A/N: Solarsky is the story I came up with when I thought to myself, what would the planets and moons of the solar system be like if they were people? Then I added some DBZ to it.
I have a few more chapters already complete besides this one. If this story seems interesting to you, please let me know dear reader, and I'll upload more. This has been my ongoing project for a little while now.
Please note: this chapter contains what could be considered dark psychology and violence. Reader discretion is advised.
It was the conversation I overheard in the gardens that first tipped me off to my impending capture.
I tossed the fresh carrots and celery I'd selected from the garden onto the shopkeeper's counter, and turned to glance over my shoulder at a pair of young women muttering to one another over the potato patch.
"What do you mean you saw them?" One of them asked, giving the other a doubtful stare.
"I mean I saw them on the lower floors, guns and everything." She waved an earthy potato around, gesturing. "I was just leaving my shift on the maintenance scaffolding and I could see them from the railings."
"Why on Earth would they be here?" Her partner worried. "I thought the Crawlers had their own police."
"Looks like, two ration cards, Billy," the shopkeeper said, already handing over my vegetables wrapped in a bag. He knew me by name, or, at least the name I'd given him.
"Uh," I mumbled, turning my head back to my purchase and digging my hands into my pockets for payment, but keeping my ears trained on the conversation behind me. "Right, just a sec."
"You've got me," the woman replied. "There must've been more than 20 of them, though, all armed to the teeth. I betcha they're out looking for someone."
"Here you go," I said numbly, placing two cards into the shopkeeper's outstretched hand.
"Ugh, this trip cannot be over too quickly. I don't want to be anywhere near those EAL troops, and it makes my skin crawl that they can just barge in here whenever they feel like it. I can't believe some people make their homes in a place like this."
"Billy?" Valery called, already stepping away from the counter. "You coming?"
I grabbed my veggies and turned, following her. Valery, my only friend. Her rounded eyes and cheekbones pinched together as she considered my hesitation. I'd forgotten she was here with me. "Coming."
My mind was spinning. Could it be true? If the EAL was here, storming through the lower levels of the Crawler with armed troops, that meant they'd found me. They could be here for someone else, but if they were here for me then I have to act now.
"Another successful shopping trip!" Valery exclaimed, punching an arm into the air dramatically. She rapped the knuckles on her left hand to her chin, which was rounded and curved out slightly. It was one of her many strange gestures that seemed to be habit, gestures I'd accepted as normal by now. Her brown eyes peered sideways at me, a prodding stare meant to encourage conversation. "Now you have everything to make your stew, right?"
I needed to get back to my apartment on the 15th floor. I needed to burn everything, grab my gear, and get out of here as fast as I could. They would find my apartment eventually, so I had to make sure there was nothing they could use to track me. I'd lived here for nearly a year now, and there was bound to be too many loose ends to tie up neatly. The fire I would set should consume everything and end up being my best shot to eliminate every trace of evidence of my residence here.
Had it really been nearly a year now? Damn. Even the shopkeeper knew me as a regular customer. I should never've stayed in one place this long. I grew too many roots here.
There were great green stalks of celery framing the garden path around us. I could see the exit, could imagine myself sprinting towards its crusty steel door handles, but I momentarily felt faint. How long did I have before they found me?
"Hello?" Valery chirped, eyeing me with a cocked brow, the bushy hair there bristling. Her naturally round features seemed to stick out and point accusingly at me. "Are you feeling alright?"
I looked at her, blinking. Valery. Our life here together was at an end. Not that it had been much of a life together, but sharing stew and friendship was more than I'd shared with anyone in many years.
"I have to go," I told her.
"What do you mean?" She questioned, ignorant to the gravity of my words.
"Um," I struggled, my mind still grappling with that very same gravity. "I have to go back to my apartment. I forgot something."
"Okay, I'll come with you," she said, smiling. "Though we should hurry, I'm getting hungry."
"No," I told her. "I'll meet you back at your place. It's, uh… a surprise."
"Is that so?" She said, intrigued. Her hand was outstretched to her side, the celery stalk leaves playing across her palm as we neared the indoor garden's exit. "What kind of surprise?"
My heart was breaking. I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth. I still was working on accepting the truth myself. What I did know was I had little time to waste. When we came to the doorway to the garden, I stopped and turned to face her. Her hand on the door handle, she paused, facing me in turn.
"You'll find out soon," I promised. This was it. Our goodbye. She would understand that in time.
I leaned over and embraced her. She seemed surprised at first, but she quickly wrapped her arms around my back. I squeezed her hard.
