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[2 Years previous]


I sit back. I'm not sure what was coming over me but it certainly felt good. Like a warm wave of.... satisfaction? No... I think contentment was a better choice of word.


Gabe is sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, thinking silently. I gather the sheets over myself to keep warm.


"You okay over there...?"


Gabe nods, his short purple hair shaking a bit, a better indicator that he had moved than the actual motion he makes.


"Hey ...Heather?" he says after a few more minutes of silence.


"Mmhmm?" I respond, now half asleep, chemicals washing over my body and my tired brain more than willing to let them do me in for the rest of the evening.


"We're mostly alone, right? I mean, you've been on your own almost as long I was. You know that feeling, right?"


I sit back up, propping myself again a pillow, willing only to take the minimum amount of effort.


"I guess. I mean, it's not exactly like I've been running around embracing my former life.... but I suppose when it comes down to it yeah, I feel pretty alone."


His bare back is the only response I get, half lit in the moonlight as he thinks that over.


"This isn't much," he responds at length, "But it's helped me out when I really was cut off from everyone else..."


He turns, looking me in the eye for the first time since we'd finished. He pulls the covers down and exposes my belly, he fingers probing the slightly soft flesh before pushing into me, the flesh splitting along a hidden seam and opening for him. He reaches in and pulls a fiber-optic line from my insides


"Back at Apath, in the Underground, there is a machine that allows a BioSuit to 'dive', or simply put, send out their consciousness into a virtual environment." He informs me while connecting us together. His finger distorts and then solidified into a male connection for the line he had pulled form me, "I can't speak to the training methods they use for the mass production suits, but when I was there, they used a virtual environment to train me in real time battle tactics and other skills that would have been realistically impossible to learn within the confines of the Underground."


I remain quiet, somewhat curious as to where he is going with this.


"Well, once I had left I was curious about the technology, and built my own Dive Machine. What I found out is that, through the combined networks that have spread over the world, there is a 'sub level' that seems to connect to a different universe altogether."


I stop him at this, "Wait, what do you mean universe? This sounds like a load of shit. What does this have to do with anything."


He continues on, not heeding by my interruption, "It's a place, populated by trillions of beings, that you can send your consciousness out to. It seems to have no connection to or baring on this world, and what's more, it's exactly like being there. You body is just holed up in our world... transmitting basically."


He sends blueprints over the connection, burning them into my digital brain.


"If you are ever bored, or lonely, consider creating what I just sent you. Make sure you find a quiet area, and you pay your rent in advance for however long you plan to be gone. Remember, time there passes 1:1 with time here, so if you are gone for 6 months there, you are gone for that long here."

[Present Day, aka 2012]


I yawned. It was 4 am and I had been working without sleep for the last 48 hours. I lived in Maine, doing basically what I had always done; fly under the radar and hope for the best. I felt my mind swirling, the chemicals within me singing and dancing as loudly as they each could, fighting for my attention. Getting my arm back might have seemed like the best thing that could have happened to me, but unfortunately I still had not found a way to end the pain my damaged spinal cord constantly bombarded me with.


In front of me was a massive, shoddy looking amalgamation of machinery and electronics. It filled the lion's share of my one room apartment, sitting where most people would have kept their entertainment center, not to mention their couch and probably a kitchen table. A chair was nestled against the wall, pipes and tubes running from it into the beastly machine.


It had taken me a full time job and numerous favors, not to mention moving a lot of illicit substances to a lot of less than savory individuals, to afford all the parts. But after 2 years it was finally complete, my very own dive machine.


I stripped down to my shorts and a tank top and sat in the seat. Gabe had said to be sure not to wear anything I might be too attached to. I moved towards the controls and paused a second, taking a hit to steal myself, and activated the start up sequence.


Behind me I could hear a huge turbine begin to spin, revving like an overpowered hot rod. It sounded so close to my head I could almost feel myself about to be ran over by some crazy motorist. It grew to a fever pitch before dulling in my mind. My whole chair then shook and jumped, flattening so I was laying prone, before sliding back towards the loud sound of the machine working. Soon I was enveloped in pitch blackness, when I felt at least eight cables burrow into my spine. I screamed, but no sound passed through my lips. The world, formed of darkness as it was, melted away before my eyes.




I awoke with a mild headache and a very distinct sense of disorientation. I noticed first that I had ended up outside, somehow, and immediately after checked to see what I was wearing. It seems I had gotten dressed between turning the machine on and ending up here...


Ah, right, I was in the machine. I was wearing a skirt, and a tank top still. And I had on really cute shoes, it seemed like. I noticed as well that I had a rutsack hanging from my shoulder, which upon examination revealed a number of basic supplies, and a surprising amount of alcohol and other somewhat less commonly found intoxicating substances. There was also a BLOCKSabre inside, strangely enough. I smirked, and threw the sack back across my shoulder. Like a star burst, something exploded in front of my eyes--


"Oh my god... the pain... it's gone...!"


