Excerpt for Flight to Trezarium by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Aya’s family has to move. The Triumvirate have picked up their sound and, even now, are sending the Borgs on patrol, sweeping the sewers for signs of anyone breathing the oxygen so vital to human survival. One by one, Aya has rescued a collection of human children from the Recycling Dumpster, as well as a mutant reject and an old robot named Blu. Raising them in the old sewers below Megacity on cabbage, water cress, fish, and frogs, she preserves the history of human kind by telling them stories about The Time Before when their kind ruled the earth.



But now, they must move like rats through the sewers under the city to the fabled place called Trezarium where they can see the sky and breathe the air. Aya remembers the way back from her parents who survived the purge, only to be recycled by the Triumvirate. Those tales kept her company when she was orphaned, warm through cold nights, and fed her when she was hungry. Now she would have this small band of wanderers do the same, salvaging the history of humans.





KUDOS FOR FLIGHT TO TREZARIUM



In Flight to Trezarium by Trisha O’Keefe, a group of refugees, living in the sewers of the city in some distant future, try to escape and make it to Trezarium, a wilderness outside the influence of the “powers that be.” Their adventure and the civil war that follows is a fascinating journey. Aya and her small family of three young human girls, a young human boy, a rejected mutant, and an antique robot abandon their meager existence in the sewers for the unknown outside of the city. But what if Trezarium is only a myth, as Aya fears, and there is no refuge? An intriguing adventure, filled with wonderful and zany characters, fantastic creatures, and a well-thought-out plot make this a delightful read. I highly recommend it. ~ Taylor Jones, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy



Flight to Trezarium by Trisha O’Keefe is the story of political corruption in a city were humans are considered the dregs of society and scheduled for termination. Mutants, robots, and cyborgs are the upper echelon in a city that keeps its citizens peaceful by addicting them to drugs and “Happy Pills.” In this dystopic landscape, a group of humans, with one rejected mutant and an antique robot, survive in the sewers. All they want is for their little family to be left in peace, but if the borg guards catch them, they will be sent to the Dumpster and “recycled.” So they flee the city and head for the wilderness of Trezarium where they can live free. Or can they? Flight to Trezarium is a bit zany, clever, and fun, while still being a fast-paced page-turner. If you like fun interesting books you can’t put down, you’ll love this one. ~ Regan Murphy, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy




FLIGHT TO TREZARIUM



Trisha O’Keefe



A Black Opal Books Publication

Smashwords Edition



Copyright © 2017 by Trisha O’Keefe

Cover Design by Jackson Cover Designs

All cover art copyright © 2017

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-626947-96-2



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





EXCERPT



It was there one chance to escape, but there could be a traitor in their midst...



“That’s the Churn,” Aya said. “The turbines that churn the water to make power. They’re very dangerous and well-guarded. The water and the steep cliffs along the river are the most dangerous for us, though. That’s why they call it No Man’s Land because few people have survived out there. If you fall off the cliffs and into the water--”

“I know the path,” said a voice behind them in the depths of the stairwell. “If you will follow me, I will lead you.”

They all turned, but saw nothing on the dark stairs.

“Who said that?” demanded Aya. “Show yourself!”

Slowly, a shadowy form crossed the shaft of light coming from a crack in the door. Everyone shrank away as it passed down the stairs, clinging to the rail for support.

“You poor creature,” Aya said. “How long have you lived in the Flyover?”

The nearly translucent form shook his head. “I’ve lost track of time. Months, no, years. Now, let me lead the way past the Churn and to the bridge. If I perish, at least it will be outside this awful place.”

“We are going to Trezarium,” said Riga. “Can you show us the way? We will share what little nutrition we have with you if you will.”

“Surely,” the form replied. “But I ask nothing. Keep the nutrition for the young ones. I am beyond that.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Aya firmly. “Now, open the door, Riga, and let us smell the fresh air.”

Riga pulled the heavy door back and everyone gasped. The roar from the Churn became so intense, little Annabeth and the droll child put their fingers in their ears. Everyone had the same thought--somewhere beyond the clouds of steam and spray blocking their view was No Man’s Land and, if they survived that, freedom.

The form plunged forward into the clouds and they followed, holding each other’s hands. Riga stowed his lazorizer weapon in its sling on his back and grasped Miri’s hand. She, in turn, held Qin’s hand, and Blu carried Annabeth and the droll. Aya, with surprising energy, and, as if she knew the way, walked briskly behind their dark leader.

None of them gave another thought to Borg Guard 80047.





DEDICATION



To my mother, Jeanne.

Her love and devotion will never be forgotten.





PROLOGUE



THE ESCAPE



In the years following the Lost Times, humans had nearly erased their own species from Planet Earth. A new and powerful society emerged from the darkness that engulfed the world. It was called The Triumvirate.



***



After humans began to count time once again, they found that the mutants--those who were crossed with another species--outnumbered them almost two to one. The humans thought this was because the mutants had survived by any means possible the calamity that had almost erased them and their entire civilization from Earth. The mutants, on the other hand, thought their survival was due to their superior traits. They blamed the humans for nearly destroying the planet and considered them an inferior race.

In spite of their differences, both races--mutants and humans--began to reconstruct the skeleton of civilization. They agreed to establish their capitol city on the ruins of a once sprawling metropolis. The new capitol Megacity was to be ruled by a high council or ubercouncil, made up of representatives of each group. On the human side, there were the Noble Warriors--clans with a well-established system of government. Also representing the human side were the scientists, and the artists who hoped to bring human traditions and culture back to the new society.

On the mutants’ side, there were various drummans, who had mechanical extensions; droids; cyborgs; and chimeras--animals with human qualities.

Since every great civilization has its shady side, that was represented by the Grays. Like wolves, the legendary animal they were named after, the Grays lurked at the fringes of civilization. They made a profit selling contraband--scarce commodities like food, fuel, and human slaves which they kidnapped and sold to the mutants. They also did a brisk business in making imitation Happy Pills and Swaug, a drink that made everything beautiful--except work. Since the Grays were involved in everything that was illegal, they might as well be included in any policy decisions.

