Everything needs beginning. Even the end
Maybe everyone thought about something supernatural at least once in their life: magicians, psychics, wizards, and something like that... people never could agree about their existence. Society has been arguing for centuries.
While thinking about this problem, no one has noticed something really obvious. 'If you want to hide something, put it on the most visible place' — a pretty famous phrase. Each of you has heard it but none of you has guessed or thought about the fact, that it was the base of the ancient guarding system of our planet.
There wasn't a man who has never heard about signs of the zodiac. No one never knew everything about them, however, many people were sure they were experts. They weren't wrong, though they weren't right as well: the full picture was always covered. Actually, it was too close and nobody was brave enough to make one step back and see it in its fullest. However, maybe nobody had an opportunity to do it. If more than 27 people learned about the reasons for it, a disaster would happen.
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A small house in the suburb of London filled with the smell of fresh hot pancakes that woke Charley up. She sat in her bed and felt that it was really cold in the room. Being half-awake, her vision wasn't focused enough, the room was covered with black stains which disappeared slowly.
Short darkening in her eyes became normal when she was a little girl. At first, Charley thought she lost her vision for a few moments, but then she also started losing control over her arms and legs and feeling like her head weighed more than one ton. Once, being in this weird state, little Charley fell head over heels down the stairs. Mom said that she needed to wear slippers to avoid such situations. So, it was the girl's fault — she didn't listen when they warned her. It's so easy to be an adult — every problem may 'be caused' by kids: was late because a kid behaved badly and didn't want to dress up, damaged a shirt because a kid was eating like a pig, and so on. That time Charley was lucky and got only a few bruises which didn't heal for a long time. No one believed that at that moment she was like a puppet which needed some assistance to even stand still.
Time flew, this darkening became completely normal. Charley discovered that everything started with troubles with focusing her sight. Then she had one second to grab something and not fall before everything went blank. It didn't save from losing control but, at least, the number of bruises declined.
The same situation happened this morning. Charley was sitting in her bed and waiting till the attack goes away. When the vision came back, her head became easier, arms and legs came back under the brain's control, the girl started looking around. The feeling that something was wrong didn't leave her — school printouts were on the floor. 'How could they fall? They used to be in the middle of my desk... it's impossible!' However, the sheets weren't just laying on the floor but flying like leaves when it's windy... still, there wasn't any wind.
Something fell next to the bed. Charley turned her head and realized it was a plastic glass which she forgot to take back to the kitchen. She guessed that her mom opened a window at night and now this weird draft was throwing out her things. The girl looked around again trying to find its source, though everything was closed. Scenes from horror movies about cruel phantoms started showing up in Charley's head, then they were replaced with ideas about telekinesis, and in the end — panic. She had to get out of the room as fast as she could and hide, however, her body was paralyzed with fear. She couldn't even move a finger. 'Please, be a dream, be an illusion... — the girl was praying, — I'm not ready to die.' The wind was rising on track as she was worrying.
Charley made herself get together and start thinking.
— There are flying sheets in front of the door, so I can't run to the hall. Okay, if so, I can jump out of the window. The second floor isn't that high. Maybe I'll break a few bones but I'll survive, — she was reasoning out loud, — on three... everything will be okay... get together, calm down, run!
She jumped out of her bed and ran to one of the windows but stopped halfway. Charley realized every move in her room ended. She was breathing heavily trying to understand what had just happened. She understood she was ready to become a cripple while trying to run away from some sheets of paper.
She inhaled three times and stepped away from the window. Her hands were shaking, heart almost jumped out of her breast.
— Calm down, you are dramatizing this situation. Don't. Get together... — she was telling herself shuttering while going to the door, — just get out of the room, close the door and go down. There's the mom, there's the dad, there're pancakes. You love pancakes, don't you? You do. Inhale, exhale. Get out of your room, exhale. Exhale.
As soon as Charley got to the door, the opened it and ran into the hallway.
— Charley, breakfast is served! — mom shouted from the kitchen.
— Yeah, yeah, I... I'm going. One moment!
— You're gonna be late.
— Yeah, I understand... — she whispered. Turned around and went to her bathroom.
"Stupid morning. I think I need to take a break..."
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School hallway was full of people. Everyone had a normal morning, a bit spoiled by boring lessons. No one of them was on the verge of panic hysterics an hour ago. It seemed like everything in their lives was going monotonous, without any supernatural stuff. Stability is great, anything else doesn't really matter.
Charley was pushing through a big noisy crowd. During her first school days, she was suffering from a headache caused by this amount of sounds. Once the girl ran into a guy. No one got injured, though it was awkward. 'Luckily, he didn't have any drink or food. Else, I'd have to search for new clothes ASAP.' – she thought. Time flew, the noise stopped distracting her. More precisely, she learned how to ignore it.
Nevertheless, the way through the hall still wasn't the easiest task. If Charley walked alone, she fully concentrated on the road. It became easier if she had a friend by her side – they could split attention. Now she had to deal with it by herself. Although, she did great. The girl handled the task automatically which was a bit surprising, with her characteristic awkwardness she would already have bumped into someone.
Someone called out her name. Charley turned and saw approaching Jay. The dialog was predictable. The friend would ask how many lessons Char had, become upset about the fact that their timetables were different, and the girls couldn't hang out after school, then she'd suggest meeting another day. Plus, she most likely wouldn't forget to highlight all her problems and after that she'd be relieved and finally go away.
While Charley was thinking about this scenario, Jay had already approached her. Faint beautiful scent enveloped her earlier than the friend came for a hug. It worked like a sedative. For a few seconds, the morning nightmare blurred and Zen came. However, almost at the next moment Charley noticed her hands were shaking. She tried to calm it down but nothing worked. If Jay let her go this moment, she would have noticed it. Luckily, she didn't hurry to step back, instead, she hugged her tighter. Charley mentally thanked the Universe for that because she had no desire to talk about the recent events. She understood if she said even a word about them, she would have a mental breakdown. Her mascara and powder would roll down her face with tears, and the makeup would be ruined. Hypersensitivity has always been a part of her. A few moments later Jay stepped back and announced quick news flash of her problems.
When the girls said their goodbyes Charley whimpered quietly. She didn't really want to be friends with this 'walking depression'. They used to be good friends, though then Jay started treating Char as her personal psychologist. In the end, she became a live handkerchief. 'Of course, friendship is important but friends tell each other not only about their troubles. I mean, everyone has at least something good in their lives, haven't they?' — the girl was reasoning. Unfortunately, it wasn't the only one occasion. Maybe if Charley knew how to say 'no' she wouldn't have such problems, however, she didn't have the right skill, so she had to endure.
It's hard to say she was a looser, she was not one. She was a good student with friends ('normal' ones and 'whipping' ones). Yes, the girl wasn't a local celebrity but, in general, nothing was bad.
Charley opened her locker, forgetting about the mess there. Not surprisingly, everything fell off. School floor wasn't the cleanest place on earth but books were new, so the girl didn't want to dirty them.
— No! — she squealed and reached out to catch them. Charley already started thinking how to clean pages from mud. She squatted and saw that the books hadn't touched the floor. They were floating an inch from the ground.
— Oh my God! It's impossible... — she whispered and grabbed them, — thanks, — she added, not referring to anyone.
A bell drowned the crowd, however, not for a long time. Loud clattering, sounds of closing lockers and falling rubbish filled the hallway with the annoying noise. 'May I, at least, study without any incidents?' — she prayed mentally and headed to a needed classroom.
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School hallway was full of people. Everyone had a normal morning, a bit spoiled by boring lessons. No one of them was on the verge of panic hysterics an hour ago. It seemed like everything in their lives was going monotonous, without any supernatural stuff. Stability is great, anything else doesn't really matter.
Charley was pushing through a big noisy crowd. During her first school days, she was suffering from a headache caused by this amount of sounds. Once the girl ran into a guy. No one got injured, though it was awkward. 'Luckily, he didn't have any drink or food. Else, I'd have to search for new clothes ASAP.' – she thought. Time flew, the noise stopped distracting her. More precisely, she learned how to ignore it.
Nevertheless, the way through the hall still wasn't the easiest task. If Charley walked alone, she fully concentrated on the road. It became easier if she had a friend by her side – they could split attention. Now she had to deal with it by herself. Although, she did great. The girl handled the task automatically which was a bit surprising, with her characteristic awkwardness she would already have bumped into someone.
Someone called out her name. Charley turned and saw approaching Jay. The dialog was predictable. The friend would ask how many lessons Char had, become upset about the fact that their timetables were different, and the girls couldn't hang out after school, then she'd suggest meeting another day. Plus, she most likely wouldn't forget to highlight all her problems and after that, she'd be relieved and finally go away.
While Charley was thinking about this scenario, Jay had already approached her. Faint beautiful scent enveloped her earlier than the friend came for a hug. It worked like a sedative. For a few seconds, the morning nightmare blurred and Zen came. However, almost at the next moment, Charley noticed her hands were shaking. She tried to calm it down but nothing worked. If Jay let her go this moment, she would have noticed it. Luckily, she didn't hurry to step back, instead, she hugged her tighter. Charley mentally thanked the Universe for that because she had no desire to talk about the recent events. She understood if she said even a word about them, she would have a mental breakdown. Her mascara and powder would roll down her face with tears, and the makeup would be ruined. Hypersensitivity has always been a part of her. A few moments later Jay stepped back and announced quick news flash of her problems.
When the girls said their goodbyes Charley whimpered quietly. She didn't really want to be friends with this 'walking depression'. They used to be good friends, though then Jay started treating Char as her personal psychologist. In the end, she became a live handkerchief. 'Of course, friendship is important but friends tell each other not only about their troubles. I mean, everyone has at least something good in their lives, haven't they?' — the girl was reasoning. Unfortunately, it wasn't the only one occasion. Maybe if Charley knew how to say 'no' she wouldn't have such problems, however, she didn't have the right skill, so she had to endure.
It's hard to say she was a looser, she was not one. She was a good student with friends ('normal' ones and 'whipping' ones). Yes, the girl wasn't a local celebrity but, in general, nothing was bad.
Charley opened her locker, forgetting about the mess there. Not surprisingly, everything fell off. School floor wasn't the cleanest place on earth but books were new, so the girl didn't want to dirty them.
— No! — she squealed and reached out to catch them. Charley already started thinking how to clean pages from mud. She squatted and saw that the books hadn't touched the floor. They were floating an inch from the ground.
— Oh my God! It's impossible... — she whispered and grabbed them, — thanks, — she added, not referring to anyone.
A bell drowned the crowd, however, not for a long time. Loud clattering, sounds of closing lockers and falling rubbish filled the hallway with the annoying noise. 'May I, at least, study without any incidents?' — she prayed mentally and headed to a needed classroom.
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After lessons the school building got empty, however, its backyard looked like the filled Wembley area, though much smaller. There were a few teams on a stadium, each of them had its own business. Students with musical instruments like violin, flute, ukulele were chilling on a lawn.
Charley was walking, trying to avoid bumping into running children, flying balls, laying teens, and hurrying parents. Someone tapped her on the shoulder and called out her name. She turned around to see Douglas, local jerk. He was only interested in computer games and football. Nevertheless, Charley didn't know anyone who would be more friendly. Seemed like this guy was always positive. He went to the school as a celebration, went back home as a party. During a day he joked a lot making everyone laugh. Charley wasn't the exception. Usually, her classmates' humor was black, and at these moments she preferred to keep quiet. Douglas managed to joke around without insulting anyone.
They became friends last year. Even hung out with each other a couple of times. There were gossips they were dating but in reality, everything was completely another way. It all started form copying homework. Douglas wasn't the best student and Charley did pretty well, so she didn't mind sharing her work. This time the guy made sure he'd get everything done by the evening. Charley confirmed it and he ran back to the stadium. The girl knew how important every second of the game was for him.
Near the school parking, she noticed Kat walking back and forth. Char wanted to scare her friend, so she slowed down and started slowly sneaking behind. The idea could work if a shadow didn't betray the girl. At the last moment, Kat turned and looked at Charley like she wanted to kill her. The next second one tried to make a serious face but failed. Friends burst out laughing. Kat — at the childish personality of the other, Charley — at the seriousness of her friend.
Kathrine was going to political sections, learning the Constitution, studying different social experiments, and writing down her ideas about ruling the country. At first glance, the girls were opposites of each other, however, they managed to find common ground and become good friends. Of course, they had some disagreements, though they had never got offended. Initially, they were walking in school together because none of them could find someone to hang out with. None of them wanted to be alone, so the girls started sitting and going between classrooms together. That's how they got attached to each other and then became friends.
They hugged while walking to a black Acura. Kat wasn't a really emotional person, however, she used many epithets, so her speeches were long. As soon as they hopped into the car Mrs. Elmers — Kat's mom — drove out from the parking and turned into a chestnut alley. The friends lived on the same street, so their moms picked them up in turn. Everyone was satisfied.
Mrs. Elmers loved music and talking, there was never quiet in her car. Either something was playing or someone was speaking non-stop.
— So, how was ur day?
The girls didn't want to talk about lessons (especially if they were boring) and they just brushed it off. Mrs. Elmers understood she couldn't get any more information from them and decided to take charge of the moment. She thought for a few seconds, then started talking about her childhood. Kat's mom was a great storyteller, so it was a great pleasure to listen to her. One thing that was wrong was the steering wheel because the woman let it go sometimes to show others a few details of her tale.
Finally, they saw a small house with two floors and a beautiful yard. A blue Mercedes was parked near the entrance. It meant that Mrs. Water — Charles's mom — was home.
The girl waited till the car stopped, jumped out of it. Kate waved goodbye and the car drove away.
Charley went to the front door. She stopped two steps away from it and turned around watching black Acura disappearing in the horizon. For some reason, she thought that everything was going too normal for this day. A red leaf from the nearest maple fell next to her. She remembered how they planted it with her new dad.
...it was Sunday morning, mom's Birthday. Dad went somewhere earlier but came back a few hours later with a seedling. Char was sitting with the birthday girl in the kitchen when they heard the front door opening.
— I decided that we need one more family member! — dad shouted from the entrance.
Little Charley thought he was talking about a puppy or a kitten, turned out, it was a maple. At first, she was upset, however, Grant — the foster father — calmed her down.
— Trees are also living creatures. They need care as well as animal do, — he stated.
— Will it grow up? — asked the little girl.
— Of course, it will! Let's make this maple the symbol of our family. It will grow and proceed, so will we.
Charley clapped and cheered. These words inspired her even if she didn't completely understand what they meant. She couldn't believe 'pieces of wood' could grow. Nevertheless, when Grant offered to plant it togetherness the entrance, no one refused. Char took the lead. She went upstairs and came back in a blink of an eye wearing her jeans overalls with the word 'Garden' on a chest, put her straw hat on and ran outside. Mom and dad looked over, smiled and followed their daughter.
Charley twitched, taking herself out of her thoughts and pulled out the keys. She found a locker by feel and put a key into it. It usually got stuck, so everyone had to get used to it and found a way to deal with it.
— Oh, come on! — the girl whispered leaning on the door. Finally, it opened. — I'm home! — she shouted and closed it behind her.
— Hi! — her mom greeted walking to her. She was wearing a home robe, sleepers, and an apron. — I'm baking coo…
She hasn't finished her phrase — a strong boost pushed her to the nearest wall. A bright flame appeared from the corner. Charley hadn't realized what was going on before the flame approached her. The girl's skin was burning, blood was almost boiling inside, seemed like she was being fried.
Black stains started appearing in front of her eyes, the body stopped obeying, mind went blank. 'No... not now...' — was Charley's last thought.
She fell down next to the front door. By some miracle, a huge ball made of air flows occurred around her. It didn't let any smoke or fire in. The girl lied like this until firefighters arrived. They put her outside where doctors could pick her up and drive to a hospital.
One desk lamp was shining in Dr. Bannett's office. It was windy outside, a window was open, drapes were flying. The middle-aged man with glasses came to it and stared out.
— Today's windier than yesterday. Something's wrong. Be alert.
A nurse, that was standing next to a wall, nodded and walked out of the room. The doctor frowned and looked at the sky pensively. 'Is everything actually starting now?' — thought he.
The sharper a turn, the more radical a change
A large world map was hanging on a wall, managing console with many buttons was placed under it. Processors were honking, some screens were showing a level of files downloading. Holograms popped up time in every galaxy, most important planets and cities. The room was huge and contained many devices, machines, and so on. Projections needed some place as well, otherwise, you couldn't see what they showed.
For the last few years, Gray was spending here almost every day. Before him, it was captain Shet's responsibility. In fact, everything that he had to do was monitoring whether or human behavior changes, anomalies, and news. It was known that 17 years ago new Zodiac, Aquarius, was born. In normal times no one would work this hard to find him, however, sometimes chaos that can turn into a destroying power and break the Balance knocks at your door. Now, it was no other opportunity to avoid it, except for uniting Zodiacs all together and combining their powers.
Gray was sitting in front of the map and reading the latest news on a hologram. Monotonous humming from technology was making him bored and wanting to fall asleep. That's why he always had a thermos with hot coffee. Red dots were scattered across the whole planet lighted up what meant that the process of Aquarius searching was going. Suddenly they all started fading and then went out.
— Hey, what the hell are you doing?! — the guy straightened in his chair and looked at the map closely.
He wanted to start diagnostic, however, before he could open settings, one of the dots near London began blinking and computer voice said:
— Aquarius is found.
