Hello once again my deliciously gorgeous super awesome readers!
I'd like to thank you all again for reading my fic, particularly Cimmerian, Gingercat 792, and Dark Angel 792 for the ongoing support :D
To all you budding scientists out there, I'm sure that you'll enjoy finding little flaws in my scientific understanding that I've been unaware of! Either way I hope you all enjoy the chapter, and please review so I know what you think! I'd love to hear from you so I can take your advice on board and make the story better for you guys. Don't worry, I don't bite unless provoked! :)
Chapter 2: The Claws of Sky Fire
Beaming down into the swiftly moving carriage, the sun hung high, infusing the train with a glow of life. The heart of the machine hummed as it slid on air towards its destination; one of the greatest biological research centres on earth, and a second home for Kat and Sky. Laboratories stacked on laboratories encompassed the colossal structure that spanned the many miles before them. Every room was a treasure trove of information, and the means to access even more, making each of them a potential birthplace for a new revelation in human knowledge. As knowledge was power, this was a weapon of mass destruction in the guise of yet another monumental cylindrical tank. It loomed ever closer ahead as the young scientists were transported quickly towards it, until eventually, it became impossible to view in its complete form.
After Sky and Kat had been whisked into the structure through its wide rectangular mouth and dusky throat, they found themselves in a large dock. The console at the front of the transport bleeped and informed them that they were entering 'biological research centre beta'. They jumped out when the doors opened and strolled casually towards a glass elevator tube. There were hardly any Phoenix troops lurking in this area in comparison to the huge number that patrolled the housing block. Despite this, they still had to weave through the crowds of scientists in white lab coats, who passionately discussed breakthroughs in their research like parents would about their children.
Balconies were piled up all around the expanse of the dock; each holding numerous paths to more laboratories and opportunities. Elevator tubes clung on to these floors like ivy, and they all continued to slither up into the rest of the building, which was obscured by the fiercely lit ceiling. After reaching a lift, Kat touched the screen and entered their floor; fifty nine. It then told her that the floor was for staff only, and that she had to enter a code before it could proceed. After quickly tapping in the password, it started to move upwards towards their destination.
Only one other person occupied the capsule; a short, red haired lady reading her HPA display with hazel coloured eyes behind clear lenses. As well as a lab coat, the quirky woman was dressed in strikingly purple trousers.
"Doc', Prof'." She acknowledged with a respectful nod, though she initially showed no sign of diverting her concentration from the hologram.
"Hey Sarah! Any luck with engineering plants to produce their own vitalizer fluid?" Kat asked kindly, triggering attention in her colleague.
"It's a working progress but we're getting there. How about you?" Sarah explained happily.
"We're getting on pretty well with our projects, and they tie in to each other pretty nicely." Sky remarked, "I'm working on improving bionic medical treatments for cats, and Kat has already finished mapping out their genome, so she's getting on with readying a repair virus for our lab cat; Moonshine. The poor girl's ended up in pretty bad shape from her service to Phoenix back in the Crusades."
They all fell silent for a moment; cringing at the countless excruciating memories that flooded in from their subconscious minds; memories of the war that was to end all wars. It was a dark time that began after Phoenix was inaugurated through the unification of many of Earth's major societies. This fateful alliance proved to be an opportunity for world domination through truly horrific means; the blood soaked elimination of every nation that stood in their path. The Crusades lasted for twenty-eight long years, and no-one wanted to look back to the gruesome tragedies that occurred throughout.
"If only Phoenix could just back off and let us do our job for its proper purpose; helping injured animals. They deserve the same rights that we have." Kat sighed. Sarah raised an eyebrow, intrigued about the threat that the government poses to their work.
"I see what you mean there, but what's Phoenix up to?"
Remembering Sky's past anxiety of Phoenix eavesdropping on their conversation, Kat hesitated and glanced at her, "Do you think it's safe to talk now?"
Sky looked back at her, the sly smile on her lips reassuring her that she was able to speak freely. Kat grinned, "You've already hacked the system haven't you?"
"Exactly." Sky exclaimed smugly, "I've set my HPA up so it automatically replaces any live elevator feed with one of many recorded track loops I've made. Depending on who else may be nearby, it makes calculations to decide which false footage to send them instead."
