Games Without Frontiers

Written by: Entity and Kathy Pogge

Outline by: Laura Ackerman, Entity, and Batya Levin

 

The Phoenix flame died, the Gate grew cold and Brooklyn felt gravity reassert itself. He had "landed" in mid-air and was falling rapidly. He unfurled his wings casually and continued to drop like a rock.  

He flapped his wings, shoulder muscles bunching uselessly. "Where is the wind?" he growled. "Fine time to go on the fritz!" he groaned to the Phoenix Gate. Brooklyn began to panic as the ground hurtled upward.

Everything seemed to blur. The sky was red, and he couldn't see any clouds. Was he looking at the sky? A flat surface loomed into view. The side of a building? he wondered idly before desperately trying to grab on to it. Reality tilted. And he realized dimly that the wall was actually the ground and it was reaching up to meet him.

He braced for impact. All he could do was bring his arms over his face, then sudden pain overwhelmed him. He opened his eyes, which had closed involuntarily, and saw that the ground was above him and the sky below. He was standing on the sky, or at least the redness he presumed to be sky. Then reality tilted again and he fell.

He lay on his back, with the redness above him and tried to make sense of it all. He was definitely outdoors, and this was definitely the sky. The redness took shape; red dye diffusing through water. "Like the lava lamp Matt has," he thought dreamily.

The ground began to vibrate and there was an explosion not far away. Voices and gunfire filtered through his consciousness. He leapt to his feet. He spun around, looking over his surroundings, trying to find the source of the sounds. All around him was a barren desert, not of sand and rock, but of ash and concrete, and large metal beams. There was no plant life of any kind, just ruin and decay for as far as he could see. He had landed in the ruins of a city.

The noise grew louder. He turned and stared. Not far from him, four humans stood back to back in the middle of an otherworldly battle. They were surrounded by several hovering charcoal-black, bat-winged, horse-like creatures, carrying soldiers. The riders were leading a small contingent of ground troops.

Before Brooklyn could react, one of the humans saw him. He, like the others, appeared to be around the age of twenty, and was dressed in battle gear. The startled human immediately raised his weapon at Brooklyn.

"Wait! Don't shoot!" Brooklyn shouted frantically upon seeing him take aim.

The one with the gun hesitated as the other three turned around to see what was happening. Now Brooklyn could see that there were three males and one female. They all looked a little beaten around the edges.

"Whoa, hold it, hold it! Neutral!" the female one said, quickly extending her hand and pushing her companion's gun barrel toward the ground.

The young man was about to speak when one of the horse-like creatures swooped down over them toward Brooklyn. It flapped its powerful wings sideways to slow its momentum, and landed, cutting Brooklyn off from the besieged humans.

The flying whatsis was huge. Twice the size of a normal horse, it had green glowing eyes and two long, slender horns protruding from where its ears should have been. The figure mounted atop the colossal beast pointed his finger and threatened, in an ancient voice, "This world shall be purged of all imperfection!"

Brooklyn's eyes flamed white and he crouched to attack. "We'll just see how 'imperfect' I am," he growled, trying to look more confident than he felt.

The stranger's pale white face wrinkled into a sadistic smile. "Six feet of ugly, aren't you?" Brooklyn commented dryly as he prepared to attack.

The figure lurched forward and fell from his steed.

Behind him, the human who had originally aimed at Brooklyn held a laser rifle with steam trailing out the barrel. The horse-thing shied and Brooklyn leapt out of the way. Then, while it was vulnerable, he rammed himself right into the creature's chest, forcing it to rear back onto its hind legs. The unearthly brute released a spine-chilling whinny and a cloud of frozen breath from its nostrils, before losing its balance and falling flat on its back. A second later, the entire animal was enveloped in a blaze of light. When it passed, there was nothing left but a burn mark in the ground.

The rider regained his feet and jumped Brooklyn from behind. The gargoyle jabbed his elbow spur into the horseman's ribs and threw him over his shoulder. The attacker landed on his back, right where his horse had, and incinerated into a cloud of sulfurous fumes.

Brooklyn massaged his wrist. "Not so tough after all, are you?" he asked the horseman's remains.

"Check it, a gargoyle!" one of the humans said in delight.

Brooklyn turned toward the four humans, who were all eyeing him in wonderment. Behind them, Brooklyn saw about two-dozen black marks burned into the ground, no doubt all that remained of the troops they had been battling. In the distance, he saw the other horsemen retreating.

"Hey, I don't remember seeing any gargoyles on the 'cruit list," another said thoughtfully.

"No, stupes, he's a friendly, he's here to help us," the female said confidently. Then, turning to Brooklyn she confirmed, "You're here to help us, right?"

"I...guess so," he said.

Well, then you'll need a gun," she said. "Wraith, give 'em one of yours."

"No way!" the dark-haired one shot back.

"Come on, you're the only one with two!" the blonde retorted.

The dark-haired one seemed to think over the idea for a moment, then handed Brooklyn the smaller of the two rifles. "Here," he said.

"Um, thanks," Brooklyn replied awkwardly. He'd never used a laser gun before.

"What's your name?" the female jumped in.

"Brooklyn," he replied.

"I'm Sapphire," she pointed at the dark-haired youth, "that's Wraith. The blondie is Drac, and the baby over there is Slash. Pleased to know you," she finished demurely.

Brooklyn opened his mouth to ask what was going on when Wraith cut him off. "Incoming! Oh great, someone should have been watching!" Wraith complained.

"Everyone form a circle," Sapphire snapped, ignoring Wraith's comment.

They circled back to back and charging their weapons as they braced for the enemy.

There were dozens of the enemy, all dressed in the same gothic, primeval garb, racing toward them across the barren landscape.

"Get ready!" Sapphire ordered. "We'll all shoot on three, okay?" Everyone nodded.

"One!"

Brooklyn began turning over his gun looking for a trigger.

"Two!"

He found two mechanisms. Which one?

"Three!"

He pushed the first mechanism, and the weapon's barrel unleashed a thick blue beam that blew apart one of the enemy soldiers in a flurry of green smoke. The others began firing their weapons assiduously, and Brooklyn joined in.

Multiple energy discharges struck the enemy, breaking their formation, and leaving many fallen. Brooklyn was stunned by the amount of damage they'd already inflicted. "It's a suicide run!" he muttered awed, as another wave of troops charged into their laser fire.

"Die, Unseelies!" Wraith yelled, as he swept the battlefield with laser fire.

"'Unseelies'? Now there's a word I haven't heard for a long time." As the last of the enemy fell to their assault, Brooklyn lowered his rifle, but not his gaze.

"Brooklyn!" Drac shouted, "what are you doing? Why'd you stop shooting?"

Brooklyn looked from him to the piles of dead soldiers covering the land, and back. "What more do you expect to do to them?" he asked.

Drac just shrugged, and then he and the others began firing on the bodies of the dead.

"What are you doing?!" Brooklyn yelled, appalled.

One of the bodies stirred. It lifted itself up and grabbed a mace from a fallen comrade. Then, another one joined him. They both began to advance, followed by others. Soon there were a dozen of them, all continuing their advance.

"Great, it's too late! They're already regenerating!" Wraith yelled

"Hey, Brooklyn, we could really use some help here now. I mean, if you're through praying for the souls of the fallen," Drac remarked resentfully.

"I don't get it," he replied. "How are they coming back?"

"They're not dead until they're black marks, Brooke. You've gotta finish them off before they are able to regenerate themselves," Sapphire answered.

The situation was rapidly growing out of their control. He raised his own weapon and began firing again, re-killing the fallen soldiers.

"We're not going to be able to hold out much longer!" Slash yelled over the laser fire.

"Slash is right, we've gotta retreat, or regroup, or something!" Wraith added, as he blew apart an enemy soldier that was seconds away from decapitating him.

"As long as we're surrounded like this, we're stuck!" Sapphire declared.

"Looks like it's going to turn to hand-to-hand," Drac said. "Engage!"

Lasers turned to clubs as the humans and gargoyle took on the inhuman horde. The tide began to change in their favor and Brooklyn found he was enjoying himself as much as the others seemed to be.

"They're strong and gruesome, but they aren't that bright, are they?" Brooklyn commented as he fought off two at once.

"No, but here come the brains of the outfit now," Sapphire announced. From above, several horsemen swooped down over the battlefield, their steeds giving off fearsome whinnies.

Brooklyn and the others finished off the last of the ground soldiers, and turned their attention on the flying horses.

"I could try to lead them away," offered Brooklyn. "But there's..."

Slash cut him off. "Wait a minute, they aren't attacking!"

"He's right, they're just circling," Sapphire confirmed.

"Not for long," Drac said, as he aimed his gun at one of them and fired. The laser blast struck one of the horsemen, knocking him off his steed.

"Now they're falling," Drac said, as his victim struck the ground and disintegrated.

"Oh, real smooth, Drac! Now they'll definitely attack!" Wraith argued. As if on cue, the others began to strike.

"Incoming!" Drac shouted, ducking as one swooped overhead.

Slash aimed his weapon at the creature, and fired. The blast struck it on its underside, and the colossal beast was instantly incinerated.

"Hey, he was mine! I shot the rider!" Drac complained.

"Well, he was in my line of sight, Drac," Slash retorted.

"Watch out!" Brooklyn warned, as a ground soldier came up behind them.

They both spun around and fired, before even looking to see what they were firing at, and the soldier was disintegrated.

"Close call," Drac remarked.

"'Close call'? You almost got yourselves killed! Try watching your back more, and arguing less," Brooklyn lectured.

"Well, I thought we got all of them!" Drac shot back.

"Hey guys, the horsemen are retreating," Slash said.

Everyone looked up and saw that he was correct. They were all flying away.

"Well, Drac must have scared them off," Wraith declared.

"Yeah, well, what can I say?" Drac gloated, brandishing his gun.

"...with his looks," Wraith finished.

Brooklyn couldn't help but laugh. Maybe it was just the way he said it, or his timing, but it was funny. And, he quickly realized, it was something he could picture himself saying.

"Don't worry Drac," Brooklyn joined in, "I'm sure, to them, you're good-looking."

"Hey, I wouldn't talk, Brooke," Drac retorted. "You're the one who..."

"...saved your tail?" Wraith finished again.

"And yours," Slash added.

"Hold it," Sapphire interrupted before anyone could make a comeback. "You hear that?"

They all stopped for a moment, not daring to breathe, and just listened. Aside from the sound of crackling fires burning in the landscape around them, the area was amazingly quiet. All except for that one sound, far off in the distance. At first Brooklyn thought it was just ringing in his ears, but he soon saw that the others were hearing it too. That same bizarre noise. It was high-pitched, and very shrill.

"Okay," Drac said, "we all hear it, now what is it?"

"Hey Brooke, what are you lookin' at?" Wraith asked.

Brooklyn looked back down. "Do you know what time of day it is?" he asked.

"You mean here, or out there?" Sapphire asked him. Brooklyn looked from her out into the ashen desert that surrounded them. 'Out there'?

"Here," he finally confirmed, "where we are."

"I don't know," she shrugged.

"It's probably sometime in the morning, though," Drac interjected. "I think the sky's brightened recently."

"But if it's past sunrise, why aren't I stone?" Brooklyn challenged.

"You don't turn to stone by this sun," Drac laughed. "It has no effect on you."

"Because of the pollution?" Brooklyn postulated.

"No offense, guys, but I think we should concentrate on figuring out what that noise is before we get blown away," Slash insisted. "Has anyone else noticed that it's gotten louder?"

Suddenly, the area around them began to lighten. Everyone looked up at the source of the light. A glowing sphere was rapidly descending on them. As its size grew, the shrill sound it emanated increased in intensity, and the ground shook even more violently. Brooklyn turned his head away the light too bright for his night-sensitive eyes.

Drac yelled something to the rest of them, and Brooklyn could only barely hear his words. "It has to be a bomb!" he said.

Everyone was already on his or her feet, and Sapphire yelled an order.

Brooklyn couldn't hear what she said, but when they all began running as fast as they could, it wasn't difficult to decipher. Brooklyn cursed the lack of elevated objects, not that it really mattered either way, as it seemed this world was devoid of wind currents, and ran after them.

A second after he cleared their holdout, the sphere plummeted into it like a fallen star, and Brooklyn was thrust forward from the force of the sphere's explosion. He tried to unfurl his wings but with no luck. He fell on the ground and covered his head with his wings as the energy wave passed over him.

After the rumbling ceased, and the noise dissipated, Brooklyn drew back his wings and lifted himself to his feet. In the far-off distance, he could see the energy wave still going like a tsunami.

A huge gaping crater lay embedded in the surface, just meters away from where he dove down. The sides of the hole still burned red hot, and a cloud of steam was steadily rising out up into the sky, in a column.

He was about to turn away when something caught his eye. It was a yellow heap of metal, entangled in some other debris. The explosion must have unearthed it. He drew closer, unable to take his eyes from it. Kneeling down, he leaned forward a little to take a closer look. The yellow metal was sticking out one of the walls inside the crater. A sign of some sort, and there was lettering too. Brooklyn strained his eyes through the steam to read it. There was something that looked like a "G", and another one that looked like "O" right after it, but the next letter was missing.

All of a sudden, the ground beneath his feet gave way and he fell into the thick column of rising steam that filled the crater and on top of something hard and metallic. He reached down and swept away a layer of dirt. The sign that had drawn his curiosity had been dislodged from the debris. A large yellowish cup, bent and twisted looked up at him.

"The Golden Cup!?!" The color drained from Brooklyn's face and he staggered overwhelmed by the shock. "This is Manhattan? Oh no, please, no!" he moaned.

Voices. Not far away. Almost on top of the crater. They were screaming and shouting all at once, overlapping each other. Excited, awestruck voices.

"Look at the size of that thing!" he heard one of them, he couldn't tell who, exclaim.

"I'm still getting over the shock wave!" another added.

"Brooklyn?" he heard Sapphire's voice call. "Where is he?" he then heard her ask the others.

"I'm down here!" he yelled. "In the crater!"

"Whoa!" he heard someone else say. It sounded like Drac. "How did you get down there?"

"Are you all right, Brooke?" Sapphire called.

"Yeah, I'm fine, but I can't see anything through this steam," he yelled back, choosing to answer Sapphire's question over Drac's.

"Hey guys, I think there's someone coming," he heard Wraith say. There was a pause, and Brooklyn heard some low discussion. Then, Sapphire shouted, "Brooke, we think there are some more enemy troops approaching. They probably bombed us to drive us out of hiding, and now they're going to attack!"

"Okay, look closely," he called back. "Can you see something yellow through the mist? Like a yellow heap of metal?"

After a moment, she replied, "Yeah, I see it, but I don't see you."

"If you can find some way to give me your position, I can probably leap across," he suggested.

"Okay," she said, apparently trying to look around for something to use to signal him.

Then Brooklyn thought of something. He grabbed a bar of yellow metal and broke it off. He examined it, concluding that it would be long enough, then pointed it into the steam. "Tell me if you see something yellow moving around," he yelled.

Before he even finished, Slash replied, "I see it! It's a yellow bar."

"Tell me how far below the surface it is," he ordered.

"About six or eight meters!" Slash replied. "No, wait, maybe ten."

Brooklyn heard some arguing, and finally Wraith yelled, "It's eight meters Brooke."

"And how far away from the wall?" he shouted.

"About the same," Wraith replied.

"Brooklyn, hurry! They're coming closer!" he heard Sapphire yell.

Brooklyn lowered the pole, which he'd lifted as high as he could. "Okay," he said to himself, "just jump. This is nothing. You had to have jumped farther than this sometime in your life, just do it."

"Brooklyn, get up here now, we have to go and find some kind of cover!" Drac shouted. Suddenly, his voice was drowned below the sound of energy blasts striking ground.

"We're under attack!" Slash's voice rang out.

"Just go, I'll catch up!" Brooklyn yelled, but they didn't hear him.

Out of nowhere, a stray energy blast emerged from the mist surrounding Brooklyn and shot past him. He barely dodged the blue ball of glowing electrical energy before it disappeared in the mist beyond.

"Enough of this," he said to himself, as his eyes turned a radiant white.

"There's too many of them, we've got to fall back before we're pulverized!" someone screamed. Without a second thought, his gargoyle instincts took over and he leapt from the yellow mass of twisted metal into the steam that surrounded him.

He hadn't taken the time to measure his jump, or even look in what direction he was jumping. He just jumped, and now he found himself frantically searching the air with all six limbs, trying to find something to grab ahold of before he went plummeting back down. A second electrical orb of energy flew over him and struck the heap of metal he'd just leapt from, causing it to collapse. Then, without warning, he slammed into something. Rock. He'd made the jump horizontally, but the surface was still a couple meters above his head. He dug his talons into the burning wall, and tilted his head upward. Above him, multiple laser blasts and energy spheres darted back and forth. The sudden hot sting of the surface he was clinging to drew back his attention. As fast as he could, he climbed up the wall. By the time he reached the top he was nearly running vertically, and he leapt over the edge with lightning speed. As soon as he cleared the mist, he found himself hurtling through the air, heading straight toward a flying horseman, who held one of the blue energy orbs in his left hand.

The gargoyle rammed into him with such force that he was forced over the side of his steed. Brooklyn quickly grabbed the horse's reigns before he too went over, and in the end, both of them were left hanging from opposite sides of the steed, who was barely able to sustain its altitude with their combined weight. The animal snorted and whinnied a fierce call of despair, as both the horseman and the gargoyle fought each other over control of the beast.

The horseman still had his energy weapon in hand, and threw it under the belly of his horse toward Brooklyn, who lifted himself up onto the creature before the blast hit him.

Brooklyn tried kicking the horseman off with his feet, but he hung on to the underside of the animal, determined to reclaim it. Brooklyn pulled on the creature's reigns and it reared back, its huge black wings flapping so hard that the horseman was almost blown away, but he hung on.

All of a sudden, Brooklyn heard the sound of an energy explosion above him. He looked up to see another horseman and his steed engulfed in a blue eruption. No doubt they'd been hit by the stray energy blast Brooklyn just dodged. The horse was completely enveloped in the explosion, but the horseman was still intact, and was falling straight for them. Brooklyn tried to steer the horse away, but it was too late.

He leapt from the animal and let himself fall, leaving the winged creature and its rightful owner to be caught in the ensuing crash.

Brooklyn landed lightly, after a fall of about ten meters, and looked up. Both the horse and the fallen horseman disintegrated upon contact, and the other horseman, with nothing left to hang onto, went plunging downward.

Suddenly, another energy ball struck the ground next to him, and Brooklyn was thrown onto his back.

"Brooklyn!" he heard a voice cry out. He turned around to face the crater and saw Slash, through the dust cloud created from the energy discharge that just struck, running up to him.

"Its all right, I'm okay!" he shouted to him. "Where are the others?"

"I don't know, we were separated," he replied.

A lone horseman emerged from out of the large column of steam rising from the crater, and landed right behind Slash.

