Good luck? She sends us off to save the world and she says good luck? Well, as inadequate as that was for our current situation, we would certainly need it.
Claire and I stepped into the portal Iris had opened for us.
I didn't feel happening while we portalled, but when we arrived I felt a little dizzy. The feeling faded after a few seconds, and only then did I fully realize everything that had just happened. We had actually left the Institute. I never thought that would happen, and there we were. For the first time ever, we were actually free. As free as someone stuck in the Official society could be, at least.
"We're out of there!" cheered Claire.
"Yeah, well now what?" I asked.
"I guess we could take a look at that book."
I opened the book Iris had given us. The book had no typed text in it, but it was filled with writing from my mother. There was a short note on the first page. Claire and I sat down on the pavement (there wasn't any grass in Official world, it was all pavement and asphalt) and read the note.
I'm sure by this time you've been told that you are a demigod. And I'm sure that's come as a bit of a shock to you. But you are also much more. You are also part Egyptian god, angel, and wizard. This is very important. You are very powerful, but that also means Evils from every Realm will be looking for you. They will want to use your powers for their own evil purposes. I hope that I can help you learn how to use your powers properly once the Officials are defeated. As for now, all I can do is hope you succeed on your quest. Many things in this book will help you greatly with your quest, including the clues you will need to find each of the gods. You will discover many things on your own throughout all your quests, and that will be more valuable than any teachers or lessons. I wish you good luck, and I hope to meet you soon.
"Alex, are you okay?" asked Claire.
"Of course not!" I replied. "We're outside the Institute, which is the only place we've ever known, we're supposed to go on some impossible quest to bring back some ancient gods, we have no idea where to even start, and now I'm being told that I'm some magical goblin fairy pixie whatever! All of this is completely impossible! We're complete ideas for leaving the Institute!"
"No," said Claire. "We're not. We need to turn the world back the way it was. We can't just stay in Official society forever. If no one else will save the world, we have to. And I believe that we can do it, however hard it may be."
She was right, I admitted to myself. Nothing was going to change unless we changed it.
"Let's see the clue for the first god," I decided.
Claire flipped through the book until she found it.
A journey is what you shall take
To a big bright blue lake
Another land you will find
Be careful not to fall behind
Artemis is who you seek
Do not dare to take a peek
The moonstone is what you need
Make sure you complete the deed
"That makes no sense. Wonderful," said Claire.
"Which is probably why it was chosen as the clue."
"First of all, where are we supposed to find a lake?"
"I know. All the lakes are either dried up or polluted."
"Oh, that's just perfect."
"Wait, there's one lake that's not gone or polluted."
"Well, which one is it?"
"Lake Superior, the last of the Great Lakes. There used to be five, but you know the Officials. Nothing natural lasts long with them."
"How are we supposed to get there? Somehow magically sprout wings and fly?"
Considering everything that had already happened in the past hour, I really wouldn't be too surprised if that actually happened. Just add it to the growing list of ridiculously impossible things that turn out to be real.
"I think the better question is where exactly are we?"
I didn't see our Institute anywhere. That means we must have gone pretty far. The Institute is huge.
"That looks like the remains of the Statue of Liberty."
I looked where Claire was pointing, and I saw she was right. The Statue of Liberty had been destroyed after the Officials took over, because we obviously had no more liberty.
"At least we know where we are now."
"Yeah. Since we're in New York, and we need to get to the Great Lakes, we have to go west."
"Once again, exactly how are we supposed to do that? We can't walk or run that far!"
"Maybe there's something in this backpack."
I looked at the backpack Iris had given us. There was a ridiculous amount of stuff in it. There's no way it would all fit in a backpack, no matter how well it was packed. The backpack must have been able to hold anything. An enchanted backpack. Of course.
I continued looking through it until I found some hoverboards. I took two of them out. For crying out loud, I thought. Can today get ANY weirder? Greek gods are real, we're out of the Institute, I'm some sort of wizard-angel-demigod hybrid, and now hoverboards? What is this, some fantasy novel? As soon as we have some time, I am sitting down and SORTING OUT THIS RIDICULOUS MESS!
