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Nexilis

Discussion in 'Creative Archive' started by Teapot, May 3, 2009.

  1. Teapot

    Teapot Virtual Duck Enthusiast
    Staff Member Administrator

    Prologue

    Earth had made a breakthrough. Leading scientists from across the globe had successfully invented reverse-gravity thrusters — or RGTs — devices that could selectively reverse gravity in a certain area, providing instant and perfectly-controlled thrust, without any exhaust fumes or other pollutants. Instantly, fighter jets were designed and implemented with the RGTs, and they were found to be a huge success in the hands of a skilled pilot. They allowed for lightning-fast movement in any direction thanks to the 360-degree tilt mechanisms they were mounted on.

    Four years later, in 2024, The Western world announced plans to build a country in the sky — a massive, floating airship using the RGTs to remain stationary. Inside, the inhabitants would live a life of luxury with all of the latest technologies at their instant disposal. It was announced that a single airship could possibly house over thirty thousand people permanently at any one time, and that more would quickly be constructed. Construction commenced quickly on the prototype, but not before the orders to move in did. Demand for spaces was massive, and within a week, the airship was fully booked. Thirty-three thousand people in total were allowed onto the ship to live, and a further twenty thousand were given passports to fly up for a week at a time to work — maintaining the airship, cleaning, etcetera. This soon meant that the airship would have over fifty thousand people on it at any one time. The world watched intently via their television sets and the internet as the construction — or, as much as security would allow — was broadcast in real time as a gesture to the grand scale and technological achievement of the ship. Scientists and philosophers alike hailed the rise of the information age, even amid the cries of suspicion and fear from small sects of people who would not trust the RGTs, would not trust the absolute freedom of information on the ship. They cried that it would all go wrong, that the ship would fall. They were ignored.

    The airship was completed in 2029. The mammoth ship was launched on February the 13th, and the human population that still lived on the ground bade it farewell. The President of the United States joined the other major heads of state of the Western world in cheering it on its journey into the stratosphere — launching it, with not a small amount of irony, by smashing a bottle of champagne against its side, a nod to traditions gone past, and named it the HMS Victory. The thrusters whirred into life, and the ship shot into the air smoothly. The lights flickered on as it soared, slowly and steadily as to not upset the passengers, and onlookers gasped as the mechanics that had built the ship let off a celebratory volley of fireworks from the roof. It was the last time they could stand there without oxygen. The launch was a massive success — the media were raving for weeks about the various aspects — starting with the launch itself, they soon exhausted that topic, so they switched to the smaller things — like how a dog had jumped on board the moment before the craft had ascended, like how one of the fireworks had gone dangerously close to flying through the captain's open window, but instead bounced off the wall and exploded in a shower of sparks and flame.

    ---

    The next morning, one passenger's celebrations were cut short by the arrival of her baby — but not without complication. Helena Miller had been very ill prior to boarding the Victory and her condition had worsened despite her euphoria and happiness at being allowed on board. The birth was a difficult one, and despite all the infirmary's efforts, despite all the advanced technology, and despite being on board the shining beacon of the civilised world, she died before even getting to name her child. The nurses and doctors and administration teams conferred hurriedly. They had planned for everything — terrorist attacks, nuclear war, what would happen if there was an epidemic on board, they thought they'd covered everything. But they did not plan for an orphaned child. The father had long since abandoned them — as was, unfortunately, increasingly common, so the child was alone.

    One of the nurses picked the baby up and looked at it, searchingly. It was a girl, with fluffy blonde hair — as many newborn babies had — and she was sleeping silently, completely unaware of the fact that her mother had just died, and completely unaware of the uncertainty that clouded her future. The nurse was named John Jones — JJ to his friends — and he instantly felt a twang of sympathy towards the child in his gloved arms, who had wriggled into the crook of his arm, pressing her head against his plain white medical tunic and gurgling quietly before drifting back to sleep. Some paternal instinct gnawed inside him, and his mind hatched a quiet plan. Strolling to the administration block nearby, still holding the baby, he spoke to a senior officer in clear English tones, stopping occasionally to scratch his stubbled chin and consider his next words, weighing them up in his mind so they might have the most impact. The officer watched him from behind his beard and thick-rimmed glasses, his expression hidden both by his blank eyes, and by the mess or grey hair that covered his head and face. In the end, he surveyed the child — how she seemed happy in John's arms, and nodded, briskly. John himself broke into a wide smile at that point and virtually skipped back to his quarters.

    John Jones' room was just like the other twenty thousand on the HMS Victory at the time, but it didn't make it any less spectacular. The room was a dome — the roof of one half was completely glass, allowing the blazing orange sunrise outside to shine through the window and wash the room in a sea of orange. The room itself was split by large wall panels that rose out of the floor, which could retract back into the floor with the touch of a button. The section on the far side of the room was a bedroom, with a magnificent modern bed with white linen, and a huge chest of drawers on one side. Next to it was a white-tiled bathroom, shielded from the rest of the room, and from the outside, by several walls. In the centre of the room was a living area, with three large couches and a massive television. On the left of that was a kitchen, and on the right a study area, with a desk and computer. The study had already been used — papers littered the desk and the computer was still on. John had clearly started working as soon as he arrived. Finally, nearest the door was another room. This one was spare. John clicked on an earpiece, and tapped a button on the side. A smooth American-accented male answered.