The ubercouncil directed the policies of the Triumvirate, the executive branch of the government. It was composed of one representative from each group, except the Grays. As time went on, though, humans were considered greatly inferior to those mutants who were more than seventy-five- per cent Other species--drummans, droids, cyborgs, and pure robots. Humans without robotic adaptations were not only considered physically inferior, but disloyal as well, always ready to rebel at the slightest provocation.

At a secret meeting. the mutants decided to engineer that provocation. “If they want to rebel, let us give them ample cause to start a war. That will finish the Neanderthals once and for all.” That was ubercouncilman Riksbury. He was a drumman, a mutant with wheels for legs. A nasty sort, mean as a snake. Of course, I have never seen a snake, but legend has it they have a reputation for being mean.

Who am I? Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. My serial number is BUZ323, but call me Blu. Everyone does. Buz doesn’t sound very dignified, sort of like a demented bee or something. Besides, Aya called me Blu the night she found me beside the Dumpster where that ungrateful son-of-a-shovel left me because I couldn’t dig ditches fast enough. He said I wasn’t worth the money he paid for an old piece of junk like me. The idiot mutie didn’t know I was programmed by a scientist to record important data, for pity’s sake, not to do manual labor. Good grief, even robots can’t do everything!

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a robot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. Aya has taught me those, you see. Who’s Aya? Keep your armor on, Shorty! I’ll get to that part. Let me finish with all this history first, will you? Good grief, you little humans get bored easily!

As I was saying, the Triumvirate didn’t have to wait long for the rebellion to take place. When the Noble Warriors lost control over the meager resources the ubercouncil had allotted to them, they rebelled. Led by the powerful Lombardi clan, all the tribes left Megacity, to become nomads once again in the vast unknown lands beyond the river. They were determined to create another city where humans could live in peace.

But the Borg Guard, the military arm of the Triumvirate, had orders to not let anyone escape. The Borgs set out in pursuit of the rebels, and the two sides finally clashed at Sumi where the Warriors had set up camp.

At the Battle of Sumi, the Thane of Galen was killed, bless him, and the rest of the tribes escaped across the Sumi River to the Trezarium, taking his body with them. They laid him to rest in an unknown place, but legends say a chestnut tree marks the spot, the chestnut being the sacred symbol of the Galen Clan.

The Trezarium was an experimental forest started by Doctor Edward Spencer, a former member of the ubercouncil, to house a collection of plants and animals considered extinct after the Lost Times. Even the Borg Guard dared not follow the humans into the vast sprawl of plant and animal life. They were programmed for the cement streets of Megacity, not where strange things sprang out from behind rocks, and tree roots tripped up the unwary stranger. The tribes of humans escaped and some made themselves at home in the Trezarium while the others made their way into The Land Beyond and disappeared somewhere into tomorrow.

The mutants gradually tightened their grip on Megacity. Anything considered to inferior, obsolete, or useless to the Triumvirate was condemned to be recycled by the Brain, a giant computer system which controlled every aspect of Megacity. According to the caste system set up by the ubercouncil, humans fit all three categories and were termed Rejects. If they were designated useful by the Scanner, a function of the Brain, - though usually only the young and strong, they were made slaves and sent to work in factories making parts for mutants and robots.

If the Scanner found that they fit all three categories or designated to be dangerous, they were to be recycled. A few Rejects escaped and went underground where they hid in the old sewer system beneath the ruined city.

That was where Aya assembled her family--four children, one mutant marked dangerous by the ubercouncil, and an old robot. That was me, Blu. Aya raised the children on love as well as on a diet of fish, frogs, and sewer cabbage--not me! I don’t eat that stuff. Give me a good can of oil any day. I’m an easy keeper. Except that, in the sewers, cans of oil don’t come down the drain very often. So what did dear Aya do? Gave me fish oil instead. Yuck!

With my help, she taught them how to read, write, and cooperate with each other. You can press any button on me, and I will recite any history or any book in three languages.

But the time grew near when Aya knew we must leave the safety of the underground for the peril of the unknown. The Borg Guard were sending patrols with sensors that detected any human presence, even the heat of their bodies and the smell of their cooking. It was time to leave, but where would we go? Here’s the story. If you sit still long enough, you may find out!





CHAPTER 1



THE SEWER RATS



“Quiet, they’re coming!”

The little group froze, mouths opened to ask questions, eyes wide with fear, but they knew better than to speak or move. Aya’s whispered command was law in their underground world. They looked upward, as if they could see through the layers of cement that separated them from their enemy. The Borgs’ sound detectors could zero in on the rustle of a rat through the old sewers below the city.

At Aya’s signal, they all held their breath except for Blu. Being an old robot, his control panel made a whirring noise which the Borgs could detect. Thur had to press the button to put him on power-saving mode, which made his mismatched eyes roll in opposite directions. He looked so funny, Miri and Qin stifled giggles as the Borg sensors approached, making their high-pitched, hissing sound. Then, just as the Borgs were right overhead, little Annabeth sneezed.

And before anyone could stop her, she sneezed again.

The high-pitched whine stopped, and they could hear the sensor come down through the iron bars of the grate. It sounded like rats’ feet over broken glass and looked like a big glass eye. The sensor turned around slowly, scanning the long tunnels of the sewer. For one horrible second, it seemed to look squarely at them, and then it rotated away like the eye of a cyclops looking for its prey.

While the sensor was turned in the opposite direction, at a signal from Aya, the Reject family began to move along the sewer walls. With Aya and Riga leading the way, they crept back up the passage in the direction the Borgs had come just from.

Miri kept her hand over Annabeth’s mouth in case she sneezed again.

“Whew, that was close!” Even though the Borgs had long passed them, Aya kept her voice to a whisper. They always whispered, not daring to raise their voices.

The sewers echoed, magnifying any little sound by ten times. That way, the sensors could catch it a mile away. But Riga always led them out of range, tossing a stone far down the sewers or banging on the pipes overhead to make it sound like someone was running down the endless labyrinth of tunnels.

