The stream of people trickles down the aisle like liquid mercury. A green eye attempts to scan the crowd but in a place so dense they appear seamless, features blurring into wisps of grey. Standing on the platform of the LiNK he savours the taste of freedom, sweet on his tongue sticky like mead. Freedom, however, is a rapidly fading luxury. He absently traces the slim metal collar that encircles his neck, fingertips drawing patterns on the unrelenting steel. The plain band is nothing remarkable, if a little cold beneath his touch and for a second, he fools himself into thinking that it's simply a piece of harmless jewellery – an ornamentation to adorn his self declared handsome face and compliment that long, dreadfully fair hair he's oh-so-proud of that runs down his back like woven silver threads.
For a person who used to make a living out of deceiving others, he does a poor job of trying to fool himself.
No matter how much he wishes to somehow conjure this fanciful fantasy into reality, he knows better than anyone else that wishful thinking will do nothing to win his freedom, and the band of metal clasped around his neck only serves as a grave reminder. He can remember the pain, the searing hot pain as the deadly fumes tore through his flimsy body, those repugnant black patches that burned like acid as they enveloped his limbs, a ravenous beast, that lurching sensation in his gut that made the world revolve at his feet… and then nothing. Pitch black. And when he finally opened his eyes once more, he was met with the sight of a bespectacled woman clad in yet another of those atrocious starched white coats, who then proceeded to smugly inform him that a "precaution" had been placed around his neck. That if he dared to disobey their orders from here forth, it would inject lethal doses of venom into his bloodstream.
Which is precisely why he is here now.
Hijack Circuit 242. Retrieve the cargo.
Those words were his very orders, punctuated with the Professor's strict no-nonsense clipped manner and a haughty sniff as he leered down his hooked avian nose with those beady eyes of his. However, as the boy eyes the unsuspecting cubic cabins swiftly arriving on the magnetic railroad, he honestly cannot seem to fathom why. It is certainly true that when Ira expanded to great heights, ordinary roads became of little use and the identical LiNK cabins, which were engineered to glide effortlessly on the rail and connect or rather "link" at each stop, became the main mode of transport. However, cargo is still rarely transported on the LiNK circuits but rather on security-enveloped airships, filled to the brink with Guardian – after all, trade is one of the key sources of income and without it, the economy would surely collapse. What in all of Winged Kingdom could be of such value on a measly LiNK circuit?
He supposes it does not really matter. After all, what use would this knowledge be when he is barely permitted to have thoughts of his own? The WhiteCoats have tried to strip him of everything – his past, his belongings, his clothes - even his name.
"Argon…" The unfamiliar name rolls off his tongue like dull lead weights, and Argon almost laughs as he thinks of just how typical of them it was to reduce his being to a mere chemical – and an unreactive one at that. Oh, if only… Wouldn't they love that? Why, they would probably drink themselves merry at the thought of a flawless automaton, bowing and scraping their forelocks at every corner.
"Brother," A pale hand tugs at the sleeve of his waistcoat, "It is time to board the circuit."
Argon flinches at the touch, that soft, far-too-polite, aristocratic accent which crawls up the back of his neck on spidery limbs. He almost shivers, almost recoils in disgust, but he steels himself and turns towards the girl with a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. Marionette. That was the name the WhiteCoats bestowed upon the girl, and eerily enough, it fits.
She could never be called beautiful – no, her features are far too peculiar for that, all harsh angles and protruding cheekbones and colourless, watery eyes like that reflect nothing. However, today she looks almost the epitome of innocence. Though the design of her sky blue gown is simple, it conveys an almost classic elegance and the fair wig that obscures her usual dark tendrils from sight, falls like a sheer cotton curtain and almost seems to soften her otherwise harsh features. Why if Argon could not hear that odd detached monotone completely void of emotion, if he did not know what she was truly capable of, he might have even believed it himself.
Might have. He wonders what on Ira possessed the WhiteCoats to hand him the role of playing Marionette's 'brother'. Apparently, some nonsense about her mannerisms being far too 'high-class' and how it would be 'too conspicuous' for her to be waltzing around unchaperoned. He grimaces inwardly, the expression marring his otherwise calm features. After all, who would look twice at a happy family on an outing?
Today he is the ignorant fool living his utterly blissful and wondrous life – utterly pathetic. The worst part is that a tiny fragment of him, a traitorous fragment, wishes this life were his.