We parted. "What's going on, Billy?" She was starting to notice something was up.
"Listen, Valery," I began, trying to steady my shaking voice and rapidly increasing breathing. I handed her the bag of vegetables, which she took readily. "You've been the most important person to me. I don't know what I would've ever done without you. You know that, right?"
"Yes," she answered, cautiously. "You were pretty helpless here when you first came here. Good thing for me."
"Yes. Good. I wanted to make sure you knew that." I pushed open the doors and exited into the main 10th floor causeway. She followed, still watching me with a curious expression. I worked up my courage for the final lie. "Valery, I'll meet you at your place as soon as I can. Okay? I have to go."
I began to hurry away, but she called after me. "What's the rush, man?"
A pang in my heart again. She was catching on. Guilt stabbed into me as I readied another lie. "You said you were hungry, right? I just have to grab something and I'll be right there!"
And I left her, dashing off on the causeway towards the elevators. I didn't have the courage to say goodbye. Or maybe I didn't say it because she would've known something was up. Let's go with that.
The residents and travelers alike inside the giant, crawling transport shuttle all bustled around me as I wove through them navigating across the steel walkways that made up the flooring on this level. The 10th floor was one of the central levels, having most of the shops and utilities that made long-term residence possible in this enormous vehicle. Its steady charge across the countryside was relentless, and nowadays travelling across long distances was especially dangerous due to the persistent storms.
Many people, including myself, could travel in one of these crawling transport carriers indefinitely, should they so choose, and simply live inside one of the numerous living quarters here. It was expensive, and every year you're approached by the Crawler's internal security police questioned on the purpose of your 'longer than average travel duration', but when I first fled here I was seeking shelter. It wasn't until a few days later did I decide that the population density here would provide a great hiding spot for me, as this twenty-story tall armoured vehicle housed nearly 10,000 people.
I reached the elevator and as usual found it to be full, blinking red LEDs around its doors indicating that it was over its weight limit. The people deeper in the elevator eventually shoved out the few others trying to squeeze themselves inside, and the LEDs turned green. The elevator doors clamped shut and it left, leaving me with my palm feeling numb against the closed doors.
I shot long glances around me as I waited, my eyes combing the walkways around the elevator on the far side of the 10th floor. I didn't see anyone armed advancing on me, nor did I hear the sounds of boots stomping against the ringing steel walkways. Wherever they were, they hadn't found me yet.
Unless they were headed for my apartment.
That thought gripped me in anxiety until the jolt of the elevator doors opening shook me free. I looked inside the elevator and briefly watched the stream of bodies exiting before rushing inside. I didn't see anyone in military gear here either. I pressed the button for the 15th floor repeatedly, trying to focus myself and relieve my stress.
I needed to hurry. If I could get there first, I needed to. Letting them get to my apartment first was not an option,
If I was going to escape them, I figured I would need to do two things:
First, I would need to make sure that I burned my apartment and almost everything in it in order to eliminate any traces of my presence here. I needed to do this because if they found my apartment first, they would have access to my entire identity here. My name, my job, my connection to Valery, and most importantly, that I was ever here in the first place.
If they found that, it would make it very difficult for me to escape, since I wouldn't be able to hide here and would have to escape into the outdoors in the middle of nowhere, without any supplies whatsoever.
If I tried to hide here, they would be able to track me and use Valery against me. I couldn't risk that, and I didn't much care for the idea of fleeing without supplies, so my only option was to reach my apartment first.
The second thing I needed to do was leave the Crawler with my survival bag that I had packed under my bed, and hike it to the nearest shelter around. If I could do those two things, I knew I could escape this alive.
The elevator doors opened on the 15th floor and I lunged outside, almost stumbling over the man at the front.
"What the?" He grunted as I clubbed past him. Thankfully he didn't say any more, since I was already sprinting away and toward the southern residential wing. I raked my gaze over the walkways around me, searching desperately for my pursuers. Nobody yet, that I could see.
I numbly followed my racing body on my preprogrammed route home. A thought arose in me, wondering if I was just being crazy. And when I got home, there was nothing to be worried about, that the people in the gardens were lying about sighting the armed troops, or they were simply mistaken.
Then, I could go over to Valery's place and make the stew I convinced her to try earlier today. Everything would be okay.
My keys were already in hand when I came to the door of my apartment. It only took a moment before I threw it open and stepped inside, noting the complete absence of anyone pointing guns at me. I shut the door behind me quietly.
