Infinity II: Control - Part Three
After three years of getting used to sleeping on the cold, hard ground, lying on one of the sofas in the living room was a strange feeling for Flicker. But he had no qualms about that; it was the most comfortable surface he had been on in a long time.
And yet he still couldn't sleep.
His mind was still in disorder even though he was physically comfortable. Flicker laid on his back, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. He was tired and wanted to sleep, but had only managed to grab a few fleeting moments of rest.
Flicker couldn't stop thinking about what Lumin had told him. No matter how hard he tried to ignore it, it just wouldn't leave him alone. Flicker used to look at such figures like fifteen years as an eternity. But it didn't feel like that anymore, not when fifteen years was all that was between the present and the end of his life.
Not much rattled Flicker. He wasn't bothered by stories of how dangerous the world was and even what he had heard of The Engineer didn't scare him.
But his own mortality, that terrified him.
It took another few hours of restless tossing-and-turning before Flicker finally sat up. With the knowledge of his short lifespan came the realization that he had an equally short window to figure out what to do with that time. Flicker was already eager to find something to do with his life, but even more so now. As he thought about it, he began to worry that he was wasting time just by sitting there.
Flicker turned his sight towards the sofa opposite of him where Wingen was curled up. He didn't have any trouble falling asleep whatsoever. That wasn't surprising, since Wingen had no reason to feel uneasy. Flicker didn't tell Wingen what Lumin said to him. He didn't want to. In the back of his mind, Flicker was concerned that Wingen wouldn't take such news well at all.
Eventually, Flicker stood up and walked over to Wingen. He couldn't wait any longer; he needed Wingen to help him find his life purpose as soon as possible. Flicker bent down and lightly poked Wingen's shoulder. "Big Brother?"
Wingen stirred, but didn't wake up. After a few more pokes, his eyes cracked open only for them to be shut again as he recoiled from Flicker's glow. Once Wingen's eyes adjusted to the light, he lifted his head up and sleepily muttered, "Flicker? What's wrong?"
"You were gonna show me around the city, remember?" Flicker reminded him.
Wingen let out a groan. He dropped his head back down to the pillow and covered his head with his blanket. "Aw c'mon, Flicker! I haven't had the chance to sleep in for years! Can't you give me a few more hours?" Wingen moaned.
But Flicker couldn't wait that long. In his mind, a few more hours could mean all the difference. "But you promised."
Flicker heard Wingen exhale deeply. He recognized that sound; it was the sound that Wingen made when Flicker was starting to aggravate him. Wingen finally threw the covers off of him and sat up straight. He still appeared half-asleep as he sat on the edge of the sofa, blinking as he tried focus his vision. His already curly hair was unkempt, something that he didn't care much about at that hour since he simply put his hat on over it. Wingen dragged himself to the front door, which was Flicker's cue to follow.
Flicker's mood brightened a little once he managed to convince Wingen. Wingen returned the ready look on Flicker's face with a flat expression. Flicker might had been eager to start the day, but Wingen sure wasn't.
Indeed, as the two left the apartment, Wingen plodded along, barely picking up his feet. Once they left the large structure that the light shop sat on and were on street level, Wingen made his way towards a nearby road. Still annoyed, Wingen didn't say a word to Flicker as he led the way. He silently brought Flicker down the street with familiarity in regards to his path and seemed to have a destination in mind.
It wasn't long before they found themselves surrounded by warehouses and workshops. When Flicker arrived in Central Cavern the previous day, he instantly learned that it was a very noisy city. Now he found himself at the heart of all that noise. Whirrs, clanks, and rings from machinery being worked on filled the air around Flicker. There was so much commotion surrounding him that Flicker could neither hear anything else nor focus on any one part of it.
Wingen made his way to one particular workshop that was connected to a very large storage building. Once they were inside, the noise from all the other workshops subsided and was reduced to the sounds from the one they entered. There was nobody in the smaller part of the building, only several textbooks and blueprints strewn all over the room that didn't make any sense to Flicker. But the mechanical sounds coming from behind a large metal door in the back of the room hinted Flicker to the presence of someone working.
Wingen went over to the door, knocked on it, and called, "Dimitri?"
"Just a minute!" Flicker heard Dimitri call back.
Dimitri said it would be a minute, but it felt like a lot longer than that. Flicker and Wingen stood around for a while, hearing plenty of machinery but no further response from Dimitri. After another few minutes passed, Flicker's already short supply of patience had run low. He was in no mood to wait around and let Dimitri know that. "Hey! Are you coming out, or what?"