A snicker rings through the terminal and Argon turns his head sharply around to the source. The sound is virtually non-existent for the other passengers crowded at the boarding platform, but the sound transmitter pierced into his ear is made for the precise purpose of communicating with the owner of the laugh, and nothing goes unnoticed. Argon scowls. The numerous piercings adoring his ear and coarsely dyed blue hair pardoned the other man from playing this rather nauseating game of house and instead, he has been allotted the role of a mechanic – a coarse worker, with a mouth as filthy as his hands. Argon can't help but scowl as the 'mechanic' surveys him with an all-knowing Cheshire cat grin that radiates smugness. As if he can sense his discomfort. As if he wants to laugh at him of all people.
"Laugh all you want, but we all know at the end of the day, you will still be the one named Red." Argon enunciates smoothly, gaze lingering on Red's interesting choice of hair colour. His voice is barely a murmur, but at the rate the other is glaring at him, he's fairly certain the message has been delivered.
Smirking, Argon turns sharply on his heel and steps into the closest connecting cabin, 'sister dear' clinging to his arm like a rather persistent fungus. She seems to have set her sights on making him as uncomfortable as humanely possible, which, appears to be working. Not that he'd ever give her the satisfaction of knowing so.
The pristine white walls slid together like perfectly shaped jigsaw puzzles, the outline of each opening glows for a fleeting moment before merging into a single white wall. The cube shaped cabin is colourless, odourless and completely identical to the next. Perhaps these uniform qualities are supposed to conjure an air of serenity and calm the passenger but all it does for Argon is send disgust crawling up his spine.
It looks like the Institute.
He shakes his head slowly, as he tries to dispel these thoughts from mind. Now is not the time for such idle nonsense. They have a task they must complete and if they do not… His hands clench tighter into a fist, knuckles bleached white against rice paper skin.
The sound of footsteps awakens Argon from his train of thought. Red saunters aboard, his shoulders hunched low in that slouching manner that seems to sing of both bad posture and arrogance at its most raw, in a rather contradicting fashion. Red's lips twitch into the slightest of acknowledgments, a half-sneer at best, as he passes Argon's seated on the plush seat. Argon knows his soon-to-be accomplice does not care much for him and the sentiment is well returned. If Argon is a sly bastard who will shake your hand and then cut it off so he may gather a handsome profit, then Red is probably that impulsive dolt who thrives on those few seconds of adrenaline rush from cutting off his own hand before even realising how very dearly he would suffer. Nevertheless, it is not as though either of them have a smattering array of companions to choose from. If the WhiteCoats could have it their way, the only people they would be interacting with would be each other – or Marionette. Thus, a rather hostile level of civility has been maintained.
A look flickers across Red's face, almost as if contemplating a fight or something similarly ludicrous before melting back into whatever previous disturbing facial expression was plastered on. Argon watches him stride past instead; his steps long and purposeful as he enters the empty connecting cabin to their left. The connecting door quietly clicks shut.
Red had better do his job properly. The Professor's instructions were as simple as they were condescending and Argon can practically recall his rather tiresome lectures word for word.
"Approximately 30 centimetres from the upper left corner, you can feel the faintest outline…"
Interestingly enough, it seems that Red can actually recall the Professor's lectures word for word if the incessant muttering through the sound transmitter is anything to go by. Argon's lips flicker upwards as he tries to suppress a snicker and beside him, Marionette simply raises an arched eyebrow in amusement.
"This will appear in exactly the same position within every cabin, the engineering class were always so fixated upon symmetry…"
More muttering. Even through the slight slur of Red's outskirt dweller accent, the words resound so vividly in his mind that Argon can almost envision the Professor's gaunt face shaking in disapproval, the arrogant sniff in his tone.
"By now even one as incompetent as you should realise what this appears to be-"
Marionette giggles next to him, her silk clad hand gracefully covering her lips as if shielding the world from the scandalous horror of a lady's open mouth. Argon rolls his eyes in exasperation – only a fool like Red would recite instructions that insulted himself word for word.
"- the control panel."
He hears the sound of nails against metal, as Red presumably prises off the cover of the alleged control panel. After all, even a simpleton could complete the task after those numerous lectures, and try as he might to deny it, despite their differences Argon knows that Red is far from a simpleton. Relaxing a little in his seat, he casually eyes the other passengers in their cabin. Some appear bored with a face of permanent indifference plastered to their features whilst other chatter animatedly to their companions like overexcited parakeets. They don't suspect a thing. Why would they?
