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Prologue


All Timothy Lang could do was watch as the machine lowered the coffin into the ground. He wanted to close his eyes. The priest's memorized speech fell on deaf ears.

As the coffin touched the bottom of the grave, Timothy began to feel raw all over again. Every time the tossed dirt struck it, he called upon more and more of his strength to keep him stable.

There was no one to help him. Most of the attendees were aunts, uncles, cousins, and distant relatives; his parents had died a short while ago.

He looked at the tombstone, a glossy thing with fancy letters, and gritted his teeth in disgust. The letters read:

Here lies

Conan Kosti

A merry spirit dwells in heaven

Merry, he sneered. How can you be happy dying when you've barely begun to live?

Even if Conan was happy where he was now, Timothy was definitely not. As selfish as it may have seemed, he could barely endure that his old friend was no longer with him. Worse still, most of the gloomy faces surrounding him were all for show. It was safe to assume that more than half of them hardly knew who Conan was. A lump built up in his throat, and he turned and walked away from the funeral.

In the distance, he heard a woman say:

"But why would anyone want to kill little Conan?"

Timothy remembered that Conan abhorred funerals. And he himself could care less about the burial. His friend was already dead and long gone, and there was only a mere body left to be buried inside of a sad, little casket.

"Just another excuse for a family reunion, hypocrisy, and free food," Conan had said snidely. "At least, when my turn comes around, I won't have to go!"

And yet… it seemed as if the last remnant of him was disappearing forever, and Timothy was powerless to save him. As powerless as when Conan was still alive.

It was such a pointless and frustrating affair.

He stood a good distance from the burial. With his hands in his coat pockets, he looked up at the glowing dome that covered the entire city of Quiterie. Nothing but a glaring, white sky. Tonight, like every night, it would become pitch black. Timothy had grown up with this constant firmament and thought nothing of it, but for the past few days, now, and from then on, it made him cold.

Timothy dropped his head and uttered a curse at the ground.

00000

Timothy entered Conan's apartment unannounced and shut the door quietly. All of the lights were off, and the apartment was quiet. He ventured further in and nearly tripped over something that was sitting near the door. He reached down to touch the object, and it felt like it had a leather surface.

The computerized system of the apartment recognized his presence, and the light turned on in the hallway. Timothy saw that the object was a large, good-quality suitcase. His breath hitched, and his eyes narrowed dangerously.

He stormed through the hallway in a swelling mixture of worry, confusion, exasperation, and a large douse of righteous fury. A part of him hoped that Conan wasn't there to face it. To his further bewilderment, Timothy realized that the doormat was missing. Not only that, all of the paintings and figurines had been taken off the walls. The hall table was gone too.

Timothy took a turn and went into the living room. To his lack of surprise, the room had also been stripped bare. Though, he hadn't expected the curtains to be missing.

But smack dab in the middle of the living room, there was a small, black table. A bottle of liquor and a pair of shot glasses were sitting on top of it.

"I knew you'd come," a voice declared.

Conan was right behind him. Timothy stiffened and didn't turn to meet his face.

"Have a drink with me?" Conan asked.

"I don't care for any," he answered coldly.

Timothy heard a long sigh, and Conan sauntered past him. His strides were relaxed, and his head swayed from side to side. He sat down at the table, carefully picked up the bottle, and poured a glass for himself.

"So," Conan chirped, setting the pot down, "are you here to try and talk me out of leaving again?"

"Why bother?" Timothy snapped. "It's clear to me that there's no use telling you anything!"

Conan tilted his head back and took a small sip; the liquor was strong. He stared at Timothy head on with a pair of charmingly mismatched eyes; one eye was blue and the other sea green. His expression was strangely indifferent.

"What took you so long to figure that out?" he replied dryly. "Are you sure you don't want any?"

"Going outside of the domes is insanity!" Timothy warned. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

Conan didn't reply. Instead, he was looking out the naked window. He lifted the glass up to his mouth and let it linger against his lips.

"What a disgusting view," he muttered.

