Ariel could spend hours in the uncharted darkness of the Forbidden Sector, or FS as it was called among her peers. She was enthralled with the concept of nothingness; for, in the FS there was no sound, no light, simply black empty space. She liked holding her gloved hand out in front of her and not seeing it. She liked the silence of everything but her thoughts. Ariel couldn’t even hear her own footsteps as she walked out further into the unknown.
Ariel didn’t really knew how far she trekked into the void, but she knew how long she was out there. Her NAV system would tell her the exact duration of the venture. Although, Ariel never checked it until she returned to the gate, not wanting to pollute the darkness with the white display light. To date, her longest episode was four hours and thirty-seven minutes. It had been one of the worst days of her life and she had needed an escape: the day her mother died. Normally Ariel would repress such memories, but out here, no one could see her cry. She was eleven years old when she passed. She was one of the ones that perished on the last voyage to Nitos, before they sealed the gate.
She walked onward, the smooth ancient ground unchanging. Sometimes she imagined she was walking in a giant circle or maybe the ground was moving and she wasn’t: anything was possible in nothing.
Ariel was 18 now and about to go on her Summon, a rite-of-passage that all Kai Warriors had to complete. Her father, Gerrard, had since been appointed councillor, one of nine, who ruled Vareja. Things had really changed since seven years ago, but Ariel would never forget the happiness that once was.
Her comm light flickered. A light blue flash in the long depths of darkness like a tiny supernova. That was probably him, she reasoned. Ariel clicked a button on her helmet just below her ear.
“Yea, what’s up.”
“Where are you?”
“The council meeting is starting.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice the time.”
“You’ve got to be more cognizant Ariel.”
The line beeped a low tone twice, telling her the conversation was over. She did an about-face and headed in the direction of the gate. There weren’t enough hours in a day for her to unwind. There was always something, some anchor, pulling her back down to reality. Typically, it was her father.
She followed her guide line, reeling it back into the holder, toward the gate. She turned her visor lights on, giving her eyes time to readjust and lighting her path. She loved how faithfully her footprints were preserved in the dusty soil. Every single one, since she had first discovered a secret way into the FS, all those years ago, were still frozen in place. She could see how her foot had grown slightly larger every year. The ground was the only thing her light could illuminate. The walls, excluding the ones around the gate, were too far away for her light to reach them, giving the FS a real sense of infinity. Maybe that was why no one was allowed out here, because they couldn’t handle not knowing, not seeing an end to the expanse.
She was half-way to the gate when a specific footprint caught her attention. Ariel paused and focused her tiny light on the track.
It wasn’t anything she had ever seen before and it definitely wasn’t her footprint. It was twice the size and four-toed with a indention three times as deep. Ariel thought it might look like an inverted heart. She turned her bright helmetlight on, giving her ample clarity to inspect further. When her eyes focused she nearly screamed.
It was a Reaper track.
Panicking, she clicked off her light and punched a button on her left forearm, initiating her combat mode. There hadn’t been a Reaper sighting in seven years. Had they been out here all along? How naive. She just revealed her location to the whole Forbidden Sector, like a beacon for all to see.
The NAV system scanned the area--nothing. That didn’t make her feel any better, Ariel knew her suit NAV was limited to 100 meters. A Reaper could close that distance in under five seconds. She wouldn’t hear it coming, but she might feel the vibrations of its heavy body pounding the ground.
Ariel scanned the footprint one more time, saving the data. She would have to report this right away. Gerrard was going to be pissed.
She hurried back along the path, reeling in the line as fast as her fingers could crank. Her NAV system showed her surroundings in a soft red and pinpointed the gate’s location with a green dot on the horizon. She always layed the guide line just in-case her NAV went down, she liked the empty darkness but she didn’t want to be trapped out here. Yet, in this situation, she wished she had forgone that precaution.
Her legs began to burn with fatigue. She was almost there, only 30 meters remaining. Maybe the track had always been there and she had simply never noticed before? Maybe it was a prank from one of her friends?
A subtle vibration worked its way up her bones. Oh no.
Ariel dropped the line and ran full-sprint toward the gate. The NAV began to ring, it was picking up a signal behind her. The entrance was so close.
She wasn’t going to take any chances. Ariel popped a flare and dropped it, the smoke would help disguise her and the sudden light might distract it. Then, focusing all her energy and remembering the lessons in class, she channelled her Kai to her feet and jumped the last 20 meters. She sent the signal to open the gate mid-flight, timing it to match her landing.
The gate opened, showering the area with welcoming white light and glowing green around the frame. Ariel landed, tumbling through the entrance. She turned, facing back out into the darkness and signalled the door to close. The flare was still burning, billowing out blue smoke. Just before the door sealed shut, a silhouette appeared in front of the flare--eyes glowing yellow.
Ariel attempted to control her breathing. It was difficult considering she had used up most of her energy on the jump. She remained on the ground, letting the feeling of safety sink in. There was no way a Reaper would be able to break through the gateway. A half-pound of Pyron probably couldn’t even do it, and that would level a block of buildings. She let her eyes wander while her lungs worked overtime.
The guide line. It was still attached to the post beside her and the rest of it was still out there. The door hadn’t severed the connection, only pinched it. She gasped.
The line snapped taunt. The gate’s lights blinked a cautionary red, sensing a manual override.
No, this can’t be happening. Ariel activated her suit’s dual-saber and cut at the wire. The Reaper slammed against the door, shaking the frame. The dual-saber retracted from her right fore-arm; a blade running along each side of her hand and slightly above it. Ariel sawed in desperate motions at the line.
The wire swirled like headless snake back through the gate and into FS. The knocking stopped and the gate glowed a soothing green once more. Gerrard was going to be pissed.