Chapter 2:

The Young Ceres

[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera

The riot was to start on schedule Tuesday, 1600hrs at Saintess' Square in the industrial district of Zone 5. No public announcements were made, nor were any newspapers or media organizations covering the riot.

No reporters or helicopters dashed to the scene to cover the supposedly 'news-worthy' event. Not a single crewmember that floated on their tradeships through the designated trade routes in the Strathon System bothered about a simple 'riot' on the border planet of Athen.

A double-decker looptrain sped through an underground tunnel, hanging from the tracks upside down, attached only by the magnetic force of attraction, moving frictionlessly. It exited the tunnel, showing a huge underground cavern about 20 kilometers high that boasted rows upon rows of skyscraper buildings with scores of hovercars speeding past the buildings on the airways.

Large pillars of bedrock held up the ceiling, which were also dotted with buildings and lights, filled with signs of people and large events. The looptrain blasted an announcement to its passengers who were hurriedly waiting for the next stop, as though waiting faster would have made their trip quicker.

A holographic map with highlighted routes and blinking lights appeared in the middle of the cabins, floating over everyone’s head.

"The next stop is Athen's Heel, with connecting train lines being Route 4 and Route 7. Temperature range underground: approximately 25-30 degrees. Aboveground: 34-42 degrees. The rate of train failure on these two routes overall in the past year per month for the mentioned routes is 7.45% and 8.92% respectively. Please refer to your handheld devices for further information and avoid contested riot zones. Creastlia Lines would like to remind you that any rates mentioned that are above 5% will not be liable for insurance claims nor renumeration for any reason. Thank you for travelling with Creastlia Lines. "

Amongst the passengers who clearly ignored the announcements, a young teenager carrying a large bulky grey backpack was playing a vicious game of Glucose Rush on his multi-purpose terminal, which was extremely popular among the kids due to the lack of an in-game shop and any possible forms of pay-to-win.

A good majority of the people on the looptrain looked on in disgust as the young teenager desperately tapped his ‘multi’ while his elbows were flailing. He did his best not to hit anyone, but his exaggerated actions already caused a few people to try to avoid him.

“Look at that dirty kid, this is why I told Chris not to migrate to the outer zones,” an old posh lady whispered to her friend. “It’s already unbearably hot and you have to deal with their kind!”

“Indeed, I can’t imagine having to take a mandatory jab to survive the surface and still have to mingle with them outers.” Her friend nodded vehemently in agreement.

No one around the two old ladies even had a thought of standing up for the young teenager: because they all felt the same way!

His shabby clothing that did not match the rest of the people on the train only made him stand out even more.

People were whispering about him in hushed tones, some even talking louder in the hopes that the young teenager would hear it.

Of course, the only thing he cared about was his absolute time out in a Glucose Rush stage. Ceres let out an exasperated sigh as though his entire reality had collapsed when he failed the latest stage!

He had been trying to push the leader boards of the game, being able to go no further than position seven. The top position of the “God-Hand” continued to elude him. Swiping back to the home screen of his multi-terminal, he realized that he was about to be more than 10 minutes late! “This game fucking sucks.”

Ceres stuffed the suffocating blackhole of addiction into his pocket and prepared to sprint out of the carriage ahead of all the other passengers. Squeezing his 1.7 meters body to the front through the dense crowd, he looked like a skinny school teenager forcing his face against the looptrain’s passenger doors from the inside.

Naturally the rest of the train tried to avoid him, but there was barely any space left in the looptrain to do so! One girl even took a whiff of his auburn hair and almost gagged. “What kind of trash yard did this kid go through?! Has he even bathed?”

Ceres was oblivious to this, only focused on the time shown on the top of the loop train doors. “Come on, come on, I’m going to be late!”

The looptrain’s tracks snaked down a pillar of the underground cavern, bringing it closer and closer to the ground. The tracks finally reached the base of the pillar, entering yet another mini cavern that was the train station.

As the looptrain reached the station of Athen’s Heel, a flood of humans burst through the door the moment it slightly opened as though they were frenzied zombies, thankful to finally get away with Ceres.

