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City in the Sky-2


City in the Sky Cool winds swept across the rocky landscape, kicking up particles of loose grit to eventually sandblast the landscape. Colorful spires of rock shot out of the desert floor like flowers yearning to reach the sun. Tumbleweeds skittered across the sandy ground to bounce off tall, spiny cacti and other scrub. Beneath the grit and sand lay faint signs of something long and white, stretching as far as the eye could see. It might once have divided a road, but had long since been overtaken by the desert. Nothing that might have needed that road had passed through this area in eons. A few miles away, the roar of water echoed off the sides of magnificent cliffs. In other parts of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River simply meandered its way through the valley. Down its sides passed long patches of trees growing out from cracks in the rocks. Old paths that had once taken tourists and sightseers to the bottom of the fabled canyon and back up were no longer visible. No one had used them in far too long. At the top of one part of the canyon, a single thin shadow protruded over the edge. The shadow had not moved in nearly an hour, its source seemingly immune to the hot sun that had made the silhouette. A coyote chasing a frightened and determined jackrabbit quickly changed its mind and veered away from the shadowy figure. Even the rabbit, which had sought the shadows company for protection, kept running once it was sure the coyote was heading in the opposite direction. To these animals and, possibly, to the desert itself, this solitary presence did not belong. Devereaux Marshall Fox looked longingly out over the Grand Canyon and then sighed somewhat despondently. It wasnt that he did not appreciate natures beauty; it was that hed never really had enough time to enjoy it. And, he had to admit to himself, nature did not relish him. He sensed that the coyote was still running from him, willing to give up a sure meal from a rapidly tiring jackrabbit than get too close to him. He wondered if it was the electrical thrum of his body shield. He still couldnt quite understand how his body stored and converted the kinetic and solar energy that kept the permanent shield around him. He couldnt hear it himself, not without activating the sensitive hearing ports in his brain, but the sound was just audible enough for animals. He knew that was why his smarter enemies employed lots of dogs around their secure facilities. He also thought his eye might be scaring the animals. Right now, it glowed bright blue, though his left eye was still its natural brown. The glowing blue eye had once been brown as well, even after the experiment that put the microcomputer and nanobytes into his brain to try to marry the mythical human hunch with technology. It was only after his so-called suicide mission to destroy an asteroid that was about to pulverize the planet that it changed to blue. Slivers of asteroid had ripped into his space planes cockpit, had punctured his helmet and skull, to fuse with the microcomputer. After months being in a coma, hed awakened to find that he had a permanent body shield, a near miraculous healing factor and fantastic new abilities that stretched his original intermingling of microprocessors, nanobytes and the fiber optics in his eye, both hands, both ears and spine to heights only dreamed of. Maybe its my skin color, he laughed to himself. Lord knew how his dark skin had once been enough to make grown men willing to commit cold-blooded murder. He wished the racism would die away, but he knew it wouldnt. He never knew what era he might find himself in when he entered a new universe, so he had to be prepared to expect it. He also had to restrain himself and not haul off and turn a racial incident into absolute chaos, much as he might have wanted. No, he finally told himself. It was none of those. It was his proximity to the city that made him a pariah. He looked up and watched the city float over his head. The size of Boston, it sat upon a massive stone and metal foundation that allowed for air cars, jets and rockets to leave and return. A mix of short, medium and tall buildings rose from the base, all with thousands of windows through which to view natures intense ecosystems. The city itself floated in place, not like a balloon, but more like one of those 20th-century novelty science toys where invisible energy waves caused an object to balance in mid-air. Fox knew it was the same concept. Magnetic fields on the undersides of the city were polar opposites of the ground below. The city used the planets magnetic field to gently repel it just enough to keep it airborne but not enough to thrust it violently away from the surface. Hydrogen rockets kept the city in one spot or allowed it to move to another spot, all without any toxic exhaust or downdrafts that might damage the fragile flora and fauna below. Hed known of the science for the concept, but had only seen it in books. None of the previous parallel universes through which he had traveled had anything close to it. Man had literally found a way to live while allowing nature to heal the damage he had wrought for millennia. Marvelous as it way, it wasnt for Fox. Nothing seemed to be meant for him anymore. From the time hed left his original universe (with little choice in the matter) until now, hed been unable to find a home. Something kept driving