Ooo, intrigue! Mystery! Excitement! Can't wait to get to that part! Also hopefully more Ember
Yayayayaya! I love different POV stuff, it's so interesting to look at someone's experience from different angles. As Obi-Wan would say, "a certain point of view". LOL
Aww, poor Blade.
I find it intriguing that Ember has this kind of reputation of being a good man unless something pushes him over the edge. Like people love and trust him, but they're also afraid of him because of what he can do.
Awwwww Glory and Jet are so sweet together.
ACH NO! Not again! *wails* Poor Jet, he just can't catch a break!
In conclusion: About the wings, do they extend from inside the...cuffs? on his arms? Like nano-tech or holographic wings or something? I usually picture them looking like the harness Falcon wears in the MCU, but Jet's sound a lot smaller and lighter. And pretty comfortable, if he can sleep with them on.
Flying would be recessive. Though it's rather unclear how exactly it works as the Winged are interdimensional beings and their flight is not literal, like with wings. Some Royalty theorized it was, but lately the theory of scientists has been that they did not have actual wings. Thus the almost immediate inability to fly of the Royalty, after the first generation. Ancient history was a bit indistinct, as it was erased through many wars, only living in memory from that first era.Helios wrote:Ooo I get it. It's like two different abilities that can be used, but not together. And of course blood diluting is going to create lots of half-breeds and hybrids. Just had a thought: would flying be a recessive gene then, since it was weeded out by continuous intermingling with human genes?
About the wings, do they extend from inside the...cuffs? on his arms? Like nano-tech or holographic wings or something? I usually picture them looking like the harness Falcon wears in the MCU, but Jet's sound a lot smaller and lighter. And pretty comfortable, if he can sleep with them on.
Jet's wings are also not literal wings--just that the bands around his arms allow him to fly. I didn't know it was not clear. I originally did have "actual" artificial wings, but then opted for the more streamlined approach. Orikal makes it possible. A sort of antigravity force created so they're not bound to the earth. They are comfortable, they basically mold to his arms on the inside. Because flying was so essential to who the Royalty are, they had to invent a way to fly pretty early on. Originally (after things like balloons etc) it was like a jet-pack and gradually evolved into the present wings, esp after being able to harness orikal, which revolutionized City Magnificent society.
I tried to struggle away, but it only sent fresh waves of agony through my head and arm, so I remained still and helpless until they dropped me in front of the fire, facing the other three cult members.
I sat there in a heap, a mass of pain, hardly aware of their voices and movements, just focusing on breathing, staying as still as possible. Behind me, I could hear the snap and hiss of the fire, but I could feel no heat. At least they would not be able to burn me with holographic fire. But would they actually try to hurt an outsider, and risk being caught? Normally, they would be caught if they tried anything, but since my sensor shield was still working, no one would come to my aid. Maybe I should shut it off. It might eventually degrade like the invisibility one had, anyway. If I shut it off, Ms would be able to find me almost immediately, and carry me out of danger. Or—which would be more difficult—I could snap on my other wing again and fly up out of their reach….
The cult leader swept one arm toward me. “These creatures taught us they were gods. But you see how weak and fragile they are without their armies of Ms. They do have innate power, given to them by demons. But this power can be defeated.”
He turned to me. “I believe, unlike Royalty, the Nobility can be salvaged. It would be easier to simply kill them, but we are not like they are. We are merciful.” He slid a long, thin blade from his belt. “Their evil is manifest in their lightning. The origin of the evil is the blood. If we shed enough blood, it will replenish itself with new, pure blood. Each Noble has a different amount of evil inside. We will know if the evil is fully purged when the new human is unable to produce lightning anymore.” He swept the knife toward me; it just barely missed my cheek.
Time to get out of here.
I wasn’t ready for Dad to find me. I didn’t want to fly back in defeat. So I slid my right hand into my pocket and slowly, carefully, lifted my wing to my left arm, cupping it to hide it from the cult members. Then I slipped it on over the burn. I winced as it scraped over raw flesh, but managed not to make a sound. Mesmerized by their leader, the cult members didn’t seem to notice my actions.
With my right hand to help push me up, I jumped off the ground.
My legs faltered. I barely managed to stay standing. My wings had not worked. Perhaps they had been damaged from the lightning like the invisibility program apparently had. Or maybe they just needed to be charged.
Either way, I wasn’t going anywhere.
The leader swished his knife toward me. “You see? The light is on our side. Take him.”
The Ice man and a reg woman with long brown hair sprang forward and grabbed my arms. They carried me over to a tall green mushroom and slammed me against its stalk. I stifled a cry as a metal bed post hit my back. They tugged a rope around my stomach, pressing my arms tightly against the post. I couldn’t get to the com in my pocket…though maybe I could give it a voice command. My situation was looking desperate if they were more than playacting, or if their game was getting out of hand because of finding a real live Noble…
The cult leader lowered his blade to my chest. I flinched, but the blade didn’t cut, it just rested there, over my heart. Maybe they were just really into the game and wouldn’t actually hurt me, other than rough handling which only hurt because of my injuries.
The others gathered around, looking at me with avid faces that reflected the glow of the leader.
“And now, we, Divine Humanity, will purge this creature of evil and give him new life, so that he may be reborn into the body of a pure human, the ones who truly own the multiverse.”
He lifted the knife away, to my relief—only to lower it again and this time, slice into my chest. The blade made a long, agonizing gash and I gasped as pain ripped through me, along with shock that he was actually cutting into me.
“Com—” I said, as soon as the knife lifted away—“stop the sensor block.”
No answer. But I had put it on silent mode, so I couldn’t tell if it had responded or not.
The cult leader passed the knife, dripping my blood, to the Mirage woman. She took it and stepped toward me.
Nothing. Perhaps it was being particular and wanted me to touch it directly. I struggled against the bonds and inched my hand toward my pocket.
The Mirage woman stopped in front of me, red warring with orange across her face. She smiled. “Don’t struggle. I know this hurts, but it will be worth it, I promise.” She slid the flat of the blade over my arm, almost like a caress. I jerked my hand downward—but the rope stopped it before it could reach my pocket.
The blade lowered again and pressed against my skin—a quick shove, and cut down into it—I writhed away—
The albino from Ice hurled a punch across my face. “Stop struggling. It’ll only make it worse.”
I sagged against the bonds as pain throbbed across my cheekbone, my vision blurred.
Please, please, Winged, if you are there, help me.
I jumped, my heart leaping out of my chest. Had they shot me?
But no. I didn’t hurt any more than I had a moment ago. And the cult members had turned toward a figure in the doorway. Her hair shimmered over her shoulder like a waterfall of gold. Black clothes clad her strong, lithe body, and in her hands she held a large gun. She swung the gun toward the cult leader.
“Get away from him!” she said. “Or I kill your leader.”
“If you kill me, I will ascend, and another will take my place.”
“Yeah, but I doubt you want to feel the pain of leaving this plane.”
“Pain is but a moment’s kiss of eternity.”
“What does that even mean? Look, I’m tired of playacting, and I’m not leaving without Cash. You will not touch him again, because if you make a move toward him, I’ll shoot. It won’t be fatal, because despite what it looks like, this gun only stuns. But you will be incapacitated, and it will be unpleasant. You’ll be knocked out of your Flicker haze, and you’ll have to face reality.”
“R-reality?” said the Mirage woman, in a horrified voice.
“Yes, reality. Worse than death to you guys. So. If you’d move away from him, please. I haven’t got all day.”
The cult members looked at each other with bewildered, half-fearful faces. Then they shuffled out of the line of fire—all except for the leader. He stood in front of her; his long silvery hair floated around his shoulders like mist. “Your words will not trick me. You are Nobility, and you must be purged.”
“You’re really deep into it, aren’t you?” She lifted the gun to her shoulder. “Very well.” BOOM! A blast of white light knocked him off his feet, and he sprawled onto the ground in front of me, unconscious.
The young woman lowered the gun as she strode toward me, then leaned it against the base of the mushroom stalk. “You sure got yourself into some trouble, didn’t you?” She grabbed a knife from her belt and angled it toward my side. I flinched away. “Hey—don’t worry. I’m not gonna hurt you. Just gotta get this rope off.”
I nodded, in so much pain I could hardly comprehend what was happening.
The knife sliced through the rope, and it fell away from my body. I took a deep breath.
A gentle pressure across my neck. A cold, liquid-like sensation spread over my skin. Then, tendrils of euphoria crawled through me, dulling the pain.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well, if anyone needs a medpatch, you do. Now, we’ve gotta do something about those wounds. Didn’t expect you to be more wounded than when Cade and Tania left you—but apparently the Flicker-heads found a refuge on the storage floor.” With her knife, she sliced off a piece of her black shirt, then wrapped it around my arm. She cut another piece and pressed it over the wound on my chest, sopping up the blood.
Even with the medpatch, it still hurt, and I must not have been able to hide it.
“Sorry,” she said. “Just don’t want you losing too much blood on me. Medpatch should fully kick in now, though, and pick up the slack.”
“You’re welcome. You said that already, you know. Cade did say you had a concussion….”
“I mean—thanks for all of this. For saving me.”
“No problem. Usually Flickerheads are pretty docile….but everything’s getting out of hand. Cade’s taking Tania home and I told him I’d come get you.”
“Their sister Sym. Short for Symphony. How are you feeling?”
“Better. Kind of shaky.”
“I’ll help you.” She slid her arm beneath my uninjured shoulder, and I clung to her opposite shoulder with my hand. She picked up her gun and we made our way over the blue fungi toward the door, while the cult members clustered around their fallen leader, some of them sobbing as if they’d lost him for real.
Sym gestured toward them with her gun. “I almost feel sorry for them. Well, if they hadn’t hurt you. They just don’t know fantasy from reality anymore.”
“They…might be even more dangerous without Flicker.”
“You’re probably right. But….not everyone is better under its influence….” A shadow fell across her face.
We stepped out of the door into the hallway. Relief hit me to be away from the Eclipse holo and the cult that had tried to slice me up.
“I think I can walk on my own.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.” She slid her shoulder out from under my arm. I followed her down the hallway to the elevator.
“We’ve got to go all the way to the ground floor,” she said. “It’s past curfew, so the cars won’t come to pick us up. We’re gonna have to walk home. Good thing we don’t live far from here.”
“I thought Quarantine didn’t have curfew during Festival.”
She shrugged. “I thought so too. Nothing makes sense. It’s like—this is a super-Festival, and there are no rules, except a few random ones.” She lifted her gun. “If I didn’t have this, I probably wouldn’t have made it to your floor.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
Before she could answer, the elevator doors opened.
Two people jumped out of the elevator and aimed their guns at us.
Do the Royalty and Nobility have oral traditions for passing history down?
Ooo okay so he's not like sprouting big feathery things from his biceps. I agree, the non-feathery-wing makes it a lot more streamlined. Also the thought of Blade trying to flap himself higher with gigantic wings is a little too comedic.
