The darkness spread out for thousands of miles, creating an illusion of solidarity with the rest of the universe. Pyat was familiar with the feeling and refused to be tricked by the infinite. She knew that she was alone and no darkness could tell her otherwise. The warm wind stirred movement in the waves, but only on the surface. She could not see even an inch into the dead water. She stood on her board, stretching her stiff legs and breathing in sharply to keep awake. The wind rushed past her face, creating a whooping sound that popped in her ears. The salt pierced her lips like needles and made her tongue taste like baking soda.
The oceans had been declared toxic since 2050. The Academy of Young Scholars had taught her about how the atmospheric temperature rose, bringing all other temperatures up exponentially. No one was allowed into the water, except for Aquans, who had been mutated to handle the high acidity. As the oceans became warmer, they rose and engulfed the coasts. Add in the pandemics and loss of top soil, Oceania was trying to kill the human race. But at last, the human race was winning, Pyat thought with contempt. She stretched her arms out in front of her, sprang into a planking position, and lowered herself onto her board.
Pyat traced her fingers across the surface of her hoverboard. The board was perfectly designed to her body. It was a bribe from the Magisterium who ran the Academy. She figured as a way to dissuade her from disloyalty. She never needed a bribe before. Nevertheless, she enjoyed the way the hoverboard floated on the warm breeze. She flew lazily over the water, readjusting the programming on her cantrils. A soft alarm clucked in her ear. Pyat flicked her finger across her palm, opening the map. A globe of Oceania appeared in front of her on the screens implanted in her eyes. “You are beginning to get exhausted. You should land soon,” an emotionless voice echoed into the earpieces surgically implanted in her eardrums. A soft buzz went through the wires in her body, highlighting all the areas that were either dehydrated or fatigued. She agreed with the AI rooted in her head. She needed a break.
"Where is the nearest land, Wēng?" Pyat mouthed to her cantrils.
"Calculating… calculating… calculating…" Pyat popped a protein hydration cube into her mouth. "Several megacities found," the monotone voice said. "Mainly Contested Territories. West: Icelandia, Greenlandia. Contested Territories. South: Ireshore, Scottishore, Angleland. Le Syndicat. East: Norway, Denmark. Contested Territories." The cantrils continued to list nearby corporate states, which popped up as small colored dots on the globe hovering in front of her nose. She had learned all these places and their affiliations during school.
"How long to New York City?" The globe spun dramatically and focused on a huge megacity on the east end of North America. It had few satellite details due to a huge pollution cloud blocking most of the city from space, which had been there for generations, despite efforts to ween off fossil fuels.
"26.1 hours if you do not sleep." Pyat felt the exhaustion and hunger weigh down on her.
"How close to the nearest megacity?"
"Reykjavík." The globe rolled back and zoomed onto a megacity nearby. Her dot was white, and she was practically on top of the purple highlighted city. "Contested Territory. 217.26144 kilometers. Two hours and ten minutes." Though Reykjavík was not in Alliance territory, she had been traveling for 27 hours without sleep and needed to rest. She would build a makeshift shelter and nap for a couple of hours.
"Take me to Reykjavík."
The map disappeared. "Steer left."
The island of Icelandia looked just like the island where Pyat had grown up, home to the Academy. Gray, spiked earth welcomed her with almost open arms. The water surrounding the island was polluted, browner than the other parts of the ocean Pyat had seen so far. Between the volcanoes that built the island, huge buildings rose into the sky like teeth in a jagged mouth. They crowded on the tiny island that barely seemed to stay afloat in the acidic water. The sight and sound of land was a relief for Pyat. She realized how much she missed the noises of civilization as the purr of electric vehicles greeted her arrival.
Pyat pressed her fingers to the edge of the hoverboard, moving it down through the thick air. It resisted her, which was strange, but eventually gave in. Except then it did not. It flew through the air, too fast for landing. She had not expected this as her board was specially programmed for fast landings. She jerked it, trying to take up some of the speed through direction change. It flew in circles, spinning wildly and bucking like a mechanical bull. Her boots disconnected from the board. The only thing holding her to the hoverboard were her cantrils, and they were tearing from underneath her skin. Drops of blood flew out from her hands, splattering her face. She had not anticipated this. The electricians had promised her safe passage, which this was not. She screamed to stop the board, but the ground continued to approach her like a death sentence.
