Reading Working Title: Remastered…

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Prologue

//Position: Realm 3-1, ‘Glacies Mundus’

//Employees(8): G. Ronald, M. Fischbach, A. Montoya, M. Rugnetta, S. Bendixsen, A. Ash, S. O’Donnell, T. Fischbach

//Time: 19hrs 04mins (R1 Standard)

//Date: 17 October, 2012 (R1 Standard)

Marcus yawned and stretched as he cracked his fingers sitting in a swivel chair, hearing every bone in his spine satisfyingly sound off with a ‘pop’. Sweat trickled down his burning forehead. Fixing the wiring of a Realm Teleportation Unit was no simple task, but he made sure it worked properly for the next arrival of supplies. Lying back, he closed his eyes, listening to the distant humming of the facility’s giant burrowing drill.

“Always gettin’ busted, aren’t you?” he muttered to the machine, “When are you guys gonna give us some real equipment that doesn’t go balls-to-the-walls after every second goddamn shipment…?” his vexation now directed at those who employed him.

“Mark!” Arin yelled as he barged into the room, with earmuffs almost welded to his skull, “Have you finished with the RTU yet? There’s another shipment coming in five minutes!”

Marcus almost fell backwards off his chair in surprise, whether it was from being told they’re going to be dumped with another load of scrap metal or Arin bursting in unannounced, he couldn’t tell.

“’The hell are you talking about!?” he yelled, trying to suppress his annoyance and get his footing, “We’re not getting another one for a month, Arin!”

“Then why does the mainframe say we’re getting another now?”

“What?”

Marcus slid past Arin and began to quicken his pace down the hallway towards the command block, Arin tailing him close behind.

“Okay, tell me exactly what the mainframe said.” Marcus asked, struggling to unclutter his thoughts.

“Well, it didn’t give me much information, like always,” Arin replied, scratching at his thin hair, “It just says there is going to be a new shipment arriving in five minutes; no good description of what it is, but it’s definitely from the HQ and I think it’s some kind of…”

As Arin stated the facts, Marcus began to zone out of the conversation, his pace also slowing to a gentle halt, standing where he was like a mannequin. Arin waved his skinny hand in front of Mark, and a tiny thought rose in his head that all time had stopped. He glanced at one of the facility’s windows, and sure enough, snow was still scattering itself around on the ice planet surface. “Hey,” Marcus said in a quiet voice, “I think the drill’s gone all the way through…”

Arin could barely hear the muffles of his words through the earmuffs, and as he took them off, to his immense surprise he could hear nothing but the whistle of chilly wind through cracks in walls and glass, this he hadn’t heard since his first day on the job. Arin let out a loud sigh, the type of sigh someone keeps cramped away after weeks of hard labour. “We’ve reached the centre of this ice bowl.”

Marcus added “C’mon, let’s check this shipment before we get a closer look at our ticket out of this wasteland.”

Chapter 1: The Christmas Present

Jack5 awoke from his sleep-mode period feeling unusually groggy, like he’d been hit in the head with a brick the day prior. A cloudy steam surrounded him as he stood refreshed in the middle of his grey, circular chamber. He could faintly hear the sounds of his friends walking about in the three-storey building they called home.

Jack yelled “Vents!” in a hoarse voice as four square-shaped corners of the ceiling retracted, leaving tiny gaps through which the steam was ventilated. A portion of the wall slid aside and Jack walked out of his room and towards the window in the hallway.

The sun was rising right in front of his eyes on the northern mountain horizon… yes, he was certain it was in the north, the sun always rose from the north past the lone tree. Birds skimmed under that old oak on the hill, which had been there for as long as anyone could remember. There weren’t many other notable land features near the building; just a gravel path that ran down the hill the tree was on, and a road adjacent to his home that joined up with the path, although there was an old abandoned farm at the end of the trail, he never felt the urge to explore it much that is. The only other geological stand-outs were small rolling hills covered with long grass and enormous mountains in the distance visible through some light haze. The landscape was very basic but had the beauty of simplicity.

