THE BOUNDLESS - first draft, updated in real time as I type

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FINAL Wordcount: 133,222

Sunday 1st November 2015: 2052

Monday 2nd: 2120 (4172)

Tuesday 3rd: 1976 (6148)

Wednesday 4th: 2055 (8203)

Thursday 5th: 2392 (10595)

Friday 6th: 1097 (11692)

Saturday 7th *The Wordathon*!

Target total = 50,000 (61692)

For full, raw text from the Wordathon, please see here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Xswhvv4W9ty7FCXMOXmncH6T0Ge2SOlm6XE8O6SpPcc/pub 

Started at 5am (‘dawn til dawn’)

6am: 2115

7am: 2111 (4226)

8am: 2238 (6464)

9am: 2063 (8527)

10am: 2124 (10651)

11am: 2115 (12766)

12 noon: 2135 (14901)

1pm: 2133 (17034)

2pm: 2138 (19172)

3pm: 2113 (21285)

4pm: 2122 (23407)

5pm (halfway!): 1680 (25087) [Lunch!]

6pm: 2132 (27219)

7pm: 2120 (29339)

8pm: 2125 (31464)

9pm: 2138 (33602)

10pm: 2238 (35840)

11pm: 2140 (37980)

Midnight (Sun 8th November): 2123 (40103)

1am: 2119 (42222)

2am: 2122 (44344)

3am: 2115 (46459)

4am: 2126 (48585)

5am (finish!): 1425 (50010)

Sunday 8th: 0 (61702) [Rest day!]

Monday 9th: 0 (61702)

Tuesday 10th: 139 (61841) [Editing typos]

Wednesday 11th: 1347 (63188)

Thursday 12th: 0 (63188)

Friday 13th: 0 [Copying over to Scrivener] (63188)

I had a slight scare that Google Docs had failed to sync my offline edits on Friday 13th (a bad omen), so from now on I am going to write in Scrivener and copy to here after each session.

Saturday 14th: 0 [Plotting] (63188)

Sunday 15th: -1090 [cutting typos] (62098)

Monday 16th: 1158 (63256)

Tuesday 17th: 1010 + 1023 + 1138 + 1105 = 4276 (67532)

Wednesday 18th: 870 [on the bus!] + 105 + 498 + 608 + 812 + 570 + 312 + 605 + 843 = 5223 (72777) [I started a Harry Potter word crawl! Check out my results: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GcPdMDON0jVaz5itaQwlRqnDAQ6p7xfeIZoTTTyPpXo/pubhtml?gid=0&single=true]

Thursday 19th: 2168 (74944) [continued HP word crawl]

Friday 20th: 0 (74944)

Saturday 21st: 864 (75808)

Sunday 22nd: 0 (75808)

Monday 23rd: 596 (76404)

Tuesday 24th: 1177 + 1394 + 1323 + 1204 + 1339 + 1392 + 1148 + 1031 + 1328 + 668 = 12004 (88447) [slight discrepancy - going with Scrivener figures]

Wednesday 25th: 12209 (100656)

Thursday 26th: 9413 (110069)

Friday 27th: 10021 (120090) [last few days in shared online Effective Altruism workspace]

Saturday 28th: 2001 (122091) [sleepy Caffe Nero write-in]

Sunday 29th: 5028 (127119)

Monday 30th: 6103 (133,222)

I DID IT!!!

See my NaNoWriMo wordcount graph: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/salstar24/novels/the-boundless/stats 

Sponsor me! http://classy.org/newbietonovelist

NOW CLOSED since *12th December 2015*

Anyone who sponsors me $16.67 or more gets to name a character!


DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A NOVEL.

This is not even a completed first draft. There are no guarantees that what you read will be chronological or connected and it will certainly be riddled with plot holes. It is not even my best effort at good quality writing, because that comes much later, when I am polishing and editing. So if you want to read this, please go ahead, but understand that it is only here to satisfy curiosity about the process of novel-writing, not to provide any sort of product yet.

N.B.: This is a real person's attempt to get creative - please be kind! There is a reason why most artists don't let people see their first attempts. First drafts exist to suck.

The ‘Newbie to Novelist’ challenge

Why am I putting myself through this? To raise money for a great cause, that's why, and help NaNoWriMo bring the joy of writing to disadvantaged people. I am aiming to raise $1,667 - 1,667 is a special number because it is the daily wordcount goal that all 'WriMos' have to achieve in order to reach 50,000 words in 30 days.

Here’s a short introduction to me: I am Sally, a music theory tutor and the coordinator for the Writing Magazine’s creative writing courses and competitions (both of which I highly recommend, by the way). I like playing with my dog and supporting my boyfriend by being Chief Groupie for his band The Red Levels (also highly recommended!).

Follow my progress at my various web-spaces below:

*Spoilers ahead* - obviously. If you would rather read the final, edited, publishable version, you'll need to wait a few months!

Naming chart

Name of character

Who they are

Who named them*

The Boundless

7 immortal rulers of the planet

Francis Watters (my boyfriend)

Enn

Protagonist

Me

Thirteen

Protagonist

Me

Lucy

A Boundless

Me - open to renaming

[TechyBoundless]

A Boundless

Techies/Techy

People from the technological society

Me - open to renaming

[TechyPolice]

The secret police type people

[LucySociety]

People from the hunter-gatherer society

[Enn’s tribe]

Enn’s tribe.

[Parent]

One of Enn’s partners. Tallest in the tribe.

[Child] (Jay?) - 7 yrs

One of Enn’s children

[Child2] - 10 yrs

One of Enn’s children

119 (‘One-one-nine’) [F] Nicknames: Eleventy-nine / Elevenses / Ella (in the underground resistance)

Thirteen’s friend (member of underground)

Me

903 (‘Nine-oh-three’) [M]

Thirteen’s (boy??)friend (works in the meteor scanner)

Me - open to renaming (must be a number)

4385 [F]

Child who Thirteen loses in museum

Me

2827 [M]

Taller, older boy who is Thirteen’s unofficial 2nd supervisor at the museum

Me

Naming competition - * The people listed here won the chance to name a character when they sponsored me. I still need more names! So if you are sad to have missed out, then all you need to do is sponsor me $16.67 by 12th December and you can name a character. :)


~ WORDCOUNT STARTS FROM BELOW THIS LINE ~


Chapter One

Prologue

The ship was a mrvel of the best technology of her time. And her time was at least 7000 years' or so into the future from when you are reading this, dear human. So it had a r pretty sleek design, very smooth and curved, and more importuantly, under the hood there was a warp enging, a complicated AI computer, shields against solar rays and a everything else necessary for jumping f across huge light-years o f space and getting all the way over ot the other side of the universe.

The real marvel of thsi this ship though had nothing to do with t her engine. It was all to do with the passengers - or more accurately, if more crudely, they were cargo. This was because they were gbbeing held in stasis for the whole trip across the universe - they there would be no long wait for them, getting older at a lslgitthly differen t rate to their Earth peers but still n getting older - and arrive remembering the day they had stepped in to the ship as liteerally yetesterday. There had been stasis posds before, of course. - But most of them worked by trying to suspend allt the bodily processes, or slow them down to negligible rates, adn use 'suspended animoation'. Well, that was fine as far as it wn went, but t it didn't explain i t it was really a bit messy and it only lasted for a y few years tops. THIS was different. This method of time // space travel used the new technology of time stasis posds, which worked on a completley different principle. Rather than try to freeze the body's degradation, why not s freeze the time *around* the body that was inside the pod? For them, no time would have passed. They owuld would not even need oxygen or nutreinets wpiped into them( (at great expense)( all across the many light-years. They could simply be wrapped inside the temperature-colntrolled core of the warp drive engines, where the time enging nestled into the flold s of the [what on earth would it look like?] And the ship could fly nd almsot almost forget they were even thour tehere.

A So all the ship needed to fly was a bare-bones long-haul skeleton crew, because the alte artifical artificial intelligence was good enough to even steer the wh ship for itself. So the skeleton crew existed merely to [would it even have any breathing humans aboard?] They were paid most handsomely for their sacrifice, of course - when they got baclk, they would live the rest of their lives with all the life-enhancing drugs that the time company could offer, and access to whatever new technology they had managed to make in the intervening time. And, of courese, their children and their children's children were set up for life. For people who didn't mind the forty years of queit down time and a lot of aolone time, it was heaven.

[Actually do this bit by introducing a character - twould there be three people? yueah, I've ready that's a good number for standard procedure - and introduce their day on the ship as they come up to the planet. Desciriibe why each of them chose to go on such a long-haul flight, and how they deal with only having seen each other for the last jijk forthy years?]

The problem was - and there does have to be a problem, because there is no story without a problem - the problem was that this mission had taken a bit longer than scheduled. A screw-up at central e headquarters back on Earth, years bfore the ship had even been built and while still in the planning stages, meant that

The distance to the alien distant alienc civilisation of [Aliens names] , with which the Earth and the human clolonies and the whole Federation of [can I just rip off Star trek? Would they accept it as a nodding passing tribute?] were very nearly at war with in the century befofre, was a few dozen light-years fruther than the scientists thought,b before the pecace agreement made flow of informatin much easier. Now those few dozen light-years had been factored into the flight patterns and the route and everything else that the crew needed to knw - but it had not been factoreed into the original diseing of the ship. And the r trouble was that jit it the solar radiation shields were not quite up to the job. It didn't help that a few detours and mishaps, as always come up in long-haul space flights (balck holes and squalls and stars pulling them a bit off path) an had further delayed thier their journey, exposing them to even more solar radiation. And the crucial shield on the bottomo of the ship (if you hare are taking gravity as the direction of the artificial gravity as the location of the  'bottom', which is wella ccepted in today's space-ship design scircles) that covered the engine and computer core had failed just a little bit some time ago.

Now the effect of the solar radiation lead on the *leak on the computer was subtle. It was a good computer. It did not just immediately shut down. But it could not be unaffected. So the trouble was that because the solar leak was not threatening any of the living inhbabitants, no alarm wwas sounded; but the AI computer was going to be the main am and most important victim of this terrible night. (not that night happens in space. You know what I mena.)

So when they came to navigaitiong around a particular non-descript solar system somewhere far out o in the otuter reaches of the second galsaxy along from ours, and the cerew decided to set the ship to autopilot and just go through rather than round - it would take less time- the made the decision that o woudl would trigger this whole book. Because the AI had worked many times before of course, so they did not t doubt that it would now. And it did - but in between two fairly close planets t it registered a bli p on its montiors. IT found a point of zero gravity , which it incorrectly f associated with and s assumed meant that that point would be a spa point in deep space. Inf fact w it was the i tiny point between two moons, or betweeen between a moon and a pleanet, where gravity from both celestial bodies cancels each other out. [Improve the science!] Now, normally the AI could handle that little calul ation, but there wsas another one that it didn't take account - of - its  this planet had Twin Moons.[ [Maybe if this book sin't called the boundless it could be called something to do with the twin moons, since that is at the root of the whole crash and problem in the first place.] Now twin moons ar are a rare phenomena, and vastly complicate the effect of the j gravity swirling around near a planet. The jjjj computer , as it steered the ship towards this point, led it dtoo jj the this point, of zero gravity g between the moons, and the jjjj jjjjjj jjjjjjjj spiralling gravity well that the two moons created spin spun it off course. And THEN it was caught in the main pleanet's gravity, and as anyone in modern space-ship design will tell you, you don't want to have an interstellar sphip caugtht up in tn an inner planet's gravity. They aren't built to withstand proper gravity. The glorious, beautiful ship plummeted to crash on the surface on the of the planet, and the person that would have bene that - if hit hadn't been for Benji.

Benji was a kind ou sould, and he meant well. It is a rare person who thinks of the conseuquences for others while knowing for certain that they are b about to die. But And it is fair on Benji to report that he would haveb been troiubled beyiond words to hear about the suffereing inflicted on his passenger cargo by his actions.

You see, in the fianl seconds, when the crew realised what wer was abbout to happen, and the other two were busy panicking, Benji was thinking about the planet below him. The ship was big enough to wipe out all life on the surface of this planet, so what he dneeded to know whas - was there any life on the surface?>

[Maybe the AI computer is what is still used by the Boundless for uploading their memories and dealing ti with m the digital side of the wind-wi mind-wipe rprocess, but it is still a little dodge bacause of it's sun solar-ray addlesd circuits and now it's great great age?]

So with his last minute, hie instructed the Ai computer to scan for life signes. And because fo what he saw there, he decided to try a reroute  desperate tthing. He rerouted the time engine into the warp engine, so that they would both blow up, scattering piece s (m crucially, much smaller pieces) across the whole of the this hemisphere [not hemisphere - what's the word for the sideo of the planet you can currently see?] and hoepfully harming less. GBut - and Benji chose this quite deliberately - the time enginge blew up before the warp i engine. So the first explosion took the ship far, far back - like, way back when this planeet was till putting in its finishing touches - and the second merely exploded the phsyeical parts.

This book is about what Benji saw. :)

Some character background on the trhree crew to insert later: Benji, as we have just seen, is special, keeps his head in a crisis, and is OK with making bidg decisions for the greater good with limited information; [other crew] is maybe called Jonny for now, he has a messy divorce behind him but two lovely kids, and he felt it would be better for them all if he left tthem well rprovided for but took himself out of the equation for the rest of his lifetime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part I: Part 1 - [LucyLand]

 

Chapter Two

Chapter 1 - Thirteen

 

Reward announced

[One week earlier]

   At work - the quarterly 'rewards' are announced, and Thirteen has earned the right/honour to take the younger children on their first day-trip to the museum to understand their glorious heritage

#

Telling Nine about Reward

   Foreshadowing: show the meteor-watching post? That's where Thirteen's different friend works? - Mentions that she gets 'lucky' because of the prime number thing?

After my second shift ended, I bolted for the exit which would lead up to the observation platform. I had been buzzing all day with the anticipation of telling Nine-Oh-Three my good news.

[...]

'Oh really? Wow. Well done,' he said, but his words sounded totally flat. I looked more closely at him, this time noting the height of his shoulders and the tension of his brow.

'What is it, Nine? Is something wrong?'

'No - no, I'm sorry,' Nine said, letting out a big, stressed sigh. 'It's great, I'm happy for you, really. It's just - well - I'm sorry to say it, babe[change - love?], but why you?'

[Nine quite manipulative? Older than Thirteen? 33 to her 22?]

I stared at him. He definitely sounded angry. But I didn't even have control over the Reward! And anyway, I had never dreamed he would act this way when I told him something so exciting.

Nine-Oh-Three glanced away from the screen and up at me for a sec. [He's sat in a swivel chair at his console.] My disappointment must have been plain to see, as it made his face go darker.

'Don't look like that, I'm not wrong. Look, be rational - who has worked more hours in their lives, me or you?'

'You, but - ' He was eleven years older than me! That wasn't fair!

'And have I ever had a single day of holiday?'

'No, but - but - ' Now I wanted to cry. How stupid I was to be so callous as to flaunt my good fortune in front of Nine! I should have thought. Guilt washed over me. 'Nine, I'm sorry...'

'Well. We can't all be called Thirteen, I suppose.'

'Oh Nine, you can't really believe that? That's just a silly superstition, you know it's irrational...' I could hear the whine in my voice, I was almost begging him to agree with me.

'Well I can't think of any other reason you got chosen. It must be the luck of the Primes, and you know it.'

#

Museum - arrival & looking around

Same day as Enn's events in chapter 2 [maybe all the societies celebrate that day as a historical occasion, e.g. a 'landing day' or something? So [LucySociety] is having a party/ceremony and the Techies are allowed to take the children to the museum?]]

   Thirteen and her friend are in charge of a small group. The museum has been sealed off so that only the Techies are using it that day [wouldn't work if it's an important day across the planet - wouldn't lots of people want to come from all societies?], and all the art exhibits have been covered so that the focus remains on science/work propaganda.

   Thirteen's friend wants to sneak off and look at the art, Thirteen (reluctantly?) agrees to cover for her and look after their group by herself for an hour.

#

Losing 4385; deciding to go after her

   Loses track of one of the children, her friend comes back just then so Thirteen leaves the rest of the children with her and follows the lost child towards the ship's wreckage exhibit.

'Has anyone seen 4385?' I asked the group of children gathered in front of me. The most response any of them gave me were small shakes of the head. They had been so quiet and biddable all day that I was quite surprised any of them had found the initiative to get themselves separated from the group.

'Well, where did you last see her?' I directed my question to the taller, slightly older boy stood near the back - 2827. He had been doing the most to keep the other children together, and after Elevenses had gone off I had started to rely on him to be the second supervisor amidst the crush of people.

The boy gave a minimal, miserable shrug. 'I saw her eating with the others at meal-time. That was my last count-up.'

I nodded, suppressing a momentary flare of frustration at the child. It was ridiculous to blame him for not being more careful - even though he was older than the others, he could still only be about ten. I wouldn't even be able to tell if he was a girl or a boy yet if it wasn't for the letter 'M' embroidered on his chest, just to the left of his number. No, this was Elevenses' fault - she shouldn't have gone off and left me as the only supervisor. Although, if I was truly honest, it was my fault - I should never have let Elevenses go, hadn't my last supervision report feedback warned me to avoid taking on more than I was truly capable of?

I looked around the museum's great open entrance hall, trying to distinguish 4385 from the mass of grey-clothed, short-haired Techy children being marshalled around the room. It was impossible to pick anyone out by their features; instead I let my eyes relax and started to focus on the movement of the people. Us Techies have a certain pattern and order when we move in groups - and all these children were part of their own Family Unit [children raised away from their parents from after the age of 2 or so?? - Only occasional (e.g. weekly) visits from their birth parents? All raised in institutions??]. My eyes flickered back and forth across the scene, tracing the subtle connections, which supervisors were watching which children, until I almost felt I could see the invisible web holding each Unit together. If 4385 had attached herself to any of these Units she would have been immediately reported and returned to my group. So I was looking for a child who was out of place, and drifting through the other groups unattached to the web.

Just as I was giving up hope, a flicker in the far corner caught my eye. A small figure was jogging along in the shadow of the cloisters [correct name for a pillared/covered avenue with a lower part of the roof running along one side of the room] towards the door to the ship. I couldn't be sure it was 4385, but no other child in the room was moving with that amount of furtive energy - or glancing over their shoulder towards me, as if they didn't want to be caught...

   Climbs on board and finds him, but also finds the Clue that means the ship is a fake.

'We should raise the alarm!' Elevenses said, panic clearly shining from her face.

'No, El, listen - she's only been gone a minute and I saw where she went! I can get her back, I just need you to stay with the children and keep them all right here.' I knew she was right, we should tell someone, but I couldn't bear for my first Responsibility Reward to end with such a black mark against our records.

'I don't know, Thirteen...'

'Don't worry. Give me ten minutes. Don't go anywhere, I'll be back!' I was already backing away, and then I turned and marched off into the crowd. I heard El's hissed 'Come back!' but I ignored her. She wouldn't shout any louder, in case another Unit heard us and realised what had happened.

I dodged easily through the different groups and reached the corner door. It led into a short corridor lined with exhibits [what do they have on display?] and to another two doors at the end. The one to the right led off to the mineral chamber [all the geological exhibits from the planet?], the one to the left to the remains of the Ark. I stood still for a second, considering which way 4385 would have gone. It didn't need long to decide - if I was a young kid looking for adventure, I wouldn't have sneaked away to look at some sparkly rocks.

I went through the door on the left, and was once again faced with the warehouse-like room, as big as my factory floor, with the single huge exhibit placed right in the middle of the floor.

 

#

Finding 4385 & the message on the ship

The hulking sweep of metal sat like some gigantic cracked, blackened egg. It loomed over me with its oppressive size, but I knew it was also only a fraction of the ship that had once crash-landed here. That had carried my ancestors, everyone's ancestors, all the way from Earth, and generations had lived and died aboard ship as they traversed deep space. But then the ship's engines, from great age and wear, had failed, and the ship crashed. If it hadn't been for the Boundless, who died again and again as they worked to reach any survivors in the wreckage, nobody would have survived. As it was, only this, the protected inner core of the ship, had survived impact with the atmosphere. [Tell-tale thing - there are no other bits of the wreckage strewn across the planet from breaking up in the atmosphere.] And you could see from the twisted, warped, dented, cracked metal that even then it had been a bumpy ride [change!].

[So the Boundless are lying by saying that the Ark crashed and then they rescued the survivors from the wreckage? But actually - the Ark is still safe, and hidden, and the Boundless sabotaged it to prevent anyone leaving again. And the original Ark landers actually fought back against this, and there was a bit of a war-type-thing, but the Boundless won against hundreds of them because they couldn't die. And so the Boundless just kept those that surrendered, and mind-wiped them, and used them to start their societies; but a small pocket of resistance fighters remained in hiding, and now currently live somewhere far away from all the different Boundless societies, on the other side of the planet? Somewhere very inhospitable. Could provide refuge to the two outlaws later? Also, the crazy hermit Boundless is their ally?]

[Need some origin legends in each society for where the Boundless came from. The Boundless keep it mysterious and don't answer questions about it?]

There was no-one to be seen in the room - everyone was supposed to be getting ready to leave, after all - and I immediately felt like I was being naughty. I jogged as quietly as I could round to the back of the Ark's remains, but I didn't see 4385. Well, obviously. She was inside. I knew it because that was exactly what I had wanted to do at her age when I was brought to the museum. I actually admired her for having the guts to go ahead with it.

With my heart beating faster, I stepped over the low rail meant to keep people away, and walked right up to the ship. Now if I was 4385's height, where would I be able to get on board? This part of the ship was the most badly damaged, and I carefully weaved around the sharp edges of bits half-torn-off from the main hull to get closer to the crack. I winced at the thought of 4385 cutting her little hands on the sharp edges, but if the child was cunning enough to sneak away, surely she wouldn't be stupid enough to get herself hurt?

I was right at the ship now, and a crack came down far enough that I could imagine 4385 getting a foothold and hauling herself in. I did the same, wedging my boot in the gap and pulling with both hands to lift myself up. It was a bit of a squeeze but I made it, and stepped down onto the ancient deck.

There was very little light, of course, so all I could see was lit up by light coming in from the cracks behind me. But from what I could see it looked like a [what? Living area?]. I doubted anyone in here when the hull was breached would have survived.

The floor was coated in dust, and I could see faint changes in the colour of it where small foot-prints had been left. They led directly across the room without hesitation, and into the doorway beyond. I followed with a bit more apprehension than the girl had showed. Now we were truly out-of-bounds, and I didn't even know how serious our infraction was.

The doorway would have once been covered with an automatic sliding door, but now was just empty. The room beyond was really, really dark.

'Four-three-eight-five?' I called softly, trying to feel my way forwards with my hands. 'Where are you?' My voice sounded pathetically weedy. I tried again, this time trying to channel some of Nine-Oh-Three's authority. 'Come on out now, four-three-eight-five! That's an order! You have disgraced your Unit today!'

No answer, but she had to be here somewhere. No-one could have got far in this dark. I stopped and held my breath, listening hard. The seconds stretched out, and I began to imagine Elevenses back in the foyer with fewer and fewer other Units still around her, fretting in case she got asked next to take her Unit to the transportation platform...

There! A faint clatter as a small foot made contact with a loose piece of debris. Over to the right, but still in this room, I thought. I barrelled towards it, heedless of the obstacles hidden in the dark. I had to reach her before she moved again -

I tripped headlong over some ankle-high piping [or something, she can't see it!] and crashed to the floor. I was grateful to my suit for absorbing some of the impact, but I still had to take a second to get my breath back from where I had winded myself. What an idiot! I thought. You can't get anything right, Thirteen!

There was a small squeak of fright from right in front of me, and a light switched on right by my face. I was blinded for a second, but then 4385 moved the beam of the torch-light away and I could make out her small form crouching against the side of the wall.

After a bit of undignified panting, I clambered to my feet again, shuffled round to the wall and sat down next to the girl. She sat rigidly with her face turned away from me, playing the torch-light around the far reaches of the other side of the room.

'OK,' I said, in as unthreatening a way as possible. 'I get it. You wanted to see inside. You had fun. Good for you, kid. But now we really have to get out of here. Everyone's leaving.'

4385 shifted and looked down at her feet instead. She may not be talking to me, but I thought she might be amenable to giving up on her adventure and coming back with me.

'Right then,' I said, heaving myself to my feet again and wincing a bit at my sore stomach. I really had fallen quite hard. I turned and offered my hand to 4385. 'You coming?'

She reached up with her torch-free hand and clasped mine. Her hand was really much smaller than mine. It was weird, how small children were, and they could still have this much independent desire to do things.

As I pulled her to her feet, the torch-light streaming from the torch gripped in her other hand swung around. It flashed past something which sparkled with colour on my left - where everything else in here was flattened to a dull grey and dark shadow by the torch, this was - red?

I looked over towards it, distracted. It's one of my worst habits and always has been - I can get distracted no matter how urgent the task is that I'm supposed to be doing. Unless someone is standing over me making me focus (which my supervisor has resorted to a few times), there are no guarantees that I'll stick to anything. [But the drugs from her clothes would counteract this?? And ADHD doesn't really work like this...]

'Hey, Four-Three-Eight-Five - could you point the torch over there again?'

The girl looked up at me - I couldn't see in the gloom, but I reckon she was frowning - but obediently shone it back towards where I was pointing.

Yep. Red. I moved towards it, the girl following as she was still holding my hand, and she kept her torch trained on the spot as we moved around the bulky, shadowy pipes and instruments and other space-furniture of the central control room.

[Is it made from a material which is only found on this planet, and not earth? Does Thirteen work as a materials analyst or something to be able to identify it? OR is she an earth-historian-enthusiast who knows that the control room is missing some vital detail? OR a hidden ship's log/confession type thing? (Cliché!)]

When we got right up close to it, there was nothing much more to see than there had been back by the wall. The red flash was buried by a tangle of charred wires, and I don't think it would have lit up if not from the low angle of a child's height. I squatted next to it, and the solemn girl did the same, peering at it closely. I let go of her hand in order to shift the heavy wires. The black plastic coatings flaked off in my hands, and I felt terrible for the damage I was doing to an ancient historical artefact. (I never think about it until after I've damaged something, but I genuinely do feel terrible whenever I accidentally wreak chaos. [Another ADHD cliché?]) But it was done now, and I could get a better look, and something intrigued me about it...

[It's all grey or something, because it was made by the Techies? And one of the workers hid a secret message here to say it was a fake before they were led off to get their mind wiped? And so it was placed in the museum as a key exhibit when it opened, but only about 600 years ago? It's far too new to be the real Ark spaceship that brought all the humans?]

[It needs to be better hidden to be plausible that it has gone undetected for 600 years. Set in a corner somewhere? Thirteen only sees it after she's fallen on the ground?]

It was a small, red, circular metal tile, set in the otherwise grey expanse of floor. It had no symbols on it, it was just smooth. I ran my hand over it (I always love feeling the different materials around me). It was slightly raised in a shallow convex dome shape, and it was only as big as my little finger in diameter. The metal did not feel as cold as I expected, or as clammy, and I realised that it was actually a small piece of stone. Then with a flash of recognition I realised - yes, it was the exact feel and consistency as one of the red gems from [place], which were polished up and ground down to the right shape on the level above before they were brought through to our floor for use as a component in the [things Thirteen makes]. It made no sense for such a chunk of it to be set into the floor for people to walk all over, it was worth loads! I remembered the lecture I was given by my supervisor when I dropped one - really precious and rare, and only found in [place] and nowhere else in the known universe, not on [this planet] and certainly not on Earth... [Foreshadow: show Thirteen taking the kids round the geology section of the museum before all this happens, drop in some of this information there instead.]

I sat back onto my bottom with a bump. Not on Earth... The red gem was only found on [this planet]. So how - how had it ended up fused into the floor of an ancient Earth spaceship?

The torch-light dazzled me as 4385 pointed it back at my face. 'What? What is it?'

Her voice was clear and curious, and brought me back to the present situation. I don't know what I had found, but I knew it was weird, and I wanted to tell Elevenses. Then we could figure out what to do together. But she would never believe me, she would thing I had got it wrong. I had to show her - I had to take it with me.

'Hang on a sec, Four-Three-Eight-Five. I think we've found something here - can you hold the light steady for me? That's right...' I started to work my fingers round the smooth edge, trying to see if I could get a nail between where it was set flush with the floor.

4385 was fidgetting. 'Shouldn't we go? I was coming back already, honest, I wasn't going to be long at all...'

She was right, we should get back to the otehrs before all of us got caught. I knew the whole Unit would be punished, and the other children would not look too kindly on her if 4385 got them into trouble. As I probed the piece of [nameofrock - Fireglass? Cliché?] I was trying to think how long I had been gone already, and how many of the groups would have been taken away to transport. Would we be able to sneak back into the foyer unnoticed? I didn't know, I'm never any good at knowing how long has passed, but my efforts become more frantic. I had started gentle, not wanting to damage the valuable object, but now I forgot about that and started prodding it viciously, all round the edge -

Pop! The small disc suddenly rotated in the floor 90 degrees so that it was sitting vertically in its hole. I easily reached my fingers down each side and gave it a firm tug. With a click! it came free, leaving a dark hole behind too small for anyone to find. I pulled the wire back across it and then looked more closely at the disc. The way it had come loose was like it was designed to come free, which made even less sense than the disc being fixed into the floor in the first place. What was going on?

4385's head bent close over the object and met mine, and together we gazed at the beautiful gem in my hands. We were looking at the side that had been uppermost. I turned it over, and this side was not perfectly smooth. There were grooves...

'Hold the light closer, Four-Three-Eight-Five,' [is it really realistic that they would use full unabbreviated names all the time? Maybe it is a mark of disrespect or overfamiliarity if you don't? Would they have a generic term for 'hey you, child' to make things easier? Maybe that's why it is considered lucky to have a lower number, as it also makes it a shorter, more memorable name?]

She did. Yes - it was writing, cramped to fit on but clearly carved into the disc's surface.

'The Year of our Lord [TechyBoundless] [decide number when done timeline].

These words are written by the members of the Resistance from the Techy Manufacturing Unit 75M, 10th division. We risk our lives to leave this message. We made this ship to be a replica of the Ark for the new museum of Human Heritage. It is a fake. They lied to us, but they will not tell us why, even though they will make soon us forget, as soon as it is finished.' [Needs to be shorter!]

#

Trying to escape with message; getting caught at the exit

What? What? I looked quickly at 4385 to see if she had managed to read the message. I didn't know what to think, but I did know I didn't want a child getting involved. This was definitely something we weren't supposed to find, or have, or ever know. Elevenses would know. Well, she wouldn't really, but at least then I wouldn't be alone with this.

I closed my hand round the disc to stop 4385 from being able to read it. She looked at me sharply, as if she wanted to complain, but she seemed to catch from my body language that things were too serious for that. We had to get back. Right now.

'Come on,' I said, and scrambled up to my feet. 4385 followed quickly, shining her torch for both of us. For a moment I thought I had lost my bearings entirely in this gloomy shadow-filled place, but then I recognised the doorway I had used to come in and headed back towards it. As we reached it I remembered the footprints - 4385's little footprints, and mine - I didn't want them seen. We didn't have time to deal with all the tracks we had made here in the central core, but we could at least make sure they weren't so obvious in the places where the light poured in from the cracks in the hull.

With the disc in one hand and 4385's hand in the other, I had to let go of her hand to pick up a tangled coil of wire just by the door. When I dragged this along the floor behind us it disturbed a great cloud of dust, but also wiped out the distinguishing features of our feet.

I coughed. I felt prickly and sweaty and grimy all over. People were going to instantly be able to tell that we had been away from the main group, I felt sure. I was seized with panic at the thought. This was all so much worse than if I had just reported 4385 missing in the first place!

We were back at the cracks where we had both squirmed in. I threw the wire aside, which landed with a muffled metal thud on the floor over towards the door, and turned to leave. Then I realised I would need both hands to pull myself up through the crack. My left hand still held the disc. Damn.

4385 was shadowing me closely and sticking to the spot just behind my right leg as if she had suddenly got even younger, and still needed her parents (even though she was full seven years' old).

I looked down at her. 'OK,' I whispered. 'Can you hold this for a second?' [Is it feasible that their grey uniform-suit-clothes wouldn't have pockets???] 'Be very careful. Don't look at it! But don't drop it either!'

I passed her the disc, and she took it in both hands and held it tight, as if she expected it to escape.

'OK, good. Listen, Four-Three-Eight-Five, I'm going to go first and check that the coast is clear [cliche!], and then when you hear me call that it's fine, you come up to the crack and hold that disc out to pass to me first, OK?'

4385 nodded earnestly. I figured that she was plenty intelligent enough to have understood. She was smart enough to time her little trip to look around the ship at the only time when she could have got away to do it, and as the children only came to the museum once in their lives [maybe that's why Thirteen is so excited about this Reward? It is the only chance they get to relive the only fun thing about their childhoods?] she would have had to come up with the whole plan since her arrival this morning.

'OK.' I gave her a nod, and she lifted her gaze from her charge of holding the disc long enough to acknowledge my gaze. Then I turned, reached up for grips on either side of the wall

[Instead of getting caught *straight* away upon leaving, maybe she gets caught by the scanner at the front of the museum noticing that she has the disc in her pocket and is trying to steal something from the museum?]

[Word war start] ****

We both scrambled out and quickly hurried away through the deserted hall with the ship looming in the middle. Back through the corridor to the corner of the foyer, where I stopped 4385 so I could peek round the corner and see the situation. I sighed with relief - there were still plenty of people, and the supervisors had only just started to call for order. I slipped out, beckoning 4385 to follow, and we silently and as casually as possible slipped along the shadows under the cloister by the wall until we got to the level of our group. Elevenses's face was stricken, she looked almost sick with anxiety, but given the lack of supervisors standing with her I could tell she hadn't broken yet and resorted to reporting us to any supervisors.

I took a deep breath and crossed back to her, holding 4385's hand and trying to pretend we had just been on a short wander over to the wall to examine the Mosaic of Life on the Planet in more detail.

'Teen!' El groaned as soon as I was back with her. 'Cast iron, Teen! I was so worried! You don't go off like that again, do you hear? We didn't agree, that was just you heading off before I could say no! You always do that!'

Normally her anger would have flooded me with grovelling guilt and a late rush of regret for my actions, but this time I was too shaken by what had happened earlier, the impossible thing I had found on the ship, to worry about it.

'Sorry, One-One-Nine,' I muttered.

'Oh, Thir, don't be like that - you know I don't like you calling me that.'

'Can we talk about it later?'

'Fine. We need to get to transport, anyway.'

'And - El - I need to actually talk to you about something, OK?' I tried to give her my most meaningful look. She just looked puzzled.

'OK, Thirteen, whatever. Let's go.'

We herded the children after a final head-count over to the queue for the transport. No-one in our whole Unit said anything as we slowly shuffled forward, not even the young kids. Poor sods. They were too young to even remember this, the best trip of their lives. They would have to wait until they were working adults to even have the chance of earning the Reward to come back one day.

They had all picked up on the tension. They all knew that 4385 shouldn't have gone, and how much trouble we would have been in if we had been discovered.

We reached the front and the supervisor took my clipboard [more high-tech?] and checked off each child by glancing at their chest numbers. The children had automatically fallen into their standard formation, which was by number-order, in pairs so that each one could hold the hand of another and look out for them.

The supervisor nodded, handed me back the clipboard, and stepped back to let us pass. Elevenses led from the front and I waited until all the children had passed through the doorway [add a bit of description, this is at the front of the museum, what does the door look like, etc?] before following up at the rear.

As I stepped through the door, an alarm went off. The supervisor looked up. I felt the weight of the rock in my pocket. How had it triggered the alarms? It was just rock! But now the supervisor was starting towards me, surprised out of her stupor, and seized me roughly by the arm as if she expected me to run. Other supervisors were running over to us too. It was my worst fear. I had done something really, truly wrong this time.

[Stop here? Leave details of the interrogation and how she got to be over at the 'healing place' for later, when she is explaining them to Enn?]

[Perhaps the normal thing to do is call people by their last two numbers to keep it shorter?]

   As Thirteen is climbing down from the ship first (then child can jump and she'll catch him), security guards seize her and take her away. (Kid stays hidden, gets safely back to the friend's group later, is able to tell Thirteen's friend (who is a member of the underground movement) what he saw = SUB-PLOT/LOOSE END that could influence things later.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Chapter 2 - Enn

 

Setting up for the ceremony

   Having a normal day (preparing to welcome Lucy for their stay amongst the tribe?)

#

[Child]'s peril is revealed

   Child gets injured - OR has cancer? Something that their technology can't fix?

I looked down from my meal at the squabbling pair. [Child2] was holding a squirming Jay firmly by the upper arm.

'You have to show them, [Child]. It hasn't gone away on its own, and you promised - ' [Child2] was saying, over the squawks of protest from [child].

'It's nothing! I don't care! This is my business, [Child2]!' [Child] was fighting to be free, but Enn could see they were also nearly in tears. It wasn't like [child] to cry from a small scuffle. And [Child2] was not radiating the usual glee that they always had when they were reporting their younger sibling's naughtiness.

'What is this all about, [child]?'

'Nothing!' [child] shrieked, and then wrenched their arm free, plopped down on their bottom on the floor and started to sniffle into their hands. 'You ruin everything, [child2]. It's not fair. I h-hate you,' they mumbled through their fingers.

Now [child2] was looking close to tears themself. 'You know I have to tell Enn, you know I do.' They threw their hands in the air in exasperated appeal to me. The only response from [child] was to kick out at [child2]'s ankle with a bare foot and then shuffle round on the spot until they had their back to both of us.

I raised my eyebrows at [child2], but they didn't smile back. They looked really worried. I sighed.

'Okay, [child2], let's see what's got you both in such a tizzy, shall we?'

[Child2] looked down at the floor for a moment, then nodded. [Child]'s furious sobs went up a notch in volume. Gently, [child2] knelt down beside them and lifted the back of their tunic right up to their shoulders. [Child] didn't struggle, just hunched themself over their knees and hugged tight.

At first I didn't see anything different from usual - just [child]'s skinny, seven-year-old, bony back. But then I noticed that their spine did seem a bit more bony than usual. It was as if there were shadows just along the edge ridge of the spine, making the bones seem to jut out more than usual. [Research how leukemia shows up, what does the bruising symptom look like?] Then my mind realised what I was seeing - they weren't shadows, or dirt, they were bruises. A chain of small, purplish, spot-sized bruises going all the way along their spine.

'I see. That must have hurt a bit, right, [child]? It must have been a bit of a weird fall to get that pattern, though.' I was trying to think how they could have done it - falling back onto a row of pine cones, perhaps?

'No!' [Child2] clenched their fists in frustration at my lack of understanding. 'Enn, they didn't fall off anything! It was three days ago, they just appeared! [Child]'s been hiding them from you and they've been feeling too sick and tired to climb any trees anyway!'

I frowned. 'Why didn't you tell me, [child]? You know we have medicine to make you feel better if you're poorly. What is it? A fever?'

'I don't think so, Enn.' Lucy had come up behind me, and now they knelt down beside [child], smoothing their tunic down into its normal place and stroking their back in soothing circles. I felt a sudden rush of nostalgia for how Lucy had comforted me as a child, in exactly the same way. I felt myself relax and realised that I had become quite tense. Everything would be all right now, Lucy would take care of it all.

Lucy turned to look at me. 'I've seen this before, Enn. It's rare but it happens, especially in your blood-line. It is a cancer of the blood. Without treatment it will slowly invade and kill from the inside out. Our medicines here cannot help. We will need to go to the healing place.'

#

Travelling to the healing place

Only an hour later, I was sat in the back of Lucy's vehicle, with [child] held safely on my lap. I could tell something was really wrong from the listless way they were looking around. In any normal circumstance [child] would have been bouncing on the seats and craning to look out as the forest flashed by. It was the first time either of us had been on the Road in our lifetimes, and many [LucySociety] went their whole lives without being given a trip in Lucy's vehicle. It was considered an honour, but a grim one: it only got used when there was a serious risk to life.

[Child2] had pleaded to come - and to their credit, I believe it was truly because of concern for [child] that they wanted to, and not just the chance to experience Road travel - but Lucy had gently explained that only the ill one and the parents were allowed to see the healing place. 'It's special, and very old, and it has to be protected from too many people using it over the years. I'm sorry, [child2], but we'll be back before you know it. We'll be back before the end of the day!'

'But it's miles! It'll only take you today to go all that way?' [child2] asked, their eyes wide.

'Yes,' Lucy smiled.

'Woah. That's amazing.'

'It is, isn't it?' Lucy patted their head and then stood up.

Now we were barrelling along and the miles were falling away, and I have to say I wasn't enjoying Road travel as much as my child-self thought I would. It was making me feel a little nauseous and very thrown about - I knew I would ache tomorrow - and anyway, I was too anxious for [child] to care much for the thrill. At least [Parent] looked like they were enjoying themselves - but they had always been a little kid in spirit, that one, even when they became the tallest in the tribe.

The sun had only moved from the high-point of noon down to late afternoon [so Thirteen and Enn must escape at the end of the day, just as night is drawing in - would help. Makes sense as well if Thirteen discovers the disc at closing time in the museum - but how long does it take for the Techy's to get across to the [LucySociety] island? Even in a plane? Maybe it's been about 24 hours of interrogation and travel time?] when we reached the end of the Road and the base of the sacred mountain. [All tribes required to spend a certain number of days' labour per year mending the Road? - Perhaps it is a festive time when they all gather together after it's done and have a party? Only time when all the tribes meet? - And nobody permitted to hunt or live on the sacred mountain, so that no-one stumbles across the healing place ship too often?] I clambered down stiff-legged and then reached up to take [child] from [parent]. [Child] had really become very quiet and listless now, and their eyes had gone dull and lost all their usual sparkle of cheeky brown. I hugged them close and kissed their face, murmuring quietly that it would all be fine soon, that we were nearly there. [Child] stirred and smiled and nodded a little, looking so brave my heart felt like breaking, but they didn't object to me babying them, and that was another clue that they really were feeling awful. I turned to Lucy.

'Where do we go?'

Lucy nodded towards a faint path starting where the Road left off, and weaving up the foot-hills and into the trees.

   Lucy arrives just as people are starting to panic about the child, whisks them off to the 'healing place,' i.e. the ship's core

[Takes them a day or so to reach the ship? It can't really be in walking distance or they would stumble across it all the time...]

#

[Child] gets healed

   The child gets healed by the magically advanced machines, they are all leaving, when they hear others approaching...

#

Sees Thirteen on return journey; decides to help

'Can I sit in the front of the vehicle on the way home, jiji?' [need a gender-neutral endearment to substitute for 'mummy' and 'daddy'] [child said], beaming up at me. 'Can I?'

I looked over at Lucy, who chuckled. 'If you want to, my sweet,' they said.

'Brilliant!' [Child] whooped. [Child] ran off down the path happily, squealing with delight as [parent] chased them. '[MadBoundless] is coming to catch you!' they bellowed, and took off into the trees hard on [child's] heels. [Cliche!] The sight was so carefree and gloriously right that I felt myself relaxing in my core. [Child] was all right. They would be all right for years to come. The cancer would never come back.

I turned to Lucy. 'Thank you so much, [title] Lucy.' I knelt in the dirt and bent my head in the sign of respect we had all learned since we were children.

'Oh, Enn, please don't feel you need to thank me. I would do as much for anyone in the whole of [LucySociety]. It is my duty and my pleasure.' Lucy's smile made me feel warm, and if I had been younger I would have hugged her. They seemed to sense that was what I wanted anyway, and opened her arms wide for me to step into. I did gratefully, letting their warmth keep me safe for a moment, like it always had, and always would.

'Shall we?' they said, smiling, after I stepped back. It was only circumstances which had driven me to hug - normally I was known for being quite the reserved one in our tribe.

I nodded, breathing deeply. Everything seemed wonderful, and I took the time to notice the little things on our walk back down the path back towards the vehicle and the Road. It wasn't like me to not notice the forest as I moved through it, but on the way up it had felt like my head was full of fog.

We were about halfway back down the mountain when I heard the noise. It was because I was so attuned to the surroundings that I noticed the sound of the people approaching first. Several adult people, but not moving like any person from the [LucySociety]. They were being loud, and fully far too clumsy. I heard a bush crash as someone seemed to fall over.

'Lucy, who - ?'

Lucy was frowning, their lips pursed. 'He's using it far too much recently...' she muttered. I lost track of my question in surprise at hearing her use a gendered pronoun. That was an antiquated mode of speech!

Lucy gestured for me to stand aside, and we stood at the edge of the path, waiting. The people got closer, visible as a group of shadows through the foliage, and then they turned the bend below us, and the whole group was before us.

There were five people, four of them dressed head-to-foot [cliche] in black surrounding one more dressed entirely in grey. Their skin was a much more deep brown than anyone in the [LucySociety]. I caught myself staring for a second - I had never seen anyone else from any of the other Boundless's societies.

It took another second for me to realise what else was so strange about them. All the people in black were clustered closely around the person in grey, holding them - and the person in grey was moving oddly, like they couldn't walk, or as if they were fighting - they were struggling to get free. I had never seen that before either, but I was sure - the person in grey didn't want to be taken to the healing place.

One of the people in black caught sight of us waiting by the path and glowered at us.

'We've got two more of them!' I heard them snap to the other black-clothed people. 'You! Shut up and stop struggling!' It was only a hiss, and their accent was strange, but I have good hearing. Plus they followed it up with a swift blow to the back of the person in grey's head, and I gasped. There was never any call for that kind of violence in our tribe, or any tribe.

The grey-clothed person stopped struggling and slumped in the black-clothed peoples' hold, so that they all had to tighten their grip (which looked very uncomfortable) and one of them swore. (There is some swearing where I'm from, we're not angels, but the venom in this one's word was almost as shocking as the blow that the other one had given.)

The strange group come up closer, the grey-clothed one dragging their feet and *** still radiating reluctance. I looked at Lucy to see how they would take this abominable behaviour, but they were just looking straight ahead, eyes fixed on the trees on the opposite side of the path. I couldn't believe that they would just ignore a person in such obvious distress.

They were now only a few steps away and I couldn't help but look back, even though I caught a glare from one of the black-clothed people directed with no friendly feeling towards me. I didn't much care about them though - I was looking directly at the person in grey. They seemed so young, really barely an adult, and obviously scared. Just as they all passed me, and Lucy and I had to step right back off the path and push up against the foliage to make room, the grey one dared to raise their eyes and look up at me. Their deep brown eyes raked my face for one desperate second, and I could see the fear ran even deeper than I had thought. It shook me, and I was seized by an impulse to step out and stop these people dragging *** this young one around. Lucy seemed to sense my intention before it was even fully formed and reached out an arm, holding me back by the wrist. Now I truly stared at them. What was going on?

The moment passed with the unhappy little group, and Lucy let go.

'I apologise for restraining you, [title] Enn. But you can't go interfering in Techy business. It is the only way this world works, you know.' They didn't look happy, but I couldn't understand how resigned they were to another person's suffering.

'But did you not see them? They were frightened! The way they looked at me was asking for help, they were scared!'

Lucy did not meet my eyes. They kept staring away at that fixed point among the trees. 'They probably don't call themselves "they," Enn. They have the accepted markings of a "she." The Techies use gender, you know.' Lucy's tone of voice sounded detached and distant, almost like they weren't really interested in the young Techy's distress, or at least they didn't want to know. It was so unlike Lucy to be unmoved by someone else's need that I stared at them for a moment.

'Who cares about something as stupid as gender? They were - she was - scared! Why can't we help them - her?'

Lucy breathed a loud sigh that sounded almost irritated, except Lucy never got irritated. They tore their gaze away from the woodland and whipped round to face me. It was a sudden movement, and I felt the force of their gaze as they looked into my eyes. Lucy's presence in my life was such a gentle constant that I often forgot that they had lived for aeons longer than any of us. Their eyes had a deep look beyond mortal humans, and right now they shocked me with their anger.

'Look, Enn. There is nothing I can do. That person is a Techy, she is not one of my citizens. [TechyBoundless] has every right to do with his citizens what he will. I'm sure he has good reasons.'

I could not comprehend their objection for a moment, because it seemed so irrelevant. Techy or not, they [(she)] were still a fellow human. To see someone marched off against their will...! My distaste against it abruptly coalesced into a cliff wall, and my feelings could not get around it to flow away. I had my own anger dammed up in my chest as I watched Lucy's inaction, and I had fear for this young person's unknown fate swirling around my throat.

'What is going to happen to them, Lucy? Where were they taking them?'

'The same place we have just been with your child. The healing place.' But Lucy was not looking me in the eyes again.

'They - she - did not look ill to me.'

'Some illnesses are hidden from sight - ' She shifted her feet. She was lying, my every instinct said so.

'Techies have their own healing places. They don't need to come here! What are they really doing, Lucy? Is - is that person's life in danger?' In our society the idea of execution was abominable, but I knew other cultures had barbaric views and regularly used extreme punishments.

'No!' Lucy looked shocked. 'It'll just be a mind-wipe. [TechyBoundless] doesn't kill his workers, I promise you that.'

Mind-wipe. That didn't sound good. Those whirring metal machines coming into my mind, my private space, and wiping it clean - no-one could want that. No wonder the Techy had looked scared. They were all alone with people who wanted to invade them!

'I have to go.'

'You cannot save her, Enn. We cannot interfere, it's Techy business.'

'No, I - I just need to spend some time alone after - all this.' I waved my hand vaguely back towards the healing place. 'I'll go hunting up the West Peak. I'll see you in a couple of days.' It felt so strange to lie to my leader, like my throat was clogged and coated with the unnatural deception of it. My words jarred in my ears, but Lucy did not seem to notice. I suppose we none of us ever had any reason to lie to Lucy. Panic at how wrong it felt seized my tongue, and I know with just one more second of silence I would have blurted out a confession and apology.

'That sounds like a wise idea, Enn. May the mountain passes help to soothe your agitations. I will tell [parent] that [child] is their primary responsibility while you are away.' Lucy was back to sounding like their normal self, full of kindly concern and with the wisdom of ages ringing in their voice. It just made me feel more guilty, but I kept my mouth shut and nodded.

Lucy spread her arms wide for the ritual parting embrace, and I automatically stepped forward into the hug for a moment. Then Lucy turned and walked on to catch up with the others. I was alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Chapter 3 - Thirteen

 

Interrogation? Journey?

   Interrogation? Journey? - how much of this to skip?

 

#

Being taken to the healing place

I had no idea where the [TechyPolice] were taking me. All I knew was what they had threatened me with during last night's interrogation, again and again: [maybe the Techies actually go a day early to the Museum each year, so they don't have to mingle with the other societies when they pay their respects for Heritage day. That would explain why Enn's ceremony takes place a day after, and let's Thirteen travel overnight to get to the [LucySociety] island.] 'We can do what we like to you, and you will not remember.' They didn't need to do much to me though. I had no reason not to tell them, really. And [TechyBoundless] always said that the best way not to be in Trouble was to confess. [Is Trouble an actual legal/social state in the Techy society?] I told them everything - well, everything apart from the fact that 4385 was with me. It just didn't seem fair for her to be dragged into something so serious for such a harmless childhood naughtiness. I didn't want them to be held, and threatened, and kept in a bare room for hours. She was hardly old enough to understand the rules yet! So even though it meant I was in worse Trouble, I said that it had been my idea to sneak away from the group and go explore the [ArkShip] for myself. I emphasised that finding the disc had been an accident - a fall - and that it was only confusion that had stopped me from [Does TechyBoundless himself come in to interrogate her? Show that scene to introduce him as a character? (Obviously not in best light - ah well, we can add 3D later.)] *** turning the disc in immediately. I think I looked pathetic enough for them to believe me, as in the end no-one started applying any torture instruments. [Would they even know about that? They would be brain-washed into a happier picture of their society? Or is she shocked to discover that what her friend Elevenses tried to warn her about in the darker side of Techy society is true?] I was limp as a rag doll though, and shaking. I felt so, so bad and rubbish, and I was beginning to get sick of the feeling of feeling sick with terror. Only the knowledge that I had successfully protected 4385 (I knew Elevenses would never report her, even though I was sure they also grilled her for a while) kept me with any reason to hold my head up about how I had behaved during this whole ordeal. And now we were heading towards some unknown thing where they would take my forbidden memories away. I didn't want it, but I had no choice.

My last hopes of help faded behind me as we rounded another bend and continued up the steep, cloying path [rainforest climate?] and away from the final pair of [LucySociety] people we had seen. I knew we were not supposed to have bumped into anybody, and I almost wished we hadn't. That last person, they [but it's more realistic if Thirteen applies gender?] had looked like they wanted to help, but the other older one had stopped them. [Maybe Lucy still appears young? The Boundless never age even a fraction after all...] *** Not that they could have done anything against four of the best [TechyPolice] anyway. I was screwed. [Change!]

I kept stumbling along, no longer bothering to resist. I didn't like being hit and there was no point anyway. I just hoped that whatever it was, the process wasn't too painful. And then afterwards, I could go back to my old life and no-one would know how badly I had disgraced myself, and I wouldn't know at all. That was the wisdom of [TechyBoundless]'s methods, after all. Everyone in Trouble could be cleansed. It had happened to a couple of people Elevenses knew, she had told me once, but she didn't think they were really the same people afterwards. Oh, God. [What would they say as a substitute? Is the Techy society completely secular? Would anyone have started taking the Boundless's names in vain?] I didn't know it was possible to feel this scared. Dots started dancing in front of my eyes and I could feel the blood rushing through my head. Maybe execution would have been easier than this, my crazed brain thought. At least it would have been quicker, and there wouldn't have been all that travelling through the night.

[Maybe the TechyBoundless is in the foyer with them at the museum? He personally takes the disc away so that no-one else e.g. the supervisors read the message? Or the damage is contained by giving them all mind-wipes, but over a slightly less urgent clean-up period of a couple of days? Ooo, this sounds sinister...]

Finally, finally we got out into a little clearing at the top of a path. In front of us was a big, broken-down metal building - with smoothed corners, but terribly overgrown by the forest so that only the afternoon sunshine through to the surface in the gaps between the leaves revealed its true material. No, not a building, said a quiet, somehow still-rational part of my brain. A spaceship.

Could it be - the spaceship? The real one, that the workers from so long ago had laboured to make a fake? No, no, I shouldn't have been having thoughts like that. That was why we were here, so I couldn't keep wondering about it any more. Soon I wouldn't know there was any mystery at all. No-one ever would. The disc was already destroyed. I was the only one the workers had managed to pass their message on to, and all the risk they had gone to was all in vain.

One of the [TechyPolice] let go of me to go a little ahead and activate an ancient doorway in the side of the ship. It opened with an erratic jolt, and I wondered how old it was - and yet, still working well enough to be used...

Inside, unlike the replica at the museum, there were lights that flickered on, although they were slow to light and dim, as if they protested being woken for a second time that day. [Would she have understood that Enn's party had been here to use the ship too?] The room inside was about as big as our dining hall in my Unit, and was not at all as fancy-looking as what I had seen by 4385's torchlight in the replica. In fact they weren't laid out at all similarly, and the furnishings were completely different. Still, this one seemed more well cared for and somehow had the spirit of still being a ship, something that had been relied on and had carried humans safely between stars.

I was brought back from my momentary distraction by my current situation abruptly when the [TechyPolice] on my right redoubled his grip on my arm and pulled me roughly down to sit on a chair by the wall. I landed with a bump. Two of the hulking guards [would they actually just be normal-sized, but well equipped in their uniforms? That's why they wear the special black uniforms, because they have weapons/punishment tools?] stayed over me while the other two went over to the side wall a few metres to the left and began to fiddle with the machine there. From what I could see in between the guards, it looked like an uncomfortable metal bed with *** wires and straps and other sharper contraptions sticking out of it at all angles. I quailed, and was glad for the chair holding me up.

The machine came to life [cliche] with a whirr and various lights started blinking from various panels around it. One of the [TechyPolice] was peering closely at these read-outs, and punching buttons on a control panel, while the other was doing the far less technological but still intricate job of undoing all the straps. They seemed to have been used last on a person much smaller than me, and he was busy widening all of the gaps so that I would fit. Everyone worked in silence, and all the [TechyPolice] seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I wondered for the first time then just how often they brought people up here, and whether any of them had been on the receiving end. Maybe they didn't need to be - maybe [TechyBoundless] just trusted them to keep his secrets. They had certainly earned it by doing this over and over again. Didn't they hate it? [Would she think like this? No-one in her society gets to choose their job. Maybe she is slightly envious of their protected, privileged status?]

After about five minutes, both of the machine-operating [TechyPolice] had finished their preparations. [Maybe name at least one of them - talked on the journey over? - so as to humanise them a bit more.] They looked over, and that glance was all the other two needed to understand - it was time. I had a sudden urge to bolt for the door, but they anticipated that and I felt their strong hands clamp around my upper arms from both sides in a grip that could not be broken. They lifted me to my feet and led me towards the machine, which just looked more menacing now that there was no-one standing in the way...

#

*** Enn rescues Thirteen from the ship

[They would first hear the swish of the door, and it would be a little slow...]

I instinctively pulled back, but it was useless. In just three more steps - two - I would be there -

I heard a distinct crack sound and the guard on my right suddenly slackened his grip. He seemed to have gone inexplicably saggy at the knees, and slumped to the ground beside me. Before he had even finished falling, however, another crack sounded on my left and my other guard staggered in her next step, stumbling and falling as well. She, however, had had hold of me so tight that she didn't entirely let go of my arm as she collapsed, and so I found myself pulled down to land clumsily on top of her. I got a much closer view of her face than I was expecting, and I saw that she was out cold [cliche]. Her eyes had rolled back to look into the recesses of her head. It made me shudder.

[Enn hit them right at the base of the skull, cracking the skull and potentially doing some damage to the vertebra - ask a doctor what would happen with a high-speed pebble at close range!]

I heard a shout from the machine-operator who was facing the door, and two more swift cracks. I scrambled up away from the unconscious body of my guard as soon as I could get my feet and hands under me, but even so, by the time I was stood up again it was to see the other two guards crumpled as if sleeping where they had stood a moment before. One of them was sprawled in a most undignified heap across the metal bed, as if she was an overgrown toddler who was taking a nap.

In the one clear second before I turned round, I realised that I was no longer scared. Instead I felt as though I was buzzing with energy, ready to run a hundred mil a figure framed against the sunlight filling the doorway around them. They had their hands raised, holding something - the weapon they had used to do all this, of course, though I had no idea what it could be to take out four armed [TechyPolice] like that - and I waited for them to release the final crack sound and send me to the floor as well. Instead they just lowered their arms slowly, and looked around me at the others, seeming almost bewildered at the effectiveness of the carnage they had wrought. Then they reached out a hand to me. 'Come on, let's go. We need to get a long way away before any of them wake up.' ***

I stood frozen for a second and then moved to the doorway. I didn't take their hand - I still didn't believe that they weren't going to kill me too. The person turned and walked out into the sunshine, with me close behind.

I just stood and blinked for a few moments. I had been so close to having my memory wiped. I would have left this place never remembering I had been here. I had been so scared about it that I was almost looking forward to getting it over with just minutes ago - but now I couldn't feel that way, already I was seeing more clearly. Not the mind-wipe, never the mind-wipe. I had found out that I was not brave enough to say that 'I would rather die', but that doesn't mean I didn't wish I could be.

The [LucySociety] person was standing still a little ahead of me, looking around. I noticed the way they scanned the trees and ground was done with real meaning, not like me - to me a tree is a tree, I can't even tell you one single variety. [How much 'green' is there in the Techy world? They still need some?]

'This way,' my rescuer said, and strode off to the right, not looking back even once at the ship or the clearing. I followed, ready to go wherever they said as long as it wasn't back into the hands of the [TechyPolice]. A part of me knew that the really right and proper thing to do would be to let this person go on alone, return to the ship and see if any of my guards had survived the attack, and then submit to their mind-wipe gladly. That's what a good Techy would do. But I did not have the bravery for that either.

My rescuer was not taking us back onto the path. The route they chose seemed to be random, just rough forest with the ground steep, loose mud and littered with underbrush and foliage. I struggled to scramble up after them up the bank, and fixed my eyes on their retreating back as they easily put some distance in. When they reached the top of the rise, they looked back from the ridge above me, and seemed surprised that I was so far behind already.

'Come on!' they called down. 'Can't Techies walk?'

Just then my shocked brain processed who this was. It was the [LucySociety] I had passed on the path, of course - not more than fifteen minutes ago. 'You!' I huffed, stopping again from surprise.

'Yeah,' they said shortly. 'Now come on! Keep moving!'

I obediently bent all my four limbs to the task. My rescuer, no longer quite so anonymous and unconnected to events, waited for a minute but started again when I got within ten metres. I needed a break so I stopped and looked back down the hill. Through the branches and trunks of the trees below me I could see the glint of metal. I turned and hurried on, taking my memories with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

Chapter 4? - Enn

 

Putting distance between them; first night in the forest

We walked for the rest of the afternoon and half that night. In the end we had to stop because the young Techy just could not keep up any more. They had no sense of how to move through the forest in the daytime, let alone in darkness. The warning cries, cheeps and calls of a hundred nocturnal animals burst like a chorus ahead of us with every step they took. Not that the animals could betray us.

I don't know why I didn't let us both take more rest breaks along the way. The people in black would not wake up for hours yet [how long does someone stay unconscious when they get knocked out on average?], and if those Techies were anything like this one, they would not even be able to see the blatant tracks the grey one had left climbing the first ridge. I think the truth was that I was quite shaken up, and essentially I was running away from my crime. To inflict such violence on four people! *** It was unthinkable. It made my hands shake to contemplate it. And yet when the decision had come while I was stood outside that ship I knew there was really hardly any choice. Although I didn't know what they were doing, it was clear that it was bad just from the way that grey one had looked at me, and no-one should need any more than that.

I stopped under a big [some type of] tree and waited for the young Techy to catch up. I had also not talked to them all day, and I felt the rudeness of it, but again, I couldn't bring myself to face this person who I maybe should not have helped.

The other person came stumbling up to me, panting loudly. I knew that they were covered in dirt even without being able to see them. Strangely though they were not smelling badly, although they must have sweated so much. I could not believe how hard they had found it, didn't the Techies have any form of exercise at all? It seemed so weird to me.

They almost blundered past me in the dark. I cleared my throat (it was feeling pretty dry myself after all that travelling) and called out to them. 'I'm here. We're going to stop now.'

'Oh, thank God!' I heard them say, although it was only under their breath (I don't think they had any breath to spare). I heard them crumple to the ground, and it reminded me too much of the way that those guards had crumpled [would guards be a concept in a non-violent culture? What do they do with criminals??] when I hit them. Now the young Techy was lying prostate on the ground from what I could see in the moonlight and looked like they would never move again. At least I could hear them breathing - the whole forest could. That was a good thing. I found it comforting.

I squatted down and waited for them to catch their breath. It took a long time before they stirred at all - I started to wonder if they had just fallen asleep. But then they groaned, and pushed themselves up into a sitting position to face me.

'What - now?' they said, still breathless.

'You can take a minute if you need it,' I said, but I wonder if I had seemed a bit insincere because I think I sounded a bit sarcastic.

[Tracking through suit = narrow escape in the next twenty-four hours!]

I decided I was being churlish. It was (probably) not this young one's fault that they had ended up needing me to rescue them (I suppose - the thought only occurred to me now, of course, far too late - that they might have been a criminal, but even then there are other ways to deal with criminals than what I'd seen them doing to this young one. It wasn't right.). And they were far, far away from anything they were used to and their own homes. I couldn't imagine a Techy home - probably as weird as the clothes they wore - but I was sure it couldn't be like this. Just big trees and forest, that's probably what they saw. Even I could admit that it wasn't very beautiful right now, in the chilly darkness of the night. I had left the ceremony without much of my usual hunting gear - another reason why Lucy would surely get suspicious when they heard of what had happened here - and I would be hard-pressed to build us any kind of shelter now, in the middle of the night. We would be better off still walking, but I knew the young one couldn't take it. I decided to make friends. [Enn wouldn't be this stilted or unfriendly, surely - will need a big rewrite!]

'Hey,' I said, squatting down next to the Techy. 'How are you feeling?'

I couldn't see much of their expression in the darkness - but I could see something that looked a lot like an incredulous stare. They were still panting.

I could tell I was going to need to persuade them to speak.

'It's all right. Sorry about earlier [add an actual incident?]. I just - well - I suppose I freaked out a bit after I attacked those other ones. Look, what on earth happened back there? Why were you with those people? They were going to do bad things to you, but what?'

The Techy drew their knees up to their chest and hugged them. Apparently I was not the only one 'freaked out' by the memory.

'I was - so alone - I thought they were going to - to...' Their voice had started off rusty, but before it could clear it had clogged with tears. Ah. The shock was getting to them. What sort of a rescuer was I, rescuing someone and then making them march so far while they were still reeling? Well - it had been necessary, I thought. At least a bit. At least I had kept them moving.

The Techy was sobbing now, face pressed tight against their knees and breath coming in stifled gasps, as if they were trying to muffle the sound. I wanted to reassure them that there was no-one around this spot for dozens of miles, but I didn't want to interrupt their outburst. It was healthy. They would recover in a minute.

Sure enough, a few chest-racking minutes later, the Techy was only occasionally gulping and hiccuping with emotion, and mostly was back to normal. I could see them wiping their eyes with their hand. I stood up, reached high for the lowest branch of the tree, and plucked a leaf. [This particular tree] had good leaves, the kind you could use for absorbing many types of body fluid, if you know what I men. I bent down again and offered the leaf to the young one.

They took it, but then looked at it like they had never seen a leaf before. [Well - could she at least never have touched one before??] She looked at me to question me and I looked back at her, equally bewildered as to why this was difficult.

'It's for your face. The tears. To wipe them dry?' I explained, not believing it could be necessary.

'Oh,' they said in a small voice, and obediently wiped her face - although with some hesitation. 'It works!' she said, and the surprise in her voice was comical.

'Yeah. OK. Now look, I don't have the normal stuff I usually have with me for setting up camp - but perhaps you could just be OK with a fire tonight, if I can find some firewood here in the dark?' It was weird to me to not give them some task to do, as even the youngest children in [LucySociety] already know how to assist with the fire-building and simple overnight shelters, but I decided tonight I would let them off. They were still in shock.

'I guess so. But right here? Where are we going?'

I didn't want to tell them that we were actully going to a place I had never been before - and that didn't have a great reputation either. I gave them a grin instead, not that they could see it in the dark. [How many times have I mentioned darkness?! Oh well. All for the rewrite.] 'You don't worry about that til morrning. We can figure something out. For now, a fire will get your spirits up, you'll see.'

'We - we never have fire - well, unless a machine breaks and it explodes - isn't it dangerous?'

This time I really did stare. 'Well... yes, but - I mean - only in the way that a knife is dangerous. It is just a tool, and you learn how to use it. Don't you?'

'I don't know what you mean. What's a knife?'

'What? You - HOW can you have never used a knife??'

[Perhaps the Techy culture has automatic food processing - all by machine - so that everyone is raised on high-tech 'school dinners' which are basically mush in aluminium trays. Perhaps also the adults have adaptations to their suits meaning that in an emergency nutrition can be provided straight through the skin? They would surely need an intravenous tube set up somewhere - like a Big injection that's just implanted? (Going to make the scene where it comes off pretty painful.)]

The Techy shrugged, and I could sense their bewilderment. I suppose to them I was as strange as they were to me. For now I gave them the benefit of the doubt - they were obviously pretty young and from somewhere very different than they were used to.

'Look, never mind. Let me just get to work and we'll be warm in no time.'

'I'm not cold.'

'But - it's the night. I know we've been walking a long way, but you'll cool down soon, trust me.'

'No, it's not that, I know it's chilly - but I have my suit on, you see. It protects me. I don't know how you bear it without one, actually.'

'How could a - it's just a suit though - how could it keep you warm? It's very thin, it seems like to me.'

'Oh - well it is I suppose, but it's made out of [name of material].'

'What's that?'

'You don't know what - but - everyone wears it!'

'No-one does here.'

'What??'

They sounded a lot ruder than I had done when I couldn't believe it about the knife. I shrugged. Their lookout if they thought I cared about that. Now then - I had work to do. And it was always tricky to find good firewood in the dark...

I swept the ground and nearby trees methodically, first taking handfuls of dry twigs from the ground - dryish anyway, they still felt a bit damp when I held them up to my bottom lip for a moment - and then next I prepared a few of the bigger sticks and logs I would need as soon as it got going. OK. This was going to be fine. I cleared a large patch of ground down to the earth with my foot and then checked it with my hands. All fine. The young one was watching me as I moved around, clearly not understanding any of it. I continued without looking at them, they would get to see soon enough. I arranged my piles of sticks next to the area in a row going from thin to thick, and then squatted back on my haunches [sounds so weird], pulling out my emergency kindling materials from my safest inner pocket. At least no [LucySociety] would have gone anywhere without this stuff. A flint, some dry-as-dust moss, some birch [do they have birch?] tree bark and a nice strip of leather to lay it all out on and keep it away from the cold, damp earth [do they actually just use one of the other pieces of wood as a base? No need to burn the leather].

It took longer because a part of me wanted it to light first time, just to impress this young, strange staranger where they had never used fire before. I had to stop and breathe for a minute to regain my focus and stop dissipating my energy into wanting something so silly. Then it caught. I needn't have worried either - in the first bright flare as the moss caught I saw the look of wide-eyed awe on their face, and tht was nothing as to when I added the kindling. They made a little cry like I'd killed it when I covered the small flame with a large bundle of spindly twigs, but that's the way of fires - you have to start by being tough and feeding the flame as much as it can stand. The flames broke through the kindling within a minute and leapt upwards, at which point hthe Techy actually did shuffle backwards a pace. But again, it was only short-lived flame at that stage - I needed to feed it more. The small sticks again seemed to crush it, and again within a minute the flame leapt back up around them, consuming more and faster for having been fed. Then the larger logs, and larger, until the fire was burning slower, but more consistently, like a mature adult. At every stage of this ancient drama the young one provided sound effects of some sort or other - squeaking in dismay when it looked like the fire had gone out, and making small squeaks of delight when it came up again. Gradually  they lost their fear and sneaked closer, getting right up to it until it became too uncomfortably warm. It was obvious they couldn't keep their eyes off it, and it's true, who can? Fire is mesmerising even when you've seen it a thousand times before.

'It works!' they said, grinning up at me, and looking even younger than they already were for a moment.

I laughed. 'Of course it works. Well, it doesn't work as such - it lives. It's fire. This is what it does. Don't they teach you anything in Techy land? [Name of country needed!]'

'Nothing like this,' they replied, completely seriously.

'Well then, it really could be dangerous,' I said. 'You know less than a newborn baby. You know not to touch it, right?'

They withdrew a curious hand guiltily. 'I just wanted to pick up that one there - ' they gestured to a medium stick near the edge of the fire - 'it isn't firing yet.'

'Burning,' I corrected. [No, they would have a word for that, surely?] 'And you still can't. Sure it wouldn't hurt you, but a fire has to have its own strutcture, you see, to live. You wouldn't want to pull my arm off, would you? It's like that. I built it in a particular way. It needs all its parts to "work" best.' It was the way we explained it to very young toddlers [better analogy], but I was beginning to realise that that was what I had for my companion, for all intents and purposes.