    "Hey JJ, what's up?"
    "Larry, good to hear from you," John smiled. Larry was one of his friends from back on the ground.
    "Likewise, man, likewise. So, what can I do you for on this fine day?"
    "Well, it's a long story, but basically I've managed to get myself a baby. So that spare room needs to be fitted out for her now. Could you get someone to bring up some supplies?"
    "Dude, you did what? A baby? You've been here less than a day and you already managed to pick up a baby? That's just like you, JJ. You were always pickin' stuff up back groundside. Remember Juli-" John cut him off a little too quickly,
    "Yes, yes, I remember about Julia."
    "Hahaha, sorry man, can't help but pull that one occasionally."
    "Every time you get a chance, you mean."
    "Whoa, peace, dude, peace. Anyways, before the bossman hears me chatting, I'll send you down some baby supplies. Hell, I dunno what you NEED, but I'll ask one of the ladies. They'll be sure to tell me what to order."
    "Cheers. I owe ya one." John grinned. Larry was always a little chauvinistic when it came to "men's duties", but it was a trait you soon got used to. Even if Larry would remain single for the rest of his life because of it.
    "Like hell you do, my man. Hey, you'd better not get too wrapped up in baby stuff not to come have a beer with me sometime."
    "Heh. I'll try. See ya later, Larry."
    "Peace."

    John sighed. Larry had unwittingly made him wonder what he'd walked into. He'd made himself a parent in less than a day. It seemed like the Victory was more full of surprises than he knew. Stretching his legs, he wandered over to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and slumped back down again switching on the television. The baby still in his arms gargled as she woke up, and John looked down in realisation.

    "You don't have a name yet... do you?"

    The child stared blankly at John, who scratched his stubble again with the hand holding his beer. Taking a swig, he wondered what to name her. And, as he decided what to call her, there was a loud knock on the door. Putting the beer down, he wandered to it and opened it to greet a team of four or five workers, who bustled in and started setting up the baby's room. One of the workers, a jovial Asian man, turned to John after putting a cot together, a wry grin on his face.

    "You know, I didn't expect to see a new kid this early. She's pretty sweet. Looks nothing like you, though." John smiled, slightly. "She's not mine. Her mother died just this morning, and I've decided to take her in."

    "Well, that's very generous of you. I wish you luck, my friend. What's her name?" John felt a sudden rush of emotion, a feeling of power surge through his veins. He didn't know why, but naming the girl seemed to have a massive impact on him — it bound him to her, as father and child despite the circumstances of their meeting. It was both a responsibility, and a gift.

    "Her name's Claire."
     
    #1 Teapot, May 3, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2014
  2. Wow, that ship is cursed. Not but twenty-four hours from take off and already a death on board?

    I am a little bit surprise you didn't call it the Enterprise :p Perhaps that's my inner nerd though.

    The premise of this is nice, it actually works rather well considering we currently have population density issues (which is in part the reason why I find advances in space travel to be very important at the moment).

    I imagine Claire might be an important names for John?

    (When I first started to read this, I was instantly reminded of Hax's drawing of the 'charms ship.)
     
  3. I love this idea, Data. I wonder what the child shall be named...

    Same here, Tatile. I thought Database was going to write about that awesome Bayleef ship, too. :)
     
  4. Maybe Claire? :p

    Good stuff here Data... interesting idea and I'll be reading in future :D
     
  5. Teapot

    Teapot Virtual Duck Enthusiast
    Staff Member Administrator

    OOC: Thank you all :D

    ---

    Prologue 2

    Claire Jones grew up fast amongst the vast technology of the HMS Victory. Her growth would have been fascinating for any psychologist — as no other child had been exposed to so much technology and information from such a young age. She learnt fast, quickly figuring out that people didn't like it if you banged the glass on the outside of the ship ("it might be six inches thick, but two-year-olds can break anything, you know"), among the hundreds of other things that children got up to. By the age of three, her hair had turned a mousey brown and had reached her shoulders, and she had developed the desire to explore the world outside her and John's quarters — and one day, she had the opportunity. In his haste to get to work, John had left the door unlocked, so, instead of sitting and watching television, or gazing out of the window, Claire decided to go on a little adventure. But, she didn't really know much about where she was going, or what she was going to do, so she decided to take some supplies. Dragging a chair over to the fridge, she picked up her bag and deposited a small bottle of milk, a few slices of bread, and about half of the biscuit jar inside. It seemed sensible to take as much as she could, just in case she missed dinner.

    Slipping outside the door, Claire saw a familiar sight — she was in a long corridor, and all of the walls were packed with doors just like hers. Hoping she'd remember which door was hers, she shut it carefully behind her, and decided to turn right. The corridor was carpeted with a carpet that had once been a rich, think blue, but it had been worn down by thousands of journeys across it, and had paled. There were rumblings about replacing it, but the temporary crews were often too busy fixing other things. The walls were painted white, as was the ceiling, which was also dotted with lights every few feet. Claire padded along, as quiet as she could, but she needn't have bothered — the end of the corridor opened out onto a large plaza, with a huge glass roof that towered over the bustling crowds below. There were potted plants dotted at regular intervals, which all looked like they needed watering. The walls were lined with entrances to other corridors, some leading onto residential corridors just like Claire's, some leading into bright, bustling shopping centres, whereas others were small and dark, with a long word above them that Claire could not read. She did know, however, that the plaza she was standing in was just one of a few hundred, all arranged nearly identically except for the large number adorning the far wall. This one had "86" gazing down upon the scene below, its white paint still clean and gleaming.