"Watch out behind you!" Brooklyn warned.

Slash stopped in his place and spun around to face his attacker, the only horseman so far who was riding a wingless mount. The rider opened his left hand and a sphere of glowing blue electrical energy formed in his palm.

The ominous figure drew back his arm, and stopped his steed, preparing to throw it. Brooklyn ran toward him as Slash tried to raise his weapon, but it was too late.

The figure drove his left arm forward, unleashing the globe of energy. Slash took a hit directly to the chest. His weapon fell from his hand as his whole form was thrust backwards through the air.

His body crumpled to the ground, and was still.

In front of them, the horseman pulled back on the reigns of his transport, who whinnied and snorted wildly. A moment later, two pulsating lumps formed on either side of its body. The lumps split open, and a pair of newly sprouted wings unfolded. The creature's master looked Brooklyn in the eyes, his apathetic features unchanging, and announced, in a familiar voice that seemed to predate civilization, "This world shall be purged of all imperfection!"

With that, its steed flapped its newly acquired wings heavily, lifting itself off the ground with a single stroke. Brooklyn was unable to unlock his gaze with the unearthly attacker. It looked and sounded exactly like the other person that attacked him, but that person was dead. "What are you clones?" He asked the phantasm. "Well whatever you are you're gonna be dead!" Brooklyn roared anger, grief and pain mingled in his bellow.

"Hey Brooke!" Wraith called. He spun around furiously toward the source of the voice, unintentionally scaring him.

"Whoa, Brooke, you almost scared me to death," he laughed, holding a gun up to his shoulders. By now, Sapphire and Drac had caught up with Wraith and were standing beside him.

"Well," Sapphire said, nearly out of breath. "That was fun!"

"Fun?!" he snapped.

"Brooke, what's the matter?" Wraith inquired.

"Where have you been?" he demanded, ignoring his question.

After a slight hesitation, he answered, "We retreated from the crater because there were too many of the enemy. We were on the opposite side of the steam column fighting."

"They retreated?" Brooklyn asked numbly.

All three of them nodded, almost simultaneously. "Yeah, they're long gone," Sapphire informed. "We beat 'em off!"

"Hey, where's Slash?" Sapphire asked, somewhat puzzled.

"Slash is...dead," he answered gently awaiting the inevitable grief.

"So, Slash got it, eh?" Wraith commented lightly. "Heh, he sure does hate it when that happens."

Drac found his broken body lying behind Brooklyn and casually strolled up to it. "Ooh, and you know that had to hurt!" he laughed, staring at the hole in his chest.

Brooklyn was beyond words. He roared, a thunderous bellow silencing everyone. "Enough of this!" he yelled, with a low growl. "Tell me what is going on, and no more lies!"

"Brooke, I think you should take it easy," Wraith tried to ease, but he wouldn't listen.

"Don't call me Brooke!" he bellowed.

"Okay, okay, Brooklyn it is," he assured.

"Slash, your friend, is dead," Brooklyn lectured, "Do you understand what that means? Dead! And you're taking it like he wasn't real; like this is all a fantasy!"

"Sheesh, who programmed the spoil-sport?" Drac whispered to Sapphire.

She turned to face Brooklyn, and demanded, "What is your problem?"

"What's my problem? I'm in an apocalyptic future where New York is in ruins, and overrun by magical creatures, their only adversary four humans who care more about having fun than the life of one of their own!" All he could think about was how he'd earlier thought that these people reminded him of himself.

"That's it!" Drac yelled. "Let's just get rid of him, so we can continue! We've gotten this far, and there's no way I'm going to let it all go to waste!"

"Get rid of me?" Brooklyn gasped. "I can't believe what I'm hearing! But you know what? I've had enough of trying to figure you out. I don't care anymore. There's no way I'm going to restrain myself if you try anything, so go ahead!" He challenged, "Try to 'get rid of me'!"

"If you insist," Drac said, aiming his rifle at Brooklyn's head. In one brief instant, Brooklyn thought of the possibility that he was not serious, that he was somehow misunderstanding him. "He wouldn't really kill me!" he tried to convince himself.

Drac pulled back on the trigger, and a blue beam erupted from the weapon's barrel. Brooklyn ducked to the ground, barely dodging the blast. On his knees, he unfurled his wings to their fullest extent, and growled menacingly with his eyes illuminated.

"Drac, we don't have time for this," Wraith insisted, "Haven't you noticed that we haven't been attacked in over a minute? The last time this happened, a giant bomb dropped on us."

"I've already shot at him, though. Now I've got to finish it before he finishes me," Drac explained.

"Don't bet on the former," Brooklyn growled, having taken the spare moment Wraith's interruption gave him to advance on Drac.

"Little help here!" he yelled, as Brooklyn slapped away his gun.

Sapphire rolled her eyes. "Oh fine," she conceded, as both she and Wraith raised their own weapons. Before they could fire, the ground beneath them began to shake again. Brooklyn took advantage of the distraction and leapt for Drac's gun. He slid across the ash-covered ground and grabbed the rifle. Not a second later, he faced the others with the gun aimed and ready to fire.

Sapphire and Wraith targeted Brooklyn. Stalemate.

"Oh, I get it," Drac began angrily. "You're planted here to pretend to be our ally, then you begin talking nonsense to keep us off-guard long enough to betray us! So, what's your mission, huh? A suicide one to keep us here long enough for the bomb to hit?"

"You betrayed me!" Brooklyn retorted, not taking his aim off any of them.

"It doesn't matter either way," Sapphire interjected. "If we don't get out of here fast, we're all gonna die!"

"The question is, who puts down their weapon first?" Brooklyn determined.

A ray of light illuminated the surface between them. The high-pitched noise, inaudible over their bickering, gained a hellish pitch. The glowing sphere descended.

This time, it was too late to run.

Brilliant white light flooded Brooklyn's vision.

The slab of concrete, the gaseous red sky, the ash-covered ground, and the three humans all vanished. All Brooklyn could see was white light; all he could hear was an engulfing silence. What was happening? Had he died? Or, rather, was he in the process of dying?

The state of limbo seemed to last for minutes. Then, the light vanished; the sound dissipated, and a synthesized voice announced "Game over."

Brooklyn's eyes cleared to reveal that he was now standing in an enclosed space: a seamless gray-walled room. The floor was hard and cold. There seemed to be no visible lights, yet the room was illuminated. Spots danced before his eyes and he was disoriented, Brooklyn closed his eyes for a moment as the first wave of pain crashed through his brain. His head felt like it was going to split.

He heard voices. When he re-opened his eyes, he saw that he was surrounded by three, not adults, but adolescents.

They were all stretching and rubbing their eyes as if they'd just woken up, or finished a movie. None seemed to notice Brooklyn's presence just yet.

"Well, that was worth two hours of credit!" one of them, a dark-haired boy, complained.

"It was flat-out unfair, was what it was," another added. "But, now that we know we can prepare for it next time. Heh, I wouldn't mind going through that last battle sequence again anyway. Even if we didn't make it to level four, you have to admit that that was offensive!"

"Yeah, it was," the first conceded. "Definitely worth the wait!"

"Computer, save game Sapph 3."

A digital beep sounded, and a voice, the same synthesized voice he heard just a few seconds ago, replied, "Acknowledged, game saved."

Brooklyn recognized the girl's voice as Sapphire's, and he noticed the third human in the group, a twelve-year-old, red-haired girl.

"Where are we?" Brooklyn asked.

They stared at Brooklyn in surprise. The dark-haired boy blinked hard and passed a hand over his eyes.

The first to speak was Sapphire, or at least her child equivalent "Computer," she announced, in a loud clear voice, "End sim."

The same synthesized voice responded, "There is no simulation running."

"Don't worry," she reassured the others, who were beginning to look pale, "it's probably just a glitch."

"I am not a glitch," Brooklyn informed them.

Sapphire called to someone behind her. "Slash, what have you done to the computer?"

After a moment, a familiar voice replied, "Me? You're the one who's been playing with all the new upgrades, Sapph."

From behind, a fourth adolescent appeared. Was it Slash? The same Slash who had been impaled by an energy blast before his very eyes? Perhaps he could have been more tactful, but at the time, Brooklyn was just confused. And that confusion was quickly manifesting into anger.

"What is going on here?!" he bellowed.

"I say we just get out of here," Drac suggested, his voice quavering slightly.

"Oh, is Drac afraid of the big scary malfunction?" the other boy teased.

"If you call me a glitch, a malfunction, or a simulation one more time, you'll have good reason to be," Brooklyn threatened.

Then he closed his eyes with a groan and knelt down on the floor, a wave of pain overtaking him.

"Are you all right, Brooklyn?" Sapphire asked worriedly.

"Who cares, he's just a hologram," Drac insisted.

As if suddenly remembering that he was right, she hesitated, feeling a little embarrassed, but the look of concern never left her eyes.

Brooklyn grasped his forehead and moaned. His head was throbbing, and there was a sharp pain behind his eyes. "What's...happening to me?"

The others looked uncomfortable. "Maybe he's not a hologram," Slash suggested. "Maybe he's real."

"Of course I'm not a hologram!" Brooklyn snapped, his head still pounding.

"Computer," Sapphire announced. A digital beep emanated from somewhere. "Shut down."

"What are you doing?" Drac demanded.

"Look, I agree with Slash. I don't think Brooklyn is a hologram. I think he's real," Sapphire answered. "And the only way to be sure is to turn off all the holo-emitters."

"Warning," the synthesized voice replied, "a complete shut down will result in the end of your holo-session."

The others gave Sapphire apprehensive looks. "Look, it's not like we're going to be able to finish the session with...him standing there."

They reluctantly nodded, and Sapphire continued, "Computer, warning acknowledged. Continue shut-down."

"Shut down commencing," the synthesized voice informed.

After a few seconds, during which nobody dared to breathe, the computer announced, "Shut down complete. Holo-emitters off-line."

Everyone stared, dumbfounded, at Brooklyn. "You're real," Drac declared, a faint trace of fear in his voice.

"Totally offensive!" Wraith exclaimed, his mood one of excitement.

The last to speak was Slash. "Are you from C-Station?" he asked.

Brooklyn managed to get himself back on his feet, the pain having faded a little. "Uh...no, I'm not," he answered, taken off-guard by their sudden astonishment. "What's that?"

Wraith replied, "An orbital habitat. One of the only ones close to us."

Brooklyn nodded, a little taken aback by the revelation that they were in an orbital habitat...whatever that was, but decided not to pursue it.

"Wait a minute, how did he get into the simulation if he wasn't a part of it?" Drac questioned.

They all looked to Brooklyn. "Hey, I'm the last one you want to look to for answers. All I've got are questions. For starters, now that you're all convinced of my existence, what exactly just happened?" He decided to be a bit more specific. "Where were we, what was going on, and where are we now? ...The last thing I remember, we were shooting at each other when a huge bomb fell right on us. ...There was a flash of bright light...then we were here...and all of you became kids."

"Yeah, we were killed," Sapphire explained, "we lost the game."

"And our holo-wear disappeared," Wraith added.

"The game?" he snapped. "What do you mean?"

"We're in a holo-room," Wraith explained, "playing a holo-game."

"Holo...you mean like holographic?" Brooklyn asked, recalling some of what he'd picked up from Lex years ago.

"Yup," Sapphire nodded.

"So, you're telling me," Brooklyn began, "that everything we just went through was fake."

Drac just laughed. "And how long have you been gaming?" he asked sarcastically.

His attempt at humor was soon overshadowed by Sapphire's sudden show of concern. "Brooke, have you been gaming long? 'Cause sudden exposure to holo-games has been known to give newbies some pretty bad headaches or upset stomachs," Sapphire inquired thoughtfully.

"Sapph, you're starting to sound like my dad," commented Slash. He went on to do a rather clumsy impersonation. "'I don't want you spending so much time in those holo-rooms, they kill brain cells!'"

"Slash, you know what I mean. Remember when you first played a holo-game? Tell me you weren't seeing spots in front of your eyes for hours afterward," Sapphire returned.

"Well, yeah, but...Brooklyn looks like he's going through an aneurysm," he replied.

"Slash, you don't even know what an aneurysm is," Drac criticized.

Brooklyn interrupted, looked to Sapphire, "No, I haven't ever been in a holo-game before...to my knowledge." Then he added, "One more thing. Before you mentioned holo-wear. What did you mean?"

Wraith answered, "It's why we looked like adults during the game. You can pick whatever you want to look like before a game, and the computer will cover you with holography to make you look like whatever you picked. It's called being in 'avatar' form."

"...And when Slash died?"

"...I didn't," Slash replied, "it just looked that way. When I was hit, the computer replaced me with a look-alike computer-generated image."

Brooklyn nodded his vague understanding. He felt as if he was listening to Lex read out of one of his techno-magazines. "But that's not what you thought I was doing," he finally concluded. "Being in holo-wear I mean."

"No, we figured you were part of the game; a holographic character," Sapphire replied. "For one thing, there aren't many other kids here; certainly not our age, and definitely no gargoyles. For another, you can't just enter while a simulation is running."

"Speaking of which," Drac asked, "how did you enter the holo-room? It's not like you could have just magically appeared."

Once Brooklyn realized that he was being sarcastic, he tried to think of some phony explanation. "I...can't remember," he finally answered, "I must have lost my memory."

"How much of your memory?" Slash wondered aloud.

"I don't know. I can't tell what I can still remember and what I can't."

"But you didn't realize that you were in a holo-game, after battling magic warriors and flying horses?" Wraith quizzed.

"Well, let's just say that it wasn't too unbelievable for me..." He trailed off as his headache returned, and he hunched over in visible pain.

"Maybe we should take you to see a doctor," Sapphire suggested. "There's a clinic on the promenade just a few minutes away, and Doctor Neuman there can probably give you a quick look for free. He's a friend of my dad's."

"No... I'm fine," Brooklyn lied unwilling to expose himself to more of these strange humans. "I just need some space." He squinted momentarily. "What's outside?"

"Just a corridor," Sapphire answered.

"Can we exit?"

"Sure."

Brooklyn looked around the seamless gray room. "Where exactly?"

"Computer," she announced, "Exit."

A section in one of the walls vanished without warning, revealing itself to have been a holographic camouflage. Behind it, there was what appeared to be a normal door.

"I see," Brooklyn said.

"No, you didn't," Wraith replied with a wry smile.

They all filed out the room, one by one, the door automatically opening and closing for them. Once they were all out of the room, the door slid closed and a green light on a side-panel lit up, signifying that the room was now vacant. Brooklyn also saw a small twelve-button keypad and a tiny digital display reading "Please enter your credit account number".

They stood in a small ingress on one side of a wide walkway, filled to the brim with pedestrians. There were dozens of people, passing in each direction, like a two-lane highway. There were brisk businessmen and women, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases. There were also mothers, and fathers, and children, and teenagers, and elderly, and even entire families. Brooklyn, in his attempt to avoid being seen, had wandered into what looked like a central walk!

"So much for being inconspicuous," Brooklyn whispered to himself, as every other person who walked by stared at him with a strange expression. Luckily, that was all they were doing. They weren't screaming and running in terror, or pulling hoods over their heads and bringing out hammers, they were just staring. Perhaps gargoyles were accepted into society nowadays after all, if only seeing one was a rare event.

Brooklyn watched as one man, an older individual in his sixties or seventies, gave him a dirty look. When his wife tried to look at what her husband was, he quickly moved them both away. Perhaps some prejudices haven't died...

"Ahem," he heard Wraith beside him. Brooklyn looked over to he and Sapphire, who stood on his left, and who were both looking a little embarrassed.

"Brooklyn, we sort of forgot about something," Sapphire began nervously.

Drac and Slash were snickering, barely able to control their laughter.

Brooklyn looked back to Sapphire, who smiled slightly.

"Brooklyn, you're only half-dressed," she finally told him.

"Brooke, you can't just be walking around a public area... in a loincloth." Wraith added.

Brooklyn looked down at his apparel, and then looked back up to face them. "What do gargoyles wear nowadays?"

"The same kind of stuff humans wear, Brooke," Wraith explained.

Brooklyn looked back at the passing crowd, and a dozen heads abruptly turned away. "Well," he said, "I suppose I should find some clothes."

All five of them patiently waited at the tip of the ingress for an opening in the crowd, The opportunity eventually presented itself, and they quickly blended into the flow of traffic.

Brooklyn clasped his wing talons together over his chest draping himself with his wings.

"That should do for now." Slash said, looking the gargoyle over critically.

Brooklyn took a stab at figuring out when and where he was. "By the way, what year is it?" he asked casually.

"2230," Drac replied. "You are a little lost, aren't you?"

"You could say that," Brooklyn said.

"About seeing that doctor...," Sapphire began.

"Well, why not," Brooklyn conceded, "I suppose a check-up won't hurt. But first, I need to get some fresh air; maybe take a glide."

"Take a glide? Not likely, Brooke. There aren't many wind currents around here," Wraith laughed.

"Yeah, I know. And after being cooped up in here without them, I'm feeling claustrophobic. I meant glide outside."

"Brooke, there is no 'outside'," Wraith insisted.

"What do you mean? Where are we?"

"F-Station," Drac answered, "In orbit around Europa."

"Europa? You mean, like Europe?"

"No, I mean like one of Jupiter's moons," Drac replied, obviously flustered by Brooklyn's naiveté. "Europe is about six-hundred million kilometers away," he estimated.

"Six-hundred million!" Brooklyn exclaimed. Suddenly, he recalled a visit to an observatory that Elisa had taken him, Broadway, and Lex to very long ago. It was the night that they all learned some pretty interesting things...like that the Earth wasn't flat. He'd also learned about space, the solar system, and the other planets that orbited the sun along with Earth. The word "Jupiter" sounded familiar in this sense. "Jupiter...is another planet?" he asked.

"Sheesh, you must've been raised in the dark ages!" Drac remarked.

Brooklyn resisted the temptation to make a joke on that. Then, recalling his earlier conversation with Drac, he realized, "When you said orbital habitat earlier, you meant as in a space station."

He looked to Drac, "Space station makes it sound like an interstellar gas stop, but yeah."

"You know, there's a window near by," Sapphire interjected. "At this time of day, you can probably see a view of the sun perfectly."

Brooklyn's response was simple and earnest: "Show me."

The four led him down the corridor, through the bustling crowds of people, to a bend. As soon as they made the turn, a huge concave window, stretching from the floor to the ceiling, appeared. And the view...

Brooklyn drew a deep breath and held it. The sun. Against the deep dark abyss of space, its presence seemed to merge night and day into one glorious sight. One which he never thought he would behold, and which he most likely wouldn't again.

"I...I can't believe it," he breathed, placing a hand to the glass, hoping that it would be warmed from the sun's light. It wasn't.

A wave of nausea overtook him. "Let's go see that doctor now," he said, clutching his stomach.

