Wednesday, May 6, 2015

25: Misdirection

Entry 025: Where Cor doubts the plan.

                It took all of Felix's strength to just take that next step in front of him.
                Cor walked next to him, looking around with heavy suspicion at the other beings passing by them on the street. He was antsy, on edge, but the stray sparks Felix expected didn't appear in his static field. He could only assume the braces Cor still had on underneath the long sleeves of his stolen uniform had something to do with that.
                Felix's balance failed him again, sending him sideways. Only Cor's hand on his elbow kept him from banging his already swimming head on the metal pole standing on the corner of the street.
                "Watch it kid," Cor muttered under his breath as they waited for the light to indicate it was safe to cross. "People're starin'."
                Felix nodded, but even that felt clumsy. They were on the edge of Terrace's only city, halfway between the mountain and the salt flats. D&S Industries was across town, but it was still too close for Felix's comfort.
                There were two red lights glaring at him from the opposite corner and Felix had to blink and rub his eyes to make the two images merge back into one. Cor thought he had a concussion. Felix thought he'd just hit his head too hard in that fight with the lab's security guard.
                Felix looked around, fighting with the too bright sun to try and discern where they were exactly. When he realized where they were headed, he tried to turn around but Cor's grip on his arm stopped him.
                "We're going to the wrong way," he mumbled, pulling at Cor's hand and nodding at the mountain behind them. That was a big mistake. He nearly sat down right then and there on the sidewalk as the world tilted at an unnatural twenty degree angle.
                "No we're not," Cor grumbled back. "We jus' came from there. Remember?"
                Felix paused, trying to think past the cotton fuzz enveloping his brain. The last thing he remembered was Cor shocking the snotty guard with his fancy pants Hybridian conductor-weapon. After that...
                Vague images came back to him that sharpened as he connected more and more dots. Right, after that they'd taken the skywalk to the neighboring building and stolen a security vehicle from the parking lot beneath it. Well, maybe stolen was too strong a word. They'd just flashed the snotty guy's badge at the machine that logged who had what vehicle and driven the six-wheeled monstrosity out the side gate. It was amazing what you could take when you had the right badge and uniforms really, even if they were technically stolen too...
                From there Felix had told Cor to find the main mountain road. Cor had complained, of course.
                "But there's nothin' up there," he kept saying as he navigated the alternating one-way streets that formed the city's inner maze. "Just scrub brush and rocks. Not e'en any caves to hide in."
                "We're not hiding up there," Felix had said, slouched over in his seat, head leaned back against a surprisingly comfy headrest. For a work vehicle they'd pulled out all the stops. "There should be a ranger's station somewhere near the base. That's what we want."
                Cor snorted. "What? We just gonna ask 'em where's the best place to hide out is?"
                Felix hadn't answered. He'd almost been asleep.
                Cor reached over and shook him upright. "Hey now!" His voice was too loud in Felix's ears. "Don' go fallin' asleep on me now kid. You've taken one blow to the head too many fer that. Just, stay awake and tell me what's goin' on in that head of yers."
                Felix hadn't wanted to. He hadn't slept well in weeks if Cor was right about how long they'd been trapped here and he was tired. But then Cor knew more about head wounds than he did...
                "We're going to need their supplies. The rangers should have-” what were they called again? "-emergency packs or something for when they go out...ranging or whatever. We need enough food and water to get us by for however long you think it'll take your friends to get here. And blankets. And a fire starter. And a long distance radio of some kind."
                "A'right, a'right," Cor took one hand off the wheel and gestured at him to stop talking. "I get it. We're goin' camping. Where?"
                Felix motioned vaguely behind him, not trusting his head enough to handle turning around. "Out there."
                Cor obviously had more questions, but by then the ranger's cabin had come into view. It sat just off the main mountain road, painted a burnt orange to better blend in with the striated landscape. The door and window shades however were dark green and easy to pick out against the yellowed cactus-like plants dotting the mountainside.
                He parked behind the open air parks service's vehicle outside the cabin. The two sat there for several minutes in silence, Cor anxiously drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. Even staring at the door, Felix could feel the concerned looks Cor kept shooting at him.
                "Well," he prodded when Felix did nothing but stare. "What's next?"
                "Um..." Felix tried to think past the white noise cluttering up his brain like cotton fuzz. Obviously Cor expected him to have an answer.
                Felix wasn't sure why. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "I didn't think I'd get this far."
                Cor was nice enough not to say that neither had he. At least not out loud. Instead he gave an aggravated sigh. "Jus' wait here. I'll handle this." Cor had grumbled before getting out of the car. He stopped and poked his head back in the cab. "And don't fall asleep while I'm gone!"