'OK. Let's see if we can get some sleep now, shall we?' I said, yawning widely. 'It'll just be the ground tonight, so it'll be a cold one - '

'Nah, because of I'm wearing my - '

'Suit thing. Right.' I didn't quite believe that the flimsy, thin grey clothing could possible withstand the cold of the earth beneath us all night, but I was wrong. Even with my cloak [oooo do they have some sort of awesome fur cloak? Although isn't that quite difficult to be strolling around the forest in?] wrapped up tightly in a double layer around me, I knew I couldn't sleep all night through. I woke up several times, and each time the young one seemed perfectly comfortable, even after they had rolled away from the fire. I had to get up every two or three hours just to get my limbs moving, and I put it to use by gathering more firewood and keeping the fire going. Then we could cook some breakfast in the morning, and it kept me a bit warmer. It was a long night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

Chapter 5? - Thirteen

 

Breakfast & first chat

In the morning I felt like my back had been hit with small hammers [replace with some other tool that she uses regularly] all night. I tried to stretch and could feel all of my bones and muscles stretching and cracking in protest. How was I going to keep walking today? I had pushed myself further than I ever had before the day before, pushed by the desperation and the need to get away from the mind-wipe but now I just had to face the day with muscles that felt permanently cramped.

The strange [LucySociety] woman was already up, and prodding at the fire with some wood [does she know the word for stick?]. She had it blazing again, quite nicely, and I wondered if she had let it go out all night. I felt so sorry for her in her fur garments - they looked thick (if a touch barbaric) but I couldn't believe they kept a person as even in body temperature as the suits did. In fact I couldn't remember what it felt like to be cold. Horribly unpleasant, a vague memory told me.

'Ah, you're awake,' the woman said. Now in the morning light I could see that she was a woman. At least I think she was a woman - it was a bit like with young children, but with no F or M marking them on their uniform for me. No, I thought - probably a woman? [No doubt - she would assume she knew.]

I groaned as I stood up - I couldn't help it, my body was protesting so much - and came over to the fire just to stand close. I copied the way she was doing it. She was reaching out her hands towards it, and as I did the same I felt its warmth seem to lick me right on my palms. I stared at my companion, unable to believe how nice a sensation it was. I had to stop and stare at my hands, then start experimenting with how strong the warmth got at different distances. I may not have needed the fire to keep me warm, but it was certainly very nice.

'So what do we do today?' I asked, feeling suddenly shy and awkward around this other person who had so suddenly come into my life.

She looked back at me, a smile in her eyes. 'I don't know. But I do know what we do now though. Breakfast.'

She pointed to a pile of *things* over by the base of the tree. I stepped closer to have a look. It certainly didn't look like food - they were grey, and blobby, and looked unhealthily wrinkled up. My stomach clenched just at the very thought.

'I'm OK thanks,' I said. 'I'll wait.'

The woman did not seem to like that. 'No. You have to eat. It might be different, I don't know what Techies eat, but I'm pretty sure you're still human. You will need fuel to keep you walking today. We walked far too far last night for you to be not stocking up now.'

'But what *are* they?' I asked.

She gave me another of those bewildered looks that I know she had been using last night. In the daylight it seemed a bit insulting by how shocked she was by my ignorance. 'It's mushrooms, of course. And I've found some [wild herby thing] to go with it. They're delicious!'

I could not believe that. 'I don't know. I will be fine, though. My suit has food.'

She cast a sceptical eye up and down my skin-tight clothing. 'Where?' [Ooo, describe the suit better than that - it isn't skintight as in sexy!]

'Oh! No, it's simple - it's just here - see?' I held up my arm and showed her my armpit. Just where the skin turned at the top of the ribs there was a small plastic pouch, and underneath it it attached through a small, almost unobtrusive tube that was plugged right into my bloodstream. It was the best way of making sure workers never got too hungry to work well - a drip-feed of top-up glucose for use between meals if the suit sensed that my energy levels were dropping. Well they had been used a lot yesterday, so the pouch was already three-quarters gone, but I still didn't feel hungry. I expected it would need a refill in about five hours or so.

A refill. Where was I going to get a refill? It suddnely dawned on me how stupid I was being. I was far away from anywhere, with no chance of getting a refill for my suit possibly ever again. Oh God, what if I couldn't go back at all? Maybe I couldn't! They would certainly have to give me a mind-wipe, of course, but I suppose I was willing to do that *maybe* if it meant I could see my friends and family again. I thought of Nine, back at home. By now they would have reported my escape to family and friends and let them know whatever punishment I would be having when I got back. [Do they have a system of punishing loved ones to make deserters obey? If so, should that come in later?] But oddly, the image that came to mind of Nine was him frowning at me the last time I had seen him, when I told him about the reward I had won. Some reward. Now I would never see him again and tell him I was sorry for making him frown like that.

[After this whole day is over, spend a day just going through and correcting the spelling mistakes, and at the same time also make notes and a diagram of how the plot has been going so far - maybe during the rest of the month I can figure out the second half of the plot and the ending properly, using post-it notes and everything.]

So maybe I should eat the mushrooms. I stood queitly a little away from the fire (still close enough to feel its lovely heat though) as the woman cooked them on a piece of wood [describe a better way of grilling them!] over the fire. I debated with myself. I should eat, I should...

[Why is it always the same prompt on this thing? Anyway]

'What's your name?' the woman said suddenly. I stopped debating with myself about the inner benefits of eating mushrooms or starving to death and focused back on her.

'Huh>'

'Your *name*.' she said, sounding a bit exasperated now. 'Oh, come on! You must have one! Nobody in the world doesn't have a name, I won't believe that!'

'Oh! You mean my number!' I said.

'What do you mean?' She looked completely confused.

'I'm Thirteen,' I said, holding out my hand for her to shake [or alternative custom for greeting?], but she just looked at it without taking it, as if she was wondering withat it was for.

'Thirteen? You're called a number?'

'Of course - everybody is.' This was stuff that a toddler would know. I tried not to sound patronising. 'Everyone gets assigned a number. It keeps things simple.'

'Yeah but - don't some of you have really high numbers then?'

'Oh, yeah, usually people are at least three or four digits long,' I said. I got really lucky with my name. Well, not that I believe in luck, mind, that's just superstition. But I do think it's useful to have a short number, and it helps that it's prime as well.'

'What's prime?' she said.

I stared at her. She flushed a little by how shocked I looked. 'You didn't know what a knife was!' she retorted, before I had even said anthing.

'Fine.' I let it go. 'But anyway. What about you?'

'My name is Enn. [Formal groeeting of the [LucySociety]]. Pleased to meet you.'

'Em, did you say?'

'Ennnn.' she over-exaggerated the letter.

'What - so you're all numbered - named, sorry - by the letters of the alphabet? '

'No, of course not,' they/she dismissed. 'It's much quicker to just have a short name, is all.' [Actually, could they some of them have names from the alphabet? Like Jay?]

[They have to have got away from the ancient gendered names somehow, after all, at - when Lucy first started this process.]

'So you're *not* numbered? Doesn't that get confusing?' I said.

She gave me another weird look. 'No...?'

#

*** Attack, rip suit off, run away from camp

[How are they attacked? Or rather, how are they not immediately out-gunned?]

Enn's expression changed suddenly. She was looking up at the sky. 'What is that noise?' she hissed, suddenly tense.

I listened. 'What noise?'

'Ssh! Listen harder! I think - it might be one of your lot's flying machines.'

I listened a lot harder then. I had felt so alone in this forest I had almost felt safe, as well as lonely. I strained my ears and in another few seconds I could hear what she was on about. A low hum, the distinct sound of a distant [air vehicle - do they use zeppelins or what? Invent!] , but one that was coming closer every second.

'Oh God.' Now I wanted to throw up, even though I knew there was nothing in my stomach. 'They've found me. ' Enn - they've found me!'

'But how?'

'We have to go, Enn, please - where do we go next?? Tell me, we need to run there as fast as we can...'

Enn was moving with tight purpose around our camp, kicking out the fire [how would they really do it, if it was already really roaring for cooking on], scooping up the mushrooms and kicking leaves back into place over our sleeping patches/dents that we had left in the ground. It wasn't enough and it was probably entirely irrelevant anyway - they could track me through -

'Oh GOD!' I cried, looking down at myself in horror. How could I be so *stupid*? [Be careful not to make the character *actually* stupid!]

'What?' Enn said, wheeling round to see what was wrong. 'What is it?'

'My suit!' I could only get it out in a strangled whisper. 'It's - they're - that's how they're finding me. My suit. It has a tracking device in it!'

[Can't have Enn already having decided where they're going, because then they are more of a wise-guide role than another protagonist.]

'A what?' Enn said.

'A tracker! It's sewn into the fabric along with all the other sensors! I can't believe I forgot!'

'What does that mean? There's something in that suit that tells them where we are?'

'Yes!'

'Then take it off!!'

She started towards me as if to start ripping it off herself with her bare hands. 'No, wait, you don't understand. It's attached to me - the tube - ' I raised my armpits again and showed her where both intravenous drips went in - one for drugs and one for food/glucose.

Enn stopped and blinked at me for a second. 'You mean, that suit - those bits - go *into* you??' She sounded revolted.

'Yes!'

'But how do you wash?' she hissed. 'Oh, never mind, just take it off!'

'No, you don't understand. It self-washes. It self-regulates everything. [Named something to do with homeostasis.] That's the point! I've never taken it off since I grew out of my final child suit!'

Enn took a moment to process that, and then her jaw set. The whining of the [air vehicle] was not hard to hear now. We had maybe a minute left before it was right on top of us. I wanted to run, but even if I ran, I knew it was pointless. I would never shake them. They knew where I was.

'Well - if it went on once it can come off again,' said Enn, in a tone which brooked no argument. I still squirmed though as she advanced on me. Now I wanted to turn and run from her too - I really would freeze out here! She would accidentally kill me! At least the Techies coming to get me would just give me a mind-wipe and send me to work in the worst labour camps for the rest of my life. Then I thought about what I was thinking and some sense came back to my tired brain. Labour camps. Mind-wipes. Anything was better than that. I had to try and get out of here.

I started pulling at the suit, and Enn stepped right up in front of me and started pulling too, but the fabric was too stretchy and strong for us to break. We both clawed at the material but I knew already that nothing we could do with bare hands was going to make it break. It was designed to last a lifetime and it was tough. 'What do we do, what do we do,' I could hear myself almost squealing it, terror getting the better of me again. 'We're going to get caught and mind-wiped... I'm so sorry for getting you into this, Enn,' (although even as I said it I knew that what I really meant was that I was sorry Enn had rescued me. If she hadn't, all of this would be over already. I wouldn't have run for my life or spent the last two full days feeling terrified. This was just a joke. I wanted my old life back.

I was about to stop struggling and just let them take me when something metal was suddenly in Enn's hand. [Just say she took it out of her garments or something.] It flashed brightly in the dawn light and caught an edge that looked frighteningly sharp when she brought it back to face me with it. I recoiled back from her. 'What are you doing??'

'Stay still!' her command was harsh, and I immediately obeyed. [Got a bit of a thing about always doing what she's told - she's always been a 'good girl' and won prizes for best compliance in her class as a child or something?] 'This is a knife, Thirteen. I won't hurt you if you stay still.' That almost sounded like a threat to me, but I think all she meant was to be careful of the blade. [Would she know the word blade if she didn't know the word knife?] I waited for her to make the next move - I was stood stock still.

'Good,' she muttered, and knelt down in the dirt. (I had never realised until falling down so much yesterday just how *dirty* dirt is.)

I heard a ripping sound, and felt something strange - it must be the air, hitting my leg for the first time - well - ever. She - I looked down. She was using that knife thing to force the threads to part, and it was devastatingly effective. As she reached my hip-level I tried to say something in protest. I was wearing nothing. Nothing! Underneath this I was bare! It was the greatest shame [so body-shaming is part of the Techy society then?] anyone could bear to be exposed and naked in front of another. It - even with - when [how do they have sex? Maybe there is an under-culture of taboo nudity where people who love each other try to get out of their suits to see each other properly? Otherwise, actual reproduction is all taken care of with a simple round of IVF. Oh yeah, and the waste problem needs considering. Do they just have flaps???]

'No - please - no, don't...' was all I could say, but it was a feeble protest. Enn got her knife under the other ankle, nicked the fabric, and tore straight up to my hip on the other side in one fluid motion. [Cliche!] I tried to use my hands to hold the fabric together around my private parts. Now I could remember what feeling cold felt like. It felt like the skin on my legs had started crawling where the chilly air hit them, and the hair on my legs rose. I had never seen the hair on my legs before. I thought it looked rather pretty. [Less lecturing/preaching! She would probably be worried it shouldn't be like that.]

Enn had stood up and was getting her fingers under my collar. 'I'm sorry, Thirteen, I have to - get - this - off!' she grunted, tearing her knife through the fabric along my right shoulder (harder because it was thicker - well padded and protected) - and then down my arm. Now one whole arm was exposed as well. I just felt so stupid, and a tide of panic was consuming me. [Completely reliant on this garment, it does everything for her - washes her, keeps her warm, maybe this is a big part of why they can institutionalise their children from being very young? And then of courses she relies on it for the drugs - does she even know how addicted she is to it or is there just an overwhelming feeling of unease around being separated from it?] 'No - no - please, stop, Enn, no!' [Uncomfortably like a rape scene. :/ ]

She didn't listen to my shouts. Didn't pause. 'Stop shouting, they'll just find us quicker.' she snapped, as she started on the other arm.

[Question/inner character arc - Thirteen has to become more assertive and able to rescue herself/master her fear - the dynamic of their relationship shifts from Enn getting them out of things to Thirteen getting them out of things? Reflects the transition from when they go from [LucySociety] back to the Techy world? And so one of the book's 'big questions' is 'Will Thirteen become a more protaggy protagonist?']

She got into it quicker this time. I stopped trying to hold the cloth over my groin in order to hold up the cloth across my chest. [Would boobs even matter that much/be considered taboo if they're never seen?] [Still instinctive to want to cover the heart.] At some point I had started sobbing. I hated this. I hated it hated it hated it.

Enn worked her knife up the from the hip tear all the way to where my arms were covering my body, but I wouldn't let go. She huffed in frustration and quickly widened the tear on the other side of my body too. Now the only intact bit of the suit was a narrow band around my chest.

[Have them running for a bit first to find a hiding place, and then cut away the suit? Thirteen explaining to Enn about it as they run?]

'Come on, Thirteen,' Enn's voice was urgent, but not without a shred of sympathy. 'You've got to. They're nearly here. Listen!'

Over the sound of my desperate choking crying I heard the roar of the [air vehicle]'s engines ripping the air above us. My head was whirling. I couldn't - it was too much, too embarrassing, I needed the suit - but somehow, in the midst of my panic, I knew she was right. I lifted my arms. I could feel myself shaking.

'The - th-the tubes. Careful!' Her knife had already split the pouch under my right armpit, and the glucose packet poured everywhere. Enn slowed down a fraction, peering closer to try and understand what happened when the pouch met my skin. 'It - it's a tube, you'll have to pull it out,' I gasped. I really hoped it wouldn't hurt too much. They were inserted quite firmly. They were never *supposed* to be removed.

'How do I - oh, I've found it - ' I felt her fingers tugging the edge of the tube and the other end inside me moving in response. My breath hissed in between my teeth. It already hurt. 'Won't this injure you?'

'Do it!' I shouted.

'OK,' Enn said, and now she sounded scared too, which didn't help. 'Grit your teeth - one two three - ' She yanked. To give her credit, she didn't hesitate. And she gave it some force. I screamed, and I could feel something in the inside of the sensitive crook of my ribs tearing, but I somehow stayed standing. My hands flew back to cover myself though. My suit was rags around me. I was in so much Trouble for this. I would be in so much Trouble for this - no, not the other one, please - it hurt too much...

Enn took my arm firmly and lifted it away from the where it was clamped to the side of my body. 'I'm sorry,' she said, but this time she didn't even give me a countdown. She ripped the other tube out of me and I screamed again. As soon as she had done it my suit entirely fell away. I was naked. My hands flew back to under my arms, I was in too much pain to care about the weird sense of cold flooding me, and the shame of being so exposed. I looked at my hands. They were covered in slick blood. I must have lost all the skin - oh God, it hurt...

Enn was kneeling down at my feet, trying to get me to do something else, again. 'Thirteen! Your boots!' she sounded desperate now. We had seconds left.

I automatically obeyed her, lifting one foot and then the other. She had to really tug - they at least were designed to be removed occasionally, but she didn't know how to work the latches and I was too distracted to show her - and I fell over backwards, landing with my left shoulder in the embers of the fire. My body rolled away from it as soon as it hit, but still I felt the scorch all down my back. It took my mind off my armpits, and that was saying something.

'[Swear word],' Enn said, and finally got my other second boot off. 'Come on Thirteen, let's get out of here. We have to move.' She carefully but swiftly wrapped her arms around me - I recoiled from her direct touch, it was forbidden! - but she avoided the wounds as best she could. She propped me up on my feet again and said, 'Can you stand?' I nodded. I had never actually felt this much pain before, I was sure of it. The suit always absorbed knocks and things, and then gave a short-term dose of painkillers until any injury could be seen to by the medics on the factory floor. I looked down at my armour, my life-long second skin [/coskin?]. It looked like a sad little puddle of grey fabric on the ground. Even as I yearned to have it back Enn picked it up, bundled it and hurled it as far away behind us as she could. [Oh no wait, better would be a decoy! Tie it to an animal? Maybe she caught a rabbit in a snare last night still alive and she sets it free - was about to gut it for breakfast? More foreshadowing obviously for that - go back and put it in - maybe say that they make camp before darkness falls? Wouldn't a proper hunter-gatherer know the importance of doing that anyway? OR they keep going because Thirteen still has 4385's torch somehow? And still got the red gem? Picked it up when just after being rescued before leaving the ship? Good if she still had it, kind of symbolic of the proof of something fake going on. Anyway.]

'Enn swiftly removed her outer cloak and wrapped it around me. I hissed and jerked away from it as the rough fabric touched my raw burn on my back. 'I'm sorry - you have to or you'll freeze,' Enn said, her fingers flying at my neck to tie up the cloak securely. I whimpered, but clutched the edges closer around myself. At least now I felt slightly less exposed.

'Right. Come on,' Enn said, and gripped me steered me by the shoulders. I stumbled in my bare feet- - now my feet hurt too on the rough ground, although only with occasional stabs as I found a rock or sharp twig roll away from me. My breath was coming in harsh gasps. 'That's it,' Enn said encouragingly. 'Just a little way - we have to get far enough - then we can hide - come on, keep going,' She was acting very patient but I could tell she was thrumming with tension. I tried to stumble faster, but every step made another jolt of pain shoot through my sides and back. I was still crying, and the tears streaming down my face made it even more difficult to avoid stepping on sharp things. I tripped and half-fell, but Enn grabbed me. 'That's it - just a bit further - that's it.'

We made it to the cover of a denser section of woodland just as the sound of the engines of the [air vehiicle] roared to a climax behind us. I felt the wind of its propellers pushing on the back of my hair and making the cloak whip around my body. I arched my back away from the fabric of it. I hated to think how unhygienic it was - rough animal skins [would she even know where fur comes from or how it is made?] and all the germs flooding in through the compromised areas - my old teacher would not be pleased with me, I was in so much Trouble - for some reason, it kind of seemed funny to me. I started giggling. In between sobs.

'Oh Thirteen, come on, that's it, you're doing well,' Enn said, sounding nearly in despair at me obviously losing my mind. She looked back over her shoulder to try and see if we had been spotted yet. I focused on remembering to find places to put my feet. One at a time, one at a time - wasn't I leaving a trail of blood anyway? My hands felt slick with warm moisture where my skin had torn under both armpits. If I was bleeding on the inside too wouldn't I die? It all seemed to matter less now somehow...

But each step took us further away. I don't think I could make it for another few steps - but I just had to keep going...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

Chapter 6 - Enn

 

Find a hiding place, leave Thirteen there

We stumbled along slower than a child would manage, but to be fair, the young one was really trying to keep going. There was maybe a scant fifty yards between us and the huge air thing when it landed, though. Thank goodness that the woods in this part of the [LucyLand] had never been cut or tame, and instead just left as sacred space all around the mountain. They would have seen us, else. And also anyway if they had been trackers that would have been it, no chance. But as it is they did not even have a dog with them to sniff out the blood trail. Who were these Techies and how did they ever survive anything?

As we went, I tried to soothe Thirteen, but it was clear she they were in a terrible state. I needed to get those wounds under their arms fixed as soon as possible, at least so they weren't losing so much blood. If a main artery was severed... [how much would Enn know about biology? No reason to keep that info back? Also how bad would a wound be just there under the armpit? Are there any major veins? Or would it just be a flesh wound basically?]

The main thing was that Thirteen was being far too loud. A baby thrush [better metaphor!] could have tracked them, the way they were breathing. 'Hush now, hush, just keep going, that's right...' I told them, trying to pick out the easiest patch for their bare feet. That was another thing. They couldn't go about like that in the forsest for even a minute or two - you need your feet to work when you're out in the wild! We made it down another shallow dip, and Thirteen was starting to giggle. 'Shush, please, Thirteen, concentrate,' I said, almost begging them to hear me. They needed to get a firmer grip on the sitatuation, but I could not blame them. Sitill, if kindness didn't work, I might have to start bullying them to do what was necessary.

I hoped the rabbit was going a long way the other direction. But obviously they had chosen to land [or not? The airship actually circles a bit overhead and then flies off after the rabbit for a while?] so they couldn't be that fooled. Probably the suit would send them all sorts of readings and any fool knows that a bunny's heart-rate is impossibly fast for a human.

OK, we needed a hiding place, and fast. We would stop for two minutes, get Thirteen sorted out a bit more, and then continue our creepling progress away from our camp site. As long as they didn't know our direction, it would take them a while to find us as they would have to circle outwards from the remains of the fire-pit. I did hope that that blast of air from the ship hadn't kicked the embers all over the place - it just took one to be gently blown into life by the breeze and the whole forest was at risk. [Is it summer? Has it been particularly dry?]

It was over the next ridge that I found what we needed. You never see what you need until you start looking, and then the forest will provide within a few minutes usually, if you know what to look for and how to look. This log looked just the same as any other really, a bit rotten, obviously fallen in last [season]'s storms. But it had fallen just over a part of the ground where it dipped in a natural hollow. The whole thing was overhung with ivy and things [what plants hang/grow over a dead tree?] forming a curtain naturally between the log and the ground. I half-dragged Thirteen over there, who had managed to stop their hysterical laughter but was still moaning involuntarily with every step as it jarred their wounds. 'Under here,' I said.

'Where?' they looked blankly at the log.

'Here,' I said, and let them go to bend down and hold back the hanging moss as if it was a tent-flap [what sort of shelters do they use?].

Thirteen swayed a little on the spot, but still didn't move to come and hide.

'Do it, Thirteen!' I said in my best parent voice, and like magic [concept exists?] their knees bent and they lay down on the ground, and then shuffled sideways to wedge theirself in the small gap.

'That's it, well done.' I helped her arrange my cloak better around them so that they were fully lying on it and the ground wouldn't chill them too much.

Then I crouched to look over the edge of the log carefully and see if anyone was approaching. Nobody so far, and all I could hear was Thirteen's breathing and slight sobs.

'Thirteen,' I said, whispering as I rearranged the concealing moss to fall across the gap. 'I need you to stay here and stay quiet for me for a few minutes, OK? I'm going to go find what I need to bind those wounds or you'll just keep bleeding. You stay still, keep pressure on the wounds with your fingers OK? And I'll be back soon. And try not to breathe too loudly if you can. I don't think they'll come this way.'

I heard a coughed reply from Thirteen and took it to mean that they comprehended the situation. I certainly noticed a slight decrease in their breathing volume anyway.

#

Enn creeps back to get healing plants

Carefully, I got up and had a look around. They were not here yet, they would still be circling a tiny bit closer to the camp, and hopefully trying the direction that the rabbit went first.

Now, if I could just focus - it was quite hard though, when I knew how close I was to capture, and then I don't know what the Techies would do to me. I had no idea of how serious the thing was that I had done. I knew violence and disobeying Lucy would be considered very badly by my own tribe. [What stakes has Enn risked?] So I tried not to think about what they could do to me as I crept back towards the camp. I would not have gone that way of course, except that I needed to get the plant I had seen back there, and I figured it was better to get it from a place that I knew there definitely was some than just go back to blunder around for longer out in the open where they were more likely to find me.

I can move pretty quietly when I need to, and now every step was considered. I would get back to Thirteen, and neither of us would die today or be captured. There was a fierce determination in my heart, but I knew it might be harder than that.

Finally I got back to [healing plant] and I gathered a few leaves hastily as I looked around for anyone coming.

Next I needed to strip some bark off a tree [how would you actually help to dress that kind of wound in this environment? A cord of some kind? Perhaps they already carry a prepared length of it around with them?]

The burn was going to be the worse wound in the long-run, I knew. [How much first-aidy knowledge would they know? If they use some of the modern technology for that, then how would they keep the old knowledge about plants for healing alive? They would have to carry medicines around with them, wouldn't they? Or is Enn just particularly self-sufficient because they like to hunt more than the others?] [Would a burn actually be worse? Or would it be the cuts? They are more open, surely?] For that I would have liked to mix up a salve, but that would have to wait until we got away. My only thought was to wait until dark fell again, and until the airships missed us, and then keep going. Thirteen would have to walk through the night, and I needed to do all I could to make sure they could do that.

I crept back to our hiding plcae, erasing some of our more obvious track as I went. When I got back to the log I was pleased to find I would never have been able to see a person under there - Thirteen must be almost holding their breath.

I knelt down and parted the moss again, gently, so as not to destroy it from repeated movings.

There was a tiny, smothered squeak of fright from the hollow. 'It's only me,' I whispered, and then clambered in beside them. It was obviously a pretty tight squeeze. The tree that this trunk had been from must have been massive, a forest giant, but even so we only just had enough width.

#

Near-miss encounter while gathering plants

[They should totally have a near-miss encounter here. They hide by climbing up a tree? Techies don't really think much about tree-climbing as a skill, so don't look up and see them?]

[Also, what important piece of information could they overhear like that as the guards pass? Something that foreshadows something else, that's what, I'll bet!]

[Makes Enn think that Thirteen is a criminal? Casts doubt in some way?]

#

Hiding for rest of day; walking through night

The rest of the day passed very very slowly. [Break here? Or write more for more words?] Getting the poultice made and then bound onto Thirteen's wounds was incredibly difficult in the enclosed, dark space, but with patience and slow movements it got done. Thirteen didn't seem to like my touch - they clenched up whenever I had to put my hands on their skin, which was often of course - and I expect they also weren't used to the bugs and things which made this little hollow their home. They seemed almost frozen with misery, in fact, but their bleeding slowed as the poultices helped to form a scab. I next tried to treat their back, but there wasn't much I could do . I ground up some [painkiller leaf] by chewing it into a paste in my mouth, but then Thirteen seemed even more unhappy with that than with having the burn in the first place. I had to whisper sternly that it would help, before they would let me continue applying the salve.

Without my cloak, I was rapidly cooling down to a dangerous level. The cloak was only designed for one and Thirteen needed to have warmth protecting her them from all sides. As it was, they spent the day shivering. I tried to scrape the leaf mould into a bit of a cushion between me and the ground but as I was also trying to stay deadly quiet, there was only so much I could do.

We only heard the Techies come by once, and I know both of us were terrified during those moments. It wasn't much, just the sound of their boots crunching through the leaves, but suddenly my clever hiding place seemed much less secure. It must seem so obvious from the outside that we would have gone here! The rotten bark inches [what unit?] above me seemed to weigh down, trapping us in where we couldn't get out. This was so foolish , why had I attacked those people?

[Not feeling that I am really 'inside' Enn's head yet, not in her emotions anyway, and I'm not sure her motivations entirely make sense/are consistent.]

After a couple of hours I think Thirteen might have started drifting off to sleep, or at least into unconsciousness. It is pretty boring to be stuck in one place, and the last we had heard of the Techies pursuing us seemed like a long while ago. I knew what we were waiting for - we needed them to come back past us, and then the clincher would be the sound of the airship engines setting off. Of course, they could have left some people on the ground to trick us into coming out of hiding then (I had many long hours to consider these possibilities).

The Techies kept looking for us all day, but they did not have very good technique. They just went a long way all directions (I was flattered that they thought we could have got so far) instead of re-checking where they had already been to see if they could find any more clues. Soon they had trampled around so much that their tracks were obscured anyway. I began to feel more confident that we were going to make it.

Darkness gradually fell, until I could only make out the shape of Thirteen beside me by their shivering. I knew that this day would have taken a lot out of them - they had had no food, and with an injury and the cold to cope with their body had had a lot of demands to cope with.

Still though, we would have to move.

I had whiled away some of the time lying shivering by fashioning a very rough pair of shoes for Thirteen. I always carried some cord, of course - and I would need to replenish it after this, now that I had bound Thirteen's chest wounds and their shoes with my stock - so all I needed was some material to work with. The only thing to hand was the bark of the [type] tree above our faces, so I spent an hour working at it with my knife until I had a big enough strip off it. Then I shuffled down to Thirteen's feet (awkward) and began strapping them on, lacing them directly to their feet . These were one-use only. At first Thirteen jerked their feet away, but once they realised what I was doing they let me carry on. I had tended to the small cuts first, and packed the shoes with some leaves so they would not rub, and all in all I was satisfied that walking would be a bit easier for them anyway.

Eventually it was dark enough, and I shuffled back up to whisper to Thirteen. 'Are you ready?'

No answer.

'Thirteen!'

I gave them a bit of a shake.

Thirteen grunted and woke up. I didn't like the sound of that sleep - it was probably brought on from all the blood they had lost, which had been seeping through the poultice, down through my cloak and into the soil all day.

'Thirteen, we have to go,' I said.

'OK,' they muttered sleepily. 'I'm so tired...'

'That's because you've lost so much blood. You've been sleeping all day. But we aren't safe here, we have to keep going. Come on.'

I left first, carefully making every motion slowly and quietly.

[What about torches? Could the Techies floodlight the place?]

Then I reached back in for where Thirteen was wriggling to get out with all the grace of a flip-flop penguin [??] , but at least they had more energy than I had thought.

I straightened up and took my bearings. I knew which way the ship had been, so I knew which way to go - as far away from there as possible, and in the opposite direction to where the ship had flown away to.

We started along, and this time Thirteen had better footwear and so made much better progress. They held tight to my arm - I think they were light-headed, and I was not surprised - but moved with a slow determination that I really respected.

We didn't speak as we went, we were too wary, but we began to not worry too much about making noise as we continued. The movement felt good in my aching bones, but I could feel the weakness from a day without any food too. Another day like that and we would not really be able to keep ourselves warm overnight. We needed to find help. Thirteen needed clothes, and I wanted my proper supplies. But where could we go? This was the sacred monuntain - no-one lived here. That was the point. No-one even hunted here. It was a fast and full day's hike to get to the nearest current settlement and anyway, I didn't think it was wise to go into the tribes again. How would I explain anything? How - what would they do to Thirteen? Undoubtedly they would have to go back to the Techies, and the whole point was that that would mean they had to have their mind wiped. No, the only thing to do was to stay with them, help them evade capture and learn how to live in the forest, and then hide them safely in some distant part of the south forest where hardly anyone went, to live life as a fugitive. It would be grim for them to never really be able to have company - maybe I could come and visit them occasionally - but that would have to do. That was a plan, at least. For now, I had to get them clothes, and help them recover from their wounds. We would need to start from scratch and we really were at nothing.

As we walked through that long, dark, night, I began to take more and more of the weight of Thirteen as they leaned on me to keep going. Food, that's what I had to find. In my mind I prepared what I would do as we walked: we would need to find another place where Thirteen could rest, and I could go and hunt. I would need to catch a bison... [or whatever beast their clothes come from].

[Pointless scene the last one, because it has the character planning what they are going to do next! Just skip to that, surely?] [How far could they reasonably be expected to cover on a night trek through the woods without light and one of them particularly weak? Far enough to get out of immediate danger of the Techies if they circled round in the sky again during the next day?]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

Chapter 7 - Thirteen

 

* Wake up from fever; long first proper chat

I woke up the next day still with that feeling of deep wrongness running all over my skin. It didn't feel right, it felt kind of raw to be not hugged tight by mys suit. I missed it nearly every single moment. I couldn';t believe how much I had taken it for granted.

I had had such an easy life with it on, and now there was no hlep for anything. I was hungreir than i had ever been; my backs smarted with from the burn and my wounds under my armpits were unbelievabley tender - I could only gasp from the shock of how painful it was every time I moved. And most of all I just felt ill, deeply ill -

[Actually she's had a fever - aw withdrawfal/injury/sleeping in the cold fever that has laid her out delierious for a couple of days? Come back in when she wakes up?]

I came to myself slowly, and with trepidation - so many times I had thought I was waking up and it turned out only to be another dream. I kept seeing strange thigs,m like my parents, who I had not seen at all since their regular weekly visits stopped when I was four. I needed them now, I knew - I was sick, I was ill, and my parents had always held me when I was tiny. I had forgotten how much I had missed that when I went into the institution. They gave us drugs to cope with it, of course, through our suits - but now that had gone. Maybe I had always been needing that holding, and the suit had been what was holding me ever since I left my parents , and now it has been so many years and I am falling apart without it. What am I going to do? The dreams hae left me feeling beyond fragile. I have dim moemories of spending aone long, damp night wretching, and of another desperate day walking along, sutumbling, semi-delierious, with a [LucyPerson] by my sidee -

Oh! And nthen I truly nknew where I was. This was a cave. Enn had found it late yesterday afternoon, and although it was open and pretty windy and cold, it hasd a stream running through it, so it dfould give us what we both so deespperately needed -w ater. I think even a couple of days ago I would have worried about what was in the water, and whether I was infecting myself bey not eathing atth the normal canteen, but I was surprised when it turned out to be the most delicious water I had ever tasted. It was one of the only things I could do for myself =- roll over to the dedge of the stream and slurp up hand scoopfuls in my bare hands.

Still all I was wearing was the matted fur cloak from Enn, and now it really was matted. I ahad already found it comparitively disguisting compared with how ewearing the suti felt, but now I was just idisgusated by moy own odours. That was another thing I wasn't at all used to - the smaell of myself. The suit took care of all of that, so that workers could focus on workingl. Never any time wor water wasted with getting naked and stittiung in a tub of one's onwn filthy water. Now though, I could see the point. If the stream hadn't been so cold and me so weak,k I might even have spent a couple of brisk minutes rubbing myself down in it (when Ennn was out, of coures). But as it was I could only really lie her e with a rock for a pillow and wait for Enn to sort everything out.

Which she was. Thirteen had never - I thought that actually she might be one of the hardest workers I had ever met. The She never stopped for a break really, just moved on from one task to the next with a steady rhythm that seemed to never stop. They had a calm manera about them as well - after we hadd got away and felt sure that we were not being followed, Enn was happy to slow things down and take things one at a time. [REwrite all this, of course; Thirteen wouldn't have seen her doing stuff until she woke up pfrom deliruium.]

I was still naked. I had begun to get used to it a little bit but I longed for clothes. That was where Enn kept going, actually - to find the materials ot make me clothes like hers. I was grateful, and the rough smock and so on would be better than nothing, but I wondered if I might actyally need hju to go back to the TEchy world (what??) soon. I couldn't survive out here and I nhad nowhere to go. We were only delaying the inevitable. They would never stop looking, etiher - I had the stone, and that secret must be tooo important to let go of.

Enn came back up the hill to our cave. She was ca dragging a huge - a horrible - God, it was a body! A body of a great beast, with fur and a thick hide and ts tongue lolling out horrible. [What is it? A bison?] Enn grunted as she threw it down on the floor and sat down next to it, panting. She looked across at me.

'You look a lot more lucid today?>' she asked.

'What do - oh, yeah, I think I am.' I said. I still felt so god-awful shivery, but at least I could use my mind gain.

'Well that's a relief. You really took ill quite badly back there. Do you even remember eanything from the last two days>?'

I blinked, trying to think. My head ached. 'No, not really. Did I throw up?>'

Enn made a face. 'Yes you did. Just over there. IK cleaned it up.'

'Yikes. Sorry.'

'No, it was my fault really. I tried to feed you mushrooms. Apparently you've never had them before and in your fever exspecially you couldn't handle them.

'Oh yeah. ' I grimaced. I was very , very hungry actually. My suit would have never let me get this hungry. If only I could just pop on along to the medics station and refulel all my suit packs, and then get my wounds seen to...

I checked under my arms. There were fresh poultices there. 'Did you change them?'

'Yes, of course I did. I YOu didn't eneed an infection on top of everything else. I think losing that suit wa did more to you than jsut just knock you back psychologically. You must have been getting something from it?' [How much would someone forom [LucySociety] know about drugs?]

This is where I got to by the 5th hour (10am)

Th I stared appalleda at the dead animal as Enn refreshed eherself with a drink of water at the stream.

'What IS that?' I said, fianlly.finally.

'It's a [whatever],l' Ennr said.

Did you - did you kill it,?' I said.

Of course I did. We're going to eat tognight"!' Enn smiled happily.

My stomach liked the idea, but I couldn't imageine ever being lesss appetised by the sight of something. I twas bleeding all and there were blood and guts everyowhere!

'You'll like it,' Enn promised, seeing my expression. S'Surely hy you've had meat before, haven't you?'

Well, no actually.' I said. My voice felt all croaky and I shuffled over to the stream to drink from it after Enn finished. Nea'Meat uses too many resources to raise. It's cheaper and more effective to have all the workers fed bon vegetable, [lant-life based materials. And trhen bbecause it take too long to eat the normal way, everyone learns to just eat as a puree of something, or u rely on their suits in between meals to save time.'

Enn stared and flrowned at me. a 'So all of you just - don't eat real foord?'

'Well we do wehen we're kids, obviously, ' I said. 'But it's a bit silly to carrty ibon doing it that way when it when there's a more rational way of doing it, isn't it?'

Enn looked very supsicious of such a suggestin. 'But what's the point?> What could be better than cooking some lovely food for hyourself to eat that the en oof the day? '

'Well, so we can work more, of course. We're workers, aren't we?'

'But I don't understand. You can't work all the time - it doesn't take that long to get the children cared for and the shelters mended. Not ewhen everyone is helping especially. How can it take that long? What else it s there to do about from look for food?> And then prepare it?'

Enn got out her knife and started to cut into the animal. It was gross, but also strangely compelling to watch her tdo it, because she obviously knew so well how to do it. I had to stop watching though when the skin got pulled away from the red, red insides.

I tried to concentrate on her question. 'We have lots of work to do all the time,' I said. 'It hnver stops. That's the thing. It has bto all be kept going. I perhsonally racked up a record last year - I did over [x] number of hours of work! Not manyu can push tehemsleves that far you know, but I'm still young, so I really tried. I wanted the REeward, and I got it! That;s still really lucky - well, you know, improbably - even though I worked that heard, there are hundresds of workers who did even more than I did - but apparently the final round is done by b a random ballot to keep it fair. That's wahy I ended up in the museum in the first place, actually...'

[If she still had the stone when she grabed it and ran in the ship,t then would she hadve lost it when the suit came off? It hads pockets, right? Would she have gforgotten it with the apain?]

Enn paused in her rhythmical slicing and sawing. Her hands were all raed with blood, I saw, and I looked away, but actually mine were too - just caked with old blood that r came from my own veins, and the wounds.

I went bck to the stream to rub them clean properly. I would have liked some alcohol rubbing gel to be sure I had neutralised the germs, but at least there were no caked-on bits of dry blood any more.

You can u

'But I don't understand,' siaid Enn. 'What work? What are you all working on that's so important for you to pspend all your time on it?'

'Well - manufacturing stuff, you know. Stuff for the rest of the wordl's societies as well you nowknow - well , except from yours. I personally work on the [something that she makes] which is one of the bibggeest factory foloors in the whole of ][Techyland], so it is particularly good to get noticed of for working hard there.'

'How much stuff can there be to make in the world? Surely people don't need that much?'

And can't they make it themselves?'

Well no, not most of it - it's all specialised equimpment, see, mlike stuff made out fof metals and special fabridcs. Its' far better to use the division of labour to make sure everything is as efficient as possible than tho let everyone go about trying to mkake each thing by themselves without knowing how.'

'Hmm.' Enn stood up and stretched her back for a memoment. 'So you think it's better for you not to know how to make your own closthes right now then?'

'Wel... normally I would have my suit on of course... so clothing is somethign something that can foreget about altogether in the normal day-to-day lives. Only children have to ever change theirs, and even tthen only a maximum of once a year. It's quite a big deal actually. There's a ceremoney and everything each time it happens.'

I got suddenly quite homesick thinking of my own childhood ceremonies of growing up. The clothes we wore may not change much, but they meant a lot.

'I don't think I am ever going to undersatand the way you Techiews live,' Enn sighed. 'It makes no sense at all. Nobody can owant to work all the time.'

I bristled. 'Well it makes sense to me! What doesn't make senese is why you [LucySociety] want to spend your whole lives out here in this dirt and cold and without proper buildings! Is that right? I heard once that you don't even you use proper buildings?'

Now Enn looked perplexed. 'What is a building?'

'You know! Like a house!'

'Oh, like a shelter>? Well we have those. We have proper shelters that keep us warm and dry and that's t all they need to do, isn't it?'

'No! They needot to be bigger than just tents, you needto to be bable to go into them for long time and stay away from the outside...'

Now Enn looked really confused. 'Why would wyou want to be away from this?'

Cant't you see it? It's so... so dangerous! And big and ugly! IT's not safe! And it's dirty, and I hate dirt. If I was home I could be indside right now, giv staying warm and wokring working ot lots;. It's what we Techiews are born for, you know. We're carefully chosen to be slelected for breeding with whoever will give us the best workers later. It's very lgoical and sensible and it's the wsay things should be!'

'If you w rT Techy world is so great,k"' Enn said , with a trace of hheat in their voice now, then why were you scared of thos e people when they were taking you to the healing palce?place? you seemed to want to be rescued! You haven't s asked me to take you back, have you?'

[Have a bit much earlier where Enn explains that she didn't actually kill the guards, they were just paralyseed - and show the slingshot.]

I didn't know what to say. 'They were - they were just - '

'What?> Taking you to be healed? It didn't seem taht that way to me.'

'No, I - they were right to do it, I amd the one in Trouble. I tried to lie to everyone- - it was my fault - I ddesreved it an d now I can't go back because I'm too scared!' My voice hit a big cloggy wall and I started crying. I had never felt this weak in tmy entire life, hardly ever felt ill at all of course, and it really sucked. 'I found a son - stone, a thing I wasn't supposed to have, so they had to make me forget, and that's what they were doing, but they have to do it at that one plcace back there, the space-ship, I think because it's really old technology that doesn't actually exist anywhere else, and it's totally fair because then if I had only gone along with it and if they had made me do it then it would all be over now and I could have gone back to my friends and had a normal life and never known the stupid secret!'

'What secret? You siaid it was a stone?' Enn said.

I can't tell you, or they'd want to mind-wipe you inste as well!' I wailed. I had truly lost it now. I had kept all my fear and disgust and panic in when we were hiding under that awful log and for the housrs and hours of walking after that, and now I felt practically broken from the effort of helding myself together, and I *was* broken and everything was basiclaly awful...

'Look,k OK. I don't think they'd mind-wipe me, because I'm in [LucyScoiety], and Lucy doesn't d let things like that happen.' Enn said firmly. 'Also, I think it might be important that you tell me. If it's important enough for them to bring you all the way out here, and then keep searching for us every day since, then it must be somethint bigt. Just think, that secret would have been lost forever if you hadn't got away!'

I thought about it. She was right, I was being qwuite illogical really. I always did that, letting my feeling s run away with me. It was just so hard to thin k about when it had led to all this happening.

'All right. I'll show you.'

I

[Either show her the stone with the light - shining through it and imlluminating the message, or just explain what happened. d Either way, I probably don't need to write it here right now - excaept that it would fill up words!]

'So there is a spaceship in this musueum, right , and it's the one we all came on, but it's not the real spaceship>?' Enn concluded.

'Yes! That's it. ' I said, kprodding the fire again with a stick. This bit I did like of life outdoors - firse was very comforting, somehow. And I was glad to be able to help tend to the dinner in some way, as Enn had had to do everything else. The sunj was low in the sky now and she had spent the best part of the day completely dstrippign the dead animal until you couldn't really tell it havd ever been alive or how it had fitted together. Two huge chunks of meat were now turning on spits [how would they really cook them?] over the fire, and f it was my job to keep turning them regularly. It think maybe I was turning them a birt otoo regularly, ubut Enn didn't say anything.

So what you're saying is that the Boundless ahave lied?' Enn said. Her voice was neutral but j al still contained the incrdulity that I had felt mysef myself when I first comtemplated the possibility.

'Must have done. But it must have been for a good reason! They're Boundless, they do everything to preoitect us from things.'

'I'm not sure Lucy would lie. Maybe [TechyBoundless] did.'

'What makes you so sure of Lucy? '

'I know Lucy. They've been there since the start of our whole society!'

'Yes, obviously she has, she's a Boundless, but - '

'Not she. They.;'

;'What>?'

'You just called Lucy a she. That's not right. They're a they. ' Enn had a strange look on her face. [More descriptive than just 'bweildered and shocked' etc.![]

'What do you mean>?'

I'Is it true then? Do you think you're a she>?' Enn looked closer at me, apparently very curious. 'Actually a - what's the word - a woman?'

I had had quite a few surprises form the way Enn lived but this one was almost too stragnge. I felt competely completely non-plussed by the qeuestion. 'A She' ? A woman? Yeah, of course I am,' I shrugged, looking down my body at the m its shape in case it had changed recently. 'Did you think I was a man?'

Enn sat right back from her usual squat onto her bumj on the cave floor. 'Wow. you actually do! So you label the differences then according to genetalia and the way we reproduce?'

I blushed. 'Um -y yeah, but you don't need to be so crude about it. I mean, you don't ahhave to see someone's genitalia to know, do you?' / if they're a man or a a woman

'Don't you?' Enn slooked genuinely non-plussed.

This is where I got to by the 6th hour (11am)

'Well no!' This was so weird, what a thing to not know about! 'I - You can just tell from the - the general - sahpe, you know?' I gestured down towards my general chest area.

'What, you mean breasts? But they can be very small or very big on everybody. You can have a penis and bresasts, you know,' she said, as if this was obvious.,

'Now you can't! How coudl ycould ou?'

Simpleyu by being a little fat, that's all!' Enn said.

'But, I mean... you're a she too! We're both womaen!'

'Me?? I'm not a woman, I'm just a person. I mean, I have got a vagina, so that was a lucky guess, but - '

'It wasn't luck! I can tell! Look, it's your - ' I gestured helpelessley at Enn. Enn looked down at herself, trying to see what I could see.

'But I hardly have any breasts at all!' she said. I don't get it'

'I'ts not *just* breasts. It's your voice, and things. And - and women's hips are a bit wider than mens's... '

I trailed off, because actually Enn's hips were very narrow.

' Um...' Enn said, measuring her hips between her hands experimentally. 'Nope. I'm not seeing it. Everyone si just different, how can you just assume something that big about a person? And anyway, who cares if you have a penis or a vagina? It's only an issue oif you want to make a baby together.'

I stared at her. I could not understand what she was on about. 'So you're *not* a she?' I asked.

'You *are*?' she countered.

'Yes! But hang on a mintue - what would you call yourself then, if you don't call yourself she? D And he? Do you all just go a round saying everyone's name all the tiem?time?'

Of course not!' Enn luaghed.. 'Everyone's a they, of course!'

'That - that can't work...' I said, but I wasn't sure. I wuppose it could work - it was just so strange.

j Enn and I both just looked at each other for a while. I looked adnd looked, trying to imagine that she *wasn't* a womaan. 'But I've been calling you a she in my head all the time!' I wailed. 'Do y I have to stop doing that? I've nver called anyone a they before!'

'I guess so. Come on, it's not that big a deal is it? I've been thinking of *you* as *they*. If you want she instead / or he / then I don't mind, I'll wswitch. It doesn't really matter after all, does it?'

'Yes it does. It does. It defintitely does.' This whole conversation was beyond weird, but I felt this like a certaintly in my bones. 'It matters. I'm a she, and NOT a he.' [Would a techy be that vehement about it? As long as you can work, that's the main thing, right?]

'Ok, OK. Apparently it matters. I'll remember. But no gendering me, OK?> Get all that 'woaman' stuff out of your head. I'm just a person.'

'OK. ' I felt amlmost grudging when I said it. 'I'll try.'

'Awesome!' Enn beamed. 'I've always found it strange to think about, you know, that other scoieties use gender. It's going to be fun!'

I shook my head. Strange, strange, strange. 'I think the meat is done.' I said to change the subject. [Actually she would have no idea if the meat was done, she has never even seen it cooking!] 'It smells amazing anywya, I'll give it that.'

'Oh, you are going to love it,' Enn said. She - *they* - came closer to the fire to give thwe hunks of meat a prod. It was weird to me how they had changed colour while on the fire - now they looked like a lot less like smething I that looki used to be alive, and anyway, my stomnach didn't acare. 'OK, take a hunk out of - this one off the fire and hold it by the stick, it's going to be too hot to eat just yet,m;' Enn expalained, and I suddenlty realised that they would not have needed to explain tihis to anyone else, not heven a child. There was so much I didn't know about the way people lived out here. I still didn't think I was built for it.

j I watited impatiently, breathing the smell ind eeply with every in-breath. My mouth was watering. I couldn't remember the last time I had chewed something. I ran  my tongue alonhg my teeth to fchekc they were ready.

'It helps to blow on it to cool it down, you know,' said Enn. 'Like thsi.this.'

I copied how she - teythey - demonstrated, and then tentatively reached a tongue out to it. I withdrew qucikly, stong*stung. Ow!'

'You've got to wait longer than *that*,' Enn laughed. 'It's

[Mention beards as another gender markr!]

kij ji9 a big piece! It'll talke a while.'

'^hey always keep up the temperatuer to be exactly right in the food hall in Unit,' ji

u87 'Well that's pretty clever,' said Enn, as if searching for a compliment. 'How do they do that then?'

'Um - I think it's just the heaters they keep under the food vats,' I said - now I cam e to think about it, I wans't at all sure.

'What are heaters?'

'You knwow - what we use instead of fire, I guess - ways to keep things warm. I think they use steam mostly, going through, like, metal mpipes.' I tried to indicate what i meant with my hand but had to leave off hwne my meat j nearly slipped off my stick.

Enn alaughed. 'It sounds so complicated! Why not just use fire?'

'It's so - messy! And dangerous!' I said, but when I looked at Enn's neat camp-fire next to us I couldn't help but lack convcition a little. 'I guess it just doesn't work when we're indoors all the time. There aren't nearly as many trees around us.'

'Yeah I guess so. That must be werid, not having trees. Trees are everytihing to us, as you might have guessed.'

'I don't really know much about them. I noticed though that you picked up a particular one for the j fire and not other twitgs? Why is that?'

'It's because different tress have different wood,' she said. 'Sorry, this is so weird - it's like - well, I never thought I'd meet a person who didn't know this stuff when they were already an adult,' she- tehy they sad, a tad apologtetically.

Neither have I,' I admitted. h i f ' I can't believe how different it is out here. It alls eems so - so uncomfortable.' I twisted my lips and looked around at the rock floor.

Enn hooted with laughter. [Chliche] 'Well yeajh, it is a bit!#' they chortlefd after a while. It's not all easy, of courese.' But it is so worth it - I can't imagine living inside all the time. And anyway, this is not nroraml. k We are in a bit of a tricky situation. j I don't usually have to make a whole set of clothes out of a buffalo at short notice - and I haven't even got round to that until now, there was so much to do just to keep you alive,'

'Sorry, ' I mumbled.

'SWhat? Oh, no! It's just that I think j you got pretty close to dying yesterday, to be honest,' they said, looking much more grave at the memory. 'You really had a fever'. 'You were so hot, and yet still you wouldn't sweat, and yo said you were cold...'

'I could see things that weren't tehre.there. I think I reallyw as off in my head for a while,' I said. 'Horrible things, like my worst fears come to life. I thought you were - a - '

'Yeah, you thought I was a monster for a little while,' Enn said matter-of-factly. I had to hold you down toi get you to drink anything. For someone who was defintitely very sick y7ou put up quite a good struggle as well!' They smiled at me.

'Sorry. I don't know why you're doing this for me. You must want to go home?'

Enn gave a sort of half-shrug. 'It's onlyb een 3 days so far,' [has it? Count!] I'I'm often out hunting for longer than that on long trips. I know that my children are well looked after, so why whorry?'

'Children? You - you're a mother?' Somehow I just hadn't guessed that - they were so - so what> ? Independent?

'There you go again with your gendered worsds,' Enn grinned. 'I'm a parent, if that'ws what you mean. yes, I have three litte ones. Growing up fast, of course. There's [Child2], they're coming up on 10 summers now; then there's [child] - but I suppose you saw them, they were just a bit below me on the path?'

'Oh!' I remembered - the way the kid had skidded to a halt as I passed and looked so th frightened of us when just a second before I had heard them come laughting and running down the pagth. 'He - sorry - they are yours?'

'Yes!' Enn laughed again. They hadd st took a big bit e of meat and swallowed with relish. 'Oh, that is good - you should try some, it'll be cool enough now,' they said,m noptdding at my meat. 'And they were very ill , but Lucy took us to the healing place and got rid of the cancer with the machines in the ship. [How much would Enn have a concept of spaceships?] [Probably woul,d, buecause they have the orgin origin legends oif coming to the planet in the first place and being rescued by the Bounhdless?] I doidn't know those machines could be used for mind-wipes as well. ' Enn frowned. 'What even is a mind-wipe, anway?'

'I shuddered. 'It ujust makes you forget, but - well, sometiemes, people come backf rom a mind-wipe just a bit - different, you know>? And often they don't say where they're going [is it a complete seecret actually?[] but b they come back a couple of days later a bit more - placeid, I suppose? And dreamy. They're never as good a worker again, certainly. They generally get demoted right down to the lowest levels.'

'That doesn't soudn sound good,' enn agreed. 'So then. Eat your meat.'

I looked down at it. Despite the delicious aroma, I had been stalling actually tearing a chunk off this, what had been living thing. 'Go on, it's OK,' Enn said. 'You'll love it, I promise.'

'I ; I tentaively raised it to my mnouth and tried a small nibble. The texture felt so wrong and far too solid, but it did remind me of eating when I was a young child. The flavour though was like nothing I'd ever had before. It was beautiful. I took another much bigger bite and tried to hold the taste in my mouth as long as possible. My stomach growled it's* appreciation.

Enn was enjoying the sight of my new flavour discovery. '

'But how doid you do that?' I gasped. 'It's just a chunk of meat that we put over the fire! You didn't even add anything! And we're outside!' All my life *I had been told that the best foood came from careful control of its nutiritional content. That seemed much less important now.

'Well, everythign tastes better when you're hungry, and we are actually starting to starve right now, ' Enn said. 'So go easy, OK>? Try to pace yourself or you'll get sick again. ;'

I had to keep that firmly in mind because my every instinct was just to gulp it down.

'There's plenty more, doen't worry. In fact we should make as umuch as we can, because I've got no way to salt any of this. It's a terrible waste actually, but I needed it so that we could get you some clothes. I hope the buffalo's spirit will fogive me.' [Less crude way of introducting their respect for nature!#]

'What do you mean, spirit?' My attention was caught in betwen between mouthfuls. 'You mean like the old religions used to ssay? A prart of you that is bigger than yourself? And can live after tdeath?' I stopped because I realissed I ha starteed to sound scornful.

'No need to be so weird about it,' said aEnn, for the first time looking a little affronted. 'It's what I believe. No living thing serves no purpose, you know. Even when their lives are shotr and they die in babyhood to feed a larger animal. It ahs still helped something else survive. I will take the excess meat and make sure I scatter it away aways form this cave, so that the wolves can have it. Or a bear might find it. AEither, way, it would be terrible to let it just rot.'

'Well, that does make sense, but

This is where I got to by the 7th hour (12 noon)

'Well - it's ust - where I come from, any form of superstition is a bit, well, frowned upon,' I dsaid carefully. 'Like, people do say that I'm lucky fbecause I'm called Thirteen and that makes me lucky, but everyone know ts they're just being silly when they say that. It wouldn't make any sense to say that people need to rely on a concept of biased chance to get on in life. All it takes is work.'

'But - su - spirituality is not superstition. Or, well, I know it is not something that affects us lon a day to day material level, it's just a ik - a respect for the creatueres we live with, you knw?'

[Drop more of these beliefs and character contrsasts in through active scenes, across different times, with a bit more conflict/stakes attached too?]

[This is going to take so much cleaning up...l]

'Shall we not discuss it right now?'

'All right. Pass that stick over, I'll put on another bit of meat for us bogth.'

Things started to get gbetter after that. With my first meal in over 72 hours I revi felt much revived and j although my stomach felt uncomrfortabley stretched and far too solid (it never felt like that after the liquid meals back home) I also slept better, and didn't mind the stinky fur coat or the hard rock floor. Enn let me doze and recover my strength, but I know they were working late on uinto the night, continuing to strip ever part of the carcass and put it safely out of reach of the critters who seemed to get everyowhere. It was all still gross, but I couldn't deny that it woreked to fill your blelly, and the j j whole process sememed a little sless strange now that I understood how much Enn cared that they used the whoole animal properly.

#

First bath

The next day we ate a bit omore of the meat [would they bea ble to eat it after a night?] but by evening it was back to mushrooms. Enn didn't have time to go hunting againb ecause all day they were putting together the necessary bits they needed for uuii j my new clothes. Enn kept the fire going all day so I didn't get too cold, but I could definitely feel that the cloak wasn't enough. [Is it autumn? Getitng colder all the time/?] I kept my complaints on the inside of my lips every thime I thought of a new thing I couldn't see how to deal with, and instead tried to apreciate what Enn was doing for me. [Make one of them at least a less reasonable person, or there won't be any conflict.] j When I woke up enough from dozing - I really was tired after my fever - I was able to get my own water and tend the firse a little, and Enn showed me the correct way to sort and arrouange the different sizes of firwewood and when to recognise that the fire needed a new piece of wood. j The only other thing I could do to help was to make confversation, which Enn seemed to enjoy - although they wer such an odd sort of person I didn't know j what they liked or didn't. [Would Enn getting chatty fit with her being a sort-of introvert/?]

j j I learnt a lot from my questions. The [descriptiion of the process of making clothes from scratch - would one day gbe enough? How would they have made the needle? Is that another thing they keep all the time?:][

When the clothes were finished, I felt much more fond of the idea of wearing them than then I ha ever expected to be. It was no suit of course, but they would probably keep me warm.

'So are they ready then?'

'|Yes. But I think you should take a bath frist,' Enn said, nodding menaningfully towards the little stream/.

j 'I - I don't know how,' I admitted, 'I've nefver needed to before. The suit was always doing that tof for me.'

'What>/? You never - Techies never *wash*?' Enn siad incredulousluy.

'No! Never. o We don't ever submerge ourselves in water, or get - you know-  nam naked. \It's just not done. We have our suits for all that.'

'Wow. l So you never gtook it off? '

'No. Some people do, or try to, but they're not supposed to. When they - you know - want to see each otherwhen they - you know - '

Enn looked confused for a second, and then laugehed. 'Oh! the jik j For sex, you mean?'

I blushed furiously. I had never had sex. Nine had wanted me to, but [hang on. Couldn't it jsut just be that they had sex but she doesn't belive believe in taking her clthes off?]

'Well anyway, could you, kind of, tell me what to do?'

Enn grinned. 'I could help you, if you like...?

'No! No - it's not supposed to - you're not supposed to see me naked. That only happens at birth!'

'All right, sure, if that's how you feel,' Enn shrugged. You TEchies are so weird... All right, I'll tell you wahat to do and then go stand just outside the cave mouth, how about that? And you can call out if you're having trougble,'

'OK,' I said.

It was actually quite hard work - I was still weak - but I got in and out of the stream and managed to make myself small lss. Thn En n jjj talked me through th process of getting dressed, which took a long time, and all the time wqith that horrible feeling of being cold freeizinbg up and down my skin. jk j

Once I had got into my cozy new fur layers though, I felt really proud and warm and comfortable. Enn immediately took their cloak back and gave it a good wash in the stream.

They laid it out to dry in the balmy afternoon outside the entrance to the cave and went to set some traps. I was left in charge of the fire. 'One last night here, said Enn with decision. 'Then it's time to move on. They might sitll still be looking for you. We need a  j plan. Where are we going to go next? What are we going to do?>'

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

Chapter 8 - Enn

 

Leaving cave, tells about fake ship

It had been a satisfying, if tiring , few days in the cave - I was not used to having the sole care of such a dependent person - but by the morning after Thirteen's new clothes I was beginnign to feel more helfpul. They - she - had survived the wounds, and her back burn did not bother her too much any more [how long realistically would her wounds improve?]. My careful attention to their - her - flesh wouldnds under the armpits had left her ith respectable f j i had prevented them becoming infected [whould they have had to have swewn them up?] and they were showing - she was showing - some curiousity about how to make things work. It sitll still i didn't j k explain why - mean that she would necessarily embrace her life now as a fugitive, but that was still a few steps down the line. What we needed to sdo was get further away, and keep moving. I didn't tell Thirteen, but I had seen a couple of the airships in the sdistance while she was feversih, and I was sure there would be more TEchiews on foot trying to trace her.

jl I had a vauge plan to take her to West Peakf for some 'training' in the more rmemote areas. It was oging going to be a tough week or two on both of us, and I would also have some explaining to do about why I had been gone so long when I got back to the tribe, but j I would suffer whatever things I needed to about that. I wanted to know that she would be OK. Having such a clueless pupil though would emean that I better hope she was a fast learner.

'So what do I do now?' Thirteen asked as she woke up the next mornign. [Obviously not *as* she woke up.] We need to find a way to move on, but I don't know where to go.'

They - She - looked quite upset, and I was suddenly reminded of [child2] whenthe they felt lost. 'It'll be OK,' I said, trying to sound convincing. ' We just khave to keep moving and we'll find what needs to be done. It's quite a trek today - we'l have some fish before we go, and then do you feel strong enough?'

Thirteen looked w a bit pale, but nodded. A Tougher than they - she looked, this one.

After a delicious breakfast of salmon that had roasted on the embers of the fire [how would you cook a fish and what sort of fish is realisitic?] , Thirteen and I set off. It was slow, but not as painful by far than when we first arrived here. That had been hard. I had nearly had to drag her boddily up to the cave. This time Thirteen cautiously picked her own way down the scree face at the entrance, and then set off where I indicated at a measured pace. I matched my stride to hers and satayed beside her this time - no need to exhauset her . Hikes and hunting are never about speed anyway - they';re about stamina.

I We walkeda along in silence most of the way, although I found myself with more and more questions I wanted to discuvess with her. There were meany matters of petty curiousity that I just couldn't get out of my mind, to do with gender and so nn , but I locked down my lips about those sorts of things, it just wasn't necessary. But more importantly there was this secret that Thirteen had accidentally discovered. The spaceship in the museum wasn't real -s so what? But that didn't sit right, and I knew it. It wouldn't be right just to let everyone go on believeing that the things they saw in the musuem were true. Although I had never been to the mainland to see the msueum it was offered to all of us as a right that we could claim at least once in our lioves. Every peroson ion this planet got to go to the museum at leaest once if they wanted to. It was on e of the most important rulse, and hlepd ll the societies stay peacheful with each other so that they could live in their own way side-bey-side with contrasting cultures.

'So what's the msuem like?' I asked Thriteen as we plodded steadily down a sideways down a hilddside. I figured it would be best to reach the valley floor, where the going would be less steep in j j next to th rvr.  jjij Hi j f

'Oh... it's - you know.' Thirteen breathed for a few seconds. She was defintely very good h not very fit and , but she didn't compaliain. 'Well - when I was - a kid - ti was the most - amazing place I'd ever - seen. And I was - so excited - to win the REward - just to see it again 0- but you know, now I don't know if any of what it says in there is even true! - How - could they - lie to us, Enn?'

So this space-ship. It's supposed to be the one that brought us all - or our ancestors, rather - here from Earth?'

Thirtenn nodded. 'The remains of the Ark itself, or what survived of it, from the crash. but it ki doesn't make that much sense, when you think about it. I mean, my boyfriend Nine - well, I should say Nine-Oh-Three, really, that's heis proper number -= he says that when hes scanning for a meteor and he finds one, they have to warn the area that its going to hit, right? Adn they have to try and find out e as exactly as they can just how bitg this meteor 9is, so that they can predict how badly it'll be when it brteaks apart and scatters everywhere. The pieces can go for hundreds of miles sometimes, right,?'

I only had a small idea of what a meteaor actually was - something like a falling star, I assumed - but I let he r carry on with a mumble of encouragement. She seemed quite passionate. Plus I was caught up in the quantness of the term 'boyfriend'. What a weird way to categorise everyone!

So k when the meteors come, sometimes they're only really small, well about a metre across, right - ' Thirteen continued, pausing to medtodically work wher way under a low-hangiung branch - p [that's true - it would take more concentration to walk through a forest for her, as everything is unfamiliar?]

This is where I got to by the 8th hour (1pm)

- but youu wouldn't believe how far they scatter! Little chunks can come down miles and miles and miles away, and the t debris can be really lethal even when they're aonly the esize of your fixst, ebcause they're coming down so fast, you know? So I was thinking about it back in the cave, and it doesn't make sense that ship in the mseum, even if I dhand't vfound that gem. Because if it is like a huge ship crashing on this planet it should have nearly knocked us out of orbit, pretty much! And I know they say, right, well that bit left in the msuem is only the core, OK, but that *still * doesn't make sense because theyn how were there so many survivors? Engough to start all the civilisations across the planet! More than would have fit into just the core anyway, it's only a few rooms big,r eally. And the main thing is that there would be *little bits of it everywhere * across the whole of the planet, do you see? It wouldn';t be lke, Oh, we have to go to the museum to see athe remains of the Ark, because they would be everywhere! There should at least gbbe a pile of the chunks that have been collected on display next to tit!'

I was a bit lost, but I cgot the main gist. 'So you're sure then. It's defintiely a fake?#'

'Thirteen looked down and bit her lip. 'Yeah I think so,' shae said. ki It's been so long that everyone has gone and looked at it that I don't think anywone thins k about it any more. And maybe - well, maybe a few people do, lik,e, I bet that's what 337 [change name?] found - was taken away for from the meteor department, he was Nine's friend but he said he had found something funny about something, and that was just after he had gone ot the museum - I think he told Nine because Nine was really angry at him for putting him at risk of a mind-wipe, I suppose - and God, how many epople have realised but then been focred to forget? I must be fthe first one who's survived!' Or - you know what I mean. Who still remembers.' She took the littel red gem out of her pocket and gazed at it with a troubled expression.

'I reckon this is important, Enn,' she said seriously, taking a moment to stop and look at the little river which we had just reached. 'Why dod they want to hide this secret so badly? And why is there no evidence anywhere of a real crash? What if - what if the ark didn't crash here?'

'You mean - that some uf of us flew away again? That we might have landed safely?'

'Well yeah, or - or the ship might have been hidden - but then why would h we have lost contact with earth for all these years? All our probes and the efforts that [TechyBoundless] is trying to build to get back in touch with them don't seem to have amounted to much. We're working on it of course, we work all the time, but what if the reason we haven't managed it yet is that - for some reason - [TechyBoundless] doesn't even really want us to succeed? He's super-clever, and ancient of coures, he could have figured it out by now. I'm sure of it! So what are we all working for, you nknow, really?'

She sounded a bit sacared having asked all those questions out loud.  I patted her on the bsack in what I hoped was an enocouraging way.

;D'Do you think I sound crazy?' she said, a bit ref ruefully.#

'No. I think you're using your braihn. All fo that sounded like sense to me, I think,' j I said. 'There must be more going on here than anyone has told us abot. I mean, it's the Boundless who keep our knowledge safe and uncorrupted throughout the generations, isn't it? But if they were actually deliberately keeping something frfom us - well, then how would we ever find ouit? Everyone just thinks they are telling the truth, and we don't have any way of knowing what happened thousands of years ago, do wwe? We all just trust them. Now if we are being really - as you like to say - rational about this then we can only say that that is a perhaps a bit stupid of us, or at least naive. But we all grow up knowing them since we were kids, and it's always been this way, so why woudl would we question their trust? But that's true, you know - there's nothing topping them from keeping stuff from them. *us. It feles weird to question it, but like I say to my children, yuo can only have trust once you earn it. '

I felt guilty just saying it. Hadn't Lucy just saved [child]s's life? A Hadn't Lucy sohown again and again their dedication to

[Maybe if Thirteen is raised to work, she would take quite well to hunting and gathering as she would accept that she always has to be doing something? but although she might have a trouble over the fact that it never really 'rpodcues' much. And anyway, the main reason they all liked work so much is the drugs in their systems, b so j now she has come through the whithdrawal, maybe she will just not feel like herself at all?]

all the tribes? I had never doubted for a momenjt that the [Lucy Society] were lucky to have her as our Boundless, as they were obviously the best one. They helped us j with everything, and from the little I had heard aobut outside societies, it was not usually the case that the other Boundless rulers were happy to get into really helping in people's lives. So j how could I accuse Lucy of hiding something from me?

But on the other hand, they had shown themselves to know about the mind-wipe, and the bad things other societies were subjected to, and not done anything about that. Well, maybe it wasn't my place, maybe they just hadn't told me about their efforts to negotiate for better terms with [TechyBoundless], but in any case, they had not let nanyone in the tribes know about it. And suddnely I realised - shouldn't we know a bit more thn we did about the o way our fellow icitizens lived on this wordld?

So what c0old it be? ' Thirteen was conhtinuing. 'Why would they lie to u?' Did the ship leave and just leave us all behind? Or is it hstill here somewhere? Is it hidden?

[Hidden on one of the moons!!]

If so, where w o could they hide a whole spaceship? It seems prety implausible now that we have enough humans to cover the mwhole planet. [How many is that? And how long would they have had to have been there for that to happen? ] Just about the onnly thin G I fell pretty sure of is that the ship cannot have crashed. Now that means that if there's any truth in the legends at all, and asusming there even *is* a place called earth werwhere all humans come from, the tship still has to be around somewhere. '

I nodded. 'But you know Thirteen, I don't know what we can do about it,' [one of them has to put up some resistance towards actually enjgaging with the problem.] 'We're just two people, and alreadey on the run... and anyone we tell is also at risk, or would have enough power [wouldn't talk like that from LucySociety] t] to report us and get us sent down. I think we need to be fvery careful who we approach about this one, Thriteen. Even with the gem as proof it could still be seen as flimsy. What if they accuses you of having made it up and say that you're lying about tking it from the musieum ship , and say that you just made it from a gen from [place where it comes from] to try and cast dispersions on the Boundless? You sai d there was some sort of resistance, right, so maybe they'll just say you beliong to that? j ' [Enn wouldn't know all that.]

'I know, I know. I thought it wass so important to take with me that I even rescued it from my suit, but it just isn't, is it? ' She sighed. I' I may as well just throw it in the river right now.'  She even lifted her arm as if to do it.

'Wait! No.' I grabbed her and stropped her just as her arm reached the top of the back-swing. 'It'll still come in handy somehow, you'll see.' [Promise to keep to the reader!] 'Anyway. We still haven't decided. Do we tell anyone? And if so, who do we tell?'

Thirteen frowned. 'Well I don't know anyone here. And I don't know if Lucy is a good idea...'