Gray looked up at the screen, whispered:
— It can't be real…
Stars were shining outside, every hospital room had no light. Charley slowly opened her eyes and tried to focus her vision. 'Damn, where am I?' She felt something on her face, tried to brush it off, though didn't succeed. She decided to get rid of it, however, as soon as she moved it she felt a little shot near an elbow. The girl inhaled and closed her eyes from the pain. She wanted to comment on the situation out loud but the thing on her face didn't let her do it. 'Please, do not be what I think it is, don't be what I think it is...' — she prayed while releasing her hand from something strange.
Something fell down. The girl's eyes had already got used to darkness and she could distinguish a thing that looked like a drip. 'Oh no... not this...'. She raised an arm to her face, felt an oxygen mask, pulled it off sharply and exhaled.
— It's unreal... — she said quietly. — it's not real, it can't be happening. It's just a dream, I'm sleeping, I have to wake up. It's not me! — she was on the verge of screaming.
Clattering came from the door. In the next second a couple of paramedics rushed into her room. One of them started picking the drip off the floor and the second one walked to the girl taking a syringe out of his pocket.
— Shh, calm down, you are going to sleep now. You had a hard day, you need to rest. Everything's fine, everything's fine, — he was saying while giving her a sedative.
— Where're... my... mom... and... dad? — she asked breathing heavily. — I... have to... see... them…
— No, you don't have to do anything. Just close your eyes.
The serum in the syringe went over. However, it didn't kick in.
— I remember... — Charley messed up her hair, — it happened.. I came into my house, my mom greeted me, then fire, heat, smash, crash... she was screaming, she was in pain... — the girl was breathless, she coughed. — I can't accept it.
The expected calm didn't come, instead, she was getting more and more energy. The nurses looked at each other surprisingly. Anyone of them didn't expect that the sedative wouldn't work. It usually worked very fast, there were no exceptions.
— It can't be happening... not with me... — the patient turned to the paramedics. — punch me! I'm dreaming, I need to wake up. Things like this don't exist in my life!
— We are really sorry, but you are not dreaming. We gave you a sedative, it'll help to fall asleep.
Charley looked at them like they were insane.
— Do you really think that I can sleep right now? You think I won't dream about the fire and my family? In our dreams, we see things which will never happen in reality. And when we wake up we want to scream from hopelessness. We want to go back into our dreams but we can't make a dream come back even one more time. So, you think that's what I need right now? To realize this impossibly huge divide between me and my parents?
— Keep it to yourself. The last thing I wanna do now is to talk to someone.
The paramedics had no idea what else they could do for Charley, so they decided to leave her alone. She messed up her hair again, wiped her tears. She tried to get distracted and started examining medical machines which were staying around her. 'I highly doubt I needed a drip or extra sours of oxygen.'
— No, I have to say goodbye, — with these words Charley stood up, walked to the door and got out of the room. A brightly floodlit long hallway was right in front of her. There were no people, no sounds.
The girl tried pulling a few doorknobs. They were locked. She made more attempts to open the other ones, though didn't succeed. After every failure, she began moving faster and faster. By the time she got to the thirteenth door Charley looked like a madman — she got hysterical, was crying, yelling, asking God for help. In the end, she came up with a more simple (as she thought) way. She stepped back, then ran right to the door. At the moment of collision, everything vanished.
Someone was shaking Charley's arm and calling her surname. The voice was coming from everywhere but words were hard to understand. The girl assumed that her ears were filled with cotton, so she had to strain to hear who was speaking — a man or a female.
Charley slowly opened her eyes, stared at a human. For some reason she didn't like him, however, she couldn't find any reason for it.
— Who are you? — slipped from her tongue.
— I'm Dr. Bannett, the local Chief doctor. Glad to see that you are feeling better. Nurses said you dropped the drip and stopped the bronchial spray. It's quite strange, isn't it?
The girl didn't understand what he was talking about. She didn't remember if something had fallen. Decided to think about it later, she asked how long had she been staying in the hospital. The answer didn't make her wait a long time, though was pretty surprising.
— A bit less than a week and mostly you've been sleeping.
— Damn... — Charley wiped her face and wrinkled. — and where are my parents?
The man, who was sitting next to her, kept quiet. He looked at her sadly.
She stared him right in the face waiting for him to start talking. Nothing happened. The doctor just looked away. The atmosphere in the room got heated. The girl was pissed that her question, the most important question, was ignored.
— Doctor Bannett! Do you even hear me?
— Doctor Bannett! — she pulled his arm.
— I'm... really sorry, but we couldn't help them.
Charley was doused with freezing-cold ice water. She wasn't ready for such news. Of course, she was guessing but 'guessing' and 'reality' are two completely different things. That's why she was struggling with nightmares and a few days ago almost fought with the nurses in the throes of fear that her parents were dead. Actually, all her family was now gone. Despite Bannett's words, a part of Charley's consciousness continued denying the stated fact. It was kind of an amputation — a piece of a body was already cut off, though the brain was still thinking it was in place.
Dr. Bannett knew keeping quiet was the best thing he could do. He and Charley had been sitting next to each other for a while. However, the girl had no skill of holding her tears back, so the man had to leave her alone and let her cry. She wanted to let her them out but could only afford the luxury of anger when nobody was around. Especially, strangers.
— If you need anything, just push the red button near your bed. A doctor of duty will come as soon as possible. — Bannett reminded the patient before leaving the room.
She nodded in return. After the door closed Charley buried her face in a pillow and cried. She wanted to howl, repent, break her fists, tear her skin. She was ready for everything to make the heartache go away.
— Why isn't life like a movie where you are just playing someone's role on set and then go back to your habitual lifestyle? Where somebody is watching you from another side of a screen, supporting and knowing that in the end everything definitely will be alright. At least, he or she can just scroll bad moments. Why it doesn't exist in reality?
Charley was clenching her teeth, biting the pillow — she didn't want anyone to hear her cry. Nails were digging into hands leaving thin but deep marks. Tears made her vision blurry, it was hard to inhale and exhale.
— I'm begging rewind time! I got it, I understood everything! Why can't I have another script? Why?!
It's been almost one hour before she fell asleep. Though even in her sleep, she continued sobbing quietly.
The silence was broken by Gray's screams. He was running to every room of the spaceship trying to find the captain to tell him the latest news. He looked like an overgrown five-year-old boy.
— You know I don't like noise, — Shet appeared from another door. His hair was messy, eyes squinted. Seemed like he had just woken up. — If you were yelling because you found one more very funny joke, — he showed quotation marks, — and wanted to share it, you...
— You're wrong, I have something cooler! Try again?
Gray inhaled disappointedly. The sleepy captain wasn't the best interlocutor ever. He was grumpy, didn't get any humor, found a hundred reasons to berate the guy.
— Aquarius if found!
After hearing these words, Shet to the Geo-room very fast. By the time Gray arrived there, he was already printing the latest London news, a map of the city, and its satellite photo.
— Just hard to believe. We've been searching for so long... you definitely bring good luck.
— Yeah, sure, — Gray looked at the captain unbelieving. — but what's now? Just go to Earth and take my Zodiac?
The question was left without an answer. Shet was busy reading an article about the recent fire near London, and the family that was harmed. While he was sailing through the text the feeling that something was wrong was haunting him. Accidents could happen, though this time something wasn't right.
Shet inhaled and looked at Gray. He still couldn't believe everything was real. It always happens with waiting — while you're dreaming of something, nothing happens, however, it all comes true when you're completely not ready for it. Though Gray was extremely happy about their success.
While the captain was furrowing, the guy was almost shining form joy. He thought things would go as planned now. According to his logic, they needed to get Aquarius to the spaceship and then transfer her to the training center. That's all. After living with Shet for seventeen years Sagittarius was sure the world was simple. The captain never let him go out by himself and was there for him almost every second. Nevertheless, now Shet looked tense.
— Why do you always search for a catch?
— You won't believe me, that's what I ask myself, — muttered he, examining the printed sheets closely. — so, are you ready to learn something new?
— Of course! — the guy was living embodiment of curiosity. He had been trying to peek in the pile of paper in the interlocutor's hands. Looked like if he didn't know what was written there, he would die. Years ago the captain tried combating Gray's hyperactivity, however, everything was in vain.
Once Hans told him that Gray had a really mobile nervous system. That's why he might sometimes lose self-control. If the guy was a normal human, sedatives could help or, at least, they could lock him. As far as Sagittarius was the Guard of Aquarius and one of the most powerful creatures in the Universe at the same time, nothing could stop him. Drugs didn't kick in because his organism overcame them too fast, and medical geniuses hadn't invented any formula which could calm the guy down.
With one sudden move, he took the papers out of the captain's hands and began reading. It was noticeable that the article got his attention. Gray's facial expressions were changing throughout the whole text. It went from a sad one to a happy or worrying one. Shet was watching Sag's pupils, so he learned that one paragraph had to be reread a few times. Finished with the familiarization, Sag returned the sheets back.
His lips were pinched, right hand's fingers were rubbing the left wrist. Usually, he did it while thinking tensely. For a few minutes, the room became completely quiet, apart from the electronic buzzing. Finally, Shet came up with an idea. Everything was very simple, Gray just had to become friends with Aquarius.
— Well, she won't go anywhere with a stranger even if he claims he came to save her. Plus, people usually trust someone they know. It's necessary to tell her the truth about us. Though you may be sent somewhere far away, so it's necessary to build trust.
Grayson thought it was one of the easiest things of all time. He had never had any problems with communicating with others. He didn't take into account that his only friends were Zodiacs and Guards who couldn't ignore each other.
— Alright! I want to get the mission done as soon as possible.
The guy couldn't wait to meet the human who they had been searching for a very long time.
A silent clap broke the monotony of the buzzing and Gray disappeared. Shet was left alone. For the next few minutes, he stood in front of the big map looking at the oceans and mainlands. Then he turned and walked to the door. Relief filled him but at the same time, he felt empty inside. The Aquarius searching had been the mission of his latest years but now, when the Zodiac is found, it didn't exist anymore. However, Shet still had a very important goal — get everyone together at the training center.
The captain was walking down a hallway staring at Astro bodies surrounding his spaceship. 'Smart' panorama windows didn't glow in the dark or reflect anything. They were bought a few years ago when Gray and Shet were traveling in the neighboring galaxy.
— And what if I want to use it as a mirror? — asked Gray.
— Change your mind! — replied the seller.
The dealer didn't lie. Watching the space through these windows was a great pleasure. The captain has never regretted this purchase. He loved cosmos.
A wall clock showed four in the morning when a tall guy appeared in the middle of the room. He took a look at the place and calculated how much time he had. Charley was sleeping on her bed sobbing. She faced a wall, so Gray couldn't see her face.
— Nice to meet you...
He came to the bed quietly and now was inches away from the girl when she turned and open her eyes. A few moments they were staring at each other without any words. Then the silence was broken.
— Hi, I'm Gray.
His sentence wasn't followed by any answer. However, he could hear how she started breathing rapidly.
— And you're Charley, right?
The girl nodded, barely noticeable. She was trying to figure out who and why was standing next to her at this time.
— I know, it may sound weird but...
She stopped him with a gesture and sat in the bed. Gray was confused.
— You know my name, my location, but how? Why? And who, in the world, are you?
Sagittarius rolled his eyes and clenched his jaw. He had no desire to explain everything right now. At first, the story was a bit out of place, secondly, was too lazy to do it. In all actuality, the story with all the details would take much time, and the boy didn't plan to stay there for a while.
— My explanation is too boring. Trust me, you will fall asleep faster than I finish even the first sentence. A rare absolutely lame stuff.
— No worries. I'm full of energy, plus, I have more than all the time in the universe. So, you can talk.
'She got an attitude...' — stated Gray. He hasn't decided if it was good or bad. However, it didn't frighten him and he continued believing they would find a common language.
Charley stared him right in the face waiting for the explanation. In the meantime, Gray was trying to find a way to change the subject. Seemed like his silence was too long, so the girl coughed emphatically. It was Shet's favorite gesture, hinting that the boy had forgotten something again. Suddenly he remembered, the best protection is an attack. For some reason, Gray thought it was appropriate. Not a surprise, he was extremely disappointed when it hadn't worked out.
— Well, you have to wait until I decide that you're able to know the truth.
Charley raised her eyebrows. She didn't know if she needed to laugh or something else. Such audacity was new.
— Excuse me, who do you think you are to decide for me?! — she got ornery. Sagittarius thanked the universe she didn't have anything near her. Otherwise, something would bump into him.
— Okay, sorry, it sounded bad but you need to trust me. If I'm not mistaken, very soon your life will become better. Just believe me.
— I'm pretty sure you are my dream and I'm sleeping now. So, keep going, I'm curious what my sick brain's gonna come up with.
Grayson thought for a little. An idea popped up in his head.
— Okay, look.
He wasn't totally sure if he was doing the right thing. However, there was no deviation. It didn't occur to him that his firepower was totally out of place, taking into account the recent event in Aquarius's life. The boy came to the opposite wall and got into a shooting position, let himself use a weapon, and put all the energy into his hands. In the next second, he held a big archery. It was appearing from nowhere, lighting up from the downside to the top. The sight was spectacular, though very short. Charley was admiring it until she understood how dangerous it was. The guy was aiming for her.
Breath was taken away. The girl snuggled into the pillow, got her claws into the blanket. Eyes were fixed on the weapon. She thought if she looked at it, it wouldn't shoot. Unfortunately, it was beyond her control. Gray aimed near her shoulder, so an arrow wouldn't hit the Aquarius. However, it would scare her. He shut his conscience down and came off the bowstring. The next things happened in slow-motion.
The arrow came out and flew to the girl, leaving a quickly fading fire tale behind it. She was shaking. Automatically she raised hands protecting herself. Right at the same time a wall made of wind flows appeared in front of her. They were going up to the ceiling and disappearing a few inches away from it. The arrow faded as soon as it bumped into them. The wall vanished. Gray was watching, captivated, as the Aquarius Power was demonstrated in action. Then he looked at Zodiac. She was hugging her knees and sitting leaning on the pillow. Her body was shaking. Sagittarius tried to call her by the name, though she didn't hear him.
Finally, after a while, Charley managed to calm down and catch a breathe back.
— Go away.
No one dared to bicker.
She heard a quiet clap and the guy disappeared in the air. 'I'm losing my mind. I need help'
Suddenly the door opened. Dr. Bannett rushed into the room, a worrying expression was glued on his face. He quickly checked everything out and made sure the girl was alone. She really wanted to avoid extra questions. Sadly, her wish wasn't meant to come true.
— Who were you talking to?
Charley knew, no one would believe her if she said the truth. The doctor will probably decide that she was crazy. So, lying was the best solution.
— Just thinking out loud. Nothing much.
Many friends of her were doing it. That's why she was sure it was normal. 'Who has the right to give an indication of normality?'
— Is everything alright?
Charley had zero clues why he asked the most unpleasant question. It was obvious for everyone that everything was completely not alright. How could it be? As expected, she got emotional and burst into tears. So many times she had to lie that things were good. Seemingly she could get used to it. Apparently, there are things that you can never adjust to. Problems 'before' were a doddle. Too bad she understood it too late. Now it became unbearable evident.
Charley was crying and hitting the bed. She was screaming scolding herself. Seed like the girl lost any feelings of pain. Abusing herself over and over again, she could end up badly.
Dr. Bannett nodded and a nurse gave her a sedative. it was quite hard because the patient had a hysteria, so veins were almost impossible to be found. Hoping for luck, the orderly stuck a needle in her arm. She shook, mumbled something, knocked her mattress two m0re times and fell down. She didn't want to fight the drug because she needed sleep.
Doctors looked at each other. A big relief could be read in their eyes. They had been working for many years, though they've never had such a tumultuous patient. Everybody understood she could get the necessary help only in a special place. Usually, teenagers weren't sent there, however, there's always a place for exceptions.
Dr. Bannett turned around and went out. Nurses followed him. Every one of them hoped he could get an opportunity to sleep.
The Captain Shet was sitting in an armchair listening to Gray's story about the hospital. The only words that were popping up in his head were 'fabulous dumb ass'. Of course, he wasn't waiting for something normal from Gray, however, he had never seen such idiocy before. Things that Charley saw and had to handle a few hours ago could make her suffer from delirium, become more vulnerable for the enemies. The first Progenitor -- Alarea -- made the system to help her children finding each other. Thousands of years Guards had been finding Zodiacs and vice versa. Almost never happened that one of them believed the other from the first minute, someone also had to explain, prove but no one had never done the same deed as Gray. Shet had no idea if he had to comment on it or not. Everything was much simpler when they only had to search for Aquarius.
Suddenly Captain noticed that the room become quiet. He looked up and realized Gray wasn't speaking, instead, he was waiting for a response. Shet was standing moody next to a window with his hands in front of his chest. He understood what was needed from him, however, he had zero clues how to fix everything. 'Time reverse is the best what we can come up with! How sad, it's not in our power! — he thought. — Okay, if it happened, then, there have to be consequences which we can fix. All the things that we get through aren't fatal and have to have solutions. They just need to be found...' Captain started digging in his memory trying to find something that could be useful. 'Really, no one had messed up before?’
Gray inhaled and sit in his armchair. He knew, he screwed up much, now, they had to do something with it. In all actuality, he realized how big his mistake was during the first few minutes in Charley's room. Unfortunately, it was too late to retreat.
— On the other hand, why do I even care, if someone up there has already decided and planned everything for us? I can be a wood brick which just goes with the flow. Things happen the way they need to happen, we can't change anything, — Gray tried to philosophize.
— Yeah, of course, but there is no need to be a wood brick! Nevertheless, in your case, it doesn't matter anymore.
— Hey, I'm not 18 yet, you can't joke like this!
Captain raised his eyebrows expressively and smiled. Gray's unexpected episodes of consciousness could only provoke laughter.