Quickly now. I turned on the lights and bee-lined it towards my bed. My tiny apartment was blurry around my tunnel vision. I flicked up the bedsheets that curtained over the edges of my bed, and I reached underneath and withdrew the stuffed suitcase there. It was green, heavy, and most necessary to my survival. I dug through a deep surface pocket and pulled out a neatly folded uniform.
I'd bought this uniform several months ago from a travelling merchant. I'd ambushed him near the end of his stay, when I figured he'd either be so desperate to make whatever extra money he could on the trip, or that he'd already made so much money that he'd part with something in a last-minute deal for cheap. Turns out I was wrong. It was twice as expensive as I expected to pay, but at the end of the day here it was, mine just for this occasion.
This is what was going to keep me warm enough to survive the trek through the wilderness before I found shelter. It was made from a synthetic material the EAL manufactures, and it is well insulated from the cold and flame retardant. I quickly unbuttoned my checkered shirt and threw down my baggy pants.
When the door to my home exploded into the centre of the room my heart fell into the pit of my stomach. Too late.
A pair of military-armed men surged into the room and headed right at me, and I just stared back in paralysed shock, still standing with my pants around my ankles in front of my suitcase on the bed.
So they were after me after all.
The troops leveled their rifles at me, and I saw another pair rush into the room behind them.
"Freeze!" They commanded.
That was the last thing I was going to do.
I glanced at the window on the other side of my bed, and for the first time I was thankful the only window in my tiny apartment was drafty and so close to where I slept. Without delay I lunged at it, leaping from the ground just before the room was filled with the sound of gunfire. I yanked my legs up closer to my body, hoping it would protect me from the volley of bullets that shot through the air and punctured through my suitcase on the bed. I peeked behind me as I sailed toward the window, spotting through the smoking threshold that had once been my doorway at least three more armed men, all in the same concrete-coloured combat armour. Though I couldn't see their eyes behind their tinted visors, I could tell they all watched in disbelief as I sprang away from the iron sights of nearly a half-dozen assault rifles.
Then I realized I had completely left behind my pants, and my underwear flapped in the air behind me, like a flag hooked by momentum to my ankle.
Crap. Even if I escaped them with my life, I'd never get out of here with my dignity.
I crashed through the window in a hail of bullets, careening into the cold night air 160 feet above the ground. Even as I felt relief that the thick steel walls of the transport crawler protected me from the gunfire, it wasn't long after I briefly struggled with pulling up my dark blue underwear that I began to fully realized what I'd done. I was falling through the dark winter night, the giant transport vehicle rolling through the snow away from me. The winter wasteland outside enveloped me, and the permafrost rapidly closed in.
This was going to hurt. So much.
I curled into a ball, bracing myself for the impact. A 160-foot drop was pretty steep. Could I really survive this fall? More importantly, is all this really happening again, after what seemed like so long? Really it had only been about eight months or so, but that was still the longest I'd ever stayed hidden and without the EAL chasing me down.
My eyes slid closed as the ground approached. I'd been found again, and worse, I'd just abandoned the safety of the transport carrier and jumped into the wilderness in the dead of winter, with nothing but the flannel button shirt on my shoulders and the tight boxer-briefs on my ass. Maybe those troops were right, and I would freeze after all.
That's when I hit the ground. But instead of my body breaking on the ground like a carton of eggs, the ground cracked and opened beneath me like a hammer hitting an eggshell. Dirt and snow were carried into the air from the force of the impact, and the sound thundered dully into the wide-open expanse before the rumbling of the transport crawler filled my ringing ears once again.
My forearms and legs throbbed in pain, and my stiff, cannonball-like posture gave way to trembling as the disorientation worsened. Even though my eyes were closed and I wasn't moving, I felt my whole world wavering and reeling from the impact.
But at the back of my mind, underneath the pain and panic I felt, I was trying very hard to concentrate on something. In fact, I'd been monitoring it for some time now. There was a fire there, just on my arms and legs, and it felt like hundreds of tiny, scorching hot needles vibrating directly against my skin. It hurt like hell, and yet just before I hit into the ground I felt it ignite like armour against me, and it pushed back with even more force than the ground pushed on me.
It wasn't real fire, obviously. I didn't just burst into flames. But I know how being burned feels like, and that's definitely what it felt like.
When this first started happening, I wasn't even sure what it was. I couldn't ever see a licensed doctor about it of course, because of my status as a registered felon, but I hadn't even spoke about the fire to anyone either. I was pretty sure from the first moment it happened, some four years ago in that testing chair at the EAL conscription camp, that it was why these goons were always trying so hard to capture me. It was definitely the main reason my life was so shitty and why, even after eight months of peace, I could never truly have my old life back.