On the other hand, Jack was anything but natural; he was a cyborg, which for the people that don’t know, is a human crossed with a robot. He hated the term ‘cyborg’ though, he related that term with those trashy movies of robots taking over the world. If someone passed him walking down the street, then they wouldn’t immediately pick up that he was in any way robotic from his pale skin and blonde hair.

He was already donned in his casual white shirt, pants and, of course, his headphones. Not feeling like slipping into any shoes, he shuffled his way downstairs barefoot across the cold tiles, heading over to the eight-person dining table. The table was decorated with white lace, such decorations were reserved for a very special upcoming event.

Other members of his group, namely ‘jack5andfriends’ or simply ‘j5af’, slowly crawled downstairs and started to make breakfast for themselves. MB, a human in similar form to Jack but with glasses and dark, fluffy hair, was already sitting at the table, mowing through his cereal. When he noticed Jack walk into the room he slid a bowl of cereal towards him with a stainless-steel spoon.

“Cheers, man.” Jack said.

“No prob’.” MB replied, followed by a tiny smile on his face dripping in milk before returning to his food.

Nayth came downstairs a few moments later greeting the two at the table before beginning to prepare some bacon, eggs and toast. He was very different in anatomy to the other two. Namely, he was a stick figure with hair bizarrely resembling a beret, although traits such as personality and intelligence remained similar to humans.

The final member to appear, 050, rushed down the stairs like lightning from the scent of bacon. He wasn’t a small, blue creature like most people would expect his name would relate to, which was in fact a given nickname by his friends; he was another stick figure, like Nayth, but with numerous thick and pointed columns of hair atop his head. He entered the dining room with Nayth and a plate of crispy pork, before sitting next to Jack.

The moment he took a seat, Jack5 asked the group “Did anyone get the file on the way down?”

“Oh, here it is,” MB said, as he lifted a folder from a drawer in the table and handed it over to Jack, “I think we left it here from the last meeting.”

On the folder was printed ‘November 2012’. Jack opened the folder and mumbled “Alright, events…” as he sieved through the pages. “Ah, here we go, the 15th… has anyone finished their Christmas wish lists yet?”

“Yes! Yes I have!” Nayth burst out, except he still had some bacon in his mouth, so it sprayed back onto his plate. And within the blink of an eye he bolted back up the stairs and returned with a neatly folded sheet of paper.

Jack grinned and took the paper, continuing to read through the remainder of the month’s notes:

“On the 24th we will be having our semi-annual camp out…”

While Jack spoke, the group smiled. The idea of camping out once or twice a year gave them a chance to relax properly and think of new things to do. Jack often didn’t like the idea straight off the bat, but that feeling usually subsided when he got to the camp site.

Jack read the final objective, and that was to clean the building, as there was going to be a new member joining the J5AF.

“Her name is Anna, and she will be arriving between tomorrow and the end of this month, so we need to make this place extra squeaky clean for her arrival. Any questions?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Righty-o, this meeting is over then.” he announced as he closed the folder with a slap.

/ / /

After packing the dishes away, Jack walked over to a wall in the living room and pressed his hand against it. A glow surrounded his palm before fading back to it’s original colour. The panels that the wall was made of retracted and folded onto each other like origami, revealing a large platform that descended into the basement. Here, Jack met IRIS; the Intellectual Robotic Independent System.

IRIS was the operating system that, in blunt terms, kept the hotel running. She was built by 050 and Jack so they didn’t have to manually sustain the internet connection and the electricity flow from the landline. Jack could’ve done said things himself, being a robot of course, but he claimed it would make his head spin working on stuff he wasn’t specifically built for, where IRIS on the other hand wouldn’t have any troubles. IRIS had an overly gentle personality, like a caring mother, which was an accident in the programming and is the reason why they ultimately gave her a female voice along with calling her a “she”. Apart from her caring characteristics, she could complete over twenty things at once, excluding system processes and all the other mumbo-jumbo.

The room IRIS was attached to was a giant cylindrical chamber, with several exits leading to other rooms in the underground area. A lift was positioned near one of the exits, leading to the lowest of these rooms. Scrap metal was placed around the chamber in neat piles with lots of her robotic arms working on a large metallic plane in the centre of the room, adding some parts to it and soldering them on.