— I was insinuating about your intellect. Though, what am I talking about...
It was silent. The partners just stared out of the window. Each of them had his own things on his mind. However, they all were about Aquarius. Soon Shet walked away, leaving Guard alone to think about the ways to fix his mistake. Now, the guy was all alone.
He felt weird, something from the inside... impotence? His head was pulsing but there was no anxiety, there was nothing. The boy understood, what happened to Charley could be rectified only by some miracle which never took place in his life. He pursed lips and clenched fists. He has never felt the way he did at this moment. Too stupid, too naive, too confident, too narcissistic, too pathetic, too dumb, too himself. It wasn't the first time in his life when something went wrong but exactly this time it hurt him the most. One of the most important missions was failed. It was only his fault. He stood up, walked to a wall and punched it as hard as he could. The skin peeled off.
— I hate myself! I hate this day! I hate, I hate! — he screamed into the void. Grayson had no one to talk to, no one to understand him. The only one who was next to him was Shet. However, it was foolish to wait for support from him. He could only tease and this was it.
Charley was quietly sleeping in the room. Her breath was calm under the sedative. Dawn started outside. The morning fog was all over the city and made an illusion that the world was behind a matte glass. The 'hospital' silence filled the room. The clock was ticking, machines were humming, the patient was breathing. No screams, laughs, loud sounds, it all wasn't allowed here. Charley was facing the window, however, rays of sunshine didn't bother her sleep because the fog was too thick. Suddenly she moved and squalled.
Char turned and opened her eyes. People were fighting around her. Fireballs, hurricanes in all shapes and sizes were passing by, giant waves appeared out of nowhere and fell on the ground at the next moment. Earth was cracking, making cliffs and holes. Purple spheres were flying around the field at great speed. Her head was exploding from the screams and noise.
— Charley, behind!
She had heard this voice before, though she had no clue from where. She quickly turned around and raised her hands to the level of her breast. Palms got cold, a strong boost followed the freezing. It was similar to the boost when you shoot. In the next second, a few wind streams appeared out of nowhere and flew to a human with a purple sphere in his hands. They were intertwining and accelerating with every second. They approached the man and pushed him for a couple meters. Charley heard another voice. It was powerful, with notes of contempt.
— Look who came! It is Charley! I bet 50$ she doesn't know how to hold a weapon at all! I can't understand when all this audacity is coming from. Everybody barely knows you, you've spent a few weeks with your real family but you're already steaming into the hell. Let me tell you something. You are no one, less than a zero, an empty space! Do you even understand how weak you are? They took your parents, normal life, everything away. Grayson became a straw that you are holding trying to save yourself from drowning. — a girl with a purple flame was coming to Charley.
She looked unreal — washed-out hair, extremely pale skin, light-grey eyes, lips were hard to spot. If she was clear, she could be a ghost. However, despite her appearance, her voice was strong and loud.
— Don't listen to her! She's lying and you kno... — Gray was standing by Charley's side. He was covered in dirt, hair was mattered, one hand was holding the other one. Seemed like it could be a fracture.
— Shut up! I'm done with you! — a purple substance flew into the boy. It passed by as fast as a comet. In the next second, it approached the target and Grayson started falling apart. His head, shoulders, body, everything was turning into ashes.
— No! — screamed Charley, though her protest couldn't change anything.
She looked down to see a long arrow that was stuck in her solar plexus. A cough. Blood. Faint.
A loud cough broke the silence of the hospital room. White sheets painted red, the patient was thrashing around in her bed trying to inhale. She made an attempt to call for help but could only wheeze. Luckily, duty doctor heard her.
— Help in 313! — he yelled while opening the door.
The man saw Charley and began calming her down. Assistants arrived. A couple of nurses put the girl on a gurney, fastened seat belts and wheeled to the hallway. Sometimes she could recognize lights on the ceiling, hear doctors shouting, but mostly there was darkness in front of her eyes.
Nurses shifter her on the operating table, put her on a ventilator. A surgeon got ready. Orderlies were standing around to help at any moment. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Nobody knew what had happened so they had to be as careful as possible to not make everything worse.
Suddenly a monitor started beeping slower.
— Shock in four! — commanded the Chief Surgeon.
Two nurses charged defibrillator to 4000 volts. Charley's body shook and went limp. At this moment she took a deep breath and sit on the table. Her skin was translucent, she felt weightless. The girl looked around and found herself lying out cold.
— What the hell? — rhetorical question. The line on the heart monitor was almost straight.
'I'm... d... dying?' — went through her head. Such an idea seemed preposterous. People don't usually realize that the end comes. 'It can't be happening, it doesn't work like this...' — Charley was assuring herself. However, nobody could hear her, see her, she didn't exist for the the people standing around. There was a shell on the table but it had no life in it.
— Come on, fight... — a voice rang in Charley's head.
She tried to keep calm, although it was very hard. She had no idea what to do in such situations because usually, people don't face this kind of difficulties, so there were no instructions. The girl tried to influence the situation and made an attempt to combine with her body but when she touched it, she got electrocuted. By this time the line on the heart monitor had only two zigzags.
Charley was cheering herself up, persuading of the availability of forces to survive. Support was necessary, though the only one who could provide it was she.
— Try again. Concentrate, — the voice rang again. The timbre was familiar, very familiar but the brain denied to give a precise memory.
— I'm trying, trying! — the girl yelled standing in front of her own body and looking at it helpless.
— The rule of the double CD: Calm Down, Concentrate, Do, — the voice again.
It was calm, peaceful. Charley didn't know if it was her thought or something else. Anyway, she decided to listen to the advice. She repeated the words one more time, like a mantra, and imagined herself wearing a sundress in a big meadow. Hight stalks of wheat grew around her, butterflies were flying. The sun was shining bright making the girl squint. A breeze blew in her face, waved hair, her sundress's hem. She could hear her heart beating, blood running. The only word that was floating in her head was 'life'.
— I'm calm, — said Charley quietly.
The picture changed. Now, she was standing on the Golden Gate bridge. Cars were driving past her at high speed, some of them were using horns. She heard someone screaming, turned to the sound, looked around but didn't see anyone. A shrill squeal. Looking down, she saw herself, hanging above the channel trying her hardest to not fall down. The Charley's copy was begging for help.
Aquarius looked at the water, then at herself again. Assessed the second Charley's powers, weight, possibilities to keep holding, the first one lied down on the bridge and reached out. She was trying to hold on to the ground, so she won't fall with her copy. Finding her fingers, she started searching for the forearm. Finally making it to the convenient place to grab, Charley squeezed 'herself' and pulled. Seemed like the grip could slacken at any moment, though the business wasn't finished yet. She clenched her teeth, stretched, stuck in the ground and concentrated on the very moment. Closed her eyes and pulled while rolling over, so the 'falling' Charley got to her chest.
— Omg, thank you...
The Charley-saver only nodded, she couldn't speak. 'I'm concentrated'.
Right at this moment, the noise from the bridge disappeared and the girl heard the doctors' voices, machines' buzzing. She was in the O.R.
— Do it! — she said strongly.
Imagined how all of her energy goes into the right arm, an invisible shield protects every one of her fingers, so they couldn't get electrocuted, Charley reached out and touched her body. She felt some electric shock, however, it wasn't that intense.
'Just do it', — she repeated and touched herself again. This time the arm slipped through the skin without any discharge. The girl inhaled and crowded onto the operating table, sat on herself, exhaled, so there was no air in the lungs, and lied. At that moment Char felt her weight, and how gravitation was pulling her down. The line on the monitor stopped being straight, its beeping started breaking the silence more often.
The doctors exhaled, the surgeon made the last suture and took his gloves off. Nurses put Charley on a gurney and rolled her to the room.
— Do you know what happened? Nobody said anything... — someone asked.
— I'm not actually sure but I heard she had a cross-cutting hole in her left lung. She didn't have this problem when she just got here. The throat burn and breathing issues — yeah but not the wound. Probably, the doctors missed it. Actually, the situation is so weird...
— Really weird.
Dr. Bannett was sitting at the desk. A big pile of papers lied in front of him. He had to fill the blanks by the next day. The man looked at his watches to see it was almost two in the morning. Rubbed his brow, took off glasses, closed his eyes, pressed the button to call an assistant and asked to bring him a cup of coffee. He hadn't slept for 3 days in a row, so his organism started getting tired.
Suddenly he heard a quiet clap, and a tall man in a tuxedo with slicked hair appeared. Bannett raised his head to look at the guest who was standing in the middle of the room. Seemed like the man wasn't very happy about his location because right in the next second he started resenting why his colleague called him this late.
— You know, people invented these cool things — cell phones. I can give you directions how to use them. I do have things to do except for coming here every damn time you call me.
Finally, Bannett had an opportunity to get a word. With steel voice, he brought to the interlocutor's mind that he knows how to use cell phones, and then cut to the chase explaining the reason why Ibson was called.
— Oh, by the way, I'm in awe of your presence here. However, who asks me... — he added as a return.
After finding out about the detection of Aquarius, Dr. Ibson only raised his eyebrow suspiciously
— What a stupid attempt to make up after our recent scandal.
Two men couldn't learn how to communicate normally for a few years. They always argued and fought even tho they always buried the hatchet. Their friends were surprised how they stayed alive thus far.
Nevertheless, the process of reconciliation had often been delayed. So it was now, Ibson didn't miss a chance to belittle Bannett. If it wasn't about Aquarius, one of them would already try to vaporize the other one. However, it was impossible now because the number of Azons (the followers of Kotra) was smaller than the number of Alars, and death of one from their ranks would exacerbate the already not the best situation.
Dr. Bannett rolled his eyes, sit down, pulled a file from a drawer and handed it to the guest. He grabbed it unbelieving looking on the patient records written on the cover. After quickly examining them he moved to the analyses of the content.
— She's a special girl, no doubts.
Ibson changed his snarky face to the serious one and gave directions what to do next.
— Whoa, you are such a big boss! — said Dean of Medicine sarcastically.
— Whoa, you are so cute when you are angry!
This comment hurt Bannett's feelings. The last thing he wanted to be is to be cute for Ibson, though he couldn't do anything with that because they were working in the same team, so everyone had to endure.
After negotiating about everything two men shook hands. Something clapped and Ibson disappeared.
Bannett came back to his desk, looked around and exhaled. 'Dude, you are playing with the time again...'. He snapped his fingers and the wall clock started moving again. A young woman came into the room and placed a cup of coffee with a small bar of chocolate in front of the doctor.
The man thanked the assistant, she smiled and asked her boss to not stay up late. Even tho he understood this was a simple etiquette, it was wonderful to feel someone else's care. Thus he didn't feel lonely.
Charley woke up in her room. Sunlight was coming through the window, cars were making noise outside. She rubbed her eyes and turned around. She wanted to stand up but tubes didn't let her do that. The girl hardly moved them away, cursing the pointless medicine in her head. All of these extra things only interfered with her movements, bringing absolutely no help. Couldn't have seen anything interesting, she stood up and walked to the window. Car traffic, a constant flow of people — common city life. Everyone was hurrying, driving, or just roaming around. The circulation never stopped, took pauses, slowed down. The world goes round and round, it doesn't care about you, it just does what it needs and wants.
Charley smiled and remembered herself walking these streets after one of the school excursions. Once she went to Starbucks with her friends. They took coffee with a croissant or a muffin away. The girls had one hour to enjoy the city life. Char always loved going to London. Of course, it was cool and comfy to live in Cobham — a relative safety, fresh air, friends near you, everything was landscaped, nice neighbors, however, a suburb will always be a suburb. There weren't many places to go, the road to the city took about a couple of hours, streets were empty because everybody preferred sitting home or in their yards, the same faces, almost nothing interesting had ever happened there. As long as teens didn't have many places to hang out, Charley forgot about her dislike of boring school excursions and never missed a chance to go beyond Cobham.
A sound of the opening door snapped her back to reality. A woman who was in her early 50th came in. She rolled a cart full of food in front of her. Charley turned away from the window and looked at the guest in displeasure — she wanted to be alone, without any extra people. The woman made sure she was in the right room, and after the girl nodded in approval she cheered. Seemed to Charley like she even straightened supposing she met someone special.
The nurse said hello one more time and announced the breakfast time.
— Excuse me, but you are hungry, right?
At this moment, Char realized she was actually starving. Especially after the memories of the coffee and croissants.
— In fact, yes, I am.
With these words, the girl came back to the bed to get her meal. The nurse smiled and placed a tray in front of the patient.
— You are a kind of a local legend... survived through the fire but felt normal on the very next day. Even turned off the I.V. on your own. And yesterday night, out of a blue, you got a hole in the lung...
Charley stopped listening. Flashbacks about her parents, and the understanding they were not here anymore hit her. A tear rolled down the cheek, she wiped it, clenched her jaw to hold a cry back. She wanted to yell at the nurse to make her shut up or leave but education stopped her. That's why Aquarius only put her head down to hide the eyes and delved into her thoughts. After a few minutes, the guest finished telling the patient about her own life and walked away.
The girl returned to the window and began watching the outside life that was going a few meters below her room. Soon she returned to the bed and lied down looking at the ceiling. She hoped the reality was just a dream. Aquarius hadn't realized the whole situation yet, the end of the calm, normal life seemed unreal. The only will was to stop all the madness that was going around. However, she understood sooner or later she had to leave the hospital and come back to the school, Cobham... but will they be the same school and the same Cobham? The same Cobham with no parents, the same school with no mother to take her home? The same home with no people to talk to? To laugh with? However, the house was burnt down, so where shall she live? Charley couldn't go to her first father — he was in another country and didn't really want to see her.
Aquarius's mom — Mary — was Russian. She used to work in an international corporation and moved on the career ladder fast. The biological dad was her coworker, however, he couldn't boast the same success. Nevertheless, they started dating and got married soon. At one moment, the father began being jealous of his wife, that caused scandals. The galling thing was an offer to go to the UK but Mary had to do it alone. Choosing between the career and a family, she had opted for the first one. The couple divorced in a few weeks, and the woman went to London. It wasn't much time before he met Ian — the second father. Everyone could see the growing belly and it was close to the maternity leave. Though, Ian and Mary started their relationship.
The girl was born in a couple of months. After sitting home for a few weeks, the woman came back to the job. Ian often babysat Charley which was nice of him, and the mom couldn't resist getting engaged again. This marriage was much happier. The parents didn't argue, raised the baby together, hung out almost every weekend. It was an ordinary Cobham family — good manners, successful career, a beautiful house. Many people could be jealous. Unfortunately, the happiness didn't last long. The fire ruined everything.
Charley adored her mom. She wanted to be like her, have a cool life as she had, work at the same corporation. 'Oh, mommy, where are you?'
She turned around, sit up staring at the food. A porridge, a bread, a butter, tea, and an apple, as usual, nothing new. She took the plate with oatmeal. Charley was starving, so the situation had to be fixed.
The nurse left the room and swallowed. The guilty conscience of the kind human. She was forced to put a weird powder in the patient's food and now, her heart was shaking. Also, the woman wanted to know why her boss asked her to do it. He had been working for 25 years and had never hurt anyone but this time he decided to change his principles. Near the main ladder, she picked out her phone and called Dr. Bannett. At first, she could only hear long dial tones. Then the caller answered.
— I gave her the powder, — reported she.
— Perfect! You really helped, and I promise to award you at the end of the month, — thanked the chief and hang up.
The nurse continued delivering breakfasts.
Smart windows began darkening as soon as the sun rays started showing up. Grayson turned to the wall and tapped on the bed. Right at the same moment shatters closed all the windows in his room. However, in the next second, they moved away.
— Not a really needed man on the board, good morning, — a female voice sounded from dynamics that were placed in every space shift's room.
Being half-awake Gray moaned something inarticulate, however, it was easy to understand what he meant in the inflection.
— I'm not really fascinated about your presence here as well, useless extra cargo, — assured the smart assistant.
Nevertheless, they both had to deal with each other.
Before Grayson appeared on the board Shet traveled alone. He was only human, therefore a social being. At one moment, he decided to have someone (or something) to communicate with. He didn't want to take an animal because it was a heavy responsibility, however, artificial intelligence seemed to be a great alternative. Soon, the captain launched the smart assistant which could distinguish tones of voice, had fast access to any information, helped in controlling the ship, had emotions, and its own point of view. Decided that the computer needed a name, Shet called him 'Moma'. Still, nobody could understand why.
Moma was on good terms with the creator and obeyed him without objections. However, it almost hated Gray. Over the past seventeen years, the guy had already got used to computer's antics and began ignoring them or answering in the same tone.
This morning wasn't special.
— Oh my... what do you want?
— The captain asked to take out the trash, so I decided to start with you.
Sagittarius moaned while standing up. According to his own opinion, the worst thing that someone could ever do is to wake up a peacefully sleeping man. Stood up from the bed, he put on a jumper and messed up his hair.
— Alright, where shall I go?
— Sillyhead, use your head.
Grayson gave up and headed to the captain's quarters, suggested that Shet was there. Moma reaffirmed his guess, also, didn't forget to call him names. The guy wasn't in the right mood, so he invoked kindness and termed the helper as a sweetheart. Moma wasn't really happy about that.
— You're riling me up!
— It's so nice when feeling's mutual, — smirked Grayson and turned left to the ladder that led to the captain's room.
Climbing the steps, he was thinking about every time when he failed something, wondering for what he could get punished now. The Aquarius mess was already talked about, getting to the subject again had no sense.
On the top of the ladder, the guy walked down a small hallway before turning right. A white door with a lock code. He knocked and called Shet. 'It's ridiculous to lock a door when you're waiting for guests. It's only me here! What's the point?’
