(A/N: Deepest apologies this took so long. Not having my own computer makes writing frequently difficult and this chapter gave me a bad case of writer's block for some time. Things *should* pick up from here as we've arrived at the next major event. Big events are actually a lot easier to write than these kinds of transition chapters, which has been what I've needed to do for awhile now. So I hope you enjoy it.)
In RPGs or adventure games, I was always the kind of person to talk to everyone whenever possible. I mean, you paid for the game so you want to see all, or atleast most of what it has to offer, right? And you'll often find something of interest, whether it's a crucial hint or just an amusing exchange. For various reasons however, I was never that kind of person in real life.
For the longest time, I would keep to myself. Other people, their interests and their problems, just didn't interest me. It was better to keep to myself, something I was sure I understood, rather than reaching out to other people where everything was unknown. I'm not sure why I was that way.
Maybe it's because I hadn't experienced the benefits of friendship. But even when people reached out to me, like Adrian, I rejected the notion. What could silly things like friends offer me? But all that started to change when God's Game began, a situation that forced me into interacting with others, whether I liked it or not.
Looking back, I suppose I'm somewhat grateful for the rude awakening.
So as I sat inside the hovercraft, a space filled with people preparing to risk their lives to take back a water source that could greatly benefit their settlement, I decided that for once, I'd be like the RPG Hero and start talking to people out of the blue.
The space was dark, illuminated by the soft intrusions of light from the metal blinders around us. The light shifted rapidly as the hovercraft sped along the hot sands of a world unfamiliar to me. I looked out at those sands with a blank expression. I was going to mutter something about still being amazed I was in a different dimension, but decided not to. Too many people around.
"Something on your mind, Camera?", a voice said to me, patting my shoulder. It was Aeolus, who sat next to me on a metal bench on the edge of the craft. "Nothing we can talk about here", I said, gesturing to the others… the inhabitants of this world.
"Ah, or can we?", he said slyly. I raised an eyebrow before it instantly hit me.
'Oh right, telepathy. Duh', I thought aloud, knowing he would pick up on it.
'I know we haven't used it in awhile, but we can communicate this way too', Aeolus thought back. It seemed like a very casual use for a super power, but whatever.
'Hey, let us join in the conversation!', an upbeat girl's voice commanded. It was Deux-fois, who was sitting with her sister on a bench across from us and next to the planning table. It was a little cramped, there being maybe ten centimeters between our knees. Okay, maybe not cramped but definitely a cozy fit.
'Hey, not so loud. You don't need to think-shout', Etoile told off as she gave her sister a disapproving look that would've confused anyone not privy to our mental discussion. 'Man, I forgot how cool this was. It's like Ventrilo for the mind', I mentally stated in awe.
'But I have to wonder how this works since our 'minds' are synthetic', Etoile murmured, mentally of course. It didn't surprise me she was still confused about her apparently artificial being. I'd certainly have a lot of questions after finding out something like that.
'From what I understand, our A.I. cores emit the same type of Gamma Waves that a human brain does', Deux-fois chimed in.
Aeolus nodded, 'Right. Electric impulses are electric impulses, it doesn't really matter if their source is organic or synthetic', he added. Etoile smiled a little, she liked hearing phrases like 'it doesn't matter' in relation to her being a synth. It probably made her feel like nothing had really changed… which it hadn't technically since she'd been one all along.
'I've been wondering… you keep saying A.I. Core but what is that exactly?', I asked.
'Well, I've obviously never seen my own, just as you've hopefully never seen your own brain. But it is a essentially an extremely powerful computer processor that contains our being. They're shaped like smooth spheres and exist in our skulls, right where a brain would be', Deux-fois answered, sounding remarkably more intelligent than usual.
'And your skeletons, they aren't actual bone?', I asked.
'They're a type of metal alloy that expands when continually exposed to certain chemicals. This lets us grow at roughly the same rate a human would. The shape is modeled after the human skeleton but isn't exactly the same', she explained.
'And your… uh… fleshy parts?', I asked hesitantly.
Deux-fois only grinned mischievously. 'Are you perhaps interested in our fleshy parts?', she inquired jovially. Etoile blushed and elbowed her in the ribs. Distinctly fleshy ribs. And elbow. And… well most everything else, really.
'Ow! A-Anyway, it's designed to mimic the human body as perfectly as possible. The same organs and what have you. It sweats, it bleeds, it does basically whatever a human body does', she explained. I had several questions, but was too embarrassed to ask them. I assumed the answer to all of them was probably 'yes' in any case.
'But it's immune to certain things. Like Singe's serum', I said… thought… whatever.