At last, Riga gave the signal to stop, and they all dropped against the sewer walls, exhausted by fear and hunger. Their supply of cabbages was nearly gone and their supply of frogs, fish, and rats was running out. There had been some little frogs and minnows swimming in the sewer water, but even those were gone, probably eaten by the voracious rats.

“Can you read us the story now, Aya?” Annabeth asked. She was sucking her thumb again, a sign she was hungry and frightened. Even Aya didn’t have the heart to correct her. “The one about the little boy who asked for more food and the bad people wouldn’t give him any.”

Aya looked at Riga, and the mutant nodded his agreement. “Well, just a little bit, Annabeth, while we’re resting,” Aya replied, taking a battered, mildewed volume of Oliver Twist out of her knapsack. Everybody knew the story of how, as a child, she had discovered the book floating down the sewers, probably abandoned by someone fleeing the Borgs. Even when she had fished it out of the water, the book was very old. In fact, older than Aya herself, she said. Since they had never seen anyone older than Aya, they all thought the book was ancient. The outside was covered in scraps of faded cloth concealing the title and author’s name. The pages had come loose, and been sewn back into the spine by loving fingers with colorful string.

The story of the little boy who had lost his mother when he was born, but had triumphed over every obstacle, soothed fears and hunger pangs every time they heard it, which was usually once a day. The older children could even read the book themselves, having been taught to read by Aya. A whole world of learning had been built around that single volume.

The old woman had just begun the story when Thur, who had been covering their retreat, dropped down beside her. He signaled for Miri to take over reading. “You don’t look well, Aya,” he said. “And we have to move on in a little while. We have to find a place to hunt for food. A safe place where we all can hide. You have told me of such a place a long time ago.” He put his weapon gently down against the damp wall, not too far away in case he needed it. “Trezarium, you called it. I remember it well. All about the trees and the blue sky. And birds, you said. Little animals with wings that fly. Whatever they are, they were part of it, too.”

Aya touched his crisp, dark curls, which should have been soft, but the city’s dirty air had caked them almost stiff with soot. As a result of being raised underground where baths were rare, Qin’s copper hair and Miri’s honey-colored waves matched Thur’s so that they looked like dark-haired triplets.

But in reality, Thur was older by several years. As Aya had roamed the dark streets of Megacity, she had found Riga, a warrior in training at the Academy. He was sheltering from the constant black rain in the wreck of an overturned Robocar with a small boy he called Thur. He told her he had been cast out of the Academy when they discovered he had a human ancestor. With Riga’s help, she had found the robot Blu beside the Dumpster where someone, who was too lazy to get a recycle permit or too busy or too poor, had left him. The three girls she had found on the dark streets where they were scrounging for food. Slowly Aya had assembled her little family in the old sewers below the old city. Now they all were in danger of being discovered.

Riga was their defense, using his mutant powers and his warrior training to keep them safe so far. He had trained Thur to be a warrior like himself and even taught the girls some warrior moves. Under Riga’s watchful eye, Miri and Thur would spar together but Qin preferred to teach little Annabeth to read and write from their battered copy of Oliver Twist.

“That’s right, my boy. Trezarium they called it, but you will certainly die trying to get there so I will not tell you where it is. Let me rest a bit and we will find a new place to plant our cabbages, there’s a good boy.” Aya leaned back and closed her eyes. “Let me sleep a bit now.”

Coming back from leading the sensors away, Riga saw Aya slumped down against the wall. He immediately squatted before the old woman, looking intently into her face. Thur knew he was scanning her to detect her life force with his mutant powers. Then his eyelids dropped down over his pale eyes, as though what he saw wasn’t good.

Opening her eyes, Aya didn’t miss his expression of sorrow. “I don’t have long, do I, Riga?” She made an attempt at laughing, but it was a strange croaking sound. “That’s all right. I have lived too long in this place, anyway.”

“That’s exactly the trouble, Aya. We’ve got to get you out of here.” Riga got to his feet with a slight shake of his head. “We’d better move on now. Blu and I will take turns carrying her,” he said to Thur. “You carry Annabeth. We must be gone before the Borg Guard passes again.”

Miri had been listening to their conversation. “Did you say the Guard? If they even suspect we’re here, they’ll vaporize the whole tunnel.” Turning to the old woman, she said, “Aya, please tell us where we can find Trezarium. There’s no life for us here, that’s for certain. The Guard are going to come down here to search us out. Before they find us and send us to the Dumpster, please let us try and escape this place. The Triumvirate get rid of humans and Rejects like Riga and Blu. You, above all, know that, Aya. You said they destroyed everyone dear to you. Aya, please, please tell us now before it’s too late.”

“Sweet child, you’ll just die trying.” Aya began to slump, crumple like a snail retreating into its shell. “I want to spare you that. I’ve seen so many of our kind perish.”

“I don’t care, we’ll all perish anyway, don’t you see that?” Miri looked away, wiping off tears of fear and frustration.

“Yeah,” said Qin, “They don’t have any use for Rejects like us. ‘Obsolete mistakes,’ they call our kind, and the Triumvirate hides hide all their mistakes in the Dumpster. If it weren’t for you rescuing us, that’s where we’d be. Is that what you saved us for, Aya. I don't think so.”

“Hush, Qin,” Mira cautioned her out-spoken sister. She’s just trying to keep us safe.”

“I feel about as safe as a rat in a trap with a hungry cat nearby.”

“What’s a cat?” Annabeth asked, taking her thumb out of her mouth long enough to ask the question.

“Ask Aya,” Qin snapped. “She has all the answers.”

Pretending to ignore them, Aya sensed their hopeful glances in her direction. She had known that hope once. Years ago, when the Triumvirate had abruptly ruled that all humans were to be reduced to slave status, her father, a prominent scientist, had arranged for her to escape capture and hide underneath the city with many other families. She had never seen her parents again, although she had searched every night for years.

“No more talk!” The order came from Riga. His signal for quiet was immediately obeyed by the huddled little group. It meant the Guard was coming their way again. The Borgs knew they were on to something, having picked up Annabeth’s sneezes. They had programs for everything--even reading finger prints carelessly left on railings or doorways, a sure sign that human Rejects were hiding below.

