Chapter 8 – Falling Chaos
“…Their inevitable debris is likely to come down right on top of Alus.”
“What?!” Phoenix exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Are you saying the city’s going to be destroyed?!”
“Shit, that can’t be right. Can it?” Pierce questioned, his attention on Brikén.
“Not the entire city, no…” Brikén replied, her eyes jumping back and forth as though reading an invisible book. “…There’s a handful of satellites coming down, as well as a bunch of rocks from the rings. The ring debris isn’t threatening any settlements, since there aren’t any cities on or near the equator… but the satellite debris is going to be spread over a large area of the planet’s surface, and Alus is included in that area. The city won’t be leveled, but if debris reaches it, then it could take out several of the buildings.”
“That still doesn’t sound good,” Phoenix responded uneasily. “Are we in danger?”
“It’s impossible to say. There’s too many variables in play. We won’t know exactly how many pieces of debris there will be, and where they’ll land, until it’s too late.”
Pierce glanced down the street at an NSD checkpoint several blocks away. The soldiers stationed there had already begun spreading out and entering nearby establishments, presumably to ensure that the inhabitants were aware of the new disaster. “Just our fucking luck,” he muttered, his expression sullen — until an idea suddenly formed in his head. Turning back to Brikén, he asked, “just how big are these satellites?”
“Not too large. According to the reports, they’re mostly communications and global positioning satellites, so… under a thousand kilograms?”
“And how small is the debris likely to be?”
“It’s hard to say. Maybe they’ll break up into a thousand tiny pieces, maybe they’ll stay completely intact. Who knows? They’ll be dangerous either way.”
“Yeah…” Pierce nodded absentmindedly, “…but one is easier to deal with than the other…”
“Oh no…” Phoenix grabbed Pierce’s sleeve and yanked him down to hiss into his ear, “you are not thinking of doing what I think you’re doing.”
“Why the hell not?” Pierce shot back, his voice low in an effort to prevent Brikén from hearing. “I have fucking superspeed!”
“And how the hell is that going to help you stop a bunch of de-orbiting satellites?!”
“There’s a lot you can do with superspeed besides just running hella fast. You just have to be creative!”
“Creative my ass, you just discovered your powers four days ago! There’s no way you have enough practice or control to handle this!”
“What are the two of you whispering about?”
Pierce and Phoenix both glanced back at Brikén, who was eying them warily.
She then jerked her head toward the NSD checkpoint. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but we need to go find the safe spots, now!”
“Yeah. Of course.” Phoenix cleared her throat and stepped away from Pierce. “You hear that, Pierce?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Pierce nodded… and then whipped around on his heel and ran in the opposite direction of the checkpoint, making sure to keep his speed down to a human level as he shouted over his shoulder, “I’ll meet you guys there! I just have to do something real quick!”
“What?!” Brikén stared after him incredulously. “You dumbass! What are you—?”
“Damn it!” Phoenix shouted in anger before taking off after Pierce. “You stupid bastard, get back here!”
“Wait, Phoenix! What’s gotten into you?!”
“Just go on without us!” Phoenix replied impatiently, “I’ll make sure Pierce doesn’t get himself killed!”
“Ha! Like that could ever happen,” Pierce retorted under his breath, just as he and Phoenix rounded a corner and Brikén fell out of sight. “I’ll save this city from destruction, and I’ll do it all without getting hurt. Just you guys watch!…”
* * *
“Pierce, you fucking idiot!”
“Hey, you’re the one who decided to follow me.”
“Yeah, to try and talk you down from getting yourself fucking killed!”
“I won’t die. In fact, I’ll be the one preventing tons of other people from dying!”
“Argh…!” Phoenix threw her hands up in frustration. “I can’t believe you!”