'I trust them - ' I autoomatically started protesting, but then Thirteen cast me a 'really?' glance. 'Well, amaybe you're right. * I can only say what I've always said, which is that something will turn up.' [Ugh! delete]

#We finished talking for a whle as neither of us had an answer to our dilmema. For now I resolved to keept the focus on helping Thirtene learn to survive out here. u The mystery would have to stay unsolved while we had dinner to catch.

#

 Fishing scene (?) & dinner time

'Look, how about I show you how to fish|?' I offered, as a likely-looking bank caught my eye. W 'We need to have some more sustenance sono and you're still not back to full strength. ' (We had been making very slow progress, but I was pleased by how well Thirteen was holding up - she was resilient even if she wasn't fit, that much was clear.)

'Okay...' Thirteen sounded doubtful, eyeing the swift, shallow revierlet with distrust.

'It's actually pretty fun. Come on, I'll show you.'

[Describe the scene/process of fishing in a hunter-gathery way if it's interesting enough - also of course give them something esle else to do too.]

Three hours later, an accomplished Thirteen was cooking three small minnow [some type of fish] by herself over the fire. I had also tried to teach her how to use the fire stieel and flint, but the knack had eluded her. 'Don't worry,' I comforted her. 'It takes most of the children a year or two to really get the hang of it.' But instead of looking encouraged, she just looked more anxious.

We continued our leisurely stroll along the river (although sometimes the stroll became a scramble when the banks got steeper and the it was harder to get over the undergrowth) until late evening, when for the first time Thirteen was able to help me construct our shelter. She still grimaced  a bit when touching the moss and dirty logs, but again didn't say anything, for which I was grateful. [Make her more whiny to give her something to gro out of? But then that wouldn't hi fit her character of stoic worker? But maybe that's not what would be the main characteristic under this much stress, uncertaintly and challenge?]

This time she succeeded in getting the spark to catch, and although it then petered out when wh she tried to add the kindling, I could tell she was much encouraged by the progress. We tucked in under our simple log slanted log shelter [like the one they showed us to make at the bushcraft thing]  with a f the fire still roaring on the open side and my fur coloak across gboth of us. I felt very cosy and even Thirteen seemed a lot more at ease than the misery she had sufferend lastt time she had found herself nose-to-nose with some low-hanging log(s).

#

*** Getting to know each other on the run

Thirteen learns to become more self-reliant, starts to think in a new way

#

* Go through mountains, big storm

#

* Chased/Rescued/Woken by wolves, taken to lake

[Foreshadow that this is not a route people take much - the shortcut between the sacred mountain and West Peak... (work out the map). Not any particular reason given, although there are more wolves then normal up here.]

I was woken at dawn by the sound of snarling. I opened my yes and found a big, grey, drooling muzzle with a lot of teeth exposed stuck right in my face. Before I was even fully awake I brought my hand up sharply and delivered a resounding 'bop!' upon the wolf's nose. The snarling mutated into a furious whine and the big animal backed up a pace or two.

Thirteen screamed next to me - right in my ear. I winced and rolled out from under the cloak, getting my feet under me and pushing myself upright in about as second. I did a quick turn on the spot, trying to get a clear picture of what was happening. The big grey wolf who had woken me up so rudely was stood a little way off by the fire , getting its mojo back after I had hit it and probably even more angry at me this time. I had nothing to fight it off with and the fire had all but gone out - damn damn damn! but why was it doing this? This wasn't normal wolf behaviour, wolves would leave a traveller alone usually. [What is normal wolf behaviour?]

'Hey!' I shouted at the nearest one, and it back ed up another step, but then stopped and set its back paws like it was done retreating. Their mate came up from the other side of the dead fire and stood growling as they looked at us too.

Thirteen was still busy being scared and tangled up in my cloak. 'Thirteen,' I said in a low voice, 'Get yourself up to stand beside me. We'll look like a more formidable foe if we're not lying down.'

Thirteen finally finished thrashing around in the blankets /cloak and did as I asked. It was not much help though - the young one radiated fear. 'Relax,' I said, perhaps a trifle tersely. 'They won't hurt us if we show that we are confident and ready for them,'

Thirteen made a tiny skeptical noise in the back of her throat, but tried to stop breathing so loud and so fast, I could tell. She was still obviously scared though. The mate advanced another step or two to flank their mate, [would they consider animals as gendered?], their hackles rising on their back so that they looked like a huge fluffy cannon-ball. [Better metaphor more appropriate for their society.] I didn't understand it. Why were they attacking? Wolves didn't pick a fight for no reason, and they didn't look hungry or starving enough to take on two adult humans. Anyway, the big one could have ripped out my throat while its slept. So was it trying to warn us off then?

'I think we better go, Thirteen,' I said quietly, keeping most of the worry and fear out of the my voice. 'Pick up my cloak, please,' I said without taking my eyes off the nearest wolf. Another thing - where was the rest of the pack? Thirteen did what I asked, although slowly, and without taking her eyes off the wolves either. 'Good.' I said. 'Now come away slowly towards me - back around the edge of the shelter - that's it - '

We both walked backwards, finding it hard to do anything else if we wanted to keep the wolves in sight. Thirteen was behind me, still obviously terrified. 'Calm *down*, Thirteen,' I said, still keeping all emotion out of my voice.

Once we had the shelter in between us, I felt a bit better. The wolves hadn't moved, but their growling had actually intensified. These wolves were not behaving in any way I had seen wolves do before. 'OK. Keep going - keep going, don't break eye contact...'

As we backed off, I felt a sense of unease growing in me. This was all wrong. Where were the other wolves? Why hadn't they attacked yet? I started to inch my hand down the side of my jacket to reach my knife...

I heard Thirteen scream again. Suddenly she was leaping past me and spinning round in the air as if she had been stung by a bee. 'Behind us,' she breathed.

I wheeled. We had backed right into the semicircle of wolves - the rest of the pack. They had been completely silent though - only now did they start growling in unison, and all taking a deliberate step forward in unison, tightening the trap around us. We really were about to get torn apart here, and I still didn't know what, in the wolves's eyes, we had done wrong. Maybe it was just a matter of finding someone to eat?

My hand had found the handle of the knife but I didn't draw it out. If I provoked them with a clear attack move they would just pounce all the sooner. And a small hunting knife was poor fare anyway. [Use the slingshot instead?]

'What do they want?' Thirteen squealed, obviously beside herself. 'I know,' I said. 'That's the strange thing...'

'Just stand still,' I said. 'Back to back. Quick now. 'Keep looking them in the eyes.'

I stood as st tall as a I could, and slowly and deliberately drew the knife out to hold in front of me - a clear warning of my own: 'Come on then, doggies, who wants a fight?' I said, but still low, still calm. Wolves are clever. They don't attack if they know they are likely to get hurt.

'I don't get it... I just don't get it...'

I was turning my head from side to side, trying to keep them all in view. None of them were advancing any further, and in fact they stood stock still, that growl still boiling and roiling like own voice from all their throats. I tried to ignore how creepy it was.

'The other two have closed the circle,' Thirteen reported in a quavering voice from behind me.

'OK,' I said, and then, 'You're doing really well, Thirtene,' I don't know why - I think it was more to comfort me than anyone else.

'What should we do now?' Thirteen said, and I could tell the strain and effort she was putting in to controlling her voice.

'We wait. If they pounce, drop into a ball on the ground, and get your harms around your head,' I said, and heard her squeak of acknowledgement and terror.

'They won't hurt us. They won't hurt us, don't worry,' I kept saying, as if it was a mantra.

'Help - help me...' Thirteen was whimpering, but she hadn't lost it enough that she would scream yet. That was good. It was crucial to keep your emotions under control at a time like this.

'What do you want, wolves?' I asked them, trying to read their big yellow eyes. Why are you doing this?

As if on a signal, although one too subtle to be read by human eyes, all the wolves took a step. It was eerie how synchronised they all were. They didn't all just step inwards towards us either - they moved sideways, so the whole circle moved a bit to the left. Thirteen and I automatically sidestepped with them to stay in the dead centre. As for a far away as possible was fine by me. Then they did it again - step, pause for us to move with them, and we had all gone another step to the left. 'What are they doing?' Thirteen whispered from behind me. 'Are these monsters? Is this what they do?' [Would she be able to tell this isn't normal for the wolves?'

'I think - ' this was impossible, but after another step, the pattern was clear - 'I think they're *taking* us somewhere...'

I stumbled along with Thirteen, but the wolves had settled into rhythm now. Step, pause, let us stumble along with them, and then do it again. At first it was terrifying, but then we both started to walk more naturally. The predictability of their movement was soothing at least. They seemed a lot less intent on ripping our throats out now that they had us doing what they wanted.

'Are we being taken prisoner?' Thirteen said, no longer trying to walk back-to-back with me but still spinning on the spot to try and seem them all at once.

'But that's completely mad. Wolves are *animals*. They don't take prisoners, they can't! They can't *think*!' My voice had got louder than I intended, and the nearest wolf swung their head round and growled at me. I backed off and carried on in a whisper. 'This is *not* how a wolf-pack should be, Thirteen. Something really strange is going on here. I'm sorry, I don't think there's anything I can do to get us out of it...'

'That's all right,' Thirteen said in a resigned voice. 'I'm ever so grateful to you though you know Enn. You helped me back there on the ship and saved me and kept me alive and...' I could tell she was beginning to cry.

'It's all right, Thirteen. They haven't killed us yet. There must be a some sort of reason for the way they're behaving. Let's just see where they want us to go.'

[Perhaps the [HermitBoundless] has got them to bring them as he wants to see Thirteen more up close? Thirteen, as a Techy, reminds him of his own lost people? What was his society like?] j

The trap in the ring of wolves continued all morning. The ring did relax a bit after a while - they weren't all stepping sideways in that bizarre synchronised manner, but instead started facing the way they were going and walking normally - but the circle always stayed that same strict size, and our job was clearly to stay in the exact centre of that circle. We got used to our role and I even put my knife away.

'Why did you put it away again? It could help!' Thirteen hissed at me.

'I don't think they're going to kill us. It would be useless against so many, anyway,' I said.

{[Perhaps make Thirteen a junky - well, you know, what's a less bad word? - with a lot of tics as she craves getting her suit back? Perhaps her dependency leads her to dwell a lot on how she could get back to [Techyland] and get a new suit and somehow infiltrate the drug supply?]

The wolves took us back a way we had come for a while, but then turned and went directly up a steep hill. Them with their four legs had no trouble, but even I found it a challenge, and I had to help Thirteen a lot, who slipped nearly every other step. At least the ground was soft leaf loam. Unfortunately they didn't veer around clumps of nettles [or brambles?] though, and we had to use your my cloak to protect yo our hands when we were pushing them out of the way at points, they were so thick. The wolves simply slowed down though, taking one step at a time patiently until we were past each rough patch.

'Do you know where we're going?' Thirteen asked me.

'I think just across to the next valley,' I replied. 'It's not somewhere I've been before though - it's at the bottom of the sacred mountain, but on a the far side away from the healing place, so really no-one ever goes there. Plus - you hear some strange things about it...'  I wouldn't normally have given the stories any credence, but it wasn't every day you saw wolves behaving like this.

'What stories?' Thirteen pressed.

'Oh, well - just warning that this place is cursed, or something. No-one seems very clear on the details of this curse. There are some which focus on the fact that there seem to be an unusual number of aggressive wolves in this area - I have to say there might be something in that one - but I have always just stayed out of the wolves' way in the past and they've stayed out of mine. And then there are others which talk about an ogre of the mountains, with a big terrible overlord of the sacred mountain living in the underpalace -  a big cavernous network of passages underneath the mountain. There are lots of secret entrances apparently, and every year some dare-devil will say they've been exploring and they found one and they'll make up some fantastical stories about what they found inside - underground waterfalls, that kind of thing. It mainly entertains the children, and the young adults don't keep up the foolishness very long. It's never ever seemed true to me at all.'

I maybe put a bit more emphasis on this than necessary. One of the wolves flicked me a warning glance. I sighed and kept walking.

'And what is this ogre supposed to do to people?' Thirteen asked, in a tone that suggested she was trying hard for the lightness of a just-curious question. It fell flat, but I appreciated her effort.

'Well...' I said.

'Go on. Tell me,' she said.

'The ogre is supposed to [something horrible].' I replied reluctantly.

'I shouldn't have asked,' Thirteen said grimly.

'Sorry,' I said, regretting telling her already.

'It's not your fault. Let's just keep going.'

In another couple of hour s we had crested the top ridge of the hill and were making our way down the other side, into the valley at the other side of the mountain. I started to look around me with more curiosity than the place had even incited for me before. There was obviously something going on here. I still doubted if an ogre had anything to do with it though.

'This valley...' Thirteen said, a few minutes after we had entered it. 'It's so - there's something different about t it, don't you think?'

There was, now she came to mention it. But what exactly? I looked around carefully, trying to figure it out.

'It's even more green, I think. And even more beautiful.'

Thirteen was right. It was just difficult to see it because of the extra sense of foreboding that the strange circle of wolves lent to the situation, but beyond them the place was certainly lush. [What sort of forest? What sort of temperature? Describe some of the plant life etc.] Of course, all over the sacred mountain you got more wildlife than usual, as nobody was allowed to hunt here, but also you didn't usually see this many flowers blooming this spectacularly late in autumn [or whatever

[Does the climax of the time-travel paradox and the spaceship arriving happen in tandem with a super-rare lunar eclipse? I.e. the twin moons line up exactly or something, hiding one behind the other? Perhaps that's why the pilot misjudged the gravity - they couldn't see the other moon, and therefore crash-landed? Maybe the Boundless have kept the Ark in hiding on the this inner, hidden moon all this time to have something with which to intercept it when their ship is about to crash? So the finale is actually them going to the moon and having to fly the Ark ship into or away from the Boundless ship? (Cool! :) )]

season it is] . Certainly, it was odd to see [X] growing next to [Y] - they usually preferred completely different conditions to each other, and yet neither seemed to be suffering. And usually there were no flowers at all on the forest floor really, because the sunlight couldn't get through the trees - but here, the difference was that there *was* a lot of sunlight, and looking up I could see that the canopy of the forest was just that little bit less dense here than at other places in the forest, and especially on this, the wild sacred mountain where no trees ever got cut down. [Do they cut down trees at all? They can probably usually collect enough firewood by just taking the deadwood and so on?] The trees were ancient, and huge, and magnificent, and yet had not met the usual fate of being torn down by younger saplings. It was strange, and although it was undeniably beautiful, it just added to the sense of how wrong and off-kilter the behaviour of the wolves, and even the behaviour of the plants, were in this place.

Just then Thirteen slipped on the loose soil of the hill we were going down, and slid on her back a few metres before I could grab her. She collided with the front wolf - the big grey one who had woken me up, who must be the alpha of the pack. [Not alpha 'male'!] The wolf turned and braced itself for her impact, and then, instead of snarling or reacting defensively at all, just gave her a quick lick on the face. I stared. What was up with these wolves?

'Aaaaaah...' Thirteen had her face screwed up in agony. Suddenly I realised. Her back! She had slid along it and it had s disturbed the freshly healed scabs and blisters of her burn.

'Oh God. Hold on, Thirteen,' I said, scrambling down to join her. She was curled up on her side, firsts clenched as the pain scalded her all over again.

I knelt down beside her. 'It'll pass, it'll pass,' I soothed, and within a minute the shock of the reopening of the wounds had subsided a bit.

'I think I dislodged your poultice,' she said apologetically.

'Hey, don't worry about that. It'll still have done lots of good. But listen, can you stand? We need to keep going.' The alpha was right by us, and his/their presence meant I just didn't feel comfortable enough to check how the wound was.

Thirteen grimaced, but took my hand and hauled herself to her feet. Her breath came in tight wheezes of pain, but she staggered on. The wolves started moving around us again.

'You know something, Thirteen?' I said, moved by the sight of her struggling along. 'You are probably the toughest person I know.'

Thirteen gave me a look of disbelief in between her winces of agony. 'What - ever - Enn. I don't think - I was very tough - when those [TechyPolice] were  dragging me up that hill to the mind-wipe. I couldn't have taken them on like you did.'

'That wasn't really bravery. I knew I could do it. [No they didn't really, they were taking on completely unknown odds.] It isn't the same as enduring against all these obstacles you've had.'

'Huh,' Thirteen panted, beginning to walk with slightly less of a crooked limp as her back twinged slightly less. 'I suppose. But it's just what everyone has to do, back home. No complaining. It's the Worker way. You never say anything about how hard anything is to anyone. It just isn't done. And anyway, our suits keep us going. It's been a lot harder to do since I lost my suit.' She frowned like she always did at the memory.

'What do those suits even put in you, anyway? Why did it have those tubes in you?'

Thirteen unconsciously put her hands into her armpits again, feeling the healing wounds, covered in poultice.

'Don't scratch them,' I muttered automatically. Looking after Thirteen was a lot like looking after my children sometimes.

[Dynamic definitely has to shift before they can get busy falling in love!]

[Maybe Thirteen does something that gets Enn to respect her as an equal?]

'It's just - the suit is our armour and our - well, they look after us from when we are very very small children,' Thirteen said. 'They - We never take them off, they are always surrounding us and keeping us safe. I have never been without one, Enn. It feels so wrong,' she looked at me with tears in her eyes. 'And the tubes are there because the suit is actually a part of you, you see, it can sense you and read what you need and give it to you before you even have to ask. Like if you get tired at work, the suit will notice, and give you a little shot, you know, a top-up, and then you won't feel tired any more and you keep working without minding it. And if the machinery gives you a cut or something then the suit will sense that too, and give you pain killers and things to help your blood clot better around the wound and all sorts off things. There are too many things it can do to even tell you them all. It was [TechyBoundless] who invented them, and created the first ones. They are a very important part of being a Techy. Without them we're just - lost.' Now she really did look like she was going to cry.

I was beginning to get an idea of how hard it must have been for her to see me destroy her suit and have it tied to a rabbit. 'I see...' I said.

'And it helps you feel happy when you're sad, and it means your supervisor can always give you the best help, because they have the best data about you, always fed back to them...'

To me, this didn't sound like a completely great thing. 'But do you *want* the supervisor to know all that about you? And what do you mean, the suit can make you happy?'

It's just another of the chemicals [TechyBoundless] perfected for us to use. I think it's - dopamine, yeah that's the one. [Find a chemist to tell me what would be a realistic cocktail to pacify and motivate an entire society.] And it just makes you feel a lot more relaxed and alert, you know? Man, I miss that feeling. Everything feels so grey and boring with out it. I don't know what I'm good for anymore.'

Thirteen sounded so miserable that I was suddenly worried. 'Hey. you're doing OK. You've had a lot to deal with the last few days, that's all. Y Things will get better. You'll adapt. You will , OK?'

[Possible threat is that Thirteen falls into a suicidal depression?>]

Thirteen looked around at the silently padding wolves and laughed suddenly. 'I guess I have had a lot to deal with, haven't I?' she said. 'Thanks Enn. I'll keep going.'

We reached to the leveller ground as the hillside met the valley, and started in wards towards the mountain. It rose above us like a [metaphor] but the valley slanted down , not up. This seemed very strange to me. [Is this the remains of the crater where the Boundless ship really did crash? Why would they have moved the ship's remains to the other side of the mountain then?] The whole valley was an even bowl shape that was a bit odd and unnaturally symmetrical too. Everything about this place didn't seem right - I think there must have been a reason why nobody sneaked in to hunt here, or tried to catch a night or two on the sacred mountain's flanks. This was ridiculous.

[Describe more of the surroundings - what does it all actually look like?]

Eventually we reached the edge of the woods and the ancient trees cleared out. There were a r few spans [more specific] of clear ground athat turned into a perfect pebbly beach [HermitBoundless spneds all his time rearranging every single pebble! Argh!] , which in turn ran around the entire perimeter of a perfectly round lake. /tarn. My hair rose on end. What was *with* this place?

The wolves all stopped when they reached the circle reached the water's edge. Then they all sat down, as one, in that synchronised way they had acted earlier.

'That is really starting to freak me out,' I muttered to Thirteen.

'Good.' she said. 'I thought it was just me.'

There was no sign of anything happening, so I plonked myself down too, making myself a comfortable dimple among the pebbles.

'I guess we wait, then,' I said. 'Sit down, Thirteen, you look pale. Let's look at your back.'

Thirteen climbed down stiffly to sit beside me, and I gently helped her peel off her jacket and inner shirt (how much clothing was she able to make out of one hide?] Thirteen hissed as the shift stuck to the poultice, which in turn tugged at the raw skin.

'Sorry - easy does it,' I apologised as I peeled it away. 'There.'

Her burn, which had so far been healing really nicely, had suffered quite a bad setback. I frowned as I saw the skin the new skin that had been growing to cover the red patches now in painful rumples. 'OK.' I said, trying to sound like it wasn't too bad. 'Let's see what I can do.'

[Would it even really be that bad if Thirteen was only in the fire for a moment?Maybe Enn fell on top of her and pinned her for a moment?]

I had a few spare leftover ingredients from my last poultice collection gathering, and I re-used what I could from her previous poultice by teasing it flat again and turning it over. It wasn't ideal, but I think it still provided her some relief when I put it back on again. I noticed she didn't mind me touching her anymore - not so much, anyway. She had come to trust the healing effects of my hands.

By the time I had finished, the wolves had stirred around us again. They all stood up in one swift motion, and from the glance the alpha gave back at me, I was supposed *we were to follow suit. I helped Thirteen up and looked out at the tarn to see what was happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part II: Part 2 - The Lake

 

Chapter Ten

Chapter 9 - Thirteen

 

Otters take them across lake

I did not feel like the same person I had been a week before.

A week before, I had not know an anything like this esxisted. It was crazy. What was tihis whole tplace? Wher e people didn't 'use' gender, and everyone lived in one big forest? I wondered how I was ever going to ocope. And yet, the perons I was now had coped with alot more than her predecessor ever hade. I had suffered pain, and felt the cold on my skin, and had baths (Enn kept insisteing on that, even when I really didn't feel like getting the cold water everhywhere - algthough it did haelp the burn). I hyad done so much, and I still had a desire to keep going, and I still was not at lall shuere I wanted to go back to get my mind-wiped. I wanted to go back to my home and my firends, yes, but not at that cost. And there was a new feeling too, of definace maybe, although the feeling was sou unfamiliar I didn't know what to call it. Why *hshould* I have to get my mind-wiped jsut just to live my life the way it used to be? I was a citizen of [TechyLand], I had been a hard Wroker all my life, and for one accidentla - and important - dsicovery I was to be ean ecxile or a vegetable? I knew I couldn't go back, so I just had to keep moving forwards.

[No consistency in ow I'm describing her feelings and f development - one minute she's depressed the next determined! Review.]

Now I was standing in a place I would not have been able to imagin imagine a week ago. Really, I am not kidding. Us Techies don't do much in cicrcles, and this whole valley was circle-shaped. [TechyLand] was also flat, so the mountain above us, well - I had never imagined they could get that hight. [Why is th it when I'm typing faster I seem to make feweer typose?]

The wolves had stood up, so so had we - but at first I couldn't see why , or what we were waiting for. Then, from way out in the centre off the tarn lake thing [would Thirteen have those words?] I saw it - a small boat, being rowed slowly towards us by a ... no, wait, what was it? It didn't seem human, it was too small - unless it was a very furry child -

Enn went stiff with surprise beside me as shthey saw what it was. They had much better eyesight than I did (something else the suit fixed)?] 'What is it, Enn?'

They-re - no - but, they're animals! They can't do that!' Enn said, almost sounding appalled. It's - they're otters, I think - yhes - and they're coming in t6o land but they're rowing a boat!!'

I had only very loosely ever heard the term ;'otter' before, so for all I knew thaving them row boats was perfectly normal, but the way Enn was eacting I could see that was not the case at all. Now I could see them - brown, wet, furry creatures with broad shoulders, which were, yes, reaching forwards and backwards in rhythm to pull the oards of a boat...

'Woah,' I said. The wolves had beenw weird, but this was wieirder.

'Tell me about it,' agreed Enn. [Fewere Americanisms in gneral people! They would not talk like that!]

We both watched mesmerised by the flow of muscle and the human-like posture of the ottters as they rowed in to shore. The boat grated to a stop on the pebbles, and the nearest otter chittered exciteldly and jumped out, landing with a graceful dive in the water, nand resurfacing a moment later to clamber onto the land and grab a rope that the other one had tossed to him[it] .

'It threw thae rope,' said Enn, stundned. ['It *threw* that *rope* to the other one...!'

The other on land grabbed the rope in its stubby paws and gave it a good yank, but it wasn't until the other three came down from the boat and all pulled together that they succeeded in moving it securely up onto the shore. Once they had done that they moved over to the circle of wolves, not even showing any fear of the massive predators, adn reached out a pwaw to Enn and me.

'I think I might faint...' said Enn. I took htheir arm to steady them. We only nhad room for one invlalid on this weird trip, and that was definitely me.

We followed the small creatures back to their boat and clambered aboard. It was obviously only built for one human, so I ended up actually sat right in the bottom of the [what's the word] while Enn took the prow, leaving room for the four otters to pile in again and take up the oards form the main gbehnch. hknui

They pulled off confidently and were very coordinateed as a team. Enn kept starting at them, but I watched the wolves getting further away. I was glad to be have the water betwen between me and those sharp teeth. I thought I could take these little furry otter things, they didn't look nearly as tough. Although all one of them would have to do wis run a flipper-claw down my back-wound and I'd be writingh in agony, so all I j needed to do was sit tight and just see where things took me.

S I had never been in a boat before. there were so many things I had never done before, I was begining beginning to realise - and some of them were quite amazing. Like, why couldn't Workers sometimes have meat? Just for very special occasionas of course, but the flavour was so delicious! And why did we spend so many much time indoors? To wrork of course, I knw that; but still, I could now see why Enn was so against the idea of being shut in all the time.

I couldn't see anything but sky from my positin at the bottom of the boat, so it was Enn who let me know what was coming up ahead.

;I 'It's an island, Thirteen,' sthey said, peering forward into the middle of the lake. 'But - it's amede out of - I don't think it's made from rock or anything normal like that...' 'It's shining in the sun...'

'Is it - metal?' I asked, but that would be a very strange thing to find here, surrounded by all this beauty and nautre. '

'Yes - yes I think it is - wait - I thinkit's the - a spaceship, Thirteen!' Enn so rearely sounded truly excited that it made me sexcited too.

'Do you think - could it be the lost one?' I asked.

'I've no idea, but  - well I can't see it very well, it's covered in plants nd things...'

[Or is it just a gentle silver dome shape rising out of the water? Is this like - did the ship split in two as it crrashed? Did it split in the air and then this one is actuallyt the biggest piece left? But wouldn't gthe crater be more like the size of the Yosemite nationla park or something?]

'There's a - I can see a person!'

'What?'

I wanted to see so badly that I stood up and /knelt up to see over the side, and caused the boat to rock. The otters chittered angrily at me ujntil I sat down again, but I had had the changece to see what I wanted. A low silver metal dome curving ou gently out of the surface of the lake, reflecting the sky and the water so that you didn't see it until you were rowing right up to it. And in on top of this one man-made [human-made?] thing in the middle of this nautre paradise, there sotood a human. From what I could see, it looked like a man. It was still weird to me how Enn couldn't see that from a glance at someone. Obviously they were a man.

Theis time when the boat hit the side of the metal with a gnetly ubump the otters repeated their trick of jumping out and grabbing the rope, but they chittered at us to hurry up - it didn't look easy holding the boat still as thier their flipper-claws skittered against the smooth metal surface. Enn leapt off lightly first, and then helped me clamber with no grace at all [metaphor?] to the metal surface. As soon as my shoes hit it I felt more at home, in a weird way. Soil was just so - organic...

#

* Meeting [HermitBoundless]

As the strange man moved towards me, Enn almost insticnctively made a motion to put themself themselves inbwetteen us . This subtle motion seemed to get the man's attention onto Enn for the first time.

He had a fdifferent reaction than when he saw me. His euyes squinted up and he raidsed his shoulders right up around his ears, like a deranged cat. Then he completeld this impression by hissingt loudly. Enn took a setep back as well, so that we were both side by side right by the water's edge. I guped and reached for their hadn. Ennh let me take it, and squeezed back.

The man raisewd one hand wristfirst first and made several violent s'shooeing' motions towards Enn. When they didn't immediately disappearfro from his sight, he hissed again and abruptly turned his back on both of s. Enn gave me a bewildered look. 'What did I do/?' they mouthed.

I shrugged.

[When seeing the man for the first time] Ma Although, maybe the wierd weird thing wasn't that I Enn didn't see gender - maybe the weird thing was that I couldn't *not* see it.

The man whirled around again and this time stalked over to the water's edge at the other hend of the island, calling in a high chittering tone fo r that sounded very like the way the othters had 'spoken' to us. Sure enough, the otters - who had quitetly slipped back into th boat and started to row aaway again without us noticing - chittered back, and one of them juped into the water to swim back to him. The others stopped rowing and waiting sat watiting for their row-mate to return.

The man kn crouched down so fast that he seemed like he was falling for a second, and he had his legs splayed very wide *knees so that now with hi s hunched shoulders and peering neck he looked like some very big bird. ' He started chittering intently at the little otter, who had stuck hits head out of the water and seemed to be listening to himn.

'This is mad...' n Enn breathed beside me.

Then the othter hchittered back, for all the world like it was arguing iwithy the man. It made little gestures with its paws. It splashed ists tail meaningfully on the water. Finally, when it was clear that the little otter had had the last word, the othter span round in the water and shot off back to rejoin its mates of on the boat.

The man splashed both his palms flat down th on the water, making as big a splash as he could, and then sprang up again, again seeming tot take no time between being croauched down and being stood up. He turned and looked towards the shore, t loped forwards a few steps, and then lifted his head back and *howled*. It was the strangest sound, and just exactly like a wolf's [would Thirteen of ever heard one? Probably not.] From the shore, a reply came from , I was sure, that big f greay wolf who had led the others when they were walking us here. The man listened, appeared unsatisfied, and howled once more in return. sSomehow it sounded liek a rebuke. The other wolf didn't reply.

The man set his jaw, and then huffed a signh, as if he was still h unhappy, but had decided to put up with it for now. He turned back to me , his head and gaze flickering like a n demendted sparrow [what sorts of small birds in [Techyland]?] and edged closer to m again. His eyes flicked once or twice toward s Enn, but on the whole it loked like he had decideed to ignore them and pretend that they aren't there. *&weren't

The man 's eyes travelle d up and down me, head to toe, lingering especially on my face. He came closer, closer, until he was only three steps away, an dh then semeed to lose his nerve, skittering back a step or two with hs strange, jerky gait.

'Hello?#' I said, and the sound made his eyes widen. Then he starteda a made capering kind of dance in a cicle on the spot where he stood. He clapped his hands and cawed with delight. He rushed back towards me again, again stopping short, but this time cec beckoned at me iwith a hesitant, sharp motion , like a person who had a wing instead of an armj might try and beckon.

'

I glanced dsideways t at Enn. They looked as mystified as me. I took a slow step forward.

The man nodeded frantically and rushed off towards the centre of the island and the peak of the low silver dome. There he croauched down next t o a certain spot - knees splayied wide again so that his elbows frit into the inside - and stuck his fingeers into an almost invisible hole in the surface. With a grunt, he tugged the at the hole and after a second a section of the floor rose on smooth, hydraulic hinges to stand vertically betwen between us and and and the mn.

He peered round the dedge, seeming almost frightened again. Then he shufflied around the doorway, pausing at beside the opening and gbeckoning again and again at me, with his arm, his head *jerks of, a hand held flat and flapped like a flipper. It o took a deep breath. This person was definitely mad, but on the other hand , I couldn't swim. Maybe Enn could get back across that long expanse of water but I certainly couldn't. I held tighter to Enn's hand, and stepped forward.

At t first, for a moment, the man looked delighted, but then his face clouded when he saw I was bringing Enn with me.

'Cha! Cha!' he spat with obvious dispapproval, and came over to us to flap his hands at Enn again.

'No,' I said, as firmly as I could. 'Stop that. Enn is my friend. They're coming iwith me.'

The man stopped his flapping and stood frozen, looking from Enn to me and backa again. I wasn't at alls sure he had understaood my words (could he even speak, apart from to animals?) and I - u but I tugged Enn's hand in closer across me and held it firlmly between goth of my hands. 'They come too. Or I don't come. Understand?#'

The man scrunched up his eyes and wrinkledd his nose, and gave another 'huff' of disapproval, but threw up both his hands and turned to hurry back to the open hatchway. Enn and I followed him more slowly. He b turned to keep facing Enn, and then span and almsot almost fled away from them into the ship. When we got there, I looked down ad could see j broad metal stairs leading down in a sprial staircase. I looked at Enn.

'I can go first if you want?' T they said.

'Nah, don't worry, I think he seems to like me better for some reason... ' I said, nd lt g f hr hnd t hfffff ggrert fsde dffew defesef dd ff dd  dd fff ffff fff aasd d fsd ede and let go of her hand to lower myself into the stairway. H 'Here goes, right?'

Enn nodded tensely, and I went down, feet clanging with the nice rich sound that metla makes when it feet hit it. I hadn't realiesed I had missed that soudn,sound, but I had.

I heard Enn drop in a moment after, and satay close a step or two above. I was glad, because the spiralling staircase meant that any tir turn could hold them man ready to poucnce on me. jI tried not ot to anticipate that - my terror didn't need any more finue-tuning, honestly - and kept a steady pace down the stairs, as if I wasn' t scared.

The staircase wasnt actually very long, and opened out into a wide, and sparkling, inner hub j of what was unmistakeablyunmistakably once a spaceship. Enn and I both looked around carefully, but we couldn't tell anything about wehether this was the missing Ark. On the other hand, there couldn't be that many6 sunken and myseterisous spaceships on this non-space-going planet, could there? We hadn't even landed any people on either of our moons - , like the ancient Earth peopel people had before they even had nany technology worth speaking of - but of course it was more complicated on our platnet [what's the planet's name?] because of the twin moon's affecting the gravity. That was what [TechyBoundless] said was the reason fior sticking to luaunching unmanned [unpeolpled?][ progebes only over the last few decaedes, fff fff fffff evfen though many Workers would have gladly volunteered for the chance to serve him and his cause through even gviving their lives on a one-way mission. [How fanatical is this dicatatiorship? Hm...]

rrrrv

I came a bit closer into the room, but stayed close to the exit to make ready our escape if necessary. That's the way my brain thought, anyway, before I remembered that I didn't have any escape route anyway, given the otons of water pressing down on the hull all around us right now. It made me nervous about that door being open. Whtat if the water sloshed in? As if reading my mind, the man - who had been hovering over in one corner by a bank of flashing lights [well I don't know what it looks like!#] shuffled forwards again, shooing us both of the way so that he could go back up the stairs and close it. We heard him huffing and heaving as he pulled the door closed. It sealed with more aof a suck than a bang, though.

He came lumbering back down, making an awful racket on the steps. The way this guy moved made no sense - sometimes light and agile, and sometims fff jjj fff fffff gggg gggg gggg ggg ggg ggg ggg ggggggg gggg jhhhhh kkjjgji,deikd nd nhygbnugbhyyh y87hu uyuih uhu

So..., little did I know that the word FFF ffff GGGggggggg Ggg was actuually a sacred word known only to a special viewed people.....jjj jjkki kkkjj jkijkkj kjik jj kkijkjjjjj k

ki gallumphing arounhd on the ju kj .

Why couldn't he stick to just one mode of travel?

lkkk

jjj jdkkj uu n

ffjke ffffffff jjj j jjjk jjk

jk

OK

Proper words now.

So what happens next?

Enn and I backedi into the middle of the room ad we as we the man approached. j He once again held back, but flapped with his arms to get Enn to move away frm me. This they tdd did, although reluctantly. j It took

The man took a few steps even closer, hesitationgly j j venturing into the space within two steps - then one step - away from me. He smelt - [no, wait, can the Boundless smaell? Even their sweat resets every 20 minutes?]

[Will I have to actually SHOW a boundless dying for it to really hit m home that they're imortal? Probably.]

[Maybe they accidentlaly murder him? Is that why he gest angry and throws them out? But why would they do that?]

His face peered up into mine. j j j I realised that he ff 2 would actually be taller than me if he stood up straight, but that he must have stooped j j j j so long that he had just forgotten . He seemed to want to see - what? Something about me?

'I think - I think maybe it's your skin, Thirteen,' Enn said quietly from the other side of the room. The man frowned at them, but then continued to purseruse my face. I found it very strange to have someone so close j j j j j k to me. His eyes were a really pretty dark blue clolour, and the j there were no lines around his eyes. So why did I fell like he was far far older than I would ever be?

I He seemed to gather his courage, and then reached a hand up - except it seemed more like a claw,t the way he held it - and plucked at my hand nevrvously. I  jie j jike j j ik lifted it up for him to look at, and he looked up to check my face first and then took my hand again. He turned it over, strokeing the skin with surprising genteleness, and especially tracing the area around my appalm where the dark brown of the rest of my body faded to a litghter brown, almost a pinky brown.

j ju jutkljkdla j k jtave

Then he very lslowly lifeted up his other hand to touch my cheek. He had a look almost o f wonder on his face for a moment.

This is where I got to by the 13th hour (6pm)

He then when he a had finished he stroked my forehead, almost just brushing it like a light feather, and finally, after a frurther hesitation, he touched my hair. He then let out a great sigh of satisfaction, and I could tell that whatever he had wnated,wanted, I had passed msuter. I was glad, or we might both hvave got the welcome that Enn receivedc. It was odd, the way his hands touched me - and now he withdrew them, and to stepped back, nodding happily to himself - I didn't feel invaded at all really. It was like every move he had made was done with the most exquisite attention to my feelings. j j j In no way did I feel disrespected.

Now that he had verified what he had been hoping for, he seemed at a loss for what to do next. He looked around as if just rememberering where we all were, and glanced at Enn as if surpised to see them standing there in his corner of this spaceship, and then gazed at the floor looking a bit lost for a few secons.

He ran a hand down his face, pulling at his chin. It was an old-aman move, at least, one I assoicateassociated with old mean, and again I wondered how old he really ways. It was such a mis-match for such a helalthy young body to contain such a confused old mind.

I began to feel sorry for him. He obviously did not know what to do with us, or maybe he just couldn't quite remember what it was that one is supposed to sdo when guests come round. He started stcratching at the back of his neck, looking a tad embarrassed.  Impulsively, I stepped towards him. He tensed for a moment lieke a wild animal w[would that be the metaphor that Thirteen would reach for? Main problem with this whole section is actually her use of all the detailed animal descriptions] but then relaxed as I approached slowly .

'It's OK,' I said, in a low, cooing voice. It was how I used to imagine I would talke to my dog, which I did as a young child - I had an imaginary dog. That had been such an old memory that I only just thought of it, and didn't know what to make of it appearing again here. The thought of Worker Thirteen pining after ownership of a dumb, resource-consunminhg animal, was something that j I had never thought I would think of again.

'I think he's just very shy maybe,' I said to enn, without taking my eyes off j j j j the young/old man. 'Or he's been alone for a very long time - Enn - do you think - is this the ogre?' I didn't really know what an or ogre was, but I couldn't imagine this confused person ever doing the [horrible things] he was supposeed to have done.

'Defintiely not,' said Enn, fr quietly from the other side of the rom. [B 'But Thirteen - I think - I think he m they might be a Bounhdless,'

My breath froze in my lungs for a second. A b Boundless. Of course. Those agesless eyes... But how had an immortal, lall powerful being ended up here, losing his mind behneath a perfectly circular lake?

'Are you? Is that where you've come from? A Boundless, hey?' Something seemed to flicker in his eyes at the word Boundless. 'I think you might be right,' j  I breathed. I couldn't believe I was standing so close. 'But Enn - there are only six Boundless. We all knwo them all. [List them at some point? Slip it in as backstory at some point before here?] I've never heard of a seventh, have you?'

'Well I think clearly he's been off the radar [not a metaphor Enn would use] for a fvvery long time,' Enn said. 'Look at him. He might have been alone of for a thousand years.' h

j The thought horrified me. 'Oh , you poor thing,' I croroned [bit too girlish?] to the nervous man. j 'How have you lived allt that time? Why did you leave everyone?'

'What if he' didn't leave?' said Enn. 'What if he was sent here by the others, as punishment ors somethingg? And you know another thing - this is another thing that the Boundless have never told us about. I don't know, Thriteen - how much of our history has been edited?: This is a pretty big one to miss, I reckon,'

'That's true. But anyway. Can we stay for a while? I don't want to leaeve him alone, he must be so lonely.'

'Well I don't think we could leave if we wanted to,' Enn pointed out. ' And he doesn't seme like a threat at least. In fact I don't think we could have asked for a better hiding place, no-one will ever find ushe here! j And - I cnan teach you some things and - will/well. We' can see what happens.'

My n tummy clenched. I hated it when Enn mentioned levaving me and rteturning to their tribe, however indirectly. I knew it had to happend,happened, and soon. There were children who need their mother - parent. aAnd they had alread been so generous  and I owed them so much. It owuld would be churlish in the extreme to complain.

[Would this be a resenting factor in their relationship? That Enn j had sacrificed all their own j j j  j independenece and freedom to go on the run spontaneously with Thirteen? And that Thirteen was so reliant on them as the initial pattern for their relationsihp? Well that's if I wnant to got the realistic - j route. Show them arguing about it later?]

kjekji kji j j

Shall we find somewhere to settle down then?' I asked the man gentley. 'Somehwere to sleep tonight? ' He looked at me enquiringly ads if trying to catch the sense of my owwords, but nh j j like he couldn't quite remember how to do it. 'Wow. How long do you think it takes to lose your sense of language, Enn?' I mused.

'About as long as it ta would take to learn to speak to animals, I think. This si really amazing. I can't believe a no-one's ever found him before. It's not like thi ps place is particularly hidden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

Chapter 10 - Enn

 

Pebble arranging

[is Enn's the best viewpoint for this? Ah, that's a fine detail, let's not worry about such things! I This whole this thing is going to have to be dDRASTICALLY rewritten anyway. :D]

The next two days were definitely the e weirdest in my whole experience. I did not like this enclosed, underwater metal place, an although I noticed that Thirteen felt quite at home in it

[how on earth do I introduce oromance someone tell me?]

j j j j I tried to imagine living your whole life in this kind of envrnmnt. fffffff fff I could sort of see that a it was very clean, but - d stl.l... ffffffff still . It was too sterile. It made me feel werird.

And the re outside wasn't even much better than the inside. I Unlike the spaceship, the outside was bursting with nature, butt I soon came o to realise how unnaturally all of it was tended to. The Boundless, who I had started to think of a s the 'Animal Boundless' in my head, had very obviously fff jj jj fffffff i jtaken the crzy routine of micro-mangaging [different word!] the whole valley. The first time we saw of this was on the next morning after we arrived (we spent a very uncomfortable night curled up on the metal floor of the main room, as the Boundless seemed to have no instinct for showing us what to do or the way round his ship, and we didn't want to get lsost - it clearly had many more rooms but who knew if some oft them might even be flooded after so long underwater? - so - but after that Thirteen had managed to communicate that we wanted somewhere soft to sleep, and he had led us with all those eery jerksa and spasms of movement into a comfortable lounge area th full of armchairs and sofas that had obviusly been used last used millenia millennia ago [wouldn't things have crumbled to dust? Also, vocabulary for Enn?]. ) , when they led us out onto the top roof/island again, and let out a peircing whistle for the othtters to come and collect us. This they did in a surprisingly short time, as if they had been expecting us, and, the Boundless greeted me with / tehemw with obvious enthusiams - the argument of the day before was eidvidently forgotten. Then we all three piled into the boat, lalong with the otters, who had a hard time rowing us all back. The boat rode very low in the water with all three of us, andh nobody had much fun until we felt the crunch of the pebbles beneath our feet again when we reached the shore.

What was also not fun for me was the way that the Boundless had taken to treating me. They obviously disliked epeople in gneeral, except for Thirteen, nd that had something to do with her skin, I was sure. That dark skin was something you never saw on this [LucyLand] island, not - well apart from those quick and secret visits for mind-wipes occasionally, apparently - and it could be that her face had triggered a memory for them from their distant past. Wyay before they came here and started to live out their existence in this odd, isoalated way.

Once we were all on the beach, the Boundless started ot to step carefully around, scanning the ground intently. At first I thought hthey must have dropped or lost something, or maybe they were tracking for the wolves who had come last night. They did n indeed have a left a ring of dents in the pebbles wher e they had all sat and waitied for the boat the night before, and the Boundless went over to this, but instead of casting around for the trail leading away from there, they starteed crouched down in that spalay-legged way of theirs and began moving the pebbles around. One at a time. With utter oconcetntration. He started with the biggest 'dimple' out of place on his pebble shore *their and - the one left by the alpha - and the once that one had been smoothed out until the pebbles ran in a persfectly smooth incline down towards the lake sh edge, they moved on to the enxt next one along. ggg E Me and Thirteen just watched, um dumbfounded. Then, cautiously, Thirteen approached, and started to help, working from the other side of the ring nd copying excactly the way he was doing it, on lifteing one pebble at a time. jAt first he watched her warily, but after a few minutes of intesne scrutiny of her progress he seemed satisfied that she was doing it well enough and went bcack to his own work. Thirteen turned and gave me a smile of victory. I smiled back. Then she gestured clearly meaning that I should g come over and try it for myself. I wasn't so sure about that, but I tried anyway for her sake, - but like I had thought, it was not to be. As soon as I crouched down the Boundless tensed, and glared across the cirlce at me. [What bad experience has he had in the bpast to make him dislighke [LucyPeople] so much? j f Is it that he has had occasional negative experiences and run-ins with them over the centuries a when they have stumbled across him, and so he has started to just  scare them off in advance? That's wehre all the ogre legends come from.] I could tell he was very upset, but I still tried to slowly coruch down and take a pebble.

'Hey,' said Thirteen in her best soothing voice. 'It's all right...' But it didn't work. The Boundless exploded as I touched the first pebble, scattering pebbles left and right a [cliche[ and as he they g sprang to their feet n and raced towards me, arms flailing and flapping me away from their work. I baked away quikckly. 'OK, Ok,' I said, edging back to the where the pebbles ended nd the tree-line began. It's all cool here, I eant no harm,'

For the rest of that mronign I watched Thirteen work with the Animal Boundless on getting hte dents from the wlolves, and then our footsteps, and then the groove that the otters' boat had left at the edge.

As I stood, and then sat, and then lay and dozed by the trees by the lake watching them work (Thireeteen j kiwl seemed to go into a trance after a while, and be moving as the Bondless moved - something that she confirmed later to me in a gusying [too girlish!] rush about the ecstasy she had experienced by fixing the pebbles. 'I men, think of the scale he lives his life on, Enn! He must just see all those millions of pebblses as his plaything! Something h e can control! Isn't that kind of amazing?' I nodded and said it was in a way, but really I thougth it more sad than amazing. Whow wanted to worry about every single pebble around  l a lake? And as I sat and watched them, and looked at the circumference fof the lkae, which was proably at least four miles around easily, I thought of the lifetimes this Boundless had spent lining up every single pebbele and grew almost depressed at the thought. What a way to use those lives. Who would even want to live that long?

#

Otter/wolf training, deciding to sleep on-shore instead

After the pebble-moving, it was time for more jjj j f stragne tasks. gj First he called his otters to him again, and watched them train. They moved the boat in and out from the shore again and again, and he carefully watched and corrected them. jThriteen watched entranced. I hated the idea thtat tshe was getting the w entirely wrong picture of what animals were really like. If was she was to survive long tierm she would need to be told that this was entirely bizarere. I could not enjoy watching them, even though they were undeoubtedly impressive. I was reassured at least that teehese were real otters, and nott some un m ui impossible hybrid or magic. jThey were just otters whose parents, and parents' parents, and countellss generations before them had been raised to obey the Boundless's every command. It must be the same with the wolves - and this was confirmed when , after the otters, the Boundless let out wo another of those unexpected howls and hj summoned the wolves to him. By this time it was late afternon, and even Thirteen coldn't be entirely engrossed in the ceremony of the way he went along with each wolf in turn, running through their series of complicated tricks and r drills.

'Do you think he ever eats?@' she said to me, concern in her voice.

'Look, who knows, but I wouldn't warr worry about him. Them. We need to wrory about us, Thirteen. Look, couldn't I go hunting for a while?'

Thirteen bit her lip. 'I don't know, what if he doesn't let you back on the boat? He's the only oen who can summon thema and everything....'

'tThen just say that you won't go back onto the bgoat until you have got me back to come with you. I would only be a few hours.'

'But it's arelady getting dark today, Enn! Please - maybe could you stay with me tonight, and then if he follows the same routine, you could go tomorrow when we get to shore?'

I shuddered at the thought of enduring more of thsoe those hair-raising otter-driven boat rides. It was way to easy to capsize. j But I want to j j keep an eye from  on Thirteen, and I didn't want her thinking that we were going to stay wiht this Boundless forever. 'OOK. I'll come back over tonight, but I might make a camp here tomorrow. Will you stay after I've built the shelter an d all that? You need to learn how to do it all...'

That didn't seem to tempt her muc.h. She looked back towards the metal egg with a wistful look that was unmistakable. 'I know I do, Enn, but just for a day or wtwo? I want to feel the metal beneath my feet again... and anyway, one of us should be tryingt to explore that spaceship and try and figure out where it fits in with thigngs.'

I could tell she had made up her mind. I w felt oddly disappointed. Why would she want to spend more time with the person who couldn't remember how to use language than with me? bBut I was pretty sure that was silly, so I let go of that idea and tried to relax. 'OK. You'll keep me up tod adate won't you? kEspecially if you find anything. And if the Boundless goes weird on you - if y he tries any violence or something then - '

'Oh, Enn, he's not goingg to do that! LOok at him, he's as flighlyty as abb bird. jI really don't think hw he would have it in hinm. Trust me,k I feel like I'm getting to understand him. Didn't you see how respectful he was last night? He was so careful not to hurt me he seemed to think I was made of glass!'

'Hmm. Well. Just be careful,' I said, and Thriteen cheerfully agreed to do so. I stayed on shore that night with the trees solid around me and watched their precarious progress in the boat back across to the spaceship siland. I was happy I wansn't adding unnecessary rsisk by putting a third person in the boat, but it wsas unnerving how nice the Boundless could be to Thriteen wihile compeletley ignoring whether I was ll right or not.u A person like that probably ouldn't be trusted really. I hope that Thirteen jij wasn't blinded by his treatment towards her. She was really still so young, and had seen so little of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Chapter 11 - Thirteen

 

General following around next few days

Well, I had been so miserable ever since I lost my suit, and in pain too,m and before that I had been so terrified, that being in the this place3 was liek a paradise. It was practically magical, actually. I got to follow him around, and eventually I earnt earned his trust enough that he even showeed me how to summon the otters, and tran the wolves, even though I was bad at it. He was not very epxpresseive when he was happy, I noticed (hhe certainly let Enn know when he was pset though, which was awkwward - if only I could tell him that he didn't need to be so harsh with them!) -

- but I got him to open up to me a bit more, and I got really good at reading him as well. He had f different wys of acting when he liked something, or was just interested or curious, or w found it beautiful or pleasurablet to do. The moments I spent arroanging the beach pl pebbles on thte becah every morning were some of my most peacheful and meaningful moments of my life. It was like a new side of life had h opened up to me. l All my friends back home would have laughed to seem me working on something so unproductive and pointmless, but I could see that wasn't awhat he was doing it for. It wasn't *for* antything or anyone. It was just to be f j presenti in the world this day, and really notice each tyiny detail and diffeerncce in the arangement arrangement of peo the pebbles from day to day.

Enn didn't see m to understand this much either, which dsiappointed me a lot, to be honest.

[Basically, this bit is where the Boundless blows her little hippy noodle!'

]

Enn wasn't anything like my friends at home, they weren't trying to do anything particularly prodcutie apart from live their lives by hunting and gathering and eating nd sleeping. S It waas such a shame that the he wouldn't let herthem tjoin us on for that time on the gbeach each morning! But I could tell it was special to him, almost sacred. (That was another word my friends would laugh at, but I felt as though I reeally understood it now.) It made me feel even more blessed to be allowed t into this important part of his i life.

The animals were also entrancing. It was funny to me now how scared I had been of the wovlves on that first night. The longer I stayed there, the more I felt like I knew weach of tehm individaually, and they started to know me. I named them in my head, although of course he didn't because he never spoke; but I thought of the alpha s as 'Old Grey' and there was onle who was only a bit more than a pup, I recckon, who became my special friend - she was called (in my mind) [wolf neame]. u

The days passed faster than I realised. At first the Boundless did not alter his living apatterns at all for me, I'm sure of it, but gradually he seemed to realise that I needed space to do my own thingsa as well. He started waiting after training the wolves so that I would have time to gao and eat my mealw with Enn at their camp just into the treses. I could tell he didn't like them using the trees and the wood and the forest, and changing the arrangment arrangement of branches and leavest to make their shelter, but I think he toleratedit it for me.

#

* Argument with Enn

I couldn't understand why Enn still preferred to live out at the camp, which did not look very om cmfortable to me. 'You could come back to the ship, you know, Enn,' I said one evening i on the third or foruth day. 'I've found my way around now - it's not so complicated w once you get the hange of it - and I've set up the loung e as a bedroom , really nice and cosy and comfortable. Have you - have you ever slept in a bed, Enn? Do you know what it feels like?' I was feeling quite excited about showing them something new, like they had shown me so many new things,b but Enn for some reason just diedn't seem interested atl all.

'I think I'll stick to solid ground, thanks. That boat makes me queasy just thinking about it. And otters should row n't know how to row!' They sounded quite angry about it. , so I dropped the subject. I was crestfallen though - I had spent some tiem time the night beofere arranging Enn's sleeping pallet/bed next to mine just right. I hardly saw them any more - only for food once a day.

The Buoundless really did not eat. I never saw him consume a morsel. Having recently discovered the wonder of meat atnd fish and all things grilled over an open fire, I had a god one night at inviting him to join us for a taste, but f he flatly refuesed as well. I felt doubly frusrtrated. It was like I was living in two between two unyiedlding dsteel poles.

I behgan to chat more and more to the Boundless, as I had no-one else to chat tol. apart from an hour each day. I have always loved to talk, and that was always a r problem for when I wanted to be the best WorkerI I could be - I can't tell you the number of times my j j supervisor has shouted at tme for disctracting my co-workers with mindless chatter on the factory floor - but here I it felt like a safe environment to talk as much as I wanted, asnd t he didn't seem to mind. Inf  fact he often got quite curious, and lstartded leaning in to listen intently to what I was saying. Just occasionally, certain words would catch his attention and hewo would have a sark of recognition in his eyse - but it would fade before he couldc catch it, and just be left with visible frustration that he would take out by moving in that strange wya of his around the room.

'I really think I'm making progreess with him, Enn,' I said the netxn night. 'He recognised more words than yesterday, I'm sure of it. Oh Enn, what I if I'm the one to re-teach him how to use th language! I must be f the first human to interact with him a in a thousandy years. Wouldn't it be amazing tto hear what he has to say about life? The history he knows? Maybe he knows something about the - you know - the secret.'

'Who is around to hear us? I suppose he mgiht n know smomething about the spaceship - it's possible...' Enn musied. 'But do you really think it'sw worth staying to find out? j It could take years for him to g regain the use fo of his faculties...'

This is where I got to by the 15th hour (8pm)

'I don't think so, Enn. Not years. He's way more intelligent than either of us, after all - he'ls learned so mcu h over the years - he'll probably remember everything in just a few weeks!'

'Well I can't wait a few e weeks.' Enn's voice had gone flat n and hard. 'It That's too long, Thirteen. I can't just sit here fetching food for you every daya and waitf for you to get bored of being [title]'s little obsession object and move on. YOu need to learn how to look after yourself, Thirteen. Can the Boundless teach you to do thatt?'

I sat still, stunned by the strength of their reaction. 'You don't think- - you - but I didn't mea n to - j j you can't think I mean - '

I am so useless when I get someone angry at me. I am always so close to crying that I can't answer tha them at all.

'He doesn't even eat, Thirteen. That's not tnatural. And the way they - he - uses those animals t o do his bidding, that's most definitely not natural! Nobody should live that long. It's driven him crazy. We should *leave*, T.'

Even in the moment of confusion, I caught their use of the nickname - 'T'. Nobody had called me that before. I quite liked ti - gu but then I remembered that true Workers don't want names, and that names are forbidden, and even though i called Ele One-One-Nine [ist that the right name?] Elevenses that was wrong and I should b e punished, I was in t Trouble again...

And on the surface I could only get angry back. It is often my only alternative to crying. 'j And where would we go, [title] High and Mighty? Where am I going to go, hey, Enn? I've got nowhere, and that's partly down to you, you know. I Why shouldn't I stay here? It's e peaceful. I have found a nd new way of living here that is far more healthy than they way I used to live in the Techy soicety, I'm sure of it. And I'm sure soon the that he'll understand me enough to realise I need to have food regularly. He can get one of the wolves to fetch it - and i know how to make a fire now...'

'Urgh!' Enn was looking at me with an expression of what was - looked horribly like - disgust. 'You don't get it, do you? You shouldn't be able to just get *wolves* to get you anything - let alone fetch food! And your only companion being an immortal Boundless who is more than slightly lost in his mind? Are you sure that is what would be the best thing, hmm? Have you thought this through at all?'

I couldn't help it. I started crying. 'Why are you being like this, Enn? It's so nice here - I'm only taking some time to recover from everything and , and find myself a bit! This has been pretty tough on me , in case you hadn't noticed...' I had to trail off, because I was crying too hard. I sounded like a pathetic child, and it was infuriating to me that I couldn't act as mature and unmoved as Enn.

'You are being irrational,' Enn said, with a look of complete disappointment that reminded me horribly of Nine's last look at me.

'No! I'm not! I'm just following the plan to find out how that fake spaceship got puyt there - YOU would be the irrational one to leave the opportunity we've got here! There are things to find OUT, Enn. We need to know what that spaceship is doing in the middle of the lake,a and wehether it's the ARk or not. And we have a person who was actually alive during the whole of history! Obviously we should stay!'

It was my last gambit, and luckily it worked. (Not luckily. Dammit.) I would We left on frosty terms that night, to say the least, but Enn agreed to stay a for another week. Once I was back in my bedroom on the ship I cried for a goo d while about it, and felt terribly o sorry for myself. - my back still hurt, I remeinded myself, and my armpits itched terribly wher e the cuts were healing over - and all in all, *I* was the one who had lost their s whole society, not *Enn*. En n only had to be away for a few days, a month at most, but I would be gone forever. Forever! I sobbed into the ancient sofa cushions with some gusto, and algthough I can be a bit flippant about it now, I was very much in the doldurums f there and it really felt like my life was ending.

I stepped up my efforts to o communicate with the Boundless. I really wanted to know his name. Maybe he would remember that? And Enn was right about one thing, and that was that we p [what?]. But I could tell that we could do it. Wew were close to a break-through, I could feel it. uAnd the very next day proved me right.

#

Incident while wolf-training

'What's wrong? I' I said to him as we were finihing the training of the line-up of wolves. It amazed me how the wolves never got bored of permforming thse same drills for him time and again, with only the tinisest of variations - us Workers hae a lot to learn from animals, an d the sad part was that I would never be able to share my newfound s wisdom with my old community. But we came to the last one, the putp [wofl name], who had been sitting a little impatiently today. Usually they all of tehm could have been carved in stone the way they sat while the other one s were doing theri their practice, but today [wolf name] had been shifting a little. TShe was younger than the rest, though, it was understandable, and he treated her with the sympathy. When he got to her s he knelt down carefully and picked up her back paw. She must have told him where to look, somehow, because he went unerringly for a hidden thorn between her foot-papds and extrcacted it with one easy, practissed movement. Immediately I could see [woflf name's] body relax. I smiled to see her so carefree again.

The u wolf lay down and rolled over to have her tummy rubbged. He gave a throaty cuckle and gave it to her with both hands, as so that she her tail thumped on the ground wtith to delight. I giglgeled and then came over to join in. The young wolf basked in our joint attention for a bit, and then wriggled free and pracned around the beach, daring us to follwo follow her and see if we could beat her at a race. I was whooping and laughing and running after her when my  I becaume aware that he wasn't joining in any more. He was stood at the edge of the pebbles with his arms corssed. j He no longer looked happy. But - he *did* ook unmistakably *human* , and that took me aback. The way he had stareted , with all of those animal mannerisms - maybe he was already talking my llanguage, just by absorbing my gestures and the way that I walked and moved.

But all of that had to wait. He was not a happy at all - he had been watching us mess up his careful pebblw arrangement. It isa amazing how much damage a young woldf and a foolish human can do in just two minutes of racing around. It took all morning the next day to sort out, and I felt something like accusation in his soft glance towards me now ant d then. The young wolf was contrite at training, and did all her moves super-well. I felt we had both been chastisted and put in our place.

#

Language through gesture - shaking hands

But i the whole thhing gave me an idea. I would try to trigger his memory for language through gesture instead of words. They were more instinctive, aftera all, and he had not forgotten at all how communicate with his body. So when I sayw him first think in the morning, I stuck my hand out and said, 'Good morning' and waited. [Substitute different formal greeting from the Techy culture, or the most univeral universal one across the whole planet/?]

He stopped and stared at my hand. AFter a while of searching my face for clues as to what he had to do, he cautiously reached out with his hand and touched mine with one finger. It wasn't the automatic response I had hoped to trigger, but it was somethhing. I beamed. He smiled, and nodded, and walkead away.

It was only then that I realised that he had forgotten to stoop.

He was walking like a man. [humna]

All day after that, I kept offering him my hand to shake at various points during our joint activities. He stayed intrigued, and tried many variations of how to take my hand, but none of them was the simple claspinng getsure that a hnuman makes. I kept encouraging him though, and he kept trying. By the end of the next evening, we had practised until he could do it quite easily. I reported back to Enn, breathless with excitment.excitement.

They obviously were not as impressed as I was by his rate of progress, but I tried not to let it dishearten me. They were l also tryingt to let our argument fade, and was polite about how it was going. Their camp now did look rather cosy, and I enjoyed looking at the campfire - it was so alive. I wondered why the Boundless didn't include fire in his dailyr rituals. Surely it would be more interesting than peblle arranging?>

I didn't want to admit to Enn though that I wasn't finding the pebbles thign uquite as pleaseing as I had in the first few days, so I made light of it nand emphasised the good points. j I went back on the otter ship feeling strangely reluctant to leave the camp with its rustling leafves nd and Enn's caring tendedness everywhere. Not the tended of an immortal with too much time on his hands, but a fellow mortal like me who j was not interested in shaping their environment to suit themselves aapart form to fulfil the most basic needs. Warmth, shelter, food and water. That wass all a smiple moretal like Enn or me really needed.

#

Saying 'T'; falling out of boat

The next day I set about looking for the 'language breatkthrough' with a more serious air. OK, so he could shake hands - now what? If only he would copy what I did. We just dneeded a game, like - well, almsot almost liek the way he trained his animals - rpetition and imitation, until they achieved mastery. But I wasn't sure I that I really a had the guts to make a Boundless my take the role of my pet wolf.

'What's your name?' I asked as we travelled across the lake to start work on the pbebbles. i awas grabbing this opporutunity becasue because we could never really talk whyile doing the pebbles - I had tried to once or twoice but he blocked me out. I got the message that the point was to focus on the pebbles. Those damnh pebbles.

He looked at me, caught in curiousity. 'Your name?' I said. 'Here, my name is Thirteen. Numbber, I should say, but well -w we'll stick with name fo r nw. Or - well, Thirteen is a bit complicated to say, sin't it? Why not we just say that I'm claled T? Enn calls me that sometimes - well, they have once,a anyway, and I thougth - well , what do you think>? - I sort of thought it sounded quite nice...'

I realised I was rambling. I blushed and pulled mysefl myself back on topic.

'The - So the thing I want you st o say is t just that, 'T'. Can you do that for me? 'My name is T' - 'T' - it's really shoort, see?'

He opened his mouth, and moved his tongue around as if he didn't know what to o do with it.

'That's it! ' I said, enc, rocking the boat a little in my excitment.excitement. 'T, see?' You get your tongue up behind your teeth - tuh, see tuh, - and then your cheeks sort of stretch sideways like you're smiling, for the 'eee'. 'Teeee'.

'H e started moving his tongue roughly in teh way I had. He was imitating! I knwe I had him. 'T' IO kept saying, 'T'.

He got closer and closer to the right shape, keeping his eyes carefully on my mouth and the way I was g doing it.

This is where I got to by the 16th hour (9pm)

And just as we camei in to the shore, he finally got it. 'Tee' he said. 'Tuh - eee'.

'Yes! Yes, that's it!' I had to jump up and down in my seat (which was the prow of the ship) I was so excited. I am such a fool sometimes. We were only about four metres from the shore, but I feell in to the water and the whole boat capsized.

I d will admit that I panicked. I have neveer really been in water and my experiences with bathing had been limited so far to standing maximum ankle-deep in a freezing streama n and scooping up water to rub on myself. This full-body submersion, with ists shocking cold and overhwhelming wsetness, was an unt et entirely unfamiliar sensation. And after the schock of that, whell - *then*( I realised that I couldn't breathe. And I it seemed like I could no longer hear, or something had gone wrong with my hearing, and the water was actually pressing onto my hose and *nose and ears and eyses, and I couldn't see, only shimmering shadows of movement, and I couldn'[t tell which was up and which was down [cliche] -

And then he was there, seizing me by the arm and pulling me up to break the surface of the water. In another second or two and a few deep breaths I had calmed down enough to realise that the woater was only actually about chest-deep, and I could stand. The lcold clamminess of it against my skin still really freaked me out though - I really needed another suit, shomehow, one day - and I j thrashed my way towards the shore, kicking up huge fonts of spray and with sheaves of water pouring out of my clothes and off my bgody.

On the pebbles I flailed around, trying to shake the wet off me, burt it was lodged fast in all my clothes. I was starting to shiver, and if only I had been l alone I would have torn off the clothes right then - seriously, I would rather have been *namked* than feeling that horrible sopping coldness soak into my skin.

The Boundless came up to my side and put m his hand on my shoulder. 'T?' he asked. He sounded concerned. I was too distracted even to realise he had asked me a question. I was looking around for the direction in which lay Enn's camp, and with a huge rush of gratitude I small a saw a small column of m smoke rising a little way off through the ac canopy of the treses.

[Oh yes! Include the j j j tending of all the trees and plants around the valley to ehelpt him too - maybe he gets furious when he finds w one of Enn's snares? The animals all trust him? But hang on, how does hie get the wolves to obey him if he doesn't feed them occasionally? And he must know that the wolves hunt and ill some of his animals?]

'Enn! I need to get to the fire, sorry,' and I hurried off, leaving him to do his pebbles.

[Mention the othters all in a tizzy about being capsized and how thye right the bgoat in a giffy - or maybe that's beyond their capabilities and not something they trained for? ]

#

(*) Flirting with wet clothes; asks to join tribe

I burst into the camp in a sorry state. 'Enn, are you here?'

O f course they were. They would never have elft the fire aunattended if they were oging going off hunting. jEnn looked up, and I ho thought they looked quite a happy to see me. 'Thirteen! What? Why are you wet?'

'If I fell in!!' I wailed, and Thirteen took m one lok at my face and burst out laughting.

For a moment, indignation and high dudgeoin swept throgh me, but then I relised that they didn't know that I would find it so very terrifying. And only then did I realise that it didn't need to be terrifying at all, and it was just my ignorance making it seem that way. Seeing Enn so happy made me felel better. I ji smiled too, and then I was grinning.

'Damn you, Enn, I need to get dry! This feels horrible!' I held out my arms *spread my arms helplessly, drippiing displaying their copious dripping to best advantage. That just made them laugh harder. 'I'm standing in a puddle!!' I said, outraged at this indignity. Enn howled and collapsed next to their fire, completely bseside hertheirself.

'Come on now.l' But I couldn't stay seirousl. 'Please be serious! I need some help here!' Enn dragged theirself off the floor and came to give me a look over, but every time they saw my face they would set off again in n another spree of giggles.

'OK, I'm sorry, I'm sorry - no, don't flick me!' They squaled. I hadn't even meant to, a I had just gestured in exapseration,mb but they way tehy they dodged out of the way was irresistible. I' immediately gave chase, just like to theat younhg wolf pup on the becah, trying to catch Enn under my water sprays. I squaleched every time I walked, and the sound was funny too. I discovered I coiuld shake my head and the water droplets spread in great arcs aroiund me - gre very effective for reaching the further and getting Enn. They raised their hands to ward it off and backed up against a tree, begging for mercy. I advanced slowly, arms wide, threatening them with a big, squishy wet hug...

'No! Please! Anything!' they giggled, looking mock-horrified.

'Then help me get dry, you [funny nincompoop type word]!'

'OK, OK - let's get those off you, here, I'llf fiind my cloak...'

They strolled away, chuckling, and I started unbouttoning [how would it fasten?] my outer jacket with cold, clumsy fingers. Enn was back before I had even managed two -0- n and when they saw t me struggling they cam e back to help me. 'Look here, you're going to freeze to death before you get done at the rate you're going,' they said, and draped their cloak ofver a log whil to get their hands free.

'It cc-certainly f-feels like it,' I complained through shivering lips.

Ah, you'll get used to the cold eventually, you Techy you,' they said, grinning. 'I don't think it's right that a person should get to go their whole lives without knwing what it is to have their nipples stand up from the cold!'

'Enn!!' I said, shocked.

'Oh, I forgot, you and your body shyness! What are we going to *do* with you?' shethey had got to the bottom of my outerjec jacket and grabbed the sleeves to help me peel it off. [How does hide rect in the wet?]  'Come on, I'll dry these things. Now are you going to get all Techy shy on me o and make me go stand away from the fire, or can I get your shirt and trousers off too?'

Normally, I would have been horrified

, but we were just playing really, and I was so full of laughter I could feel it u j i j j  bubbling up in my chest and through into my fingers - or maybe that was the cold, or the wetness - there were so many new sensations recently that they all got jumbled up in my head. Ah, who cared. I would just let Enn see me for a second, they never seemed too shocked the first time round anyway, and get wrapped up in their cloak. 'All right, all right,' I laughed, and Enn mock-rolled htheir eyes.

'fFinally! Arms up then,'

'I obeyed instinctively, and the wet undershirt came off in a splatter of droplets that had both of us grimacing. In I covered my breasts and sudedenly did feel a wave of shyneess about Enn standing so close to my weird bare skin, but they didn't even pause for a bieat. 'Right, trousers, then, Techy,' sthey said in a sing-song voice. They gently helld the fabric and tugged it down. I didn't like the way it stuck so close to me while it was wet likee this - like my suit used to be, but clammy and all wrong. I signhed with relief when I managed to shake my foot out of the second leg, and set down and brought my knees up to my chest to protect and cover myself a bit.

'Where's that cloak you promised?' I grumbled, but it was sitll still in jest.

Enn laughed, 'In a minute, your [title]!' k 'You won't die of cold ihn the seond it atakes me to hang these up, now will you? ;' I only then noticed that they haed rigged up a washing line [those wouldn't exist in Techy society] and had hung their own joacket to tdry over it. They metoduically shook out eeach of my c pieces of clothes and then brought the whole line so that they would be closer to the fire. 'You can get up and get f the cloak yourself, you know,' they siad, glancing at me where I was sat on the gritty earth wrapped up into my ltitle ball.