"Are you insane? What if they find out?!" Sarah cried.
"They won't. There are millions of them; all alternating between different jobs. Even they aren't pathetic enough to watch the same place all the time."
"Well, you'd better be right or we're screwed..."
"If it hadn't worked, they'd have taken us all away ages ago." Kat remarked, and she couldn't possibly have got closer to the truth.
Sky, Kat, and Ximena were incredibly cautious individuals; covering their dirty footprints after every step to avoid a truly gruesome fate. After all, they weren't exactly the most honest citizens in terms of Phoenix law. Speaking out against government, disclosure of classified information, frequent illegal activity, and hacking into restricted systems were only a few of the many crimes in their repertoire; a list that could warrant enough arrests, brutal torture, and death penalties to cover every citizen inhabiting their floor of the housing block. Apparently, they hadn't been caught yet.
"Good point. What were you about to say about them again?"
"Well, they're interested in our biological engineering techniques. They've already asked me to improve their attack dogs." Kat explained.
"Yeah. It's only a matter of time until they get her to give their troops viruses so they end up growing claws!" Sky joked.
"Maybe we should 'accidentally' insert the gene for fur instead!" Kat added, making all three of them giggle.
"Yeah I could imagine that." Sarah said with a smirk, "Furry soldiers; that'd be kinda cute actually."
"'Cute'? More like disturbing!" Sky laughed. It was nice for them to forget their worries for just a moment and take the time to enjoy life. Unfortunately however, the fun always had to end, and this was made apparent when the elevator had begun to slow down to a halt.
"Ah well, here's your floor, see you later then."
"Bye!" The pair chorused in reply, leaving Sarah alone in the lift to look over her research once again as she ascended out of sight.
Unlike the docking bay far below, this floor was much more enclosed, with only a few streaks of daylight sneaking in through the elevator shafts lining the main hall. Trotting into one of the passageways that branched off of the hall, they passed various doors labelled with the names of different scientists and their fields of study.
"What do you think then Sky?" Kat asked as they walked through the dim, winding corridors, "Should we make a start on engineering Moonshine? It's about time we give her a new life."
"Sounds good to me." She exclaimed, "I'll let you take some samples first, then I'll start fitting her with some bionic limbs while you get to work on the corrector virus."
"Nice plan, then we should be ready to begin gene therapy tomorrow." Kat replied happily.
They approached one of the many doors lining the corridor which had a label that said: 'Professor Katherine Prince; Bio-Veterinary Research' and 'Doctor Skyla Vale; Bionic Medical Research'. There were a few scanner plates embedded in the wall beside the door, two of which, Kat placed her hands on carefully before looking at the third; which happened to be a retina scanner.
The door slid open, and they stepped slowly though the boxy entrance room one at a time, where they were blasted with intense smoke. Soon, the mist cleared. They grabbed a lab coat each and slipped them on, as well a pair of white gloves. As she hadn't done so already, Kat activated her headgear with a touch, making clear lenses move and rest in front of her brown eyes. A transparent door shifted aside in front of them, granting them entrance into a large, dark room.
Pale rectangular lights on the top of the walls lit the laboratory slightly, though most of the light was emitted by the glowing desk tops, as well as tanks in the walls to their left and right containing all manners of reptiles, fish, and amphibians. A huge black screen that hung from the ceiling appeared to divide the room in two.
The left side, which belonged to Kat, was dominated by luminescent fluids in flasks and petri-dishes, as well as microscopes, mechanisms, and computer screens displaying various diagrams of the life systems of cats. Sky's side was littered by various gadgets and body parts made of strong, metal alloys. Computers here exhibited the anatomies of different animals, as well as different mechanical parts that would fit to their respective body parts.
Sky ambled up to the dividing screen and started it up with a touch. Using a black hair band that she pulled from her skinny wrist, Kat put her long dark brown hair up into a high ponytail. After verifying that she was satisfied with her hairdressing handiwork, she traipsed towards the back of the laboratory, where a large glass wall with a sliding door stood. She stopped inside for a moment to be sprayed with the sterilizing cloud, and then moved out into the small hall on the other side. It contained many habitats full of larger domestic animals such as dogs and cats, all adjoining to the wide room in the centre. After sliding one of the slab-like doors open, a black and grey tabby cat trotted happily up to her and gazed steadily at her with bright green eyes.