“Oh, Jack5, I was not expecting you,” IRIS said, startled, “I believed you were going to work on electronic music again. What brings you down here at this hour?”

“The aircraft, duh!” Jack answered with excitement.

IRIS faced the aircraft as the robotic limbs halted and she rotated it slowly on it’s platform, listing “The framing and the interior plating are complete and the glyphitite is functional, but the exterior plating still needs tightening. It’s too unstable to fly at this time.”

Jack examined the jet a little closer as it turned. Some of the faces of the jet were silver with small black crosses and dotted lines on each of them, indicating that a paint job or further plating needed to happen in future. “I like the shape! When do you think it will be finished?” he asked.

“Soon. I think it should be done by around mid-December if I’m not mistaken. Think of it as a Christmas present from me to you.”

“Excellent!” Jack added joyfully, beginning to bounce very slightly on his toes. “What about the Realm Transportation Module?”

“The RTM works, but it’s highly inaccurate,” she said, looking back at some control panels, as if she was still thinking of different designs, “If we attempted flight now it would either send you into any realm or fall apart, leaving you adrift in the void.”

“Oh…” Jack whimpered. His bounciness had abruptly stopped, it didn’t take a genius in realm transportation to tell you that that was one of the worst ways to die.

“One thing I have found interesting however,” IRIS continued, oblivious to Jack’s scarred state, “-is when it reaches the void, any living thing inside it falls unconscious, but when this happens you should hit the autopilot button, it will then take you straight to Realm 3. I’m not fully sure how or why this happens to people… It can’t be blood flow from the force of the jet, it’s artificial gravity is working normally…”

She had began to talk less to Jack and more to herself. It was odd to hear a robot thinking aloud. She suddenly snapped out of her thoughts and instructed “I think you ought to head back up to the others, don’t you?”

“Alright…” Jack sighed, like a child that’d been told to go to bed. He waved to IRIS then rode the lift back up and into the living room, the wall replacing itself behind him.

Chapter 2: A New Member

Two days had passed and it was now the 17th of November. The sun was rising once again over the hills with the oak tree in silhouette,  everyone was at the dining table discussing what they were going to bring on the campout and the odd bits along with pieces of what they’ve been doing of late.

A chime rang indicating that someone was at the front door, so Jack pulled his head out of his cereal bowl, wiping the milk off of his face onto his shirt as he approached the door. He looked through a peeping hole in the door and saw a young woman, her long hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in weeks. She wore a simple dress and pale jeans whilst carrying a suitcase propped upright on the ground.

Jack opened the door and recognised the girl’s face. “Uh… Jack5, I take it?” she asked, unsure if she was at the right place.

“Yes, that’s me,” Jack replied with a relieved tone, “So you must be-”

“Anna,” she finished Jack’s sentence for him with a smile. They both reached out and shook hands.

/ / /

It had been only an hour since her arrival, and Anna was fitting in well. She had greeted everyone, MB had shown her the bedroom she would be staying in, her clothes and belongings had also been packed into the wardrobes and drawers that came standard with each room. She and Jack had walked back downstairs to talk about her portrait picture at the dining table. Every member needed to have a digitally drawn picture of themselves framed on the first-storey stairs to show that they were official members.

“Okay, I’ve already made an early design from the picture you sent me.” Jack began. “Common background between all of us, I fit your head and shoulders into the picture as best I could.” He quickly drew a draft of what it would look like with a black pen on a nearby napkin. “Were you thinking of anything else you want in the picture?”

“Can I be doing any actions? Maybe I can be waving my hands in the air or something?”

“I suppose I could give that a try…” he pondered, scribbling on the napkin some more, “But you do know that these pictures have limited-”

“Oh no, wait!” she burst in, “how ‘bout a thumbs up? I’d like something along those lines.”

“Hmm… Alright! I’ll give that a try, and I’ll call you when I’m done.”

