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Topics - Lennis

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Fan Fiction / A novel fragment - Legacy of Fire
« on: April 14, 2024, 11:25:34 pm »
(This will be the last of the teaser chapters I'll be posting for awhile.  Hopefully, this will give everyone an idea of the direction I intend to take with this reimagining of the events of the year 2300.  Please enjoy and leave some feedback if you have any questions or thoughts.)

Chapter 26 - Legacy of Fire

“The ice is in the cup.  Time to get up,” Lucca said.

The eyelids of Mary Limova fluttered open from where she was resting inside the enertron.  “Oh?  You're done already?” the little girl asked.  “That seemed fast.”

“I told you it would take twenty minutes to complete the scan, and that's all it took.  Well, technically it took 22 minutes, but I don't think that makes a liar out of me.”

Mary smiled mischievously.  “I'd charge you for the extra two minutes, but Marle might stop giving me ice if she found out.  It's okay.”

Lucca gave a flourishing bow.  “Your generosity knows no bounds.  Mary the Munificent.  That's how my diary will immortalize you.”

“'Munificent'?  I don't know what that word means.”

“Tsk, tsk, Mary,” Lucca said, shaking her finger.  “You should study on the computers more.  Munificent means very generous.  That word goes with your name better.  That's why I used it.”

“There's so many different words!  I thought I knew every word I'd ever need to know as a Maker, but I guess I really don't.”

“You never know how useful words can be.  There are quite a few words I didn't know before I came to Bangor.  Since I learned them I've become a lot more useful to the enclave.  For you it might actually translate into money.”

“Which I would have to give away if I wanted to keep your name,” Mary countered.  “Saving money's better.”

Lucca and Mary both laughed.  For Lucca, that levity was worth more than all the credits little Mary could hope to save in this life.

“Okay, well, I think that does it for today,” Lucca said, reaching down to collect the gift, or rather the “payment”, Marle had left behind.  She handed the cup of ice water to Mary.  “Marle left plenty of ice this time so it wouldn't all melt before you were done.  I wish she would give me that much.”

“I still don't know how she does it,” Mary complained with a grimace.  “She told me she was using magic, but I think she was just making fun of me.  Magic's the stuff of fairy tales.”

“So I hear,” Lucca evaded.

Mary took a long swig from the cup of ice water and closed her eyes with pleasure.  Lucca marveled at how the simplest things could be turned into a priceless treasure under the right circumstances.

“Well, I better go,” the youthful Maker said.  “Marle always needs new crossbow bolts, and she lost three on her last run.  I should make as many as I can before she gets back.  Thanks, Lucca!”

Lucca waved goodbye as the youngest resident of the Bangor enclave scampered out of the private room at the back of Dormitory 7, a room that Lucca had converted into her own personal laboratory to carry out the assignment Director Doan had given her.  Her heart began beating faster involuntarily when Mary disappeared from sight.

Nineteen days had passed since Lucca had left her cousin's helmet behind in the Shrine of the Protector.  Seventeen had passed since Lucca had begun testing her desired focus group of enclave residents for a new set of fitness data, using her own criteria instead of the standard benchmark for annual screenings.  And eight had passed since she had started testing everyone again and refining her research further.  Mary's was the last scheduled test for the second set of data Lucca needed to make a definitive conclusion on what was causing the continual decline in the health of enertron users, and how badly that decline was accelerating.

Her heart already knew what that last test would show, barring a miracle.  Lucca put both hands over her sternum and tried to keep her breathing steady.  Keeping her anxiety hidden while speaking to Mary had taken every ounce of self-control she possessed, helped only marginally by the welcome banter and the young Maker's fine spirits.

Please let me be wrong, Lucca thought.  By Creation, let me be wrong this time!

Mary Limova and Amelia Evans were twelve years apart in age.  That, combined with the fact that Mary had put in much less capsule time over the course of her life on average than Amelia had, gave at least a sliver of hope that the worst case scenario could be averted.  An irony, seeing as it was that very age difference that had led Lucca down this dark road to begin with.  A single misplaced figure might open a window large enough for...

It was a forlorn hope.  The numbers gazed out of Lucca's computer screen coldly.

      *      *      *

It only took one stone.

The scavenging run had been going incredibly well up to this point.  Crono's full squad of nine men and three women, one of them Marle, had bagged no less than eighteen rats, sent six bold and unlucky glassers to the great beyond, and collected nearly 70,000 credits-worth of high quality steel scrap, about as much as the squad could carry without encumbering themselves beyond their ability to fight.  What had once been called the Geshar District of old Bangor turned out to be every bit as profitable as Director Doan predicted.  No scouting parties had been out this far in over twenty years, and it showed in the relative density of the rat population and how much of their collected scrap was obtained without the need for heavy cutters.  Easy.

Now everyone was reminded why it wasn't so easy to actually get to Geshar.

“Lights!” Crono cried.

There was no need to contemplate any other action.  Once the slightest sound was made in this section of the sewers, nine miles distant from the enclave, there was only one thing that could happen next.

The nereids didn't disappoint.  Three of them leaped out of the water far below as soon as the accidentally kicked piece of rubble splashed down.  The mutants landed on the upper level next to the party with a single bound and were immediately cut to pieces by plasma fire and a single well placed crossbow bolt thanks to Crono's quick command to go lights on.  Four more of the aquatic mutants leaped to the party's level about fifty feet behind them and rushed ahead with ravenous purpose.  Marle, Terrance, and Andrews opened up on the creatures as soon as the flashlights spied them, while everyone else smartly spread out on the platform to look for any more enemies attempting to flank their position.  Two nereids tried, and were suitably rewarded by lightning-quick strikes from Crono's sword and a couple of expert plasma hits from Menda's rifle.  Other squad members began firing into the dark.

“Ugh, I'd rather have my gums scraped than have to fight these fiends!” Menda remarked.

Crono called the fiends “nereids” after the aquatic Mystic tribe of the same name due to their remarkably similar appearance above the waistline.  They had smooth scaly bodies of ultramarine hue, webbed hands with five wickedly clawed fingers, and, very unlike a Mystic Nereid, potent muscular legs in place of a tail-fin.  The Protectors preferred calling them “A Pain”.  Encounters with nereids were always quick and brutal, and rarely without casualties due to their speed and propensity to attack all at once.  And, like other mutated creatures in this devastated future, they couldn't be spoken to or at all reasoned with.  Their hunger was absolute.  The only good thing about facing a mutant nereid was their inability to use the aquatic magic of their now ancient Mystic cousins.  No one had seen a true Mystic in centuries.

“Well, at least we didn't get their attention our first time through here,” Crono said.  “That would have ended our run right there.  We can fall back with a full load instead of going home with a pittance.”

“If we can break through to the Arcs checkpoint without getting swarmed,” Menda said grimly.  “We still got about ten blocks to go.”

“These slimy things aren't stopping us here!” Marle called out over her shoulder after she speared another target with her crossbow.  “This is the enclave's biggest haul in how many years?  We're bringing it back no matter what!”

The Arcs checkpoint, named after a giant apartment building that had collapsed nearby during the Day of Fire, represented the beginning of a sewer passage that scavenging parties never braved anymore due to the seeming throng of mutant fish-people that made this distant part of the sewer their home.  It was appropriately called “The Gauntlet”, and it extended about fifteen city blocks under the surface.  It was now the only way to get to the Geshar District of old Bangor due to impassable rubble on the surface.  Most every attempt to get through The Gauntlet in living memory had either ended in failure and retreat, or outright disaster and death.  More than a few priceless plasma weapons had joined their luckless owners at the bottom of the sewer never to be seen again, and the water's considerable depth here made a search and recovery impractical in the extreme even without a slew of nereids to deal with.  The loss of so much blood and treasure had convinced Director Doan to label the Arcs checkpoint a “red zone” boundary, much like the lethal radiation fields deep in the wastelands leading towards Quintadis.  Nobody passed into a red zone unless they desired a very quick and foolish end to their life.

That had changed with the coming of Crono and Marle to the enclave.  The last nineteen days had seen such a dramatic rise in the effectiveness of Protector scavenging runs under the two outsiders that Director Doan had finally performed a review of established scavenging boundaries and authorized an excursion into long-neglected Geshar, under the condition that Crono lead the squad himself.  Crono had become a Protector in all but name, and his skillful training of dozens of caste members in the ways of fighting (without ever touching a plasma weapon) had garnered him considerable respect and admiration from everyone.  Marle's enthusiastic support of Doan's decision only put an exclamation point on the matter.  Everyone had departed the enclave for today's run with high spirits.

Crono wasn't about to let them down, he resolved.

“What Marle said!  Group one, go to steel!  Group two, cover your zones!  Marle and Menda's the center.  Just like we practiced.  We go Bullseye for as long as we can and switch out as needed.  I'll call 'full guns' if things get tense.  Let's go!”

Marle and Menda quickly moved to the center of the group during the nereid respite and stood back-to-back, while the other ten members of the squad formed up into two five-pointed stars, with the first star taking a surrounding position from the center while the second star took a slightly wider position outside of the first, each member standing in staggered positions roughly six feet apart from one another.  The inner ring pointed their rifles outward in the direction each member was facing, covering the zones in between the members of the outer ring.  Crono took his place in the outer ring, and the other four members of his group quickly slung their plasma rifles behind their backs and drew their new swords.

The swords were crude even by the most generous definition of the term, the forged weapons of scrap metal being of a quality well below that of even a middle-ages blade since swordsmithing was a discipline completely unknown to the Makers, but they were good enough in the right circumstances, such as facing unarmored opponents who weren't employing opposing blades.  The swords were a necessary component in a formation Crono had developed to address a glaring weakness in the powerful plasma weapons of the enclave.  Plasma weapons could either fire multiple light bursts in quick succession with a single pull of the trigger, or they could be set to fire more powerful single shots like what Marle had unwittingly unleashed in her first Protectors trial.  In either case, the available energy for the weapon – which basically amounted to its ammunition supply – was very quickly exhausted.  The energy would reload, or rather “recharge”, according to Lucca's explanation, over a long period of time, with a component called the “capacitor” taking energy from the weapon's tiny but powerful battery and storing it in a way which could be employed safely by the weapon's user at need.  The recharging process was very slow, and the more energy that was expended during a fight, the longer the recharging process would take.  In a long drawn-out battle of any intensity, the typical result for a Protector squad was a party that could only fire intermittently or not at all near the end of the engagement.  Crono's observation was that squad members often wasted fire putting down the same opponents, which led to less energy being available to deal with later threats and leaving the whole squad defenseless.

“Bullseye” formation was Crono's answer to this problem.  The inner of the two rings were the primary attackers, each member using their plasma weapons freely against targets in their assigned zone, while the sword-armed members of the outer ring, standing to the sides and slightly in front of the shooters, covered them from opponents who got too close.  The “bullseye” of the formation were the two members who would reinforce the inner ring with layered fire in zones that got too hot, and these positions were reserved for the best marksmen of the squad so as to not risk hitting friendlies.  But the real point behind this formation, besides efficiency, was to prevent the squad's plasma weapons from getting too low in charge all at once, so when the shooter's ring began running low on energy it would switch out with the outer ring on command and draw its own swords while the original outer ring stepped back and brought its own guns to bear on the enemy.

The formation wasn't foolproof, as it was dependent on the bullseye not wasting too much of its own energy (or crossbow bolts) supporting everyone else, and Crono himself was useless in a shooter's position since he didn't employ a plasma weapon.  He didn't have the expertise to be anything but a liability shooting any type of gun.  But the tactic was still ideal for the situation Crono and his squad were now facing.

The Gauntlet was about as straight-forward of a path as any that existed under Bangor's ruins.  There was no danger of getting lost even with lights off, and now that there was no need to be stealthy, the squad could simply move ahead as quickly as they could manage while maintaining the bullseye formation.  They trotted ahead at a brisk pace, Menda and the inner ring shooters throwing their flashlight beams in all directions looking for targets.  Deep canals of dark water flanked either side of the upper-level platform leading to the Arcs checkpoint and relative safety.

The respite ended in seconds.

Azure bolts of light flew, and swords connected with scaly flesh as nereids leaped out of the water in staggered clusters and rushed the party.  It might have gone ill for the squad if the nereids had waited to attack as an organized group, but the mutants were more ravenous than they were intelligent, and the raging mob fell one after the other.  Crono's fellow swordsmen did a respectable job in performing the basic sword forms he had taught them over the past couple of weeks, and none received more than minor scratches or abrasions in return; superficial injuries that could be easily treated by enertrons back at the enclave.  The party traveled about four city blocks before the next assorted groups of nereids challenged the spelunkers of their sewer.

“Switch out, switch out!” Crono commanded.  “One, two, three, go!”

The two rings of the formation, save for Crono himself and Andrews who stood behind and to his left, switched positions and braced for the next wave.  Andrews immediately traded his rifle for Menda's, which had a higher remaining charge due to Menda's more measured and accurate fire.  The slaughter then began anew.

And a slaughter it was.  Wave after wave of mutant fish-men threw themselves at the party from all angles, including a couple who dared to attempt jumping into the middle of the squad and shattering the formation, which was the only intelligent thing they had tried to do thus far, but Marle and Menda put each of those enlightened fish down with a single shot in mid-air.  Terrance was nearly knocked into the drink by one of these falling bodies, but he quickly recovered and downed two nereids in front of him with searing sapphire fury before they could take advantage.  The party advanced three more city blocks as scales were slashed and burned beyond count.

“Switch out, switch out!” Crono commanded.  “One, two, three, go!”

The bullseye shifted once again, and the first group of shooters resumed their murderous business with slightly recharged rifles.  The original swordsman girded themselves to meet the next threat with cold steel.

More nereids kept coming.

The Gauntlet indeed, Crono thought darkly.  He himself had cut down at least eight of these blasted sewer fiends, and he had no idea how many Marle had skewered with her crossbow.  Ammunition would become an issue for her if this madness continued for much longer.  She couldn't very well recover her spent bolts in this run and gun situation.  More mutants fell.  Another block, maybe a block-and-a-half remained to the ladder leading up to the Arcs checkpoint.

A massed group of nereids then appeared out of the darkness directly in front of the party, at least fifteen, while the unmistakable splashing of more somewhere below and to either side of the platform promised the celebration of carnage about to ensue would be quickly joined.

It was too many for bullseye, Crono knew.  The front group was too strong, and they had to dispatch it quickly before the surrounding nereids joined in and ripped them all to pieces.  No need to conserve energy now.  Bullseye had managed to get them this far.

“Full guns, full guns!” Crono cried.  “Light 'em up!  Get to the checkpoint now!”

The sewers erupted with the sounds of full-scale war.  The bullseye formation broke with everyone firing on the run directly ahead.  Crono held back and saved his sword for the one fish-man who broke through and made to swipe viciously at Marle.  It went flying into the black canal to his right trailing blood.  Marle spared him a wink of gratitude as they all rushed for the ladder of the Arcs checkpoint.

“Terrance, Andrews, and Marle go first,” Crono ordered.  “Everyone but Menda and me follow them in alphabetical order.  I'm the last one out.  Get going!”

Crono's instincts took over as his squad climbed one by one out of the horrific Gauntlet.  He spun and twisted, utilizing the form of wind to slash and strike in all directions without focusing on any one vector.  Nereids practically ran into the blade as it blindly lashed out for scales to cut, but Crono maintained his balance while Menda's expert shooting kept the odds from becoming unmanageable.  Plasma fire was then heard from somewhere above the ladder, implying the arrival of glassers to join in the fun.  Crono could only hope that Marle and the others could deal with this latest threat while he focused on the more immediate one.  Adrenaline kept his arms moving, and his lungs burned from the exertion.

“Look!  More rats!” came Terrance's voice from above.

“I got those little thieves!” Marle replied with evident glee.  “Just keep the hourglass scum off me!”

When it was all over, six more rats had been added to the tally of loot, four more glassers had been added to the tally of kills, and no less than a hundred nereids wouldn't be harassing sewer travelers ever again.  And all without a single casualty in exchange.

It was the single greatest scavenging run in over fifty years.

      *      *      *

Crono, Marle, and their companions returned to the enclave in a celebratory mood, and their demeanor did not go unnoticed by the residents who awaited their return at the main entrance.  Several people ran off to inform their respective dormitories of how great the party's haul was today, and Crono suspected that many would be writing petitions via computer to Director Doan to request that some of the food in the granary be broken out to celebrate the momentous result of the run.  Not only did they bring a lot of treasure back to the enclave, but they had put down so many mutants in The Gauntlet that future excursions to the Geshar District of the ruins promised to be far less hazardous.  This would only be the first of several runs into Geshar in the coming weeks, most likely, and if they wouldn't be quite as profitable as today's run, they would surely be profitable enough to be worth the trip.  It was the happiest Crono had ever seen the enclave's citizens.

“We did so great today, Crono!” Marle said, beaming.  “And it was all because you were leading us!  The nereids didn't stand a chance against that formation!  I'll bet they're all cowering under the murk wondering what in Creation hit them!”

Crono shrugged and couldn't resist a silly grin.  “Those that are still alive.  We didn't leave many.”

“I guess you'd know better than anyone since you were the last one out of the sewer.  Seriously, if we keep having results like today's, we just might make Bangor safe enough that we could find somewhere to plant those seeds Director Doan keeps stored in the granary.  Wouldn't that be something?”

“Yeah, but mutants or not, the world's still in a drought that won't quit,” Crono pointed out.  “Starting an actual crop is going to remain a distant dream for awhile.  Best to not get too far ahead of ourselves.”

“Oh, no you don't!” Marle chided.  “I'm not letting a little thing like reality spoil my good mood today.  We can worry about that stuff tomorrow.  There's always a tomorrow, right?”

Crono nodded, feeling satisfied.  Thanks to them, the enclave would have a lot more tomorrows, or at least tomorrows a little more free of worry.

“Let's get to the armory and drop off our stuff,” Marle said.  “I'm sure everyone's waiting to take stock of our haul.  Then it's off to the lavatories.  A shower is going to feel so good after today I can already feel the spray on my face.”

“You and me both.”

Marle directed a mischievous smile at him.  “In the same shower?  Really?”

Crono looked at her with a start.  What did she say?

“I'm joking, silly!” Marle laughed.  “But you should have seen the look on your face just now!”

“Now that's just evil!” Crono chuckled with growing heat on his cheeks.  “Are you trying to turn me into a puddle of goo or something?  I'll have to get you back for that one.”

“Uh, oh.  I'm in trouble now.”  Marle's brittle poise degenerated into an endless titter.

It's almost like we're back at the Millennial Fair again, Crono reflected.  It had felt like such a long time ago, now.

The two shared heartfelt laughs all the way to the armory.  Several Protectors were there to congratulate the returning party and were waiting to inspect and put away their equipment.  The scavenged steel scrap and the collected rat corpses were laid out on the floor, and a few Makers were standing by to take the loot to their assigned stations to be processed.  One person was making use of one of the shooting lanes, firing a plasma pistol repeatedly at a distant glasser target on practice range power.  Crono did a double-take when he saw the bare legs, green shirt, and purple hair that belonged to the shooter.

Lucca?  What was she doing in the armory?  Lucca hadn't been in here, or much of anywhere except her laboratory, since the morning she had joined Crono and Marle for their very first scavenging run nearly three weeks ago.  Did that mean her research was finished, or that she was just taking a break?  It wasn't like her to stop an important job before it was finished, so Crono dismissed the latter thought almost at once.  What had Lucca found out about the enertrons?  Had she come to the armory to wait for Crono and Marle to get back from their scavenging run and just decided to have some target practice in the meantime?  The Protectors generally took a very dim view of outsiders using their weapons even in here, but her impassioned speech at the Shrine of the Protector gave her a certain amount of capital with the caste that she had apparently decided to make use of.

The bullseye was being hit repeatedly, and Crono raised his brows at the sight.  Lucca had landed a few hits against glassers during the second half of their run from three weeks ago, but the unique “ballistic” properties of her weapon had thrown off her aim enough to land only about one shot for every three pulls of the trigger.  Now she was hitting a much smaller target about four times in five.  It was a remarkable accomplishment from someone who said it would probably take months for her to break the habits she had developed from using her old gun.  Her proficiency was approaching that of a Protector.  Had she been secretly sneaking in practice time without Crono or Marle knowing?

The shots from Lucca began to slow, and she placed her weapon on the floor almost dismissively and picked up another identical pistol from a table next to her.  She started firing again immediately and seemed oblivious to everything around her, including a Protector who directed an unmistakably disapproving glare the moment Lucca switched weapons.  Crono then saw that five other presumably depleted plasma pistols were resting next to the one Lucca had just discarded, and there were three more pistols lying on the table she had just rearmed herself from.  Crono blanched.  On training power that represented a lot of shots.  To use that much energy she would have had to have been practicing at the same brisk pace since mid-morning.  Even a training fanatic like Assistant Director Morris didn't put that much time on the range.

“Hey, Lu, I think you've made your point,” Crono said with a chuckle as he strode up to her.  “How about you leave some imaginary glassers for the Protectors to shoot?  Or some pistols, for that matter?”

That Lucca didn't even crack a smile at that jab put a lump of ice in Crono's heart.  Something was very wrong.

“Oh, hey,” Lucca said in a near monotone.  “You guys were out for awhile.”

“And you've been in here for awhile, by all indications,” Crono countered, gesturing at all of the discarded plasma pistols on the floor.  “What's going on?”

Lucca shrugged.  “I'm done.  Obviously.”  She then fired a few more shots at her target.

“With your research?”

“Yeah, definitely.”  Ten out of ten on that set.

“Well, now that we're back...” Marle began with concern.

“I'm going to need a few minutes,” Lucca said flatly.  “How about you guys take a moment and put all these pistols back in their recharging stations for me?  I... need to collect my thoughts.”

