Chapter Nine: A Little Trip
Jack had trouble getting out of his bed, but not because it was comfortable. Apparently, if you applied enough pressure to animal fur, it sank in. A minute passed before Jack was standing on the floor of his room once more.
Over the past few days, the resisters here treated Jack like one of their own, and he would be a fool not to accept their hospitality. Still, he was the Resistance's prisoner, so he had to be cautious.
The lone light-bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the room just enough so he could find his way to the door. He approached it, opened it, and walked outside. Many resisters strolled along the hallways, and a few even waved. Jack didn't wave back. Instead, he turned and walked towards the main room.
Liam approached from behind, causing Jack to roll his eyes. He couldn't get away from that man!
"How's resistance life treating you?" He said with a smirk.
"Oh, you mean the constant crick in the neck you get from the beds? They have no support at all."
"You get used to it after a few years."
"Well, I'm glad I'm not staying here for long."
Liam's smirk diminished slightly, and they walked in silence the rest of the way to the main room.
"Hey," Liam said, his smile growing again. "Let's go on a little trip."
"A trip?" Jack said dubiously. "I'm going to run away from you as soon as we leave this base. We both know that."
"I wouldn't go unprepared," Liam motioned to the rifle on his back.
Jack sighed. "Do I have a choice?"
Liam thought for a moment before nodding. "You don't have to come with me."
Jack was completely taken by surprise. He was actually given a choice? "I... Uh, what could it hurt?" He turned towards the door of the base.
"Ah," Liam stopped him. "Not that way."
Jack turned around. "What, there's another way out of this mountain?"
"You could say that. Follow me."
Liam spun and walked towards what the resisters called "The Meeting Room." A large, dome-like room where the resisters met for, well, meetings.
When the two entered the room, they turned left and skirted around the many, many chairs. They arrived at a door, so Liam opened it and entered into a cramped room with a large gold device in the middle of it.
Jack tilted his head as he followed the resister. "What's this supposed to be?"
"This, my friend, is an Aetherstep. A device that can transport people across Aethasia in just a few seconds."
Jack hesitated. "Is it... Safe?"
Liam nodded assuredly. "Completely tested and ready to be used. We installed it just a few days ago, and it works like a charm." He moved to a large brown bag in the corner and picked it up.
"What's that?" Jack wondered out loud.
Liam moved into the Aetherstep and opened the bag up. "Apples! Shiny red ones, juicy green ones, you name it, I've got it!"
Jack frowned. This person was a mystery. "How long are we going to be gone?!"
"Just an hour or two..." Liam said, and then quickly added "I'll go through the Aetherstep first, and you follow me, okay?"
Jack waited a few seconds before nodding.
Liam smiled and pulled out a gold device. "I have to charge it up with Aether first."
Jack watched as a stream of purple flew out of the device in Liam's hands. It entered the Aetherstep, causing it to buzz quietly.
Liam grinned like a young child. "Now we're ready. Watch this," He pressed a button on the machine, and it began to whir louder. An orange gear began to spin, most likely indicating how much the Aetherstep was charged. It went from 67, to 79, to 86, to 87, to 88, to 88, to 88, to-
Liam frowned. "Oh, this has been a problem." He squinted at the machine and gave it a kick. It responded with a low buzz and then the timer continued.
Jack frowned. "'Works like a charm'?"
"Well," Liam bit his lip. "Maybe a rusty, antique charm..." He shrugged.
When the gear got to 100, there was a blinding flash, and Liam was gone. Jack gasped. He didn't know what he was expecting, but this wasn't it. He realized, with a rising dread, that it was his turn next. Jack swallowed and took a step forward when his foot bumped into something. He looked down and saw a red apple. He knelt down and picked it up. It must have fell out of Liam's bag before he transported...
Jack shrugged and continued into the whirring machine. His hand hovered over the button that started the Aetherstep, but then he wondered if he should even go.
He ultimately decided that he had better chances of escaping the resisters out there than he did in here... And he was genuinely curious as to where Liam was taking him.
He pressed down on the button. The machine began to shake, and Jack felt a weird sensation on his fingertips as the gear charged up. It stopped at 88 again, and Jack kicked it just like Liam had. The machine buzzed, and then flashed, and all Jack could see was black. The darkness continued for only a few more seconds, and before he knew it, he could see again.
The first thing Jack noticed was the many children crowded around the Aetherstep as he walked out of it. He was confused as he looked around him. All he could see were dirty children and worn houses. This place seemed familiar...
Yes, he had been here once before. This was Urchin's Grotto, in No Man's Landing. It was hardly trip-material.
He looked around for Liam and found the resister kneeling down, giving a young girl an apple. She thanked him and quickly scurried off with the fruit.
Jack approached Liam, and the sea of urchins parted to let him pass. "What are we doing here?" Jack said, a bewildered look on his face. "There's nothing here but a bunch of homeless urchins."
"Yes, a bunch of hungry children. They were put here by what the Empire did to their real homes. Their real families."
Jack shook his head. "You lie. The Empire would never do something like this! They save Aethasia, they do not harm it!"
Liam shrugged. "Believe what you want, but it doesn't change what's true."
"I admit they have questionable orders some of the time, but something like this is just... Just..." Jack couldn't find the words.
A boy tugged on Jack's shirt. "Mistah, could I 'ave that apple you got there?"
Jack didn't realize that he was still holding the fruit that he picked up at the mountain. He slowly knelt down to the urchin and handed the food to the dirty boy. The urchin held it like it was the most valuable thing in all of Aethasia--and to him, it probably was.
A broad smile spread across the urchin's face. "Thank ya, mistah!" He said, and without another word, he ran off with his prize.
Jack couldn't stop himself from smiling. He couldn't remember the last time he felt this way. Somehow, it was different from completing an assignment from the Empire with flying colors. This made him warm and cozy inside.
"Admit it," Liam chuckled. "You love this."
Jack rolled his eyes. "I do not..." He lied.
Liam extended his hand and helped Jack up. "So..." Liam began. "Do you want to help me with the rest of these?" He held up the bag of apples.
Jack smirked. "I... I suppose I could help a little."
Both resister and imperial spent the next few hours distributing the fruit amongst the rest of the urchins. Jack would never admit this to anyone, but he felt more alive than he ever had before.
Jack found himself sorrowful once the bag was nearing empty. As the last of the urchins ran off with their food, the two men returned to the Aetherstep. Jack stepped into it first, and as the gear began to spin, he saw all the children he helped to make happy today. He smiled once more before the Aetherstep flashed, and his vision went black again.