Jack ran off to get working, but when he was halfway up the stairs he stopped, looked back at Anna who was now stretching her arms above her head in a satisfied manner, and added “Oh, and we’re also making Christmas wish lists.”

“Okey dokey, I’ll write mine after my laptop’s charged.”

/ / /

Jack lethargically pushed the start-up button on his desktop computer with his big toe, being too tired to reach down and turn it on as the norm of people would. As he lay back on his chair waiting for it to come to life, he stared at his ceiling, feeling the gentle warmth of the sun on his face through the window. Every bit of what was once a white-painted ceiling had been covered in a majestic starry-night wallpaper, and at times he felt he could reach out and touch those twinkling wonders called ‘stars’ trapped on paper. He dreamt of the stars sometimes, just to see what it was like in space, floating around with no mass through countless clusters and nebulas. He doubted he ever could get to space though, or at least not until the jet was done. A feat such as this had never been performed before, or at least not been recorded to his knowledge in the realm he was in.

As Jack’s monitor flickered to life, he spied a blinking light in the corner of the screen next to the menu opener. To be put on simple terms, it was an remote indicator for the building’s well-being.

“Why would it be blinking?” he thought to himself “Surely the hotel isn’t under any danger?”

He dismissed the objective of drawing Anna’s picture, and selected the flashing icon with his cursor. To his terror, there was a giant mechanical object being detected in the far distance past the oak, almost on the other side of the mountains, but it was moving rapidly towards the hotel, no doubt about it.

Jack flipped on a microphone which was connected to the speakers in IRIS’s chamber and asked “Uh, are you picking up anything on the radar, IRIS?”

“No, should I be?” she asked, feeling worried to what could have passed through her sensors.

“Well, you might want to check the other side of the mountains, I’m picking up some type of… something, I’m not sure what it is.”

Jack stared at his microphone for a brief moment, waiting for a response, before it was shattered by IRIS yelling “Get to the basement!!” as a siren shook him like paper in an earthquake.

/ / /

“Everybody get to the basement now!!” Jack5 yelled as the siren wailed over him. Jack could see the fear was spreading throughout the rest of the group, as they grabbed what belongings they could and packed them into their own backpacks before following each other down the stairwell.

“Why the basement!?” yelled Anna.

“There’s a safe room there! It’s connected to IRIS’s chamber in the basement, then we wait until everything cools down, if things don’t-”

Jack was cut short by a sizeable chunk of cement clobbering his head making a mixed “clang”, “crunch” and “squish” sound, forcing him to fall backwards before the rock shattered into smaller pieces and dust. He was hastily caught by Nayth who was the only one standing behind him at that moment, everyone else was behind, further up the stairwell.

“Are you alright!?” Nayth fretted.

“Ugh,” Jack croaked, losing consciousness, “I’ll be alright, just hurry up and get me down these stairs…”

Everyone could hear IRIS and her robotic arms rushing around from halfway down the stairs. When they got to the hangar-sized room, the scene was far worse than they had hoped. Most things had been toppled over, including steel framing from the ceiling.

“IRIS! Where’s the safe room!?” MB called out, helping a barely conscious Jack5 stand with an arm over his thin back.

“You mean what’s left of the safe room?” she said in a slightly sarcastic voice, turning to face a doorway that had been caved in with more rubble than it could handle.

“Can’t you, I don’t know, clear it!?”

“All the tools for mining are in the storage room, but that’s been completely filled with rocks, and trying to get stuff from there will clog my machinery!”

Everyone went pale, thoughts of “what do we do now” rushed through each of their round heads and Jack began to slump down off Nayth’s shoulder in exhaustion, mumbling something as he slid.

“…get…” he tried to force out. Nayth pulled him back up and brought Jack close to his ear. “…in… jet…”

Nayth, after seeing the futuristic-looking ship in the corner of the chamber, finally understood what Jack meant. “The jet! Hurry to the jet!”

No-one even though to hesitate. They all rushed to the jet and climbed up it’s ladder, toppling into the plane one after the other, still holding their precious belongings. Each seat was labelled at the head indicating who would sit where.