Crono tried locking gazes with his childhood friend, but Lucca wouldn't even look at him.  She just stared straight ahead at her target and started firing again.  The stiffness of her expression was similar to her demeanor back at the Shrine of the Protector when she was arranging the skulls of Krawlie's many victims.  But this was different.  Lucca's behavior three weeks ago had been a screen to keep her emotions from boiling to the surface.  What she was showing right now was a full-blown wall of forged steel.  That meant Lucca was just barely holding herself together.  Somewhere behind those intently focused blue eyes was an inferno of searing rage, or a crushing river of despair, Crono couldn't tell which.

She looks lost, like her whole world is falling apart around her, Crono thought.  What could she have discovered in her research to put her in such a state?  It had to be about the enertrons.

Crono gestured at Marle to begin picking up the used and unused pistols, and the two busied themselves securing the weapons while Lucca continued firing on her target.  Her aim was beginning to waver, Crono noticed.  They completed their task quickly and then waited patiently by the chargers while Lucca finished “collecting her thoughts”.  The glasser target was scorched almost beyond recognition from the hundreds of plasma bolts that had struck it.  Lucca then abruptly ceased firing and brought the remaining pistol to the recharging station herself.

“All right,” Lucca said curtly.  “My lab, our old room, you know the drill.”

The three time-travelers left the armory, and Crono let Lucca take the lead in heading back to Dormitory 7.  He didn't want Lucca to see in his expression anything that could set her off or cause her to break down.  If that happened, it was better for it to happen in private.  Marle put her arm around Crono's the whole way there, looking extremely tense.

They sat silently in their old room, now Lucca's laboratory, for several long moments until Crono decided to break the quiet.

“It's bad, isn't it?”

“Well, it's certainly not good,” Lucca replied morosely.

“There is something wrong with the enertrons!” Marle said, leaning forward with purpose.  “You figured out what it is!”


Crono frowned in confusion.  Both at the answer and at the air of finality with which Lucca had stated it.  “No?  What do you mean, 'no'?  You didn't figure it out?”

“There's nothing wrong with the enertrons,” Lucca said simply.  “Nothing at all.  That's what my research found.  The enertrons are working exactly the way they were designed to.”  Her expression then turned very dark.  “That's the problem.”

The silence lingered for several seconds.  Crono and Marle looked at each other with bewilderment.

“You're going to have to explain that to us, Lu,” Crono said.

Lucca shrugged without humor.  “In a way, our bodies are already doing the explaining.  You know how we always feel hungry after using the enertron?  Our bodies are telling us something.  Normally, that sensation would indicate serious malnourishment or outright starvation, but there's a bit more to it than that.  It tells us that our energy producing organs aren't doing anything.  It's abnormal in the extreme for our stomachs, livers, kidneys and such to not have anything to do.  In the human body, energy production is a continual process that endures throughout our lives, as is the process that cleanses our bodies of impurities from what we ingest to fuel ourselves.  It is the foundation of health itself.”

“I follow you.  Go on.”

“What the enertrons are doing is replacing that foundation with something that is completely different.  Instead of providing nourishment to the body's energy production centers, which then transforms that nourishment into energy for the rest of the body, the enertron energizes all of our cells directly.  Our bodies don't actually have to do anything to keep us alive in terms of providing energy.  The enertron does it all.  In short, the enertrons keep us alive through an external process, while sustaining ourselves with regular food is an internal process.  That internal process is how our bodies were designed, or evolved, depending on how you view matters of Creation.  Going too far outside that norm for too long creates... side effects.

“With our energy production and purification centers having nothing to do, those organs get steadily weaker over time, even though the cells making up those organs are directly energized through the external process of the enertron.  Because the enertrons are so efficient in providing energy to the body, this degradation happens very slowly, but the effect is nonetheless cumulative, especially across multiple generations of people.  And if that cumulative degradation is allowed to continue for too long, eventually a breaking point is reached, and people's bodies begin to break down.

“Since the enertrons were designed to heal injuries as well as provide sustenance, the body's breakdown is mostly prevented, but this has the effect of making the enertron work harder to achieve the same result, and so the process that caused the organs' degradation in the first place is accelerated and made stronger.  This creates what I call an exponential feedback loop.  The weaker the body gets, the harder the enertron has to work, and the harder the enertron has to work, the weaker the body becomes through this very process, necessitating a still stronger external process of enervation to compensate.  The human body simply can't endure an exponential decline in its base health for very long, even with an external factor like the enertron keeping a person going.  Eventually things reach a point where a complete system collapse can't be prevented no matter how hard the enertron works, and the enertron user dies.”

Crono felt his blood run cold.  Was this the reason why enertron users always looked so gaunt?  Was this why everyone's health was continually declining over generations, as Lucca had first explained weeks ago?  And how far had that decline now progressed?

“Lucca, where would you say this 'exponential feedback loop' is right now?” Crono asked.  “How is it going to affect the enclave?”

Lucca turned away.

“Lucca, please tell us!” Marle pleaded, her voice beginning to crack.

“It's... in its final stage,” Lucca said without looking at them.  “It crossed that threshold over ten years ago.”

      *      *      *

Marle felt like her heart had been hit with a sledgehammer.  This couldn't be real.  It couldn't!

“The evidence lies with two people,” Lucca continued.  “Mary Limova and Amelia Evans.  Mary's the only child in the whole enclave.  In a community of 1,500 people that's statistically way out of proportion, especially considering that 70% of the enclave's population is of child-bearing age.  There should be dozens of children here.  Then there's Amelia.  At twenty-two, she's the next youngest resident, but she was actually the last child to be born in the Bangor enclave.  Mary was born in the Trann enclave and came here eight years ago.  Twenty-two years without anyone being born here?  That just can't happen.  So in the course of my research, I discovered why it did.  Everyone is infertile.  Men.  Women.  Everyone.  Even Amelia.  That's how I know the exponential feedback loop has reached its final stage.  Everyone's reproductive organs have shut down, and the damage is irreversible.  We are the only people who are still okay.”

Breaths came to Marle in fits and starts.  Irreversible.  Even if the three of them revealed their time-traveling origins and made it all the way back to the temporal gate with everyone, a goal she continued to harbor despite recent successes in the field, terrible damage had already been done.  No one would ever be able to have children!

“And... Mary?” she managed.

Lucca shook her head.  “Her, too.  If she hits child-bearing age, she'll be just as infertile as everyone else.”

Marle's breath caught, and she found herself coughing with denial.  Everyone!  All because of a stupid machine!  And what did Lucca mean by...?

If?” Marle asked unsteadily.  “What do you mean, 'if?'”

Lucca took a long deep breath and put her face into her hands for a moment.

“Marle,” Lucca said with a shaky tone.  “Everyone is dying.  They just don't know it yet.  It's an exponential decline.  Things will only get worse from here.  Before too much longer, people will begin displaying symptoms of illness that the enertrons will no longer be able to fully suppress.  Colds, fevers, respiratory diseases.  The body will no longer be able to fight these things off with or without the enertrons, and that will begin a fatal downward spiral.  It will be like dying of old age long before one's time.”

Marle slumped over and started shaking.  It was an unspeakable calamity, all of it!  How could this have been allowed to happen?  A strong and gentle arm wrapped itself around her shoulders, but Marle barely even noticed Crono's gesture.

“How long?” Crono asked.

“Assuming the rate of enertron usage remains constant?  Four years.  That's how long the enclave has.  As for Mary, if she stops using the enertron now and subsists on food from here on, she might live another six years.  Possibly seven.”

Tears freely came to Marle's eyes, and she wracked with bitter sobs.  Six years!  Little Mary would live only to be as old as Marle was now.  And when she finally did reach that exalted age, she would be both very sick and very alone, having only a music box to keep her company in an empty and lifeless enclave.  And would her food even hold out that long?  What if she had to go out and hunt for food by herself?  How long could she survive against glassers and nereids and who knew what other kinds of mutated freaks she might run into?

“What about the other enclaves?” Crono asked.  “Proto?  Trann?  Keepers?  Geno?  They're all so spread out though the world that this madness can't be affecting all of them, too, could it?”

“I'm afraid it is,” Lucca said soberly.  “Even without having recent health and demographic data on them, all of the enclaves use the same enertron technology as Bangor.  They always have.”

“And there's no way to fix it?  No way to... change the enertrons to reverse all this?”

Lucca shook her head.  “No one has ever been able to modify enertron tech successfully, and it is far too late for it to matter at this point.  The degradation of people's organs is too pronounced.  And before you ask, no, I'm not wrong about any of this.  I wish I were.  I've double and triple-checked my work too many times throughout my research for my conclusion to be off.  The sample size of Bangor residents was more than high enough to confirm the hypothesis, which would translate just as well to other enclaves.  And confirming Mary's data pretty much sealed everything.”  She sighed bitterly.  “Nothing we or anyone else can do will stop what's coming.  Nothing.”

“To blazes with that!” Marle barked viciously through her tears.  “There's nothing my magic won't fix if I concentrate hard enough!  I'll use it to heal every person in the world if I have to, even if it kills me!  All I have to do is reverse the damage one time, and then everyone can jump into these stupid enertrons again so they don't starve to death!  I don't care if I'm exposed as a magic user, I will not accept this!”

“Marle, that won't work!” Lucca said emphatically.  “I already considered your magic, and it won't have the desired effect.”

“How can you know that?” Marle challenged.

“Because it basically does the same thing an enertron does.  It energizes and restores people through an external process.  It won't do anything to solve the core problem.  Anything you do would be a short-term solution at best, and it's possible it might actually do more damage in the long-term.  It could accelerate the body's existing degradation of the organs to an even more lethal degree, possibly even killing the person you're trying to heal.”

Marle shuddered as her last hope plummeted into the abyss.  Every person.  Every enclave.  All of humanity.  Doomed.  All of their history.  All of their accomplishments.  All of their sacrifices and dreams for a better tomorrow.  Thousands upon thousands of years of memory.  What had it all been for?

She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs at the injustice of it all.  Lambast Creation for sending her to this place only to witness history's last gasp.  But all Marle could manage was a shivering whimper as she fell crying into Crono's arms.  He embraced her tenderly, stepping back to the wall and then letting them both slide to the hard floor.

“This can't be how the world ends...” she wept.

      *      *      *

There was nothing he could do.

Crono had barely moved a muscle in the hour since he had heard Lucca's tragic, and terminal, news.  Had barely braved a thought for what they would do next.  What could they do, really?  The fate facing the human enclave of Bangor was not something that could be stayed by sword, or magic, or ingenious fortitude.  Crono, Marle, and Lucca had given the best that their respective talents could deliver for the enclave in the short time they had been here.  It just wasn't enough.  Nor would it ever be.

Marle had finally fallen asleep in his arms in the exact same position she had fallen into them.  Crono could tell from her more relaxed breathing, but also from the heat that was slowly returning to Lucca's lab.  Marle's anguish had been so profound that the temperature in the room had dropped by a good thirty degrees without her intending to channel any magic, which was evidence enough that her elemental powers were directly connected to the sadness she was feeling.  It was probably a small miracle that she hadn't accidentally encased them all in giant ice cubes the way she had dispatched those nine glassers from a few weeks ago.  For her part, Lucca also appeared to be asleep, but Crono knew that she wasn't.  She was simply resting on her side inside one of the open enertrons turned away from where Crono could see, trying her best not to reveal any emotion that could potentially open the floodgates and leave her weeping the way she had ten years ago when Crono first met her.  Crono himself was also trying not to feel anything, and not entirely succeeding.  His thoughts were going back to his doomed father trapped in the mines of Lorian.  He couldn't do anything for him then, just as he couldn't do anything for the people of Bangor now, and through no fault of his own.  He gently stroked Marle's hair with his fingertips, willing himself to remember happier times and avoid the pit of despair that was yawning just on the other side of that emotional screen.

The door to Lucca's lab then suddenly slid open, breaking Crono out of his silent reflections, and he turned to see who the unexpected visitor was.  For a split second he struggled to think of some excuse to send the visitor away, not wanting to reveal why the three of them looked so despondent after working so hard on the enclave's behalf.  Then that thought evaporated into mist.  Standing just inside the door was Director Doan.  The look his wizened eyes gave him mingled complete understanding at what Crono was feeling along with a grimness of purpose.  Crono didn't even have to ask why he was here at this moment, unannounced.  The Director lightly touched the control on the wall and the door slid shut behind him, giving the room's now four occupants complete privacy.  Doan leaned on his cane with both hands, regarding them all.

“Frank!”  Lucca said from within the enertron capsule, turning to face him.  She looked pained and at a complete loss what to say.  She opened her mouth several times, but no more words were forthcoming.

“The expression on your innocent face tells the tale, Miss Lucca,” Doan said somberly.  “You know.  You now know.”

“And so did you, I'm guessing,” Crono said.  It wasn't an accusation.

Doan nodded.  “I have known the truth of the enertron situation for quite some time.  Data properly collected does not lie when looked at objectively.  There is no other conclusion you could have reached.  The enclave is dying.  They all are.”

“Why didn't you tell me?” Lucca asked him, sounding very tired.  “You knew this entire time.  You asked me to investigate the enertrons knowing what I would find.  You could have just told me, Frank.  I trust you completely.  I can accept unpleasant scientific conclusions, even if it's hard.”

“I am pleased to hear you say so, my young friend,” Doan said with a slight smile.  “I apologize if this manner of discovery caused you anguish.  Yours is a sadness I have experienced in my own fashion, at one time or another.  But there are some tales, some truths, that cannot be easily accepted just from the hearing.  You must experience and discover them through your own labors.  Now you have seen.  Now you know.”

Marle abruptly came to, hearing the voices in the room.  She looked at Doan looking like she would burst into tears again, but she had already cried herself dry.  “Director Doan!”

“Again, for Miss Marle's benefit, please accept my sincerest apologies for the manner in which the truth of our situation was revealed.  There was no other way.  It was important for you all to experience our enclave in your own ways, and then to know what fate awaits it should nothing change.”

Crono's brow furrowed at this last.  “Change?”

“Yes, given what you now know, the changing of the enclave's fate is a door that has been forever closed.  And it is indeed such for all those who have been cursed to be born in an era of ash and ruin.”  Doan then took on a very curious look.  “But not, perhaps, for those who have been born in a very different place.  And in a very different moment in time.”

Crono found himself gaping.  Could he possibly...?

Marle quickly scrambled to her feet and placed both of her hands over Doan's on his cane.  “Do you...?  Do you know about us?  About... where we're really from?  I mean...”  Marle looked at Lucca and Crono, looking very uncertain and conflicted.

Doan gave Marle's hand a grasp of apparent understanding.  “You have, all three of you, been on a very long journey.  A journey across space and time, over many more years than any human has yet lived.  A most remarkable tale I have known to be true almost from the first moment you set foot in our enclave.  You are time-travelers.”

It took a long time for any of them to find their voice, but Lucca finally broke the silence.  “How...?”

“The truth was not all that difficult to discern, Miss Lucca, once all the pieces of the puzzle were laid out.  One piece was your exceptional health, which is far in excess of what anyone in this era has known for centuries.  Then there is the matter of the route you took through the wastes to come here, a thing that would have been quite impossible for any human not born with exceptional gifts of the like not seen since before the Day of Fire; a gift that Miss Marle has in some abundance, by all accounts.  A third factor is your unaccountable ignorance of technical aspects known even to children of the enclaves, though Miss Lucca has overcome this deficiency with a speed I can only marvel at, such is her natural intellect and dedication to the path of reason and science.  I can say truthfully that you are the most gifted student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching over my many years.”

Lucca's blush would have made a rose weep.  “Uh... thanks,” she said.

“A fourth piece in this puzzle is simply my own due diligence,” Doan continued.  “You may recall me saying that I make it my business to know everything that happens in this enclave.  I have many eyes and ears of a sort which you would not be familiar with.  There is little you have said that has not come to my ears.  I know of your philosophical disagreements on the subject of time-travel, for example.  A deep matter which is well beyond the scope of your worldly experience, but approached with great empathy and logic that is admirable for people of your age.  Allow me to say that Miss Marle and Miss Lucca are both correct in their approach to this problem from their own point of view, but the matter is, of course, a moot one now, given your fullness of understanding.  Our coming to your era would not change our fate.  It would only serve to undermine yours.”

Crono started.  “You've been... spying on us?”

“It is not a thing I take pleasure in, I assure you, but you must understand my position.  The conclusions I reached early on the subject of your origins are not outside the scope of what others may also conclude, my own surveillance notwithstanding.  It was a matter I had to monitor very carefully to ensure no undue chaos came about in the enclave through your presence and actions.  The enclave as it stands has several years of life remaining to it, and I would not see those years squandered on useless strife.  Through my efforts I can say that no such damage has occurred, and that no one outside of this room has yet guessed entirely the truth of your origins.

“Getting back to the matter of my own knowledge, my surveillance was not even strictly necessary to know the truth of your time-traveling origins.  The fifth puzzle piece to appear was in fact the very first, and one that long preceded your own arrival.  You see, you three are not the first to have visited this era originating from another.”

Crono's astonishment was absolute, and Marle and Lucca regarded Director Doan with open mouths.  “What?!”

“Some other time-traveler came to this era before us?!” Lucca exclaimed.  “Who?  How do you know this?”

Doan's eyes twinkled.  “Ah, that is a matter the fullness of which would take many days to explain, but I can relate the tale in a more abbreviated fashion that will answer your question well enough.  I was not always so well versed in the matters of contemporary science.  I was far from a stupid man even in my youth, but my knowledge came to blossom more fully following one singular moment, with the arrival of one man from the temporal ether over forty years ago.  His name was Belthazar.  And through his understanding, I, Frank Doan, became his apprentice.

“He was a man who possessed a great intelligence, not unlike what Miss Lucca is blessed to have, though without the many years of Belthazar's experience.  He was already old at the time of his coming.  Through his experience I learned much.  And in exchange for his teachings, I resolved to assist him in achieving his greatest wish.”

All was silent at Doan's pause.

“What was his wish?” Marle asked after a few beats.

“The same as yours, Miss Marle,” the Director replied.  “He wished to return home.  You see, Belthazar did not come here through his own free will.  He came to this era of ruin through a cruel twist of fate that he didn't consider in his darkest thoughts, or so he told me.  He knew of time-travel in theory, but had never exercised it himself, nor did he know how to do so through the knowledge he possessed.  Belthazar would spend many years searching for an answer, and in the fullness of time he resolved to build himself a vessel capable of breaking the temporal divide.  He called it the Epoch.  He and I began constructing it together, using whatever resources we could find to make this great machine work.”

This was the answer! Crono thought excitedly.  The way home was essentially right under their noses the entire time they had been in Bangor.  Except...

“But... you didn't finish it, did you?” Lucca said right as Crono's elation deflated at what hadn't been said, and what had.

“We did not,” Doan said with a tone of genuine regret.  “Fate is a cruel mistress.  Events transpired that were not anticipated.  We accomplished much, yet not nearly enough.  And then Belthazar ran out of time.  He passed on, leaving me to continue the great work without his guidance.  The task proved impossible.  To my everlasting regret, I sealed our old workshop and then made my way to the Arris enclave to share the knowledge I had gained through my apprenticeship with Belthazar.  I wished only to benefit the cause of humanity as well as I was able, though I kept Belthazar's origins and our work on time-travel a closely guarded secret.  Sadly, my work in Arris proved to be all too brief.”

“You're talking about the rebellion of the robots, aren't you?” Lucca said, looking even more morose than Doan in the relating of his tale.  “They started malfunctioning and killing everybody.”

Doan nodded.  “A most unfortunate turn of events in an age where humanity had already lost so much.  It was thought the robots would be key to rebuilding civilization to the way it had been before the Day of Fire.  Instead they had to be purged to salvage what little remained to us.  Through the benefit of my expanded knowledge through Belthazar's teachings, I found a way to disable most of the robots in Arris, though far too late to save the residents of the enclave.  I believe you know this part of my tale already.  I then came to Bangor and was appointed Director not long after, again through benefit of Belthazar.  I must say my motives in this whole affair were not always altruistic.  I wanted more than anything to complete the Epoch and then travel with Belthazar to his time of origin; a time far far before ours, and a place of unaccountable wonders to hear him tell of it.”

Marle could hardly keep herself still.  “Before this time?  Before the Day of Fire?  Before the nuclear war, even?  He couldn't have been talking about Guardia, if he was half as knowledgeable as you say.  You don't mean...  Is it Zeal?  The empire of Zeal?  That was where Belthazar was from?”

“I cannot say.  He resolved never to speak of his home in its entirety until he was able to return.  I know little of the ancient lore as it was recorded before the coming of the Fire.  He might have been referring to Zeal, or perhaps somewhere completely different.  Human civilization is far older than any of us suspect.  There may have been a civilization before Zeal, even, wondrous as that is to contemplate.  Alas, I must again reiterate, it is a moot point.  All of humanity's history has now come to this present moment of ash and inescapable decline to oblivion.  The only ones who yet live who can escape this fate are the three of you.  Belthazar never accomplished his dream.  Perhaps you could do what he could not.  Your means of coming to this time were not the same as my old mentor's, unless I miss my guess.”

Lucca stepped up next to Doan, seemingly bubbling with the desire to relate their own tale, now that there was no more reason to hide it.  “I don't know what happened with this Belthazar,” she said eagerly.  “But I know what happened with us.  We came across time travel completely by accident.  There are these 'gates' that connect different points of space-time.  I then developed a way to harness the latent energy of these gates and travel back and forth to wherever the gates led.  I didn't have to create a giant machine to do that, just something not much bigger than your standard pistol.  I call it a 'Chrono Trigger'.  The problem is that it needs an existing gate in order to work, and we have only found two of those.  The one that brought us here is now buried under several hundred tons of collapsed rubble on the other side of Quintadis, and we wandered our way towards Bangor in hopes of getting help to clear out all the debris.  If we could just accomplish that, we could return to our own time no problem, assuming the underground room the gate's found in hasn't been completely destroyed.”