    Claire decided to visit one of the shopping districts then, hoping she could find a nice toy shop. Maybe she'd be able to bring John here one day and convince him to buy her another toy. The light inside was blinding — neon signs adorned every doorway, and large screens dotted the corridors, advertising the latest breakfast cereal, then shampoo, then rolling onto one that Claire found interesting: It was for a new headset that wasn't even out yet, one that fitted inside your ear and could project things straight onto your eye. It looked interesting, and Claire wanted one. But, it'd have to wait. Looking around, she located the shop she'd wanted to go to. — it was bright and cheerful, and teddy bears adorned the windows. The large sign above it read "Toy Shop", and that was what set Claire scurrying in to the shop, to be greeted by an overwhelming display of sights and sounds and smells. The walls were completely coated in all manner of toys, from the simplest jigsaws and pushcarts, to the most advanced toy dolls and remote controlled cars. Claire even spotted a small toy airplane that boasted "miniature RGT technology", whatever that was, but it looked spectacular — it was bobbing up and down inside it's box lazily, seemingly having a mind of its own, but it didn't respond when Claire poked the box, so it clearly couldn't have.

    Claire remained in the shop for what seemed like hours. Eventually, she grew hungry, so she sat down in front of a display of video games and pulled a chocolate chip biscuit out of her bag. But, before she could take a bite, a stern-looking shop assistant bustled over to her.
    "No eating in here, please! Come on, out you go. Where are your parents, I might ask?""
    Claire shrugged. "Work."
    The shop assistant's nostrils flared dangerously, so Claire picked herself and her bag up and scurried out of the shop before the assistant could say anything else. She went back to the main plaza after inspecting the other shops, and concluding that they seemed boring, and decided to do something a little more adventurous. A little more dangerous, maybe. She noticed one of the narrow, dark passageways from before, and, after finishing her biscuit and brushing her hands against her skirt, decided to see what was down there.

    She looked down the passageway cautiously, checking for anyone who might be dangerous — or, worse, tell her Dad that she had been exploring. She saw no-one, so, carefully, widening her eyes so she could see down the bleak corridor, stepped forwards, her footsteps ringing around her, echoing off of the metal walls and floor. The lights above her were off — there was clearly no-one here. She walked around, looking for something to see, going down several flights of stairs and down several identical corridors, turning seemingly at random. Her surroundings did not change at all, except for doors and grates around her, but she decided quickly she did not want to look inside any; for fear that there was someone there. So, she kept walking. And, she soon realised that she was getting more and more lost by the second. Her eyes began to well with tears, but she held them back. She reasoned that real adventurers didn't cry when they were lost, so neither should she.

    And eventually, she did find something interesting. She stumbled across a huge room, which contained a huge whirring device in the centre. The device was stuck to a complicated and clever set of metal mounts, which allowed it to move in any direction it wanted. The device itself was like a squashed sphere, with rounded sides and a flat top and bottom. There was a flap on the side, which was open, and facing the ground. It was low enough for Claire to reach, and her tears dried instantly — this WAS interesting! She looked at the flap. It was easily big enough for her to fit inside. Her imagination raced — she could make a den in here, invite her friends over. Or maybe not invite her friends. It could be her little space and hers alone. In her excitement, Claire didn't stop to think that someone wouldn't just leave a large metal device lying around for her own use, and so, she climbed in. She found herself surrounded by parts that were whirring and clicking and flashing. They were all a little grimy, and smelt of engine oil. To be sure, if she was to make a den here, she would have to clean it somehow. Regardless, she liked it in here. It was small, and the noises around her were quite peaceful. She soon found a little spot that seated her comfortably, and she put her bag against one of the sturdier-looking gadgets, and settled down, choosing another biscuit to eat, dropping crumbs everywhere. She stayed there for a while. Exactly how long, she knew not — she didn't have a watch, and there was certainly no clock in here. Considering, she decided that'd be one thing she would have to put up in here. Preferably one of the illuminated ones, it was dark in here.

    But her train of thought was quickly cut off by a sudden movement. The device she was in was moving, and a metallic voice rang out from outside: "Restabilising reverse-gravity thrusters for maximum efficiency and comfort. Please stand by." She had heard this often before, and had frequently been told not to worry about it — she never noticed anything because of it. But worry she did, as she grabbed her bag desperately as the sphere upended itself, tipping her onto a small device that was previously above her, which was pulsating green quietly. She hit it with a crash, and began to wail loudly as the device span around her as she clung on desperately to avoid being flung at the walls. And, somehow, through the grinding of the mounts and through her own screaming and tears, Claire heard loud footsteps from outside, and then a sudden cursing. The footsteps grew louder and faster, and then stopped. There was a loud crashing and banging, and the device span down, slowing to an eventual halt. Claire, gasping for breath, instantly made for the flap se came out of, but not before a man's face, thickly bearded and muttering about useless mounts and covered in dirt, popped through it. Claire jumped a mile, and so did he, hitting his head on the metal and swearing loudly.

    "Bloody hell, lassie, what are ye doing in here?" He spoke in a thick Scottish accent, and his beard bristled indignantly. Claire whimpered, slightly, and, clutching her bag like a safety harness, dropped out of the flap. The man's eyes flashed, but softened as he saw who it was.

    "Ohhh. You're JJ's kid, right? I suppose ye must be, you look older'n most kids I've seen up here." He had a spanner in one hand and a beer in the other, and he put both aside and stared intently at Claire. "Now, why were ye inside the thruster, lass? That's a mighty dangerous place to be, especially during a stabilisation. You could've been killed, but I'm sure you know that now. You must never, ever come down the maintenance tunnels, if you know what is good for you. C'mon, let's get you home."

    John was furious — but mostly with himself for leaving the door unlocked. But that didn't stop him from giving Claire a crushingly disappointed look, however, which hurt her way more than being inside the wild RGT had. She later heard that the RGT had actually malfunctioned with her inside, and the mechanics came to the conclusion that as the device had to be so finely balanced, the change in weight had confused the computer systems controlling the mounts, which had made them go mad. John sat down with Claire later that night, and made her solemnly swear that she would never do it again.