Four children and the only gargoyle on the station appeared in one of the many entrances to the market, taking in their surroundings. Brooklyn now properly attired in a simple gray cloak that stretched down to his feet.

"The Marketplace," Wraith announced.

"It's big," was Brooklyn's only response, looking upon the huge area in front of them. After they entered, Brooklyn added, "I can't even see the other end."

"You'd be able to if there weren't so many people. This hour is the busiest time of day. Everyone's just getting off work," Sapphire explained.

"If they were at work, why weren't you in school? You do have school in the twenty-third century."

"Well, yeah, but not on Mondays. School's Tuesday through Friday," Slash answered, dodging a passerby as the five of them continued to walk.

"Let me guess," Drac picked up," you're still in five day school weeks."

"What are you babbling about, Drac?" Wraith questioned. "He's not from the twenty-first century."

"Is he?" Drac retorted. "No offense, Brooke, but you do keep talking in the future tense, and refer to everything as if you'd never heard of it before. I know you say that you've got amnesia and all, but... its just kind of weird."

"Hey, no problem," Brooklyn said light-heartily. "You can blame that on my poor speech. I never even went to school."

"Offensive!" Slash exclaimed. "You never went to school at all?"

"Nope, pretty cool, huh?"

"What's cool?" Drac asked.

"It."

"It what?"

"That I didn't go to school."

"How can that be cool?"

"Well, you certainly have a good attitude about it."

"What are you talking about?"

"School."

"Guys, this is getting to be kind of redundant," Sapphire interrupted.

Brooklyn relented, and decided that he'd have to explain to them what the term meant. "Okay, cool is sort of a slang word. It means, uh..." He tried thinking back to when he'd first used it. Recalling Lex's words, he finished, "It's used to indicate a positive response." The instant he finished was when he remembered Goliath's reaction to that, and sure enough, they were giving him the same kind of bewildered looks. "It's sort of like...'offensive'," he added.

This, of course, made it perfectly clear to them. "Oh yeah, I think I've heard my great-grandpa say that word," Slash realized.

"Well, at least some people remember it," Brooklyn mumbled.

The continuance of their journey was simply amazing. Dozens upon dozens of stores, filled with all kinds of merchandise, occupied every corner. The width of the walkway must have been fifty yards, and the height was at least three levels. The ceiling was constructed out of what appeared to be glass, which gave the illusion that it was a skylight. In reality, Brooklyn surmised that there were just lights behind the glass meant to simulate the sun's light. Whenever they passed a shop of interest, usually a computer store, someone would point it out to him. Sometimes, they'd go in for a quick look.

"Just another day at the mall." Brooklyn said at last. "At least some things don't change."

The kids gave him a strange look, before ducking into another shop.

As they continued to stroll down the long walkway, Brooklyn noticed several holo-emitters embedded in the walls displaying news broadcasts, commercials, and other programming. In front of some of the three-dimensional holographic images suspended in mid-air had gathered small groups of people, their eyes glued to a news bulletin concerning something about asteroid mining. The groups were steadily increasing too, and as they passed nearby, Brooklyn caught a little bit of what was being said.

A reporter sat behind a news desk, numerous 3-D videos playing on the walls behind him. Brooklyn stopped to listen.

"...And the endless complaining by these people has resulted in many hard feelings back home." Taking a pause to let the videos behind him change accordingly, he began again, "Here on Earth, and on Mars, anti-miner sentiment is quickly rising. Eighteen years ago, the homeworlds were swept with pity and concern for these maltreated workers, but today, such feelings seem to be non-existent. 'The Corporate Mining Alliance, a.k.a. the Corporations, have mended their ways,' says board member Felix Gregory. And the general public seems to agree. Quotes one citizen, 'I don't know what those bums are still complaining about. They had their revolution eighteen years ago, and the Corporations saw to it that they were given proper rights and benefits. As far as I'm concerned, they've got it made out there. They're just trying to get more.' The only ones who seem to say otherwise are the families of these workers, but would we expect any different? This is Charles Morse, EarthGlobe News, April 20, 2230. Good night."

The image switched to commercial advertisements, and the agitated crowd dispersed, muttering under its collective breath.

"Hey Brooklyn, whatcha lookin' at?" Sapphire called. He realized that he was standing in the middle of the promenade. They must have stopped, and he didn't even notice.

"Uh, nothing," he returned. "Just something about asteroid miners."

"Yeah, that's been the hot topic all this past year. Its been building up for quite a long time, you know," Sapphire said.

A man bumped into Brooklyn from behind. They both stumbled forward, and Brooklyn saw that he was wearing a brown and yellow uniform with a small nametag on his left breast. It read "Quentin Jankowski". The man quickly got himself to his feet and ran off with a barely audible, "Sorry."

"What's his problem?" Brooklyn asked, not really expecting an answer, but just stating his discomfort.

"He's probably a miner," Drac answered.

Wraith explained, "We're coming within range of Kelinthu, one of the biggest Mining Asteroids in the belt. It always gets hectic around here during times like this. Lots of miners on leave have to return to another work rotation, and usually rush to do a lot of last minute things."

"That's your dad's asteroid, isn't it?" Drac asked Slash.

Slash nodded. "He's a foreman there."

"Kelinthu, what kind of a name is that?" Brooklyn asked.

"Kelinthu was the name of the battle that took place there," Sapphire replied. "I think it means "victory" in Terran."

"What language is it then?"

"It's the Nemesis' language," Slash replied.

"Who's the Nemesis?"

"You know, the Incursion of 2158; the Great War; the first off-world conflict in history!" Wraith recited. "Oh well, if you couldn't remember that you were on an orbital habitat, it's not likely you'd remember any history."

"No, afraid not. My memories are a complete blur in that area. So, what does F-Station have to do with asteroid miners?"

"Oh, F-Station has everything to do with asteroid miners!" Slash boomed.

"But later," Sapphire interrupted, "We're at the clinic."

Brooklyn saw that he was in fact standing right in front of it, a relatively small space in between two mega-stores. Sapphire opened the transparent door and led her friends in. Before following, Brooklyn noticed a digital display showing the date and time overhead. It read: April 28, 2230. He remembered the date the reporter said at the end of the news broadcast. 'There's an eight day difference' he realized, rather shocked at the vast time it obviously took for messages to travel between there and Earth. He walked into the clinic.

"Hello, I'm looking for Doctor Neuman," Sapphire said politely to the person behind the counter. She typed something into her computer, and then replied, "He'll be right with you."

A moment later, a tall Chinese man in his early thirties emerged from an office doorway. "Jessamine, hello!" he greeted. "Good to see you, how's your father?"

"He's doing fine," Sapphire answered politely.

"With all the propaganda and crazy rumors floating around, I hope he's coming through okay," the man said with a concerned smile. Brooklyn didn't understand what he meant, but decided that he'd ask Sapphire later.

"So, what brings you all here? And who's your gargoyle friend?" Neuman inquired.

"Oh, this is Brooklyn," Sapphire introduced. "Brooklyn, this is Doctor Neuman. Brooklyn's not from around here."

"Are you from C-Station?" the doctor asked, shaking Brooklyn's hand.

"No," he answered, "I'm from Earth."

"Oh, really? I am too. New York, to be exact. You?"

"I come from New York too!"

"Well, what a coincidence." He let go of Brooklyn's hand and asked, "So, what are you five here for again?"

"Oh, "Sapphire replied, "Brooklyn went into a holo-game for the first time and has been getting some pretty bad headaches."

"And he has amnesia," Slash added.

The doctor gave them a concerned look, and Sapphire added, "Well, he has trouble remembering things."

He looked to Brooklyn, who explained, "It's nothing serious really. I can still recall who I am. It happens to me every now and then. Everything will come back to me sooner or later."

"Ah. Well, I've seen it before," he said, leading them over to a medical counter in the next room, "The headaches that is." He sat Brooklyn down and began waving a medical instrument of some kind over his head. Looking over to a nearby computer monitor, he continued to make small talk. "You should never jump right into those things," he began, his eyes glued to the computer screen. "The holography is designed to fool your senses into believing that you're actually in the given environment. The only problem is that once a simulation ends, you're tossed back into reality, and your brain is forced to perceive things normally again. You're able to, of course, but it is rather straining on your brain. For some people, they get over it in a few minutes. Others can still be experiencing symptoms hours later. I suggest next time you want to try a holo-game, you practice with some simple holography first, or else just stick with virtual reality. It may be old-fashioned, but... Okay, finished," he said, removing the device from over his head and setting it down on the counter beside him.

Then, pointing to the monitor, he explained, "Most of the effects seem to have worn off, but you still have some neural disruption. It shouldn't persist for more than another hour or so, but if you like, I can give you some drugs to clear it up now."

"Uh, no, we have no credit," Sapphire interjected.

"Oh, I see. Using your dad's friend to get a free check-up, is that it?" Neuman joked. Then, he said goodbye, grabbed a clipboard sitting on a counter top, and headed for the door.

"Actually, Doc, I was wondering if you could help me with something else," Brooklyn said, causing the doctor to stop right before reaching the doorway. "I haven't been in space very often, and I am a little fuzzy over how gargoyle sleep cycles work out here."

"Oh, well, its very simple," he began, placing the clipboard under his arm. "Your internal biological clock usually adjusts itself instantaneously to the rising and setting of the sun. On Earth, this will always result in 24-hour cycles, for example. However, in space there are no sunrises or sunsets, so your internal clock is thrown off. Unlike changing time zones, there is nothing to come into synch with. Basically, you'll feel so me effects of jet lag for a while until your body falls into a set schedule. Until then, you may not enter sleep for a while, or vice versa."

"That would be the first. I know I should've entered stone by now. I can just feel it."

Doctor Neuman nodded. "Yes, that's very common. But don't worry. Once you enter sleep, the duration should be equal to that of your waking hours to make up for loss."

"Okay, thanks a lot," Brooklyn said, getting to his feet.

"Well, if that's all, I've got to make an important call to the listening post." As soon as he finished the sentence, his face turned a faint red and he looked embarrassed. "That is," he began, "I have to make an important stop to listen to the results of a post-op. I'll tell you, the tension around here is even starting to get to me, to the point where I can't talk straight," he laughed uneasily. The others, save Brooklyn, seemed to understand.

Then, as if it were the funniest thing that had ever happened, the doctor walked out of the room still chuckling to himself. Brooklyn and the others left the infirmary and walked back out into the promenade. Surprisingly, the crowd had died down while they were in there. Sapphire checked her watch again. It was 6:59.

"Well, where to?" Sapphire asked, looking up from her watch

Before anyone could reply, all of the promenade's holo-emitters and speakers turned off, and the crowd began to silence.

"What's going on?" Wraith asked. Looking around, he noticed that everyone else on the promenade had that same question written all over his or her faces.

Suddenly, the promenade's main speakers announced, "Fellow citizens of Fargone, I come to you today to offer you the truth. Information that has been wrongfully hidden from you by members of our own Station Administration!" This generated some low discussion amongst the crowd.

"I don't like the sound of this," Brooklyn whispered.

The announcer continued, "All of you are no doubt aware of the recent protests voiced by Asteroid Miners. These well-founded complaints have been ignored by the Corporations; ignored by Earth! But what about us? Do we ignore their pleas? These people, the same men and women who have come to depend on Fargone, to make what little of their lives the Corporations allow them to have here, to even belong to our families!"

"What's Fargone?" Brooklyn whispered to Wraith.

He answered, "It's a nickname for F-Station. Everyone calls it that because we're 'far gone' from home."

Brooklyn nodded.

"These are our friends, our families, our neighbors in a world where 'next door' is a hundred million kilometers away!" the speaker continued. "Now, these people have become fed up with corporate neglect and abuse. No more will they stand for it! The rumors that have been circulating? The ones that speak of a belt-wide strike by the miners? Contrary to what our 'beloved' Station Administrator, Mark Bluestone, may say, these 'rumors' could not be closer to the truth! But will we help our brethren in a righteous stand against the Corporations? Not if Mark Bluestone has anything to do with it. He would rather pretend as though it isn't happening; to ignore it and hope it will all go away! This is a fantasy world in which he lives! For these are real problems, real people, and real times! We have come to depend on miners just as much as they have on us. They share our quarters, buy our supplies, eat our food, breath our air, use our water! If Bluestone's corporate string-masters don't want him to make the decision, then we will!"

By now, the crowd was really starting to get worked up. People were massing into groups, the sound of heated discussion echoing through the promenade. Others dispersed; parents tried leading their children away.

"Maybe we should go," Brooklyn suggested, not having the slightest clue of what this was all about, but recognizing a potential riot when he saw it.

"Yeah, he's right, let's get out of here," Sapphire consented.

Brooklyn was surprised to notice faint traces of tears welling up in her eyes. Wraith and Drac noticed this too, although they seemed to understand it better than he. They all turned away from the growing crowd, and quickly made their way down the other end toward the entrance where they'd first come in. As the voice over the loudspeaker continued giving his rehearsed speech, conflicting yells and shouts began ringing out from the crowd. Some were in favor of him, while others protested him. Some people were already engaged in dangerous arguments, and it was about to get physical.

All of the sudden, the announcer was cut off and the loudspeakers went silent for a moment. Then, another voice came over them. "This is Station Administration. The things told to you by this man are unfounded rumors, nothing more. I would advise all of you to discard them as just that. Now I'd like to apologize for the interruption and allow you to continue with your business. Thank you."

The announcement ignited the crowd. Somebody threw a punch. Chaos ensued and a security alarm sounded.

Over the roar of the crowd a soothing voice began to speak, attempting to diffuse the crowd. "Citizens, please remain calm. Station personnel are on their way. I would ask you, for your own safety, to stop what you are doing and return to your quarters. The Marketplace is closed for the night. I repeat, you are in violation of station protocol, please leave the premise immediately or be removed. The Marketplace is closed for the night."

"Here!" Drac yelled. He pointed toward a small exit to the left of them, in between two stores. "It should lead us out of here."

The five of them turned toward the opening, and were almost upon it when several uniformed adults poured out. "Security," Wraith informed.

There were about fifteen of them, all clothed in gray and green dress. They raced past, toward the fighting on the other end of the shopping area. All except for one of them, a woman, who stopped for them. "Are you five all right?" she asked quickly. Then, looking at the kids, added, "Where are your parents?"

"Oh, they're with me," Brooklyn interjected. "We were on our way through there," he pointed to the exit, "to get them back to their quarters."

The woman nodded, "Very well, sir. Please go straight there, and don't make any other stops. Thank you for your assistance."

"Hey, sure, no prob," he said, as she jogged away. "Tell me this isn't a nightly occurrence," Brooklyn said. "One little announcement, and the whole crowd goes berserk. Just a tad volatile, don't you think?"

He saw that they didn't share his sense of bemusement. They left through the exit and walked down the adjoining corridor until they reached a split.

"My quarters are this way," Wraith said, pointing down the left corridor.

"Mine are too," Drac added, "And Slash's. But Sapph's are the other way."

"Do you have anywhere to go, Brooke?" Sapphire inquired.

"Now that you mention it, I guess I don't. You don't suppose I'd be allowed to find a corridor to sleep in..."

When she smiled, Brooklyn felt a little relieved. "You're not allowed to do that. But you could probably spend the night over at my quarters."

Brooklyn nodded. Everyone said their good-byes, and the group split up.

Brooklyn and Sapphire reached her front door by 7:30. Sapphire typed a four-digit code into a small side panel.

A second later, the door slid open and the two of them entered. The door slid shut behind them and the room was suddenly illuminated by several automated lights. To his surprise, the domicile was nothing like Brooklyn would have expected. There were no protruding conduits or computer consoles embedded in the walls like in many sci-fi movies he'd seen, no egg-shaped seats, no grated metal flooring, no robotic maids scurrying about, and no floating chairs that slip themselves under you when you're not looking. In fact, Elisa's and Matt's quarters looked more futuristic than Sapphire's. Everything, especially the furniture, was old-fashioned

"Well," Sapphire said cheerfully, "make yourself comfortable. Are you hungry?"

"No, thanks," Brooklyn answered. "I better not eat before I sleep, and since I have no idea when that's going to happen..."

Sapphire nodded and then called to someone in another room, "Mom, I'm home! And I've brought a friend!"

A minute later, they heard a voice reply, "A friend? Who?"

"Brooklyn, he's a gargoyle. I thought he could spend the night," she explained.

"Just as long as I don't end up cleaning up his skin in the morning!" the voice responded.

"I'll do it," Sapphire said, rolling her eyes. A moment later, a round middle-aged woman emerged from a bedroom.

"Hello, dear," she greeted. "Why are you home so early? Normally you're out at that holo-room until curfew." By the way she said it, Brooklyn could tell that her mother did not approve of holo-games. At least, not of the amount of time Sapphire seemed to spend there.

"Well," she began. "There was sort of a riot in the Marketplace..."

"A riot?!" her mother exclaimed. "I can't believe it, not another one. Did anything happen? What about your friends, did they get home okay?" Her words came out so fast that one had to take a second to mentally replay them.

Brooklyn could tell that Sapphire was already regretting having told her. "Mom, please, nothing happened. We left before things got bad. Wraith, Drac, and Slash all went home together."

"Jessamine, I really wish you'd stop calling your friends by those silly nicknames," her mother lectured. "Now," she said," who's your friend?"

"I told you," Sapphire insisted, "this is Brooklyn."

The woman looked Brooklyn over, surveying him with a mother's eye. "Well, I'm Mrs. Bluestone," she introduced herself, much to Brooklyn's shock, "and you're welcome to stay here."

Brooklyn responded, "Thank you, Ma'am."

"Oh, please. Call me Susan," she insisted. Brooklyn nodded, and the woman left to go into the kitchen. Although she was very polite, and seemed to have nothing against him, Brooklyn still sensed that she was wary of him.

"If you don't mind me asking, Brooklyn, where are you from? Its not every day we get a gargoyle around here," her mother asked from the kitchen.

Sapphire answered for him, "He's from C-Station, mom." She quickly gave Brooklyn a look that said, "Don't give her an opening" and he didn't challenge her answer.

"Well, I'm going to turn in for the night," her mother informed, "just as soon as I finish up in here." A minute later, she walked out of the kitchen toward the room from which she came. "Good night, you two. Sapphire, don't stay up too late. Chances are your father won't be home until late tomorrow morning. I do hope he gets through this all right." With that, she disappeared into her room and closed the door behind her

As soon as she was gone, Brooklyn asked, "Your last name is the same as the person named over the..."

"Yes," she interrupted, "Mark Bluestone is my father. But what that guy was saying about him was not true at all."

"So, I suppose that Bluestone is where you got the nickname Sapphire," he contemplated aloud. "I don't suppose you have any relation to a Matt Bluestone of twentieth-century Manhattan..."

"Yeah, actually I do," she said. "He was my great grandfather, well great-great. Or is it great -great- great? I always get that confused. How do you know him? He wasn't exactly famous. More notorious, dad says."