Director Doan considered Lucca's information at great length, gazing at the floor in front of his cane.  “I think your return to this 'gate' that you arrived from is perhaps too great an errand.  Miss Marle's strange talents were barely enough to get you across the wastes.  To send a party large enough to be of any aid would extend Marle's burden far beyond her capacity to endure, I fear.  Given enough time the enclave could perhaps arrive at a workable alternative, but this would be the work of many months at the very least, or perhaps years.  And you all must consider Miss Lucca's warning about exposing the miracle of time travel to those without hope, and who cannot survive long in any event.  The enclave would tear itself apart seeking to gain this false hope, and many would throw their lives away to no purpose in the pursuit of it, bringing all to despair before their time.”

Crono was feeling despair begin to well up in him again.  Knowing the eventual fate of the enclave and everyone in it was bad enough, but now he had to contend with the possibility that Marle, Lucca, and himself might be equally doomed.  He had feared that digging their way back into the ZDF facility where the gate was found might be too hard even for the enclave to manage, and now he knew it was so.  What could they do if the only known way back home was closed to them for good?

“The Epoch,”  Crono said.  “You spoke about building a time-machine called the Epoch to get Belthazar back to his own time.  Maybe...  Well, with you and Lucca working together, maybe it's possible...?”

“While I have the utmost respect for Miss Lucca's talents, her knowledge of the necessary skills would be no greater than mine, and my skill is far less than what Belthazar enjoyed.  Such an errand would be almost as useless as journeying past Quintadis to carry off fallen stone and metal, and I would have to leave the enclave for an extended period to even entertain the notion of success.  As things stand, I cannot in good conscience abandon the enclave for a task that is almost certain to fail in any event, and just getting to the old workshop is no small matter, as it is quite far from Bangor.”

“Then... what can we possibly do?” Marle asked, wilting at their increasingly grim fortunes.

“I cannot tell you that,” Doan said after a moment's consideration.  “But in my experience, fate often leaves an alternative that can be discerned if one is perceptive enough.  If only it were so with the enertrons!  There may yet be a way for you.  Miss Lucca has demonstrated enough knowledge on the operation of our computer systems that I can grant a privilege that is afforded to very few.  On the lowest level of this enclave is a chamber in which our most advanced computer systems, dating from before the Day of Fire, are housed, along with our most sensitive data.  There may be information there that will be of aid to you, perhaps a means of finding another of these 'gates' you speak of.  It may be too much to hope, but that is as much as I can do for you now.  Go to the classified archive with my blessing.  I will make arrangements to have the guards allow you entry and then leave you to privacy.  My own 'eyes and ears' that I mentioned earlier tracking your conversations are not present in that place.  None will know what you say or do.  On this you have my word.”

The classified archive, Crono mused.  It didn't sound like that promising of a lead, but they really had no other options.

“You're not coming with us?” Lucca asked.  “I'd feel a bit more comfortable if you were there, since there aren't really any secrets between us now.  You might find something we don't.”

“This is a task for the three of you alone,” Doan insisted.  “My fate in this place is sealed.  Yours is not.  The choice on how to proceed must therefore be yours.  It is rare, but the young sometimes make wiser decisions than the old, and ours is a world that has suffered through many mistakes on account of ones who should have known better than to make them.  Be the change you want to see, and perhaps hidden doors will reveal themselves at the appointed hour.  I can say little else.  Treat yourselves to a pack of food rations, I will also make those arrangements, and then come to the archive when you are reasonably rested.  I will leave you to your business, then.”

Director Doan then hit the switch on the wall opening the sliding door and exited the makeshift lab, leaving everyone to ponder all that had been said.  It was all so much more than any of them had expected.  Another time-traveler!  An unfinished machine that could apparently travel through time, and without benefit of an existing temporal gate!  Neither of those revelations really mattered to them at this moment though, so Crono elected to focus on the present.  Thoughts of the past were too painful to contemplate right now.  Maybe thoughts of the future could be braved after learning what they could from the classified archive.

“Well,” Lucca said after a long silence.  “Anyone hungry?”

      *      *      *

Marle felt vaguely unclean as she took another ravenous bite out of the strip of rat-meat jerky, and found herself wanting more and more of it despite it being one of the most limited and precious resources the enclave had.  The price was far too steep, knowing what she now knew of the enclave's inevitable fate.  She wanted nothing more than to give it all to Mary right now and give the little girl some extra days on her tragically short expected lifespan, but doing that would invite hard questions from the inquisitive ten-year-old, and Marle couldn't trust herself not to break down when that happened.  In this situation ignorance was bliss.  Mary couldn't be allowed to find out the truth.  No child should have to live with the burden that they wouldn't live to see their seventeenth birthday.  Marle couldn't really live with it either, and she wasn't even dying.

She took another bite, then another, Marle's hands seemingly moving on their own without any conscious thought to devour everything in front of her.  If her mind felt unclean, her body was simply desperate.  She hadn't had any real food in weeks, and she couldn't honestly say if this stuff even tasted good.  Objectivity regarding cuisine was wholly impossible when your body thought it was starving.

“Can we stop doing this, somehow?” Marle asked her dinner companions.  “This really isn't right, but my willpower has taken a nap.”

“Just let it happen, Marle,” Crono told her.  “Getting these rations is the highest possible vote of confidence from Director Doan.  He wouldn't want you to squander this, and I think we're going to need to be strong to deal with what's coming.  Call it a hunch, but there may be more in this computer archive than a possible way for us to get home.  There are things in it that hardly anyone ever gets to see.  There has to be a reason for that.”

“It's the Day of Fire,” Lucca said between bites of her own jerky.  “Everything known about it is apparently stored in those computers, and you know how taboo it is to talk about.  Whatever we find on that, if we care to look, we're going to have to keep to ourselves so we don't upset people.  Might be better if most folks never found out Frank even allowed us in there, to be honest.”

“Or in here,” Marle remarked, gesturing at their surroundings.  They were all in the granary, sitting on the floor of the freezing cold room with beige garments of the enclave worn over their regular clothes to keep warm.  Two dozen strips of rat jerky of varying size were spread out in front of them; a veritable feast.  A single Protector regarded the time-travelers silently from across the room, far enough distant that Marle couldn't make out his expression, but he had been given orders to let the three of them eat a full pack of rations in relative privacy, and he had allowed them to without any audible complaint.  Whether the man would tell anyone else of this unexpected indulgence later was an open question.  They were no doubt spending a lot of the capital they had earned over the past three weeks.  Many more days-worth of scavenging runs that actually bagged rats already lay arrayed before them.

“We'll be all right,” Crono said.  “We've been circumspect enough to avoid real trouble since coming here.  It's just Doan we couldn't fool.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Lucca said ruefully.  “Not that we should really be surprised.  We've all been in his office, and we saw those real-time images displayed on the computer monitors on his wall.  Never occurred to me to think our room in the dormitory was being monitored the same way.”  She sighed.  “Another painfully obvious thing I missed while focusing on other matters.  You'd think I'd learn.”

“Don't beat yourself up over it.  Being this Belthazar guy's apprentice he probably would have figured it out anyway.  And it's just as well.  At least this way we're making some progress.  At least I hope it's progress.”

Marle slumped.  “To save ourselves, maybe.  I really wanted to help.  I wanted to... make a difference here.”

Crono put a hand on her shoulder.  “We have.  It's not what we wanted, I know, but we made our mark.  We conquered the infamous Gauntlet.  With a whole new area of the surface ruins to scavenge, the Protectors will replace everything we're eating here before you know it.  They can do that with or without us.  They're a lot better than they were three weeks ago.  We gave them hope for the future.”

Without giving them one, Marle thought.  Hope was well and good, but what was that worth when people started dying all around you and there were no children – or precious few – to carry on your legacy?  The Day of Fire.  Everything had changed for humanity on that day.  Yes, the generation preceding the era of the domes had made terrible mistakes, but their successors had redeemed humanity with their vision and industriousness.  What had reduced their dream of peace to ash?  Marle resolved to know the answer to this question before she gave any serious thought to returning home.

A dream of peace.  A thought born from the heart that came to reside in the mind to create something real.  Marle had had many such heart-born thoughts in her life.  On occasion those thoughts transcended hope and became reality.  Trivial, almost all of them, even her wish to go to the Millennial Fair, since she had only really been thinking about herself.  Now, a thought was conceived in her heart that was anything but trivial.  Something dangerous.  Something that her mind might reject once it was fully examined, and she hesitated to look at this thought at all, but Marle couldn't deny that something had been born.  What was it?  What had Cedric Guardia been thinking when the grand ambition of uniting the fractious human countries of North Zenan and South Zenan into a single kingdom blossomed in his heart?  Was ambition always like this?  How many grand ambitions never came to fruition simply because the mind wouldn't accept the heart?  How many dreams had died in the womb?

I wish... we could just change it.

Marle turned away from the memory.  It was too soon.  She dared not look.

A few more minutes were spent gobbling up dried rat, then when Marle was reasonably sure she had eaten enough, she placed both hands on her tummy and channeled to fight off the beginnings of a stomach-ache.  Her body had become unaccustomed to food, after all.  Then the nausea was banished and she came to her feet and surreptitiously did the same with Crono and Lucca, who seemed to be suffering similar pains and trying not to show it.  The guard on the other side of the granary said nothing.

“Come on, guys.  There's no time like the present,” Marle said with renewed vigor, stowing a portion of their allotted feast into her belt satchel.  “We can take the rest of these rations with us and snack on them in the archive if we get hungry again.”

“Eat inside the archive?” Lucca asked with a frown.  “Not that they need to enforce it much, but there are strict rules about eating or drinking anywhere close to a computer.  Or were you nodding off when Amelia told us that?”

“Oh, who cares about her?  She's never allowed in the classified archive, anyway.  Besides, I'm sure you can fix anything that gets messed up in there.”

Lucca glared.  “I'd rather not have to.”

“Don't worry about it,” Crono chuckled.  “I think we're good for a few hours.  Let's go see what that archive has to show us.”

Fan Fiction / A novel fragment - The Maker of Bangor
« on: April 10, 2024, 04:38:27 am »
Chapter 24 - The Maker of Bangor

It was official.  Nothing Marle did surprised her anymore.

That was what Lucca would write in the dwindling pages of her diary sometime tonight, and in bold lettering despite the limited space.  After six days of making a general nuisance of herself in the Bangor enclave, and with Lucca in particular, the former Princess of Guardia had publicly – and loudly - declared her intention to join the enclave as a full citizen.

And as a member of the Protector-caste, no less.

“What?  You think I'd do better as as an Operator or a Maker?” Marle asked her.

“I'm not even going to honor that with a response,” Lucca replied, trying not to sound snide.

“Thought you'd agree.  So what are you worried about?  This can only help us, you know?”

Lucca, Marle, and Crono were walking side-by-side down one of the main corridors of the Bangor underground towards the enclave's central armory, where dozens of beige-clad Protector-caste citizens were assembling for the unexpected ceremony that had been announced two hours ago.  More than a few enclave residents were giving Marle a dubious look as they made their way past.

“I know I said there wasn't any rush in going back to Krawlie's lair,” Lucca said.  “That doesn't mean I intend to make this my permanent residence.  Just long enough to figure out how to get us home without messing things up.”

“Marle, I'm not sure you understand what a big step this is,” Crono said.  “Full citizens are expected to carry their weight and give their all for the survival of the enclave.  I've been awake long enough to tell you that much.  An oath of citizenship isn't something you can easily walk away from.”

“These people need our help,” Marle said more seriously.  “And if we can't tell them everything about us, we need to make up for it in other ways.  Using our best talents to help them survive.  For me, you know what that means.”  She hefted her crossbow for emphasis.

“You do know that plasma rifles are an entirely different animal from that thing?” Lucca pointed out.  “Using one might not be as easy as you think.”

“What's hard about pointing and shooting?  I've been doing that my whole life!  Ranged weapons might change over time, but the discipline of marksmanship doesn't.  No problem.”

“I used to think the same thing about swordsmanship,” Crono cautioned.  “It's not that simple.  There have been many different sword types developed over the years, and each of them require their own technique to wield effectively.  And even if you only specialize in one, you have to adjust your technique to deal with whatever weapon your opponent is wielding, too.  Switching to an unfamiliar weapon always presents dangers, even if you've mastered another.”

“Oh, come on, Crono!  It's not like people are going to be shooting at me during the trial.  Nothing the Protectors shoot at ever shoots back, so it's just a question of hitting things before they get close enough to hurt you.  I can't imagine this trial of theirs could be more involved than dealing with GATO at the Millennial Fair.”  Marle shrugged confidently.  “It'll be easy.”

Lucca scowled.  In three years, no crossbow wielder had ever gotten a perfect score challenging GATO, and Marle had done it from the top of the stands.  Shameless show-off.  “The first thing I'll do when I get home is make a new program card for GATO that'll take your ego down a peg,” Lucca said.  “Don't think that I can't.”

“I look forward to it,” Marle said with a playful wink.

The three time-travelers came to a large storeroom that the enclave residents had long ago converted into an armory and shooting range, and the two men standing guard – each holding well cared for plasma rifles across their chests - let them pass.  Nearly a hundred Protectors and curious citizens from other castes were already present, sitting on makeshift chairs or leaning against the walls as space permitted.  None of the people Lucca recognized as Protectors, she noticed, looked all that pleased to be here.

Like they have anything better to do, Lucca mused.  The Protectors were by far the smallest of the three castes, and most of them often found themselves with a surplus of free time despite their numbers.  Partly that was because of the limited number of weapons available.  Not a one of Bangor's rifles or pistols was less than 300 years old, and their sophisticated components were notoriously hard to duplicate with the materials the enclave had, resulting in a stockpile that was frequently traded out to avoid unwelcome maintenance issues from piling up.  But the food supply was also an issue.  There were only so many rats to be hunted at any one time before their numbers were exhausted, and sending people out with little prospect of getting a kill only put them at risk of being ambushed by glassers (or “mutants”, as the enclave residents called them) out of the shadows.  There simply wasn't a need for that many Protectors.  Likely, the enclave's defenders were only lamenting the fact that one of the most annoying people to ever visit their domain was about to join their ranks.  Marle's reputation for bugging people and asking them for help operating pretty much anything electronic didn't make her very popular, and her frequent locking of horns with Amelia Evans over reg violations was a subject of continual gossip among the residents.

A burly looking man with dark skin and a scraggly beard of peppered silver then stepped into view and rapped on a nearby metal shelf with a much abused pan to get everyone's attention.  Burly was perhaps too strong a word, as everyone who sustained themselves via enertron developed a uniformly gaunt appearance, as if perpetually on the brink of starvation, but the man's eyes were uncommonly focused and his posture was ramrod straight.  Lucca recognized him as Assistant Director Stephan Morris, leader of the Bangor underground's Protector-caste, and the enclave's overall fourth in command.

“I'll get straight to it, people,” the gruff Assistant Director said without preamble.  “A new soul wishes to join the ranks of our community today.  A soul of the forgotten wastes whose aimless wandering brought her to be among us through providence.”

A few snickers echoed through the crowd at that last word, but they were quickly silenced by a glare from Morris.  Lucca knew he was just reciting the age-old proclamation for the sake of appearances.  Any outsider who sought to join the enclave as a full citizen was a “soul of the forgotten wastes”, and someone to be cherished as if delivered through providence.  Lucca wondered if there had ever been a time when these words were uttered with a similar lack of sincerity.

“Given a choice between the three great castes of our community, this young woman desires the role of Protector.”  He then turned to where Marle was standing.  “Is this what your heart desires?”

“It is,” Marle said clearly enough for all to hear.

Assistant Director Morris nodded solemnly, and his gaze took on a harder edge.  “Is it, truly?  The life of a Protector is one without ease.  One which you may be called upon to freely give in the defense of our community.  To be sent into danger at a moment's notice without question.  To fulfill your duty and the orders of your superiors at all costs.”  Morris said all of this with growing volume and stepped closer to Marle with each statement.  His formality had been completely dropped now, and the Assistant Director looked almost angry.  “This is not a game, young lady!  I have watched people die!  Friends!  A single careless moment or delayed action can get you ripped apart!  The freaks of nature that infest our once great city do not think!  They do not feel!  They are completely and utterly without mercy!  And they never stop.  There are always more.  The ruins ever belong to them and the rats on which they feed.  So I ask you again: Is this... what your heart... desires?”

It was to Marle's eternal credit that she didn't blanch at the verbal drubbing she was being subjected to.  Lucca couldn't honestly say if she could have done the same, especially knowing too well the truth of the AD's words.  But maybe it was because Marle had developed a sort of immunity to such things.  Being the daughter of King Malcolm probably helped a lot, as by all accounts the reigning monarch of Guardia from 1300 years ago was no less hard or demanding than the man she was facing now.

“I've dealt with those 'freaks of nature' before,” Marle told her interrogator evenly, their faces almost touching.  “They were rather... frozen by what I could do to them.  I only need a new weapon to continue the fight.  Give me one, and I'll show you what I can do.”

A wicked grin spread across Assistant Director Morris' features.  “So let the trial begin.  But first, prove to us that you have the vigor and vitality of a Protector.  Only then will we allow you to wield the arms of Bangor.


      *      *      *

Marle found herself suddenly paralyzed by the barked command.  A command louder than any her own father had given her in her former life.  Drop and give him what?

Push-ups!” Crono and Lucca said in unison.

Are you serious? Marle thought with dismay.  What did this have to do with marksmanship?  All she needed was a weapon, for Creation's sake!

Still, her body responded almost immediately once she finally understood what was asked of her, and she fell to the floor and began unsteadily pushing her body upward from a face down position.  Over and over and... over.  Her face colored noticeably, but more from embarrassment than from the exertion.  Her ponytail fell backwards across her face as she moved, and the golden bracelets around her arms shifted and slipped down to her wrists where they inevitably got in the way of her repetitive task.  The Star of Guardia around Marle's neck clanked on the concrete floor every time she let gravity take hold.  If she knew she would have to do something like this, she'd have left her jewelry with Crono and Lucca.  What a disgrace!


Marle gasped.  “But I'm not...”  She was sure she had only counted to thirty.



Marle nearly missed catching the well-polished rifle Assistant Director Morris abruptly tossed to her.  She fumbled with the unfamiliar firearm.  It was the first time she had so much as touched a plasma rifle, and it was a lot heavier than she thought.  Or maybe it was just because her arms were so tired.  Laughter began to ensue from a few of the spectators.


A crudely painted target depicting the image of a red-skinned glasser mutant suddenly appeared in Marle's peripheral vision, and she turned to face the far wall where it had popped up.  The distance was about seventy-five feet, a shot that Marle could bullseye half asleep any day of the week with her crossbow, and she pulled the trigger after an uncomfortable moment steadying the barrel.  She had never fired a rifle before.  There was nowhere in Guardia Castle she could have practiced with something so loud without the Royal Guard immediately taking notice and alerting her father to her activities.  Malcolm would have certainly locked her up for months if she'd tried.  Still, it was just point and shoot.  Nothing could be more simple.

Nothing happened.


“Safety?!  Huh?!”

More laughter echoed through the armory, and Marle found herself beginning to panic.  Why wouldn't the stupid thing fire?  It wasn't like those crazy computers with hundreds of buttons that you needed to know calculus to decipher.  In fact, the weapon had four buttons along with the trigger, she finally noticed, and something that looked like a dial on the left side of the forestock.  That was five controls too many for something with such a simple function.  What kind of sadist would design something like...




Marle hit the weapon's controls at random and spun the forestock dial before lining up again for the shot.  That had to do something.  She pulled the trigger just after her loudmouth examiner reached the count of one.

“No, wait!”

Lucca's shouted warning just had time to register in Marle's mind, but a split second too late to stop her shaking trigger finger.  The next thing she knew, she was flying backwards into the spectators behind her, a deafening shriek having erupted through the barrel in the general direction of the target, and the sound of flying debris hitting stone and steel was dimly heard through Marle's ringing ears.  So were screams.

A moment later, a dazed Marle was helped to her feet by Crono while Lucca was examining the infernal weapon still clutched firmly in Marle's hand.  A sizable chunk of stone had been blown out of the far wall about two feet above the target.  She had missed.


“'Protector', you are more dangerous to your allies than the enemy!” Morris barked.  His earlier gleeful heckling had been replaced with genuine anger.

“Maximum setting,” Lucca remarked quietly in Marle's ear.  “This could have blown up a Dragon Tank with one shot.  What were you thinking just punching things at random?”

I was thinking that a weapon should be easy to use so I can actually concentrate on what I'm shooting at, Marle thought with growing fury.  What a humiliation!  She couldn't remember the last time she had missed a target that badly, or at all.  It was a wonder someone wasn't seriously hurt just now.

“Set it... up for me, then,” Marle told Lucca through gritted teeth, her temper hanging on by the thinnest of threads.  “This isn't over.”

Lucca took all of three seconds manipulating the weapon's controls and then slapped Marle on the shoulder.  “Single-action, minimal power, trigger free,” she said.  “Go knock 'em dead.  And try not to take that literally, okay?”

Marle snorted and stormed up to Assistant Director Morris, holding her weapon as confidently as she could project under the circumstances.

“All right, playtime's over!” she said loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the armory.  “Set up ten targets at the farthest distance you can, then set up ten more targets after I burn through the first set.  If I don't bullseye five consecutive sets without a miss, I'll withdraw my request to join the Protectors and you'll never hear from me again.  How's that sound?”

Assistant Director Morris seemed suitably taken aback by Marle's audacious boast, though it almost seemed to her that he was trying hard not to burst into laughter.

We'll see who's laughing after I'm done, she promised the arrogant man silently.

As it turned out, the weapon only had enough energy for four more shots, but one shot was all that was needed to end Marle's trial.

      *      *      *

“We all have bad days, Marle,” Crono said soothingly.  “And it wasn't a fair test.  They deliberately wore you out before handing you a weapon you'd never used before.  There's no winning a contest like that.  Don't let it get you down, okay?”

The three time-travelers were back in their designated room in the rear area of Dormitory 7, Marle lying face-down on her enertron bed and wanting beyond anything to just curl up into a ball and disappear.  It was the fate that suited her best after what happened today.  How could she dare show her face in the enclave proper ever again?