    However, Claire had gotten the taste of danger and adventure, and she soon grew tired of the seemingly perfect life inside the ship — although it would be several years before she summoned the courage to sneak into the maintenance hatches again. However, as she grew older, her determination grew, and John knew it would not be long until this desire for adventure would lead her into more trouble than she could handle.
     
    #5 Teapot, May 4, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2014
  6. Oooh, Claire gets in trouble. I smell future storyline! Maybe she makes the ship turn on everyone...Cool!

    The shopping district sounds amazing! I would love to read a chase scene there, or something. Who wouldn't want to shop there?
     
  7. Sorry for not reading this earlier, but this is excellent Data ^^ It'll be cool to see what adventures Claire will get into
     
  8. Looks like you're off to an interesting start, Database.

    I'm beginning to wonder what other mischief, and possible adventures Claire will get into. I'll be looking forward to the next chapter. ^_^
     
  9. Teapot

    Teapot Virtual Duck Enthusiast
    Staff Member Administrator

    Okay, here's Chapter One at long, long last. I've spent a while working on this and other Nexilis-related stuff, so I hope it's actually worth it XD



    Chapter One — Slaves
    Zethamae sat, high above the compound in a tree, her head resting against the great trunk, the wind rippling through her midnight-coloured hair, and the yellow afternoon sun shone brightly on her face. Below her, Zethamae could see a bustle of activity — it was harvest time, and all hands that were capable of doing so were out in the fields, harvesting the food that would keep them fed for the next year or so. This had meant that they were inordinately busy, and so could pay little attention to anything except their work, and so Zethamae was left to her own devices. She spent most of this time either playing with her friends, or sitting in the very tree she inhabited now. Looking around again, she could see the massive concrete walls some distance away — the only thing, she was told, that would stop the raiders and scavengers from coming in and stealing their food. Zethamae had seen one only once, and she had been very young — and her mother had quickly ferried her away before she could learn of the raider's fate. However, years later, hindsight told her all she needed to know — a few minutes after she was safely back inside her house, there was a loud bang — the report of a pistol. The raider, she surmised a few years later, had probably been shot. On top of the compound walls could be seen a few armed guards — they were the proverbial icing on the security cake, to ensure that no-one who wasn't friend or family could ever enter.

    The compound itself was simply built — in a central area was a large, communal square, lined with flowers and plants, which served as a gathering place and park for each of the families. Surrounding it were the houses — four or five in number, each holding one family. In total, there were perhaps thirty people living in the compound. The rest of the land they owned was filled to the brim with farmland and trees — all essentials to grow as much food as possible to sustain the inhabitants for as long as possible. Each family had a patch of land to work on, and Zethamae's family — her father, her mother and her older brother — tended to the orchards and fruit fields, growing apples and strawberries and other fruits.

    "Zethamae? Zethamae, come down from that tree! There's work to be done!" A woman's voice issued from below — Zethamae's mother.

    Zethamae nimbly hopped down from the tree, dancing between branches until she was low enough to jump to the ground. There, she landed with a soft thump, and quickly straightened herself up. She walked across the windswept grass, and greeted her mother with a smile — who gave a slightly distracted grin back. Zethamae's mother, like her, was Eurasian in appearance, and also like Zethamae, went about her life with a sort of careful distraction; although all of her work was neat and perfect in every detail, she seemed to do it with her head in the clouds. At that point, she beckoned, and Zethamae followed her into the house.

    The house itself was very small, but cosy — with wooden floors and the odd dishevelled rug scattered across the floor. The walls were unpainted, and the white plaster was faded to brown in places. One wall was filled with a large, squashy red sofa, and a radio could be seen popped on a small table next to it. Another wall housed a small wooden door, and the rest of the wall was lined with bookcases and shelves. All of these were absolutely covered in knick-knacks and small items, such as dusty old books, a small wooden boat Zethamae's brother had crafted, several boxes of who-knows-what and, pride of place on the top shelf, was an dusty old certificate belonging to Zethamae's father — a Grade 6 certificate in music, dated April 16th, 2008 — 16 years ago. The door led to the house's only other room: the bedroom. A fourth was home to an ancient upright piano — but one that had been looked after as if it was the owner's own child. Each of the surfaces had been polished to a mirror sheen, and hinges carefully oiled and tested. Next to it was an ancient-looking fireplace, which was filled with fresh firewood.

    Another wall was recessed to leave a space for a small kitchen — which looked much newer and more modern than the rest of the house even though this wasn't saying much. The walls in the kitchen were tiled white, and there were carefully polished wooden surfaces. In one corner stood a battered white microwave, which didn't look like it had seen use for a very, very long time. Utensils sat hooked haphazardly on the wall, and a large chopping board sat on the sideboard, like an executioner's block. There was also a large metal sink in the counter, and a massive bucket of strawberries had been placed on the floor. Littered across one side counter were several dozen empty jars, and a steaming bowl in the corner was emitting the most exquisite smell: freshly made jam. It was here Zethamae's mother trotted, and she picked up the bowl expectantly.

    "I'd like you to start filling these jars with jam, please. We've got a lot to get through, and we really need these done by sunset. Okay?" Mum was rarely one to trifle with pleasantries — and Zethamae was plenty used to this. However, she did not mind a bit — this was a job she enjoyed immensely, and it was one of the highlights of her year. So, Zethamae set to work, carefully spooning the gloopy red jelly into the jars, making extra sure not to spill any, and making sure to try and take in everything at once — her mother's gentle humming, the clattering of the spoon against the bowl, the smell of sugar and strawberries, and her mother's hair, the same dark colour as Zethamae's, bobbing gently back and forth while she worked. Her face wore a serene expression — her mother was happiest when hard at work.

