It’s time for the next part of Flickering Lights!
The Map of Murk is included in the body of this installment for your perusal. :)
Here is Flickering Lights: 2 Hermes Glass. (Note: you can read Flickering Lights: 1 Light from Chimo here.)
Marcus ran a hand over his head. “Today? No notice?”
Cal shrugged and adjusted his nocturnals. “I’m sorry, Marcus, but the Chryseis economy is suffering. With our research into darkfish science failing and terrorists targeting some of our largest assets, we can’t afford to keep on as many employees.”
“But I’ve worked here for six years, and I know the jargon for electrolysis better than anyone in this division.”
Cal dropped an empty box at Marcus’s feet. “There hasn’t been an advancement in electrolysis science in years, Marcus. Until we start making breakthroughs, it’s not practical to have electrolysis research formatted for public dissemination. We’re grateful for your diligent work and dedication, but your skills are no longer valuable to us.”
And with that, Cal walked away.
Marcus slammed his hand on his desk. Pain like lightning ran up his hand and through his arm, and he gasped, stomping his foot as he hugged his bandaged hand close to his chest. A week since the attack on the rail, and the cuts from the glass weren’t even close to being healed, even with the special oxygenation pills and oxygen prescription he’d been given by the medics.
He shoved his things into the box that Cal had so graciously provided. He tucked the box under his arm and grabbed Winston from his hook. Six years of twelve hour workdays only to be cast out. He ground his teeth together.
Leela caught Marcus in the lift, cursing roundly as she carried her own box.
“You got it too?” she sniveled.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She jostled things around in her box. “Four years and this is how I get it. ‘Here’s your box, Leela, have a nice life.’ Have a nice life? Just go to the deeps, Cal.”
Marcus sighed. He should’ve taken the stairs.
“And this whole ‘downsizing’ thing is probably why suicide rates are going up. People lose their jobs, can’t provide oxygen or light to their kids, and decide to end it.” Leela paused in her tirade long enough to glance at Winston. “He doesn’t look better, Marcus.”
“I haven’t bought him that new food you recommended yet. Things have been pretty crazy since last week.”
“Oh, right.” Leela paused.
Wait. Was she actually being tactful?
She cleared her throat. “How have you been since then?”
“I’m alive and fairly unharmed.” Marcus clenched his jaw. “And that’s a lot better than what can be said for a lot of the people who were in that rail car.”
Leela was silent for a split second longer than normal. “Anywhere you plan to apply?” Her voice was unusually high.
So talking about the attack made her uncomfortable. Good. “I was thinking about Arpel Tech, but beyond that, I’m not sure.”
“Arpel Tech uses animals for horrible experimentation.” Her vitriol returned. “I would rather starve then work there.”
Go right ahead.
Finally, the lift reached the ground floor, and Marcus stepped out. “Well.” He nodded to Leela. “See you around.”
“Wait.” She followed him out of the lift. “Take my contact card.” She shrugged and held out a thin slip of flexglass. “You know, in case you need any more help with Winston.”
He took it and shoved it in his pocket. “Thanks.”
“Yep.” She shifted her box enough so one of her spidery hands could adjust her nocturnals. “I’ll see you when I see you.” She gave Winston one last glance before she melted away.
Marcus popped his nocturnals and slipped outside. Winston’s viridescent glow waned. He sighed and headed for the nearest supply center. He paused for only a moment on Meloway Bridge. One Chimo-beacon dead. The other taken away by sepios right after the attack. He shook his head and kept moving.
The supply center was nearly empty, and he made his way to the darkfish aisle. He picked out a box of oxygen tablets and surveyed the selection of darkfish foods. The options were nearly endless. He pulled his nocturnals off to rub his eyes for a moment before grabbing a small box of electrolights off the shelf. Leela had specifically mentioned this brand, and so he had high hopes.
He shuffled through the store, trying to balance his box from work, Winston’s aqua-lantern, the oxygen tablets, and the electrolights. He managed to make it to the register without dropping anything and swiped his wrist across the pad.
The pad registered his digits, and he scanned the oxygen tablets and electrolights, only half focused. Five digits – three for the electrolights, two for the oxygen tablets. He sighed. “I can’t keep spending this much on you, Winston.” He dropped his purchases into his box and held Winston up. “Which is kind of funny because I can’t really not spend on you since you qualify as a necessity.”
Winston didn’t even look at him.