The days before I settled down into life at the transport crawler, the last time they'd found me and the fire protected me, I remember I promised myself something. I told myself if it happened again, I needed to accept that it was never going to go away. My old life was over. I didn't do anything but the fire still protected me, as if was some automatic reaction, like instinct and reflex. The fire was part of me now, whether I liked it or not.
Willing myself into action, I steadied my shaking and climbed up to my feet. As I surveyed my body my panic slowly bled away, and I marveled at how relatively unharmed I was. I landed, rather ungracefully, into the permafrost wasteland after the fall from the 15th floor and here I was, walking away just a few moments later. When I was ten I broke my wrist when I tripped down the stairs and had to wear a cast for a month. It was an unbelievable change.
Had I even needed to dodge those bullets in the first place? The fire had protected me again, after all. It was real. I had no idea what it was, but it seemed that with it, I was able to endure almost anything.
As if she heard my thoughts, Mother Nature sent a frigid wind of snow that pierced through me. It was freezing cold out tonight, and ironically the fire did nothing to warm me up. Even besides that, I was pretty much naked. I needed to find shelter, or I may've just sentenced myself to death by pneumonia.
Just then, a shaft of light cut through the night from high above me, and it moved through the air, sweeping broadly, as if it was looking for something. Another beam of light shone through the night to my other side, flying in from behind the giant transport vehicle that gradually rolled away from me.
I could see now that they were spotlights, combing the ground from the bellies of armoured helicopters. Dread held me tighter than the cold winter wind, and I fell numb.
They had aircraft here too? They had to have been planning this for some time. How could I've been so careless as to not notice?
My breathing came back in a rush, and I felt the panic come back. I was exposed and cold, alone in a frozen, featureless expanse, and I had absolutely no place to hide from the aircraft or anywhere to take shelter from the elements. What was I going to do?
I looked at the giant transport vehicle that surged ever into the distance. It was now about 60 feet away from me, and beside one of its huge back treads I could see a small ladder lit by a safety light, and it led up into the bottom of the chassis. The carrier was the only shelter and the only place to hide, and though it certainly wasn't in my original plan, it also was my only option right now.
Would they expect me to flee back into the carrier after witnessing me escape into the night? They'd probably expect to see me splattered across the ground somewhere, so I thought I would chance it.
Choosing to sprint straight toward the ladder without further delay, I noticed my legs were as powerful as they'd ever been, as if I hadn't just landed on them after a steep freefall. It almost boggled my mind; I was so strong now. So long as I didn't screw up too bad... I knew I could do this.
The permafrost beneath me was torn up by the heavy treads of the transport carrier, and my bare feet felt frozen and clumsy as I sprinted toward the ladder. My arms flailed madly, steadying me even as I stumbled across the snow-dusted ground repeating over and over in my head, don't fall, don't fall!
I was making progress and the transport crawler inched closer and closer to my outstretched hands, but when the spotlights began sweeping closer to my position my focus faltered and I looked up at the armoured helicopters converging on my position. My numb feet tripped on the torn-up, uneven permafrost and I tumbled face-first into the ground.
A sharp stinging snaked through my face as I felt my nose break from the fall. The painful sensation of the fire's protection did not ignite along my skin as it had before. If through my panic I had time to be frustrated, I surely would've been, but as I tried to push myself back to my feet a shaft of light fell directly over me and I knew I had no time to waste with frustration.
I scrambled to my feet and wholly committed myself to the sprint. I bounded over the broken topsoil as fast as my legs could work, and the spotlight followed me the whole way, lighting up my escape like a beacon. Somewhere in my periphery I saw the other helicopter close in, its beam of light locking in on my position and shining painfully in my eyes.
There was no going back now. Either I made it to the ladder or they caught me.
The moments that followed, as I closed in on the ladder, my fingertips yearning for the snow-slick rungs, I entered an almost zen-like state. I no longer thought about the cold wind biting away my feeling, nor the growing death-like numbness that had become my bare feet. I even forgot all about Valery. I only saw my goal.
I needed to reach that ladder. The rest of my life depended on it. It was a shame that I seemingly was only able to really do my best when my life depended on it, but I was sure as hell counting on that right now.
The rumbling of the huge treads was almost deafening this close up. Dirt and snow chewed up by the treads spat into the air and peppered my face. I didn't care. The ladder was almost within reach.
Even over the transport's rumbling machinery, the voice projected out from the helicopter's speaker's echoed loud like the voice of God.