Nayth was the last to enter the aircraft, carrying Jack. He shoved Jack into what was meant to be his seat, then sat in the cockpit. As he did he looked back at an extremely distressed and busy IRIS and asked “What could be so big enough to have us skip safety and move to another realm?!”

Amidst the chaos, the operating system looked back straight into the robot’s eyes and said in the most basic yet most scared tone possible, “I- don’t- know…”

Having to go with that as the only answer, he climbed the rest of the way into the aircraft, sat himself in the cockpit and said “Activate the link IRIS!” in a very commanding voice. Only Jack knew how to properly fly the jet, but he was out of action, so Nayth had to fly for him.

IRIS was whirring back and forth across the ceiling trying to get the portal to open while doing her best to sustain the defences. “My sensors are down! Defences nearly offline!!”

“IRIS!! Hurry dammit!!!” Nayth persisted.

Sparks flew out of the wall the jet was facing, followed by the entire surface being engulfed by a huge swirling tunnel of blue.

“I will try to slingshot you to the third realm via the void! There you will find a safe house, stay there and wait for me to contact you!!”

The room suddenly erupted with rumbles and shook violently as if there was an earthquake incoming. Nayth pushed some levers forward. The jet then proceeded to lift a few meters off the ground using pneumatic pumps to keep it level. “Well… this is it…” Nayth commented, fearing this could be his last journey.

A chunk of rock fell from the ceiling and hit the plane’s left wing, kick-starting the engines. They burned hot red and fired the jet into the swirling tunnel, much to the surprise of the crew.

Each member felt themselves slowly drifting off into their dreams, and one by one they fell unconscious. Jack5 was the only one left the slightest bit conscious. He held onto his seat tight as the jet raced through the tunnel. Before long there was a spot of black that was visible at the end of the tunnel. The void. Jack attempted to stay awake the whole time, but just before the jet reached the void, he was knocked out and covered in darkness.

Chapter 3: Rough Landing

Jack felt something tickling his face, like a cotton bud or soft flower, but as his eyes cracked open, he realised he was lying on his side in the middle of one of the most astounding fields he had ever seen to date.

A multitude of flowers resembled dandelions, but all different sizes from what he could see, with fat bumblebees hovering over them. There was also a collection of trees covered in petals and obscure feathers, each with their own distinct colour. In those trees he could hear the rustle of a gentle wind and the chirping of plump birds.

His eyes were still blurry from waking up, but as they refocused he noticed other objects resembling strips of metal, that were far different from the colourful landscape that they rested upon. Jack snapped back into reality like he had been soaked by a bucket of cold water. A terrifying thought ran through his head, and as he turned around his fears were confirmed. A huge crash site now lay in front of him, the nose of an all too familiar plane with it’s windows shattered pointed right at him as if he’d been flung out of it and onto the ground. He scurried over to the wreck on all fours only a few metres away from where he awoke in the hope to find his friends, unharmed and alive.

The first thing he saw as he tore open the side of the burning ship were wires dangling freely on the floor and some bursting in sparks. He tried to avoid them and the fire as best he could in case of a short-circuit.

As he stepped over a chair that had fallen to the floor he recognised a person wearing a red hoody still strapped to it; Tate. Jack bent down to undo the harness on Tate before noticing a pair of chipped glasses next to another familiar face; MB. Jack carried out each person he found one by one, until all of the crew members were at a safe distance in the shade of a nearby tree. He checked each person’s pulse to see if they were alive, and to his amazement, each heart was still beating well, and each person had no more than a few large grazes to their arms and legs, except for Nayth, who had a deep cut in his arm. Jack tore most of his right short sleeve off and used it as a sling.

Nayth awoke while Jack5 finished with his sling. “Whe- where are we..?” he moaned, his voice indicating pain.

“Well,” Jack5 replied, “This must be Realm 3, like IRIS said. I can’t think of any other realms looking this… safe.”

Jack explained everything to the others as they woke up. Most of them were confused, as they didn’t fully understand the concept of realms, but Jack didn’t stop to answer their questions. “We have to find the safe house.” he commanded.

“Where?” 050 asked.