"Hello Moonshine!" She greeted gently whilst scooping the animal up in her arms, "Did you miss me?"
The cat purred as she felt the caress of Kat's gloved hand through her short, soft fur which shimmered in the light. Kat carried Moonshine to the lit table in the centre and placed her down. Then, she picked up an implement, which she carefully slipped across the cat's skin to get some samples. After placing the implement into a vial, she left the cat to groom herself on the table.
"Good girl." She cooed before closing the door, leaving the hall with the sample in hand. Another swift decontamination and she approached Sky, placing the sample on the table. Half of her blonde hair was now up in a high ponytail, leaving the rest to brush her shoulders.
"I've done setting up." Sky exclaimed, "Do you mind if I just go and talk to Mena? It might be a good idea to tell her about the coded message."
Strangely, Sky always changed her attitude towards Kat completely when she entered the lab. At home, she'd usually be very protective of her, almost like an adult to a young child. When they were both dressed in lab coats however, the tides seemed to turn, and Kat would become the respected figure of authority. Sky would ask for her permission often, almost like a soldier, and it seemed like very natural behaviour, even with Kat being too young to represent one with authority. It was still fairly new to her considering that Ximena would continue to treat her like her little sister - regardless of the circumstances.
"Sure." She replied whilst taking the implement out and brushing its tip along the bottom of a petri-dish. A complex machine sat on the desk before her. It was box-like in appearance with a square plate protruding from its mouth. Small tubule channels jutted out from both sides and of the machine, linking its main segment to two square sub-sections to each side, and a double cylinder at the back. A thin monitor sat atop the mechanism; currently dull and lifeless.
Carefully, Kat picked up the dish and fitted it into a circular hollow on the sliding plate. The machine whirred as the plate edged inside, and the monitor sprung to life, awaiting her orders. She tapped an option that said 'extract' and then she tapped the 'manually' option and something beeped and moved within. Promptly, the screen then flashed the words 'Ready for extraction'. Kat flicked the words away so a copy appeared on the main screen, then she stepped up to the conveniently larger display.
With an opening claw motion of her hand on the smooth surface, she brought up an elaborate image of the sample. A few more similar movements and the image had zoomed in enough for her to see the complex pattern of cells in a fair amount of detail. Homing in on one of them, she dragged a different syringe icon towards it with each hand, and she began the delicate process of removing the nucleus, the vessel containing all of the important genetic information of her cat.
Sky on the other hand, was a world away from this tense and exciting world of scientific discovery. Instead she was testing the mechanics of her computer chair by spinning and sliding around her side of the room, impatiently waiting for Ximena to show up on her computer screen.
"Hey Mena, is the talk going well?" Sky asked. She had finally made an appearance, though Ximena's expression answered her question instantly. There was a glint of frustration shining in her emerald green eyes, and obvious fatigue. She wore a frown on her lips, and her muscles were tense from anger.
"He's stubborn and paranoid; I'm not sure that I'll get anything out of him at this rate." She muttered angrily, "Or at least anything except his little delusions that we're all being watched and Phoenix are going to get him."
"You won't be saying that with a bullet in the chest!" His voice called from behind her, "I'm serious you know; they'll get us all. Then you'll be sorry for not listening to me!"
"Won't you shut up?!" She barked back before looking back at Kat and whispering, "I think he's working for someone; but I'm not sure who. I'd better move him so we can have a conversation in private."
"Oh great." Sky murmured as Ximena strolled off to move the thief; chair and all. Patiently, she awaited her return, considering his motives for the attempted theft. Many decades ago, people would supposedly steal objects due to their value. Apparently, the stolen items would be traded for something called 'money', which could be traded in turn for all manner of other things. However, the rise of Phoenix meant the end of currency, and in turn, the end of most criminal activity. Unfortunately, this meant that there was only one real reason for the break in; a personal attack.
The shriek of shattered glass made Sky jolt out of her thoughts and spin around. Kat had stumbled, bringing a vial, and her precious DNA sample crashing to the ground. She hesitated for a moment in silence, staring in shock at the mess on the floor, and then she cursed under her breath before hitting her head on the table in exaggerated despair.