The door opened letting Grayson see a big room with a control panel, armchairs standing in front of one of the panorama windows, and a ficus in a pot. In addition, there was a table top with a kettle and cookies.
The captain who was looking at the outside space turned to the guest. He seemed worried.
Gray glanced at him suspiciously. Usually, people look like this before saying something bad. 'What could I fail that hard?' Couldn't remember anything, the guy calmed down a little, however, he was still nervous. Shet breathed heavily and coughed. Sag was staring at him waiting for his words but the only sound in the room was coming from the panel.
— Alright, what happened? — Grayson broke the silence.
He couldn't understand Captain's mood, so he wasn't sure if any words were needed.
— You know where Charley is?
— Aquarius, — corrected the guy and nodded. — Yeah, I do.
— We know her name, so be nice and use it. Got it?
Grayson nodded again. It was clear now that Shet was on the verge. 'Apparently, something really bad' — thought Sag. Usually, he tried his best to avoid conversations when an interlocutor was out of sorts. However, this time there was no place to hide.
Shet put his hands behind his back and interlocked fingers. Inhaled like he was getting braveness before telling terrible news. Gray was trying his hardest to predict what he was about to say. Unfortunately, none of his hunches was correct.
The captain let out only three words which sounded like a verdict.
— This's a loss.
Sag began guessing why and started thinking out loud.
— Seems like Charley is in the hospital, nothing threatens her life, doctors help her...
On the last point, he got stuck. Then it hit him — she didn't need assistance to heal. Gray rubbed his wrist and looked at the floor. He didn't want to ask the question that was bothering him. He was scared of the answer and sometimes you better not know something than feel bad later. However, he made up his mind.
— That means...
— Yes, — Shet didn't let Grayson finish by interrupting him with the cold response. Sag messed up his hair and facepalmed.
— Holy shit!
— I may not watch my mouth now, — parried the guy.
It completely displeased the captain. Gray had never seen him like this. Over the past few years, Shet scolded the partner many times, however, he never went further than a couple of cocky phrases. Now, he was furious. During a few minutes of his angry monologue, the man mentioned every defect of Sag, even though he didn't have as many as other people on Earth.
The guy stared at Shet in shock. A little later he realized it was the most shocking situation in his life. In that minute he was just sitting not trying to respond. Two years ago he could start a fight and make everything worse. When Gray was fifteen he did lots of stupid weird stuff, so now he was surprised why Captain didn't throw him in the outer space and fly away alone.
Finally, Sagittarius decided to fix the situation.
— Okay, calm down. I'm not perfect, I'll never be one. Even Zodiacs have many flaws. Plus, we don't have all the time in the world to waste it like this. Arguing won't get us anywhere. It's such idiocy! The big danger is around the corner and it's not even extermination of Earth or other crap that people down there like talking about. It's the total chaos. Actually, you already know it.
The guy hung his head on his hands and bit a lip. The time was treacherously running out. The villain was constantly distancing Alars from their goal. They had to do something, but what? That was the main question. 'We must be planning right now, at this moment, but... how? I don't know. Shet is on edge, I can't handle it alone. We need help, but from whom? Damn, nobody knows! Azons are hidden from Hans and Captain, their actions stay shady and secret. God, I just hate this morning!' — sulked he.
— You are right, we cannot give up, — Shet sort of calmed down. At least, it looked like this from the outside. The captain looked on the passing asteroids and comets.
— I give you two hours to come up with a further action plan. Turn on your brain on maximum.
Shet snapped his fingers and the door opened. Sagittarius stood up and walked away in silence. He didn't look at the interlocutor — didn't want to see him. The guy was mad at the Captain, himself, circumstances, idiotic war, lack of knowledge — he was just mad. If the Management Branch wasn't protected from the Zodiacs and Guards' powers, half of the ship wouldn't exist long. It would be destroyed. 'Remember the rule of the double CD: calm down, concentrate, do', — Grayson reminded himself and ran down the steps. Going back to the living quarters, he was analyzing his meeting with Aquarius and thinking how to make things right. The solution will be elementary and obvious, however, before you come to this clearness and obviousness you have to get through stages of complexity and stupor. Everything simple is achieved by difficulties — it is axiomatic, you can't argue with this.
A window in the office was half opened, a wind blew curtains. Doctor Bannett was sitting in an armchair near the windowsill with a cigarette. Smoke immediately flew to the street but the tobacco smell didn't go anywhere. It became a part of this man's life — wherever he went, it always followed. The scent of the powder calmed him down. It was one of a few left things that could provide him pleasure. Bannett made one more puff, exhaled the smoke, repeated again.
Suddenly someone knocked. The doctor raised his head and let the stranger come in.
The door opened, Doctor Sword — a forty years old man in glasses, dressed in a business suit with a black portfolio — was standing on the threshold. His hair was styled, boots shined, an expensive watch graced his wrist.
The guest said hello and introduced himself. He almost started talking about his practice, though Bannett interrupted him.
— I'll be brief. We have a patient Charley Water. She survived through a fire, lost her family, in all actuality, not the happiest life ever... I need you to discuss something with her...
— Of course, but aren't you interested in my experience?
— Not really. My information is all I need. Now, listen why you are here... — Bannett began describing the problem.
Soon Sword nodded and walked away. He had one hour to talk to the girl and return to the Chief doctor's office. When he finally left, Bannett rolled his eyes, picked up a new cigarette.
— Why is it so important for people to talk?
Charley was looking at lines on her palms. She was always curious about chiromancy. Plus, in hospital — where she had only machines and strangers — there was nothing to do except for analyzing herself. She had no will to talk to old friends because they reminded her about the serene life which probably wouldn't come back. She hadn't noticed anything special before stumbling onto the lifeline that ended too early. Something flinched inside but Charley tried to reassure herself it only meant a strong change. 'Although taking into account all the recent circumstances, it won't take me long to actually die...'
She heard a knock and a cough from the hallway. The patient turned in the bed and looked at the door. Usually, doctors didn't bother to ask for permission to come in. Most likely, it was someone else. Without raising her head, she asked,
— May I come in?
She didn't expect that though quickly accepted him. The doorknob turned and Doctor Sword appeared. He checked her name and extended a hand.
— I'm Doctor Sword, nice to meet you!
— Same! I'm Charley, — she smiled and shook it.
— I came to shoot the breeze. You don't mind?
This wording surprised her even more than the request of the permission to enter. Evidently, she was bad at hiding her emotions, as the guest added at once that it was his work. There wasn't an opportunity to prove it, indeed earlier Charley had never been at the psychologist. At first, she was gladdened by the opportunity to talk, but to following instant she understood what she had to discuss that she did not want to do it. The girl was already on the verge, and this doctor simply would push her downwards by his talking. Sword smiled encouragingly:
— Don't worry, I'm not going to discuss the disaster with you. I'm not some asshole or anything.
Charley smiled. He seemed to see her thoughts, bowevet, in fact, he did. Being a professional in his field, he could read people well. No slight change of mood or non-verbal gestures or intentions of the interlocutors couldn't hide from Sword. Each person was an open book for him, in which there were no more secrets.
'But if you're not going to discuss the fire with me, what are you doing here?' — the patient thought. The man answered her mental question:
— Do you mind if we talk about your hallucinations?
Charley began to wonder if it was asked out loud.
She started collecting all the strange events in her head. The story needs a beginning, and it needs to be found. Having thought a little, she realized the first time it 'snapped' on the day of the disaster. The girl was about to start talking but hesitated at the last moment. She knew her words were like ravings of a madman and the likelihood that the other person would believe her was reduced to zero. And again, the answer to her mental question came:
— I'm not a psychiatrist, I'm a psychologist. These are two different professions. Whatever you say, I won't think you're crazy and I won't put you in a nuthouse. I believe any problem has a solution that does not require drastic measures.
— Believe me, my story will be the exception, confirming the rule.
— It won't.
— It will, — smiled Charlie.
— I don't believe you. Convince me of the correctness, — Sword challenged.
The girl tried to suppress a laugh but it did not happen. She laughed and could barely squeeze out:
— I wouldn't believe myself as well! At least, if someone has once shared something like this with me, I'd have immediately offered the poor man to be checked for the presence of drugs in the body.
The doctor was adamant, so she sighed and shook her head:
— Okay, you asked for it...
Chat told the guest about all the strange things that had happened to her in the recent days. Telling, she couldn't stop. Sometimes she wanted to shut her mouth up and not to utter any more sound but for some reason that did not work. In general, the girl herself understood she was talking like a distraught, though the interlocutor listened very carefully, didn't interrupt, didn't ask again.
When the story ended, Sword yapped something and asked the patient for permission to discuss a few questions. 'Well, of course...'— mentally Charley was disappointed. Of course, he didn't believe her. The girl coldly agreed. After all, what else she could expect.
— So, how could you be sure the books were actually floating. Why couldn't it be an optical illusion?
— When I reached out to grab them, my fingers did not touch the floor or any other surface. Nothing stopped me. Do you really think I can't distinguish a floating object from a lying object? Excuse me for the harsh, but...
— No, no, that's not true. Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. Let's just remember that morning... all of the windows were closed, and the air conditioning was off?
Such mistrust hurt Charley.
— I'm aware of the unreality of my words but why would I brazenly lie?
Sword raised his hands as if in surrender:
— People tend to be careless, so that could be the problem.
The patient ran a hand through her hair, removing the fallen strands from her face and cut off:
— It's your business to believe me or not. I will not prove anything to anyone.
Charley wanted to get up and leave, to end this pointless conversation. She thought by telling the truth, she 'bought' a ticket to the nuthouse, and it was one-way. After another moment's thought, she decided not to waste time and become the first man to call herself crazy and needy of medicine. However, the doctor pretended to disagree with her.
— It's not nonsense. You weren't lying.
— I wasn't.
— Well. Everyone has their own truth.
The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. The fact that he thought she was crazy was obvious and clear. In her opinion, the conversation was meaningless and a waste of time. She wanted to talk to someone, but not about the recent events. On a normal day, she would have carefully brought the conversation to a logical conclusion, however, now something had changed.
— I'm tired and in need of sleep. You need to leave.
Sword nodded and pursed his lips. Understanding that the work wasn't done entirely, he was very upset. However, the patient's word was the law. If he didn't want any trouble, he had to obey.
The man stood up, for some reason shook off his pants and stretched out his hand to the girl.
— It was nice talking to you.
Charley shook his hand and slightly smiled. She should have said something like 'Same' or 'Me too', but that would be a lie. She tried to avoid lying, so just decided not to answer. 'Let him understand what he wants, it's none of my business'.
In fact, the patient thought something was wrong. Such frankness was never peculiar to her. Of course, circumstances might have changed her, and she knew it, but still, somewhere deep inside she was anxious. People rarely listen to their inner voice, so she dismissed it as a slight paranoia. Many people will do anything to live a calmer life. Even silence their intuition if they think it's necessary. Such a common and banal mistake. Unfortunately, only some have the courage to get rid of it.
Grayson was walking around his room. He didn't know what to do next, how to explain everything to Charley. His head was spinning with many thoughts, ideas, variants of further development. 'I can lie to her, it's not a problem. To say that her parents got mixed up in something and now the bad guys want to take it out on her. Or do some stuff about a terrorist group. Oh crap! Even a lie would sound more plausible than the reality! What the hell? Why is everything so complicated?!' — Gray kicked the air. He hated what was happening, it was wrong. Azones should not have found Aquarius before, this was not planned.
Besides, there was no one to help him. Hans was sitting in the training center, Shet put everything on the guy and did not even throw ideas. 'How convenient, when someone else solves your problems! Yes, Shet?' He had a lot of questions to people, to the world, but not each of them could be sounded. It's amazing how his head hadn't exploded yet. There was a knock, then he heard Shet calling to his cabin.
— Shit! — howled the guy.
He rolled his eyes and quickly walked towards the exit of the room. Grayson had no normal plan, no practical ideas, no hint of an adequate solution to the problem. Admitting this to the captain was too embarrassing. Letting someone down is one of those things you should never do. Essentially, it equals betrayal — you were trusted with a case and you failed.
If it wasn't for the circumstances, Gray would have found a thousand and one ways to delay his time until the meeting with Shet. However, now he couldn't afford such luxury — when you mess with Azones, every second has a price. Suddenly, Moma's voice rang out.
— I'm doing a full system reboot faster than you're moving your butt to the cabin.
— I always forget who asks for your opinion. Remind me again?
— I don't need anyone to ask me.
— Well, keep it to yourself.
— Pig! — came the offended response.
— And I'm Gray, nice to meet you.
Computer shut up, and the guy grinned. Arguing with Moma was one of his favorite things to do. Often a skirmish ended in nothing and consisted, in principle, of a useless computer messing with Grayson who parried. Sometimes it was exhausting, however, it was always fun to watch Moma running out of arguments.
Turning the corner, he came across the door. 'Of course, he didn't open it again...'
— Shet! I'm here!
He heard heavy footsteps, then a light click, and the Captain appeared in front of Gray. He looked sourly at the assistant and then took a step to the side inviting him to enter.
— Before you say anything, I'm going to ask you not to look at me disapprovingly. I still don't have a plan, but, — the guy lifted his index finger up, — it's not entirely my fault.
The captain scratched his neck and smiled guiltily.
— To be honest, you didn't have to think about it. I wanted peace and tranquility on the board, and you were like... you know, if I didn't give you any brain activity, you would have blown up this ship.
Grayson was shocked. He took a deep breath and was about to make an angry speech when suddenly the captain grabbed him by the earlobe. He seriously looked at his partner in the eye and commanded to calm down. His breathing was hard and hands were clenched into fists. The seriousness in Shet's eyes turned into a reproach. Gray realized any attempt to escape would not be successful.
— I'm calm.
Shet let him go. He came up with this technique of sedation many years ago. Back when Sagittarius was a little boy, however, he had a little more energy than everyone else did. He always floated, accidentally broke something, went to places where he wasn't allowed to go. Shet experimented how to get him to listen, tried every option, but each was useless, except for one. Turned out, Gray's ears were the weakest zone. Any scratch or small wound caused him more pain than he should have had. Thus, the captain came to the conclusion this was the solution. To bring Sag to his senses and return from heaven to earth, he had to somehow affect it on the ears. Following this discovery, the number of troubles had gone down. It was normal to use this method till the guy turned ten, but then — no. Grabbing more or less an adult male by the ears was not cool.
One day, Shet decided to show him to doctors. Flying to the Sagittarius galaxy — a small place in the vast Universe, where all the former carriers of the Guardian and Zodiac powers remain and choose the following candidates — he found a doctor. That day he learned Grayson had an unstable nervous system. Stop words didn't affect him, and the mood could change very often. Unfortunately, the only way to influence him was by the ears. No one knew if Gray's nerves would ever come back to normal. The captain also had to get used to his partner and even stopped looking for lifelong solutions.
Moved a few steps away from Shet to not be caught in any case, the guy sighed irritably. Such treatment grazed him. 'It's like all I do is messing with that asshole!' Grayson was smart enough not to voice this thought, instead, he sarcastically called the captain a genius.
Shet missed the 'compliment' on deaf ears. The partner was no more than an ordinary overgrown boy, only several times stronger and more energetic. Nevertheless, it was senseless to bicker. Approaching the kettle, the man touched it, and the water began warming up. He returned to the chair, gestured to Grayson to sit down opposite to him and began to explain the details of his plan.
Dr. Bannett sat at the desk and waited. The psychologist who had just worked with Charley should have been there any minute. A lot of things depended on it, almost the whole future. At least, the psychologist could help save Bennett's time.
The man drummed his fingers on the table and glanced at his watch. He usually remained calm, however, he was very nervous now. Barely heard steps outside the door, he straightened up, listened. If there were voices coming from the corridor, the doctor tried to identify Sword.
Finally, the secretary announced the visitor.
— Holy heavens! — Bannett signed in relief. Stood up, shook himself, came out from behind the table.
— Hello again! — the psychologist smiled.
— Same here. Have a sit.
The two men sat down in chairs near the window.
Dr. Bannett picked up a cigarette and lit it, staring at the other person. Sword didn't waste even a second. He immediately began the story, going over the details, saying, when the 'bugs' came and what it could be connected with. Most of all, he inclined to the hypothesis poor sleep and heavy load in school, emotional and physical. However, the fact that Charley Water was unwell laid on the surface.
— Her perception of what is going on is interesting. She understands how delusional she is, openly admits it, though still continues to convince people of the truthfulness of her words. This testifies to the possibility of helping her without much difficulty. Early stage psychosis is easier to treat than the advanced cases.
Bannett released a ring of smoke.
— Do you believe her?
Sword nodded. The chief doctor of the hospital could hardly restrain himself not to start smiling. He had a solid image of a wise man, stingy on emotions. It was not always possible to support it, but he tried.
After discussing a payment, treatment, and other professional issues, the doctors said goodbyes. Sword got up, straightened his tie, picked up his briefcase and went to the door when Bannett stopped him:
— Just a minute.
— Yes? — the psychologist turned around.
— Just wanted to thank you again for the hard work.
Sword hesitated and began to disown. He was in a hurry and didn't want to spend time on praises. However, Bannett disagreed with him and continued to shower him with compliments.
— Thank you, I'm glad to know I was helpful.
The psychologist took another step towards the door, but suddenly he heard the Dean of Medicine's voice, though it was more sinister and husky.
— How pity that it was the last case in your life...
— What? — Sword asked anxiously.
He sharply turned and saw the recent companion who stood behind with a grey fire was burning in his hand. An evil grimace was plastered on Bannett's face, eyes were full of rage.
