3354 words (13 minute read)

Chapter One

COR - Octoime, Day 64, 26:14

"CAREFULLY," came a harsh hiss, and Cole swallowed, hand balanced precariously over the contraption. A wrong breath of wind, and all would be for not. Of the wind, or of an impatient boy. He sent Abel a dark look. "Shut up," he replied tartly, "or I’ll muck it up purpose on, I swear it."

Abel was smart enough to bite a snarky retort back, and waited on baited breath while the lithe, blonde boy carefully connected the two wires together, soldering them together with a needle-thin flame the length of an old-age pin. Once secure, Cole held completely still to ensure that the materials had settled before edging back with an achingly slow retreat. Abel’s breath left only once Cole’d settled by his side against the concrete wall.

The two boys looked at each other, than at the wiring, and then back. Abel was the first to split a grin.

"We bloody did it," he said, his voice rich with excitement. His eyes sparkled, the Cor accent carried and buried beneath the hours and hours he’d labored to refine it. Cole smiled back, and turned his attention to the bundle of wires that they’d yet to implant back into the skin of the Boundary. "What, now?"

"Anything," Abel answered propitiously, his fingers seizing and releasing in eager anticipation. The possibilities had suddenly increased tenfold - they’d breached the Boundary. After months of deliberation, and intense planning to avoid the Cor Guard that skirted the giant organism’s skin, they’d managed what had been deemed impossible - free entry.

It solved a crucial problem in their daily lives - the fees to interact in daily life. Every Skaa was forced to pay exit and entry through the pulsing skin of the organism, all filtering through a single set of gates located near the mainstream of the Capital City - the location of Trade. It was a long, odious process that took hours off the day before you could enter. Once inside, your work began, and hours were shaved off your exit before you returned from a fifteen-hour shift. If you were lucky.

Not only did the Skin pose to charge time - the fees were mounting each day, going to and from establishments in the CC to Outside locations, like the apartment complexes that were cheaper cut from the city dwellings. "The price of leaching off the trade system," they said. "You either paid your dues in rent, or you paid in entry."

They’d created a hole - a dead spot in the Skin. They could slip in and out, and no one would be the wiser - money in their pockets and time on their hands. It didn’t matter when you started your shift, as long as you ended fifteen hours later. In Cole’s case, twelve, though he refused to tell Abel what he did for a living. Having missed the general Repression, Abel knew to hold his place.

The Repression - a set regimen of drugs administered to those who could afford them that countered their instincts to be replaced with Control Over One’s Self. It’d been a popularized recreation for the High Class before the Civil War - now it was almost mandatory, and without it, you were denied basic commodities in favor for the more ’privileged’ of Society. Abel’s family couldn’t afford it. For some reason, Cole’s family didn’t even want to be able to afford it - it was a strange idea, and Abel and Cole had talked about it before. Why not? There were no side effects - the only difference was you were able to think with a clear head.

Why not take the Repression?

"I think we should go now."

"The Uncor we will," Abel replied, shaking his head. His green eyes watched Cole’s blue ones. "Come on. What time is it?"

"Five till twenty-seven."

"Then, we have the ups of three hours! Why not go have some fun? I know of a few arcades, and now we have a few extra dollars our mums would’ve thought to go toward the Skin."

Cole’s face twisted in thought. "Are you sure it’s worth it? What if we get caught?"

"Have you ever been stopped and scanned for a ticket hashing?" Abel asked flatly.

"Well, no, but-"

"Exactly. They don’t even bother - marking entry is just a formality to scare people from entering illegally."

"Which we’re doing."

"Well, yes, but think of it this way : where is the money going toward?"

"The games."

"Where does it go from there?"

"The arcade owner, I suppose."

"And, who does the owner work for?"

"A chain, probably."

"What tax does that chain pay?"

"Establishment Tax, to the CC."

"So, where is our money really going?"

"...The CC."

"And so, our money goes to the same place, but at least we get a bit of enjoyment out of it, aye? Wouldn’t you rather that than standing on your feet for hours while they remove the tags and yell and Cor?"

"I..." Cole look bit uneasy. Apparently committing the act and indulging in the rewards were two entirely different things. Sometimes, Abel didn’t understand his friend.

He sighed, placing his hand on Cole’s shoulder comfortingly. "Don’t worry. We can run fast."

Cole’s frown reluctantly twisted to a grin. "Even so, I would never be able to live with myself if I left you behind."

"Are you implying that you’re faster than I am?"

"No. Only that you’re slower than I am."

"Why you cheeky-"

Cole dove into the veiled Skin, an innocent squeal echoing through the organism as Abel raced after.

COR - Octoime, Day 65, 07:28

The mirror did not do her justice. Ash’s eyes went from one budding breast to the other, and decided after the long contemplation she’d experienced, that she had a preference toward the left one. The left one was definitely perkier - the rose of her tiny nipple was in no way as attractive as some of those from older, fuller women, but it was in its own charm, she told herself. She stared in disdain at the right breast - it was the problem child. There wasn’t anything obviously wrong, but there just wasn’t something good enough about it.

