draft plucked at the tails of Lilli's ribbon, pulling its loose hug around Lilli away. The ribbon drifted to the empty floor of the stage.
   That's right. This audience isn't real. Just illusions. Just like the idea of this stage that she stood on. All of this was fake.
   She watched the distant act, now more distant than before.
   She watched at the spray of glistening exhaust spewed forth from Roule's frame to make a powerful and decisive collision with Quil. She watched as the now severed leg of Quil's frame sent him collapsing to the ground. She watched as Quil's frame attempted to spare it's pilot as it ejected the cover of the cockpit. She watched as Roule raised his blade high above Quil.
   Every millisecond, every inch, every split fiber; Quil felt his skin separate as it gave way for each severed pound of muscle, and the sharp weight that split through the bone. With the splash of red, the blade separated Quil's right arm from his shoulder.
   Even from the great distance Lilli stood from the fight, she could hear Quil's pain. She wanted to run to where the fight was. She wanted to end it, but she could barely make small steps forward through the pain of her knees. She cried out to them; hoping through her beckoning that Quil's agony would finally end.
   Roule paused for a minute. Barely audible through the crushing metal of Roule's assault came a ringing.
   "INCOMING TRANSMISSION FROM [Zveihand] COMMAND." The small communication speaker of Roule's frame alerted him.
   The voice of a confident girl broke the air. "Hey dickhead!"
   Roule cocked an eyebrow, baffled by the short transmission. However, the growing distant rumble opened his eyes to the realization of the incoming monument.
   "Oh." He let out the single monotone breath just before the massive capitol ship collided full force into Roule, sending a grand firework display of flying metal sparks and shrapnel. Whatever remained of Roule's frame bounced across the field. It skirted across drainage pools. It grinded through the distant skyline until finally all inertia was released with its collision into only the largest of the distant abandoned buildings. And then it was over.
   That silence did settle in. Just as Lilli wanted. The field she had stood on had turned into a glass landscape of golden wisps and bubbles. It seemed everything was being pulled into her - except Quil.
   Nothing came from his frame, not a sound. Not even a weakened attempt at rebellion against his crippled state.
   Lilli took pained, tiny steps across the glassed field - each agonizing step aided by her appendages. Minute after minute ticked by with each tiny step she took, and each passing minute the silence remained.
   Exhausted, she dropped against the side of Quil's downed frame. The golden wisps had become large grasping ribbons that flowed like gentle streamers. They flowed from the surrounding golden plains and the collapsed metal giant to her as she took in deep, pained breaths.
   She pulled herself up the torso of the metal giant to the open cockpit, peering over it across the glistening fields. She watched as a small landing craft gently set down with a hiss only a short distance from the frame.
   The hatch to the craft opened, revealing familiar faces to Lilli. Two of the three figures remained behind, inside the safety of the ship. Only one figure, a tall man, stepped forward with choppy and quick strides.
   Lilli dropped her head to look at that white flower in her hand. She kept her grip tight around the cold stem of it. Behind the white petals was a smear of red. The thick red liquid splashed against the interior of the desecrated cockpit, and there in the center of all of it was Quil - still holding to a thin thread of life as he released quick and inconsistent breaths.
   Lilli's gaze did not shift until the approach of the tall man came. He lifted himself to the cockpit. His red eyes first peered towards the boy inside the cockpit. Without hesitation, he leaned over, reaching in to pull the kid from the pilot seat. Before stepping down from the frame, he paused as he looked towards the cold white flower in Lilli's hand.
   He shifted his gaze from that flower to Lilli. Her broken eyes no longer showed an innocence. Her hair was ragged and frayed with strands of silver sewn through rusted, broken strands and blue.
   Lilli looked back towards the man, swallowing the thick knot in her throat. Her eyes drifted to Quil who was held tight in the man's arms. Her cracked eyes dimmed and lowered as she found she could no longer look towards Quil, nor could she look towards the familiar face of the tall man.
   He turned his back and left. Departing in shallow steps back towards the craft he arrived in.
   Lilli turned away as well. She attempted to take careful steps down the side of the metal giant, but through the agony of her broken joints, she collapsed, falling to the ground.
   She looked at the cold white flower. She still held it tight in her hand. She lifted herself with the pain, until she stood upright again. She peered around the corpse of the metal giant, looking back at the craft. No one aboard the craft had looked back. She was alone. She was alone with the cold white flower.
   A certainty had arrived to her. It was a certainty she had never felt before, nor was it a certainty she had ever thought she would even understand. A confidence that frightened her. A confidence that shook her. A confidence she didn't want to have. It was something she never wanted to feel. But now, more than ever the certainty was there, and the anxiety plunged into her heart. Bitterness. Cold. This wasn't frightening anymore. The fear was not the fear of the end, but rather a fear of realization that this certainty existed within her.
   That masquerade could no longer protect her as she looked back at the cold white flower. No lie could deceive this confidence. No delusion could shake this certainty. There was no cold white flower, but instead a cold piece of steel.
   As much as she wanted to hold it back, she released a beckoning whimper through the tremors of fear. She gave one final look back at the craft.
   Quil wearily opened his eyes as he looked behind the tall man who carried him away. A gentle figure stood so far away from him. A gentle dream that resided so far away from him. He looked with weary eyes at the distant idol. He watched as the idol fixated her eyes one last time on Quil. He watched as she raised the weapon to her head.
   "Good-bye," a broken whisper left her mouth, "Quil."
   And then silence.
   His eyes opened wide. No pain. No blood loss held him back. He cried out towards her. He fought back against the tall man who held him against his struggle. He begged the tall man to let him go. He knew he could save her. It wasn't the end. He needed to go to her. It wasn't the end. He knew she could be saved. It wasn't the end. He was going to save her. He needed to go to her. He slammed his fist against the closing door of the craft. He screamed, he cursed at the closing door of the craft. But the door sealed. He couldn't save her.
   She was gone. The craft left the glistening stage behind. A stage that still glowed ever-on, yet blemished by the smear of red.
   The stage grew brighter and brighter. Ribbons clutched the flower. Golden threads weaved through the flower. And finally an ever-bright explosion of gold ripped apart the flower in a glowing seam that scarred the black curtains of space.
   The young girl's eyes sank away from the window that viewed her destroyed home. She looked for hope and comfort in something familiar; but her schoolyard friend struggled against the aid with embittered rage.
   She dropped to her knees as she tucked her head away from everything. What purpose do dreams serve?