Chapter Two - Eight Years Later At Dad's Dojo
Lee Jeffersun, sixteen-years-old, looked down upon the twisting and surging sea from her flat outcrop of black rock. A wave had crashed so loudly it coaxed her away from training, and the undulating, shadowy waters kept her lounging on the edge of the level stone that was Dad's Dojo, dangling her legs above the distant breakers. The last two items on her day's to-do list, training, then getting paid, could wait.
Lee pushed excess sea mist from her short black hair, watching the dark, hypnotic waves bash aged metal ruins of broken ships; old vessels thought to have carried her ancestors to Ever Rest Island, the mass of craggy stone behind her from which Dad's Dojo jutted.
"Island, right," Lee muttered, amused by another Pedagogue Caust lie. Ever Rest Island was not an island, but a mountain, the most massive above sea level since the great flood.
Thunder boomed, grey clouds flared with diffused cracks of light.
Being compact and durably built, Lee hopped to her feet with swift elegance. She pulled chunky black smart-goggles from her forehead to her large, bright eyes. The augmented view in the lenses displayed a priority weather alert, appearing to float in space above the black stone surface of Dad's Dojo; burned-in pockmarks and divots momentarily flickered memories of trading plazsaw techniques with her father.
PRIORITY ALERT - APPROACHING MACRO_STORM - CHOOYU FLIGHTS DIVERTED. CCO PATROL CLOSE SURAFCE DOORS ASAP.
"Great," Lee groaned, dismissing the alert with a gesture as she collected her plazsaw from where the distracting wave compelled her to leave it. She retracted its shaft in a satisfying snap then pressed the compacted weapon into her thigh-harness with a click.
"Remos, what happened to my weather alert audio?" Lee asked her smart-goggles while folding down a robotic training dummy. "Remos?" Lee dragged the device to a plasma-cut hole behind a tall rock opposite the ocean side.
"Get in," Lee growled irritably to the folded dummy. A hard stomp closed the lid her father had created in years past to cover their secret gear stash — the act dislodged a chunk of raw vormanite from her boot.
"Remos, wake!" Lee realized the A.I. was in hibernation.
"Here, Lee. Jeez," Remos, the Rapid Enhancement Operating System said with the voice of a spunky girl, per Lee's configuration.
"Scan for vormanite on me. And what happened to my weather alert audio?"
"Before training, you turned it off. You said no interruptions." A musical chime followed. "In addition to what's at your feet, there is trace vormanite somewhere on you."
"Where?" Lee asked, running her black gloved finger beneath the pliable band holding her smart-goggles on.
"Too mild to pinpoint. Probably not worth the effort to find."
"We're poor, Remos." Lee reminded, digging fingers into the space between her sleeveless green mining jacket and bare muscled shoulders. "Every bit helps."She jumped, hoping to loosen more from the folds of her deep-pocketed utility pants, but there was none.
"Do you want me to check the Decentralized Pirate Network for black market values?" asked Remos.
"Sure." Lee shook her courier-pack fruitlessly — "Doquah," she growled, then traced around the small equipment anchored to her belt. "Yes!" With a smile, Lee pushed free a pebble-sized nugget that joined the larger one at her feet.
"I've sent current exchange rates to your HUD. By the way, shelter fee's are due — "
" — today. I know." With a mumbled curse, Lee slung her courier-pack over her shoulders, which, if nothing else, was lighter than when she began her deliveries that morning. "I'll get my monthly value payment from Jose Dodd on the way home."
An explosive thunderclap shook the ground; the sky was going from grey dusk to full night.
"Remos, turn everything back on and scan for CCOs."
"Full system activation will reduce my power by — "
" — just do it. CCOs will close the surface doors soon. Even if I manage to sneak by them, the ones inside are gonna know I been outside if the storm soaks me."
The linked audio bud in Lee's ear chirped musically, confirming full activation.
"Currently, punishments for unauthorized surface access include — "
" — the scan, Remos!" Lee grabbed the vormanite from the ground and stuffed it in a shielded pouch on her belt
A surface-tracing white pulse, visible in Lee's lenses, rapidly swept the rocky incline of a hidden path. Above, two small digital outlines appeared: City Control Officers, milling on the Central Point Cliff in front of the massive surface doors.
"Remos, is there any mention of The Plaz being canceled?" Lee asked, approaching the mouth of the hidden path.
"One moment." Remos made a quick check. "Nothing so far."
"At least there's that. Now give me stealth." Lee began bouncing, preparing to run.
"When activating stealth, you asked to be reminded if caught with modded Remos-ware, your status will be downgraded to tier zero. Per your request, I have pre-set my hardware to auto-destruct."
"Deactivate auto-destruct and delete that reminder. I was in a bad mood when I asked for that, Remos. Please, work on your sarcasm-recognition."
"Will do." Remos activated several internal mechanisms to block electronic detection. "Stealth active."