    This was perhaps one of the few times Zethamae was truly happy — she took great comfort, like most seven-year-olds do, from being able to do things with her parents — even if they were menial and at times tedious, she did not mind.

    Soon, the steaming jam was loaded into the jars, and the lids tightened firmly on. Zethamae's mother then took out an old ink pen, and started scribbling on the lids of the jars — Zethamae could see that each spiralling word was the name of one of the families that lived on the compound. Some of the jars were adorned with Zethamae's own surname — "Hale". Eventually, they were grouped together, and Zethamae's mother announced to no-one in particular that their work was done. Zethamae smiled, and fixed the jam jars with an interested look, the kind children give something when they really want it, but cannot pluck up the courage to ask. But just as she opened her mouth to ask for some jam, there was a loud knocking at the door.

    "Oh, I think I know who that might be." Zethamae's mother smiled. "Can you answer it, please?" Zethamae walked across the room to answer the door, her footsteps echoing off of the wooden floor, and turned the large, metal door handle. Outside was a young, blonde boy, four years old and wearing a giant grin. This was Cameron, Zethamae's best friend on the farm, and, knowing Cameron, he was probably here because his parents had shooed him away because they were busy, or something similar.

    "Zeffy, I've got sommat to show you. Come on, it's over in the orchard." Like most small children, Cameron had not yet learnt to pronounce a "th" sound, so he used an "f" instead. This was a source of both slight annoyment and amusement to Zethamae, whose name Cameron could never pronounce properly, even shortened. She remembered that she had once suggested that he call her Mae instead, but he didn't like the idea, for whatever reason. So, her name to Cameron was, and continued to be, Zeffy.

    The wooden door closed behind Zethamae with a creak a few minutes later, and she walked across the gravelled square that connected all of the houses in the compound, her feet crunching in unison with Cameron's on the stones. The square itself was fairly small, with a large, circular flowerbed in the middle, meticulously tended. Stretching out of one end of the square was a large pathway — large enough for an old-style car to drive through, although there were few of those around anymore. Part of the path was gravelled, but the pebbles and stones suddenly stopped appearing about half-way down the track — the villagers had run out of gravel. Alongside the path were fields of corn and wheat, and at the end stood a huge wooden gate — perhaps twenty feet high — and alongside it were some stone steps, leading up to the rough grey walls where the guards sat, constantly on watch.

    It wasn't long until Zethamae was wandering through the tall, sprawling trees that, just a few hours earlier had harboured an explosion of fruit, but now lay bare, the canopy of golden leaves above filtering the autumn sunlight so that the ground was speckled with light. The ground below was absolutely covered in footprints, from the workers who had spent so long pinking all of the fruit that was edible. Cameron led Zethamae to the very end of the orchard, where he crouched down near a small pile of dirt. "I have a treasure map here. I bet it shows where loads of treasure is! Here, help me dig it up."

    So they clawed at the loose brown dirt, tossing it aside with their hands, getting incredibly dirty in the process. Eventually, Zethamae's hand struck something, and Cameron squeaked with joy.

    "There it is, Zeffy! Pull it out, quick!"

    It was not a treasure map in the traditional sense. It was, in fact, a small book, with the word "ATLAS" written in bold letters on the front — but inside, there were maps of places that were beyond Zethamae and Cameron's wildest imaginations. Who knew what they could find there? It could be treasure, or it could be adventure, or new kinds of food, or anything else. They leafed through the book, which was dirty and dog-eared but still perfectly usable, until they came across a page with a multitude of scribblings and writing that Zethamae could not make out. But there was one word, written next to a small circle on the map, which Zethamae could make out: "Lowestoft Compound". That was the name of the compound they lived in — supposedly named after the large town that used to be situated nearby. It was rubble now, though — Zethamae remembered her father telling her that they'd taken most of the land around these parts and made all of it into farmland — even where cities and towns and villages used to lie. The people that used to inhabit them were left to fend for themselves - most either left the country, or set up small villages in pockets of land that the government didn't care about, building strong walls around the outside, and locking themselves and their children in.

    This thought worried Zethamae slightly — even she knew that there were untold dangers outside the compound, and she had assured her parents many, many times that she would never leave. Cameron, however... did not share her caution.

    "I'm gonna go outside. Out of the compound. There are crosses all over the map. And you know what crosses on a map mean. Treasure!"

    "They might not. Crosses on maps could mean anything, y'know. I'd show it to someone first, someone who can read it for you. They might be able to tell you what the crosses mean."

    "No. They'd just take my map away. They'd want the treasure for themselves. I'm gonna find it, Zeffy. I'm gonna find it and we'll all be able to get whatever we want with it."

    ---

    Zethamae couldn't stop thinking about what Cameron had said that night. She had seen him safely to his home, but he still had the same fire in his eyes that he had when he was talking about the map... and she knew him too well. If he said he was going to escape from the compound... he probably would.

    Her mother fussed around as she tucked Zethamae into bed. And, just as she was about to close the bedroom door, she turned back to Zethamae.

    "Are you sure you're alright? You've been acting funny ever since you came back from playing with Cameron."

    Zethamae couldn't tell her mother about the map. Not yet. Cameron would be really upset with her. "No, Mum, it's nothing. Don't worry."

    Her mother smiled slightly. "You were never a particularly good liar, Zeth. Still, if you say everything's okay, I'll believe you. Goodnight." With that, she pulled the door closed with a small click. Zethamae's thoughts swirled around her head for a while, worries about Cameron as well as thinking about her mum and dad, until eventually, they grew quiet, and Zethamae was blanketed with sleep.

    Until the inevitable happened.

    ---

    It was the middle of the night, and the room was completely dark. Zethamae opened her eyes quickly, because there was hurried conversation outside.