"Well, I'm kind of a history buff," he lied.

"Oh, really? My dad's really into that too. That and all of this other stuff, about fairies, magic, legends... I never really believed any of it, but I never told him that. It would hurt his feelings. He loves to tell these stories about how Great- grandpappy Bluestone and his partner Elisa were among the first humans to know the Manhattan Clan gargoyles. And that he was the best man at Angela, the clan leader Goliath's daughter's wedding."

"Really," Brooklyn replied.

"Uh, huh," Sapphire nodded "And how single handedly he was responsible for setting up the same clan leader with his partner, Elisa Maza, reformed the most notorious gangster in existence, David Xanatos and, oh you'll like this," she interrupted herself, "taught the clan's geekiest member, Brooklyn, how to ride a motorcycle." She looked up at the startled gargoyle. "Hey, you have the same name."

"Yeah, it's a family thing." Brooklyn fabricated rapidly. "Wow, that's really interesting stuff. I'll bet some of it's actually real too."

"It isn't likely that you know about the kind of stuff I do." Sapphire retorted hotly. "This stuff is only known by a few people. I guess you could say that it's become a family legacy. Hardly any of it is in any historical databases."

Brooklyn wasn't paying attention to what she was saying. Instead, he found himself mesmerized by how closely she resembled Matt. "You have his eyes," he said, out of nowhere. "Those same determined blue eyes. That and the hair," he added.

"You sound like you knew him or something, Brooke."

Sapphire motioned Brooklyn over to a couch.

"History is full of interesting people," Brooklyn hedged, "if you know where to look."

Sapphire nodded slowly in agreement.

"Answer something for me. I really can't quite get a fix on C-Station. What is it?" Brooklyn asked changing the subject.

She replied, "It's an orbital habitat inhabited by a clan of gargoyles. They left Earth about a century ago, and have been living out in space ever since."

That was definitely not what he expected to hear. Strangely, he was more fascinated than shocked by it.

Sapphire yawned loudly. "You look a little tired," Brooklyn observed.

"I'll stay up with you until you fall asleep," she insisted. Almost before she finished the sentence, Brooklyn's red skin began to fade into a dull gray, accompanied by a faint crackling sound. In under a second, he was a motionless statue.

"Never mind," she whispered, as she slowly got up to go to bed.

* * * * *

Day 2. April 29, 2230.

Brooklyn awoke the next morning fully refreshed. He stretched every limb as far as he could, for the first time in over thirteen hours. He was covered in a white sheet. He grabbed it and pulled it off, to reveal an empty room.

"Computer," he announced. A digital beep emanated from one of several computer receptors located throughout the quarters, signaling that the computer was ready to receive a command. "What time is it?"

After a moment, the computer replied, "The time is 9:26 A.M."

Brooklyn frowned. No doubt Sapphire was at school by now, along with the others, which meant he was on his own for the next few hours. But would she leave him there like that, without a note or anything?

He glanced back at the sheet that had been covering him, and sure enough there was a note stuck to it. Brooklyn picked it up and read:

"Brooklyn, I'm sorry for leaving you alone like this, but I had to leave for school. You're welcome to anything in the kitchen, but if you decide to go out, please make sure the front door is locked. The access code to get back in is 1-4-2-3. I'll see you this afternoon, Sapphire. P.S. Sorry about the sheet, it makes for less mess to clean up."

Brooklyn looked at the spot where he'd been sleeping, and noticed that all of his stone skin was neatly contained in a small area.

"Well," he said to himself, "might as well clean up after myself." After picking up all of his stone skin, he threw it away in what he hoped was the garbage, and then went on to find something to eat. He grabbed the most normal-looking choice, and a grip-tight, temperature-controlled cup of water, and walked back out into the living room, where he set it all down. He felt like indulging himself. Television was a good choice. He hadn't watched it in years and never in 3-D holography.

"Computer," he announced, "Television."

"Unknown command," the voice replied, "Please reformulate."

"Okay, TV."

"Unknown command, please reformulate."

"Oh well," he said to himself, "I bet there's more exciting things to do outside." After he finished his food, he exited Sapphire's quarters and made sure the door was locked.

After finding an elevator a few corridors down the way, he decided to check out the higher levels of the station first. From there, he could work his way down. The elevator brought him to Level 6. There, he found what appeared to be the future equivalent of a sub-way station. Lacking the fare for the 'trans-lift', he left the station and, choosing a direction at random, began to walk.

"Welcome to the hydroponics garden," a voice announced cheerily as he entered a verdant oasis. "The hydroponics garden is not only a popular place among citizens for rest and relaxation, but also the sole provider of food for the fifteen-hundred residents here. In all, it occupies the top five levels in their entirety. Enjoy your stay."

"I intend to," the gargoyle said to the computer. He looked upward as a cool breeze ruffled his hair. Overhead, a pair of birds flew beneath the massive glass dome that composed the ceiling. A rocky outcropping artfully crafted to give picnickers a secluded place to lunch gave him an idea. He sunk his talons experimentally in the rock and began to climb.

Before he knew it, he was soaring through the air on wind provided by air circulators, with a forest of green beneath him and the wonder of space overhead. It was an experience like none other, if not only for the opportunity to spread his wing muscles for the first time in over a day. He never realized how relaxing flight was until he was robbed of it.

After getting his fill of flight, he departed the garden and strolled along the corridor feeling considerably more relaxed. He paused in front of a data terminal with a small map of the station on its display. A green dot indicated the terminal's location in relation to the station. Brooklyn's mind was full of unanswered questions. In the movies computers could answer anything. He cleared his throat. "Uh, computer. Where did the station get its air and water?"

"Processing Center. Levels one and two." The display altered to illuminate the processing center on the map.

"Sounds interesting." Brooklyn told the computer. "I think I'll take a tour." He threaded his way through the station at last arriving at another huge doorway.

He tried to enter. The door wouldn't budge.

"Authorized personnel only I guess." Brooklyn turned to leave.

Luck turned his way. A worker was on her way in.

"Lost?" She asked sympathetically.

"No, I... well, I was up in the garden and I was really blown away," Brooklyn explained. "I've never been on a space station and I was curious how it all worked. I guess I was hoping for a tour."

"Ah, a tourist." She hesitated for a moment. "Sure, why not. Always be friendly to the folks back home, they tell us." There was irony in her voice. "Come on in and be sure to buy something at the gift shop on the way out," she added sarcastically. Brooklyn smiled.

Brooklyn found himself fascinated and bewildered by the scale of the plant. "What exactly do you do here" he asked his guide.

"The usual," she replied. "We process water, break it down into hydrogen for fuel, and oxygen to breathe. Recycle waste materials for re-use. It's not exciting work but we couldn't live without it."

A giant machine loomed before them. " Do you...operate those things yourselves?" Brooklyn asked in shock.

The woman laughed. "No, all the machines are automated. They're run by a computer...and I'm just fine with that."

"Then, what exactly do you do all day?"

She grasped the steel railing in front of them and gazed over the edge as she answered, "There's a lot of other work to be done. Maintenance mainly. That alone keeps three hundred people busy." She let go of the railing and shrugged. "Besides, with machines bigger than the pyramids of Egypt, each containing more than four hundred thousand moving parts, it wouldn't be wise to not keep a few people around to oversee things go smoothly."

Brooklyn nodded, decided she was right at that. "I do have one other question, though. Where does all the water that you guys process...come from?"

A smile crept over her face, and she replied, "I think to see it yourself would be the best way to answer that question."

She led the befuddled gargoyle down a ramp and a few stairwells, until they reached the lowest deck of the station. There were a couple other workers there, looking out a medium-sized window.

"And here are our station employees, hard at work," she joked.

The two men spun around so fast they nearly hit their heads on a bulkhead. "We're just waiting for Larry," they lied.

"Well, while you're waiting why don't you give Brooklyn here a chance to look through that window. The two moved out of Brooklyn's way, and he saw only the blackness of space. He walked closer, coming to see that the outside of the window was covered in sentiment that had gathered there over the years, and began to see the tip of Europa. He came as close as his beak would allow, and peered down at the moon their station orbited. He saw that the station itself was slowly rotating.

"It's magnificent," he finally said. Then, as the station's rotation brought it out of shadows and into the light emanating from the station's underside lights, Brooklyn saw a gigantic structure extending from the underside of the station all the way down to Europa.

"What is that?" he asked in surprise.

The woman didn't have to look herself to answer, "It's called a space tether. It connects the station with Europa's surface."

When he asked what for, they answered simply, "Transport."

She went on to explain, "This way we are constantly supplied with water, which is pumped up the tether non-stop. It is much more efficient than transporting it via ships. Needless to say, Europa is your mysterious source of water. There is a huge body of it hidden beneath the moon's frozen crust. It's as vast as an ocean."

* * * * *

Mark Bluestone looked up at the room's digital display from where he sat, beside an empty table. It was 11:44 in the morning; the others would be arriving in a minute. He'd been in meetings since his communicator had chirped the day before.

You look terrible, Mark," a voice said. Mark looked up at the group of people who just started coming in for the meeting. Among them was the source of the compliment, an old friend, Allen Deluca.

"Hello to you too, Allen," Mark replied wearily. He nodded at the others who took their seats around the oval table.

The last to be seated was the Station's Chief of Staff. He was a burly weathered-looking man, with faded-white hair and deep blue eyes. Though he had a rugged no-nonsense appearance, he cast an aura of warmth.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, taking special notice of Mark's haggard appearance. "It is my hope that we can get through this in record time, as I know that most of us have had a long night." He cleared his throat and continued. "Security has determined that the riot was caused by Mr. Matthew Marcus. I'm sure you all recall that Mr. Marcus resigned his post as Chief of Public Relations last month over a rather ugly disagreement with our Station Administrator, Mark Bluestone. Apparently, Mr. Marcus fancies Mr. Bluestone a Corporate puppet, and we the scared little mice who are too afraid to oppose his wrath."

"I'm not laughing, Jonas," Bluestone interrupted.

"Neither am I, Mark. As unfounded as these lies may be, Marcus is doing an outstanding job of making the public believe them."

"Unfounded?" one of the board members interjected. "I don't mean to be rude, but Mr. Bluestone is a Corporate-appointed figurehead for this station."

"And I suppose I have a secret room hidden behind my office's bookcase with a two-way radio straight to Corporate headquarters where I receive my sinister missions," Mark shot back.

"That's enough," Jonas silenced. "No one here is in the mood for accusation and arguments. Mark was Corporate-appointed, but since stationed here he has done an exceedingly excellent job as Station Administrator, and I will not have his dedication questioned! Now, shall we continue with this meeting?" Everyone shifted in their seats uncomfortably, and Jonas took that as a sign to continue.

"Now, yesterday afternoon Mr. Marcus tapped into the promenade's loudspeaker system, and used it to stir up the riot that resulted in multiple cases of vandalism, destruction of property, disturbance of the peace, uncountable assaults, and the eventual deployment of station security to break it up. Mr. Marcus and his associates were found late last night, but no substantial charges could be made against them... yet.

"In any case, we will no longer be able to sit on the fact that the Asteroid Miners want to strike. Up until now, we've been able to keep the peace by treating all such reports as mere rumors. But Marcus has spilled the beans on this one. No one is going to believe us if we try denying knowledge of the strike again. In short, we need a new solution.

"Now, we all know that the decision was already made by Mark to not side with the miners in their strike. This decision was what caused Mr. Marcus to resign. The decision was backed by Allen Deluca, the man in charge of mining operations on Kelinthu, which we all know is currently the largest Mining Asteroid in the belt. Without Kelinthu, the majority of the other 37 Mining Asteroids aren't willing to commit themselves. Rightly so, as a strike will only be effective if all 38 Mining Asteroids stand together. Now, Kelinthu is one of two keys to suppressing this strike's development. So far, Mr. Deluca's decision to stay out of a strike has been enough to keep the others in-line. The second key is this station, and since both we and Kelinthu are sided against the strike, the chances of it going forward are very slim. So, why are we gathered here today if, short of a station-wide mutiny, the mining strike is taken care of? The reason, ladies and gentlemen, is that a station-wide mutiny isn't that implausible right now. With Marcus' supporters stirring up trouble, who knows what will happen. With that said, I'll step down and discussion can commence."

"Thanks for taking care of that, Jonas," Mark said to him as he sat down.

"Don't worry about it. You look like you wouldn't have been able to read cue cards." Mark managed to form a shaky smile.

"If I may, I don't see why the decision to side against the miners has been made already," someone began. "I am by no means in support of what that lunatic Marcus is doing, but..."

"The decision has been made. Its final," Mark interrupted.

"Excuse me, but I don't recall my opinion being entered into that decision," the person retorted.

"That's because it wasn't," Mark snapped.

"Is this an administration or a monarchy here?!"

"He's right, Mark. The decision should have been made by all of us," another agreed.

"Everyone was consulted, and after taking what everyone had to say, I made my decision," Mark explained. "I don't see what the controversy is about! Am I the Station Administrator or aren't I?"

"Please, let's everyone try to remain diplomatic here. We're all tired, but no one has been dealt the brunt of this situation like Mark has," Jonas said, trying to keep the peace.

"I suppose I am a little cranky this morning, I apologize. But that doesn't change my decision. To put ourselves into such a dangerous position, we'd be compromising our future, not only with the Corporations, but with Earth itself! Nobody here is favorite of them, but the Corporations funded this station's construction, and after the strike there's no telling what will become of us. It's just not worth it. I sympathize with the miners, but its their battle, not ours."

"It may not be your battle, but there are many people on this station with loved ones on those asteroids," challenged another.

"If I may be allowed to speak," Allen Deluca asked, asserting his presence for the first time.

"Of course, Allen, go ahead," Jonas encouraged.

"I realize that many of you have family members or friends who are miners, but look at me. I am one of those people. I have a wife and kid on Fargone. But a strike isn't the answer. We need to find peaceful solutions. Make the truth known to people back home. Try to combat the Corporate propaganda that's daily fed to the public. It may take even years, but we can succeed, and it will be much less risky than striking."

His speech was followed by some low discussion amongst the board members.

"Are we satisfied now?" Mark asked. There were some reluctant consents and he continued, "Now, does anyone have any ideas on how to handle Marcus' anti-administration crusades?"

Silence.

Finally, Jonas announced, "This isn't going anywhere. Everyone's minds are mush. I suggest we all get some rest and reconvene tonight." No one seemed to have any objections to this, as the table was quickly abandoned, save Jonas, Allen, and Mark.

"Sorry we couldn't get this resolved before you're due back at Kelinthu, Allen," Jonas apologized.

"Don't worry about it. You'll figure something out. And in the meantime, I've got my work cut out for me. Two more full loads of mineral ore by the end of this shift rotation is going to take a miracle."

"You'll manage," Mark encouraged. "Thanks for the save, by the way. I just hope this blows over soon." He walked up to Allen and they shook hands.

"I'll see you around," Allen said, before departing.

After he was gone, Jonas approached Mark. "You know..."

"Yes, I know, Jonas." He could tell by his friend's tone what he was going to say. "I could almost feel the tension in that meeting just now. But you don't think anyone would move against us?"

At that last sentence, Jonas' expression fell.

"Jonas, you are with me right?"

"Of-of course, Mark. You know that," he assured. But Mark could tell that he was having doubts.

"Listen, Jonas. They may disagree with my decisions, they may even publicly denounce me, but there's no way they'll ever do something as criminal as mutiny."

Jonas released a deep sigh. "I just hope you're right."

* * * * *

Waiting in a trans-lift station not far from the Processing Center was a tired Brooklyn. He'd just spent over two hours walking from one end of the station to the other and was about ready to call it a day. Fortunately, one of the workers down in the Processing Center gave him a debit card that had enough credit left on it to cover the fare for the trans-lift.

He looked up as a newcomer joined him on the platform. He looked familiar. "Mark Bluestone?" he asked, approaching the exhausted-looking man.

He turned around to face Brooklyn, his face a tense mask. When he saw Brooklyn, his face lightened a little.

"Yes, that's me," he confirmed, then added quickly, "but if you want an interview you'll have to wait. I'm on my way home."

"Oh no, I just wanted to introduce myself," Brooklyn said. "I'm Brooklyn."

"Nice to meet you...Brooklyn. I didn't know of any gargoyles on F-Station. Are you new around here?"

"Yeah, but I'm not from C-Station," he said, a little too quickly. Then, to try and make up for it, he added, "I'm your house guest by the way."

This got Mark's attention. " Jessamine." Then, as if something clicked inside, he remembered, "Ah yes. Jessamine's mother called me early this morning from work and told me how you and her were caught in yesterday's riot. Thank you for being there with her. I just hope she's not too upset, with all the ludicrous rumors going around about me."

"She's very mature for her age. I think she's handling it." Brooklyn observed that Mark had light brown hair, contradicting the Matt Bluestone tradition of red. He was of medium height, and rather thin, though not gaunt. The most outstanding feature that caught his attention at the moment, though, were the big blue bags under his eyes.

Mark managed a shaky smile. "Well, that's good to know. Tell me Brooklyn, what is your opinion of this whole mining issue?"

"Well I..., that is... I'm not that familiar with what's going on." Brooklyn cursed himself for sounding so stupid, but Mark seemed to be quite taken with his answer.

"That's a relief," he said. Noticing Brooklyn's bewilderment, he explained, "As an administrator you're expected to be polite and receptive to whatever anyone has to say all the time, even if you'd rather jump in front of a trans-lift. Speaking of which, the trans-lift should be here by now, don't you think?"

Without warning the computer announced, "Trans-lift Alpha E has been delayed. Please exit the platform."

"Well, I think it's safe to say that the trans-lift isn't coming," Mark said sarcastically.

"So, is there another station nearby?" Brooklyn inquired.

"Not for a long way. We might as well just walk home. Oh, wait a minute, where were you heading?"

"Same as you, back to your quarters. I've had one heck of a day, and some rest sounds pretty good right about now."

The two of them left the trans-lift station and began walking back toward their quarters. Brooklyn let Mark lead the way.

"About the mining issue, I've been hearing about almost nothing but it since I arrived. If you wouldn't mind, could you fill me in on it?"

Mark sighed and gave a slight laugh of defeat. "All right, I suppose I'm not going to be able to get around this. Short version. There's a league of corporations who work together to keep a monopoly over mining operations in the asteroid belt. Together, they stand as the largest enterprise in the solar system."

"So, why are people so bitter toward them?"

"It's a pretty long story, Brooklyn, but I guess I can give you the gist of things." He took a moment to organize his thoughts, and then began. "I guess it all started in the year of the Great Incursion. Humanity suddenly found itself in a war with a seemingly undefeatable adversary. Demand for raw materials quadrupled, and when earth ran dry and we could no longer look to Mars, which was seized by the enemy, we had to find a new source of it somewhere. We found what we were looking for in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Abundant supplies of rare ores lay untouched, just waiting for someone to find them. The different mining companies learned it was much more profitable to cooperate than compete. The Corporations was born. A legal monopoly."