Lee sprinted onto the stone path, its hazards etched in her muscles from years following her father up and down it. She swiftly vaulted rocks protriuding on her right, mindful of the perilous drop to the ocean on her left.
"Status?" Lee asked quietly between sprint-strained inhalations. Despite being in good physical condition, her legs and lungs were burning, possibly inflamed less by the stride than the stakes. She went from running to a quick-moving hunch, watching the CCO outlines grow larger in her lenses as she closed the distance.
"Ninety-seven percent electronic detection concealment," Remos reported in her earbud. Lee slowed her pace and lowered her body as she approached boulders camouflaging the hidden path, repeating her status request in a whisper. "One hundred percent electronic detection concealment," Remos revised.
"Can you get a feed of their channel?" Lee whispered, peering cautiously from behind her cover at the Central Point Cliff. The precipice surface reached from an enormous rectangular opening in the mountain that spilled yellow light onto the CCOs — their duster-style overcoats flapped about by increasing storm winds, revealing glimpses of rugged blue armor. The officers' long shadows nearly crossed the cliff's length to an aircraft landing pad at its far end, which was perilously high above the sea.
An electronic squelch crackled momentarily in Lee's earbud.
"How long's it gonna take?" an officer's impatient voice sounded, tinny through Remos' discrete, invasive carrier signal.
"Give thanks for good fortune," the second officer warned over the whistle of the rising wind, keenly aware of a persistent gratitude-enthusiasm policy.
"Save it," the first CCO replied, hawked, and spit. "I've got a seat at The Plaz tonight, and I wanna get out of here," he added. "The Resonator is fighting."
"Vid the Resonator, huh. The boringest Plaz Champion ever."
"You're out of your mind! He's the best Plaz Champion!"
"Used to be. Now he don't kill no one."
"Yeah, but that doesn't — " an electronic squelch interrupted, followed by an authoritative voice: "Helimos diverted to Chooyu Island. Close the surface doors, immediately." Another squelch.
"Too bad those Chooyus have to miss the Resonator fight."
"I can hear you," the authoritative voice returned.
"Uh, sorry, sir." The CCO's nerve diminished. "Won't happen again, sir."
Lee watched the officers rush to positions on either side of the gigantic entryway.
"Ready?" one called from a set of door controls. The other affirmed, his shouting voice contrarily quiet under the increasing volume of the storm winds.
Lee felt intermittent raindrops. "Come on, already," she said softly while the officers turned their activation keys. The ground rumbled as tremendous doors of weathered steel slid from concealment, slowly moving to meet each other from the left and right of the opening.
The CCOs trotted inside.
Lee scrambled from behind her boulder and ran into the shrinking yellow light, briskly reaching the door closest to her, matching its speed. Concentrating, she kept pace with the slow-moving mass of gargantuan steel, then lept past it. Lee was inside. She exhaled in relief as the downpour behind her battered the cliff until the clang of the steel doors coming together silenced it.
Lee crouched, watching the officers cross the sizeable helimo hanger, growing small, their debate about the Plaz Champion softening until they disappeared in the fast-moving flow of maintenance robots. Some were performing upkeep on rows of stowed air vehicles belonging to Ever Island's elite; others assembled new helimo craft to sell Chooyu, Fuji, and additional rivals.
"Remos, turn off stealth and pull up the news feed."
"Okay. Would you like me to message Jose Dodd you're on your way, and he should prepare your value payment?"
"He doesn't open my messages, so don't bother." Lee was on her feet, walking swiftly between rows of crafts that wildly varied in size and form. To Lee, they resembled how she imagined giant mechanical birds or insects might look. "I'll just show up. Best way to keep him from stalling."
"Here's the news feed, Lee," Remos said as Lee's view flooded with text and imagery.
"Woah! locomotion layout," Lee directed. The content transformed to icons, floating at a comfortable distance in Lee's lense margins.
"Sorry. Did you want me to find something?" Remos asked as Lee pupil-navigated the information.
"I got it." Lee activated audio on a fight status notification:
"Get ready for arena action tonight in the Championship Plazilist Challenge!" said an overly-exaggerated tough-guy voice. "A full fight card climaxes in a duel between Champion Vid the Resonator, and Mala Gitz, a V-Villetown contender with a five-fight winning streak. Tonight only, on The Plaz. Brought to you by The Solomon Effort, the campaign to deliver our City Chairman into the Makers."
"That's a relief," Lee said, approaching the hangar's far wall containing a massive, steel-lined portal allowing certain helimos to access different regions of the mountain.
"Why is it a relief, Lee?"
"Oh yes. No fight makes him yell."
"Exactly. Now, if we can get home quickly enough I might have time for tea before bed. How's traffic on the Stretch?" she asked, thoughts on getting paid and going home with a few minutes to settle before sleep.
"Checking." Remos said.
Beside the helimo portal was an elevator with a security scanner at which Lee waved her blot-badge. The counterfeit access card wiped records in its wake; contraband, but like Remos, essential. Both gave access to Dad's Dojo, the farthest place from where the elevator led.