'Well, I mean, why not improve while you're replicating? Bio-mech bodies are immune to conventional means of altering the human body. It's possible there's some virus or other out there that could conceivably affect us, but whatever it is, it'd have to be deadly enough to kill a dozen humans', Deux-fois responded.
So they don't get sick? Lucky bastards.
I noticed Aeolus had a serious look on his face, stroking his chin as if deep in thought.
'What are you thinking about? I mean… deep-thinking, I mean… you know what I mean', I said-thought… I think?
'Sorry, I was just thinking about how we're in an entirely different dimensional space from our own. A different universe', he explained.
'Yeah, it sure is crazy', I commented absentmindedly. But there was a tingling in the back of my mind. Was it really? There was something about this place that seemed… right. I couldn't explain it so I didn't bother articulating it.
'According to Maescika's journal, it's way more than just these two. There are countless different universes out there. Not all are caused by time travel, nearly all of them exist naturally, parallel to our own', Aeolus went on.
Deux-fois nodded, physically. And then mentally said, 'Of course! Master has traveled many of them himself! Much of the technology he's engineered had basis in other worlds'. I had to wonder if God had… or has access to the same technology. Has he also explored other worlds?
'So what did he say about these other worlds?', I asked athought… it's like aloud but not aloud at all.
'Well, it seems there usually isn't a common basis for these universes. They all form differently and seem to adhere to different… rules, so to speak. Not just culturally but scientifically. The laws of nature itself can change depending on where you are', he explained.
'Universal constants are just that. Universal. As in, depending on the universe', Deux-fois added with a sheepish grin as if she made a really clever joke.
'Well I don't think that has anything to do with our situation…', I thought aloud. It was at this point that our conversation of artificial bodies and alternate universes came to a close. I walked around, casually conversing with the various scavengers that were coming along with us… Or were we coming along with them?
Most of them were tense and stern, trying their best to focus on the mission at hand and its benefits to their home. They seemed to have a strong tie to the place, many of them were born there. Kodak told me that his grandfather was the one who started the North Star settlement, which means the people here were the children or grandchildren of those original tribesmen.
It was at that point Kodak himself approached me, his expression nervous. "What is it?", I asked. Kodak bit his lip like he didn't know where to start. Over the past few days I'd gotten to know Kodak a bit better. This kind of nervousness didn't seem like him.
Kodak was stern and determined, but I got the impression that's just how one had to be in this world. But despite that, his impression was almost always one of confidence. He had pride is his abilities as a scout, and a mechanic… whether or not he should was another matter, but that was how it was. So this look of uncertainty felt unnatural.
"You and your friends", he started off, "How strong are you, really?", he asked directly.
I was taken slightly aback. It was a perfectly reasonable question to ask, but since everyone had just kinda pushed us along into this, I wasn't expecting the question to come now of all times. Perhaps I should've though…
"I only ask because you returned with Tajir… Tajir was captured, and so were you. What we're up against is far more than just a raiding party. If that was enough to subdue you, then even with all of us, I am concerned", he said, expressing his worries.
My shoulders fell in slight embarrassment. That incident didn't look great on our repertoire, I had to admit. "We were ambushed. They caught us off-guard in a situation that we couldn't counter. This is different, we're bringing the fight to them", I explained, hoping that was enough to restore some morale.
Kodak looked me over for a moment. He couldn't see how strong I was just by looking and I think he knew that. But for whatever reason he did it regardless. After a moment, his expression turned back to his usual confidence, "Well, let's hope our ambush proves even more effective than theirs", he concluded.
I scratched the back of my head sheepishly, "Yeah, that's the spirit", I said, relieving my excuse worked. I mean, it was true, but still.
We sat down together at the other end of the craft, facing eachother by a barred window hole. Soft rays of orange light cascaded between us as we felt the mild rumbling of the craft speeding above the sands. "We need to do this. The settlement is worse off than it looks", he told me.
Considering how bare-bones it looked, that was saying something. Something bad.
"As a scout, I know… there isn't much left in the area that hasn't been used up or taken by the bandits. But the others don't want to hear it. I fear we'll need to relocate sooner or later, but if the others remain stubborn and the bandits remain prolific… we might not get the chance", he explained.
"What does the Elder think?", I asked.
"She… also doesn't see reason", he admitted with a scowl, "Don't get me wrong, I respect her greatly but… she's old. She's set in her ways and doesn't want to leave the home grandpa built for us. I get that… if there were any other way…", he began, his expression frustrated.