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” Marle muttered miserably into the bed's padding.  She appreciated Crono's concern, but nothing he could say could make things better at this point.  He had warned her about the dangers of expecting good results with a weapon she'd never trained with, and she'd brushed aside his warning like she was Creation's gift to all marksmen.  That last certainly wasn't true anymore.  Five shots total she had fired from the enclave's plasma rifle, and all of them had missed their targets completely.  All!  That had never happened to her before, not even when she had been a complete novice playing casually in the Guardia Castle armory as a little girl.  It was a performance that defied belief.  She had been too good for too long to just choke like that, unfamiliar weapon or not.

“Well, as a constructive critique, I think the shot speed was throwing you off,” Lucca said with sympathy.  “You were trying to adjust for ballistic drift with a weapon that doesn't really have any.  Pointing directly at the target would have served you better in this case, but no one can blame you for not being accustomed to that.  It would probably take months of practice for you to change those old habits.  I know it would for me.”

Lucca's words barely registered.  What mattered was that Marle had failed, and she would have to rethink all of her plans going forward.  Where would she even start?  It was hard to think when all she could dwell on was her own humiliation.

Marle sighed.  “Can I go to bed now?”

“Already?  It's still six hours until your scheduled session,” Lucca reminded her.

“Ask me if I care.”

“Well, I can talk to Amelia, try and switch out my hours for yours.  I've got plenty of things to do on the computer, so I don't mind.  But you know what a stickler she is for the rules.  Two days in advance for all exchanges.”

“That's ridiculous!” Crono protested.  “Marle needs the enertron now.  And I don't see anyone else waiting to use it.  Just start the session anyway, and we'll make the exchange ourselves without telling Amelia.  No big deal.”

Lucca shook her head.  “Won't work.  All enertron activity is logged in the computer network.  And you can't fool the machine into thinking one person is actually someone else.  Everyone's DNA is distinctive.  It can't be faked.  Not once it's been already registered.”

Crono blinked, uncomprehending.  “DNA?”

“Sorry.  Call it a genetic imprint.  The bottom line is that Amelia will know it was Marle using the enertron instead of me, and she'll make a stink about it.  And Marle has broken so many regulations already that she could get in real trouble this time.  I don't think we should risk that after what happened in the arm... well, you know.”

“Oh, forget it!” Marle said despairingly.  “I'll just sleep on the floor.  It's no less than I deserve.”  Of course, Marle was certain she wouldn't be able to sleep at all without the enertron, given how she was feeling, but...

“Hey, I won't have you talking like that!” Crono said sternly.  “What happened wasn't your fault.  And who cares what Amelia thinks?  All she cares about is her job.”

“Yeah, ain't that the tru...”

Lucca then started laughing all of a sudden, interrupting herself, and Marle lifted her head from the enertron bed wondering what had gotten into her.

“Yeah!  That's it exactly!” Lucca said jubilantly.  “I was looking at it from completely the wrong angle!  We can fool Amelia easy.”

“How?” Crono asked.  “You just said that DNA thing couldn't be faked.”

“It can't.  But that has nothing to do with the actual schedule.  Amelia writes that up on her own system.  It's completely separate from the enertron itself.”

“You're saying Amelia's schedule can be faked?  Changed to say something else?”

“That would never work,” Marle said.  “Amelia knows exactly when my next session is supposed to be.  She was lecturing me about it earlier today.”

Lucca's eyes twinkled behind her glasses.  “Amelia's a bureaucrat.  It doesn't matter what she knows, it only matters what's in her records.  If the record conflicts with her own memory, she'll just assume she misremembered things and move on without a second thought.  That girl has about as much imagination as a Heinchraw.”

“And you think you can change Amelia's records without her finding out?” Crono asked dubiously.

“Are you kidding?  I probably know these systems now better than she does.  There's a difference between knowing how to use something, and knowing how it actually works.  Don't underestimate Lucca the Great!”

Marle felt a smile creep across her face for the first time since failing her Protectors trial.  Just picturing Amelia's consternation the next time she looked at her records almost made this whole situation worth it.

“So how long do you want to sleep for?” Lucca asked her.  “Just tell me and I'll make it happen.  Within reason, of course.”

“Long enough to forget about things,” Marle said.  “I don't think a regular session's going to cut it.”

“Six hours it is, then.  Sweet dreams and bon appétit... you glutton.”

A moment later, the hatch of the enertron sealed itself against the machine, and Marle drifted off into a blessedly dreamless slumber.

      *      *      *

The definition of a good teacher, Lucca decided, was someone you were always delighted to see when you were unexpectedly called into their office.

Lucca could count the number of people who had tried to teach her effectively on two hands.  The number of people who actually did she could count on as many fingers: her mom, who had taught her how to read a couple of years before her tragic accident, and her dad, who had taught her everything else - once she had dedicated herself to the path of science.  Lucca never expected to add a third finger to the list.  Her parents had done enough to open the door of knowledge and coax her through it, and Lucca thereafter had been able to learn anything else worth knowing on her own.  Such was the expectation, and the reality, until Lucca met the director of the human enclave of Bangor.  The best teachers were the ones who knew things you didn't know that you didn't know and were freely willing to share them, and Frank Doan met that description better than even her dad could ever have hoped to.  Doan's knowledge of science and technology was, if Lucca could pare it down to a single word, sublime.  Such that if Lucca dared to share her knowledge of time-travel with him, Doan would not just absorb and understand the concepts involved almost immediately, he would also improve on what Lucca had already figured out and start teaching her the subject she had only recently pioneered herself.

His was a spirit akin to her famous grandfather, Alistair Ashtear, a man that Lucca had barely gotten to know as a child, and who would never live to see just how prodigious his granddaughter would become.  Like Director Doan, Alistair knew things nobody knew that they didn't know, and he had used his stupendous intellectual gifts to change the world forever.  Meeting Frank was almost like going back in time to meet Grandpa Alistair.

In another era, Lucca thought, Director Doan would almost certainly be another such world-changing individual, but the whims of history had relegated him to a post of heartbreaking obscurity instead.  Still, his gifts were not going completely to waste, and Lucca was determined to learn everything she could from him while their historical paths intersected.

Now, Lucca was admiring the threadbare efficiency of Doan's office, a far cry from her own “office” back home, which could only charitably be called a bedroom, such was its clutter.  It was all too easy to get disorganized when your mind was running at a million miles an hour trying to make new scientific discoveries and putting them into action, but Doan somehow utilized his own gifts cleanly and left nothing that could be trampled on or lost.  A few viewscreens depicting various real-time images of certain areas of the enclave ringed the walls, and there were very few other accouterments of note.  The owner of the space leaned pleasantly towards Lucca across a modest dust-free desk upon which rested a single integrated computer terminal that sat off to one side.

“Thank you for coming so promptly, Miss Lucca,” Director Doan began in his typically polite fashion.  “For a moment, I was afraid that I had caught you rejuvenating in the enertron, as I'd momentarily forgotten when you were scheduled to rest today.  But there seems to have been a... change in the scheduling.  I do hope Miss Marle is resting comfortably in your stead?”

Lucca froze.  Was it possible that he knew already?  She thought she had covered her tracks well enough, but then, that was just to hoodwink a certain junior assistant director who took her job too seriously, not the full-blown Director himself.  Was he really keeping tabs on her that closely?

“She had a pretty rough day,” Lucca allowed.

“So I noticed.  I was rather displeased by how Assistant Director Morris handled that whole situation in the armory.  Whatever else Miss Marle may be, she is still a guest of the enclave, and her desire to join the Protectors was genuine enough to warrant proper training.  I fear we have treated her poorly.  Please extend my personal apologies to her, as well as my pledge that she will be permitted to re-take the Protector's trial if she chooses to.”

Lucca released the breath she didn't know she was holding and smiled at Doan's generosity.  She really shouldn't have expected any less after his patient tutelage of her on the finer points of computer science over the past week.

“Thanks.  I'll do that,” Lucca said gratefully, then found herself reddening at the whole affair.  “Sorry about this.  I don't mean to cause you any trouble, Frank.”

Doan's eyes glinted with amusement.  “If you are referring to your rather clever subterfuge in Junior Assistant Director Evans' scheduling system, please don't apologize.  I have contemplated that I may have promoted Miss Evans too quickly.  There is more to a supervisory role than mere efficiency.  One must be aware of the people around them and cater to their needs with empathy.  It is a lesson she must take to heart if she expects people to respect her leadership.”

Lucca quirked her mouth.  “I hope you're not offering me her job, because I don't want it.”

“Oh, no,” the Director chuckled.  “That would be quite the waste of your talents.  In fact, it is principally the matter of your talent that led to my summoning you just now.  You have demonstrated sufficient knowledge of our systems and technology now to undertake a task I had hoped you would be able to manage from almost the first moment we met.”

Frank Doan's expression then turned very serious.

“The enclave has a problem, Lucca.  One that could be qualified as an existential threat, both to Bangor and to the entirety of the human race.”

Lucca stared at him for a long moment, and her heart tingled with sudden dread.  There was a certain... terror behind Doan's carefully crafted demeanor.  It was almost too subtle to notice, but a good student always perceived things in their teachers that no one else would catch.  Anything which terrified Frank Doan was a matter to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

“What's the problem?” she asked.

“The enertrons.”

Lucca sat back in her chair and felt her blood turn cold.

“As you know, our equipment is quite old,” Doan continued.  “Most of it dates from before the Day of Fire, and our most recently built enertron has been confirmed to have been made almost forty years before that.  Serving as a nearly total substitute for food was something these machines were never intended to do.  Not on this scale, and not for so very long.”

“You think they're failing!”

Doan's face was even.  “Perhaps they are.  Perhaps they are merely showing their age.  Or, perhaps...”

“...They already have?” Lucca finished breathlessly.

“There is sufficient evidence to say it could be so.  I am old enough to have seen many generations of enertron users go about their lives.  The process has been gradual enough to have been missed by most, but it is evident that every successive generation of enclave citizens have been less vigorous, less healthy, than the one that came before.  And then there was the arrival of yourself, Mister Crono, and Miss Marle, who, it must be said, are demonstrably healthier than any man or woman has been in decades.  And it is also evident, at least to me, that the three of you are quite new to enertron sustenance.  This begs the question of where you could possibly be from that would enable you to survive so, but that is a matter for another time.  What matters at this moment is that everything I have related to you suggests a serious issue with enertron sustenance.  This must be investigated.”

Lucca took a lengthy interval to collect her wits and recall everything she had seen and witnessed in the few days she had been a guest of the Bangor enclave.  There was much truth in what Director Doan was saying.  She didn't have the benefit of experience or decades-worth of observations, but she had enough to make the same general hypothesis, now that Frank had alerted her to the problem.  The enertrons were failing.  Or worse.

Perhaps more seriously, Doan's analysis of Lucca, Crono, and Marle was leading him frightfully close to their origins as time-travelers.  She was getting the distinct impression that Doan was being cagey and already knew, or suspected, more than he was saying on that particular question.  That would make matters immeasurably more complicated if the enertron machines were, in fact, failing.  No book Lucca had ever read provided any insight into how to solve the ethical dilemma that was rapidly developing around her.  Without the enertrons, most of the enclave's population would be dead inside of a week.  The food stores were simply too minuscule for the enclave to survive longer than that with 1,500 mouths to feed.

“What about the seeds?” Lucca asked desperately.  “You told me the granary was fully stocked with almost every type of crop.  Is it possible...?”

“It wouldn't be enough,” Doan said.  “And that underscores humanity's most fundamental problem of the age: where to plant the seeds.  The underground isn't large enough to sustain a crop that can feed everyone, even if we could get it to grow under such conditions.  The operation would have to be moved to the surface, and that has long been an indefensible position against mutant attacks, to say nothing of the continual drought and the poor soil quality outside the dome.  No enclave's attempt to create an agriculture program has ever succeeded.  Not in three-hundred years.  Our seed archive exists as a symbol of hope more than a practical solution to our problems, I am sad to say.”

Lucca sighed.  The answer was about what she expected, but a drowning woman grasped for whatever she could find.

“What do you need me to do, then, Frank?  I'd be happy to examine the enertrons, but I'm honestly not sure how much help I'd be.  You know that technology a lot better than I do.”

“Perhaps.  And I would be less than honest if I claimed that I didn't already have a suspicion of the scope and particulars of the problem.  However, my position makes me and my Operators susceptible to a certain... bias.  We all tend to approach a problem in the same way, you see, and my junior associates are loath to not follow the methods and lead of their superiors, even if it leads them to a false conclusion.  A second opinion is needed, and for that second opinion to have value it must come from outside the enclave.  For that reason I cannot share my full suspicions with you at this time, but invite you to deduce the truth of things yourself and then share them with me as you are able.  It is not impossible you may come to a different conclusion than I, and we will then have to consider the merits of each.  Solving the problem requires that we first correctly identify it.”

“Right,” Lucca nodded curtly.  “You can count on me.”

“I know I can,” Doan said warmly.  “You are an exceptional student, perhaps the best I have ever taught, yet you retain the flexibility of an independent mind.  The enclave dearly needs that right now.  But do not feel pressured to complete my request with undue haste.  It is more important to be thorough than to be quick on this matter.  I wish you luck with your investigation, Miss Lucca.”

Let's hope I don't need it, Lucca thought as she quickly strode out of Director Doan's office and began grappling with the problem in her head.  She suspected the remaining pages of her diary would be filled very quickly.

      *      *      *

The hatch of Marle's enertron was already open by the time she reluctantly returned to the realm of the conscious.  She felt the bones in her spine crackle as she stretched her lithe form atop the gray upright-angled bed of the machine, but the sensation of early morning vigor and renewal gave no satisfaction.  It took only a moment's reflection for Marle to remember why she was in the enertron again so soon after her previous marathon session, and she turned on her face and grabbed the less than comfortable padding in the manner of a teenager who was profoundly unhappy at the state of her life.  Which meant hard.  She wanted nothing better than to go back to bed again and let the hands of time tick by without her.  But it had been six hours, and Marle doubted she would be able to fall asleep again on her own without something like the enertron to wash her worries away into a temporary oblivion.

Maybe it was time to wash them away in a more literal sense, Marle thought.  She certainly needed a shower after her worthless exertions from yesterday.  Push-ups!  And for what?  Just so she could make a fool of herself wielding a weapon she had no business touching?  Marle pounded the enertron bed with her fist and turned around with a huff.  A very cold shower was what she needed to distract herself from that disgraceful memory.

She then started as she finally noticed her empty crossbow bolt quiver hanging by its strap over the small computer screen that controlled the enertron.  She didn't remember having put it there before she went to bed.  Marle always kept her things together in the far corner of the room, well away from both enertrons so no one would trip over anything.  Why was it here?  Everything else was where it normally was, she saw.

Marle turned to the enertron opposite hers and saw the blue light of active use shining through the small window of the closed hatch.  She shuffled over to the other machine and stood on her tiptoes to see Crono sleeping face-up inside.  According to the computer screen of his capsule, Crono's rejuvenation session had started less than fifteen minutes ago.  Had he put the quiver on Marle's machine just now?  She wasn't sure how many minutes had passed between the end of her own session and the moment she had actually woken up, so maybe he had left it there, but why would he?  The quiver wasn't really good for anything.  Just a reminder that she had a useless weapon, as if she needed reminding.

A reminder...

Are you trying to tell me something, Crono?

Crono Lantree was a bonafide expert on the art of fighting, Marle knew.  In the short time she had known him, Crono had demonstrated that he was not only strong and fast, but that he was always thinking.  Always seeing the next move and being able to execute it flawlessly, taking advantage of his opponent's weakness and enhancing his own strengths for maximum benefit.  He had used that talent to defeat Krawlie, and the mammoth Guardian machine.  And he had correctly predicted the risks of Marle using a weapon she clearly wasn't proficient with, however similar it was as a ranged weapon.  If she had used her own crossbow in the Protectors trial instead of the rifle, the results would surely have been very different, even with those pointless push-ups, but she couldn't use her crossbow because she didn't have any...

Marle started tittering in spite of herself.  Her problem was a simple one, and Crono had pointed it out with an equally simple gesture from beyond the veil of his slumber.  Stick with what you know, he was saying.  She didn't need to train with a new weapon, she needed to rearm the one she already had.

It was something she hadn't even considered since her crossbow was so archaic by the standards of this era.  Who needed a crossbow when there were rifles that could blow glassers in half with a single shot?  Crossbow bolts weren't something that would be kept in a modern armory anyway.  Those had been uncommon enough in her own time, with firearms supplanting everything and older weapons being relegated to the passions of hobbyists and extremely bored princesses.  Where could she possibly find crossbow ammunition in a world that had absolutely no reason to have it?

She wouldn't, of course.

That meant it had to be made.  The Makers!

Marle abandoned all thoughts of her cold shower and collected her belongings and rushed out of the room.  She wasn't sure what asking for help from the Makers would entail, but it was the one shot she had at redeeming herself and she wasn't going to miss this one.

She came into the lobby of Dormitory 7 at a trot and abruptly slowed, realizing it was the middle of the night.  More studious residents preferred this time to peruse the library computers along the walls due to the lack of other distractions, and Marle didn't want to disturb them unnecessarily.  Only a few people were present.

Lucca was one of them.

Marle very nearly called out to her, since it was now time for Lucca to get in the enertron herself after having surreptitiously exchanged her sleep time for Marle's.  But one look at Lucca's expression gave her pause.  It wasn't unusual for Lucca to be absorbed in her work.  Marle had seen her in that same chair, using that same computer, hour after repeated hour over the near week they had been in the enclave, when she wasn't off somewhere being tutored by Director Doan on the use of all of this crazy tech.  But she seemed different this time.  Felt different.  Her magnified blue-eyed gaze bore into the computer screen as if a mortal enemy were staring back at her.  Lucca barely even blinked.  Only her hands moved as she manipulated the displayed “windows” to show her more information or close out information she no longer needed to see.  Almost all of it appeared to be diagrams and formulas of some kind.  Lucca muttered something Marle couldn't quite make out, then changed windows again to grumble at another set of diagrams and formulas.  One of the pictures resembled an enertron machine.  Lucca then reached for her diary and made some quick notations before resuming her computer work.

I've never seen her this focused.  What is she working on?

Regardless, Marle decided that bothering her for any reason was probably a bad idea right now.  Lucca already had a surplus of irritability where Marle was concerned due to her repeated demands for help with the computers during their first days here, and their differing views on addressing their time-traveling origins had done nothing to deflate the tension.  Marle didn't want to test the temper that Lucca gamely kept a lid on most of the time over something as trivial as a bedtime reminder.  Not when she was this preoccupied.

Hunger would remind her soon enough, Marle reflected.  A bit of hunger was a fact of life for those who lived off of enertron machines, and that hunger began to hurt after so many hours away from the capsule.  Marle quietly crept her way around the library and left Lucca to her work, leaving Dormitory 7 behind to focus on her own problem.

Marle attracted a fair number of glances as she wandered around the too-same passageways of dispiriting grey that seemed ubiquitous to this future era, embellished only by badly fading directional markers and those glowing rods of cool light that made everything feel unnatural and lifeless.  When she'd first arrived at the enclave, those glances were entirely due to her extravagant clothing, jewelry, and comparatively healthy complexion, but there was little doubt now that those glances were either passively hostile or outright deriding.  Yes, she had been demanding during her early days here, Marle had to admit, but that was hard to help when even the most elementary tasks required an understanding of technology she simply didn't have.  She had become a beggar because she had no choice.  Add to that the humiliation of yesterday's trial, and there probably wasn't a single person in the enclave who wouldn't look at her askance.  Marle marched on, refusing to meet anyone's eyes until she found what she was looking for.

She made her way slowly to the opposite side of the enclave, not far from the seldom used entrance that Marle had passed through when she first came here.  The entrance led directly into the sewers, being about three-quarters of a mile, as the crow flew, from the location of Krawlie's lair.  It was widely considered too dangerous of a route for scouting parties to begin their sorties out of the enclave, and this was reflected by a couple of heavily-armed Protectors always being posted by the door to keep watch on things.  Marle avoided the guards' notice and turned the corner to a stairway leading down.  This was the lowest populated level of the enclave, the only one lower being where the granary and the classified computer database were housed.  A short distance from the bottom of the stairs was the entryway to Common Area 3, the exclusive domain of the Maker-caste.

Marle looked around the expansive space and found her natural inclination towards excitement when she was visiting someplace new surge to the forefront of her bearing.  Common Area 3 was nothing less than a full-blown factory.  Industrial equipment of every size and shape dominated the space, and there was a good bit of activity even at this time of night.  The enclave never had a shortage of things that needed to be repaired or modified.  Stuff was breaking down all the time, and it was principally the Makers job to make sure the inevitable mechanical and electrical misfortunes of the enclave remained at a manageable level.  They also manufactured the tools that the Operator-caste used to maintain the more advanced technology that only they knew how to handle, and the Protectors were entirely reliant on the Makers when they had a problem with their – Marle now realized were hard to use - weapons.  The Makers were arguably the most important of the enclave's castes, as the entire underground society of Bangor would grind to an unceremonious, and deadly, halt without them.

It's so much bigger than the dormitories, Marle observed.  Not to mention warm.  She could feel the heat from the surrounding foundry alcoves press against her bare arms and shoulders, and everyone working around them seemed to be sweating profusely.  She would definitely be needing that shower whenever she was done here.  No matter.  She would stay around as long as she needed to complete her task in the meantime.  Maybe she would start with one of the smaller...

“Can I help you, guest?”

Marle turned with a start to see a surprisingly heavy-set woman looming over her holding a wrench.  Her brow glistened with sweat, and her narrow eyes regarded Marle with, if not quite hostility, somewhat elevated indifference.  Though she hadn't met the domineering woman in person, Marle immediately recognized her from computer images as Assistant Director Chieko Vals, the leader of the Maker-caste, and the enclave's third in command.

No way she wouldn't have heard about what happened in the armory, Marle thought glumly.  Her all too brief excitement plummeted into a gutter of forlorn recrimination, and she fought to stay afloat in her self-made sea of censure.