After a thorough debate on the judgement and verdict of each breast’s rating, she pulled her shirt down from where he’d hung around her neck and secured her arms. She was in no way going to let a hindrance like breasts get in the way of her daily pursuits. She had the upward of two hundred forty months under her belt, after all - almost a full-fledged child stepping into adolescence. That was what she told herself.

In reality, the idea of getting taller was the only thing that inspired her pursuit of the adult life. Anything else repulsed her - love, family, a constant job. She already knew how her life would play out - it was to be exactly like her mother’s, and the mother before her, and the mother before her.

"Our kind don’t fluctuate," her mother routinely reminded her. "We are what we are, and we will be what we will be."

Yes. Of course. It wasn’t like Ash was taking the entrance exam for Veron out of pride or spite - she was doing it just... to do it. Yes. That made sense. The acceptance rate was low - minuscule, even. Only about two percent of the applications went through, and then there were tests, and fees, and all manor of obligations and restrictions to access. It wasn’t easy to get out of Cor if you were born into it.

She was applying for a Scholarship, a secret pursuit that no one need know about. If she got it, Cor would probably burst into flames.

But, a girl could clutch on fleeting hope. That was all she seemed to have.

"Hey, do you have extra socks?"

Ash spun around, eyes wide as though she’d been caught with her thoughts floating readably above her head. "Er... yes? In the drawer."

Abel nodded, walking across the floor to secure a pair. "I have to go soon, but I couldn’t find any."

Ash frowned. "Why are you still here? Don’t you normally leave around Five?"

Abel flashed her a loose grin, one that melted the hearts of girls with bigger breasts than hers. "Yeah. Today’s special, Ashes."

Ash’s brow knit together. "What’s going on? Did something die?"

"Well, there was the death of something," Abel mused.

"Being?"

"Compliance," Abel answered.

***

EARTH - PRESENT DAY

Nicole hurried through the hustle and bustle of the city, brushing past people and hugging her black portfolio to her chest.

Today was the day she was going to get a job. She just knew it!

She’d been drawing shoes since she was a child, and as she’d grown up she’d gone out of her way to spend her saved up cash on shoes for her own personal collection - whether from a thrift shop or a high-end fashion store made no difference to her. Shoes were shoes, and she would take them home to redecorate them herself anyways.

Right now, as Nicole walked along the sidewalk towards the design firm, she wore a pair of her own creation. Pink high tops with bows on the side and rainbow colors on the toes.

She liked to take different fabrics and mesh them together to see how they’d blend, but of course Nicole could only do so much with what she was given. Most of her better styles were in the pages of the portfolio in her arms; it was her pride and joy.

Inside were style ideas for heels, boots, tennis shoes, sandals and flats.

She really hoped this firm liked her work. She’d already been laughed out of so many places, and she was growing tired of working in a restaurant.

Besides, her workplace always made her tie her hair back. Just because it was a pastel pink color did not make it a distraction for customers. They were eating! But... whatever. Some places just obviously did not embrace fashion or style what-so-ever. Nicole was hoping that when - not if, because she knew it would happen eventually - she got a new job, her efforts at being unique would be praised.

Watching only her feet as she was walking - as usual - Nicole found herself slamming directly into the body of a man who was holding the door open in a cab for someone else inside to exit.

She made an ’oof’ sound, and the body stumbled forward into whoever it was that was exiting the cab, and she heard a groan in response.

"Sorry! Sorry!"

Nicole turned to walk around the two people when her portfolio handle caught onto - of all things - the watch of the body she stumbled into. With the momentum of her movement forward, her portfolio was tugged from her arms behind her and fell open; pages that were not secured inside started to scatter as the wind of passing cars and bustling people rushed past her.

She turned in horror, yelping as her portfolio had been pulled from her arms and then whining again as she saw her pictures being strewn everywhere.

"Oh no!" She ran around trying to grab the pages that she could get before they got too far, and sadly noticed that some were wrinkled or had shoe prints on them now.

Her stomach knotted up at the new ruined sight of her once nice portfolio. What was the design firm going to think of her now? She knew better. She should have organized her portfolio better than this and made sure everything was secure! Why hadn’t she?

Oh, yeah. She’d been up late making the shoes she was wearing today. That was why.

"How stupid," she muttered to herself. "I just mucked it all up."

After gathering what she could, she looked up at the body - a boy - she’d run into, and was about to ironically ask him for the time since everything was now settled, when she got the feeling of déjà-vu.

She’d seen him before. But really she hadn’t. Not in real life.

Had she?

"Umm..." Nicole blinked, tucking a long strand of her pink hair behind her ear as she kept her eyes on him. She had gorgeous blue eyes.

Eyes like Cole.

"Do you have the time? I think I’m going to be late for my interview, now. I just want to make sure."

SKAA REPUBLIC- Octoime, Day 65, 08:15

Gabriel straightened his tie before picking up his briefcase. He wore a dark blue suit with a tie to match and a crisp, white shirt.

Had to look good for his first day.

