The connection speed on her book was fantastic in Newbright. It wasn’t necessary to actually visit the library since Meiki could access everything it had to offer from any point in the city. Still, it had always been her dream to visit the place and she wasn’t going to pass it up.
The ivory building sprouted out of the ground. Its central form was an organic bubble of glass and ceramics that twisted upward like the petals of a massive flower. Frond-like structures spread out from the bubble to give shade to the plaza before the main entrance. The arcade roof of the foyer opened as if to catch the sunlight. Even in the murky light of Naya this building glittered. Meiki had never realized how beautiful her world could be.
The library of Newbright was more than a collection of reading materials. It was the seat of the local government and the hub of life in the city. This treasure trove of knowledge and beauty was the beating heart of Newbright and some would say all of Naya. This was part of what had been cut off from Meiki throughout her life in Gates.
Lily shaped booths loaded the ingress. From them individuals could connect to the Zephyr network. Every library in every settlement on Naya connected here. This was one of the things Meiki had run away for. This is what she had run towards.
“I told you I haven’t got an ID!” came a familiar voice from behind one of the booths.
“Look. I’m from...out of town...I don’t...”
Meiki poked her head around the side of the booth to be certain. There stood Rashmi arguing with a librarian. She wore a light jacket and a pair of trousers over it but Meiki could see her zepto-scale foglet suit poking out of the collar.
“Madam if you could please-”
“Never mind...I don’t need your help," said Rashmi. She saw Meiki and winked.
The librarian stood blankly before walking off.
“My friend,” said Rashmi to Meiki, “I was afraid I had lost you.”
“You...” said Meiki.
“I know what you’re thinking...”
“YOU!” Meiki said. Her eyes drilled a hole through the woman who had forsaken her in the woods.
Rashmi stopped. “I’m sorry.” was all she mustered.
“You left me in the forest when those...things...”
“I told you not to go back. You chose not to listen.”
“Junko...she...Phel...” Meiki stopped talking and began blubbering. All of the fear that she had pushed down, all of the worry she had ignored to get to where she was at this moment, it spilled out of her. A hurricane of tears punctuated with thundering sobs gushed out of her face. Rashmi patted her shoulder awkwardly.
“What are you doing?” asked Meiki between sobs.
“I’m...comforting you. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone is crying?”
“I guess,” Meiki said, “but...well, I reckon it’s just weird. I only just met you. I shouldn’t care that you ran off in the woods. I shouldn’t be this sad. I don’t need you. I never need anyone. Being alone. That’s my thing.”
“Well,” said Rashmi, “I need you, even if you don’t need me. I’m sorry I ran off like that. I’m on a mission and I didn’t want to jeopardize it, but I should not have left you in danger. I’m sorry.”
Meiki turned away from the woman and thought for a while. She no longer trusted Rashmi, but was still in a strange city with no other friends.
“Fine” said Meiki.
“Fine, I forgive you. For now. But don’t think this means you’re totally off the hook. I know I can’t believe in you now. If I’m in danger there’s no way to be sure you won’t just leave me again. But I could use a friend right now.”
“A friend with technology beyond your wildest dreams?” asked Rashmi.
“Well, I guess that sweetens the deal a little.” said Meiki, smiling and crying at the same time.
After the tears dried they sat near the fountain where Meiki had eaten her sandwich. Meiki told Rashmi what happened with Junko and about the kind trucker who got her to Newbright.
“So, “ said Rashmi after a short silence, “what do you plan to do now?”
“Plan? Gee. I really didn’t think it over, I guess. I need to figure out how I’m going to feed myself for starters. I didn’t bring more than a few days worth of sandwiches.”
“Well, that would be a problem, I suppose, for someone who needs food.”
“Don’t you ever get hungry?”
“Nope. My suit generates all of the nutrients I need and feed them directly into my bloodstream. There are also drugs that keep me from feeling hunger pains. Like most of my tech I couldn’t tell you exactly how it works. Sorry.”
“Wow. I know how almost everything I use works. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be so stupid.”
Rashmi smiled at the insult.
“How about you?” Meiki asked, “Now that you’ve made it to the greatest and only city on all of Naya what do you want to see?”
“Well, I really wanted to see the library. Particularly the Nebcore.”
“What is it with you people and the Nebcore? That Junko lady was after that thing too. I’m pretty sure there isn’t one.”
“Oh. It’s real,” said Rashmi, “It’s been sending out a steady signal for some time now. That is what drew me here in the first place. I responded but it was not receiving...only transmitting.”
“Transmitting what? Is there a message?”
“Just one word...’Hello’...over and over again.”