him onward, to new universes and so he had followed, using his technology to open up the energy portals that would disintegrate anyone else, even those with advance armor or energy shields. Today seemed to be no different. Already, he saw the slew of air cars and jets coming out of the citys sky port. At least three of the jets were transports. They all headed directly for him. Sunlight glinted off their gleaming metal shells, as the sun was behind him and kept him out of the vast shadow cast by the city. He blinked quickly and his vision changed to a computer grid that saw words rapidly scroll across an infrared screen. His microcomputer almost instantaneously listed the vehicles coming toward him, giving him their dimension, an outlay of their sensors and weapons systems and determining the count of occupants inside. His body had been sending out stronger sensor waves than normal to account for what the computer had perceived as a potential threat. So far, none of the vehicles approaching had aimed any weapons at him, though all had them warmed up. He guessed they didnt view him as a real threat since he was alone. He laughed to himself, wondering how they might think if they knew who he was, if they could have known of the entire cities he had destroyed single-handedly in his often violent pursuits of justice. They might have been smarter in just taking their modern city as far away from him as possible. He knew they wouldnt, though, even if they did know about his past. Hed seen it far too many times where the hubris and pride of Man had made the coyotes of the world smarter. A large hovercraft with short stubby wings landed closest to him, the exhaust from the hydrogen engine blasting straight down through small ports. Sand whipped up, creating dust clouds that obscured the immediate vicinity, made worse when the transports and two more hovercraft landed nearby. Fox didnt even blink, his eyes protected by the shield. Once he would have shielded his eyes and squinted so that people would not know about his shield, but he no longer bothered. Anyone with a decent sensor array would know he had one when their sweeps failed to give them anything vital on his body functions. Inwardly, he admonished his visitors. The men and women aboard the aircraft were armed, but their landing had been anything but tactical. Theyd obviously been counting on their sensors guiding them because their landings had blocked anything visually with the dust clouds. An enemy with even a basic scan blocker could have ambushed them all with ease. Maybe this world had no scan blockers, Fox thought, but any society capable of building a floating city had to be able to achieve much simpler technology. The door to the first hovercraft opened and three men jumped out, fancy rifles drawn. They each wore a black jumpsuit that was just one piece from neck to toe. They had harnesses strapped to the suit that held spare ammunition magazines and microcomputer processors. Their helmets made them look like black bowling balls with red eyes. Fox stifled the urge to laugh at their appearance. He had sensed that the microcomputer processors ran everything on the suit. Life support and a myriad of other functions from equipment almost too small to be believed made these men far more formidable than their appearances suggested. Fox even detected the tiny transmission beams from the processors to the helmets and to the weapons in their hands. These men were not to be trifled with by ordinary people. Against anyone else, though, it was a false bravado which could get them all killed. Similar trios exited the other vehicles and scanned the vicinity, probably for anything hostile or out of the ordinary, Fox surmised. He said nothing and never moved from his spot. When all seemed clear, he watched the trios stand aside to let the rest of the ships occupants exit. Most of them began unloading large pieces of equipment and took them away from the landing site. By the large, coordinated arcs they made, he guessed that they were doing wider scans to check on things he sensed were being relayed from the other hovercraft flying reconnaissance overhead. Three people, however, did not move away from the site, but walked towards him. Two larger ones bracketed the third, covering Fox with rifles until they stopped ten feet from him. None of the trio said anything; they just stared at him. Fortunately, hed muted his right eye back to its normal blue. What are you doing here? one of them finally asked. Who are you? Devereaux Marshall Fox, maam, Fox replied, smartly. Are you trying to be funny? Are you a woman? Yes. Then, I say maam, not sir, Fox retorted. The trio was silent and Fox saw the others around him lifting their rifles. He cursed mildly to himself. Hed let his personality get in the way again. He had grown up in a time when maam was the appropriate response to requests from women. He had never gotten used to the orders and regulations that had made it mandatory to call everyone sir, regardless of gender. The woman lifted her hands to her helmet, gently touched the outer surface and lifted her visor. She looked at Fox through mysterious emerald green eyes that belied an intensity that let him know she was all-business. She lifted off her helmet and let her long, flowing black mane sweep down over her shoulders. Thats a neat trick, Fox murmured, remembering that women with long hair usually had to wear it pinned up in order to fit it under