The group began to move as one body, staying low, creeping from shadow to shadow. Their eyes grew wide with amazement as Riga led the way up flights of what had been the subway stairs. This was higher than they had ever been before, but Riga was motioning them with his gloved hand to go even higher.

It was obvious Riga had a plan, but right now, he wasn’t sharing with anyone, not even Thur. A little disgruntled at being left out of Riga’s confidence, Thur followed close behind his mentor, his adl-adl drawn and ready. Blu carried Aya in his powerful arms, as though she were made of glass, his round eyes moving back and forth in different directions like scanners.

Though of obsolete design, Blu had many built-in custom features that modern robots didn’t include. His hands were padded with water-resistant fabric so he wouldn’t scratch things he carried. These pads kept moisture out of the computerized joints of his fingers so he could easily pluck a fish from the sewer water. A matching pad on his head protected his central controls. To complete the ensemble, Aya had made Blu slippers from an old scrap of carpet to keep his feet from clanking on the cement floors of the sewers.

The coverings were made of shaggy fabric in light and dark shades of brown and gray. The whole effect, though no one had the heart to mention it, made Blu look like a giant, spotted puppy.

Miri grasped Qin by the arm and led little Annabeth with the other hand. At a signal from Riga, they suddenly froze like statues of old caught in the middle of a gesture. One flight below them, a troop of Borgs passed by with their scanner, their suctioned boots making the distinct hissing noise the Rejects had heard only minutes before. They all knew what had brought the Borgs back.

The little girl looked up at Miri and smiled. “I fooled them,” she whispered. The hissing stopped. The sensors had picked up the sound of human voices.

Immediately, Riga motioned them to move up to the next level and, as one, they obeyed. Thur rapidly descended the stairs until he was behind Miri and the girls, bringing up the rear. Trying to make as little noise as possible, they ran up the stairs behind Riga

But a noise suddenly rang out far down the sewers and, being programmed to investigate any sign of life, the Guard went in search of it, double-time. Riga kept them climbing up and up until they reached the level below the street. There they all crouched in darkness and looked up through the grate.

For a moment, they saw nothing, heard nothing, except the sound of softly falling rain.

And then Annabeth pointed one finger at the grate. “I see one,” she whispered to Miri. “I see a star.”

Even Thur looked at the direction her finger was pointing and nodded. His eyes met Miri’s and, embarrassed by the feeling that welled up in her, she looked away. He took that as a rejection and told himself what Riga had told him a million times before--that he was a warrior like his father before him. The Dark Warrior, Riga called him, a name they had called his father. Riga had lectured him since he was little that, someday, he would be a leader of warriors like his father. He could not go looking at girls now--perhaps never.

Hidden and raised here in the bowels of the earth, most of her Reject family thought of Aya as their mother, except Blu, the robot, of course, and Riga, the mutant. Most of her little band had never seen the sun or even the sky, although Thur had ventured up to the grates, where he had seen the night sky through the iron bars.

“Leave me here and go on, all of you,” said Aya. “You’ll never make it with me holding you up. I’m wheezing like an old horse about to drop in its tracks. Leave me, I say.”

“What’s a--” Annabeth started to ask but Qin stuck the child’s thumb back in her mouth.

Thur looked at Miri and then at Riga, who just shook his head, warning them not to argue with the old woman. Everybody knew it was useless. Aya would only remain fixed on death. It was her way of preparing them to become independent.

“That’s right, Aya.” The mutant’s face glowed faintly blue beneath the light filtering down through the grate. “That’s why we have to leave, so you can be well again.”

“Oh, hush, Riga!” Aya said harshly, straightening up in Blu’s arms. “Let’s get on with this fiasco.” Suddenly, she straightened up and sniffed. “I smell rain. It’s been so long since I’ve smelled rain. I always loved that smell. Put me down, you walking tin can!” she said to Blu. “You’re making me seasick!”

Once on her feet, Aya looked around. “Now where are we headed? Across the Flyover, I presume. That’s the only way out, isn’t it, Riga?” She looked around, wheezing hoarsely. “Dressed as Rejects in tatters and rags, we’ll never make it.”

“We’ll just have to dodge the patrols, unless you have some magic spell to make us invisible.” Thur looked impatient, tapping his adl-adl against his palm. He longed to hit something else besides sewer rats with it. Even in his dreams, he pictured braining some Borg with lightening accuracy and how his father would glow with pride. “The sooner we get started, the better. The daylight is coming, not that it makes much difference. As usual, the smog is so thick and dark, you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”

“What’s a Flyover? And what’s daylight?” Annabeth questions were whispered, but impossible to ignore. She would only keep asking until someone answered.

Thur hunkered down beside the little girl. “Daylight is when the sun comes out. It lights up everything so we can see. But we can also be seen, so it’s a good thing and a bad thing. And the Flyover? We’ll find out together, how’s that? I’ve never been there, see.”

“What’s a sun?” Annabeth asked, cupping her small hand around Thur’s chin. “And underneath the dirt, you are still dark. And why have you got soft hair on your face and Miri doesn’t?”

“You just gave me an idea,” Riga interrupted to Thur’s relief. “Here, Thur, take my lazorizer. It’s rusty, I know, but it still works. You keep answering all Annabeth’s questions and I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. If I don’t come back within that time, move on. Don’t wait longer than fifteen minutes, understand? But I plan to be back,” he added, looking at Miri.

“I’m coming with you, Riga. You’re not armed,” Miri said. “I’m trained as a fighter. I know I’m not warrior class, but just the same, you trained me yourself.”

“No, someone has to stay here in case...well, just in case.” But everyone knew what he meant--in case the Borg Patrol spotted them. “Thur has the only weapon and he’ll use it.”

“Don’t forget I have my adl-adl,” she said, holding up her version of a slingshot. “I’ve been practicing on frogs and fish ever since you showed me how to use it. I can even beat Thur at close range.”

“Always bragging, Miri,” Thur muttered. “I’ll take a good lazorizer over an adl-adl any time.”