Would orikal kind of be like the vibranium of Mag City? (I dunno if you watch Marvel movies, it's a big deal in Black Panther and the stuff they use to make Cap's shield)
Now to the stream of consciousness
This cult man who's trying to bleed Jet is just creepy LIKE EEEEEK FLY AWAAAAAY JET
Aaaaaah yESSSSS SYM!!! *dances* and she's totally kicking butt
Ommmmygooosh the intrigue is building! Man I did not expect this to be the direction the story would go, but I'm loving it!
So just to clarify: It's Echo, Sym, Cade, and Tania, as siblings, in that order, right?
the Royalty and Nobility do have oral traditions-- they're practically living history, as they can live 1000 years They also have official history, which goes back almost 20,000 years, but the Winged were before that, so they can only speculate about them and about their origins and ancient history. Also much of history especially from the defeated Royalty was destroyed in the war so those perspectives are lost....Helios wrote:Ooo okay that sounds like the flight thing may have been a mental or pyschological ability.
Do the Royalty and Nobility have oral traditions for passing history down?
Ooo okay so he's not like sprouting big feathery things from his biceps. I agree, the non-feathery-wing makes it a lot more streamlined. Also the thought of Blade trying to flap himself higher with gigantic wings is a little too comedic.
Would orikal kind of be like the vibranium of Mag City? (I dunno if you watch Marvel movies, it's a big deal in Black Panther and the stuff they use to make Cap's shield)
Now to the stream of consciousness
This cult man who's trying to bleed Jet is just creepy LIKE EEEEEK FLY AWAAAAAY JET
Aaaaaah yESSSSS SYM!!! *dances* and she's totally kicking butt
Ommmmygooosh the intrigue is building! Man I did not expect this to be the direction the story would go, but I'm loving it!
So just to clarify: It's Echo, Sym, Cade, and Tania, as siblings, in that order, right?
Ha it's a bit like vibranium in a way, in that it makes Mag City possible and it absorbs and stores energy. Mag City primarily uses solar cells with orikal, which translates solar energy in a very efficient manner. I hadn't heard of vibranium when I created orikal... it's sort of inspired by orichalcum, a prized metal of Atlantis (I may have mentioned that before).
what direction did you expect the story to go?
Close. It's Sym, Echo, Cade, Tania. Actually, since there are 9 kids in the family, it's Euphoria, Harmony, Symphony, Echo, Rhythm, Cadence, Tania, Donita, Sharlee.
As they stepped into the hallway, a shadow swept over it, painting the walls with gray bricks. The tops of the walls morphed into crumbling rubble, and in the distance smoke rose from a burning Mag City during the Endless War.
Warzone. A holo I’d played quite a bit a couple years ago, before I got tired of the never-ending conflict.
Sym raised her gun. “We don’t want any trouble. But we’ll give you some if you try anything.”
“What faction are you?” said one beneath her opaque black helmet. They both wore black from head to foot except for a red armband. “I don’t see your colors.”
Sym sighed. “I’m not from any faction. I just want to get home.”
“There’s no such thing as no faction,” said the other. “If you think you can be neutral in this war, you’ll find yourself dead.” He gestured to me. “He looks half-dead already.”
“Yes, well, I rescued him from another faction. They were torturing him for information.”
“What faction are they?”
The woman gestured to the man. “Let’s go.” They lowered their guns and ran past us. As they neared, the woman grasped Sym’s shoulder. “Here’s some advice. Join the Vales. We’re going to win. If I see you next time without a color, or with the wrong color, I won’t hesitate to shoot.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
They ran the rest of the way down the hall and disappeared through the storage room door.
“Let’s go,” said Sym. I walked to the elevator and, grateful for the rest, leaned against the wall. Sym flipped from “100” to “1” on the glowing holographic controls. As the doors closed, muffled gunshots rang out from the storage room where the cult was, along with a cacophony of screams. The sounds shut off completely when the doors eased shut.
Sym touched her arm. “I could put on a faction armband. But it’s more likely they’ll shoot on site if I’m the wrong faction than if I’m none.
“You have a holocom, right? Cade told me you were invisible when he found you.”
“Maybe you should at least put some holoclothes on, so you don’t stand out when we get to the ground floor. I doubt I’ll be able to get you an actual shirt till we get home.”
I lifted the com from my pocket. It would cover my wings too. Without my wings, I could almost pass for a reg—unlike Sym, whose height and blond hair marked her as Nobility.
I brought up the holoflage program and scanned Sym’s clothes. A moment later, a holographic black shirt and pants spread over me, identical to hers. I felt better, less vulnerable, though beneath it the wounds were still there, bound with pieces of Sym’s clothes.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Better. I don’t really feel like myself yet, though….”
“Well, you were hit by lightning. Medpatches never quite fix all the symptoms of that.”
“Have…you ever been struck by lightning?”
“Not sky lightning. But me and my brothers used to stormdance quite a bit. I’ve got a lot of lightning—almost as much as Royalty—so I’m usually prepared for attacks. Except against Rhyth—he’s got about as much as I do, and he….well, he doesn’t play fair.” Her blue-purple eyes struck mine with an intense, searching gaze. I forced myself to meet it. “Cade told me you would find Echo for us.”
“Yes. I’ll go to the restricted zones and see if I can find him. It’s just that—my invisibility program isn’t working for some reason. I tried to hide myself from those Divine Humanists….but it wouldn’t work.”
“You made the program, right?”
“Then maybe you can fix it. You’ll have time when you get back to our house. Rhyth’s good at that kind of thing too, but he’s not always the most helpful. If it helps get Echo back, though….I hope he wouldn’t hold out on us.”
“I should be able to fix it,” I said, with confidence I didn’t feel. At least the holoflage was still working…and so was the sensor block, apparently, otherwise Ms would have swarmed the place by now. “Even if I can’t, I still have the sensor block, so maybe I can get inside anyway.”
“That would sure come in handy in Quarantine…. You must’ve thought you’d run into some trouble.”
“I wanted to be prepared. I’ve never been to Quarantine before.”
She tilted her head, deep shadows hinting secrets in her eyes. “How much do you know about why Echo disappeared?”
“I…just know that one day I was playing with him, the next day—no one would even talk about him. Like he’d never existed.”
“Cade doesn’t know. He was so young….but I was good at lurking in corners.” The ghost of a smile lifted her lips. “I put two and two together, and later I confronted Mom about it, and she told me the truth. Echo is only my half-brother. She had an affair with Flash Vale. Dad was kind of…setting out on his own during that time, and she was lonely, and Flash was, well—Flash. He made her feel loved. That’s what she told me, anyway. Besides being an affair, it was innocent on her end. She just got swept up in the romance of it all, and….She never had anything to do with the Vale family otherwise. She wasn’t wrapped up in their intrigues. Flash was just having another one of his flings, and Mom didn’t mean much to him. But Ember—” Anger sparked in her eyes—“he threw us in Quarantine anyway. All of us, except for Dad. We were sentenced for life. And Echo…By the Winged, I hope he’s only in one of the restricted zones.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have a suspicion. No proof, of course. But….he has Vale blood. Ember believes that DNA is absolute. If blood is tainted by that of a traitor, then that person is doomed to a fate worse than death.”
“So you think Echo is….” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Dad could not have done it. Thrown an innocent little boy to a place of such horror…..
“In the Abyss. I don’t know, and Mom won’t even let me hint at it—but it’s the place he most likely is.”
“But—D...Ember wouldn’t do that! He’s just; he doesn’t punish innocent people.”
She gave me a strange look. “Maybe it’s like that on the outside. But not in Quarantine. Our family is being punished, and we are innocent. Even Mom. She didn’t mean to get involved with Flash Vale, it just happened. It could’ve been any number of dashing suitors….It was just our luck that it was the son of the greatest traitor in history.”
“But you’re only in here because Ember didn’t want to break up families. When you come of age, you’ll be able to get out.”
“If that were true, why didn’t Ember let us stay with our father, and just punish Mom?”
“I—don’t know. But if you appeal, I’m sure you can get out.”
“I am of age, since I just turned seventeen, but I don’t want to get out until we all can. I’m not leaving little Donita and Sharlee on their own. I could see if I could take them with me, but I don’t know if an appeal will work even then. In some families, there are third generations—other innocent children of the supposedly guilty, with little children of their own—and they have appealed, but were unable to get out.”
A sharp thud. The elevator shook and jolted to a stop. The large blue floor-indicator button glowed “10”.
“What the—?” She scrolled to the 1st floor button and tapped it. Nothing happened. “Let’s see if—”
The elevator doors slid open. Five black-clad figures aimed guns at us.
“Come with us,” said the one in the center.
“I know those things aren’t real,” said Sym. “So if you stun me, I’ll just wake up later.”
“We know they’re not real. We’re not on Flicker. But you can either come with us before we stun you, or after.”
“I’m not playing this game, okay? I’m done with Festival for the day, and I’m taking this man home.” She gestured to me. “He’s injured.”
“Is his name Cash?”
“Yes. How did you—?”
“Let’s go.” The leader waved her gun. “I’m not going to ask again.”
“What do you want us for if you’re not on Flicker and we don’t want to play?”
“You’ll find out.” She made a swift motion and the other four surrounded us. A gun prodded my back, and I stepped out along with Sym. Then, they marched us down the hallway and we turned left through a door. It opened to a half-collapsed building, where figures clustered around a fire, some of them sitting on piles of rubble, cleaning their guns or working on coms. Planes roared through a melon-colored sky; an explosion slammed into the silhouette of a skyscraper and it shuddered and crumbled, bursts of fire lighting the twilight as it came down. Even the air smelled like burning fuel. It was a very realistic holo. I could almost believe I was there, except I knew that the explosion was only gradations of light, and the guns could do nothing more than stun me unconscious—which I didn’t want to happen if I could help it. Maybe I could reason with these people, since they weren’t on Flicker. Why would they force us to play, anyway? It didn’t make sense.
A gun prodded me up to a boy who was leaning against one of the steel beams that were still supporting the intact half of the roof. He wore a long coat over his black uniform, and its collar was turned up, as if against the cold. His brown hair was tousled; it spilled over his forehead. There was something familiar about him….
He turned toward us.
It was Cade.
Oooo yes I remember the talk about orichalcum! Or part of it at any rate. Is that like a real metal?
Lol I was kinda expecting Jet to spend a lot of time sneaking around the palace trying to avoid getting caught and like having run-ins with other Ms and his siblings and stuff, yet here we are in Quarantine hanging with Sym and the rest of the non-Royalty! This is better than I what I had in mind, tho, since WORLD-BUILDING YEASSS
omg NINE OF THEM???? *incoherent shrieking* I adore big families! I can't wait to see how Jet reacts to a family this big.
stormdancing? Eeee I love the sound of it!
Jet: Ember doesn't punish innocent people! *conveniently overlooking the fact that he was about to be publicly humiliated for trying to help his mom*
Also which Vale is Flash? Would that be Sky's brother..? Which makes Echo Jet's cousin?
Gah okay this is so whumpy because Jet keeps getting captured/put in danger and I just love it but also these people take cosplaying to the extremes.
They... are not always the good guys. After Justice became Sovereign everything got a lot better but even he made mistakes. In the past, there were some absolute tyrants. (Infinity's father, for instance)
it's not certain whether it was a real metal or not. I read this one Atlantis book once that had a real influence on me, probably in my writing in ways I don't realize. I don't remember the name of it....