hats, caps and helmets. So, this is what one of the Insolent look like, she remarked. Ladies and gentlemen, take a good look at our opposition. The others took the jab lightheartedly, laughing out loud. A few lifted their visors while some others, presumably pilots, took their helmets off. They seemed to be having the time of their lives. Fox looked at the men and women laughing at him and merely shrugged. Just once, he told himself, hed like to have a first meeting with Earth inhabitants that didnt involve guns. He still vividly remembered that one time when he stepped out of a portal and into the Amazon jungle, only to stumble over the Marshall Fox of that world. That Fox had been shot in the back of the head by his own men for refusing to order the execution of innocent villagers. Fox had paid the ambushers back in spades, setting the tone for what would become a century-long war culminating in the virtual destruction of northeastern Florida. He also noted the lack of racial animosity among the soldiers. Every skin color seemed to be represented and he could distinguish several accented forms of colloquial English. Maybe this floating city had its merits, he thought. He was tired of people who went out of their way to not get along, especially over something as trivial as skin color and heritage. Well, Mister Fox, I am Commander Shelby Toddridge, the woman said after a moment. And you are my first capture of the day. Capture for what? You are part of The Insolent, she explained. You have been attacking our floating cities for months now trying to make them crash. You know that would kill millions and yet you continue because you say theyre unnatural, that we, as humans, should do what we please with the planet. You are the worst kind of person ignorant, violent and maniacal. I have no idea who The Insolent are, lady, Fox said, sternly, drawing Toddridges immediate ire. Then what are you doing here? she demanded. Just enjoying the view. Oh and how are you doing that? she asked. We have detected no vehicle on the surface for a hundred kilometers. I can see you have no food, no water, and no communications that we can detect. You are alone. There is no way humanly possible for you to be out here like this. We know The Insolent have their base near here. Therefore, you must come from there. Where is the base? This is a fantastic city you have, Fox said, ignoring the commanders question. Id love to know how you made it possible. I said where is the base? Toddridge demanded. Im guessing you use a magnetic method, Fox said. It must be wonderful to be up there in the sky. Maybe I could take a walk around it sometime. You may get your chance very soon, Fox, Toddridge remarked. Now, one last time. Where is your base? Do not force me to use more severe methods. Fox shot her a dirty look and she trembled slightly, her eyes darting about, betraying her bluff. Fox held back a deep sigh. She was not a warrior. None of these people were. In a real battle, theyd get their heads handed to them, no matter how hi-tech their uniforms were or how nifty their aircraft looked. Something had forced them back into a life of war and violence. You belong in war about as much as I belong in the Peace Corps, Fox said, sharply. Toddridge gave him a confused look and rightly so. She could not have known about his travels from one parallel universe to the next. She could not have known of his millennium-long existence or of his bodys healing factor that treated age as an injury. She could not have fathomed or even stomached the knowledge that he had killed more people directly and indirectly than entire nations had in their darkest wars. Who are you? she asked again. Just a man passing through, Fox answered. Shelby studied the man closely, perhaps more closely than she should have. Something about him was different than any of the dossiers she and her people had gathered on The Insolent. She stared into his eyes and saw, for just a brief moment, a lot of suffering and pain behind them. Put your guns down, she ordered. But, sir, that is a violation of the main security directive, one of her men said. He could be a spy. The scanners said he had some kind of shield around him and it still had wisps of energy bleeding off of it. I said put your weapons down, Shelby reiterated, with a scowl towards her second-in-command. Hes not one of The Insolent. Fox cocked an eyebrow in curiosity. He couldnt figure out how she had reached her conclusion. She was close enough to see the outline of the shoulder holster under his jacket and no one could have missed the sheath on his back, even if they couldnt know he had his special shotgun within. Yet, all around her, soldiers lowered their weapons. It was then that he felt the very subtle energy waves sweep over him. Some sort of energy beam emanating from one of the transports had settled itself on his pistol and his sheath. Most likely it was a neutralizer, meant to cut off the ignition for the bullets the advanced guns of this universe used, he surmised. Too bad they didnt know that his weapons were still chemically-based. Youre the anomaly, arent you? Toddridge suddenly asked, making everyones gaze zero in on Fox in surprise. Our sensors spotted a huge burst of energy not 50 kilometers from here two days ago. We immediately thought it was The Insolent and, indeed, saw a few of their ships around the area. That is how we knew they had their base here. But, the energy burst was so strange