Pierce simply snorted in response as he continued scanning the twilit skies from his position on top of Alus’s tallest skyscraper. Shortly after he and Phoenix had escaped Brikén’s line of sight, Pierce had scooped Phoenix up into his arms and then taken off across the city as fast as his legs could carry him — and then, in one clean motion, he had jumped from the ground to just over the top of the two-kilometer tall skyscraper he now stood atop. It had been the first time since discovering his powers that he had allowed himself to actually run with them, and the experience was — in a word — exhilarating. Without access to a speedometer, he had no idea how fast he had actually been running, but he felt certain that he surpassed twice the speed of sound at a minimum.
As his thoughts lapsed into reminiscing over his brief run through the city, Pierce felt a satisfied smirk spread across his face. With a power like this… heh. No one can stop me!
“Alright, you dumbass, what exactly is your plan, here?”
Pierce glanced back at Phoenix, who had her hands on her hips as she glared at him expectantly. “Well,” he began, “as you just saw, I have fucking superspeed. I just jumped two kilometers like it was nothing!”
“And how the hell is that going to help us here? Don’t tell me you’re going to try redirecting the incoming debris by jumping at it.”
Pierce grinned. “That’s exactly it.”
Phoenix stared at him incredulously. “You can’t be serious! Do you really think that will work?!”
“Of course it will. Just think about it.” Pierce turned around to continue searching the sky for signs of any incoming debris. “Some satellites were de-orbited, but they’re still going to be coming in at an oblique angle. Hitting them with a high-speed object should be enough to deflect them.”
“The scales are all off, though,” Phoenix countered. “Objects on atmospheric re-entry are often hypersonic, especially if it’s an uncontrolled re-entry! That means that any debris will be moving so fast that you’ll only have one chance to hit them. If you miss, you’ll never return to the ground fast enough to try again!”
“That’s no problem. I might be a track star, but I’m no slouch in jumping and throwing events, too. I’ve got plenty of control over aiming my body.”
“You think your fucking track practice is going to help you here?!”
“It should help you, too,” Pierce replied as he glanced back at Phoenix. “You’re supposed to be some javelin-throwing, shotputting goddess, aren’t you? That should help out a lot with your Chaos abilities.”
“That doesn’t even—! Argh, you’re so dense!” Phoenix scowled. “Skill in one area doesn’t transfer to another so easily!”
“You might surprise yourself if you actually tried.”
“…You really aren’t going to let me talk you out of this, are you?”
“Nope.” Pierce shook his head and grinned again. “C’mon, think about it. We could save a whole damn city from calamity! That’s the kind of hero story that’ll have chicks dropping their pants for kilometers!”
Phoenix responded with a deadpan stare before closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. “…I should’ve known your primary motivation was getting laid.”
“Of course it is. All dudes’ primary motivation in life is getting laid.”
“For fuck’s sake…” She sighed warily. “…Well, fuck it. If you’re so intent on getting yourself killed, then I might as well watch so I can tell Conrad and Kestrel how pathetic you looked.”
“As if I could let myself die here. This is only the start of my heroics!”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure.” Phoenix made a grandiose show of rolling her eyes. “But if that’s the case, then we should actually work out exactly how this is going to work.”
“Finally, some cooperation,” Pierce remarked. “But this isn’t hard. Just spot a piece of debris, jump at it, deflect it — bam, done.”
“It isn’t that simple. Like I said earlier, this debris is likely to be hypersonic — and even if the satellites break up, their debris is likely to weigh a lot, as well. Certainly more than you. That means a lot of momentum, a lot of kinetic energy. You, by comparison, will have far less kinetic energy, even with your superspeed. If you want to deflect the debris, then you’ll have to hit them at just the right angle — an oblique angle, rather. Like, you won’t stop them if you jump at them head-on.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Pierce retorted. “C’mon, this is basic kinematics.”
“And who had to tutor you on kinematics back in high school?”
“Please, that was, like, four years ago.”
Phoenix shook her head in disbelief. “Anyways, the speed of debris will be the biggest issue. We should still have some time before it actually comes down, but when it does, it’ll all come at once. You won’t have time to jump at one piece of debris, return to the ground, and then jump at another.”