“I need to have something made,” Marle said, putting on the bravest face she could.  “I used up the last of my ammunition getting to Bangor.  Can you make some that's compatible with this old crossbow?”  She held up her weapon for Vals to see.

“No,” the Assistant Director said without deigning to even look at the crossbow.

Marle's face fell.  “What?  But I need...”

“I know what you need,” Vals said darkly.  “I also don't care.  Thanks to you, rifle #57 has to be overhauled.  Full power discharges like the one you so foolishly unleashed causes considerable degradation of both the barrel and the capacitor.  Or did you think you were shooting something fresh off the assembly line?  It'll take no less than four days to repair, and I'm not about to put that job on hold just so you can play with your archaic toy.”

“So you won't help, then?” Marle said, dejected.

Vals gave her a withering look.  “My people are very busy, Miss... Marle, is it?  Generator three has a continual flutter.  Water pump eight is shut down pending engine replacement.  And the backup compressor for the granary is due for replacement as well.  I shouldn't have to tell you what could happen if that last job isn't finished on time.  The main compressor has no other back-up, and it's the single oldest piece of equipment in the whole enclave.  You've caused us enough trouble by taking one of our rifles out of service.  We don't have time to deal with any more of your nonsense.”

“But it's such an easy job!” Marle protested.  “My crossbow is a heck of a lot older than that 'compressor' thing you're talking about.  How hard can it be to...?”

Enough!” Vals barked harshly.  The Assistant Director gave a long huff through her nose and then directed a weary gaze at the floundering target of her ire.  “Go talk to Mary, then.  She just got back from an errand.  She'll either help you or she won't.  If she chooses not to, I'll expect you to leave.  I won't tolerate any more distractions here.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to fabricate a new barrel for the rifle you trashed.”

Assistant Director Vals lumbered off without another word, and Marle shook herself to regain what little remained of her composure.  Chieko Vals was a hard woman for a hard job, and speaking to her ever again was something Marle wouldn't contemplate lightly.

I guess I better go find this “Mary” she was taking about.

Marle strode through the Makers domain at a brisk pace, taking mind to stay out of the way of the caste's purposeful activity as much as possible.  A few short queries directed her to an even more sweltering area far to the rear of Common Area 3.  A large machine very similar to the power generator Marle remembered from the ZDF facility filled the space, and a diminutive passage branched off into near darkness just behind it.  Marle had to crouch to make her way through the tiny corridor.  The droning sound from the presumed generator machine was constant, and loud enough to cause her mild discomfort.

What is a Maker doing all the way back here? she wondered.  There was no one else around, and it looked as though very few people ever came this way.  The glow-bars were scant and much more widely spaced than she had seen anywhere else in the enclave, giving the place an eerie ambiance.  The sound of the generator gradually receded as Marle continued her stooped passage, and the oppressive heat began to subside.  Marle was beginning to wonder if Assistant Director Vals had simply lied to get rid of her.

She finally came out into a room that only seemed large because she had been stooped over for so long.  In reality it wasn't much bigger than a closet.  Various tools littered the space, and a couple of metal storage racks stood against one wall holding a multitude of objects Marle couldn't identify in the dim light.  A drab mattress that looked very much like a discarded enertron bed lie forgotten on the floor and was covered in blankets.  There was no sound aside from the now faint droning from the generator room.  There were no other outlets, either.

Marle leaned back against the wall with a weary sigh.  Vals had taken her for a ride all right, but she wasn't about to go back and give the AD a piece of her mind after the way she had been roasted over the events in the armory.  This was just one more way that the enclave was punishing her for her behavior and poor judgment, she decided.  What really hurt was that she knew she deserved it.

“Who's there?”

Marle was so startled by the sudden voice that she jumped back and then fell on her rear, her crossbow clattering to the floor.  She thought the room was empty!

A shadow rose up from the old enertron bed, and the blankets were tossed aside to reveal the figure beneath them.  A small person stood regarding Marle with mild consternation.

“What are you doing in my room?” the former shadow asked.  “Can't you see I was trying to catch a nap?  It's kinda late.”

Marle stared back at the individual in surprise.  Not a small person.  A child!  A little girl!

“I'm sorry,” Marle stammered, clambering to her feet.  “I didn't think anyone was actually back here.”

“What are you talking about?” the child asked.  She looked to be maybe ten years old.  “This has always been my space.  Why would you be back here if you weren't looking for me?  Everyone knows where I hide out.”

Marle shook her head.  “Assistant Director Vals sent me.  She said there was a Maker named Mary who might be able to take a job for me.  But... I guess she lied.”

“Chieko didn't lie!” the little girl pouted.  “I'm Mary!  How could you not know who I...?”  The red-haired child stepped closer.  “Oh, wait!  You're one of those three visitors who came here a few days ago, right?  I should have known from your clothes.  No one around here dresses like that.”

This was Mary?!  A little girl was working as a Maker?

“Why are you here by yourself?” Marle asked with concern, momentarily forgetting why she was here.  “Where are your parents?”

“Oh, they died.  Muties got 'em.”

Marle shuddered.  Not so much at the tragic revelation as the casual way the little girl had said it.  Her parents must have been gone for a long time.

“You said you had a job for me?” Mary asked.  “I just got done with one, but I guess I could take another.  The adults don't really need me right now.  They're all working on important stuff.  Chieko said I'd just be in the way.”

Marle closed her eyes and again lamented the recent direction of her fortunes.  How could she ask a little girl for help in the middle of the night?  Would she really be forced to stoop so low?  She had already been begging everyone else for help.

“I... don't want to be any trouble,” Marle said, deeply conflicted.

“It's no trouble!” Mary said with a touch of heat.  “Just because I'm a kid doesn't mean I can't make stuff.  And if you need something I can't make, I can find it!  I'm always finding stuff for people.”

“I don't think you'll be able to find what I need,” Marle said reluctantly.  “It's ammunition.  For a weapon that isn't made anymore.  That's what this is.”

Mary knelt down to examine Marle's crossbow with great interest.

“Oh, wow!  Is that a crossbow?   I've only seen one in pictures!  That's super, super rare!”

Marle sniffed with amusement. “I suppose so.”

“You're right.  I won't be finding stuff for this.  It's gotta be custom made.  That means the price is going up.”

Marle blinked.  “Huh?”

Mary regarded her with a quizzical frown.  “It's a one-of-a-kind weapon.  The ammunition would be one-of-a-kind, too.  I'd have to set up the foundry with a whole new pattern, and that's after I take all the measurements and find out what kind of scrap is best for the mould.  Scrap is really expensive because it's so dangerous to get more.  It's a really big job.  And because it's a custom order and not an enclave assignment from Chieko, the price goes up even more.  It's not every day I get a job like this one.  It costs, and I don't work for free.  How much of this ammunition do you want?”

An uneasy feeling was creeping into Marle's heart.  “My quiver holds up to 35 bolts,” she said.

Mary's eyes widened.  “That's a lot!  Are you sure you can afford this?  What do you have to trade for them?  You're a visitor, so I know you can't have any credits.”

And now we get to it, Marle thought.  The economy of the Bangor enclave was largely barter-based, though it did have a strange form of currency that existed solely in the computer systems that could be used to trade for certain goods and services.  The problem for Marle was that non-citizens didn't have access to a credit balance, and she wouldn't know how to use it even if she had one.  That left only barter, and that left Marle with some painful choices.

The bracelets, she decided.  The golden bands that so well complimented her outfit were the most logical things for her to put up as trading stock.  Gold had been a mainstay of value for pretty much all of recorded history, so Marle knew she could get a lot for them.  More importantly, the bracelets didn't have so much sentimental value that she couldn't do without them.  The fashion hit would hurt, no question, but Marle could endure it.

“How about this?” Marle asked, unclasping one of her bracelets and handing it to Mary.

The child looked at her as if she'd stated water was dry. “What about it?  This isn't worth much.”

Marle froze.  She couldn't have just heard that right.

“I couldn't even get 300 credits for this,” Mary said with a scowl.  “Do you think I'm dumb or something?”

“It's gold!”

“Yeah, and gold is just melted down for circuits and stuff.  We already got lots of that.”

This couldn't be happening, Marle thought.  She didn't know the credit system well enough to know what 300 of them were truly worth, but it was apparently a pittance.  Even if she put up every piece of gold she wore she wouldn't even get 1,500 for the set!  This future was truly demented!

And that brought another question to mind.

“Uh... Mary?  How much would you say this job is worth in credits?” Marle asked with trepidation.

The young Maker took a moment to think about it.

“Hm, depends on the scrap I use.  But it wouldn't be less than 12,000.”


Mary grimaced at Marle's outburst.  “Why are you yelling at me?  It's the job, I can't help it!  I'd lose money if I asked for less than that.”

Marle found herself sliding down the wall, and her remaining jewelry tinkled as her bottom hit the floor.  “How...?   How could I possibly get that much?” she muttered faintly.

“Save money.  It'll do ya good.”

“But... I don't know how to make any money!” Marle exclaimed with frustration.  “I'm not even a citizen!”

“Well, what about that pendant you're wearing?  I've never seen a jewel that big.  Chieko could probably turn it into a really nice focusing lens for our energy guns  That'd be worth something.”

Marle shook her head quickly.  “Sorry.  That's not for sale.”  Sentimental value aside, there was no way of returning home without it.

Mary snorted derisively.  “You're not very good at this.  And I don't see you carrying much else.  What's in the satchel?”


Marle fingered the small satchel around her belt that held Queen Leene's music box.  Could she really pawn that off?  That had been a gift from Leene herself.  Her physical twin.  The music box meant almost as much to her as her pendant did.

What would Leene do?

With the utmost reluctance, Marle gently lifted the small music box out of its satchel and wound the key.  She placed the box on one of the racks next to Mary and let the lullaby play.

Mary put her ear to the box in wonder and stood completely still as the song played.  She turned to Marle with an expression of childish delight when the music came to a close.

“Oh, wow!  We don't have anything like this!  It has to be really old!”

“You have no idea,” Marle remarked.

Mary regarded the old music box with intense thought, her eyes shifting between cold appraisal and the undisguised avarice of a child in a toy shop.  “I don't think I can sell this, but... I really want it!  I'll give you, uh... 7,000 credit for it.  That's towards the job.  That makes my fee only 5,000.  How's that sound?”

Marle's face scrunched in anguish.  Little more than half the price in exchange for something she truly cherished, and she had nothing else to bargain with.  Adding her bracelets to the mix wouldn't be nearly enough to cover the balance.

“Hey, don't cry!” Mary said with concern.  “That price is for 35 bolts.  If you can't afford an extra 5,000 credits, why don't we reduce the order to 20 bolts instead and we can call it even?  I don't want to lose this deal!”

The despair that nearly consumed Marle at that moment abruptly vanished, and she gazed at the ceiling feeling a bit foolish.  Having her quiver fully stocked wasn't strictly necessary for what she needed to do, now that she really thought about it.

Still, giving away Leene's music box in exchange for having her weapon back would leave an open wound.  But she had no other options.  Marle reverently picked up the cherished gift from the shelf and then placed it into Mary's eager hands, her lips quivering with emotion.

“Okay, Mary,” Marle said in a husky tone.  “You've got a deal.”

Mary bounded on the balls of her feet in evident excitement, looking every bit the ten-year-old she was.  “Great!  Let's go get started, then,” she said.  “And don't worry about the music box.  I promise I'll never sell it, and you can come by and listen to it any time you want!”

The bargain struck, Mary stowed the precious artifact among the numerous odds and ends on her storage racks and then led Marle back through the diminutive passage from her modest hideaway towards the much warmer sections of Common Area 3.

“I haven't seen any other children among the residents here,” Marle said, deciding to make some small talk with the girl she had just bargained with.  “How many are there?”

“Oh, just me.”

Marle balked.  “What?  You mean you're all alone?”

“Yeah.  But it's okay,” Mary said.  “The other Makers all like me.  They don't yell at me much.  Just at each other.  How old are you?  You look younger than everyone else.”

“I'm sixteen.  So are my friends Crono and Lucca.”

“Wow, that makes you guys younger than Junior Assistant Director Evans.  She's twenty-two, I think.  She's the next youngest person after me.  It must be nice having friends your own age.  Have you always been together?”

“Crono and Lucca have.  They grew up in the same tow..., uh, place.  I just sort of...” she tittered.  “...stumbled into their path.  And we've been more or less together ever since.”

“I haven't always lived in Bangor.  I was born in Trann.  My dad was a merchant that traveled between the enclaves.  At least that's what everyone says.  I'm too young to remember.  'Save money, it'll do ya good?'  My dad used to say that.  It was his motto.  So saying it makes me feel closer to him, like he never died.  What about your parents?  Are they still alive?”

Marle halted her pace for a moment at the pull of painful memories.  “My mom isn't,” she said softly.  “She died when I was only six.  My father, well...”

Mary turned to face her in the gloom of the small passage.  “It's okay.  You don't have to tell me.  You must have a reason for coming all the way to Bangor.”


The conversation drifted off as Marle and Mary got closer to the generator room, where it was too hard to talk over the endless drone of whatever process the giant machine used to generate electrical power for the enclave.  Marle closed her eyes against the brutal heat.  The two then made their way through the fabrication section, where numerous Makers were currently putting together small parts and components for the enclave's many machines and other pieces of equipment.  Marle thought she saw Chieko Vals over to one side and made sure she stayed well clear of her.

“I never told you my name,” Marle said.  “It's Marle.”

“Limova is my last name,” Mary said.  “But nobody calls me that.  I think it's a grown-up thing, people calling each other by their last names.  Do you have a last name?”

Marle colored.  “Uh...  Not really.”

“I guess that means you're not really a grown-up, then,” the young Maker teased.  “That gives us something in common.”

More of Marle's titters followed the child Maker as she found herself back where she had started in this domain of the Maker-caste.  The activity in the foundries hadn't lessened at all, and much of the equipment Marle could see was being used in furious purpose.  The people all around were focused intently on their jobs and didn't pay Mary or Marle any mind.

It was amazing that a child could grow up and live in such an industrious environment, Marle thought.  And Mary's confidence in her skills didn't feel at all forced or false, like she truly belonged here among the hard working adults and was happy for it.  Yet Marle couldn't help but feel it was a tragic fate for a young girl so full of life.

“Is it hard being a Maker?” Marle asked.

“Sometimes,” Mary replied.  “Mostly it's just a lot of running around looking for stuff.  It's a lot more fun when I'm actually making things.  Though it does get pretty hot in the foundries.  And by the fabricators.  And the generator, too.  Actually, it's pretty hot all through here.”

“I noticed.  Especially in the generator room.  Is it always like this?”

“Yeah, everyone's always sweating.  And we never have anything cool to drink, either.  The water pipes all go behind our machines to help keep them from getting too hot, so the water coming out of the faucets is always warm.  Sometimes people sneak off to the dormitories early to drink the cooler water there, but that makes Chieko really mad.  Says it wastes too much time, and that the enertrons can cool people off during the juvee sessions, which everyone has to do anyway since there's no food.”

“But you weren't sleeping in an enertron back in your hideout,” Marle pointed out.  “That's why I was so startled when you suddenly popped out of bed.  I thought that everyone here slept in enertrons.”

“We do.  But I don't really like the enertrons.  I always feel a bit funny when I get out of one, like the machine's taken away a part of me I can never get back.  That's why I only stay in them a short time and do the rest of my sleeping in my hideout.  It doesn't get very hot back there.  That's why I like it.”

Taking away a part of you, Marle thought.  She couldn't remember feeling a similar sensation after her own sessions, though she didn't much care for the enertrons either.  They were restful only in the moment, and never particularly energizing.

Mary and Marle strode up to one of the unoccupied foundry stations, and the young Maker opened a rust-colored door in a nearby cabinet to reveal a multitude of tools and protective gear inside.  She drew out a measurement tape and motioned for Marle to place her crossbow on the table.

“Okay, lets see what kind of dimensions the crossbow can work with,” Mary said.  “Then we'll talk about the kind of scrap we'll need to use to forge the new bolts.”

“Will they be harder than iron?” Marle wondered aloud.

Mary looked at her peculiarly.  “Are you kidding?”

      *      *      *

The cool water cascaded in rivers across Marle's skin, and her unbound hair lay satisfyingly plastered against her naked back.  Being in Common Area 3 for the better part of the early morning was an experience marginally shy of being inside a volcano, and Mary had been generous in describing that section's faucets as merely “warm”.  Becoming a Maker had never been high, or on, Marle's list of things she wanted to accomplish in the enclave, and after this morning she would add it to the list of things she actively wanted to avoid contemplating, though she had learned a few elementary aspects of how the Makers' equipment worked and how they tackled the art of repair and fabrication.  But the toil and sweat had been worthwhile.  Five shining crossbow bolts of forged steel now rested in her quiver, with the remaining fifteen bolts of her order expected to be completed before tonight.

It felt good to not be completely useless.

Mary had taken a break in order to have a scheduled three-hour enertron session, and Marle had taken the cue to refresh herself in a more pleasant fashion back in her own dormitory.  The women's bathroom was happily empty of other souls, and Marle took advantage of the solitude by standing under the streaming water of the shower for a length of time that any other resident of the enclave would have considered indulgent in the extreme, despite the abundance of clean water and its continual recycling.  Amelia Evans had given her several bothersome lectures on water conservation, another source of friction between Marle and the JAD.

Marle spent an additional five minutes letting the forceful spray engulf her face and contentedly slicking her golden hair back with her hands before grabbing her towels – tan, of course, like every other garment in the enclave – and exiting the shower stall with her body and hair fully wrapped in them.  She regarded herself in the mirror and braved a smile.  The face of Queen Leene was staring back at her.  She had done good today.  Perhaps, for the first time, she had demonstrated a level of generosity in keeping with her ancient ancestor.  Mary Limova would be a good keeper for Leene's music box, cherishing it no less than Marle had for the short time it was in her possession.  It would always be on her shelf, waiting to be played, every night or free moment to lull young Mary into contentment after a hard day of work.

Very hard.

The heat.  The scrounging.  The horse-trading.  The endless sweat and toil.  The eternal hunger, and a rest that took as much as it gave.  Every day the same, and only a music box to numb the pain that Mary had to feel every moment of every hour deep inside.  No father.  No mother.  No friends, and no sunshine to share with them.  Only work.  That was Mary Limova's future.

The tears came before Marle could stop them, and knowing she was alone in the bathroom persuaded her to just let go of her always fragile emotional balance and embrace the chaos.

“Mary...” she sobbed.  “You deserve so much better than this.”

Marle fumbled for the faucet handles below the mirror and splashed water on her now burning face to relieve the sting.

Or tried to.

Ice cubes fell out of her hands instead.

Marle regarded the fragments of ice in the sink's basin with stunned bewilderment.  What had just happened?  Even the water in this part of the enclave wasn't that cold.  In fact, ice was one of the rarest things to be seen in the enclave proper.  Only the granary on the enclave's lowest level was kept cold enough to keep water frozen, and entry was highly restricted since that was where all of the enclave's food was kept, as well as the seed archive that was key to one day restoring the world's agriculture.

Turning the faucet on again revealed nothing but normal running water.  Cool, but far from frozen.

Of course, frozen water would never have come out of the faucet to begin with, Marle thought.  Nothing would have come out of it at all.

It wasn't the faucet, it was her!

Marle thought back to her desperate stand in the ruins of old Bangor; her, Crono, and Lucca holding back a wave of glasser mutants from behind a warped and failing door.  That should have been the end of their adventures through time, as well as their lives, but it wasn't.  For reasons that continued to elude her, Marle had channeled powerful elemental magic at the moment of catastrophe, encasing all of their attackers in frozen death before passing out.  She didn't even think about it, as much as her addled memory could recall.  Never called upon her usual concentration that channeled her restorative and energy-draining abilities.  She just did it.  No explanation at all.

But that wasn't wholly true.  Indeed, she hadn't been thinking, but she was doing something else.  Feeling.  Feeling they were about to die.  Feeling that everyone's deaths would be her fault.  Feeling that she had lived almost her entire short and tragic life without any friends.

She had been in despair.  Total and complete despair.  Her spirit had broken.

And then her spirit had risen back with astonishing vengeance.

“How about you think all that stuff and then throw your hands around or something?”  That was what Lucca had told her, facing the glassers above Krawlie's lair, but Marle had been utterly spent at that moment.  Truly on her last legs and ounce of strength.  Nothing had happened at all.

But something was happening now.  She felt.  She grieved.  She lamented.

And she now had strength.

Marle turned on the faucet a third time, let the water spill into her waiting hands, and then instead of merely concentrating, she felt.  Remembered how she felt when her mother died, when her father turned cold, when Crono had been sentenced to die, when everyone had been stranded in the future because of her.  And she remembered Mary.  All the misery and anguish she had ever felt was in the forefront of her memory as Marle looked at the cupped water in her hands.

It solidified into a wintry block.

Marle had just become a Maker.

Fan Fiction / A novel fragment - Flight of the Man
« on: April 09, 2024, 11:47:10 pm »
Chapter 29 - Flight of the Man

The long walk to sector 32 of the Bangor ruins wasn't as uneventful as Crono had hoped.  Two glasser mutants had to be dealt with before the time-travelers even made it past the tenth block heading north.  Dispatching them hadn't been difficult.  Lucca, with her new plasma pistol given to her by Director Doan, had done the job almost all by herself, landing all twelve shots she fired and leaving the red-skinned abominations reeling enough for Crono to finish them off with no real effort.  Things had become more tense at the end of the eastern leg, when five glassers approached them from two directions.  Crono, Marle, and Lucca all had to drop their backpacks to fight the fiends effectively, and the charge on Lucca's new gun had dropped to a dangerous level by the time the last glasser stopped twitching.  Doan's pistol could fire up to twelve consecutive shots at normal power and speed before needing to recharge from its internal capacitor, which was a process that took up to a full minute.  Lucca had been forced to fire only single shots near the end of the engagement, necessitating Marle to take a much larger role in the fight than any of them wanted.  The battery pack that Lucca carried in her satchel had several hundred normal shots-worth of power, which could be employed whenever the gun's capacitor became low on energy.  Marle only had the thirty-five crossbow bolts in her quiver.  Wasting any of those on mutants here would leave fewer to deal with unknown threats in the ruins of Arris.  Two of the five bolts she fired had been completely imbedded in the glasser corpses through their eyeballs and couldn't be recovered in any acceptable amount of time in the open ruins, so they were forced to leave them behind and continue on their way.  A comparatively short walk further north brought them into the declared red zone of sector 32.