that we had to use computer models to identify it. The closest we got was a long-dead theory of the after-effects of a breach in the space-time continuum. The models identified what the residual energy might look like and this anomaly looked exactly like it. Too bad the scientists who came up with the theory were too dead to receive any credit for being right, Fox thought with some amusement. He eyed the commander again and let a slight smile creep into his visage. She was smarter than she looked and reminded him of another woman hed known and, unfortunately, fought against in a universe gone by. Anna Velasquez had been intelligent and very determined, ultimately taking over and successfully rebuilding a military force he had utterly destroyed for its corruption. I am the anomaly, as you call it, Fox admitted. There was no use denying it. Shelbys people had caught his arrival on record. Someone materializing in the middle of such a barren area couldnt be blamed on fatigue or on equipment that had not been properly calibrated. Of course, Fox mused, what could they do to him if they did have ulterior motives? Lieutenant Stivers, please report our find to base, Shelby ordered. Ahem, you mentioned that you wanted to see the rest of the city? I believe I can arrange that for you, though there are certain precautions I will have to take. The guns, for instance. And a million lab tests as well, right? Fox countered. If youre going to do the good cop, bad cop routine, dont try to be both. Your flattery is wasted. Look, I ordered my people to lower their guns, even though you havent disarmed, Shelby snapped, obviously hurt. Look at it from my point of view. You could have a disease or something we cant have transmitted to our citizens. My shield is permanent, Commander, Fox retorted. Its how I survived coming from one parallel universe to this one. Anyone else would have been disintegrated by the energy bleed. Im not infected. Im not authorized to make that decision, Shelby said. But, please, consider it. What a minute, you mean you did come from another universe? Apparently, Fox remarked, snidely. Look, this is getting us nowhere, Shelby said, crossing her arms in frustration. I know youd love out city. I saw the pain behind your eyes. I dont know why you travel from one universe to another, if what youre saying is really true, but you need to find a place to rest. Why not here? Fox looked into her eyes and saw into her soul. She was a part of this universe, but he could see that she yearned for more. She felt the need for adventure and he could also see that she wanted to have a companion for that adventure. She wanted him to be that companion. She didnt know him and, yet, that made it all the more exciting to her. Hed seen it before in far too many people over far too many centuries. He wondered if everyone in the city was as nanve as Toddridge. He literally could have killed her any number of ways before any of her people could have even thought of reacting. Yet, there was something innocent about her, something appealing that he hadnt encounter in many years. Maybe it was time to let those old feelings come to the fore once again. Maybe he wouldnt automatically assess a persons potential threat to him and try to see the good side of people for once. Fox looked up at the city once again and found the commanders words edging into his shell just a bit. The city did look spectacular, very clean and quiet. And he did need a rest. Lord only knew how much he wanted to settle down in one place. He told himself he could always leave before it became noticeably apparent that Shelby was aging and he was not because of his advanced healing factor. We could have so much fun, she said, smiling. I dont know how, but I feel that I can trust you. No offense, sir, but we tend to trust everybody, Stivers announced. Thats why The Insolent have been so hard to root out. Fox watched the commander shoot a dirty look at Stivers. Reluctantly, he had to agree with the man, buzzkill that he was. Toddridge and her force were, in no way, equipped to defend themselves. He wondered just how peaceful the world must have been for warrior instincts to die out. Personally, he had never encountered such a society in any of his travels. Suprisingly, it was refreshing to think the human race might actually outgrow its need for violence. He looked at Shelby and she was smiling again, as if she had read his thoughts. "Do you mind if I move?" he asked, to change the subject. "Thanks. I've been rooted here for awhile. So, tell me about the city." Shelby started to speak, but stopping to spit and rub her eyes. She quickly put her helmet back on, but left the visor up. "How is it that I'm eating sand and you're not even blinking?" she asked. "Permanent full body shield." "How did you get that kind of technology?" "I'm an anomaly, remember?" Fox reminded her. "And speaking of technology, you were saying about the city." "Oh, right," Shelby said. "I guess your tech is before our time. Maybe we can get you up to date with the new stuff." Really, Fox thought, his feelings slightly hurt. As I remember, your view of travel between parallel universes is still theoretical, he said to himself. It seemed that he couldn't go anywhere without someone taking some type of dig at his age. Just then, his body reminded him of his true age by sending shooting pains through his knees for standing in one place for so long. "Anyway, we've had the technology for