“Why the hell not? I have superspeed!”
“Yes, and you can run fast, and use your speed to jump high. But can you make yourself fall faster?”
“…Okay, good point…” Pierce regarded her with a questioning look. “What, do you have a solution?”
“I do, if you’re really as good with your powers as you think you are.”
“Of course I am. Hit me with what you have.”
“…Well… it might sound silly, but what you’ll probably have to do is use each piece of debris you deflect as a springboard toward other pieces of debris. So instead of returning to the ground, you’d launch yourself at one piece of debris, hit it feet-first, and then jump off straight at a new piece of debris.”
“Ah, like a wall-jump, but all the walls are in the sky and hurdling toward the ground at Mach speeds.”
“Uh… sort of.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. But what about you?”
Phoenix gave him an odd look. “What about me?”
“I’m not the only Chaotic here,” Pierce declared. “We established that, haven’t we? So what can you do? You’re a Chaostechnic, right?”
“What? How do you know that?”
“Do you really think I’m that stupid? Your voice did that weird echo thing when you said the word ‘Chaos’, that’s literally the signature ability of Chaostechnics.”
“No, I know that, but how do you know that?”
“I looked it up on the Intranet earlier this week. You know, when I was bored out of my damn skull.”
“You looked up Chaostechnism on the Intranet?! Do you have any idea how that could trace back to us?”
“Fucking relax. No one will suspect that the two Earthians were Chaotics. Besides…” Pierce passed Phoenix a knowing glance. “You knew I was right when I called you a Chaostechnic. You looked it up too, didn’t you?”
“…Hmph. So what if I did?”
“If you did, then you should know what you can do with your power, right?”
“…Theoretically, yes. And… I suppose there are a few abilities that would be useful here, if I could use them. But I don’t know if I can.”
Pierce glanced into the now dusky skies; in the far distance to the east, he could make out a handful of lights slowly growing in size. “Looks like the show is about to start soon.” He looked back to Phoenix. “If you have something in mind, now is the time to try it!”
“Don’t you order me around,” she snapped, and then sighed. “…But you’re right. Damn it. I hate it when that happens.”
“You hate when I’m right?!”
“Just… keep your distance.” She took another deep breath, turning away from Pierce to look out into the rapidly darkening skies. “…Alright. Let’s try… Chaos Assist!”
“…Nope. Okay, then. Chaos Surefire!”
Still, nothing happened.
“Damn! That would’ve been useful.”
“Surefire?” Pierce questioned.
“It would’ve increased my accuracy,” Phoenix replied. “But apparently I’m not a weapon-type Chaostechnic, so I can’t use it. As for other options… hmm… Chaos… Void? Shit.”
“Better hurry it up,” Pierce muttered, his attention now focused on the incoming debris — which had now come close enough to see, as they glowed from the heat and pressure of re-entry.
“Damn.” Phoenix scowled, and then reached her right hand outward. “There’s only one more type that could be useful here. Here’s hoping I can use it… Chaos… Cannon!”
The moment the phrase left her mouth, a small purple projectile appeared in her hand and immediately launched into the distance, where it nigh-instantly disappeared from sight.
“A projectile attack! Perfect!” Pierce exclaimed.
“Yes, but it’s small…” Phoenix frowned uneasily. “Who knows how much it will actually help.”
“Well we’re about to find out,” Pierce remarked, his eyes skyward. The sun had now fully set, allowing him and Phoenix to easily see the glowing pieces of metal that rocketed downward to the planet’s surface. If Pierce hadn’t known any better, he would have thought they were simply shooting stars; but unlike shooting stars, these burning chunks were straight on track to slam into Alus’s large collection of skyscrapers.
“Chaos Cannon! Chaos Cannon! Chaos… uh… wait— shit. Chaos… Mach 2 Cannon?”