    "No, I heard he didn't come home. Cameron is always home at the right time, even if he's hidden in the far corners of the compound. What do you think might have happened?"

    Zethamae's heart sank. Her parents were right — he would never be late home, ever. Zethamae slid herself out from under the sheets, and crept to the door as silently as she possibly could have been, and pressed her ear to the door, listening intently to the conversation.

    "You don't think... he got out?" Zethamae's mother asked. There was silence for a few seconds.

    "Well... I don't think there's any other way around it. There aren't exactly many places for him to hide here that we haven't already checked. No matter what Apollo says, this place isn't entirely secure. There's no doubt that he could have gotten out if he'd wanted to. He's not stupid."

    It didn't matter that Zethamae knew this was going to happen — the fact that her father had said what was on her mind out loud made her insides turn to ice. Zethamae had always been told that the world was dangerous outside the walls of the compound — and she had never, ever ventured outside without her parents. There was no need — everything they needed was made for them inside the compound. But Cameron had an insatiable thirst for adventure, and if he said that he was going to do something... he was going to do it, come hell or high water.

    There was more silence, punctuated by a resigned sigh from Zethamae's father. "I suppose we'll need to go look for him, then. He could be anywhere by now. His parents are already out there, but... they need all the help they can get."

    "How's Apollo handling this?" Zethamae's mother asked. Apollo was the self-appointed leader of the compound — he made sure everyone did their fair share of work, and also ensured that no-one got in or out who wasn't wanted.

    "Not particularly well. You know how much he goes on about how damned safe the compound is, and if a four-year-old can break his defences, it can't look particularly good on him, can it?"

    "Well, that is certainly true. But still, we need to find him — especially if he's gotten outside. We know he's not in any of his usual places — we've all already looked."

    There was a creak of wood, signalling that the door had opened. A new voice spoke. "Apollo's called a meeting in the square. It's probably best if we go out there." It was Zethamae's brother — large and strapping, he was one of the best farmhands in the compound due not only to his strength and endurance, but also his subtlety and craftsmanship. It was he who had made the little boat on the shelf, all those years ago. There were footsteps, and the door closed softly. Zethamae had been left alone, as her family probably still assumed she was asleep. And she decided at that very moment that she had to be at that meeting. She felt like she was responsible for Cameron's disappearance, like she hadn't done enough to stop him. She realised then that she should have told her mother about the map — but it was too late now.
    Zethamae dressed herself, as quickly as she could, and slipped out of the house, trying not to make the door creak. She walked out of the door, and joined the crowd that was gathered around a large, wooden crate. Standing on this crate was Apollo: a tall, muscular man, tanned and youthful, yet somehow possessing a sense of something ancient about him. His head was covered with fine white bristles of hair, as was his chin. He was clearly worried, but was doing his very best to hide it. After a minute or so, he raised his hand, and silence blanketed the small crowd instantly.

    "We all know why we are here — Cameron has gone missing." The man spoke in rich, smooth tones — the voice of an orator, and a leader. His voice could calm, convince, convert, and he did it with effortless ease — but tonight, his voice was tinged with worry. "Now, I know some of you believe that he has escaped the compound. But the watch tonight inform me that they saw nothing at all, and I cannot see how he could have gotten out without them noticing."

    This was greeted with growls of protest from a few members of the crowd. For once, a lot of people didn't believe Apollo. He noticed, because he changed tack very quickly.

    "But... I cannot see any other explanation. However, the question I have to ask is... why has he left? If he was just curious about the outside, he would have asked someone. So, please, if anyone has information on why he may have left, speak up."

    Zethamae's insides churned. Despite her promise to Cameron, despite probably being told off by her mother, she needed to tell Apollo and the rest of the village. So, very slowly, she raised her hand.

    Apollo looked her straight in the eye, and the whole crowd turned to look at her. This was probably the thing Zethamae wanted least, but she had their attention now, she had to tell them.

    "He... he found some sort of map. He called it a treasure map. It was an odd map, though. It was a sort of book — but Cameron found drawings and scribbles inside, and... a few crosses. He decided they marked treasure, and he told me he was going to find treasure. He said he was going to bring some back for everyone, so we could live better. He made me swear not to tell anyone."

    "C-c-crosses?" Apollo had gone as white as a sheet. "My dear girl, that map you speak of, that was... that was my atlas! That is no treasure map. He... must have taken it. And those crosses... my word, those crosses do not mark riches or gold, they mark the location of raider camps! H-he's walking straight towards the slavers!"

    Silence befell the crowd for at least a minute. Everyone just stood, stunned. Cameron's parents had gone rigid with fear, their imaginations surely thinking of all the worst possible scenarios. But then, one person spoke, then a second shouted agreement, and a third shouted another idea, and eventually the whole crowd was in turmoil. The noise was deafening — no-one could hear anyone else speak over themselves yelling ideas, criticism, tactics, whatever they could think of at the time. The cacophony continued for a long time, until Apollo eventually quietened the crowd again, after a lot of effort. He looked incredibly rattled, as if he would jump at the slightest sound. And when he spoke, it was in a tiny whisper of a voice, but the crowd were listening

    "I think if anyone is to blame here, it is me. I should not have let him look at the map, let alone take it without my notice. I should have made sure that he couldn't escape, and I am so, so deeply sorry for this. But, we are going to find him. We have all trained and armed ourselves for situations such as this, and it is time to send out a search party. I would like the Hale men to get together a willing band of people, and, if we can, we will march in an hour. I know where the closest raider camp is, and Cameron will have probably gone there. We need to get to him before he reaches them. Or... before they reach him. I... guess he'd probably get in range of them by sunrise, so we need to have him back by then."