To their surprise, Ceres was leading the charge! Other passengers coming in from route 4 and route 7 boarded the double-decker looptrain through the upper level, preventing any major conflicts that usually arose with other smaller looptrains.

Dashing and weaving through the crowd of citizens scrambling to their destinations, tourists from the neighbouring star nations gaping at the ceiling and local city enforcers who looked more like local gangsters asking for trouble, the seemingly inconspicuous Ceres made his way to exit E, from which he calculated that he would have roughly 5 minutes to reach before ‘it’ started.

The train station was carved into the base of the underground pillar, forming a spacious large cavern of black rock with the ceiling illuminated by extremely bright spotlights casted upwards mounted along the walls.

The floor was covered with worried travellers who could not read the convoluted loop maps of the city, bustling shops who sold chemically modified fried critters and big convoluted advertising stands, promoting the latest trends in mechanical pets and cyber fashion.

Enforcers decked in exosuits that formed their military combat armour patrolled the station, their visor forming a glowing blue ‘T’ while they each hefted a large kinetic rifle, scanning for any suspicious activities.

Large holograms hovered in mid-air above the crowds, showing the latest news and activities across the entire empire or the newest model of hovercars to be approved for planetary usage.

“Hey outer kid! Stop running! Where’s your ID?” A burly enforcer grabbed onto to Ceres, but almost instantly regretted it as there was a small layer of sweat on Ceres’s shirt.

“Come on man, I’m already late! Did you just stop me because I’m an outer?” Ceres grumbled, but he quickly flashed his ID.

The enforcer took out his own multi to scan the ID, checking. He compared the amber eyes and auburn hair of Ceres on the multi’s screen with the scanned data.

“Ceres… Zone 17 Military Orphanage… What the hell are you doing in Zone 5?” The enforcer looked up, but Ceres was already long gone.

Past Exit E, where Ceres was currently sprinting through, no sunlight appeared or seeped through as the entire zone was underground, instead being an extremely large cavern that felt like a massive jar.

The streets were filled to the brim of pedestrians and peddlers selling their wares. The roar of the looptrains on the tracks that circled up the pillar echoed throughout the cavern, creating an audible rumbling sound that was characteristic of Zone 5.

Signs and advertisements led to a different commercial district, filled with pubs and other saucier ventures. This was only just one of the 36 zones that the city boasted, which was called New Saint!

Ceres considered the place to be a technological marvel when he first arrived in the inner zones of New Saint three years ago. Zone 17 was the only area he knew for the majority of his life here in New Saint, which was considered an outer zone on the surface, surviving under the blistering heat and radiation from the local star.

To survive, almost all the outers had to receive a mandatory gene serum to boost their resistance to the elements on the surface. As such, all their skin had increased production of melanin, causing Ceres to be slightly brown just like the other outers. This made outers easy to spot as they were a stark contrast to the fair-skinned inners.

The inner zones had it way better underground, able to enjoy comfortable air along with natural protection.

It is to this effect that New Saint had a weird shape on the surface, formed like an irregular donut when viewed from above.

The center had no urban infrastructure on the surface apart from the landing pads and launch pads where dozens of tradeships continuously ferried goods and people from the spaceport. while the outer ring was filled with shanty towns, agricultural greenhouses making use of the starlight and trash yards characteristic of the outer zones.

Each zone had a speciality, such as agriculture, medical services and so on. Some zones had similar specialities to prevent single point of failure for New Saint. In Zone 5, it was a major manufacturing hub first and foremost, with the industrial district being the largest!

Checking his scavenged vintage watch which told the time, 1555hrs, Ceres forced his thighs and ran faster while his backpack jerked forcefully in the opposite direction, heading away from the commercial district. He was heading towards the industrial district!

Many inners who he passed by glared at him, but Ceres had long gotten used to the blatant discrimination.

After a gruesome 5 minutes of 'exercise', Ceres finally reached his jobsite. A crimson factory that seems to take up most of the industrial district of the spacious cavern that was Zone 5 loomed in front of him.

The industrial district here was the lifeblood of the Zone, providing crucial jobs and processing of raw materials mined from below and around the city. The crimson factory wasn’t the only factory present, but it was the largest, standing at twenty stories high with three large chimneys that pumped out smoke continuously.