"Aw, now I have to start over." She complained; pouting. Her frequent accidents always returned the relationship between the associates to a more informal state.
"That's number..." Sky contemplated with a cheeky smirk, "Thirteen; unlucky for some. And by some, I mean you."
Kat groaned, sweeping up the shards of glass littering the black tiles. With a robotic beep, a strange metal drone slid out from its lair in Sky's lab, interrupting Kat's cleaning attempts, and finishing the job effortlessly before returning to its home under her desk. Sky's growing collection of odd creations continued to fascinate her, and Kat was certain that she'd made enough for a small army.
"Don't worry about it, Kat. I'll sort out a new sample for you just after I anaesthetize Moonshine. You can talk to Ximena when she gets back if you want." She reassured. After receiving a nod of approval from Kat, she dashed off to retrieve fresh samples from their beloved laboratory cat.
"Thanks. Have you told her about the message yet?" She called after her, getting the thump of a closed door in reply.
"Message? What message?" Ximena's voice asked, back from moving her so called guest.
"I take that as a no then. Sky got another weird riddle."
"Oh OK. What does this one say?" Ximena asked inquisitively.
"'Beware the claws of sky fire'... I think. Maybe it's something to do with our unwanted visitor." Kat proclaimed, "I think that's why she was so keen on talking to you."
"Could be." Her sister replied, green eyes closed in thought as she paced through the apartment, "What's 'sky fire' anyway?"
"The sun? A comet?"
"Phoenix?" Sky's voice suggested quickly from the other room. She'd managed to tap into their computer conversation using her HPA, which was concerning and creepy, yet useful.
"Hold on... Phoenix?" Ximena questioned, freezing to the spot.
"The claws of Phoenix. It works." Kat declared.
"But this is only a metaphor; a figure of speech. It doesn't have to have claws literately... does it?" Sky mentioned, now back in the room and setting the limp cat down on a table.
"Well if he's talking about the 'sky fire' being the force that ordered the thief or 'claw' to break in, then maybe it's vague for a reason." Ximena considered. She may not have been scientific, but she definitely had brains, and this had got her out of many scrapes in the past.
"Unsure about where his loyalties lie? Sounds like a possibility."
"But 'claws' plural, right?" Kat enquired.
"Yeah that's something, where are the others?" Sky asked, looking up from her important patient. Anxiously, Sky considered what her friend was implying. There was only one thief, so maybe Gemini was referring to something that was yet to occur. The very thought of more intruders chilled Sky to the bone, and she could only hope that they were mistaken.
"If it is Phoenix, then they're everywhere. We'd better keep a low profile for now just in case. Then again, who said that your little guardian angel is reliable?"
"Gemini has sent loads of messages and he's never been wrong before." Sky observed with a slight growl in her tone.
"Very protective aren't we." Ximena exclaimed with a simper.
A knock sounded from within the apartment.
"I'd better go and answer that. See you."
"Mena wait!" Kat cried, but the screen went blank before she could say a word, "The claws of sky fire..." She uttered nervously.
Ximena briskly walked over to the door, though she didn't reach it before another agitated knock sounded. Sometimes, she wished that people would just slow down and relax for a change. Experience taught her that hurrying into a situation could be dangerous, though like in the current scenario, frustration could occasionally make her forget her ways, and it never turned out well.
"Alright, I'm coming!" She snapped, before grasping the handle and yanking the door open, though she regretted her rash actions instantly. Two Phoenix soldiers stood before her. One was tall, bulky, and blank with three shoulder arrows; showing that he was a sergeant. The other was shorter and intimidated by her size. With one arrow, he was junior to his partner as a private, and in a sense, he seemed to be far too small for his uniform.
"Um... we came to ask about your – uh – occupation?" He asked whilst shuffling uncomfortably. The sergeant shot him a warning glance before looking back at Ximena. Before she could slam the door in their faces, he forced his foot in front to halt its movement.
"You've been registered as having a job in the manufacturing sector for the past month, though you haven't turned up to work yet." He stated, anger building. This was an example of how Sky's hacking had made her life easier; she hadn't had to work for a while, and that was always welcome. Unfortunately of course, this could never cover her tracks completely, so she had to resort to other means of keeping herself out of the jaws of Phoenix.