“There's the sign.  Thank the Divine,” Marle said.

It was the rickety remains of a street sign, labeled “stop”, that Crono guessed had been placed erect by Director Doan sometime after he had sealed his vehicle away.  It was implanted in a small pile of rubble in the middle of the street rather than where it would normally be on the side of the road, so he knew it had to have been placed deliberately as a landmark.  A shadowy descent lie a short distance to their right, situated between two decaying buildings of stunted height.

“How's your gun, Lu?  Ready to brave the shadows?” he asked.

Lucca tipped her glasses and held her gun aloft in one hand.  “Good to go.”

“Let's hope this vehicle's still okay,” Marle said.  “It's been sitting here for over thirty years, right?”

“Gotta think it's okay,” Crono said.  “Mutants don't feed on machines.  Just us.  Let's keep our eyes open until we know the place is clear.”

Marle turned on the flashlight modification of her crossbow and gingerly led the way down into the dark, Crono and Lucca flanking her position from just behind.  Going lights on was a bit of a risk since mutants were always attracted by the glare, but if the vehicle was here they had no choice but to clear out the area anyway.  Crono made ready to slip off his backpack and draw his sword in an instant.  Lucca kept her gun in a two-handed grip and slowly panned her aim, scanning for any threats.

The underground area was fairly small, perhaps no bigger than the entirety of Dormitory 7 back at the enclave.  A brief examination showed the only outlet being the ramp they had just descended.  Sitting off to the right side of the otherwise empty space was a large narrow object about forty feet in length covered by some type of tarp.  Marle circled the object at a distance moving to her left, splashing the beams of her flashlights across the tarp and then focusing on the unrevealed shadows on the object's far side.  Nothing was seen except bare concrete.

“Clear!” she called out.

“All right, let's get this tarp off and see what we're dealing with,” Crono said.

Marle kept her flashlights spotted on the unknown vehicle and occasionally looked back up the ramp for mutant threats while Crono and Lucca got to work on removing the tarp.  Decades-worth of dust rolled off the covering as it came off, causing a fair bit of coughing for all present.  Everyone was expecting to stare in great interest at whatever the dusty tarp finally revealed.

Instead they were completely transfixed.

The vehicle was quite unlike any they had ever seen.  It didn't resemble a steam buggy so much as a giant dart.  A two-tone dart of blue and gold with more wing than wheel.  The narrow seating compartment was completely enclosed by a canopy of glass and was resting atop a strange hollow that dominated the whole front end of the vehicle.  On either side of the hollow at the very front was a small metal wing angled downward that Crono had no clue as to the function of.  Further back were two larger wings extending rearward from the vehicle's center that grew gradually wider until coming to an abrupt halt at the vehicle's far aft.  Above the canopy was another slightly smaller hollow that tapered back to a sharp wedge at the very rear.  Below and a bit in front of this wedge were three more hollows with apertures facing rearward.  Most everything above the wings was painted in blue, while everything below the wings was painted in gold, both colors sparkling where Marle's flashlights played across the vehicle's surface.  The lightning bolt and fireball emblem on the key Doan had given them was duplicated prominently on either side of the wedge fin.  Crono felt the vehicle's metallic skin with fascination.  It was totally smooth.  Crono's gaping expression stared back at him from the blue.

“Lucca?  Did you ever...?”

“No,” Lucca told him.  “I never saw anything like this on the computers.”

“It's beautiful!” Marle said in wonder.  “Whoever built this was as much an artist as an engineer.”

“No doubt,” Lucca chuckled.  “I wonder at the practicality, though.  It has almost no carrying capacity that I can see.  Just what's under that canopy.  I wonder if we can even all fit in there?”

Crono rose on the balls of his feet to peer inside the glass.  “There's three seats, all in a row front to back,” he related.  “Gonna be pretty tight with the packs, but I think we can do it.”

“Three seats?  It's almost like it was made for us,” Marle mused.

Crono didn't believe in that level of coincidence.  He was just happy enough that things seemed to be going their way.  He checked the vehicle's skin around the canopy for any levers or controls that might get the canopy open, praying it wasn't stuck in place from the vehicle sitting around unused for thirty years.  Nothing stuck out at him, though.  The skin and the canopy both seemed unblemished.

“Let me see it,” Lucca said.  “Marle, get the light in tight, would you?”

Lucca saw it before Crono did: an almost invisible square-shaped switch the size of his thumb that was contoured perfectly with the vehicle's skin.  Lucca pressed the switch inward about half an inch, and a light thudding sound was heard coming from somewhere just inside the canopy.  A moment later, the canopy began rising sideways to the vehicle's left in a slow smooth motion.

“That's some really precise engineering there,” Lucca remarked approvingly.

Crono wasted no time climbing into the vehicle's front seat, pulling his backpack in behind him and stuffing it as best he could in the confined space.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Lucca protested.

“I got the key, I call the seat,” Crono smirked back at her.

Lucca scoffed.  “You're such a child, Crono!  You've never even driven a steam buggy before.  I know dad wouldn't let you even touch the wheel of ours, Anne be praised.”

“First time for everything.  How hard can it be?”  Crono settled himself and regarded the controls in front of him.  As expected, the vehicle had a wheel - of sorts - directly in front of him, and there were a couple of pedals he could feel with his feet below.  But the wheel was quite small and wasn't shaped anything like a circle, though it did turn a bit, and the pedals wouldn't depress.  There was also a lot more.  A square pane of glass, probably a viewscreen of some sort, faced him from between his legs, and there were dozens of buttons and switches on the consoles to either side of the strangely shaped wheel.  The controls altogether looked more like a small computer terminal than the simple control scheme of dials and levers found on a steam buggy of his time.  Maybe this wouldn't be quite as easy as he thought.

“See?  Everything's computerized,” Lucca said smugly.  “That means this is my show.  Come on, switch out and let me show you how it's done.  We'll be driving off inside of an hour.”

Crono grumbled.  Lucca was probably right.  Computers tripped him up almost as much as they did Marle if he attempted anything beyond the most basic operations.  Still, if he was going to be driving a vehicle for the first time, he wanted it to be this one.  Nothing for it but to put in the key and see.  He'd examine the controls further once he turned the vehicle on and then pass the task on to Lucca – maybe - if he couldn't figure it out.  Bringing the long key out of his pocket, he inserted it into what looked like a matching slot just above the presumed viewscreen and turned it.

A glowing circle appeared around the key as soon as it was fully turned.  The buttons and switches all around Crono then started lighting up in groups, and a low pitched whine began to sound from somewhere behind the canopy.

“All right, Crono, don't start getting any funny ideas,” Lucca warned.

Crono laughed.  Computerized or not, the functions of the wheel and the pedals would certainly be the same as on a steam buggy.  Why would that be changed?  He might not even need to use the other stuff anyway.

“Come on, you two.  Find yourselves a seat,” Crono said eagerly.  “The sooner we can get to Arris, the better.”

“I agree with Crono,” Marle said, deftly scrambling into the seat behind his.  “The noise from this thing is bound to attract mutants if we don't leave in a hurry.  We can figure things out as we go.”

“Figure things out as we go?!” Lucca said, flabbergasted.  “There's a difference between knowing how a vehicle drives and knowing how it actually functions!  I don't even know what kind of engine it uses!”

“You want to take it apart?  Fill out the rest of your diary dissecting this thing while glassers are wandering about looking for their next meal?” Crono asked disdainfully.

“Well, no, but I...”

“Ain't no one takin' the Comet apart!” came a shrill voice.

In the next instant, the steering wheel and the floor pedals all retracted from Crono's reach.  Crono, Marle, and Lucca all looked around in sudden alarm.  Who was that who just spoke?

Crono tried to get out of the vehicle quickly to investigate the sudden intrusion, but the tight fit impeded his efforts.  No one else was supposed to be out here.  He knew there were no active scavenging runs going on, and sector 32 was a red zone anyway.  No one could cross into a red zone without Director Doan's express permission.  Could it be a traveler from outside of the Bangor enclave, perhaps?  Such travelers were exceedingly rare.

“Who's there?!” Lucca called out to the dark surroundings.  “This is a red zone!  We thought we were the only ones here!”

“What you talkin' 'bout, girl?  You blind or somethin'?” came the unknown voice again.  “You in the presence of 'da Man.”

Crono looked around in befuddlement.  The voice didn't seem to be coming from anywhere around them, it seemed to be coming from the vehicle itself.  But that didn't make any sense.  Crono and the others had checked the vehicle thoroughly.  There was no one hiding inside the hollows, and for the life of him Crono couldn't imagine anywhere else on the vehicle large enough to hold a man even if there was some access he wasn't aware of.  He assumed the entire rear end behind the canopy held the engines or other vital equipment.

“Da... who?” Lucca said uncertainly.

“Da Man, baby!” the voice crowed.  “Alias for old Johnny Comet!  Grand Champion of '97, '98, and '99!  Fastest racer there ever was, or ever will be.”


Crono looked down at the controls.  A face was staring back at him.  From the viewscreen.

“Wait,” Marle called out.  “Where exactly are you?”

“I'm all around you, baby!”

There was no question.  The visage in the viewscreen had just talked.  It was a cartoonish depiction of a dark-skinned man with an exceptionally odd hairstyle consisting of a strip of black strands in the middle of an otherwise bald scalp, sticking almost straight up as if reaching for something.  He was wearing wildly angled opaque glasses and an orange vest that looked to be made of metal rather than cloth, the bulb of a large flashlight device prominently displayed in the center of his chest.  Oddest of all were the things he was wearing on his back.  They appeared to be tires.

“Uh... Lucca?” Crono uttered.

Lucca bent over where Crono was sitting from outside of the open canopy, staring at the odd visage with evident disbelief.  Marle got out of her seat to goggle at the face from over Crono's opposite shoulder.

“Are you... the vehicle?” Lucca inquired.

The face appeared to scoff.  “Vehicle?!  Do I look like a garbage truck to you, Violet?  I'm 'da Man!  What would you go turnin' me on for if ya didn't know who I was?”

Lucca gaped in astonishment.  “It's an artificial intelligence!  Integrated into the computer systems of this vehicle!  There's still one of them left!”

An artificial intelligence, Crono thought.  Just like what the homicidal robots of Arris were said to possess to some degree.  He very nearly went for his sword right then, but stopped the thought before the impulse reached his hand.  Director Doan had used this very vehicle to escape Arris and its malfunctioning robots, after having sabotaged them to prevent any more machine on human carnage.  There couldn't be any danger.  That “worm” thing Doan had mentioned would have caused the vehicle to destroy itself if it were present the moment it left the vicinity of Arris.  That meant he saw no reason to install it in the first place.

“You called yourself Johnny Comet, right?” he asked.

“In the sheet-metal, bro!  You talkin' to the car who ain't never lost a race.  Hit over a thousand my very first time on the track and I wasn't even tuned up yet.  Nearest chump finished thirty seconds behind me.”

“A... thousand?” Marle asked with a frown.

“Ohhh, yeah, baby!  Said it couldn't be done back in '97, but I showed them!  Wanna see the reaction on their faces when I did it?”

The viewscreen shifted from the ridiculous cartoon visage to an image of a crowd with astounded faces.  A healthy and very well dressed crowd that knew nothing of want or enertron sickness, from all appearances.

“You date from the age of the domes!” Lucca said.  “That's incredible!”

The image shifted back.  “You know it, sister.  They made Johnny Comet to last.  So what you doin' turnin' me on?  Need a ride somewhere?”

“We need to get to the ruins of Arris,” Marle said.  “Director Doan said you could get us there fast.”

The cartoonish figure's face grew in size, as if moving closer to the screen, and donned a wicked smile.  “You need to get to Arris fast?  You talkin' to the right car!  Sweetness!  Been awhile since I stretched my legs.  The Trans-C ain't the same without 'da Man.”

“Trans-C?  What's that?”

“Probably slang for the Transcontinental Highway,” Lucca said.

“Fast is good,” Crono said, feeling more confident by the second.  “Well, if you can put your controls back where I can reach them, Johnny, we can be on our way.  I'm assuming you moved them before?  We shouldn't waste much time with mutants wandering around outside.”

Johnny Comet's gleeful expression disappeared.

“Oh, no, bro.  That ain't the way it works,” the artificial intelligence said darkly.  “Ain't no one drive Johnny Comet but Johnny Comet!  Been my rule since some blue-haired maniac take me for a joyride back in '98 and scratched up my paint!”

Crono wasn't sure he heard that right.

“You can drive yourself?”

“Who you think you talkin' to?  Ya want something done right, do it yourself!  I'll show you how to get to Arris fast!”

The low whine coming from behind the canopy then abruptly raised in pitch, went down just as quickly, then raised up and down again several times.  The vehicle shook where it sat on the pavement, as if it were a bull raring to charge.

“I think that's our cue to sit down,” Lucca remarked, looking white in the face.

“Buckle up ladies and gent.  We gonna fly!” Johnny Comet said with manic enthusiasm.

Lucca quickly clambered into the back seat, while Crono and Marle pulled sturdy-looking straps down from the top of their seats across their chests and locked them in place to a securing ring across their stomachs, doing the same thing with straps to either side and from below per Johnny's instructions.  The canopy of the blue and gold racer closed with a gentle thunk and sealed itself with an audible hiss.  Crono's heart hammered in his chest.  They weren't even moving, and somehow Crono knew the next few moments would be the most thrilling of his life.  That anyone should have to be secured to a vehicle's seat with six straps implied an astonishing level of performance.

“You ready back there, Lu?”

“Oh yeah.  Perfect.  Back here I know I won't be the first one to die if we crash,” Lucca replied with a nervous laugh.

Crono snorted.  “We're set here, Johnny.  Ready when you are.”

“That's what I wanna hear!” Johnny Comet said.  “Let's rock!

A very loud piece of music suddenly began to play within the canopy, with intense chords and a rapidly kicking rhythm, and the vehicle known as Johnny Comet kicked out of its place of long slumber just as suddenly.

Crono saw three glasser mutants at the top of the ramp directly in their path.

“Look out!” he warned.

“Psh!  Roadkill,” Johnny said dismissively.

Johnny Comet began his turn before reaching the ramp's apex, sliding his right side directly into the mutants and sending them flying across the street to crash violently into the buildings on the other side in a cloud of dust.  The stop sign landmark was the next casualty.  Johnny then blazed a path down the street heading south, turning east, then south, then west, then south again at a rate of speed far in excess of anything on the ground Crono could conceive.  He cried out in delight at the vehicle's furious motion, the acceleration out of the turns, the way the seat straps and buckle pressed into his skin.  The opening seconds of this mad dash to Arris had already exceeded his expectations.  And for all of the risks taken maneuvering in such a way when the streets were filled with rubble, Johnny somehow didn't run into anything.  The rubble might as well not even have been there.

It was like foot-racing in the streets of Truce City at peak pedestrian hours, never knowing precisely what was waiting for you around the next corner, only about fifty times as fast.  A Truceian street racer often risked humiliation, detainment by the police, or actual injury every time they got truly serious on their makeshift racetrack.  Johnny Comet risked a lot more than that at every corner and was laughing at the danger, letting it fuel his advance, fearing nothing except being too slow.  This while not even racing anyone.  Marle's joyous laughter filled the narrow cabin.  Lucca's cries were a thin hair short of hysteria.

Almost before he was conscious of it, the shattered archway marking the entrance to Bangor from the road Crono remembered walking under that first day in the city was past them, and Johnny Comet and his passengers were on the Transcontinental Highway heading east.  The giant road to Arris stretched to the horizon in front of them.

Goodbye, Bangor.  Stay safe until we can fix things.

The racer's radical lateral motions then diminished to a more stately juking between holes in the road's pavement, and Crono felt himself being pressed even harder into the back of his seat.  He was expecting greater acceleration outside of the ruins, but not like this.  It felt like two heavy men were sitting on his chest trying to force his breath out.  This thing was now traveling faster than one of Marle's crossbow bolts could fly.

Crono willed himself not to worry.  The most hazardous part of the trip, outside of Arris itself, was probably behind them now.  There were no sharp corners he remembered seeing on the computer generated map back in the enclave.  Just a gradual turn southeast as the highway carved through the eastern half of the Tarvor mountains, and then it was over two-thousand miles of straight empty road and bridge.  At these speeds, if Johnny could sustain them, they might reach Arris in as little as two days, three at the most.  Crono had to laugh at the notion of a three month trip reduced to as many days.

So why did it feel like he was forgetting something important?

“The beam!  By Creation, the beam!” Lucca cried out at the top of her lungs.

There was no time to comment on what was coming.  Barely any time to lament the thing Crono had forgotten about.  The giant slab of steel, a remnant of one of Bangor Dome's main structural members, thrown out here in the explosive chaos of the Day of Lavos, was lying across all eight lanes of the road directly in front of them.  They would hit it in under two seconds.  Crono's life flashed before him.

Johnny Comet skirted left, leaving the road and running up the short hill the time travelers had climbed over their first time here to get around the immense obstacle.  He wasn't on the hill long.

Crono, Marle, and Lucca screamed.  The ground could no longer be seen, nor could it be felt through the vibration in the cabin.  Johnny Comet had gone completely airborne.

So this is how it ends, Crono thought, staring straight ahead into the open sky.  Their quest to save the future brought to an unceremonious close barely outside of Bangor by a talking vehicle that suddenly aspired to become a bird.  He supposed it was no less lunacy than everything else he had been through of late.  Crono wondered what he could say to his father when he saw him.

And then Johnny Comet was down.  They weren't dead.  The giant beam was behind them, and the now unobstructed lanes of the Transcontinental Highway lie ahead of them.  They were back on the road!  Off the road and then in the air for several seconds, and Crono barely felt the moment of their landing.  How had Johnny done that?

“Whooo yeah!  Five-point-two seconds of Johnny Comet airtime!” the figure in the viewscreen gloated.  “Told you we was gonna fly.  Who 'da Man?”

Marle's elation filled the compartment.  “We flew!  We were flying!  This is incredible!”

“This is insaaaane!” Lucca yelled, a measure less than elated.

“Insane?  What you talkin' 'bout, Violet?” said Johnny.  “We haven't even hit the big straight yet.  This is nothin'.  You wanted to get to Arris fast?  I can get you there today!”

“Uh, I'll settle for merely tomorrow.”

Crono's thoughts mirrored Lucca's audible unease.  Today?  Surely Johnny could not be serious.  It was a journey of over three-thousand miles!

But Crono's doubts were beginning to falter as Johnny Comet continued his blistering pace on the gently curving road, driving faster and faster as the craters along the pavement grew less frequent.  The road then shrank from eight lanes to six.  Johnny stopped juking entirely and kept to the center lane of the right-hand set of three, increasing his speed even further.  As gradual as the turn to the southeast was, Crono still felt himself pressed against the side of his seat.  Insane was about right.  And thrilling.

“Johnny, how fast are we going?” Crono asked breathlessly.  “I can't even begin to guess, this is so crazy.”

“What, you don't see the speedo?” Johnny answered.  “We just passed 800 kph.  Nothin' crazy 'bout that.  Slowest chump I knew could do that in his sleep.”

Crono blanched.  He still didn't know the metric measuring system of the future all that well, but 800 kilometers per hour sounded ridiculous.  “Uh, Lucca?  How fast is that in miles per hour?”

“Oh, um, just under five-hundred,” Lucca said with a fearful chuckle.  “Totally not crazy, that.  I can come up with a much better word once I stop shaking in my straps.”

Five-hundred miles in an hour! Crono thought numbly.  Johnny wasn't boasting in the least.  Not only would they get to Arris today, they would probably arrive with half-a-day to spare.  He suddenly understood why Director Doan's tone had been so dry last night.  “Rather quickly” didn't begin to describe this experience.

“Miles per hour?” Johnny inquired curiously.  “Old-fashioned, huh?  I'm down with that.  How's about I put my mph above my head here, and you can go 'whoooa' with every tick of my awesome vel-os-eh-tay?”

A number then appeared above the gleeful visage of Johnny Comet's cartoonish avatar.  It read “504 mph”.  And that figure was continuing to climb.

We really don't need to go faster than this, Crono thought.  But the greater part of him – perhaps not the wiser, but the greater – wanted to know what this talking vehicle's upper limit was.  Crono had always pushed his own limits on the streets of Truce, and made a habit of knowing the upper limits of the people he raced.  He couldn't imagine the knowledge being useful in this instance, but he still wanted to know.

The Transcontinental Highway began to straighten, and the cresting of one more shallow rise revealed the longest roadway Crono had ever seen.  A slight downhill grade marked the path, which extended to a point in the far distance Crono wasn't sure an eagle could make out from here.  From the map, he knew this was the beginning of the straight that would lead almost directly to Arris.  No turns.  No hills.  Just thousands of miles of straight pavement.  If Johnny was going to demonstrate the upper levels of his performance, it would be here.

“Here it comes, kiddos,” the artificial intelligence said eagerly.  “The straight of Tylair.  Longest stretch of road there ever was.  Called it the big three-K back in the day.  Ain't no excuses here.  This patch of pavement show who be fast and who be slow.”

“Be fast, Johnny,” Crono said with a boyish grin.  After all, he had actually flown in this thing for over five seconds and somehow survived.  He could handle this.

Johnny Comet's avatar then folded its body at impossible angles and suddenly took on the form of a... tricycle.  A tricycle with Johnny's head in place of the handlebars and with pink wings extending out the side of its body.  The wide tires formerly on its back now touched the virtual ground in the form of a tricycle's rear axle, and two long pipes, perhaps exhausts, angled out above facing rearward.  It was an incomparably odd picture, but one that promised impending excitement.