Well, if he wanted to be indifferent, two could play that game.
Marcus picked up his box. “Whatever, Winston.” He pushed the door open with his back and stepped outside. “If you die, maybe I can actually get a darkfish who has a better attitude.”
His threat received no response from Winston.
He returned to his pod and set Winston on his lantern stand. He flopped onto his floating bed and pulled out his flexglass pad. For a moment, he stared at the glass as the log button stared back. It had been over a week since he had written a log. He sighed. He opened his log and began a new entry.
He paused. What to write. About the attack? No, he wanted to forget that. What else? He took a breath and began to tap away at the glass.
Right before the beacon died, he tried to tell me about El Roi. I can only assume that El Roi is a name the beacons have for their God. The beacon had other names for El Roi. “Murk’s true Light.” “The great hope.”
Great hope? Does hope really exist?
It doesn’t seem like it. Murk has passed 923 years in darkness.
People are born, work for light and oxygen, and die.
Marietta and Madden didn’t have hope. Their testimony of suicide proves that.
Marcus paused as his thoughts began to take a dark turn.
This was a mistake.
He selected the entry and deleted it. A breath of relief whooshed out of his lungs as his siblings’ names and “suicide” disappeared from the flexglass pad. He exited his log and tapped on the updates icon.
He scrolled past the headlines until he came the classifieds page. He had just started filling out his first job application when a knock came from his door.
He glanced at Winston. “You expecting someone?”
Hopefully it wasn’t Leela. How she would have found his home address, he didn’t know, but he could not take another rant from her right now.
He rolled out of bed and swung the door open.
White light spilled into his pod.
He ripped his nocturnals off and shielded his eyes. “Hello?”
“Marcus?” The shape at the center shifted. “Are you Marcus Cage?”
Marcus squinted. “Yes.”
“May I come in?”
Marcus’s eyes were beginning to adjust to the light. “Why?”
“I have a proposition for you.”
The beacon came into focus. It was the younger, happier beacon from the rail.
Marcus tensed. “And what makes you think I would be interested in any proposition of yours?”
The beacon shrugged. “Just a feeling.”
Warily, Marcus opened the door the rest of the way, and the beacon stepped in his pod. Marcus realized he was young, perhaps younger than himself.
He wore a jacket with the hood up, dark pants, and boots. Still, the light shone around him, shifting with every move he made. Marcus motioned for the beacon to sit by the table.
Marcus glanced over at Winston as he sat down. He hardly seemed to notice the beacon or his arresting light.
The beacon pulled his hood back, and the pod brightened even more. “I won’t waste your time.”
“Wait.” Marcus held up his hands. “I don’t even know your name.”
The beacon laughed. “Oh, right! I’m Hermes Glass.”
He held his hand out to Marcus over the table. Marcus took it, waiting to see if there would be any shocks after coming in direct contact with the light. A frisson flashed down his spine.
Weird. Definitely weird.
“Well, Mr. Glass. What do you want?”
“Oh, well, first of all, please, call me Hermes.” Hermes smiled. “‘Glass’ makes it sound like I’ll shatter at any given moment, and I’ve never liked it.”
Marcus leaned back in his chair. “I see. What do you want?”
Hermes fiddled with the edge of his hood. “I have to travel to Pollux, and I can’t go alone. I wanted to know if you would come with me.”
“Pollux! You want to take me to Pollux?”
Hermes scratched his head. “Well, technically, you would be taking me to Pollux.”
“Why in the deeps do you want to go to Pollux?”
“See, I have this letter.” Hermes pulled a strip of flexglass out of his pocket and set it on the table. “It’s from Pierre Castillo, a beacon on Chimo. He wants it delivered to the Highlight at Pollux.”
Marcus barely swallowed a snort. “Hasn’t he ever heard of a telegraph?”
“Well, prisoners on Chimo can’t send or receive telegraphs. And Pierre wants it delivered in person. And with the Antigone communications station down, I couldn’t send it via telegraph even if I wanted to. Keaton and I were going to go together since we had both just been released on parole, but then…” Hermes trailed off and shrugged.
“Keaton.” Marcus would never forget that name. “He was the other beacon on the rail?”
“Yes, and since he can’t go with me, I thought you might be able to.”
“Why would you think that?” Marcus pulled his nocturnals off and rubbed his eyes. “We just met on my doorstep five minutes ago, and you are wondering if I’m available to make the week-long trip to Pollux with you?”