The tie and briefcase used to be his father’s, and now the items had been proudly passed down to him as he began his first day officially on the job at the office of the politicians with his father.

Everyone in the building knew him, as he’d been visiting quite often in the past few years. But visiting was different than working, and although his father had gotten him used to the environment around him, now was Gabriel’s time to show his father that he’d actually learned a thing or two about guiding the Skaa Kingdom that they lived in.

After all, some worlds only dealt with one planet, and they had three. The Skaa Republic, Cor, and Veron - planets each with their own rules and regulations that had to correspond with one another.

"A Kingdom cannot be run without uniformity and order." That was something his father would tell him now and again - and Gabriel knew it to be true.

He’d been working on a regulation recently, and hoped that today in the board meeting with his father and the other politicians that it would please them. A well-proposed law would show the room that Gabriel did know a thing or two about his job. He was ready to join them.

Even despite all the years of training, however, Gabriel was still so nervous that his hands felt clammy.

"Breathe in, breathe out. You’re ready for this, Gabe."

Gabriel took a deep breath in, just as his father knocked on the doorway to his room.

Practically holding his breath as his father spoke to him, Gabriel could only nod when his father asked if he was ready to go.

Thankfully a nod was sufficient, and Gabriel’s father left down the hall to allow Gabriel to let the air out of his lungs in a deep sigh before forcing himself to leave the room, trailing in his father’s footsteps.

***

EARTH - PRESENT TIME

Abel’s green eyes flashed for a moment, making a beeline for the walkway before the countdown finished - he was the type that liked to take risks. Run a bit, hop the last few seconds, shave off that waiting time that it took to endure the waste of energy in standing to let the stoplight rotation take on its lifecycle. He hadn’t been aware of his surroundings, and running into someone had taken his concentration away.

7... 6... 5...

He evaluated the distance between his halted body and the parallel lines.

4... 3...

If he hurried...

2.... 1...

Ah, bloody hell. He pressed his lips together as a chorus of ’sorries’ assaulted his ears. He watched as a flurry of white rectangles danced amongst the trafficking wind, and saw the flustered human who’d probably just run into him groping for them as they floundered in taunting frivolity.

When she looked at him, his sour humor abandoned him.

Cole.

It was all too similar. That shade, that depth - the lightness and the way it tranquilly sat in two undisturbed orbs of brilliant shimmering. Those eyes; how many times had he looked into those eyes? How many times had he slept with those eyes in mind?

He shuddered, lost in that stare before the spell was shattered in her blinking. His own green eyes closed and opened, and he impulsively took a step back. He glanced discombobulately at his wrist, and tried to make sense of the numbers before him.

He’d never been at such a chaotic, silent loss of words.

"Er," he began eloquently. "A bit past three."

He dropped his wrist quickly, and was unsure of what to do with his hands. He felt his heart beating sporadically - thoughts of Cole were swirling around uncontrollably now, and his palms were becoming slick in perspiration. He felt a pulse at his fingertips, blood gushing rapidly back and forth. There was a certain sense of pleasure that gathered at the pit of his stomach - it’d been so long since he’d seen those eyes in the flesh.

It was hurting his head now, and he cast his gaze toward the ground as the tried to regain composure. "Right," he managed to gasp out without sounding as breathless as he felt. How long had it been, and he was still acting like a fool?

Too long.

"Sorry," he said awkwardly, unsure of how to fill the space. He was hoping she’d rush off to her interview, and leave him with what little piece he could recover from its recent dissipation.

SKAA REPUBLIC - Unime, Day 5, 10:29

"How? How is the Flux making everything new?" The man smiled, leaning back on one foot. "Well, I’ll tell you. He covers us... With his love."

He man must’ve been a bit older than thirty if he were stretching it, a bit of a tuft growing at his chin, the slight beginnings of sleep-deprived eyes shining through with the ardency of his excitement.

"The adjusted perspective of this world is in our hands!" he said, pumping his hand into the air. "We will know this - we will finally have true knowledge of good and evil."

Abel crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the wall near the back of the group while they gathered around the radicalist. They called themselves ’Exognosis’, but few people actually remembered that one. They were just the ’Exo’. Most members referred to themselves at the Enlightened, and claimed they saw past the government scam to control the population through The Repression.

It was mostly a load of entertainment for people like Abel - people that knew when fads came up. ’Rebellions’ sparked and fizzled with equal haste; things that weren’t squashed on their own were quickly stamped out by others.

It was stupid, protesting these kinds of things. The Repression was the solution, not the problem. It helped to give you a clear view of the world. Abel’s only regret was that he hadn’t taken it sooner.

That was going to change soon, though.

He and Cole had saved up enough over the course of the previous twelve months - since their breach of the Skin, they’d been able to focus assets on saving rather than spending.

They were finally going to buy their first capsules.

He needed to go back to work - looking over at one of the many clocks stationed around the courtyard, his lunch break was nearly over. He wasn’t supposed to have left the building in the first place.

He turned and hurried back to his job.

***

Next Chapter: Chapter Two