more than two centuries," Shelby began. "We started with small things like vehicles, getting them to levitate and move. We gradually built up to structures like houses and small buildings. Finally, after half a century, we -- when I say 'we' I mean previous citizens -- tested it on an entire city and it worked. Now, we have more than a thousand such cities around the world. We live and work and the planet heals." "Now, that I'd like to see," Fox remarked, with a slight smile. "But, what's the deal with your people. You're obviously not warriors. Your recon jets aren't even flying the correct search patterns." "Is it really that obvious?" Shelby asked, her cheeks reddening under her helmet. "Ahem, well, yes, it took us many centuries, which explains how the world's population can fit into a thousand cities. We finally achieved a rather peaceful society. Everyone contributes in some form or fashion. We all get votes for a democratically-elected government. Technology has all but made crime non-existent. There hasn't been a murder in a sky city in almost sixty years." Fox couldn't believe it. He'd been traveling the space-time continuum for more than a thousand years and he'd always encountered war, crime and violence. Could it really be that Man had finally conquered his inner demon. A jet swooped low and Fox returned to reality. "If crime and violence are non-existent, then who are The Insolent?" "We...well, we thought we'd conquered our baser selves," Shelby admitted sheepishly. "But, we hadn't. So far, it's just these ones calling themselves the Insolents. They were geologists who made surveys of the land to study the level of healing. You see, there are none alive who remember when we all lived on the surface. They came to believe that it was Man's right to live on the surface and that the sky cities were abominations. They'd apparently found a book that backed up their words. Don't say the Bible, don't say the Bible, Fox wished fervently. "Whatever it was, they abandoned the cities," Shelby continued. "Lived on the surface. We let them be, but they've gotten very extreme in the last few years and they've tried to bring down Colorado City -- that's the name of it -- even though they know it would kill millions. I can't understand why they'd be so cruel." "Fanatics don't need a reason, Commander," Fox said, instantly feeling hypocritical because some of his past actions could have been considered fanatical. "We tried to reason with them, believe me, we tried," Shelby said and she looked as if she might cry. "We weren't hurting them. There was no need to fight. But, they began attacking our newer survey teams and tried to hit the city with rockets as we moved around our assigned sector here in old Arizona. The call was made for volunteers. We had no idea what we were doing, but we weren't going to let them just kill us and so, here we are." Fox had to admire Shelby's spunk. She wasn't a fighter and yet she was willing to give up an idyllic paradise to defend it. Maybe there was still some fight left in Man after all, he thought. He looked around at the other soldiers going about their tasks and guessed that, with enough time and practice, they could be rather formidable in defending what they loved. He doubted, though, the The Insolent would give them that time. "Has it spread to any of the other cities yet?" Fox queried. "Not yet, but The Insolent aren't the only ones still living on the surface," Shelby replied. "Various tribal groups in areas such as Micronesia still cling to Mother Earth. And some religious groups, but they haven't bothered us. I can't imagine that they'd do anything fanatical." Fox stifled a response. "Anyway, that's my city in the proverbial nutshell," Shelby said. "And it looks like we might have time for that tour of the city. No sign of The Insolent. I don't think we'll be lucky enough for any action today." Suddenly, her smile disappeared when she saw Foxs right eye flash bright blue. Her people brought their guns up as she began backing away from him. In a flash, he yelled something and tackled her, though he spun his body in mid-air so he landed first. He almost gently put her on the ground and covered her body with his. The explosion obliterated one of the transports, turning it into a giant fireball three seconds after one of the reconnaissance jets was taken out by something fired from the ground. The fiery wreckage of the jet fell to earth about the same time the wreckage from the transport, along with half a dozen mostly whole bodies, did. The survivors staggered on their feet or just rolled around on the ground, still shaken by the concussive force of the violent explosion. One screamed in horrible agony, but the sound ceased almost as quickly as the mans life. Fox quickly checked the commander to see if she was okay. Then, he pushed himself to his knees and scanned the horizon for hostiles. Shelby Toddridge jumped to her feet feeling no ill effects because Fox had covered her body with his and pulled out her pistol, aiming it at Fox. You idiot, she snapped, not at Fox, but at herself. You incompetent fool. You always have to be the romantic, dont you, Shelby? This is what you deserve. Fox got to his feet, ignoring Shelbys gun. He looked around her, stunned that no one was bothering to help anyone else. Even Shelby seemed more concerned with holding a gun on him than taking charge of the emergency. Fox secretly hoped that this wasnt the price of peace the