"Um, Alex?" asked Claire.
"Yeah?" I responded.
"We don't know how to fly hoverboards."
"Well, it can't be too hard. I mean, Iris wouldn't give us something we couldn't use, right?"
"I guess that's true. Let's give it a try."
After a few minutes of trying to get in the air (and several cuts and bruises), we finally got into the air. It was somewhat hard to stay on the hoverboard, because we had to stand while the boards went really fast. We weren't high enough to experience the effects of changes in air pressure, but it was significantly colder up there than on the ground. Considering the Officials had made the greenhouse effect much worse, being a little cooler was actually pleasant.
After a bit of flying, I saw my shadow had changed. There was now something big behind me. I looked behind me to make sure nothing was following us and saw that I had grown white wings. I knew I said previously that I would have not been surprised if we'd sprouted wings, it still really freaked me out. I almost crashed because I wasn't focused on standing properly. Claire turned around when she saw that and started to fly over to me.
"Whoa! How the heck did you get wings?" she demanded as soon as she was turned towards me.
"It must be the angel part," I decided after considering this question myself.
I decided to give them a try. I started to flap my new wings. I cautiously grabbed my hoverboard and put it back into the backpack. Luckily, I managed to stay in the air. If I hadn't, I would have fallen straight to the ground and the quest would have ended really quickly. I quickly got the hang of flying with wings and we continued going towards the lake.
Then the fuel meter on Claire's hoverboard started flashing, which meant it must have been low on fuel. That was just great. We landed right where we were, which happened to be right next to another Institute. And unless the sign was lying, it was the Institute in New Jersey.
"What do we do now?" asked Claire. "I don't have wings."
"Right. But how am I supposed to go around places on land with huge wings?" I demanded.
I tried to find a way to hide them when I didn't need to use them, and discovered that they could fold (as in, like an accordion) almost flat against my back. This seemed like a rather unnatural motion for wings, but I remembered that birds don't need to hide their wings at all.
"Now how are we going to get more fuel?" I asked.
"Well," Claire suggested, "do you remember back at our Institute in Pennsylvania we found a supply closet with some weird kind of blue-green fuel in it, and you thought it was radioactive?"
"Yes. I wanted us to go get lead for protection."
"Exactly. Now I think that might have been hoverboard fuel. What else could possibly have been that color?"
"That's great and all, but we can't break into an Institute! Only a crazy person would do that!"
"Do you have any other ideas?"
"No, but - "
"Exactly. Now come on. I have a plan."
I guess we're crazy then, I thought.
Five minutes later, I had taken an invisibility potion from the backpack. Luckily, you can see your body when it's invisible to everyone else. I was holding the lock picking kit (the potion also turns everything you're touching or holding invisible - such as your clothes and in this case, a lock picking kit). I looked at the door and opened the kit. I didn't know how to pick a lock (I'd never tried, I figured that things were locked for a reason, and opening a lock would cause more harm than good). I eventually figured it out, and the padlock on the door clicked open. I hoped no one would notice the door was open. I couldn't close it yet, because if I closed it we would have to relock it and I couldn't get out unless Claire managed to open the lock again.
I found a map of the Institute and looked at it. I memorized it and went back out. This wasn't an easy task, but it wasn't too difficult, because I have a photographic memory. Claire and I discovered this a while ago. I came back out after I found where the hoverboard closet was. I went to get the fuel. The trip to the hoverboard closet was easy, it was pretty close to the map. I grabbed most of the fuel and put it into the backpack. I left the closet to go back out and got caught right in the middle of a bunch of robotizens going to their next class. I found one who looked different. His hair was significantly lighter than that of the robotizens. It wasn't as light as Claire's, but it was still lighter. And his march walk was a bit off.
The next thing I did was completely unbelievably stupid, but if I hadn't done it, nothing that happens later would have turned out quite the same way. I grabbed the kid's arm and pulled him out of the Institute with me. I was surprised that the kid didn't make a peep. We got all the way out and I locked the door behind us. The potion wore off just in time, I became visible soon after we got out. The kid just stared at us.
"Wh-who are you?" he asked, as if he was scared of us.