Pierce glanced over at Phoenix just as she launched a volley of three energy projectiles at the incoming debris. He couldn’t track the small projectiles themselves in the post-dusk darkness, but a couple seconds later, one of the debris chunks in the distance appeared to slightly alter course. Alright, close enough! He took a brief moment to locate the nearest piece of de-orbiting satellite debris, and then one moment to work out in his head the best trajectory to deflect it, at which point he crouched down in preparation to launch himself into the sky. Here… we… GO!
Instantly, Pierce’s feet pushed against the roof of the skyscraper with enough force to accelerate him to well beyond the speed of sound. The skyscraper disappeared underfoot as he sailed through the air over Alus, and the sea of buildings below — but Pierce hadn’t the time to take in the sights. He quickly whipped his body around in the air, bringing his feet in front of him as he neared a piece of debris. Alright, just one chance! Deflect it, and then…!
A split-second later, he found himself near enough to the debris to see the actual shape and texture of the object. It looked like a piece of a solar panel — but that was all he was able to discern before his feet found purchase against it. Time had already seemed to be progressing slowly to Pierce, but now it slowed to a crawl as a million thoughts raced through his head. The right angle to push against the debris to deflect it from the skyscrapers, the location of a nearby piece of debris, the right angle to launch himself toward it, the fact that the piece of debris he was just next to felt searing hot— shit, shit, this is fucking hot!!
The realization that the heat of re-entry was incredibly high momentarily distracted Pierce, forcing his body to act on instinct alone. Instantly, he slammed his feet into the side of the debris, launching himself through the air. …Well, all things considered, that could’ve been a lot worse, he mused as he glanced down at his shoes — which, surprisingly, remained completely intact. I did read on the Intranet that Velocitechnics have increased durability, and that that durability passes on to anything that’s in contact with their skin… but man, this is hella useful—!
His thoughts were cut short as he slammed into another piece of debris. Caught completely off-guard, he was unable to position himself to launch off of the debris again, and so simply rebounded and began falling toward the streets below. Shit! Damn it, Pierce, stay focused! He momentarily glanced back at the piece of debris he had just slammed into, watching as it clipped the side of a towering skyscraper, but continued on without hitting anything else. Good, looks like I AM helping! Now, for the rest!
At that point, his vision of the sky was eclipsed by the walls of another skyscraper that he had just fallen below. As his falling trajectory took him closer and closer to the building’s side, he whipped his legs around — and then slammed his feet into the outer wall as soon as he was in range. The wall immediately gave way, but just before it did, Pierce was able to launch himself upward, toward the wall of another skyscraper. Alright, that’s less than good. At least its not enough damage to bring down the building, so as long as I can deflect the rest of the debris, it’ll be worth it!
He then kicked off of another skyscraper wall, sending him further skyward until he found purchase against a third skyscraper. This time, he took a split-second to reorient himself toward the oncoming debris — just in time to spot one chunk that was on a collision course with a nearby building. Immediately, he launched himself toward it, slamming into it feet-first within a second and rebounding off of it violently, deflecting it just enough to miss the building.
As Pierce sailed through the air once more, he took a quick moment to investigate the state of the situation. Much of the debris had shot past the city; he could see a few areas in the distance where a chunk of debris had landed in the middle of some shorter buildings and caused damage, but all of the skyscrapers toward the center of Alus appeared to be be intact — or at least, mostly intact. As he took note of this, he also noticed that several pieces of debris were being deflected long before they could enter either his or Phoenix’s range. Do the Nimalians have deflectors of their own? But what? Some kind of lasers, or guns, or something? Well, whatever it is, the more help, the better!