                Felix grunted. His head hurt too much to nod.
                Cor frowned as he straightened up and jerked his stolen uniform into order. "Had enough of this soft ballin'," Felix heard him mutter before he slammed the door shut behind him and made his way to the cabin.  Felix watched him for a few seconds as Cor pulled at his sleeves to make sure they covered all but the tips of his braces. In sunlight as harsh as Terrace's, the metal glinted even in the shade of the porch shadowing the only door.
                Cor knocked on the doorjamb with an amiable smile on his face just as one of the rangers stepped out. They exchanged a few words that Felix couldn't hear before the mechlan in the tan ranger's vest waved one of his overlong arms and loped off to the open air vehicle waiting just outside the cabin.
                Felix waited for the ranger to drive off before getting out of his own vehicle. It was harder than it should have been, but he didn't feel like he was about to pass out. Instead he just felt...trampled.
                "Guess I've gotten out of the habit of getting beat up," Felix thought as he came around the front of the six-wheeled rover and leaned against the driver's side. He let the hot light soak into his skin through his clothes and turned his face up towards the heat-seared
sky. It worked better than a heating pad to loosen tense muscles.
                Flashes of electric light flickered through the drawn window shades and he caught the faint whiff of ozone on the next gust of dry wind. "Oo," Felix cringed in sympathy, "he's going to feel that one tomorrow. Getting zapped by Cor's static field is like getting kicked by an electric mule." And he'd only been shocked on accident during a routine diagnostics check on the Helix 7. He couldn't imagine what it felt like now that Cor had on those brace-things to focus his field.
                "Although the words 'crispy fried' come to mind," he mumbled.
                He finally realized he was talking to himself and stopped with a slight shake of his head that ended with a groan. He reached up and rubbed at his closed eyes with a thumb and forefinger.
                The sound of the door opening and slamming closed made him look up. Cor was jogging towards him, a pack that stretched from his waist to the top of his head slung over one shoulder and another almost dragging on the ground at his side. He squinted down the road where the other ranger had driven off to make sure there were no witnesses.
                "Let's get outta here," Cor told him as he dropped both packs into the open bed at the back of the rover. Felix watched, confused, as Cor pulled at the driver's door only to jerk to a stop when it wouldn't open. "What the-” He frowned and pressed his nose against the window.
                "Dang it Felix!" he shouted, straightening up to glare at the young human. "You locked the keys in!"
                Felix blinked and turned around. He had?
                Oh, look at that. He had. The single key was sitting in the ignition where Cor had left it, foolishly thinking Felix would take it with him if he got out of the rover.
                Felix shook his head and quickly stopped as his brain sloshed around on what felt like an unstable liquid bed. "Doesn't matter. We're walking from here anyway."
                He reached down and pulled one of the packs out of the bed and, with effort, got his arms through the straps and shrugged it on. It was heavier than it looked, but the weight was expertly distributed. He could handle it.
                "Why?" Cor asked as he picked up his own pack. He kept his eyes on Felix though, concerned by his friend's pallor. Beneath the scruff he'd gathered since Cor had last seen the lad, he wasn't pale so much as yellow.
                Felix started back towards the city, ignoring Cor's scrutiny. Fortunately it was a short trek down the mountain. If they made a straight line through the western edge of the city, they should be there sometime after midnight. "There's a tracker in the dashboard." He finally remembered to tell Cor. "They'll find it in half an hour once they sort out the lab incident. I'm hoping they'll assume we went further up the mountain."
                He felt Cor squinting at his back. "And where will we actually be goin'?"
                "The salt flats."
                Cor stopped where he stood. "The-" he started only to stop as he ran to catch up with Felix. "Have you gone and lost your mind Felix? You do know suicide ain't a plan, right?"
                Felix slid a glare at him. "Very funny," he grumbled.
                "I'm not kiddin'!" Cor caught him by the am and brought him forcibly to a stop. "There's nuthin' out there. We go out there, we die."
                Felix took his arm back and adjusted the pack on his shoulders, not liking the way it made them ache. "That's what the supplies are for," he muttered.
                "These packs ain't enough to get us through that." Cor pointed an incriminating digit towards the inhospitable flats glaring white in the late afternoon sun. "And where we gonna hide out there, huh? There's no cover out there fer miles. All Kla's gonna have to do is look out a high enough window and go, 'Lookit there. Those two dots must be them,' and we're screwed!"
                Felix's head hurt too much for Cor's yelling. "Cor just-” he snapped, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand, "-trust me, okay?"
                Cor eyed him doubtfully, obviously uncertain about the state of his head, but he had stopped shouting anyway.