The mutant regarded Thur sternly. “Arms led to the downfall of your kind. Lazorizers didn’t help the Noble Warriors at the Battle of Sumi, not when the Borgs have lazor cannons. There are other ways of accomplishing things without arms. Miri, mark what I say, even if Concrete Brain won’t let it soak in.”

Thur bristled at being called Concrete Brain, a term Riga used when Thur didn’t catch on to something right away. “I’d like to know what’s wrong with vaporizing Borgies. It’s either them or us.”

But Riga just gave his half-sad, half-twisted blue smile. “Remember, fifteen minutes.”

Miri turned to Thur. “You shouldn’t have let him go alone. If they find him, they’ll only trash him, you know that. He’s a Reject.”

“What’s a Reject?” Little Annabeth looked from one tense face to the other, wondering what was wrong with her usually good-humored companions.

They were all brought down to reality by her question. Their perilous situation loomed even greater in their minds when they were forced to put it into words.

“Someone who doesn’t meet the Triumvirate’s standards for the categories,” said Miri trying to plait the little girl’s unruly hair into braids using her fingers as a brush. “Or they might be defective in some way.”

“Or a mutant military machine like Riga,” said Thur, still smarting from Riga’s jibe.

“Or just a human, like us,” Qin said.

“I beg your pardon.” Everyone looked Blu, as though they had forgotten he was there. They usually did. “Speak for yourselves. I am a fully papered robot. Both my parents were robots, and I am practically put together from their old parts.”

“Which is exactly why I found you in the Dumpster.” Aya seemed to be revived by the air coming through the grate. “Your parts were rusted, and you creaked so loud you sounded like a rusty gate.”

“Well, at least I can be recycled,” answered Blu. Everyone looked at him sympathetically. “Except for my fur. They don’t do fur.”

Aya never let them think their differences made them superior to anyone else. “We’re all part of a family, and that allows everybody to be themselves yet we all stick together. That what a family does.”

“What’s a family?” The question hung there in the thick, humid air, daring any of the group to grab it with an answer. Little Annabeth looked from one to the other. “Well, I’m waiting,” she said, looking at Thur.

“It’s where everyone is related, I guess,” he said, looking to Miri for help.

“What’s ‘elated’ mean?”

“Not elated, related,” Aya corrected. “Sometimes families are put together by experiences and stick together out of love. Now, hush the talk. The Guard aren’t that far away.”

Riga was back in fourteen minutes, just under his original estimate. “That will give you one minute to change,” he said. “To your new identity.”

“What’s a--”

Annabeth was silenced by Miri pulling something down over her face. “Hush,” Miri said, “we have to hurry.”

She suppressed an explosive giggle when she saw Annabeth. She was dressed as a monkey which suited her petite frame and frisky movements perfectly.

Qin was struggling into an acrobat’s costume, and Aya was a happy clown. Thur was a lion tamer, although his whip was a piece of string tied to a stick, and Miri a pretty tightrope walker with black tights and a short ruffled skirt. Riga climbed into another clown’s suit and shoes with wheels on his feet. On his back was a large sack full of what appeared to be pink spun sugar cones. Blu was dressed as himself carrying Annabeth on his shoulders, but she soon climbed up to sit in Aya’s lap. Between his fur mittens, the robot grasped an accordion as if it would explode any moment.

“It plays a tune, Blu. Here let me show you.” Riga took the squeezebox and played a few notes. “Think you can do that?”

Blu rolled his mismatched eyes in different directions, which meant he was thinking. “After a search of my programs, I think I can play Bach’s Fugue but I’m a bit rusty, I'm afraid.”

“Oh, swell,” Qin muttered. “That will liven things up.”

When the Borg Patrol passed, they hardly glanced at the strange collection of Rejects. Street entertainers were a common sight in Megacity. Usually, they were composed of Reject mutants, but, occasionally, a human slipped among them unnoticed. In any case, they were periodically swept up by the street cleaning machines along with any trash to be recycled. In between cleanings, the entertainers were tolerated if they had a permit to perform. Which is what Guard 80047 stopped to ask them.

“Permit, please. Take your time,” he said politely in his robotic voice. “You lot go on ahead,” 80047 said to the rest of the Patrol. “Keep an eye out for the humans. They must be around here somewhere. Well?” He turned his attention back to the little group. “Who’s in charge here? Hurry up, please, I am off duty in twenty minutes.”

“In that case, we invite you to our show,” Thur said, bowing from the waist. “You’ll be our honored guest.” He hoped Riga approved of his diplomacy, even though it was killing him to be polite.

Guard 80047 scowled behind his Borg mask. These Rejects were a tricky bunch. Likely they were up to something, like stealing a keg of Swaug, a few Plasticles, or worse yet, homemade Happy Pills. “Are there any humans in your troupe? We don’t allow humans to perform, you know. Only drummans, droids, and mutants of the right percentage, or if they are in charge of a chimera.”

“We’re all mutants except for one tin box as you can see,” replied Thur.

“I resent being called a tin box,” said Blue. “I’ll have you know my parts are all certified interchangeable.”

“Shut up,” said 80047. “You’re only allowed to speak when spoken to. Someone should have programmed you for better manners. Even though you are the oddest-looking piece of equipment I’ve ever seen, you’ll pass as robotic.”

“Well, I never--” started Blu before he received a jab in the fuse box from Qin.

“Mutant,” the Guard said to Riga, “do you have a permit to perform in a public place? Only mutants with the class rating of seventy-five percent Other are allowed to perform.”

“We are all of that class,” replied Riga, regarding the Borg with a steady gaze.

“Then prepare to produce it when you get where you’re going. Where are you holding this show, anyway?”

That’s when Miri stepped forward. “The Flyover at eight sharp. Be there or be square.”

Suddenly, Guard 80047 couldn’t get his brain to work. It seemed have jammed up, shut down, and otherwise, refused to work correctly. He tried to speak several times but all that came out were a series of squeaks. She--and she was a definitely she, even mutants of a certain class were divided into she-mutants or he-mutants--was wearing, among other things he tried not to notice, a large pair of bat wings or bird wings. He hadn’t seen either animal except on the Learning Screen. Remnants of the Human Age, he realized. But what he hadn’t realized was how beautiful, how perfectly charming they could look on a she-mutant.

