The Diary of Circles

            Suby opened his eyes to no apparent effect. Everything was still black. The smell of rain and damp earth stirred his memory enough to remind him of where he was and how he’d gotten there and he willed himself not to panic as a result of the darkness. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in total blackness. He was wondering how he would muddle his way through this predicament when he remembered the success he’d had raiding the Zoomer crash. The power cells would be enough to get him some light, but first he wanted to get up and get his feet on some level ground.

            Gathering himself to stand, he was relieved that nothing hurt and that the fall hadn’t been violent enough to cause him to lose his satchel or any of the myriad other things he attached to the woven belt he wore around his waist. For a moment he worried about the bait lizards he had spent much of his day gathering, and he almost took time to retrieve the sock from his bag to check on them but he couldn’t help noticing that the darkness was abating. Either that or his eyes had grown sufficiently accustomed to the dark because now he could see above him the outline of the large hole in the earth that had deposited him here. There were no stars to see through the hole, only the lighter blackness of cloud cover contrasting the deep, charcoal blackness that surrounded him wherever “here” happened to be. He needed light.

            Pulling the cords of his satchel to remove it from his shoulders, he could feel the weight of the power cells as he swung the bag around himself. He worked quickly and silently in the pale gray light of the hole above his head. Suby’s fingers worked like they were independent of his eyes and in moments the room was illuminated with the soft blue readout of the power cell’s infoscreen. It read: 157. One hundred fifty seven hours. That was almost two weeks’ worth of non-stop stand-by power if Suby simply let the thing run as it was running now and drew no further power from it. It was good news—even better was the knowledge that he had two cells like this. That gave him nearly a month of minimal power without making use of the rudimentary recharger his father had almost finished before his death. Smiling grimly, Suby was reminded that he was very close to completing his first posthumous collaboration with his dad.

        In a matter of moments Suby had rummaged through his satchel and other bags to successfully find a bit of splicing wire that would allow him to rig the power cell to a wrist lamp coiled around his left wrist. It was awkward, and it meant his hand would get tired lugging the power cell around, but given the circumstances it was a significant triumph. The LED bulbs burst to life and Suby blinked hard in the ensuing light.

            He concentrated his attention first on the Zoomers that lay in a heap in front of him on the floor. Then, with only a perfunctory glance at the gaping hole above him, he noticed the floor. It was tiled, like ones he’d seen in some of the buildings he visited in Town when his parents were still alive. The tiles here were all black, opposite of the ones he remembered from Town, and the light from his wristlamp shined off them like it did off the surface of the water when he checked his stalkfish traps at night. The floor tiles lay between two gray walls that ran uninterrupted in front of and behind where Suby now stood. They were shiny too, but they didn’t look wet. Suby realized this was because they were metal, like the armor that surrounded certain parts of the Zoomers, dull, gray, and cold. Like the floor, the ceiling was painted black, but instead of reflecting Suby’s wristlamp light, the ceiling seemed to absorb it. He had never seen anything like it before.

        Glancing back and forth between the hole above and the Zoomers at his feet, the bewildered Suby slowly began circling the wreckage piled in the center of the corridor. He nearly stumbled over the first of the two maser rifles he’d scavenged before the cave it and he scrabbled to pull it from a small pile of dirt and detritus that obscured it. He took a moment to poke around the same area to see if the second one had landed near the first, but he had no luck. The second maser was nowhere to be seen. Where could it be? More importantly, where was he? How would he ever get back to Riversedge?

        A low humming down the corridor ahead of him began abruptly and it pulled his attention away from all thoughts of home. As a tinkerer and scavenger, Suby was used to a wide range of feedback from electronics, but this was unlike any feedback he’d ever heard. While it had startled him into a sudden, momentary stillness, the longer it droned on the less the sound concerned him. “Background noises” his father had called noises like this when they visited Town, but the trouble now was that there were no “foreground” noises for the humming to hide behind. Suby’s instinct rather than intellect propelled him forward toward the noise.

*    *    *

            The hanger doors at RoKedy Circle clanged shut with an ominous finality whose portent was not lost on Falan Kroth, Zurrider Elite and Warriator First Class. She waited, furious but calm, as her accidental passenger climbed from the back of her Zoomer, clumsily nudging his helmet into hers as he did so. Was it not enough that she had saved his neck out there? Perhaps it was lost on him that his incompetence had cost the Continuum not only one, but two Zoomers—not to mention a competent and much-needed Rider. The arrogance of this fool was what she dreaded having to deal with now. At least until the Aerie got to him, as she was certain they would.

        “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he demanded as soon as he had his helmet off. “You could have killed me!”

        Deliberately Falan descended from her mount, and to her erstwhile companion it seemed as though she was enjoying the pregnant pause this produced in his tirade. Removing her helmet without haste, she at last turned to him and spoke. “Like you killed Rider Lokich?” Falan’s cold, gray eyes met his and held. She knew she was safe, her riding and her skills were beyond reproach. Further, the data from the cell towers and her Zoomer would be more than enough to indict him and exonerate her. She was confident this compatriot would be missing from tomorrow’s roster call.

                “Screw you, Kroth—”

            “Contiuum Commander Kroth, you mean to say.” Their eyes remained locked. His were wild with anger and panic; hers were unwavering. “I’d hate to have to add Failure to Defer to a Superior Officer to today’s report.” The curt, efficient brevity of her response unnerved him and he stopped his tirade long enough for her to step in and take control.

“Your ineptitude and carelessness today has caused a Loss of Glory for The Continuum,” she said. “In witnessing this episode I have no choice but to recommend that you be assigned to a full season of Zoomer retraining, particularly as, I’m sure you realize, this incident not only cost The Continuum a Loss of Resources, but also the Loss of a Compatriot. Surely you’ll agree that The Continuum can ill afford to crash Zoomers into disputed areas and then…”

            With this the Rider knew he was doomed. He exploded in rage and fear. “Disputed area?” he shouted. “We were nowhere near the Disputed Zone! And you know damn well Lokich crashed into ME! No way this was my—”

             “The data will decide. Regardless of location, the fact of the matter is one Compatriot is dead and two valuable Zoomers must now be replaced. Furthermore, I have to replace both you and Lokich now, not to mention having to find what’s-his-name’s kin and give them the bad news.” She paused, knowing it would emphasize her dominion over him. Perfectly timed, a soft beep announced an incoming text. She glanced at the screen at her wrist, suppressed a smile, and fixed her gaze again squarely on the pathetic pilot in front of her. “You’re dismissed. Report directly to the Aerie. They’re waiting.”