Infinity II: Control - Part Two
"I should also explain what I'm doing here in Central Cavern," said Lumin. "When I first arrived here, I opened up the light shop downstairs with the intent of starting a new life after leaving my old one in the City of Lights behind. Over the past year, however, much of the Neopoints I make from the shop have been going towards moving a few Fireflies out of the City of Lights and helping them hide in Central Cavern. In the meantime, myself and another Firefly have been working on trying to end the situation with The Engineer permanently."
Once Lumin finished with the subject of the Fireflies –past and present- he moved on to a different one. He looked over to Wingen as he began, "Now, Wingen. The curse you have appears to cause you to age slower than the average Neopet. Do you remember exactly when you received that curse?"
Wingen gave a small jolt of surprise at Lumin suddenly shifting the discussion to him. He shook his head and muttered, "No... I've been like this for as long as I can remember. And I didn't even know that it was another person that cursed me."
Lumin sighed a little at Wingen's reply. He then further questioned him, "Before today, have you ever heard of The Engineer?"
Wingen had to think to himself for a few minutes to come up with a response. Flicker realized that it wasn't because Wingen's memory was bad like his, rather it was because there was so much more that Wingen had stored in his head.
"I've heard of her before. It was just in passing, though. I don't really know anything about her and I never thought to find out more," Wingen answered.
"At the very least, do you remember when it was that she was first brought up?"
Wingen spent another moment trying to remember. But this time he just shrugged his shoulders and murmured, "I dunno. I think it was just a few years ago, but I'm not really sure."
Lumin wasn't upset, though. On the contrary, he crossed his arms and nodded, satisfied with the information he was given. "The fact you received The Engineer's mark more than forty years ago suggests one of two things: That she is not the first Neopet to have her powers, or that she is much older than she looks. You say that the first time you've heard of her was only a few years ago and that suggests the former. But until we find some more concrete evidence, the latter is also a possibility. Although –to be honest- either option could mean trouble for us."
Lumin then shifted the focus of the conversation back to both Flicker and Wingen. "There's another thing I should mention. The Firefly I spoke of earlier is one of my Royal Guards that escaped from the City of Lights and found me here. She isn't here right now and probably won't be back for a day or two. But when she does return, I will need to tell her about you, Wingen."
Wingen's ears lowered at the prospect of someone else knowing his secret. He already had to work up his courage just to tell Lumin; Flicker wasn't sure how Wingen would manage if another person had to know.
But before Wingen had the opportunity to protest, the front door opened. Dimitri walked in, unaware of the presence of the other three Neopets. When the spotted Draik's head lifted up, he jumped backwards a little, startled. "There you guys are! I was wondering where you went!" Dimitri saw Lumin, Flicker, and Wingen sitting in the living room together and laughed, "Boy, you guys are getting acquainted quick, huh?"
"Oh, Dimitri," Lumin gave a laugh of his own, albeit a much smaller one. "Flicker is my son."
"Your son?!" Dimitri exclaimed, jumping back once again. He swiveled his head between Lumin and Flicker, as if he was failing to find anything that their physical appearances had in common -besides their species. He then turned to Flicker. "You didn't tell me your dad lived here!"
"I didn't know," Flicker replied casually.
"It's been quite a while since we've seen each other," Lumin remarked with a hint of nervousness. "Flicker and Wingen told me that you brought them to Central Cavern."
"Y-Yeah," Dimitri replied with a nod as he tried to settle himself. "I met them back at that job that I had in Obsidian Quarry. They wanted to move away from there and I offered to help them find a place to live in Central Cavern."
Lumin's face adopted a curious expression, suggesting that he wanted to ask Dimitri more on that subject. More specifically, he wanted to know more about Flicker's past that Flicker himself didn't want to tell.
Dimitri's comment did remind Flicker that he and Wingen were homeless at that moment. He took advantage of that knowledge and used it to interrupt any notions that Lumin had of pressing Dimitri. Therefore, Flicker quickly broke in by asking, "Hey, can we live here?"