'It's OK for you! You're used oto it! I don't like this - I really don't,' and this time I was starting to mean it. ffff fff 'It just feels so weird - the air on my skiinh all over...'

Enn finished and in three steps was back beside me, swooshing their coalk over my shoulders like a sonderful protective blanket. This cloaki had seen me at my worst times - I was l always going to appreciate it. I coulnd't imagine what I had found so disgusting the first time I had put it on way back in the forest near the healing place.

'thanks Enn,' I said, starting s to shiver in earnetst. 'You m-must think I'm p-pathetic...'

'No I dont!' Enn portested, gratifyingly warm in their objection. I cna't imagine what it must be life like for you, T. Your whole society gone - well let's not wdell - but I know it's not an easy life dlearning all this for the first time. I bet I wouldn't do d too well in your world,'

I thought about that as I huddled closer to the fire. 'Maybe not,' I oncluded. There were d somet things I just couldn't see Enn doing - like letting anyone put them in a suit, for starters. I looked at Enn speculatively, imagining the classic grey suit, with numbeers on the breast pocket  - but no 'F' or 'M', of course - and it just didn't seem right. [Forweshadowing!] Plus of course, nobody had their sinkin colour back in [Techyland']. They were just so suited to living here, in the forest.

'Do you think I'll ever be able to survifve on my own, Enn>?' I said, my mood turning more sombre. The future was pretty bleak.

[Mention how when she hears Enn say 'T' she has a momentary pang at teaching the Boundless to say ti - because it was their special , personal thing and now its shared. And maybe Enn won't think that she thinks that it's special? Argh, the mind games!]

I really didn't want to face living a life out here, so far from what I was used ot, and more to the point, I didn't hithink I could. I now could see that Enn was right; living here with the Boundless just wasn't feassible, they he was too different and I didn't want to worry so much about the way pebbles looked. I f I did that I masy as well go a to an assembly line. back on a the factory floor. No, it had to be by myself.

'Enn - dyo you think I might be able to come live in your tribe? Even just for a bit? I o - I dion't want to be alone out here,' I admitted, feeling so small and vulnerable with only the cloaki to protect me again.

Enn bit their lip. 'I really wish you could,' they said,and and I could hear the real regret in their f voice - but it was still a disappointment.

'So that's a no then? Why?'

I tried not to sound petulatn, I really did. Enn sighed.

'Because we have the laws too hold up here in [LucyLnad[] too you know. We all pay our Road tax each year, and lots of us go to see the museum. Much as Lucy would like it to be, we can't be completely disconnected from all the other societies. And if Lucy were to keep you in a tribe under their protection, [TechyBoundless[] woudl would be very angry, I expect. That's the real reason that they wouldn't do anything when you were being dragged up that path,'

Enn's voice sounded bitter.l I still couldn't believe that they had cared enough to interven e for me, someone they didn't know. Ho I wanted to say thank you, but I had alreadyd done that many times, and how many times would ever be enough for saving your life? I would keep doing it in a loop even if I lived to be a Boundless. It was impsosible.

'T,' said a voice, but it was not Enn's. We both looked up. He was standing at the edge of the camp , staring at me. 'T./... and he pointed. 'T. I - remember...'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter 12 - Enn

 

Boundless remembers, has break-down

The Animal Boundless walked forward into the camp sas if they were in a trance. I guess they kind of were, oer they were wakingin from one at elast. '

They seemed obsessed wtih Thirteen, sying 'T, over and over. j I was surprised that Thirteen had told them that nickname. I thought it was just between us. Why does the  d first word he learns how to say be T's name?

'You are T,' they saidls slowly, j comprehension bursting behind their eyses [sounds like his brain is exploding...] 0 - fe fe j kje j j d 'I - I am j - I am [name[].'

j feage j

Thirteen loked so amazied. 'Your'e speaking! You remember how to speak@?#'

'Yes...;' he looked aroujnd, as if dazed and only sieeing things here for the first time, or at least seieng them anew. His eyes found me, sqauatting next o to my fire.

'You!' he roarded, suddenly loud and angry. 'You aree [LucySociety]!'

He steppedf forward and bent over me threateningly. 'You are not welocome here,' he said, glowering at me.

I stood up slowly. I was so sick of his attitude. 'All right, easy, buddy. You let me stay all week, now I'm sure we can get by for another hour or two, all right?' I looked him right in the y eye. He blinked, frowned, and then turned back to T. j j d 'Who are you? Are you from - but you - you cannot be from my [lost homeland]?'

T shook her head, looking helpless. 'I don't know what that is. Or where, or anything,' hshe said . But please - we have so many questions - won't oyu tell us what you can remember...?'

'So much. So much.' He didn't lok happy. 'my home... My people...' And suddnely he crumpled where he stood, and started crying into his hands like a big chile.d

Thirteen threw a startled glance at me, and then hurried over as fast as she ocould (she was still careful to keep her self covered under the cloak though - ever fastitdious, that one. It was amazineg she had let me help her at all earlier).

'What's wrong, [name]? Tell me. I want to help. T wants to help. Why did you look as if you recognised me when we first met? You can tell us, we'll understand...'

Her stream of encouragement and his racking sobs continued for several minutes with little change. I quetily saw to the fire, andm made sure it was banked so tha t the heat would mostly go out towards T. She was still at risk of hypothermia, after all. Of course, [name] was also soaking wet, but he had no way of dying, so he didn't count. j The steam began to g start to rise in a mist off her clothes on the washintg lne, so I knew my efforstt weren't wasted.

For a while it seemed like T's might be, though. She was trying os hard to get through to him, ubut i think for him we were hadrdly even there - just mortals, flickers of life n in the present moment. Howe could we compare to the aeons of memoriy he was now reliving?

'No, noooo' he was moaning. What on earth could have happened to be this bad? I tried to see his point of veiw, but I was still irritated with him. Maybe T would have told me to stop being irritational, but I am ahn hunter at heart. Hunters use instinct as well as reason, and for some reason I s just did not like this guy. [Less gendered language for Enn.]

#

Enn gets angry with [HermitBoundless]

The sun had shifted a good two finger-widths in the sky by the time we gotr any further with things. Apparently he had abandoned his pebbles for today then. Well good. Paradise coul.d use at least one day out of five to get a little messed up, I thought. It was a shame that lake wasn't titdal. I'd like to have seen even an immortal kee p up with the rigour of waves knocking huis precious garden of pebbles about.

Finally, the immortal sobbed himself dry, and uncoiled a little from his ball of misery. I was quietly skinning a hare for the afternoon meal, because while some of us have long memories for the whole of history, others of us just have to remember to feed themselves regularly, and that's the way it is. I knew now that I really was gebeing unreasonalbe to him - but dammit, he just got on my nerves. Do I neeed a reason?

All this time, T had been patiently coaixing him back from his darketst memories. She looked almost as distraugth as he did. Too much empathy, that girl, it would tkill her one day. Shee needed to letit w it wash over her a bit more. It was no way to live getting racked by other people's pain again and again.

'Dear [name]. Dear, dear [name]. YOu've been so good to su us - well, em me - won't you tell me what's wrong? What's got you so upset>? I want to help, [name[.'

'You can't help.' It was rough, but it was coherent speech. How had it all come back that fast? [Actually, probably edit is so that it doesn't all come back that fsat - takes place over a couple of days?] And now I really wanted to kick him, which was terribly violent, and I th knew why - he was being rude to T. Ther e she was, offiering to help him, and all he could do the j was be rude like that! I mean, if he had his memory bacmk he could remember his manners, couldn't he? I hated to see T getting taken advantage of.

'No, come on, don't be like that, [name]. You don't know that it's won't help. We all love you here, right, Enn?' She glanced over at me. I made a face but gerunted something vaguely affirmative-sounding. 'See?' T turned straight back to the Boundless. 'we need you to help us, [name]. I thiknk you'll know what we need to know. And w you have given us a safe place to hide these last few days, and we want to say thank you - so we'll do anything we can to help.'

'All right! If it'll make you shut up,' he grumbled. Ooo, I did not liek that guy. I was so wanting to give him a piece of my mind...

'I lot lost my people,' [name] siad, in a voice broken with grief. 'Lost them all! j '

'Who were your peopel?people?' T said, sounding almost fearful with the weight of his loss. I don't know why I wass so unmoved by it, but it seemed a bti fake to me. Or just - attention h seeking. Or something.

M'My people were the [people],' he said, warming to his theme. Towo thousand years ago [or however long when timelsines are confirmed] I ha was the ruler of the greatest society on this planet. I ruled wisely and well.' (Modest, I thouht.) 'And my people loved me. Bu They trusted me. And I failed them!' He wrung his hands in front of him as if he was dying.

'But - how did they doie?' T sounded confused. 'They can't all have diesd, can they?'

'Yes they can, little one. Yes they can, ' fea jielinhg he intoned, as if the doors of life itself were closing. ju Just as I

k j 'Come on. What happened?>' I demanded, sounding super strict in comparison to T's softly-softly approach. 'What was it? A valolcano?> An earthquake?'

The Boundless suddenly shook  off his grief long enough to gal glare at me with something close to loathing. 'You know nothing, [LucySociety],' he spat.

I was beyond expasperated. ''What have I ever done to you, tell me, [name]. Because I don't see what I've done wrong! What are you holding a grudge for, eh?'

'Your kind are all the same!#' he shouted, now much more angry a than sad. 'You think you can tease me and tautnt me here on my lake. Well I tell you it's not so! It's not so!'

'Oh, so because a few of mey people have found you and interrupted your little pebble sculpting sessiosn you think we're all evil now, is that it? I' I shouted back. I had thought I was staying above it all, but he had got to me, I realiseed. I was really angry too, and I didn't even know why. ' Well let me tell you, j j we are not all the same! Can't you get that, oh wise one? Oh great immortal?: What, you expect us all to bow down to you, just because you live for way longer than anyone ever should??'

I stopped for breath, panting. This felt good, but I had a feeling already that teh consequences wer going to be less than ideal. [Name] was standing now, glowerinjg at me, face thunderoous. 'You know nothing. Nothing of what it is to be na immortal!'

'Obviously! And why should IO?' Part of me was aware that I sounded like a petulant child now, but I kept going. ' You don't know anything about me or my life either! Sot that' makes us fair, I'd say!'

j j j iike The Boundless clenched his fists, breathing heavily. I think between us T and I had really woken him up, at least. He looked nothing like one his of his bastardised animals now. 'You have insulted me,' he said, rage dripping from controlled words. 'I want you OUT! GONE! GO!' His roar shook birds from out of the trees. He lifeted up his head to howl and summon his tame wolf pack to do his b dirty work for him, as usual. 'Oh go on then/! Go on! Such a big person, setting wolves on mortals!'

He gave me one last gglare, but apparently his centureies of silence had made him slow at his come-backs, so all he could wa do was stalk off bakck to the lake.

'Enn! What was that?? jWhy did you do that/'?' T was on her feet too, looking furious. 'He was ujust about to tell us everyothing, and you've ruined it! Quick - pass mye me my clothes - I need to get eafter him.' She was bending down to shove on her wet shoes, still squalelchy but it was no longer fun, just horrible. 'If I don't catch him before he gets back in that boat I don't think either of us will ever seem him again,' she said, urgently. 'So move! Come on!'

I stared at her. How could she take his side? How? Wasn't it clear how stupid and silly he was? Abruptly I didn't want to know any more. 'Get them yourself, you 't[title],' I snappedm, and stalked off into the trees.

[So they get the info out of him somehow, but he threatens to actually get the wolves to kill Enn if they don't o move out. That does at least shock T to see that he really mean s it, he would keill them, and so she at least comes round to the fact that he is not at all perfect.  How doe they persuade hism to help them iwth the questio? (Good word, that.) Do tes he still do the huge bird thing? I thinkg a nest of giant eagles would be pretty appropriate for the top of the sacred mountain... Make sure I foreshadow them as another breed of anirmla that he trains regularly and rears to do his beidding.]

[OR - get across by airship?]

[Definitely getting bored of this scene/character. I'm with Enn on this one, I don't like him!]

[I don't want to go into another chapter with Thirteeen mkaking very slow progress at talking him round. I want him to just get it over with. So... at the moment, I will skip to the part where t some form of peace treaty has been brokered, and so eh they are having the conversation they need to have about the gemstone and so on.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter 13 - Thirteen

 

Tries to catch [HermitBoundless]; lies on beach crying etc for ages

I sprinted back to the lake, my unfamiliar clothes thrown on in a big tangled backwards mess, but I was too lae. [Animal Boundless] was just a diminishing hunched figure in his otter boat. One of the otters looked back at me and then pointedly turned its back, flicking its tail at me in a very rude way, I thought. I had obviously angered them by capsizing their boat.

'[Swear word!]' I yelled, my fury nearly boiling over and theratening to burn me it was that bad. My sopping clothes stuck to me in a really annoying way and I slapped at them, hating how being wet felt. I hated everything about this stupid situation, I hated Enn for being so unhelpful, and I felt so helpless about ever getting anywhere with this tangled set of questions and suspicions that I wanted to sit down and cry. So I did. I plonked myself on the pebbles and cried for the next half an hour. This whole adventure had been too much, it really had.

[See more of the wolves - one of them comes with them afterwards? - Unlikely that it would bond so much with Enn or with Thirteen that it would break its bonds to its pack or [Animal Boundless]...]

I had never felt this much before in my whole life. It felt like I might be dying. In [TechyLand] if you ever felt this upset the suit would notice and give you a dose of medicine [is that the euphemism for drugs?] to help soothe you. It meant nothing ever got so out of hand. I had never known this feeling of gut-wrenching anguish - like my chest was scraped raw from the inside out and it actually hurt to breathe. Well if I died it would make it simpler at least. I lay down on the uncomfortable pebbles, ashamed that I was messing up his carefully tended garden, and sobbing all the harder. I deserved to feel this uncomfortable. I deserved this cold and this wet and this sadness. I was rubbish, nothing, I had completely failed at the only thing that mattered in life - to be a good Worker.

After a long while I realised, slowly, that I couldn't actually keep up the same level of complete despair. Instead I just lay there, with no desire to move or do anything. It was weird, like my body had just frozen. Even lifting a finger seemed impossible. I just felt all the things and thought of all the most wretched images I could come up with. So this was actually how I was going to die - I was going to slowly freeze to death lying next to this lake. Well. That was a fine way to go as well. I didn't care any more. My chest was too heavy to bear it.

But then the shivering started, and I could no longer lie so perfectly resigned to my discomfort. The chill seemed to be seeping up from the stones, and the lake softly lapping the pebbles with the breeze seemed to mirror the rhythm of the heat leaving my body in subtle waves. I scraped myself up from the pebbles and gathered myself into a hunched ball, trying to get my damp clothes to settle around me better and be some protection to the cold. It helped a bit, but not enough. I still couldn't be bothered to get up and move around, or go back to the warm fire - it seemed so far away, and facing Enn was something I wondered if I would ever be able to do again. What if they got angry with me like that? I hadn't known they could get so angry. I hadn't seen it coming towards the [Animal Boundless] at all. What if they were also harbouring all those bad feelings towards me as well? Well it wouldn't be fair if they did! I would have a thing or two to say about it!

The energy of my brief indignation dissipated with my shivering. I picked up a pebble by my foot and started using it to scrape a groove in the other pebbles. I dug down and down, deeper and deeper, knowing I shouldn't, it would take him so long to fix... But I couldn't stop, it was what I needed to do, I needed to keep my hands busy, feel the destruction I was making and just not give a damn for a while.

Pretty soon I reached the dirt underneath, and started to build a groove in that too. I widened and enlarged it until it was a ditch a handspan wide, and I imagined laying a pipe down in it. That would make it useful. But there was no purpose to this, not even the pointless purpose of keeping it completely neat, and it felt so rebellious.

It was getting dark, and I was still cold, but somehow my body had fought back against continuing to freeze and I was going to keep living. I felt empty and my head ached, but at least it was some version of calm.

[They start drugging toddlers to stop them having tantrums, and everyone sees that as a good thing to speed up their development to mature Workers with even, consistent temperaments?]

I realised that I had to get back to the camp. There was no way back across the water while the Boundless was so angry with us. But I knew Enn wouldn't have gone anywhere yet, even with the threat of the wolves. I couldn't believe he would really do that - but it was strange, now I came to think aobut it, that I couldn't be completely sure eihter...

#

Return to camp; hatch plan with Enn

I stumbled back on legs that felt dead with cold and stiffness. I worried at how dark it had gotten already because I knew I was useless out here by myself - I would probably just get lost and have to walk around and around the lake all night - but to my surprise I found the camp again within minutes. Enn was there, cooking something that smelled delicious on a spit over the fire.

They looked up. 'There you are,' they said, sounding relieved. ***

They stood up and came over to me, reaching out to take me by the shoulders. I flinched at their touch - it was too overwhelming to have anyone so close to me right now - but I couldn't be bothered to tell them to move away. I didn't need to though - they noticed anyway. Enn stepped back a few paces without passing any comment on my shudder. 'You're still damp through, aren't you?' they said, more concerned than accusing. 'You've got to take better care of yourself out here, Thirteen. You're only a few days past that big fever, and we can't go back to the healing place for help if you get really sick again. Cold can kill you, you know - you could have died this afternoon.'

I thought they were surely being a bit melodramatic. 'I don't care if I die anyway,' I mumbled.

Enn gave me an incredulous look, which turned to worry once again as they realised I was serious. 'Thirteen. Not being scared of death is not a sign of strength. It is a sign of weakness! Life is strong and death is weak. That is what we have always understood where I come from.'

I grunted, but didn't completely reject their advice. I supposed I had been a bit foolish. It was just such an effort to take care of myself when I really didn't care any more.

'I know, but there's no point, Enn. I'm so lost. My life is over. Our last chance of figuring out any of the reason for all this just went off to sulk across the lake. He'll probably stay there for the next eighty years, just to make sure we've gone away by the time he comes back.'

I felt truly morose, but Enn was struggling not to smile at the image, I could tell. 'And then he'll

#

*** Get [HermitBoundless] drunk; he tells them everything/just about the Ark

'[Name]... I said hesitantly, not wanting to startle him out of his bad mood. He could get into a bad mood so esasily nowadays. [Not nowadays , it's only been a week!] It remeinded me of Nine.

[Have Enn give T some straight-talk about how T lets herself get manipulated by other people. Challenges her while on the next stage of their journey during some down-time.]

'This is the object I was talking about, that I wanted to show you,' I said, opening my hands to reveal the bright red ggem. 'Do you know anything about it?'

At first [Name] couldn't even deign to lookl . He sniffed, and glanced down. But then the beauty of the bobject caught his attention, and

'Where did you get this?' he said in his best mystic tones and took the gem from my hand. j 'No-one - //

'I found it at the museum,'

'Oh. That old plcae,' he didn't souncd enthusiastic. 'We thought we were so clever,co coming up witht that place,' he rolled his yese, and di took another slug of whisky.  j 'j He j j h j

'You remember h j r j doing itt?' j j Thirteen couldn't imagine it. The museum was older than anything she knew about. 'When was this?'

'Oh I dunno. About 2000, 3000 years? Is it still standing? They must be on to a new building by now, hasn't it fallen down yet?#'

'No sir,' Thirteen said. I'It was built to last, that's what they say,'

'Well I wouldn't spend too mcuh time in it! the old Boundless siad. 'It's not excactly bullet-proof, if you kjow what I mean,' [could this hint at something? Like they build the mseum specifically NOT to last forever - only long enough, utnil the time of the Second Comign (no I can't call it taht)that) of the timetravel sapce ship>?]

'Well - w then when was the Ark spaceship replica added?' Thirteen said.

'Oh, a bit later. Maybe - 1000 wyears agao? What does this say anyway?' he said, j jjjj handing the gem back to Thirteen. jjjjj 'I assume it's a projector engraving>?'

'Yes, but how did you know?'

'Oh, they were all the rage just about when I was really getting into the global trade side of things with my people,' hes  said bitterly. The red stones of [place where they come from], the hottest commodity. And not just because they're rare, I'm sure you knwo that - but because it was the best for cutting with secret messages, don'tcha know. That was a time of less golobal peace, and all that. Bit more spying and distrust between all us Boundless, you know. So anyway, these became a plyathing for a while. It never lasts though. Nothing ever does.' He stared gloomily into his drink. k Ah, great. A maudling drunk. An immortal being, practically a god, getting pissed off some weak whisky.

'Well - it says that the tenth division of the [check what ti was] risked their lives to put i t there, and they wanted people to know before they were made to forget that their they were forced to work for them and make this replica spaceshipjl. Why were you making a replica? Wasn't the original one already wsomewhere?'

The Boundless toyed with his glass, dealying his answer as long as possible. I got the feeling he was feeling just a tad ashamed of himself. 'We thought - ah, we thought nobody needed to know the truth. We hadn't started out doing it at the behginning so why start then, you know? And come to think of it- - why start now either?' He stared gblearily at us both in turn. 'You're just a pair of mortals, here to pester an old old man - why don't you go away and sleave me in speice?' He spat a ltitele on Thurteen's face; she wiped it waway dlelicately, shuddering slightly. I was hapy to see it. I tdidn't need to have her still interested in this gyu any more . He was a dolt and an ideaiot.'

'Because,' Thirteen explained again, with much more patience than I would have done, 'we need your help, [name]. I know our lives are only short, but unless I can get to the bottom of this

[Enn needs a tie-in to Thirteen's predicament! That's a wekaness to the plot - df j jjjjjjjj sthey are just oing oalong with Thirteen out of the goodness of their hearts, and they haven't really been tipped into all-out commitment at any point. I suppose they are still in Act I as they a have not yet got all the inromationn about what they're faceing - that's what this scene is for, after all - but still, shtye should have more ties earlier on to why Thirteen's fate matters to them. ]

j then the rest of my short life will be blighted with exile and I will have to live a s a fugitive. And although I know i am fleeting and don't matter much in the end in the big scheme of things' - I hated to hear her talk like this, it was all just to make him give us the information gu but even so it made my blood boil - [cl;iche] 'you, out of all the Boundless, surely know the f value of a fleeting life? ISnt' it gbetter that yoiur people got to live while they could, and to the fullest? And you did give them full lives, I know you did. You can do it again, for me! Do it for me, [name], in memory of your noble people.' I ahd to admire her. He was putty in her hands. [cliche]] It was mangfiicent to watch. Tears welled in his eyes anhd he nodded, full to the brim with alcohol and emotion.

'Yes! Yes, you're right, T , thank you! I will tell you. I will tell you all. No more secrets!' He slammed his whisky glass down on the table, so hard that the contents sloshed out of the sides a bit.

''I'll tell you.' he said, settling down into his drunken slump. 'Although it is a shameful tale. We Boundless, we have lveived so long, it can make things seem right which are not right. So - so when - when you guys, you humans, came past us o stuck down here on this little *godforsaken* planet, you know, we ghouthgt, well we were so happy. Finally! People to play with! You cannot believe how many times we had all cycled through each other in the last previous million years. [how long would it have been? Timeline] So we all agreed that we wantedy you guys to stay, and you were happy tof visit, but you needed  a bit of persuassion to stay forever, you know...

' so what we did was, we just were saying hello to the people on the ship, and while we had the big party to say welcome, welcome t and thanks for coming, ahappy to see you all, and all that, one of us - I think it was [TecchyBoundless[], he's always up for something nasty -

And he took your ship and he took out some vital gubbins, I dunno, some piece or other, so that iit wouldnt' go, becuse because we're from the future see wo he knwew more about how specehips worked than even the best techy in on board the Ark, adn then they were mystified the next morning about why theyir ship had completely broken down! And we played the nice-nice hosts, o h yes, we really did welocome 'em, and let them stay as long as they needed before thye could fix their ship and goet off to seel the starts or whever wherever it was they were supposeed to be going. I personally helped persudade em to stay, and they did, and soon it was a year, two years, some of them started biuilding places they could steay in a bit more permanetn like, but some of the others were still saying that they should take off to and keep trying to fix the ship, but they were getting nowhere at all, at all, [TEchyBoundless] makde sure of that. Damn sure. So nayway. After a while it's been a couplea generations, right? And these relationships are pretty deeply membeedded for all of us, I mean we've already got the start of these soicieties tha you see all around you today, rigyht? So jI by then we are too deep in to turn round and s tell them that wwe've lied all along just cos we couldn't bloody face tohe loneliness, oOR the risk of leaving, rigt? So we decide we need a bit more a of a permanent solution for this secret we've gone and made ourselves. We get everyone away from the ship for a while, adn then while we're keeping the engineers busy, in sneaks [techyBoundless] and slots back in the missing piece, and then flies i tu up to the inner moon, simple as that! Tucked away ofnn the inner side, it won't be found never. Now those engineers, obviously they noticed that their ship flwe away, so we had to do soemthing about that. Well, we started to get real good at midn-wipes, let me tlel you. And ddon't look at me like that, it was basically that or kill 'em. But we couldn't mind-wipe every single perosn in the planet. We needed a cover story, something that w could become legend once everyone alive to remember the truth had got old and gone. So we came up with the whole grand museum plan, with a fully built replica model and so on, and we started to the story that you know tody, the' official verysion, right, that the ship had actually crashe hd here, adn was completelly behyond repair no question, nad so we in that world had just been the good guys, right>? We saved everyone and helped them build new lives! In Perfect societies! Where us boundless can keep an eye on youf  forever. Ha. Fat lot of good I was.'

Thirteen jumped in before he could make hismelef unmanageably morowse again. 'You did your best,' she crooneed. 'No-one could do more. Not evern a Boundless'.

I had other qusestions though. 'Some things you said don't make sense.l' I started.

'OH really? Wassat then? ' [pname[ looked up at me with  a sulky expressinon. You're pretty sure of yourself. Don't like you folks.'

'I ignored this. 'What do you mean, jjjj jjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj you are from the future? What are you talking about?'

'Ahhh,' he tapped the side of his nose and winked blearily, as if y he thought I was being jjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj so sly and clever. jjjjjjjjjjjj 'Well! That's the SUPERBIG secret, isn't it? Shouldn't say tahat. Shouldn't say that one, nononon... '

Thirteen leant clse, held his hand, and just waited, lookinga at him with an unvwavering gaze that owuldn't let him go. He squirmed a bit, took another slug of whisky (I was making sure to keep it topped up from my dwiindling supplies - and I had been so looking forward to getting T to try out what it was like being drunk) and laughed. 'Ha! Well, this is what it comes to in the end. I think 5000 years is a good run for any secret, doen't you? And we'e all bloody kept it. SElf-preservation, I suppose. Selpf0=-preservation, for people whoc can't even die! Ha hah ha!' His laugthter was obnoxious, but his jj jjjjjjj was obviously on the dbrink jjjjj jjjj of spilling the beans. Thirteen kept the conneftion alive, using all of that empathy and skill to good use now - turning it on the amanipulator, that was what I liked to see! I rooted her on in my head. Come on, now, come on... decide to do it... j jjjjjjj break, damn you, breeak...

The Boundless threw his hands up in the air. 'It was bound to happen someday. I j You know, even though w've made ourselves intoi gods on this l stupid little planet, gods, yeah, right, even though - we're still honly human underneath. Only falible. We make mistakes. We do. We madke them alllllll the time.'

'OK, you ready my little ickle mortals? Here's the deal. It's a fab sotory so I swish I wasn'ts so drunk to tell you. Would make it lots better. But I can tell you, it's easy to tell you straight and simple. We come from the tfutre, right? We set off from earth WAY after your anscesterors set off from earth. We had much better ship, much better. THIS ship! And *this* was the one which crashed! Irony, eh?

'Anyway, the way it went was that we were doing some deep spacey mission thing - it's so long ago I don't even remember, except that it also hasn't hapened happened yet - and us lot, the Boundless, well that wsas the ship's name actually, Boundless, right, well wer were being carried iin stasis, because even with warp tdrive and whatnot tit still takes a long time to cross the universe, you know what I'm saying? Stupid ship only made it to the other side of the galaxy though. Anyways. We , us 7, were supposed to be these big-shot cultural ambassadors from earth, gift for an lalien race, right? Peace offering, actually, I seem to recall. the best at technology, nature , anthropology, psychology, the best the earth had to offer in the finer arts.

This is where I got to by the 19th hour (midnight)

We were an idealistic/moral bunch when were still mortal. Ohhhh yes. It didn't take long for that to change!'

So the stasis thingy, what we were in. It was going to take, like, a good twenty years to cross to the other side of the universe, which is quick, but they didn't want us arriving without our memories of earth nice and fresh and intact. So they had this newfangled time tech, i forget what they called it but anyway - we were the first big mission to use it, big deal. Of course we signed some stuff about not being angry if it all went wrong and backfired and killed us. That woulda been fine actually, I meant it when I signed it, I wouldn't have minded dying at all. But what actually happened was that somehow as we passed this planet, we crashed. We don't know why exactly, but [TechyBoundless] reckons it was something to do with flying too close to the screwed-up gravity near to your hidden second moon. Anyway, we were all out of it so I guess we'll never know. What we do know is that when our ship crashed, it actually went back in time and THEN crashed. It went, let me tell you, a LONG way back in time. I mean before this PLANET even had any bloody AIR! So we were crashed, right, and all the crew steering her perished instantly, of course, but not muggins here. Muggins and his six cultural ambassador pals are stuck in state of the art stasis chambers, aren't we? Except something went wrong with them too when we crashed. They never got deactivated properly or something, and so we were all left with this stasis time loop fused to our own bodies, you see? That's how come we can't die - well we can actually, just the same as you, but after a bit the time loop resets and boing! We're back to the same state we were in before. We can't change a thing about ourselves. Not about our even down to a single hair of our heads. [Cliche!] Makes you have to start getting used to your little flaws, you know? Oh, and we can eat, but there's no reason to - we end up with empty stomachs after about 20 minutes anyway. 19.667 minutes to be exact. Anyway - so for hundreds of thousands of years we were just dying over and over again, right? Because we would wake up, suffocate from lack of air, and then keel over, and have to wait until our bodies reset. I tell you, that, my friends, is hell. Luckily, our brains were also part of the loop too, so every time all we got was this flash of panic, and then our brains reset with our bodies and we would forget that we had died before. Now that is just a weird sort of purgatory. And I reckon that it still makes an impact on a person, I don't care if I don't remember it, I know I'm probably a much worse person for going through all that stuff. So anyway. We do start to make some sort of progress after god knows how long of just wake up, die, repeat. We're all lying near each other. We can all still move about in that brief 30 seconds or so before we die. So eventually we find each other and we're all just going through the terror over and over together, right? And then, and we still don't know whose bright idea this was, someone used their last 20 seconds of life on a strange earth to start a tally, written up on the side of the crashed ship. [Ooo - forewshadow - see the carvings way back in the rescue scene?] From then on, any of us who was able to, made a tally each time we woke, saw it, and then died. But we would still forget each time, so there must be hundreds of times no-one was concerned with getting a stupid tally on the ship. Even so, we racked up a pretty impressive number. Want to know how many times I died, lowest estimate, before the air became breathable for us on this stinking planet?'

Thirteen and I just looked at him, dumbstruck.

'[X] billion times. BILLION! We had started drawing tallies on our arms, on in the rocks, all around where we lay. I reckon we changed the atmosphere of the planet just in the few snatched breaths we were able to take before dying each time. Anyway, the other thing was, while the atmosphere spent millennia sorting itself out, we were also starting to remember from death to death. Well that was worse in a lot of ways, because no-one likes dying even once, but something it did help. We could start to plan ahead a little more. We could survive for slightly longer each time, and we could build on what we learnt before. I don't know how our brains adapted to do that, and not get reset after the timeloop ends. The human brain is an amazing thing though. What can I say, I'm special.' He chuckled humourlessly. 'So that's the glorious start of your gods, the glorious Kou [name?] Boundless,' he finished, sounding grim. 'Not all it's cracked up to be, is it? I much prefer your origin stories for us, they're so inventive, they've always got that glamour of myth about them. But no, for us it was just a long hard slog of terra-forming this planet in a few seconds of life at a time, in twenty minute intervals, over millions of years.'

I tired to wrap my head around it. I did. It was unimaginable. Could any being go through that and still be sane at all? it was suddenly a lot more impressive to me that [HermitBoundless] had managed to remember how to hold a conversation. In the end, how would you escape if even death was no help?

'But I've forgotten the important bit!' he exclaimed, slapping his forehead. Ah, silly me, always rambling on. You should never have got me on the whisky. Where was I? Right. The important bit. See, OK, I know you're mortals but try to understand. What this means it that we went back in time, didn't we, far back, but - and it's a big BUT - at some point, our ship is going to be doing that journey in the present, and then it will get to this planet again and then it will crash again and THEN do you know what happens?'

He looked at both of us, expansively. I felt the need to shake my head, just to keep encouraging him. 'Ha! Well. Neither do I. Nobody does. But, most likely, its quite simple - ' he paused for effect - 'end of the world. Right?'

#

* 13 wants to stay; Enn leaves

'Enn, I'm sorry...' Thirteen said, her brow creased up with worry. 'It's just, this place is so peaceful and beautiful.

[Turn the last argument and this argument into one? Simplify the number of scenes and progression of feelings in the Lake part?]

It's really like nothing I've ever seen, and I've - I think I've - fallen in love. With him.' She blushed, making her dark skin darker.

I felt as though I had swallowed half the ice from the side of the mountain. I had been looking forward to moving on so much, and I had thought we were ready to leave, now that the [HermitBoundless] had given us his information about the mystery of the Ark ship. We had done what we could, and now Thirteen needed to get to her new life in [DemocraticAnarchy]. [Use [DA] for short!]

'I thought you wanted a new life.'

'This IS a new life, Enn, and better than I could have ever dreamed of!'

'Yes, but - it isn't - it isn't a real place, is it?'

Thirteen frowned. 'What do you mean? It looks real to me.' She looked around us at the trees and plants. 'Just because it's not so dirty and unkempt as your forest doesn't make it less real!'

'There's no need to get angry, T. I'm just saying, this place is so artificial! It's not even a city like you described, with buildings and things. It's like he pretends to make it a natural place but actually it's the most unnatural place of all!'

'Again, what do you mean? Nature is just as natural here! The trees still grow, the birds still sing! It's just that he takes care of it a bit better than in other places. Wouldn't you want that for your own forest, if you could? An eternal guardian giving his every moment to maintaining it?'

'NO!' I said it louder than I meant to, but the idea of it shocked me. 'The forest looks after itself! That's how it's supposed to be, T. This endless gardening, it's wrong. He shouldn't make all the animals do his bidding, no-one should have that power. The way he makes the wolves bow to him - it's sick, T!'

T had got up onto her feet, looking furious. 'Don't talk about him like that! If you think this paradise he's created is sick, then what must you think of where I come from? You must think I'm just evil, I bet! And you say that even when I've told you how I feel about him! He's the best person I've ever seen, and I'm helping him come back to himself! He's got a lot of problems that we couldn't possibly understand, but he trusts me! So there!'

'Fine! FINE!' I yelled, getting to my feet myself. I didn't know why I was so angry - it made sense, if she wanted to, it meant I didn't have to carry on any further and could be getting back to my tribe. 'I've got a family and I'm going to go back to them. You enjoy living in this plastic paradise with this inhuman messed up person!'

[They wouldn't know the word 'plastic'.]

'You do that!' Thirteen looked like she was going to cry, but folded her arms instead.

I grabbed my cloak, my [other stuff] and almost ran for the edge of the camp. She could put out the fire and make sure her precious paradise didn't burn down! I didn't care!

 

***

 

I stormed, off, really angry with myself for ever thinking that T an d I were getting on well. Ha! She was obviously just an ignorant Techy who thought she knew everythingk, when acutally actually she knew nothing, NOTHING, about how nature was supposed to be. This was wrong, and if she couldn't see it then that was her lookout. She would just have to learn the hard wya. But wahat a useless sort of person who couldn't even cope with being left alone, soth that she would be flattered by the attentions of this Boundless creep. I had thought she was more of a n adult than that, but ovciously I was wrong.

My anger really fuelled my marching pace and I was a good way wround the lake and headingu up towards the edge of the valley before the sunh had even passed two fingerw-widghts. My mood was starting to flag now, and from the burning anger I had felt before now all  I had left was a deep feeling of sadness. I would miss Thirteen, and I didn't think it woul hd have ended so badly as that. She was a smart and brave young pereson, and she deserved better than to have her future manipulated by that crooked and insance ancient being.

Doubt crept in around the edges, and I hated that feeling. Usually I felt quite sure about what to do - certainly in my normal life there was hardly ever a difficult decision to make, it was all just about the next step that was always obvious in odrder to have shelter and food for the night. This was even harder than the doubt that I sotmetimes felt as a parent, because officially she wasn't supposed to be my probelem. I really wiesehd she wasn't my problem but now it wasn't so clear. Didn't Lucy always say that the person you choose to help is your responsibility until the end of when they no longer need you any more? I didn't believe that did I - or at least I didn't think it ashould apply to Techies? But there was nothing different about Techies, not really - Thirteen had learnt the way iI lived with a lot of quick intelligence and had found things to enjoy even hwhen she was far away from what she was used tol.

I sighted. It was no goo,d , but maybe I couldn't even go back if I wanted to? The Bondless had banished me, after all. It was silly to think he would allow me back when he had hated me from the start.

I could stop and think for a while, at least. It toiled up a small nknoll where the treses cleared - desptite Boundless's best efforts, they dind't all grow evenly and perfectly spaced - and made myself a seat, then squatted down. From here I had a great view of the Lake, in all its symmetrical glory. It still gave me the creeps.l How odd it was that a didffernent mind coul id interpret so fdifferently what I saw as a simple truth.

I stayed there as the sun crawled a bit higher, trying to wait until my thoughts cleared, like they always did eventually, provdided I faced my problems. I had felt so sure I wanted to leave, but now I was almost sure of the opposite - that while Thirteen needed me, (whether she knew she did or not), I had to stay around.

 

 

#

Start to process/react to info

What? Had he really just sait that? End of the owrldd?

'But whyjj would that be the end? Wouldn't it just be kind of -t he begniinning again?'

'Very philosophical of you! Good point!' he bellowed. 'But nah. Same thing, no difference really. We'll all be stuck in theis merry-go-roudn forever. But anyway,  jjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj *why* isn't the question. Why isn't what you need to understand. What youi need to ask is *when*.'

I s looked blankly at Enn, but Enn seemned to have grasped it quikcer than me. 'You eman - it's soon?' they said. T'The ship is going to come back past here soon?'

'That's right!' He said. '10 points. You've got it.'

;So when? When is it due?'

jjjjjjjjj Enn had stood up from the urgency. T I n I had never seen them so agitated.

'Do you know for millenia millennia we didn't know when t would be? There was no clock to asay how log we had been thrown back in time of for. It was only when you lot arrived on the Ark that we hasd any date to go by. And t when you told us, boy! We realised we were practically already in the final hours of our days. A mere 5000 years between then and now [confirm when done timeline]. You had a brief period to enjoy a condensed version of civilisation and now - sorry! - you're the poor sods who are alive to see it all pop out of existence. 'Cept you wont see it, of course. Cos you'll pop out of existence too.'

'And what do you intentd to do about it, Boundless?' Enn was not shouting, but I could tell that they wanted to. They had a look of such determination on their ca face and I couldn't have admired them more than right then. Who else, when being told that their world would end so completely uand utterly that none o f it would h eveer have happened, would  just immediatlely jump into action? Only Enn.

[Name] looked up at their marked chagne of tone. 'Do?' he sounded defensive now. 'Nothing! There's nothing to do. It's time and space we're talking about here, it a only bends so far. Wev'e had way moer time than anyone should ever have, and now we really need to remember that it all has to stop at some point. And I for one am looking forward to it.' He looked into the middle distance, pictureing some imagninary blissful non-future. I'If I'm doomed never to die, at least give me non-existence. An upgrade to death, if you will. Just anything. An end. Humans are supposed to getendings entdings. It sin't fair to be trapped like this!' He hit the table with his fist, but accidentally smashed his hand right onto his whiskey la galss. The glasss shattered instantly, and the

[so this Boundless was the cultural ambassador for earth animals?]

shards stuck into his hnd like a [meta[hor].  He screamed and jumped up, swearing loudly. He spent a couple of seconds getting his breathing back under control, and then started to pick the larger shards out of his hand, sucking the breaht in through his teeth as he did so. 'Pain,' he said, in a tight voice that now sounded a lot less drunk. 'You never get used to it. One of those thigns in human nautre  you know? There aren't that many either, that you can never ignore. There's a reason [otherBoundless] has started getting into some pretty hefty self-mutilation, between you and me,'

[A kinky pair of Boundless who are still a couple, or at least ruling together? They are the ones who are pleasure driven, or at least sstimulation driven?']

'Anyway, you will get to see hwat happens next at this point,' he said, looking at us more clearly than he had r during all of the last two hours. I'm due a reaset in a minute or so. I'd get over there by the odd door though - or watch through the hatch from the other room. Glass is going to get everywhere.'

Despite having just been told when nd how my world was oig going to end, I couldn't help but be curious about how a human body could reset itself. I followed Enn through to the other room and peered through the glass.

'REady - set - GO!' he yelled, and glass exploded out of his hand. He hedl it far out from himself and sti covered his eysses and looked away. [This wouldn't work, surely - because the glasso or whatever would just injure the m again? Neverending loop? And where is the force coming from? But what selse? does the glass just s disappear? It is nvever broken? Does he ujust find himeself holding the shards instead?]

'What are we going to do now? I' I asked T Enn as soon as we were alone. REally it didn't sound like there was much that could be done, but they j were being strong and practical so I would try to be too. 'j What can we do to stop it? It's kind of already hasppened, hasn't it>? So isn't it inevitaable?'

Enn was frowning, trying to understand it. It diidn't work. She They put their hands  up to their head and tried to focus. It was still too complicated.

'OK.' they said. j 'OK.' jiiiiiiiiiii Let's look at it like this: If the Boundless ship had never and will never crash - so say we somehow stopped it crashing, I don't know, but by warning it or something not to get too close - then

This is where I got to by the 20th hour (1am)

the Boundless would never land and the j Bonundless would never have to go through all that endless dying and t stuff, which would be good fo them, but then eventually WE would never be here, because w they would never tirick us into comeing t down to them and so h they would be we would have continued int  the Ark to wherever it was supposed tob e going to, adn finally, the tihing is, the thing IS, we catually have to make tsure that the Boundless ship DOES crash, but it j might while it's crashing just ahppen happen to destrogy the whole wworld, because of the thing you were saying about the big metieords and things, they have to be jijkeij

[So the Boundless - the majority of the ones who are still talking ot eacho other adn sharing some of their responsibilities - are plnanning on preventing the spaceship from ever crashing by getting the Ark to crash into it first while it's still out is n speace? Except there is division within the Boundless of course buecause even though it means they will never have had to experience the endless deathjs and so on, they will still have been wiped out and all their wokr in building their societies will be rendered meaningless and eall their accumulate d experience too, and if they have any atttackhment to that at all then they probably won't want to ocompletely lose it all. - Perhaps TehchyBoundless is the one who is the biggest proponent of the 'crash the Ark itno the Boundless' plan because jijhe  jjjj he has dedicated his whole societyt towards achieving this task, and that is why he doesn't really care too much about his subjects and only sees them as tools and a means to an end - and when the other Boundless rebel/his plan is threatened, he has the resources to go ahead on his own to do it, becasue because his techy empire has been built up over the last fefw centuries to obviously work towards a back-up plan as well. So he becomes the ultimate threat - and perhaps somehow has o be destroyed?]

broken down into smaller bits before they hit or they'll wipe out everything, right?'

I was amsazed they remembered that much. I wouldn't have thought a non-Techy would have bene able to understand this stuff that jjj jjjjj they had never heard of before . 'How did you remember all that stuff?' I said  I didn't know you listened that closelye!'

'I always listen to you. Your'e worth listenint o ot.' Enn muttered. I could have hugged them so I did.

#

*** Enn sees Lucy & [TechyBoundless] arriving - rescue/escape from Lake through tunnels

[Do a Jack Sparrow and steal the very boat/airship that they arrived on??]

[Enn hears Lucy talking to [TechyBoundless] -> fully convinced that Lucy is not going to protect them.]

 

I was lost in thought (I have never been very good at mdeditationg for long stretches o f time - I wouldn't mkake a good [contemplative society]. A sound cut through to me and brought me back to the present - a loud, invasive kind of sound, which even in this nversion o f nature was not welcome. I stood up and staredd down at the Lkake, but nothing had changed. Then I looked up at the opposite rim of the valley, and saw somehthing rising from below the shadow of the far valley - a bit, shiny iairship with polished metal exterior, gleaming windows, and a menacing air of a poisonous spider. [Would they have bothered bringing spiders with them? In the Ark?] It sailed through the air like a squat ball, zooming over the lake to the centre hwhere the Boundless lived and hovering there.

Suddenly I felt very expolsed stood here on the knoll, nearly at the edge of the rim of the valley. I would stand out if anyone looked this way. This had to be the same Thechy airship back - they had somehow found Thriteen! Or had they? Were they just clalling on the Boundless in case he had seen us on our way past?

I had to warn Thirteen. I had to get back across to the Boundless's island and get back in before the j jj they fuound her!

 

I started running towards the shoreline, trusting my feet to streer me while I tried to thiknk of some way to help. They were all inaccessible, right across there. [Maybe Boundless insistes they meet at the shore instead of on his sisland - very partiular about the island?]

What was I going to do? There was no way I could reach her! The hopelsesness of it didn't have time to drag me down though. I had to keep going, t o reach her and get her out of there. Whatever else happened, I had not brought her all this way just for her to get captured gagain.

I got back to the camp in a fraction of the time I had spent walking away from it, and my lungs felt aflame with the effort of running that fast - but the camp was empty. She had gone back, like I knew she had. I didn't dare shout to seei if she was nearby. I was only a few yards away from the edge of the treeline, and only a bit beyond that, the Techyies had parked their boat.

I crept carefully to the edge, and looked over to see the what was happening.

I found a handy bush and kept to the shadows - I felt fairly sure that as long as a Techy wasn't expecting tos see me, they wouldn't catch sight of me at a casual glacnce back a t the trees. I looked out and saw a small cluster of five TechyPolice stood near the edge of the water, one on and four off their boat. Their black suits looked pretty scary and very out of place in these calm surroundings. I gulped and crept closer, until there really was only one layer of cover left, so that I could hear what they were saying to each other with their strange accents.

'I wonder how long it'll take to flush her out of that old place?' the one closest to me was saying. 'It's a maze, I heard - leads right down into the old mines that the [HermitSociety] left, although half of that is probably filled with lava from [OldBill - name of volcano]. If I was her, see, what I'd do is make a run for it downwards. I wouldn't want to try and swim any way out, we'd easily get her then.' [Completely unrealistic for them to provide the missing info/escape route. It won't do. Will have to come up with something better. Anyway, for now - onwards!]

'Shut up, [number],' said the person standing next to them. 'You know it won't go like that. She won't be able to think fast enough on her feet for any of those manoeuvres. If I was her, I'd be panicking and get caught within two minutes.' [Also unlikely - these are police, they're not going to admit weakness!]

'Anyway, it'll probably take hours for one reason or another, that I do know,' the first one said. They sounded gloomy about the prospect. 'There isn't even anywhere to sit around here. And don't say I can go find a log, I don't like the look of that forest. Trees give me the wobbles, they're just not very civilised at all. Should all be fed to the engines to get everyone more working fuel, that's what I think.' They nodded sagely at their own advice.

'No-one gives a crap what you think, [number],' grumbled the other one.

What they had said had given me an idea. I had to get to the middle, that was still a problem, but once I was in, if I could just get to Thirteen first, then we could take our chances on the mines the TechyPolice had mentioned. Who knows? Maybe Thirteen had already found the way in and was even now making her escape down there, and I would just be running into the trap with no reason to do so. But I still had to try, even if it was stupid.

The guards shifted, and one by one they took their seats on the pebbles, spreading out a little into their own space. None of the others seemed to want to talk like the first one had - indeed, [number] sat away from the others looking just a little hurt, and started throwing pebbles into the Lake. I grinned to think of what [HermitBoundless] would think when he saw the wreckage of this part of the pool line.

An idea came to me - the only way to get across to the other side was by boat. The only boat available was the TechyPolice's own machine-heavy speed-boat. If only I could have summoned the otters, but I knew they didn't even respond to Thirteen calling them. Only [HermitBoundless] had built up that link and that trust with them.

So. The solution was simple, really - get onto the boat. But even though they were spread out, I would have no time at all to figure out what to do if I made a run for it and tried to sail off before they could catch me. No, I needed a better way than that. What would I do if I was really cunning, like a fox?

All I needed was a distraction. One minute of time alone with that boat and I felt sure I would have found the way of making it go. And didn't I have a thousand ways of creating noise in this forest?

I didn't go for subtle. I crept away again, until I felt safe standing up and walking swiftly back through the trees a short way around the Lake in [which?] direction. I didn't want to go so far as to be out of earshot.

The trap I had set for dinner yesterday (such a long time ago already, back when I had thought I was stuck in this place for at least another week) better be full. It had to have caught something. Now if ever was when I needed a bit of luck...

Yes! I had what I needed. A rabbit, snared but not very hurt, still alive and with the energy to keep running for a while. I had my distraction. I would need to attach something to it to make more noise. I cast around and as usual the forest provided. Over at the side of the trap was a big, rustly, brackeny, spindly type of bush [which?], which promised every chance of being very difficult to ignore when it was crashing through against other bits of undergrowth.

As quickly and quietly as I could, I lashed the bush to the squirming rabbit with my final pieces of cord. [Now didn't they already use it all?] The rabbit was panting with terror, but if it could just outrun whatever weapons those Techies had it would be away free instead of roasting over my fire. My stomach rumbled in regret. Oh well - it would have to do.

[OR - use the wolves? Get them to attack the TechyPolice? Again, why would they do that for Enn? Has Enn been trying to find a way to give them their natural reactions and instincts back?]

 Now... how to delay the noise to give me time to get back to the camp and ready to burst through to the boat? I wanted it to come from this direction, not

 

The rabbit burst out of the edge of the forest, screaming its almost-human scream [but Enn wouldn't have tortured it, though!] and pelting away along the pebble beach. [Nah, this is rubbish. Let's try it with wolves...]

The wolves crept out of the [maybe they would help if they understood that it was Thirteen who was in danger? But how would Enn be able to communicate that?] brush in one disciplined line, moving silently and slowly so that for a second, even as they moved clearly into view, only the one who had been speaking earlier noticed them. And for a second they didn't move either, so that the wolves had covered half the narrow strip of land before any of the Techy Police reacted at all.

'What - shit - look at that!' was what the chatty one managed to say, and at the noise of his voice the wolves broke into a trot (still perfectly synchronised) and closed the rest of the distance.

The speaker was busy fumbling for their gun and the others were only just turning around, going wide-eyed at the sudden proximity of these huge beasts, streaming swiftly and silently towards them across the pebbles on their padded paws.

As one, the wolves stopped dead, forming their trademark semicircle and enclosing all the Techy Police against the water. But the original speaker had got their gun out and was pointing it at the young wolf. The young wolf looked curious but didn't know what it was - I wanted to shout a warning, but then I would be in danger of being shot too -

Luckily, the big grey alpha was in control. They saw the first Techy go into attack mode and barked a swift command [too many swifts!]. Suddenly the whole pack was tense and ready to spring - and in another second, they pounced, each of them hitting a different Techy Police firmly in the chest and knocking them down like [metaphor. Not skittles!]. Any of them now considering the possibility of reaching their guns had to contemplate the possibility of the speed with which the jaws above them could rip their throat out first.

I jumped up and ran for the boat, between the wolves and people, some of whom were trying to tussle for control. I thought maybe they would have to make some bloodshed soon, the Techy Police who saw me pass shouted and tried to get free more firmly. But I had already reached the water's edge, sploshed in, and leapt over the side of their big boat.

This was a much more serious affair than the otter's tiny one-person rowing boat. It was large enough to fit three [LucySociety] tents in end to end. I walked quickly to the back, where I had seen them standing when they were steering [would have to have a closer view of what was going on to be able to take action/get there in time]. The controls looked simple in a way [although would they have ever come across the concept of a steering wheel?] - Thirteen had said that everything came down to buttons in her society, so maybe this big red one? - I tried it, and was rewarded with a growl from under my feet as the sleek machine came to life, much like the wolves had done back on the beach. I glanced back over and saw that the wolves were still in control, most of the Techy Police were too frightened to move, although the one closest who had been pinned by the youngest wolf was still squirming around, getting their gun out from under them and pointing it not at the wolf, but at me... I was only yards away...

I threw myself down under the cover of the [bannister? What's the sides of a boat's deck called??] just as a sharp bang and 'ping!' of metal showed me that they had indeed managed to get a shot off - and peeking back up, I could see the young wolf had been scared by the noise, and had sprung away from the Techy for a moment, so that even now they were lining up another shot towards me... [They would definitely shoot the wolf first - do I want to avoid the wolves dying or should I kill one of them off? Not the nice young one! :( ]

I grabbed every lever, button, and wheel I could see in front of me [would they even have these words for things?] and avoided the next shot because the boat suddenly jerked forwards, grating up onto the pebbles with its pointy end as the power was fed down to the propellors [wouldn't know that that was how to make it go]. The forward motion had come when I pressed a black little stick forwards, so I instinctively pulled it the other way -

With a painful grinding sound, the boat slowly gained purchase back into the water and pulled itself off the land. But this time there was nothing protecting me from the Techy with the gun, only about 5 metres of air, and they were running even closer to get the perfect shot...

I didn't know what to do. Even as my body told me to duck, or throw myself over the side, I felt frozen to the spot. The only thing in the world was that weapon getting closer, aiming unerringly, and their finger squeezing the trigger...

*Click.* The sound was quiet but it was also the most important sound in the world, so I heard it clearly. But there was no bang, and no sudden blackness. The Techy looked down at their gun, swore, and fumbled at their belt to grab more bullets - but even as they did so, the boat was picking up speed, and, still going backwards, I was roaring ever further away, becoming harder to hit by the second. And behind them, unnoticed, the young wolf was creeping up again, ready this time to rip their throat out...

I turned my attention away from them and to my more immediate task. The boat was beginning to veer to the left, so I tentatively tried to move the wheel thing the other way - it certainly had an effect, but too much of one, as the whole boat span in a wide circle and nearly made me start driving towards the shore again. But I corrected just in time by plunging the black stick forwards instead of backwards, and after roaring once more in protest and making the water seem to boil all around it, the boat took off again in the right direction, this time with the pointy end cutting ahead through the water like it was supposed to. I held on to the stick with one hand and the wheel with the other, and tried to stay straight while the whole boat shook under me and threatened to throw me off. The island ahead was growing bigger extremely rapidly. I glanced behind to see how far away the shore had become (very far - I was well out of bow range) [have them use cross-bows instead of guns? To make it more steampunk?] and it was only because of that that I saw the Techy Police creeping up behind me across the deck.

They didn't have a cross-bow, or I'm sure I would have been dead already. Instead they were coming at me holding a wickedly sharp, vicious-looking knife. I gargled a wordless cry, let go of both the steering wheel and the black stick, and dropped to the floor. It wasn't what my instincts said to do, which was to try and stay upright, and that was why I did it - to take them by surprise by doing something different from what they were expecting.

Their knife swished in mid-air above me, exactly where I had been standing. I could feel the boat already slowing down and the roar of the engine [woud they know about engines?] had died. I rolled sideways across the deck as the Techy Police swung down with their knife again. They were really going for it. Their knife rang as it collided with the metal deck, not a foot behind me.

I kept rolling all the way until I was stuck in the corner between the deck and the boat rail. I panicked then (I hadn't even had time to think before) because I couldn't move fast enough, and in two steps the Techy Police was standing over me again, about to bury their knife in my body.

I got my arm up against the side of the boat and pushed back, throwing my weight the other direction, back towards the Techy's legs. They shouldn't have got so close - I was able to grab their ankles and completely unbalance them. They landed with a thump as they went over backwards [wouldn't they actually fall forwards?] and I took the precious second that gave me to squirm up onto my knees and throw myself forward onto their arm that was holding the knife. I had my hands round his wrist and was wrenching the handle out of their grasp, but just then their other hand came from behind me and hit me hard round the side of my head. The stinging blow of it did not make me lose my hold, but I fumbled with the knife and we both dropped it onto the metal deck. Their free hand came shooting over my head towards it to pick it up again, but I was closer and I got my hand there before theirs. I managed a clumsy swipe and I dimly registered that I had hit the sharp edge with my bare hand, but it had the desired effect - the knife skittered away, teetered for a second underneath the bottom railing, and then plunged over the side and into the water.

I had no time for any feeling of relief though as the Techy Police had instantly turned their attention to beating me up. I still had their arm pinned but otherwise they were on top of me, and even with one hand they managed some pretty painful blows on my back, neck, and head. I knew I couldn't afford to carry on undergoing this onslaught. They were bigger than me and I certainly didn't want them to get back on their feet but I had no choice but to let them go.

They spun away from me, kicking out to catch the back of my leg and make me stumble on my own way back to my feet. I half-fell against the side of the boat and got a grip on the railing, suddenly aware that the next big danger would be falling over the side. I could swim, but not that well, and the sheer metal sides of the boat meant there was no way to climb back up. More to the point, they would quickly run me over in the water, and the boat was as big as a house [more appropriate metaphor] - wouldn't know house.

I knew that they were charging behind me from their heavy boot-falls on the accursed noisy deck. They were a bit overeager really - there was no need to move that fast to cover only three steps or so of distance. I did the only thing I could think of - I stuck my bum out. [!!!]

It wasn't dignified, but it didn't have to be. I managed to catch them just as they had shifted their weight to grab me, and they fell right onto my back. I twisted sideways and heaved upwards and over, giving everything I had to move the body on top of me and get them off their feet -

It worked. They rolled right over me and fell over the side of the boat, and although they made quite an impressive twist in the air as they went over, their hand missed the railing. They fell with a heavy splash.

I did not wait to see if they could swim. I ran - or stumbled, really - back to the controls and got the boat moving as quickly as I could. I did not look back. Their cries for help were covered by the roar of the engine.

 

You would think after all that activity, noise, and confusion, that there would have been a welcome party ready when I got to the island, but the landing deck was deserted. I hurried across to the door, and then paused, suddenly terrified to open it. Someone with a knife or a cross-bow could be waiting right behind that door. They could be waiting for me to be stupid enough to do something as simple as open it. I felt petrified with fear for a second.

Then I tried to tell myself that I was being silly, just like when I was scared of the dark as a child. There probably wasn't anyone. I opened the door.

There wasn't anyone. But the same fear, and hideous expectation of someone waiting to ambush me at every place where I couldn't see them, plagued me at every corner. But there was no-one all the way through the first three [rooms].

I had started creeping and had to remind myself that I needed to go faster. [Do the TechyPolice have walkie-talkies or something? Have they been able to stop the wolves and communicate with the TechyBoundless? Are there more guards with them in the place?]

I heard voices and slowed down. Down the next stairs I heard Lucy speaking, and I couldn't believe that they were here - what were they doing here? Was I completely wrong about the danger here? I had thought that this was it, the re-capture and everything.

Lucy was saying '[HermitBoundless], it's sweet that you won't tell us where the young Techy is, but it was you who called us, don't you remember? Just a few hours ago. You already told us that you had a Techy you called 'T' and a [LucySociety] with you.' They spoke in the patient way they always did, with an extra tinge of condescension. It was the way Lucy spoke to children. It had always been a comforting sound, something I had known since my babyhood, but now the words they were saying completely destroyed that effect.

[HermitBoundless] had told them we were here? He had betrayed us!

Now I could hear him shuffling and coughing in that way he did before he got angry. 'Ha! Yes. You can take them away, yes please, I never liked them,' He sounded pleased at the prospect.

'I will, [HermitBoundless] - I will take them back to their tribe, where they belong.'

'Actually, Lucy - ' This was a new voice, one I had never heard before, but instantly I thought they sounded like a Boundless [how would they tell?]. ' - I think I will need to first take this [LucySociety] for a mind-wipe as well. If they have been spending time with Thirteen then the information could very likely have spread.'

'Is that really necessary?' Lucy sounded shocked. 'I am sure if I just explain to them...'

'No, Lucy, be rational. We cannot take that risk. It would be stupid, frankly.'

'Yes, thanks very much [TechyBoundless], tell me how you *really* feel,' said Lucy. 'Well, stupid or not, you still need MY permission before you take any of my citizens [different word?] back to the Boundless. That's the agreement, so you're going to have to be nice to me if you want to persuade me about this...'

'Actually, I believe the agreement in this case is already void,' [apparently [TechyBoundless] is a bit like a lawyer!]. 'Your citizen interfered in a directly Techy affair. I have been patient as long as you have been cooperative, Lucy...'

'That sounded almost like a threat,' Lucy said, sounding almost amused. 'How patently absurd. There is really no need for that sort of thing. I do see your point, [TechyBoundless], so you can just carry on. None of this matters unless we can find them both first.'

'Well this has already taken far too long. We know at least one of them is in the building. I'm well of a mind to just blow this place up and get gone.'

'What? But you can't - '

'Noooo!' yelled [HermitBoundless], launching himself at [TechyBoundless].

'Oh, for goodness' sake,' [TechyBoundless] muttered, sidestepping easily and then shooting [HermitBoundless] through the head.

'[TechyBoundless]! You can't do that!' Lucy gasped.

'Oh, shut up Lucy, he'll survive,' snapped [TechyBoundless].

'That is hardly the point,' Lucy said, sounding outraged.

'Stop whining about it, or I'll kill you too, just for twenty minutes' peace!' [TechyBoundless] shouted.

Lucy drew themself up to full height, bristling with rage, but said nothing. [TechyBoundless] turned away from their furious gaze.

'Right. Guards? Get to it.'

A group of [TechyPolice], who had been standing in the corner looking straight ahead in a way that suggested that they were pretending not to see what was happening in front of them, snapped as one to stand straighter, saluted, and began to busy themselves with a series of large black boxes that had been stacked unceremoniously on top of [something that HermitBoundless cares about]. There were small packages of putty connected by long black cord (I later learned they were called wires) to each other. They spread out and placed these packages evenly around the room, working quietly and quickly and in a way that suggested they got a lot of practice.

'There,' [TechyBoundless] said approvingly. 'That should crack this place like an egg. It'll flood all the way down to the bottom layers. Without her suit Thirteen is definitely dead. Everyone knows that Techies can't swim.'

Lucy, who had watched all this with their arms folded in a tight knot and their frown carved deep into their skin, said '[TechyBoundless]. I must insist we look for a different way. This Thirteen person only came across the information by accident. They don't deserve to die. And we still do not know for sure that Enn is not here. While there is any doubt about the presence of my citizen being in danger, you cannot go ahead.'

'Oh can't I?' [TechyBoundless] was distracted, fidling with a small hand-held box into which all the black cords led. It had a big black button on it. I had no idea how this worked, but I was sure that that button was what would start the explosions. Techy life, although complicated, seemed to be simplifying in front of my eyes. Buttons did everything.

'No. You can't.' Lucy's voice was brittle but definite.

'They're just mortals, Lucy! One or two lost don't matter!' Now [TechyBoundless] sounded mildly exasperated.

'That is where you are so wrong, [TechyBoundless]. That's what you have never understood! Ugh, I can tell why I have spent the last four millennia doing everything I could to avoid you. This is just stupid. Who resorts to violence this fast? You've taken [HermitBoundless]'s home and you're going to blow it up! Well, I won't let you!' Lucy jumped for the little black box he held in his hand but before they could reach him, he calmly pressed the button. Lucy stopped with a strangled yell of frustration, but otherwise nothing happened. I had really expected that button to make a bigger bang...

But now, after so much apparent languid uncaring, [TechyBoundless] was finally showing some signs of movement and urgency. He nodded to the guards, who jogged towards the stairs in neat single file. [TechyBoundless] followed at a brisk pace. Lucy, however, still had not moved.

'You're just going to LEAVE them?' they said, gesturing disbelievingly at [HermitBoundless]. 'Right here on the floor, while they're already dead? Have you no heart at all?'

[TechyBoundless] barely paused. 'He's already dead, Lucy. It's not going to matter that he gets blown up while he's dead. And if he wakes up and drowns a few times, that'll just put a bit of excitement back into his life. God knows he needs it. This place is ridiculous. Have you seen the way he behaves with those pebbles? It's laughable.'

'No I haven't, I don't spend all my time spying on everyone!' Lucy shouted, but only to [TechyBoundless]'s retreating back. 'At least tell me how long I've got!' Lucy screamed. [TechyBoundless] paused one last time.

'Ah - three minutes. More like two, now.'

Lucy gave one last sound of extreme frustration, looked at [HermitBoundless], but then left them there and hurried after [TechyBoundless]. I was shocked. Lucy, leaving a person like that? When they weren't even at risk of dying if they didn't get out in time?

I was hidden squeezed into the gap I had found [insert where they hide earlier, before they start hearing the conversation - explain how they get a good view as well but how the guards don't go right past them]. I watched Lucy make their way up the stairs, willing them to go faster. I had thought on initially seeing them that I would want to get their help if there was an opportunity to grab them without [TechyBoundless] seeing, but now I knew I didn't trust them enough. I couldn't know that Lucy wouldn't just grab me and drag me to go get mindwiped by the Techies.

But as soon as they were gone I had to move. Now I could see the sparks burning up along the long black cords (wires) [OR just have a count-down timer? More olde-worlde if it's actual physical fuse wires?] and getting closer to the packages all the time. [BUT then they could just cut the wires so that they can't burn all the way along!]

I hesitated too by the [HermitBoundless]'s body, but then I sprinted onwards, towards the next staircase downwards. I had just judged Lucy so harshly for doing the exact same thing, but I knew there was someone here who would need saving a lot more than him - Thirteen would have no life resets if she died.

I was hurtling down all the staircases I could see, yelling her name as loud as I could now that I was sure I wouldn't be followed. I'd like to think that Lucy heard me, and wanted to come back for me, but I wasn't even sure they deserved that much credit.

My heart was beating so fast I could hear it leaping in my mouth, and I felt sick, but I was also running faster than I had ever been able to before. I ricocheted off walls and had to stop for heartstopping moments to see the next stairs, but I didn't stop screaming Thirteen's name for even a second.

'Thirteen! T! THIRTEEN!'

I had found my way down maybe fourteen floors before I heard something over my own shouts. It was the sound of heavy footstep chasing me. I span round, my mind instantly thinking that a [TechyPolice] had remained in ambush down here ready to grab me, even though that made no sense (your mind doesn't quite work right in a time like that), and I looked around wildly for a place to hide, but before I could, the person had reached the bottom of the last set of stairs. Thirteen cannoned round the corner, looking frightened and very surprised.

'Enn! What are you doing here?? You've got to shut up, the Techies are here for us! We have to hide!'

'No! You don't understand!' I grabbed her arm and started back towards the stairs, wondering how much time I had left before the whole place blew apart. 'There's a thing that is going to break the whole building, the water will get in, we'll be killed...' I was tugging at her but she was only stumbling along unwillingly, not fast enough, not understanding...

We had only made it back up three steps when I heard - or rather, felt - a BOOM from far above. The room around us creaked and swayed and we were both knocked backwards down the stairs, falling in a heap on top of each other.

We had seconds before the water made it down to us. 'RUN!' The sound I made was not even a scream, it was a screech, and this time Thirteen got the idea. We tore for the stairs and took them four or five at a time, Thirteen somehow getting ahead of me with her longer legs. But that was good because it took a vital moment for her to find the next staircase, never in a logical place, and bound towards it, giving me a moment to catch up with her, but never wasting any time having to slow down. Above my own breathing and almost sobbing in panic, I could hear the roaring, a bigger roaring getting closer and closer. The building around us was shaking, the walls were groaning, leaks were starting to spray through tiny fractures as the building lost integrity. Thirteen screamed as a jet of water hit her in the face, but I just hit into her back and yelled 'Keep going!'

We made it to the final level just as the stairs became a waterfall. Every gap between every floorboard sluiced water down towards us. There wasn't much light down here [does [HermitBoundless] even use electricity? How else does he light up a big underwater base?] but from what I could make out, there was nothing. Not even any furniture. Just a big rope and pulley system with ropes leading down a deep dark mineshaft. Rubble filled piles where he hadn't yet got his animal slaves to carry it out. So this was the big hole he was digging [he's using it to try and get to the original 8th timepod crash site? How does he know it is there? Just following an instinct? Doesn't make sense.]

That hole was buying us maybe another thirty seconds, as the water poured down it like a tap. But it wasn't going to make space for the whole lake. Besides, the ceiling above us had the weight of the whole lake and the whole building about to bear down on it - it would collapse before we could take ten breaths.

'Here!' screamed Thirteen, surging through the knee-high water towards a dark corner. I sloshed after her, without hope but only knowing I didn't want to be apart from her when I died. We were a team.

But she had seen something I hadn't. There in the corner was a doorway, and it looked like a pretty solid metal doorway too.

'Quick!' Thirteen was already turning the circular thing in the middle of the door to the left, but it looked heavy and it was only going far too slowly. I threw myself at it and turned too, each clunk getting us closer to the release...

The water was up to our thighs in the ten seconds it took us to get the wheel all the way round to the moment that it opened. There was a definite sucking sound and the door was free, but closed anyway by the weight of the water. Thirteen and I heaved against it, succeeding only in pulling it a few centimetres away from the doorway. The water rushed through to this new opening, and despair overwhelmed me for a second - it would be flooded out before we could ever get through.

The wetness was up to our waists, and Thirteen lost concentration at the feeling, looking down and then looking at me, her eyes wide in the darkness. 'Come on! Keep going!' I yelled, and she threw herself back into it.

We were starting to float a bit in the water, and keeping our footing on the slick metal floor underneath us was really hard, but inch by inch we were making progress. The water was fighting us though, and was so much stronger and only getting more so - it piled up against the door, wanting to close it again.

[There is no logic for a door being here... unless this is a way to the tunnels to the FreeCity - did [HermitBoundless] need a route through to them for some reason? Think much harder about this later!]

Finally it was just about big enough, and I risked letting go of the wheel to grab the edge of the door instead, as I was closer. My arms screamed as I tried to hold the door open using only my fingertips, and if Thirteen hadn't still been heaving at the wheel I wouldn't have managed it. Somehow I got round to the other side of the door, and by pushing my whole weight against it, I could keep it open a bit better. 'Come on!' I screamed to T, terrified that she wouldn't hear me over the overwhelming roar of the lake. The water was up to my shoulders now, but T was taller, she could still move a little bit. Her hand appeared round the side of the door and I instantly felt the weight of the water and the pressure double on my shoulder as she let go from the other side. I grunted and strained every muscle, scrabbling with my feet against the floor to try and find a foothold, but it was slipping...

T's head and shoulders appeared, and now if I let go then she would be cut in half as the door slammed - I didn't even dare take a breath, even though the water had started lapping over my chin - I couldn't do it...

Then T's arms seized me from behind and pulled me away, and I felt a bolt of fear as I was dislodged and the door slammed closed, but of course, of course she was behind me, she had got through, it was OK...

I grabbed her in what was now the total darkness as the door sealed behind us. The water was over my nose and for a horrible second I couldn't find the floor. Then my feet found it and I pushed up, and was able to suck in a huge coughing gulp as I jumped up. Thirteen, with her few extra inches, was better off as she could breathe without having to bounce, but on the other hand she had the disadvantage of being terrified of the water. I couldn't tell if it was still coming in, but the roaring seemed muffled. The darkness though was now absolute and gave me no time to feel any relief about the escape from immediate drowning. I needed with every fibre of my being [cliche] to know where we were.