                Felix nodded, breathing out through his nose as some of the pressure eased out of his skull. He started walking again, Cor with him. "I watched this documentary when I was a kid," he started, not sure how else to explain, "The Seven Tribes of the Stars or something stupid like that. It was about these seven different tribes native to seven different planets that all shared an unlikely amount of similarities. You know; clothes, culture, creation stories. Things like that."
                "You were the life of the party when you were a tyke, weren't ya?" Cor grumbled, obviously hoping the point would come soon.
                Felix ignored him. "Well one of them lived on Terrace way back when, out in the flats because back then that's pretty much all there was. I just knew I remembered something about people living out there, but it took me this long to remember how they did it."
                "How then?" Cor asked as they slid down the last incline that separated the mountain from the paved road that marked the city's edge. "Did they make shelters out of dirt or...?" He couldn't think of anything else they could do to live out there, even if their anatomy had been built for desert living.
                Felix opened his mouth to answer, and then quickly shut it again as a group of desk workers passed them on the street. They were officially back in the city now, with all of its unknowing spies. He'd have to be careful what he said.
                Ducking his head, Felix crossed the street behind the office workers, Cor close behind him. His head was getting worse and his vision was shadowed and blurry around the edges, creating a disorientating tunnel. By the time they were halfway through the busy streets, he had nearly run into two lamps and five different species, all of which took offense at his rambling.
                The light they were waiting for finally turned green and Felix crossed, looking down at his feet rather than what was ahead of him. His head felt too full, but at least he remembered everything that had led them here. Now where were they going again...?
                "Canyons," he stammered, stumbling as he tried to raise his foot high enough to step onto the sidewalk.
                Cor shot him a look. "Maybe you should sit a bit kid..."
                He tried to shepherd Felix to an empty bench, but Felix pushed him back. "No. M'fine. Really-” He had to clamp his mouth shut to avoid being sick.
                "Scrap," Cor muttered and then shoved Felix onto the bench anyway. "Just- sit there and tell me what yer thinkin'."
                Felix sat there a long moment, trying to remember what he'd been talking about. "There are canyons out there," he remembered, casting a suspicious eye on the passerby, but none of them so much as looked at him. "Carved into the flats. It's an entirely different ecosystem down there."
                "Different enough to live in?" Cor asked.
                Felix gave the smallest nod humanly possible. "Yeah, the tribe that lived on Terrace carved villages into the cliffs. That's how they named the planet actually; the early researchers thought the cliff side villages resembled stone terraces. They're all abandoned now of course. Everyone knows they're there-”
                "That's no good," Cor grumbled.
                "-but everyone ignores them too. Getting out there is too much trouble and they don't serve a purpose nowadays anyway. Maybe if they had more tourists out this far, but..." He shrugged.
                Cor huffed through his nose. "But who'd want ta come out here anyway?"
                Felix's vision was returning to normal now, though his head still felt like it was about to split open. When he spoke again, he kept his voice low. "We can be at the closest one before dawn. We find a way down and camp out in one of those villages. It'll take them weeks to find us, and that's if they're lucky."
                "You mean if we're lucky."
                Felix ignored him as he propped his hands on his knees and pushed himself back to his feet. Cor jumped up after him, afraid he'd fall.
                He didn't and they crossed the final street and stepped into blinding sunlight. The sun was halfway across the horizon, its light at its fiercest as it fought to bake the planet for just a little bit longer. The sky was bright and beautiful around it, echoing the colors of the sparse landscape with its orange and yellow streaks. Before them, the salt flats stretched on forever, reaching straight to the distance horizon like a tan sea.
                "You'd better be right about this kid," Cor muttered as they stared at the flat expanse. "If we go into that and you're wrong-"
                "I know," Felix said not wanting him to finish that sentence. "But I'm not."
                Cor nodded slowly. For the first time Felix wondered just how old his friend was. Hybridian life spans were nearly twice that of an average human being, which would mean Cor was up there, even by their standards.
                "Old enough to get us through, sure," Felix thought in concern, "but too old to see it through? This trip hasn't exactly been easy on him. What if it's more than his old bones can handle?"
                The small thought actually made Felix chuckle. "Yeah right. So far the only one that's nearly gotten himself killed is me."
                "Right," Cor grunted as he settled the pack on his stocky shoulders, "well let's get this o'er with."
                Felix nodded and they set off, their shadows stretching long and dark before them like guides.

< Entry 24                                                                                                                                           Entry 26 >

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