It worked, as Lumin's train of thought had been broken. Lumin was caught off guard by the sudden question, but he still responded warmly, "Yes, of course. Although..." Lumin took a brief glance at his surroundings. "I hate to say it, but all of the bedrooms are taken. I hope you don't mind sleeping in the living room..."
Flicker actually became a little excited at the idea. He pressed his hands against the cushions on the red sofa, testing their softness. He could tell just by sitting there that the sofa was far more comfortable than the floor that Granite forced him to sleep on for three years. "You mean we get to sleep on couches? Awesome!"
Lumin began to lean back in his seat after hearing Flicker become thrilled over something so mundane. Flicker could tell by the look in Lumin's eyes that he was really starting to become suspicious. He didn't realize that his comment would spur more questions within his father and it now was too late to take it back.
Dimitri started to look at Flicker in a similar manner. But luckily for Flicker, instead of questioning him, Dimitri started up a new conversation. "Well, I guess that settles that. You guys wanted a new job too, right? I don't know what you're are interested in, but I can help you out with that if you want."
Flicker and Wingen got off the sofa and walked over to Dimitri. Wingen said, "I was gonna show Flicker around the city, but it's been a long time since I was last here, so I'm little afraid of getting lost. But you probably know your way around a lot better than I do, so it would be great if you could come with us!"
"Yeah! I don't know what I'm going to do with my life, but I bet this place has something good for me!" Flicker declared, clenching his fists in excitement.
Flicker didn't get to see much of Central Cavern before entering the light shop, but what he did see had whet his appetite to explore. He wanted to see all the machines that Dimitri told him about. He wanted to learn every street and block of the city and everything within it. But most of all, he wanted to find his purpose in life. He wanted to find something that he would enjoy and want to do every day. Flicker's days of having his choices restricted by Granite were over and now he was eager to choose his own path, whatever it may be.
Dimitri grinned and turned towards the door; the zeal that Flicker showed had proved to be rather contagious. "Alright! There's something else that I want to work on soon, but I think I have time to show you a couple blocks."
Flicker and Wingen gave each other a wide smile, both of them enthusiastic about starting their lives anew. Neither of them hesitated to follow Dimitri out the door, ready to see what Central Cavern could offer them.
Flicker turned around. Lumin was standing up as he called out to his son, stopping him just before he left the building. "There's one more thing I need to talk to you about, Flicker."
Flicker stood in place, but constantly made glances towards the door. He wanted Lumin to get on with the subject quickly as he became more and more anxious to explore Central Cavern.
There was a great deal of anxiety within Lumin as well, but it was a different breed of anxiety. He was more distressed, if anything. His fingers twitched nervously as he held them together and his breathing sounded uneasy. He gave a quick glance at Wingen and Dimitri before looking back at Flicker. "I'm sorry, but... I'd like to speak to you about this in private."
Wingen and Dimitri were surprised at Lumin's request, but didn't question it. Flicker didn't say anything either, but he still kept his disappointment over having to hold off on fully exploring Central Cavern. Seeing Flicker's frustration, Wingen tugged at his hand to get his attention. Flicker looked down to see Wingen giving him a small smile as he promised, "Tomorrow, okay?"
Flicker was never a very patient Neopet, but he knew there was no use fighting it. He accepted Wingen's promise to look around the city the next day, even if he was displeased over the postponement.
Wingen and Dimitri left the house, leaving Flicker and Lumin alone. Lumin sat down again and told Flicker to do the same. The white Buzz was quiet for a long time; he gazed at the ground with his chin resting on his still-clasped hands, deep in his own thoughts. Whatever it was that he wanted to discuss with Flicker, it was becoming increasingly apparent that it wasn't something that he was particularly eager to do.
After a while, Lumin lifted his head and asked, "Flicker, are you aware of what your curse will ultimately mean for you?"