'Enn! Enn, oh my God, what are we going to do??' Thirteen's voice reassured me even though it sounded half hysterical. We were going to do something. We had each other. We could figure it out together.

'Can you - ' I coughed - 'help me up?'

'Oh - here,' Thirteen said, and I grabbed onto her. From what I could feel, it seemed like her arm. I clung on and I knew I was making her panic worse as my weight threatened to drag her down, but I was just using her for a moment while my other arm felt around to try and find the edges of the space. My flailing hand hit rough rock, and I grazed my knuckle. So we were not in the building anymore, and that meant that we might not be instantly at risk of crushing.

'Thirteen! What's above us?'

She freed one of her arms from where I was clinging to her and felt upwards. I heard her grunt as she stretched to reach.

'Feels like - rock,' she said, her voice strained.

'We're in a cave! Thirteen, I think we're safe - or at least - a bit safer,' I finished lamely, as even in the dark I could feel Thirteen's incredulous look. 'Is the water still getting in, T? It's slowed down at least, right?'

The door hadn't given out, and if it hadn't by now, that meant it might hold under the pressure. Now if it was just watertight...

Thirteen moved under me to splash over towards roughly where we had come in by. I heard her hand hit metal, and then a pause while she searched for the edge.

'It's - there's a bit. A trickle.' She sounded hopeful. 'Hardly anything, really,'

But I felt crushed. We were doomed after all. No matter if the seal on the door was *nearly* watertight - there could still only be a finite amount of space above us. This narrow corridor of cave would fill and we would have no more air left.

'We have to get moving,' I said, trying to keep the hopelessness out of my voice. It was nearly impossible. 'Just - pray that this tunnel goes up.' At least, I reasoned, it had to go somewhere - [HermitBoundless] wouldn't have put it there for no reason.

'But - you're too heavy - I mean, I don't know if I can carry you, Enn,' Thirteen sounded wretched. 'My face is only just out of the water as it is...'

I had had a minute to clear my head though. 'I'm fine,' I said, letting go of her. 'I can swim. You just focus on yourself. Come on, one step at a time.'

Half bouncing, half treading water, I followed Thirteen away from the door by the simple measure of moving forwards until I bumped into her back. Then I would wait a few seconds and do it again. Thirteen didn't complain. Indeed, in this situation the human contact was very encouraging.

'I can feel both walls,' Thirteen said, and I imagined her with her arms stretched out. 'I think - yes, they're getting narrower...'

I didn't have the breath to tell her to keep going, but she did anyway.

I didn't really notice, because I was swimming, but a squeak followed a few moments later from Thirteen. 'Enn! The floor is going down!'

Oh shit. Oh my God. We were doomed.

Thirteen's breath was getting shorter and faster and louder. I had a feeling she didn't like this enclosed space. The hidden walls and the weight of the water pressed in on me on all sides and I desperately tried to keep a clear point in my mind despite the rapidly encroaching panic on all sides.

But I couldn't. It was hopeless. I succumbed, I could feel myself succumbing to the panic. There was no way out. The trickling water would slowly overtake us until we were entirely gone.

'Wait,' said Thirteen after a minute. 'Let's - let's try and apply logic, all right?'

I held on to her voice. It was my only route to sanity right now.

'So. So,' Thirteen's voice sounded thin and scared, but she carried on. 'We only need to think about how the water came in here, right? There wasn't that long while we opened the door. It didn't fill up totally. It has to go somewhere, down here. That door wouldn't go nowhere. So... There wasn't much time, but it still managed to fill nearly to the ceiling, but if the path goes down, it would have taken much longer, don't you see? The water wouldn't be so high at the entrance, it would have all drained down. So. I think I see it, Enn. This dip can only be two things - either it ends as a dead end a little way down, which would be terrible but it wouldn't be logical for this tunnel to go nowhere at all, or it would be like a sort of U-shape, do you see? We have to consider this kind of thing when we design the tubes and injections for the suits. It's physics, water fluids and so on. You don't want an air-bubble to get stuck if the tube gets bent into a U-shape, it completely blocks the flow! So I think Enn, I think that it can only go down for a little while, and then come up again and carry on - oh God, I hope I'm right - but even so, we have to go down into the water and... swim through the complete darkness with no air - Enn, I can't swim!!'

My mind was too busy scrabbling around to understand the image that Thirteen was trying to make for a minute. Then I finally saw it - a short dip, and then it would come up on the other side! And on the other side would be more air, and lots of it probably. As long as the tunnel wasn't too thin - and why would it have been carved out if it went thinner than it was possible to walk down? - then it shouldn't be too far to swim while we held our breath. But Thirteen would never make it. She couldn't swim. Just the panic alone would prevent her from getting through fast enough.

'I'll go first,' I said, after a few horrible seconds of silence. 'I'll go and see if I can find the other side. And then I'll come back for you, OK?'

The unknown of it was terrifying, but after I had done it once I figured coming back wouldn't be so hard.

I carefully swam past Thirteen in the tunnel. I didn't wait long, I could feel the water rising around us even as I paddled to stay afloat. A whimper from Thirteen confirmed it. 'Enn! I'm on my tip-toes!'

There would be no time to come back for her. We would have to go together, now.

'Thirteen. T. Listen. We'll go together, OK? All you have to do is hold onto my hand, right, and keep walking forwards as best as you can, OK? The trick to holding your breath is to stay calm and keep your heart-rate slow. Come on, let's get as far as we can before we have to duck in.'

T and I moved maybe another metre along (although distances also meant nothing in this blackness) but then I had to stop as T screamed and went under with a gurgle. I tried to turn to grab her, but in another second she resurfaced, sounding a little further back.

'Enn! It drops away, right here!'

I next second had hit my head on the ceiling as it dropped in front of me. I tried to imagine what it could be. A staircase, perhaps? Oh shit - how far down, and then along, would the staircase go before it went up again? But it couldn't be far, the water hadn't filled up that much. It had to go somewhere.

'OK, Thirteen, are you ready?' I was already taking deep breaths into my lungs and trying to feel the energy oxygenate me all the way down my cold limbs.

But Thirteen had started to cry. 'I c-can't do it, Enn, I can't...'

'You CAN!' I didn't want to get angry but there was no time to come up with anything less blunt. 'You can do this, Thirteen, you got through that door back there and you can walk down some stairs and up again! Do you hear me?'

I heard her rein in her sobs and try and slow down the breathing to big shaky breaths.

'That's it,' I said, as encouragingly as I could. 'Now, OK, I'll reach backwards, you take my hand, keep one arm free to help you push the water out of the way, OK?' She grabbed it and held tight, fiercely, and already I found it much more difficult to stay afloat in the water. 'OK - deep breaths, and stay calm.' I took another deep breath until I could feel myself getting light-headed, but then I knew I was procrastinating. Thirteen was timing her breaths to mine.

'On three,' I said. 'One - ' breath - 'Two - ' breath - 'Three - ' breath, and I plunged forwards into the invisible water.

It felt like I was not moving anywhere, and when I did move forwards, Thirteen's grip on my arm seemed to just tug me back again. I thought of the infinetessimal progress we were making and had to remind myself firmly that the point was to stay calm. It did not help that I was hitting the ceiling above me, scraping my back and hitting my head. I gave up trying to swim with my free arm and started groping my way along the ceiling instead, feeling as far ahead of me as I could and willing myself to somehow pull myself towards that point, kicking hard with my legs (but trying to avoid kicking Thirteen behind me).

After a few seconds it got easier, as we found a desperate sort of rhythm. I tried to time my surges forward regularly with my arm-pulls and as Thirteen figured this out, she managed to tug me back less each time, even sometimes find a way to push off something herself. But after another few seconds it was getting harder again, and we were still going down. My lungs were starting to feel the burn, and we were still going really slowly. Every time I reached out I felt so sure, hoped so much that this time I would feel a change and it would start upwards again. But no - not the second time, third, fourth, fifth...

My ears were starting to go. I would have to let some air out soon, my lungs were full to bursting. All I had to guide me was this rough ceiling, pinning me down in the endless water.

And then, two arm-lengths later, I felt it - it changed. The ceiling definitely turned a corner. It was going up! But just as hope burst anew in me, I felt Thirteen's grip slacken on my arm. She had lost air already? But then, she had never been underwater before at all. She didn't know how to do it.

I grabbed desperately with my hand as hers loosened, and found her wrist. I pulled, but there was not enough grip with my one hand on the ceiling to move us both barely inches at all. I could feel Thirteen sagging, and sinking lower, dragging me down too, away from the guiding ceiling. I thrashed desperately, the bubbles leaking out of my mouth in bursts, far too big. Then I got a hold of myself and tried to kick smoothly, find the resistance in the water itself to push against...

With a bump I felt us hit the floor. My feet scrabble for purchase and I tried to arrange my weight down over my legs. Then I pushed off with all my strength. We floated through the water for a few moments and then crashed into the floor again. This time it took longer to get my feet under me and try again, and now I really was out of air... Thirteen was just a dead-weight, making everything three times harder... Again I pushed off, but I had no sense of how much progress I had made. Again, and I could feel the energy draining from my burning limbs. This time when we came to the floor I could only crawl along, trying to reach, pull, tug Thirteen along, and do it again, again, again, as the floor inched up a slope that was far, far too gradual...

I was slowing down. I had nothing left. I tried to kick feebly, but I knew it was hopeless. All I could do was hold on to Thirteen. I would not let her drift away from me, not here in this horrible underground drowned grave...

I felt my limbs give up, and all I could feel in this water-world was my fingers clenched around Thirteen's wrist. I concentrated my last thought on not breathing the water, no matter how much my lungs wanted to, or thought it would help. We drifted somewhere between the floor and ceiling - there was no sense of direction left at all any more...

And just like that, I felt my face break the surface of the water. My body sucked in air in a desperate whoosh that was bigger than just a breath, and my limbs restarted. I kicked and thrashed, I couldn't even see if Thirteen had got her own face out of the water yet, whether she was breathing, but she still felt limp...

The ceiling bumped my flailing hand again, and then it was out of reach, and then my kicking legs found the floor rising under me. I half fell the rest of the way onto the shoreline, and collapsed next to Thirteen with my legs still in the water, shuddering and breathing those huge death-breaths.

Beside me, Thirteen was deathly still. I tried to get my jelly arms to obey me and heaved myself over to her. The best I could do was hit her on the chest, and then heave her over to be face-down. Oh God, Thirteen - please, please don't be dead...

#

* Sees/finds the escape pod and have weird pre-deja-vu

[Find it because [TechyBoundless] tries to use explosives to reach them, it dislodges a hidden tunnel - but also causes the mines to start flooding if the lake breaks through the bottom?]

[Also see what happened to the [HermitBoundless]'s race? Are the tunnels half mines, half cooled lava?]

 

'Thirteen! Thirteen!'

The voice seemed far away, but it was the only thing in the world, so it held me here. I began to feel again - the blackness didn't lift, but I felt the cold, and the air, and the terrible feeling as if my chest had collapsed in and now there was nothing but pressure where there should be space in the vital spaces in my body.

I reacted without thinking, gagging at the air that didn't seem to want to go in. Then my own muscles took hold of me around the middle and squeezed again and again, making me choke even worse, but I felt the water come up and out and I heaved against the ground, which was how I found the ground still solid and rough underneath me. I held on, limbs shaking, waiting for it to be over -

And then finally, finally, I got some air.

It wasn't enough, but it was a just adequate to stop me passing out again. As soon as the air hit my waterlogged lungs I started coughing, spluttering, still spewing water, but in between the retches I found the tiny spaces where I could gasp a little more air in. And gradually the dreadful pressure in my chest eased, and became instead an intense burning, but at least I could breathe again. Every part of my lungs and throat felt raw and hurt, and my arms collapsed underneath me as soon as I had finished retching, but the ground under my cheeks felt solid. I felt so heavy, like I couldn't even lift one part of me off the floor. I had never felt so weak. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine being held in the safe cocoon of my suit again. It was the only thought that my mind could hold. I knew I had nearly died, and I knew that the only way I would ever feel safe again would be if I could be surrounded in the safe armour of my suit.

'Thirteen,' said that voice again, and I almost felt curious enough to try and find it. But I didn't care, I was too tired. Didn't they nearly dying was enough to make you want to sleep for a thousand years?

'Oh God. Thank God you're alright, Thirteen,' said the voice. It sounded familiar. [Might be going a bit far to suggest that she wouldn't remember Enn after only two minutes underwater?] 'We made it though. You were right. It went down and then up again, although I thought for a bit it might never do that. Oh God, you scared me going limp like that T. We were so nearly gone, I couldn't swim any more...'

I suddenly knew who it was. Of course! It was Enn! And with that knowledge some of the sensations that I could feel at my numb skin coalesced and made more sense. It was their hand, resting on my back, gently stroking back and forth. No-one had ever done that - except if maybe when I was a baby? - but no-one can remember that far back. I didn't feel quite as bad about not having my suit any more though - just still as though I was very young, instead.

We stayed like that for a long time. After a while I became aware that my legs were still under the water, and I found a bolt of terror that shot me out of the water and towards the higher ground. But after scrabbling that little way and shaking my legs convulsively, I had used up the meagre supply of energy I had regained, and I slumped back. I felt Enn heave themselves up to lie beside me, and they actually curled right up to me, covering my whole back and holding me gently around the middle. I would normally have been not OK with the physical contact, but I was beyond that kind of worry right now. And anyway, it helped us both as the waves of shivering came, overwhelming us with the cold and leaving us both with the spasms through every limb and inside every muscle. We didn't speak, but we shared our warmth and slowly, we both recovered.

Eventually, I felt Enn shift behind me, and then their warmth left as they sat up. Their breathing was still tired, but calm now, and the shivering had left. I still felt like I didn't want to move for a long, LONG time, but now I knew enough and had come back to myself to know that we couldn't do that. We had a problem. We had to keep moving until we had found a way around it.

I dragged myself up into a sitting position. My chest still hurt and I felt sick from all the water I had swallowed, plus my limbs were about as mobile as a floppy [metaphor]. But I would keep going. As long as Enn had the strength to keep rescuing us, I would stay rescued. It was the most I could manage for now.

'Okay,' said Enn, and their voice sounded really loud in the stillness. The lake must have stopped roaring, as even through here we would have been able to hear it [would they?]. That meant there wasn't any more water coming, right? But there was also no way back. We would have to go on, and hope that this tunnel still did what we had trusted it to do, which was to go somewhere.

'Can you walk, do you think?' Enn said, quieter this time. We had both been too battered to move quickly or talk loudly.

'I'll try,' I said, and my voice was croaky and ached with sharp shards as it grated against my raw throat.

'Here, my hand is just in front of you I think,' Enn's voice said. 'Just reach up, I'll help you,'

I lifted my arm with what felt like much more effort than usual, and found a part of their arm. I worked down to their hand, and our clumsy fingers closed firmly around each other. Their arm stayed rock steady as I pulled on it to get my legs under me. It took much longer than it should have done.

'I'm sorry,' I said, in my shredded voice.

'Why? Don't be. You made it, and I don't know if I could have done if I had never been in the water before. You were brilliant, Thirteen.'

'But my legs - I'm so pathetic, I can hardly move!' I whispered.

'Hey, it's easier for me. I didn't half drown. I wish we could fix you up with a good long rest, but that would be stupid. We don't know how far we have to go. And we're only going to get weaker.'

I didn't feel as though I had the strength to contemplate this, but I just tried to not think about it.

'Can you feel the walls? Or the ceiling?' Enn asked.

I realised I had been stooping, just in case I hit my head. I straightened up gingerly, but nothing happened. I reached up with my arm as high as I could, but I still didn't reach anything. And neither of us were crammed against the wall, so the space had got a lot wider too.

'A cavern?' I rasped. [How much awareness would Thirteen have of any natural formation at all?]

'Must be. But the floor is still sloping upwards. Come on, up is good by me.'

I agreed, and the thought gave me some motivation to try walking. We were still holding hands, and neither of us felt the need to stop as we slowly shuffled forwards. The floor was uneven, just rough rock, so we both had to half-catch each other as we hit a snag in the surface, but we kept going. The space stayed wide. I had my free arm out as far as I could to the right, until my arm got too tired, but there was nothing to feel. It was disconcerting, moving through the unknown without even any light to guide us. [Would there be stalactites, stalagmites, other things to trip them up?] I soon began to wonder if we were still going in a straight line.

'We've got to be careful not to start going around in circles,' Enn said to my left, which was so similar to my own thoughts that I felt startled. 'When you're lost in the forest and try to stick to a straight line, you always find yourself going in a circle eventually. It's very hard to navigate in the forest until you've familiarised yourself with the land. Still, at least the floor is still going up overall, wouldn't you say?'

'Yeah,' I croaked, and then said 'Ow!' because I had walked into the wall.

'T? What is it?'

Enn fumbled over to join me, and felt the wall while I moved my bruised shins around, trying to work the pain out of the bump.

'I think it's maybe sort of the start of another corridor?/tunnel?' Enn said, sounding interested. 'It doesn't seem to be closing up on my side. But that means we've found an edge! This is brilliant. Thirteen, if you keep your hand on this then we will at least have some sort of guidance. It'll lead us onwards.'

Just like before with the U-bend, a diagram image appeared in my mind of whether we were actually in one big room, in which case we would walk all the way round the space in a wobbly circle until we got back to the water again. I tried to banish the image. Still, it was something more than we had had. We would follow it.

With the wall on my right we seemed to make faster progress, as we felt more sure about where we were going. After a little while Enn said that they could feel the wall on their side too, so Enn was right - the passage was narrowing, and still with that gentle slope upwards. I could not at all tell whether that was the same thing as straight though. The passage seemed to be natural, and as such there were all sorts of little twists and turns.

We plodded on in silence, and after a while every part of me ached, but nowhere worse than my chest, and I could feel my arm trembling just with the effort of holding itself up to feel the wall next to me.

[OK, where does it go? Ooo, the centre of the volcano that destroyed [HermitBoundless]'s people? So he comes here sometimes to sort of pay his respects to the volcano/lava? But would that mean they would have to walk all the way under a mountain beside the valley before they started to have any light from the lava? And that's too far away from the time pod/where that is supposed to have landed? Well anyway, they can't survive for long like this, they have no food or anything. Has the lake reached the lava? Wouldn't the lava be much further underground than this? Where could the flood have caused the change in the tunnels to lead them to the pod? So many problems with this section! And in the end, it's only to get a clue/a bit of neat foreshadowing...]

Eventually, my legs started shaking too. I tried not to say anything, but there was no point denying the fact that I was exhausted. Finally my body decided to tell Enn for me when I next hit a rough patch of ground and stumbled. My leg couldn't get under me again quick enough and I fell heavily, just managing to bring my arms up to break my fall. I lay winded, and doubted whether there was any way I could get back up again.

'Thirteen, are you all right?' Enn sounded so concerned, instantly bending over me to try and find where I had gone. 'Ugh, if only I could *see*!' Enn muttered, exasperated.

'Just - have to - live with it, I suppose,' I said.

'Oh good, you're all right. But did you hurt anything on your fall?' they were still fussing. Suddenly I found it annoying instead of comforting.

'Yeah, I'm fine, quit worrying,' I snapped, although the effect was lessened because of my rough voice. 'I just need to sleep, Enn. I'm too tired to go any further.'

'Sleep - right here? But there's only rough ground...'

'There's only rough ground everywhere, Enn. This is all there is. Please, not for long, but let's just sleep, OK? And then we can carry on after I've had a rest.'

My eyelids were already closing as I tried to persuade them. I mumbled off to a stop, and then felt myself slipping away. I heard Enn sigh and arrange themselves awkwardly on the uncomfortable ground next to me. I nestled into their shape without thinking, and was soon gone.'

 

***

 

I don't know how much later it was when I woke up. Enn was still sleeping beside me, I could feel their comforting weight and hear their soft breathing.

I stretched and tried to move, but the aching in all of my limbs was bone-deep. [Cliche!] Still, I felt slightly less wiped out than I had straight after nearly drowning. I was aware enough to know that I felt hungry, and very thirsty, and ill.

I stood up, gently disengaging myself from Enn's hold, and spent a while working out the kinks before I felt strong and ready enough to wake them. I sat down beside them and shook them gently by what I thought was probably the shoulder - the complete dark was still all-consuming, but quite a bit less overwhelming than before. It is amazing how much a human can adapt to, even without a suit, in no time at all. [Platitude! Remove!]

Enn came round groggily. I could just imagine their face, and how it would look, all scrunched up and sleep-ridden.

'Are we still alive?' they asked.

I laughed. 'Yes, looks like it,' I said, and was pleased to find that my throat already hurt a little less than it had before.

'Ah. Right. We better carry on then.' Enn worked themself up to a standing position with quite a few groans. 'Oh, my old bones were not meant for this,' they complained. 'It's all right for you, you young spring chicken [?!]. Some of us have seen more than 30 years on this planet, you know,'

'Really? You're over 30?'

I didn't mean to sound so shocked, but Enn just really didn't seem like they were so old. It was the same sort of feeling I got when I thought about how they were a parent, of three children no less. It just seemed so different from the Enn I knew.

Now it was Enn's turn to laugh. 'Of course I am! I'm well on my way to becoming an elder and helping Lucy directly with their rounds of the tribes. Well, actually, I'm still in my prime. I'm one of the main hunters for my tribe, you know.'

'I can believe it. I've seen you in action,' I said, smiling. [Have a scene showing Enn catching something with their slingshot/bow and arrow/spear or something back while they are crossing the mountains.]

'How old are you then, anyway?' Enn asked.

'24. That's old for my world really - I've already been a worker for ten years, you know. We don't have such old children like you do.'

'What? That's awful!' Enn said, and I could not understand the amount of outrage and shock in their voice.

'No it's not! It's just the rational thing! By 14 most children are old enough to work!'

[Would Enn even find this so horrifying? Surely more the removing-from-parents thing. Their own children would be learning how to function in their society all the time and by 14 might be considered quite adult?]

We continued bickering, but nothing could get too heated while we were holding hands. I was grateful for it though, as it kept both of us from thinking too much about our situation. It was pretty horrifying if we were to look at it straight-on. I mean, it was rational to think that we were both going to starve to death pretty soon. Or not even soon - that was the more terrible part.

Still, I felt like we got quite a long way, and I had become used to the twisting and turning of the tunnel. Sometimes one or other of us would lose contact with the wall beside them, but it would soon be back, and it did not often get much narrower than both of us walking abreast. I couldn't figure out if it was a tunnel or a natural system of caves. [What would she know about it?]

After a while, and many many twists, the ground seemed to start going downwards more frequently than up. Neither of us said anything about it, but we held hands a little tighter.

'Do you hear that?' Enn said, breaking off from our topic about which society's method of raising children was better.

I listened. Enn always heard things sooner than me. I supposed it was from the constant noise on the factory floor, or maybe it was something about being a hunter in the forest for all of their life.

In another few shuffling steps I could hear it - the roar of water, gushing and rushing past. It was still some distance away, but as we continued onwards it got undeniably closer. We both slowed down, without discussing it. Neither of us wanted to find the water again. But there was nowhere else to go, which was why we were walking through this dark place in the first place. [cliche, repetition]

We felt our way around another twist of the path to the left, and the spray on our faces and the loud roar of the water told us we were very close now. But still I felt no wall of water crash into me.

'Go carefully!' Enn shouted over the noise of the water.

'You too!' I shouted back. We inched forwards, feeling every part of the floor with our feet before committing to the next step.

After another few of these slow steps I felt something land on my face. I tugged my hand away from Enn's urgently to reach up and feel what it was. My fingers came away wet - there was a steady, fine spray being sent from the roaring water ahead of us into the air all around.

Enn's groping hand reached again for mine and I took it. 'It must be right across the path!' they yelled.

'Then why isn't it drowning us already?' I shouted back.

'What?'

'I said - why hasn't it-'

At that moment, a different sound reached me - a kind of crashing, and groaning as if - as if metal was being subjected to enormous strain, like on the factory floor, but the sound was so incongruous here that I didn't recognise it for a second. At the same time, a faint light reached my eyes, at first indistinguishable from the blots of colour that had spread across my eyelids from my blood and my brain trying to interpret the darkness it was seeing and failing. But then the light grew brighter, the sounds louder, and I raised my free arm to cover my eyes from the unaccustomed glare of pure white light. Beside me I could make out the shape of Enn doing the same thing, and they squeezed my fingers hard as we waited for the thing that was getting closer...

After just another couple of seconds, before I had even had chance to form the words on my mind about perhaps moving away from the water and whatever was coming, my eyes adjusted enough to see the scene before us. A solid wall of water was pouring, gushing, torrenting across our path, filling all the space with inky black wet rage. From the rocks strewn around the floor, it seemed as though the deluge from the lake must have torn through the rock of the wall on the left and smashed through again as it hit the wall of the tunnel on the right. If the tunnel had not been going down at this point I am sure we would have been drowned from the rest of the water pouring away that couldn't get through the gap on the right quick enough. As it was there was no way through. We were trapped.

The growing light also revealed the thing which was coming towards us, forced through from wherever it had been along the narrow rock tunnels by the waterway to here. Here though the way was narrow, and the thing coming towards us did indeed look like some form of machine, buckled with the pressure. The water surrounding it left only a vague outline of what it was, but I could see that it was as big as a room and with the bright light pulsing from the centre, half-hidden by the things surrounding it - twisted pipes, maybe?

It collided at full force with the edge of the left wall of our tunnel and grated to a halt with a deafening bang. The solid rock of the tunnel may have been [metaphor] for all the obstacle it proved to be - it smashed out chunks of rock and twisted bits of tortured metal span clear along with them, to land all around us and -

'Enn!' I cried. I tried to yank them out of the way but my reactions weren't quick enough. The flying missile hit the side of their head and they slumped down, knocked unconscious into my arms.

I grabbed them and heaved them backwards out of the way. I stumbled with them up the slope, until I could no longer feel the spray, and then laid them down as gently as I could. Meanwhile, the thing coming through into the cavern became bigger and bigger, and the light was brighter and brighter, and the sound of metal twisting became overwhelming, until in another shower of debris the machine broke through the wall, smashed into the opposite side of the tunnel, and bounced off again to come flying towards us with extreme velocity. I screamed and tried to shield Enn from it, but if we had been a metre closer we would have both been smushed to pulp. The machine skidded to a halt right in front of me, one of the jagged pipe-ends stopping about three inches from my chest.

After that I could only breathe for a few moments, I was so weak with shock. Then I scrambled backwards over Enn to get away from the machine and bent down to try and see how they were doing. They didn't stir. Thankfully, we now had light, but the light worked its way out past all the surrounding pipes and things and so ended up casting deep shadows on their face and body. I got one arm under their neck and gently moved them into a beam of the white light. The injury from the debris missile seemed to have hit just above their right ear, and in the stark light the blood streaming from the wound seemed to be black. My hand came away feeling awfully sticky. I tried to smooth their hair out of the way to get a better look but there was so much blood that I couldn't see the original wound. Maybe their skull was cracked! But when I gently ran my fingers over it I couldn't feel any dent, only an emerging lump.

'Enn? Enn, can you hear me? Wake up!' My voice sounded so thin and pathetic, and the machine coming that close to me had scared me so much, that tears came unbidden and my shoulders started heaving with panicked sobs. In the light Enn's eyes were glassy and still. They were gone, they must be.

Still I went through the motions, because I couldn't handle not having anything to do which might help. I felt at their neck for a pulse, and my numb fingers could hardly register anything, but then - yes, was that a little flicker? And then I bent down and tried to feel if their breath was coming in and out, and the lightest brush of wind on my cheek made me sure. They were alive, although with that sort of head injury they could be anything from mildly concussed to permanently brain-damaged. They could be bleeding on the inside of their brain right now!

I sat back and tried to think. Was there anything more I could do? My eyes wandered over the thing next to us. It was nearly as big as the tunnel itself and blocked my view of the water beyond, although I could still hear the roaring. Thinking rationally, there was no way we could get out of here. We couldn't go forwards or back. There had been no other turnings from this tunnel. Maybe it was a mercy that Enn could now die peacefully and easily, instead of starving to death. I knew I would never have the courage to step back into the water and drown. I would rather die quietly from the hunger pangs next to Enn.

I sat there for a long time, just contemplating death and how close we now were to it. I kept my eyes on Enn, watching for the comforting rise and fall of their chest.

Finally, I got so stiff and cold that I had to stand up and move around, despite how futile an action it was. The morbid fog of my thoughts had lifted somewhat and the stubborn streak of life had reasserted itself. I looked at the thing which had nearly killed us, and hurt Enn, with a new curiosity. What *was* this thing? Was there any chance that it might have something which could help us somehow? I mean, the only thing that would really help would be a fridge full of food and a large amount of medical supplies.

What was funny though was that as far as I could see, the light in the centre was coming from something that was the right shape and height to be a big fridge. The rest of the machine seemed pretty damaged, especially the edges that had born the brunt of smashing through the rock, but that bit in the centre was still glowing and apparently unharmed.

I decided that, with nothing else to do, and Enn no closer to waking up, I may as well try to get to the thing in the middle and find out more about it. A few of the extremities were so badly damaged that I could easily remove them and just pile the bits further up the tunnel, but after a while of working like that on one section I got to a bit which wasn't quite so broken. And it was still made of tough metal. I tried to get my clumsy fingers in underneath the sheet of metal, but there was nothing doing. I pulled with all my strength, bashed it, tried to work around it, and finally flailed at it, nearly crying with frustration, but still the centre of the machine was a stubborn arm's-length out of reach.

I grunted as I reached in as far as I could. 'Come on... come on...' My fingers were tantalisingly close. Finally I had to give up, but I took out my rage by attacking a different section, tearing bits off and wiggling them free until I could see another way in to reach the centre. I was curious to know what material it was made of, and what it felt like. I was damned if I was going to let myself die without finding out.

This time I was a bit closer, and by standing on my tip-toes and stretching until it felt as though my arm would come free of my socket, I managed to graze the outer edge of the fridge thing with my fingertips.

I had been doing it just for the sake of having a goal to work on, but the effect it had was a lot more effective than I had bargained for. The light from it flared up into an intensity that I had to physically back away from, and then dimmed into a regular pulsing, less bright than it had been before. As soon as it had settled down, there was a loud hissing and crackling from the surrounding materials, and with a shudder, the whole thing cracked apart and collapsed in a din of falling metal, leaving the bright centre pod thing exposed and vulnerable.

'What's going on?'

It was Enn. They had managed to roll over and were now looking at me with the fresh grogginess of someone recently hit hard on the head.

'Enn! Don't move, just lie still, you need to take it easy after that. Are you still bleeding?'

Enn touched their head and winced. 'Oooo,' they said. 'Not good. What happened?'

'THIS thing came through the wall and smashed lots of rocks aside as it did so. We were standing too close. I'm so sorry, I tried to drag you out of the way but you were too close - it was too quick - I'm sorry,' I concluded miserably. I had rushed back to their side and knelt down to make a pillow for them out of my lap. Enn sighed and lay down again into me.

'So - how did you - get it open?' They sounded almost sleepy.

'I just managed to get close enough to touch it, but I didn't expect anything to actually happen,' I said, looking back at the thing. It was bigger than a big fridge, it was big enough for a person to lie down in it. The way it was glowing made me fearful somehow - that pulsing seemed almost expectant.

'What do you think we should do?' I asked Enn.

'Hmm? Sorry, er... I don't know, you'll think of something I'm sure...' Enn was definitely sounding drowsy. I remembered hearing something about not letting someone who has been hit on the head go to sleep. [Where would she get this knowledge from? Was she the dedicated first aider for her factory floor - was this one of the reasons why she was an over-achiever who earned the reward for going to the museum?]

'Hey, oi, Enn,' I said, as sternly as I could. 'You stay awake now, OK? You mustn't go back to sleep, that's bad.'

'Sorry,' they mumbled, their eyes closing despite their evident struggle to keep them open. 'Just feel so tired... I can't help it... You have to - make me stand up...'

The last words were starting to slur from them dropping off and falling asleep, but I caught them.

'Enn, but - I shouldn't, what if that hurts you more? You need to lie down...'

There was no answer from Enn. Their eyes were closed and they were already dozing off, I could tell.

'Oi!' I decided they were right. There was nothing for it. I got my feet under me and my arms under Enn's arms and heaved them towards an upright position. I had to use the side of the tunnel as support as I made them stand upright in stages - first getting them sitting up, then getting each leg in place and then pulling them to their feet. They were half-awake and trying to help me, but even when they were standing (supported with one arm over my shoulder), they seemed weak and only dimly aware of what was going on. It worried me more than I ws willing to show. It seemed Enn was losing the fight to come back to life after the injury. The missile had hit them very hard...

'Come on, Enn, let's go have a closer look at this thing,' I said, in as bright a tone as I could manage. I could feel my leg muscles trembling. This was no way for a worker to behave - it was disgraceful really to not be able to do simple manual labour. But neither of us had eaten in a long time, and that semi-drowning hadn't helped either.

We made slow progress back along the tunnel to the thing. The pipes and things all lay in a heap around it on the floor. [It wouldn't be designed to collapse, it would be designed to open smoothly - but maybe it tries that and then it is so warped that it buckles the whole thing anyway?]

[Wouldn't opening the pod now have the same effect of making the Boundless mortal as it is supposed to at the end of the book? Gaping plot hole alert!]

The pulsing light still seemed eery to me, and I had the weirdest feeling that I had seen this machine before. Then a shiver struck my spine as I remembered. Of course! I had seen it before, or something very similar - the memory-wiping pod in the abandoned ship, the one Enn had rescued me from - this was the same! Well, the one in the ship actually looked a bit broken when compared to this. This one gleamed white and clean, despite its rapid ride through the mines and tunnels under the lake.

'Enn! It's the thing, it's the same thing as back at the place you rescued me from! It's a mind-wipe machine!'

That seemed to get Enn's flagging attention and lit a tiny spark of curiosity and alertness in their eyes. 'It's a healing machine too,' they said faintly.

'Yeah well - I don't trust it,' I declared, shifting my grip around Enn's waist to keep them stable beside me. 'The whole reason we've ended up in this mess is because we were running away from one of those. I'd rather take my chances with something else. Damnit, I was really hoping it might be food or something,' I stopped because I sounded so stupid, whining about something completely impossible.

'Oww... My head...' Enn groaned, clutching at the side of their head with their hand. 'I can't.... argh...'

Their legs buckled and they sank to sitting position on the ground beside me, despite my arm holding them up.

'Enn! What is it?'

'It's getting *worse*!' they moaned, beginning to shake in my arms.

'What do I do, Enn? What should I do?'

'The - pod - it'll heal anything,' Enn gasped, now no longer in danger of falling asleep, but instead looking as though their brain might implode at any second.

'No, but what if it mind-wipes you? We don't know how to use it!'

'Try it... argh! Do it!'

Enn had screwed themselves into a little ball and appeared to be trying to hold their head together with their hands. Even despite their obvious agony, they painfully unwound their arms from their protective stance and started trying to crawl over the jagged metal towards the pod. When I saw that I stopped hesitating. I bent down, knelt and scooped them up, this time bodily. I was weak, but I ignored that, ignored the pain in my arms and the trembles in my legs, as I staggered over the pile of debris (the leather shoes providing very little protection against the sharp edges, leaving me cut as well) and made it to the middle, next to the pod. Enn was whimpering with the pain, but just as we got there they screamed, arching their back so that I nearly dropped them, and then went limp.

[Ask someone who knows about it about blood clots and the potential way you could go downill quite quickly after being hit on the head with a heavy object.]

'Enn!' I cried, trying to tell whether they were still breathing. They suddenly felt a lot heavier in my arms, and the way their limbs lolled with no purpose from side to side gave me all the proof I needed that Enn had passed out again, or - probably this was more likely, my rational self admitted - they had died from a brain hemorrhage. [Spelling?]

'Come on, come on,' I pleaded, to nobody in particular, and almost dropped them as I desperately hitched one arm free and slapped the smooth glowing surface of the pod with the palm of one hand.

It worked again, and although the debris shifted under my feet I managed to get my arm back under Enn again. The lid of the pod rose slowly, as if it was controlled by slow, restrained springs, but even more smoothly. This was certainly technology that we weren't used to back in [TechyLand], and certainly not here in [LucyLand]. Where had it come from?

The space inside the pod was empty, but there was plenty of room for a person lying in it. For some reason, I had no doubt that that was what it was for, someone lying in it, but I didn't know why. I dumped Enn unceremoniously into the space, then winced and tried to arrange in a more comfortable position than just as they had fallen. Their complete lack of movement was so horrible. They were dead this time, I was sure.

I stood there on the uneven pile of stuff and tried desperately to keep my hope alive. I waited for a minute, then two, but nothing changed at all. And this time I was sure that Enn's chest was not moving up and down. They were gone.

'Nooooo,' I sobbed, the crying starting again in earnest now. 'Enn - Enn...' I reached into the pod and stroked their face. Was it just my numb fingers or was their skin more cold than usual? They were already cooling down, passing on and away from this world.

[Get rid of any religious overtones!]

The crying this time was different, less snivelly and more deep, from the belly sobs. It was because this time I wasn't crying for myself, but for Enn, this wonderful person who had given up everything just to save me, a stranger with no particular good qualities to recommend me. This person, Enn, I knew I would never find anyone like them again, and it almost comforted me in my position now of certain, if slow, death. I didn't care about that any more. I just wanted to stay with Enn, be close to them and feel their soft breathing against my neck as they held me while they slept, only a few short hours ago.

Without thinking, I clambered in after them, to lie down and cuddle them and be where we could both go to sleep and forget all of this. My footing shifted under me just as I hooked one of my legs over the side, so that I rather clumsily landed quite heavily next to Enn in the bottom of the pod. My landing jogged something, and the lid above us both snapped shut.

'[Swear word!]' I shouted, distracted from my grief by the sudden sense of claustrophobia around me. I hit out at the mean ceiling above us, trying to open it again, but now no touch of my hand was going to do it. I battered at the lid, a lot less passive in the face of imminent suffocation in this airtight box, and kicked with my legs too in my panic.

All this managed to do was dislodge the whole pod from the top of the pile of pipes and debris.

I felt something shift, a slight fall, and then a slow slide to the right as we slipped off the middle of the pile. To the right - that meant towards the water! I redoubled my attack on the sides and roof of the box, and then had to pause as we slipped further to heave Enn off from on top of me. I began to scream. We were gaining momentum, we lifted and landed again as we fell, and then I heard the grating of the pod against the tunnel floor as we slid closer to that overwhelming roar...

The grating stopped as we got picked up by the roaring flow of the water. I felt it hit because it spun us right over, and the next second we were slammed into the opposite tunnel wall as that pounding water pinned us against the exit it had forced for itself at the other side of the tunnel. We were against the stone, completely surrounded by water. I tried to brace myself against the sides but Enn's body was in the way. We were trapped, completely helpless, and now instead of a peaceful, easy death, or even the relatively calm death of suffocation [not really?], I was going to get bashed around in this airtight box until I broke my neck. At least the seals on the pod seemed to be holding, and even hitting the rock wall had not dented it. I tried to feel grateful about not drowning, but I was too busy getting shaken around to think about it much.

The water had held us pinned for a couple of minutes against the exit to the tunnel, but it was obvious that we were not going to be pinned there forever. A grating sound at my back told us we were getting shifted along the tunnel wall. My mechanic, rational mind told me the reason even as I was about to die - the pod was too big for the crack that the water had found to pour through. We would get carried along this tunnel instead, on the excess flow that wasn't taking the main direction away from the lake. Sure enough, as we got slowly shifted out of the main weight of the water pouring right at us, we got pushed by the currents down the hill of the tunnel, and I felt us detach from the tunnel wall and start to float properly. That was better for a moment as there were no hard knocks - until, that is, one end or other of the pod would collide with the tunnel wall and ricochet off it again. We were travelling along the tunnel, and picking up speed by the feel of it. Suddenly hope bloomed in me again - this was a way through the water, we were protected in our little boat and we were travelling again! But then the hope died as I remembered that Enn was already dead anyway.

The journey only lasted another few minutes. All I was aware of was being spun round, and the ache in my muscles as I used the last of my strength to try and prevent me from bashing against the sides too much. I was pretty powerless to prevent it, but I was beginning to think I might not die maybe if it didn't go on too much longer.

That was when the flow of the water abruptly changed direction, from sloping downwards to a vertical drop. I flew upwards, hitting my head against the top of the pod with more force than anyone could survive, and the last thing I heard was a terrible 'crack' from somewhere inside my back - I felt it - and then I was gone, and remembered nothing more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part III: Part 3 - [DemocraticAnarchy]

 

Chapter Fifteen

*** Travel along tunnels/coast/mountains to the Free City

 

Chapter [X]: Enn

 

I woke up bathed in soft light. The pulsing of it made me feel safe. It was dim enough to not hurt my eyes, but instead just felt as though the whole world had turned into whiteness. Apart from Thirteen, sleeping beside me. Above us, the dome of the pod thing arced gently like a protective blanket. A couple of dents showed the buffeting it had taken for us. [Does it at this point inject their brains with memories/information from the AI computer about the initial crash? Is that how they find out a little bit about what the Boundless are hiding?]

I reached up and probed the smooth surface with my fingers. It was like nothing I had ever felt before - not metal, or even plastic (which I had touched once [when? No plastic in [LucyLand] - or even anywhere, maybe, if it's steampunky?]) - the closest thing I could compare it to was the silky texture of Thirteen's suit before I had ripped her out of it.

I stroked it gently, lengthways, fascinated by the texture. As I did so, the glow got stronger from each pulse, until it became a steady bright light, and I heard a low humming starting from somewhere in the base of the pod. It got louder and louder, until the whole space vibrated with it, and then there was a quiet 'click' and the lid of the pod opened with that smooth motion that it had before. [Were they awake at that point? I don't think so.]

Above us I could see the ceiling of a rough cave, lit up not just by the glow of the pod itself but by - daylight! Real daylight!

I sat up, and stopped when I expected to feel some pain in my head, but the pain failed to come. In fact I felt fine. Completely fine. I didn't even feel hungry.

In another second, I knew what had happened. The healing pod had healed me. That awful, burning point of end of the world pain in the centre of my head had gone.

From where I sat I could now see where we were. A broad stream beside us bubbled along briskly, cutting beautiful patterns and channels into the sand underneath. It was maybe a foot deep and obviously had strong currents, but we had been washed up on the corner as the stream bent round to follow the curve of the cave towards the daylight. It was obvious to me that the water had recently been a lot more flow, and was still now slowing down back into a trickle. The walls all around were still wet, and various rocks looked recently dislodged from their homes in the walls.

I pushed myself up and clambered out of the pod, which had somehow landed right way up, making it a lot easier. I turned back from my desire to explore where the daylight was coming from and turned back to Thirteen. She looked as though she was sleeping peacefully now, but she had many signs of the hardship she had just gone through to get us here. Her clothes were torn, her shoes shredded by the debris she had had to walk across and there was dried blood in her hair and on her hands. But from what I could tell the same healing that had saved me had saved her too. There was no sign of the injuries she must have received in the water rapids ride down here.

I lent over and gently shook Thirteen's shoulder. 'Hey, Thirteen? Thirteen. T. We're here, we made it!'

Thirteen stirred and woke slowly, and then I saw her remember our predicament. She saw me and sat straight up, taking a huge breath of air and staring around wildly. Then she reached up quickly and felt the back of ner neck, shuddered, and rolled her head from side to side as if she expected it to be broken. She grimaced, but I could tell she had found nothing wrong with any of her limbs or body. Just like me, she had woken feeling fine and even fed. It was insane. [Better word!]

'What?' she said, looking bewildered at me. 'Where...' Then she noticed the daylight, and almost fell out of the pod in her haste to get out of it and towards the exit of the cave.

'Hey!' I almost wanted to laugh at her behaviour, but she still looked too frightened to make fun of. I caught her arm as she was about to scramble past on her way to the daylight. 'It's all right, we made it,' I said, trying to soothe her.

She looked at me properly for the first time. 'ENN!' She almost screamed it, and then she grabbed me around the waist and lifted me up into a strong hug. 'Enn, you're alive! You're not - ' her expression changed as she remembered something. I didn't want to think about what that might be. 'How... how?'

'It's this pod, it's the same as at the healing place back on the sacred mountain. It can heal anyone of anything, that's what Lucy said.

'Useful,' muttered Thirteen, giving the pod a suspicious look, but I could tell she was less freaked out by it now that it had saved both our lives. 'But what about the mind-wipes? It can do that too. What do you remember?' She leaned forwards, suddenly intense.

'The same as you, I expect. Well - I remember the pain in my head, and my brain feeling as though it was about to burst, but then everything stopped, until here. You were taking me up to the pod though, I remember that,' I said.

Thirteen nodded slowly, still breathing quite heavily and looking around again. 'Come on, let's get *out* of this place,' she said, and set off with purpose to the entrance. I followed, with only a brief look back at the pod, still lying dormant and faintly pulsing by the temporary stream.

It pleased me so much to see Thirteen moving with ease and speed across the sandy floor of the cave. It was obvious we had both been returned to absolutely full health, and I felt capable of walking for a whole weekend hunting if necessary.

'Thirteen - ' I said, as a thought struck me. [Cliche.] 'Do you think - do you think the pod, it might be how the Boundless always come back to life!'

Thirteen turned round, still distracted by her mission to see the sky again as fast as possible. She gave it a moment's thought though. 'I think - yeah, that makes sense!' she said, her eyes lighting up, but then clouding over again. 'Wait, but no - the Boundless aren't in the pods when they come back to life, they hardly ever go near them as far as I can tell...'

'Well... maybe they don't need to for some reason? Maybe... the pods work from a distance on them, or something?'

'Hmm. Maybe. Anyway, are you coming or not?'

I followed as Thirteen strode onwards, and registered that there was a salty tang in the air. Which meant that we must be where all water goes eventually - the sea.

Sure enough, as we clambered down, splashing through the stream at points where the cave narrowed and it filled the whole space again, the daylight grew brighter [how long were they in the mines/cavern tunnels for?] and the exit of the cavern came into view. Both of us put up our hands to protect our eyes from the glare of the sun bouncing up off the water. This time, the water stretched for further than I could see.

Thirteen stopped on the beach just outside the cave, staring at the ocean. It was a sight I, as a member of the [whatsit] tribe, had only ever seen a few times in my life, but it was clear from the way that Thirteen was looking at it that she had never seen it before at all.

'Woah,' was all she said about it, turning to share her look of wonder with me. 'That's - just look at it!'

I grinned. Thirteen's reactions to things always made me want to smile. 'That's the ocean for you. A bit overwhelming, isn't it?'

Thirteen nodded, and went back to gazing at it for a while.

'But anyway, didn't you see it on your way across to [LucyLand]?' I asked. [How much would [LucySociety] be educated about the external geography and the other peoples on the planet?]

Thirteen shook her head. 'They kept me blindfolded the whole way. I just felt the way the boat moved, it was terrifying. I never want to go out there again.'

'I've never been on a boat at all, apart from that abomination of a rowing boat back in - ' I didn't want to mention the lake, and I could tell Thirteen didn't want to either. 'Well anyway.' [Would that be true? Surely they would paddle down rivers and things in their canoes...? Research.]

'Where are we?'

I looked around and with a weird feeling creeping up my spine [cliche] I realised that I had no idea where we were. I had always had a solid sense of where I was and the direction I was going in that this was very unnerving. But the underground part, well, I had been dead for part of it, so I couldn't be expected to keep knowing where I was through all of that, was I?

I tried to calm down a bit and scanned the horizon behind us. The cave that we had just come out of was part of a large cliff, which in turn rose up behind that to hills and mountains in the distance. I looked carefully at the mountains on the sky-line, trying to imagine what they would look like from the other side. 'I think...' I hesitated, but the picture became clearer in my mind as I looked. 'Yes - see that mountain there? That peak is quite distinctive, with the jagged bit at the top, do you see? When we were at the lake we could see that in the [X] direction, and now, yes, that's [South or wherever] from here, so I think - I think we came all the way through the rest of the mountains! That's - that's miles and miles! I mean... I wouldn't recommend it as a mode of travel, but at least it's got us much further along. We must be in the border land at least to the [FreeSociety]. And this must be the coast that joins from [LucyLand] to [TechyLand] - so in theory, all we have to do is follow the coast and keep the sea on our right, do you see?'

'Oh - yeah. The [FreeSociety]. Right.' Thirteen sounded like she had forgotten all about it.

'Hey...' I looked at her face. 'I'm sorry you didn't get to stay at the lake. But - don't you think it might be better, being with your own kind rather than living with a Boundless?'

Thirteen sighed. 'I guess you're right. It was just so nice and peaceful there, but [HermitBoundless] was certainly getting weird by the end. Still, I hope he's all right. At least he tried to hide me, in the end.'

'Yeah.' I had had many more reservations about [HermitBoundless] but it was all over now, and against all the odds, we were alive and well. 'Well, you'll see. I bet [FreeSociety] is better than people think it is. I mean... just because it doesn't have a Boundless at all doesn't make them any less human, does it? And we have still found ways to get along fine even with the differences between [TechyLand] and [LucySociety], so [FreeSociety] can't be that different, can it?'

I sounded almost like I was trying to beg her to like her situation, even though she was obviously in a lot of trouble and everything in her life had disappeared. Thirteen did not look enthused.

'I suppose. I just - can't believe it's come to this, I guess. I'm sure it'll be fine. This direction, right? Let's get going then.'

We started to trudge along the beach. [Work the tide in as a threat in this scene - with the double moons is it possible to predict the tides? How fast does the beach just disappear? Do either of them know anything about the way the sea behaves? Not really...]

We walked in silence, and despite the euphoria of sheer survival, the mood turned dark again in the wake of Thirteen's depression. I felt so sorry for her, I was sure the journey through the caverns had been more harrowing for her than it had been for me. I had never quite drowned at the swimming bit and then I had been dead through the worst part of the getting out again. Yes, it seemed Thirteen had taken it hard. I felt sure that her normal way of being would be to be very smiley and happy most of the time. [Soandso] from the tribe was a bit like that, and I had always been envious of them. I did not find mirth and jollity quite so easy to achieve. But anyway, I didn't need to worry about that now that Thirteen had been so effectively dampened in her spirit. [Could part of T's newfound moodiness be due to her realisation of her developing feelings for Enn, and how bad she will feel when Enn has to return to their tribe?]

[Don't they need to address the fact that Lucy was also involved in the betrayal of Enn too, and now Enn can't go back either or they will be at threat of the mind-wipe? Or even murder, now they have seen what [TechyBoundless] is capable of? Make sure to show some reaction to all that.]

We had walked steadily for about two hours and the beach had not really changed much, although we had left the highest cluster of mountains where the lake was a bit further behind us. I know both Thirteen and I were grateful to put some distance between us and where we had last seen those Boundless. The whole thing needed forgetting as soon as possible. It was nearly a shame that we hadn't been mind-wiped by the pod as well as healed. But no, people should know about what we had seen. People should know that the Boundless were not as perfect as they seemed. And at least in [FreeSociety] we might find some people willing to listen to us.

Neither of us noticed that the tide was turning at first. I noticed that Thirteen kept glancing over at the ocean, fascinated by its hugeness, but she was only looking out at the distance. Neither of us were paying attention to what was happening at our feet level until there suddenly seemed to be a lot less beach than usual.

[Have the smugglers/pirates come to shore a bit closer to where they left the cave? So have them wait in one place for a while instead of walking while the tide comes in, so that they connect the smugglers with the route back up to the lake and the [HermitBoundless]?]

'Enn...'

Thirteen sounded worried. I looked up and saw that she was staring at the edge of the sea. She had been looking out at the horizon a lot before that, and I didn't blame her, it was so big and amazing, but neither of us had noticed what was happening closer to our feet.

'Is the ocean getting closer, or the beach getting narrower, or is it all just me? It's not just me, is it?'

'Oh no,' I said, looking around. The sand of the beach was bordered by a steep cliff rock-face, and that was all. Now I remembered why the beaches and coast-line could never work as a way of travelling. 'The tides!'

'What's a tide?' Thirteen asked, alarmed at the worry in my voice.

'The sea, it *does* come in and out, the moons make it do that!' I said. 'They can be really quick and then it gets really deep and...'

I stopped, because Thirteen had blanched with fear. 'Not more water and drowning, please say you don't mean that we are going to drown?' she said.

'It's - it's all right... We should just go to the cliff and see if we can find a way up. Come on,'

We hurried over to the rock face and tried to look for hand-holds, but that wasn't the problem. There were plenty of crags, and cracks, and sturdy little plants growing out of the rock [only above the ocean level though? That warns them how high the water is going to get soon?], but as soon as we tried to grab any of them, we found that the rock would just crumble away, or the soil would slip, or the plant would come right out of the side. In the few minutes we spent trying different paths and ways to get up the sea got much closer to our feet. Thirteen started to panic, her eyes going wide as she kept looking behind her to see how much closer it was.

I too could feel the pull of wanting to look behind me, but tried to hard to keep my eyes in front on the challenge at hand. We had got through the caves and we were NOT going to drown now. We could even see hwere we were going this time! There would be no excuse for dying here.

I tired to look higher than just the places we could reach and grab. It did look as though the cliff became perhaps a bit sturdier up there above where the sea regularly pounded it, but the sea had scooped out the bottom part of the cliff into a full-on underhang / overhang [the correct term?] and we couldn't even get started on this bottom bit.

'Thirteen. I think we need to get past this bit. We need to go straight for above the overhang, see? I think we could reach it if one of us stands on the other's shoulders. Come on, I'll give you a boost,'

Logically, it perhaps should have been the other way round, as I was by far the shorter, but Thirteen was looking too scared to argue. At first, we tried just using the old technique where I made a stirrup out of my hands and Thirteen stepped into it, but even though I managed to straighten up after that, she couldn't reach the overhang. So then for a while we tried Thirteen getting on top of me, sitting on my shoulders, but I couldn't even stand up straight after she climbed on, and it wouldn't have given enough height anyway. So after wasting several more minutes in this way, I finally gave up and suggested that we do it the other way round. Thirteen lifted me up easily, and then, using the cliff face beside me for support and balance, I slowly managed to stand up on her shoulders. She grunted with the effort, but at least it took her mind off the sea, which was now only about three metres away and closing in further with every wave that came in.

Now I could quite easily reach the rock, and I got my fingers round a lip of rock and heaved myself up. The overhang itself formed a tiny bit of ledge of slightly less vertical rock-face, where I lay face down, feeling as secure as a [not very secure thing]. I reached down with my arm outstretched and lying flat, but I couldn't reach Thirteen's fingers even when she jumped for it. The water was now only a metre away.

It was probably a good thing she couldn't reach, really - she would most likely have pulled me back off the cliff again. I doubt I would have had the physical strength to pull her up bodily just by one wrist.

'What are we going to do?' Thirteen said, backing away as far as she could under the overhang and away from the water. I could hear her scrabbling for the little foot and hand holds we had been trying fruitlessly before. Her fear of the water was so intense that she was properly losing focus now.

'Stay calm, T,' I said, trying to think.

'That's easy for you to say!' she screeched, throwing herself as far up the cliff face as she could, but sliding straight back down again.

'Thirteen. I think you're going to have to float your way up here,' I said slowly, knowing how little she would like it.

'What??' She didn't even understand what I had in mind.

'Yeah. When the water gets too high to stand up in you'll need to lie on your back. It's easy if you relax, Thirteen. You don't need to be able to swim to be able to float, it comes naturally to babies and even little kids. You can do this, Thirteen. Please. Believe me.'

Thirteen was breathing fast, and holding my eye contact so steadily that it almost felt as though she was glaring at me. Perhaps I deserved that. She had helped me to safety and now I had failed to do the same for her. I felt horribly guilty, but the best thing I could do for her was to stay calm and make her do what I aid, even if she was terrified.

The water lapped at Thirteen's ankles, and she screeched and tried to pick both of her feet out of the water at once, but it was impossible.

'Oh God. Oh god oh god oh god...' I heard her muttering to herself as the next wave brought the water closer to her knees. 'I'm going to die!'

'No you are not.' I said sternly, leaning out from my little lip of overhang as far as I dared to try and get a good look at her face. She was looking down though, at the water, as if she could make it go away just by looking at it hard enough.

I heard her start to cry, and my heart broke a little. The water was up to her thighs now, and I knew that cold wet feeling would feel just as unfamiliar and dangerous as it had to her the first time.

'I thought - I just said to myself back there - never again - never water, ever, not ever again...' she was close to gibbering now. I tried to put all the soothing sound I could into my voice.

'It's OK... Thirteen, it's OK, it's just water. Look, you could start lying down now, just try it, you can hold on to the rock and it won't take you away, I promise...'

'No!' Thirteen was too far gone to do anything as calm as giving herself to the water. She was still clawing, trying to find a way up by sheer force of will. I was beginning to get worried that if she continued to claw at the loose rock underneath me the whole overhang lip would collapse on top of her, and then I would be in the sea with her too.

The water was no past Thirteen's waist, and she had started hitting out at the surface of the water, trying to scoop the ocean away from her in handfuls. Every time a surge of a wave came in she would shriek as it threatened to push her off her feet, and the water crept a bit further up her body.

'Thirteen!' I was shouting now, I needed so badly to get through to her. 'Come on, you can do it! Just try! Please, Thirteen - just tip backwards a little, you'll be fine, just keep your body straight and let it hold you up...'

Thirteen was starting to splutter already from her own splashing, even though the water was still only at her shoulders. She gave up on the attacking the ocean with her bare hands thing and began to scrabble at the wall instead.

'Enn!' she screamed. 'I can't stay standing! It's going to knock me over!'

'That's OK! You need to lift your feet up anyway, T,' I said. 'Please just listen. Thirteen. Stop!'

She stopped and looked at me, the fear crying out from every part of her face.

'Good. Good. Now do you see that crack there? Just put your hand in it, just use it for balance, don't pull it off the cliff. Good. Now try just - just putting your head back into the water, OK? Go on. Just get used to how it feels. Let it lap around you. You can still breathe, right?'

Thirteen had made a brave effort to lower her head down into it, but as soon as her scalp touched the water she stood up again, flailing around and spluttering. The water was now up to her neck. I couldn't believe the tide had come in that quick. The waves were only going to get stronger, too. She needed to ride them, not get pushed under by them.

'You'll just have to go for it, Thirteen, all at once. Just push off with your feet while you can still hit the ground, and float up to the top, just get your whole body flat on the surface.'

She tried once, jumping and immediately going under the water, and only righting herself again after several seconds of thrashing around in the water. When she was standing again she could only breathe by tipping her face backwards and sucking in the air in desperate gasps as the water skimmed her face.

'I can't!'

'Do it again, you can. Slower this time. Look, OK, just push off and then let everything go floppy apart from your middle, OK? That's the key, you have to relax into it, even if you go under for a bit.'

She gasped a last breath and then found herself going under anyway as the next wave closed over her head. I saw her close her eyes, keep her mouth squeezed tight shut, and push off again. This time her whole body did rise up for a few seconds, and her face broke the water. Her eyes flew open and she breathed in a huge breath, looking ready to start flailing again.

'Stay still!' I warned urgently. 'That's it, that's really good Thirteen - '

But her middle was not staying straight on. The weight of her bum and the natural bend in the middle started to sink her. She felt herself start to go down, and the panic bloomed afresh in her eyes. First one arm and then a leg started to kick...

'No!' I shouted. 'Stay STILL!' Her ears were halfway underwater but I know she could understand me anyway as I was shouting right above her and she could see my lips. 'Bring your bum up!' I gestured with one hand in a king of scooping motion to indicate pushing the middle up. I flattened my fingers out to show her. 'Like a star! Flat like a star! Spread yourself out!'

She understood and then instead of continuing to flail with her limbs she tired to flail with her mid-section instead. It worked, kind of, although she wasn't relaxed or still. The next wave went under her instead of over her, and she rose a few inches closer to where I lay.

'Good! Good! Now relax! Stay calm!'

Gradually she stopped moving as much, and began to get the hang of it, although she was still much too rigid really. But the next problem was that her grip on the crack in the wall beside her had now started to get a bit low for her to hold on to. It was now a foot below the level of the water and she was having to twist to keep a hold of it, threatening all her hard-earned stability.

'You're going to have to let go,' I said, and saw immediately that she had understood, as a shudder ran through her body and made her have to find her sense of floating balance in the water all over again.

'Just grab onto something a bit higher!' I called, trying to reach down for her. She was a lot closer than before, and instead of trying to find another place on the wall beside her to hold, I saw her fix her eyes on my hand as if was a life-jacket. She made her decision and then lunged, throwing her hand upwards and destroying her fragile sense of how to float so that she did not only miss my hand, but her whole body fell under the water again.

'No no no!' I cried as she disappeared entirely for a few seconds. She burst up again, her arms thrashing but with none of the coordination necesssary to keep her afloat. I strained my arm but it wasn't far enough - and Thirteen, half-blinded by the saltwater, could hardly see it, I am sure - but the next wave knocked her against the rocks with some force, and she disappeared again under the waves.

I just tried to keep my eyes on her, but the next time she came up she was over a metre away from the wall. The wave drove her back towards me, and I reached for her, but she was now also a little way further along and in front of me. She was out of reach. Even if I crawled along this tiny ridge she would be gone under for the last time before I could get there.

I swore and plunged into the water, now only about three feet below where I had been lying. The tide was reaching its peak, and we needed to get out again soon. I swam towards the last place I had seen Thirteen go under in this dark water and took a deep breath. Then I dived.

The swirling wet darkness buffetted me on all sides. I opened my eyes and tried to see her, even though it made my eyes sting terribly. We had to get out of here.

I span in the water, trying to keep myself away from the rock which the waves kept on pushing me towards. In the brief lull between one wave and the next I managed to get another breath, dive again, and this time, find her. She was below me, back at the ocean floor (what had so recently just been beach), and she was still thrashing. Good. That meant she hadn't swallowed water yet. Maybe she had learnt a thing or two about holding your breath under the water from the last time. [Is repeating the same threat a good idea? Boring?] I swam down to her, seized her arm, and pushed off from the bottom with my legs. She was not completely limp next to me, she saw me and the surprise made the last bubbles leave her mouth. But I was kicking firmly and we broke the surface just at the crest of the next wave. Both of us were pushed against the rough rocks, and I felt my newly repaired body get buffeted and bruised against them. Still, while I was there I grabbed what I could find - the edge of the ledge above us - and used that as my anchor while I got a better grip on Thirteen's arm, pulling it up and showing her by feel where the edge of the ledge was for her to hang on to herself. She did, fiercely, and coughed next to me, great heaving waterlogged coughs, which even so were a lot better than choking.

'Brace yourself!' I called, craning round behind us to see the next wave about to arrive. I managed to get my feet up in front of me against the rock but even so I was nearly smushed against the stone. Beside me the best that Thirteen could do was stay hanging on, and come up again spluttering.

We needed to get up on the ledge. We couldn't survive here, getting buffeted like this for the next few hours, or however long the tide lasted. We had to get up there somehow...

'Hold on!' I shouted, and then kicked as hard as I could and pulled with both hands. I managed a very undignified heave upwards that got my upper torso half-on the ledge, and from there it was just a matter of a lot of scrambling and quite a few more grazes. Then I found myself back where I had been, face down on the ledge, if a few metres further along than I had been. I shuffled along to where Thirteen was still clinging, gasping and coughing. I reached her just as the next wave slammed into her unprepared back, and her whole body crumpled forwards and took a heavy hit from the rocks. Her grip loosened. I grabbed her arm before she could entirely let go and pulled, giving her some sort of start on getting up. It was a massive strain in my arm and the ledge still did not feel secure enough, but now that most of her weight was taken by the water I was able to give her some help. She got the idea and kicked and thrashed and clawed her way upwards, until finally, we both lay flat-out and face to face on our precarious bit of rock.

The tide still seemed to be coming in though. We stayed pretty much as we had landed until the

[Would the pod therefore be washed out to sea??]

and watched the waves get closer and closer. It was as if each wave was reaching for us, and when it couldn't quite reach, it went back with a disappointed sigh, sucking away a tiny part of the overhang's stability as it did so. Even though I knew we were probably above the water-line I couldn't quite stay calm about it. We were both shivering and wet through, and the waves could splash us very vigorously as they built momentum against the rocks. At least we weren't in there any more. That was the good thing.

'Are you OK, Thirteen?' I said.

Her face was bleeding from several small cuts, and she was still panting. 'Hanging on in here,' she said, even managing a small smile. 'God, but I really hate water though,'

I laughed. 'Only an hour or two I reckon. This has to be the worst of it. It'll change direction soon.'

'Just tell me when it's over,' Thirteen said grimly, and turned to face the cliff wall rather than the looming ocean stretching all the way from our very midriffs all the way into the distance.

So it was that I was the one who saw the ship first. I was just trying to judge if the last three waves had gained any height overall, or lost any, or stayed the same, when I glanced up and there it was, rounding the headland back in the direction we had come.

It was a strange ship. My first thought of course was that it must be [TechyBoundless] coming to get us, but I reminded myself that there was no way he could think we were still alive, and anyway, I was pretty sure [TechyBoundless]'s ship would be... smarter.

It was a ship made out of wood, but with lots of metal parts riveted on afterwards, or so it seemed. I had only really glimpsed the ferry boat that occasionally brought people over from [TechyLand] to take us to see the museum, but this one was nothing like that. It was a bit smaller, but still large (although distances and proportion were a bit strange from absolute sea-level) and had a lot of sails and oars, making the whole thing bristle with movement.

'Thirteen - look!'

Thirteen carefully turned herself around to face the terrible sea once more, and gave a squeak of surprise.

'What flag is it?' she said.

'What's a flag?' I asked.

'Oh no... it's the [FreeSociety]!'

'Is it? How can you tell?'

'The flag! The black piece of fabric at the top. That's the [FreeSociety]'s flag.'

I looked, and now that I knew what I was looking for I could see a thing with some sort of white symbol on it flapping in the breeze.

'But that's great, T! We've found a way to get to [FreeCity]!'

'No! That's a raider ship! Didn't they ever warn you about the radical raiders from [FreeSociety]? How they like to come in the night and grab children who hadn't been good?'

We did have a fairy tale that sounded similar, but like all children I had grown out of believing in them. 'Don't be silly. That's not a raider ship, and anyway, it doesn't matter if we get raided now anyway, does it?'

Thirteen frowned. Then she looked miserable. 'I'm sorry. I'm not being rational at all these days. But they always taught it as if it was real...'

'Maybe they haven't seen us, eh?' I said, trying to cheer her up, but really we did need to be seen. They were our only hope. Even when the tide changed, we would have no particular way to get up this cliff than we had before.

I needn't have worried. The ship sailed/rowed nearer, and then as we watched, staying as still as we could on the cold slippy rocks, a smaller boat was put over the side of the boat by small distant figures and rowed towards us. This time I was pleased to see that at least it was humans rowing, and definitely not any press-ganged furry creatures trained to disobey their instincts.

'They're coming!' Thirteen said, sounding weak with fear.

As they got closer, we could both see that two big people with their backs to us were rowing, while a third [mention skin colours? Not gender] sat in front of them, staring ahead and guiding the other two towards us with brief instructions. This third person was not large at all, but still gave off the aura of being in charge.

Soon they were within shouting distance, but no-one said anything. We all just looked at each other, until I could hardly stand it any more.

The rowers expertly held the boat about two metres away, adjusting their oars all the time against the waves.

 

For a moment we just looked at each other. Thirteen cowered against the rock, as if she was hoping to get sucked back into it. Finally the one sitting in front said,

'Well come on then, unless you want to stay there?'

'We'll - we'll be fine, right, Enn?' Thirteen said, even though her teeth were chattering in the cold sea breeze.

'What? We have to go, T, don't be ridiculous!' I hissed.

'Can you come any closer? Thirteen here can't swim,' I called to the people on the rowing boat.

The person in the front gave a mean-sounding little laugh. 'Closer??' they scoffed. 'We're already risking getting thrown against the rocks! Closer. Ha. Come on, your frightened friend will just have to take her chances and swim for it, won't she?'

I turned back to Thirteen. 'We have to go. They're right. Look, I can sort of help to get you swimming. All you need to do is float like you were doing before, and I'll pull you along. It won't take a second, and then we're safe.'

'I think I'd rather you left me here,' Thirteen said, and I could tell by the set of their jaw that they really nearly meant it. 'How do  you know we can trust them, anyway? I've never heard anything about the [FreePeople] that would make me feel safer with them than here.' [[TechySociety] very prejudiced about others? A product of the constant brainwashing, perhaps?]

'We don't know for sure, T, but we have no other option.'

'Come on, we don't have forever! [X] and [Y] will get tired fighting the ocean in a minute and we'll have to row away again.' The leader person did not sound overly concerned about this.

Reluctantly, I shuffled myself to the edge of the water and dropped into it again. The waves had lost a little of their force but it was still going to be pretty touch and go about how much I got pulverised into the rock by them though.

'Come on, Thirteen,'

'You go on without me,' Thirteen said, looking resigned but determined. 'I don't ever want to be in water again!' [Research how a phobia starts and the ways it can manifest itself.]

'You've survived - the last - two times, T,' I reminded her. 'Come on. Don't you like being rational? Anyway -' I paused a minute where I was treading water and caught my breath - 'not even you could - drown in - between here and there,'

'You could leave her?' the person on the boat suggested. 'Honestly, I have never seen a more reluctant rescue. Doesn't she understand that we're saving her life?'

Thirteen flashed the person an annoyed look, which they didn't seem to catch, and then edged herself very slowly to the very edge of the lip.

The next wave was quite a big one, and had me working hard to avoid being smushed into the rock again. I struggled and spluttered.

'Get yourself to safety,' Thirteen begged, looking distraught at my position in the water. [No Twilight levels of devotion, don't over-exaggerate!]

'Not until - you're on - that boat, T,' I said, forcing my numb limbs to keep going.

'Ugh!' Her sound was one of pure disgust. 'Fine.' And she closed her eyes and edged over into the water.

She stayed limp and with her eyes closed all the while that it took for me to get her securely around the underarms, kick off from the wall and swim us both to the boat. Her eyes and mouth were clenched shut but she stayed relaxed. I was amazed that she would trust me that much, even here in the water. Apparently something had changed back there in the dark tunnels. [Did they start off wary of each other? Could Thirteen start off unbearably snooty about all the "primitive" things Enn knows how to do? Would completely change her character...]

My legs were aching by the time we made it to the boat side, and then [X] reached down a burly arm and lifted Thirteen and then me over the side with only a little grunt of effort. This rowing boat was at least big enough to sit six people in it, so there was room for Thirteen and I to lie on the floor of the boat, gasping.

'Let's get going,' said the leader person to the rowers, and they set off back to their ship. They completely ignored us, and I took the opportunity to catch my breath after the effort of swimming for two.

It seemed to take an age to row back, and neither of us mustered the courage or the curiosity to lift ourselves up and take a look at it approaching. So the only impression I got was of the looming side of the boat [what's the official term?] as we drew up alongside.

A rope ladder was unrolled down towards us and [Y] grabbed it in one hand, then arranged it so it was not twisted up and offered the end to me. I grabbed it and used it to heave myself upright. Thirteen made a quiet little noise of terror as the boat rocked when I made this movement, The rowers easily kept us close though.

I made the awkward transition from the boat to the rope ladder - the former lurching away in one direction and the latter swinging towards the overhanging curve of the ship in the other direction. Once I was on it was pretty straightforward though. [Have [LucySociety] adopted the use of ladders?] I focused on one step at a time until I felt arms at the top of the ladder pulling me the rest of the way. I landed with a bump on the deck, dripping and exhausted.