As they continued to walk, Mark continued to talk. "The only problem they ran into in the start was keeping the miners on the asteroids supplied. It was extremely expensive and difficult. The first space stations were crude and miners had to live in a weightless environment for years at a time. It was dangerous. There were a lot of accidents and many people died."

"Why did the miners stay?"

"The Corporations made it impossible for them to leave. Remember how I said that it was expensive to supply the miners? Well, the Corporations passed the expenses on to the workers. Company housing, food, even oxygen was docked from the workers wages. They were lured to the asteroid belt with stories about making huge amounts of money. What they weren't told was they wouldn't be allowed to keep it."

"Finally, the miners rebelled. 'The Great Strike of 2212.' Although they were recognized and granted more rights, the event was far from a 'revolution'. The miners gained more rights, but not their freedom. The problem is, people on Earth think that the miners won. They don't understand the corporation only gave them crumbs, not the whole loaf of bread. The Corporations have been painting them as whiners ever since. So, now can you see why some tend to dislike them?"

"Yeah, I guess I can. It's still hard to believe that corporations could grow to be so powerful though."

"Not really. Look at the late twentieth century. Such corporations as Xanatos Enterprises and Maddox Technologies were already becoming huge influences. They may have been a prelude to how things are now."

"So, what's going on now with the miners? And what does Fargone have to do with it?"

Mark nodded. "Yeah, Fargone has a very close relationship with them. In fact, they're part of the reason why we exist. When the first plans to build this place were proposed, no one wanted to fund it. The people behind the project already had Europa staked out, and were convinced that the establishment of a permanent colony here would be the ideal way to pave the way for future colonization."

Mark paused for a moment to release a loud yawn. "Sorry about that. Anyway, it stayed that way until the Corporations saw the potential for their mining operations in the belt. They put up the initial funding for the project, and it went ahead. A few years later, F-Station was finished and the Corporations had an exclusive deal with us. Basically, we'd sell our extra hydrogen energy, oxygen, and water to the Corporations for use aboard their mining asteroids while they're out of range of earth, and we'd get a steady income.  

But in time it grew to be more than that. Miners began coming to Fargone between work shifts instead of earth because it was cheaper. People on Fargone became miners, and miners started families on Fargone."

 He paused for a moment as they took a turn around a bulkhead before continuing. "You may have noticed all of the commotion around here with the approach of The Mighty Kelinthu," Mark pointed out, in an almost mocking tone. Brooklyn gave him an odd look, and he laughed slightly. "Well, that's the kind of title its earned," he explained. "Kelinthu's the pride and joy of the Corporations. It was discovered near the end of the war, on the far outskirts of the belt, and used as a strategic position. One of the most decisive battles was fought over it, and as a result..."

Brooklyn interjected, "It got the name Kelinthu, which means "victory" in the language of the Nemesis. Your daughter laid it all down for me yesterday."

"Oh, well I'm glad to hear that she remembers some of what she learns in school." He went on, "Anyway, the Corporations had been wanting to mine Kelinthu ever since the war ended. The only problem was that it was too far away. Like I said, all that changed once Fargone came along. Now, Kelinthu is the largest mining asteroid, produces the most mineral ore, and accommodates the most workers. The fact that its foreman is on our side in the strike issue is another big reason why its not going forward. Anyway, the one good thing about Kelinthu is that, when in range of the station, it can be reached in only twelve hours. That's how close we get."

"Now, about the way everyone here talks about earth, as if it isn't their home..."

"Oh. Well, I guess that being out of direct contact with earth for eleven years has resulted in that."

"What do you mean? You've been out of contact ever since your construction?"

"I think you misunderstand, Brooklyn. We're colonists; people who volunteer to build new lives away from their old ones. It's not like people take vacations or move from here to earth and vice versa. The people here are here to stay, and the number of visitors we get are limited, save for miners. That's why your presence here is such a phenomena."

"That explains a lot. The miners have become more of a family than earth has. I'm guessing that they want to be able to rely on you for all their supplies during the strike, right?"

"You got it. The natural first move by the Corporations would be to cut off all supplies. Without us, they'd be forced to surrender. With us, they could get all the supplies they need. We'd have to really strain to the max, but that's not the reason I won't side with them."

"Then what is?"

Mark let out a deep sigh. "Well, for one thing, we benefit a lot from our deal with the Corporations. Siding with the miners against them wouldn't be a good move in keeping that deal going. Secondly, we'd be jeopardizing are future relationship with earth. With all the anti-miner sentiment back home, a strike probably wouldn't be well received by the public. It would probably not solve anything, but just make matters worse. There are more diplomatic approaches we can take."

They turned a corner, and Brooklyn realized they were 'home'.

"Make yourself at home, Brooklyn. I'm going to bed," Mark said as he typed in the access code. As soon as the door slid open, Mark's beeped. Mark rolled his eyes as he tapped a button on the mechanism. "This is Bluestone," Mark acknowledged.

"Mark, we've got a situation at Trans-lift Station 3," the voice explained. Mark recognized the voice as that of Jonas.

"Jonas, I-" Mark began, but he was interrupted.

"Mark, I know you haven't gotten any sleep in who knows how long, and I'm sorry, but this simply cannot wait."

"And you can't handle it?"

"We can, but that's not the problem. The problem is that the incident occurred before the eyes of almost four-dozen people. Pretty soon the whole station will know about it, and when that happens we're going to need you. The people won't settle for anyone else."

"Jonas, what exactly is this "incident"?"

"...Someone, a pro-miner, leapt in front of a trans-lift not more than twenty minutes ago. The resulting trans-lift delays we can handle, the public response...that's a different story."

"Mark," the voice over the communicator said. "Mark?"

"I'm here," he answered. "I'm on my way. Bluestone out." He tapped the button again, and the communicator turned itself off.

Brooklyn watched the station's Administrator pull together what few remaining ounces of energy he had left and walk back the way they came, to deal with yet another "incident".

* * * * *

 Administrative Conference Room. Seven hours later.

"Good evening from the Fargone newsroom. I'm Amanda Conover," began a young white-haired woman.

"And I'm Sean Navare," her heavily built male counterpart added.

"This morning was a time of tragedy here on Fargone, when a man threw himself in front of an incoming trans-lift, before several-dozen horrified witnesses. Although it was first assumed that the man was a radical pro-miner demonstrator, he was later identified to be Quentin Jankowski, a miner from Kelinthu who was scheduled to return to work this afternoon."

"Friends report that Jankowski was despondent over Station Administrations' lack of support of the proposed miners strike."

"Computer!" someone yelled, "End program." The holographic display vaporized as the holo-emitter from which it was being projected shut off.

The live broadcast was being reviewed by a board assembly, including Mark Bluestone, who had yet to find time for sleep since the jumper incident earlier that day.

Mark Bluestone stepped in front of the holo-emitter and presented everyone with a personnel file. "It's Quentin Jankowski's," he informed. "Go ahead, take a look." He tossed the folder onto the large oval table.

A single sheet was passed around the table for all to see, until it finally came back to Mark.

"He has a history of severe long-term depression," Jonas recited.

"Not only that," Mark added, "but according to his mental exam, he has a chemical imbalance in his brain that requires daily medication."

"So," someone at the table said, "you're saying this guy threw himself in front of a trans-lift...because he forgot to take his pills?"

"Who knows," Mark replied, "The point is that this guy was a loose-cannon. Maybe the fact that the mining strike isn't going forward caused him to do it, but I doubt he would have even considered it had he been of sound mind."

"All right, all right," someone said, "So what do we do with this? The entire station has dubbed this guy a martyr. If we just throw this information at them, it could make things worse. They'll refuse to accept it; say that we're just trying to elude responsibility, and then get even more angry with us for disgracing his name."

"Lara has a point, Mark," someone else agreed. "We have to find some way of leaking this to the press that won't lead people back to us, or else...we just sit on it."

"If we sit on it, there won't be anything we can do to quell those people," Jonas informed. "We're rapidly losing supporters here."

Mark just frowned and closed his eyes for a moment, as if trying to see things clearly. "I just wish Allen was still here, this guy Quentin was one of his. If we could have just gotten a five minute interview out of him, or something...but he left for Kelinthu hours ago."

"Are you so sure he would have supported us on it?" questioned a board member.

"He's the one who gave me access to the guy's personnel file before he left," Mark informed. "But unfortunately, that's all he had time for."

"Well, at least we haven't heard from Marcus...yet," someone reminded.

"All right, let's go ahead and leak the information. I don't care how, as long as it doesn't lead back to us. Use your imaginations. In the meantime, I'm going to announce that the decision to stay out of a mining strike still stands."

"Mark, are you so sure that's a good idea?" Jonas asked.

"I suppose I could lie and say that we're "considering new options" or something to that effect, but it will only make people more volatile once we return to our original stand. I say we don't waver on this at all."

Everyone nodded, and the meeting was adjourned. As the board members and other officials got up from the table, Mark's communicator beeped. He pressed the button on it. "This is Bluestone," he announced.

"Sir, this is Control. I apologize for interrupting the meeting, but I think you should come up here. There's something you need to see."

"What is it Control? I've got a mob of reporters waiting outside, and I promised to address them."

"Well, sir, you may want to postpone that. We've received some pretty strange readings, ones that you need to be informed of."

"Readings from where?"

"Kelinthu."

* * * * *

Day 3. April 30, 2230.

Just outside the mall, Brooklyn, Sapphire, Drac, Wraith, and Slash exited the holo-room in high spirits.

"I can't believe we finally got past level four!" Drac exclaimed.

"Yeah, and after losing right before the end of level three ten times in a row, it was about time!" Wraith added.

"We couldn't have done it without you, Brooke," added Sapphire.

"Oh, that's for sure! You fought like a trained soldier in there!" Drac complimented.

"You weren't so bad yourself," Brooklyn returned, "Especially when you took that Unseelie's head off! That was so...offensive!"

"Maybe, but your moves in the end sequence were better!"

"I didn't know a gargoyle could move like that!" Wraith agreed. "You weren't like that last time we played."

"Well, last time we played I thought it was real!" Brooklyn laughed. "This time, I actually enjoyed myself."

"By the way, Brooke," Drac said, "thanks for treating us." The others all added their own thanks.

Brooklyn simply shrugged. "Hey, don't mention it. I had to repay you for messing up your last holo-game."

Suddenly, someone appeared on the far end of the corridor. As soon as he saw Brooklyn and the others, he turned and ran down the corridor as fast as he could.

Upon reaching them, he stopped and, nearly out of breath, asked, "Which one of you is Allen Deluca's kid?"

Everyone looked at Slash, who answered, "I am."

The man swallowed, and Brooklyn noticed some beads of sweat forming on his forehead. Had the guy just run across the length of the station?

"We've been looking everywhere for you!" he exclaimed. "You have to go with me."

The others voiced their discomfort, and Brooklyn asked the man, "What is this about?"

He ignored Brooklyn and addressed Slash. "Your mother sent me, she's waiting in the Administrative Office for you." The messenger grabbed Slash's arm and tried to hurry him along.

"Hold it," Sapphire interjected. "You can't just take him like that. How do we know you're telling the truth?"

"Listen, kid," the man replied in obvious annoyance, "I could care less either way, but I have to bring him back. I work for Station Administration."

"Perhaps," Brooklyn intervened, "we'd better understand your authority if you told us who you are and why exactly you need Slash."

The man rolled his eyes and replied, in a raised tone, "My name is Scott and that's classified."

For the first time, Slash spoke. "I'll only come if they do," he declared.

The man became even more annoyed at this proposition. "Scott to Administration, I've found the kid, but he refuses to come without his friends," the man said into his communicator.

A second later, a voice over the mechanism replied, "Then just bring them all, we don't have time for this!"

"Acknowledged," he said before turning it off.

"All right, you can all come," he said. As they jogged off to the nearest elevator, the man said to Slash, "Don't worry, everything will be explained once we get there."

The whole trip seemed to last only a few seconds. After getting off the elevator and winding through some corridors, they entered a small waiting area. It was lined with plump seats and light reading, in front of a furnished desk, behind which was a collection of cubicles. Upon entering, a teary-eyed woman leaped out of her seat and ran up to Slash. Another older man, who had been seated next to the woman, got up and approached them as well. After a warm embrace between a frantic mother and a confused child, Slash was led away into a corner of the room, where his mom and Scott sat him down.

Sapphire, Wraith, and Drac tried to follow, but the older man stopped them. Brooklyn turned to protest, but instead closed his mouth as Slash dissolved into tears.

The old man stood in front of them and spoke, in a low voice. They all leaned forward to hear what he had to say.

"You four are his friends, I presume?"

They all nodded.

"Well, I appreciate you coming down here with him, but this is a very delicate time for he and his mother. I think it would be best if you gave him some room for now. Later, perhaps, he'd be glad to accept any support you can offer."

"What exactly is the situation?" Brooklyn asked.

The man ran his fingers through his white hair and focused his deep blue eyes on them, as if bracing himself. "Your friend's father, as you may already know, is the chief foreman on Kelinthu."

"There's been an accident. Details are sketchy but the outer pressure is causing the surface of the asteroid to push inward. Now, it's only a matter of time before the entire asteroid implodes. It's what we call a 'structural collapse'.

"And there's nothing you can do to stop it from caving in on itself?" Brooklyn asked, feeling a little embarrassed at only barely grasping the basics of what he had to say, while the kids seemed to understand him perfectly.

He shook his head. "No, at this point, even if we had the means to stop an implosion of this magnitude, it would be near impossible to do. Kelinthu is doomed to be destroyed. The only thing we can do is try and save as many lives as possible before that occurs. We do have a small emergency rescue unit, and it's being assembled as we speak. They should be departing any minute now."

Brooklyn glanced over to Slash again. He seemed to be feeling a little better now. He and his mom were sitting side by side.

Something suddenly occurred to Brooklyn. "Shouldn't Mark Bluestone be here?" he asked the man.

"We're trying to get a hold of him now," the man answered.

 

* * * * *

BEEP BEEP

A digital alarm emanated from the speakers in Mark Bluestone's bedroom, and he turned in bed for a fourth time ignoring it. He knew that if whoever it was was holding out this long that it must important.

The person at his door was most likely from Control, following his orders to wake him if there was any change in the status of Kelinthu. Struggling every inch of the way, Mark dragged himself out of bed and stumbled his way toward the front door.

Mark finally reached it, "Computer, open."

The door unlocked and slid open to reveal an officer from Control. Mark must have looked like he'd just risen from the morgue, judging from the man's reaction.

"...You didn't answer your communicator, sir," The messenger told him lamely,

Mark blocked the bright corridor lights with the back of his hand, and looked the officer over. "That's because I was sleeping," he said. "Now, what's the problem?"

"You asked to be informed of any changes in the sensor readings we were registering, sir."

Mark nodded impatiently, and gestured for him to go on.

"Well, there's been a change."

Mark just looked at him, his face devoid of any expression. "What kind of change?" he asked, when the officer didn't continue.

"Well...an explosion."

Sometime later, a half-awake Mark Bluestone entered the Control room with the officer who'd summoned him, where he was met by two others.

"Good afternoon, sir," one of them greeted.

When Mark didn't reply, he took it as a hint to do away with the pleasantries and get down to business. The four of them walked down the short stairwell leading from the entrance, to the row of computer consoles below. In front of these was a huge holographic display of Kelinthu. The officer typed a few commands into one of the consoles, and the holo-model rotated to show a cross-section.

"As you can see," one of them explained, "the entire internal structure of the asteroid is unstable. The explosion occurred here," he said, as he typed in a few more commands. A holographic square zoomed in on a section of the asteroid, signifying where the explosion took place.

"We've been recording all the data from our instruments since the explosion took place, and we've come up with a time-lapse image," the other officer explained. He typed in some more commands, and the holo-model reverted to its original format. Mark watched as the entire thing shook with an explosion, followed by multiple cracks forming along the asteroid's crust. Then, as the surface began to push inward.

"The outer layer is still pushing in like that; the asteroid is collapsing under its own gravity. Once the explosion compromised the asteroid's integrity, this was inevitable. It will continue until the rest of the rock succumbs to the strain, at which time the whole thing will cave in on itself; or explode inward. Everyone and everything on Kelinthu when that happens will be reduced to dust."

Mark put his hand over his face, and took a deep breath. "Okay, how long do we have until that happens?"

"The computer estimated 36 hours, tops, if its condition remains unchanged," one of them answered.

"And a rescue team?"

"Already dispatched by Jonas," the other said. "Their ship is designed for speed. They should reach Kelinthu in under ten hours."

"Okay, so as long as nothing else goes wrong, we're in decent shape," Mark concluded.

"Actually, the thing is," one of them interjected, "Like we said, Kelinthu is in a very, very unstable state. There are a dozen different things that could happen between now and the time when the computer says it will implode. We could have less time than we think, but there's no way we can give any kind of an estimate because we have no idea what to expect."

"I understand," Mark replied. "Just keep watching. I want at least one of you in here at all times. Take shifts, I don't care, but you two have been keeping track of this from the start. Bring in any number of others, as long as one of you is always here. And I want hourly updates as well. Understood?"

"Yes sir, perfectly."

"Good. Oh yes, and one other thing. Where is Jonas?"

"Um, I believe he's down in the Administrative Office...with Allen Deluca's family."

Mark suddenly remembered about Allen. "Have any other families been informed of the incident yet?"

"...No, I don't believe so. I think Jonas said that he wanted to keep everything quiet until he heard from you. He only took the liberty of notifying the Delucas."

"Good, if this gets out it could give those radicals aboard like Marcus the perfect opportunity to stir up trouble," he contemplated aloud. "I'm going to the Administrative Office," Mark announced, as he headed back up the stairwell.

Brooklyn, Sapphire, Wraith, and Drac had been forced to wait outside the Administrative Office for almost half an hour before they were finally allowed back in to see Slash. He still looked very depressed, and his eyes had red rings beneath them from crying.

Mark Bluestone arrived from Control. He was greeted by Jonas and Mrs. Deluca almost instantly. Brooklyn saw Mark and Jonas trying to calm her down. She looked very frantic, and Mark had to grab her by the shoulders to finally get her to relax. As soon as she did, she broke out into more tears.

Luckily, Mark seemed to be very understanding and continued to talk to her as he and Jonas led her away into an adjoining room.

Brooklyn returned his attention to Slash and the others, and saw that Sapphire had been staring at the same thing he had.

"So," he heard Wraith say to Slash, "It's your choice. We can do whatever you want."

Slash didn't give the proposal much thought before he answered, "Let's go back to the holo-room," in a shaky voice that almost made Brooklyn wince.

The others didn't seem as disturbed by his answer as Brooklyn.

"Slash...," Sapphire began, "Are you sure you're up to playing a holo-game?"