inability to act decisively. I was just stupid to see something good in your eyes, Fox, Shelby snapped. You and the rest of The Insolent are good are pulling the wool over our eyes. Defensive positions, everyone. A little late for that, Commander, Fox snapped back. Youve got to reinforce your position. Have the jets lay isolate the attackers and lay down cover fire. Dont order me around, Shelby shouted. I know what Im doing. As for you, for what you did to my people, youre as good as dead. The first bullet struck her left arm, nearly knocking her off her feet. She gasped in pain, stunned by the sensation. Turning in the direction of the shot, she tried to lift her pistol. Instead, she took a second shot, this time in the chest. A third and fourth shot quickly followed, one of which struck a few inches below her heart, scoring through her armor as if it was naught but paper. Even before her body fell, Fox had pulled out his revolver, a special one that fired powerful explosive pellets instead of regular bullets. He took aim at a target his microcomputer had honed in on, about three hundred yards away. He fired and sent a pellet right through the scope of a snipers rifle and into the snipers eye. No pistol known to Man could have pulled off such an impossible shot, but Fox was no ordinary man. In fact, there were some people who said he was no longer human. Give us some cover fire! Fox called out to the men and women running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Call in the air support! Only a few people responded. The others rushed towards the transports for safety. A few traded shots with several people advancing from where the sniper had been taken out, but their shots were hurried and badly aimed. Fox cursed. How could a peaceful society ever survive this way? How could he ever live in such a city as the one above knowing that its citizens could not protect themselves from evil? One thing hed learned in his thousand years of life was that every man was capable of good and evil. No amount of wishful thinking could change that. Looking at the chaos around him, Fox made his decision. In that moment, he knew what he had to do. He may not have known what he was looking for when he traveled from one universe to the next, but he knew what he had to do in those universes. In a way, he wondered if he really ever had any choice. He quickly checked Shelby and found the med-box on her uniform. It had been penetrated by a hyper-velocity bullet, a rather nasty projectile that was extremely rare. His microcomputer had examined the flattened slug and determined it to be at least 50 years old. He surmised that its age was the only reason Shelby was still clinging to life, though barely. He touched his right hand to the box and watched as blue sparks leaped from his fingertips to it. Seconds later, the fiber optics in his digits having analyzed the damage and administered a quick fix, the med-box reactivated and began injecting medical nanobytes into the commanders body to begin the healing process. Moments later, he saw through a medical screen in his vision that her labored breathing eased to something slightly above normal and her shock had lessened. A wing of one of the transports burst into flame and he felt a hail of bullets strike his protective shield. He ignored the soldiers gawking at the blue sparks racing over the spots on the shield where the bullets had struck. The sparks marked his healing factor in action and hed become so used to it he didnt even know what kind of injury his body might have received. The shield prevented penetration, but did not stop the blunt force impact. Good God, what is that? someone shouted. Fox looked up and did a double-take. In the distance, out of a rocky outcropping, rose a massive cannon barrel. Boulders tumbled to the desert floor to make way for the weapon, which looked about as old as the hyper-velocity bullet. Whoever these Insolents were, they had access to some lethal weapons. The weapons were old, it was true, but any weapon could kill. He had once saved a woman and her child by hurling a 5,000-year old dagger into the chest of a maniacal despot. Just then, the cannon fired but Fox heard no sound. Instead, he saw a bright flare of energy rise up and strike the underside of the city. Again and again, the cannon fired, but Fox could discern no visible damage to the city. He didnt know if there was internal damage, but he could make out alarms ringing through the city. I messed up, Shelby groaned and Fox looked down at her. My people. Wewe are not warriors. Please, take the shipback to the city. Movemove the city out of range. The cannonit cant fire at long range. Fox knew it was a sound strategy. The city would be out of danger, but the landing force would be in danger. If he stayed to help protect Shelby, no one in the city would take charge and react to save the city. He hated dilemmas like this, but he knew what his only decision could be. Stay here, he told her. Ill be right back. She looked up at him through pain-wracked eyes and saw him walk towards the transports. He never stopped, going past the burning ships and her people. He fired his pistol and also a shotgun he pulled out of the sheath, a shotgun she hadnt even known was there. In the distance, three quick explosions cleared the field of the Insolent shooters. She looked on in shock as Foxs weapons struck down the enemy at ranges that should have been impossible. She thought she was