I stretched and twisted and laid flat on the ground but at no point was there any discomfort. My back, after more than 7 years, felt great. I could hardly hold back tears, sniffling and laughing despite myself. I managed to compose myself after a moment, surveying the place that I had ended up.


"Where the hell am I...?"


A disembodied voice echoed through my head. It wasn't the first, and unless my life took a drastic change it probably wouldn't be the last, but for once it felt like it had some basis in reality. Not to mention with the hangover I was experiencing I was reasonably sure I was both sober and not hallucinating.


"Heather Fareweather. You have been summoned. There is a prize, one which is to be sought. If it is found you will be rewarded. Or, perhaps, the Unknown Garden will overwhelm you as well?"


I mulled this over. I had, after all, wanted to get away. It seemed like I had inadvertently found myself in the middle of something interesting.

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Heather stood and took in her surroundings. She had appeared in a large, green field, with mountains in the distance and she could just barely make out the sound of running water off to her right. She decided it might be good to follow the sound, and promptly started off in that direction, trees slowly appearing the closer to the water she managed to find herself. Finally, over one last small rise, the river came into view. She sighed as the watched the water flow, blue and clear. Fish could be seen clearly, even occasionally jumping out of the water. Rocks sticking up over the surface randomly. A strange armor wearing man with a blonde ponytail surfaced to breath and then dived back down. A creature, that looked similar to a dear, made its way to the waters edge and drank…Wait, what was the one before that?

Heather watched as a few minutes later the armored man surfaced yet again, and then dove back down. She cocked her head to the side, and moved carefully to the water. She waited and sure enough, he came up a third time. Heather waved, and for a moment he stared back at her, then waved himself, swimming to the shore. As he stepped out of the water, Heather could see something was clutched in his hand.


“Whats that?†Heather asked.


The man stared at her, then looked to what he was holding, then back to her. Almost as if he was trying to figure out what he should say.


“A basket,†the man said.


Heather stared at him.


“What are you doing with a basket?†She said.


Again he stared at her as if he was trying to decide what to say.


“Making it,†he said.


“Underwater?†Heather said. “Why?â€


“Because I can,†the man said and leaned down to her threateningly. “Yeah, totally what he would say…Um I mean...Grr, what are you doing here little girl?â€


Heather stared at the odd man, had his voice just changed? She leaned forward and met his stare.


“I’m talking to you. Whats it look like?†She said.


For a moment the man seemed to let out a soft, “hmmm.†And then leaned back.


“Your alright,†he said at last, and then pulled a pistol of some sort from a holster on his hip and fired at her. Heather leaped out of the way just in time to avoid the blast. “Sadly, I’m certain he would kill you for that so…Sorry. Nothing personal ok? I mean…Um…Die maggot!â€

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Not one to beat around the bush (or so he imagined the real Kane being), Kane immediately opened fire again and again and again, Heather nimbly dodging every shot that was fired. Previous simulation training kicked in, and, after a quick observation of her opponent's speed in firing rounds, Heather decided to navigate her dodging backwards, eventually taking cover behind a bulky tree capable of taking the plasma shots.


Not exactly my top choice to alleviate boredom... or loneliness, Heather thought to herself. Three more shots had come her way since her taking cover, one zinging by and the other two crackling against the bark. The moment the shots stopped, Heather's reflexes kicked in, but not nearly as fast as the weapon shift of her opponent, the results of which shattered the tree in half just an inch above her head. She fell to the ground, catching herself before falling prone, and looked over at her enemy quickly enough to spot the large weapon he now held. That looks like a vehicle-mounted gun, but he's carrying it like a normal firearm.


"Haven't bored me yet, girlie," Kane said, adjusting his aim carefully. "Let's see how long you can stay interesting."


Looks like the people here aren't behind the times, at least, Heather thought. What did Gabe call them back then? 'Beings'? Still crouching, Heather used her already bent position to bolster a backwards flip through the air, dodging the second assault rifle shot and the debris of grass, dirt, and tree roots it slung into the air. She smirked, getting out a comment before she landed. "Big guy like you fighting at long range?"


Kane turned the end of the rifle away from his target for a second, intent on hearing what she had to say.


"That big suit you have on must be made of paper, then," she said with a laugh shortly after landing. "That'd make you a chicken, too scared to even come face to face with a little girl like me!"


"Paper, huh?" Kane said. "Actually, that'd explain how I'd be able to swim in this thing... although it wouldn't explain why I needed to come up for air. I don't need air, right? Uh, oops... I mean..."


It was too late for Kane to react by then, however, Heather having closed in during the time he was distracted, something that Heather found funny seeing as how she wasn't particularly aiming for that at the start, or at least not to the degree Kane exhibited. Flipping backwards at close range, Heather kicked Kane's arms up into the air with her right foot, then, kicking out her left, knocked his plasma gun from the holster and sent it spiraling into the air. Springing up again after landing, Heather immediately kicked off of Kane's chest, reclaiming her previous distance while also snatching his smaller firearm from the air. She was glad she hadn't attempted to knock him down: her right foot ached just from kicking his arms. Whatever that armor was made of, it certainly wasn't paper.