A split-second later, Pierce whipped his legs around just in time to kick off of a skyscraper toward another piece of debris. With a little bit of experience under his belt, Pierce was able to deflect the satellite chunk and rebound directly toward another piece of debris with ease. He hit that piece and kicked off toward another, and then another, and then another again — in the span of only a few seconds, he had managed to deflect five pieces of debris from their building collision courses. With a satisfied smirk on his face, he allowed himself to fall onto the roof of a shorter skyscraper before looking up at the sky to see what was left. The vast majority of debris chunks had passed by at that point; judging by the dull red glow that seemed to fill parts of the sky, he could tell that not all of the debris had been stopped from hitting the city. Even so, the tallest building remained intact — and as far as Pierce was concerned, that had been his main objective. Allowing a massive skyscraper to collapse when surrounded by a veritable forest of other skyscrapers would have been disastrous—
Wait a minute— shit! He pursed his lips as he noticed one last piece of debris hurdling through the sky toward the city, having already made it past the Nimalian deflectors. It only took a brief moment for Pierce to figure out where the debris was headed, and once he did, his expression collapsed into a scowl. It’s going to take out the building I left Phoenix on! Shit!!
Without wasting another moment, Pierce launched himself into the sky, using other skyscrapers as further springboards to rapidly close the distance between himself and the piece of debris. A split-second later, he was rocketing toward the chunk of metal, his feet angled upwards in preparation to kick it. Fuck, it’s too big! I’ll have to hit it more than once! A moment later, he landed against the debris — ignored the heat — crouched his legs — and then kicked off as hard as he could, sending himself hurdling toward the ground so fast that he slammed into the surface over two kilometers below before he even realized what he had done. And yet he still didn’t stop, as he immediately leaped back toward the piece of debris, prepared to deflect it once more. A quick look at the metal’s trajectory suggested that one more good push should properly alter its course to miss Alus’s tallest skyscraper, but a quick look was all Pierce had the time for. Barely a second after he had kicked off of the debris the first time, he slammed into it again, grunting in pain as he kicked off it once more. In an effort to more severely alter the course of the debris, Pierce angled his kick to send the debris up and to the east, sending him down and to the west — and straight through the wall of the skyscraper. He rolled to a painful stop within the building, completely unable to properly catch himself against the broken glass and furniture that stood in his way.
Ow… ugh… Pierce gingerly rubbed his back as he slowly picked himself up. Damn… that—
An intense rumbling threw Pierce off of his feet and knocked several pieces of furniture over. Instantly, he jumped back to his feet, only to feel continued rumbling throughout the building around him. The shaking now was less intense than the first shock, but as he witnessed a shower of glass and metal fall past the window outside, he felt a terrible wrenching in his gut. Shit, I didn’t deflect the debris on time! This building’s about to come down!
Pierce crouched down and prepared to launch himself laterally out of the building, but just before he did, he remembered one important fact. He immediately adjusted his footing and stared upward, bracing for a vertical jump. Velocitechnics are supposed to have increased durability, to account for the fact that we can accelerate to high speeds so quickly. If that’s true, then hopefully, this will work!
The sound of shattering glass reached his ears, followed by the rumbling screeching of metal beginning to buckle under stress. Without wasting a single moment more, Pierce held his arms up to shield his head and then launched himself straight upwards, puncturing through the floors above through sheer momentum alone. He grit his teeth and closed his eyes, trying his best to maintain his focus as he repeatedly broke through metal flooring — while all around him, windows began shattering, and supports began to collapse.
And then, he found himself once again exposed to the night air of Alus as he sailed upward over the city’s tallest skyscraper, having misjudged the necessary amount of momentum to perfectly reach the roof. As his upwards speed rapidly decreased and eventually turned into downwards speed, he stared down at the building roof below, the roof that was beginning to collapse under the blow from the debris — the same roof on which Phoenix remained.
“PHOENIX!” he shouted, reflexively kicking in an effort to launch himself downward, but there was nothing for him to kick against. He was solely at the mercy of gravity now.