going back into shock when she saw a think blue laser stretch out from his eyes and obliterate several vehicles that had appeared from the interior of the rocky outcropping that held the giant cannon. She watched him until she could no longer see him. He disappeared against the shadows of the outcropping and she guessed that he must have been inside the Insolent base that had to have been built inside the miniature mountain. Meanwhile, the cannon continued to fire and she could see green bolts of energy racing all over the citys foundation. She cringed, knowing that the magnetic balancers were finally beginning to be affected by the cannon. The balancers would hold for a long time, but it was the first time that shed seen anything interrupt the balancers. She closed her eyes and fought against the pain in her body. The med-box was doing its job, but, in its damaged state, it could not provide the full dose of tranquilizers. She tried to rise but her body protested vehemently, to the point that her head swam, so she lay back down. In a moment, she found herself back in her teenage years when she was just another girl in the citys main high school. She wasnt popular like the cheerleaders or the athletes, but she craved adventure. She took every opportunity to climb and explore, much to the exasperation of her parents who thought their daughter needed a session with the counselors. They didnt want their daughter to join the geology explores and environmentalists who periodically flew down to the surface to check on the pace of the planets recovery. People in those scientific surveys suffered an extraordinarily high casualty rate from accidents, animal attacks, poisonings and cave-ins. Shelby had reluctantly agreed to stay away from the surveys because of her mothers illness, but she had regretted it ever since. When The Insolent had made themselves known with an attack on New Los Angeles, she thought she had found her chance for adventure. She had signed up immediately with the security force being hastily recruited to defend the city. She had excelled in her studies of old military and police techniques and had been promoted to the officer corps. She had led three successful defenses of the city, though those were actions against small Insolent groups shooting at the reconnaissance planes. Still, experience was experience. Until today, that was. This was her first real mission, meant to bring the fight to The Insolent and it had gone to hell in a hand basket. As she lay on the desert floor, under fire, Shelby didnt find the adventurous life so thrilling anymore. It was then that she noticed the silence. The shooting had stopped. She opened her eyes and craned her neck enough to look at her people. They were beginning to come out from hiding to attend to the wounded and to put out the wing fire on one of the transports. She saw Stivers running up to her side. He did it, sir, Stivers said, as he dropped to his knees and checked her med-box. The guns have gone silent. I guess we should go in and help him clean up. N-no, Shelby countered. Make the city safe. Move it out of range. The Insolent have been neutralized. There is no need to stoop to their level. Suddenly, there came a horrendous rending of rock and metal and both Stivers and his commander looked up in horror. The entire cannon began to recess into the outcropping. Slowly, it fell back and seemed to cave in on itself. Seconds later, it exploded, but not in a fireball, but rather a massive plume of dust and rock like a volcanic eruption. Everyone dove for cover while the jets circling overhead heeled over hard and veered away. A rain of pebbles showered down on the soldiers and their aircraft. A blinding dust cloud blew over the Grand Canyon, its edges just reaching Shelby and her people. To the people in the city above, it must have looked like something out of an old history vid and Shelby would later learn that everyone rushed to the nearest window to espy the plumes of dust mixed with smoke. Recorders would document the fantastic blast that created a minor earthquake which collapsed several sections of the canyons wall into the Colorado River. Those who witnessed it would remember it forever as they had only seen the land below after it had been long healed from centuries of misuse by Man. They would also remember another sight that of a single man walking out of the choking cloud. Watching through vid lenses that greatly magnified the scene below, they would stare in shock and awe to see the man with the glowing blue eye emerge from the cloud with nary a mark on him. His uniform wasnt even dirty. Down below, Shelby and Stivers watched Fox approach them steadily. Everyone moved aside to let him pass, partly out of curiosity and partly out of fear. Shelby stared past him at the dust cloud and her visage turned to absolute horror as she realized what he had done. Its over, Fox said when he reached her. The citys safe. B-but theyre all the dead, she gasped. The Insolent. You killed them all. Why? What do you mean why? Fox asked, incredulously. They were trying to destroy the city. They shot down your planes. They shot you to pieces. But, you neutralized them, Shelby came back. You stopped the cannon. The city was in no danger then. Wewe could have moved out of range. Why did you kill them all? Because they would have tried again, Fox replied, resignedly. They always try again. You said it yourself. The Insolent have been trying to bring