Then I remembered that the Officials had probably already been spreading lies about us, because we had escaped and because we were different.
"I'm Alex and this is Claire," I said.
"THE Alex? The one the Officials said is evil? You've kidnapped me! I should have screamed instead of letting myself be taken!" he exclaimed.
"We're not here to kidnap you!" exclaimed Claire.
"We're here to rescue you," I continued. "We know you're not a robotizen. You can have a real life. Just trust us."
"Why should I?" he asked.
"Because it's either trust us or have the Controllers catch you. Your choice."
"What's your name?" asked Claire.
"Full real name?"
"John Parker. Anything else now, Miss Interrogator?"
"If you want to be this way, we'll just turn you in to the Controllers right now and you can go back to enjoying a peaceful life at the Institute."
"Ah. So you do know the Officials are evil," I said.
"I do. So what?"
"How do you know? Does your Institute have a secret library too?"
"Secret library? What the heck are you talking about?"
"Then that's not it. How do you know about the Officials?"
"I swear, if you plan to tell this to the Officials..."
"We don't. Trust us. Tell us how you know."
"It has to do with my assigned name, Computer."
"You found the information on the computers at the Institute? But that's impossible with their filtering system!"
The only website robotizens can see is the Official site. Everything else was blocked. The previous year, I had wanted to access the Internet to do some more research on something about bacteria. Then I discovered the filter. Even I couldn't get through it completely, and I read all of the computer programming books in the library. The only other site I could access was a site about the damage the Officials had done, which although helpful, was nothing near what we could have learned if the entire Internet was open. I wanted to know how this kid had cracked the system.
"Once during an Official inspection, I got an Official password, and it unlocked everything on the Internet."
"You're going to tell! I know it!"
"No, calm down! Now get a hoverboard and let's get out of here before the Controllers notice you're gone."
I reached into the backpack to pull out the hoverboards and my hand found something else inside. It was an iPhone. Instead of being black or white, it was purple, my favorite color. The back had my name in some fancy font. I looked at the playlist and saw it was every Taylor Swift song on the deluxe albums. At the Institute, I found some old Taylor Swift CDs. I absolutely loved them (but maybe that's only because it was the only music we had). The iPhone itself was the newest version made before the Officials took over and people stopped using cell phones. I put it back and found there were two more, one for Claire and one for John. I grabbed the hoverboards.
John still looked very skeptical of us, but he took the hoverboard and listened to Claire tell him how to use it.
"Where exactly are we going?"
"We don't have time for that! They'll be noticing your absence any minute now!"
Soon we were back up in the sky and making progress towards the lake. I was kind of sad though. The moon and sun were no longer visible because of the thick layers of smog and pollution. So the whole world was basically stuck in eternal twilight. All we could see were brown and gray clouds. The entire sky had basically become brown and gray. I chose this time to tell John our story.
"I'm sure if Artemis was here, the moon would be there," I commented.
Artemis is the goddess of the moon and the hunt. She's also one of the virgin goddesses and the twin sister of Apollo.
I looked down and saw the sparkling blue water. We had arrived. I was really happy about this, but I also thought it was weird to save one lake. But no one said the Officials make sense.
I tucked in my wings and let myself fall. Of course from my reading, I knew exactly what was going on right now. This was free fall - when no force other than gravity is acting on an object. Well, it would be if you don't count air resistance and friction. I knew I was accelerating at about 9.8 m/s2. But at the moment, I couldn't care less about physics. I just felt the air rushing beneath me. All my scientific thoughts suddenly flew out the window. If everything outside of the Institute was this amazing, I would never think about going back again. I spread my wings and hovered above the lake. I forgot that Claire and John had to do the slow landing the hoverboards require. I wished they could do the free fall thing, but they didn't have wings and the hoverboards couldn't do something like that.
I landed and folded my wings back in. I waited for Claire and John to reach the ground. They came down, and we were ready to enter the lake together.
The fact this lake remained really bothered me. Why would they save one lake? If the Officials wanted to destroy the world (and I know they did), why not do it thoroughly? And turns out, there's a very good reason. And that's exactly what we were going to find out, whether we liked it or not.