Sword only opened his mouth to ask what it all meant, but before he could say a word, he felt a wild pain. The grey flame slipped from the hands of the chief doctor and flew into the psychologist. A through hole occurred at the point of the impact, and at the same moment, the doctor crumbled to pieces. He was nothing but a pile of ashes.
— Hm, I liked him... — Bannett said sadly and shook hands, — however, I'm instructed not to leave any witnesses.
He sat down at the table and called the secretary to sweep the floor.
The cigarette was almost burnt out, and the doctor threw it away. Took a deep breath, trying to catch the smell of the smoke before it evaporated.
Machines whirred quietly, dropper stood beside the bed again. Charley was laying on her back and looking up at the ceiling. Her mind was in a state of total confusion, pictures of the past over and over arose before her eyes: the face of the mother offering cookies, the father taking her to primary school, Kat with her daily reasonings on policy, Jay with eternal problems. The last one used to annoy her, but Aquarius still missed her.
No visitors for two days. The food was delivered when Charley was asleep. 'Is it on purpose?' — she thought when she found the tray with breakfast, lunch, dinner next to her. Then the patient sat on the bed, put a pillow under her back and began eating.
Before Charley dreamed of peace, time to think, but now, when she got it, it was too much. And if earlier the saddest thing she could think of was a bad grade, now, every thought was darker than the previous one. The girl tried hard to hold on to sweet memories, clung to them, though after each awakening, there were less and less of them. Seemed like they were pumped. She might have guessed, but confidence in the kindness of doctors and the Hippocratic oath blinded her. Even with her intelligence, she couldn't think that the people around her weren't the ones who she thought they were.
She used to believe that about traitors, fair-weather-friends or hypocrites, but never once in Charley's life, she thought that a person might not be a human. Fantastic, this was mundane, however, the reality is not a book, it is not magic. The one who created everything clearly reasoned somewhat differently than a simple man. On the one hand, it was interesting and exciting, on the other — dangerous and unpredictable.
Once at the lesson of the philosophy, Charley and her classmates discussed the structure of the universe. In the end, they came to the conclusion 'the author of everything' wasn't exactly right in the head. Each 'page' had a new turn, which was impossible to predict. These corners were formed into paragraphs and those into chapters. Sometimes they intertwined, forming new stories, as parts of one big book.
So it was now. Lying on her back and looking up at the ceiling, Charley was picking up parts of herself in her head. She went through the memories, again and again, trying to supplement them, to expand, clinging to every moment. Missing something equaled to losing a part of herself. In usual time the girl had a set of options of a choice, this time she had only two — to afford falling into a heavy depression or to fight up till the end, forcing herself to go through every minute in the past.
Once again thinking of the memories, she didn't notice as the door opened. She didn't see her mother standing on the threshold with two nurses behind. Not immediately realizing what had happened, the girl looked at the visitors with staring eyes. She pulled herself together and asked uncertainly:
There was no response. Three people stood still.
— Mom, is that you? But I thought... I mean, they told me that... that you ... died...
Charley sat up on the bed and reached for the drip to pull the syringe out of her hand. She couldn't care less about pain.
— This is she, — stated Mary.
The girl looked at the woman in surprise.
— I don't understand. Explain.
Again, there was no answer. Instead, two orderlies approached her and began to disconnect the wires from the machines.
— What the hell? Mom, what's going on? — Charley was calling out to her family.
Meanwhile, the paramedics were almost done.
— Can you even hear me?! Don't be quiet! — shouted the patient, — don't ignore! It's me! Why, why can't you hear me?!
The nurses were pulling her out of the bed. Charley tried to resist, though everything was in vain: the kidnappers were stronger, plus, there were two of them.
— Let me go! Leave me alone! No!
Suddenly, the girl froze. All the muscles tensed, contracting at the same time. The body seemed to run with the charge, hands clenched into fists. Charley started trembling, her mouth began foaming in a fit of epilepsy. The temperature raised sharply, on her forehead there were drops of sweat. It was impossible to hold the patient and the nurses had to let her go while stepping back. With every second the cramps became stronger. After another push, she abruptly opened her eyes.
A soft gray light came from them. Pupils rolled back, instead, a wind flow, slowly filling all the space appeared. They disappeared, space got on their place. The milky way, the system of stars and planets, galaxies and universes — everything that ever existed in the world reflected in the eyes of Aquarius.
She closed her eyes and slowly got to her feet.
— I said, let me go, — Charley repeated, underlining every word.
Sharply stretching her arms to the sides, she threw the orderlies in different directions, smashed on the nose. The white robe was stained with drops of blood. Once again swinging back at the paramedic, Charley took a few steps back and turned to face the second one. He sat, leaning against the wall evilly staring at the girl.
Catching her eyes, he grinned, jumping to his feet. Charley was breathing heavily. She was never violent, but she knew there was no other opportunity. Heart-rending cried, she fled and crashed into the nurse. From the jolt he hit the wall, however, it did not prevent him from grabbing the attacker and dumping her on the floor.
— Shit! — moaned Charley in pain, — you don't know that girls are untouchable?
He lifted his leg for a kick, but she quickly rolled to the side. As soon as the man's foot hit the floor, Charlie grabbed it and pulled on herself. The orderly fell, and the patient sat on him, striking a few blows to the face. She grabbed his head and hit it on the floor. The opponent lost consciousness. Thinking that now there was only mom left, she got up and went to the door, when suddenly she heard the sound of the tramp of feet.
— Oh no, — she exhaled. Guards were running down the hallway. Almost everyone had a gun on their belts. Charley couldn't have done it alone.
A quiet click sounded next to her and a familiar voice said:
— Need help?
She abruptly turned and opened her mouth in surprise.
The guy cheerfully waved his hand. Charley did not understand the cause of his happy smile because the atmosphere was not very cheerful. On top of that, an evil guard was running behind him. The patient did not have time to open her mouth to warn the newcomer, as he, without ceasing to smile, smashed the enemy with his elbow on the bridge of his nose so that he fell unconscious. Charley opened her eyes wide in surprise. They didn't have much time to stand, staring at each other — enemies were coming from all sides. The girl came to her senses first.
— Get your fire stuff out, it'll come in handy now.
— Not stuff, but a bow, and it's no longer available.
She was terrified. Against adult men with good physical training, she and Gray didn't stand a chance. The Guard's skills would have helped now, but they disappeared somewhere. Apparently, he wasn't much embarrassed.
— I'll explain everything later, — he promised and rushed into the fight.
At this moment, several guards ran into the room.
Twisting the arm of one of the opponents, he struck his head against the wall, turned and pushed into the running men. Several of them fell.
— We have one second of a handicap! Go to the wall, catch them at the entrance! — shouted the guy.
Charley obediently moved and stood near the door jamb. Another guard showed up. Grayson yelled something through the clatter and shouts of the enemy, but it was hard to understand. However, the girl thought it was a sort of call to action.
She grabbed the guest by the neck and sat down sharply, pulling him behind her. Hit on the knee, quickly turned the head of the enemy. He fell, crushing Charley. She struggled with crawling out from under him. Everything got worse when she noticed another guard pointing a gun at her. 'Not today, — thought the girl, and stood on her feet, — too early.'
She faced the man with a gun. It was useless to run somewhere, jump out the window would not have helped, and the fight had to be finished with honor.
— You won't shoot, — she said as calmly as she could, though she was shaking inside.
The guard was panting and evilly looking at her. He only grinned. It was obvious — pulling the trigger was a trifling case for him. All the more, the victim was too easy. Charley believed she wouldn't let her life end that simple. It became clear, the circumstances were extreme and required decisive actions.
— You like me too much! — with these words, she abruptly pulled the gun from his hands and pointed the muzzle at the enemy.
— Nasty muck! — he hissed.
— You're not perfect as well, — Charlie retorted in a poisonous voice.
Adrenaline was pumping. She didn't understand where so much courage, bravery, and audacity came from. The last thing she wanted was to cause someone's harm, but at that moment it seemed like she had no control.
Taking another deep breath, she closed her eyes. Clenching her teeth and digging her nails into the free palm, she pulled the trigger.
A shot rang out. The sound was too loud, too deafening. The guard did not have time to breathe, as his neck formed a small hole from which blood was oozing. There was a terrible crash — the man collapsed to the floor.
Charley opened her eyes. Seeing what had happened, she dropped the gun and it fell down with rumble. Her hands were shaking, she was crying. Moving to the wall, the girl slowly went down on it and dropped her head on the knees. It never occurred to her how she could kill a man. It wasn't what was supposed to happen. The girl wanted to miss, she thought she would shoot past him. Standing in front of the guard, she realized he was wearing a special vest. Not knowing whether it would save the man or not, she took the barrel a little aside so that the bullet had to go past his shoulder without causing heavy damage.
Charley was confident in her abilities. She shot well, a year ago won the competition in rifle shooting. However, she had never held a gun. This time she had to keep the weapon on weight. The girl was prepared for the fact that the bullet would pass by and little scare the guard. She did not expect the mistake of the man's life.
All the sounds mixed into one loud and incomprehensible hum. Howling sirens, the roar of falling objects, crying, shots, shouts of security guards were already almost indistinguishable among themselves. Her eyes were covered with tears, the back hurt from falling to the floor. In the mind of rushing thoughts, feelings lumped together. Suddenly, Charley raised head and saw Gray pointing a gun to the head of her mother.
It was like a slap in the face. She instantly got a grip and jumped to her feet. Approaching them in two leaps, the girl knocked the gun from the guy's hands and stared at him.
— Are you crazy?! It's my mother!
— In fact, just a shell creature!
— You can be wrong!
— I can't.
Charley took a deep breath and looked around. She was searching for the words to convince Grayson not to shoot. The girl pursed her lower lip and bit it. Every second was important because no one knew when the Guard would pick the gun from the floor and pull the trigger. Not finding anything, the patient sighed and said quietly:
— Just ... leave her alone, okay? That's all I'm asking for. Please, — she tried to speak as gently as possible, though she failed. The recent fights and tears made the speech confused and torn.
The guy exhaled annoyed, picked up the gun and rushed into the corridor. She followed him. They had almost the same speed. After a few seconds, the pair flew up the stairs. Skipping a few steps at a time, they quickly appeared on the second floor, and then — on the ground. Along the way, other guards tried to catch them, but Grayson managed to shoot them before they had time to hurt the buddies.
Running through the next corridor, the guys got to the lobby. Suddenly Gray stopped near the water cooler.
— What the hell?! — Charley stared at him in shock.
She didn't understand how he was thinking to slow down to drink. She, herself, was not averse to a sip of something cold, but under other circumstances.
— Are you kidding?
The Guard shook his head.
— I'm not an idiot, but a child of the universe, who takes care of his body, after all, if not me, then who?
This answer only once again confirmed Charley's hypothesis that Gray was unwell on the head.
— I understand what you think, but you can relax, there are no enemies here anymore. We knocked them down.
Charley looked around. Somewhere on the wall, there was a trace of blood, and a guard sat under it. His head lied on his chest, one leg unnaturally bent. Chill ran down girl's skin, inside she was in knots. Char quickly turned away. She wanted to help the poor man but didn't know how. After all, he was already dead.
Grayson was finishing his second glass and looking at the girl. She turned to him and shook her head:
— You should learn to manage your time.
He did not deny his mistake:
— I agree I have some problems with time management, but I promise to fix them. Swear to Shet.
Charley just nodded. She couldn't care less about his promises and Shet. She didn't really want to have something in common with the weirdo.
However, one thing was bothering her.
— Where did you learn to fight like that?
Grayson looked away, thinking.
— You'll find out soon. Be patient.
Seemed that speaking in riddles was the guy's hobby. However, she didn't want to give up so easily.
— It's not the answer. Is it really that hard to say the truth?
— I can't tell you anything. Not yet.
— It's nonsense! You tried to shoot me with the fire stuff.
— Not to shoot, but to scare. And this is called the bow.
— Name a stump! You put me in danger, and now you won't let me know where to learn to stand up for myself so cool?
Grayson was getting annoyed, so he answered the question with a question.
— You want me to spoil your future?
Charley nodded with a look like the guy just invented a bicycle for the second time. It was her life, and she had the right to know what would happen to her. However, Sagittarius was adamant.
— Yes, you are right. However, I don't have the right to make your life boring. Knowing everything sucks. There's nothing worse than losing interest in what's happening to you.
— What delirium!
— Not a delirium.
— You'll understand soon. Well, it's not exactly, though it's very likely.
Charley rolled her eyes. She could not imagine how it was possible to simply 'go with the flow' — she needed to observe events, to feel something. The opponent didn't convince her, and the answer wasn't given as well.
— Just keep in mind that your theories were right.
— What theories?
— You like thinking you are here for something great, don't you? So, deal with the fact that you're Zodiac and the universe has a plan for you.
Grayson took another sip and started running again. It was almost impossible to say that he just won a hard fight. Charley was confused and promised herself to think about it later.
She barely had time to catch up. They ran into the front door and carried it out. Everything seemed to be behind them, but nothing ever was so simple.
Someone's hands grabbed Charley's shoulders, pushed back sharply. The last thing she saw was Grayson standing around with a few orderlies and trying to shoot, but the store ran out of ammo. One of the opponents hit the guy with a stun gun.
— Gray! — she screamed before closing her eyes.
The girl did not see how he disappeared. The injected serum completely disabled her consciousness, and Charley turned into a large human-sized doll.
The smell of chlorine mixed with the smell of medicines. The room was cold, there was no heating.
Charley slowly opened her eyes and coughed. She felt dizzy. Vomit came to her throat. The girl couldn't resist but to bend in half, getting rid of her breakfast.
Wiping her mouth with the hospital shirt sleeve, she straightened. On the tongue, it tasted like morning porridge mixed with something incomprehensible. Anyway, it was disgusting. Charley shuddered and shook her head. A few cervical vertebrae snapped. She brought the shoulder blades together and straightened her back, a crunch was heard.
Relaxed, the girl looked around. She was sitting on a soft chair. In a meter from it, there was a wall. The corridor she was sitting in was poorly lit by several lamps on the ceiling, which caused the darkness. The girl tried to stand up, to walk and to try to understand where she was, but as soon as she made an attempt to get up, several hands pushed her back. Turning on her chair, she saw two orderlies standing beside her. They stared at the opposite wall without blinking. From the side, they seemed to be robots.
— Excuse me... — started Charley, but stopped short. She tried to speak quietly, however, the words sounded too loud. Her voice hit the walls and echoed through the corridor. She shivered and continued. — Excuse me, where am I?
There was no response. Once again, looking around, Char noticed an electronic tablet, which showed four digits: 2308. She did not have time to think about their meaning, as the eight changed to a nine, quietly beeping.
— The patient number twenty-three zero nine, please, come to the office, — a female voice broke the silence.
Two orderlies grabbed Charley by arms and put on feet. They dragged her to a door just to the left on the opposite wall.
— Shit! — Charlie swore, stepping into a puddle of her own vomit on the floor.
The orderlies paid zero attention to her comment. Bare feet of the patient walked on the ice tile, followed by a wet trail. The body ran shivers, hands clenched into fists. The head was a bit dizzy, her right side ached. She felt miserable.
While Charley was thinking about how to warm up, they already got to the door. One nurse pulled the doorknob, and the girl was pushed into an office. A carpet lied on the floor, one wall had a fireplace, in front of it stood two armchairs. A large desk was on the opposite of the entrance, it was littered with some papers. Behind it, there was hung a painting that depicted something abstract. On a normal day Charley would have admired her, but now, thoughts of the girl were very busy with other things.
— Welcome! — there was a male voice coming from somewhere on the left. She turned to the voice and saw a man in a suit who smiled at her, — Leave, — he said to the orderlies, who nodded and withdrew.
A soon as the door closed, the stranger came to Charley and held out his hand:
— Dr. Ibson. Welcome!
— Uh... I'm Charley, — she hesitated, — but I think you know that. Nice to meet you, — the girl smiled stiffly and forced herself to shake the hand of the interlocutor.
— Same here! Come in, — the doctor took a step to the side and nodded towards the armchairs near the fireplace, — I think you're a little cold.
Charley tentatively took a couple of steps to the seats. Two wet footprints were left on the floor. She guilty looked at the man.
— Not worries. There are people who will clean everything up,— he calmed her.
However, Charley could not relax. She sat down in one of the armchairs. The fire warmed her, but at the same time, she wanted to run away from it. Looking at the flames, the girl involuntarily remembered the past events, this caused a nasty shaking. Eyes were dimmed with tears.
— You're safe here, trust me. Want some tea?
— That would be nice, thank you.
Dr. Ibson walked over to the coffee table, which contained a large teapot and a couple of cups on beautiful saucers. He filled them with a fragrant hot drink and handed one of them to the visitor. The tea smelled like cinnamon and grapefruit.
— Tasty, — she said, after a few sips and shivered. It was too hot and scalding. Charley was not allowed eating and drinking anything that wasn't at room temperature. The throat wasn't ready to carry something like that yet. Despite the fact that it quickly healed, the burn with smoke kept reminding about them.
Dr. Ibson stared at the girl. He wondered if she was ready to talk, and how well was her mind.
— So, do you know why you are in this armchair?
Charley looked at him like he was crazy. For her it was obvious — she was brought here by orderlies. However, when she thought a little longer, she realized it was not just about the armchair, the girl shook her head. She didn't even know where she was.
Dr. Ibson recalled that the patient was delivered to him unconsciously.
— I have to tell you everything. The question is do you want to hear it in details or briefly?
Charley didn't really care. Time was in bulk, the fireplace breathed with warm, tea was tasty. She was ready to listen as much as it took. Ibson nodded.
— In general... don't take this the wrong way, but you're in a psychiatric hospital.