He's sorely tempted to laugh in their faces - sneer and watch at their grins fall off like moulting feathers, as their faces crumpled inwards like dented metal. If only they knew, if only they knew that in that empty cabin next to them was a criminal – for that's what they are, isn't it? – sabotaging their fine and dandy day and his accomplices were seated right next to them, upon white leather seats no less. Argon almost laughs as he thinks of an uppity engineer tearing apart their hair when they realise their 'safety precaution', the control panel, will become the very thing that will compromise the safety of everyone aboard the circuit. After all, once the wires of the control panel are cut, halting the LiNK circuit…
Nevertheless, he does not laugh. Argon's face remains veiled with his nonchalant mask that's seemingly set in stone. He steels his immature desires, and instead, relishes in the idea that he will be able to watch these events unfold.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Argon glances over at the source of the sound. Marionette's unwavering gaze is fixated upon the elaborately carved second hand as it revolves around the clock face, passing the engraved roman numerals in a repetitive lull. Her brows knit together in thick lines, converging into a furrow of contemplation, her polished leather foot tapping absentmindedly in supposed impatience. For once, he does not blame her. The cabin they are seated in is far from enthralling, dull and monotonous like it's passengers – a faceless blend of anonymous grey.
"It's almost teatime." She comments casually, twirling a long strand of blond around her fingers. The seemingly harmless movement somehow irks Argon; he's never been one for people fidgeting. It's a wonder really, that those none of those pretty artificial locks have snagged on those ridiculous rings adorning her hand.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Nine and a half minutes. The girl is not the only one who has been counting. Abruptly, Marionette sharply clicks the watch shut. Has she finally gotten tired of waiting? Argon sneaks a sideways glance at her, but Marionette's features are impassive as ever, they may as well have been carved from marble. The only sign of any impatience is her gloved hands twitching in anticipation, for what, he's not quite sure.
Grey eyes squint, flickering back and forth from the passengers to her fingertips. Honestly, what could she possibly be staring at? It's almost comical, the way she stares so intently at nothing at all, thin lips flattening into a rigid line. Argon watches in morbid fascination as if observing a bizarre theatrical act, as she twists her fingers in at odd angles, as if winding invisible fishing wire around her gloved fingertips.
Then, Marionette wrenches her fingers apart.
Piercing screams shatter the fragile silence as the passengers writhe helplessly in their seats, head wrenched backwards by some invisible force. A giggle bubbles up through Marionette's throat as she examines the rather peculiar positions they're in.
"Look brother - why, one of them is all twisted up like a pretzel!" She exclaims in delight, a wicked glimmer surfacing in her otherwise blank eyes before she bursts back into hysterics.
As her shrill laughter cuts through the air, Argon watches the passengers' eyes widen in horror. Some look to him frantically, pleadingly, as if he is some sort of saviour, a man who will somehow put an end to their suffering. A cold wave of disgust washes over him and he grimaces slightly, shaking his head from side to side as if it will somehow dispel these treacherous thoughts. This is all simply far too messy and unnecessary for his liking, it's not as if he feels any compassion or Ira forbid, sympathy for them. No, how absolutely preposterous to even entertain that absurd notion. He is Argon, and Argon, he notes with a bitter twist of his lips, does not react.
Marionette tilts her head to one side in a questioning manner, as if she's genuinely perplexed as to why they're staring at her in horror, why they're staring at her like she's insane.
After a moment, she seems to brush these worries aside, lifting her long fingers in a finishing movement with finesse, as if conducting a symphony. She's interrupted by Argon's firm grasp.
"Playtime is over, sister dear."
She turns her head sharply. Argon simply returns her blank gaze with a stony glare of his own. How troublesome. He shakes his head slowly from side to side as if reprimanding a small incapable child, yet his hands betray him as they waver slightly.
"We have a task, let us not forget it." He pauses for a moment, scanning his surroundings for a second. "It would be troublesome to search for the cargo like this…"
Argon turns his critical right eye upon the remaining civilians, taking in the trembling hands, their cheap attire and the glistening drops of sweat upon their brow dripping down slowly. With an almost regretful sigh, he addresses them.
"I presume you all saw nothing out of the ordinary on this particular LiNK ride?"
Numbly, the passengers nod, one by one, their eyes never straying from his piercing green gaze.
"I'm afraid I don't trust you."
His fingers slip nimbly under the wayward strands of hair falling over his face. Fumbling slightly, he hooks his nails under the adhesive patch barricading his left eye. The Professor ensured him that the patch would remain hidden to avoid arousing suspicion and to prevent turning unfortunate onlooker from suffering rather… unfortunate consequences. However, the time for such precautions has long passed.