All of the gang looked around for a shelter, but there was nothing except the wreckage of the plane, seemingly endless fields of colour bordered by a white fog and to one side, a forest.

Jack5 sighed. “I guess we’ll have to make use of the forest. There’s gotta be something in there.”

Seeing no other option, the gang reluctantly got up and ventured into the forest.

/ / /

The forest was very dense, almost too dense to squeeze past each individual tree. The group constantly felt the brush of now annoying cotton on their faces as they navigated the cluster of colourful trees. Th white fog had gotten thicker, which made exploring a whole lot harder.

At long last everyone reached an open area in the middle of the forest, divided by a river wandering deeper into the forest. Relieved, they each sat or lay down on the grass, puffing from exhaustion.

“Well, now what?” Anna panted, sitting on the ground.

“I suppose we could gather sticks and make a campfire at the very least.” Jack decided.

“Yes,” 050 replied, lying down, “There’s nothing in this place but trees and a river.”

“Hey guys!” Tate called out, “I think I’ve found something!”

The rest of the gang rushed over. Tate pointed to a ladder that ascended up one of the trees. One by one they went up the ladder. Jack5 went last, to ensure that no-one fell back down to the ground.

At the top of the tree was a network of treehouses. The treehouses were all made of wood and identical sticks. Each tall tree had it’s own treehouse, and each was connected by a poorly crafted bridge to each other, just like the bridge that went over the river.

050 and Nayth quickly checked the treehouses. Each treehouse contained different pieces of furniture replicating the varied rooms of a house; a bedroom with a wardrobe, a pantry with a rustic kitchen, even a room decorated with different forms of weaponry, ranging from bows to machetes, even a selection of traps such as tripwire. One had a lit purple lamp by the bedside. No-one was inside any of the treehouses.

“Looks like we’ll be staying here for a couple of nights.” Jack5 sighed.

“Do you know how long we’re going to be here exactly?” 050 asked.

“Look, I have no idea how long we’re going to be here, but IRIS will contact me when the hotel is fixed and is no longer under threat. For now, however, we need to make use of what we have here.”

The others nodded.

/ / /

Night fell all too quickly. It had only been an hour and numerous moons  had risen from the horizon and completed a half circle around the strange world.

Everyone had settled down in the treehouses that contained beds, finding rags and clumps of clothing to sleep on, the moonlight shining in through windows draped in fly-proof netting. Most of the group had individual treehouses, except for Nayth and Jack5, who had to sleep together. They had the treehouse with the purple lamp, for Nayth could never sleep without a light.

Jack’s eyes shot open to the sound of a quiet thump, followed by Nayth’s croaky voice. “Sorry…”

“What’s the matter?” Jack replied in an equally husky voice.

“I can’t get to sleep, I’ll just wander around for a bit.”

“Don’t go far.” Jack cautioned.

“I don’t plan to,” he assured “I won’t be long, see you in the morn’.”

As Nayth slid between the cloth acting as a door and vanished into the night, Jack slowly closed his eyelids, returning to his slumber despite the uncomfortable feeling of being in an alien realm.

/ / /

The chirping of insects awoke Jack, he couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk by the still dark horizon. With the confronting thought that he wouldn’t get much more sleep that night, he rose and stretched his limbs with satisfying pops at the joints. Looking around to his companion, he noticed Nayth was still missing from his lump of cloth.

“Nayth? You there?” Jack5 whispered, to which he met no reply.

He was about to step out onto the hut’s veranda, his eyes only just beginning to adjust to the dark surroundings, when he was knocked back down by some kind of figure… another girl.

Chapter 4: The Huntress

The girl shakily called out to Jack5 with a confused “Hello?”

“Hello,” Jack rushed to say.

The two held their positions for a while, both confused and anxious, till the girl decided to speak up. “Your name?”

“Jack5. Yours?”

“Esther,” the girl sighed, after a short pause.

Jack5 noticed that Esther’s eyes were fixated on the bed, so he asked “Is this your house?”

“Yeah- it is.” Esther said, seeming reluctant to answer any questions.