Dimitri didn't take that remark kindly and retorted, "I said just a min-"
All of a sudden, the sounds of the machinery grew louder and faster. Flicker felt the floor start to shake a little as the noise became more violent. Amidst the racket, he could barely hear Dimitri yell, "Aah! No! Stop, stop, stop!"
Then there was a loud blast, resembling that of a huge spray of water. The tremors and noise ceased altogether, leaving the building in total silence.
After a few seconds, Flicker and Wingen became concerned and were about to go in themselves. But the door opened before they could reach for it. A wall of steam burst into the room the moment the door was opened. Flicker waved his hands and flapped his wings in an effort to blow the steam away and allow him to see what was going on.
Once the cloud thinned out, Flicker was met with the sight of Dimitri standing in the doorway, drenched in water. His red hair was usually shaggy, but had always remained out of his eyes. Now it was hanging down directly in his face, obscuring much of it. Even though he was wet, Dimitri still looked dirty at that moment with patches of soot enlarging the natural spots on his body.
Dimitri brushed aside the hair in his face and took off his foggy goggles. With a deep breath and an irritated look in his eyes, he said to Flicker, "Yes?"
Even as impatient as Flicker was over exploring Central Cavern, he suddenly became very interested in the room behind Dimitri. He stepped forward and craned his neck around Dimitri in an attempt to look inside. "What're you working on?"
Dimitri quickly shut the door. "Never mind."
"Aw c'mon, I want to see!" Flicker grumbled, reaching for the handle.
"No!" Dimitri shouted and put himself in front of the handle. "I don't want anyone seeing it until it's done! Besides, it doesn't want to work right, so it looks pretty embarrassing at the moment."
Flicker crossed his arms, dissatisfied. He remembered how excited Dimitri made him when he talked about the machines in Central Cavern. Being told that he couldn't see one of those machines for himself didn't sit well with Flicker.
Wingen changed the subject before Flicker got too upset over it, though. "Me and Flicker were gonna explore the city. You said that you were going to help us?" Wingen said, still sounding tired.
Dimitri gave a quick glance at the door behind him and groaned, "I can't just leave that mess in there alone." He then looked at the clock on the wall. "Plus, it's getting kinda late for me anyways, so I was planning on going to bed soon."
Flicker had no idea how Dimitri could tell that. The clock was nothing like any other that Flicker had seen before. Instead of two circles with one keeping track of the hour and the other recording the minute, there was just one circle with twelve notches. How Dimitri was able to figure out what time it was with just half of a day for reference was completely beyond Flicker.
"Do you have any maps of the city, at least?" Wingen asked.
"I might," Dimitri answered, sounding a little unsure. He rummaged through the shelves of books and documents before he found one that resembled a map. Dimitri didn't appear to be satisfied with it as he looked it over, but handed it to Wingen anyways. "This one looks pretty old, so I doubt it's very accurate. It's the only one I have, though."
"That's okay. I think I can figure it out," Wingen stated as he rolled the map up.
"Sorry about that," Dimitri apologized, scratching the back of his head. "Well, good night, guys."
Flicker blinked, his expression blank. He stared at Dimitri for a while, steadily becoming more confused as he thought about what the Draik just said.
Dimitri moved his hand to his forehead once he realized why Flicker was confused. "Ah, it's habit. See you later," Dimitri corrected himself.
Flicker and Wingen left Dimitri's workshop. Wingen unrolled the map and looked it over as they stood in the street. His eyebrows furrowed as he soon saw that Dimitri wasn't kidding when he said the map was outdated.
"Yikes. We haven't even seen that much of Central Cavern and I can tell that there's a lot missing here," Wingen groaned. He sat down and pressed his fingers against his temple, trying to make sense of the map.
If the map was as confusing as Wingen was making it out to be, it would take a long time for him to figure it out. Flicker wasn't going to wait that long. Unwilling to spend any more time just standing around, Flicker ignored the map and began to fly further down the road.
Wingen caught sight of Flicker dashing off just quickly enough that he was able to take his attention off of the map and catch up to him before he got too far away. "Hey! Where're you going?!"
Flicker flew through the streets a foot above the ground at a speed that was slow enough that Wingen could follow, but fast enough that he could cover a large area in a short amount of time. He kept his eyes out for anything that would catch his interest, but otherwise paid no attention to his surroundings for more than a few seconds. He needed to be as fast as possible and couldn't let so much as a second go to waste.
* * *
With plumes of smoke billowing out of the windows and the shopkeeper roaring at them, Flicker and Wingen took that as their cue to hurry out of the food shop. They scrambled along the road, hoping that the shopkeeper wasn't furious enough to come chasing after them.