Slash nodded, not looking up. Sapphire asked her father for some credits, and they left to battle forces that they could understand.

* * * * *

It didn't take long for word to leak out and soon the entire station was buzzing with about the accident on Kelinthu.

Mark Bluestone, consented to a brief interview by the Fargone Newsroom, setting the facts straight and attempting to defuse some of the more outrageous rumors

The families and friends of those on Kelinthu mourned, and hoped, and prayed together. Even those who didn't know anyone on the asteroid became depressed and grief-stricken. An atmosphere of tense anticipation seemed to engulf everyone. Minutes rolled by like hours; hours like days.

* * * * *

Matthew Marcus and his people set up a microphone in the middle of the Plaza and Marcus began speaking. Those who disliked what the man had to say displayed their discomfort by leaving. Those who supported him soon converged into small groups in front of him. As he continued to speak, his audience continued to grow. It was the same anti-administrative, pro-miner lecturing that he'd given before. He gained momentum as he spoke, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

From the far entrance to the plaza, Mark Bluestone and Jonas Brucheimer were watching Marcus' demonstration.

"Allen Deluca wanted us to try and peacefully solve our differences with the Corporations!" Marcus exclaimed, in the climax of one of his sermons. "And look where it got him! He has become a victim of Corporate neglect!" His statement was accompanied by several supporting cheers.

Mark leaned over to Jonas and commented sarcastically, "I'm so glad that he knows what really caused the accident on Kelinthu, I was beginning to get anxious."

Jonas let out a resentful chortle. "Tell me about it," he replied.

"Of course Allen Deluca meant well," Marcus went on, "He and Bluestone both mean well, but they're misguided. The Corporations don't care about anyone, and there is no way that they will ever listen to us...unless we make them listen!" He paused to let the crowd cheer him on again.

This time, Jonas leaned over to Mark. "He's changed his avenue of attack," he observed. "You're not a Corporate string puppet anymore, now you're misguided, but mean well," he remarked. "Stand tall."

Mark nodded. "I've think I've heard enough, how about you?"

"Oh, I say we take him," Jonas agreed.

Mark turned to the security officer standing behind them and ordered, "Mr. Jonas will accompany you and your team. Take Mr. Marcus into custody, but do it peacefully."

The officer nodded, and spoke into his communicator. "This is Mitchel, approval has been given to arrest Marcus. Let's move."

As Jonas and the officer made their way toward the crowd, they were joined by three other security officers. The crowd got ugly as soon as the officers came within range. When they finally reached the front, Marcus stopped preaching and greeted them with a smile.

"Ah, Mr. Buckhiemer, what a pleasant surprise!" he said, still talking into the microphone. "I would've never expected to see you here...though I was hoping that Mark would make an appearance. In person that is, not hiding behind a camera."

"What about behind a speaker?" Jonas defended.

Marcus opened his arms widely. "Well, do you see any speakers now? No, of course not. Because I'm not tapping into them illegally to incite riots against you. I've realized the error in my ways, Jonas," he said with a false tone of sincerity. "Today, I am simply sharing in my people's grief, trying to offer as much comfort as I can. I don't see your Station Administrator down here, among us commoners!" he yelled into the microphone.

The crowd roared to life, with shouts and cheers.

"You see," Marcus said contently. "We're simply mourning our losses, in peace. If that is a crime..." he said, turning to the head of security, "Then I suppose you'll have to arrest me, Mitchel."

"Don't mind if I do," Mitchel replied, as he took out his sidearm and approached him.

"No, Mitchel, wait!" Jonas snapped. The security officer stopped, reluctantly.

Mitchel turned around to face the source of the shouting, somebody through a bottle. He ducked barely in time. The object shattered across the floor and the other three security officers spun around and pulled out their sidearms.

Marcus began laughing hysterically. "Mr. Mitchel," he said amusedly, "Now who's causing the riots?"

Suddenly, the crowd parted as Mark Bluestone, unaccompanied, emerged. "Well, well," Marcus added, "This is truly unexpected indeed."

Mark stood between the crowd and Marcus. "Enough of this bickering," he announced. "You can have your little get-together. Just make sure of two things. If this 'peaceful assemblage' should turn into a riot, I will hold you accountable for every toe that's stepped on. You got it? Secondly, you keep this civil. No more slandering of public officials. Do you think you can handle that?"

Marcus exaggerated a bow, and replied, "Your wish is my-"

"Good," Mark interrupted, "We're leaving."

With that, Mark turned around and headed back through the crowd from the direction in which he came, followed by Jonas and the security team. As they left, Marcus spoke into the microphone, "It was nice to see you again, Mark."

Mark ignored his comments as he and the others cleared the crowd and made their way back down the promenade.

It was late at night when Slash and Brooklyn finally returned home. He and the others had spent the whole evening at the holo-room, and lost all track of time.

"Mom? Are you home?" Slash called. "I brought Brooklyn, I hope it's okay."

A moment later, his mother emerged from the next room. "Where have you been?" she demanded.

Slash hesitated for a moment before answering, "At the holo-room with my friends."

"Oh," she said, "I see. You look like you've just had the best time of your life, hanging out with friends and playing holo-games."

"Mom, its not like that," Slash began, but his mother cut him off.

"Don't talk back to me! While you were having such a great time, did you ever stop to think about your father? ...Or me?"

"Mom, I didn't forget you or dad. I just lost track of time a little...I'm sorry."

Her voice was trembling. "You're sorry?!" she snapped, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. "I sat in my room by myself for hours crying, because I didn't know where you were. I don't know what's happened to your father, and that lunatic Marcus has been using his name in his demonstrations all night! I needed you...and you didn't need me."

That last comment caused Slash's eyes to well up, and Brooklyn decided he'd heard enough. He opened his beak to defend the boy and was silenced.

"I 'm sorry, I am sorry, mom, I..." Slash hugged his mother and they stood together for a long time.

"I am sorry to you too," she said, her voice a barely audible whisper. She took a deep breath, and continued, her voice a little louder, "Thank you for coming home with him." She acknowledged Brooklyn at last. "You're a good friend."

Brooklyn didn't know what to say. He was just shocked. His mother just went through a ninety-degree turn-around right before his eyes. "I, uh..." Brooklyn realized he didn't know what to say. He opted for retreat. Slash and his mother obviously needed time alone. "Well, I think I should go now," he said at last. He gave Slash a quick glance, as if to make sure it was all right to leave. He saw in his eyes that he was thankful, and Brooklyn suddenly felt a weight being lifted. The gargoyle nodded his farewell to the both of them, and walked out the door.

* * * * *

Day 4. May 1, 2230.

In the station's Control room, a lone man sat at his computer console, struggling to keep himself from falling asleep. On a small tray to his left lay an empty mug, the rings of stain from the coffee that once occupied it hours old. In front of the man was the same holographic model of the Mining Asteroid Kelinthu that he'd shown to Mark Bluestone what seemed like days ago. It rotated slowly, displaying in vivid detail the precise damage the asteroid was suffering, as the station's sensors detected it. He'd just given another hourly report to Bluestone, as he insisted. Luckily, the condition of the asteroid had changed very little in the past...ten, fifteen, twenty hours? He had no idea what time it was, but he decided that it would take too much effort to ask the computer.

Instead, he continued to sit there, staring at the holo-model, pausing every so often to glance down at his instruments' readings. The fact that the asteroid was still in the same condition, given its vast instability, was a blessing. Still, he almost wished that something, anything, would happen to it.

All of a sudden, the room's speakers began to beep. The man nearly fell out of his seat. Why was the computer beeping? It looked like his wish for a change in the asteroid's condition had come true. He frantically looked over all of his console's instruments, eyeing them all carefully, trying to figure out what exactly had changed. But all of the instruments were displaying normal steady readings.

"Computer," he shouted, "Identify crises!" The infernal beeping finally stopped, and the computer answered, "There is no crises in progress. All readings normal."

"Then why," the man demanded in frustration, "Was a warning siren sounded?!"

After a moment, the computer replied, "Control's operator wished to be informed of an incoming vessel."

"Yes, that's me," the man yelled. "I wished to be informed as soon as the rescue shuttle returned, not-" He stopped in mid-sentence as a sudden realization struck him. "Computer," he said, "Identify incoming vessel."

"Incoming vessel is the Emergency Rescue Shuttle Intrepid."

The man slowly rose from his seat, accidentally tipping over the tray with his coffee mug, causing it to shatter on the floor beneath him. He didn't pay it any attention, as he announced again, "Computer, display visuals of Intrepid."

A moment later, the holo-model disappeared. It was replaced with a three-dimensional image of the Intrepid, with some minor burns on the outer haul, returning to Fargone at full speed.

* * * * *

 

The news had been blaring everywhere for the past hour. The rescue shuttle had finally been detected re-entering range of Fargone. The bay at which the shuttle was scheduled to dock was closed off, with several armed security personnel there to enforce it. A path extending from the bay's back exit leading directly to the main infirmary had been roped off, and several additional security guards placed on either side. The citizens of Fargone gathered nervously, waiting and praying as the shuttle slid slowly into view.

Brooklyn stood quietly to one side as his new friends waited tensely. Slash and his mother held each other and Sapphire, Wraith and Drac stood protectively around them, young faces tense with worry.

The inner bay doors opened. The crowd drew breath. Then, the outer bay doors unlocked. Hydraulic arms hummed to life and they lifted open. Red flashing lights flooded through the doorway, as rescue personnel rushed wounded miners out on stretchers. 2nd and 3rd degree burns composed most of the injuries. The second wave of walking wounded was next. Miners grasped the shoulders of rescue personnel limping, or holding broken arms. A few were met by family, who rushed up to them crying hysterically. The personnel would allow them a few seconds to exchange hugs, before gently sending the injured on their way.

Finally, there came the most serious cases.

Miners, trapped in their exoskeletons, unconscious and in critical condition. Some of the frames sparked and hissed as support systems gave way.

The crowd trailed after the medics yelling words of love and support to the injured. Only the security officers in front of the sick bay kept the crowds from following the injured inside.

Slash, his mother, Brooklyn, Wraith, Drac, and Sapphire all waited on a bench outside the infirmary. As the hours rolled by, most of the crowd dispersed. There were only a half-dozen benches, many people were left to stand, or sit along the hard corridor deck.

At long last the doors parted and a single man, gray with fatigue emerged. He posted the list of survivors on a message board and reentered the sick bay. He ignored the worried families completely.

Everyone ran up to the list at once. The crowd erupted into sobs.

"That's it?" a man asked in disbelief. "This is the entire list of survivors?" He shook his head refusing to believe his eyes. "This can't be!" He was gently led away as others moved quickly to the front.

"He's alive, oh, thank heaven! Your father is alive!" a young woman smiled to her tiny child. The nameless father was one of the lucky few.

 

Slash was one of the last to approach the list. Brooklyn gave him an encouraging thumbs up as he joined his mother in front of the patient roster.

Slash began to read through the names. His gaze began at the top, and gradually started downward, triple-checking every name as he went. Brooklyn saw as his eyes descend lower and lower. If the survivors were listed in alphabetical order, which they probably were, then Slash should've passed his father's name by now, whether they listed it by the first name or the last. When his eyes reached the very bottom, Brooklyn felt his heart stop. Slash hesitantly looked to his mother, without shedding a single tear, and pointed to the top of the list.

"I think they spelled his name wrong," he told her.

His mother stepped forward to look at the list herself, and spelled the name her son had pointed to out loud. "A...l...e...nn... Deluca," she finished, crying joyfully. Brooklyn and the others released bottled up sighs of relief and joined them.

Later that evening the infirmary opened it's doors to visitors. Dozen's of people, including Slash and his mother, were admitted to see their loved ones.

They were allowed to stay for a short time and then the nurse rounded them up again. "You can come back tomorrow. The patients need their rest, "she added.

Brooklyn was waiting outside when Slash and his mother emerged from the sickbay.

"Brooklyn!" Slash looked at the gargoyle not believing his luck. "Would you do something for me?"

"Sure, kid. What do you need?"

"Make sure my mom gets home safe." He passed Mrs. Deluca off to the startled gargoyle. "I need to take care of something."

Mrs. Deluca merely nodded, exhausted from the rigors of waiting.

Slash kissed his mom on the cheek and as soon as she had disappeared from view he addressed the security guard. "Uh, mister, I left my hat inside. Can I get it?"

The guard, due to go off-shift in a few minutes, nodded at the young man and admitted him back into the sickbay.

Slash slipped quietly back to his father's bedside.

* * * * *

An hour or so later, Slash was staring at the room's clock hung on the wall. It wasn't a digital display, but an old-fashioned antique clock, with an hour hand and a minute hand. Slash supposed it was put there for atmosphere. In any case, he'd been staring at it for a while now. He felt content being in the room with his father.

His attention was suddenly diverted from the timepiece as he heard the room's door open. He couldn't see who was coming in from behind the bed, though, and decided against getting up to look. Instead, he kept quiet and listened. In all likelihood it was just another nurse stopping in to check up on his father, but that possibility vanished when he heard the sound of a stool being pulled up to the bed in place of the person walking back out. Whoever it was, they were now sitting down on the opposite side of the bed, from where Slash was concealed from the visitor's sight, just as the visitor was to Slash's.

The first word was spoken by Slash's father "Hello Mark," he greeted, his voice a little congested.

Slash listened intently as the visitor replied, "Feeling well?" It was Mark Bluestone's voice.

"As well as can be expected," was his father's response.

By now, Slash didn't dare make his presence known to either of them. The situation felt very awkward to him, as if his father and Mark Bluestone were holding some sort of secret meeting. After all, it was past visiting hours.

Somehow, his father seemed to know exactly why Mark had come. "You want to know what happened on Kelinthu," he stated. "Does it matter?"

Slash heard the stool's leather top stretch as Mark leaned forward. "It does," he answered. Then, to finally put an end to the foreboding one-line dialogue they'd been exchanging, Mark went on, "Marcus has already declared that the accident resulted from Corporate neglect; bad safeties. Most of the other radicals aboard reached the same conclusion, and they're doing a good job of making everyone else believe it. The thing is, I don't think it had anything to do with safeties. In fact, I doubt that it resulted from Corporate neglect at all."

"Well, what was I supposed to do Mark?" his father demanded. "I mean, you seem to have everything all figured out already, so what would you have suggested we do?"

"Going against regs wouldn't have been my first choice," Mark shot back.

"What could we do?" Allen defended. "We'd been working as hard as we could to keep up with schedule. What did we have to resort to? The Corporations sure didn't listen to us when we told them that the existing mineral deposits were running dry. They wouldn't pay us if we didn't meet minimum."

"Well, now a good portion won't have that worry anymore," Mark interjected coldly, but instantly regretted saying it.

Allen continued, his voice a little shaken, "We'd worked harder than anyone. We were still short. We found a new vein. A rich one. We didn't just go blindly into doing it. My team and I took readings of the rock integrity and asteroid infrastructure. We concluded that, even though regs said there had been enough mining, we could stretch it a little further. The two regulations were conflicted each other, Mark, so we discarded the one that wouldn't result in our pay checks getting cut in half."

"In other words, you thought full pay was more important than the lives of your people," Mark added. "That regulation you discarded was supposed to protect you; a result of the Mining Strike eighteen years ago."

"That strike doesn't deserve its title, and you and I both know it! Listen to me when I tell you the asteroid appeared stable. We should've been able to mine the little amount that we did without any structural compromises. The explosion was a fluke; it shouldn't have happened."

"But it did, Allen. And now you have over fifty dead, their blood on your hands."

"I know," Allen said between clenched teeth. "Do you think a minute goes by that I don't have images of the accident replaying through my head? That I don't hear the computer's warning of a structural compromise seconds before a huge explosion tears through the mining complex? That I don't see my people being torn apart in their exoskeletons by the falling debris? Or see their suits rupture in the vacuum of space, and watch helplessly as they gasp desperately for air...right before a fire ball or a piece of rock comes down on them?"

Mark just released a heavy sigh, and cupped his hands over his mouth. "...You realize I could report you," he said.

"Yes, but you won't."

"Why is that?"

"Because I'm asking you, as a friend and colleague, to keep a lid on this."

"Are you mad?" Mark exclaimed. "With Marcus running around the station spreading anti-administrative propaganda and everyone turning sympathetic to the miners and their families, I have a potential mutiny on my hands! This information may be the only thing that can extinguish it."

"Mark, you'll only get a mutiny if you refuse to side with the miners."

For a moment, there was silence. What Allen just said obviously shocked Mark beyond words. "I thought you stood by me on this," he finally said.

"I did, up until today."

"Allen, this whole incident has cost us one of only two barriers standing in the way of absolute chaos: Kelinthu. More than that, its cost us a lot of supporters here on the station who've switched sides to pro-miner because of that seditionist Marcus. If it were to be revealed that the accident was caused by miner neglect instead of Corporate, it may be enough to muffle the torches. Now, you may not have your position as head of Kelinthu anymore, but you're still highly respected by the people. I need you on this, Allen."

"I can't do what you're asking, Mark. I just can't. I don't agree with it anymore. Maybe this accident was for the better. At the very least, we have to salvage what little good did come from it. We have to keep the momentum going on this. You have to stand with the miners."

"Haven't you been listening? I'm not siding with the miners. While Fargone is under my command, we will not jeopardize our security and our future with Earth. Their cause is noble, but peaceful negotiation can-"

"We've been trying 'peaceful negotiation' for over a decade," Allen interrupted, "and it hasn't gotten us anywhere! Mark, look at the picture realistically. If you don't stand with them, Fargone won't _be_ under your control for much longer."

Mark straightened. "Is that a threat?"

"No, it's a reality check. Even if you reveal the true cause of the accident, it won't stop momentum, just slow it down. The news may cripple the already scant support for miners there is back home, which is something I don't think either of us wants, but it won't stop the strike from happening. I don't want to have to stand against you on this, Mark, so that's why I want you to try and see things in full focus for a moment. Kelinthu is gone. If we don't strike now, we'll never be able to. We'll be pushed back even further. Even further still if news of the true cause gets out. If the latter happens, not only will we be viewed as greedy by the public, but we'll be incompetent now too. We...I, made a mistake. I realize that. But now we have to take action to prevent things from getting worse."

Mark sat in silence for a moment without answering, just thinking, until Allen finally asked, "So, are with us?"

Again, Mark paused for an agonizing moment. "I'm with you," he finally announced. "May God help us all."

With that, the visitor got up from his stool. Slash heard him open the room's door and walk out, without so much as a goodbye, before it closed behind him. He went to sleep.

* * * * *

Day 5. May 2, 2230.

Excitement crackled through the station. Mark Bluestone had called a live assembly. The entire area filled with people and security was on high alert.

When Bluestone finally emerged from the infirmary, out into the promenade, the crowd silenced. Escorted by two security personnel, Mark and Jonas walked up to the stage that had been set up for them, where they met with Marcus.