He removes the patch.
The thick rock envelops the passengers, consuming their bodies with a vengeance. Shaking hands are frozen in mid-twitch; eyes cemented and unblinking – not a single eyelash flickers. There is silence, absolute silence. Argon inhales sharply. His own hands are a perfect imitation of his victim's deathly still limbs.
"What are you looking at?"
He snaps suddenly, as if daring the frozen passengers to draw a single breath, to answer back. If only they could.
An unwelcome shudder runs up his spine and he forces himself to begin rummaging through their travelling cases in search of the cargo. His companion remains eerily quiet, ignoring him completely. Marionette gingerly prods a finger against one of the 'statues' in morbid fascination only to find it completely solid. Twirling a strand of her blond wig, she smiles sweetly at the eternally petrified face.
"You really should not be making such a gruesome face, it could easily ward off potential suitors." She remarks airily. Finding herself rather 'bored' once again after bestowing this particular piece of advice, Marionette turns to observe the scene in front of her. Argon stands up rather abruptly, jerking himself to his feet.
"The bags are empty."
As soon as the words leave his mouth, he finds himself glaring at the obvious contradiction.
Why exactly are they empty?
Circuit 242 only has two connected LiNK cabins, one of which they are standing in at this precise moment. Argon frowns slightly. When Red walked into the cabin, there was no sign of anyone else. What could possibly be in an empty cabin? Unease stabs at his gut as he realises something is wrong, terribly wrong. The question is, what?
Argon's fingers jab frantically at the entrance to the next cabin, willing, pleading, for it to open. His jaw tenses visibly as time decides to jest with him. He can fell his teeth grinding together like blunt scissor blades, can hear the gears in the door turning with an excruciating slow click, can see the entrance drawing open bit by bit like a velvet curtain vanishing to reveal the stage. Argon coarsely shoves his way into the cabin, eyes flickering from side to side that will ease his suspicions; something will prove he was wrong. All he finds in return is a body slumped beneath a rectangular panel of wires.
'Red' He almost laughs at the irony as he takes in those dishevelled strands of startling blue. 'It's Red.'
A suffocating silence settles upon them and for an instant, they forget to breathe. Inhaling quickly, Argon is the first to shatter it.
"Aren't you going to greet me?" The words come out more bitter than intended, laced with that hint of sarcasm.
"Good day, sir. How areyou faring?" Red's tone is mocking and Argon inwardly snickers at the poor excuse for an aristocratic accent.
"I fear my 'good day' has been ruined."
"And pray, why is that sir?"
"Oh I don't know," He pauses. "Because an incompetent imbecile with highlighter hair couldn't figure out how to cut a few measly wires."
A frustrated growl echoes through the room, and Red unconsciously clenches his fists tighter.
"Look pretty boy, the fucking wires were already cut."
"It's a tad late to grasp the general objective-"
"-Listen." Red hisses, venom thick in his tone. Argon takes a step back, slightly unnerved by this sudden menacing manner.
"The wires connecting to the emergency brake were completely severed by the time I got to the panel. It also doesn't help that some asshole had the steering controls completely removed."
Argon's eyes widen in disbelief and he can almost feel Red's smug smirk searing into his skin. As if seeing the desired reaction, Red continues on.
"The worst part is the course has been completely tampered with."
"What do you mean?" The question is rasped out with urgency, demanding an answer.
"The same person decided to reprogram the entire route these LiNK cabins are taking. Quite thorough too, the virus they've set upon us would take me a good half hour to break through."
"Then why don't you?"
Red simply shakes his head, ignoring the challenge the other boy is posing.
"At the rate we're going, we'll arrive at their desired destination within ten minutes." Glancing slyly over at his rather agitated accomplice, he snickers.
"We're not on Circuit 242 anymore, pretty boy."
A/N: So I've finally started replacing chapters and re-updating things! :D For those of you who've read the original version of this, I decided to get rid of the original chapter 2 and 3 because they felt too slow-paced and I realised they weren't really necessary, thus, you get this huge monster-of-a-chapter instead. Actually, I was considering splitting this in half due to its length but decided against it because for me, this whole section is clearly a chapter on its own. The plot from here onwards will start deriving from the original route, so please look forward to it. For any new readers, welcome and I hope you enjoyed this.
To summarise, the changes made/will be made are: switch to 3rd person limited POV, deletion of some chapters, rewriting the ones that will not be deleted, and changes to the plot line.
As always, thank you for reading and don't be afraid to tell me what you think. Reviews would be appreciated. :)