Once they were far away enough from the shop, they took a moment to catch their breath. Wingen turned the map –which he still couldn't figure out- onto its back and began to scribble on it. "Well, looks like cooking is out." Wingen cringed a little as he thought back to the chaos that Flicker caused in the kitchen and laughed nervously, "It, uh... might be a good idea to cross off anything else involving fire."
Flicker tapped his foot impatiently. He had been looking around the city for an hour and he still couldn't find anything promising. He really didn't want to work at a mine again, he didn't possess the intellect required for creating and maintaining machinery, and the incident in the kitchen proved that he didn't have much skill in the culinary department either.
But Flicker wasn't going to give up. There was still a lot to see in the city, so there had to be something for him.
Flicker spotted the light shop not far away from where he and Wingen were standing. The path that Flicker made over the past hour was completely random and yet he still managed to end up right back where they started. "C'mon, let's take a different path this time!" Flicker said, already beginning to move forward.
"Flicker, wait a second!" Wingen yelled out, this time succeeding in stopping Flicker before he ran off again. "Don't you think that you're -you know- rushing it a little?"
"I have to! How else am I gonna see everything here?" Flicker replied, anxious to get moving.
"That's just it! You're flying right by everything and you're missing so much! I mean, you sounded so excited to explore the city yesterday. But to me, it doesn't look like you've been enjoying this at all!" Wingen explained, voicing his concerns.
Wingen was right. Flicker thought that exploring Central Cavern would have been fun. But in his eagerness to go through the city as fast as possible, he hadn't stopped to really enjoy the experience. He wasn't even learning that much about the place; Flicker knew no more about Central Cavern at that moment than he did when he first arrived. But even then, Flicker didn't know how he felt about slowing down like Wingen said.
Wingen then saw something in the area that caught his interest. He began to walk towards a large building from across the main circle in the center of the city. It stood out from all the other buildings with the main entrance sitting on top of a big stairway and between two stone pillars. On the roof were two gears operating a large, hammer-shaped machine. Flicker had no idea what purpose that machine served; it was more than likely a complex piece of decoration.
Flicker followed Wingen as he went up the stairs. Wingen stared at the doors for a long time, silent. When he noticed that Flicker adopted a curious expression in regards to his fascination with the building, Wingen told him, "This is Town Hall. On the second floor is a big library filled with books that the surface-dwellers brought with them. I... I spent a lot of time there with my mentors. I bet they're in there right now..."
Wingen tugged on the rim of his hat as he always did when he was nervous. Flicker remembered Wingen telling him that he wasn't going to be scared if he ran into his old mentors. But it became clear that such a thing was easier said than done.
Eventually, Wingen worked up enough courage to open the doors and walk inside. He and Flicker went up a spiral staircase near the entrance until they found themselves on the second floor. Flicker was met with the sight of more books in one place than he had ever seen over the course of his life. But even though it contained many, many bookshelves, the room was still very spacious and open. Several Neopets were scattered across the room, whether they were standing near the bookshelves or sitting in the numerous comfortable-looking seats provided for them.
"WOW! It's huge in here!" Flicker exclaimed. His already loud voice echoed in the library, causing him to become the focus of glares from many irate Neopets.
Flicker stepped back a little at the reaction he was receiving. Wingen didn't glare at him, instead lowering the volume of his voice and whispered that it was proper manners to be quiet in a library. Flicker nodded, not saying another word. That was probably for the best, as Flicker knew that almost anything that came out of his mouth was going to be loud, whether he intended it to be or not.
Wingen wandered around the library for a moment, trying to look for his mentors. While he did that, Flicker began to explore the library for himself. He didn't look at any books, but instead looked out of the enormous, red stained-glass windows overlooking the city. Flicker didn't realize just how high up they were until he was able to look straight at the light shop from where he stood.
It didn't take long, but Wingen went up to Flicker and got his attention. He guided him to the far end of the room where there was a door leading to another section of the library. That part of the library was much more closed-in and claustrophobic. Flicker and Wingen had to walk single-file for quite some distance until they came to a slightly more open area of the section.
There Flicker could see a Grarrl with his back to the two Neopets, focused entirely on the book in his hands. The Grarrl had a strange color; he was mostly red, but had an odd pattern all over his scales that resembled something from the surface that Wingen had called "seeds." His body wasn't the same color all throughout, either. Almost half of his tail was colored with a shade of green that was unfamiliar to Flicker.