Wow yes.. I could see why you would assume it was going that direction. I wasn't sure what would happen when I started myself. I had a version of Quarantine before but it wasn't so extreme. This version is better.
Yes 9! I had a version of how Jet met them but it wasn't right. But it did help create the characters, the dynamic of their family, though I've changed some things. Nobility often have big families because some of them end up marrying Royalty and Royalty need a large gene pool to choose from. They have to marry people with Winged blood-- they can never marry regular humans. That's the rule, anyway.
Flash Vale is Sky's brother. The middle. 1st was Dare, the oldest and more conventional, vs. Flash, the wild child. Echo is Jet's cousin. Makes things complicated and interesting
the people in Quarantine do kind of tend to take things to extremes.... There is more to come for poor Jet I'm afraid (though not to the extent of Justice Lost)
“Cade?” I said. “What’s going on?”
Cade looked at me, eyebrow raised, a half-amused smile on his lips.
Sym nudged me with her elbow. “That’s not Cade.”
“That’s my other brother, Rhythm. They’re twins.”
“Cade is actually right over there,” said Rhythm, sweeping his arm toward the empty area beyond the fire. Cade was cross-legged on the ground, a guard angling a gun in his general direction. He didn’t look too happy. Beside him sat Tania, her hair a mess, her eyes red as if from crying.
“What did you do that for?” asked Sym. “Cade just wanted to take Tan home.”
“They became belligerent. I can’t have them jeopardizing my mission.”
“You’re not on Flicker, are you?”
“No, Sym, I’m not on Flicker. That would defeat the purpose.”
“Then you’re letting this game get out of hand. Just—please, Rhyth, let us go. You can stay here and play your war games all you want. You know it’s not our thing.”
“I hoped you wouldn’t be like Cade. I thought my family would be supportive, but…maybe I was wrong.”
“We just want to get home. At least let Tania go. She’s no good in a fight, you know that. Then there’s Cash.” She gestured to me. “He’s injured. It’s only the medpatch that’s keeping him going, and he needs rest. He doesn’t need to get caught up in—whatever this is.”
“I need him. He’s the key.”
“You’re getting too wrapped up in this. Just like before. Warzone is not real.”
His eyes flashed. “I know it’s not real. I’m not an idiot.” His eyes softened, and he slid down the beam and sat on the ground, leaning against it. “Maybe I was a bit too…forceful with Cade. Though I should’ve known he wouldn’t listen to me….except I thought, maybe for something this momentous….Please. Hear me out, Symphony.” He patted the floor beside him.
“First let Cade and Tania go.”
“I’ll take the guard off them. But I can’t let them go home. Not yet.” He gestured to the woman who’d led us here, and she nodded and strode off toward Cade and Tania.
Sym sat down in front of Rhyth, and I sat down beside her, wondering what Rhyth had meant by saying I was the “key”.
“Okay,” said Rhyth, leaning forward. “It all started when I realized something. Anything we say in Warzone—it’s safe. There’s no sedition in here because it’s all playacting. How do I know? I tested it. I said things against Ember, against the system itself—and Ms didn’t descend on me and carry me off to the Zones. It’s fair game in here because Warzone is about spies and traitors. So the monitor algorithms are turned off—or have a very high tolerance.”
“So—we can find a way to escape. We can gather supporters. It’s the perfect opportunity, during Festival when they’re not paying as much attention in the first place.”
“What’s the point? They’ll just crack down on us all the more after Festival’s over. And there’s no way any of us are getting out. Even if we did—they’d catch us and we’d get an even worse sentence.”
“That’s what I thought. Before. I mean, I’ve been trying to make a sensor block for months…. But I couldn’t make it work. Then—the solution falls from the sky.” He looked at me with a mixture of admiration and jealousy. “Cade told me you succeeded where I…failed. You made a sensor block. Not only that, but you made an invisibility program! And then, you happen to crash here. It’s like the Winged themselves arranged it.”
“You want me to make another one?” I said.
He nodded. “Help me with the coms that aren’t working. Guide me through any snags that I run into.”
“What do you want it for?”
He clenched a fist. “I want to get out of here. Not only that, but I want to make a new order. No more Sovereigns to arbitrarily throw people into Quarantine.”
“You’re crazy,” said Sym. “You’re only fifteen. And this—” she swept one arm around—“does not look like a full-scale rebellion. It looks like a couple of kids playing Warzone.”
He gave her a dark look. “Ah, but that’s the genius of it. We have time, during Festival. If we spread Warzone throughout each building, we can spread the word with it. None of us want to be in Q. If we actually had hope—it’d spread like wildfire and we could have a force of two hundred thousand by the time we broke through the walls by the end of the week.”
“Even if you could get that many, the Ms would stun us all if we escaped.”
“Not if we had a sensor block. That’s the key. And invisibility might come in handy too.”
“Rhyth—I want to get out too. But it’s better to wait—”
“Wait for an appeal? That’s never going to happen. The only way out is to force our way out. The only way to escape oppression is to knock the Sovereign off his pedestal.”
Fear flashed across Sym’s face. “Do you know what you’re saying?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Even with a sensor block, even if we could swell our numbers—Ember has control of the Ms.”
“His control has been thwarted before.”
“Only by Royal DNA.”
“If only we had that! But I’ve heard rumors that something’s happened at the top. There’s a reason we are left even more to our own devices during this Festival. The Sovereign has been compromised. He may have even gone mad. The entirety of Mag City is built on him, and if he falls, so does the system. We have to take advantage of this, before someone else takes control.”
“You still sound like this is a game. You don’t know the power of the Sovereign—even if he isn’t in top form. He could so easily crush us.”
“Let fear keep you down if you want. I’m going to do this, even if I don’t get the numbers I thought I would. Even if my own family doesn’t support me.” His eyes shot daggers at her.
“I just…I think there are better ways. Without risking your life.”
He stood, grabbing his gun. “You’ll see. Go home if you want. I don’t need you. But you won’t be a part of the first successful revolution against the Sovereigns in history.”
“Let’s go, Cash.” She stood.
“He’s not going anywhere. Neither are you, if you’re going to tell the authorities.”
“I’d never do that. But I do want you to reconsider. You can’t just start a movement and lead a rebellion in a week. Besides—there’s a better way than a violent one.”
“Go ahead. Take Cade and Tan. Cash is the only one I need.” He gestured to me with his gun.
“I’m not leaving him. If he stays, I stay.”
“Whatever. Just don’t get in my way.”
Sym shook her head. “Someone has to make sure you don’t get yourself killed.”
Tania and Cade walked over to us.
“Sym!” said Tania, and wrapped her arm around her sister. She smiled at me. “Hi, Cash.”
“Hi,” I said, half-absently, my mind still reeling from what Rhyth had told me.
“Sorry about that,” said Cade. “I didn’t think he’d go off the deep end.”
“What do you mean?”
“I told him about you.”
“You didn’t know.”
“When I said I’d warn you, he put us under guard. Otherwise I’d have gone back to tell you.”
“Good thing I got there when I did,” said Sym. “Divine Humanity got him.”
“Even the Revel program’s getting violent.”
“Are you all right?” said Cade.
I nodded. “Sym gave me another medpatch.”
Cade glanced at Rhythm. “Well, you should be able to go home with us so you can rest. Rhyth doesn’t have any right to keep you here unless you want to. Do you want to stay?”
“Not really.” I didn’t feel very tired, but I also knew it was only because of the medpatch I was even able to stand. My mind felt a bit hazy, though. I didn’t want to get mixed up in any rebellion—I was in enough trouble as it was. Although…maybe I should stay and find out their plans so I could tell Dad….
Cade slid his arm around mine. “You’re coming with us.” He guided me toward the door, Tania at my side, looking at me with a furtively concerned gaze.
“He’s not going anywhere,” said Rhyth. I turned to see him aiming his gun at us, two of his soldiers mirroring him. “I’ll stun all of you if that’s what it takes.”
“I’ll stay,” I said. “I’ll show you how to make a sensor block. Then, I’m done.”
“Fair enough.” He gestured for me to come back to the fire.
“You sure?” said Cade.
I shrugged. “It’s not worth you all getting stunned.”
“You could get into trouble for this, you know. It won’t matter if you say he forced you.”
He squeezed my arm gently. “Stay safe. I’ll see you at home—soon, I hope.”
“Bye,” said Tania, her large blue eyes fixed on me.
“Sorry I didn’t get a chance to fix your holodoll.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve got nine more at home.” She smiled, and slid her hand into her brother’s. They walked out the door.
I sat down on a pile of bricks near the fire—which felt suspiciously like a comfy chair. This was probably actually someone’s apartment, beneath the holo veneer. Sym stayed standing, her arms crossed. She glared at Rhythm, who stood across from her, avoiding her gaze.
“He came here to find Echo, you know,” said Sym. “That’s what the sensor block is for—not this ill-conceived rebellion.”
“You think too small, Symphony. You always have. When we prevail, we will abolish Quarantine. Ms will be ours. We’ll be able to find Echo—if he’s still alive. And they’ll never be able to take him or anyone else away from us.” He lifted a com from his pocket and handed it to me. “See what you can do with this. I want a sensor block and an invisibility program.”
I took the com. “You should probably watch and see what I do.”
Rhyth nodded. “I’ll gather the other techs.”
For the next hour or so, I worked on creating a sensor block, looking at my own com for a reference. Rhythm and some of his people huddled around me, watching and asking questions. Symphony sat not far away, watching a mini-holo and occasionally glancing at me.
As I worked, in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I had to contact Dad. Maybe this would help me get back in his good graces. I’d tell him of a rebellion brewing in Quarantine—not that it would ever get much of anywhere—but it’d be good intel all the same.
Then, a yellow hexagon popped up over my com. WARNING, it said in text, still on silent mode. EXTENSIVE DAMAGE TO INTERNAL SYSTEMS.
“Silent mode off,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“I am trying to repair it,” came the modulated computer voice, “but it may be irrevocable. There is too much programming for the amount of remaining memory after the overload. I loaded it onto redundant systems but it m-m-may sh-sh-shut down if the damaged hardware is not r-r-repaired.”
“I have to fix this,” I said, panic building in my chest. If the com shut down, my holomask would dissipate. I doubted that Rhythm, a potential rebel, had much respect for any of the Marches, including me.
“Keep going until yours shuts down,” said Rhyth. “You can repair it after you’re done with ours.”
“Please—I need to make a call.”
“It’s not the priority right now.”
I couldn’t risk Rhythm seeing my real face. I snatched up my com and dashed behind the nearest pillar.
BAM! A flash of light from his gun. I just managed to hurl myself away from the pillar before it crumbled into holopixels and vanished. I tore to the next one. Fortunately it happened to be an actual couch and the stun beam flashed harmlessly into the fabric.
My heart pounding hard, I called Dad.
Busy….busy….busy…came the blinking reply.
A blinking purple circle popped up. Violet’s symbol. I touched it.
Vy’s head appeared in miniature, her purple eyes concerned, black curls tumbling out of her ponytail. “Jet! I’ve been going crazy. Where are you?”
“Just a sec. I’ll turn the sensor block off.”
“Is that Violet March?” said a voice beside me. Rhyth.