The next several moments passed in a crawl. Phoenix glanced up at Pierce; he reached out to her; the building shuddered, and released a piercing metallic shriek; the roof under Phoenix’s feet collapsed; she shouted something, something that Pierce couldn’t quite decipher; and then she disappeared from view, blocked by the collapsing building debris.
A moment later, Pierce touched down on what little remained of the roof. As soon as he did, his perception of time returned to normal, with him dashing toward Phoenix’s former position and then launching himself downward into the debris cascade. Immediately, he found himself on top of a pile of debris, stable for the time being — but certainly not for long. “Phoenix! Phoenix!” he shouted, whipping his head to and fro as he searched for any sign of his friend. “Damn it! Phoenix, answer me!”
A muffled clang reached Pierce’s ears, drawing his attention back to the pile of debris. He cautiously approached, unsure of what caused the noise — only for it to repeat again, only less muffled, and accompanied by a minor shift of the pile. Pierce jumped back, somewhat confused, only to lose his footing as the skyscraper began rumbling again; just as he managed to leap to his feet, the pile of debris in front of him exploded outward. “Wha—? Shit!” he exclaimed, reflexively throwing himself to the floor in an effort to evade the flying pieces of building debris.
“You’re here! Finally!!”
Pierce looked up just as Phoenix rushed to his side, her entire body encased in a veil of purple energy — a veil that seemed to have a similar shape to protective armor. His first impulse was to ask what the veil was, but he quickly shook that thought away and leaped to his feet, just in time for the remaining pieces of the roof above him to collapse.
Startled, Pierce glanced over at Phoenix just as she jumped toward him and shouted the phrase. Immediately, a rotating sphere of purple energy appeared around both her and Pierce, shielding them from the debris directly above them.
A moment later, the sphere dissipated, but the debris remained — as did the collapsing building. Without sparing a moment for recognition or thanks, Pierce scooped Phoenix up into his arms and launched himself up and at an angle, escaping the building and sending the two careening through the air high above the city. Pierce remained mentally on alert, scanning the sky for any final pieces of debris, only to find none remaining.
Several seconds later, as they began to fall toward the ground, a low rumbling reached their ears. Pierce kept his eyes forward in preparation for landing, but he noticed Phoenix turning her head to look behind them — at which point her eyes widened in awe.
Before long, Pierce found himself again on solid ground. With no other people around as far as he could see, he carefully set Phoenix down and then kneeled down himself. Now that the primary disaster was over and he was out of danger, Pierce realized that his veins must have been filled to brimming with adrenaline — and he was starting to come down from the momentary high. His breathing ragged, memories of the past several minutes flashed through his mind. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes — or even five — since he launched himself at the first piece of debris, and yet it had felt so much longer. Was this the regular experience of a Chaotic? Had Trenon felt this much stress during his final moments…?
A dull throb prompted Pierce to grasp at his torso again. …I guess this is what it feels like… to keep on living. Damn… well, all that’s left is to make the most of it.
He glanced over at Phoenix, who stood next to him and looked down at him in concern.
“You alright?” she questioned.
Pierce exhaled deeply and hung his head. Then he shook it in an effort to clear his thoughts before leaping back to his feet. He forced a smirk and beat his chest once as he replied, “hell yeah! Damn, that was really something, huh?”
“I’ll say…” Phoenix responded, her attention shifting to the skyline of Alus. Pierce followed her gaze to look at the skyline himself, only to find that something about it seemed off.
A moment later, it hit him. “Shit. The building…”
“Yeah… it’s gone,” Phoenix finished solemnly, and then smiled — though Pierce could tell that it was forced. “Well, at least we were able to save part of the city, right?”
“…But not all of it…” Pierce muttered.
“…True… but some is better than none.”
Pierce glanced down at Phoenix, who returned his gaze with the forced smile still on her face. He simply snorted and turned away in response.
“Well…” Phoenix sighed. “We should probably head back to Brikén. She has to really be wondering where we are right now.”
“…Heh. I wonder what she’d think if we told her that we rushed off to try and save the city.”