The girl choked on the tea, the cup fell from her hands and scalding drink spilled on the body. A thin shirt didn't help. The skin was burning.
— Is this a joke? I know I wasn't an angel, but was I really that bad? — the patient sounded desperate. She couldn't decide what was worse — the hot drink in her body or the asylum she was in. Though she was trying her best to solve two problems in one time.
— No, absolutely not. Just recently you were very restless: talkings with someone, screaming, hysteria. You know, it's not really normal. Besides, in light of the recent events... you know what I mean?
Charley didn't answer. It didn't fit in her head the things that were happening were real. She watched a few movies about psychos, read about them, but could never imagine being crazy herself.
— Are you listening? — she was pulled out of her thoughts by the voice of Dr. Ibson.
After a short pause, she said:
— I'm not a madman, it's a mistake.
— Nobody says you're crazy. We just have good psychologists. Better than anywhere else in the country.
The girl didn't listen to the interlocutor, she stared at the floor. Tears ran down her cheeks, hands gripped her neck, and fingers squeezed the back of it. She took several deep breaths.
— You're really not crazy, nobody said that.
Did the doctor not understand that his words didn't calm anyone, Charley was only getting worse. She felt the emptiness inside. The girl bit her lip to keep herself from saying something unnecessary that could refute her words.
— Charley? Are you here? You are not crazy.
'He's mocking me...'
— You just need a little help. You are not crazy.
Dr. Ibson's next words got mixed up. The patient singled out only one phrase 'You're not crazy.' It kept repeating like a broken record. 'You're not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You are not crazy. You're not crazy...'
Charley put her arms around her head. She covered her ears trying not to hear the annoying words that sounded on the repeat. They had different intonations, volume, duration.
'You're not crazy! You're not crazy... you're not. You. Are. Not. Crazy. You. Not crazy! Are you crazy? You're... not... crazy...'
— Stop! — suddenly, the girl screamed. Her voice was slightly hoarse, apparently, she had a little cold or the hot tea hurt the throat, — I know, I'm normal, and this is important! I'm not some goddamn psycho, okay?! Stop telling me the obvious! From this, my brain is beginning to boil!
As she screamed, Dr. Ibson managed to press the alarm button on his phone, and several orderlies burst into the office. One of them held a straitjacket.
— Shut up! — the first person in said rudely.
She was approached by a couple of men, and they grabbed her by force. Someone twisted her hand behind the back, and the girl had to kneel. She was not screaming, just crying. Her body shuddered with sobs. Someone's hands lifted her up and began to put on the shirt.
— Be careful, okay? This is a very valuable patient, — she heard Dr. Ibson's voice from afar.
In the next moment she was dragged along the carpet, and then — on the cold floor of the corridor.
— Shet, cool plan, nothing to say!
— I didn't say it was perfect.
— Yes, but you persuaded me to follow it!
— I just pointed that it had at least some logic.
— That was a hint.
— That wasn't a hint. Stop looking for hidden meaning where it doesn't exist.
Grayson sat on a bed and pressed a block of ice against his neck. The electric shock was extremely painful, so the guy decided to deal with it first, and then treat the rest of the abrasions and injuries.
— Listen, answer, how did you even come up with the tactic of the open escape?
— Grayson, are you alright? I tell you off, not the other way around!
— God, Shet! Do you realize we've lost her again?!
Sagittarius was very angry and upset. The failure with Aquarius annoyed him till death. If it wasn't for the captain standing by, the room would be on fire by now. After all, Shet was something of an anchor for the guy. If it wasn't him, the ship wouldn't have been here for years.
Shet — the Knowledgeable — starred on Grayson. He was trying to understand whether the younger partner did not realize how crazy he sounded. He either didn't understand or tried anything to blame the captain. Usually, this was not observed for Sagittarius, but everything happens once for the first time.
— You are seventeen, where do such problems with memory come from? Forgot about the Zodiac connection? Until Charley dies, you can't lose sight of her.
— There are Azones, they break the system and break the rules at the click of your fingers!
— Then, don't let them do it.
— Aren't you overestimating me?
The captain didn't reply. Only gave the buddy a look. Gray sighed heavily and pressed the ice block against his neck.
— You know you make it worse, right? Ice is water, and water combined with electricity is not the best thing you can think of. Don't forget that you're super energized.
Gray sharply put down the piece of the ice. He was angry that Shet was always right. Especially if it concerned his condition. However, without the valuable advice of the captain, he would have died a few years ago. Or a decade ago. Of course, he did not often go far from him, and the ship was almost the safest place in the Universe, somehow Sag still managed to hurt himself.
— What am I supposed to do?
— Here, — Shet held out to the victim a dry gauze bandage.
— And now I walk with a collar?
— No, of course, you don't. You can just fire it all up and then cut your neck off.
Grayson rolled his eyes, reluctantly took from the captain the piece of cloth and gently applied it to the burn. The skin pulled a little, and the guy winced.
— Rubbish... — he swore.
Shet sat down on the chair and turned to the window. The stars were shining out there, Earth was turning around its axis, a comet flew somewhere, leaving a trail. The captain looked at the space, imagined its infinity, thought how much of the unknown lurks it has. Someone needed help, someone was the happiest, someone was tired and silently went to bed, someone went on a first date... In the Universe, there were trillions of lives, millions of species, and each of them thought about themselves as of normal ones and the others as of alien intelligence. The captain softly chuckled, picturing some giant half-frog-half-monkey proving to the common man that he looks weird and very unusual. The world was not limited to Earth and its neighboring planets, it was larger in numerous times. Shet himself only saw a small dot in a huge book. He knew how many events had happened and how many were happening per second, and that made him feel small, almost insignificant.
Knowing the history of everything that happened in the Universe gave an understanding of the inevitability of fate. For example, one girl cut her finger with paper while sitting in an office. She did not have time to seal the wound with plaster and got an infection. Had to go to the doctor. In the waiting room, she met a nice young man, and they started dating. Soon, the world got one more legalized love. It's funny how things can work out. Little things make up a huge whole. They are like letters from which words are obtained, from words — sentences, and from sentences — the history of life...
The captain called Grayson without turning away from the window. The guy raised his head and looked at him. He did not see the face of the interlocutor, only the back. Usually, words sound not clear if a speaker is turned, however, Shet was able to speak loud enough that it was heard from everywhere. Although his voice wasn't loud, everything he said was clear. Each letter came clearly to the ears of Sagittarius.
— We need to train Charley before the Moment comes.
— She's in one of the Azons' shelters. It's almost impossible.
— You can create fire from the air, you are almost impossible to be killed, and injuries heal much faster than wounds of other creatures in the Universe. Is there really something 'impossible' for you?
Grayson looked down. Shet did not understand that among all the Supreme creations the Guardians were almost the weakest. On strength they surpassed only the Knowledgeable ones. However, if knowledge was a weapon, the Guardians would be the weakest and the Knowledgeable ones — the most dangerous and powerful in the world. Gray was almost fragile, according to his opinion. All the Guards were older, better trained. Sagittarius on their background looked just like a boy with a gun. Some compared him to a monkey with a grenade. At first he was offended, but eventually stopped reacting. The captain never paid attention to it. He believed that Sag was able to deal with any enemy regardless of the attacker's strength.
— Shet, understand, I... my abilities are limited.
— By Zodiacs and the Progenitors. Yes, they are more powerful, though you don't have to fight them.
— Azones. They are more powerful than children of Alarea!
—That's what they think.
In fact, not only they thought so, it was known to everyone. Except for Shet, again. He stubbornly ignored their power.
Initially, Kotra's children didn't exist. They appeared after the discord between the Sisters-Progenitors. Before that, the Zodiacs were the first puissant beings in the Universe, however, the Azons surpassed them. For a long time it was believed the four elements that made the world — fire, water, air, earth — were almost the most destructive force. However, there is nothing invincible, but time and against it everything is useless.
— Nice. If you don't want to go into a battle again, then try to negotiate with them. Agree?
— I'll be killed while I'm teleporting.
— You're already half dead.
Grayson rolled his eyes and exhaled. He removed the gauze from his neck and put it on the bedside table. Although he had been dreaming of some extraordinary events for the past few years, now he wanted to get back in his chair in front of the huge map of the world. It turned out, thinking you are ready for dangers and be prepared on fact — these are two big differences.
They heard a thump — as if something heavy had struck the metal. Shet rolled his eyes and got up from the chair, slowly went to the door and stated an obvious fact
— We have guests.
Neither of the two partners knew who it was — they weren't expecting anyone.
The captain silently took out the gun and looked out into the corridor. Taking a few steps forward, he heard a rustle. Turned his head to the left, and immediately a bucket of water poured out on him.
— For the...
— Hi, Sheet!
— I'm Shet.
— Shiiiiiiiiiit! — smiled a guy with purple hair standing as a hedgehog.
— Not funny.
Gray stepped in. He came out from behind the wet captain and, satisfied, patted him on the shoulder. The guy was always amused by 'Randy's pranks' — one of the two Gemini. To be the subject of a joke was not very fun, though it was very funny from a side. Grayson and Randy greeted, bumping fists, feet and shoulders.
— Yo, man, are you ready? — Randy jumper in excitement.
Shet backed away because he knew what usually followed this question, so it was better to move as far as possible, as not to accidentally get hit on the head.
Meanwhile, Randy had already managed to jump up and straighten parallel to the floor so that now he was something like a floating board. Grayson had a more difficult task. He had to jump even higher to have time to group and make a somersault on Randy's back until he landed on the floor. No one remembered where their greeting came from, but without it, there wasn't even one meeting of the friends. The implementation was very difficult, however, from the outside it looked really spectacular.
Making a somersault and landing on the ground, Gray grabbed his back, which hadn't healed since the meeting with the Azones. Randy pretended that he felt sorry for Sagittarius, and offered his help. However, sooner than Grayson declined the proposal the twin slapped him between the shoulder blades. Sag was ready to scream but restrained himself.
Randy ignored the compliment. Nevertheless, he actually wanted to help his friend. Knowing that Sagittarius wouldn't understand how the Zodiac medicine works, Gemini told him to move. In response to the surprised look from the boy in which it was clearly read, 'Are you really sick?!' he continued to give instructions — roll as much as possible to use the spine, bend over.
Grayson had no choice, but to obey. Although the attempt was torturing, he decided to take a risk. First, something crunched, then again, and the pain went away as if it wasn't there. Sagittarius looked at Randy in amazement. He nodded proudly with a half-smile.
— Have you graduated from a medical school?
He well learned to 'read' the emotions of the friend, so communication with him was quite simple. Upon hearing the desired question, Randy waved. As expected, he did not graduate from a medical academy but recently discovered the ability to heal others. After some thought, Gemini modestly called himself a Zodiac healer. Grayson only raised his eyebrows and looked at Randy incredulously. He wouldn't have trusted his health to the eternally partying twin, although he was a great help with the back.
Sagittarius remembered that he once gave the friend a t-shirt with the inscription 'Zodiacal Moron'. He thought the thing will be in the garbage, however, all the opposite happened — it took a place on the shelf of Randy's favorite things along with anime merch.
— Yo, peep! — at this moment, the guest unzipped his sports jacket and showed the t-shirt with the Gemini image in anime style and the iconic writing, — you give the best birthday gifts!
Gray just smiled sheepishly. It's a good thing the guy didn't know what kind of fate Sag was coming up with for this thing.
There was a loud screech, and a girl fell on him from the back, knocking the boy to the floor. She hugged him tightly and ruffled his hair. Gray just rolled his eyes and snorted annoyingly. He knew who it was, and he didn't like it at all.
— Wow, is it Charley? — he asked tiredly.
Grayson wearily lowered his head on the floor.
— Sandy, very glad to see you, — said he.
— Me too! So missed, so missed my little bunny!
Grayson as kindly as possible asked her not to call him a bunny. His request was heard but misunderstood. She immediately responded and called him a little bear.
— Oh, a little bear — this is something new! — Randy chuckled and bit his lip.
— Oh, shut up! — the guy shouted at him lying under the girl, — by the way, can I stand up?
Sandy slid off of him and held out her hand, offering help, but Gray just shook his head and got up himself.
Finally, they turned to the captain. He looked at them disapprovingly and angrily. However, due to the spitting water on him, he looked like a wet cat, so instead of calming down, the guys continued having fun. Randy tutted and nodded to Gray. He said something like 'yeah' and lit a small light on his hand. The guy with the crew cut on his head put the palm forward, opened it, and a strong wind flew from his hands. He passed through the small hand-held fire, and the captain fell under a stream of warm air. Soon he was all dried out and started looking more like a man. Nodding in gratitude, Shet turned and walked down the corridor towards the living room. Randy looked at him and wondered where he was going.
— Probably, he's going to choose a menu for the dinner, as it is evening, — assumed Sag.
The guy smiled sadly — Shet's food was a great gift. He cooked normally, but the menu itself did not cause delight.
— Soup, soup, or soup? — the captain's voice rang out.
— What did you expect? It's Shet! In his understanding, 'healthy food is the basis of healthy and long life'. Like, he lives so long just because he doesn't eat junk food and stuff.
— Sandy, I told you we have nothing to do here, — whined Randy and turned to his sister.
She didn't hear him. She was busy looking at Gray's hair. Gemini wanted to offer something to his sister but decided not to distract her from such an interesting occupation.
— Alright, man. I'm going to get some pizza, — notified Randy and left.
Sag realized he was alone with crazy Sandy and scratched his left wrist. He sighted and turned to the girl
— Can you, please, stop touching my hair?
The girl was genuinely surprised. She didn't understand the guy didn't like her back. Gray had to explain to her about the existence of personal space and about the fact that many did not like when it was violated. In response, she became a little upset, called him a bore. However, at the next moment, she perked up and looked the guy in the eye.
— Look, I'm not even Zodiac, we can... you know...
— God, I won't date you! — Gray rolled his eyes and followed Shet.
Sandy looked at him, drew a circle in the air and a boat from the wind appeared. She climbed into it and twisted her forearms. Ar the same moment her 'transport' moved towards the living room. She watched the cosmos while sailing past the panoramic windows and thinking.
Sandy fell in love with Gray two years ago when they first met at the training center. It was the time of the air Zodiacs and their Guardians. There was everyone, except Aquarius. However, her Guardian — Sagittarius — was staying there. Sometimes Sandy was able to work with him in a pair or chat after classes. Of course, it happened rarely because all the days were busy with practice — training forces, martial arts, shooting, endurance. In the end, everyone was so tired that barely crawled to beds. Sometimes, however, guys were given a day of rest, when they amused themselves as best as they could. One day, Grayson took Sandy to a space Fun Park. There was no gravity, there were no restrictions, and slides were on asteroids, allegedly formed from the planet Phaeton. By the way, the Park was named in the name of it. Exactly no one could say whether such an object was ever real, but the legend was liked by many creatures. Besides, Hans said the planet existed, but Shet only laughed at him and asked to stop lying to the 'young generation'.
Sandy sighed, remembering the day that she spent with Gray. Unfortunately, he treated her only as a friend. A good friend, but nothing more. Once the girl saw an article where the author advised to hint about her feelings. It was already the second year since she started doing it, and he seemed to ignore everything.
The girl remembered Sag's question about Charley. 'Who is she? Guard? Aquarius? The heroine of a computer game? Just a random dude?' — she asked herself questions, although she knew that right now she couldn't get an answer.
— Why is it so complicated? —she softly whined, passing by another window, — Space structure is easier than human relationships...
These words obsessively spun in Charley's head, while other people's hands dragged her through the corridors and stairs. She tried to remember the way, but after a hundred and tenth turn she got lost. It seemed like she was under drugs or something because she did not feel anything. Emotions were turned off. Everything was in a fog.
The skin on her feet was peeling in some places, and now the dirt of the corridors mixed with the blood. The wound burned and stung, however, she did not care. Charley was trying her best to keep her mind clean, though she was failing it. Even the awful smell in her nose did not bring her brain to its normal condition. Even if someone pushed her into a volcano, she would not even scream. Physically, the girl was in the moment, mentally, she was far away.
Finally, the medics stopped near a door. It was dark, and Charley couldn't figure out what it was made of. There was a click of a key in a lock, then a rustle. Moonlight shed in the corridor.
— This way, — came a rough male voice.
At the next moment, Charley was literally thrown in a room and the man shut the door with a crash behind her back.
— Wait! Wait! It's not fair! — mumbled she, but her voice only echoed against the walls.
'Freaks...' — she thought to herself, crawling to the door. She knocked, scratched it, fingernails ripped off, screamed as loud as she can, but in reality it came out like something quiet and inarticulate... no one heard, no one was going to help.
Charley's voice trembled:
— Wow... Just amazing... I'm seventeen, my life is broken, I'm trapped in the asylum, my legs ate covered in my own vomit, blood, and dirt. And I killed this man... Stunning... — the girl's eyes were filled with tears. — What a rich and interesting life! Thank you, Universe, I'm very pleased to know that you care about me! I guess I'm your favorite, huh? If you were human, I'd kiss you when I met you, I swear, — Charley sniffed, — May I just have a normal life? Go to the movies, watch TV shows? Eat pizza at sleepovers with friends? I don't even drink or smoke. Can you explain your system of justice?
Finally, the girl blew through. She cried uncontrollably, beat the wall with her fists, squeezed the hair on the back of her head with the remnants of her nails, leaving small bleeding scratches on it. Eventually, she began to choke, as the air in the room was not enough. Charley stubbornly repeated, 'Why?'. She had no idea who she was talking to, but she asked the question without stopping for a second.
Suddenly she swung and gave herself a slap in the face.