Wingen stared at the ground in hesitation for a few moments. He had become even more nervous in the presence of the old Grarrl, leading Flicker to believe that he was one of Wingen's mentors. Wingen confirmed Flickers thoughts when he finally stepped forward and spoke out meekly, "Professor Frazer?"
At the sound of his name, the Grarrl turned his head just enough so that he could see catch a glimpse of Wingen. "Oh, Wingen! It's been quite a while. Good to see you again," Frazer said in a friendly -yet inattentive- tone of voice; almost all of his attention was still in his studies. He adjusted his glasses slightly and turned back to his book.
All of the Neopets in the room stood still for quite some time. Not a word was uttered and not a muscle moved.
That was until the realization finally dawned on Frazer. His book went flying up into the air and his back slammed into the bookcase behind him, causing even more books to crash onto the floor. The rule about being quiet in a library was immediately discarded for the Grarrl, as he stared at the fire Wocky with wide eyes and shouted, "WINGEN?!"
Wingen shrank a little in place as he tapped the tips of his index fingers together. Frazer's reaction was only causing what was left of Wingen's confidence to dwindle. Seeing the anxiety building up in Wingen, Flicker became wary of Frazer and was ready to step in if he became hostile.
That wasn't true of Frazer at the moment, but he was in utter disbelief at the sight of Wingen. As he looked the Wocky over, he sputtered, "I-It's b-been almost ten years since you were last here! H-How are you still a child?!"
Wingen didn't answer his question, instead looking away from him. When Frazer saw Wingen's reluctance, another wave of realization came across him. "You were fooling around with magic, weren't you?" he asked more coherently and in a sterner tone of voice.
"No! I've always been like this..." Wingen finally spoke up and admitted.
"Then someone else that was able to use magic used their abilities to harm you," Frazer replied. He shook his head and sighed, "Don't you see now how easily abused that kind of power is?"
Wingen suddenly became much more defensive, retorting, "Look, I really like magic! I don't care what you think about it, because I'm not gonna stop learning how to use it!" As Wingen vented to Frazer, his voice began to tremble. "A-And... And I don't care if you think I'm a f-freak because of my age!"
But that wasn't entirely true, as Wingen broke down into tears after that last sentence. Considering how overwhelmed he was becoming, Wingen was probably beginning to think that the meeting wasn't a good idea after all.
The sight of Wingen crying was painful for Flicker to watch. But it also infuriated him to see his Big Brother so upset. Flicker scowled and ground his teeth, not about to hesitate to stand up for Wingen.
However, Flicker did manage to quell his anger once he saw that Frazer had a pained expression on his face as well. "That was why you ran away, wasn't it?" he said quietly. He then walked closer to Wingen with a weak smile on his face. "Well, you're alright now, and that's the main thing."
Wingen lifted his head up and sniffled, "You're not mad at me? You... You don't think I'm a monster?"
"Of course not," Frazer reassured him. "We were so worried about you when you disappeared. I'm truly am glad to see you again."
There was only one other time in Wingen's life that he had been accepted for who he was. When he heard what Frazer had just said, his face showed genuine surprise. But even though the tears were still running down Wingen's cheeks, he began to crack a smile as well.
As Wingen pulled himself together, Flicker calmed down too. He exhaled in relief, knowing that Frazer wasn't going to treat Wingen the same way so many others had over the years.
Frazer took notice of Flicker once the tension between him and Wingen dissipated. But just that one look at Flicker caused him to exclaim, "Oh! You wouldn't happen to be Lumin's son, would you?"
"Huh? Yeah. You know him?" Flicker asked, surprised that Frazer brought up the subject of his father.
"Yes; we're well acquainted," Frazer replied. "Four years ago he came to the city seeking refuge. He also told me that he was looking for his son, and that if I ever saw a glowing Buzz that I would tell him. I assume that he knows that you're here?"
Flicker nodded. Frazer then continued, "I remember that he would ask around Central Cavern every few months or so if anybody had seen you. A few times he would even try to look in a few other caves. But he never had any success. As the years went by, he became more and more disheartened with every attempt. I could tell by the look on his face just how hopeless he felt. Now that you're here, I can't imagine how happy he is to know that you're alive."
Flicker wasn't shocked to hear that; after all, he saw for himself just how emotional Lumin was when they reunited the previous day. But it did start to change his perspective on things. For the past few years, Flicker and Wingen considered each other to be all they had. They thought that no one else in the world cared about them. Seeing how easily Frazer accepted Wingen and hearing how desperate Lumin was to find Flicker, he began to think that perhaps they weren't as alone as they had always thought.
To be continued...