“Goin' for my personal best, then.  Sonic booooom!”

Crono was then thrown back in his seat with such force it was like the two proverbial men sitting on his chest suddenly became five.  The whine of the vehicle's strange engine rose to a painful pitch, and the sudden change of music in the cabin was almost entirely drowned out.  Johnny's speed increased from 500 to 700 mph in mere seconds.  Crono's response was about what the self-aware vehicle had prophesied.


“Crono, what have you doooone?” Lucca wailed.

Johnny Comet streaked down the road at a velocity that Crono could only imagine was akin to a shooting star.  He had no other frame of reference aside from the number displayed on the vehicle's viewscreen.  Seven-fifty.  Eight-hundred.  Eight-fifty.  Each passing second seemed to increase the number by twenty, and the rate of acceleration wasn't slowing.  The road went by in a blur.  The engine howled.  The seats shook.

“Uh... maybe we should slow down,” Marle said, sounding disquieted for the first time.

“Slow down?!  I haven't even hit a thousand yet!” Johnny said.  “I thought you guys wanted to go fast?”

“This isn't fast!” Lucca shrieked.  “This is demented!”

“Any chump can go supersonic.  The real mark of greatness is for a car to break the big one-nine-double-oh.  That's 1,180 mph for you old-fashioned folk.  Me, my record's 1,940 kph, meanin' 1,206 for you guys.  I'm gonna break that today for sure!”

“S,somebody stop this thing!” Marle cried.

But there was no stopping Johnny Comet, and Crono didn't dare start pushing buttons while the crazy vehicle was traveling at these speeds.  The four-digit barrier was soon breached, and the mph continued to climb.  Crono then saw the surrounding land disappear, and all that remained were the lanes of pavement in front of them.  They had crossed onto the giant bridge that spanned the remnants of the Tylair Ocean.  Guardrails to either side passed them by in a mist of gray.

Lucca's moaning abruptly ceased.  Crono didn't have to see why.  He thought about passing out himself.  Time seemed to slow down all around him.  The cabin grew strangely quieter, and the pressure on his body eased.  The speed indicator was close to 1,200 mph.

“Whoooo, yeah!” Johnny finally crowed.  “Twelve-oh-nine, baby!  Who's da' Man, huh?!  Who's da' Man?!

“Uh... you are?” Crono managed.  He didn't know what else to say.  Just that he had to get this speed demon to stop before he got everyone killed.

“I can't heeeear you!”

You are!” Crono and Marle cried in unison.

Johnny Comet's avatar then reverted back to it's man-like form, apparently satisfied, and pointed at himself with both thumbs.  “And don't you forget it, baby!”

Satisfied or not, Johnny took his sweet time decelerating from his record-breaking 1,209 mile-per-hour run.  It was a long while before Crono could stop shaking.

      *      *      *

One of the great things about being the author of your own story was that you had the power of Creation – which was to say omission – over incidents that painted you in a negative light.  Fainting was a completely understandable occurrence given the situation Lucca had been in.  She had an intimate knowledge, academically speaking, of what happened to things that collided with other things at a high rate of speed.  It wasn't her fault that the laws of physics demanded bad things happen to a human skull that hit a solid object at anything faster than a brisk trot, let alone a hundred times as fast.  Lucca had no qualms about omitting Marle's use of magic to keep said author in the realm of the conscious shortly after the ludicrous 1,209 mile-per-hour speed record was set.  After all, such things weren't supposed to happen to the heroine.

Since then, her diary would record the unaltered tale of Johnny Comet reducing his speed – after much persuasion and shameless flattery – to a “mere” 300 miles-per-hour to time their arrival at Arris shortly after dark.  Lucca, Crono, and Marle had decided that arriving after dark was the best way of avoiding unnecessary encounters with robots in the ruins, though it made the task of finding an entrance into the Arris enclave more challenging.  Better to be slow and unnoticed than to be quick and dead, the thinking went.

The following hours were spent making almost normal conversation with the vehicle's undaunted artificial intelligence, which Lucca tackled with a vigor to make up for her earlier spell of fright.  Speaking with a genuine programmed intelligence, with the capacity for self-awareness and an ability to make its own decisions, was a tremendous opportunity.  A relic of a now bygone era, for Lucca it represented everything a machine could aspire to be.  She couldn't help but think of GATO speaking in its own voice instead of playing records of other people's voices, and not even needing a change of program card to conduct itself differently and adapting to the situation at hand.  It was an avenue of research she wanted to undertake sometime after all of this Lavos business was behind her.

“So you replenish the fuel for your boosters by harvesting hydrogen directly out of the atmosphere through your intakes?” Lucca asked.  “That's amazing!  And because your jet engines operate from a fusion cell, you can never run out of fuel.  You can just keep going and going.”

“Oh, yeah.  I ride the wind, baby.” Johnny Comet replied proudly.  “Might have still been goin' these past thirty years if there were anyone left to race.  Most of my old buds got melted right where they were on the day that rain o' fire come stormin' down, and the few who didn't got sent to the scrap pile to keep those underground enclaves a runnin'.”

“How many of you were there?” Crono asked with fascination.  Naturally, anything to do with racing caught Crono's interest.

“A full circuit, brother.  First racers started showin' up in the mid seventies, though none of them lot were AI.  Just a bunch of workin' class chaps that took it in their minds to go soupin' up their cars to see how quick they could drive between the domes.”  Johnny chuckled.  “Drove the cops bananas, what with them guys weavin' back and forth through traffic lookin' for the glory of a checkered flag, and then doin' it all again goin' the other way.  It was all the rage, man.  For every one of that lot the cops threw behind bars, there were two more lookin' to join in the action.  People even started recordin' the races and placing bets on who won.  Things got so crazy by the nineties that the government in Keepers Dome decided to make an official circuit and cleared the highways every couple months for people to race.  Them's were the glory days, brother.  That's when they stopped usin' cars you could buy off the lot and started buildin' bonafide racers from the ground up.  Changed all the rules about what a car could be.  Only restrictions were they had to carry at least two passengers and couldn't fly more than a hundred meters.  Other than that, it was anything goes.  Jet engines.  Fusion cells.  The works.”

Including wings, Lucca thought.  Not for flying, but to help keep the car on the road.  Looking at Johnny Comet's design, Lucca now understood the aerodynamic principles at work.  Each set of wings generated downforce, which was essential for the vehicle's stability at high speeds.  Those same wings could also be used to generate lift in an emergency, such as when Johnny jumped that hill to get over the giant steel beam lying across the road.  A slight and continual adjustment of those wings in mid-air would account for the way Johnny had landed back on the road with hardly any impact.  It was the kind of stunt no human driver would have been able to manage.

“And that's when they started putting artificial intelligences into the cars,” Lucca reasoned.

“You got it, sister.  I come around back in '97.  Some guys wanted to shatter every record in the books by puttin' an AI behind the wheel, so they gathered up every credit between them and put me together.  Broke a thousand kph in my first race, dusting everyone.  That brought about the AI era, and every team worth its rubber put one into their cars hopin' to take me down.  Nope!  Didn't happen.  Grand Champion of '97 right here.”  Johnny made a thumbing gesture to himself through his avatar.  “Then teams started puttin' hydrogen boosters into their cars to get that added edge, only they did the same with me as soon as my crew chief got wind of what they was doin'.  Nope!  Supersonic, baby!  Grand Champion of 98' right here.”  Another thumb point.  “Then my rivals get it into their heads to break 1,900 on the kph meter, and I was the only one to actually go and do it.  Right here on the three-K.  Boom!  Grand Champion of 99'.   Fastest racer there ever was or ever will be, that's Johnny Comet!”

“Are you saying you're the last one, Johnny?” Marle asked.  “The last racer?”

“'Fraid so.  Wandered the highways for years.  Never saw another.  Then I run into Brother Frank.  Said he'd protect me from scavengers as long as I did what he said.  Seemed like a good deal, so he hid me away in Arris for a bit, then later in Bangor.  Better than the scrap heap.  Then the three of you turn me on, and here we are.”

“Then Frank did us and the world a great service keeping you in one piece,” Lucca said with a smile.  “Especially in Arris.  Did he do something to prevent you from going crazy like the robots did?  I'm still trying to understand how that happened.”

Johnny's avatar shrugged.  “All Brother Frank did was turn me on.  As for those robot psychos in Arris, I don't know nothin' about that.  Brother Frank said some song they was hearing was drivin' them batty.  All I heard over the comms was static.  Whatever that song was, it had no effect on ol' Johnny Comet.   Maybe 'cause all I know or care about is racin'.  Don't have no weapons, neither.”

That made sense, Lucca thought.  If the directive the robots received from this “song” demanded the destruction of all humans, a machine like Johnny Comet wouldn't serve any practical use.  He would just be ignored by whatever the source of the song was.

“What about the robots themselves?” Crono asked.  “Director Doan only gave us a few basic descriptions.  Is there anything you can tell us about them?”

“Yeah, they shoot you on sight, man!  What, you think I'm some kind of encyclopedia on anything other than racin'?  You want those kind of details, you're lookin' for one of them double-sixers.”

“Double-sixers?” Marle inquired.

“General-purpose robot, generation sixty-six,” Johnny said.  “Top-o'-the-line 'bot from '95.  Know everythin' about everythin' since the Great War them 'bots do.  Problem is the song got to them, too.  Brother Frank was the last guy to speak to one without gettin' his head blown off.  You want my advice?  If it's metallic and it moves, you best be movin' yourself and hope it don't see you.”

A dome-era robot that survived the Day of Lavos?  This was news to Lucca.  She knew nothing about the sixty-six series, but she had read a few articles describing much older robots in the general-purpose category, including a few schematics.  Perhaps the survivors of Arris had been able to scavenge the remains of these advanced robots and put them back together as their level of robotics knowledge allowed.

“Can you show us a picture of a sixty-six, Johnny?” Lucca asked.

“Can do.”

A half-solid, half-wireframe schematic then appeared on the viewscreen set into the back of Marle's seat.  Lucca's breath caught.  The seven-foot-tall robot was bipedal, with a round bronze-colored body that eschewed sharp angles everywhere Lucca could see.  Sturdy metal plates covered every section of the robot aside from the upper legs and arms, which were wrapped in a dark synthetic material that covered the elbow and knee joints.  Scattered rivets precisely measured from one another kept the plates in place.  A large hose curved upward from a protrusion on the machine's left breastplate and was inserted high into the robot's torso just below the head, and a more vertical protrusion, perhaps a cooling vent, fronted the right breastplate.  The head was squat and without a face, with one large plate covering the cranium and two sizable optic mechanisms facing front.  Sticking up out of the head was a cylindrical protrusion Lucca thought to be a radio receiver and transmitter.  Most notable to Lucca, and the most human-looking part of the robot, were its hands, which were five-fingered and looked to have all the joints and articulation of a human hand.

It was mechanical perfection.  Something even Lucca wasn't sure she could improve upon for all of her imagination and industriousness.  The ultimate evolution of GATO.  A mechanical being with the self-awareness of Johnny Comet, but also one with the versatility of a human, and loaded with knowledge of every kind to serve and protect the people it was designed to aid.  Such a thing had to be Creation sent.  Inspired by the Divine and built by man to do good.


Lucca suddenly felt faint, and not from her earlier episode.  What was that just now?

It's perfect.  And it was corrupted to kill.  Someone must pay.  Burn them all!

It was her mind's voice.  The same one that confronted her in the ruins of Bangor after running out of the classified archive, trying to come to grips with the reality of humanity's doom.  But the voice felt different, somehow.  A dark fragment of Lucca's soul that wasn't simply berating her weakness in the face of the truth, it was a part of her clinging to the edges of sanity.  Silent fury and rage warred on the border between thought and action, and Lucca felt her body begin to shake.

Burn! Burn! Burn!

Lucca doffed her helmet and clutched at her forehead with growing alarm.  Her breath was suddenly coming in fits.  She felt... hot!  Her forehead was fire.  Her eyes smouldered.  Her heart raged inside her chest.  A tingling sensation crept across her whole body as if she had been thrown into a forge and was beginning to succumb to the flames.  What was going on?

“Lucca, are you okay?  What's wrong?” came Marle's concerned voice.

Lucca could only grunt in response.  How could she answer?  She didn't even know what was happening to her.

“Here, give me your hand.  I'll channel some magic.  Whatever it is, I'll take care of it.”

Unthinking, Lucca extended her left hand.  Marle grabbed hold of it from her seat.

“You're burning up!” Marle said in astonishment.  “Hold on, Lucca.  I'll concentrate a bit harder.”

The stifling heat radiating from Lucca's skin then was draped over as if from a damp towel guarding against an August sun at the beach.  Her breathing returned to normal.  Her eyes cooled.  Her heart steadied.  And she suddenly felt exhausted.

“What's going on back there?” asked Crono with evident worry.

“That's strange,” Marle said, sounding oddly pained.  “There's nothing wrong with her that I can sense.  Just the opposite, she was overflowing with energy just now.  I actually had to siphon strength away from her to calm her down.”

Crono looked baffled as he stared at Lucca from the front seat.  Lucca could only gaze back with failing eyelids.

 “Johnny, I think we all need to take a break,” Crono said.  “We've been riding for hours in this tiny compartment.  Lucca needs some fresh air before we go any further.”

“I'm down with that.” Johnny said.  “Gonna have to slow down soon anyway.  We're only a few hundred klicks away from Death Peak.  The force o' that insane eruption that made it did some damage to the bridge.  Gotta go over that bit with care.  It's a good spot to get out and take a look if ya wanna sightsee.  No other view like it.”

Lucca took a deep breath and forced herself to stay awake.  She had a pretty good idea what the view was going to be like, but the fresh air could only do her good, whatever had just happened to warrant a second magical intervention from Marle.  She needed to think of how she could even explain this one in her diary, if she cared to share it at all.

      *      *      *

The breeze was deceptively peaceful.

The westerly wind was just cool enough for Marle to have to dig her blanket from Landis out of her backpack and drape it across her shoulders as she gazed mesmerized to the east from where she sat.  Crono and Lucca sat to either side of her on the concrete median divide of the bridge, separating the three right-hand lanes Johnny Comet had been driving down from the less appealing left hand lanes that had borne the brunt of Lavos' emergent wrath.  Much of the left-most lane no longer had a guardrail to restrain careless vehicles from toppling over the side, and there were a few spots where there was no left-most lane at all.  It was a long way to fall.  Before the Day of Lavos, the surface of the Tylair Ocean had lain about a hundred feet below the bridge.  Now, the surface was actually the solid mud-caked crust of the earth, almost 1,500 feet further down.  All that now remained of the Tylair Ocean in this region was a pockmarked series of shallow lakes littering the surface, mocking a greatness that would never again be.  The ruined seascape extended to the horizon in all directions, but it was to the east where Marle and the others were focusing their attention.

In the far distance, a maelstrom of gray was in perpetual battle against the surrounding sky.  Continual flashes of lightning lit up the spiraling clouds from within, hinting at appalling climatic violence beyond the veil of gloom.  It was a hurricane that never went anywhere, doomed to watch over a place that hadn't existed before 300 years ago.  Death Peak.  The mountain itself couldn't be seen from this distance.  The lightning occasionally exposed a shadow reaching over the very edge of the horizon, but that was the only glimpse any of them could see.  The highest point of a caldera that was dozens of miles in diameter, and who knew how many miles deep.  It was from this place that Lavos had bathed the world in fire, condemning the human race to extinction.

Marle wrapped her blanket more tightly around her.  Just looking at the distant storm chilled her skin, knowing what it represented, knowing that she somehow had to find a way to stop it from happening.  There was no need to get any closer to it.  Marle couldn't imagine a reason anyone would want to get closer to it.  A traveler would have to climb down to the muddy seabed, navigate around hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny lakes between here and the mountain, and then somehow make an ascent to Death Peak in the midst of hurricane-force winds.  Marle wasn't sure why Director Doan was so adamant they not go there.  No one in their right mind would even make the attempt.

“Nice scenery,” Lucca quipped after a long moment.  “I can see the postcard now.  'See the glorious sights of 2300.  Death Peak: A scene of majesty that will blow you away.'”

“Well, your sense of humor seems fine,” Crono remarked.  “You sure you're feeling all right otherwise?”

Lucca shrugged.  “I guess.  Putting down some grub and a whole canteen's done me good.  Dare I say it, but I'm starting to develop a taste for rat.  Makes me wonder if the food we'll get back home will even taste the same to us after all this.”

Marle exchanged a look with her.  Lucca seemed okay at the moment, but Marle still didn't understand what had happened to her.  Trying to heal the sudden unexplained malady only revealed that Lucca had positively been bursting with energy, and when Marle had reversed the magical weave to drain Lucca of that excess energy, the resulting blowback nearly caused Marle herself to faint.  She was still nursing the remnants of a headache from the experience.  It almost felt like...  No, that was impossible.  Lucca was just stressed from their insanely fast trip across the world, that was all.  Marle then channeled another ice cube into being and handed it to Lucca, who popped it into her mouth with silent gratitude.

“We'll be having a feast no matter what it tastes like,” Crono said with a grin.  “But first we actually have to get home.  We're only about two hours out from Arris once we get back on the road.  We should probably review what we know about the robots before setting out again.”

“Good idea.  Let's whip out old reliable and take a look-see.”

“Old reliable”, of course, was Lucca's diary.  Normally Marle would agree with that quaint description.  It was certainly easier to use than a computer.  Though lately the thick volume was pretty much indecipherable to anyone but Lucca.  Blank pages were now at such a premium that she was making notes anywhere she could find space, and that meant important information on any particular subject could be found in any number of different places, and often not in chronological order.  Thankfully, Lucca had sketched what she knew about the robots on one of her few remaining clean pages since it was such a vital subject.  Two sketches appeared on the page she flipped to, and Marle and Crono scooted in close to get a good look.

The first sketch was a squat thing on four spindly legs that extended well past the robot's small body.  “This little guy I call the 'bugger',” Lucca explained.  “It's about three feet tall and was apparently designed to hunt down rats.  Don't know for sure what kind of weapon it carries, but I'm guessing it's some kind of standard projectile, since plasma fire has a way of destroying the target's food value.  This thing is probably pretty quick, so we can't count on outrunning one if it picks up our trail.”

“Are there any weak points I can aim at?” Marle asked.

“Just the eye, and there's only one, right at the body's center mass.  You take that out it should be blinded, though it'll probably take a plasma shot or a good sword hit to put the bugger down for the count.”

Lucca then directed their attention to the sketch below the insectile machine.  This one seemed to be bipedal, and carried two mouth-like apertures on its upper body on either side of the machine's head in place of where the shoulders and arms would be on a normal biped.  “This one is just short of the height of an average human,” Lucca said.  “Call it the 'hunter'.  Those clamper things on the upper body hide weapon emplacements, probably plasma-based.  These were the things the Arris enclave sent when they had mutant problems.  It looks a bit awkward on its feet, so it doesn't move very quickly in all likelihood.  It's probably meant to hold a position and lay down fire to anything that crosses its sights.  We'll have to be especially wary of them.  I'd rather not test the limits of Marle's healing talents by eating a plasma bolt.”

“Weaknesses?” asked Crono.

“The same.  One eye.  Bigger than on the bugger, so it'll be easier to hit.  But I wouldn't advise challenging it from the front.  Too much firepower to safely deal with.  Its awkward stance suggests it could possibly be flanked, but I don't know how much good a sword will be against that.  Its plating looks thicker than on the bugger from the images I saw, so expect that it is.  Any sword strike would have to be aimed at the joints, and that's a narrower target than the eye is.”

Crono nodded soberly.  “Best to avoid both of these things if we can.  This won't be like fighting glassers or the like.  These things will actually shoot back.”

“Only if we give them the chance,” Marle said.  “I don't intend to let any of these machines see what they're shooting at if it comes down to a fight.”

“What about that other thing Johnny showed us a bit ago?  That sixty-six model robot?”

Lucca looked uncomfortable.  “If we see one, we should probably run like the Day of Lavos were upon us.  Nothing short of a plasma bolt will make a dent in the plating it has, and there's no way to know how vulnerable its joints might be.”

“It didn't look like it had any weapons, though,” Marle pointed out.

“That was an old schematic, dating from around the time it was first built before the Day of Lavos.  1995 or so.  If it's been corrupted by that 'song' Johnny mentioned, it could have any number of offensive abilities to suit its new directive.  I think its two front chest plates open up, so it could be hiding weapons in there.  That's what I saw in the schematic, anyway.”

“Avoid at all costs, then,” Crono said.  “Is there anything else we should know?”

“Just that all the info we have is at least thirty years out of date.  The only thing we know for certain is where the temporal gate is.  We need to stay hidden and get to the gate as quick as we can.  No unnecessary heroics.”

“It's as good a plan as we're going to have under the circumstances.  Nothing for it but to make it happen.”

Lucca closed her diary, and Marle came to her feet and stretched, gazing into the swirling chaos to the east that was Death Peak.  She wanted this image burned in her memory.  The picture of what would happen and what would always endure if the future didn't change.  Then she turned around and regarded the setting sun.  As far as Marle was concerned this would be the last time the sun would be allowed to set on this ruined future.  Once she was back in the past, all of the rules would change.  A new future would be created, and the creature known as Lavos would never live to wreak such destruction as she had witnessed.

Thinking of Mary, doubtlessly hard at work back at the Bangor enclave, Marle collected herself and strode over to where the proudly shining Johnny Comet was parked on the road, waiting to drive everyone to their destiny.

Fan Fiction / A novel fragment - Robo's reactivation
« on: April 06, 2024, 11:10:56 pm »
Just to show that my long-time novel project is still in active development, I'd like to share part of a chapter that I haven't published previously.  It takes place shortly after Crono, Marle, and Lucca arrive in the ruins of Arris Dome (Proto-Dome in the original game) and retreat underground to hide from the robots who dominate this part of the world.  I switched the names of certain locations simply because they sounded better in the narrative.  Geographically they are in the same positions they were in the OG.  The old Arris Dome is now Bangor Dome, and the old Proto Dome is now Arris Dome.  Bangor is the central hub from which most of the adventures of this era are experienced, while Arris is the location of the second temporal gate to advance the story.