A flash of white light.
*reads further* You are totally on Flicker, Rhyth. ADMIT IT
Rhyth: then the solution falls from the sky.
I love how Jet is set up as both the disgrace of his family and yet a (rather unwilling) savior to the masses.
Rhyth is clearly unhinged at the moment and I love it.
Rhyth: WE WILL OVERTHROW THE MARCHES
Jet: I am...I am so tired. Please let me sleep.
GAAAAAAA OMG HE JUST SHOT HIM!!!!
Also Violet appears. *fist pumps* YESS THAT'S MY GIRL
Omgggg I can't wait to see the next part!
Yes Jet is sort of in between. He's not exactly disgrace...well he is at the moment--but he's an anomaly, people don't know how to deal with him. He's not supposed to be. And yet, it's true, that's just what makes him relatable. Like a bridge between Royalty and reg.... but tragically trapped in the middle, never to be fully in any one world.
I stirred. Sparks of pain shot through my limbs. I opened my eyes. Rhyth was standing in front of me, cradling his gun. Two of his soldiers stood beside him. I was sitting on a chair disguised as a pile of rubble, and ropes bound my arms to the armrests. Beneath the numbness from the medpatch, my head throbbed dully.
“What did you tell Violet?” said Rhyth.
“What were you going to tell her?”
I wanted to ask her if Glory had rescued Peri, and if they’d found a cure for Mom. I wanted to find out if Dad was still angry, and if Blade was okay from the lightning attack. But if I said any of these things, Rhyth would find out I was Jet. I was in enough trouble as it was.
“Did you know about our plans before you came?”
I shook my head.
“What was your mission here? Why did you come to spy on us?”
“I’m not a spy.”
“Liar! You were talking to Violet March. She’s a spy.”
“She’s my friend. I thought she could help me, since you were attacking me.”
“He is Nobility,” said Sym. She was sitting near the fire, a guard holding a gun to her head. “It makes sense he’d know her.”
“I told you to stay out of this!”
“He’s injured. He needs rest. Let him go.”
Rhyth turned toward her. “And what if he is a spy? He’ll tell the Marches about our plans. I can’t let him go.”
“What if he’s telling the truth and he came to find Echo? Maybe you don’t care about finding our brother, but if he knows Violet, and the Marches find out what you did to him, they’ll tear us apart. They might even throw us into the Abyss. Do you want that, Rhyth? Or have you thought any of this out?”
“I am committed to the revolution. No matter what happens, I’m not backing down. I’ve got to see this through to the end, so we can be free.”
“I want to be free, too. But hurting someone innocent—someone who wanted to help us—isn’t the answer.”
“If he’s a friend of the Marches, he’s not innocent.” He turned back to me. “What was your mission here?”
“I told you, I’m not a spy.” That was true. Except I had thought about telling Dad about what Rhyth was doing….It wasn’t true that I’d come in order to find Echo, but now that I knew about his disappearance, I wanted to find him.
“So you just happen to know Violet March, and you just happen to be an expert at stealth tech. And you just happen to stumble on us as we’re planning revolution. Those are too many coincidences.” He grabbed my chin and looked into my eyes. His eyes were brown with gold flecks, with the intense gaze of a fanatic.
I wished desperately I had been able to turn the sensor block off, so the Ms could find me. But then, it might turn off on its own if the com continued to degrade…
“I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me how much you know about us. What kind of spy you are. What your plans are for us. If you don’t…I have methods to make you talk.”
He laid his gun down, and lightning crackled over his fingertips. I struggled, but the ropes were bound tight.
With a swift slash, a lance of electric current slammed into my chest. A sharp zap of pain.
“Please, don’t hurt him!” said Sym. “He doesn’t know anything. If he was a spy, he would never talk. You know how they train the intel corps. They’re elite. They don’t break under torture.”
“That might just be a myth they’ve propagated. Even elite have their breaking point. I just have to find it.”
“What’s the point of interrogating him? He’s not going anywhere. This is just wasting time.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Symphony. There is a lot we can learn from him about their defenses, their capabilities. Ways we can use him, if we can just find a way to break him open. For instance—” he slid his hand into his pocket and drew out my com— “I need to find out if you really are who you say you are. If you’d just give me the code to your com, I could learn the truth.”
If he broke into my com files, he’d find out I was Jet. He’d also find out if the com degraded to the point that my holomask vanished. If the sensor block degraded first, then the Ms would come and I’d be safe—from Rhyth, anyway. If the holomask degraded first, and it took as long before the sensor block degraded as it had since the invisibility program had…I’d be in a lot of trouble.
“I wanted to fix the com so I could keep investigating Echo’s disappearance without the Ms stopping me, like they did before. As soon as the sensor block degrades, Ms will come. Unless I repair it.”
“Then fix it.”
“I don’t have any motivation to do that. I can just wait you out. The Ms will find you, and they’ll see what you’ve been doing to me, and they’ll fly you to Ember himself for judgment.”
Fear flashed across his face. Then he said, “I’ll make you repair it.”
“I might not be a spy, but I’ll hold out long enough for them to find me. It won’t take much longer. I’ll tell Ember all about you. Unless….”
“Unless you let me go. I don’t care about your rebellion.” That was true. Rhythm seemed rather deluded to think he could go against us with a small band of teens. It was likely Dad knew about it—or if he didn’t, it didn’t matter, because these people were stuck in Quarantine, and there was no way out. I didn’t need more to prove myself to Dad, either—at least, as long as Glory was able to get Peri out. If anyone could, she could—and she cared about me, and about Mom. “I won’t tell Ember about it. I’ll go home with Sym, and I’ll find Echo. And you will never lay a hand on me again.” I sat up as straight as I could, being bound, and though pain squirmed in my stomach, I felt like I had a real chance for my bluff to work.
“How do I know you won’t tell?”
“I’m a Goldstorm. We keep our word.” Silently, I substituted “March” for Goldstorm. Because it was true. At least, as long as we remained true to who we were. I was a little shaky about where Dad stood now…since he’d lashed out at Blade of all people….
Rhyth sighed. “I suppose I don’t have a choice.” He narrowed his eyes. “If you’re telling the truth about the com degrading.”
“Do you want to risk it? Who knows how long we have. It might already be too late. The Ms could land here any minute—”
“All right!” He scrambled for the ropes that bound me and yanked them away. “But if you betray me, no matter what happens, I will hunt you down and kill you.”
“You’ve been in Warzone too long,” said Sym. “Even without Flicker, you’ve buried yourself in a fantasy world, and you don’t know fiction from reality.”
He whirled on her. “If you weren’t my sister….” Lightning crackled over his hands.
“That’s not the reason. You’ve attacked me plenty of times. You just finally learned that you can’t beat me.” She smiled.
Rhyth turned his back to her and handed me the com. I dove into its core and frantically fiddled with the sensor block and the holomask, moving them to the safest place I could find and then deleting more nonessential programs so the com would have the leeway to repair itself, if possible.
Sym strode over to me and helped me to my feet. “Let’s get out of here. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t want to help us find Echo anymore.” She glared at her brother.
When we stepped out into the hallway, which wasn’t plastered with Warzone graphics, I breathed a sigh of relief. Aches writhed through my muscles and pangs shot through my head and arm, but the medpatch still probably had a few hours left, thankfully.
And now, Sym was taking me to a safe place, away from all this craziness, and I could call Glory and Vy at my leisure, and find out if they’d found a cure, and I could take the sensor block off. If Peri had been rescued, I would stay and wait until Dad cooled off. If he hadn’t, I might have to go find him myself. If they found a cure, there would be no reason to stay. Except….I needed to help find Echo. I had to go see Mom (and Sabra…) but I also needed to help the Savannahs have their happy ending, too.
I hoped the rest of the Savannahs didn’t get in trouble for Rhythm’s recklessness. It would be horrible to get into Quarantine for something they didn’t do, and then be unable to get out because of something one of them did inside of it. I’d talk to Dad; tell him that the Savannahs were innocent. Even Rhyth hadn’t done much except tie me up and strike me with lightning…and threaten me with torture….
We made our way down the hallway to the elevator.
“Just ten more floors to go, and we’ll be free of this place,” said Sym. “I’ve never stayed at a Festival later than midnight. Even normal ones get out of hand by then. And this one…well, it’s not normal. It’s like something’s gotten into the air…something worse than Flicker.”
“What?” She stepped into the elevator and tapped the Ground button.
“Just….” It seemed everything had fallen apart since Mom’s madness. And without Dad….Glory was doing her best to hold things together, but Mag City needed its Sovereign. Even with things on autopilot—it all started to degrade. Like the spirit of the Sovereign held everything together, and when he or she fell apart, so did the world. I couldn’t very well tell Sym that though. “I’ve heard rumors….” I stopped. I didn’t want to spread rumors about our family. Besides the fact it was forbidden to reveal any deep weakness, I didn’t want anyone to know about Mom’s madness, expose her to public scrutiny. Although Sym seemed like someone I could trust. But I couldn’t reveal to her who I was. “Never mind.”
She looked at me strangely, then shrugged.
Floor 2—floor 1—
My heart fluttered. Ah! To escape this place! To be free…. At least, as free as I could be, without functioning wings.
The elevator door slid open and we stepped out.
I really feel for Sym here. Stressed and tired and trying to corral her wayward brother before things really spiral out of control.
It's funny how Rhyth is so suspicious of Jet and how he stumbled upon them at that point in time, except that it IS a coincidence and yet Rhyth would never believe that because he's so caught up in his delusions of grandeur.
Sym: You just finally learned that you can’t beat me.
AYYYY YESSSS Sym is awesome!
AIIIIIIEEEEE! But of course it would be chaos. and for once, we can't blame this on Rhyth
Sym btw was in various incarnations back before Jet was himself... I believe she had a different name and different personality back then but parts of her were the same. I mean, there were prototypes for her. Some people just pop up and some have been brewing for a long time.
Music pounded through the floor and thrummed into my bones. Holos—advertisements, abstract symbols, images of war and peace—whirled across the ceiling, some colliding in an explosion of light and color.
A few feet away, two Mirage women were yelling at each other. The one with shimmering iridescent skin punched the one with swirling orange and yellow skin in the face and she fell flat on the floor. People danced over her, their eyes glazed with drugged oblivion. Everything smelled the sickly sweet scent of Flicker, of alcohol, of roasting meat, of sweat. The smell hit me so hard I almost threw up. I probably needed food, since I hadn’t had any lunch or supper, but I didn’t feel like eating at the moment.
“Okay,” said Sym loudly, but still barely audible above the noise. “We’re going to have to get to the door somehow.” She slid her hand into mine. “Don’t let go. I don’t want to lose you.” Her blue-purple eyes caught mine. I wondered, for a moment, if she really cared about what happened to me, or if she only cared about me since I’d told her I’d help find her brother. It was only fair—she didn’t know me, except for when we were kids. She didn’t owe me anything. I was just glad I had an ally.
We pushed through the crowd. It was impossible not to bump against anyone, and though they mostly didn’t notice, it hurt my arm, my back, and the burns where my wings had been. I didn’t have a shirt on beneath the holo, after all. And the effects of the medpatch seemed to be fading.