“It’s two weeks, actually.” Hermes glanced around the pod. “Since the Antigone Rail was derailed and blown up when it crashed into the Antigone communications station somewhere near Darkwater Lake, the straight shot from Chryseis to Antigone to Pollux is gone. We’ll have to go up to Kindle and then over to Pollux from there.
“Two weeks. That’s so much better.”
Hermes shrugged. “You don’t have a job.”
“How do you know I don’t have a job?”
“I went to Chryseis Enterprises before I came here, and they said they let you go.”
“What? How did you know I even worked there?”
“I snagged your name way back at the rail attack while you were in shock and going in and out of consciousness, and after the sepios decided not to send me back to Chimo, I looked you up.”
Marcus slumped in his chair, and Hermes continued. “Anyway, if you ever wanted to go to Pollux, now would be the time. And I’m prepared to compensate you for your time.”
Here Marcus paused. “How much?”
Hermes yawned. “A hundred digits a day.”
“Oh.” Marcus rested his hands on the table and took a breath. “How could you possibly pay me that?”
“I have quite the savings from before I was sent to Chimo.”
“And you can even bring the fish.” Hermes motioned to Winston who ignored them both.
“Well of course I’d bring Winston.”
Hermes grinned and stood. “See! It’s an excellent bargain. I’ll be ready to go in the morning.”
“What? Wait! I haven’t agreed to anything!”
“What is there not to like about this deal?”
Marcus threw up his hands. “For starters, I’d be gone for two weeks.”
“Now that I think about it, round trip, it would be four weeks.”
“This just gets better and better!”
“It does! If you do the math, seven times one hundred is 700 digits a week. Four weeks is like… 2600 digits.”
Well, when you put it like that…
“I think 700 multiplied by four is 2800 digits,” Marcus said.
“Even better!” Hermes bounced on his toes, his light dancing around the room in excited waves. “What were you making at Chryseis Enterprises as an information formatter? 70 digits a week before taxes?”
Hermes leaned over the table. “You can’t lose in this deal.”
The next morning, Marcus waited for Hermes at the Chryseis Rail Station.
He adjusted his pack and his grip on Winston’s aqua-lantern. Hermes had said they would need to travel light, and so Marcus had carefully selected his supplies. He had his flexglass pad, a few changes of clothes, his hat because they would be going by way of Kindle, the bottle of oxygenation pills from the medics, spare parts for his nocturnals, three different kinds of food for Winston, all of Winston’s medications, and a liquid oxygen tank he had bought with some of Hermes’s down payment on the trip.
He had never been able to afford an oxygen tank, but being away from regular oxygen stations could be risky. The last thing he wanted on this trip was to suffocate or have brain damage because of low blood oxygen. He had chosen a cylinder tank that was about a foot tall with a simple respirator system.
Hermes came up beside Marcus and clapped him on the shoulder. “Are you ready to go on an adventure?”
“If that’s what you want to call this.”
Hermes smiled and straightened his jacket. Marcus led the way to the rail, and he paused for a split second before stepping onto the rail. Hovers didn’t make the trip over the murklands often, and so the Chryseis Rail was the only way to go. Still, the terrorist attack was fresh in his mind as he sat.
Hermes plopped down beside him and ran a hand through his curls. “How is Winston this morning?”
Marcus held up Winston and peered at him. “I think he’s doing better. I gave him special food last night, and I think it might’ve actually helped. Darkwater fish are very hardy, and so he should be able to take this trip in stride.”
Hermes chortled. “Or fin.”
Oh, perfect. Puns. Marcus cleared his throat. “Please tell me that you will not be cracking puns during the trip.”
“Ah, nah, I wish I could.” Hermes sighed. “I can’t think of puns usually, but that one just… came to me.”
Let’s hope no more ‘come’ to you then.
Marcus locked Winston in the aqua-lantern holder and settled back in his chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Hermes sit on the edge of his seat, craning his neck to see out the windows. Like a child.
Marcus sighed. This felt more like babysitting than an adventure. Exciting things would have to happen to make it an adventure.
You can read the next installment, Flickering Lights 3: The Murklands, here.
Do you think we’ll see Leela again? What do you think of Hermes?
I want to know ya’ll’s (that is definitely a real word) thoughts!
(Note: I’ll be gone at TeenPact Leadership Schools all this week, and so I won’t be able to reply to your comments right away. But I still want to know what you think!:))