"I don't know what you have planned here, Mark, and I don't know why I have consented to participate. All I'm going to say is that this better be a compromise, and it better be good," Marcus snapped.

Mark didn't reply. Instead, he and Jonas simply ascended the stage. Marcus followed, and all three of them faced the audience; with Mark in the middle, and Jonas and Marcus on either side. A microphone stood ready before Mark.

"Citizens of Fargone," he began. "I have come here today to put forth a new mandate. I believe that it will result in the satisfaction that we've all been yearning for. I'm not going to be giving any long-winded speeches. What I am going to do is give you the facts. As you all already know, an accident on the Corporate Mining Asteroid Kelinthu resulted in both the destruction of the asteroid, and the loss of many lives. It has been assumed by many that the accident resulted from Corporate neglect. They were right."

The crowd buzzed excitedly, and even Marcus and Jonas exchanged looks of surprise. As the crowd grew quiet again, Mark continued. "I talked to Mr. Allen Deluca, the former chief foreman of Kelinthu, who is presently recovering in the infirmary, prior to this assembly. Together, we decided to change our stand on the mining issue. We have decided to fully support the miners in a strike against Earth, and against the Corporations, and against our own homeworld ...Earth. From this day forward, Fargone is now officially allied with the miners!"

This time, the audience exploded. Marcus looked like he was going to have a seizure. Mark continued, causing the crowd to once again silence. "Word of the Kelinthu accident will be sent to C, D, and E Stations, as well as the Mars and Lunar colonies, ...and every ship within a million kilometers! All except Earth herself. They have chosen to ignore the truth, so the truth will no longer be given to them. They can get it second-hand, if they feel left out. What we will be giving Earth is a far grander wake-up call. As soon as deliberations have been concluded, a ship will depart for our homeworld. On board will be selected representatives, who will present Earth with an official "Declaration of Rights"!" He paused for a moment to let the crowd ingest everything they'd just heard. "This won't be solved overnight. It will take time... but Earth can't simply turn its back forever. The people will know the truth, and the age of Corporate propaganda will come to its end!"

For the first time in a long time Mark heard the sound of applause. Everyone seemed happy, all except for Slash, who stood behind his cheering friends with a troubled expression written on his face.

* * * * *

Day 35. June 1, 2230.

The past three weeks had been spent in waiting, waiting for news from earth. The Fargone delegation had been chosen; two miners and two station representatives. They carried with them the Declaration and the hopes of the colony.

In Sapphire's quarters, she, Brooklyn, Drac, Wraith, and Slash were watching a report from the F-Station newsroom.

"Good afternoon, I'm Amanda Conover," introduced the familiar young female.

"And I'm Sean Navare," added her male counterpart. Although they both wore a happy smile, one could tell that they were both distraught. The woman began, in a voice that shook every now and then.

"For those of you who do not yet know, but who have tuned in for our normal afternoon report, an EarthGlobe News broadcast reached Fargone one standard hour ago." She spoke much slower than usual, and rarely faced the camera head-on, so as to try and conceal what her make-up couldn't - the fact that she'd just spent the last hour in tears.

"The broadcast was brief, but for anyone who saw it, they know that time seemed to freeze. Earth has not refused the 'Declaration of Rights'. The reason is because they never laid eyes on it. But apparently the Corporations did. It must have frightened them, enough to justify lying to the Earth government. As far as they are concerned, the miners presented a 'Declaration of War', and threatened to secede. In addition to this, they believe that Fargone is under the miners' control; that miners took over the station and are holding us all hostage. As unreal as this all may seem to some, it is far from an exaggeration. The original broadcast can be accessed from the station's computer databases." She sniffed, and wiped away a tear that was threatening to roll down her cheek, then said, "On to you, Sean," in a congested whisper.

The camera focused totally on Sean, allowing Conover to leave the room. He shuffled a thin pile of papers laying on his desk, before looking up at the camera nervously, "Station officials are currently trying to find a way around a communications block put up by the Corporations, who no doubt want to keep us from revealing the truth. It is unknown whether or not we will be able to find a way around the block, but station officials are also exploring other possibilities. In the meantime, we've been given word that an order authorizing stockpiling of oxygen, hydrogen energy, and water has been issued.

Furthermore, a station-wide security alert status and weapons census have both been issued. The reason is unknown, but speculation would have it that we're preparing for what very well may be war." He paused for a moment, and simply stared down at the news desk before seeming to remember he was on camera and looking back up. "No word has been received from any of the Mining Asteroids yet, so we are unaware if they have simply not heard the news yet...or if they have already succumbed to a military advance. Updates will of course be announced as they come in."

The broadcast ended, and Sapphire turned off her holo-emitter.

"What has your dad said about this?" Wraith asked.

"My dad's been at work, in meetings, the whole day," Sapphire answered. "I haven't talked to him since yesterday."

Brooklyn sighed heavily. He was tired. Since coming to the station he had split his time between hanging out with Sapphire and her friends and working. He had found odd jobs at first, then he had snagged a maintenance position in the processing plant. The work was boring but he found a certain sense of satisfaction in earning his own credits.

"Slash, is something wrong?" Drac inquired. Brooklyn looked over to his friend, who had been sitting absolutely quiet the entire time. He looked troubled.

Sapphire and Wraith looked over too, and all the attention was focused on him. Finally, he decided to speak. "I...overheard something awhile ago," he began, "and I think it's pretty important."

"Who did you overhear?" Brooklyn asked, before the others could.

"My dad and Mark Bluestone. The night I slept with my dad at the hospital, Mark Bluestone came by."

"In the middle of the night?" Sapphire asked, taken aback.

Slash nodded. "I couldn't fall asleep, so I was awake even though neither of them knew I was there. They began to talk about Kelinthu...the accident, and what really caused it."

"You mean the safeties," Wraith confirmed.

Slash shook his head. "No, it wasn't bad safeties. It was something else. They just made that up, to tell to the public."

Everyone seemed dismayed by this, especially Sapphire. "Slash, are you sure?" she asked.

"Definitely," he answered. "They talked about it for a pretty long time. Mark Bluestone didn't want to go along with it at first, but my dad eventually convinced him to. The real cause of the accident...was my dad. He said that he didn't have enough ore mined to get paid, and was running out of time, so he and the others began to mine an unstable part of the asteroid, where there was lots of ore."

"And that's what caused the explosion?" Drac asked.

Slash nodded.

"Slash," Brooklyn said, "Have you told anyone else about this? Does anyone else know this or know that you do?"

"No, I haven't told anyone, and nobody knew I was there."

"And you've kept this to yourself this whole time?" Sapphire asked.

"I didn't know what to do. I felt that what they were doing was wrong, but I didn't know if I was right or not. The very next morning, your dad announced we'd be siding with the miners...and everyone was so happy. I just couldn't bring myself to ruin all that. What if I revealed it, and I end up messing everything up and the miners never get their rights?"

Brooklyn got to his feet. "I think it's time I paid your dad a little visit," he announced.

"Wait!" Sapphire called. "What are you going to say to him?"

"I don't know," Brooklyn replied as he walked toward the door.

"Brooklyn, wait, you can't just barge in on him like this. We've just been told that everything we've been hoping for the past three weeks has been lost, and he's probably very stressed. I know that what he did was wrong, but he had good intentions. Don't come down on him like he's a criminal!"

Brooklyn replied without looking back, "That remains to be seen."

* * * * *

In the Administrative Conference Room, Mark Bluestone sat at the otherwise empty table finishing up the last of some paperwork, when Brooklyn entered. Mark asked, without looking up, "Yes?"

"What are you working on?" Brooklyn replied.

At the sound his voice, Mark looked up. "Ah, Brooklyn," he greeted warmly. In the last couple weeks, he and Mark had come to know each other well. "I'm just finishing up some old paperwork. Nothing important, but it's just been accumulating over the last few weeks and I find that a little distraction now and then helps me to relax. So, what brings you here?"

"Well," he began, "I've just recently heard some...well, rather disturbing news."

"What's that?" Mark asked, a faint trace of dread in his voice.

"That you paid a late visit to Allen Deluca the night he came back from Kelinthu," he revealed.

Mark paused for a moment. He was clearly shocked that Brooklyn, or anyone for that matter, knew of it. "And what's so unsettling about that?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"You know what," Brooklyn replied. "What was the real cause of the accident on Kelinthu? It wasn't under-funded safeties, was it? It was something else. But you couldn't very well reveal that, now could you? No, of course not. Instead, you buried the truth and fed everyone in the civilized solar system lies. ...And you find yourself loathing the Corporations for their propaganda. They lie, and they're evil and wicked. You lie, and you're a hero."

Mark sat in silence for a long time, before he finally said anything. "Do you know what the real cause was?" he asked.

Brooklyn nodded.

"Then, you can guess at what the public's reaction to it would be. If I hadn't done what I did, everyone in the civilized solar system would be against the miners right now. The Corporations would finally have the opportunity they'd been waiting for to tighten their leash on them, and any chance of a change would be beyond hopeless. We both did what we thought was right. What we knew was right."

"But it's still lying!" Brooklyn insisted. "Maybe the miners don't deserve the treatment they get from the Corporations, but after screwing up like they did, maybe the public reaction wouldn't have been so wrong."

Mark was about to say something, when the computer suddenly announced, "You have an incoming message."

Mark replied, "From whom?"

"Andrew Levinson," it answered.

Mark seemed taken by surprise by the answer. Levinson was a part of Administration. Brooklyn gave Mark a look of understanding, and he announced, "Put it through here." The room's viewscreen suddenly came to life with the image of a young man in his early thirties, with a stern expression on his face.

"Yes, what can I do for you Andrew," Mark greeted.

Levinson seemed uninterested in small talk, and was no doubt about to say something to that effect, when his eyes caught sight of Brooklyn standing a few feet away.

"What is he doing there?" he demanded.

Mark glanced over to Brooklyn, and back. "Nothing," he answered. "We were talking when your message came through."

Levinson seemed annoyed by Mark's answer, and insisted, "He'll have to leave."

"Leave? Why?" Mark asked. "Your message wasn't security-coded."

Levinson leaned forward over the viewscreen. In a softer voice, as if Brooklyn couldn't still hear him, he replied, "This concerns him."

Those last three words got Brooklyn's attention, and when he approached the viewscreen, Levinson looked even more annoyed. "What concerns me?" he asked.

Mark was unmoving, and Levinson let out a sigh of defeat. "Very well," he finally muttered, as he quickly typed something in a console next to him. "The reason I call is because we've found something rather distressing in the station's communications database. It was buried under tons of other rudimentary files. Apparently, whoever sent it didn't have the access to delete it from the database, so he tried hiding it as best he could. We're continuing our search, and more similar ones keep coming up."

Mark gave him a quizzical cock of the eyebrow. "You're talking about an outgoing transmission."

Levinson nodded. "The earliest found so far was sent from this station on April 28th of this year. The other two we've uncovered so far were dated April 30th, and May 2nd."

"And... the importance of these transmissions?"

Levinson hesitated for a moment before answering, "They were all transmitted to a secret relay station located just a few thousand kilometers from our position that we've only now found out about. The relay station has a direct link with Geneva, Earth."

Mark's eyes widened. "Corporate Headquarters."

Levinson nodded again. "What this means," he said, "and I think you already know, is that we have a Corporate spy aboard this station."

"Who else knows about this?" he asked.

"No one except us, and a couple others. We want to keep an extremely tight lid on this."

"Agreed. Could you trace the source of the transmissions?" Mark inquired.

Levinson shook his head this time. "They were all transmitted via a public computer terminal, where it was probably routed from somewhere else, as a credit account number isn't registered. But it really doesn't matter. We've discovered who the spy is."

As if on cue, the room's doors slid open and two security personnel entered. They both approached Brooklyn on either side, with their sidearms drawn. Mark looked to Levinson frantically, and he slowly nodded.

"Yes," he said, "It's the gargoyle." He faced the security detail and ordered, "Take him away."

They were about to, and Brooklyn was about to protest, when Mark suddenly ordered them to halt. Levinson gave Mark a challenging look.

"He's the spy, Mark," he insisted. "You may think he's your friend, but he's nothing but a plant. He makes a living by pretending to be friends with people in high places, and their kids...if you know what I'm getting at."

"Are you trying to say that Brooklyn befriended mine and Allen's children, only to get close to us in the hopes of manipulating us?"

Levinson nodded. "Of course."

Mark narrowed his eyes. "Tell me how exactly you came to the conclusion that Brooklyn is a Corporate spy."

"Well, he's a gargoyle for one thing. Think about it, Mark. If you were going to send in a spy, would you use a human...or a gargoyle, a member of a race whose reputation is known throughout the solar system as beings of undisputed honor and guardianship? And what about his cover story? That he can't remember how he got here because of some kind of temporary memory loss? Come on, how weak can you get!"

Mark looked less than convinced. "If this is all you've got on him, wild accusations..."

"I saved the best for last, Mark," he said. "You see, we went back through the station's database checking all of the passenger manifests for all incoming and outgoing ships in the past two months. Do you want to know where we found him? Nowhere! He isn't on any of the passenger manifests. According to the station's computer, he shouldn't be here. Now, this can mean one of only two things. Either this station's multi-billion dollar computer system...or the gargoyle wasn't on the passenger manifests because the Corporations smuggled him aboard!"

"Whether you like it or not, Mark, we've got enough evidence against him for confinement and interrogation," Levinson explained. "Don't complicate things by refuting this. If what he says is true, then he'll be released. It's as simple as that. So, if you believe he is truly innocent, then let us take him. Let us prove you right. Station security is at risk here, remember?"

This time it was Mark who let out a sigh of defeat. "Very well," he said. Levinson gestured for the guards to take him away, and all Mark could do was bring himself to look into Brooklyn's eyes before they escorted him away. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

* * * * *

Day 37. June 3, 2230.

Brooklyn leaned back in his chair. The chair was the only piece of furniture in the room, aside from its counterpart facing him directly in front. And overhead was the holo-emitter. That was all that composed the small chamber he was in. He hadn't been living there for the past two days, of course. Despite the fact that he turned to stone at night, he was still given customary cell quarters. The room he was in now was the one used for interrogation.

A few minutes passed before the locked door on the far wall slid open, and a thick beam of light flooded the room. Mark Bluestone entered, followed by Andrew Levinson and the chief of security. Brooklyn stood.

"No, no, please sit back down," the security chief ordered. "You aren't free yet." Brooklyn's expression sank, and he let himself drop back into the chair.

"What about the amulet?" Brooklyn demanded forcefully. "It's very important to me. I need to have it back as soon as possible."

The chief approached him with a hand extended as if to stop him from getting back up. "Now, you'll get your amulet as soon as your release has been confirmed. Until then, there's nothing I can do." Brooklyn was visibly unsatisfied and his eyes were on the borderline of igniting with glow.

"Speaking of which," the chief went on, "I had someone take a look at that amulet. I doubt the thing's value to you is only sentimental. It may be pretty beat up around the edges, but the jewelry store owner informed me that it's probably worth a few hundred thousand credits. That's real twenty-four carat gold it's made out of."

Brooklyn's eyes narrowed, some faint traces of light escaping from them. "And...?"

The chief shrugged. "Well, you wouldn't see most people strolling around in public with something like that stuffed in a belt pouch. As a matter of fact, it looks to me like the thing has been around. Maybe an ancient artifact?"

"I wouldn't know," Brooklyn answered.

"Where'd you get it?" the chief asked.

Before Brooklyn had to come up with an answer, Mark stepped in. "Now, chief, the reason Brooklyn is here has nothing to do with ancient artifacts. I saw the amulet you're talking about. It's nothing really, just a jewel-maker's nightmare...as far as the dents and scratches. It doesn't have any value aside from the credit."

The chief seemed unwilling to back down, but did so. Brooklyn was left shocked, but tried not to let it show.

Levinson now spoke. "Has the interrogation revealed nothing?" he asked.

Mitchel answered, "Nope. Not a thing. He's kept a tight lip, and refuses to abandon his amnesia story. Says he's from New York, on Earth, but went to C-Station. From there, he can't remember how he got here. Now, we also interviewed a number of people on the station who had a relationship with him in some way. He'd first befriended a group of kids, including Mark's and Allen's. There were also a few employers, including the maintenance chief at the processing plant, as well as Mark's wife, Mrs. Deluca, and the other kids' parents. None of them revealed having noticed anything out of the ordinary about him."

Levinson seemed to think the situation over, while examining Brooklyn. "Is it possible that he could be programmed?" he finally said.

Mark gave him a peculiar look. "You're not talking about mind tampering, are you?"

Levinson replied impatiently, "It's a possibility. If he can't recall how he got here, then it could be that its because his memory was erased."

At this, Brooklyn found himself unable to keep from speaking. "Mind tampering?!" he exclaimed. The three of them looked over to the dismayed gargoyle. "What is he talking about?" he demanded, looking at Mark.

"It's just a theory Brooklyn, nothing more," Mark tried to assure. "What Mr. Levinson is suggesting is that maybe you were captured by the Corporations against your will, implanted with a subliminal command, and then planted here on the station with the events erased from your memory. It's called being 'programmed'. In theory, once you were to receive a special signal, the subliminal command they implanted you with would surface and you'd feel an irresistible urge to fulfill whatever mission it entailed. Afterwards, you'd revert to normal without any memory of what happened."

"It sounds plausible," Brooklyn said, "but I really doubt that it's true."

"That's for us to decide," Levinson said authoritatively.

Brooklyn put up his hands in a mocking fashion. "Fine, whatever."

Mark shifted his position uncomfortably. "Either way," he said, "what more can he do?"

Levinson was about to recite a list, when Mark's communicator beeped with an incoming call. Mark pushed the device's button, and announced, "This is Bluestone."

The voice replied, "Sir, this is Control. As ordered, we've been keeping constant watch over the newly discovered relay station nearby, and we've picked up an incoming transmission from it. It's riding on another incoming transmission, trying to use it as cover. It would've worked too, had we not been aware of the relay station's existence."

"Have you intercepted it yet?" Mark asked, as Levinson and Mitchel both leaned their heads over Mark's communicator.

"We're still trying, sir. The transmission is being fed through a series of backdoors and hidden com channels in our own computer system, so as to conceal its receiver and elude any attempts to listen in. It's doing a good job of it too."

"Listen in? You mean it's an open link?" Mark asked.

"That's affirmative. It's definitely an open link. Someone on this station is currently holding a conversation with whoever's transmission is being fed through the relay station"

Mark paused for a moment, as if to let it sink in. "But...there's an eight-day lag between here and Geneva," he stated, in obvious puzzlement.

"I don't know," the officer replied. "Maybe they're talking to a ship nearer by."

Mark shook his head, as if the officer he was talking to could see him. "No, there's no way a Corporate ship could get so close so fast."

"The only other possibility is that the relay station isn't just that. It could be a listening post. A manned listening post," the officer suggested.