"We'll I'm sorry. Manufacturing really isn't my kinda thing to be honest." She growled, slamming the metal door into his foot, hoping to get a whimper in response. To her displeasure, he didn't even flinch. The private opened his mouth to speak, but before a single word could escape his lips, the sergeant cut in.
"The laws state that if you remain unemployed for over a month, we allocate an occupation to you, and reduce your rations."
"I'm not unemployed. I've been looking after my sister and her friend, as well as getting a few odd jobs on the side."
"So the system's wrong?" The private pondered, eyes fixed on his superior for assurance. Wishful thinking.
"Shut it Rogers! That's not possible." He barked.
"Y-yes sir." Private Rogers whispered. There was no respect in his words, only fear, and Ximena knew that the boy wouldn't last long in his current state.
"Why haven't you been working?! Food and keep isn't free you know, you have to work for it!" The sergeant snapped, cheeks flaming with rage.
"Well I decided that looking after my roommates is a full time job in itself. One has a case of amnesia and the other... well... she isn't housebroken yet." She teased.
There was an element of truth in her words however. Kat was a girl with amazing intelligence and passion for her work with animals. Ximena had cared for her for the past fifteen years, and she wasn't going to stop. Strangely, since she began her new role as guardian, Kat's intelligence increased even more. Unfortunately, this was followed closely by her clumsiness, which made accidents occur all too often. Ximena knew that Kat was keeping many problems to herself, and this continued to trouble her greatly.
Then there was Sky, the girl who just seemed to appear out of nowhere about six years ago; found helpless and alone with little to no memories of her past. All she had was some HPA gear, a pair of arm blades, and her bionic falcon; who apparently passed on briefing messages from some stranger to get her life back on track.
"Besides, one of them is way more valuable than both you put together job wise." Ximena remarked.
"Don't you realise how serious this is? Or do we have to take you to HQ to have a little chat about the severity of the situation?" He snarled threateningly. Now it was clear that he was looking for a reaction, though he never got the one he was hoping for. She wasn't afraid of him at all, and that left him almost powerless.
"Sergeant." A female voice acknowledged firmly. He swung around swiftly and gasped. "L-lieutenant?"
"Your partner has been promoted to corporal, you both must return to base immediately." She said sternly, "Congratulations Rogers."
"Congratulations." The sergeant echoed half-heartedly.
"Th-thank you miss!" He stuttered, eyes wide with surprise.
"You deserve it for your loyalty and devotion. You're going to have to be reassigned to a junior partner though. Get back to base for official promotion and briefing."
He grinned and walked off, free from his supervisor's tyranny. Ximena couldn't help but smile as he seemed quite nice and thoughtful unlike many others belonging to Phoenix. The sergeant however, was certainly not impressed. He scowled and lingered behind.
"This isn't over." He muttered to Ximena under his breath before following. Maybe he was right, but at least the threat was gone for the time being. Despite the firm front, she was anxious inside, but at long last she could finally relax slightly.
When the lieutenant turned around, Ximena felt like she'd met her before. She was tall with dark skin and short black hair, though the colour of her eyes was concealed by her red lenses, making her difficult to identify. An icon of a gun and sword crossing each other was emblazoned under the three arrows on her arms; the highest honour for the Phoenix field ranks.
She spoke quickly, ready to walk away, "I'll deal with the job thing, no need to worry. Try not to get into any more trouble though OK?"
She started in the direction of the crowds before stopping for a moment. Head bowed and eyes closed, she sighed and spoke gently, "It's nice to see you again you know. Maybe it won't be long until we meet again."
After that, she was swallowed by the crowds of gaggling civilians. Ximena sighed and gently closed the door before ambling over to the sofa. Sitting down carefully, she tried to remember how she knew the lieutenant, and why she was so willing to help her with what would be such a serious matter.
Back at the laboratory, Sky and Kat were still absorbed in their intense testing. Sky was carefully stitching up the unconscious cat on the operating table in her side of the lab, whilst Kat was concentrating her efforts on isolating some DNA. With flicks of her eyes, she shifted the fantastic, magnified pattern of genes that plastered the great screen; all dyed a multitude of vibrant colours ranging from deep scarlet to ocean blue. Sharp metal implements seemed to intrude on its magnificence however as she removed them systematically through the computer. After plucking each gene from the sample, it was automatically catalogued, sorted, and occasionally, transported elsewhere.