Timothy's temper flared higher at the thought of being ignored. He marched towards his brother and knelt down in front him, effectively blocking "the view". Conan looked up over his shot glass and raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"You already have a great life here," Timothy claimed. "You have a job that pays well. You've never been sick a day in your life. Everyone respects you. And most people could only hope to get an apartment half this size. There's no reason to give that all up to go out and live in the wilds!"

"There isn't?" Conan questioned.

"What could possibly be out there that's better than what's here?"

Conan put the cup down and folded his hands against his leg. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nostrils.

"Freedom, Tim," Conan answered firmly. "It has freedom."

Timothy became at a loss for words and sat down. Conan turned his head and cocked it to the side, apparently in deep thought. A short pause ensued. The liquor began to look inviting, so Timothy finally relented and poured some into the second cup.

"You don't think we have freedom?" he asked in disbelief.

"You do?" Conan replied.

"Well, of course!"

"Freedom in what respect?"

Timothy opened his mouth to answer immediately, but words failed him again. Conan made eye contact with him again, this time with a serious mien on his fey face.

"You see?" Conan said. "If you actually stop to think about it… something most people don't do… you don't have very much leeway... if you have any at all. You, I, our parents, and even my grandfather before us have lived within the same system. They put a cameo on your ear from the day you're born. It carries your authenticity of citizenship in the city you live in. It records your financial limit, your living space, and your occupation… which they decide for your … and a mapping of your DNA chain so they can monitor your health and even tell you what you can and cannot eat. You can't buy, sell, or let alone, live in the domes without one. And the government is always watching you. "

"What's the problem with that?" Timothy argued. "It's a system that works and keeps the peace. Not only that, we're safe, there's very little crime…"

"And we have no privacy whatsoever. Doesn't it bother you that the government is telling you how to live your life? What kind of house you should live in… or if you get to live in a house at all? Where you can shop, and what you can buy? Whether you get to live near your family or not?"

Timothy shook his head and held his glass without taking a drink. "They have to make sure that there's enough living space for everyone, and we always have to be careful about sickness and disease. Besides, before the domes even started to crop up, how many people do you think could be what they wanted to be when they grew up?"

Conan scoffed and had another sip. "Well, thanks to the Cameo-Dome system… no one will ever get that chance."

"Conan…"

A glass was slammed against the table, and Timothy winced. Conan pursed his lips together and beat his fist against his knee. Timothy saw a strange, unfamiliar band that was around Conan's ring finger.

"I've already requested permission to leave the domes," Conan admitted. "And the city bureau has accepted it. My lease on this apartment is terminated. I handed in my two-weeks notice… two weeks ago… to that newspaper agency I worked at. I've given away the majority of my belongings to my colleagues and my neighbors, and some of that, I've sent to you in the mail."

Timothy became as pale as death warmed over, and his jaw dropped. "I can't believe what I'm hearing…"

"And on top of that," Conan continued, "I'm set to get on a boat that's leaving Quiterie at midnight… with about thirty other people. Did you know that almost two hundred people, on average, leave the domes annually? No one notices because the population grows by millions every year..."

"Tonight?"

"No… at midnight. Which is a few hours away. A car should be coming to pick me up in about…"

Conan raised his arm and glanced at his watch. "Ninety-two minutes. So, as you can see… no matter what you say… whether I regret it or not (which I don't)… I can't stop now! And even if I could, it's not in my best interest to stay in the domes. That's the only choice I can't make for myself anymore. It's just…"

Timothy put the glass to his lips, with his hand shaking, and drank. The resulting jolt wasn't gratifying in the least.

"You have anything stronger?" he asked.

"I also sent all of my spirits to you in the mail," Conan informed him. "Sorry."

"And where are you going from here? With no money? No home? No plan? No…"

"I'm going to Sandeep. And I have a contact there. I even shipped some of my belongings to him."

Timothy stopped trembling and almost dropped his cup in surprise. Contact? Conan was in contact with someone outside of the domes?

"Come on!" Conan said indignantly. "Have you ever seen me go about anything half-cocked?"

"That's… that's impossible!" Timothy stammered. "There's no way to communicate with anyone from the outside."