Before anyone could reply, Brooklyn called back everyone's attention. "Um, excuse me, but if someone else is currently talking with the Corporations, wouldn't that go to show that I'm not the spy?"

Levinson shot Brooklyn a resentful look. "It hasn't yet been confirmed," he snapped. "For all we know, it could all be a set-up designed to make you look innocent."

Had Mark not been involved in tense discussion with the officer over his communicator, Brooklyn was sure he would've said something, but as it was, he was still stuck there. As Levinson turned his attention back to Mark and Mitchel, who were both now talking over Mark's communicator, something suddenly occurred to Brooklyn. He recalled his first day on the station, when he'd gone to the infirmary and met Doctor Neuman. He remembered him saying something very strange that day; something that only now began to make sense.

Without warning, Brooklyn yelled out, "I know who the spy is!"

All three of them looked up at Brooklyn, who was now standing before them.

"Who?" Mark asked.

Brooklyn hesitated for a moment. What if they didn't believe him? After all, did he have any proof? The only other people who heard Neuman say it were the kids, but they weren't here. If they couldn't trace the transmission now, they'd never find out who was on the receiving end, and all Brooklyn would have is one sentence as proof. "It's Doctor Neuman," he blurted out.

"What in the world are you talking about?" Levinson exclaimed.

Mark had the same surprised expression on his face. "Neuman?" he asked, his voice displaying his shock. "How do you know?"

"It was something he said over a month ago. He said, 'I have to make an important call to the listening post.' Then, he acted as if he'd gotten his words scrambled, and corrected himself by saying, 'I have to make an important stop to listen to the results of a post-op.'"

Levinson seemed less than unimpressed. "That's it?!" he barked. "You expect us to believe that what you're saying really happened?"

"Look, I'm pretty sure that he's the one. Now, you can either check it out, or continue arguing with me here."

Levinson was still unwilling to listen, but Brooklyn saw that Mark was considering it. After a moment, he said into his communicator, "Control, try narrowing the trace by looking for the point of reception in Doctor Walter Neuman's quarters."

After a few seconds, the voice replied, "Confirmed." Mark, Levinson, Mitchel, and Brooklyn all stood motionless, as they waited for an answer.

"Sir, the signal has been confirmed. The receiver is Doctor Neuman."

Nobody had time to display their shock, as Mark quickly replied, "Control, have a security detail meet me at Doctor Neuman's quarters."

He looked up from his communicator. "Brooklyn," he said, "come with me."

* * * * * *

Doctor Walter Neuman's Quarters.

In a dark room, the only thing casting light was a solitary computer monitor displaying a digital image of a Corporate official. The person sitting in the chair before the monitor was shrouded in shadows.

The seated figure listened as the Corporate official continued. "...The armada will reach your position in precisely ten days. Before that happens, the bomb must be detonated. It will have to be carefully placed in a part of the station from where an explosion will result in the _complete_ destruction of Fargone. Anything less, even a single survivor, could jeopardize everything. There must be no evidence to prove that what we said happened there didn't. Do you understand?"

The figure nodded. "Understood."

The official seemed to detect a hint of uneasiness in his agent's voice, and his mood quickly shifted to a more serious tone. Leaning forward over the monitor's screen, he asked, "And you're sure that you are both able and willing to complete this assignment?"

"Of course," the figure replied in a shaky voice.

 

Mark Bluestone, Andrew Levinson, Mitchel, Brooklyn, and four security personnel marched down the corridor leading to Doctor Neuman's quarters. As they approached, Mark spoke into his communicator. "Control, is the transmission still in progress?"

After a moment, the voice over his communicator replied, "Negative, it terminated a few minutes ago."

As they reached the front door, everyone took cover on either side of the entrance while Mitchel typed his security override code into the door's side panel. It slid open to reveal a pitch-black room, and he and his team entered with their sidearms drawn while the rest waited outside.

After a few minutes, Mitchel's voice called, "The area is secure...but Neuman isn't here."

Brooklyn, Mark, and Levinson entered. The room was still pitch-black, but the computer monitor in the corner and the outside corridor lights gave enough illumination to see. While the others spoke to each other frantically, trying to figure out where he may have gone and why, Brooklyn wandered over to a table set up against a far wall with numerous spare parts and tools scattered across it.

"Over here," Brooklyn called. Within a matter of seconds, the others were all leaning over the table with him.

"What could he have been building here?" Levinson wondered aloud.

As he said it, a grim realization seemed to strike Mark and his expression fell. "A bomb," he answered.

Both Levinson and Bluestone looked to Mitchel for confirmation. After he gave it, everyone came to the same conclusion at once. "The Processing Center."

Before Brooklyn knew it, they were racing out of the room, back down the hall. Both Mark and Mitchel were yelling into their communicators, informing the people on the other end of the situation, and ordering all available personnel to the Processing Center.

Mitchel ordered guards into the Processing Center. "Seal off the perimeter and fan out!"

"I want to help!" Brooklyn protested as his entry was blocked. "I know these people!"

Minutes passed, and Mark spoke into his communicator. "Have you found anything yet?" he asked impatiently.

Mitchel's voice answered, "No. We're going as fast as we can. As soon as he's spotted, I'll inform you." With that, he severed the connection.

"I'm sorry it had to be him," Brooklyn offered. He paced the corridor frustrated at his inability to help.

Mark was silent for a moment, before he decided to answer. "I thought I knew him," he explained.

Their conversation was cut short when a worker emerged from around a corner. Mark was about to stop him; to tell him about what was going on, and ask him to wait outside until it was over, when he saw his face. It was Walter Neuman.

Neuman seemed to realize it was Mark the same instant Mark realized it was Neuman, and for a split second they just stood motionless, neither knowing how to react. Then, the security guard saw who his boss was looking and drew his sidearm.

"Drop your weapon now, and hit the deck!" the guard ordered.

Neuman didn't flinch, and the guard repeated his command louder and with more force.

"Hold it!" Mark finally interjected. The guard silenced and Mark walked into the center of the corridor, putting himself between them both.

He turned toward his former friend, with his arms raised, signifying that he carried no weapon. When Neuman didn't seem to care, Mark lowered his arms again and spoke. "What are you doing, Walter?" he asked.

He didn't answer. He didn't even look at Mark. Instead, he kept a straight face, with his arm extended, a gun in hand, and his eyes lined up with the guard's head.

"Walter, please," Mark tried to reason. "What do you think you're doing? Planting a bomb to destroy the entire station? Killing over a thousand men, women, and children, many of whom you've come to know over the years?"

Neuman's disposition remained unchanged, and Mark quickly compared it with that of the security guard's standing behind him. Neuman looked like a statue, his only movement that of breathing and blinking...from time to time. Not a single bead of sweat had formed on him anywhere. He was unnaturally calm. He compared his appearance with the security guard, who could barely bring himself to hold his gun steady. His face was soaked with sweat, his eyes were filled with anxiety and despair, and he seemed unable to find a comfortable stance, as he continuously shifted position.

"Walter, are you in there?" he asked.

For the first time, he got a reaction from him. Neuman turned to face him, his gun still carefully aimed at the guard from the corner of one eye.

Walter spoke. "You just can't accept the fact that the person you thought was your friend had been lying to you the whole time."

He could barely bring himself to speak "Why?"

"Because I work for the Corporations," Neuman replied, "and the Corporations want you...and this station, out of the way. There's nothing more to it than that. I was assigned here with one objective: to ensure the continuing fealty of the command staff of this station and that of the miners. I am fulfilling that assignment."

Mark was about to speak when his communicator beeped.

A shot erupted from the barrel of the security guard's weapon.

Neuman didn't have enough time to pull the trigger of his own weapon. The blast struck him in the chest. It took him a moment to realize that the reason why he felt no pain was because the shot had struck the bomb he had hidden under his shirt. Neuman's eyes went wide; he didn't have time to do or say anything more. A split-second later, sparks erupted from his shirt front and he was thrown backward.

Brooklyn saw the look of realization in Neuman's eyes and leapt immediately for Mark. He hurtled through the air and plunged right into his friend. The force of the impact was enough to push Mark out of the center of the corridor.

An explosion rocked the corridor throwing everyone from their feet. A few seconds later, the roar of the explosion dissipated, the scorching heat vanished, and Brooklyn realized that he was still there, in the corridor. His wings were singed and his hair smoked, but he was still in once piece. He batted at the ends of his long hair, extinguishing a few that were still smoldering.

Mark coughed and the security guard stumbled to his feet.

They all looked down the other side of the corridor. Where there had once been a three-way intersection of corridors there was now a heavy-duty emergency lock-down door, effectively trapping them. Walter Neuman was dead.

* * * * *

Day 38. June 4, 2230.

Mark Bluestone sat in his private office, the comfortable chair behind a beautifully furnished desk and watched a viewscreen embedded in the upper corner of one of his walls.

There was a hiss, and his office door had slid open. Brooklyn walked in, and the door slid shut behind him. Mark returned his gaze to the viewscreen.

"Your secretary says that you've been in here for the past hour, refusing to come out," Brooklyn informed him, hoping to get him to say something.

Mark sighed, and let his chin sink further into the palm of his hand.

"I can't take my eyes off this," he replied. "I've reviewed them all; all thirty-nine of them. We've received one like this from nearly every Mining Asteroid. They're all the same, though."

Brooklyn walked closer to Mark's desk, and turned his head to face the viewscreen that his friend was looking at. It displayed a static-filled broadcast, with a date typed across the bottom, and a frantic miner in the center. It was definitely one of the many distress calls they'd received in the last couple days.

"I didn't realize so many had been received," Brooklyn said slowly.

"We couldn't let the people see all of this," he said, gesturing with his free hand toward the broadcast. "We began keeping them a secret after the third or fourth arrived."

Brooklyn looked back at the viewscreen. The volume was down low, but Brooklyn could hear the sounds of explosions and gunfire in the background. A fire could be seen burning behind the miner in front, who had been sending the distress call

"...They're everywhere!" the miner screamed, his face covered in ash and blood. He paused for a moment to cough coarsely, and a few tears seemed to drip down from his eyes, leaving trails of clear skin through the grease and dirt that otherwise covered his face. "Please," he begged, "This is Mining Asteroid Classification Alpha Omega Three, to any nearby ship." He paused to draw in another breath of dust-filled air, and continued, "I repeat, this is Alpha Omega Three to any nearby vessel! We are under brutal assault by Corporate forces." The transmission hissed and faded for a moment then cut back in. " Where is Earth?! Who's letting them do this to us!" It cut out and faded entirely

Brooklyn faced Mark. "You've been watching stuff like that for an hour straight?" he asked

Mark simply pushed the button on his desk panel to shut off the viewscreen before another distress call came on. "Now you see why we've kept these from people. What you saw isn't the worst."

Brooklyn gasped. "And what is there for you to gain by exposing yourself to them? You know you can't help them, you know their pleas are falling on helpless ears. Heck, they're probably already gone."

Mark didn't seem to hear what he was saying, as he went on. "...The Corporations sent ones like this to other Mining Asteroids, to scare them into surrendering." He scoffed, then went on to do a mocking impersonation of the EarthGlobe News reporter. "Their continuing attacks on Mining Asteroids have been conducted with great patience and mercy. No miners have been killed, or even harmed for that manner, in any attacks thus far. The goal of both Earth and Corporate officials is to gently reassert power, without bloodshed."

"You memorized that?" Brooklyn asked in surprise.

"...Not intentionally," Mark replied. "I just watched it so many times..." Speaking of which," he said, turning his viewscreen back and pausing the broadcast, "Did you notice the date typed at the bottom of some of these?" He pointed toward the green computerized writing that read "5-23-30".

Brooklyn nodded. "That's the date our embassy reportedly first arrived at Earth."

"Exactly," Mark confirmed. "And the news said that the Corporation's militia wasn't granted authorization to attack until the next day."

"So," Brooklyn concluded, "they went behind Earth's back and went in ahead of time."

"More than that," Mark went on. "I'm betting the Corporations intercepted our embassy long before it reached Earth. Think about it. Neuman would've..." He paused for a moment, feeling a little depressed by the mention of the man's name, but continued, "...Neuman would have contacted the Corporations ahead of time. So, their militia was probably en route to the first of the nearby Mining Asteroids before they even told Earth about it. And even when Earth did find out about it, and I'm sure they must have, all the powers-that-be just looked the other way. Maybe they were loyal to the Corporations, or maybe they were paid off. Either way, Earth government sat back while the Corporations sent in their own little privately-funded army of mercenaries."

"I think you need a break," Brooklyn suggested.

Mark shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere until I think of a way to give some kind of hope to my people. We will not fall to the same fate that they have."

Brooklyn was about to go on, when Mark's communicator beeped. The sound caused him to jump. The echo of an energy weapon discharging suddenly filled Mark's ears, when he finally snapped out of it. Looking down at his communicator, he tapped the button and answered, "Bluestone."

The voice announced, "Sir, Control again. I think you'll want to come up here. We've finally found a way around the communications block. We're not a hundred percent sure, but we think it will work."

Mark's face brightened for the first time in hours. "The listening post?" he asked.

"Affirmative."

A smile spread across Mark's face and he silently pulled down his arms in a jabbing motion. "Yes!"

"I'll be right there, Bluestone out," he replied, before turning off the device. He then looked at a confused Brooklyn, and explained. "We figured that maybe there was a way around the communications block the Corporations put up through their listening post...that they still don't know we know about. Hopefully, we'll be able to get word out, and once the transmission is on its way, there's no way they can backtrack and stop it!"

* * * * * *

A hand slammed down on a control console, and the officer seated next to it jumped back. Mark sighed and lifted his fist. He and several other officers were in Station Control, where they had just attempted to send a message through the listening post...and failed.

"We can try again," suggested an officer, but Mark simply shook his head.

"They know we know that they exist now," he explained. "They'll keep watch now and intercept any message we try to send within a second."

Everyone in the room fell silent for a few seconds. A light began to beep on the communication officer's panel.

"Sir," he informed, "we're receiving a transmission...from Luna!"

"Play it!" Mark ordered tensely.

"Greetings," the reporter on the left, a tall slender man in his late thirties, began. "This is no doubt a shock to many of you, who are probably on Earth or Mars or another outpost wondering why you're receiving a news broadcast from Lunar Colony. You can be assured that it is no accident that we're transmitting this broadcast to every planet, moon, ship, station, and colony in the solar system."

The man paused for a moment, as someone off to the side whispered something to him, and the woman quickly took over. "...The reason we're going to such extreme lengths is to ensure that the important information we have can reach as many as possible. Up until now, you have all been dependant on Corporate propaganda. In response to those lies, we are here to tell you the truth. Contacts have revealed to us many startling realities that the Corporations will stop at nothing to keep under wraps. Everything about a 'Declaration of War' having been presented to Earth, the miners' supposed threat to secede, and their attack on F-Station, is false! These are nothing more than carefully orchestrated lies, told to you to keep the truth a secret. The truth we speak of, that which the Corporations have already killed to keep from getting out, is that the miners had actually allied themselves with F-Station, in a stand against unjust treatment by corrupt Corporate leaders. These same Corporate leaders are the ones who are currently influencing our own Earth government into letting this charade continue. Never were the miners' intentions hostile. At this very minute, F-Station is being kept behind a Corporate-imposed communications block, while the Corporations annihilate innocent miners. As we speak, the Corporate militias are brutally attacking, yes attacking, Mining Asteroids. The ship that arrived at Earth May 23rd was in fact an embassy, carrying a 'Declaration of Rights'! Rights which have been denied to-"

The transmission abruptly ended, and the communications officer reported, "That was all they managed to get out before the Corporations severed their transmission."

"I want that broadcast playing in a continuous loop on every viewscreen, monitor, and holo-emitter on the station in ten minutes!" Bluestone ordered. "Do it!"

The officer faced his control console and replied enthusiastically, "Yes sir."

"As soon as you're done with that," Mark continued, "I want you to try and open up a channel to the listening post. I feel like celebrating..."

* * * * * *

Day 45. June 11, 2230

Decorations lined the walls, large old-fashioned banners hung across the ceiling, colored lights drenched the floor in a multitude of brilliant hues, music emanated from loudspeakers, and every holo-emitter played the Luna Broadcast continuously non-stop. Nearly every man, woman and child was celebrating.

All of the best fruits and vegetables from the hydroponics garden had been used in preparing all kinds of delicacies. It was a banquet, a ball, and a celebration of the unknown future of things to come...all in one event.

"Good evening," Mark Bluestone announced cheerfully to the crowd. "Tonight, we've come together as a community. We've come together because we want to remember the good times we've all had, cherish the things that we hold dear to us now, and celebrate the unknown events that are to come. We do so with excitement, with joy, and with great hope. The Lunar Colony knows the truth about us. They know, and hopefully others do too. And if not, they will. We don't know what's come to pass since then, as all incoming transmission have been blocked off. We're now stuck in a two-way communications block. We're alone. But we're alone together." He paused for a moment, to organize his thoughts. Obviously, he hadn't written this down anywhere and was going from memory.

"Just this afternoon, we received a warning from the approaching Earth armada. They told us that they were coming. Actually, they threatened us. As to what will happen when they reach us, in less than two days time, I cannot speculate. But if we must, we can secede from Earth ourselves! We can make a stand, and refuse to surrender to an Earth armada who will not shoot us down for doing so as the Corporations would. We can refuse to return to Earth until our demands our met. Until they agree to release and pardon every last miner, and make the Corporations pay! This is when we'll end it all one way or the other.

We stand on the edge of chaos, ...and the twilight of a climax that will change the solar system forever. Enjoy yourselves. We're going to make the Corporations wish they never heard of the asteroid belt."

His exit was met with heated applause by everyone, a tidal wave of sound that echoed off the walls, filling the whole room. They cheered and they wept. The loudspeakers and holo-emitters were un-muted, and the party restarted.

Brooklyn, for the first time, had something new and flashy to wear. He and the kids soon found each other after arriving, as they always did. Brooklyn felt a little sad, but not wanting to put a damper on things, he greeted each of his friends with a hug and a warm smile. Jonas was there, as was Levinson and Mitchel. Even the security guard who had been caught in the explosion, was there. Brooklyn was surprised by how many faces he recognized, and even more so by how many of those faces recognized him.

There it was again, that strange sensation. It was as if he was late for something, but couldn't remember what.

He tried looking for Drac, Wraith, Sapphire, and Slash. They had migrated to the far side of the room and were laughing and carrying on. He hurried to them.

All four appeared shocked when Brooklyn suddenly stumbled out of the crowd before them. He tried looking for words. How would he phrase this?

He didn't get a chance. The Phoenix Fire engulfed him, trapped him and consumed him. Brooklyn disappeared.

Partygoers stared in shock. Mark Bluestone smiled.

Sapphire realized her father wasn't completely crazy after all. "Dad?" she said as he joined the kids. "Would you tell me some of those family stories again?"

"Sure, honey. Would you like me to start with The Timedancer?"

 

The End