Quietly, Sky lifted the sleeping lab cat from the table and carried her away.
There was an eerie silence between the two friends, though it wasn't just because of their deep concentration. It had been a few hours since they talked to Ximena, and they were apprehensive about her well being due to her unexpected visitors. Sky's message suggested that there were people, probably belonging to Phoenix, that wanted all three of them; dead or alive. Although it wouldn't happen without a fight, they knew that they'd have to be cautious as they waited for the scenario to pass.
The biological artwork on the screen vanished, leaving only blankness. Kat jolted with surprise as she was left blind. She hit her headgear, making the visor split in two and shift back to both sides of her head, revealing her shocked brown eyes.
"What's wrong?" Sky asked. She had returned from putting Moonshine back into her enclosure, and was clearly concerned about her partner and mentor.
"We must have got a message." Kat answered nervously, "I kinda forgot to tell you that it gets a little glitchy before messages appear."
Sky sighed, "Ah well, it shouldn't take long to fix. It's just for incoming messages though right?" She thought to herself out loud whilst shifting icons, documents, and pop ups around with flicks of her hands, "Otherwise, you wouldn't have been able to call Ximena so it must be. So this goes here... and that definitely shouldn't be here at all... damn I hate these pop ups... it's supposed to be the twenty second century not the twenty first... uh... OK, done."
The screen came back to life, revealing a beaming red haired scientist who constantly fidgeted from excitement, "Guys! You have to come up and see this!"
"Sarah! Chill! We'll be up ASAP so sit tight." Sky replied calmly before closing the window down with a grip like movement of her fingers. After jogging over to the door, she opened it partially and offered it to Kat respectfully.
"Come on then." Sky sighed, "Greatness or insanity awaits."
"I wonder if she finished her vitalizer project." Kat considered, taking the door and stepping through the smoky entrance room with Sky in tow. Rushing through the winding corridors, they bumped past a Phoenix patrol.
"Hey watch it!" They snapped, only to get a quick, half-hearted 'Sorry' from the girls before they dashed off towards an empty elevator. Sky's fingers skimmed across the control panel before the lift ascended at speed.
"That'd be so cool though! Maybe the solution will contain nano-bots that are more effective at cleaning teeth and other debris. Maybe it'll give a more detailed diagnostic. Oh! Maybe it'll actually taste better than the bitter crap that we've had to put up with for years!" Kat exclaimed. Sky shook her head with a smirk, "The first two options seem likely, but the last one. That would be quite a feat. I'm not sure if it's even possible. Then again, they can't get much worse."
"Anything's possible remember?"
Sky hesitated, considering the phrase. Her thoughts took a strange turn into another path. For a moment, she wanted to believe it was true and that someday, she'd find out about Gemini, and her past, and her home. Maybe it really was true, though she knew that gazing idly at her hopes like she would with stars in the sky was pointless. If she was going to make her dreams reality, she had to find a way to reach up and yank them down to her, and this meant trying to remember. Frustratingly however, she just couldn't recall anything new at all, no matter how hard she tried. She sighed, "Maybe."
The capsule pulled to a halt at the very top of the shaft, and the girls were decontaminated again. It was a lot more spacious up at the pinnacle of the biological research centre. Glass walls converged to form a huge dome roof, allowing light to pour in from all sides and illuminate what appeared to be a colossal into garden. It wasn't long until Sarah emerged on a red sky bike, and pulled up next to them.
"There you are! Come quick!" She urged before moving upwards, and beckoning them on whilst riding off.
"Wait! You honestly expect us to follow you?!" Sky yelled.
"Use the bikes!" Sarah's voice called back. They looked at each other, and then to their right to see a few matching bikes sat in their stations. Ambling over, it wasn't long until they realised that they needed a password to access them. Sky tapped one in.
"Access denied." the console stated.
Sky slammed her fist on the machine with a snarl, "She must have changed the password! She's got them locked down tight too; this encryption will take way too long to hack. We'd better go on foot. Come on."