We slid through the sweaty, writhing mass of people, whipped into an ecstatic frenzy of drugs and dancing. Pressure built in my chest. It was hot, and became hard to breathe.
I closed my eyes and forced myself to take deep breaths, like the therapist had taught me after I’d learned I had a mild form of claustrophobia. Envision something beautiful, calming. Breathe, in and out, with the splash of the waves. Sym’s hand anchoring mine. Pulling me through the sea, a steady ship in a storm….
Beep BEEP. I almost didn’t hear beneath the crush of people and the throb of music stabbing my head.
“Warning,” said my com’s voice. “Your holoflage program is degraded.”
My eyes shot open. “What?” I pulled the com from my pocket.
“Y-your holoflage program is degraded. Fortunately, I have rescued the sensor block and locked it in an undamaged area of the com.”
Panic hit me. “No—I want the opposite. Protect the holoflage. End the sensor block.”
“P-please r-repeat the command.”
“Switch the holoflage with the sensor block in the undamaged area!”
“I-I d-didn’t q-quite c-atch thhhhhhh—”
Did I still have my holomask? Could they see who I really was? Perhaps no one would notice in such a seething crowd.
“Hey, Cash, I think I can see the door.” Sym stopped, and her eyes widened. “What—!” She dropped my hand and stepped back, narrowing her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Jet?”
I nodded. A cold numbness seized me. I couldn’t move. I felt like I was falling; the room whirled around me.
“So Rhyth was right. You are a spy.”
“No! I just came here for safe—”
“Hey, look, it’s Jet!” said a girl. More voices echoed her.
“Is that a holomask, or is it real?”
“Jet’s here, among us?”
The nearest people stopped dancing and converged, trapping me and Sym in a little circle. Sym looked at me, her face shocked and angry.
“Sym, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lie to you. I just—”
“Did you mean what you said? About Echo? Or did you lie about that too?”
“I didn’t come here to find Echo.”
“Of course. You’re a March. You don’t care about us.”
“I do care! I meant what I said. I’ll help you find him. It’s not right, what happened to him.”
Her eyes sparked. “For Echo…I suppose I can give you the benefit of the doubt.” She took a step toward me.
The crowd surged around me, cutting me off from her. Tentative hands touched my back, my chest. Eager faces crowded close to mine. “I think it is Jet! Wow, he’s here in the flesh!”
“Hey, Jet, wanna dance?” said an Ice girl, her white hair sticking up in spikes.
“No, I want him,” said a girl in a horse holomask.
“He’s a March. Come to punish us!” said a boy, further back in the crowd.
“No—he’s Jet! He’s different,” said another girl, who I couldn’t see.
“I bet he heard what fun we were having, and came to have a good time,” said the Ice girl.
“I’ll give him a good time,” said a girl with black hair and holographic swirls on her cheeks, stepping in front of me and grabbing my arm. “Come on, beautiful.”
“No, I need to get going.” I glimpsed Sym, light glancing off her golden hair, as she pushed her way toward me.
“You came here to have fun, so why not have some?” She slid her arm around my back and gripped my wrist tightly. With her height (a few inches taller than me) and her golden eyes, she was probably Nobility.
“I didn’t really come to have fun.”
She laughed. “Then why did you come?” Her fingers pressed into the lightning burns on my back. I gasped.
“I’m injured. Please—I need to get home.”
“Oh, you’re hurt? Poor darling. I’ve got something for that.” She slid her hand into a pocket of her shirt and brought out a pinch of glittering dust.
“No—I don’t want Flicker.”
“It’ll make you feel so much better! You’re so tense, my love.” She laughed. Lifted the Flicker toward my mouth.
I wrenched away from her. A dagger shot through my shoulder and I couldn’t help but cry out. I pressed back into the crowd, away from the black-haired Noble, trying to find Sym and the door.
Another chorus of murmurs and screams. “It’s Jet! It’s Jet! Oh, isn’t he just—beautiful!” Girls surged around me, jostling against me, scraping my wounds with their jabbing hands.
“Please—I just want to go home.” I wished desperately for my wings—to just fly above the crowd. The irony was, I’d always longed to land among the people without Ms for chaperones, and now that I had gotten my wish, all I wanted to do was fly away.
Above the seething crowd, I glimpsed the door and made my way toward it, pushing through the giggling, squealing mass of girls. They grabbed for me, but I managed to glide away without any of them catching me.
Until a dense cluster blocked my path, and I tried to maneuver around it, but they noticed me and, like one, they burst after me and boxed me in and grabbed my arms and waist and legs, pulling my hair, their fingernails scraping my skin. I stumbled and fell and they screamed and slid their hands over my chest where Rhyth had hit me and pinched me and tugged at the waistband of my pants. I managed to hold my pants up but some more of them pulled my hair and several others began a tug-of-war, two holding my arms, two my legs, yanking hard, as if they’d pull me apart and keep those parts for trophies.
Snap! Agony shot through my left arm and then a brief relief before fire blasted through my shoulder. It must’ve popped back into place. One good thing about all this. But I had to get away before they pulled me apart. The lightning burns on my back and arms smoldered and fire raked them whenever someone touched them. My head throbbed. I struggled, trying to writhe away, but they held me in an iron grip.
And then I remembered. I might not be stronger than a crowd of people, but I had power of my own. It just didn’t always work very well.
Blocking out the pain and panic, I closed my eyes, focusing on the well of energy deep inside me. Lightning crackled over my skin and with a yelp, the people that were pulling me dropped me and I fell to the floor.
Masks loomed over me—birds, insects, glamorous men and women from history. But fear lurked behind their holographic eyes and they didn’t touch me.
I tried to get up but I slipped and hit my knee. A hand appeared in front of my face. “Here, let me help you.”
I grabbed the hand and came face to face with the black haired Noble. I stepped away from her, and almost slipped again. She held tight to my arm and guided me forward. “It’s all right. I won’t force you to take Flicker. I just got a bit carried away—you are Jet, after all.” She laughed, low and musically. “Let me help you. I’ll take you away from this place, if that’s what you want.”
“Yeah. We, the descendants of the Winged, have got to stick together. Rise above the rabble. I don’t even know why I came today…. Only that Festival defies conventions, and it’s kind of fun to slum it sometimes.” She laughed again, her golden eyes sparkling with an iridescent fire. “I’m Dazzle, by the way. Where do you want to go?”
“Find Sym. And the Savannahs.”
She wrinkled her nose. “The Savannahs? That ridiculous family? They’re a disgrace to Nobility, and I don’t mean their being in Quarantine. Why don’t you come home with me. I’ll take care of you.”
“But I promised—”
She seized my hand, hard, and her fingernails bit into my skin. She pulled me toward the door, which was where I wanted to go anyway, so I stopped resisting and let her guide me. Most of the people parted, as if they feared her.
Until one young man, his hulking form almost as large as Blade’s, blocked the way. “I want him,” said the man.
“He’s not yours,” said Dazzle.
“Ember took my son from me. I will take his from him.” A crazed light shone in his eyes. Lightning surged over his body, snapping and cracking with raw power.
He lifted his hands, forming a blue sphere of crackling electric current.
Dazzle stepped in front of me, and as the man tossed the ball of lightning, she made a cutting motion with her hands and a flash of her own lightning slashed into the ball and sliced it apart. The shreds sizzled harmlessly into the floor.
The man drew a long, trembling sword of lightning, but with a swift, elegant whirl, Dazzle danced toward him and hurled a splash of lightning into his chest and he reeled backwards, stunned.
“Let’s go, Jet.” She motioned to me. As we passed the man, she casually smacked a needle of lightning into his side and he collapsed to the ground, writhing in pain.
The crowd parted, and we walked through an open space to the large, gold-edged doors. Just before I stepped through, I glimpsed Symphony, dashing through the crowd. “Wait! Wait, Jet! Don’t go with her!”
I hesitated, but Dazzle pulled me out into the night.
The air smelled of wet pavement. Dark cylinders vaulted toward the sky.
“Come on,” said Dazzle, tugging at my arm.
“I have to wait for Sym.”
Dazzle smiled. “No, you don’t.” She caressed my cheek with a soft tingle of electric current. Then, without warning, a hard snap shocked into my head, and I fell into her arms, stunned, my body shaking uncontrollably.
“Stop!” said a voice, somewhere behind me. Sym. I tried to speak, but couldn’t. Couldn’t even cry out.
“See ya,” said Dazzle, and a dark shape hurtled toward us, and swept us into the air.
I must’ve blacked out for a moment, for the next thing I knew, we were skimming along the tops of buildings. We slashed through a holo-ad for Zingcrisps, its inane voice echoing behind us.
“Hey,” said Dazzle, looking down at me, her eyes glowing in the dark.
“W-what—why—?” I could hardly form a coherent thought.
“Shh, it’s all right. I’m taking you somewhere safe.”
“Take me home, then.”
She laughed, but didn’t answer.
She held me with one arm, while manipulating the skyrider’s controls with the other. I stood shakily on the skyrider’s platform in front of her; she kept her arm wrapped around my waist.
The rider descended to the top floors of one of the black cylindrical buildings, and then zipped in through an open window. She leaped off the skyrider, bringing me with her, and my knees almost collapsed beneath me. Only her strong arm kept me upright.
She guided me to a chair and I sat down, my vision wavering. I leaned my head in my hands, which were shaking, and focused on deep breaths. The carpet had bright swirls of gaudy flowers on it, and they made me sick. I closed my eyes.
“Dad! I’ve got something for you!” called Dazzle.
A moment later, footsteps clicked across the hallway and padded into the room. “Is that who I think it is?” The footsteps stopped in front of me, and I opened my eyes to see black boots, silk blue pants and shirt that clothed a strong, muscular body. A hideous lightning scar branched across the left side of his face. His left eye was white. But the rest of his face was chiseled, elegant, and handsome. He had black hair like his daughter, and his good eye was an intense, piercing blue. He also looked somewhat familiar….
He looked intently at me, and I forced myself to meet his gaze, his blue eye almost as unsettling as the white one. In a sudden motion, he swooped forward and grabbed my chin, his fingernails digging into my cheeks. His eye searched mine. Then, just as suddenly, he let go of me, and I sat back against the chair, feeling exhausted and drained and bewildered, still shaky from Dazzle’s shock.
“He doesn’t look like much,” said the man. “Barely looks like one of them. Makes sense, since he’s just a random. But he’s still one of them, after a fashion, and thus infinitely valuable.” He stepped toward Dazzle. “You’re sure it’s safe?”
She shrugged. “It’s safe as anything is. I mean, the kids at the Festival were almost tearing him apart, and no Ms came to save him.” She reached into her shirt pocket and lifted out my com. “I think this has something to do with it.”
Her father took it and turned it over in his palm. “He’s got some sort of sensor block?”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gotten very far without an M finding him and flying him home. He probably came here for a bit of rebellion and it got too much for him, poor thing. The kids were going crazy over him, and they probably would’ve torn him apart if I hadn’t gotten to him.”
“You did well, Daz.” He glanced at me. “He does have the reputation for flouting the rules. And for being good at tech. That, and his heritage, makes him—ah, perhaps the break we’ve been looking for.”