The voice was like a brick thrown into the intricate web of my focus. I glanced behind me for only a moment, and I saw one of the armoured helicopters swooping in low to the ground and swinging its open broadside to me. Through the night I could see the twinkling of laser-sights, drawing small holes all over my body. A shiver shot down my spine and my eyes stretched wide in fear. In that split-second I panicked, and I leapt from my dead run and reached for the ladder.
As their automatic weapons opened fire on me my right hand found purchase on the lowest rung. It was thick and easily grasped, only the slushy debris from the treads has completely coated it, making it ice-cold and slippery. I'd nearly grabbed it with my other hand when the bullets hit my back.
Instead of puncturing through my body, these bullets seemed to deliver a painful static shock upon impact. All my muscles tensed instinctively and the pain quickly became my whole world. After only a few moments and what felt like a hundred rounds piston-punching all over the back of my body I knew I'd failed.
I couldn't hold on.
My strength gave out and I fell away from the ladder. I stared intently at the hatch just above the top rung, leading into the interior undercarriage of the transport carrier. More than the pain now, despair possessed me. The hatch was locked, and the ladder led to a dead end.
I'd never had a chance.
Without the strength to break my fall, my legs collapsed beneath me and I hit the ground like a dead bird in a shooting range. My muscles wouldn't obey me, and it felt like my back and shoulders had been tied up into knots. My uncontrollable twitching gradually relaxed into trembling when I began to cry with gritted teeth into the snow. At least I didn't feel the cold anymore.
It was then I realized the fire decided to return this time, and as the pain and shock of the stun rounds dulled the sheets of hot needles vibrating against my body became more and more noticeable. The sensation rolled across my back and over my shoulders, burning along the backs of my arms and legs. I could feel the fire covering almost half of my body, more than I'd ever felt before. And it was only the beginning.
I could feel it within my chest, covering my lungs and gorging my stomach. It swelled inside me, rays of heat piercing through my skin and licking the snowy ground around me like the tendrils of an invisible fire, sublimating it and surrounding my body in a weak mist. I was howling in pain.
It felt like I was being torn apart.
The fire inside was too hot, and too big to fit in me. I could feel it filling me up, and charging through my arms to my palms. Like vapour escaping from a hot kettle, I could feel the fire inside screeching as it steamed out through my hands, invisibly and painfully. I slowly turned up my palms, seeing them spasm in agony, and though I felt the fire escape in clouds of smoke it was completely imperceptible to my eyes.
I could still feel it even now as it undulated outside my body, swirling around my hands like an invisible gas. How could I feel it without it touching me? What was happening?
The fire burned bigger and bigger inside me, and my arms felt like they were going to burst open to let out the pressure. The steam gushing from my hands wasn't nearly enough to release it all, and the fire grew faster with each passing moment. It was all I could do to hold it in.
The sound of the rotating helicopter blades was so much louder now as it swept in closer, now only a stone's throw away. As I laid there suffering a large metal net weighted at its fringes slammed overtop me, pinning me in place. Constricted and unable to writhe as I had been, I felt grip on the inferno inside me burn to cinders.
The flaming tendrils of heat that licked out of my body condensed and locked in their considerable heat all around me, drying my freezing skin and warming my shaking joints. The steam from my smoking hands began to entwine and dance around itself, and I could feel an otherworldly link forming between my two hands. It was something I couldn't have even begun to describe at the time, but I would come to know the sensation well.
I remember at the time feeling like I'd become locked within my own mind, partitioned away from my physical self, and that my body had become completely consumed by a reaction out of my control. I felt like a match ready to strike.
When a trigger in the snare activated a powerful electric current to charge through the netting, the fire in my chest exploded.
My mind was numb and distant as it happened, but I was surprised that instead of completely disintegrating like a bomb casing I remained unharmed, as if I was in the eye of a storm. The fire burst outward in every direction, ripping the electric net into pieces and knocking the troop of advancing soldiers to the ground a dozen feet away.
The shockwave stalled the nearest helicopter's rotors and the force shoved the entire craft backward, smashing it into the permafrost. The fuselage crumbled at the impact point and its main rotor engine burst into flames. The other aircraft remained airborne, steadying through the turbulence with its spotlight still shining in my eyes.
It was so bright, and I felt so weak. There was no use in fighting any longer.
I gave up, and plummeted into darkness, not caring if I ever opened my eyes again.
A/N: I would love to know what you think! I have guest reviews turned on so don't hesitate to drop me a line!