Grabbing Kat's arm, Sky pounded through the beaten trails between the various trees and plants.
"Do we have to? This'll take ages! You know how huge this place is right?" Kat whined, resisting her guidance, "It's a good few miles minimum."
"We might as well." Sky answered, "Besides, we could do with the exercise. It could be worse. At least we're on the right side of the gardens because it would take ages otherwise!"
Minutes of silence passed like hours, and the green only became denser, forcing them to slow down to a plod. The change in pace seemed to allow them to truly appreciate their surroundings. There was no denying how stunning the garden was. Thousands of flowers bloomed in many vivid colours, and trees stood tall around them, obscuring most of the man-made influences that tainted its beauty. However, it could never be the same as the Outlands; a world that stretched far beyond these cylindrical cities. A world where nature remained entirely undisturbed and animals roamed free, never having to fear the threat of man. Both Kat and Sky couldn't help but envy them, for unlike these pure creatures, they'd never know this kind of freedom. This amazing world would always remain visible to them through the clear glass, or the skies that lingered below them, though painfully, it just out of reach. It wasn't long until their fatigue started to cast the thought away, and they began to concentrate on the hazardous path ahead. "Better watch your step Kat!" Sky teased, supporting her as they clambered over some fallen branches.
"Aw, come on! I'm not that clumsy..." Kat complained. Her foot slipped slightly, but by grabbing a branch just in time, she managed to stay standing. Sky rolled her eyes playfully and pulled her onwards through the layers of rich vegetation.
"They really need a metal path or something anyway." She breathed, shaking some grass off her foot. Kat nodded in response and they continued to trek through the plant life.
Finally, after following for about thirty minutes, they reached a room with clear walls on the side of the garden. As they walked in, they were too busy panting for breath to notice the smoke blast that they'd become so accustomed to over the years.
"What took you guys so long? Over here, over here!" Sarah called from over the other side of the lab, which felt like a mile away for the exhausted duo. They groaned in unison before flopping on a nearby desk, eyes edging closed. Sarah grinned at them as she approached with a flask of coloured liquid in each hand. With a slight kick to the shin, Sky muttered and blinked quickly, slightly more alert.
"Drink up Doctor Moron." Sarah jested, tilting one of the flasks upside down, releasing its orange contents into her mouth. She swallowed the liquid, and a smile emerged. Sarah quickly repeated the process with Kat, this time with a red liquid, to get the same response. Sky swung her legs forward, and got back to her feet with a jump. "Damn that's tasty." She murmured, licking her pale lips.
"That tastes amazing. What is it?" Kat remarked, climbing back to her feet and brushing her messy brown hair back into a ponytail.
"The new vitalization range; courtesy of the lovely folk at biological research centre beta, in other words, moi; my assistants are useless."
"That's not what you were saying last night Sarah." A male in a white lab coat teased. He was a short man who had drifted in from an adjoining room, and his blue-eyed gaze was fixed squarely on Sarah.
"In your dreams Zack!" She retorted.
"Well..." He started, brushing his spiky blue hair back, "These are some pretty nice dreams. I could've sworn that they were real."
A wink followed, and Sarah rolled her eyes. With great difficulty, Sky attempted to fight the urge to smirk, and Kat tried to fight back the impending giggles. They failed miserably, getting a strong yellow glare from Sarah.
"Ew. Please just take the flasks and go... please?" Sarah muttered, placing the flasks in his hands before covering her flushed face. Zack groaned in disappointment and left with the empty flasks. Noticing her embarrassment, Kat decided to carry on from their previous conversation.
"So, the new range?" She probed.
Sarah sighed in relief, "Well, they're much more potent, and each has its own fruity flavour because, as you know, they come from fruit."
"Cool!" Kat answered cheerily, "So you engineered some plants to produce vitamins and other stuff in the fruit? Then you add the nanotechnology in afterwards don't you? Using the proper, technical terms of course."
"Pretty much. And you know what that means right?"
"You'll be able to do the same thing to humans. Except maybe using bacteria instead to create a lasting effect." Kat answered confidently, getting an excited nod in reply.
"Now how about you answer my question." Sky started, arms folded, "What made you think that it was appropriate to use us as lab rats withoutpermission?"
"What are you talking about?" She answered wryly.