Daz turned and looked at me, admiration and delight shining in her eyes. “The masses call him a symbol of freedom. They just might have been right after all.” A wry smile spread across her face. “I even fought a man who was going to kill him.”
“That was short-sighted of him—but then, the rabble always is.”
“It was a Noble.”
“None of them are like us. None of them have kept the flame alive.” He brushed his hand absently over the scar on his face. “None of them deserve freedom or victory.
“Now, first things first.” He crouched down in front of me, holding my com. “I want you to duplicate what you did here. Make a sensor block for me and my daughter.” He lifted his com out of his pocket and set it on the arm of the chair. His daughter did the same with hers.
He would probably hurt me if I didn’t help him, but if he hurt me too badly, I wouldn’t be able to modify the coms. I dreaded pain of any kind, but if I held out long enough, maybe Dad would find me. Maybe I could erase the sensor block on my com somehow….
“I won’t help you hurt my family.”
The man frowned. “Who said I wanted to hurt them? Revenge would be nice, yes, but I’m not consumed with it like some. I’d rather have freedom. If you give me my freedom, I will give you yours. If you refuse to help me, well…I have perfected ways of persuasion that will not damage you permanently, but will cause you the kind of pain that will make you wish you were dead.” He let the words hang for a moment. “If you’d rather, you can simply open your com for me so I can work on it myself. It’s less than ideal, as it will take more time to reverse-engineer your own work, but if it’s a suitable compromise….”
I hesitated. Perhaps, if they didn’t hurt my family, it would be okay. If Dad found out, though, I would probably be grounded for life, or worse. These were my enemies. Although, maybe they were innocent, like Symphony’s family…. They just wanted freedom, after all.
“What would you do with your freedom?” I asked.
“We would escape Quarantine. We would disappear. Go to another world, to a remote, beautiful place, and live out our days in peace. We would be far from your family, and you could forget we ever existed. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Life in Quarantine is unbearable. Our every move is watched by Ms. You must have seen by now that not everything is as black and white as propaganda paints it. If we could be free of this place….you would be free of us. A guilty man might want revenge, but we are not violent unless we have to be. Your father would regret what he did if he knew how many innocents were imprisoned here. You can do something about it.”
“What about the others? They’re imprisoned too.”
“Maybe you can do something about that, as well. But you can start with us.”
He had just threatened me with torture…although, desperate people did desperate things. And there was something wrong about Quarantine. Most of the children were probably innocent. Some plotted rebellion. Perhaps it was because rebellion was in their DNA, like Dad suggested, but perhaps it was because they were innocent, and they had had enough.
I could also tell Dad about the innocents in here. But even if we found Mom’s cure, he might not listen to me. Maybe I should just do what I could on my own, before Dad grounded me for good.
“How do I know you’re innocent?” I asked.
“You will just have to trust me.”
“If you’re innocent, you won’t hurt me.”
“We will do whatever it takes. We are already guilty in the eyes of the law. We have nothing to lose.”
“Dad would throw you into the Abyss if you hurt me.”
“I’m willing to test that theory. The Ms haven’t come for you yet. I’ll risk the chance that time runs out before I get what I want. I can’t just waste this opportunity—the son of my enemy, in my living room.” He stood, his eyes gleaming.
A jolt hit my heart. He looked so familiar….
And then I remembered. His scar had thrown me off.
A man, kneeling before the Sovereign Throne, his arms bound behind his back. Black hair falling in front of his face. My father, resplendent in purple and golden official robes, raising his arm in judgment.
“Ransom Daybreak! For conspiring with the Vales to murder Supreme Sovereign Justice March, you are sentenced to eternal banishment in the Abyss.”
Horror washed over me. The image of my grandfather appeared in front of my eyes, lying in state, my heart aching from the hole that had been ripped through it….
I stood, shaking with anger. Stray lightning snapped across my fingertips.
“I will never help you. You killed my grandfather.”
The room quaked beneath my feet, but I forced myself to stay standing.
“Very well. But you should know that I changed sides. I was the one who brought down the remaining collaborators, and for that, I was almost killed.” He slid one hand along the mangled side of his face. “And I was forever marked with this scar—unable to remove it, as punishment from your father, a reminder of what I had done. My only reward was to not be thrown into the Abyss with Strike and his family.” He laughed harshly. “I should have been innocent in your father’s eyes, for sacrificing myself in such a way. But instead, my daughter and I were consigned to torment.”
“What you did could never erase my grandfather’s death.”
“I should not have expected a March to understand. But if you do not see me as deserving, what about my daughter? She was only five during the Schism.”
“I could help her. But not you.” Red flashed before my eyes. Sparks snapped into the floor from my hands, and in the back of my mind, I marveled that I had any excess lightning at all. Maybe because I was rarely angry…but now, faced with one of the conspirators…. No, I could never forgive someone who helped the Vales kill my grandfather. Even if they had supposedly “redeemed” themselves. He was right; I would never see things his way.
“I’m not going anywhere without my father,” said Dazzle. “You will help him. Or….” She lifted her hands, lightning sparking across her fingertips.
I lifted my own hands, sparks dancing across them in chaotic fury, and I marveled how such beauty had come from me.
The lightning in Dazzle’s hands built into crackling spiral. I let anger fuel my lightning and it grew, sizzling across my fingers.
With a spin, Daz hurled the spiral at me and I just managed to dodge it and lash my own lightning in her direction. She whirled out of the way, but some of it snapped into her side and she gasped in pain.
Exultation shot through me. I could never hope to win against my parents or siblings, since I was only a random—randomly conceived, and not formed for a purpose. But I was Royalty, and I still had more power than most Nobility. I could prevail against Dazzle’s comparably mediocre power.
I gathered raw power into my palms and let it settle there, so dense that it shimmered like water. Dazzle built a sphere from a small spark and it grew as she expanded her hands.
When I slashed a bolt of lightning at her, she swerved elegantly, and at the same time, she hurled the ball of lightning at me. I jumped sideways, wishing my wings worked, and a hot-cold shock burst through my legs. I stumbled awkwardly to the carpet, stray sparks skittering over my pants.
I shivered, my legs half-numb. I tried to crawl forward on my side but my body would not cooperate and I collapsed on the carpet, all my strength drained out of me.
Two silhouettes glided above me. A boot nudged my leg, then flipped me over onto my back. “So this is the child of the man who rules us. His stormdance technique is abysmal.”
“Well, he is just a random,” said Dazzle.
“That’s no excuse for not knowing our martial disciplines. And his power is…not insignificant, but it pales in comparison with yours. Your technique—well, there’s no contest.”
“Thank you, Dad. I learned from the best.”
He leaned down. “Help me with him.” They grabbed me by the arms and pulled me into the chair. My head whirled. I felt incomparably weak, and pain smoldered across my half-numb legs, along with snaps of pain in my head, shoulder, and back. The medpatch must have been wearing off, and panic sliced through me.
The exultation, almost ecstasy, fueled by my anger had given way to a dull, empty ache. I’d never taken my training seriously, so of course a Noble with less (not much less) raw power but with extensive training would defeat me. Again, I was a disappointment to my father, to my family.
“Despite what you probably assume about me, I do not enjoy causing pain. But as you said, we may not have a lot of time on our hands. And I don’t have access to interrogation drugs.”
“What about Flicker?” said Dazzle. “It makes people extremely suggestible. In high doses, it even makes people lose touch with reality.”
Ransom rubbed his chin. “Yes…. You have some?”
She lifted a pinch from her pocket. “We’re fortunate it’s Festival. It’s practically dripping through the floors.” She slid onto my lap, pinning me to the chair, and lifted the white, glittering dust toward my mouth. I turned away.
“Come on. It won’t hurt.”
“I don’t want Flicker!”
“Yes, you do. Otherwise, it will hurt.” She grabbed my hair and forced my head back. I clenched my jaw tight. “I don’t want to have to shock you.” She kissed my cheek. I flinched away. “Then again, you are so beautiful when you’re in pain…. The pathetic kind of beauty of a crushed flower. That fiery anger was beautiful too….What you could do if you honed your power! We could be a wonderful team.”
“I’ll never join you.”
“We’ll see about that. We’ll have a lot of time together; we might as well make use of it.” She wrenched her hand into my hair, and jabbed her fingernails into my chin, trying to pry my jaw open. “Come on. That’s it.” With the stabbing pain, my jaw opened a little. I clenched my teeth. “All right. I warned you.” Shocks flicked into my jaw and I cried out. Soft powder fell onto my tongue and Dazzle snapped my mouth closed. “There you go, little ambrosia.”
The sickly sweet powder melted into my tongue. With her hand clasping my jaw shut, and small sparks jolting from her fingers, I couldn’t help but swallow.
She released my hair, climbed off my lap, and rubbed her hands, remnants of the powder glittering to the floor.
“There. He’s all yours, Dad. Although…you meant what you said before? I can have him?”
Ransom nodded. “He’s obviously easy enough to control. And he’ll be a good insurance policy, in case the Marches do find us. Besides, you deserve a reward.”
“Thanks, Dad. Even if he doesn’t come around, there’s a lot of fun I can have with him.” Her golden eyes stabbed into mine, and there was a horrible darkness in them, like I’d seen on the faces of the girls who were grabbing me at the party. A possessiveness, which didn’t leave any room for what I wanted. I could hardly imagine I’d thought of most of my fans as innocent. Dazzle was one of them. And she had me in her power.
I hoped desperately that the sensor block would degrade in time. Otherwise, I couldn’t see a way to escape.
A warm tingle flickered through my limbs and flashed across my chest and face. I lifted my arm, flexed my fingers, but my movements were sluggish, as if I were in water or high gravity.
Everything slowed down. Part of me was unsettled by it, and I felt a dull throb of claustrophobic panic, but the rest of me was cradled in a soft, warm bundle of calm.
A cool, smooth weight settled into my palms.
“Open it, please,” said a voice, somewhere in the distance.
Open what? I wondered, but it wasn’t worth the tremendous effort of forming my lips into words and forcing sound from my throat.
“Maybe I gave him too much,” said another voice. “I’m not exactly a Flicker expert.”
“That’s all right. It’ll wear off to the point he can move again. Let’s leave him alone for now.”
The voices faded.
A soft warm glow suffused me, and I faded into a peaceful oblivion.
Light poured in the window to splash onto the floor. Holographic scenes of a garden gleamed on the opposite wall. The piercingly sweet song of a bird trilled in the air, and the sound of running water rushed over stones. The fragrance of flowers couldn’t totally mask the smell of disinfectant. Beneath me lay a spongy mattress, and a clean white sheet draped over my body. The infirmary in the Spire. I’d been there several times since I broke my arm when I was five. I couldn’t quite remember what had happened, but the shadows in my mind were of chaos and pain, and I didn’t want that to intrude on this moment of peace.
The door slid open. Violet strode in, dressed in form-fitting black, which complemented her black hair, her deep violet eyes luminous. Behind her walked a MedM in a red gown.
“Jet! You’re awake!” She wrapped her arm around me and kissed me on the cheek. “How are you feeling?” She leaned away slightly, the sunlight dancing on her golden-brown skin, illuminating the facets in her eyes.
“Okay. I mean…it doesn’t hurt anywhere….”