At the last possible second she decided to abandon her board and detach her cantrils. "Gonji!" She screamed. Her cantrils shuddered angrily. The board hit the ground, throwing her backwards. She felt both of her shoulders dislocate. The cantrils tore from the board, and she went flying. She hit the ground, bouncing against the sharp rocks that lined the ground. She slid into a large cliff, which stopped her violently. The darkness washed over her eyes.
"This is the most important task you will ever be given, Captain Pyat," the Magister Maximus, draped head to toe in white cloths, murmured in a high-pitched voice. The Magister was sitting in a black, marble throne specially made for them. The other Magisters were standing on the circular steps around the throne, three on each side and one on each step depending on importance. "You must listen closely to what you are being told."
"Yes, Magister Maximus," the kneeling woman murmured. Dyesi stared at Pyat from her chair. She had helped the Magister come up with this plan, but now questioned whether they had chosen the right person to do the job. This woman, Pyat, had an obvious hangover.
Pyat, who graduated top of her class in 2186, was one of the best agents the Academy had. Unfortunately, Dyesi thought, she was a drinker. Dyesi had followed the Captain after her promotion was announced, and watched the woman drink heavily with other students from her year. Dyesi could smell the mouthwash Pyat had used to cover up her morning vomit.
Pyat shifted; her knees were likely aching on the cold, marble floor. She looked up at the Magister Maximus, whose calm smile was their only visible facial feature. The Magister Maximus stood up and walked down the black stone steps to stand in front of Pyat. The other Magisters hastened to stand behind their leader. Dyesi stayed where she was. As her hearing was enhanced, she could follow the whole conversation easily. The Magister Maximus’s shoulders stiffened as they continued speaking.
"Look alert, Captain Pyat. There are over a hundred qualified soldiers for this job, and you were chosen. Your performance, scores, and athletic abilities outshine many others in the Aerial grade. Despite your age, you have proven yourself fit for this job." The Magister began to list off Pyat's credentials, and Dyesi watched as Pyat's head began to sway. The soldier was bored. Dyesi could hardly blame her. Like Dyesi, being an Elemental at the Academy was the only life Pyat ever knew. Why go into the details when there has been nothing else? The soldier suddenly sat up straighter and brought her hands in a prayer position to her forehead, interrupting the Maximus.
"Whatever task you graciously bestow on me, I will graciously undertake, Maximus."
The white hood froze, and then nodded. "You are on a hunting mission."
"Of what manner, Maximus?" Pyat asked.
"A modified child has escaped from the New York Academy branch," the Magister spoke, their typically neutral tone tinged with worry. Pyat tilted her head in curiosity but did not ask more questions. Good, Dyesi thought. She was waiting for an explanation. Smart . "She is considered lethal."
"You want me to find her, Maximus?"
"And kill her?"
“No.” Maximus hesitated. "Bring her back here. Alive, if possible."
Dyesi stared at the Captain’s face, trying to gauge her emotions. None appeared across the pale face. Good, Dyesi thought. She is as good as they say she is. "Where do you think she is?” Pyat asked.
"Somewhere in the New York of the Alliance," the Magister stated.
"When do I leave, Maximus?" Dyesi could practically feel the Magisters smiling. Dyesi refused to react, as all Elementals had been trained.
"Tonight. You can tell no one of this assignment.”
“The Alliance is our most important client, and so their task is more vital than anything… or anyone. Will I be protected in the megacities?" Pyat asked. It seemed like a reasonable question, but Dyesi knew she was digging for who was fronting the bill.
"No,” the Maximus said. “This is not for the Alliance, Pyat. It is an Academy mission.” Pyat nodded curtly. Dyesi knew that Pyat had run many missions like this before. That is why the plan will work. “You must tell no one of this. No one knows of the child, not even the corporation that she now runs free in.”
"Perfect." Pyat stood up and bowed deeply. “I will be discrete. Thank you for this opportunity, Magister Maximus. I will not let you down." The young captain strode out. The Magister Maximus turned back towards Dyesi, and let down their hood. Despite having seen their face a dozen times, a jolt of shock still went through Dyesi’s body.
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