    Zethamae's father and brother nodded, and started gathering people who wanted to go with them. Zethamae's mother and a few other people fussed over Cameron's parents, but they were having none of it, and they marched to the band of volunteers. Zethamae's father made to protest, but thought better of it. Eventually, the rest of the crowd dispersed, and Zethamae walked up to the makeshift stage where Apollo was still standing, pale as the moon.

    "This'll be the end of me, my girl. They'll have elected a new leader by sunrise." Zethamae frowned.

    "Don't you think there are more important things to worry about right now? Anyway, it's not your fault, I should have told someone as soon as I knew what Cameron was about to do."

    "No. No, it's not your fault, not at all. As the leader, it was my job to keep everyone safe."

    Zethamae looked Apollo straight in the eyes. "But you made a mistake, just as I did, and just as surely as everyone else did. Now, are we going to go find him or not?"

    Apollo smiled weakly. "You're as clever as ever, Zethamae. I don't think I've ever had someone your age tell me something like that before. Yes, you're right; I can worry about myself when we've got Cameron back safely. But until then, I need to get my gun. You go find your Dad, Zethamae, he'll know what he wants you to do."

    "I know what I want to do. I want to come."

    Apollo answered with a deep, profound silence for a few seconds. "Go and find your Dad. It's not my choice to make."

    Zethamae walked back into her own house, to see almost all of the men in the compound, and a few of the women too, all bearing rifles and pistols and weaponry, listening fixedly to Zethamae's father, who was drawing on a piece of paper and gesticulating furiously.

    "Most importantly, we are going to stick together, and we are going to find Cameron. And, so help me, if we can't find him, we are going to tear every raider camp apart until we do. Everyone clear on what I've told them to do?" There was a nodding of assent, and a few mutters about what would happen to any raider they'd meet. Zethamae made her way over to her father, and cleared her throat quietly.

    Her father looked at her worriedly. "No, sweetie, you have to stay here."

    "But... Cameron is my friend, and I feel really guilty."

    There were a few murmurs around the room. "Y'know," one of the men said, "I could give her my spare pistol. She could be useful, she knows Cameron far better than we do."

    Zethamae had fired a pistol a few times, but only with her father holding it for her. There were so many guns around the compound, it was felt that most of the children ought to get used to them, even if they weren't going to use them.

    Zethamae's father considered for a while. "I agree that she could be useful, Gary... but I don't agree with just giving her a live firearm like that. She's only seven years old, let's remember, she should not be going to war."

    "She won't be. She'll be helping us with the search, and that is all. If a fight did break out, we'd make sure Zethamae wasn't part of it. I want to give her a pistol for her own safety, as an absolute last resort." Gary returned.

    There was quiet in the room for a while, while the men considered what to do.

    "... Okay. You're right; we don't know what's out there. She can have the gun, but she's not having any rounds for it unless she absolutely has to."

    ---

    So the band of men and women walked through the huge wooden doors, Zethamae looking every which way, trying to find her friend. Some of the men held torches as well as their guns, so the path was clear. In the middle of the crowd, Apollo stood, with a rifle in his hands, dressed just like the other men. Zethamae, holding a pistol, stood beside him. The pistol wasn't loaded, yet — the magazine was in her father's pocket, so that he was sure she couldn't hurt herself (or anyone else) with it. However, in the dark, even an unloaded pistol was a deterrent if you pointed it at someone. They trudged down the old roads and past overgrown fields for what seemed like an eternity, some people starting at the smallest of noises, but there was no sign of Cameron anywhere. And eventually, Apollo looked up to the sky, and noted a small band of pink behind a few clouds.

    "It is sunrise, gentlemen. And we're nearly upon the camp. Mr. Hale, would you please guide us?"

    And, as they came over a small hill... they saw it. A small camp, with smoke rising from small fires dotted here and there, tiny specks of men sitting there. One of the men pulled out an ancient pair of binoculars, and looked through them.

    "No sign of him from here, but by the looks of things they're getting ready to pack up."

    "Well, then... they have some prisoners, clearly. It's probably best to stop them sooner rather than later, our Cameron may be there." Zethamae's father spoke clearly, but quietly.

    "Yes... I agree." This was Cameron's father, and it was the first time he had spoken since the meeting.

    "Okay," Apollo said, "let's put our torches out and ready our weapons. We need to get in and out as quickly as possible. Don't give them a chance to strike back."

    Zethamae's father turned to Zethamae herself. "Stay here. I'll give you the magazine for your gun, but please, don't shoot any of us. Remember, if the worst comes to the worst, you have seven shots. Use them wisely."

    Zethamae nodded, and took the small metal magazine from her father. She slotted it into the bottom of her gun with a small click, and her Dad once again showed her where the safety was, and cautioned her not to touch it until she absolutely had to.

    The men moved away, as silently as possible, down the hill. Zethamae sat down, the cool metal of the gun in her palm. It had a strange weight to it — not only was it physically heavy, the thought of the bullets inside made it heavier still. In a way, it made Zethamae feel both cautious and safe.

    After a few minutes, Zethamae lost sight of the last of the group. The camp was still lit by the fires, and every so often, a silhouette flashed across them, as a raider moved across the camp. The night around Zethamae was quiet. Every so often, an owl would hoot and make Zethamae jump, but apart from that, there was just the rustle of leaves in the wind, the occasional click of one twig brushing against another. The darkness was almost choking. Zethamae couldn't see anything aside from the camp. She couldn't see her father, or Apollo.

    There was a small noise, coming from the camp.

    And then another.

    Voices. Words carried themselves up the hill, but Zethamae couldn't make them out.

    They were hushed.

