“Are you ok?” the man’s voice calls out.
Crouching down beside me, he places his weapon on the ground in order to help remove the remains of the choker from my neck. I reflexively rub my throat as it continues to throb along with my frantic pulse. Unsure of what to expect next and fearful of another assault, my eyes rapidly shift between him and the motionless attacker lying on the ground.
“Don't worry,” he stands up, looking over at the body, “he’s dead.”
The man’s silhouette carries the usual male shoulder-to-skull proportion, but I notice his head attached only on the sides of the neck, leaving a gaping hole where the throat would normally be. Walking over to a parked transport vehicle, he opens a tool box and begins rummaging through its contents.
I can’t help but look at the ball in his head; one in his chest and his crotch, wow! Like father said, the internal organs are completely removed. The smooth prosthetics of his limbs makes it impossible to tell what would be considered skin. The various folds of his elbows, neck, chest all appear to meld together.
Sensing that I may be in shock, he kneels once again beside me, “Are you injured?” His voice carries the warm tone of a middle-aged man, indistinguishable from that of a human, conveying a sincere sense of concern, “Let me look.” Leaning in, he checks my clothing for blood. His lucid, intricately detailed, synthetic eyes are surprisingly radiant. “You look ok. You're just shakin’ up.” Standing up, he extends his hand, offering to help me up, “I'm XTN” (x-ten) he says while extending his hand to help me up.
Not quite trusting to take his hand, I lift myself up.
“Listen,” he turns to crouch over the dead body, producing a small plier-like tool, “we can't stay here. There will be more.” Twisting the tool into the man's crotch, he urgently works to extract the spherical glass ball, placing it into a small pouch.
BRRRRmmmm. The air in the chamber begins to shift as a vacuum roar of several approaching vehicles swells. “That’s them!” he identifies, loading his pack onto the transport, “We need to go!”
Throwing his leg across the seat, he mounts the vehicle. Chewwwisshhh! A warm sound ignites underneath his seat, lighting up portions of the engine. His urgency grows, raising his voice to be heard over the growing noise “They’re coming. Let's go!”
Hesitant, I pause__
Cheeewwfff! An incoming streak of light rips past us, exploding into the far wall; the flying debris causing us both the flinch. “Come on!!” The blazing seriousness of his eyes scream, “Let's go!!”
In a leap of faith, I jump on the seat behind him, throwing my arms around his chest. The engine roars out, reverberating throughout the chamber like a swarm of massive bees. I wrap myself tight in order to hold on as we streak off down the dark tunnel.
Cheewwff! Another shot rips past us in pursuit. The speed of our escape intensifies as XTN rockets the craft through a series of turns, weaving past large piles of abandoned wreckage. The metallic walls echo with violence as the blaring engine propels us through the turbulent air. Pounding blasts of repeated shots storm in their lethal attempt to stop us.
Cutting across a larger portion of the corridor, the ride smooths out as we openly race towards what looks to be a looming dead end where a mountainous pile of debris fills the majority of the tunnel. “Hang on!” XTN calls as he steers toward a large angled surface of the fallen roof; the platform leading high up to a small vertical opening on the side.
Throwing his arm back to shift my body weight forward, we hit the angled surface, riding up it like a ramp. Our speed carries us all the way to the top, hitting the upper wall, turning us completely sideways, driving across the vertical surface, slipping through the small opening. My stomach turns as we begin to fall back down the other side. A short burst of the engine jettisons the transport off the wall, sending us in a free fall, leveling out in preparation to land back on the ground. BMMMPPPFFF! A buckling impact bellows in recoil as we hit, the sound of machinery torqueing beyond its limits. With a motorized groan, the transport briefly stalls___ coasting for a moment before realigning itself and resuming power. Briefly looking back over his shoulder, XTN laughs as we speed off, prompting me to look back and see us break free from the chase. Whoever it was, they were not able to slip through.
With the urgency subsided, the pace of the engine eases, relaxing us into a smooth ride. I become conscious of the placement of my arms and hands around him, and can feel the smooth glass-like shell of the sphere in the center of his chest. Being warm and solid, I presume it to be the result of harnessing someone’s soul. Peering over his shoulder I see that his skin is translucent. His cheeks bear what appear to be scars or perhaps divots that hold his helmet on. Apart from the thick sphere residing in the upper portion of his head, his hair is surprisingly normal as it whisks in the wind.
ShhhhFFFFF! The transport's engine coughs and descends into a sputter. “It’s losing power,” he warns, “I need to stop and look at how much damage was done.” XTN throws his left arm back to brace me for a sharp turn off the main corridor into a smaller, side passage.
Gliding to a stop, XTN dismounts the vehicle, kneeling down for an inspection while asking, “What are you doing down here?”
“I fell_ through the roof.”
“What were you doing on the roof?”
“I was on my way to the building__ with the lights.”
“You were going to ELEVAIN? Alone?” Opening the rear compartment, he grabs a tool and rolls onto his back to crawl beneath the undercarriage, grunting, “What's your name?”
“Well Caress, it's dangerous for you to be out here. Where are you from?”
“Tereka?” He sounds surprised, “THE NATURAL CAUSE. Dangerous games the humans are playing over there, tunneling around in the barrier. A breach into these walls would nullify The Treaty, and trust me, the humans would not survive a war.”
“Yeah? Tell that to my father.”
“Does he know you’re out here?” he asks.