“You know we can’t say that.”
“Man…” Pierce scowled. “What’s the point in having a hella cool story if you can’t even tell it?”
“I told you when we started that your motivation was all wrong,” Phoenix shot back. “Fame and glory don’t work in this world.”
“Clearly it works for some people. That Nanocreature War 20 years ago was stopped by Chaotics, and they got hella famous for it!”
“I really hope you aren’t trying to compare what happened here to the Nanocreature War.”
“Hmph. One day, I’m going to show you that you’re wrong.” Pierce smirked, puffed out his chest, and planted his hands on his hips. “Some day, I’ll be hella famous for being a hero!”
Phoenix rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you will.” She then turned and began walking off. “Now let’s get going already. We shouldn’t leave Brikén waiting for much longer.”
“Alright, if you say so!” Pierce exclaimed as he rushed to Phoenix’s side, scooped her up into his arms again, and blasted off at Mach speeds — more than ready to return home and rest after a stressful night.
* * *
3 Days Later
— Monday, September 5, AD 2129 —
(Ligdia, Beauth 27, 8054)
“Well, we’re here.”
“So we are,” Phoenix remarked as she stepped out of the hovercar and grabbed her suitcase.
“You didn’t have to tag along with us, you know,” Pierce commented as he followed suit.
“Sure, I didn’t have to,” Brikén replied, “but this will be the last time I see you two in quite a while — maybe even the last time ever. I’d have to be an insensitive idiot to miss out on saying good-bye.”
“Heh,” Pierce offered a brief chuckle in response as he glanced toward the large building that the trio now stood in front of. The main building appeared to be just over three stories tall and featured the same rolling contours as the rest of the buildings in Alus, though it also featured glass walls covered in some sort of abstract art. To the left of the building and down a story, Pierce could see a large trainyard, with train tracks running into the yard from almost every direction and criss-crossing each other until condensing into two pairs of rails that ran directly into the building. On these rails were a variety of trains, not too different in appearance from the mass transit trains he was familiar with at home. He watched for a moment as one of the trains disappeared into the building, where it would soon disappear from Ainminthalus altogether by traveling through its Interstellar Gate — for the complex in front of Pierce was none other than Ainminthalus’s Gateport.
During the previous week, the Gateport had been closed to civilians and commandeered by the NSD, as an emergency response to the sudden Chaos Energy Quake. However, just as everyone was beginning to settle in for the long haul… yesterday, Chaos Energy inexplicable became usable once again. The Relaynet came online, anti-gravity technology re-activated, and spacecraft were once again able to use their FTL Drives. In less than an hour, the entire galaxy came back online, and not even an hour after that, the NSD had released its hold on the Gateports across Nimalian space, thereby restoring the Interstellar Gate Transportation Network within the Nimalian Union. There still remained a small amount of chaos, of course, as people scrambled to sort out the disruptions caused by the week-long Quake; but, to Pierce’s surprise, the entire galaxy seemed to have immediately resumed operating as normal.
Well… most of the galaxy, he amended mentally as his attention drifted back to the city of Alus. The distant skyline remained mostly intact, backed as it was by the planet’s magnificent rings, but the point that had once served as its apex was now conspicuously missing. The skyfall — as many of the city’s citizens had taken to calling the debris storm — had caused a significant amount of damage to the city. Pierce remained glad that he had successfully mitigated much of the damage, but his and Phoenix’s ultimate failure to protect the entire city still didn’t sit well with him. Thankfully, there had been enough time between the initial emergency warning and the actual skyfall for many people to evacuate the largest and tallest buildings, so casualties were at an overall minimum. Too bad we couldn’t drop the casualty count all the way to zero, Pierce thought bitterly, as he absentmindedly grasped his torso wound. Shit, it’s harder to save people than I thought. Maybe, if I had just tried harder… like Trenon…
“Is that all your stuff?”