“See you there, Borgie,” she said and smiled, her lips curving under her bat mask.

“Hrrumph,” was the only sound 80047 could make, and it was ugly in his ears.





CHAPTER 2



THE FLYOVER



As the Borg Guards marched away, Riga waved the group into a huddle. “Well done, aside from Miri calling that robot Borgie,” he said. “Now, if you can carry off the performance, we’ll get the chance to make it to Trezarium. But there’s a lot that can go wrong. If we’re discovered, then we’ll just have to make a run for it.”

“What’s Trezarium? Is that where Oliver lives?”

Qin rolled her eyes and groaned. “Not now, Annabeth. We’re in a hurry.”

“Didn’t you tell her, Aya?” Behind her black mask, Miri’s eyes were accusing. “How could you keep the best part from her?”

“Because I didn’t want to get her hopes up,” replied the weary voice behind the clown mask with its eternal smile. “I didn’t want to risk her life, trying to get there. I couldn’t bear to lose any of you that way. I lost so much in my lifetime.”

“Everyone has to have a dream,” said Thur. “It’s like the stars up there, hidden by the clouds. Always reach higher than you can, even if your dreams are out of reach, isn’t that what you’ve always told us?”

“And like our dreams, the stars are fading while we are wasting time talking,” interjected Riga. “Now listen. We have to pull this off or end up as fertilizer. Here’s what each of you are going to do.”

At eight, on the hour, a hush fell over the east end of the Flyover. All eyes were fixed on the top of the stairs where a tower of comical figures stood atop Blu’s shoulders. The effect made the usual Flyover inhabitants--Swaug drunks, Happiness Pills addicts, and Rejects awake from their stupors, thinking they were hallucinating.

Then the monkey figure opened a striped umbrella, floated down to the outstretched hand of a robot, and started playing a little squeezebox. The pretty bat lifted off the shoulder of a sad clown while the smiling clown balanced on the other shoulder. Suddenly, the sad clown went flying slowly across the Flyover while the bat flapped her wings. The ring master, holding the acrobat by one foot, went soaring across the room on a zip line, held in place by a powerful magnet. The robot then followed slowly with measured steps with the monkey back on his shoulder.

Borg Guard 80047 followed the noise to the first room of the Flyover and stopped short in amazement. The addicts and the Rejects were on their feet, clapping their food pans together and showing the first signs of life, which alarmed their suppliers who had thought they were wasting away.

The Grays instantly buzzed the ear implants in the ears of their droids on the Flyover to light up and advertise their varieties of Happiness pills, Swaug, and all twenty-one flavors of Plasticles. The powerful crime syndicate supported the Triumvirate by putting any sign of rebellion put down fast. They made a fortune off of distributing bootleg Swaug, fake Happiness Pills, to the addicts who might cause trouble. But they hadn’t counted on a bunch of street performers to bring the inhabitants of the Flyover to life.

The Borgs, on the other hand, expressed their pleasure by clapping their lazorizers on their arms and making an “Uggah” noise, which served as laughter.

“That was fun! Let’s fly to the other side again!” Luckily, the Borgs clamor drowned out Annabeth’s voice.

“No,” Riga said. “We must cross another room and another and one more before we get to the bridge.” His blue lips twisted in what passed for a smile, white teeth showing sharply against his blue skin. “You did well, little miss. Everyone did well.” His eyes rested on Miri who was talking excitedly to Qin. “It is lucky there was an antique costume shop nearby the entrance to the sewers.”

While the Guard was still changing patrol, the Rejects, waiting to be recycled, huddled around the machines dispensing Happiness Pills and Swaug. Taking advantage of their preoccupation, Riga herded the little group into the next room. The second room was another step closer to the Dumpsters and annihilation. It had an atmosphere of death and despair that was mirrored in the thin figures scattered around its interior.

The second room in the Flyover was smaller than the first, full of sinister-looking Guards in charge of the skeletally-thin addicts. While they were looking for a spot to perform, Thur whispered, “What I don’t get, though, is where you got those little motors under the umbrella and your jet pack.”

“The same antiquities shop where I got the costumes,” Riga said over his shoulder. “Old stuff like astronaut suits and jet packs are all the rage. Even the Borgs and droids have costume parties. They dress up like humans. I learned that at the Academy.”

“Just a minute, you lot,” growled a voice behind them. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We’re The Flying Clowns.” Riga turned around to face a huge furry droll who towered over the little band like a storm cloud. “We’ve been invited by the Triumvirate to perform in honor of the big celebration.”

“You have? What celebration is that?” The droll scratched his bald, dome-like head. “I didn’t hear about any celebration.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t read the Mother Boards! I wouldn’t say that out loud, if I were you.” Miri flexed her bat wings as she faced the giant. “If you don’t read the Mother Boards, you’re in big trouble!”

Coming up behind the little group, 80047 marveled at her courage--her light voice carried authority that clearly confused the troglodyte.

“Well...well,” the droll mumbled, looking around to make sure no one else was listening. “I can’t read. Nobody can read all that stuff they put up there. Move on, then. Move along.”

They had all drawn a relieved breath and started forward into the room when an authoritative voice said, “Just a minute, please, clown troupe.”

They froze in mid-step, afraid to turn and face someone that obviously had more brains than the droll and had figured them for what they were--human remnants and Rejects. Borg Guard 80047 advanced to face Riga. “Take off your mask, Clown. I like to know whom I’m addressing.”

“This isn’t a mask,” Riga replied calmly. “It’s my face, 80047.” He was so insulted he didn’t even add “sir” but the Guard didn’t seem to notice.

“Sorry, mutant. I overheard you say you were personally invited by the Triumvirate to perform here. The Guard looked from one strange figure to another. “Is that correct?”

“It is.”

If Riga thought he could bluff his way to freedom, he was wrong. That was obvious by the way Guard 80047 folded his arms, as though forbidding them from moving farther into the room.

“In that case, you must have a permit. May I see it, Clown?”