Behind me I heard Thirteen easily clear the ladder without any help, and land on her feet as she made the last transition over the railing.

The ship was [a classic pirate ship? Too cliche? What could be different about ships in this world? This one has been cobbled together - what does that look like?]. A lot of people seemed to be on the deck, all staring at us. They were a complete mixture of colours and sizes, and I realised suddenly how far away I was from my home, and my children, and my life. Would I ever get to go back?

Behind us, the leader of the boat sprang over the side of the railing and landed lightly on their feet. They were even smaller than me, and the word 'spry' would have been a good one to describe them. They wore a close-fitting if ragged suit, but this was very different than the suit that Thirteen had showed me. Here there seemed to be an excess of gold buttons and long strips of braiding woven all over it. For some reason, it seemed to go well with their odd boots - one knee-high, one ankle-high - and the swagger they added certainly didn't hurt the impression of confidence.

'Captain!' they called, towards a raised bit of the ship at what I was already thinking of as the back.

The people around us parted, and I clambered heavily to my feet, trying to ring some of the water out of my clothes and hair. Approaching us was the fattest person I had ever seen [now be v careful here, no fat-shaming in MY books!] There was no question that this was where most of the authority lay.

They jingled as they walked, because they were so covered in metal things. It seemed like a completely random assortment of metals, from cutlery to jewellery, and with several larger tools in there as well. I resisted the instinct to bow as they got closer.

'So,' they said, in a deep, rich voice. 'What on earth were you doing in our smuggling cave?'

[Did the water coming through the cave wash away their money/materials left by the [HermitBoundless]? Now they're angry?]

 

 

#

Chapter Sixteen

* Find group of ex-Techies; hide out in slum

Chapter [X]: Thirteen

 

This day had certainly been a long one already, considering that this morning both Enn and I had died and then been brought back to life. I could hardly believe this was happening now, and did not know how to deal with it. The raiders were a real threat on the [X] coast of [TechyLand] - people really did get stolen and taken to the [FreeSociety]. They called themselves rebels and freedom fighters and they were the most radical of the groups of Unbounded humans living in [FreeLand]. [TechyBoundless], of course, hated it as they stole good workers from him, but their entire land was bordered by big mountains or those very big cliffs Enn and I had just so miserably failed to climb up, so if the only way to make them stop was to go and force them to with violence, [TechyBoundless] very rationally chose to save his resources to keep for working more. Of course, now that I thought about it more it was odd that there wouldn't be more complaining about his lack of action from the families who actually faced the loss of one of their members. But now I thought about it more and I realised what must have happened. Those who complained must have been taken to the same place that I was taken to, and forced to forget that they ever even had a relative at all. The thought made me feel sick, but I couldn't unthink it. It was the easiest way for [TechyBoundless] to solve the problem, as long as the raiders stayed to small raids and only took a few people at a time.

Now this captain who had come out was quite a fearsome sight, and I was horrified to see that she even fit with the stories of the raiders. A huge woman who would eat young Techy children - although, of course they wouldn't, that surely didn't happen, one had to be rational about things - all covered in jinging metal. It was why when children wanted to scare each other they covered themselves in small flakes of the metal left on the factory floor and then tried to sneak up on each other. I myself used to love doing that as a child.

[Used to be quite a wild/naughty child, then sort of converted/reformed her ways into 'pure' worker? What experience triggered that and stopped her from being free-spirited?]

[The knowledge of the [FreePeople] raiders is suppressed by [TechyBoundless], as it would be too much effort to try and prevent them all the way along the coastline, so instead he does do memory wipes - but the knowledge still survives in the oral tradition of fairy tales and so on? Even despite all the suppression and 'rationality', stories and cultural folklore survive?]

'Are you - ' I had to start again because I couldn't get my words out. I could still taste the terrible salty tang of the seawater. 'Are you the Raider?'

The captain turned to me and then threw her head back and laughed and laughed. It made all the metal bits on her clothes tinkle.

'Ha! Me? Why, yes, I suppose, although you Techies certainly have some funny notions about what we're trying to do. We're not kidnappers, girl. We picked you up because you were stranded and looked like you could use the help. And also, we reckon you might have some information we would be interested in.'

She suddenly looked serious again, and back to being quite scary. I had just started to think that she might not be so bad, but there was steel in her eyes as she turned back to Enn.

'What is a Techy like her and a [LucySociety] like you doing together on our shores? It doesn't make much sense, does it? I don't understand. And what I also don't understand is how you made off with all our gold, left a big white box in its place, and then thought you would get anywhere traipsing along the beach?'

'Er...' Enn looked at me. 'What do you - what do you mean?'

'Oh come now.' The captain looked disappointed. Then she reached down and grabbed a fistful of Enn's clothes under their neck and lifted them up bodily with just one arm. She held Enn right up to her face and spoke in a dangerous voice, low and powerful. 'I am not messing around here. That was a lot of gold you took back there. Where is it?'

'I don't know!' Enn shouted. 'I don't know what you're talking about!'

The captain sneered at them, then dropped them from the height she had lifted them to right on to the deck. Enn almost landed on their feet but then stumbled with the movement of the boat on the waves and fell backwards, landing awkwardly on one side. I could tell they were hurt, but they just sat up again, rubbing their side.

'Hey, hey, stop it!' I said, in a voice that was far too quiet, but at least I had spoken. The captain turned towards me, one eyebrow raised, and I quailed as she pinned me with her look. But I gathered up my courage and carried on. 'We really don't know! Your gold must have been washed out to sea - there was a lake, it... drained away through the caves and must have come out at that cavern...'

I faltered into silence, because the captain was approaching with measured, heavy steps. The jingling of her strange armour left me unable to think very well. I could feel myself shrinking as she approached, and even though I was one of the tallest women I knew, she somehow towered over me.

'What,' she said when she reached me, 'are you talking about?'

The little man who had come out in the boat to pick us up side-stepped away from me, smirking. I gulped.

'We were - we were up at the lake in the mountains, up there somewhere,' I gestured vaguely to where Enn had thought the mountain was, 'and we were with [HermitBoundless], but then - '

'Now I know you are lying, Techy,' the captain sounded disgusted. 'No-one has ever met the [HermitBoundless] within mortal memory. There is no way that you saw him.'

'No - we did! He - for some reason he seemed to recognise me, and we were summoned to see him by the wolves and then [TechyBoundless] and Lucy came along and tried to kill us, and they blew up the whole of [HermitBoundless]'s home in the middle of the lake and it led down into the mines, and me and Enn escaped by getting through to this tunnel, and we were just stumbling through the dark, and then we found this pod which had just been washed up by the flood, and we got into it and it became our boat and we were just both inside the pod and when we woke up again, er, we were in that cave. We don't know where we're going, we're just trying to get to [FreeCity] because I can't go back to [TechyLand...]'

I stopped and shrivelled in front of the captain's stern gaze. She had folded her arms across her huge chest and her gaze had not softened at all.

'I think that the best approach we could take now is to just check that you haven't just misplaced some of our gold about your person. Now I'm sure you both won't cause us any trouble about this, it's only a reasonable precaution before I listen to any more of your babble. [X], [Y], would you do the honours?'

The two burly rowers stepped forward and one of them gripped my arms from behind. I struggled just by instinct, trying to squirm free, but there was no chance. I stopped when he twisted my arms further back and growled in my ear.

'Come on then,' he said, and started to pull my jacket off. I realised that the captain intended to strip us naked just to see if her damn gold was anywhere. Then I really did struggle, almost despite my better judgement, because I just cannot bear the feeling of the air reaching my skin all over, and people *seeing* me... it had become a little bit easier in the time I had been travelling with Enn, but it wasn't possible to stay calm when faced with this whole boat full of raiders gawking at me.

'No, no, please,' I said, clutching at my shirt. [X] easily peeled my arms away and methodically got one sleeve free, then the other one. I tried to cover my chest, but I already felt really vulnerable. [X] grunted as he squatted down to reach my trousers, and then yanked them downwards. I let out a little shriek of misery and tried to cover myself.

Enn had not needed such persuasion. When they understood what was wanted they complied in dignified silence, and now they stood naked too, Their skin was a lovely light brown colour all over, a diluted version of my own dark brown skin. I was distracted for a moment by their flawless skin, even in my own panic. They didn't try and cover their small breasts, or their neat curly bush of hair between their legs. I tried to draw on their courage and calm, and managed to stand a bit straighter, although I still couldn't bear to move my hands away from my private parts. [Again, how would Thirteen have a specific taboo against genitals and breasts when her society keeps the entire body covered with the suits?]

'Hmm,' the captain was observing us, looking amused at my over-reaction. [X] and [Y] were going through the clothes methodically, feeling each piece of the fabric, shaking it out, and then putting it aside when no gold fell out.

'Well.' The captain said when they had finished. 'Looks as though you may have been telling the truth. Give them both their clothes back, See, no harm done, right, Techy?' She winked at me in a way that was almost a leer.

I seized the pile of clothes and put them back on as fast as I could. In my haste to cover myself I got confused with the unfamiliar items and had to start again when I got the trousers on backwards. Enn, who was far less bothered, easily finished first.

'Okay then,' the captain said, stretching her arms to the side and sighing. 'Looks like you at least are telling the truth that you don't have the gold on you. So either it ended up in the sea in the way you said, which I didn't quite catch to be honest, or you threw it into the sea yourselves, which wouldn't make that much sense really, so we're back at square one. [Cliche!] [Soandso], get this ship started. I want to sail away from this disappointing day and not have to look back at it. You two, stay out of the way for a while. I will talk more to you later.'

She turned and stomped away, seeming pretty furious. I quailed, feeling violated and humiliated, but I did register that we were at least a little bit safer than we had been a few minutes ago. I mean, now that I was less scared I could think rationally about it and I had to admit, rationally, there wasn't much issue with the fact that we had been picked up by raiders when we were exiled already. And the whole myth around the captain eating people was clearly ridiculous. I would just have to try and stay calmer in the future and not disgrace myself like that again.

'Are you OK, Thirteen?' Enn had come over to me and took my hand, apparently without thinking much about it. Their touch and their close grasp helped me feel better immediately. We were still alive, and that was worth a lot. My life had been out of control for days now, so who cared where we went next?

We stayed holding hands as we tried to find an unobtrusive place to stand. There wasn't really anywhere - the whole deck was a busy thoroughfare of activity, with the sailors moving here and there to adjust a rope or wind some rigging [research actual ship functions! Or better yet, come up with a modified version of a ship - an airship? But then it is more likely that they would be using ships on water than having invented airships instead.] - but we nestled up close to the main mast by a couple of barrels containing the fresh water [would Thirteen know that?] and tried to reassure each other.

'I think we're going to make it,' said Enn. 'They are probably going back to the [FreeCity], right? That's where they come from, and where they live. We'll find a way to placate the captain and then be able to find a place to go when we get there. Don't worry, T, this is a good thing, I think.' Enn gave me a brave smile.

I appreciated their courage, but I vehemently disagreed with their optimism. [Maybe make Thirteen the (overly) optimistic one?] 'I don't think so. Why would they want us? We are just people who got in the way of their gold, that's all,'

In about half an hour's time, a sailor came over and told us that the captain wanted to see us. They beckoned for us to follow and set off through the bustle on deck towards the back of the ship, leading us to a narrow and steep set of wooden ladder steps that I could not imagine how the captain would be able to get down them. Enn went first, their easy balance making it easy for them, and I followed with a lot more clumsiness, my long legs getting stuck and hitting my shins on each narrow step.

We reached the floor below the deck, which was much more dimly lit, and followed through the sleeping quarters of the sailors [what would the layout of the ship really be?] towards a room with mullioned windows facing out towards the sea on both sides of the ship, instead of the bare cannon-holes that had been there before. [Not too Pirates of the Caribbean!]

This was the captain's quarters, and compared to the world of the forest that I had got used to in the last few weeks, it was luxurious. There was a big polihed table, several tallow [?] candles lighting the darkness, and the chairs had high carved wooden backs and padded seats. The captain sat in an especially big one on the opposite side of the table, and gestured for us to take the seats opposite her. At a nod from her, the sailor who had brought us to the room retired and went back to their tasks on deck.

'This is better, don't you think?' she said, her tone very matter-of-fact. 'I am sorry for any unpleasantness caused by having to take a look at you both upstairs. You have a certain imperative as a captain to be seen taken action, don't you know. That's politics for you. The crew just wouldn't have accepted whatever you had to say until they had seen with their own eyes that you hadn't stolen our stuff. I wish you had, actually, because then we would have it back now. As it is we've only got the trip home empty-handed to look forwards to. I'm angry about it and so is everyone else, but don't you worry. If you cooperate with me then there will be no problems in that regard. No-one will be able to take out their misplaced anger on you, for instance.'

I couldn't tell if she meant it as a threat, but she was talking perfectly normally. In fact, I began to believe her, that she was being completely direct and honest with us. I didn't know how my fear of her intimidating presence had just started to melt away into trust, but I couldn't help it. The captain didn't look like the sort to be into mind-games or anything.

'OK. So go through this again for me. I'm young but not that young. I've seen a good deal, but you don't seem to be anything anyone's ever seen before. Tell me everything. What led you two to start hanging out together?'

[Hang on, she wouldn't be able to tell Thirteen was a Techy straight off, because she's wearing [LucySociety] clothes?]

I looked at Enn, who looked back at me with a shrug. There seemed to be no reason not to. I took a deep breath, and started from the beginning.

'I don't know whether I should tell you this, really, it might put you at risk - I mean, just because I found it means that I've had [TechyBoundless] trying to mindwipe me and even try and kill me for weeks now...'

The captain put back her head and laughed, a deep rich booming laugh which still contained a mocking edge somehow. 'I don't give a [swearword] what [TechyBoundless] thinks or does,' she said grimly. 'He doesn't frighten me. In fact, we are the ones standing up to him, so I am the best person you could tell about this. Come on, what's got his royal Techiness into such a tizzy?'

I reached into the hidden pocket in the underside of my jacket. [Maybe they found it while they were searching them both? Means they are forced to confess what it is and what's happened so far?]

'This is a rare gem, made out of a mineral that is only found on this world. Not Earth. I found it in the ship in the museum, and I accidentally discovered its message too...'

 

The captain turned out to be a good audience, attentive but also inserting plenty of appreciative comments and questions along the way. Once I had started talking I found it quite easy to keep going - it's something I had to work on a lot when I was younger, as I had a natural tendency to be too talkative and not focused enough. But under the direct gaze of the captain and the supportive silence from Enn beside me I was able to rediscover my joy of telling a story. I added gestures, I described every scene, but I never exaggerated - I got the sense that Enn wouldn't like it if I did. All of it was the absolute truth.

'And then we found ourselves with the tide coming in - ' I grimaced, and decided not to go into details about that particular adventure. I hated the very thought of water in its massed form. It really felt like it was out to get me. ' - and you found us just after we were able to get onto the overhang. We would have been OK, you know,' I said, suddenly feeling defensive. 'We got through the caves and we would have got through that. Enn said that the tide would have been going out again in another couple of hours.'

'Ha! I wouldn't be so sure about that,' the captain said. 'Tides on this planet don't follow such predictable behaviour as all that. And the moons are working their way into a complete double lunar eclipse in the next couple of weeks. The tides are off-the-scale high, right up to half that cliff's height. It'll only last about a month either side of the eclipse day, but still a lot of people won't even consider sailing out here at such a time in history. But I know how to sail this vessel in all weathers, all places, I've taken her all around the oceans of this planet and I'm not going to stop now. There are profits to be made and a revolution to run.'

I didn't know what she meant, but I wasn't about to draw attention to my ignorance. The thought of the water creeping past us again on that ledge made me shudder and I tried to forget about it. Ah, that mind-wipe looked really good sometimes...

'So where are we going?' said Enn. Both me and the captain looked at them in slight surprise, as they hadn't spoken in the last two hours while I told our story for us.

'Oh, back to [FreeCity]. This was our regular delivery time, but we will just have to wait until [HermitBoundless] lets us know he is ready to start using our little arrangement again. He's going to get hungry by next month, is all. Apart from that the Boundless don't need food. So he'll be fine really - it's just a fancy of his, I reckon, to still get food even after he's been hiding for millennia up in that mountain of his.'

[What do the smugglers exchange with [HermitBoundless]? Would he need anything? Would he have access to the materials (not just gold) that the [FreeSociety] needs to stay free? E.g. some sort of important mining material that only he has seams of in his mine?]

'So you're telling me that the mines have flooded?' the captain said, looking stricken. 'That is the worst thing you've told me so far, my friends. Without the [HermitBoundless]'s mines we are basically screwed.'

'Why?' I asked. What did he give you?'

'All raiders and revolutionaries need some basic equipment, and one of those things is a certain type of metal [or whatever!], and the only mine in the world that has it was the one under [HermitBoundless]'s lake. [Something that only forms when the pod crashed into the surface of the rock, turning it into something else? So there is also some in the crater in the sacred mountain, but Lucy keeps that quiet/doesn't let [TechyBoundless] mine there?]

'So who are you?' said Enn. 'I mean, even if the stories are totally wrong, at least Thirteen has heard of you. I have no idea what you're supposed to be or do. Thirteen said something about you taking away children from their families? Is that true?'

The captain looked back at me, as if reminded of my existence. [No, that doesn't make sense, they were just talking for ages!] 'Oh, you are better off having not heard of us, my dear Enn,' she said, sternly. 'An empty mind is much better than one which has already been filled with complete nonsense. My name is [captain] and I lead this small crew of revolutionaries. I believe though in the other countries we are known as raiders, and even our own society says that we are renegade rebels. But we are the same as them, the same as any person on this planet. What we need most from this is the chance to be truly free, and neither of you poor bounded ones even have any idea what that means. Humans are not supposed to be ruled, and particularly not be immortal beings who very often abuse their deathlessness by taking advantage of us mortals. You may not believe this, but you are the lucky ones to be on the run and escaping from the dictatorships of your respective societies. Now what you call raiding I call missions of freedom, young Thirteen. We never take people who don't want to be taken. We are rescuing those at risk of persecution from your precious - but as you have discovered recently, very flawed - [TechyBoundless] overlord. They are night raids, where we risk our lives to help those who cannot bear to live under such an oppressive system any more. We run the same service in [CapitalistSociety] and wherever we can set up our networks, even though there are only a few of us. You though, Enn, are the first [LucySociety] I have had the pleasure to meet. We have not had much success establishing stable contact with the tribes even closest to the coast. The way you all move around all the time makes it even more difficult, and you have no long-distance communication technology. It is most frustrating. Still, at least we have the assurance that the [LucySociety] are better off in several significant ways than those in the other bounded societies. I believe your Boundless Lucy is not anywhere near as demanding and dictatorial as the others. Is that correct? She doesn't interfere so very oppressively in your everyday lives?'

Enn was looking slightly bewildered by all this radical rhetoric. They rallied though, and replied: 'I don't really know what you mean by a dictator. Lucy never seemed like a threat or any sort of problem to me - not until I saw them with [TechyBoundless], anyway, and heard them talking. It seems that although they may not like [TechyBoundless] they are happy to work with them and even to sacrifice me if necessary. They didn't even hesitate when he started to blow up the [HermitBoundless]'s home.'

'"They," eh?' The captain's eyes sparkled. 'So it's true - you don't have gender?'

'That's true, of course. It seems as though the rest of the world finds this a little strange though,' Enn said, frowning.

The captain chuckled. 'Oh yes, we certainly do find it strange. I believe there are members of my crew from [CapitalistSociety] who will struggle to believe you. Over there, you know, they are very strictly divided up. Women, they think, are supposed to stay at home with the children. Now, I think I'm a woman, but I certainly don't see the housewife thing happening to me, do you?'

Enn clearly didn't know what she was talking about, but I shook my head. [Maybe the whole concept of a housewife is meaningless here? They don't have enough time off to have a family unit in [TechyLand] anywhere like how ours is.]

'All right. The information you have brought me is exceedingly valuable. Do you realise how rare it is to get away when the Techies want to mind-wipe you? We manage to rescue maybe one or two of the poor sods now and again, but we always have problems when we do. And now it looks like I have picked up the most wanted pair in the whole planet. Which is why I reckon we need to get a move on. Let's go and tell the [somesailortitle] to add some more sails.'

She rocked herself forward and onto her feet with a slight grunt of effort, and then strode over to the other end of the room, back through the door to the sailors' sleeping quarters. She made short work of the ladder, taking the steps two at a time with her mighty thighs and working herself through at the top of the trap door with an expert twist of her body.

Before either Enn or I could follow her, we heard shouting. The sailors above us were telling something to the captain, urgently.

'What the...?' I looked at Enn.

'I don't know. They are so different. I have never seen such violence in the way people talk to each other before. It seems so strange. Still, at least the captain believes us. We don't need another enemy right now.'

More shouts from above made us both look up. The captain's face appeared in the piece of sky revealed by the trap door. 'It's as I thought!' she called down, sounding almost wild with glee. 'We've got trouble! You guys should come up here and see this. It's you who have brought it down on us, after all!' But she didn't sound angry, she sounded almost happy about it.

'Oh no. It must be [TechyBoundless]!' Enn took off up the ladder, anxiety shining from their face. I followed, taking my time and managing to be less clumsy on the way up again.

When we were back on deck it was easy to see what the problem was. Off towards the horizon, back where the spit of land and mountains curved round to become [LucyLand], an airship was visible, chugging steadily towards us. Only one society had that sort of big grey airship, I knew. The Techies. [TechyBoundless] was still after us.

Chapter [X]: Enn

 

I watched the airship with a feeling mainly of frustration. Damn damn damn! I should have known that they would find us again. How did they still know that we were still alive though? It made no sense! If ever there was a time to assume that you had succeeded it would be when you had blown up a lake on top of people. Perhaps they were just coming this way to go home again, and it was complete coincidence? Or maybe they were still scouring the mountains for me, if they hadn't realised I was in the lake when it went down with Thirteen. I felt so annoyed with myself - if I had somehow blown up the airship when it had been parked by the lake... I hoped that the wolves were OK. I had not left them in an enviable position.

[Do I want guns to exist in this world? Isn't it inevitable? Could they have gone a slightly different way with it - e.g. most of the Techy weapons would be basically just remote controls to activate the people's suits against them? Does everyone have an implant that can kill them if necessary - very secret of course - that would be the threat to Thirteen's family when [TechyBoundless] escapes at the end? But then of course the problem is that he could have just used that on Thirteen in the first place, when she first escaped, without having to bother with chasing her down - so maybe the secret lethal/knock-out injection is part of the suit, and therefore maybe Thirteen collapses in the initial escape when the airships first pursue to get her, and Enn has to figure out by themselves what to do and why Thirteen has collapsed? (E.g. the clue is that she went down clutching her neck.)]

All this was doing nothing about the problem. The captain stood rooted to the deck, legs planted wide and strong, and regarded the airship with her arms crossed. 'We've got a job on our hands here,' she said. 'Are you ready to potentially die today then, eh, Enn?' They flashed me a grin that definitely looked a bit rogue-ish.

'Surely it won't come to that,' I said, thinking of my children. I had to get back to them somehow. I would not let them lose a parent.

'I'm afraid it might at that,' the captain said casually. 'We're miles away from [FreeCity] and the tides are against us all the way. The tides are no joke at this time, strongest they've been in millennia, and an airship, well, it's slow but it's steady. Engines don't get tired the way sailors do. And I would normally expect us to be safe here as we're inside the [FreeSociety]'s borders already. But I don't think the normal cases apply here, not even a little bit. Nope, the game is on.'

They turned, and clapped their hands together with a clatter and jangle of metal. 'Places!' she roared, and the sailors jumped to her command, running towards the oars set in the sunken part in the middle of the deck. They shuffled in their seats, spitting on the palms of their hands and shifting their grip and planting their legs, ready for a long-haul. With the rippling muscles on display and the determination on each face facing me I felt some hope, but the captain still looked grim as they took stock of the distance between the airship, us, and the coastline.

'Heave, you sorry lot! Heave!'

In front of the oars was a huge drum, with two big padded sticks. The captain themselves went up this drum and seized the sticks, bringing them down in a steady rhythm. They started slowly as the sailors found their rhythm, drawing the huge oars back and forth with three people to an oar, but they were soon moving faster, even breathing together, all moving together with precise synchronicity. The boat perceptibly sped up, beginning to cut a white wake from the back. A gust of wind filled the sails above us and gave us an extra burst of speed as well, and I felt for the first time the thrill of sailing. It was a wonderful thing as the wind brushed through my hair and looking back, I couldn't believe that the airship could really be a threat. It was still only a small blob at the horizon of vision. At this rate, we would easily cruise through to [FreeCity].

Thirteen still looked worried though. She just didn't like the water and I guess the prospect of being sunk and ending up in the water AGAIN was too much for her to contemplate.

'They're never going to give up, are they?' she said, sounding morose.

'Maybe not, but they're never going to catch us either.'

'[Soandso]!' the captain boomed in between their drum-beats. 'To the rudder! Trim the sails! Give it everything we've got!'

The slim, almost weaselly/ferretty [cliche] person who had first rescued us [ah, the reason it was him on the row boat and not the captain is that the captain doesn't bother with the row-boats - she is too big?] bowed to the captain and then scuttled up to the raised part where the huge wheel stood in the centre in pride of place. It was obvious that it did the same job of steering as the wheel had done back in the boat that I had crashed when I had the fight with the Techy. Although all this technology was very unfamiliar, it still seemed remarkably simple in principle, if not always in practice.

'You two!' [Captain]'s voice rang out towards us, where we had once again took up residence beside the main mast, trying to keep out of the way. It was easier now that most of them were rowing. There were only four sailors left, clambering up and down the rigging with an ease that made me nervous. [Maybe Enn is scared of heights, a phobia, just like Thirteen's phobia of water?]

We hurried over, but I didn't understand what they meant until they roared at us. 'Back oar then, you [insult]! One on the left, one on the right, and just do your best not to knock anyone else off rhythm, got it?'

I looked at the rowers and then at us. We didn't seem to fit the general body-type - most of these sailors looked as if they spent their lives at home behind the oars. They were very obviously muscley. Now, I am fit and healthy, but I don't really think of myself as particularly strong. Thirteen, as a Worker, was in a bit of a better position.

'MOVE! Do you want to get caught or not?' the captain roared, and we stumbled as best we could down the stairs to the oar level, weaving our way carefully through the moving sweeps of the wood either side of us.

We got to the back oar and both slid on the narrow bench, one on each side. I nervously placed my hands on the wood in front of me, but for several strokes I was just holding it as the other two sailors on that oar moved it. Finally I found my footing against the board down in the bilges [right word?] and tentatively added my weight on the next stroke. The sailor next to me didn't complain, so I kept going. I don't think I made much difference at all, but it did feel good to be doing something to try and help.

All we could see from here was the backs of the people in front as they flexed and stretched and pulled. If I glanced up occasionally I would see the glowering face of the captain, still banging their drum with an enormous amount of power, a light sheen of sweat making their face red, but they showed no sign of tiring. I had thought it odd originally for them to take such a menial task if they were in charge of the decisions, but now I felt its effects - when the captain was putting in the work of drumming, and occasionally roaring at us, we were much less likely to slack.

I soon felt myself tiring though, and the wood which had seemed easy to hold to start with now seemed to be full of splinters, rough, and slightly burning my hand with its friction. I knew I would get blisters. I hoped Thirteen still had her callouses from being a Worker, because I knew I would be in agony tomorrow. That would still be better than mind-wiped, or dead.

The sun moved down in the sky, towards the afternoon. I was now gasping for breath, and despite my best efforts I could only really contribute any strength at all on every third stroke or so. Thirteen next to me still seemed OK, although her teeth were gritted and her hair had gone wild. Occasionally she brought her arm up briefly to wipe the sweat off her forehead. I gave her a glance occasionally but we didn't have the breath to talk to each other.

'Come on, you lubbards!' the captain roared, who despite several hours of drumming still did not seem to have run out of breath at all. 'The wind has died! It's up to you! Or do you want to end up in a Techy mill?'

The sailor beside me groaned but the pace picked up again for a little while. Still, over the drum, and over the panting and the pounding of my blood rushing through my ears, I started to hear a new noise - the sound of an engine. I had heard it once before, back in the forest the first night that Thirteen and I had been on the run. It was the airship.

I had been so sure that we were going faster than it, but I was shocked at how quickly it had caught up. If it was already in hearing range, then - then woudn't that mean that we were in missile range too? I threw myself at the oar, but I lacked the discipline of a trained sailor, and all I achieved was to put off the other two from the rhythm.

'Easy,' grunted my neighbour, straining to catch up with my blunder.

After that, I didn't try to pull any harder, but just did my best to fit in with the strokes and rhythm of the drum and not collapse from exhaustion.

'[Soandso]!' the captain shouted. 'Prepare the cannons!'

A few of the sailors - the ones sitting nearest the front, and closest to the middle - left their oars and jogged back up the narrow stairs onto the main deck. In between rows I tried to look up and see what they were doing. I could make out them pushing heavy objects towards the back of the ship, and carrying ammunition after that. A small team clustered around each huge gun, pumping and polishing and preparing them. I wanted to scream at them to stop as soon as I realised what they were doing. It was futile! I had seen the Techy's airship guns in action! There was no way that a rusty piece of metal would be able to fight against that kind of firepower!

My anxiety rose to a pitch that I couldn't ignore. I stopped rowing and looked at Thirteen, who looked back at me with a stricken look.

'Come on,' I gasped, and we both swung our legs out of the benches and ran as quickly as we could up to the captain.

'What in the blazes hell are you doing?' shouted the captain when they saw us coming. 'Get back to your seats!'

'It - can't - work,' I panted, and then I had to sit down again as I started to see stars. 'Thirteen... tell them...'

'It's true. This is a - Techy airship,' Thirteen said. 'They'll burn you out of the water! We'll all drown!' She was nearly hysterical.

'Nonsense,' grunted the captain, never missing a beat with their drumming.

'You don't *understand*,' said Thirteen, agonised.

'Shut up. Don't tell me how to run my ship. But you're right, at this stage we don't need them to see you. Then they might really actually attack. Get below, now.' Their tone of voice brooked no argument.

I dragged myself to my feet, glad to not be rowing any more. It was true though, I could see that we were going slower, much slower than we had been. The wind had died and the sails hung limp and useless. The tide flowed visibly against us, and each wave brought us nearly to a standstill.

The airship was no longer just a blob on the horizon. It hovered menacingly just over a scant one hundred yards behind us, and it was gaining perceptibly every second. It was a slow chase, but still a chase.

'What are we going to do??' I yelled to Thirteen, but she just kept running for the stairs at the back of the ship. I took one look back at the airship and followed her down.

'We need to look out of a porthole, now!' Thirteen said, scrambling over and around hammocks and bunkbeds [?] to reach the side of the ship. 'I can't stand not seeing what's happening.'

The portholes gave us a very limited view, but by craning around to our full neck stretch we could just see the edge of the airship coming up behind us.

[Explain before this that the [TechyBoundless] is probably just chasing the ship because it is the Raider's ship, and they always give chase whenever they see them, but don't bother attacking because of the - why? They can't be bothered? Too costly? Political ramifications? So it is only when they do get a sighting of Thirteen and Enn that they are actually seriously in danger - gives more tension between them and the crew if their lives are in danger for them.]

Only the next second we heard a gigantic boom, and the whole ship shook slightly with the aftershock of the cannon going off. We couldn't see if it was a hit though - the edge of the airship that was all we could see still stayed there, stubbonly flying on, getting bigger and bigger in the porthole's peripheral vision.

'Oh, come on, come on,' I moaned, willing the next cannon to aim better. It was appalling that it had come to such violence already, but I really did not want to suggest stopping and talking to them. It was a matter of whether they shot us first - and probably only one shot would be necessary - or whether we somehow managed to cripple their ship enough that they could not continue to chase us. I spent a moment feeling for whichever mortals - even if they were [TechyPolice] - were on that airship, at threat if the ship crashed into the waves below, far out to sea, but I could not summon much similar sympathy for [TechyBoundless] or even Lucy. They were - they were rulers, but I didn't want to be close to them any more. They might not really be good rulers, was my new train of thought. It made me feel a bitter taste in my mouth to think like that, but that was the best I could do. I just had to keep going, and surviving.

[When editing, go through this whole manuscript and select the things which need to develop throughout the whole novel - e.g. the growing disillusionment with the Boundless from both Enn and Thirteen - and redistribute the various stages of that through the rest of the novel, making it smoother and tying several purposes to each scene, tightening the connections between the events in the scenes and the things which need to happen throughout the book.]

The second boom took me a bit less unprepared, and I managed to stay on my feet, so that I saw when the airship wobbled at the edge of the porthole's view, dropped a little towards the seabed, and then steadied again - but after a few moments it was clear that the ship was not really able to catch up any more. Its progress, too, had slowed to a crawl, and the wind that was blowing the wrong direction for our sails also hampered the damaged airship, just like the tides against us.

[Put some crazy sailing obstacle in the way as well, so the ship is having to steer through dangerous rocks or something as they fight off the airship?]

'Yes!' shouted Thirteen, and despite myself, to my shame, I felt a similar jubilation and relief. This looked good. The airship gradually became more distant, until we could no longer see it from the edge of the porthole.

'We did it! We're going to make it!' Thirteen grabbed my hands ecstatically, and then pranced around the room in a mad caper of joy. 'Come on, let's go see if it's crashed into the sea by now! It seemed to be losing height...' She was heading back to the steps as she spoke.

'Thirteen - I'm not sure that's a good idea - the captain said to stay - '

But she was already gone.

With anxiety blooming (I never did like breaking the rules [surely that's more Thirteen's thing? Or maybe Thirteen is in fact a natural rule-breaker.]) I followed her, calling: 'Thirteen? Come back! We shouldn't go against what they said!'

When I got back on deck I was immediately glad to be able to see again about what was happening. The airship was now about two hundred yards behind and taking much longer to move forwards, but its elevation above the water was steady. [Is it some sort of hovercraft, so all they have to do is tear the 'skirt' and then it will sink?]

'Thirteen!' I grabbed her arm from where she was standing at the back rail. 'We shouldn't - it's not like it's really over yet...'

[Soandso] was regarding us cooly from where they stood at the ship's wheel. 'You idiots,' they said, sneering. They had a face that was really good at sneering. It made me want to stick my tongue out at them, something which I often sympathised with my children for when they wanted to do that to their elders.

'Ignore him,' Thirteen said, sounding unconcerned. 'Isn't this brilliant?'

'They might see us!' I had a distinct pleading note in my voice now. 'Come on, Thirteen, this is rash. We aren't out of the woods yet. [Cliche.]'

'I WANT them to see us,' said Thirteen, sounding quietly vengeful. 'They tried to KILL us! Well now we're going to [FreeCity] and they can't stop us! To hell with all Boundless, that's what I say!'

'Well at last at least you're getting the idea,' muttered [Soandso] from the wheel. [Why isn't he calling the guards to take them away? Maybe they don't realise the level of escalated threat them being seen could cause?]

Something started to glow on the front of the airship.

'Thirteen - what's that?' I said, although I had a bad feeling that I knew at least what it's purpose was supposed to be.

'Um...' she suddenly sounded a lot less certain and cocky and sure of herself. 'I think - I might be wrong, but - probably a missile?'

'The captain said they wouldn't fire on the ship!' I cried, even though I knew I was being silly. I was out in the world now - I couldn't expect these other societies to be peaceful and civilised like the [LucySociety].

[Soandso]'s eyes went wide. '[Captain]!' they shouted, locking the wheel with a length of rope next to it [?] and running to where the captain was still drumming over their diminished number of rowers.

'The captain said that they didn't fire on us...' I kept repeating that like it was some sort of mantra.

'Well we did fire at them first! But we'll be out of range soon... they'll probably miss...' Thirteen bit her lip, and I knew she was not as confident in the technology of the Techies failing as she was trying to pretend.

'Then come on! We have to get out of the way!' I shouted, grabbing her hand and pulling her away from the back of the ship. My only thought was that at least if there was some ship between us and the gun then we wouldn't die immediately.

A bolt of yellow fire scorched past the ship on the right, flying so fast that it only registered in my vision as a blur before it whooshed into the sea beside us, sending up gouts of steam as it submerged below the quenching waves.

'[Swearword]!' I shouted, as I fell over on the uneven deck. I felt as though I would never get used to the rocking of the deck. Good solid forest land was so much more natural.

The wave the missile caused hit and rocked the boat back, so that I fell over again when I tried to get up. Thirteen and I scrambled onwards, past the rowers, who were still maintaining a remarkable level of discipline under the pressure of the attack. I don't know how they could bear it, not being able to see the threat about to come at them again.

The captain saw us as we made it to the upper level of the deck at the front of the boat [use the correct terms, even if Enn wouldn't know them?].

'You two! I said STAY BELOW! You are going to regret crossing me, you [insult]! You cretins!]' They were screaming at us, and for the first time their steady drum beat faltered as they vented their rage at us. I quailed but kept going, up the ladder. Any moment now there would be another missile...

*Whoosh.* A streak of yellow fire this time crashed directly into the limp main sail, and one of the smaller (but still huge) masts cracked with a splintering sound, and crashed into the main mast's rigging. The rigging tore a little but managed to absorb the impact, avoiding any of the other masts toppling in a row, but one of the sailors who had been dancing up and down the sails trying to take them in and stop the wind from dragging on them fell with a scream and a horrible thud to the deck below. With a cry a couple of their comrades went over to them, crying out to try and see how they were.

The yellow fireball had caught the salty sail and gone up in a gout of [what colour?] flames. The sail was already curling and blackening at the edges as the fire spread out into a vertical sheet, eating upwards into the heavy material above.

'ALL ROWERS TO BAIL DUTY!' Somehow the captain's mighty voice cut through the rest of the mayhem that had suddenly taken over the ship. The rowers leapt up, apparently still not fatigued from their marathon race of a slog of rowing, and rushed to the nearest railing, which were all hung with buckets of seawater. Every bucket was at least half full, and always refilled regularly each day, although a lot sloshed out of the buckets during each big wave. [How would they have actually dealt with a fire on board the ship? Sand buckets?] They had obviously practised this manouevre, but once every sailor was armed with a bucket of water they still had the problem of how to get it to the fire. There was no way to climb up the main mast - it had become an inferno in seconds, and would soon crash down on the deck and set that alight too.

'Come on!' screamed Thirteen, and ran to the railing at the front of the boat, where there were spare buckets. She grabbed two and I followed suit, and we jogged back towards where the water was needed. We got to the third mast - not the one that had been cracked or the one that was on fire - and I saw what needed doing: we had to climb this mast in order to throw the water on from there onto the fire. Most of the sailors were still trying to climb the main mast, or just holding their buckets and trying to aim upwards, but it was impossible to reach the core of the fire, which was the big hole where the fireball had started/punctured the sail. [Would it have gone through in fact? Or dropped down anyway and started a fire on the deck too/among the rowers?]

'Thirteen! We have to go up!' I put both buckets in one hand [possible?] and grabbed the lowest rung of the ladder of foot and hand-holds carved into the mast. [How did they get up there? Rigging?] It was really hard work, as each step up involved letting go with the one free hand in order to then grab on again before falling backwards. As I got higher my stomach turned to lead. This was much scarier than climbing trees, and I hated that at the best of times. I gritted my teeth and kept going, doing my best not to slosh too much of the water out of my buckets at each lurching stage of the ascent.

The heat of the flames was stronger here. I knew that pretty soon the fire would get a grip on the main mast itself after it had burnt through the sail, and with the weight of the other mast already leaning on it from the other side, the mast would weaken and then fall straight towards us. But it was the only way to get the water where it really needed to be. We were now above and about three metres beside the main area of the sail fire. It was already licking the other broken mast. At the last, we could delay the inevitable spread across to that sail. I tried to hook one arm through, and both legs firmly tangled in the rigging, and heaved my buckets up. I couldn't throw them both at once though -

'Thirteen!' She was just below me, coming the last few steps up to get in position beside me.

[The point is that Enn's knowledge of the way fire behaves between trees and in general helps them to be able to target the response to it and stop it spreading?]

'Hold this!' I shouted over to her, and passed her one of my buckets. Now she was awkwardly holding three, but it gave me my chance to twist around - dangling from one elbow and two feet from a horrific angle that made my head swim - and line up my bucket with both hands. I gave it the best throw I could given the circumstances, and at least it made the distance [how tricky is it to throw water three metres sideways? How far apart would the masts be on a three-mast ship?], although it fizzled in the heart of the fire with hardly any effect. At least the white-hotness of it dimmed for a moment.

'Another!' I cried to Thirteen, and she passed the next bucket over, which I threw, this time with a bit of a better aim. Thirteen passed the next bucket before I could even ask, and together we both threw the next two in perfect synchronised arcs. Thirteen had seen where I was aiming and had a good eye - the combined effect of the two amounts of water from both of us got the fire to dim significantly for a second.

'We need more!' shouted Thirteen, already heading down. I dared to look down towards the deck, but my vertigo felt so bad I had to stop. At least in that glance I saw that the fireball where it had landed on the deck had been brought under control, and a couple of the sailors had spotted us and were already on the way up with more buckets - a pair apiece.

Meanwhile, from where I was, and in the few seconds it took for the human chain of buckets below me to establish itself, I had a great view of the approaching airship. With the rowers all gone to get the water buckets, the ship had now not only stopped but was being pushed backwards by the ferocious tide. [Soandso] still stood at the wheel, fighting to stop us from spinning, which the tide was trying to make us do. If we did, we would end up broadside on to the airship's gun, and that would just make it even easier for them to deliver the final blow. Even now, a glow was building up in the front of the airship - it was close enough now for me to see the small hole the tip of the gun pointed out of, and the glass of the bridge above it, and even a couple of people standing and observing at that glass. Their shapes were familiar, and although they were small I felt sure I was looking at Lucy and [TechyBoundless].

I knew the next shot was aimed right at me, to bring the final sail down. Perhaps they could even see that we were up here in the rigging, exposed targets for them. One shot and their problem would be over - although at least we had told the captain what we had learned. The knowledge of the Boundless's betrayal would still be out there, provided the captain somehow survived drowning at sea after their ship went down.

But I had underestimated the captain. While the other members of the crew focused on the fires, they strode through the small fires on deck and straight towards the rear, where the two cannons still stood. 'Move it!' I heard their shouts above everything else, still. 'Load! Tamp down! And - fire!'

A boom shook the ship again and the mast I was in swayed alarmingly. I clung to the rigging, trying not to wimper. The damaged mast gave a louder groan even than me and settled deeper against the burning rigging of the main mast, right into the heart of the fire. I could see both masts starting to burn...

But the cannons found their mark. I watched as the big black ball sailed almost slowly through the air, up, up, towards the imminently arriving airship, and almost in slow motion I saw the glass shatter in that tiny bridge, and the two figures shield their faces and fall back as the cannon smashed through into them. Ha! Although they were immortal, a cannon-ball to the internal organs still hurt a lot, I thought.

Thirteen appeared again at my waist and passed up a bucket. 'Here!' she cried.

'Thanks!' I grabbed it and focused on the task at hand, even as the airship dropped in height and I wanted to see them go down for good. But even though they did, slowly and spectacularly [or rather, just a bit pathetically] spiral down towards the waves, we still had to get these fires under control, or we would all be drowned anyway.

I gripped the rigging tight and aimed a bucket, and then another and then another. After each one was emptied there was nothing I could do with them except drop them down to the deck below, but I could see that the sailors had realised and were collecting the empty buckets to refill over the side. The whole system started working really smoothly, and I even forgot about my terror of the height I was at as I focused entirely on aiming each arc of water to go exactly where it needed to go, just to the right places where the fire was beginning to catch for real.

It was a pretty awesome effort, and the burn in my arms began to interfere with my aim after a while. I could barely manage it, but there was no time to swap out with someone else. Besides, these sailors and Thirteen would have no idea about the nature of this fire. I had had a lifetime of working out how fires worked and observing them. This one was bigger but all the same principles applied. A fire might be good for the forest every few years, but I was pretty sure it was never meant to happen on a ship.

It was such a tiny quantity of water each time that the progress was minimal, but I was at least preventing it spreading. [How would it actually work? How would the fire behave and could it even be stopped like this? - Get Francis to research. :) ] I gave a final heave and the last few sparks were gone. Sailors were beginning to be able to make their way up the main mast to the remains of the final embers and smother them directly. I hung as limp as a rag [cliche] to the rigging, and gave the nod to Thirteen that I was coming down.

My legs and arms were jelly and with every step back down I was terrified that I was going to fall, but I made it, slowly and very cautiously, and then sat down on the deck, my head between my knees. My whole body shook, from the fatigue and the terror.

Thirteen dropped down beside me. She looked barely even tired - rather, she seemed to be fizzing with excitement.

'Look, Enn!' she said, pointing back towards the airship.

I heaved myself to my feet, leaning heavily against the mast to support me. We watched as the airship span out of control. It released its final shot, but the shot went far too wide as the airship span in a circle and then gently, almost gracefully, settled onto the water. The delicate structure of it seemed to crumple up a bit as it hit the waves, and small figures abandoned ship all over the place. At least I knew now that the Techy suits would help them all float. I didn't want anyone to die today.

That was a bit of a forlorn hope though, because the sailor who had fallen to the deck in the initial attack was lying very still, and obviously broken, where they had been before. The same sailors who had gone over to them initially were trying to talk to them, keep them awake, and give them some comfort. I was touched to see that even while these sailors practised violence against others they still felt the same compassion of any human towards a fallen comrade.

[CAN'T say that the white box came with them - although it would be logical for the captain to have taken it - but can't just have a resurrection machine healing everyone all the time! Would completely destroy the plot...]

We had formed quite a crowd around the fallen sailor. I could see that they were still breathing, although only barely. [Maybe they have a broken back and they're paralysed from the waist down now?] The heavy tread of the captain broke us up and the captain jangled through, stopping to look down at the injured sailor gravely for a moment in silence.

'OK, everyone, back to the oars,' they said, but they didn't boom it this time. There was a sadness in their voice which made me fear for the chances of this poor sailor. The crew all turned quietly and obediently, sitting back in their places on the narrow bench.

'[X], you drum. Just a slow beat, there's no hurry any more,' the captain said. [X] nodded and moved to the front of the oar place and picking up the drum sticks. When they started beating, slow and methodical, it sounded more like a funeral drum than a worker's beat.

Thirteen and I stayed where we were, regarding the sailor. Was it because of us that this person had been hurt? Well - yes. Oh god, I couldn't bear this. If anyone should have got hurt, it should have been one of us. It wasn't fair that someone else should take the violence meant for us. But that was why Lucy was always so clear about the evils of settling problems with force. That force could be badly aimed. Innocent people would always get hurt.

The captain moved to the side of the sailor and squatted down with their mighty legs. '[Z],' they said quietly, and the sailor opened their eyes. 'Keep breathing for me now, OK? That's an order. [Cliche.] Where are you broken?'

[Z] sighed, not even sounding sad so much as weak. 'It's my back,' they breathed, and the captain bent low over them to hear so that they wouldn't have to strain. 'Snapped clean,' they continued. 'No pain at all, but I can't move my legs.'

The captain looked down at the useless legs. 'Ah,' they sighed in turn. 'I see. Well, it's a good thing you can't feel them, [Z], because they are both broken, and that's a fact.'

[Z] managed a tiny chuckle. 'Well there's a blessing,' they said.

'All right. You relax now. We'll get you inside safe where you can heal up,' said the captain, and laid a pudgy hand on the sailors shoulder for a moment. [Z] nodded and closed their eyes, sighing and breathing in laboured gasps. The captain straightened up, not even struggling to move their large bulk. It had become obvious to me that their enormous size was coupled with enormous strength. I would not like to have a fight with this captain. No [LucySociety] would ever grow that big, I knew - we were naturally of a fairly short frame, apparently, in comparison to the members of the other societies I had seen, and besides, there was no way to find enough food to eat in the forest.

'OK chaps,' the captain said, in a normal voice. 'Get a board and slide him onto it. Don't move him any more than necessary, do you hear? Take him to the table in my quarters. We are going to do some surgery on his legs, and he's a lucky sod for not being able to feel it, although he won't ever walk again, and that's that. Let's just keep him alive for his wife and children, OK? And we can worry about such things later.' The captain looked grim, and the other sailors who stepped forward to arrange the temporary stretcher and move the sailor looked almost sick. I couldn't imagine it - never moving again? Back in the [LucySociety], that would mean being a burden for the tribe for the rest of your life, although it was not a bad thing. Occasionally people fell out of trees [maybe an experience in their childhood led to their phobia of heights from this - one of their friends died from a fall? Or was paralysed as well, or just had to go through a pretty horrific leg-setting after breaking a leg?], but Lucy usually took them for healing in the healing place...

[This would be the place to insert the miracle cure of the white box - or maybe to show that it no longer works for some reason? Could it have been too damaged in the descent by the rapids? Or just run out of power now that it got detached from all its surrounding gizmos and gadgets?]

'Now. You two.' The captain sounded very, very angry, and both Thirteen and I automatically moved closer to each other as the captain turned back to us and loomed above us. I had never seen a person that tall, or that wide. It was overwhelming. 'You! A fat load of trouble you have caused me. It's because of you that we lost our gold, as the lake would never have been blown up in the first place if you hadn't been there. It's because of YOU that we came under attack at all. [TechyBoundless] never usually patrols this far out, it's right next to [LucyLand] for god's sake! And finally, [Z] would not be lying crippled in my quarters if it weren't for you showing your STUPID faces ABOVE DECK when I TOLD you not to!' The last part turned into a full on roar. I cowered.

Thirteen looked suitably horrified at her impulsive mistake. 'I am so, so sorry, captain,' she managed, the words all tight and barely able to come through her mouth because of the passage of guilt that they had to pass first. 'I can't believe it had that much affect - I still have trouble believeing that anyone would be interested enough in me to try and kill me. I'm not that important! I'm just a drone!' [Ooo, levels of [TechySociety] by the terms of a beehive? Does that make [TechyBoundless] the Queen?? Would further de-gender some of the terms in the book maybe?]

'I don't care about your stupid little issues about your shrivelled self-esteem,' the captain said briskly. 'You have caused damage and mayhem to my ship and injury to my crew. It is unbelievable that no-one died. [Is it? Maybe I should kill someone... but then we would have had no time to form any attachment to a character on the crew, so there would be no point killing them off so soon - unless, maybe I could kill off [Y]?] Now, I do find you both very interesting indeed, but I have had enough of risking my crew's safety for your own, got it? When we get back to the [FreeCity], you both owe me big favours. You owe me work, right? Is that fair?'

'We - we didn't mean to cause trouble,' I muttered, but the captain just rolled their eyes. [Could this be Enn's character flaw? Too worried about pleasing others? Then why would they have defied Lucy in the first place to rescue Thirteen? Could there be some echo of one of Enn's children in the way Enn perceives Thirteen the very first time - e.g. foreshadowing Thirteen's fear by seeing the fear in their child's face? Hmm...]

'Get down below decks and see what you can do for him,' the captain snapped. 'It's [Z] who has paid your price so it's him you owe. Do whatever he asks, or I ask, and for god's sake do not cross me again when I give an order or I will throw you both overboard! Understood?'

Thirteen and I could only nod dumbly. I couldn't believe we had been so stupid. We had made it so much worse. It was good the ship was still standing, but I couldn't imagine the expense of fixing those two masts. I knew nothing about these crew but I knew they were our best hope of allies. I, for one, was going to do everything I could to earn back the captain's approval.

We trudged back down the ladder, and crept respectfully into the captain's room where [Z] lay on the table, breathing shallowly. I knew that if the fall had hurt them on the inside and they were bleeding then they would die very soon. But perhaps the spine had taken the worst of it.

'The captain sent us to help,' Thirteen said softly to one of the sailors who had brought [Z] down on the board. Goodness knows how they managed the steep stairs.

'Well there ain't much we can do, as far as I can see,' the sailor replied, crossing their arms. 'No-one's spine magically regrows after that kind of accident. Really, they're done for, and that's that. Well, I'm the doctor of sorts on this ship, so I suppose I can use you both as extra pairs of hands. You can hold him steady while I reset the bones in his legs. Normally we would have big burly men come and hold him down cos of the pain, but at least that's not necessary.'

The doctor nodded to the other sailor, and we all gathered around the table. It was just the right size for one person to lie on top. [Z]'s eyes flickered open as we approached.

'You just rest, [Z]. Close your eyes and go off to sleep if you can. You don't want to hear this, even if you can't feel it.' The doctor spoke directly to them and they grimaced.

'Ah, great,' said [Z]. 'Just get it over with, doc. Cut them off if you like, they're useless to me now.' They closed their eyes and lay back, shuffling their shoulders as if they were trying to get comfortable.

'OK, you two just take an arm each,' the doctor instructed us. 'Your job is to make sure he doesn't move, OK? You [othersailor], take his middle. Just hold him down with your own weight on top of him, then I've got an anchor to work off.'

We moved to where we were supposed to be, and I knew there was no way that [Z] was sleeping. Dimly, I could hear the boom of the rowing drum coming down through the deck to us, and much closer to hand, [Z]'s quick breathing. Even knowing it wouldn't hurt, the body I guess doesn't like to take chances.

The doctor took one of [Z]'s floppy legs and manoeuvred it into position. They got the two sides of the broken left shin in between their hands, and after prodding around the swelling area for a bit, squared their palms up against the two edges and smacked with a sharp motion to get them both back into place. There was a sharp crack as the bones went back into place. [Have one poking through the skin? Seriously gruesome...] [Z] convulsed at the sound, but only his chest and upper body moved. His legs stayed like dead things on the table.

[Will bone heal even in a paralysed area? It still gets served with the blood supply and so on? Just conscious control that gets cut off?]

There were three more of those horrible cracks, going off in sharp counterpoint to the dull boom of the drum above. Finally the doctor sighed and had [othersailor] bring them some bandages and a couple of sturdy pieces of wood. They wound the splint to the leg tightly, leaving no room for the bones to rebreak, and then stood back and examined the result with a critical eye.

'It'll do, but they're mostly pieces of art now, anyway,' they said. 'Well, at least you're still breathing, [Z]. I think you've got away without breaking anything inside you too bad. You would have keeled over by now if you had. So you'll survive. You'll see your wife again, eh? Just remember that.'

[Z] opened their eyes, and nodded. There were tears in the eyes though, and they spilled out of the sides of their eyes and rolled down towards their ears. They took a deep, shaky breath and nodded. 'Yeah. My wife. It'll be good to get back to her. Don't know what we'll do for money though... oh dear...'

[Argh! This story seems to be crying out to me to use the magic white healing box, but... it shouldn't even come with them on the ship, because they are already not going to be in the right place when they actually get into the capsule at the end of the book. This time-line stuff is really screwing with my head. I am going to resist the impulse to include it here because then it is more of a consequence anyway and it prevents yet another plot complication that I will have to untangle and unwrite later.]

'We should get back on deck,' said the doctor, wearily. I recognised them as one of the rowers who had been only a couple of rows in front of me. So that meant that they had rowed for miles, then fought a battle and a fire, before being called upon to operate on their fellow sailor. And still they were going to go back upstairs to row some more. Whatever else these [FreePeople] were, they were at least as hard workers as the Techies.

'You two,' the doctor said, turning back at the door. 'Stay with him. Bring him water, food, whatever he asks for. And take good care of him, I want my patients well looked after. You owe him a blood-tie.' [Opening for some world-building by having a particular [FreePeople] tradition there. Strong sense of honour and debt between them all?]

The doctor turned and left, following [othersailor] back through the sailors' sleeping quarters and back up the ladder, slowly and painfully. I winced at the thought of rowing more today. My hands were a mass of blisters when I remembered to look down at them.

Thirteen quietly drew up a chair at the side of the room, close by to [Z]'s head. I did the same, watching their breathing, which slowly settled from crying to panting, to the calm of sleep.

 

Chapter [X]: Thirteen [Arriving in the [FreeCity]]

 

It was a long night. [Mention the sun going down in the preceding chapter during the chase and fight, and so on.] Enn and I only slept in snatches, and we woke up again whenever [Z] groaned or whenever the ship gave a certain type of lurch. We knew we were in deep disgrace now, and every time I woke up I felt miserable, despite our escape. We no longer tried to look out of the portholes, but I could feel that the ship was moving along steadily, limping along to the steady boom of the captain's drum. At a certain point the room next to us filled up with half the rowers, given a few hours to catch up on sleep; after a few hours the other lot came down, looking ragged, and swapped out with them. Neither the captain or [soandso] took a rest all night. Enn and I leant up against the walls of the captain's room, sitting with our heads dropping every few seconds.

Eventually, the pale light of dawn [cliche] came through into the porthole and I found myself feeling slightly less sleepy, or at least more aware of where I was and what was happening. The crew next door set off a snoring that could be easily heard through the thin wooden partition. Nobody was yet stirring, although the boom still came from above.

I stood up and stepped round [Z] on the table and Enn sitting on the floor to look out of a port-hole. I was just expecting more sea, and maybe a distant part of the coast, if I was lucky, sliding by as we limped past, but I got a shock. There was a city out there. And by the looks of things, it had to be the [FreeCity].

[Describe what it looks like, and the differences between this one and the city or wherever it is that Thirteen lives. Enn of course will never have seen any static human settlement at all...]

The city drew closer as I watched, and I marvelled at the size of it, but at the same time I trembled. If we found a way to stay safe from the Boundless then I would spend the rest of my life here. It looked like a frightening and dirty and chaotic place to do that. I missed my old life and my previous world intensely as the gold of the sun gleamed across the rooves of the multitude of buildings and shacks. How could I ever even hope to find my way around, let alone find my place in a team of dedicated, trained Workers to fulfil my life?

I won't lie, I shed a tear or two as I stood there. As we got closer the ship started to pass other boats and ships, all of which looked all varieties of shapes and sizes but none of them quite as damaged as ours was. I could even make out the faces of some of the sailors on these ships gawping at ours and pointing us out to their buddies. Ah, hell. We would be indentured to the captain for the rest of our lives to pay off the damage, and [Z] would need us to look after his family now that he could no longer go to sea for them. I guess at least I would not be here without a purpose.

The sea became a harbour, and then the wharves [correct term?] stretched out into the distance, with loads of ships all bobbing at bay there. The ship glided into one of them, the captain could be heard shouting new instructions, the drum stopped and a big splash told of the anchor going down. [How would Thirteen know all that?]

There was a thumping on the stairs a few moments later and the sailors in the next room all miraculously woke up and scrambled to get out of their hammocks as the captain came into view.

'Rest, people, stop being silly, no need to get up,' called the captain, and the crew sank gratefully back into their beds. 'Today I want you all just to focus on getting your strength back, okay? Tomorrow we will start repairing the ship. No-one is to go ashore. Understood?'

A chorus of 'Aye-aye, [title],' echoed back to her and she nodded, satisfied. Then she clomped on through to us, expertly maneouvring through the narrow gaps between the hammocks as if there was no trouble being so big.

The captain opened the door and softly closed it behind her, looking to see how [Z] was. He didn't stir - he had sunk into a deeper sleep sometime after the second change-over of rowers and now looked as still as death, apart from the rising and falling of his chest.

'Ah, it's sad,' breathed the captain, shaking their head. She drew up a chair and sat herself down on it, legs spread wide and back straight.

Enn jerked awake at the sound of the chair scraping the floor. 'Wha'? What is it?' they groped around, trying to find something to hold on to to help them stand up, but then they came to enough to realise what was happening and stopped struggling against their dream state.

The captain regarded us both with no very friendly gaze. 'So. You too owe this ship your lives, and this sailor your lives. I expect you to serve both until you hear from both me and him that we release you from the duty of doing so. This is our way here. We don't use money like the [CapitalistSociety]; we don't all get assigned to little slave bunks and modules like the [TechySociety]; and we don't take to the trees like the [LucySociety]. We have our own ways and you will have to learn them. But above all, remember this: we live by our word, and we prize honour as our highest possession. So now, when I say you are bound to this ship and this sailor, you understand - this is binding. Do I have your words?'

I felt moved by the speech. Everything seemed so right and clear when she spoke that I felt comforted and almost ordered like at home. It may be a different sort of order, but perhaps these people weren't such savages as all that. I stood straighter and faced her as if I was some sort of soldier.

'I understand, and I give you my word. I will serve this ship and this sailor in any way that you and he sees fit until such time as you deem my debts to you both to have been paid in full. I deeply regret the harm we have brought to you and your crew and your goods, and as long as we are just creatures capable of reason and rationality, we can find an agreement to make things right again.' [Is that some sort of ritual saying in the [TechyLand]?]

The captain nodded gravely. I noticed that [Z] had his eyes open too, and was watching me clearly. I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but I hoped I read some satisfaction of justice being done in his drawn face.

The captain turned to Enn. 'And you, [LucySociety]?'

Enn looked more anxious and upset than I had ever seen them. 'My noble captain, I wish I could agree with so right a demand as you have laid on me. But I cannot so easily give my word. I have a prior claim on my life and effort. I have children, three children between seven and twelve years old, waiting for me back at my tribe. I have already broken my bonds with them too long by helping Thirteen here. Now that we have reached [FreeCity], all that I need is to go back and help them more. I hope you, [captain], and you, [Z], can understand. A parent's duty cannot be neglected and stands above all things.'

The captain took a deep breath. 'Hmm. Some would say that they did not care about the problems you have created for yourself with your own decisions, but I am not quite such a harsh leader as that. I can see your dilemma. You need to be back home. But, Enn, have you considered the full extent of your position? I do not think that it is possible for you to go back. You are the most wanted person in the world, second only to Thirteen here. After your escape and defiance, I doubt you could just return to your own people. Any Boundless - yes, even your precious Lucy - has to do what is best for them all, and they will not hesitate to turn you over to [TechyBoundless]. [FreeCity] is your only hope in any case.'

I grimaced at the inescapable logic of what the captain had said. It was so sad, and all my fault - Enn would never be able to go back to their children! Oh God... the memory of that little face bounding past me along the path came back to me. Such a happy little child, and Enn would not be able to see them grow up or become who they were meant to be. I shut my eyes to try and stop the tears.

But when Enn spoke again, it was not with any self-pity. 'I understand what you say, and I know it is true. But I cannot accept it. A parent should not let any size of obstacle stand in their way. I must try. I believe I can get back to my tribe untracked by trekking back over the mountains. If necessary, I will go into hiding back in my home forest, and not even Lucy will be able to find me. I am the best tracker of my generation.' They stood straight and proud and I quailed to think of them taking such risks, and living such a non-life. If there was anyone I owed my life to in this room, it was Enn above all.

'Captain,' I said, trying to get a grip on my voice. 'Enn has suffered in order to rescue me. By the terms of your society's honour, I must also be bound to them. I am bound primarily to Enn, and tighter than I have ever been to anyone. Please - may I have your leave to first serve Enn in any way I can, until such time as they see fit to lift the bond between us?'

I was already trying to think of ways I could be of use to them. Perhaps I could help them get back to the mountains, actually learn to hunt this time and guard the camp while they went out to gather supplies. We could go back to the way we were right at first, just me and them and the forest. If Enn could evade Lucy then so could I, with Enn's guidance, of course. We would live our lives out together in the forest...

I had been worried about adapting to life in this huge sprawling [FreeCity], but now I saw

[Comment on the formal feeling of this whole scene?]

that staying here would be the easy way out. I could do far more than that, I was capable of adapting to much more different situations. Hadn't I shown that to myself again and again in the travels I had had so far with Enn? For them, I could easily become a forest-dweller. I would never even regret it. It would certainly be a lot better than never seeing them again.

'By the terms of our society, you show admirable integrity, Thirteen. I agree, you do owe your life to Enn before you owe it to us. But Enn still has the debt to us too, and I hope they will bear that strongly in mind when deciding between honouring their duties here or going on a doomed mission back to their children.' The captain had turned back to Enn and looked steadily at them as she spoke.

Enn shifted unhappily on their feet and looked at the floor. Then they looked up, and I could tell just from the stubborn set of their jaw that they had not changed their decision in the slightest.

'I have considered. I wish there was a way for me to serve all my debts. But I still must keep my promise to my children above all. They will never know what happened to me otherwise. They are too young to lose a parent this way.'

The captain sighed, and nodded, looking away. Enn turned to me.

'Thirteen...' they said, and just from their tone of voice I knew they were going to refuse me. The despair in my chest at the conviction closed around my heart and mind and made it harder to think, harder to stand upright and stay firm on my feet. I was going to lose them, forever. They would get captured and mind-wiped. Life alone among these raiders and [FreePeople] at this lonely city suddenly seemed impossible to contemplate.

'No!' I burst out, completely destroying the formal feel of the situation. 'Enn, you can't go, you mustn't! You'll be caught and killed! Even a mind-wipe leaves you - not the same... Please...'

Enn looked upset but nothing had changed about the conviction in their eyes. 'I have to go back. And I have to go alone. I didn't bring you all the way here just to take you all the way back again! And you have a whole life to create here, you are young, you'll find new ways to work and live. You must pay our debt for both of us.'

'But I can help you!'

'You can't. You wouldn't. I'm sorry, Thirteen, but you would just slow me down, and make it a lot more likely that I would get captured. You don't know the woods. I do.'

They looked sad to have to say it, but it still hurt. I slumped, feeling like a told-off child, and cried quietly to myself. I had tried but there was nothing I could do. I couldn't even successfully not disgrace myself in front of the captain and [Z], my new masters. I had lost everything now, everything. I clutched my jacket closer around me and wished it was my suit. I was so alone in this world.

The captain was looking at me with an odd expression, almost like she was wondering something. [Figured it out, hasn't she? Thirteen's in lurrrve!] Then she slapped a thigh and rose to her feet, clattering as always. 'Well, that's the formalities over with. I'm glad we all know where we stand. It is always important to make explicit these relationships, you know.' Again, a quick glance towards me. What did she mean? 'But now we need to talk about what's *actually* going to happen. Enn, I respect your courage and your honour, but your plan is stupid. Even if you succeed, your children would never really get to have you back. You would only ever be able to be a distant presence in the forest to them. You would not be where you were needed, by their side each day as they grow. It will not do.

'I have a better plan. We are all here in [FreeSociety] fairly well agreed that no humans should be under the bonds of a Boundless. It is an unnatural state of events and we here have always provided a refuge to those wishing to leave the forced systems they had no choice but to be born into. That's what your "raidings" are, Thirteen,' she said to me. 'We are not raiders. We are *smugglers.* Of goods, yes, but also of people. Those that want out make contact with us, the renegades and revolutionaries of this world, and after months of careful planning we execute the plan in the middle of the night. Often parents send their children alone, did you know that? They don't want to risk inciting [TechyBoundless]'s wrath too much by removing themselves as workers. They are fully prepared to work themselves to death for the rest of their sorry lives as long as their children get a chance to grow up free. Do you know how heart-breaking it is to watch a parent give us their children on some horrible dark beach somewhere? They know full well that as soon as they are discovered they'll be dragged away and mind-wiped. They *know* - ' [captain]'s voice had become gravelly with thick and furious emotion - 'that they will *never* see their children again, and more than that, that they won't even REMEMBER them in a couple of days! And yet none of them have ever betrayed our contacts or our methods to the [TechyPolice], not even under torture. Now that is taking the bond of a parent seriously.'

The captain suddenly turned away from me and back to Enn. [Z] lay with his head turned towards us, quietly watching the whole scene.

'Now, Enn, if you really want to help your children then listen to me. You might have some notions about how much you like your little [LucySociety] just the way it is, thank you very much, but the way your Boundless has been behaving in recent days towards you and Thirteen should have at least woken you up a little bit to the truth, eh? I bet you didn't think that Lucy would ever sell you out, but you were. I bet you thought that Lucy wouldn't allow him to shoot at you, but they did. Your world is not as it seems to be, and you two have somehow survived and got through with information that could change the whole way that we live together. You need to listen, no, listen to me. Stay. Come with me and Thirteen here to the meeting of revolutionaries that's happening this very day in the city. We will easily change the way this city thinks. Our pathetic government has to think of keeping the peace with the powerful neighbours, but we don't. We are the rebels and the revolutionaries of this city, and we stand for what this city should really be about - true freedom!'

I was mesmerised again by her amazing power to capture just through her speech alone. I felt inspired. I didn't know what this group had in mind, but I knew I wanted to do *something* about it, and I was happy that this new bond to the captain would lead me to being able to do that. Even Enn looked somewhat swayed.

There was a pause, while Enn turned away and looked out of the window. 'All right,' they said, slowly. 'I'll stay today. I'll hear what this group has to say. If there is some sort of plan, and some way we could help, then I don't mind telling you all what we know.'

 

 

Two hours later we were sat in a shack on the slum outskirts of the city, being served some sort of dirt-brown tea by a person from the [CapitalistSociety]. I had never seen anyone of her ethnicity before - she had light brown skin a bit like Enn's, but had a [argh! So worried about actually describing race. Anyway, what am I saying? That those from [TechyLand] are black, from [LucyLand] are brown, from [CapitalistSociety] are Asian? Don't write any more about it until you have done your research!! Eek...]

She didn't say much, but eyed Enn with curiosity. Even in the little that I had seen of the city so far in our march through the clogged and busy streets, I had noticed the presence of every culture apart from the [LucySociety]. It was a huge array of people and I did not know what to make of it all. I felt silly not even knowing the most basic things about how these people lived, or how they had lived in the places they had come from. [TechyBoundless] had always made it seem stupid to waste time knowing anything at all about other cultures, but having already discovered how terribly I had fared in the [LucySociety] I was rather wishing there had been time in the brief schooling before we all became workers to include soemthing about the way different people lived.

I sipped the tea. It tasted surprisingly sweet, and slightly spicy. [Never had spices before; neither has Enn.] Enn, too, looked pleased and pleasantly surprised by the strange new flavour.

'What do you call this again?' they said.

'It is called chai tea.' [Make up something completely new instead?] 'It is a speciality from where my family came from. Here in [FreeLand] we don't have much sometimes, but still little things from the outside world get traded and shared between borders.' Her voice was soft and clear and very easy to listen to. She sat cross-legged on the mats on the ground, by the wall, and waited calmly, not seeming to see the need to say anything more.

We sipped away at the hot liquid in silence for some time. I was grateful to have something to do with my hands. I felt very lost here. I had long ago lost control, of course, but I didn't even know what we were aiming to do here.

The captain was sitting with their great long legs stretched straight out in front of them on the floor. I didn't think I would be able to get my back that straight if my knees weren't bent - the captain had some proper flexibility. That was another thing we were all taught in [TechyLand] - that we all had to eat not too much, so that we all would stay lean and save resources, and the automatic sensing of our suits dosed us with short-term energy if we needed it. It was the most efficient way, and getting fat was seen as wasteful and a very bad mark for being a worker. No-one could, anyway; everything was carefully tailored to provide exactly the right nutrients and in the right quantities to keep the body in peak condition. Still, things were obviously different here, and the fact that the captain had now been awake for over twenty-four hours and still showed no sign of fatigue proved something about maybe that my ideas from Techy culture were once again far too simple. Was anything I had been taught completely true? Did I not know anything about how life worked really?