— Come to your senses!
There was another blow, now Charley slammed the other cheek.
— What are you, a wuss?
She slapped herself in the face again.
— Shut up!
It worked. The girl started calming down.
It took a few minutes before the sobs stopped, and Charley decided to look around. 'This is something new...' — she thought, looking around the room. There was a window with an elongated windowsill opposite the door. A pillow and folded blanket lied on it. Charley came closer and touched it, turned out, the product was made of wool. She immediately straightened it and threw on her shoulders. Hands trembled from the cold, as indeed the whole body, but with every minute the shaking subsided. Outside she saw a garden with a neat alley, along which grew trees and stood benches. She grinned — a psychiatric hospital looked a little differently in her mind.
After standing still a few moments at the window, Charley took a few steps back and turned around to see the rest of the room. There was a double bed, made with white linen. The back was brown and soft, as was its corpus itself. There were two bedside tables with round lamps. The adjoining wall was painted the color of the bed and the large wardrobe was white. A narrow full-length mirror stood next to it. Charley walked over and looked at herself — a few bruises, white hospital shirt stained with red-brown spots and a couple of holes, and horrifying legs that looked the worst. Hair fell down, was dirty, something stuck in it, so her head looked like a bird's nest. 'Yeah... beauty...' — mentally quipped the girl. Then she realized she was standing on the carpet. The floor was covered with a light beige parquet, and in the center lied a soft white rug. 'Is that actually an asylum?'
She turned and noticed a small chest with drawers. Pulling out one of them, the girl saw neatly folded underwear and pajamas. There were socks and other blankets, shirts, trousers. In the very last box was a sort of sneakers and Crocs. 'Wonderful.'
On the left, she noticed another door. At first, it seemed to her it was a way out, but going inside, she realized she was wrong. Opposite the entrance was a wash basin, and above it — a mirror. A small rack with towels, swimming caps, and flip-flops were hanging near it. A little further was a toilet. The opposite wall had a bath with shower.
— Either the world went crazy, either I'm in Paradise, — Charley thought out loud, but then added, — Something's not right here.
Grayson, Shet, the twins were at the table eating another pizza. Somewhere on the edge lied a pile of empty cardboard boxes with a logo of a company. They chewed and chatted about the events that have happened to them lately.
— So you found Aquarius? — specified Sandy, taking another slice.
The captain nodded. He looked extremely pleased.
— The biblical speed, — she joked.
Gray stepped in. He was hurt by Sandy's reaction and wanted to say something, but Randy intervened, not letting the other's mouth open.
— We are lucky cause we were born together, so nobody had to find one of us.
— Keep in mind that I'm ten minutes older.
— Do you really believe that? No wonder mom said that so as not to upset you.
The girl rolled her eyes and did not answer. Her brother often teased her, and she was absolutely confused about why he was the Zodiac, and she — the Guardian.
— A friendly reminder: it's almost midnight, and you all better go to beds, — sounded the computer voice.
Shet stood up. He had been following the same timetable for decades, so no wonder he left the room soon. Teenagers were left alone.
— Look, there's three of us. Me and Gay...
— ...are guys, but someone else isn't. San, double fun?
The girl made a face of disgust and shivered. When there were no adults around, Randy would flip and start talking nonsense. Sister's words didn't affect him, so any attempts to shut him down had no success. However, she never stopped trying.
— Could you, please, close your mouth?
— I'm eating. It already is.
Grayson realized if they didn't stop, something bad would happen, and he interrupted their dispute at the stage of origin. Remembering how people separated arguing girls in his childhood, Sagittarius raised his hands up:
— I have a lipstick!
Randy reacted immediately.
— Is that your way of saying you are gay?
— No, not in any way.
'Really? — Sandy thought. — They'll make dirty jokes now?'
— Yeah, we will, no doubt! — Randy giggled.
— But we agreed! There must be at least some personal space!
Grayson stared blankly from one to the other. It couldn't reach him in any way, why the topic of conversation had suddenly changed and why the twins began to argue again. The siblings noticed his misunderstanding and looked at each other. They were surprised he wasn't aware of the latest news. Usually, among the Zodiacs, Guards, and Knowledgeable, news spread immediately. Gray, by some miracle, wasn't in the subject. However, the twins didn't mind telling the story first. They liked to talk, and if it was about them, they were generally difficult to calm down.
'Dibs!' — mentally said the girl.
'Stop flirting with him. Think about it — you're nineteen, and he's not even eighteen. This is punishable by law...'
'We don't live on Earth. We do not have such laws.'
'If you explain it to him, then... I don't know... I'll give you a lifetime pass to a beautician, so he can at least sometimes forget that you're an old lady.'
'But cute and smart, admit it!'
Grayson was watching the guys and did not understand why for a minute Sandy was sitting all red, and Randy tried to suppress a laugh. From the side, it looked funny, but at the same time, frightening. The twin, finally, ceased to deter and loudly neighed. After some time, wiping tears that welled up in his eyes, he cleared his throat and began to tell.
— So, surprisingly, it turned out...
However, he did not make it till the end of the sentence because a strong wind hit him, causing the guy's falling with the chair on the floor.
— I said I'll tell him! So...
— Fool! — it came from under the table.
Sandy just waved her hand and looked back at Grayson.
— In general, we have another kind of ability. It may sound trite, but now we can hear each other's thoughts.
— Wow! And how did you find out?
Sandy wanted to answer, though was interrupted. Formed out of nowhere a small hurricane whirled and carried her out from the room.
— Oh no... my turn... — quietly said Randy, picking up his chair and shaking hands. He turned his head slightly towards the exit and shouted, — Mom taught you to respect others!
In the answer came something incomprehensible. Gray was laughing, half bent over. He liked to have fun with the twins because they could never find a common language and often came up with something hilarious. At all, he believed they were the coolest guys among all Zodiacs and Guardians. However, now, Sandy started pushing his buttons, though the exact reason wasn't clear.
Bringing himself to a state that could be called more or less 'ok', Randy sat on the chair and began his story about how he and Sandy discovered a new highlight. It turned out, that the ability was revealed due to the strong stress and experiences of Sandy. Randy did not say what happened but pointed that his sister had a really tough time then.
— When a 'strong' idea appears in one' head, the other one can 'hear' it as well. Plus, the thought blocks out another stuff in mind, so it's impossible to ignore it. You can't use your brain at all, except for focusing on the thing. It's very inconvenient, as a dialogue becomes really difficult to continue. The process is simple, you just need to think about your partner and concentrate on a memory connected with him.
Gray's eyes were shining with interest. In childhood, he wanted to be a telepath, but it didn't happen. His dream came true for another guy. Even though it was sad, the boy was delighted. Randy noticed this and shook his index finger in front of his friend, saying he was too young for this. On top of that, Sagittarius was not included in the main group of Zodiacs. The Guard did not know what the narrator was talking about, so he asked for an explanation.
— Well, you see, air is needed everywhere: the fire without it won't ablaze, it's in the composition of water and there's life in the earth which needs air. Simple!
Grayson chuckled and crossed his arms.
He suddenly wondered what Charley would say to that.
Apparently, the question sounded out loud, because Randy looked at him attentively.
— Did you rename Moma?
— No, why?
— You said something about Charley.
— Oh, it's my Zodiac. You already know that we found her, though you did not know her name.
— And you didn't tell me it?! — Randy was clearly not satisfied with the brevity of Grayson, so he forced him to tell everything in details about the meeting with Charley and what happened then.
— In fact, I think I piss her off... — added he at the end.
Randy chuckled and slapped his friend on the shoulder.
— Well, not only her!
Sagittarius rolled his eyes. The twin smiled smugly. He enjoyed watching others react to his sarcasm. In general, their response was always predictable.
The first few days Charley was almost in complete isolation and silence, without a hint of any unusual sound. On nights she was particularly scared — it seemed like she was there for forever, and she cried and screamed at the ceiling 'Maybe enough?!' She wasn't expecting any changes, but her own voice and tears helped to escape from thinking.
This morning Charley woke up from some noise — the rain was drumming on her window. In the garden, the wind blew leaves of the trees. The sky was covered with huge grey clouds.
Charley blinked and sat slowly on the bed. The hair was tousled, the shirt was wrinkled. She stood up and looked at the door. There was no food tray under it, what meant she woke up before eight am.
There was no clock in her room, so time was determined by some conventional signs — meals, the location of the sun in the sky, the number of people in the garden. Once the patient heard one of the food carriers said the hour. That's how Charley found out breakfast was at eight in the morning.
She started counting the seconds. Her head was constantly spinning numbers. They went up to three thousand six hundred, and then it all started again. The girl pointed hours in the bathroom, on the mirror, toothpaste did the slide, and at the end of the day everything was washed away, so in the morning there was a place for the new lines.
— Here we go... — on the exhale, said the patient, getting out of the bed.
She bent down, straightened, and went to the bathroom, swaying. Char messed up her hair and rubbed the neck from behind. There were fingernail marks. The girl tried to count them, turned out, she managed to make sixty-eight 'notches'. She smiled. Before she told everyone that scarring yourself in any form was a terrible thing, though now she was doing the same. 'So we're back at that, aren't we?'
She walked over to the sink, turned the water on, looked at herself in the mirror, ran fingers over a cheek. Her skin seemed slightly green and very pale. After all, after spending a few days without sunlight and fresh air, the girl's condition worsened. Sadly smiling to herself, she slipped off the nightgown. Took out a small towel for the feet and put it near the shower. She got under the shower and turned the tap. Streams of warm water hit her in the face. Water ran over the hair, her back. Charley stood still, head bowed. She watched as a drop trickled down the walls of the cabin, leaving a barely visible trail. Charley turned her gaze to her left thigh, on its front side was a cluster of moles forming some kind of figure. As a child, she loved connecting them with a pen and often made a right triangle. She liked to think that symbol made her special and protected from dangers. The girl had no idea how right she was. In general, people often think the truth is fiction because sometimes it is above human understanding.
She pressed her forehead to the wall and hit it with her fist. Sighed, ran a hand across the face. Warm water was dripping down the back and hair, it made her sleepy. Suddenly there was a soft thump. Charley quickly closed the faucet and wrapped herself in a towel. Lightly shook her legs to avoid slipping on the floor, ran out of the bathroom. There was a tray of food under the door. 'One... — thought the girl, then stood a short pause and continued, — two'.
The daily countdown has begun.
She took a few steps forward to realize what today was given for breakfast. Seeing a piece of casserole, tea, and a set of chocolate paste with Nutella&Go breadsticks, Charley smiled faintly, turned around and headed back to the bathroom. The numbers kept spinning in her head. They went one after another, on a chain. Whatever the girl did, there was the constant countdown in her head.
She stood in front of the mirror, wiping her hair with a towel and rubbing it. Charley got back to the room, picked up the tray, gently sat down with it on the bed. Getting comfortable, she began eating. The food didn't cause admiration, but in order not to die of hunger, she had to settle for what it was. Every day it got worse and worse. At first, they brought buns, coffee, yogurt, and at the end of the week, everything went to this snack for children, tasteless tea and a rubber piece of casserole.
A strange sound came from the door, and a middle-aged man appeared. He looked around, coughed in his fist, and held a tablet to his eyes. Tapped something in it, looking at Charley.
— Good morning, my name is Dr. Vince, but you can call me Boldo. I'll walk you through the doctors.
The girl said hello to the guest. She wanted to introduce herself but realized that there was no point, no need. Boldo looked over at his companion from head to toe. When he concluded that she looked acceptable, he turned to the door and made a sign with his hand, inviting her to follow him.
Charley didn't budge. She had been in her room for several days and had no idea she could go out. Boldo wasn't confused and calmly told her the instructions. First, the patient had to come to her mind, and then the treatment began. On top of that, he added that 'adventure' had already started and they were late. She was very surprised. Charley was never against spontaneity but now was not comfortable, although in the nuthouse comfort leaves on the most distant plan. However, she managed not to get lost completely and asked Boldo for a couple of minutes to change.
— Okay, you have three minutes.
The girl quickly put the tray on the nightstand and jumped out of the bed. Ran up to the dresser, took out another white shirt and went to the bathroom. She couldn't wait to get out of the room, to talk to someone. One way or another, a human is a social being, he needs to interact with others. Somehow brushed her hair and made herself look more or less normal, the girl looked in the mirror.
— You'll do fine, it's fine. It's just a nuthouse... — she grinned and repeated, — just a nuthouse. Ah yeah, indeed, a usual day.
She winked at herself and went back to Dr. Vince. With a nod making it clear she was ready for anything, she looked him in the eye. Since childhood, Charley loved to look at the 'worlds' there. Their color, patterns, it was just so amazing — everyone had his own. The Boldo's eyes were grey and a little pale. For a moment the patient suggested he was blind, however, she was wrong, the man saw everything perfectly.
He turned around and went out into the corridor, Charley followed. The first thing she noticed was the lack of nurses. The design had changed a bit, or the girl badly remembered it, there was a parquet on the floor, the walls had elegant lamps. Dr. Vince turned almost on every corner, and Charley was surprised he didn't get lost. Finally, they came to a beautiful wood staircase. The girl was sure, a few days ago it was different, nevertheless, now it had brown lacquered steps.
After a few floors, the two turned back into the corridor, passed a few doors and stopped. Boldo knocked, Charley crumpled the edge of her shirt. For some reason, she was nervous, though there wasn't any specific reason for it. Meanwhile, steps were heard on the other side and just a moment later, a young woman in a hospital gown appeared in front of her. She smiled, said hello and invited the visitors to enter. Charley didn't make her wait.
— Sit on the sofa, — gently said the psychologist, turned to Dr. Vince and tapped something in his tablet. Less than a minute later, she approached the patient and sat across from her in a chair, — so, how are you?
A few hours later, Boldo took Charley from another doctor and led somewhere else. It was time for lunch.
— Shall I go to my room?
— To the dining one.
The girl raised her eyebrows. She didn't think there were places like this in the loony bin. Although she generally imagined madhouse a little different, more frightening than it turned out. 'Seems like I'm going to run into some real nuts... wow!' Going down another couple of floors, Boldo and Charley finally saw a large wooden door.
— We're here, — nodded Dr. Vince.
'Lord, help me...'
The guide squeezed her elbow. Charley thought she couldn't get away. Boldo has dramatically quickened the pace, and after half a minute they were close to a door. Dr. Vince pulled the handle and they saw a huge hall with a stone floor and several long massive oak tables. The ceiling was very high, and a few steps led to the dining room itself.
As soon as they crossed the threshold Charley felt someone's hand on her forearm. She turned the head. Some lunatic was holding onto her and whispering something in a strange language. His pupils widened and narrowed, hair was torn in several places. He looked straight at the girl and grimaced. Charley froze with horror. People's actions are unpredictable. In this case, she had to deal with a madman.
There was a strange crack, and the madman fell to her feet. A few techs immediately ran up to him and pulled out. He tried to speak, though electricity prevented him. The girl just stood there, unable to move.
— It happens. Come on, — Boldo snapped her back to reality.
They went down to the hall, and he walked Charley to the nearest empty place. Having seated her, he turned around and went to the table where the doctors and some orderlies were sitting.
The girl looked around. There was a man sitting across from her, trying to do something with his fingers. He had a shaved head, one ear was pierced. On the left from him, a woman was chewing a strand of her hair. Turning to the right, Charley noticed a guy about her age. He sat quietly, staring at the table, and gave the impression of a relatively sane person. If he was pale, he could be mistaken for a statue. The girl cleared her throat and turned to him:
He didn't turn around or answer. He didn't seem to hear her.
— Hi. I'm Charley, a new girl or something. Anyway, I'm new here.
He slightly turned in her direction.
— Twelve squared?
— One hundred forty-four,— hesitantly replied Char. She didn't understand why he asked it.
— The speed of light?
— Uh ... three hundred million?
— Of sound?
— Three hundred and thirty-two meters per second.
— The year of the Great Fire?
— Six hundred and sixty-six.
— I'm Kai.
Charley didn't understand what had happened right away. She was quickly questioned but managed to answer. Not having the slightest idea what it was, she stared at the guy, hoping he would explain the situation.
— You passed the test, — he said as if it was obvious.
'I think he's still crazy...' The girl hoped to talk to someone adequate, though it was unlikely.
Kai realized what Charley was thinking, and hurried to explain. There were many people in the asylum who had problems with their minds. He assumed the girl was one of them. To confirm or refute his hypothesis, he gave her a test on different topics. Thus, he pointed out he was relatively adequate. Charley wanted to ask something but he interrupted.
— Where did you get this from? What's that? — he opened his eyes and looked at her hand.
— What are you talking about?
She followed the direction of his gaze and realized what he was talking about. On the forearm, in the place in which she was grabbed at the entrance by the madman, showed the letters. It seemed like they were burned on the skin. Charley swallowed and looked closely.
— Run away. Quickly, — quietly read Kai. — I can't say I disagree.
He bent down, tore a piece of cloth from the bottom of his shirt and bandaged the girl's arm, adding:
— They mustn't see this.
Charley sheepishly thanked him
— Well, sorry for asking, but what are you doing here? You don't seem like having any problems. At least, they are hidden.
— Long story short, I'm from a wealthy family. My father died earlier than expected, and as it turned out, most of the inheritance was left to me as the oldest. Obviously, the other relatives were not happy about it, however, they had a couple of options on how to fix the situation. Well, I was a minor, they were my legal guardians, so they decided to take advantage of it. It's a good thing they were not so evil as to kill me, but putting me in a madhouse by announcing me crazy was an option.
Charley's eyes widened.