Riga hesitated, looking desperately at Aya. “Well, you see--”

“Will this do?” Aya limped forward with a paper in her hand. “The date is not correct, but the official stamp is there. See, right at the bottom, left hand side.”

Guard 80047 started to ask the bizarre crumpled figure with the comic smiling face to take off the mask, but then thought better of it. “This is official, all right, although this permit has expired.”

“But you can update it, right?” The long-legged bat stepped in front of the little smiling clown. What was it about her lilting voice that filled him with such confusion? Guard 80047 wasn’t accustomed to being confused about anything, and it was a strange experience. Like drinking the strongest Swaug ever made, he thought.

“Yes,” he answered, without knowing why. “Yes, it is possible I can do that, seeing as how the Guards want to see you perform again. And these scum--” he said, looking around to indicate the listless inhabitants of the second room, “--are doomed to go to Recycle and it makes no difference to them. So go ahead.”

“Good,” said Miri, “then that’s settled. Get ready, everyone! Places!”

“Just a minute, I haven’t said ‘yes’ yet!” said Guard 80047.

“Oh, but you have,” Qin said, on her way up to Blu’s shoulder. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Their performance had the same electrifying effect on the dreary residents of Room Two as it had in the previous room. They got to their feet and tottered forward, banging their Swaug cups together, as the bat and fellow performers flew across the room to the other side. Having given up food and all sustenance, except Happiness Pills and Swaug, the residents had no use for plates. Instead, they made a feeble effort to clap their hands.

Just then, Annabeth dropped a handful of coins she had collected from the Guards in the Flyover. At first, the residents didn’t know what to do with them. Then with a rush that caught Guard 80047 squarely in the middle, they fell on the coins.

“Food,” became the chant. “Food, food, food!”

They were so preoccupied with getting to the Flyover where the Happiness Pills were being passed out, they didn’t notice the performers escape into the third room.

Except for Guard 80047, who was fighting his way through the crowd. Through the face-guard of his helmet, he saw everything he had only imagined was true disappearing into an abyss of blackness and danger.

Guard 80047 had to follow.





CHAPTER 3



THE THIRD ROOM



Even Riga was daunted by what awaited them in the third room.

Thur strained his eyes to pierce the darkness. “Phew, what is that smell?”

“We are only one step away from the first Dumpster,” Aya whispered.

“Where they recycle everything, including humans with big mouths.” Riga’s voice was a growl in the dark. “I remind you, therefore, to keep your voice down to a whisper, or better yet, don’t talk at all.”

“Well, that really makes a change,” Qin muttered. “When did we ever say anything above a whisper?”

“The Brain has very powerful sensors everywhere, especially here at this end of the Flyover.” Riga's voice came out of the shadows.

“What does this Flyover fly to, by the way? Isn’t a Flyover supposed to fly over something?” Qin squinted into the darkness. “Doesn’t look as though it’s going to fly anywhere.”

Stacks of small cubicles climbed the dank walls of the third room. In each tiny compartment lay a motionless figure.

“Are they all dead?” asked Annabeth.

“Just about,” said Aya, gripping the child’s hand more tightly. “If they are our kind, the Swaug has done its job, replacing their desire for food. Now, let’s get it over with.”

Guard 80047 appeared in the doorway. “Wait!”

“Not him again,” Qin said. “The Snoop Patrol.”

The Guard came up to the little group gathered just inside the doorway. “You have to show your permit to the Brain in here. Performers are not normally permitted in Room Three, you know.”

“I can see why,” said Riga. “But would it really matter if we did our show for them? They seem pretty lifeless.”

“Look , if you don’t keep your voice down...” Guard 80047 stopped in horror as the floor underneath them began to move. The door slammed shut behind him with such force that 80047 jumped into their midst. “Now, look what you’ve done!” he yelled. “You’ve started the conveyor belt moving to the first Dumpster.”

“What?” Thur grabbed Annabeth up in his arms. “You did that, Borgie! You trapped us! That was your game all along.”

“We’re all doomed to go to the Dumpster.” Aya sighed. “I told you not to try to escape. It would have been better to die in the sewers than go to the Dumpster!”

One by one, the stacks of compartments with their motionless forms moved forward in an assembly line, passing in front of a large screen, as they followed a conveyor belt track into the darkness. Once the screen appeared, a number followed by a beep, acknowledged a bar code registered for that body.

Aya found her voice first. “Just do the same act, but I will stand in front of Blu instead of climbing on his shoulders. That way I will pass in front of the screen. It will only record my number. Guard, you will take my place on Blu’s shoulders. Annabeth, you will hold on to the jet umbrella and fly to Riga, understood? Hurry up, now.”

“I certainly will not,” 80047 protested. “I will go first.”

“It’s perfectly all right with me if he goes to the Dumpster instead of me,” Blu said.

As they took their places, Riga revved his jet pack. “Get ready to start out when I get the line fastened on the other wall. If I get it well above the sensor, it won’t register any of our numbers.”

Just as Miri was getting ready to climb to the top of the pyramid, she felt a tug of her hand. “Please take Tookie with you. Please, pretty human.”

Miri looked down to see a large pair of eyes, a turned-up nose, and a wide smiling mouth. It was a small droll, a child about Annabeth’s age. Grime coated her fur so she looked like a small, black bear.

“Are you scared of flying?” Miri said.

“Tookie not scared of anything, except the Dumpster,” said the child. “Try me.”

“Don’t take him, he’s only a little droll.” Guard 80047 looked at the rapidly approaching assembly line. He scrambled up on Blu’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”

Blu rolled his eyes separately. “I don’t transport Borgs, you know. It’s not in my programming.”

“I order you to carry me through that Scanner unless you want to end up in spare parts!” said 80047, beginning to sweat inside his helmet.

“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Guard.” Miri held up the droll child. “You hold on to this little droll here, and we’ll let you come, won’t we, Blu?”

“All aboard,” Blu said. “Even rude Borg Guards, if I have to make an exception.”