At the top of the underground cavern that encompassed the entire Zone, ventilation tunnels were installed, allowing the smoke to reach the surface of the planet but not before any useful leftover gaseous waste was condensed and recycled by the city itself.

The border planet of Athen was meant for mining resources for the glorious Loeric Empire, but as with any colony, as the population grew, demands and living standards increased, creating jobs and other industries past the original intention.

A steady flow of new colonists has been coming to Athen in search of a new life, and Ceres could be said to be one of them, though unwillingly. It wasn’t his choice to be an orphan in an outer zone.

Despite the amazing sights and technological feats shown in the engineering of the city, the planet on a whole was still considered a backwater planet, one that was at the very fringes of human space, terribly behind in terms of technological advancement!

For one, the terraforming of the planet was not yet complete, and wildlife still ran rampant in parts of the planet. One had to literally fight to survive, both in the wilderness and in the man-made concrete jungle.

New Saint wasn’t the only city on the planet, but it was by far the largest. The colonization of Athen was facilitated by a consortium that managed the disputes between the millions of different interests’ group. The planet was a big land plot after all, and money was the biggest driver of the colonization.

Everyone in New Saint needed money to climb the social ladder, and Ceres was no different. However, due to his status as an outer and especially one who had not graduated from the Military Orphanage yet, it was extremely hard to find most jobs that would be willing to accept him.

“Why would I hire an outer kid when this brand-new autonomous drone can do your job ten times faster? Get lost! Come back when you passed graduation!” That was the usual statement Ceres had heard, especially when he tried working at the agriculture sector. There were even a few times he got chased out physically by inners.

He could not even apply to be a cleaner in the inner zones, which paid way more than whatever he earned in the outer zones. Hence, he stood out like a sore thumb whenever he came to the inner zones, though there were plenty of lucky outers who managed to work in the inner zones.

It was a stroke of good luck that enabled him to find his current ‘job’ and Ceres was in no way going to jeopardize this by being late!

Behind the factory, sounds of violence, dissent and mostly the clean cracks of broken bones echoed through the dense alleys of buildings. It sounded as though the factory was being assaulted from the backdoor, and Ceres was about to join the defence!

Ceres dashed to the closest alley from which the sounds could be heard just right around the corner, originating from an area about the size of half a football field, in which tens of bloodied participants sturdily holding on to tools and donning mining exosuits were fighting the opposition which had exactly the same tools and exosuits.

Rusted parts and partially burnt slag that used to be essential components for exosuits were scattered around the periphery of the zone, while Ceres looked on with an excited glint in his eye, but he did not step out just yet.

Standing in the middle and slightly towards the edge of the area, a man draped in an untied scarf of orange-white stripes was watching the battle as though he was watching a fern grow on a tree.

He generally spent more time looking at his multi or staring blanky into the sky, obviously not performing whatever his job was.

Without entering the area around the corner, Ceres put down his backpack and squeezed the hidden buttons within the arm straps of the backpack. Within seconds, the backpack had expanded outwards into three separate panels, constituting what equalled an extremely basic maintenance workshop.

The backpack panels were punctured with holes, allowing tools and drill bits to hang from the backpack panels, which had extended like a mechanical wing on both sides with the backpack securely placed down on the floor.

Containers were deployed on the ground in a folded-out fashion, holding components for various equipment and devices. An inbuilt 3D printer whirred up as well, ready to fabricate more components on the fly using raw material that Ceres himself has been carrying along in the backpack.

“Okay, aluminium, titanium, check. Solder, check. Portable arc welder, check. Wait, where’s the filament for the printer?!”

He rummaged through the various containers, tossing to the side a few junk parts that he brought along just in case, eventually finding it at the bottom. “Well shit, I did not label it.” Ceres gazed at the unknown metal filament with a pause, before simply opening the back of the 3D printer and chucking it in.

“Well, does it matter? They won’t know any better anyway!”

Ceres then took out his multi, sticking it into an interface that jutted out in the middle of the backpack, releasing a hologram that fit perfectly above the three exposed 'maintenance backpack' panels, reading: “Riot Repair by Ceres!”

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