Rashmi held out her arm as if looking at a watch. “I managed to load a map before that fascist librarian accosted me...take a look.”
The lines on her forearm displayed a map of their general vicinity. Meiki could see the library. At its center a small red dot blinked. There were two blue dots outside the building.
“What’s that?” she said, pointing to the red dot, “Is that it? Is that the access point between our world and the rest?”
“Yes. I was surprised to find that no one here, not even the librarians knew about it. But there it is.”
“Why do you want to get to it?” asked Meiki
“It’s a mystery.” said Rashmi, “Why is it hidden? Why does no one know about it? It seems to be active so someone within the library is still using it. Someone is communicating with the Solar System.”
“I guess those two blue dots are us, right?” asked Meiki.
“Yes, clever one. I placed a tracer on you last night. Sorry. I wanted to be able to find you again if I needed to.”
“You could have told me.”
“Yes. I could have. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you.”
“What’s that green dot? It’s moving fast...toward us.”
They both looked up in shock as the motorbike sped toward them through the plaza.
“Junko!” shouted Meiki.
Rashmi pushed her out of the way as the bike raced toward them. To Meiki’s amazement Rashmi leapt clean over it.
Junko spun the bike one hundred eighty degrees to face them.
She glanced at Meiki, “I knew the two of you were working together...should have apprehended you earlier. But she’s the real threat.” Junko pointed at Rashmi.
Her bike began to hum as if powering up. Rashmi stood right in her line of sight. A small tube sprouted out of the fork of the bike. Meiki may have been a stranger to this technology, but that thing had ‘weapon’ written all over it.
“Rashmi! Look out!” Meiki shouted, but she had already leapt out of the way again as a blast of light shot out of the motorbike. Rashmi landed on top of Junko, knocking her off the bike.
The agent landed gracefully and tripped Rashmi to her knees. The technology made Rashmi fast, but she was still just an anthropologist facing off against a trained fighter.
Before Rashmi could get to her feet Junko released a spray of chemical foam from her suit. It enveloped Rashmi. On contact the stuff hardened and immobilized her.
Junko produced the device she had used before to disable Rashmi’s suit. She began to work at Rashmi as before- poking it at her and clicking. The fugitive struggled for a moment but then fell, resigned to her fate or perhaps just sapped of all her strength.
“Noooo!” shouted Meiki as she slammed Junko with her backpack, knocking the tool to the ground. She dropped Meiki to the street with a swift kick.
“Keep out of this, child!” Junko growled and lunged for the device. Meiki brought her heavy work boot down on it, cracking it into pieces.
Junko rose up and punched Meiki square in the chest, cracking her ribs. Meiki fell upon Rashmi.
“Get back! Leave her alone! Don’t put her in chains!” Meiki gasped.
With the device broken Rashmi’s suit seemed to start reactivating. Meiki noticed a barely audible hum and the anthropologist’s expression changed. Her eyes focused and her brow furrowed. Rashmi grunted. A crack appeared on the outside of her chemical prison. She strained some more and there was a loud snap as Rashmi escaped the shell of hardened foam as if it were meringue.
Junko pounced on her again, screaming. This time instead of fighting Rashmi just ducked and dodged.
A crowd had gathered to witness the spectacle. Meiki suspected that soon the local authorities would arrive as well.
Meiki picked up the device Junko had dropped. It was not destroyed. She could see its inner workings. The technology was alien to her, but there were some familiar principles. It had a power source, some sort of media for it to travel along, an aperture through which energy was either taken in or given off.
She could probably repair it, even improve it even though she didn’t know exactly how it worked. The opening was hindered by a sliding switch that seemed to control how much energy the device could manipulate. It clearly could be opened to a much greater degree than the slider allowed. Most importantly, Meiki saw that the energy flow could be redirected outward.
The two aliens continued to battle on. Rather one of them attacked while the other evaded. Meiki reassembled the disabler while they were occupied.
Hiding it in her palm, Meiki put herself between Junko and Rashmi once more.
“Please,” the girl said, “just leave her be. She’s no threat to you and the Catena! She’s just an anthropologist!”
Junko looked confused but charged at the two of them. When she came within five feet Meiki hit her with the disabler at full blast. It whistled and whined. A cone of hot white light burst out of the thing. The tube had become so hot that Meiki dropped it in shock. The agent careened into the child and the professor, knocking them over and fell to the ground. All of the lights on her suit shut down. She seemed to be unconscious.
Meiki rose up with her arm held to her ribcage. Rashmi stood up too. The young girl looked at the device- nothing left but a melted clump of black plastic.