“The drugs are probably keeping you a bit out of it. I’m glad they haven’t worn off yet. You had a concussion, knife wounds, and burns on your chest and back…. What happened? We found you unconscious in a deserted apartment in Quarantine. The sensor block was turned off, so we were able to trace your DNA.”
Vague images flickered through my mind—an elegant, vibrant girl with black hair…her father, one of the conspirators…. The girl’s expert stormdance, as she hurled lightning at me…forcing Flicker into my mouth—I almost gagged at the memory. Frantically, I blocked those images and the feelings that came along with them before they drowned me.
“I’m sorry I flew off like that.”
“That’s all right. I’m just happy you’re back.”
“I just wanted to help Mom.”
“I understand.” She stroked my hair back from my face.
“Do you have Peri?”
“Peri?” She looked at me blankly.
“Did you get him out of the Portal?”
“Yes, of course we did.”
“Did you find a cure for Mom?”
Her eyes flickered. “We’re working on it. In fact, we need your help.” She lifted her hand, revealing my com on her palm. “We are missing some data. There might be some on your com. Could you open it? It’s still DNA-locked.”
“I thought that Peri didn’t transmit much after he went in, but—there might be something on here….” I took the com in my trembling hand. I wondered, with a fleeting stab of panic, whether I had nerve damage from the lightning strike.
“Just take the DNA lock off, and I’ll take care of it. You just rest.”
“Okay.” I felt infinitely tired. The drugs probably didn’t help. In Security, I tapped the “undo DNA lock” icon. Then I handed it to Vy.
“Thanks, Jet! I hope this will help us find a cure.”
“Well, I better get this to the lab. I’ll be back soon! I’ll let you rest for now.” She strode toward the door, and the MedM walked toward me, her needle hand undisguised by holoskin.
“Wait!” I said. “Is Blade still here?”
“No, not right now. He came to visit, but he went back to his office a while ago.”
“So he’s recovered from the lightning strike?”
She nodded. “It wasn’t as bad as we thought. He’ll come by later, along with Dad and Glory. See you, Jet!” She waved and slid out the door.
The MedM glided up to me and lowered her needle hand to my arm.
“You need a higher dose of painkiller.”
“No, I feel fine.”
“You need a higher dose.” She jabbed the needle into my arm. I faded into darkness.
Shadows flickered over my face. I opened my eyes to see Dad silhouetted against the light from the window. In his hand he held my com. Anger smoldered in his golden eyes.
“You should be. Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“I was trying to find a cure.”
“I figured you’d make that excuse. It doesn’t matter what you intended. You broke the law, and for that you must be punished. Not only did you fly into Quarantine, but you made a sensor block. You using it is bad enough. The apartment where we found you was deserted, and we couldn’t find any sign of its inhabitants. They may have been able to construct their own sensor block and escape.”
He took a step forward, his face emerging into the light. He was regal in his purple robe, its golden trim gleaming. He seemed even taller than his seven feet, and I could sense the energy almost roiling off of him, without creating any visible sparks. “For your transgressions, you will be grounded for a year. Not only will you not be able to use your wings, but you will be confined to the Spire.”
His words hit me like a stab in the heart. Without my wings, I wouldn’t be able to survive for that long. The Spire, as huge as it was, had been stifling since Mom went mad. Unless…. “Did you find a cure?” That would be worth losing my wings.
He didn’t answer. Instead he said, “Before you formally receive your punishment, you will help us find the inmates who escaped. You will explain in detail how you created the sensor block." He made a beckoning motion, and an M stepped forward and stood on the other side of my bed. In appearance, it was a woman with brown hair bound tightly behind her head, her brown eyes blank.
Dad strode around the bed and handed the com to the M. Then he looked down at me. “The next time you commit an infraction of this magnitude, I will not be so forgiving.” With a swish of his robe, which rippled with faint iridescence, he strode out the door.
The M sat down in the chair beside me and asked me questions about the sensor block. I did the best I could; I didn’t want to anger Dad any further. He hadn’t even mentioned modifying Peri or my public punishment by lightning. Perhaps he had canceled that because of how I’d tried to help Mom. Although I wished desperately he would have told me one way or the other if they’d found a cure! But it probably didn’t happen instantly, they’d need to do tests, they wouldn’t know if it was a cure for sure until they tried it with Mom. Not telling me was probably part of my punishment.
When I had told the M all that I knew, I was exhausted and I lay back on my pillow, my eyes closed.
“Thank you,” said the M. “You’ve been a big help.” Her voice changed with the last few words, and my heart stopped.
Dazzle stood there, a broad smile on her face, her straight black bangs swished over her eyes.
The infirmary melted away and I was lying on a bed in a white windowless room with a few half-barren shelves lining the walls.
“You probably missed some things because of the Flicker in your system, but I think I can fill in the blanks.” She leaned over and kissed my cheek, then pivoted and sashayed out of the room.
What had I done? My mind was still trying to catch up with what just happened. The Flicker didn’t help. I probably couldn’t realize its full import until the drug dissipated.
They had tricked me. Flicker made people suggestible, after all, and it was tailor-made for use with holosims. It messed with people’s ability to tell fantasy from reality, and blurred any inconsistencies.
I had helped a traitor who had conspired to kill my grandfather.
How could I possibly make this right?
If I could somehow get my com back and turn off the sensor block, then it would defeat their purpose. It would take some time for them to create their own.
All I wanted to do was lie back and sink into oblivion again. But I had to fight the drug, fight my own exhaustion. Slowly, I lifted myself to a sitting position. My legs dangled over the bed and it almost felt like they were separate from my body. How could I get them to move, much less fight Ransom and Dazzle?
I slid my feet onto the floor, and my legs wobbled, so I laid my hand on the bed to keep from falling.
Somehow, I had to fight the Flicker in my system. But without the drug, I’d probably be debilitated with pain, because by now the medpatch had probably worn off. It was a good thing, in a way, that I was still partly under Flicker’s influence….
I imagined steel rods in my legs, keeping them upright, and managed to step away from the bed and stand without any support. The room whirled, and I closed my eyes to keep from losing my balance.
The only weapon I had was my lightning, and even if I could defeat Dazzle and her father without Flicker, I wouldn’t have been able to in my current state. I could use a skyrider, but I’d need a com to summon one. If I could get to the built-in com, most likely in the kitchen, and creep out without them finding me….
They probably thought that even if I did try something, they’d easily be able to subdue me. They were right, but I couldn’t let them get away with this. I couldn’t let my mistake let a murderer go free.
I crept out into the hallway. My legs trembled, but it didn’t matter as long as I could keep moving. At the end of the hallway, the kitchen counter gleamed in the dimness. I shuffled toward it, concentrating on staying as quiet as possible.
Light spilled into the hallway from a large doorway on the right. I peered around the edge and saw Dazzle sitting in the large chair, Ransom in a chair beside her. She was angled away from the doorway, intent on the holographic code spinning through the air. Ransom was facing the doorway, but the code of his com partially blocked his view. Perhaps I could sneak past them.
My heart thumped hard against my chest. I slid back against the opposite wall, still in the shadows. Then, carefully, I took a step into the light.
I resisted the urge to look at them, because I didn’t want them to sense my gaze. And I resisted the strong impulse to run. I had to blend in with the wall as much as possible. Slowly, I shuffled forward, looking at my goal.
As the Flicker drained from my system, it left a cold emptiness in its wake. I ignored it—it would pass. But as the Flicker dissipated, the pain returned, smoldering across my chest and back. I ignored that too. Until a sharp pang stabbed my head, and I gasped, stifling a cry. I stopped, plastered against the wall, fighting the urge to double over. My fingernails sliced into my palms, distracting me from the pain in my head. I moved forward again. Just a few more steps.
A white-hot stab of agony rammed through my skull
Fire ripped through my left shoulder
A shriek shot through my mind
Something cold melded to my neck
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the comfy chair again, Dazzle looking down at me with a smirk on her face.
“If not for the pain, he might have been able to get to our com,” said her father. “I should not have underestimated him.”
“He gave us the secret with a few simple tricks, though.”
“Most would, when under the influence of Flicker. We were clever—you were excellent as Violet by the way. But despite his randomness and lack of formal training, he’s got a sharp, unconventional mind. The sensor block—it’s genius. No one else has managed to make one without setting off the alarms. So much so I’ve been having trouble duplicating it.” He picked up his com. “Speaking of which, I should get back to it. Keep an eye on him, will you?”
“Are you sure? Four hands are better than two.”
“I think I’ve just about gotten it figured out. You’re not as technically minded as I am anyway. Your talents lie in other areas.”
She shrugged. “It’s true, tech doesn’t really interest me.” She turned to look at me again, her eyes narrowed.
While her father sat down in a chair on the other side of the room, Dazzle sat down in the chair beside me. She slid her boots up on the seat and focused on me, her head tilted sideways, a stray strand of hair dangling over her cheek.
“Your official image downplays your expertise,” said Daz. “You use tech for random pranks. You fly around the city, a symbol of freedom. People buy tons of merchandise based on you. You’re portrayed as a beautiful commodity, and not much beyond that. But—that’s not who you really are.” She slid the stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Dad says you’re a genius.”
“I had the motivation.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just—everyone else had given up on a cure for Mom. I had to try something unconventional.”
“Mm. You mentioned that in the holosim. What’s wrong with your mom?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to gratify her curiosity, and I didn’t want anyone, especially a traitor’s daughter, to know about Mom’s madness. Besides, if we found a cure, it wouldn’t matter.
She shrugged. “Okay, don’t tell me. I don’t blame you for being mad at me after how I tricked you. But I hope that you can eventually get over it. After Dad fixes the com, we’ll have a lot of time together.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
She laughed. “Oh, my dear Jet. You are adorable when you’re angry.” She tilted onto her knees and leaned on the arm of the chair, her arms crossed. “Your beauty—combined with your intelligence—it is like the Winged orchestrated this, just for us, as a reward for what we’ve suffered. We could form a whole new race of Royalty together! We would rule a separate paradise—perhaps take Mirage for ourselves, block off its Portal. Or…we could be even more ambitious, and fight the Marches for supremacy of City Magnificent and all of its satellites….But that’s a long way in the future. It starts with just a spark between two people.” She reached forward and slid one finger over my collarbone.
A horrible tingling sensation spread through me from that single point of contact. I longed to tear away, but I was frozen. The medpatch had dulled the pain, but I was so exhausted my limbs wouldn’t obey.
Her finger slid over my shoulder and tickled the inside of my elbow. Then she drew her hand away, only to glide her thumb over my cheekbone. Gripping my chin, she turned my head toward her.
I pulled away; she slipped off of the chair and stood in front of me, her golden eyes predatory. Lightning snapped across her fingers.
In one swift motion, she swooped forward, grabbed the back of my neck, and pressed her lips to mine.
I pulled away but she held me tightly, her fingernails cutting into my neck.
I would not respond. I pursed my lips.
Anger sparked across her eyes and lightning snapped into from her fingertips. I gasped in pain and she took the opportunity to plunge forward, her lips slamming into mine.
Waves of heat and cold crashed through me. This could not be happening. I struggled weakly, but she held me in a vice grip. Panic built up in my chest. I wanted to scream, but no sound could escape.