"There, this should make it fair," Heather said, grinning as she trained the crosshairs on Kane's forehead. "It's not very polite to make the lady do all the moving, right?"


"Not sure I want to read too much into that," Kane said, reaffirming his grip on his assault rifle. "Or maybe I do? Would he? Would I?"


A plasma shot clipped his right ear, prompting Kane out of his thoughts and into evasive action as he dodged several more shots. Even if his strength did override the weight of his armor, that still didn't make him much of a speed demon, though caffeinated mongoose-esque reflexes were not to be underestimated as they gave him enough space to dodge Heather's startlingly accurate shots even though he didn't gain much ground amidst the dodging. As another bullet flew by, this one managing to clip his left ear, Kane lifted his assault rifle and loosed another round, Heather once again leaping from the blast, though Kane added an extra surprise: an incendiary grenade aimed at the spot she would land. The resulting blaze blackened the surroundings for a moment in contrast with its light, pebbles and chunks of grassy soil tumbling about and plopping into the river as Kane took a step back to look at the small crater that became visible as the smoke faded. The triumphant feeling he should've felt was absent, however, probably due to the fact that Heather just landed in front of him.


"Boo," she said, and then daintily tapped him on the chest. Kane, having never moved significantly away from the river, had positioned a little more than half his weight over the edge into the water due to his recent maneuvering, and the little tap Heather gave was enough to push him back and send up a tremendous splash of water. His previous notions came back with some bite, as he did not surface as immediately as he would have when he was weaving his basket. Heather sighed, having inadvertently soaked herself in her recent move and now had to get her hair back to its delightful curliness.


"Dang, this is already becoming a drag," Kane said, fully aware of his improper voice as he dragged his body out of the water, a few feet away from where he had been knocked in. "How can he stand acting like this ALL the time? And to think he has better luck with the ladies... This puts a damper on my mood, more so than all the water that has accumulated in my trousers."


Something popped into the left of his vision, and he turned to see his plasma rifle pointing at him, only it wasn't the end of the barrel but the handle. He couldn't help but cock an eyebrow at Heather's offer to return his gun.


"It ran out of rounds anyway," she said. Kane cracked a grin, taking hold of the gun and having his arm simultaneously taken a hold of by Heather as she helped him up. "Sounds like you're pretending to be someone. Any reason why?"


"Eh, complications, complications," Kane said, shrugging before holstering the plasma gun. "Short version: I'm filling in for somebody."


"They don't seem half as approachable as you are," Heather said.


"Tell me about it!" Kane said, almost with a whine. "But don't get me started, I won't be able to stop if I rant anymore."


"Heather," Heather said, introducing herself.


"Heather?" Kane said, clearly missing on the sudden introduction.


"My name, Heather Fareweather," she said with a smile. "And you?"


"Ah, I'm the Ins..." Kane stopped. "Actually, I'm Kane, the Psychopathic and Depressingly Serious Space Hunter. Live and let die, target the vitals, take out the leader, women and children first, baste with a sprig of vinaigrette, yadda yadda yadda..."


"Dedicated to the lie?"


"At least until this is all over, girlie... er, I mean Heather."


"What exactly is 'this'?" Heather asked, gesturing to her surroundings and the intangible nature of the conflict at hand. "I came here not even half expecting what would happen, and now it feels like I've become involved in some crazy shit or another."


"Ah, this here is a battle, Heather," Kane said. "A battle of battles, between the craziest cavaliers, criminals, and cookie cutters around! At least, past experiences make me assume this. I have yet to encounter anyone who seems to be a participant... other than you, of course."


"A participant, am I?" she said, then looked over Kane. "I guess that makes you one, too, which would make us opponents?"


"Never on bad enough terms to cast aside some tea and biscuits, dearie," Kane said. "But yeah, we're gonna have to scuffle again eventually. But for now we can call a truce."


A prize lies in wait... unless I am overwhelmed by some 'Unknown Garden...? Heather thought, her sight shifting away from Kane. Is this place it? The Unknown Garden? Guess I'll find out soon enough...


Heather paused, now realizing that Kane was gone. She gave a jump, looking left and right until she spotted Kane floating down the river on the backs of strange, balloon-like fish.


"Kane!" she called out. "Where are you going?"


"To wherever the sea's children may take me, lassie!" Kane responded, again adopting his true voice momentarily. "But you best stay on your guard, because I won't let you get away next time! Until then, make sure to eat your vegetables and brush your teeth after every meal!"


Having not much to say to that last part, Heather simply watched as Kane floated away and vanished behind a group of bushes at the river's bend, a peculiar end to her first confrontation in the battle.

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