Unlike my previous posts, I won't use a PDF and simply copy the text into a standard post, like how most everyone else shares their content.  This way will be much easier for people to read and commentate on.

Hey all.  It's been a few years since I've lurked around here.  The recent re-release of Chrono Cross has got Chrono back to the front of my mind, not to mention the passage of time.  So much has changed in the world since 2015.  Just when you begin to think you might be in the Ideal Timeline, reality throws you a curveball and you wish you could open a dimensional portal someplace else, or maybe go back in time to make a few changes.  Barring Lucca becoming real and inventing something that will enable us to do that, all we really have is this dreamspace to reminisce about what was and what might be.  How many of the old gang are still around?

I've been continuing on my Chrono Trigger novel project whenever I get struck by the writing bug.  There's quite a bit more material than the chapters I've already posted here, and I may post those at a future date if there's enough interest.  In the meantime, I've been struck by the urge, insane as it is, to start on a reboot novelization of Chrono Cross.  It can't be called canon, since I have a number of changes planned that just can't fully mesh with the world we already know, but I try and keep it as close to the original story as possible and make any changes feel organic rather than arbitrary.  I've already posted what little I've written in the fan-fiction section and am looking forward to some feedback.

It's good to see all of you again.  Maybe something good can yet come out of this timeline.

Hello, everyone.  Been quite a while since I posted here.  Since the release of the Radical Dreamers edition of Chrono Cross, which I plan on playing through this summer, Chrono has very much been on my mind.  I am still working on my Chrono Trigger novel project off and on, but the further along I get on that, the more I realize that I need a solid narrative grasp of Chrono Cross in order to continue.  The reason being that the events of my Chrono Trigger series actually take place after the events of Chrono Cross, due to what Schala/Kid does after her spirit is freed by Serge and she transcends into a higher state of being.  Not to give too much away, but Schala/Kid basically resets time and everything goes back to the beginning.  Everything will transpire the way it did before until a certain point is reached, that point being called the Chrono Break, from which things will begin to diverge slightly from how they did in the original timeline, and create a possibility in which everyone can be saved and live out a full life in what I call the Ideal Timeline.  While this would seem to involve only the Chrono Trigger cast, events will transpire in which a few characters from Chrono Cross will get involved as well, and their involvement is critical to how the whole Chrono saga ends.  So, Chrono Cross has to be tackled in full narrative format to set up the tale I really want to tell.

I'll be honest, novelizing Chrono Cross is a project I long feared to be impossible due to how complicated the tale is and how it was presented to us in the original game.  Some aspects of the story remain head-scratchers 23 years after the game's release, and I'll admit that some of it still eludes me today.  It is for that reason that I call this a "Great Experiment".  But these characters deserve the best treatment I can give them, and if there is any possibility that I can tell this tale in a way that is easier to follow than the original game, I want to try.

It is important to note that this will not be a one to one translation of the original game.  (Hence the "Remake" moniker.) Some events will come completely out of left field, though I intend to follow the main events of the original game as closely as I can and include some of the original dialogue where it is workable.

Talking about the project itself, the biggest change from the original game is that it is no longer strictly Serge-centric.  Serge remains the story's protagonist - as he must be - but the story is no longer solely about him and the terrible hand fate has dealt him.  It is also about the characters who have the strongest emotional connection to Serge and how they deal with the hand fate dealt them, as well as with the unspeakable dangers facing their world.  To this end I use a narrative concept I call the "holy trinity", in which all the major events of the story revolve around one (or more) of three characters.  It is a classic technique we see in numerous franchises of pop culture, like Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Matrix.  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Luke, Han, and Leia.  Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka.  Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus.  I look at Crono, Marle, and Lucca in the same way.  For Chrono Cross, the holy trinity must consist of Serge and the two characters who have the strongest emotional connection with him: Kid and Leena.

We know how important Kid is both to Serge and the larger Chrono mythos.  All we really know about Leena is that she is close to Serge, maybe desires a deeper relationship with him, and has a philosophical way of looking at the world.  Elevating her to holy trinity status requires her character to be expanded upon to where she is nearly as important to the story as Serge himself.  Fortunately there are a number of subtle clues in original canon that suggests she might have been intended to play a larger role in Chrono Cross, but for whatever reason that role was left on the cutting room floor by the developers, and we are left to wonder what might have been.  I have decided to take those subtle clues and run with them.  The trick to making Leena's elevation work is to make sure her story compliments Serge's story without completely overshadowing it.  To this end, we will see that quite unlike the original game, Home Leena and Another Leena are not clones of one another, but are shown to be very different people because of what did or did not happen to Serge 10 years ago.  This in turn shows how important Serge is, in that his presence or absence can have a profound impact on someone's life.

Other characters will have moments of great importance and provide aid to the three mains, but they will never be quite as important as the holy trinity.  Using this narrative structure helps keep the original game's rather large cast manageable and the story more focused.

Getting into the narrative itself, Serge and Leena now both have last names.  Serge Krayton and Leena Lawson.  I also decided to start with the dream flash-forward sequence from the original game and use it to help establish why Serge is important beyond his role in splitting the world in two.  He can see things before they happen in his dreams.  Dreams are an important theme for Masato Kato, so it is important to make that front and center for his protagonist.  The flash-forward sequence is a bit rough compared to the rest of my written material at this point and will probably undergo a lot of revisions still, but most of what follows after is solid enough to probably make it through to a finalized state.  The other thing that needs to be mentioned is that I am working on the first two volumes (books) at the same time because the first part of volume two takes place around the same time as the beginning of volume one, only from Home Leena's perspective.  Volume one will probably cover everything between the komodo scale hunt and the events at Ft. Dragonia.  Volume two will flash back to the day the Angelus Errare appears at Opassa and follow things from Home Leena's perspective for awhile.

Included here is everything I have written in full narrative so far: the first two chapters of volume one - told from Serge's perspective, and the first chapter of volume two - told from Home Leena's perspective.  As always, any feedback is appreciated.  Playing fast and loose with established canon is always a bit risky, so if I'm making a critical mistake I can't easily work around I need to know.  I hope everyone enjoys these.

Magic, Elements, and Technology / Zealian schools of magic - revised
« on: November 24, 2014, 07:35:24 am »
The following is a revamped account of magic in the world of Chrono, and, specifically, how the people of Zeal classify it and train in its use.  I wanted to lean away from strictly elemental descriptions such as fire, water, or lightning, as well as esoteric concepts like Shadow (darkness/evil).  The casting of magic is all about a state of mind and what that state can achieve.  The way that power is manifested in a given school can vary greatly, so describing a school as "water", for example, really doesn't explain what all can be done with that particular discipline.  I am making these changes in the interests of my ongoing novel series, which will incorporate these concepts when magic is first introduced to the reader at The End of Time, and explained more fully in book two when Crono's adventures in Zeal take place.

Zealians are given a general education in the magical arts at a young age, and most people gain rudimentary ability in several different schools.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Training in one school will not preclude training in another, even if certain elemental manifestations of differing schools, like fire and ice, would seem to oppose each other.  That said, the great majority of Zealians dedicate their lives to the mastery of a single school and often avoid training in others.  The mental discipline it takes to achieve the correct state of mind for each school is difficult, and only exceptional individuals achieve mastery of more than one school.  To achieve mastery of three is a feat usually reserved for the most potent of bloodlines, such as the Imperial Family or that of the Gurus.  Mastery of four schools is something only one person - Schala - has ever been able to achieve.  No one on record has mastered all five schools.

The five schools of magic all invoke certain emotional states and use discipline to guide the user's will into useful applications.  The stronger the discipline, the more power and control the user has over the abilities his or her school can manifest.  An untrained mind, driven to emotional turmoil, can manifest great power as well, but the uncontrolled nature of such outbursts are often exhausting and inefficient, even dangerous.  However, it can be just as likely that an emotionally turbulent individual, unable to focus on any one mental state, cannot effectively channel anything.  This is most often seen in the very young, and even a strong bloodline - as in the case of Prince Janus - cannot overcome a lack of mental fortitude.  This must be considered in the training of every school.  The five schools are as follows:

Passion:  Passion is the power of self.  It channels the desire of the individual into power that can mold the world around the user however he or she chooses.  This power often manifests itself in the form of fire.  In terms of sheer strength, Passion is the strongest of the five schools.  A focused channeling of Passion can melt the hardest of metals and turn solid stone into liquid fire.  The destructive potential of Passion is without limit, and is mitigated only by the desire of the user.  For this reason, Passion is also the most dangerous school.  An individual's desires can well exceed their ability to effectively channel those desires into power - sometimes ending in a self-immolation or more wide-ranging calamity.  Because of its ability to melt and mold various elements together, Passion is often the province of builders and architects.  An aptitude for Passion is often triggered by a desire to change the world.  Practitioners have a tendency to be overconfident and even narcissistic, particularly when they are young.  Barring formal training in the Zealian ways, powerful feelings of anger or love can manifest unfocused channeling of fire.

Energy:  Energy is the power of transformation.  It transforms the will of the user into raw energy that can be directed either outward or inward.  This power often manifests itself in the form of lightning, though great physical prowess can also be attributed to an Energy user.  Due to its ability to direct power and enhance strength, Energy is often the province of guardians or warriors, and is the school of choice for a dedicated magical duelist.  Great care must be taken with the use of Energy.  It is possible to enhance strength well beyond what a practitioner's body can withstand, and the outward applications of this school are no less perilous if poorly channeled.  An aptitude for Energy is often triggered by a desire for self-improvement and the ability to protect others.  Practitioners have a tendency to focus on the moment, and are very decisive when it comes to taking action.  Barring formal training in the Zealian ways, powerful feelings of fear or single-minded focus can manifest unfocused channeling of lightning, or a surge in strength.

Force:  Force is the power of matter.  It channels the wishes of the user into the power to manipulate the world around them.  This power can manifest itself in many ways, but it is usually in the form of a telekinetic feat; moving and shaping matter with the power of the mind.  Force is the most versatile of the five schools, and has applications for almost any endeavor.  It can move the heaviest of objects, hurl them at extreme velocities, condense moisture into a block of solid ice, or condense air into an impenetrable screen.  An expert practitioner of Force can use their telekinetic abilities to protect themselves against almost anything, whether it be an environmental hazard or an attack.  An aptitude for Force is often triggered by a desire to change one's circumstance.  Practitioners have a tendency to be emotional and sometimes erratic, and this must always be borne in mind when training a Force user.  Barring formal training in the Zealian ways, powerful feelings of despair and loss can manifest an unintended telekinetic feat.

Healing:  Healing is the power of the body.  It channels the will of the user into a power that can rejuvenate living things.  This power usually manifests itself in the healing of the sick or the injured, but it can also be used to drain the energy of another if the user desires.  This school is unique in that its applications are only useful to the living.  It can accelerate and enhance a body's natural healing process to cure diseases, heal wounds, or purge maladies.  It is important to note that the power of Healing does not come solely from the user, rather the user simply enervates what is already there.  Therefore, Healing powers cannot be used to bring people back from the dead.  Expert use of the Healing school can extend a normal lifespan by many decades, but even this has limits.  A Zealian under the lifetime care of an accomplished Healing user can live about 180 years, and in rare cases as many as 200.  An aptitude for Healing is triggered by an intense desire to help others.  Practitioners have a tendency to be sympathetic to those of lesser standing or circumstance.  Barring formal training in the Zealian ways, a user can unconsciously heal minor injuries to themselves or others by pressing hands on the wound.

Dreams:  Dreams are the power of the soul.  Unlike the other four schools of magic, the applications of Dreams are useful only in the metaphysical plane.  It is the province of thinkers and philosophers, people who contemplate questions such as the meaning of life and the nature of existence.  It is the most difficult of the five schools to master, and some would say that mastery isn't possible.  Through the use of Dreams, people can analyze the realm of the subconscious, both in themselves and in others.  A practitioner of Dreams can enter the mind of another person and guide their unconscious thoughts, so long as the recipient is willing.  However, expert users can move well beyond entering the dreams of mortals and can enter the dream of the World itself.  Gurus of the ancient past spoke of a singular unfocused, yet all-encompassing consciousness that spanned both the physical and metaphysical planes.  One who heard the song of the World, it was said, could gain insight into the past, or even the future.  People who can enter the dream of the World are extrodinarily rare, and only a small number of those people can understand what the dream is telling them.  Practitioners of Dreams must have a strong sense of self.  Those who do not, or who falter, suffer cruel fates.  Their essenses can become trapped in the mind of another.  They can question who they are, or if their existence is even real.  The most terrible fate is that of a Je'saal'ook (roughly translated "The foolish transformed"), who, through becoming lost in a dream and questioning his or her own nature, transformed themselves into a non-human form without the ability to change back.  Due to the inherent dangers of the Dreaming school of magic, novice practitioners are closely monitored by Elders and high-ranking Adepts.  Everyone has a certain aptitude for Dreaming, but to make any practical use of it requires extensive training.  There are no records of anyone without training developing useful skill.

Jumping out of encyclopedia mode, it isn't hard to guess which characters are suited to which schools.  Lucca is the poster-girl for Passion and takes it up to eleven.  Crono is the perennial Energy practitioner.  And Marle would be anyone's best friend in a scorching desert - or if you need someone to help you move the furniture.  Where things might differ a bit from expectations is how some of the characters in the story combine different schools to achieve their full potential.  Lucca, for example, isn't a one-trick fire pony.  She also develops skill in Force magic, but uses it in a very different way from Marle's applications.  Lucca's barrier skill is taylor-made to protect herself - and only herself - from enemy attack.  And "Flare" is a fire attack backed up by a telekinetic Force bubble or thrust to either explode at a desired point or to penetrate the defenses of powerful opponents.  Other magic practitioners use their schools to aid themselves and their allies in ways appropriate to their skillset and disposition, and with different levels of efficacy.  Dreams are harder to quantify.  Magus develops considerable skill in Dreams, but only in response to an important plot point involving Lucca.  Lucca herself gains some experience from this event, but can only ever link minds with Magus.  Glenn has a bond with the Masamune, but often has difficulty making sense of what the child-like spirits of the blade tell him.  And Crono and Marle share an empathic link in close proximity but cannot manage true telepathy or thought guidance with themselves or anyone else.  Obviously, I use Dreams as something of a plot device to advance character interaction and to establish certain limits on the characters.  Any other thoughts on the nature of this new magic classification and how it can be applied to the world of Chrono would be welcome.

In a rather startling change of tone for the company, Square-Enix president Yosuke Matsuda has admitted that the company "lost it's focus" when attempting to make games for a wide global audience.  This change in attitude was apparently spurred by poor sales of recent Square-Enix titles in Japan, and unexpectedly high sales of the more traditional JRPG "Bravely Default", which the company considered to be only a niche title at its release.

"Not only did they end up being games that weren’t for the Japanese," said Matsuda on the company's recent slate of Japanese titles, "but they ended up being incomplete titles that weren’t even fit for a global audience.”

I find it encouraging that Square-Enix is publicly expressing contrition on their policy of chasing the mass market instead of focusing on what made them great in the past.  It remains to be seen if this is anything more than rhetoric, but I'm hoping it's a sign of a much-needed change in corporate culture.  Certainly, this represents a possibility that a Chrono remake/sequel might actually be on the table sometime in the future.  At the very least, a change in attitude and focus will bear fruit in whatever IP they pursue.  Thoughts, anyone?

News Submissions / Chrono Trigger: Episode 1 - Part 1 January 2014 update
« on: January 13, 2014, 05:59:30 am »
Hello all,

Do you like Chrono Fan-fiction?  Do you love the original story so much that you would like to see it retold in greater detail?  Do you like... surprises?  :wink:  Would you like to see Crono, Marle, and Lucca come to life like never before?  Your wish is granted.  This latest update to my ongoing Chrono Trigger novel project covers every event between the Millennial Fair and the escape from Guardia Castle.  For those of you already familiar with the project, this update includes all 13 previously released chapters - newly re-edited - along with four new ones, all in one pdf file.  If you aren't familiar with the project, its quality and its scope may surprise you.  And this is only the beginning.  Find it here:

Fan Fiction / Chrono Trigger: Episode 1 - Part 1 January 2014 update
« on: January 13, 2014, 04:34:58 am »
Greetings Compendiumites.

The next installment of my Chrono Trigger novel project is ready for the Compendium's enjoyment and review.  I know it's been a long time since my last update, and I apologize for that.  Crono's trial was one of the most challenging things for me to visualize and put into narrative.  This is one of the slower moments of the story, and finding the right balance between pacing and a satisfying portrayal of the event was a source of much head-banging on my keyboard.  I felt that putting Lucca in the same boat as Crono, at least as far as the kidnapping charge is concerned, was key to making the scene work.  (That was inspired by a piece of fan-art that had Lucca cry “Objection!” at the top of her lungs a-la Phoenix Wright.)  Showing the trial from Princess Nadia's perspective also was very helpful, and not something that most people would expect since Nadia was not present at the trial in the original game.  You will find numerous surprises in the new material, including the origins of the name “Marle”, as well as a couple of hints of what I intend to do regarding the characters of Chrono Cross.  I can already hear the “That's not canon!” complaints on that score.  Just understand that I have thought this through to some extent, and keep an open mind.  Remember that this is a remake more than a rehash.

Unlike my previous updates, and on the advice from some of you, I have decided to post the entirety of what I have written to date in a single pdf file.  The first 13 chapters have been given a much needed re-edit, resulting in hundreds of minor corrections and clarifications.  Most important was the resolving of a plot hole regarding Queen Leene's captivity and Yakra's original plans for her, which I should have caught a long time ago.  This is no small piece of fan-fiction, and I hesitate to even call it that since I've put my very best effort into it.  It totals 241 pages of single-spaced material across 17 chapters.  It covers all of the events between the Millennial Fair and the moment that Crono, Marle, and Lucca escape from Guardia Castle and enter the temporal gate to the ruined future.  For those that want to skip straight to the new material, it begins on page 186.

This represents somewhere between the ¼ and 1/3rd point of book one in a four volume series.  Having this much published material is a big moment for me, so I greatly value any feedback the community can give me.

Happy belated new year, and happy reading!

Chrono Compendium Discussion / Trouble posting attachments
« on: January 12, 2014, 09:57:17 pm »
I'm getting a 513 error when I attempt to post a 1000 kb (1 Mb) attachment to the fan-fiction thread.  Since it's clearly stated that the maximum size for attachments is 6000 kb, I wonder what is going on?  I would really like to post an update to my ongoing novel project.  (It was ready on Friday night, but I had to put it off because of the server move.)  :(

News Submissions / Physicist: Time travel possible
« on: September 15, 2013, 11:14:33 pm »
A University of Manchester physicist has claimed that the dream of traveling through time is by no means impossible.  Just don't expect to do it at 88 mph.

Brian Cox said that travel into the future would be possible through simply going really really fast, accelerating to a velocity near the speed of light.  Under Einstein's Theory of Relativity, a person traveling at near-light speeds would be experiencing time at a much slower rate compared to that of the surrounding universe.  Scientists explain this phenomenon through the "Twin Paradox": Imagine twins, one stays on Earth (Twin A) while the other (Twin B) boards a spaceship and flies off at relativistic speeds. Compared with Twin A’s timeframe, Twin B’s timeframe will slow. If time is running slower for Twin B, then he/she will return to Earth where a lot more time has passed and Twin A has aged significantly more than Twin B. The mechanism behind this is “time dilation” and it has a stronger effect as you travel closer and closer to the speed of light.  However, traveling through time in this fashion would be a one-way trip.  Returning to the time of your departure, or to another point in the past, would not be possible using conventional means.  You need a wormhole to do that.  And that introduces a slew of new problems.  How do you create the wormhole in the first place?  How do you make it lead to the desired point in space-time?  How do you maintain its stability?  Neither quantum mechanics nor the theory of relativity provide the full answer to these questions.  We can ask Lucca, of course, but her answer would be completely incomprehensible to us laypeople.

General Discussion / Square-Enix president Yoichi Wada resigns
« on: April 10, 2013, 05:51:50 am »
Apparently, the critical success of three of Square-Enix's latest titles (Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs) were not enough to reverse the downward trend of the company.  Following the news of an expected 10 billion yen loss, Square-Enix's long-time president Yoichi Wada is calling it quits.  He is expected to be replaced by vice-president Yosuke Matsuda.

Although Wada's departure will probably be celebrated by many Compendiumites, the fact that even successful titles cannot right the sinking ship is very disheartening.  It's been said that since S/E specializes mainly in single-player IPs, it can no longer effectively compete against AAA titles with a strong multiplayer component.  This fact will no doubt be on the mind of the incoming Matsuda, who has promised a "comprehensive review" of the company.

"I'd like to fundamentally review what works and what doesn't work for our company," said Matsuda, "then cast all of our resources towards extending what makes us successful and thoroughly squeezing out what doesn't."

It's difficult to know what the company will look like when the restructuring is complete, except that it will be very different.  It may be that what gets "squeezed out" is the idea of a big-budget single-player experience.  That would effectively end Final Fantasy as we know it, to say nothing about a Chrono sequel or remake.  A contributing factor to the decision will be the very disappointing sales figures from North America (not including digital sales, which have not been compiled) this fiscal year.

So what does everyone think about Square-Enix's future post-Wada?

Chrono / Gameplay Casual Discussion / Chrono Cross on NPR
« on: December 10, 2012, 09:08:54 pm »
I was listening to NPR while at work and got an unexpected treat on "All Things Considered".  They did an article about this French-Canadian violinist translating video game music into classical arrangements.  Mentioned were the soundtracks of Angry Birds, Tetris, and Halo 3.  I was waiting with bated breath to see if any of the Chrono games would be mentioned.  They weren't.  Just when I was about to dismiss the article as an opportunity missed, the piece was anchored by the main theme from Chrono Cross.

Although not mentioned by name, we had some arranged Chrono music being performed on national radio for 15 seconds.  That, I think, can only bode well for the future.

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