Slowly, other people started to enter through the ragged curtain covering the entrance to the shack, and they would take their place silently sitting against the wall around on the mats. The small, graceful woman [if she's Asian, challenge the stereotype - make her clumsy and loud!] would stand and go through to the one other room that the shack had, but that other one was truly tiny, and had just about enough space for a kettle and a tiny stove, from what I had seen as I came in. Cup after cup of the sweet tea came out for each guest in turn. They were of every colour, size, gender and culture/race - I quietly sat in the corner and tried not to stare. But when one person came in who was obviously a Techy - with their skin and their tall height and the way they raised their eyebrows at me, I couldn't help it. They had lost their suit too! They were wearing the loose robes that seemed to be the fashion in [FreeCity], and they moved in them with ease and familiarity. A Techy! I longed to talk to them, but they were sat across from me against the opposite wall, and the silence in the shack was almost oppressive.

One more person came in, looking no more particularly special than any of the others, but their entrance seemed to be a signal to the others that it was time to begin. They

[Obviously describe all the new characters and their appearances as they take their places. But at the moment just make them up as I go along!]

all stood up, still silent, and waited as the new arrival walked to the centre of the room, moved some of the rush mats aside, and revealed underneath, instead of the compressed dirt floor I had been expecting, a large wooden trap door. [Cliche?] They reached forward, tugged at the ring set into the wood, and heaved one side free. The hinges did not creak as I expected them to - obviously, someone took care to keep them oiled, even out here beyond where I expected them to be able to have such technology [snobbery? Is that how Thirteen feels about it all?] and I saw below the door there was metal stairs leading downwards. I glanced at Enn, but they were looking a bit overwhelmed by everything. They had gone quite pale while walking through the city, and had sat with their knees drawn up tightly to their chest once we had got inside the shack. I tried to imagine what it must be like to go from living in a small tribe to seeing a city for the first time. My own city [name?] would have been bad enough, but at least that was clean. Here it was just chaos. No wonder they seemed disorientated.

One by one, the people all started to file down the steps. The one who had arrived last went first, and we hung back until only the captain, the woman who lived in this shack, and we were left.

'Go on then,' mumbled [captain], slapping me on the back.

I stumbled at the strength of her hand, and then made my way carefully down the steps. Enn followed close behind me, and then the woman. It was left to the captain to close the trap door behind us [or the woman stays upstairs as lookout? Maybe they get street urchins to do that for them - they would knock on the trap door if anyone was coming, and replace the mats?], which was easy for her.

When the trap door closed though, there was no light at all. I remembered the tunnels, and automatically reached for Enn's hand. I found it easily - they had been reaching for me too.

The bright spark of someone striking a match [does Elevenses work in a match factory? Is that quite a low-class job, because it is bad for their health?] flared ahead of us, and a moment after that the dim light of a small flame gave a more steady source of illumination. It came from a small lamp, but with fire inside. We only used [gas or electricity?] back in [TechyLand], and in [LucyLand] the only light we had had at night had come from the moons and an open fire. I looked at this lamp curiously as I moved off the stairs and into the much larger room below. It seemed to maybe be the worst of both worlds - the dimness and inconsistency of fire coupled with the dirty sooty glass that meant most of it didn't escape anyway.

We were in a room with a low ceiling, and it must have stretched underneath about five of the hovels and shacks above. It was well-built and square, with rough but closely cut stone walls and a smooth metal floor. The feeling of stepping on metal made me smile slightly - it was just like home. It was the closest I was going to get, anyway.

There was very little furniture in this hidden room. Again, the people were all sitting around the walls, although this time on padded, fold-down chairs bolted to the stone all the way around. Enn and I took two that were closest to the stairs. It was a bit draughty, so I could see why these ones had been left as the spare places until now.

[Have one of the characters be really old, and have to be helped down the stairs - as soon as the trap door closes they start complaining about it and massaging their back?]

The captain took up two of the seats by herself, while the woman took the one next to her and only perched on the very edge of it - I was surprised that it even stayed down, as she hardly looked like she weighed enough.

Everything was a little shadowy, as the lamp was placed in the middle of the metal floor, lighting up the reflections of the metal in a bright strip around it but not really reaching people's faces.

[For the leader - I'm seeing lots of cloaks, and cowls, and mysterious hoods - just very slightly OTT/camp?]

'Right,' said a voice from the far side - I think it came from the leader, the one who had come in last upstairs. They had seemed fairly intimidating up there but down here they had taken off the bulky cloak and overcoat and revealed only the slightly slim frame of a youth underneath. [The leader is a teenage male? Like, 18? But nobody else is that young? ... Another chance for a love triangle between Enn, Thirteen and him? Thirteen is only 24, after all, and liable to get swept away by these strong male presences who are always a bit overbearing or downright manipulative. No, but there should be a different flaw for this guy - like, he is too fanatical, and willing to sacrifice her or anyone else to the cause? Or just that actually he's really good and they do fall in love as well - and the resolution of the love triangle is that Enn does not actually find it to be bad, because their society is polyamorous anyway? Yay! At least that's quite a rare twist and way for these things to go in stories - will therefore have to lay the groundwork fairly well for it to be accepted by a traditional audience...]

'Thank you all for coming. I am very concerned about recent events, and that is why I have called you together for this emergency meeting tonight. [How did [captain] get news of the meeting if she was out at sea and this was a last minute thing? Show a messenger coming to her ship about an hour after landing, remarking on the state of it, and being sent back with the news that the captain would be bringing two guests?]

[Is this too late in the story to be introducing a whole bunch of new characters? Won't it all feel a bit off-kilter?]

But first. [Captain]. Please do introduce us to your two guests. I am very excited to meet them, if what I have heard about them is true.' [How would there be any rumours? It seems so mysterious but it doesn't make sense!]

I felt cold as the captain stood up, her double-chairs swinging back into place on the wall behind her, and cleared her throat with a rumble. 'Yes, certainly, [leader]. These two are random strays who we picked up on our ship from the cliff-face. They were moments away from being overwhelmed by the tide. Thanks to us, they are here, alive and well. The rescue cost us quite dearly. We were pursued by the airship of [TechyBoundless] himself, with the Lucy Boundless on board with him. They were intent on stopping these two at any cost. Indeed, it is only after they were seen on deck - a stupid mistake - that we were fired upon. The airship's guns managed to take out my foremast [term?] and burnt down my mainsail. It is in large part due to the [LucySociety]'s initiative that the whole ship didn't go up in flame. [Were they carrying gunpowder for the revolutionary activities? Or is that what they are supposed to have picked up, from trade with the [HermitBoundless]? Does that mean he is a traitor to his own kind, or does he not know what they are used for? Was he even in his right mind enough to trade with the raiders? Ah, so many questions. Gotta get these character motivations sorted out!] This one is called Enn,' the captain indicated them with a stubby finger, 'and they like to be addressed using the pronoun "they."' I was surprised that the captain had picked up on that in the midst of everything that had been happening. Although, on the other hand, maybe she already knew about the [LucySociety]'s genderlessness. Just because Techies were shielded from the rest of the world and knowing anything useful about other people didn't mean that the captain had been, here in [FreeLand]. 'This one,' continued the captain, pointing at me, 'is numbered Thirteen.' Again, I was surprised at the captain's knowledge of the correct terminology, although it did strike me as odd now that I heard it coming from someone who wasn't a Techy. It was the same as a name in every way, apart from being a number. Didn't that make it my name? 'They have some information for you, a small part of which they have told to me, and they carry a token at least of the proof of what they have to say. They have certainly convinced me, and now I will give them the chance to convince you.'

The captain reached behind her and brought down both seats from the wall with an expert flick of the wrist, before sitting down and settling back, hands clasped in front of her. [Or have her hands on each thigh, in a more "masculine" posture?]

All eyes turned to us. I hadn't been expecting such an abrupt hand-over. Even Enn was looking at me. I felt a moment of annoyance for them leaving it all to me again. Couldn't they help me out? [Would Enn really look like this?]

'Um... well... I, you see, I found this in the ship in the museum,' I said, reaching into my pocket for the gem. I didn't need to explain what the museum was, or where it was. Even here in [FreeLand] they had the right to visit. The museum was neutral territory and anyway, all Boundless abhorred violence. At least, that's what I had thought. [That can't be true. What about the gladitorial practices of the [CapitalistSociety]?]

I didn't want to mention 4385. She was still far too young to be dragged into this, not with the [TechyPolice], and not with the random bunch of revolutionaries who had agendas I didn't even know about yet. [A sign of her developing out of her naivete? Another theme of the book?] 'I went exploring, and fell, and the torch in my hand illuminated this. There's a message. We're going to need a stronger light than that, though,' I said, nodding at the filthy lamp in the middle of the floor.

'Show me this gem,' the leader said, holding out his arm for it. I stood up [would have already stood up when started talking] and walked over to him, feeling awkward about crossing the empty space in the middle of the room.

The leader's hand was soft and warm as I placed the gem into it. I had been expecting a hand with more... experience. It surprised me enough that I glanced up into his face. Without the cowl covering him, it was much easier to see his face, even in this shadowy cellar. He was *very* young - maybe even younger than me.

He caught me looking at him, and I quickly looked away. His look hadn't been unfriendly though. 'Thank you,' he said in his soft voice. 'Please go back to your seat.'

I scurried back. The leader turned the gem over in his hands and then lifted it to the light as best he could. It didn't work. He might be able to see the engraving, but the only way he was going to really believe me was when he saw the message emblazoned on the wall, as I had.

'We need more *light*,' I fretted. 'It would be better if you could read the message directly, I am not sure that I can remember all of it correctly, but anyway, the important thing is that I found this embedded in the floor of the museum's ship. The *Ark*. It isn't supposed to be there, it's made out of the wrong materials anyway and it's all completely wrong...'

'Has anyone brought a torch?' the leader said calmly. I felt foolish for babbling on for so long. The rest of the room stayed so disciplined in their silence that it was impossible to feel comfortable as the only one speaking.

The ex-Techy I had noticed when they came in nodded, and reached under their robes. It still looked odd to me, but I knew I was wearing the same thing.

[Of course, the way that the captain knows that Thirteen is a Techy is the colour of her skin! The captain knows no-one is black in [LucyLand]. [Am I going to have any white people in this book? Maybe the [TechyBoundless]? But then he's the horrible white slavemaster over an entire race of subjugated people... maybe Lucy?? Or just have an entire cast of BAME characters??]

The Techy wordlessly passed the torch over to the leader, who clicked it on. The bright white beam of light seemed unbearably strong after the small lamp. [Would Thirteen know the word for candle?] Even so, Enn and I were the only ones who raised our arms to shield ourselves from the light. No-one else even so much as flinched.

The leader stood up, and took a couple of steps into the centre of the room. Then he held the gem in his fingertips at arm's length and aimed the torch beam through it, back at the wall where he had been sitting. I could now see his hair [describe].

[Maybe the LEADER is the ex-Techy? Gives them something strong to bond over? Thirteen doesn't notice the colour of his skin at first?]

The message of the gem was revealed, in full dramatic large letters, across the whole wall - but backwards and upside down. The leader chuckled. 'Just my luck,' he said, and turned it over.

There it was. Everyone in the room was still as they read it, and I could feel the tension rippling through the room after the brief relaxation when the leader had laughed. This was it. We had done it. The information was spreading. [TechyBoundless] was going to have a harder and harder job containing it. He couldn't mind-wipe everyone in this room.

The strict and respectful disciplined silence of the meeting broke down in the face of this news.

'What is this? What does it mean?' [someone] said from other to the right.

'It's not - the Ark is not real? Then where is it??' another said.

Only the captain sat impassive, and that was just because they had already seen this and had time to come to terms with it. The leader also stood firm and steady, although he was staring hard at the message. He had his back to me, but I could imagine his young face creasing into a frown.

'Everybody quiet,' he said, quietly, and everyone obeyed him at once. I was impressed - this was no undisciplined rabble like the 'resistance' meeting Elevenses had taken me to [include that? Is it necessary? Would Thirteen really have had much contact with the dissenters in her society? She was dedicated to reaching the highest worker accolades, after all!]. I could believe that they would be able to get things done. It did make me wonder though - how had [leader] become the one they all obeyed like that? How could such a junior rule over all his elders?

[Good question! Think of the back-story another time.]

'This is quite something you have found, Thirteen,' said the leader, abruptly clicking the torch off and turning round to face me. I stood up again to face him, and felt surprised (as I often did) to find I was actually a little taller than him. I fought the urge to stoop. [Development point: she gets more comfortable in her own body throughout the book.]

To my surprise, he smiled broadly at me. 'No wonder they have been pursuing you so hard! Well, and what are we surprised at, friends?' He turned and spread his arms expansively, addressing everyone. 'We knew they had secrets! We knew that the Boundless lied to us and kept their power hoarded! But *this* is the first tangible PROOF of it! What an excellent time for us when you chose that particular spot to fall down, Thirteen,' he said, turning back to me, and seeming in the highest of spirits. 'You have done exceedingly well to stay alive this long. And we will all do our best to help you continue to stay that way. Now in your best and briefest manner, could you please sum up the story of how you came to escape the wrath of [TechyBoundless] and all his glorious technology?'

The sarcasm in his tone would have enraged and offended me only one short month ago. But now it barely registered. I tried to bring my thoughts in order and slim down all the bits I had to report. Still, I couldn't remove all the colour; and I like to think I did a fairly good job. Certainly, I had all of them leaning forward, listening transfixed and completely attentive.

[Have a part later where Enn compliments her on her speaking abilities and explains that they are shy of talking in front of a crowd? But that doesn't fit with their character... ah, what even is a character anyway...]

I finished only a few short minutes later, although my mouth had still gone dry even so. I looked around but there was no refreshments around here. The tea seemed a long time ago. [They would bring the cups down with them, since seeing a whole load of freshly used ones upstairs would be a security risk - but then that destroys the bare aesthetic of the room!]

'Thank you,' said the leader. 'You may sit, Thirteen, although of course I am sure many of us will have questions for you. But before that, I think we need to take stock of what we do know so far.

He stood up again, and began striding around the room as he spoke, obviously quite agitated despite his naturally calm demeanour. 'This means that the Boundless have truly gone too far. We have them this time! The world will be so horrified at their transgressions that they will not be able to help but rise up against them. This means that every part of our history is a lie. They told us the Ark crashed. Did it? How can we know? If it didn't, where is it now? Why have we not been given the option to go back to Earth, or on to wherever we were supposed to be travelling? [Do they know that this planet wasn't their intended destination?] That is our right! They go on and on about us being stranded, and not receiving any communication from the Earth. We need the truth. We can no longer trust them. Our government is willing to compromise and let them carry on like this - well I am not. I know that you, friends, are not either. [Could he be a geek?? Not actually a hunky bod?] And so. All that remains is my own news, which fits most neatly with what we have been told here. [TechyBoundless] has become restless. He has called a meeting of all the Boundless together, something that hasn't happened in more than five mortal generations. We know that in the distant past, they all used to like working more closely together, but they have since all drifted apart with their own notions of how a society should be. Well we are not their playthings! This meeting represents the best opportunity the resistance has had since the founding of the [FreeCity]. Here we have been able to grow in number, away from the Boundless's pervasive and constant influences. Here we have developed the strong core of the resistance, a refuge for the weak and manipulated. But now is the time to act. It will not take many of us. Just enough to carry out this, the ultimate mission.

'Friends. What I have in mind is dangerous. We go up again immortal enemies with powerful defences. But if we succeed, then we can do all of the necessary approach by stealth. What we will do is infiltrate the [TechyLand] by using the same channels we use for smuggling people out. Instead, we will get ourselves smuggled in. [Just go by sea rather than via the land route and through the labour camps? Would save a lot of plot-time... but not give them long enough to get to know each other and all these new characters?] From there, our crack team will descend on the Techy capital, and surround the meeting room where the Boundless are. We have contacts who can provide information about how it will be guarded. So then we simply ambush them, kill them all, and have them locked up in the prison cells before they can wake up and reset themselves. Once we have them captured, we have them cornered. They are only humans at the end of the day, and a stone wall will stop anybody. We keep them there as long as necessary, and do what we need to do to get them to tell us what REALLY happened back when the Ark arrived here. This may be our only chance. Are you with me?'

[Raise some dispute from the captain pointing out flaws in his assumptions. Also have a longer and conflicted decision-making process. This is basically the Council of Elrond though. Avoid having the cliche moment of Thirteen or Enn volunteering to sacrifice themselves and go. Although it will be fun to write about how they decide to go - what changes Enn's mind? Some revealed information about what the resistance have always believed about the Ark people being tricked into staying on this planet? I.e. the stories were passed down from the few survivors of the Mind-Wipe War when anyone who knew that the Ark hadn't really crashed got dragged up to the sacred mountain and reset. So maybe have something around the area hinting at the large amount of traffic that place once saw before it became a serene forest clearing?]

There was no resounding cheer, although his speech had been impassioned enough to merit it. [Oh! Maybe they have to go overland because their only ship has been ruined - the captain's ship. They are rebels after all. So maybe they should have come into harbour at a more secret place? Would there be any point? It's quite hard to hide a ship...] In fact although his voice had been full of emotion, it had never risen above a tightly controlled quiet volume. I felt the knowledge of the presence of the neighbouring shacks all around and above us. Instead of a cheer though came something almost more moving. As one, everyone in the room rose to their feet. The leader span slowly on the spot, beaming at them all. Then he came round and shook us each by the hand, thanking us each personally in quiet words of appreciation.

When he got to me, I felt the flutterings of something interesting in my belly. This leader made me nervous, and I was beginning to think I knew why. [Or doesn't? Very unversed when it comes to understanding her own feelings?]

'OK,' he said, as he returned to the centre of the room. 'We have many details to work out. [Would the captain come with them? Too cool a character not to...] We have an unanticipated problem: [captain]'s ship will take months to repair. We have no other way of travelling by sea. So all we have left is the overland route.'

[Someone grumbles, e.g. 'Oh no, not the overland route!']

'It is the only way. And it is far too late, we don't have much time left. We will have to plan through the night and set off as early as we can in the morning. Gear yourselves up for a long night, my friends.'

The captain stirred in her seats. '[Leader],' she said. 'Some of us here have had a sleepless night last night already. May we be excused these finer details and simply rejoin you when it has all been decided?'

The leader nodded. 'Of course, dear [captain]. It was most remiss of me to forget. [Teawoman], will you please show our guests our finest hospitality?'

The captain stood, and gestured for Enn and I to follow her up the stairs. 'Thank you, [leader],' she said.

We made a nest for ourselves in the rags and mats of the floor upstairs, and settled down for a proper rest. Now that the decision had been made to do something, to throw ourselves at the Boundless no matter how impossible the task, I felt a lot better. The horror and shame of the fight and the debts I owed to people weighed less heavily on my mind now that I knew that we would be taking some form of action. I slept soundly and the soft murmuring, barely perceptible as it drifted up through the trap-door, lulled me to sleep.

 

[Have a scene where the captain insists that they have to both go and ask permission to come from [Z]?]

 

Chapter [X]: Enn

 

I did not sleep all night. My thoughts were spinning, and I was still not sure of what the right thing to do was. I tried to ignore my surroundings and just think. This was a strange place - I didn't belong here, I should go home - but

[Make the whole book Thirteen's book? Just one viewpoint - and maybe not even first person, at that?]

I couldn't just leave. I knew what the captain had said was right. I would never get far, and it sounded like the Boundless were a threat much bigger than just to us. Although I wasn't sure that I minded so much about the Ark being hidden or whatever, and I certainly did not feel strong enough about that in principle to attack on this foolish mission, it did seem like the only way that I would ever be free to go and see my children again. And wasn't that the most important thing? Hadn't I already said that at length to Thirteen and the captain? I would have to go, even if it meant my death.

The soft but steady stream of people going in and out of the trapdoor towards the darkest hours before dawn put paid to any last chance I had had of getting to sleep. I would need to rest at some point, but my body still felt full of nervous energy from all the things I had seen. How had I got myself into this? The dark thought crossed my mind - maybe I should never have got involved. Just let Thirteen get taken to the healing place, and let the world carry on as it had done for generations uncounted. [Except the Boundless would be counting them.] But - I suppose - at least the information that she had found was worth something. At least it merited getting help from all these people, whoever they were. It was better than being abandoned, lost and alone, in this strange forest of buildings and people.

By the time the sun rose, I felt slightly more settled in my mind, but I still felt all wrong in my mind and my body. None of this was natural. I felt cooped up and trapped here, and yet I did not have permission or the knowledge necessary to just go wandering off for a breath of fresh air. [Cliche.]

Finally, the leader himself came up through the trap door. His young face looked ruffled and crumpled with tiredness, but the light of action and purpose was in his eyes.

'Ah, the honoured guests,' he said, in a voice rough with tiredness. 'I hope you slept well. I am afraid it was not very comfortable.'

[What should have happened at this point is an attack or near-miss attack on the headquarters, a rushed escape as they all split up through the roof-tops, perhaps the captain gets arrested or injured as she makes a big target, and they all have to regroup outside the city. But I don't feel like I have time for that, and anyway, how would they be found? Maybe a better thing would be foreshadowing Enn seeing something while they couldn't sleep that leads to a betrayal by one of the team and an attack later, on their way to the [TechyLand] - or even is the reason why [TechyBoundless] is ready for them? No wait, he is supposed to be surprised - so Thirteen and Enn successfully foil the betrayal before it can happen?]

 

Each of us had been given a rough woolen cloak, and I had been told that I had to wear mine with the hood up, as everyone would be curious about my skin colouring. I was certainly curious about everyone else's - I couldn't believe the variety of people! I knew that the city contained many escaped Techies, but no other [LucySociety]. We were just so insular on our bit of land that none of us would ever have occurred to come looking for a way out of our own lives. I had never heard of such a thing, anyway.

I concentrated on following Thirteen's feet, just in front of me, and I was grateful for the hood covering my face. The sounds and smells all around me were already overwhelming. I did not need the sight of everyone pushing and shoving around us to be added to that too.

We seemed to walk for a long time, and the sucking, stinking mud of the roads underfoot tired me out in a way that walking through the forest never did. I tried to keep my normal lightness of feet, or interpret the tracks I could see in the small patch of ground I could see, but there were just far too many tracks. It was impossible, I could see that. Maybe even a dog would struggle to find the scent among so many hundreds, even thousands, of feet. [Are they trying to track through the city to find the one who went to betray them? Left quietly and followed them in the middle of the night after seeing them leaving?]

[When trying to put this whole plot into post-its or a summary, draw pictures to put up on the wall - one per scene - easier to take in than just writing.]

Finally I noticed the tracks getting fewer, and the smell becoming just slightly less unbearable. I mean, it was filthy - they must have had no way of dealing with their waste at all! Thirteen, too, looked appalled. From what she had told me, the Techy capital city was much cleaner and very ordered. She had said that all the roads were paved with stone, cut in a mountain-side far away and then brought by the workers back to the city, just to make the roads neater. I didn't know whether I would actually prefer that - at least here in this filth I could see some honest earth, and an occasional plant finding a way to survive within it, even as all the humans were themselves doing.

'I apologise for this city, Enn,' said a voice beside me. I whipped my head round to see the leader walking next to me, back in his bulky overcoat and cloak. Still, it was obvious in the daylight now that he was so YOUNG. [Shock twist: the leader is actually a Boundless  himself??? No wait, that makes zero sense at all...] He was just a teenager. Back in the tribe he would still be learning the final parts of being a [LucySociety] before the initiation ceremony into adulthood. This was insane, seeing them leading a revolution like this.

'What do you mean?' I said.

'The grime and dirt and hustle and bustle. [Cliche.] It must be very different from what you are used to seeing and experiencing.

I shrugged. 'A lot, yes. I find it quite intolerable. But at least we are leaving.'

The leader smiled. It made him look even younger. 'Yes. We are, and that is a very good thing. I always find I miss the city more after I have been away.'

I looked around, disbelieving that anyone would want to be back in this city after getting out of it. But I supposed it was home, and that was the weird thing. People from places where they lived just in one place got very attached to their homes, that was what Lucy taught us. I couldn't understand it myself, but in fact I could at least understand that being away from the people who made your home was hard. I thought of my children again, but I could tell that I had made the right decision. My resolve would not waver again. Once my mind is made up about something, I rarely change it. [Didn't they just do that about going on this mission? And is it possible to have any attachment to the characters in their tribe if we never truly meet them or do anything with them?]

But the leader's attention to me had helped me feel at least a fraction less alienated from this noisy place. I could at least imagine now that others could view it with fondness and as a home, and that shifted something about it for me. It would be all right. We would go and do this mission, and come home again, all of us. And at least, now I was looking up, I could see many of the interesting sights that the city was filled with - people selling things at the side of the street, mainly objects that I had never seen, but some I could guess what their function was, or I had heard about in stories that we used to entertain ourselves with around the fire back home. [Give examples.]

I could also see where we were heading - towards a wooden wall [better fortified than that?] that ran all the way along and blocked our view. We were now only a few streets away from it. I supposed that it ran all the way around the city, which gave me a bad feeling - did that mean that they wanted to keep people out, or in?

Just as we turned a corner into a road that was broader and busier than the others we had seen, and had bigger and stronger-looking buildings either side of it, and even some paving stones here and there, a group of people armed with spears and wearing shining metal armour jogged past in a synchronised march, in the same direction that we wanted to go - towards the gates.

'[Swear word],' said the leader, his fists going into balls. [Still stick to 'they'? Through the whole book? Or have Enn slowly learn to distinguish between the different genders as she trains by encountering the different societies and their cues? Have that be something they have to do in [TechyLand] and have to remember to use the correct pronouns or they'll be caught? Although they can't go 'undercover' anyway as their skin colour would immediately catch them out and have them recognised?]

'What is it?' I asked quickly.

'It's the city guards. They're going to block the gates, I just know it. We can't beat them there. I bet this is happening at all the other gates too,' said the leader quickly to me. I appreciated him taking the time to explain it to me.

The captain, who had been lumbering ahead, [stop using potentially negative descriptive words about the way the captain moves?] had turned back and hurried towards us to consult with the leader.

'I told you,' said the captain, without rancour but with a lot of worry in their voice. 'We should have left earlier...'

'We couldn't. We left within eight hours of our decision as it was. We couldn't have prepared any quicker than that.' The leader sounded mature still, but there was just a trace of defensiveness in their voice which belied their insecurity of their age and authority.

'We will have to go via the sewers,' the captain said grimly. [Do they have that kind of infrastructure? Only in the rich parts of the city?]

[Sewers are cliche! But I don't want them to have to kill anyone to get out of the city... although that would be more realistic? Just charge the gates all on horse-back? Nah, that would be so foolish.]

'Let's just get nearer and have a look,' the leader said.

The captain looked as though she wanted to speak, but shut their mouth again. I picked up on the little flutter of tension as they decided not to contradict the leader. How *had* it come up that the leader was the leader?

[Back-story to unfold at some point: he is the child of their last leader, and has basically been in training to run the revolution from a young age. Perhaps that was even made completely explicit, and they all delegated the task of raising the ideal leader to one of the people. But then his parent died, earlier than expected (in the line of duty?), and so he was catapulted to leadership a lot earlier than was planned, or than everyone was happy with.]

We continued, and I began to feel acutely self-conscious. Surely we were obvious, an obvious target for the guards. We shouldn't get anywhere near them. I drew my cloak further round me and tried to keep my skin covered. If anyone stuck out and seemed out of place then it would be me.

Up ahead of us we could hear some commotion, and the crowds of people already thronging the streets [did they deliberately wait until 'rush hour' to make sure that they were less visible than if they had gone at dawn? Was that the mistake of judgement on the part of the leader?] became thicker. People around us started to exchange glances, as it to say, 'Hey up, what's going on here then?' The leader and the captain even returned the bewildered smiles and frowns and small little signs of sympathy. It surprised me how even though they apparently did not know any of these people, there was still such a sense of camaraderie among them all.

We slowed down with the rest, and edged forwards among the cries of 'What's going on up there?' and so on. We were now almost shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others and all their produce. The smell was quite apparent, but nobody remarked on it. To think, they were all so used to this! My head started to feel dizzy again, but the leader turned back and held my hand, holding on even as we squeezed through narrower and narrower gaps so that I wouldn't get lost.

[Maybe both of them develop a relationship with him - make him at least eighteen - and we end up with a fully polyamorous love triangle?]

[It must be weird for people glancing through the draft and getting all these spoilers in brackets.]

Finally we reached the front layer of the crowd, and we all gathered round the captain, whose frame managed to provide a certain amount of space even in this mass of people. She was also very tall, and her and Thirteen were craning over the heads of the crowd to the front, where the tips of the metal spears [why is their weaponry medieval??] indicated that the guards had indeed gathered in front of the wall and presumably where the gate was.

'What can you see?' asked the leader.

'They're just standing there. Closed the gate good and proper too. I bet its mayhem on the other side as well, at least as many people want to get in as out on a market day,' said the captain.

'Great,' muttered the leader. He [has long hair? An afro?] leant against the side of the building next to us, eyes darting around as he thought. He was looking for a way around this obstacle, I knew. I was impressed that even under this pressure he didn't show any sign of losing his determination or complaining. I was glad - it would not have helped his image as a leader. [In fact he is a consummate leader, barely letting his guard down and trying not to 'fraternise' too much with his people. Are we going for a slight trace of Jon Snow here?]

'Oh wait - the captain is stepping up, she's going to speak,' said the captain.

A loud voice started announcing something from the front, but for a few moments all we could hear properly were the 'shush!'es and 'Shut up, she's talking,' of the people around us.

'... we regret this inconvenience to the merchants and people of [FreeCity]. The market is delayed until we have found the people we seek. We are looking for a tall female Techy, dressed in [LucySociety] clothes, going by the name of Thirteen, and a shorter [LucySociety] female going by the name of Enn. They and whoever they are with are under arrest, and anyone who can give information on where they are that ultimately leads to their capture can expect a reward. Until such time as we find them, the whole city is on lock-down.'

'What?!' the captain hissed. 'Get back,' she said, taking Thirteen roughly be the shoulder and pushing her behind her broad frame. 'Cover your face.'

'I'm not a female!' was all I could think.

'This is beyond ridiculous,' fumed the captain. '[TechyBoundless] must have put some pressure on our useless government. They're so spineless only the hint of economic reprisals or a ceasing of trade gets them to do whatever he wants, everyone knows it. But this is extreme. Maybe he threatened them with force?'

'Never mind that,' said the leader. 'This way, and quick.' He took my hand again and rounded the corner of the building we were stood against, which led into a side-street. We strolled as casually as possible away from the crowd, and I expected at any moment to hear the cry of recognition behind us.

We made it about twenty paces, with Thirteen and the captain close behind. Then: 'Oi! Lower your hoods. Let's have a look at you. Where do you think you're going?'

It was a pair of guards, who must have come round the buildings from the other side specifically to cut off escape. I felt the leader tense beside me even as he casually removed his hand from mine and sauntered casually closer to the guards. 'Excuse us, friends,' he said, smiling. I felt my skin like a blazon of light shouting "Over here!" 'We were just on our way out of the city, but it appears to be all blocked off, so we are returning to our quarters. Would you excuse us?'

The guard shook their head. 'Not until I see under all of your hoods.' [Is the captain a wanted and known rebel anyway? If she is famous to have myths of her told even in [TechyLand]...]

I looked at the leader. He made a tiny movement with his hand to show me not to move. The tension ratcheted up a few more notches as the guards became less genial and more impatient.

'Come on, no messing around,' said one, flourishing their spear.

I felt the captain make a movement behind me. I just knew that there was going to be some violence, and I did not want it to be the really bloody and messy sort, and I did not want these innocent guards to die. I had a better way. Before the captain could finish whatever it was she was about to do, I reached under my cloak and got hold of my sling. This side-street was not paved, but it was full of pebbles. If I could just bend down.

'My apologies,' I said, and they both looked at me. 'One moment...' I bowed deeply and respectfully [is that part of Enn's culture? Or this one?] and scooped up a couple of pebbles as I reached the bottom of the bow.

'Oi!' one guard yelled, but I didn't bother even coming back up to standing before I had aimed and released the first pebble straight at them. It hit with a crack on the bridge of their nose, and they grunted and clutched at the broken bone. [Only way to really take people out with a slingshot is to get them in the temple? Research.] The other lowered their spear, but as I stood up I hit a gorgeous shot onto the side of their head. [But they're facing each other!] The guard crumpled sideways with a sigh. I just hoped that I hadn't killed them. It could happen, with slingshots.

'Run!' barked the leader, and we all did so, pelting past the groaning and prone guards and past several buildings beyond. I could have run faster, and Thirteen was faster still, several strides ahead of me, but we were slowed by not knowing the way to go, and then by the captain. She was formidable, but she was not able to keep up and the leader called to us to slow the pace a little so that we all stuck with her.

'Move, you fools!' the captain panted as she came up, her big legs moving steadily beneath her. 'Just get them away, [leader] - I'll find my own way. I'll be fine if I'm not seen with those two. Go, [leader],'

The professional mask of authority that the leader had worn with such ease so far slipped a little. 'But mum - ' [oooo plot twist! Is it feasible? Is it desirable?]

'Go. [Leader], I mean it. See you at the horses.' She turned and ambled away around another house, and a moment later we heard, now that we had stopped for a second, the definite sounds of pursuit.

'[Swear word],' [leader] said, looking after their parent, but turning back to us almost immediately. 'Come on, without her we can get through to the sewers.' [Not more water-based danger!]

He ran over to a small grille in the floor and tugged at it. [Cliche, cliche - find a better way to escape. Climb over the wall while the others distract the guards? Hmm.]

'Up on to the roof, now,' he instructed, leading us to a place where the thatched eaves of a house bent low to the floor. Thirteen obeyed immediately but I hesitated. I did so hate heights.

Thirteen turned back for me and bent down, her hand outstretched. 'You can do it Enn, come on!'

I had no choice, as the leader had already barked 'They're coming!' from where he was peeking around the corner for anyone approaching. The thought of the spears gave me speed. I launched myself at the edge of the thatch, buried my hands into it as a hold, and crawled up it, trying to keep as much of my body in contact and low to the roof as I could. I could tell it wasn't very strong - I had visions of falling through the beams and dying on the floor below, all twisted and broken.

The leader scrambled up beside us with all the speed of a [metaphor]. 'Come on,' he said, reaching the ridge of the roof ahead of both of us and running along the edge to where it connected with the next building. He jumped, caught the edge of the roof - this time flat (do they have the technology for flat rooves?] and pulled himself up to it. Thirteen did the same, a little more clumsily, and again turned back to reach her hand down to help me. I felt so bad that I was endangering her life by my slowness that I moved a bit faster, but I still could only crawl. I reached the connecting roof and had to stand up.

'Oh God, oh God,' I said as the fear gripped me. [Cliche.] All of my limbs felt weirdly unfamiliar as I clambered upright.

'Look up at me, Enn,' said Thirteen. 'Just at me, not down, all right?'

I did, and grabbed her hand. The leader reached my other hand and between them they practically lifted me bodily, until I was standing on the next roof, even higher up, on my feet and far too far off the floor. [Don't think I'm very good at describing phobias. Need to research more about what it's really like, how sufferers would put it.]

[Also, can I just say that I really like how the leader has come along to be another important character in only the last quadrant of the book? I am not sure it's wise but at least he has a bit of panache.]

'What's up with them?' the leader said, as I clutched onto their hands and wouldn't let go, my eyes closed and swaying on the spot. [No, eyes open - I always look really carefully at where I'm putting my feet if I'm worried I am going to fall.]

'They're afraid of heights,' Thirteen said.

[Definitely include at least a couple of instances of misgendering, to make it more realistic and show the problem of remembering the new thing at first.]

'Right. OK.' The leader didn't sound exasperated, but certainly perhaps a little pressured. 'Hold onto them then. We've got you, Enn. One step at a time.'

I felt so much appreciation for the way they were being so cool about it. 'I'm so sorry guys,' I managed to say between my tight lips.

'Don't worry. Just focus on that next roof there. See it? Just over to there. That's it.'

I felt like crying, but I was able to keep moving forward with both of them holding my hands on both sides. Walking upright was a lot quicker, even though I couldn't imagine how I was going to survive or stay balanced on the loose slates of the roof. Continuing to move helped though, as I didn't have the chance to agonise about every step and every placement of the foot.

The next roof was a bit higher again, and even had a balcony running around the edge. I climbed over the railing with no grace at all, half pulled by the leader above and Thirteen pushing from underneath, but as soon as I was on the balcony and as far away from the railing as I could I felt a lot better. I was able to even stroll quite casually around the edge and towards the next building.

But there wasn't one. There was only a wide gap over the street below, and then the wooden wall running across the edge of the city, level with us and still blocking our way.

[Gap of about 4 metres is a strictly enforced regulation for the [FreeCity]? Or, is their regulation tight enough to be able to ensure that? /enforce it? Do the buildings go right up to it in some cases? No, this way is better.]

The leader was pulling themselves up by their arms to pull something out of the top of the drainpipe [or from under the eaves?].

Once he had reached in and got one end, he dropped back down to the balcony and stood on his tip-toes to draw out a wide wooden plank. It came out horizontally, and kept going right past the edge of the railing and towards the city wall. Through my fog of brain terror I realised what they were going to do.

'No - you can't...' [Plank over big drop = cliche, but it's a good one!] The leader ignored me and continued to pull out the plank a metre at a time. He grunted with effort as the end now poking out from the hiding place became longer than the end still in there, and wobbled in mid-air. On the street below between the wall and the house there were already people looking up curiously. I sank back against the wall, remembering just in time that I mustn't be seen. The message must have spread by now that the person they needed to get the gates open again was a [LucySociety]. [Would everyone necessarily know what they look like? How good is education in [FreeLand]?]

Thirteen was helping hold the plank steady as the leader drew out more and more of it. The last of it came free and both of them grunted as they attempted to lever it upwards by the end of the plank they still had hold of in order to get it to sit on top of the walkway of the wall on the opposite side.

In under a minute they had it as stable as it was going to get. It ran over the gap below with its only anchors the place where it rested on top of the railing and the top of the walkway. It sloped downwards at a sharp angle, and the way it had bounced had not looked at all comforting.

The leader reached over the railing and tugged down on the plank. It sent a ripple along the wood all the way to the end. He grimaced.

'I think it got wet,' he said. I stared with renewed horror at the plank. I knew wood, and rotten wood could not hold us. No way. I looked again at the fall. Twenty feet. I would be a smear on the cobble stones.

'You first, Thirteen,' said the leader. 'I'll hold it steady.' He braced both hands on this end of the plank and planted his feet.

Thirteen squeezed my hand, gulped, and somehow manouevred around the leader and up onto her hands and knees on the board. She was now looking directly down at the street, and froze up for a moment. The board gave a groan and sagged under their weight. I imagined the splinters as the wood cracked.

'Keep low. On your stomach,' the leader advised, still holding on tight to try and stop the board from slipping. Thirteen slowly lowered herself flat, and then reached forward, gripped the board and shuffled along, mainly pulling herself with her arms.

The board wobbled around its central axis, threatening to flip. Thirteen instinctively clung on with her legs. The leader grunted and held tighter, stopping it go over. Thirteen paused, breathing hard.

'Keep going!' called the leader, and Thirteen obediently started again, getting another foot and this time not wobbling the board quite as much. I stared anxiously as the wood began to bow more and more as she reached the middle, and I only took my eyes off that to stare at the small amount of board over the other end of the wall's boardwalk.

The people below us had started to form little clusters. Now they were pointing, and muttering to each other, and as Thirteen reached the middle of the gap someone called, 'It's them! The guards were just saying, at the gate - that's the Techy they're looking for! Quick, someone fetch the guards!'

'Faster, Thirteen,' said the leader, voice tight with controlled tension. She began to not pause at all between pulls, and somehow alternated that with bringing her legs up to behind her butt to be able to almost double her speed. She made it to the other side, and my heart lurched for a moment as she had to get herself back onto her hands and knees in order to reach the ledge of the boardwalk. An undignified scramble on her tummy briefly led to her kneeling up triumphant on the walkway, immediately turning back to us with a smile and clamping down on the board on this side to hold it firm and stop it slipping off.

'Enn, go,' said the leader, but I couldn't move. Somehow I hadn't expected to have to do it myself, despite my brain knowing it was obvious.

'Come on Enn, it's easy!' Thirteen yelled.

'Enn. We don't have much time.' The leader said, taking one hand off the board to grab my wrist. I looked down at the unexpected touch of metal with it. The leader had a knife [or different, more exciting weapon?] edge on and pressed against my inner wrist. 'I know how to use this to cut you so that you will die, Enn.'

'What? You wouldn't do that!' I said, distracted by this strange turn of events.

'You don't know me. I won't have you stopping us from getting away. I will do whatever I need to do.' His young eyes were as hard as [metaphor]. 'Go.'

I probably could have wrenched my hand free and run for it, but I already knew that he and Thirteen were right. We had to get away. This was the only way out. The dagger just gave me a new reason to do it, and that was anger. This young stripling thought he could threaten me, an elder? He thought that just because I was from [LucySociety], I was weak? I could handle it. I could handle anything. I would show him!

I stepped up onto the bottom of the railing, and then, with many wobbles and with all my sense of balance apparently gone, I edged my left foot up and over the rail on the left side of the board. I was now sort of sitting on the leader's arms, but I didn't care as long as he didn't let go of the board. 'Don't let go of me, OK?' He brought one of his arms up to steady me as I moved my arms around the back of me to put myself sitting on the front of the board. 'No! Don't let go of the board!'

He put his hand back. I gradually inched my bum forward, hating the way the board moved under me with every shuffle. I hung onto the railing behind me for as long as I could. After that, there was nothing to hang on to. The board felt like nothing beneath me. I clutched the sides of it with both hands, knowing it was stupid to be sitting up on it but not daring to lie back onto the board behind me. I tried for another shuffle.

'That's it, you can do it!' Thirteen was smiling from below me, looking up with both her arms straining to not let the board move when I did. I gave another shuffle, but the board bounced. I felt myself tip to the side for a second and screamed a short little scream as my body twisted to compensate. If the leader and Thirteen hadn't been there it would have definitely flipped.

I realised I had to lie down. I reached back, feeling my way until I was looking up at the sky, and my stomach muscles were screaming a scream of protest of their own, but for the last bit I just had to let myself go. I had just done it when I heard Thirteen say 'Look out!'

An arrow flew just over my chest, and if I hadn't dropped flat at that moment it would have been embedded in my side. I lay stunned, trying to disappear into the board. The board felt even more insubstantial now that it was all there was between me and the firers.

'Keep going!' yelled the leader, and I remembered that he still hadn't got across. I closed my eyes and continued by feel alone, trying to block out the knowledge of how high up I was and how fragile this board was. I found a way of moving involving feeling ahead with my legs and then my arms, but I was only moving about a half a foot at a time. I realised I had been stupid to go down on my back, but then I wouldn't have been fast enough even on my front. I would have been too scared looking down.

The whistle of arrows seemed very close by but I did my best to ignore them. If I thought about them then I would tense up and expect the sudden thump and pain in the side of my body. I couldn't let that happen.

Suddenly, my feet hit something different than air - it was Thirteen. I opened my eyes and looked at her. She looked proud and terrified at the same time.

'You're doing it, Enn!' she said.

'Behind you!' I shouted. A guard was coming up out of the nearby stairs [nope, then they would have just gone up the stairs] and was creeping up on Thirteen.

Thirteen read the fear in my face and wheeled round, letting go of the board. The guard was standing right over her [why didn't the leader shout and warn her?] and without even thinking Thirteen drove upwards into their belly, lifting the guard off their feet in one motion upwards. It carried them to the edge of the parapet, and then as I watched, over it. The guard screamed as they plummeted over the edge of the city wall and down the other side.

Thirteen was just turning back to give me a hand when two more guards came running along the boardwalk, one from each direction. They had their spears out in front of them and looked intent on skewering her from both sides. [Maybe a reason they survive is there are instructions to take them alive, so they can't continue to shoot at them etc?] Thirteen stood frozen, spinning her head this way and that, and backing up against the low parapet, trying to keep both of them in view at once.

I forgot how far up I was and scrambled off the edge of the board and onto the walkway. I just managed to get to my feet beside Thirteen before the guards arrived. I knocked the spear of the guard closest to me out of the way, grabbed the shaft and pulled it towards me.

The guard on the other end was stupid enough to try and hang on. They let go when they saw it was yanking them towards the unguarded edge of the walkway, but their momentum had already carried them too far. They fell head-first towards the street below, spinning over in the air to land with a crash on their back on the cobbles. I looked at their sprawled body for a second, feeling sick. I had done that - direct violence to another human being. I would never be able to face myself again.

Behind me Thirteen bumped into me, and I nearly got pushed off to follow the other one to their doom on the street below. I stumbled the other way, grabbing the parapet, and turned to see Thirteen and the other guard both grappling over the spear between them.

They were both tied up in the struggle, but I could still move. I got myself around Thirteen and gave the guard a push.

They were now dangling over the edge of the parapet. Thirteen was now the only thing holding up, by still holding the spear between them. I grabbed her from behind to stop her falling forwards with him.

'Let go!' I shouted, and Thirteen loosened her grip.

'No! Please! Mercy!' the guard screamed. Thirteen tightened her grip again.

'You do what we say?' she said.

'Yes! Anything!' the guard said, trying to pull himself up on the spear. I gritted my teeth as his action threatened to pull us all over.

'You owe me your life,' spat Thirteen, and hauled him back upright. [Would their sense of honour in this society mean that this actually worked to get him to switch loyalties?] The guard sank to the walkway on his hands and knees, gasping. Thirteen levelled the spear at him. 'On your feet. Back against the parapet.' She commanded.

'Enn!' shouted the leader from the other side of the street. 'The board!'

I looked back and saw that the leader was struggling to hold up the whole length of the board just by his end. The other end must have slipped off the edge of the walkway and was now dangling a good metre below.

And behind the leader I saw more guards, creeping up on him over the rooves. I threw myself down on my stomach, reaching over towards the plank. With a groan of effort, the leader levered it higher so that I could just grab it with my fingertips. I held on, pulled, and somehow got it over the edge again.

'Look out!' cried Thirteen, and as I looked up I saw all three guards running up to rush the leader before he could escape. But he was too quick. With admirable agility, he jumped with both feet onto the railing, balanced for a second, and then sprinted across the board.

I heard the splinter as the weight of his footsteps cracked the board in half at the middle. With a cry he launched himself the rest of the way, jumping to land heavily with his arms over the edge of the walkway. I seized his forearms as the two pieces of board fell down into the street below and landed with a crash. I had my knees firmly planted on the walkway but even so I felt a terrible feeling of being pulled forwards towards that drop. [Make all the buildings and wall etc even higher to make it more scary and realistic that not many guards would aim their arrows well enough?]

Still, it only took a second for the leader to find purchase with their feet among the wood of the wall and pull himself up by his elbows.

'What did you do that for?' he yelled at Thirteen when he saw her pointing the spear at the guard. 'We can't take prisoners!'

'He owes me his life,' she said, not even looking at all apologetic like she normally would have done for disobeying. 'I'm not killing people, [leader],'

'Fine,' he said, and rolled his eyes. Then he turned and grabbed the guard, spun round and put him in between us and the guards on the opposite roof, one of whom was struggling to fit an arrow to his bow. It was obvious to me that these guys had never been trained or practised doing any real hunting. They could barely draw the string back far enough.

'Shoot and your buddy gets it,' the leader shouted to them, holding his knife under the person's throat. The guard on the other side stopped trying to notch their bow.

'Thirteen. The rope on my bag,' he said, and Thirteen immediately found it and uncoiled it. But then she stopped, looking at it as if she had never seen a rope before. [Cliche?]

'Here,' I snatched it, feeling sick even as I did so. More heights. I kept expecting it to get easier, but it didn't...

In a few practised coils and twists I had the rope secured to one of the parapet notches [term?], and threw the rest over the side.

'Quick work,' said the leader appreciatively. 'OK, Thirteen, go,'

'Wrap it round your hands like this,' I showed Thirteen, as she clambered clumsily on the parapet, then turned back and began to let herself down gradually, feet walking down the wall. [How would she know how to do it?]

I tried to watch her as she went slowly but steadily [cliche] but it made me dizzy to try. At least she had looked fairly confident.

'OK, now our prisoner here,' the leader said, shoving him towards the rope. 'Move!'

The prisoner did not hesitate, but clambered without much grace over the side and down out of sight. I turned back to the guards on the roof. Now that our hostage was out of the way, the guard with the bow and arrow was busy trying to renotch their shot.

'Don't worry. They miss nearly all the time. Usually.' The leader said, although he looked worried. I knew why - it was only about a three metre shot, and level. There was nowhere for us to hide.

'Do you have anything heavy?' I asked, getting my slingshot out. 'Small and roundish?'

The leader, to his credit, didn't ask questions, but reached into his pocket and brought out a coin. 'Will this do?'

It was a bit light, but I took it. It was a close shot as well.

'You go,' I said, spinning my slingshot round to pick up speed. The guard nearly had it drawn.

Again, the leader wasted no time. Now that the guard was far enough down the rope he hopped onto the parapet and shimmied himself down the rope.

I focused, zoning in onto the guards front knuckles, which were white from the strain of trying to hold the bow steady as the other arm struggled to bend it. What a weakling. I

[The guard has a bow? So Enn gets to have a bow again! [Where did they lose their last one?]]

released my coin at the last moment [wait, but I said they didn't use money here? Uses his ring instead?] and it ricocheted off his hand and down into the street. The guard cried out from the sharp shock of the pain as the shot fractured his middle knuckle, and instinctively drew back his hand. His shot went wide and low, sticking into the walkway by my feet.

I didn't wait for them to draw another arrow. I span round, forced my feet up onto the parapet, and crouched down, trying to get my hands wrapped in the rope before I had to give my weight to it. But the rope was taut with the weight of at least the leader still pulling down on it, and so I could only get a weak grasp round the edges and not even one wrap-over to secure my grip. I waited as long as I dared, hoping the rope would come free and allow me to attach myself properly, but meanwhile a second guard had picked up the bow from the one who was now swearing and clutching his hand, and this one looked a bit meaner and like they weren't going to mess around. They were drawing the bow string back - I held the rope as tight as I could and started to lean back - they were about to release...

I panicked, and jumped back off the parapet.

My squeezed grip meant I didn't slide that far down the rope, not even far enough to bump into the leader below me, but it did take some skin off my palms and I had completely lost my footing against the wall. The wooden wall rushed up to meet me and I bashed my whole body-length into it, winding me. I tried to wrap my legs around and hook an ankle into the rope as I gasped, waiting for my breath to come back.

The rope became a bit less taut, and I heard the leader call up.

'Come on, Enn! You can do it! Just slide through your hands if you have to!'

I got a breath in to my aching lungs, and then one foot up onto the wall, and with a miserable sort of determination I took one hand at a time, over and over until Thirteen's hands reached up and grabbed my legs. I let her help me down, clutching her as I clambered the rest of the way almost down her body. When I felt my feet on the ground again I had to keep holding on to her because I thought I would collapse otherwise.

'Well done,' she muttered fervently in my ear, holding me tight.

'Come on!' the leader shouted, and I looked round to see he had hold of the spear and was keeping the prisoner guard at arm's length with the point of it aimed at his chest.

'Okay,' I said, and Thirteen let me go, but kept hold of my hand. I stumbled along, half dragged by her as we followed the leader, who kept his spear levelled at the guard's back in front of him, prodding him occasionally with it if he wasn't going fast enough.

We moved in a sort of jog through the outskirts of the city [are there buildings allowed to be built here - or an illegal shanty town that has built up here anyway?]. The people who saw us coming saw the leader's drawn dagger and the big spear and gave us a wide berth. I was grateful that we were somewhere poor enough that they didn't want the trouble of bothering us. [How does inequality work in a society without capitalism?]

'Round here,' the leader said, running through a low archway and into a tiny, filthy courtyard. He gave the spear to Thirteen, who let go of my hand in order to hold it and keep it pointed at the guard. He pulled a large dirty rag off the big thing tucked into one corner of the courtyard in between two hovels and revealed a cart, laden with what looked like sheepskins. [Does [LucyLand] have sheep?]

'In!' he shouted, and I ran to dive onto the back of the cart while he stuck his head into a nearby doorway. 'Where are you, [name]? We need you! This is it!'

There was the sound of something breaking inside as if someone had dropped something, and then a small person ran out of the hovel, crossed the courtyard and tore a curtain away off the side of the building opposite. It revealed a building with several stalls in a row. They unbolted and flung back the gate of one and called with a kind of clicking.

An immensely tall beast came out, with a long neck, and even longer nose, four legs and a swishy tail. It was led by some leather and rope attached around its head, and came quite willingly to the person's call. Despite the obvious difference in size and power, it walked over quite placidly and stood still as the person ran around to get it attached to the cart.

Thirteen had also stopped to gawp at the creature, and I was glad I wasn't the only one who didn't know what it was. The leader shouted at her to get a move on, and she came round with the guard in front of her, until they were both sitting on the comfortable sheep skins.

'Hands behind your head,' barked the leader, and the guard obeyed wordlessly. The person had finished fiddling with the attachments remarkably quickly, and now stepped back to stand clear of the cart.

'Hee-yah!' said the leader, cracking the leather straps, so that the creature started forwards. At first it had to strain quite hard to get the whole cart moving [is one horse enough for a quickish getaway with a cart and four people?], but soon it was clopping along on its strange feet - were they made out of metal? - tossing its head as the cart rolled out of the courtyard and through the narrow alleys beyond. I looked back and saw the person hurriedly spreading out new straw to cover the cart's tracks, and hoped they would be okay if the guards found them and wanted to ask them questions.

The cart with the animal was really too big for the spaces between these buildings, but when people saw us coming, at a brisk pace, they moved out of the way, and whole stalls were whipped out of harm's way before we could rumble over them. The leader was looking back, trying to see where the pursuit would come from - after all, they knew where we had crossed the wall, so all that the guards had to do was to go round by the gate, or even follow down the rope at that point in the wall, and they could be right behind us.

Nothing happened while we were still lost in the maze of shanty town though. [Is [FreeCity] built on a cliff, and the ground slopes off downwards outside the walls?] It was when the buildings started to thin that I saw them, sitting on the backs of more of the strange creature and these creatures were running towards us faster than any human could have run. [OR, the guards are on foot, giving them a bit of a better chance?]

The leader snapped and snapped the leather over the creature, and the creature lumbered into a jog, and then a run, heaving in the holdings that attached us to the cart. We emerged from the buildings at a dead run, and had got several cart-lengths away from the end of the buildings before the guards saw us and started to run towards us.

The creature saw them, and snorted in panic. It seemed to sense that we were being hunted. With an extra burst of effort from its huge muscles, it pounded the dry earth [what sort of terrain?] and the cart moved along in bone-shuddering bounces behind it. We were flying down the slope and looking back the guards were falling behind, unable to keep up. [Would have to be on foot. Otherwise would have to lead them into an ambush/rescue around the next hillside/at the edge of the forest or something.]

The leader looked back and laughed. 'Yes!' he shouted, and although I didn't really feel safe yet I took the cue for celebration.

'Have we made it?' I said. 'Really?'

'Oh yeah! We sure have! Enn, you were excellent - that slingshot, where did it hit him? I loved that ring, but only tell me you hit him good and hard and I know I'll have given it for a good cause.'

'Right on the knuckle! They swore like anything.

The leader whooped and laughed again. 'Come on, let's ride!' he said, and pointed the creature towards the main road leading out of the gate from the city. [Why wouldn't some guards come on horse-back though? Are horses really rare here? If so, why? Or do they have some Techy vehicles?]

[Maybe insert a chase scene here before they get clear.]

 

Chapter [X]: Thirteen

 

That day we drove onwards in the cart until the creature - which Enn and I found out was called a horse (I had heard of them but had pictured them as about the same size as a [what? Sheep or equivalent]) - was steaming from the exertion. [Leader] didn't make it run all the way of course, but it was trotting and I don't know how strong it must have been to be able to carry all of us. When we stopped to give it a bit of a rest the leader showed me how to help it cool down by doing [what?]. It snuffled its big nose on my hand and licked my ear. I immediately decided that I loved horses.

'Well that's good, because we're all going to get one to ride soon!' said the leader, beaming. He had been on a high ever since our escape, and seemed to derive a lot of pleasure out of how close we had come to being killed. It was an infectious attitude. Still though, I couldn't help asking:

'What about the others? Will they be there too?'

A cloud passed over the leader's face. [Cliche.] 'They'll make it. At least mother - I mean, er, the captain. She doesn't get stopped very easily.' He managed a tight smile and said, 'Anyway, why worry? I doubt any of them had as much trouble as us. I was the one actually with you two. They probably lifted the blockade as soon as we were seen to escape. They'll have been able to stroll out of the gates, you'll see.'

[Say something about how they are no longer guarding the guard quite so closely now they are far out of the city.]

We continued during the rest of the afternoon just at a walk. I was worried about people following us, but the leader reassured me. [Maybe horses are a thing that only the resistance have been able to breed and train, in secret?? Like, their DNA was brought over in the Ark, but they never made them alive - or the DNA was lost or kept secret somewhere? Hmm, doesn't make sense?] We were miles ahead of any pursuit, he said. We could all relax.

'So,' said the leader, letting me hold the reins (that's what the leather things were called) and spinning round to sit on the side of the cart with his feet on the sheep skins. 'Is it true that this guy owes you his life, Thirteen?'

Before I could reply, the guard spoke. His voice sounded strange after the long silence - he hadn't spoken since he had begged us for mercy at the edge of the walkway.

'It's true,' the guard said. 'I owe them my life. I would have been cracked on the cobbles like old [name], except for this young lady's mercy. You don't need to go pointing that thing at me any more, miss,' he said respectfully to Enn, who had diligently been keeping the spear pointed at his chest. They didn't lower it, looking uncertainly at the leader, although I think they may have been mainly confused by the gendered title. 'I know my duty and I has my honour,' the guard continued, sounding a little offended that Enn had not trusted him the first time.

'Ah, it's true Enn, you can stand down. This guy is one of the old school,' the leader said.

He reached forward and took the spear away from Enn, laying it across his lap.

The guard nodded his thanks to the leader a little stiffly, and then turned and awkwardly shifted so that he was facing towards me, and made a sort of bow in the moving cart. 'You are my master now, until you see fit to release me,' he intoned formally. 'On my honour, I will serve you well and pay you what I owe.'

I felt pretty uncomfortable with this. It had been weird enough becoming bound to the captain and [Z], but it was even weirder having someone else do it to me.

'Er - you really don't - '

'Don't refuse him!' said the leader sharply. 'That would be setting him free, Thirteen. Come on, be sensible. You want this guy as your bonded, not as someone free to continue trying to escape or attack us!'

I swallowed, feeling silly. I kept on making these mistakes. 'Of course. Guard, I accept your proposal. My thanks to you. I will be a reasonable master. What is your name?'

[So the irony is that in [FreeLand] they are so proud of not being bound by a Boundless, but in fact they have replaced that with a complicated set of being bounded together in debts of honour instead.]

'My name is [C],' the guard said, sitting back more comfortably now the formalities were concluded, and no weapons were being pointed at him any more.

 

We trotted on well into dusk and the start of night. Nobody asked the leader where we were going, but he sat up on the driver's rail whistling happily and occasionally making clucking or clicking noises at the horse. Eventually I asked him what he was doing.

'What? Oh! He just likes it,' the leader smiled.

Enn and I ended up curling up in the sheepskins in the back of the cart and going to sleep.

 

We were woken sometime during the night when the cart stopped. 'We'll leave it hidden here for now,' the leader said softly. 'We've just got a little further to go on foot.'

We helped him cover the cart in [whatever] and then we followed him into the forest, up a slight foothill of a mountain. He seemed confident and familiar of his surroundings, despite the darkness of the night being only alleviated by the moons. [How do they describe the crescentness etc of the moons? And of course they wouldn't see the stars very much at all.]

He carried all the weapons, and we took the sheepskins with us. We saw why it was going to be useful when we got to our destination. It was a cave.

Enn laughed. 'Like old times, hey, T?'

I smiled at them. The fact that we had been together before any of this had happened with the resistance and the [HermitBoundless] - and the way that Enn referred to it in that fond way - made me feel warm inside. We had a special bond that had nothing to do with the [FreePeople]'s honour system. We were friends.

 

We waited in that cave all night and all the next day, as the other members of the resistance arrived in ones and twos. I recognised most of them from the secret meeting, although in the daylight they seemed a lot less formidable. [Describe and introduce the rest of these characters properly. Also describe getting to know a couple of them a little bit more as they are waiting for others to arrive, by sharing tricks about how to light a campfire, etc?]

Enn was indispensable. Even here in these forests so different from their own [what sort of trees etc across the different lands?], they just had an instinct and an ease with their surroundings like no-one else there.

'You're a Godsend, Enn,' the leader said more than once, giving them warm grins of gratitude. For some reason, the way he looked at them made me feel slightly annoyed - and I didn't like the way Enn didn't seem to mind his manner at all.

[Does Enn hit it off better this time, and Thirteen and the leader have more of a annoy-each-other relationship at first? Because of Thirteen's jealousy both ways?]

The leader seemed completely relaxed, but I noticed him spending quite a lot of time watching out of the cave mouth in the direction of the road. The others had brought news of how difficult it had been to get out and how suspicious and cagey the guards were all being. They had taken the death of [deadguard] to heart and started harassing swathes of the slum neighbourhoods, demanding to know who had been hiding the two fugitives and what anyone knew. So far, there had been no sign of them making progress in this way, but leaving normally by the gates was still blocked. Everyone had had to find their own secret passages and ways, and so depending on the situation, they arrived wet (from a night swim in the river and under a loose grille - I shuddered at the thought), with ropes over their shoulders, or stinking to high heaven from a horrible trip through the sewers. The leader held his nose and ordered them to the nearby stream - a long way down-stream - to wash off. I watched them grumble good-naturedly as they wandered off together, and noted how they didn't mind getting naked together either. It seemed to be that most of the other societies just didn't see it as such a bad thing. On reflection, I could see it was more rational too, but I still wasn't ready to start being so casual about it.

'The trouble with all this is all those ways are quite *narrow*,' muttered the leader as he poked the fire next to me.

'Ah, don't worry about [captain], [leader],' said [oldone]. 'You know your mama - least likely one of any of us to get herself stuck somewhere she couldn't get out of.

The leader sighed, and nodded. 'I know. I know. I just wish she would hurry up. This isn't the most secure place in the world, and only a day's march from the city at that.'

'Nah, you've done your prep too thoroughly for them to find us,' said [oldone] confidently. 'Let 'em try. They'll have to comb the forest for weeks before they get traces.'

'It's true,' said Enn. 'You were pretty good. And none of you outsiders that I've met so far can track worth a damn, anyway.'

[Oldone] raised her eyebrows. 'Well put, young lady,' she cackled.

Enn frowned, but didn't say anything. It wasn't like them not to correct someone on their gender - they had corrected me, right enough.

'Enn isn't a she,' I blurted, 'or a woman, I mean. They go by they - don't you, Enn?'

Enn blushed slightly but nodded. 'Yeah. We don't do gender in [LucySociety].'

'Huh? Oh. Hmm. Well, that's a new one on me, right enough, but I'm not too old to learn new things. Forgive me my ignorance, dear. I'll remember. We didn't have much education in the mines when I was young, you see,'

[Did the ComputerBoundless only abandon them a couple of generations ago? So back then they were still slaves, kind of?]

[Was ComputerBoundless even worse than [TEchyBoundless], just working people to death with no regard for human life at all (even for its worth as worker-value?)? Did they actually have an uprising and force him to go and take refuge in his uploaded place?]

'Right,' said Enn, clearly embarrassed. I bit my tongue. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. It wasn't my business what Enn chose to tell these people. But a little later they gave me a hug, and although I still found them weird, I didn't mind them from Enn any more.

Dusk was coming down when the captain finally arrived. She looked a bit different, as she had had to abandon her jangly outergarment. Instead she appeared to be wrapped in [what? Three lots of robes?]. She was carrying a large and bulky bundle wrapped in the singed sailcloth of her own ship, and when she opened it, her familiar jangly overcoat fell out with a din.

'[Captain],' the leader said, seeming to gain in swagger as he stood at the cavemouth, leaning casually against the rock with his arms folded. 'And what time do you call this?'

The captain glared at him. 'You cocky little...'

The leader raised his eyebrows, and leant forward a little. 'Yes?' There was a dance in his eyes as he dared her to go on.

'Oh...' the captain flailed her arm in mock frustration. 'Help me get this on. You wouldn't believe how heavy it all gets carrying it in your arms for forty miles.'

[Distance accurate?]

The leader laughed and ran lightly down the hill to help her. The overcoat seemed to come in several pieces and then get laced together with pieces of leather. The leader had obviously had some practice doing it though, and the captain was soon standing fully clothed in their normal attire, jingling.

'So much for stealth,' the leader sighed, giving her a playful shove. She shoved back and he staggered.

'Why didn't I get your muscle?' he said, rubbing his arm. [Ooooo, was he adopted? A neglected child from the mines or somewhere?]

'That's not how genetics work, darling,' the captain said, smiling sweetly and sitting down on a rock next to the fire. 'You know that.'

[Mention that the captain actually strips naked to get her clothes back on? And doesn't bother her at all to do that in the middle of the camp?]

[Mention that there was a small hut here with a person keeping lots of horses ready for them, so Thirteen and Enn spend half the day learning how to ride in a really fast crash-course?]

 

We set off that night, about two hours before the dawn. We left the big cart-horse with the person at the hut and each took one of the ponies [or, the captain rides the shire horse?]. [Summarise the travelling quite fast?]

 

#

Chapter Seventeen

*** Plan what to do with resistance group

#

Chapter Eighteen

*** Get in through the smuggling route through the labour camps

 

[List of characters so far (current bunch):

- The captain

- The leader

- [Oldone]

- [Soandso] has been left on the ship (?) - or came with them and the ship has been left with the ship-wright and the crew given leave/notice now

- Thirteen & Enn

So there are at least five or six holes here.]

 

[Describe the weirdness of riding a horse for the first time, for both Enn and Thirteen.]

[Describe the journey along the coast-line (hiding from Techy airships regularly?) and various character-revealing interaction with the new characters, especially the leader.]

[Describe the changing landscape and climate etc, and what it is like to trek through the mountains for days.]

We spent the night in a safehouse high in the mountains, above the snow-line. [Have a scene where both Thirteen and Enn discover snow for the first time?] It was a cozy little log-house, made snug and warm against the biting mountain winds, but rather small for our full company. I quite liked it - it was the first building I had been inside where I didn't feel nervous, and that was probably because of the roaring open fire in the fireplace and the sense of being surrounded by wood. [Enn's viewpoint.]

The leader gathered us around, once again with everyone sitting with their back to a wall in a big circle, although this time that was for practicality more than the ritual of the thing.

'OK. It's our last night before we cross the border. I have sent word ahead [how?] to our contact and he'll be there to meet us a mile or so into the woods, by a particular landmark [what?] and to take us across. We'll be taken through the labour camp [just go around?] and join the train going back to the capital with all the goods.'

[Scene where the leader admits to feeling vulnerable - never actually been to TechyLand, he was born in FreeLand? OR (sub plot or backstory?) he has been once before, with his father, and they were moles in the labour camp and their idea was to incite a revolution and a revolt along the northern chain of labour camps, and march with an army on the capital - but instead nearly everyone from their initial revolt was brutally massacred, including the leader's father? This happened when he was fifteen? The captain escaped with him back over the mountains, so in fact this whole journey is a little harrowing?]

We all settled down for the night in various places. I went near to the fire, so I could watch it burn down to an ember. The leader and Thirteen lay down nearby. [Some hint of romantic development/sexual tension during the night?]

We left [someone] to look after the horses at the safe-house, and set off in the morning down towards the valley and the narrow pass which marked the change-over into [TechyLand]. This time I was not so naive as to expect any sort of change in the type of land between the countries this time. We walked, and I was surprised by how hard most of the party found it. The main problem was that they were carrying too much stuff - they had turned themselves into the beasts of burden and were only able to waddle along panting and sweating.

I was fine with what I could find in the forest, but I was nervous as we went down because I did know that [TechyLand] didn't really have ANY trees. It seemed unbelievable to me, but so it was.

Our contact turned out to be a non-descript person with dark black skin [give them some actual features at some point!] who was wearing the same type of grey suit thing that Thirteen had been wearing when I first met her. The way Thirteen looked at the suit was odd - a mixture of longing and perhaps the beginnings of aversion as well. I wanted to talk to her about it, but I did not want to stir up any painful memories for her. [Thirteen has already declared her love back - when? Before [FreeCity]? No... But after [FreeCity] then the leader is in the way. Maybe Thirteen tells them on impulse when they have both escaped death in the tunnels and are feeling euphoric - and since then there have been other people around and no chance to discuss it, so it's all left up in the air.]

 

[733]

They led us through the mist of the early morning, down and down through a winding, faint forest track. The mountains were towering like teeth [improve] on both sides of us, but here down in the valley the forest floor was bursting into life the further down we travelled. I was entranced and intrigued by all the unfamiliar plant life and I wished we had time to investigate them and speculate about what they could do, whether they could be eaten, and so forth. But no-one spoke and we all moved single file, most of them bent double [cliche] under their packs and with no breath to spare for admiring the beauty around them.

After about an hour, however, my tracker's eyes started to pick up evidence of a destructive human influence nearby. [What sort of things would be the subtle signs that only Enn would notice at first?] At first only I saw it, but the devastation became more and more obvious until the forest was blighted clearly by [what? Pools of oil?].

[at the very end - maybe Enn takes up a home in these forests, and dedicates themself to restoring the forest and not letting the labour camps continue? That way they are closer to Thirteen and the leader? But they also bring their whole tribe over with them to do this??]

Thirteen moved back along the line to find me, and she took my hand and squeezed it. It helped, but it didn't stop me feeling sick. None of the others seemed to have really registered the terrible things which had happened to this place. They saw the damage but kept moving anyway.

Then the trees actually stopped over the other side of a short distance away. There was scored, damaged earth running in a line along the edge of the trees (scored by some sort of vehicle's tracks, which had torn up the ground without any regard for the soil's own wise structure. Beyond this was a tall metal wall/fence.

Thirteen frowned as she walked next to me, staring at it. But we were all being as quiet as possible. The leader glared around, daring any of us to talk. At any moment I expected [TechyPolice] to burst out of the wall and come and surround us all, but nothing happened. Then we were through the narrow point of the valley and the trail skirted to the right away from the edge of the fence, taking us down a narrow ravine that was almost a canyon beside the bubbling of a strong winter [?] swollen stream, swollen with the spring/floodwater/snowmelt from the mountains [?]. Thirteen gave it many nervous glances and took the slippy rocks we were scrambling over right next to it. Now it was my turn to hold/take her hand, and she smiled at me with obvious gratitude as we worked together to keep each other upright and moving along to keep pace with the others.

[When it is safe to talk, ask the Leader about the camp, etc. - Breaks the pacing/flow if he starts telling stories from his past though?]

There was no real recovery of the natural world after that. The plants all gradually gave up or had been beaten back until they could make roads and not much else. I stared around. It already looked barren. Were there really no trees here? No plants at all? I felt intensely sorry for Thirteen and angry too that it had come to this.

[How do they avoid detection as they go down Techy country?]

[Show scene(s) about travelling down somehow - probably they take a train like the leader suggested.]

 

Chapter [X]: Thirteen

 

We were back in my old [where?] and I was feeling both terrified and quite excited. Enn wasn't here which was a shame - I really wanted to show them where I was brought up and what I Worked on. I could show the leader though, and I pointed things out to him in a whisper, which he politely listened to while nearly entirely succeeding in suppressing the fact that he was thinking of other, much more mission-important, things.