    And then... BANG BANG BANG. Gunshots were ringing from all corners of the camp, the sounds piercing Zethamae's ears. In a fit of panic and adrenaline, she charged down the hill, fumbling with the safety switch on her pistol. Whatever was going on down there, she had to help.

    She rounded on the camp in less than a minute, and saw the reason for the gunfight. There were many, many raiders, all dressed in rags and animal pelt, and they all had guns. Those from the compound were charging around, trying to avoid the bullets that were blasted at them, and trying to return fire. Zethamae saw Apollo and her father, both still alive and well, and putting up a fantastic fight. She raised her gun. A raider charged at Apollo, a knife in his hand, and she squeezed the trigger firmly, aiming blindly at the raider. The gun spoke, and rocketed up. It took all of Zethamae's might not to have it fly out of her hand from the recoil.

    "Bloody good shot there!" Apollo yelled at Zethamae, a slightly relieved look on his face. The raider had been hit by Zethamae's bullet, smack in the chest, somehow, and he crumpled to the ground. "Now, go find Cameron, they haven't started shooting at you yet!"

    So she did. Zethamae ran around with her head down, peering into wooden buildings, looking for any sign of her friend. Mostly, she just saw beds and rucksacks, too small even for Cameron to fit in, so she continued on, looking through all of the buildings she could see... until she came upon a slightly larger one, right in the middle of the camp. Trying not to get hit by stray bullets, she dived inside, breathing heavily. It was dark inside, and Zethamae couldn't see a thing. But as she turned around, her eyes adjusted to the gloom, and she saw what she was looking for. And also what she was least expecting.

    There must have been twenty or thirty people in the room — mostly children, but a few teenagers, too. And there, sitting in one corner... was Cameron, looking absolutely terrified. They were all bound and gagged, and were sitting on the hard wooden floor. Most were absolutely terrified by the scene outside, and looked upon Zethamae with fear. For all they knew, she was going to kill them.

    "Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt any of you. You'll all be fine, I'm gonna get you out of here," Zethamae whispered; "Just be quiet, and I'll untie you."

    She started with Cameron, as he was the closest. Working carefully, she pulled the rope free from his hands, which instantly shot to his face, pulling the tape off that had gagged him. Zethamae put her finger to her lips, and Cameron nodded. The other people in the room shifted slightly, seeing that Zethamae was true to her word. She went around the room, untying everyone. Some of the children were hardly old enough to speak, and as she looked upon each individual face, a deep sadness entered her heart. She understood, truly now, why Apollo kept them all in the compound... the outside was dangerous, too dangerous for them to live in. Eventually, everyone was untied, and they stood up, waiting for Zethamae's orders. Even the teenagers, at least seventeen years old, stood quietly, and waited for their seven-year-old saviour to command them.

    And suddenly, the raging battle outside stopped. The last bullet had been fired. Zethamae motioned to everyone to sit down, and she pulled out her pistol again, and crouched near the door, so that she could be ready as soon as someone walked in. The seconds that followed felt like hours, waiting for the footsteps to get closer, closer, and eventually, a head was stuck in. Zethamae instantly pressed the barrel of her gun to the man's temple, and he put his hands up — but she needn't have bothered... it was her father. Putting the gun down again, she hugged him suddenly. It was a bad situation indeed where a daughter would hold her father at gunpoint. He looked around the room while he hugged her, and sighed with relief.

    "We got ‘em all, all aside from a couple. I see you've found the prisoners... damn, they got a lot. And Cameron, there you are!" He grinned at Cameron, but Cameron gave no response. There was an awkward silence for a moment. "Okay, let's get you lot out of here. Come with me, I won't hurt you."

    The prisoners followed obediently, the older ones shielding the youngest children's eyes from the scene that presented itself to them. There was carnage everywhere, and dead bodies littered the ground. Zethamae's heart gave a horrible, horrible backflip, as she saw the body of one of the men from the compound. It was Briggs, the same man who had convinced Zethamae's father to let her come. One of the men picked Briggs' body up, and slung him over his shoulder, somewhat unceremoniously. The others gathered around, muttering and sighing, a lot looking quite shell-shocked. Apollo appeared seemingly out of nowhere, nursing several injuries, but thankfully none too serious. He looked at the group of children currently huddling behind Zethamae and her father, and sighed.

    "Okay, what we're going to do is to start heading back to the Lowestoft Compound, for now, and then we'll see about returning you all to your homes."

    "But, sir," one of the teenagers piped up, "we don't HAVE homes. These raiders destroyed them all."

    Apollo frowned, deeply. "Well... we can't leave you here. We need to find somewhere for you all to stay, and until we do, you can stay with us. Okay?"

    There were nods from everyone — prisoner and soldier alike, and soon enough, they filed out of the camp quietly, the healthy helping the injured, until the burning battlefield was far behind them.

    Unbeknownst to them, it was far from over.
     
    #9 Teapot, Aug 13, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2014
  10. Magpie

    Magpie Feathered Overseer
    Staff Member Moderator

    Awesomesause
     
  11. Gorgeous.

    I simply love your juxtaposition of Zethamae's innoncence with the harsh reality of the world outside her - the manner in which she is at once both a child and an adult is shown in those two opposed scenes. Your writing is certainly superb and your ability to create a believable and viable world is very good. Cameron is an endearing, if a little exasperating and enraging character (as I'm sure you can imagine, if you where his parents) and Zethamae seems set on the path to become someone great.
     
  12. Sem

    Sem The Last of the Snowmen
    Former Administrator

    Finally read this, Petey, and I have to say; you don't give yourself enough credit. :p You're an excellent writer and so far this is a very interesting story. Very much anxious to see how Zeffy's and Claire's destiny's shall become intertwined.
     

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