CHAPTER 4



NO MAN’S LAND



As they rode down the assembly line toward the Scanner, Riga flew into the air and fastened the magnetic line to the far wall. Qin and Miri flew through the air, hooked to the zip line, while Annabeth held on to the jet umbrella and landed in Riga’s arms. Blu came next holding the Guard, who had the droll child in his lap, and Aya aloft.

As they approached, the Scanner let out a loud screech and the assembly line ground to a halt. “Negative bar code.” said the Scanner. “Overdue for recycle.”

“Not me,” said Blu. “I’m in my prime, I am.”

Then Guard 80047 took a small object out of his pocket. He pointed it toward the Brain’s screen and clicked. “Malfunction. Redirecting. Malfunction. Redirecting,” the Scanner squawked. The Borg Guard got down, put the droll child on the floor, and lifted Aya down beside him. “Now hurry and join the others,” he said.

“What about me?” Blu’s eyes were orbiting in opposite directions. “Aren’t you going to take me?” Just then Thur and Riga rushed over and lifted the old robot down. “Well, I never! Here, I made an exception for that Guard, and he was going to send me to the Recycler.”

All around them, dark forms were slipping out of their compartments and crossing in front of the stalled Scanner. When they were all on the other side of the room, the Scanner announced, “Malfunction cleared.”

Slowly, with a screech that made the girls put their fingers in their ears, the conveyor belt started up again.

Immediately, Guard 80047 took charge. “This way,” he said, opening a door leading to a flight of stairs.

“Wait!” said Riga. “He’s a Borg. How do we know it isn’t a trap?”

“Because you, for some reason, are a human Reject who survived getting thrown into the Dumpster--twice, as a matter of fact,” retorted the Guard. “But I don’t expect thanks from the likes of you. Now get going. I’ve got to report in, or they’ll be looking for me.”

“We all thank you,” said Miri, hesitating at the top of the stairs. “Don’t mind Riga. He’s very over-protective, sometimes.”

“I would be, too,” replied 80047 in a gentler voice. “And no thanks are necessary.”

“He’s one of you,” said the droll child.

But in the noise of the assembly line, no one heard her.

Miri led the way down the narrow spiral stairs until they all reached a landing and another door.

“Just a minute,” Aya called, but Riga lunged ahead of her, shoving Miri out of the way.

They could hear a mighty, thundering roar as if some giant machine were right outside the door.

Miri rubbed her shoulder where he had pushed her. “Riga, don’t be so rude! You don’t have to be so bossy all the time, you know.”

But Riga held up his hand. “You don’t know what’s on the other side of this door, Miri! That Guard could have led us straight to the Dumpsters, for all we know.”

“I know what’s on the other side of the door, you blockhead! Let me through! Let me down there.” One by one, Aya crept down the stairs until she was on the landing. No one had ever seen her move so fast or so spritely.

“Then tell us, Aya,” said Qin and Thur in chorus.

“Don’t keep us standing here waiting, Aya. Riga’s right, though I hate to admit it.” Thur grinned at the mutant who nodded in agreement. “That Borgie can’t be trusted.”

“Yes, he can,” said the little droll. But no one paid attention to her, except Annabeth. “He’s--”

“No Man’s Land, that what’s out there,” said Blu.

“Oh, why did you have to spoil things, Blu?” Aya snapped. “Will someone please let me speak?”

They were all full of questions, but Aya ranked as an elder and, therefore, could speak first. The older children usually followed that rule, except Annabeth who asked, “What’s No Man’s Land, Aya?”

Aya sighed impatiently. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, little one, if everyone would just stop interrupting,”

The little girl smiled sweetly. “Sorry, Aya. Go ahead, tell us. What is that big noise out there?”

Miri tried to shush the child.

“That’s the Churn,” Aya said. “The turbines that churn the water to make power. They’re very dangerous and well-guarded. The water and the steep cliffs along the river are the most dangerous for us, though. That’s why they call it No Man’s Land because few people have survived out there. If you fall off the cliffs and into the water--”

“I know the path,” said a voice behind them in the depths of the stairwell. “If you will follow me, I will lead you.”

They all turned, but saw nothing on the dark stairs.

“Who said that?” demanded Aya. “Show yourself!”

Slowly, a shadowy form crossed the shaft of light coming from a crack in the door. Everyone shrank away as it passed down the stairs, clinging to the rail for support. “You poor creature,” Aya said. “How long have you lived in the Flyover?”

The nearly translucent form shook his head. “I’ve lost track of time. Months, no, years. Now, let me lead the way past the Churn and to the bridge. If I perish, at least it will be outside this awful place.”

“We are going to Trezarium,” said Riga. “Can you show us the way? We will share what little nutrition we have with you if you will.”

“Surely,” the form replied. “But I ask nothing . Keep the nutrition for the young ones. I am beyond that.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Aya firmly. “Now, open the door, Riga, and let us smell the fresh air.”

Riga pulled the heavy door back and everyone gasped. The roar from the Churn became so intense, little Annabeth and the droll child put their fingers in their ears. Everyone had the same thought--somewhere beyond the clouds of steam and spray blocking their view was No Man’s Land and, if they survived that, freedom.

The form plunged forward into the clouds and they followed, holding each other’s hands. Riga stowed his lazorizer weapon in its sling on his back and grasped Miri’s hand. She, in turn, held Qin’s hand, and Blu carried Annabeth and the droll. Aya, with surprising energy, and, as if she knew the way, walked briskly behind their dark leader.

None of them gave another thought to Borg Guard 80047. They were too busy admiring the wonders of the outside world. They felt the spray of mist on their dirty faces, the soft ground under their feet, so much softer than the cement of the sewers. Pretty soon, Blu put Annabeth down to feel the wonders of the earth. She and the droll child began to skip and hop on the path beside tumbling water of the Rye river.

After walking what seemed to be an eternity, the curtain of spray vanished, leaving them teetering on the edge of a steep cliff. Below them, was an endless expanse of swirling water which was being sucked into giant turbines and spat out again. They all gasped and took a step back from the brink of the abyss.

“Look,” cried Annabeth, pointing to the greening cliffs behind them. “Cabbage! I want some cabbage! I’m hungry.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-34 show above.)