My purposeful non-answer prompts him to poke his head out, taking note of the defiant look on my face.
“Well,” he concludes, “we should get you back. There’s a side chamber not many people know of, a passage that leads back to the base of Tereka. I can take you.”
“No Thanks.” I dismiss as my attention is captured by a reflection in the rear carriage, the pouch holding the glass sphere he removed from the dead NoBody. I reach down, the weight of it requiring me to cup it with both hands in order to pick it up.
“Listen,” he continues, toiling away under the engine, “they don't exactly throw welcome parties for human strays out here. In fact, there’s been all kinds of activity down here lately. None of it good. That scout’s intent wasn’t just to snatch you up. Your family needs to know you’re out here.”
Holding the warm sphere, I peer into what looks like the dark fluid of its contents, a murky mixture of thick, miniature clouds, some of them slightly glowing with a faint reddish hue. I ponder the keepsake, “Why did you take this out of him?”
“Who?” He slips out from under the vehicle, “Whoa, careful.” And scoops the sphere from my hands.
“What is it?” I ask.
“It's a Corporeal ORB__ It was his physical being.”
“So, he would have come back to life if you didn't take it out?”
“No. My shot though his Ethereal,” He says, pointing to the ORB in his chest, “instantly fatal. He didn't have any further use for this one.”
Placing the ORB back into the pouch, he proceeds to remove another tool, kneeling down, using it to draw a stick figure on the ground. “The body has three trace points that circulate resonance – the Cerebral, Ethereal and Corporeal.” Using the tool, he traces over the image with a figure eight, illustrating a circulation of energy wrapping around the head, intersecting at the chest, and then wrapping around again at the crotch. “Yours are there, you just can't see them. Harnessing your resonance into embedded ORBs make your energy flow more efficient and slows the aging process.”
Deewwwww! A blinding flicker of light angles down over the side of XTN’s body, forcing him to fall over. “SHIT! A Drone Sweeper.” he struggles, as if partially paralyzed.
Looking up, I see the ray of light emanating from a small cube, silently levitating about 50 feet away.
“The Gun!” He calls out, “Get The GUN!” motioning towards the rear carriage.
I frantically scour through the compartment, latching onto the gun’s handle, flipping it towards his outstretched arm.
With the ray of light slowly crawling across more of his body, he struggles to aim; desperately twisting his wrist, firing off errant shots, unable to hit the small cube.
I dive down, prying the gun from his hand, spinning my arm upward to take aim. Rp Rp Rp Rp Rp! A rapid flurry of shots tear recklessly through the air as the jolting power of the gun forces me to stop firing to avoid falling. Catching my balance, I instinctually reposition my feet, and brace for the recoil; squeezing with a firm grip to let off a series of shots streaming upward, pelting the cube from the air, terminating the light.
XTN pulls his freed body from the ground, swiping the gun from my hand. “GO!” he yells while throwing his arm towards a small crevasse at the far end of the corridor.
Over my sprinting shoulder, I hear a new exchange of gun fire; the flashes of light from the walls indicating new arrivals delivering a handful of explosions.
Darting into the dark, deep, narrow passage, I scurry to its end, grabbing onto a pipe, pulling myself upward. Locking onto a series of ledges, I leap into climbing mode, ascending through the shadows of the manmade structure, traversing up the framed platforms and decaying poles, using anything I can get a grip on.
Briefly looking down I see XTN, climbing in retreat behind me. He urges, “Don’t stop!”
The spans between each story begin to grow as we get higher, forcing me to jump and claw my way up tighter crevasses.
WhhhhhhSHFFFFF! A shot rips straight up between us, splicing through the roof just a few stories up. I curl next to the wall as a shower of glass rains down, large pieces shattering at random in their abrasive descent throughout the passage.
XTN unleashes a furry of shots downward, blasting away portions of metal framing and exposed pipes, sending them battering downward as projectiles.
With the remnants of sand drifting in the air, I look up to a glowing cascade of light from the freshly ruptured opening in the roof. Through the hole, a glimpse of ELEVAIN's shining presence looms, as our chase through the tunnels apparently has brought us closer. Surging upward, I shout over my shoulder, “THERE!” pointing up to a ladder, hanging out in the open, just 2 platforms up. Straddling along the couplings of a pipe, I reach the upper most point, a large metal grate, framed with handrails. But the bottom portion of the ladder is broken off, leaving it out of reach.
Joining me on the framed platform, XTN quickly realizes the situation. He puts his back against the wall, cupping his hands together as an indication that he will lift me up. I grab his shoulders while stepping into his hands. “Ready?” he asks and boosts under my foot, catapulting me skyward. I radically twist my shoulder upward with a fully outstretched arm; my fingers latching to the bottom rung of the ladder. I sway momentarily before punching high to secure my other arm, flexing my entire upper body to pull myself up.
With my feet secured on the bottom of the ladder, I wrap my arm around its side, crouching to throw a hand downward, trying to brace for what surely will be the entire weight of XTN yanking his way up.
Cheeewwfff! A shot strikes the bottom edge of his platform, breaking the corner from the wall. XTN falls over as the entire metal grate tilts, bending the remaining frame.
Cheeewwfff! Another shot buckles into the bottom of the platform, it begins to keel over into a fall, forcing XTN to leap off, dropping himself back down to a lower platform. “GO!” he yells, waving his hand upward, warning me of being exposed on the open ladder. “GO! GO! GO!”