Barely a few seconds in and Flicker was already confused at the conversation. He had no idea what Lumin meant by his question and responded accordingly, "No."
A wave of pain came across Lumin's face. He lowered his head again, silent once more as he struggled to find it within himself to continue with the discussion. Lumin took care to choose his words and proceed in a delicate manner. "You age four times faster than normal due to your curse. Because of that, you will reach old age quicker than other Neopets as well. Which means..." Lumin hesitated for a moment. "Which means that your lifespan has been shortened."
Flicker's jaw dropped at what was just said. "I'm... I'm gonna die?"
Lumin cringed at the bluntness of Flicker's question, undoing his attempt to break the news gently. But it was the truth, and that seemed to make it hurt so much more for Lumin to say, "Not in the immediate future, but... yes. Sooner than you should."
It took no time at all for denial to set in. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. But as much as Flicker wanted to shrug it off as a lie, deep down he realized that it wasn't. Flicker's strong sense of curiosity didn't always drive him to learn about positive things, which he quickly found out as he had the urge to ask, "How long am I gonna live for?"
"I don't know for certain, but I would imagine about fifteen more years," Lumin answered.
Flicker laughed, "But that's a long time!" His heartbeat calmed down as relief surged through him. It's not as bad as what he's making it out to be. Flicker tried to convince himself of that, even if he had to repeat the mantra in his head over and over.
However, Lumin promptly eliminated that notion as he explained, "It feels like it to you. But you have to realize that the standard life expectancy of a Neopet is around seventy-five to eighty years. And many Neopets live for much, much longer than that. When someone is twenty years old, they should be in the prime of their life, not at the end of it. Fifteen years isn't much time at all, Flicker," Lumin covered his eyes with one hand as he shook his head, full of regret. With a clear tremor in his voice, he said, "This is my fault... I'm so sorry, Flicker..."
At that point, Flicker couldn't fool himself anymore. But he still didn't want to accept it. He remembered how much joy he felt when he had been given the chance to control his own life and his eagerness to find the meaning to it. Now it all felt like a cruel joke with the knowledge that he had a time limit.
His curse started to haunt him yet again.
* * *
With all the horror stories that Granite had heard about The Engineer, the last thing he ever expected was for her to propose a partnership.
Granite was not just taken aback at the offer, he was offended by it. When people came to Granite with the interest of working together, it was made clear that they were working for him. But The Engineer had just insinuated the opposite, placing herself on a higher pedestal than the Neopet that had Obsidian Quarry under his thumb for many years.
Yet, he restrained himself from giving her offer a hostile rejection like he normally would. Instead, he eyed her cautiously, suspicious of her proposal but also intrigued that she was familiar with Flicker.
"I see that you're aware of my abilities. But are you aware that I can also lend them to others as well?" The Engineer asked. Granite's interest in the matter rose, which The Engineer took notice of, much to her pleasure. "Of course, it's not quite the same. I can give you the power to transform other life forms, but only for a certain amount of uses. Still, even just a portion of my powers could become quite helpful to you. If you agree to find the Firefly and hand him over to me, I'll grant you five uses."
For many years, Granite thought that The Engineer was unique in regards to her powers. Hearing that she could pass those powers down and that he could a recipient caused his heart to race.
Still, Granite knew better than to jump straight into a decision. He didn't forget about The Engineer's reputation. "How do I know that you'll follow through with that?" Granite questioned her skeptically.
Granite heard a short laugh from beside him. His right-hand man, a grey Ixi named Gabbro, had an even more incredulous expression aimed at The Engineer. "How do we know that you can even do that at all?"
The Engineer glanced at Gabbro. No further action was taken. He was lucky that The Engineer chose not to be insulted by his rash comment. Granite knew that Gabbro saying such things so recklessly could have ended in disaster for him.