I gathered all my strength, fighting the claustrophobia that tried to make me even weaker, and tore my head from her grip, then slammed my knee into her stomach.
She gasped and drew back, holding her stomach. I stood shakily, swerving around the chair, putting it between her and me.
Her eyes were dangerous. Sparks sizzled down her arm.
“Please—I don’t want this,” I said, my voice trembling. “Just let me go. You have what you want.”
“I want you, Jet.” She strode toward me.
I summoned lightning, but this time it merely crackled across my fingers and melted back into my skin.
She drew her hands apart, forming a lance of energy between them.
I dashed toward the window where her skyrider was hovering.
A long whip of white-hot electricity slammed into my side and I staggered to my knees, just managing to hold myself up with my palm on the floor. Pain, dulled slightly because of the medpatch, rippled across my side.
“You are not taking away our victory when we’re so close. And now that I’ve tasted that glorious mouth of yours—well, I’m not about to let something so delicious escape.”
She pressed her hands together, letting lightning blaze between them, forming another whip.
I had to crawl to the skyrider. But my limbs were so shaky I could hardly keep from collapsing, much less move in any way.
Please, Winged, if you exist and you’re just invisible, like the philosophers say, help me.
The window shattered, glass crashing to the floor.
In flew two skyriders.
Blond hair whipping back, fierce blue-violet eyes. Sym. And an unfamiliar face—a boy about my age with curly copper-brown hair. The boy swooped toward me, snatched me up with one hand and slid me onto the skyrider in front of him. His strong arm wrapped snugly around my waist.
We flew toward the window. Dazzle hurled a bolt of lightning at us but Symphony blocked it and slammed a dagger of lightning at Dazzle. She managed to dodge it and form a sphere of lightning but before it could build into a stable form Sym lashed a whip of lightning into Dazzle’s stomach and she collapsed to her hands and knees, gasping, shaking, her eyes smoldering with hatred.
Ransom strode forward, lightning crackling over his arms, and stabbed bolts of energy at us but the boy took us into a spiral, evading the attack, and we soared up away from the window, into darkness.
We skimmed over the roof, then rose higher. Cool wind blew against my face, and I closed my eyes.
My heart clenched. I could hardly believe I was free.
I took deep breaths of the cool air and it sent life through my veins. Relief washed over me. Until I realized something.
“I’m here.” She popped up beside us. “Ransom got me.” She raised her arm; I could just make out a lightning scar branching across it.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It could’ve been worse. Dazzle would’ve killed me if she could…. I’m stronger than her, though.”
She looked at me. “How are you feeling? You look awful.”
“I’m just glad to be free.”
“I’m Sol, by the way,” said the boy who’d helped rescue me.
“Thank you for what you did. You both risked your lives for me. After deceiving you, Sym… I didn’t think you’d want to have anything to do with me.”
“Well—I get why you had the disguise. You couldn’t exactly come here as Jet. Though it’s true I did rescue you from the cult and I defended you from Rhyth, so you could’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.”
“I should have trusted you after what you did for me. It was all so crazy.”
“Yes, and it got crazier. Would you like to come home with me, or…?”
“I need to call Dad. We can’t let Dazzle and Ransom escape.”
“They’re in Quarantine. They can’t exactly go anywhere.”
“I gave them the design for the sensor block.”
“Not on purpose. They tricked me with Flicker.”
Sym nodded knowingly.
“You can use the com on my skyrider,” said Sol.
“I’ll take you to our house, for lack of a better place,” said Sym.
I never used skyriders, so it took me a moment to find the com button. I found Dad’s symbol, but I hesitated.
Dread flooded me. I not only had to face him after modifying an M and flying to Quarantine, I had to tell him it was my fault that an illegal sensor block had fallen into the hands of our enemies.
But it was the only way if we were going to catch Ransom and Dazzle in time.
Dad’s face popped up against the darkness. I braced myself for his thundering anger. But his eyes lit up as soon as he saw me.
“Where in the worlds are you?”
“I lost my com, so…you can probably tell.”
His eyes flicked to the bottom of the holoscreen, then back up at me. “Quarantine.” His voice was grim. But he only said, “I’ll send some Ms to your location.”
“You should send some Ms to find Ransom and Dazzle Daybreak too.”
“You had contact with the traitor?”
“I…did more than that. He…got access to my sensor block and—”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I messed everything up. I was trying to get a cure for Mom—”
“I know. Glory told me.” His voice softened somewhat.
“But I flew here because I thought you might…stop being so angry and not punish me as much, if I just…waited it out. Then I got struck by lightning and I had to recover—and I got mixed up in the Festival and some people attacked me—“
“Are you okay?”
I nodded, though I wasn’t sure. “Dazzle captured me and brought me to Ransom and they…interrogated me. Put me under Flicker. I—I’d never have given it away, even under torture, because that man killed Grandpapa, but they tricked me, Dad. They disguised themselves as you and Violet and so of course I’d tell you anything if you asked me—I’m sorry.”
He sighed heavily. “It’s not your fault. I know what Flicker does. And you have not been trained for this—so I can’t expect you to hold out. You should not have done what you did….but I understand why you did it. Perhaps it had to happen, once, so you could experience the consequences, and realize that we have rules for a reason. It doesn’t matter why—you cannot disobey them. You should have come to me.”
“I know. But everyone else had given up.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t.”
“Did…you find a cure?”
“No—not yet. But you gave us some new data. It looks promising.”
“That doesn’t negate what you did. But that you did it without malicious intent—as if you could ever do anything with malicious intent—it counts for something. I was, perhaps, too harsh on you…. Glory told you about Blade?”
“I have not been…myself. But things will get back to normal. If your data is a dead end, I won’t stop searching for a cure. We will get Sky back.” His voice quavered. “You gave me hope, Jet.”
It felt like my heart was being squeezed by a tight fist. “Dad…” I blinked back tears.
“You will be punished. But I’m not about to punish you publicly. That you will be grounded….it goes without saying.”
“And you will pledge to never to do something so foolish and dangerous again.” Deep sorrow shadowed his eyes. “When I couldn’t find you, it wasn’t the fact that you’d disobeyed me that bothered me. I…kept thinking that I couldn’t lose you.” He blinked, and I could have imagined it, but a tear may have slipped onto his cheek.
We sank toward a rooftop. In the east, a faint rim of pink lined the horizon of Desolation in the distance.
“Dad—one more thing. The people I’m with—they helped me. We should reward them.”
My heart thudded hard. I forced words from my throat. “By giving them freedom.”
“They don’t deserve to be here. They’re just kids. Even if their parents committed crimes—”
“We’ll talk about this when you get back.” His voice was stern and hard. I didn’t want to push my luck. But at the same time…how could I just leave Sym and Sol here? They’d risked their lives for me.
The holo blinked off. I stepped shakily off of the skyrider; I stumbled a little and Sol caught my arm.
“Do you want to come in?” said Sym.
“I don’t want to give you any trouble. The Ms will probably be here in a minute.” I could just make out some black shapes against the purple sky.
“I’ll just go get you some food. You’re probably starving.”
As soon as she said that, I realized my stomach was gnawing. I nodded.
She dashed over to the elevator and it swallowed her.
“So how do you know Sym?” I asked. Sol was looking into the distance, his curly hair wild, whipped by the wind.
He turned to me. “We just met at the Festival. When she told me what had happened to you, I wanted to help. None of the Ms would listen to us. They thought that you couldn’t possibly be here without them knowing it. The Purity Patrol, though—they’re flesh and blood, so we could at least try to reason with them. But they wouldn’t listen, either.” He closed his eyes, a crease forming in his brow. He took a deep breath and looked at me again. “So we had to take matters into our own hands. I couldn’t let Sym go alone…even if she’s Nobility and has a lot more power than I do.”
“Why…is your family here?” I had to ask. Because if they were innocent, I had to help them.
“My grandparents were involved in the democracy demonstrations.”
“Your grandparents? So it wasn’t even your parents….”
“My mom was too. She just wasn’t a leader.”
“Were they in for violence?”
His eyes sparked. “No. They were never violent.”
It went against what I’d always believed. That people in here were dangerous, and they deserved it. How dangerous could nonviolent democracy demonstrators be? Unless Sol wasn’t telling the truth…which I doubted.
“That’s not right.”
“I know. But we make the best of our life here.”
“You shouldn’t have to. I’m telling Dad about this.”
The elevator opened and Sym rose through it, holding a tray of crackers and fruit. I snatched them up and shoved a couple into my mouth. Behind Sym, Cade and Tania appeared.
“Hi, Jet,” said Cade. Tania waved, smiling shyly.
More people came through the elevator—a woman in a long nightgown and two young girls. The youngest pointed at me. “Is that really Jet?”
“Hi,” I said, my mouth half-full of strawberry.
The girls looked at me, awe in their brown-gold eyes. “I always wanted to meet you,” said the younger one with blond hair.
“I can’t believe you’re here on our roof!” said the older, probably about twelve, with long brown hair.
“I can’t believe it either,” I said.
The girls giggled.
The woman walked up to me, the hem of her long elaborately embroidered robe dragging on the roof. Her brown hair cascaded over her shoulders, and her eyes were earnest and haunted. “Hi, I’m Fantasia Savannah. Cade tells me some interesting things about you. That you might be able to find my little boy?”
“He wouldn’t be so little anymore, Mama,” said Cade.
“I made a promise, and I’m going to keep it,” I said.
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”
“Move aside, please,” said a stern voice. A group of black-clad Ms made their way toward us, and the others fell back, murmuring, fear in their eyes.
Except for Sym, who held the tray out. “Some for the road?”
An M grabbed Sym’s arm and shoved her aside, making the tray clatter to the ground, the food scattering. “Keep away from the prince,” it ordered.
“She’s not dangerous,” I said.
“We are under orders to take you back under any circumstance,” said the M, and grabbed my arm. Another M grabbed my other arm and they lifted into the air, holding me between them.
“Bye, Jet!” said Sym, waving.
She stood there, her golden hair singed with the first light of the sun, Sol beside her. Cade and Tania waved, along with their mother and sisters. And then the Ms swept higher and I lost sight of them.
It was terribly uncomfortable flying between two Ms. I longed for my wings. But I would not get to fly on my own for a long time….
A car appeared beside us and the Ms shoved me in it, then slid inside themselves. They had me lie in the back and worked over me, taking off the bandages Sym had given me and swathing my cuts and spreading salve over my lightning burns. They gave me another medpatch and wrapped my shoulder and bandaged my head. They pressed a few other patches on my chest—fluid restoration and remedy for shock and finally one that sent me to sleep.
When I woke, we were flying down toward the Spire, the iridescent spiral gleaming in mid-morning sunlight. I felt much better, though a bit stiff, and my mind was in a fog. Probably all the meds in my system. It was better than pain—or Flicker.
The car hovered near a window at the 3rd floor down from the top—the window to my room. It slid upwards and the Ms carried me in and laid me on the bed.
Sabra bounded over to me and licked my chin with her sandpaper tongue, and I hugged her and kissed her soft shoulder and cuddled her cheek against mine.
I was home. That was all that mattered.