"You changed the passwords on the bikes on purpose so we'd have to walk all the way here, just so you could use us as your test subjects for the project."
"Aw, man! Busted!" She whined jokily, spreading her arms out in surrender, making Sky smirk and punch her playfully.
"I admire your evil genius, I really do. But next time, please, please please use someone from Phoenix." She begged.
"Sorry, but I really needed another subject who was tired out, and Phoenix are far too... uncooperative. I've already done it on a few dumb lab assistants, including the super annoying one you just met, but I needed someone else for comparison."
"Ah well, we'll get our revenge soon enough." Sky joked, "Be afraid, be very afraid."
"I can't wait." Sarah exclaimed sarcastically.
"I suppose we're all done here then." Kat sighed and turned Sky, "Let's finish up back at the lab so we can get out of here."
"So... do you have a name; my little thieving friend?" Ximena asked. She'd given up trying to remember who her timely visitor was, and thus, decided to press on with her interrogation. He hesitated, but surprisingly, he answered her this time, "Call me Dan."
"Any reason why you're a little more helpful now?" She asked light heartedly, leaning on him slightly. Although she maintained eye contact with him at all times, he seldom looked back.
"Might as well tell you I guess. If I'm going out, I'm gonna do it with a little dignity at least. And that involves me actually having a name."
"Firstly, stay on topic, and secondly, you're not going to die!" She laughed, "Then again, if you think that Phoenix are going to take you, then maybe you could be so kind as to give us the information we need to avenge your death."
"You've got guts lady." He grumbled, though he couldn't hold back a grin, "And wit. I like that."
"Are you gonna get to the point or not?" She groaned, rolling her deep green eyes.
"I would have thought that you're capable enough of finding anything out yourself little miss smart ass! You just have to ask the right questions." Dan teased, getting a slap on the cheek in return, "Ow! I guess I kinda deserved that."
Firstly, she continued the process of trying to determine why he had tried to steal from them. Currency hadn't existed for at least half a century, ruling that out entirely. She didn't recognise him either, so personal reasons couldn't have been a motive, unless of course, it wasn't his personal reasons. For Ximena, this had verified that he was definitely working with someone. He didn't have company, so she assumed that his associate had hired him rather than worked jointly with him, but what of payment? She kept thinking, and came to the conclusion that his client had power over him somehow; either by threat, or by offering him a reward for his service. Shockingly, only one name came to mind; Phoenix. She couldn't help but deny this prospect as it barely made sense, so she took a step back.
"I take it you're working for someone then?" She questioned.
"Go on..." He encouraged.
She closed her eyes in thought, and looked back through her memories, trying to find anything else that didn't make any sense. Obviously, she remembered waking up after hearing footsteps, and then finding that Sky had gone. The roof and transport outlets were closed in the block due to the storm, but that wouldn't have had much to do with it... would it? Then it became clear; if the thief was working for Phoenix, then they should have been open, allowing him to escape and report back to them. However, it was all sealed off completely, and there weren't any troops inside to rendezvous with either. But Phoenix is the only organisation that could possibly be behind the theft.
"Are you working for Phoenix?" Ximena asked suddenly.
"Good one. Now try to answer it."
"That's your job!" She growled.
"I never said that I'd actually answer any of your questions." He exclaimed, "I suggest you keep thinking."
She thought back again, looking for any evidence that he'd worked for the government, but none of it really made sense. Even if he wasn't working for Phoenix, why weren't they around? They'd usually swarm the night like bees; searching for anyone who'd dare to venture out of their apartment. Maybe it was because they didn't want to be forced to interfere, but why wouldn't they if their man was failing? Then it all came together; Phoenix was powerful enough to hold power over him by means of fear. Phoenix expected activityin response, and because of this, they sealed the exits to prevent suspicion from his possible pursuer, held back on numbers to keep things quiet, and informed him of who could go after him so he knew what he was dealing with. After all this preparation, he had failed, and that was reason enough for him to fear them; to fear his deadly fate.
"You were never scared of Phoenix because of what you stole. It has always been about what you didn't steal! There's your proof, you're worried about crawling back to Phoenix to tell them about your failure!"
A wider smile emerged on his face, "Very good, Ms Prince. Very good."