"Nevertheless, I have. Actually… he was the one who got in contact with me, but that doesn't matter."

Conan ran his fingers through his black hair and sighed again. He got up from the floor and meandered towards the window, rubbing his head anxiously. His eyes were downcast. Timothy knew that habit very well. Something wasn't right.

"No," Conan said. "It's best I tell you the truth. I won't be making it to the boat at midnight. No, I already know that."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Timothy asked.

"Just a feeling."

Conan crossed his arms and looked several stories down at the city streets. He nodded to himself, as if he were making a decision. "If I had my way, I'd want you to follow me to Sandeep."

Timothy shook. "You know I can't do that. My job prohibits me ever leaving the domes. If I did that, I'd have to…"

"Defect?" Conan finished.

"Yes."

Conan turned and stared at him behind his shoulder. He revealed, hesitantly, "The truth is… I'm leaving... because there's something important I need to do. Tim, I…"

Conan hid his face again and his shoulders slumped.

"What's wrong?" Timothy asked in concern.

Conan banged his head against the window, and Timothy became quiet.

"If I told you something that I knew," Conan said, "and it was big enough… would you defect and go after me? No questions asked?"

"W-what?" Timothy replied, his voice choking. He slowly got to his feet.

"So, would you?" Conan wheeled around and waited for his answer.

"I don't know," Timothy replied, his curiosity peaked. "But I'm interested… if you think it's that important…"

Conan smiled weakly and there seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He took a few steps forward, away from the window, and Timothy started to relax a little.

"It's that Larkin Tower," Conan said. "You know about it right?"

"I work for the Foundation, don't I?" Timothy asked. "Do you think something's wrong with it."

"It's… the people behind the project… there's a program that they're trying to develop alongside of it. They…"

Suddenly, a loud, terrible noise cracked through the air. In a whirlwind, glass shattered everywhere, Conan plummeted to the floor, and the glass fell out Timothy's hands.

Timothy rushed to his friend's side. The window now had a large whole in the glass. There was a bullet wound in Conan's back, and a pool of blood was forming under him.

He checked Conan's pulse on his neck, and it was growing rapidly feeble.

Conan groaned and stirred slightly. "Tim?"

"Don't talk," Timothy instructed. "Don't worry. I'll get help."

But Conan shook his head.

"I'm… not frightened," he said, struggling to get out the words. "He said… that everything… that everything would… be alright. But still… It doesn't feel good."

Conan mustered up the last of his strength and rolled onto his side. His eyes seemed to be staring at something invisible. He reached out his hand.

"I knew I wasn't going to make that boat," he said. "I've always been right, haven't I?"

Timothy grabbed his hand as it began to fall. "I said don't talk!"

"Grandpa," Conan whispered. "You never wanted to create it, did you? Not for people like them."

A strange shudder went through him. His eyelids closed, and every fiber of his body went limp.

"Ah no…" Timothy said breathlessly. "Oh God, help me. Oh God … please help me!"

Conan was dead.

00000

Timothy looked back again and saw that the crowd was beginning to disperse. Apparently, it was time for the after-gathering. If Conan wouldn't go, then neither would he. He started walking again, heading towards the parking lot. His car was on the far end.

You really did find something, Timothy thought. I guess that's more than enough reason to defect.

Timothy approached his car and opened it with his keys. The door popped open, and he was immediately confronted by his cell-phone.

"You have one text message," it flashed on the screen. "You have one text message."

He frowned, watching it blink for a moment, and climbed into the front seat. Who on earth would call him on such a day was beyond him. And he had already been granted mourner's leave. Then again, his superiors weren't always very sensitive or understanding.

Nor did they consistently keep their word.

Timothy pressed the screen with his finger, and the message loaded. In less than a few seconds, the text appeared on the screen.

And Timothy froze.

The text had been sent only a few minutes ago. The sender was unknown. To his astonishment, the message included a random picture of Conan, standing on the street of a city he had never seen before. Conan was dressed more casually than usual and playfully flashed a victory sign. Under the picture, there was a short note:

I was right. The view is better here. So, hurry up so you can see it too, dummy!


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