Pierce shook himself of his idle thoughts as he turned to face Brikén, who now stood outside of the hovercar while leaning on it. He then looked down at his single suitcase; it was larger than a typical piece of airline carry-on luggage, but thankfully, Gate Network travel featured less stringent luggage restrictions. “Yeah, this is everything,” he eventually replied.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling, to finally be standing here,” Phoenix commented, her attention on the Gateport’s main entrance. “After spending three months here, especially after the ch— uh, the wildness of last week… Alus almost feels like a second home.”
“I find that people often feel that way after their first long-term trip away from their home planet,” Brikén remarked.
“No, it’s not just that.” Phoenix glanced back at Brikén. “I legitimately enjoyed my time here, last week aside. I really did learn a lot from you.”
Brikén smiled in response. “Glad I did my job successfully, then!”
“Eh, you might teach well enough,” Pierce countered, “but those exams… those could use some work.”
“I still haven’t officially submitted the results, you know. Don’t make me retroactively fail you.”
“Ah, c’mon, as if you’d fail a great guy like me.”
“Don’t oversell yourself, buddy,” Phoenix interjected.
Brikén chuckled. “The two of you never change.”
“Well of course I wouldn’t change, why would you change perfect?” Pierce smirked. “Phoenix, though…”
“If this is what you call perfect, then your outlook on life must be in a real sorry state,” Phoenix retorted.
“You just say that because you’re jealous.”
“No more than I am of an untrained dog.”
“Alright, alright, no need to keep the argument going,” Brikén cut in. “A little bit is charming, but too much is just sad.”
Pierce elbowed Phoenix cheekily. “You hear that? She called us ‘charming’!”
Phoenix simply rolled her eyes in response.
“Anyways, I did enjoy teaching and hanging out with the two of you, despite all your quirks,” Brikén commented with a smirk. “With a job like mine, you spend a lot of time on your own. You don’t often realize just what you’re missing until you get to spend time with people long-term again — and these three months I spent with you two, and… with Trenon…” She glanced down for a moment before returning her attention to Pierce and Phoenix, her smirk now a genuine, if somewhat morose smile. “…It’s been a fun three months. I’m glad I signed up for this job, even if I don’t get that Subspace Drive.”
“The feeling’s mutual,” Phoenix replied.
“Don’t know about the Subspace Drive, though,” Pierce remarked.
“Yeah, yeah…” Brikén simply waved him off. “Well, how long is the trip home?”
“We should be back on Earth within a couple days,” Phoenix replied.
“How many Gate trips is that? Three, four?”
“Four,” Pierce answered. “What a pain in the ass. I get why the network is set up this way, but it’s still hella fucking weird to have to detour across three other planets when we could just go straight home.”
“If the Gates operated on ‘first come, first serve’ then the backlogs would be incredible. No one would ever get anywhere,” Brikén countered. “…But you are right that it can be a pain. That’s why I fly a ship instead.”
“Which takes even longer!”
“Not if I get a Subspace Drive, it won’t.”
“Oh please, we both know that’s never happening.”
“Anyways…” Phoenix interjected, “our train should be boarding soon, so we should really get going.”
“Alright. I’ll stop holding you up,” Brikén replied. “Even if you never come back to Ainminthalus, maybe we’ll see each other again elsewhere. I am a courier, after all. I go all over the Union, and sometimes even in the CSA!”
“We’ll be sure to keep a look out for you if we’re ever off of Earth again,” Pierce said. “Don’t expect that to happen for a while, though.”
“Still. Don’t forget me, you hear?”
“As if we could.” Pierce snorted and grabbed his suitcase.
“I guess this really is good-bye, now,” Phoenix remarked as she picked up her own suitcase.
Brikén nodded. “So it is… Have a safe trip, you two!”
“We will! See you later!” Pierce replied, waving as he and Phoenix began to approach the Gateport entrance. After three months away, and late by a week, the two were more than prepared to finally return to their home on Earth.