"She doesn't leave the settlement like we do, but we, which is to say the other scavengers and I, know the truth. This land is cruel and its resources are on the decline, we cannot stay much longer… you and your friends are nomads, right? Tell me, there have to be better places out there somewhere, right?", he asked, looking right into my eyes.
I bit my lip. This was a tough one. The truth is, I didn't know and suspected the answer wouldn't be to his liking. I decided to play it off as vaguely as possible. "Well… no matter where you go, there will be difficulties…", I said with some strain in my voice.
He looked down, disappointed. "I figured as much… but still, there's got to be better places for us than here", he said with determination. He took a deep breath, "I'm worried about Siria too… she's more frail than she looks, you know", he said.
"How so?", I asked, curious.
"Ever since our parents died, I've been protecting her, looking after her… but I feel in doing so, I might've made her weak. She can cook and sew and truth be told, might almost be as good with machines as me, but if something happens to me… I'm not sure she can survive on her own", he admitted.
"Well, she has the rest of the tribe, right? She's the granddaughter of the Elder, that's got to be important, right?", I suggested.
"Perhaps… but it's not the same. To them, she'd just be another mouth to feed ultimately… but to me, she's my precious sister", he stated, clasping his hands together nervously.
"It's for that reason I almost didn't want to come on this mission… but I knew I had to. I have to provide for her… and if we do this, maybe we'll get some sway with the others. Maybe we can make preparations to relocate…", he said, his words filled with a hollow hope.
"Well, whatever the solution might be, we're going to help you", I said firmly.
Kodak looked surprised, "But why? This is our struggle, you have no stake in it", he stated in a dumbfounded tone. He didn't know how wrong he was. Their struggle was ultimately an extension of the struggle we've been facing for a long time now. But of course, I couldn't tell him that.
"I mean, you guys took us in. In this world, that means a lot. But it's not so much we feel the need to repay you as much as… well, the more thriving settlements there are, the better everyone is, right?", I said, trying to dodge the actual answer. But it was close enough to the truth.
Kodak took a moment to absorb that response before cracking a faint smile. "Of course. I'm glad we're fighting together, Camera", he said, offering me his hand. I shook it firmly. It was good to have allies in this world. Speaking of which, when I left Kodak and returned to the others I saw that someone else had joined my friends by the benches.
Tajir was showing Etoile the intricacies of their standard energy gun. I remembered seeing that he had been teaching her how to use it, but I guess this was what to do in situations where it wasn't working as intended. My understanding was that these energy guns drew power from small fusion batteries, the advantage of which was not needing to find ammunition.
In a world where most of the bullets had probably been spent, that was pretty valuable.
"I'm curious how someone like you managed to be in charge of the scavvers", Aeolus asked, apparently not catching the probably unintentional implication of 'someone like you'. Tajir didn't seem to notice though, "It's a long story, one I still don't get myself", he began.
"Not like we don't have time", I said, taking back my seat.
Tajir sighed, "Truth is, I used to be a bandit myself some years ago. It was what my parents did, so I never thought much on it. It was only after they died that I started to reconsider the wisdom in making so many enemies… that kinda thinking only works if you can kill everyone in your way, but I was never like that", he said.
I tried my best not to judge the guy. I'm sure every decent person in this world has a rough beginning. "So how did you find the North Star?", Etoile asked, admiring the energy gun in her hands.
"It was my last big raid, but it didn't go as planned. I was just a kid who didn't know better, so the guys I was with made me sneak in and steal food while they handled the villagers…", he said, trailing off, "Nobody was supposed to die, but my guys got anxious and starting shooting".
"They killed six people, got tired of waiting and left me there, riding off in a stolen craft. When I was discovered, the villagers didn't know what to do with me. I was a thief, but nobody wanted to send a kid off alone to die", he went on.
"But Elder Roaya let me stay, said I could be useful to them. At first nobody trusted me, and my belligerent attitude didn't help… but that was all I knew. Eventually I mellowed out and changed my tune, put a smile on my face even if I didn't feel like it. It took awhile but people started coming around", he concluded.
"Amazing… people really do respond to a positive attitude", Etoile said in awe.
Tajir shook his head, "Maybe, but I'm not naive enough to think that's the whole of it. I think my being a good enough scavver to get results was probably more important to them. That said, changing my outlook gave me motivation to do that so… I dunno", he said sheepishly.
Etoile looked a bit disheartened by that, knowing how disempowered she was at this time. I grit my teeth slightly, hoping she knew she didn't have to prove anything to us.
Someone came over and tapped Tajir on the shoulder, "Sir, we're approaching the canyon trenches", they said. Tajir nodded and stood up, "Time to get to it", he said with only a hint of nervousness.
