AW 1273, Paseo, capital of Motavia
"So, whaddya wanna be when you grow up, Rolf?!"
"I... I don't know, Shir. Probably an astronaut like my parents, working on those satellites for Mother Brain..." The young blue-haired boy scratched his head, deep in thought. "What were they called... Zelan, Kuran, and Gaira, I think."
"You know, you know so much! Maybe you should be one of those Agents going in and out of Central Tower!" The green-haired girl grinned at her "best-friend-for-life-and-don't-you-forget-it-mister," leaning towards him. "You'd get to work in such a cool place!"
"You've been in Central Tower, Shir?"
"A few times. Perk of being a Gold, ya know. ^_~" She leaned back against the sakura tree that grew in Paseo's plaze, sighing contentedly as she looked at her friend. "Maybe I could be an Agent, too! This way, we could work together all the time!"
"That'd be cool."
"Hehe... you're blushing, Rolf."
AW 1284, the artificial prison satellite Gaira
That conversation, one of many he had with his close friend in their mutual youths, echoed in Rolf's mind. Ironic, he thought. Shir pushed me so hard to be an Agent, and it's what got us into this mess in the first place.
Another conversation—more of an oratory, and much more recent than Shir's "Be an Agent!" speech—also dominated Rolf's mind. This one, he tried to block mentally, but he just couldn't help but linger on the final three sentences of the Palman Prime Minister's hellfire-and-brimstone declaration:
"Agent Rolf Eushys, Rudolph Steiner, Doctor Amelia Sage, Doctor Hugh Thompson, Anna Zirski, Joshua Kain, and Shilka Levinia Gold; we, the governing bodies of the Algo Star System have reached a majority verdict. You have been found GUILTY of the crime of tampering with Mother Brain, thus endangering the lives of every living being on Palma, Motavia, and Dezolis. Thus, your sentence is televised execution, three days hence, on the prison satellite of Gaira."
"How ironic, Rolf," Shir commented, trying to wriggle free of the plasma rings looped around her wrists. "Your parents helped build these satellites."
"Yeah, yeah, rub it in."
"Ah knew Ah shoulda refewsed t' acknowledge that thar court's ah-thoritah," Kain mumbled, giving his plasma rings a good tug. "...Nope. Dern things'r made'a quality polycarbonfiber wit'a ceramic core. Nuthin' short of a laser's gonna bust up these thangs, Rolf."
"Kain, you tried to get the arresting POLEZI/DXes to book you as 'Turd Ferguson, Esquire,'" Rolf interrupted. "That... probably wouldn't have helped us much either."
"Nothing else can get through these damn rings?"
"Weellllll..." Kain thought for a moment, scratching his chin with his shoulder. "Mebbe a nice Eijia or Gi Sag should do th' trick."
"It won't work," Anna said, her voice in its usual right-to-business tone. "They vibrate at a high frequency—high enough to supress the metapsionic cortex in a Palman's brain. And even then, your hands are behind your back."
"And no offense, Kain," Rudo chimed in. "But your aim's a bit lacking."
"Are yew sayin' Ah can't shoot straight?!"
Rudo scooted over towards Kain. "No, I'm saying your aim sucks!"
"An' Ah say yew're all muscle an' no brains!"
Once again, Rudo drew closer to Kain. "Rolf, now I know why Kain stayed at home most of the time."
"Rudo, why are you getting me involved in this?"
"Awl talk, Rewwwdo Steinah'."
Rudo screamed, kicking at Kain, who retaliated with several kicks of his own. Their shouted insults soon became inarticulate gibberish as they continued their kickfight. Anna rolled her eyes and tried to talk Rudo down, while Hugh tried to drag Kain back with his own legs. Through all this, Shir approached Rolf. "Look at it this way, Rolf. I've been caught a few times. Every prison has an escape route!"
"Really? So, how are we going to get off Gaira?" Rolf asked, optimistic for the first time since Nei's death in Climatrol.
"Hrrm.... I don't know. Wasn't expecting to get locked up here, Rolf. Sorry." Shir sweatdropped. "But maybe those two idiots will knock down a wall, or—"
"Will you two KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF!?"
Immediately, all the motion in the cell stopped. Shocked, Rudo and Kain looked towards Amy, who was giving them both an angry glare.
"Wow, you got Amy to say 'hell' and 'damn,'" Hugh said, surprised to hear Amy cursing. "Looks like you owe me some Meseta, Rudo."
"Hugh, I didn't say 'damn!'" Amy countered.
"Now you did."
Ignoring Hugh's reply, Amy continued, "Maybe this is what the government wants us to do—get mad at each other so we'll kill each other over the smallest thing!"
"And then air the tape on every network on TV, saying 'Such be the fate of those who go against Mother Brain,'" Anna realized. "It's a sick perversion of justice, and for the government to condone it... it disgusts me!" Turning to Rolf, who had an eyebrow raised, Anna added, "Present company excluded, of course."
"Thanks. Now then..." Rolf looked to his companions in turn. "Any ideas how to get out of here?"
"Well, maybe if Kain and I charged the wall... we're both pretty strong, so I thought we could bust a hole through it."
"No. Your shoulders would give before the wall ever does, Rudo." Hugh pounded the wall nearest him with his fists. "Very thick metal. Probably ilimium, from the crust near Zema."
"So brute strength is out," Rolf said. "Shir? Any seams you can exploit?"
"Nope! Truce and Miria Eushys did a damn good job; can't find a seam thick enough to force open," Shir told the group. "So we're hosed there."
Irritated, Rolf slumped against the wall opposite their cell's force field. "Well, then, I guess our only chance is to..."
A white-clad figure caught his attention, and Rolf trailed off, watching him. As he slung his hood back, Rolf noticed he could see clean through the man.
A ghost? Rolf thought, watching the man going at the keypad outside the cell. That man... I've seen him somewhere before...
The force field flickered, glowed red, and faded away, allowing Rolf a clearer view of the figure. Their eyes locked, and Rolf could gauge a sense of raw power surrounding the man.
Go, Rolf, the figure said. Quickly!
"But...!" Rolf shouted, as the figure disappeared. The rest of the group stared at him, confused.
"...Yes, Rolf," Amy told him. "You have a butt. Medically, the glutei maximus and medius, the Palman buttocks tend to be a symbol of protest, as well as a source of juvenile pranks, toilet humor, and a negative pars pro toto for a whole Palman. Right now, Hugh's staring at mine."
"How the hell did you know that, Amy?!" Hugh asked, surprised.
"I know you. ^_^"
Rolf was still staring at the door, confused. "But... there was someone... he's gone... let us out..."
"Well, then!" Anna said, standing up. "If someone let us out, then let's get the hell out of here!"
Anna, Rudo, Kain, Hugh, and Amy burst from the cell, leaving a confused Rolf and an amused Shir. Kneeling down, Shir asked, "So, you saw someone, Rolf?"
"I... I think so."
"Hmm. Well, when we get out of here..." She stood up, stretching her legs. "We'll have to find him and thank him. Oh, that reminds me! You know that necklace that Nei used to wear? That one made from that silver bullet? I have it."
Rolf grinned at his friend as he stood up. "Shir, I could kiss you for that," he said. "Hang on to it until we get out of here."
"Right. Oh, Rolf? One more thing..."
She stepped towards the door. "I'm Shir of the Winds—nobody can catch me!" she said with a wink, running out the door. Rolf laughed, and followed her, catching up with the others a minute later.
Just like old times, he thought. But back then, we raced for fun. Now, we're doing it for everyone in Algo. And Nei.