Jack quickly got out of Esther’s bed and out from his mouth spluttered the most blunt apology of his life. “Oh, I’m sorry-”

“It’s ok, really,” Esther sighed again, “…what brings you here?”

“Well, my friends are part of a group I made called ‘jack5andfriends’. We had to evacuate our home because it was under attack, and the best possible option for survival was to find a shelter, so we found these treehouses.”

All that came from Esther was a short moan, before she walked out of the treehouse and held onto the side of one of the bridges. Jack was concerned, Esther had been sad since he first laid eyes on her, for seemingly no reason at all. He walked over to her, rested his hand on her shoulder and asked “Hey, are you ok?”

“No… not at all,” Esther replied, shaking off Jack’s hand.

“What’s wrong?”

“My… my sister died…”

Jack5’s immediate reaction was to be sympathetic. He knew death was of big importance, even though he hadn’t experienced it yet. “I- feel bad for you,” he moped, like any suddenly caring person would.

“It’s ok, really. It can’t be helped,” Esther said, not comforted at all by Jack’s sympathy. Another pause followed.

“Um, maybe you could help us get back to our realm, when the time is right?”

“You all- live in another realm?”

“Yes. Realm 2. Is this Realm 3?”

“No, this is Realm 4.”

“Dammit. Something must have gone awry with the evacuation jet… now there’s another problem, go to Realm 2 or 3?” Jack5 wondered, drifting off into his own thoughts like IRIS had done previously- when she existed- that is, if she’s dead. The future was uncertain.

“Should I fetch your friends?” Esther suggested, concerned about Jack5’s quiet rambling.

Jack noticed and immediately stopped talking to himself. “Yeah, that would help, thanks.”

Esther walked across the bridges and went knocking on all of the treehouse doors, awaking the others. They came out at their own pace, most of them rubbing their eyes, deprived of sleep. Once everyone had been gathered Esther brought Jack to them.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Esther.” Jack5 smiled, trying to improve Esther’s mood. Everyone greeted her, and once again Esther did not react at all. Jack called the others into Esther’s hut and started a group meeting.

“I’ve been talking to Esther, and it seems we’re in Realm 4, which obviously isn’t where we’re meant to be. We can’t use our emergency jet, since it’s crashed, so we’ll have to find our way out of this realm someplace else, but the big question is… should we go to Realm 2 or Realm 3? If we go to Realm 3 we may have to circle around some more to get to Realm 2, and if we go to Realm 2 we may get into a big mess…”

“At the moment that doesn’t matter,” 050 cut in, “Just where are we going to find another device that teleports people between realms?”

At that moment all of the group members turned to Esther. She was reluctant to talk, but eventually spoke. “I’ll help you, since there’s nothing else worth doing now. There might be something in some incorporated building not far from here. They came out of nowhere and were chopping trees for weeks, but then they stopped and left the building abandoned.”

“Cheth Incorporate?” 050 assumed.

“Yes, that’s the company’s name. I can take you there, but we have to go now. Night is falling.”

Just as Esther had said, night was falling. The sun seemed to rotate around the world extremely fast, each day lasting only 2 hours. In response, everyone packed for the short and hopefully one-way trip. Flashlights and makeshift weaponry- some of the things that the crew shared.

Esther led the way north, followed by Jack5, then the others in almost alphabetical order. They did not want to waste their energy too quickly, so they walked, as the sun set in the north-west and the moon rose behind them. Her sadness was like a contagious disease, stripping the group of any need to think happy thoughts. They were all so determined to reach their destination, it was the one thing fixed in their minds.

Nighttime was not pleasant at all for any of the explorers. They had been walking for quite a while, when suddenly Esther began running. Instinctively Jack5 ran after her, followed by everyone else in the group. As they ran, the whole earth shook at intervals as something gigantic patrolled the darkness. Jack didn’t get to see what was causing the noises, since he was one of the first people to enter the ruined facility, and he didn’t learn either, since nobody else told him. They were all too focused on escaping to the safe, rock haven.

All fell silent for a moment. The group was encompassed in total darkness, nothing like the outside air, hearing only their heavy breathing, and feeling only the cold touch of steel.

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