your cities down for months. Trust me, I know what happens if you let people like that try and try again. Once, I knew people who tried to bring down two of the tallest buildings in the world and failed. Six years later, they succeeded. I remember dictators with names like Fidel and Saddam who failed in their coups only to come back and succeed. Its in our nature, Shelby, to try until we succeed, for good or for ill. Shelby stared into Foxs eyes again and gasped. Gone was the softness, the humanity that she had once sensed. Instead, she saw a hardened, steely glare that bespoke of a lifetime of pain and tough choices. Youre not staying, are you? No," Fox answered, sullenly. "I used to think I had advanced technology. That I was ahead of everyone else. Now, I realize that history has passed me by. There's no place for a man like me in a time like this." But, you could find the peace youve been looking for. No, I cant, Shelby, Fox countered. I remembered why I do what I do. There will always be people like The Insolent and people like me to deal with them. But, there will also be people like your fellow citizens. They're still new to violence. They'll see me and remember violence. There is a time and a place for people like me, Shelby and it's not now. Your citizens, theyll only remember what Im capable of and that will scare them. "I was willing to die for this city," Shelby said. "We all were." "I know that. Trust me. Go on and live your lives. Don't forget what happened here today, but don't try to relive it. There's more to life than this. It has taken me a dozen lifetimes to learn it and you get the lesson in one day." I dontsuppose that I could go with you, Shelby finally blurted after a long and uncomfortably awkward silence. Wherever it is you are going. No, Im sorry, Shelby, Fox sighed. It wouldnt be the life for you. It wouldn't be the life for anyone. Oh, but what fun we might have had, she said, before a coughing fit wracked her body. Fox smiled at her and sighed again. He knew she was fooling no one. Shed found out the hard way that seeking action and adventure wasnt as romantic as she might have imagined. Maybe she would take the lesson shed learned and impart it to her compatriots. Maybe then, the cities in the sky would be able to better deal with the violent and the ignorant such as The Insolent. If they didnt, he doubted there was really anything he could do. He knew people had to want to change; it could not be forced on them. Take her back to the city, Fox said, suddenly standing up again and moving away. Fox walked away a short distance and then turned to look at the city once again. His microcomputer enhanced his vision so that he could see all the people staring down at him, pointing and gawking. He got uncomfortable and returned his vision to normal, focusing instead on Shelby and her people. He watched more transports come down from the city and pick up their people. Soon, everyone was gone and he was alone once again. Presently, the city moved away, floating silently as it got smaller and smaller with increasing distance. Fox felt he could watch the graceful structure forever, but it was getting late. So, he settled for storing images of the city in his data bank. He made a special place for Shelby Toddridge for it wasn't often that he met someone who made him remember what it was like to be human. When he had finished storing the images, he prepared to leave. Staying longer would only remind him of what he could never have and also what he had done yet again. He had killed to preserve peace for a society that could never fully appreciate him or tolerate his actions. He was forever a pariah, had been for close to a thousand years. Hed often wondered why God had chosen him for this task. He had gifts. The slivers that had melded with his microcomputer had given him abilities far beyond normal humans. He had felt the need to use them to help people and it had cost him dearly. Maybe, he thought, maybe one day, he would find what he was looking for. Maybe he would even learn out what that something was before he found it. Okay, lets go, he said to himself. Hed never understood the alien technology that his microcomputer had downloaded eons ago to effect his passage to a new parallel universe. He just knew it was a one-way trip. His brain buzzed with activity and his laser automatically fired a short distance. A doorway of pure energy opened before him. Blue sparks raced over his body from the healing factor as passage through the doorway was not without danger. That was why Shelby could not go through with him, much as she wanted to and he might have wanted for her. Shed never survive the trip and that would have been harder to take than any taking of lives he had done. He hoped that, one day, she would understand and find another way to achieve the adventure she desperately craved. He took one long last look at the city in the sky and lamented. It was not for him. It seemed nothing ever was. Then he stepped through the doorway.

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A man travels through time and space searching for something even he cannot understand. He comes to a dimension through Mankind has conquered gravity and found peace, a peace threatened by zealots determined to force civilization back to its old ways.


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Votes: 3
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Date: 10/1/09
Other: Writing