While The Engineer wasn't slighted by Gabbro's words, Granite didn't think highly of his hastiness and growled, "Idiot!" Gabbro -who feared Granite far more than The Engineer- was promptly humbled, although Granite was sure that wouldn't be the last careless thing to come out of his mouth.
The Engineer was quick to turn the focus of the meeting back on Granite. She held up the palm of her left paw, showing Granite the symbol branded onto it. "Do you know what this symbol means? It means infinity; without end, without limit," The Engineer said. "The thing is, infinity is something that is simply nonexistent in regards to physical reality. As vast as this universe is, there is only a set amount of matter within it. A large –yet finite- amount of matter than can change form, but neither truly be created or destroyed. Obviously, I'm most certainly capable of changing its form, but..."
The smile that The Engineer wore began to widen. Even though her voice remained calm, Granite could still catch traces of ardor in The Engineer's tone as she declared, "Many of my transforms require matter to be eliminated or added. And that is something my powers allow me to do. It is the power to violate the laws of mass and energy, to defy reality by allowing a theoretically infinite amount of matter to exist."
She tapped her index finger against her lips as she looked at Granite curiously. "It would be an accurate statement to say that you have an iron grip on this city, correct? I wonder what you would do if you possessed a portion of my abilities? If you did, I don't think it would be a stretch to say that you would have a chance at becoming the most powerful Neopet in all of Moltara."
Granite's eyes grew at her words. It was true, he was the center of Obsidian Quarry and every aspect over the way it ran could be traced back to him. The citizens were terrified of him, but he wouldn't have it any other way. With fear came control, and that was what allowed Granite to manipulate the city and its people to his liking.
But The Engineer made Granite think. Granite could afford almost any luxury he wanted and he had several subordinates at his beck and whim. However, with the power that The Engineer presented to him, he could have more than that. He had never entertained very many thoughts about expanding his direct influence outside of Obsidian Quarry, but now he was seriously considering it.
The Engineer must have sensed that, as she extended her left paw to Granite. She stared at Granite's left hand, waiting silently and patiently.
As thoughts of having all of Moltara under his control filled his head, the reluctance rapidly began to drain out of Granite. He had absolutely no intentions of placing himself below The Engineer, but the power she could give him was something that he just couldn't pass up.
Granite's left hand clasped around The Engineer's. The Engineer grinned, satisfied.
All of a sudden, Granite felt a burst of burning pain in his hand the moment it made contact with The Engineer's. His entire body started to go limp, but at the same time Granite felt a strange essence surge through him. An indescribable feeling spread through his veins and into every inch of his body.
For a few moments, Granite blacked out. When he regained his senses, the pain was gone. Even though it happened just a few seconds prior, Granite could hardly even remember the pain –as well as that other sensation. It felt like such a distant memory. He started to wonder if it even happened at all.
Then he released his grip on The Engineer and took a look at his hand. Granite realized that it was no illusion. There was a mark on his hand, although a different one from The Engineer's. It was very simple: A pair of what appeared to be brackets with five tiny dots between them.
"Five uses," The Engineer stated, proving that she kept her word. "Use them wisely, because I won't give you more until you bring me the Firefly."
Granite spent a long time staring at his mark. It was odd, he found himself possessing the knowledge over how to use his new power. All he needed to do was place his left hand on the target and let his thoughts over the desired new form do the work. The Engineer never told him that, it just came to him somehow.
Granite remembered how Flicker made a fool out of him by throwing him through the doors of the Mine Headquarters. Granite was by no means helpless as far as defending himself was concerned. But if he was going to face someone with an immense amount of physical strength such as Flicker, he needed to be able to take hits much easier.
Granite knew how to do that. "Can I use this on myself?" he asked.
The foremen behind Granite gave short gasps of shock. But The Engineer's eyes widened in interest. "Of course."
Thinking about Flicker still made Granite burn up with fury. However, now with his new abilities, Granite was able to give a smirk in anticipation. He knew that the Firefly wasn't going to be able to stand up to him anymore.
To be continued...