It was just me and the leader, and our mission was to retrieve enough black [TechyPolice] suits to clothe the whole group. Well, not the captain, of course - no Worker would have been her size, so disguising her was pointless really [how come this wasn't an issue in the labour camps? Maybe she never went all the way in them, was just waiting in the forests above to help people escape if necessary? Maybe she eats so much because she was born starving in a labour camp

 

[777]

 

[Before this scene, insert the 'please be careful' scene from Enn where Thirteen gets angry with them for being overprotective.]

We were safe for now, hidden in a cupboard room, but soon I would need to go out there alone and do what needed to be done. Running through the dark streets after the leader [did they engineer a power outage to get through?] had been exhilirating, and I had coped by focusing entirely on his back and moving when he moved, and placing whatever I happened in my trust in his judgement. But now it would be down to me, and I mustn't skulk any more. I had to fit in. How could it be possible to just do what I had done normally those months ago? I had worked these moves more often than any other Worker on my floor; the actions were engrained in my muscle memory. But still I couldn't imagine just walking out there and pretending that I wasn't a fugitive. I would be spotted immediately. Everyone would be so shocked to see me and would recognise me and be all over me.

But I knew, even with the nerves making me feel increasingly irrational, that this wasn't true really. People had often gone missing quite abruptly from their work. It was always assumed that they were simply reassigned to a new job where their skills would make them a more efficient and effective Worker. And some people knew the rumours about people being taken away to the camps, or for mind-wipes, and even coming back again months later sometimes. Nobody would know how much I had changed, or why I seemed different. Nobody would ask questions. That wasn't the Worker Way.

The leader stooped down under the shelves on the wall and brought out a couple of the boxes there. I knew what were there but I didn't know how he did [so make her do it instead then]. It was a box of spare grey suits. He rustled inside one and found one marked 'tall, female'. He brought it out and started unwrapping it, and then looked at me with some meaning - I was supposed to be getting undressed. There was no time to lose. [Cliche]

For some reason, I couldn't imagine doing this in front of the leader. I had done lots of things I used to not be able to imagine recently of course, but this felt even bigger than that. But then I thought of Enn, thinking of me as a child, and I gritted my teeth and decided to be mature. I would show them! I was an adult and I could do dangerous missions and I could help everyone who was relying on me!

The leader averted his eyes as i started to unbutton my jacket. My fingers were still reluctant but I made them move.

 

I took a deep breath and left the safety of the room. Just before I left, the leader looked over me and then shrugged apologetically. 'Sorry, no idea what you're supposed to look like. But you seem fine to me.'

My suit felt far too tight in some places and too loose in others. To me it seemed all wrong. I was sure that any real Techy who looked too close would know too. It was also upsetting that it was so similar to my old suit, and not at all the same either. This was the problem with going back, everything was so hard, but there was not ime to dwell on it.

I closed the door softly behind me, and started to walk around the edge of the factory floor. I tried to remember how I had used to do this - was I walking with too large a stride? I think I used to look at the floor a lot more, maybe I should do that... God only knew what people did with their hands when they were not thinking about it. I just kept mine fairly stiffly by my side, sure that I looked stupid, but the alternative would have been to clasp them in a very worried way, and I focused on resisting that.

Every little shuffle and sigh from the people working on the factory floor was terrifying. I felt their presence as an almost physical danger, even though I knew that they were focused on Working, and all of them would at least be trying to resist getting distracted. It felt as though I was walking around an enormous dozing dragon, without even being allowed to look at it to check that it hadn't noticed me.

[So - this scene will go like:

- Gets the black suits all right

- Gets them back to the leader all right

- But as she is giving the suits back to the leader (through the door) she gets caught or at least challenged and questioned

- Elevenses happens to rescue her, but then tags along with her and the leader and insists on knowing what is going on, this provides the link with the resistance.]

'Who is this?!' hissed the leader, looking angrier than I had ever seen him. [It's not malice, it's anxiety!]

'Who are you?' said Elevenses, looking nearly equally outraged. 'Are you the reason Thirteen is back here? Don't you know the danger you put her in having her come back here?'

I was about to say 'she's my friend,' but the leader already seemed to have gathered that.

'What do you mean?' he said, sounding just a trace uncertain. 'This is a routine mission, Thirteen is as safe as anyone else in executing it - safer, in fact, from knowing the ground so well.'

'Idiot!' Elevenses said. 'You haven't had the latest information, have you? Thirteen isn't like any of the others who have gone missing over the last few years. Oh no. It's been announced that anyone who considers themselves a good Worker has a new duty - if they see her, to turn her in, and anyone she's seen with! It's completely new, we've never seen [TechyBoundless] behaving like this before. And now we are all in danger!'

[They make an escape back out of the factory, the leader is now not really as he has to rely on the others to find a way out. He is also wearing a grey suit? Would make sense - but his hair is different or something? Has to wear a hat? Have a tense moment when they are trying to talk their way out of the final exit, and then they are let through but then have to run a minute later when they are discovered - but they get to their get-away set-up just in time.]

'Oh [swear word], that was close,' the leader breathed, and then sat up from where he had thrown himself onto the seat. He was grinning. These narrow escapes seemed to be the part of leadership that he liked the most. I would never understand him, but I have to confess that a part of me found it very impressive. How could he enjoy it this much?

I turned back to Elevenses, who was nursing [a wound- how serious? Did she get shot??]. 'Oh, jeez, this is all going wrong...' she muttered. 'I just wanted to warn you, 'teen, not go on the run with you!'

'I'm sorry,' I said, feeling miserable. 'We could drop you off somewhere - you could explain that we had hijacked you...'

The leader and Elevenses both turned their heads to look at me. 'Are you nuts?' she said, at the same time as the leader said 'No way!'

'I am not going to get a mind wipe.' Elevenses said flatly. 'I know what happens in the interrogation room and I don't intend EVER to go there.'

I shuddered at the memory. [Need a scene to show her getting traumatised by it, the first main and major blow to her trust in her own society.]

'Fair enough,' I said.

'Anyway, we need her, T,' said the leader. 'She knows what's been going on here in the last month or so. I mean, I knew things had gone a bit quiet from my contacts in the capital, but I didn't know it was this bad.'

[Get back to the camp - where are they hiding? Squatting in an empty Worker's pod?]

Elevenses caused quite a stir when she came into the room, supported between me and the leader. [Shot in the leg?] The captain heaved herself to her feet from one of the low stools, and stared from Elevenses to her son the leader while her eyebrows asked for an explanation. [Not sure that phrase works!]

'A prisoner? Again??' she asked, incredulous.

The guard looked sheepish in the corner.

'Don't look like that, mum,' said the leader wearily. 'It's not like it worked out so very badly last time. And I told you, it was Thirteen who took a prisoner, not me!'

'Hmm. All right.'

Elevenses had stopped grimacing long enough to catch up with what was being said about her. 'Excuse me?? I am not your prisoner! I am your best hope! I am a contact with the resistance movement. Now what do you say to that?'

'What??' I said, staring at her.

'Of course I am!' Elevenses said, looking exasperated. 'Thirteen, I have been a member of the resistance since I was thirteen myself! [What's her backstory?] It isn't hard to see really, is it? I thought you had clocked ages ago - but I guess you were too busy being a perfect Worker to notice...'

I blushed, but then felt a sort of counter-feeling against it. I didn't want it to be there, but there was no point denying it. It was anger, I realised. I felt angry.

'Well yes, I was naive, okay? I wouldn't have believed you back then even if you had told me straight out that there even was a resistance! I was who I was, and it wasn't my fault I didn't know these things. But you should know, all right, I have been through a lot of things since then. You don't know what I've seen. So don't get all superior on me, okay?'

Elevenses looked quite shocked to see me react in this way. It made me realise that what I was saying was true - I really had changed, and Elevenses had never seen me act like this before.

'Well - it's good to see you alive and whole, Thirteen,' she said. 'I meant no harm or anything by it. Won't you - would you call me Ella? It's my name, the one I use for the resistance. I was never able to tell you that before, because of - you know - but I would like you to now,'

I felt a warmth inside which was very different from anger. 'Thank you, Elev - Ella. I'm really happy to see you too. And thank you for telling me your num - your name.'

She took a deep breath and hugged me. I realised that she was crying. 'I was so worried! I thought that I would be seeing you all vegetable and mind-wiped, and then when I didn't see you for days I could only think that you had been taken away to a labour camp as well and I would never see you again! When they started putting out the wanted posters and so on, then I was scared for you even more but it let me know that you weren't either. You'd escaped! It's been driving me crazy not knowing if you had managed to stay alive. They kept the notices out about searching for you though, so I assumed that meant you had still managed to evade them. Well done! You'll have to tell me how you did it.'

'Later.' The leader stepped forward, taking his hat off to let his hair spring in all directions. 'For now, all you need to know, Elevenses, is that we finally have proof of what we knew all along - the Boundless betrayed us all, right when we first landed. The Ark ship in the museum, it's - '

'A fake. Yes. I know.' Ella smiled at me.

The leader looked nonplussed. 'But how do you know? Only Thirteen knew, that's why she has been pursued so badly!'

Ella laughed. 'This Thirteen, she's a tough nut to crack, aren't you? 4385 told us, of course.'

I blinked. 'Is she all right?'

'Yes, fine, thanks to you - you didn't tell them anything about her, did you? That saved her life, you know. If anyone had suspected her in the slightest she would have been dragged off and interrogated too, just in case it would lead to you. But instead I was the one she told, after you had been dragged off. I managed to be able to sit next to her on the transport back to the capital, and we had a very long and drawn out coversation where she would only whisper things to me when she felt sure that no-one else was looking. But finally we know. She told us about the gem, and the message. She couldn't read it very fast, but I took what she could remember and discussed it with the council - that's the other members of the resistance,' said Enn, at my blank look. 'We pieced the conclusion together. It must mean the ship was a fake. So, are you guys the cavalry? You're going to do something big and bold with this roomful of people? Tell me, please, what's your plan?'

She addressed this to the leader with the passive perfect politeness of a Worker being dutiful to their supervisor, but I who knew her well knew that she was overdoing it, just slightly, which betrayed her irritation.

The leader looked quite prickly again at this probing and suggestion of mistrust against his people.

'We have a plan,' he said stiffly, crossing his arms and for a moment looking very like his mother. 'We just need to do some reconnaisance to formulate the finer details...'

'Ha! You think you've got time for that? Don't you realise they'll know you're in this building? You don't have time to just hole yourselves up here! The evening scan before curfew will catch you straight away!' [So part of the emergency measures set up to catch Enn is robots or something physically scanning all the buildings and reporting back that every Worker is in their allocated pods? No wonder they would have been able to infiltrate relatively easily up to now.]

The leader looked at the captain. 'Okay. Tell us everything you know. What information are we missing?'

[So describe some more of the challenges which make it harder for them to succeed, because of the emergency measures, and then move on to the plan that the council of resistance has been figuring out instead.]

'Okay,' said Ella, once she had the floor diagrams set out to her satisfaction. 'We need to get inside here, that's where the summit will be taking place. It's been changed recently, I know it was supposed to happen in the [other place],' she said, waving away the leader's objection impatiently before moving on to the diagrams. 'We need to move before the others can catch you. Everything will close down entirely in the evening. And none of you will fit in very well, so this could be quite tricky.'

[Describe their trip across town to the underground resistance council chambers and safehouse. How do they do it? Sewers again? Maybe the reason no-one can get to it is that Techies don't swim, and it is a little island in the middle of the estuary... or underground river? Or... just need a new cool location for it anyway.]

[It is here that they prepare for the proper final attack, on the summit. So all the resistance members plus the ones who can actually move around without being conspicuous go to attack the summit - but does Enn therefore insist on coming along anyway? OR they are forbidden to do so, but they creep after them anyway - with the captain too? - because they can't stay at home and they are too anxious to wait. They therefore end up giving them an initial rescue when Thirteen and the leader etc nearly get caught trying to infiltrate the place.]

'I told you to stay behind,' the leader hissed, furious, and apparently not even concerned that he nearly died. Thirteen almost glowed with gratitude though, and the way she looked at me was full of the old respect that used to be there before I made it awkward with my whole rejection speech... Hope flared inside me. Maybe we could still connect and rebuild what we might have had.

'I know,' said the captain calmly. 'Sorry, but I won't. I'm your mother. You could die. I at least have to be there if that happens.'

'And you?' the leader said to me. 'Don't you know you're increasing our danger by coming out here?'

'Didn't look that way to me, SIR,' I said, stung. [cliche] 'Seems to me that you would be pretty dead by now if we hadn't turned up.'

The leader had none of his usual cockiness after escaping death. I guessed it was because we were still in danger, so there was none of that euphoric high of the relief of being able to relax.

'Come on, [leader], I'm glad they're here,' said Thirteen. 'And we don't have time for this - let's go!'

The leader huffed but agreed, and we all followed him up the stairs [wherever they are] and up the fire escape. It took a long time, as at each bend he had us all stop while he checked round the corner to see if anyone was planning an ambush on the next flight of stairs. I was super-conscious of the sound of all of our footsteps. Walking on metal was really not very helpful, when trying to be sly and quiet. I longed for my familiar forest floors. We were all pretty good at stealthy though, and even the captain's footsteps did not send up the clanging necessary to reach any more of the people's ears.

I tried not to feel dizzy as we got to the top of the building, but it was really asking a lot from someone who is scared of heights. I could see the whole city from here, which might have seemed spectacular to some, but to me was just another reminder that probably that meant that lots of people could see us too.

[Have to have a scene where Ella has her suit removed - or have all the resistance figured out ways of fooling the tracker - they leave the tracker in their pods when they move out to a meeting, but they haven't been able to do that recently, as they have all been physically checking about their presence and not just assuming that trackers are attached to bodies. That's why there has been no opportunity for communication with the external command in [FreeLand] - too strict and not worth the risk of breaking the rules in case that jeopardises this attack's chances of winning.]

[Use Aeon timeline when transcribing the plot, I can then pretend I'm using post-its, basically...]

The others had already taken up their positions, kneeling down to peek through the glass of the middle of the roof. I didn't want to but it would be better at least than looking the other way, over the rest of the city. I crawled the rest of the way - it helped with the dizziness and helped me feel more secure.

'Stand guard,' the leader said to the captain. 'At least make yourself useful.' The captain reluctantly stood up and turned the other way, in case anyone else came up the fire escape stairs. The rest of us wiggled flat onto our stomachs to be able to put our heads over the glass and nothing else.

The room below was dark, and for a moment my stupid mind could only imagine that this was the darkness of the void, sucking me in to fall to my death. Thirteen looked back over at me, noting my paleness and the grim set of my lips, and reached out and took my  hand. I squeezed it back, feeling much better. It was so nice to see her looking at me with that fondness again.

'Where are the others?' the leader muttered. 'They probably encountered a similar thing on the other side. I knew Ella hadn't factored everything in to her plan...'

'Nobody can do that, [leader],' I said. Thirteen was looking a bit upset with him for being so rude about her friend. It pleased me to see her obviously irritated with one of her lovers [they will have to have got it on together by this point - won't have a chance later, it will all be action!] and not just blind to his faults. I squeezed her hand again, and she seemed to draw strength from that, because afterwards she said,

'Actually, [leader], I know you're tense, but I'm not having you talk about my friend like that. I won't listen to it.' I nearly squirmed with pleasure, despite the cold wind and the rain speckling our faces.

Abruptly, the light went on below us. We all turned our faces away, blinking from the glare, and then peeked back as they recovered the full range of vision. Now the room was perfectly easy to see - a normal room, as far as I understood what one of those should look like, with a big table in the middle and chairs drawn up around the side. They had one of those 'carpet' things on the floor - coloured moss, essentially, and made by one of those mysterious industrial processes that I would need another few years to understand, it seemed.

Thirteen drew in her breath beside me. 'That's him,' she whispered, and I knew she meant [TechyBoundless]. The person who had just walked in was tall and wore a long black coat [too matrix?] with a thick head of brown hair. [Has Enn really never seen [TEchyBoundless] properly?] He moved up to the head of the table and sat down, spreading his arms wide and drumming the wood with his fingers. Thirteen's eyes were fixed on him, but I was more interested in the new faces coming in to the room.

There was Lucy. I felt another fresh stab in my gut as their betrayal renewed inside me. How could they? But maybe they were tied in the very process we were too. [Indeed, that is exactly what is revealed when they are in prison together.]

[Describe the other Boundless coming in.]

'My dear fellow members of the Boundless ship,' [TechyBoundless] began, [can they actually hear his voice through the glass?] 'I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter 15 - Thirteen

 

Thirteen declares her love

'Enn,' I said,

[argh which point of voiew would be post? I suppose ffff jileksl in the end we need to have two romance climax points though, jthe jeire f ji and one from each point? So... one of them is a sec sex scene (yikes) and one of them is a ... what other type of romance climax is there? Saying that they love each other? Or just realising it slowly? That would be good too.]

So the scene starts wiht - I need a setting. Um. I don't know whetn this is going to be, so how am I going to have a where>?]

Ok, no, there are two sex scenes and there is one each at each bitg location in the plot - ie the [LucySociety] workld and the Techy wworld. And the one in the [LucySociety] world is for from Thirteen's veiwpoint, because she relaises she is in love first (after the whole Boundeless debacle and after she finds her feet from that) , while Enn realises later, after Thirteen has done more to prove herself more Enn's equal,so so after they've arrived in the TEchy world. Although I was laredy having Enn getting jealous over Thirteen during the Boundless debacle, so surely this is the t point that they jie jfielie the point that they would realise that they like Thirteen? But maybe not. Maybe they still *think* they think of her more as a parent. Ah butno...

jjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjj

OK, I need a scene. Let's go for the declaration moment - perhaps Thirteen blurts it out before Enn has even thought about it? Ah Ah ha! Awkwardness will ensue! Becuasue Enn will rebuff her, but then realise afterward that they actually like her and they wer e misinterpereting allt heir feeligns right back from the Boundless debgacle stage onwarsds. k

OK, so this happens in a moment of Ttension - like whne they are travelling over the sea to get to the Techy world?

Chapter [X]: Thirteen

OK. I had decided: today was the day. I was going to tell them. Just tell them. Like [side-character s] said, it was the best thing to do, and I wasn't the scared lost person who they had rescued any more. I wass their equal and a worthy partner. A worthy...

[Also - added thing - complication about the polyamory aspect? Thirteen didn't know that Enna already has other partners? Foreshadownign: have Enn thinking about them at some point, msising them and their kids?]

I tried to believe it, but no matter how many times I told myself I couldn't quite. But I had been puttintg it off for days now [have the realisation scene back only just after they are trying to get away from the Boundless after the day after hid drunken confession?] and I had to do it . I had now realised that I was never going to feel genuinely worhty of asking Enn to - well, let's not put it like that, perhaps if I just thought of it instead o as that I was telling them somethig. That wasn't anything that they h then had to do. It was just a statement of fact. Completely rational and logical. Except it was funny how little rationality and lig logic had helped me to come to terms with my feelings for Enn. Feelings just didn't seem to fit in the same boxeds as everything else could, all Work and all of life like ti used to back on [Techyland] . And if naything, since I lost that suit, I had bigger feeligns, I was sure of it. The suit had gone nand now I knew it jije j was a good thing. I would never want to wear one again.

jjjjj I felt so good about it though. F Sort of fizzy and poppy. And jjjjj it felt so TOTALYL Totally differnt different than it had ever felt with Nine. Ha"! He was from so long ago that I c was beginning to forget what he looked like, and I didn't care1! And I certainly knew that I didn't care whtat he wanted anymore . It might be fun to see him again if only to tell him all that, but unfortunhately, given what we a - Enn and me - were about to go and try and do, I would pr most likely never get the chance. It was an ache, knowing that you are not going to have a future, j and the ache weighed down my days ever since I we had made our decision to go back n and do what we could d to stop the time disaster from happening, but at least I was also aware of how important this time was now, bfefore the ship arrived and before we were all doomed. jijeli Which was why I had to tell Enn. Today.

Enn was sitting in the prow of the /cabin of the air ship as I came up from the night shift to take over. I came up behind them, my ye eyes r boring into the back of their haead, their back. Why was it that this person, and this body, could hold so much fasiicinatin for me? Rationally, I knew it was just a body, and not a b particularly young or lithe one at that - and a female one, which in my society would matter a lot [would it actually ? How do techiews deal with homosexuality? Maybe cos relationsihps and reproduction are separated the ahuthroities really don't care? And all of it gets sugjugated to do work instead?]

and was something I never thought I would do.

jjjjj 'How was it overnight?'

'Nothing,' Enn shrugged, then stretched. 'This sitting all the time is terrible, thought. Remind me never to becmjoe a Techy, all right?'

I felt a little twist of doubt - how could they ever consider you a match, they think your entire society is crap, they would never want to keep seeing you after this is all over, there's no point because there won't even BE a time whe after this is all over - bbut I let it go as best I could. I needed to uj jjjjj keijflie

do it. Just do it.

fddfd jjjjj

'Hey, um Enn,'

'Yeah?' they looked up fro to me on

from their chair where they were shuffling around as if they could never get comfortable. '

I smiled nervously. 'IYou could jsut just stnad,stand, up you know,' I said.

'Yeah, but...' they reached for the console and made an elaborate show of getting to their feet , coplete with many groans and places werher they pretneded to get stuck.

They had me laughing. Even when I was about to tell them what I was about to tell them. Oh, and when the world was ogin to end soon.

'Hey, hono, seriously, Enn. I have something to say.'

Enn blinked and then plopped back into the chair that they had so sturuggled to get up from a moment earlier. Their eyese were wide and they sat up straight and alrert. 'OK. I'm seriousl. What is it?'

'I, er - I don't know where to begin,' I faltered. Coward! Yes I did. It was very simpel actually. I just didn't kn want to be too blunt about it.

Enn didn't say anything, jsut just kept looking at me with that level gaze that could see the truth in anything.

'So, I , um , remember when you stood up to the Boundless [name] for me, and then when th he told us all that stuff, you were so cool, you jsut just went straaight into world-saving mode...' I began. This was already so embarrassing, these compliments had sounded  a lot easeier to say in my head. '

Enn looked a bit surprised, but pleased. 'Then when I ddidn't continue they said, 'yes...?##', the curiosityd dancing int their eyes.

'Well - it kind of started then - or well if tiw was earlier I didn't realise until then - but then inn the few days since then I've grown really sure, you know, really truly sure - ' Oh crap, noqw i was too o committed. There was no way of backing down nd making it more awkward if this went wrong. I would just have to pray it didnt'.

Enn was lookin g at me a ltittle side-ways now, with her eyes squinted in a quesitioning attitude. 'And the thing your are sure of t is...?' they prompted again, when I still didn't answer at all.

'That - that - um - that, well... I couldn't do it. NOt looking right a t their face. Maybe the wall. I stared at it desperately [describe what's there]. Not much better. I couldn't just say the words. I was going to have to hedge. NO"! No. This was the end of the world we were talking about here, not just another Tuesday morning! If you can couldn't not hedge now, when could you?

'Enn, I - '... the seconds passed, and I forced myself to look at their face, although it felt liek the effort nearly burned my eyes - 'I love you,' I croaked.#]

It was audible at least, but that's about all that could be said or my declaration of love.

[In Techy ssociety, are sex an ld love pretty well separated? But they still have the concept that you can only be 'in love' with one persona at a time?]

They definitely heard me, they did. They did. I could no longer had handle looking at their face, so I don't know what their reaction was. I just stared at that  basket handle [something ranndom!] and felt my face burn the warmest it had ever burned with a blush. I was thankful for my dark skin, although this time I don't think it was fooling aynybody. I This was mortifying. My heartbeat sounded so loud.

'Thank you, T,' Enn said at last, and with their voice sounding not compeletly outraged I could look back at them again, atl elast for a micro-seconde. They looked - surprised. that was all. Just very, very surprised. 'I'm so touched that you feel this way, T. Um - sop - but - I'm really sorry,' they let out in a rush, and slumped from their straight-backed position on the chair. 'I don't think I feel that way about you. I have such a different set of - you know - and when I first found you nyou needed me so much, and it kind of - I di never started looking at you like that, I guess.' Enn looked as mieserabele, or nearly, as I must was feeling. Ohy, God. Of course it had gone this way. Of course ti had. It couldn't have done nything else really. Enn was  a parent and older and from [LucySociet]! I was a nobody Techy who just needed rescuing all the time. I couldn't be held responsible if tears came out of my eyes at this point. It was just a reflex reaction, nothing more. It would not be rational or necessary tor read anything l else into it.

'I understand,' I said stiffly, dying to get away. But only now did I realise my mistake - as I was taking over from Enn s at the pilot seat, it was Enn who had the initiative in when to leave, and I was left here utnil they diud. 'Well. I'll get on then,' I said, trying to show them that I needed space.

Enn was not foolwed. They stood up againa and said 'Come here,' whith such kindness that the tears immediately burst out /burst through the dam [cliche]. Enn had their arms wide open and I walked in to them, mainly, I'll be honest , for theo opportunity to hid mey face from them. I couldn't believe I had been this tupid. Why had I put myself into this position>? And the worst thing about the hgu was that despite Enn's excellent skills as a hugger, it diefinitely nand unmistakeablyunmistakably hasd the mark of a parental hugh. Conecern and kindeness and a lot of empathy and ysympathy - nand not one trace of reciprocated desire.

'could you go now?' I snivelled into their shoulder, too embrarrsed to ask them to their face.

'Will yo be OK?> I can f keep flying for longer if you need to take a break for a bit ... [They have been flying for ages? Only a very old slow airship? They only have 2 of them in the crew, so while one flies, the other one has to be sleeping? If they had done that for a couple fo days then no wonder that Thirteen feels stressed and emotional.]'

I considered it for a moment,

This is where I got to by the 22nd hour (3am)

but Enn's eyes were ringed with tieredness.

'No, no, you cgo to bed, I'll be fine. ' jjj jikejiek I stopped my outburst with sheer force of will. 'Come on, we'e got jtiel a world to save,' I tried sto sound brave but I just so felt stupid. I wanted os desperately for them to leave me alone now so I could have a personal breakdown.

j Enn gave me a last look of worry - too much worry! Why couldn't they see me properly without worrying all the time! - and squeezed my hand once before leaving to go to the back of the ship and into the bunkbed that I had just vacated. I bundled up handfuls of my jacket in fron tof me and buried mey face in them to try and muffle the sobbing. This was a very small airship though. I know that there was no way they couldn't hear it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part IV: Part 4 - [TechyLand]

 

Chapter Twenty

Thirteen gets annoyed about Enn acting as a parent

So, it is after they have done a bit of fighting and actuion, or whatever, but before the big big actual climax. And all through all that stuff, things have been mega-strained and wierd weird beteween them because of Thirteen's above declaration. And although that is very uncomrfortabel to live through and felt like the end of the world to Thirteen at the time, the it turns out all right in thee end becausee it also gives the relationship that vital breathing space for a bit of distance,m and for the possibility to be opened in Enn's mind, annd that quiet space for speculation tto sttart churning... And also there is no reoom for Enn acting like a parent to Thirteen any more, so then they really do becaome equlas. (Thirteen thought that she had rpoved herself in Enn's eyes,, earlier, but she actulally ahdn't, thep perception tthat Enn got from the first impressions of the first week or two was too strong.)

Ooo! So this scene, I can write about Thriteen standing up to Enn and asking them not to do the parental treatment thingg any more! It would come just as they were about to enter battle - or some sort of undercover operation - so they are all dressed up in uniform and ready to go:

'Hey, Thirteen,' I called, trying to sound casual. Thirteen turned, just as she was about to go out of the door and waited.

'Yeah?'

'Be careful otu there, won't you?'

For some reason, her reaction was not at all what I had expected. Her face closed down and her j clouded over.

'Please edon't do that any more, Enn,'

'What?'

'jjjjj jjilklei You know what.' She looked really angry, but I really didn't know why. I was genuinely concerned - this was going to be dangerous, I'd hope she would want to jf wish the same to me under teh circumstances.

'I'm not - look, I'm sorry about how I feel, T - '

'No, it's not that. I am over that. Don't worry. It's the way you're so, so clingy [change] - you're not my mother, OK? Or any kind of parent, I menan. You don't have to pick me out as the wone you need to worry for the most. I've changed since you first found me, you knwo. And I wasn't even a little kid then.'

'I - what? I don't treat you liek that - you - you know I respect your abilities jsut just as much as anyone else...'

'Yes you do treat me like that, Enn. And I'm soryr I went and told you abovut the - stupid thing. But if we can't have that kind of relationship, I then I would rather we were just colleagues than this carry on this poisonous parent-child act.'

I was really taken aback. Thirteen had never talked this way to me befroe,before, or anyoen I don't think. There was no hesitation in her voice and her gaze was level with mine. There was no embarrassment about saying what she had to say. Pain, yes, and vulnerability, but that struggling struggle to say what she needed to tell me was ogone. And I realised she was right. Up auntil thatthen, I erally really had always viewed her sas a sort of surrogate child. I misseed my own chilrdren, but that was no reason to act like this gorrown woman, desptite all her ignorance about surviving in a foretst,m had ever deserved to be treated that way.

' I - I'm sorry,' I said. 'But still, T, don't - just please don't die, OK?'

I was relieved to see her face soften somewhat. 'Only as long as you promise not to either.' The ghost of a smile [cliche] hovered for a moment round y her lips.

'OR stop existing?' I demanded, pressing my advantage.

'Or stop existing. i promise.' she said, giving a proper smile as my reward this time. Then she breathed a deep breath and turned towards the door. She looked for a moment like she wanted to say more, but she didn't. 'Let's go,' I suggested, and she nodded, checked her e weapon blet one more time, and set uoff down the [wherever they['re going].

[at this point they are wearing stolen black armed TEcyhyPolice uniforms - the - but how do you get into one? Doesn't it have to be tailor-made and then kind of sewn onto you ? It's not something you can easily steal straight off another pserson...']

#

Chapter Twenty-One

Grab suits off people OR take from 13's factory?

#

Chapter Twenty-Two

Infiltrate the Boundless summit, surround the Boundless and listen in

#

Chapter Twenty-Three

During battle, Enn sees Thirteen differently

OK, this one is after they have gone to whatever battle or mission they had done at the end of the last scene, and during that conflict and the next few hours Enn's viewpoint has shifted. First they realise that Thirteen really, turly isn't a child and never has been, and that yes, they can trust them as a fellow adult and they;ll be aglbel to look after therlsefl without En's help; then after that they see her in dantger and at risk at the acutal battle thing and then also see her in action, being very capable and finally even rescuing Enn - so they truly have come full circle. And somehwereh in there they realise that yes the wy would like to have kisysy kissy times with Thirteen. Ah, the lovely T...

#

Chapter Twenty-Four

*** Overhears [TechyBoundless] reveal the REAL plan

[TechyBoundless] takes all his fellow Boundless prisoner.

 

have gathered you here today because of a very important event. As you may or may not know - I do not know how closely you all keep track of our roots or the astronomical calendar - we are about to undergo a double lunar eclipse [or something] in the next twenty-four hours. I have reason to believe that this is THE double lunar eclipse. The one which began this whole... thing. So, you can ee my reason for the urgency with which I invited you all today.'

'Oh, great, right, another eclipse. Already? I thought the next one wasn't for another three millennia,' said [otherBoundless], looking bored. 'I should have known - it's always about when the Boundless ship is going to arrive for you, isn't it?'

[TechyBoundless] visibly bristled, I could see that even from above. 'It has BEEN three millennia since I last called us all together to witness the eclipse.'

'Really?? Wow!' said [otherBoundless]. 'Don't time fly when you're having fun, eh, [partnerBoundless]?' They both giggled together as if they were immature children instead of the ancient beings they really were.

[TechyBoundless] hit his fist on the table. 'Shut up!' he roared, the veins standing out on his forehead for a moment. It was an impressive display of sudden rage, but the listeners did not seem overly impressed. None of them even jumped.

'Oh, stop getting yourself all stressed out, we're listening,' trilled [otherBoundless]. [Make them super-silly type of hyper-feminine?? Would that destroy all the work to make the other characters not conform to gender stereotypes?] 'We're all ears. Right. So you reckon the Boundless ship is going to appear tonight then?'

'Yes. I am sure this time. It fits with the rough dates that the people on the Ark were able to give us, when they first arrived. It must be this eclipse. The next one isn't for another six millennia!'

He sounded worried, but the others didn't seem concerned. 'Ah, maybe we'll notice those six going by then,' said [OtherBoundless]. [These are the capitilist boundlesses talking.]

'No. This is it. I am sure.'

'That's great,' said [Y], 'but what's the exact idea here? You want us all to fetch popcorn for the grand finale? We can watch a bit of a lightshow then?'

'It's true, it's not going to affect us [TechyBoundless],' said [anyone]. 'The ship went back in time before it crashed. We're in no danger. Things should just carry on as normal, isn't that what we all reckoned when we tried to figure it out?' They looked around and earned a couple of nods from around the table.

'And you want that, do you?' said [TechyBoundless], his voice soft and dangerous.

[Maybe the resistance are wary when they hear of the change of venue for the summit because they have switched to somewhere that is definitely less secure - or maybe they are just glad that they have made it easier for them to reach them and so don't question it too much?]

'Yes, I do.' said [Otherboundless], suddenly sounding a lot more decided and less silly. 'This planet and this life are good to us, even if living forever does for sure get tiresome now and then. Isn't that what we've all been doing? Finding ways to live with living forever? I'm not sure I would have chosen the way you've done it, Lucy, no disrespect of course - but as long as it works for each of us, then that's fine, right? Hell, even [ComputerBoundless] is quite happy now he's plugged himself in and checked his mind out of the situation. So why is it that you still have a bee in your bonnet [cliche] about this, [TechyBoundless]? We've all told you many times to let it go. It's not healthy.'

'You know nothing of what I have been doing, you are right about that,' he said, sounding properly angry and menacing now. 'You are all fools. Don't you realise that while you have all been wasting time, I have been putting my long life to use? Do you know what can be done once humans are given proper structure and direction? I have built the empire and foundation upon which all of your societies stand! My Workers are the most efficient machines on the planet. I have taken my situation and found every way I can to change it and improve it. And still I have found no way to end our obscene lives once and for all. [Cliche] Don't you all want to die? I'm curious. Surely you long for it, as I do?'

The other Boundless round the table all looked a bit awkward. They scratched their necks or looked down at the table. 'We-elll...' said Lucy. 'I know what you mean, I think we all do. We have all struggled very hard to come to terms with our state of timelessness and I know it took my many millennia before accepting my fate. [Cliche?] But ever since the Ark has arrived, things have improved. Mortal humans are so interesting, in their brief way. Don't you think so? I think that boredom will hardly be an issue any more as long as I've got a few tribes to support and help along their way. We've all come to realise that too, in different ways, all except for you apparently. Why won't you give up on this talk of dying? It's impossible. We may wish for it sometimes, but it's stupid to think it can happen...'

'I say again, YOU are the fools. Don't you see why I have awaited the arrival of the Boundless ship so intently for all these years? I know a way to stop this mad cycle and for us all to have never had to go through what we had to go through. It is not right that we struggled so badly and never could rest. It is an abomination on the ways things should be. Well tonight is the night I make sure none of it ever happens. The Boundless, my fellow crew members, will never reach this planet. It will not have a chance to crash, and the time loop will never get started. All of this reality will never have existed.'

He looked so thrilled, like a child just FINALLY getting to spill the beans [cliche] on the secret they had harboured for way, way too long. He was almost twitching with excitement, and striding back and forth in sporadic bursts of energy as his hands traced big gestures in the air of his vision of the future - or rather, of the non-future of the civilisations of the planet.

'WHAT are you talking about?' said [anyone], now sounding just a little bit alarmed. 'The Boundless ship will crash just the same as it did the first time. This IS the same as the first time, it is exactly the same! It'll happen like we remember it, that is completely inevitable, right?' They looked at the others for support.

'Yes. That's right,' said Lucy firmly. 'It's part of the past - it's fixed...'

'Although... it's only part of our past, I suppose...' said [someoneelse]. 'It's actually still about twenty-four hours in the future, in the real absolute sense of time. It would only be our own personal time-lines that got disrupted if he actually did what he says...'

'Yes, but just think of what won't happen if our own time-lines don't happen!' said Lucy, standing up and addressing them all. 'Don't you see? Without us being here, the Ark would never have been called down here, and would certainly never have stayed. Without us all exerting our influence over generation after generation, the civilisations would not have happened like this. All of it would be gone! All our work! You can't possibly want that, [TechyBoundless]. For us to just have died in transit in deep space, seven out of eight of us just completely unaware that we never made it?'

'Yeah! And anyway, I like the way we've set things up. I have no inclination to render it all meaningless by sending this whole reality into non-existence. Look, why don't you just call this whole thing off, old chap?' said [CapitalistBoundless].

[TechyBoundless] didn't move. He seemed to have gone rigid with rage.

'You will all fail.' He stated flatly. 'I hoped you would appreciate this nice surprise, this gift that I have laboured so long to give to you all. You are all fools to think that you can stop me now. I have had millennia to think about it, and every part of my plan is fool-proof.'

Lucy and [Otherboundless] had made eye-contact across the table. There was a tiny nod from Lucy, and then they both threw themselves at [TechyBoundless], aiming it looked like to knock him to the floor and neutralise him. Instead, they were both shot in the head before they could ever reach him. They fell to the floor, clearly dead, but probably not staying dead very long.

'What did you do that for?' said [PartnerBoundless], sounding mildly irritated. 'There was no need for violence!'

'I apologise for my rudeness,' said [TechyBoundless], sounding not at all sincere. 'A necessary precaution when taking immortals prisoner, I am sure you will understand.'

Another three/four shots rang out from different areas of the walls around the room and the other Boundless all slumped in their chairs, dead.

Without needing any instructions, the secret hidden shooters moved forwards from their hiding places and gathered around each fallen Boundless. They laid them quickly on stretchers and carried them out of the room, towards the cells that we had identified from the plan of the building. Of course - that was why the [TechyBoundless] had relocated to here. It was the perfect place to lock up all his fellow Boundless out of the way before carrying on with his own plan - to destroy all of our lives and our histories tonight, by crashing the Boundless ship.

 

Chapter [X]: Thirteen

 

The only Boundless left in the room was [TechyBoundless], who was surveying the streaks of blood around the room with satisfaction. I was frozen with shock [cliche], clutching on to the roof and staring at the room below. How had it gone like this? This wasn't what was meant to happen!

The [TechyBoundless] nodded and started strolling to the door.

'Well,' muttered the leader beside me. 'That makes it easier.' And he brought his gun/weapon up to his shoulder and shot through the glass, getting the Boundless in the chest. He staggered and looked up, then stared at our dark outlined shapes. Finally, he slumped to the ground and lay still.

'Go,' hissed the leader tersely, and we all remembered ourselves and jumped towards the door. Enn got there first, and flung the door back with the desperation of someone who is desperate to get their feet on solid ground again. We ran as quietly as we could down to the room, and met the other team coming down from the other way. 'You collect his body and bring him along behind us,' said the leader, cutting across the shared exclamations of surprise that we all wanted to say. 'Focus, people. We didn't train for years just to get distracted. Everyone clear on their tasks? Good. Go.'

The other team jogged off, and we continued down the corridor and down the stairs, hugging the walls and again with the leader checking around every corner for anyone coming up the stairs. We were following the trails of blood the bodies of the other Boundless had left as they were dragged along by the [TechyBoundless]'s guards.

Finally we got to the corridor that we knew was just before the cells, and slowed down as we heard voices.

'OK,' the leader breathed, after peeking around the edge. 'Wait a bit - let them lock them up for us - then we'll charge them,'

The waiting was terrible. The leader timed on his watch [do they have that technology?] and every thirty seconds carefully peered with his mirror around the corner again. The good thing was that the second team caught up with us, although the noise they made bringing the body of the [TechyBoundless] down the stairs seemed like a huge amount of noise that would easily get us discovered.

I couldn't take my eyes off the body of the [TechyBoundless]. Any moment now he could wake up - nobody had an accurate way of telling how far through their reset cycle they were, and so we may only have seconds or we may still have fifteen minutes. It was horrifying to think of him coming alive again.

'They're coming,' breathed the leader, and we all gripped our weapons tighter. My breathing was coming short and fast. Surely they would have heard us.

They came jogging round the corner quite oblivious to the threat. They were obviously very well trained - they had not lingered and they did not dawdle now in going back to report to [TechyBoundless].

We managed to just hit the first two over the head, so that they went down and were knocked unconscious. The others though came round with a bit more warning, and had been able to bring their guns/weapons up before we could simply punch them. Things got dirtier. I was reminded of the scraps we used to have in the darker unsupervised corners of the child institutions. I had always hated being involved but I had been forced to - the stronger and older children were in the habit of creating armies for themselves out of the younger ones and pitching them against each other. I was glad it wasn't the first time ever that I had been at risk of receiving physical pain, although of course my life hadn't been at risk and the suits had patched us up and numbed the pain for us back in the institution. But there wasn't time to worry about the people trying to kill me - I just had to react to what was coming at me at the time.

[Describe more of the battle - outcome is that the - does anyone get hurt?]

As the guard went down, grunting with pain and bleeding from their side, I saw [TechyBoundless] open his eyes from the floor behind where Enn was struggling with another guard. Enn hadn't seen him - their whole attention was focused on the burly guard, who had way more experience of fighting than they did. I yelled something about 'Behind you!' and jumped over the bodies of a couple of people who had been put out of action on the floor. I collided with the guard who was fighting with Enn, who was pushed over into [TechyBoundless], who had been getting to his feet.

The guard pushed me off him, and had rolled back to his feet before I could scramble up again. But Enn got him from behind and hit him hard over the head with their [weapon]. It was satisfying to see him collapse. I was worried that I didn't find it more disturbing, but my attention had already moved back to [TechyBoundless], who was on his hands and knees and getting his feet under him for a sprinting start.

We needed to kill him again. My weapon was pointed right at him, but even though I knew it wouldn't kill them him forever I hesitated. I couldn't just shoot him in the back!

Enn's spear [no way would they fight with that?] whistled past my head and embedded itself in his back with a crunchy thump. I winced and looked at Enn, who shrugged. 'It's like hunting. You just have to throw with confidence.'

I nodded, cursing inwardly to myself that I hadn't used that chance to show Enn what I could do. But then again, maybe it was no bad thing that I didn't like the idea of killing somebody.

I looked around. We had won. We had more people, which helped. The final guard surrendered when she saw that all her allies had been overwhelmed. The captain stepped forward and took her weapons away, and then got her to carry one of her friend guards down the corridor.

'Bring them all to the cells. Get the keys from the head guard. Two to a cell, split them up, that's it. Get the [TechyBoundless] in first.'

In a quick flurry of energy we had brought all the prisoners safely behind their respective cells. The leader walked down the row or doors, looking inside and checking each door personally. It was gratifying and satisfying when he had finished. He turned and gave us all one of those cute grins that made me feel so attracted to him. [Urgh.]

'We did it. And no bloodshed, even! Sounds like we stopped something pretty important. Now. You two [random characters], stay down here, one at each end of the corridor [don't they still have a huge problem that there are other enemies still in the building, and a whole system of police out in the city who will launch a counterattack when they find out that rebels have taken the Boundless hostage? Get more mileage out of that side of things - e.g. have another team of rebels engineering a city-wide announcement and then a power cut across the city to stop everyone from catching them? Sort all that secondary battling out in the first draft.].

'Everyone else, back to the consultation room. Let's start the interrogations. We don't want to be staying more than a couple of hours before we disappear. People will start to get suspicious that they haven't heard anything from their leader after a while.

[Maybe transport them to somewhere else? E.g. back to a hidden location so that they can interrogate them all in peace?]

[Research how real sting operations and coups have gone.]

[Next - go through the different Boundless, presenting them with the evidence against them and demanding to know the truth about the Ark.

[Reveals some more of their personalities and perspectives with short snippets of each interrogation.]

[Interrupted in the last one by news of the guards bringing a message from [TechyBoundless].

'[Leader!] Ella! We have a problem,' said [rebelguard], coming up the stairs and panting as they spoke. '[TechyBoundless] - he says he has a way of killing people in the city - he wants to talk to you.'

'What?' said the leader, standing up. '[Otherguard], take Lucy back to the cells and bring him up. I want three people holding him close, no funny business.

[TechyBoundless] was brought up. He looked furious.

'So. Thirteen, I finally find you. Well done. You got a lot further than I would have thought possible, considering the resources I spent on trying to find you. You are certainly a disgrace to all Workers. Don't you know you are supposed to help the efficiency of the state, not waste all my time and precious energy and resources trying to catch wayward strays.'

I blushed, and felt the shame instilled in me since childhood flare up and singe me. Then the anger swiftly followed. How dare he still have the power to make me feel like that? How dare he look so smug, even after we had caught him?

'What is it you want, [TechyBoundless]? You have done plenty to make this world a better place, and now you have some mad plan to destroy it completely? What do you mean?'

'I don't have to explain anything to you,' he said, leaning back with his feet up on the table, looking as chill and smug as a person who is invulnerable and knows it. 'You won't need to worry any more soon. Anyway, you'll let me go. I have here in my pocket a remote control for all the suits that all the Techies are wearing everywhere. Now I'm sure that you all have taken the sensible precaution of detaching yourself from the feed, and removing all trackers, etc. But as Thirteen here knows, most people do not go to such precautions. They are all getting things piped directly into them. They will go down easily. If I enter the right code in this small device, then a signal will be released triggering a secret sachet hidden behind the food sachet in all of your suits. It is poison. The whole of the Techy Society will be annihilated in the next five minutes. Just think about that. Don't you have family and friends all around this city, Thirteen? [He names them.] You will let me go in the next five minutes, and let me go where I want without harming me, or all Techies will be dead in ten.'

I felt weak with horror. The leader turned to me.

'Thirteen? Is it possible?'

'I don't know - but probably. We do - the suit does have extra sachets placed in it when they are being made. We none of us ever all knew what every bit was for - only each specialist department would know about their sachet, you know? It would be quite easy to have built this in all the time without us noticing...'

'I would stop that ridiculous attempt to creep up on me,' warned [TechyBoundless]. 'I have my hand in my pocket and my finger on the button right now. Anyone who gets within five metres of me will cause my trigger finger to press and commit genocide. So I wouldn't bother.'

The two rebels who had been doing an admirable job of taking the initiative hesitated, looking at the leader for confirmation.

'Stand down,' said the leader grimly.

'But he might be bluffing! We haven't even seen this remote control. Who's to say it even exists?' the captain scoffed.

I felt the fury of someone being cavalier about the deaths of everyone I knew and had grown up with, and everyone else who had ever been a worker with me. 'Are you prepared to risk it?' I shouted at her.

'All right, stand down, Thirteen,' said the leader. He looked at his parent. 'We can't take the risk.' He turned back to [TechyBoundless]. 'All right. What do you want?'

'That's great. Very rational. You have a good sense of what would be good for you. I am a reasonable person. I will leave you locked up safe. I want you to organise the simple swapping of my guards for you. All you rebels will lock yourself safely in the cells downstairs. You will not try and stop us from leaving. Then I will go along and continue my plan. Fair enough?'

[Describe the surrender and changing places, some sort of parting shot from [TechyBoundless]. [Why doesn't he just have them all executed on the spot?]]

 

We had been in the cell for maybe three hours now. The leader had taken the right to pace around the small space so the rest of us had to sit around the walls, just like old times. Every face was full of thunder.

'It was stupid!' That was the captain, who was still railing against how we had been defeated. 'He was probably bluffing entirely. We just threw everything away, and you know, the worst part is that I think he's going to do something even worse than just poison all of Techy kind. From what we heard in that summit, we're talking about the end of the world here! Surely you were taught basic rationality and logic, Thirteen? I am ashamed of you. You obviously don't have nearly the normal amount of the famed Techy rationalism. It's a simple trolley problem, isn't it?'

'Shut up, [captain],' said Enn. 'I think you would have done the same if it was the leader who would have got hurt. We have to accept that this is where we are at.'

[How do they now escape from the cell? Break through the wall, or is it a Boundless who escapes first? One of them spent a few years interested in picking locks as a hobby?]

 

We were sat back around the summit table, but this time with all the remaining Boundless and all the rebels sitting around together. No-one was shackled this time. 'Right. Now we need to know what it is that you haven't been telling us,' said the leader. 'It sounds like whatever [TechyBoundless] is intending to do, it puts us all in danger. So will someone please explain what is going on?'

[Lucy gives them the back-story about how they are actually products of a time accident, etc.]

'Okay. So. What is it that he's going to do? If we only knew that part, or where he was going even, we could have some chance of stopping him. Are you saying that none of know at all?'

The Boundless all shook their heads. 'We don't get along that well. None of us really know him. In fact, I bet nobody does.'

[Discuss the Ark, and they do know where that is - but someone puts it together that if they are going to stop the Boundless ship, he will need a missile bigger than anything they have been trying and failing to build in the Techy Society.]

[They have to go break into his secret lair/office to find the full details? So another cool chase across the city with the Boundless and the mortals working together?]

[Find the location/map of where the rocket will launch from to take [TechyBoundless] to the inner moon.]

[Is the take-off and landing on the far side of the moon going to be really complicated by the fact that the gravity of the moons is so strong/unpredictable during the lunar eclipse?]

'OK, we know where he is. How do we get there?'

'How is he going there? He must be nearly there by now!'

'The air-ship will be able to take us there,' said Lucy. [Nope, not fast enough - what's more dramatic? Having to race across the land on horseback? Spreading the word ahead, as Francis suggested? (Then he would just kill them all - he has no value for human life.) [Obviously he proves he isn't bluffing by killing one of the Techies in their group - no, not Ella! Maybe Ella?] They will have to get on board the rocket. OR... maybe... the Boundless ship - the old one, where it crashed - has the ability to teleport still, and somehow Lucy kept this a secret? Why would they have kept it a secret? So actually they have to get across the sea and back along the road to the sacred mountain - a chance for us to meet some of Enn's tribe again? And the Techy boundless's rocket is further away than that for some reason - so instead of trying to catch them, they try to ambush them while on the Ark ship. Maybe the Hermit was the one using the teleporter? Still, why would TechyBoundless not know about its existence?

Ah, hang on... maybe that is exactly where he is going, and they send word to the tribes to get in the way of him and try to stop him - so heroic battle going on, like guerrilla warfare through the forest. Some people from Enn's tribe injured etc. But then, why would Techy have been needing to build up his society to make things? The point was it was all a cover for the rocket? So instead, maybe ... um... it was useful to have a Techy society to make other supplementary things - like big weapons to shoot the Boundless down with? He has been smuggling these missiles into the heart of LucyLand without Lucy's knowledge? Taking them up via teleporter to the Ark and getting it fitted out with them all? Taking teams of workers up there to do this, and then mind-wiping them as soon as they landed back on the planet again, before they left the Boundless ship.

Okay, so how do they communicate with Enn's tribe before the Techy Boundless gets there? Does Lucy have a way? Each chief of a tribe has some sort of walky-talky from her to be able to get her news? Meanwhile, they take the airship or the pirate's ship ([soandso] had it fixed and comes to meet them at the capital city?) and give chase to the Techy Boundless.

Techy Boundless is out of range with his remote control by the time he realises that they have escaped and are coming after him. Reckons he can make it anyway - doesn't reckon on the tribes fighting him on the way.

Use some sort of primitive aeroplane to gain speed on him? OR a prototype rocket that is very unstable - one of the discarded methods that the Techy Boundless was ostensibly tinkering with in order to be able to return back to earth? He realised that the teleporter would be a lot easier, it was just a Plan B? Because he is obsessed with having Plan B's and failsafes?

'We'll never make it in time, they are too far ahead of us,' said Lucy, biting their lip. 'The airships, the pirate ship, none of it is fast enough. Listen, what was it that Ella was talking about? A way to fly to the moon, that was what her department was working on, right? I bet that means rockets. Come on.'

[Describe the way that they hijack the rocket, and then the super-scary take off and landing, with nowhere to land apart from the - where? The road itself? How would they all not die? The actually jump out and parachute down and leave the rocket to go and crash into the sea on the other side of LucyLand?]

The problem with how fast the rocket had gone was that now we were spread out along a wide area, despite all exiting the rocket in under a minute of each other. We were the last though [because Enn was too afraid of the height to jump] and the rocket had been going in a straight line. The first thing I did before we landed was to try and get a bearing of the direction the rocket was travelling and where we were. Once I was down on the ground I orientated myself carefully by the sun and the landmarks I recognised. [Enn speaking.]

'Okay,' I said, 'we need to go this way,'

Thirteen nodded, and together we began to jog. It wasn't hard to spot the next pair as their parachute had got tangled in a tree. They had only just managed to climb down. They all followed me as we jogged along to the next place, following the straight line that only I was able to follow in my head.

We called out for them, as we reckoned that the risk of being heard by the TechyPolice was less than just losing each other in pairs in the forest. Without Enn, none of us would have found our way.

[Of course have an earlier bit where Enn was recovering from jumping out of a rocket.]

Finally we found everyone, although [one person broke their leg on landing - leave one other person with them, and Lucy promises to come back to them.] We kept going and struck a direct path now towards the sacred mountain.

We were coming up diagonally onto the road, and as we got closer we saw the signs of the fighting that had been happening. We were going to come out ahead of the main fight - we had a chance to cut them off! And still, they had better weapons and so would be able to get through. [Unless they pinched some from TechyLand before leaving.]

[Enn's oldest child fighting with the others -

 

#

Chapter Twenty-Five

Rebels surprise [TechyBoundless] and put in prison too

#

Chapter Twenty-Six

Kiss after battle

[Some sort of aftermath to the big battle/climax (although before the very last surprise climax, when thingy TEchyBoundless goes off rogue by themselves to try adn blow oup the Boundless]

Enn tu I turned, and there was Thirteen. Her face had been cut adn her clothing/black suit was torn, but it was t she was still very much alive. Alive, bruised and running towards me. And I knew that the way I felt about seeing her alive was not AT ALL the same as if my child was coming towars me. The thought was stupid. This wonderful,b brave, sexy , gendered person was someone I could really really want in my life. For now though, long-term didn't really come into it. I n just needed to hold her and know she was still really here after all that.

'T!' I yelled, and ran twowards her. She turned, and beamed at me with the glow of relief that only comes from survival. It was a pure smile, somehthing that she hadn't shared with me for weeks now, and perhaps something which I had never seen her b do quite so much before. Always,w we had been under the shadow of running, or fighting, or escaping. Now allt hat was over.

I hurdled the last f piece of fallen debris and l almst cannoned into her. I arrested my momentum at the last possible minute and turned away to // stopped, grinning fololishly at he.r. I felt those ne wonderful nervous butterflies when your body knows you are about to start something new with a new person, and it will be wonderufl. 't 'T,' I said, just for the sake of saying it. 'Please can I - will you let me kiss you?'

Thirteen looked up at me wwith  a doubt plain to see across her face. 'You don't mean - not a *parental* kiss on the cheek or...'

'God NO!' I said, and unable to take not being in contac tt with her, I reached out and took her hand. 'T. I was a crashing ideiot beofore. I mean, there was some stuff when we first knew we each other, where I had to look after you - it got t our relationship started on a weird foot. b But trust me. I was completely lying to myuself earlier. I have been for ages I think. Honestly, I love you , T. You are the most amazing person and I can't believe you really loved me. i I hope you still might?'

T just greinned even wider. 'Come here, uyop you total - you - God give me strenght!strength!' she said, at the end of her words, and then she bent forward and kissed me.

#

Chapter Twenty-Seven

*** Sex scene! :)

I was beyond caring about anything other than right now. It looked like we had won, and that was brilliant, obviously; but I had some kissing to do.

Oh, I tell you. It was some kiss. It had been so long coming and we both just went for it. My mouth met hetheirs and I don't know what you're supposd to feel when you kiss sombebody but I think this was it. My hands reached round their waist and pulled them in closer. I wanted to get my everything up against their body, so I could feel every curve between that skintutihgt suit...

And suddenly I knew why people were always trying to break their suits, or wriggle out of them just for one night. These layers of smart, intelligent,  useful, Worker fabric were so, SO too much in tehe way. I grabbed her closer to try and feel more of her, and she was had her hands round me too, seizing the lovely curves of each other, but always just coming up with handfujls of slippy, soft, unalive fabric. 'Ugh! God,' I said as we came upf for air [cliche] - we 'This is so stupid!' I g tugged at her suit, but could only succeed in tgetting it  a couple of inches away from their skin bfefore it snapped back. I wouldn't even be able to slide a hand down from the collar line. I stroked her face instead for a moment, just to try and get some skin on skin.

'Oh God, T,' Enn's skin was ebeautifully flushed, and they were panting with anticipation. 'Where can we go?' There was an edge to her voice, a hunger [cliche!!] that made my breathing catch up a notch as well.

R'Right now?' I said, trying to remember where we a were and who else might need us.

'e Yes'. Enn said, with a tone of absoltue certainty. 'Fuck them. The'y'll be fine without us.' I grinned. I loved this! I loved her! I squealed with excitement, liek just pure happy jump excitement. Enn looked startled but I saw no trace of judgement in their eyes, no comparision comparison to whether I was really actuaing mature enough for them. I was reassured.

'This way,' I said, grabbing their hand and dragging them off down a side corridor. Oh,,, I we had to get back quiclkly. Let us get back qucickly!

As I had hoped, the do room had not yet been reassigned. The sign on the door still read 'Thireteen' and underneath that, 'Ninoe-Oh[-Three'. I paused for a second and let go of Enn's hand for a second to rip down the second label.

We burst into the room in  with an urgency I nad had never felt beofore. I wanted to get to that room where w e could tear off these stupid souites nand welcome in the new society with our naked bodies and all the wonderful things they could do to each other. But we were interrupted. On the way through the tiny living area to the bedroom, I became aware that Nine was sa sitting in the one comnfry chair the o room had to offer.

I stopped and unwound msyself from aroudn jithe * Enn slightly to face him.

'Nine,' I said. 'Fuck offk,'

I think the black unhirform mayb have had something to do with it, or the stranger with the beautiful and strange skin net xt to me, but maybe it was also just something in my eyes. He didn't argue. He jsut just left. I grinned.

'He can have this place after tonight. I don't care. But right now though...'

// Nine st had half-stood up , non-plussed by my seudden arrival in the arms of another eprson after weeks and wekes a of mye gbeing the most wanted Techy of them all.

'What?' God, did he look gormless just frozen there, not even in or out of his seat. 'Thirteen>?? what are you - who the ehll is this?' he said, getting angry quickly llike he always does.

I traced my finger down the front of Enn's suit, right the way down to where the body stopped and only legs continued. My finger was light and teasing and Enn closed their eyes and shuddrered as I did it. But then i was done with w being subtlye, and I knew only fast would do. I pulled her too me again, trying to tear her suit off yer, them, desperately trying to find a way in.

'Here,' Enn said, and passed me hertheir knife directly into my hand (handle first, obvs). 'Would you do it for me?' And she stood back so that I could bend down.

I sliddow down all the way to their ankle and lifted up where the suit met the skin. I carefully took theirk know knife and carefully, deliberately inserted it iunder the edge of the b fabric . I held it down, and then with the eye of a practised suit manufacturer, I drew the knife up wi Enn's body all the way to her armpit. I paused only to give her a kiss or three, and then dukcked down again. Again I ran the knife all the way up inside thie suit, and it tore right dwon the side,. Now the suit was not really covering her,them, but I still hesitated to unvelil. them. The colloar - I eased mmy fingers under their neck line and , breathing hard, let my thier their knife into the small gap. I cut away from their neck , down thier their shoulder, their arm - then the other d side...

The suit fell away and landed on the floor. I saw Enn for the first time.

Together, we stepped into each other's arms. And we many not be boundless, but for us time stopped. :D

#

Chapter Twenty-Eight

[TechyBoundless] uses remote on suits to hold Thirteen's friends hostage

Gets released, leaves [TechyPolice] behind to guard the captured Rebels and goes ahead to launch his evil plan.

#

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Boundless and Rebels work together to escape guards

Any remaining pieces of puzzle filled in by Lucy about the Boundless's past.

#

Chapter Thirty

Race to catch up with [TechyBoundless]

Follow rocket somehow - in rickety airship?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter ? - Enn

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter ? - Thirteen

 

Part V: Part 5 - Moon/Space/Ark/Boundless ship

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

Get onto the Ark, battle between Rebels and [TechyPolice]

Succeed in taking control of the Bridge, but [TechyBoundless] gets away to the teleporters.

#

Chapter Thirty-Four

Teleport across to the Boundless ship

Only 13 and Enn find a way to follow him through the teleport onto the Boundless ship.

 

they get injured at the very least - should probably die really...]

They manage to trap quite a few of the [TechyPolice] in a bear trap - i.e. a big pit - but others continue. Also they can still keep shooting out of the pit. Somehow get them off the vehicles so that they have to fight their way through - or anyway, they have to get off and walk when they get to the bottom of the path up the sacred mountain.

The group who came in by rocket gather at the clearing outside the ship, in a last ring of defence - the tribe intercept somewhere along the road and slow them down by sabotaging their vehicles and picking people off with traps and slingshots and arrows - TechyBoundless gets hit loads, but of course just keeps coming back to life.

The Techy's group is trapped in between the tribe and the rebels, but still has superior gun power and so blasts their way through the defender ring - perhaps one of those nasty missiles he's been having made secretly, blows up the whole clearing? Although would he dare to do that as it might damage the Boundless ship as well? Instead, just keeps everyone trapped and having to take cover as they approach with disciplined staggered SAS maneouvres - then it is just an all-out battle in the clearing, and the Techy with a core team of guards in formation get through into the ship and get past the main line scrapping in the side of the ship (so he did blow a hole in the side) and in the clearing. Only a handful of rebel fighters are able to detach from the fighting and follow them, although they have to keep one corner behind because the core bodyguard keep shooting at them.

So the Techy and his bodyguard successfully teleport, and then they would immediately set about sabotaging the teleport on the Ark ship - although they wouldn't, because they would need that to get home! Just try and power it down? Block access/deny access to anyone trying to teleport up from the surface?

But then! Lucy has been talking to ComputerBoundless, in his pod in the back of the ship, and he uses his interface with the Boundless ship computer to hack the denial of the Ark ship to let the teleport through (which is quite easy in fact because the Boundless computer system is much more sophisticated than the Ark's computer defences).

So the tribe and the rebel defenders have pretty much subdued the remaining Techies left in the clearing (the rearguard) and so they swiftly regroup and send up a fighting group through the teleport to stop them on the Ark.

[Maybe the TechyBoundless did have to build rockets just to take one of the Boundless's teleport pads up to be installed on the Ark - and to put some workers there who could get the Ark back into working order. So that's why he did have some leftover rockets lying around. And we can foreshadow this by referring to how he has done this at the start of the year - maybe it merited a Techy holiday or something? - It was supposed to be a 'test flight' to the inner moon to improve their first step towards proper space travel, and they came back with some proper things about what they had seen etc, but the whole rocket crew was mind-wiped and the whole real point of it was to smuggle the necessary stuff up to the Ark.]

So they surprise the core group because they thought they had disabled the teleport, and there is a vicious battle as they gradually overwhelm the Techy guard on the way to the bridge. In the meanwhile though, Techy manages to launch and break out of orbit and into space. The main rebel fighters are busy subduing the people around them in the bridge, and they win there, but only Thirteen and Enn see that the TechyBoundless escapes and crawls off back towards the teleport. They chase him, but they only get there in time to see him stepping up onto the teleport pad. Meanwhile the ship has got far enough to be in teleport range of the original Boundless, and the people on the bridge haven't figured out quick enough how to make it change direction [in fact, how do they manage to land safely after everything? Aren't they at risk of crashing from the moons' gravity as well?] yet. So Thirteen and Enn launch themselves at the TechyBoundless and get teleported with him. The teleport works of course because it is actually the same as the ones on the Boundless ship.

[If he could move one teleport, why not move the other away from the Boundless ship on the sacred mountain and have it more conveniently located in the Techy capital? Maybe the power source for it is only on the ship - they haven't found a way of generating nuclear fusion yet apart from the reaction that is still ongoing on the Boundless ship? (Will have to figure out the physics of that a bit better... Could it really have lasted over millennia?)]

So they all land together on the Boundless ship, but the TechyBoundless kicks them both in the face and runs off. (Actually quite a physical coward, doesn't have a gun to just shoot them dead with? But that makes no sense as he has brought a gun to do away with the 8th Boundless, right?)

[So need to figure out how they survive that initial skirmish - maybe they just have to take cover while he shoots to keep them down, then runs away through the ship - and he would know his way around, unlike them, so they get a bit lost after that trying to chase him.]

Enn shoots a sling-shot at TechyBoundless and maybe breaks his nose but doesn't stop him.

Maybe Enn gets injured - if this is going to be all Thirteen's story in the end then make it so that Thirteen has to save them both right here at the very end?

But seems a bit unfair for them to do it alone at the end...

Thirteen (and Enn too maybe) arrives just in time to see the exchange between TechyBoundless and 8th Boundless finishing. She sees 8th Boundless get shot and then attacks Techy before he can lay his hands on the bridge and drive it straight into the Ark ship - a near miss as Thirteen has to fly it away, and so Enn has to fight Techy single-handed?

They miss the Ark and Thirteen leaves the controls to join Enn in fighting Techy. He has lost his gun but is still backing away, throwing things back towards them.

How do they get him trapped in the airlock? Some sort of teamwork and communication that has been foreshadowed before - for when they were trying to hunt together in the forest? And they drive him back between them, but how do they know about air-locks and how to open them? Maybe they've figured out the doors and the lay-out of it all... or one of those 'Oops, that button opened the door and sucked everything out but we managed to hold on to something and he didn't?' Nah, that's cliche. I reckon they have to physically kill him, even if it is an accident that the airlock then opens? OR he was about to jettison them both out of the airlock and they manage to switch places, so he gets his come-uppance? I like that one better. If Thirteen has had to go ahead alone until this point - is it that he has Thirteen in an airlock and then Enn comes up behind him (they have dragged themselves towards the fighting) and rugby-tackles him down before the door closes - so that Thirteen can scramble out over the gap kept open by his body, and then maybe they are trying to tug him back through but the airlock opens automatically [surely it would not open if it sensed that the other door hadn't closed properly?] and the suction pulls him out and nearly them too apart from the door snaps shut after he goes through. They are left with only a shoe. [Couldn't they just hit the buttons to open the door and cancel the airlock opening? Maybe Techy had locked it in?]

So now they are left alone on the ship. They go back to the bridge, Enn having to lean on Thirteen, and try and take stock. They correct course to be back on the way they would have been going before - [how do they know enough about the way it worked to correct or sabotage any flight pattern? Have they brought another Boundless with them - maybe Lucy? And maybe they sacrifice themselves to tackle TechyBoundless and hold him inside the airlock until it opens? But then... they wouldn't have the focus just on them, that we are aiming for at the very end. Maybe they DO manage to contact the Boundless ship or the Ark and get talked through it. But also get told that the teleport got destroyed straight after the Techy Boundless used it - maybe Techy Boundless himself shot all the controls to smithereens just before running down the corridor away towards the bridge. So they have no way back. [But if the teleports were damaged... does that mean that the Techy was having to fix them before using them? Part of his secret preparations?]

So they successfully get the ship on track to crash, and the warnings start going off, but then who is it who thinks of the 8th boundless's empty pod? Is it HermitBoundless? He knows because he has been searching for it all this time. Maybe he is muttering in a slight trance, and it is one of Enn's children or 4385 [why would she be there?] who gets them to listen to him. (He is half-remembering something that hasn't even happened yet, so I am blurring the boundaries of time here...)

[Tearful goodbyes over the communication device first.]

[They are going to attempt a rescue by bringing the Ark alongside, but there isn't time and anyway that risks changing how things are supposed to happen.]

[Given that the Ark set off before the Boundless ship, the Boundless had already altered the reality whereby the Ark people did reach a different planet that they were actually aiming for and started the colonisation of the far reaches of the galaxy. Perhaps that actually led to the development of space travel in such a way that the Boundless ship could exist - so it is in fact already undermining their own existence by bringing  the Ark down to meet them? Maybe the Boundless knew of the Ark in their history lessons and it was famous for going missing and never being heard of again, so that it never had much direct impact on things and it is not Earth's history, but the alien planet where they were supposed to have gone, which gets altered irrevocably by the Ark never arriving.]

They run through the ship, which is beginning to crash, and Enn is begging Thirteen to go on ahead as they are slowing her down, but of course Thirteen won't do that. And then they reach the pod and it has to happen in a similar way to last time - so does Enn actually have to be dying, which triggers the looop to get the pod to start automatically curinng everyone, and the automatic crash manoeuvres trigger and they are launched to land relatively safely, but the rest of the ship crashes before the pods could detach.

#

Chapter Thirty-Five

*** [TechyBoundless] gets to the bridge and kills No. 8 before N and 13 can stop him

#

Chapter Thirty-Six

Enn and 13 throw [TechyBoundless] out of an airlock

#

Chapter Thirty-Seven

They sabotage the ship to ensure it will crash

#

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Run to no. 8's pod and climb in together

[HermitBoundless] sees Thirteen as she goes past??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part VI: Epilogue

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Hermit finds pod and opens it - Enn and Thirteen still alive

When pod opens, it makes the Boundless mortal

 

#

Chapter Forty

Other loose ends tie up

And so this bit is now just the bit which happens afterwards. It shows the world happening as normal, although there are a lot of the Free People arranging for those from other societies who want to to arrange a trip back to Earth on the Ark. Quite a lot of the Techies want to go, and they are doing a lot of work on restoring the Ark to deep-space-worthiness. [Maybe that adds tension too in the climax - the ship was not very easy to fly as it was so old and neglected.] So they hurry along I suppose this is about six month's later. Told from Hermit Boundless's point of view?? Or just a general third-person omniscient?

The LucySociety are managing pretty well, although they have sent representatives from each tribe to learn more about the outside world and bring  back news of what is going on, so that they can decide how they will function in the new world. Lucy is being cooperative about it.

The Capitalists have barely noticed that anything has changed, and in fact the main reward for the whole thing is that they get to continue their societies as normal, in all their dysfunctional glory?

The Hermit goes on a pilgrimage - does he take someone with him, like the leader maybe, and Enn's oldest child? - and they have all started to live back at the lake, following the Hermit's strange memory that he says he half-remembers. Some sort of echo from his other timeline - when he did see Thirteen run past. They are all mining together, down past the drowned lake, and they eventually find the pod. But how does this work if it got washed out to sea and/or got taken by the pirates?? Can't figure this out... does anything reset or is the point that the whole world continues after the loop? ARGH...

So anyway, they make it and they open it. And they both come out, healed. Maybe there is a moment of tension when it seems as though Enn might not wake up? Maybe the fact that there as one person dying and one alive in the pod was what kept  the loop going this time?

So then there are some tearful reunions, and they are shown working out how to have their three-way relationship and so on. And then maybe the book ends as they sail  away from the

[Either mining for the pods or building and using a submarine to trawl the ocean  floor for it.]

pod, all back together, and the HermitBoundless quietly takes himself off to the back of the boat and cuts his finger. And he waits for over twenty minutes, and the cut doesn't disappear, and he just slowly smiles to himself as he realises whatt this means. They are all free, and he will be able to die in peace.

 

Is that it? Is that enough loose ends tied up? Obviously there will be way more when I know really  what will be happening in the rest of the book. But for now I think this will do. So in that case...

 

***THE END***

 

:) :) :)

 

Draft zero finished at 18:40pm on the 30th November 2015 in Caffe Nero in Bond street, with the Leeds Wrimos and Francis Watters standing witness. :D

 

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