Our traversal through the canyon trenches could best be described as 'tense but ultimately uneventful'. We knew there was no way anyone would be patrolling this far behind the plant, but even so, we were concerned. We crept to a slog as we navigated our way through the maze of trenches, looking for our destination.
Nobody was talking aside from Tajir and his navigator, who only exchanged words briefly every few minutes. Everyone else was too tense to bother with any more idle chatter. Every now and again, I glanced out of the barred port windows, but only saw sandy canyon wall around us. But then I heard something… a rumbling. But I couldn't feel it anywhere.
"What's that noise?", Etoile whimpered, her head darting around like a confused deer.
"Maybe a rockslide…", Kodak suggested, looking just as tense as anyone.
But then it happened. Suddenly we all dropped as the hovercraft slammed down into the ground. I could hear the engines sputter from the pressure and we swiveled slightly from side to side as the craft tried to pull itself back up. "What the hell is going on!?", someone shouted.
"Did they find us!?", someone else asked in a panic.
Kodak shook his head as he climbed a ladder on the side, opening up a hatch to the main deck. "No! It's-", he began before he was cut off by the ship suddenly rocking to the side, knocking him down on the floor below. I rushed to help him back on his feet. He groaned in pain as he finished his sentence, "It's a goddamn Crag Snake", he said, clenching his fist.
"A Crag Snake!?", Tajir responded in alert as he descended from the navigation room. "Everyone! We need to get out now! Before it can-", he began, but he too was interrupted by the ship's movements. This time however, the entire ship spun on its side, leaving us all sliding around a slanted angle. Everyone dodged and found shelter from falling supplies and other people.
I barely managed to avoid getting slammed with a box on its way down. Soon the craft was practically sideways and we could hear the metal walls creaking louder and louder. "What's happening!?", I asked aloud to anyone that would answer. Tajir pulled himself out of a pile of ropes and exasperated, "It's trying to crush us!".
I looked out the side window, which was now at a completely different angle and sure enough I saw hard scales slithering about, wrapping around the craft and pressing tighter against us. One of the scavvers tried prying the hatch leading up deck open. But… "It won't budge!", they shouted, pushing at it with all their might, made even more difficult by the odd angle it was now positioned in.
"We're trapped!", someone screamed, panicking.
Kodak was the first to grab an energy weapon off the floor and attempt to shoot the creature out the window. Shot after shot went off, but the creature's grip didn't loosen a bit.
"It's scales are too hard!", Kodak shouted as he tossed the gun away. The metal hull began to creak louder as the giant snake tightened its hold even further. I could hear small parts snapping and screws beginning to pop.
"I have an idea! Hold on!", Tajir shouted as he ran back up to the control area. I couldn't see exactly what he was doing, but whatever it was, ot ended with him throwing a large switch down and exclaiming, "Everyone! Hang on!".
Suddenly, we were moving again. And more than moving, we were being propelled forward at an alarming rate. I could hear the intense roar of engines firing off from the far back. We were boosting our way to freedom.
I clung to that edge of a bench for dear life as we were flying rapidly towards who knows what. Many weren't so lucky and simply flew back into the far wall, slamming into one another. But it seemed to be working. The beast's hold on us was loosening, I could sense it. But now we had a more pressing problem.
"Sir, this is crazy! We're going to crash!", someone shouted as they clutched the hatch handle. "No, we're not! Just hold on!", Tajir responded from the control room with a tinge of annoyance, as if they'd broken his concentration. Taking a quick glance out the nearest window to get a sense of how fast we were going, I had to admit I was getting worried.
I activated my aura armor just in case this got ugly, wishing I could use it to protect the others too. Suddenly I swung to the side as the craft scraped across the canyon wall. And then without warning, the beast retaliated and pulled us in the other direction, slamming us into the adjacent canyon wall. I could hear rocks tumbling down from above, crashing down around us before we zoomed by them.
Was this thing trying to slow us down?
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND BREEEEEEEEEAK!", Tajir shouted to the heavens as he throw the switch back up, bringing us to an immediate halt. The beast was clearly not prepared as it was flung forward and rolled off of us and straight into the canyon wall ahead, slamming hard against the rocky surface. Dust swept the area and rocks fell from above as the craft quickly reversed out of there.
"Everyone above deck! Now! Ready the cannons!", Tajir ordered as he climbed the ladder leading up to the main deck. People had been flung every which way and needed a moment to get their bearings before they hurried up themselves.
I readied my blade. It was time to take the fight to this monster.
ENTRY #55: END