— Money is such trash! People lose what makes them human — humanity. And all because of the pathetic pieces of paper, worth a few pounds, and a couple of bricks stacked in a house. Yes, the majority of Homo-sapiens have sunk to selling nature, dividing it by some relative of the border, and then starting measuring contests. Actually, that's how we live, that's how we die. Soon we'll all have to go up there, I'm not an exception. On my grave, if I'm lucky, the grass will grow, and if I'm really lucky, even flowers will bloom. The predictable plot.
Charley listened to Kai without interrupting. This fifteen-year-old boy thought wider than many adults. He seemed wiser than others. If the girl did not see his face, she'd think she was talking to an old man. Apparently, her thoughts were reflected on the face, as Kai pointed:
— Age is just a number. Usually, it doesn't determine your maturity. A man is nothing more than a collection of biological processes, and appearance is simply a reflection of the quality of their work. The way of thinking does not depend on them, nor on the other, nor on the third.
They were silent for a while. Charley was shocked by his mind — the guy thought about how he would like to say goodbye to the world. It was very sad the boy had a broken a life that hadn't even started yet. The girl wanted to hug him, to comfort him, but she knew he wouldn't accept it. Kai has grown up early, in their pair he was the adult.
Suddenly, Dr. Ibson's voice boomed in the dining room.
— Welcome! Today our chefs have prepared for you a broth and a meat pie. For the main course, you are offered spaghetti with tomato sauce. I hope you will be satisfied. Bon appetite!
Immediately after his words, the orderlies began to scurry between the tables and place plates in front of patients. Everyone threw themselves greedily at the food. At that moment Charley realized she was hungry and looking forward to dinner. Her mouth almost drooled. Finally, a plate was dropped in front of her. The girl mistrustful poked a fork in its content.
— You see that too?
— Incomprehensible stuff, moldy bread and some muddy trash in the bowl? Definitely, yes. Welcome! — smiled the guy.
Charley looked around. Everybody, except her and Kai, was eating the strange 'food' for both cheeks. Some even drooled. She watched them in horror but understanding why everyone liked the dinner so much. Kai hastened to explain to her. According to his hypothesis, Dr. Ibson's speech before the meal was like hypnosis. The brain of really sick patients succumbed to its influence, and it was easy to make them eat that not eatable stuff.
— Why are not you eating? — a male voice rang above them.
Seemed like the guys were in trouble.
— My stomach hurts, I guess I'm about to throw up. It's better not to eat now.
— And just don't want to eat this shit, — stated Kai with no fear in his voice.
The orderly grabbed his neck, squeezing it.
— You have to eat, don't you? It's not a castle to feed you with delicacy!
— It's my will to eat or to stay hungry. Get off!
The nurse only tightened his grip. They started a small skirmish.
Charley didn't have time to figure out what was going on as Kai was pinned to the table. The man poked his face into the plate and repeated:
— Eat, eat it! It's delicious.
The guy tried to escape, though at the next moment there was a sound of the charge, and then — strike. People here didn't really care about someone's desires. They tried their best to keep everything under control, so the cost did not actually matter. Kai got electroshocked. He was shaking, eyes rolled. A foam was dripping from his mouth. The orderly wrung his two hands back and dragged the boy to the exit. His body looked like a bag, Surprisingly, no one did not turn to watch the show.
Charley sat and watched. She didn't know what to do, how to act. Everything happened so fast. The only thing she felt was the pain. Her potential friend was taken away, and it was not known what would be with him.
The girl silently stared at nothing. She turned and looked at the table. There was only one word in her mind, 'Morons...'
Charley didn't remember coming back to the room. Boldo took her there, the door closed behind her, nothing special. Her mind was busy thinking about the inhumanity of nurses, about Kai, about his story, and about all the recent things. She went to the bed and collapsed on it. The girl wanted to be alone more than ever, but suddenly she heard a sound of the opening door. Charley reluctantly turned her head and at first, could not believe her eyes. On the threshold of the bathroom stood a tall man. His wet blond hair was a bit disheveled, he was wiping it with a towel.
— Who are you? — she asked barely audible. The voice was quiet, so she had to repeat the question to be heard.
— I'm Ross, your roommate. Nice to meet you! — the stranger took a few confident steps forward, but Charley stopped him and looked at him intently.
— How did you get here?
Without waiting for an answer, she immediately moved on to the following questions.
— What did you do in my shower? Why, in the world, are you wearing my towel?
The guy lowered his gaze. It was obvious, he felt uncomfortable. The situation was unpleasant, and everyone would be happy if it didn't even happen.
Charley felt sorry for the intruder, and she softened. The girl was always very sensitive and often felt sorry for people. She was even a member of a charity club at school. Usually, all was done by the organizers, and the participants just followed their orders. Now, there was the person in need and even simple but helpful. Though directions weren't included.
The poor guy had nowhere to sleep, so she decided to start from here.
— Okay, where are you going to sleep?
He wanted to answer, 'on the bed', but stopped short and nodded at the carpet as if to say that there.
The guest lied down on it, covered himself with a towel and snored. Charley looked at this with wide open eyes and tried to figure out what was wrong with this 'idiot'. She blinked, rubbed her eyes, assuming she was crazy, however, the man didn't disappear. She buried the face in her hand and tried not to laugh. 'I wonder if he's nuts or just joking around.' Finally, she came up with an idea — the 'Kai method'.
— Hey, Rick. Oh, Remus. Ross, actually. Yes, Ross. Answer me a few questions, okay?
The guy continued to snore, not hearing her. It was quite rude. However, Charley didn't give up, making him 'play' with her.
— Who is the current president of the States? Where is Austria located? The national Mexican dish? Tacos? Okay, even I'm not sure...
The questions were too easy to answer.
'Really?! Why I never took an opportunity to make IQ tests?' — she mentally chastised herself. The girl didn't like the questions she was asking the guy.
— Donald Trump. In Europe, I don't know the exact coordinates. Probably, tacos. I'm not sure as well.
Charley thought for a little.
— Alright, you are sane. I guess.
She thought she could try becoming friends with the boy.
— Do you mind sleeping in my bed? I mean, I'm not that tired and you look kind of exhausted. I can entertain myself on the carpet or else...
Hearing her idea, Ross immediately jumped to his feet. He was definitely pleased with the news, though he didn't believe it at first. Charley shifted on the bed and patted the blanket, letting him know she wasn't kidding. The guest picked up a towel.
— I always knew you are cool!
Charley, herself, was a little surprised because got to know each other less than ten minutes.
'Still, he's not all right...' — she concluded mentally.
Meanwhile, Ross had flopped beside the girl. He looked her straight in the eye and said seriously:
— Anyway, you can help him. Your powers are limited. Just get over it. If you do let the volatile memory push today's events in the distant dust box, then, believe me, it will turn out great to you.
The guy began snoring again, thus showing he didn't need an answer. At first, Charley thought Ross was talking about Kai but then realized it was unlikely — she didn't notice him in the dining room. Plus, he looked too good for someone who had to be at least a few days in the asylum. The girl was not sure why she trusted him. Although she didn't know who he was or where he came from, something inside her suggested she could rely on him as much as she could on herself.
Shet, Gray and the twins were in the geo room. The captain stood in front of the huge map of the world, picked up a laser pointer. Sandy and Randy sat in the armchairs, poufs, and the Guardian of Aquarius was chilling at the usual place in which he had spent the previous few years. First, he tucked his feet under him, but got a light punch from Shet, dropped them and sullenly stared at the offender. The captain continued. To begin with, he made sure that everyone was aware of the name of Aquarius. Simultaneous 'Yeah' from Grayson and Randy was enough for him.
'Here's the answer to my question,' — Sandy thought, 'We always get answers when we need them. Everything in the universe is so convenient!'
At this time, Shet was saying where Charley was sent and how messed up everything was.
The biggest problem wasn't that there were a lot of bad guys, but that there was a very strong barrier which limited the use of Powers. Maximum opportunities of the Guards were reduced to teleportation, and only if their Zodiac was in danger. Otherwise, they were just ordinary people. Theoretically, Alarea's children could get lucky, but the chances weren't high. However, on the idea of Shet, it required only him and Gray to save Charley. The twins had to stay on the ship and provide air support.
Sandy didn't like her role, so she protested. The brother sighed and rolled his eyes — his sister always disagreed with everything. At least, it was about Randy. He didn't usually react very politely, so there was no wonder why Sandy was annoyed most of the time. It was difficult for her to ignore him.
— Did someone ask you? — she got attitude this time.
— And you?
— Are you stupid?
The intensity of their emotions was a harbinger of discord. Shet wasn't in delight from such prospect. He slammed his fist on the table, silencing the twins. Even though they were on his ship a couple of days, he was already tired of these empty disputes out of the blue.
The siblings looked at each other and shut up. It was not the best idea to anger the captain. Shet continued.
— Grayson and I will jump into the courtyard of the building where Charley's held. Of course, we will be attacked by enemies, who we'll have to deal with using normal weapons. Our Powers are blocked on the territory, therefore we have to count on the normal skills. From there we move into the hall of the building and, probably, gonna get into a trap. The room is round, surrounding us won't be a big deal. Though we do not have the task to kill as many bad guys as we can and leave a bloodbath there, so I recommend repeating psychological tricks. In an extreme case, we'll have to take guns, if they are still available to us.
— But what if the enemies are robots? — broke in Randy.
— Good question. In this case, Gray will have to look for the main among them and destroy it. Androids have one minus, although for us this is, of course, a plus — they depend on their ringleader. Like a herd.
— Got it.
— Alright, after the hall comes the most important part — the 'Charley search'. We can't expect her to be in her room, so we can lose a lot of time. To avoid it, we must separate. I know it's not a good variant to be left alone in a new place, but there are not many options. As soon as we find Aquarius, we'll have to run to the roof in a 'chain' — I'll be the first one, Charley in the center, Gray — the last. If anything, you can help us from behind. And now, comes the final part of the plan, Sandy is the leader here.
— Hey! What am I here for? — Randy exclaimed.
— I like Sandy better, it's simple. Plus, she's more responsible, I'm sorry.
—Why would you? Look at her behavior when she's around G, there're obvious problems with her head! No offense, San, but it's true, admit it.
The captain looked at him in surprise.
— Problems with the head? Have you seen yourself in the mirror?
Randy rolled his eyes. He liked the purple hair. In the end, the guy has always maintained that appearance was just a vessel which he could decorate. That's what he has been doing throughout his life. After all, the Power will exist for eternity, and Randy will leave this world one day, becoming two numbers with a dash between them. While he was sitting and sulking, Shet continued explaining his plan.
— Twins will have to keep the ship in an invisible state as close to the ground as possible. As soon as you hear a gunshot, you need to throw down the stairs. Once everyone is aboard, just steer the ship as high as possible. I'll come soon.
Sandy and Grayson nodded. Randy was still sitting there thinking about something. The sister waved her hand and pointed she would explain it to him later. It wasn't for the first time.
Ross had stopped snoring a while ago, and now was peacefully sleeping on the bed. Charley sat by the window and watched the garden, people walking around. '...three thousand five hundred ninety-eight, three thousand five hundred ninety-nine, three thousand six hundred... one... ' she got off the windowsill and went to the bathroom. '...five, six ... ' Squeezed some toothpaste onto her finger and drew a small line next to the other ones. '...thirty-eight ... thirty-ten ... forty ... ' the girl realized it was already 4 pm, which meant about eight hours left before the sleep, that is, she has overcome the equator of the day.
With a sad sigh, she looked at her reflection. All the same greenish skin, the same face, almost nothing had changed, only hair grew a little. 'It must be fun being a hair... — she thought, — grow, don't worry about anything. You are not even afraid of death, you'll grow for a few inches after that. You are looked after, somehow decorated, friends are always with you. How awesome it is to be a hair. — she paused, — wtf am I thinking about?!' Such thoughts had already become the norm. During the time spent in isolation, Charley began to slowly go crazy. She knew it and even decided putting in the asylum wasn't in vain. Rubbed her neck, bent over. She wouldn't mind taking a nap, but the bed was taken by the new neighbor, so it wasn't an option.
The girl turned on the tap to wash with cold water to somehow regain vigor. She leaned toward the sink and sprayed herself in the face. It was almost frozen. Barely containing the urge to scream, she quickly rubbed it with the sleeve of the hospital shirt, took off slippers and stood barefoot on the floor. The tile was not really warm, it still didn't help her. Charley realized it was useless to try getting rid of the tiredness, so she came to the decision to lie down on the carpet, as Ross did some time ago.
She walked to the room and looked around. Then returned, took a large towel and went back. Choosing the coziest, in her opinion, place, she knelt down, straightened her shirt and relaxed. Hiding, so it wasn't too cold and placing one hand under her head, she closed her eyes. The numbers were still in mind, but she didn't pay much attention to them. It was long enough till three thousand six, another hour had just begun.
She couldn't get much rest. The door opened and two nurses appeared. They, as usual, without explanation, grabbed the girl by the hand, lifted up. 'What's now?'
Something cold touched her neck. Pain shot through it. Charley inhaled. The man sedated some itchy serum in her vein. Either he overdid or the medicine was too strong as the girl felt dizzy in the next moment. Arms and legs were not under the brain control anymore. Mind was fighting for its clearness. 'I'm not ready for it...'
— The bag here! — she heard from the distance.
Two muscular arms grabbed her from the back and put a black sack on the head. For a second she stopped breathing. Mind went blank.
It seemed like an eternity before everything became brighter. Charley squinted hard and waited until the light became acceptable. She tried to look around, but Ibson started talking making her freeze. The patient didn't understand what he said, however, it wasn't necessary. The orderlies with Charley crossed the threshold and closed the door. The new room was so bright that hurt the eyes. Even if they were closed, it was painful.
Meanwhile, Charley was freed. Though not for a long, just to put her on a cold medical chair and tie wrists and ankles, so they didn't twitch. Some kind of cap with a bunch of wires was put on her head. Finally, the girl's eyes adjusted, and she was able to open them. Looking around, realized she was in a completely white room, brightly lit by a number of bulbs on the ceiling. The boundaries of the room were determined with difficulty, but one wall was visible for sure, as it had a large tinted window. If someone was behind it, she couldn't see him. Charley moved to get up, but she couldn't. Screaming was useless, no one would have heard her, the people out there, if the were, had different purposes than the liberation of the patient. At first glance, the girl's life wasn't threatened, though intuition told her something terrible was going to happen. Charley literally froze inside.
She had no time to think or to assume, as Ibson came out of nowhere. He stood beside her, holding out a cup of tea. From the hot drink came the steam and the aroma of cinnamon. The doctor smiled and stared at the girl. She didn't get what was happening. Her expectations were various, but none of them involved the good doctor with tea. This alerted Charley even more. 'The hell?'
— No, thank you.
To her surprise, Ibson didn't remove the cap and continued friendly, but persistently offering her the drink:
— Come on, Charley, you need a sip of tea right now!
Now, it hit her. The doctor's proposal was not friendly.
— Thank you, but I don't really want it now. If I could, I'd like to go back to my room.
He didn't take no for an answer. The man came closer to the patient lying in front of him, squeezed her cheeks with his fingers, making her open her mouth.
— I tell you what to do and you obey!
He poured all the tea in. Hot drink burned Charley's throat and she coughed. Some poured out.
— For sake! You will spoil my coat!
Ibson tightly clenched her jaw to keep as much tea in her mouth as possible. The girl began to twitch and tried to get away from his grip. The doctor wouldn't let her do it. There were no thoughts, except for one. 'I'll choke!' — these words haunted Charley. Tears ran down the cheeks. She was running out of the air.
Finally, the patient could swallow. It seemed like the throat was bleeding from the inside. The tongue burned. The entire head was bursting from pain.
Suddenly everything stopped and the room disappeared. Complete darkness was in front of her eyes.
Ibson moved away from Charley, wiped his hands on the robe and walked out of the door, which was next to the tinted window. A small group of doctors was waiting for him. Each of them looked attentively at the one who came in, waiting for instructions. Ibson walked slowly to the table in the middle of the dimly lit room, placed his cup on it and leaned on the smooth, polished surface on the knuckles. After standing in this position for a few seconds, he raised the head up and gave the command to start.
At the same time, the doctors went to their positions. Some typed opcodes, the other tuned frequency, the third checked the integrity of the system. Ibson went to the main computer and pressed the round button. There was a slight buzzing, and the current ran down the wires to Charley's head. The doctor, standing a little to the side, held a voice recorder to his mouth and started commenting on the progress of the operation.
At first, everything was going on. Like no one was trying to break into the other's mind.
Suddenly all the muscles in Charley's body contracted and made her shake. Every second attacks were increasing, the chair trembled. The girl arched her back, tried to pull the head out. Inside, it just tore her apart, the scream stuck in the throat, seemed like something was tearing her apart, the migraine was getting worse. After a few moments that felt like an eternity, the patient's head ached as if she had a temperature of fifty. Tortures were unthinkable. The doctor commented on the external state of Charley, a special device recorded her biorhythms and cardiogram. The heart was beating at over two hundred beats per minute. Everyone except Ibson was shocked. He stood silently and looked at the body behind the glass. The process was under his control.
Charley was drawing in her room, sitting on the windowsill. She didn't know where the ink and paper came from, however, she couldn't care less. Outside the window, the sun was shining bright, light wind ran through the leaves of trees in the garden.
There was a soft click and Grayson appeared out of nowhere. He looked terrified, eyes filled with fear. The boy intently stared at the girl. A couple of moments ago he was thousands of miles away from Earth on the spaceship with the twins. Something literally yanked him out of the company and took him to Aquarius. As Gray understood, it happened because Zodiac needed protection. He was expecting something much worse than peacefully sitting Charley, painting something on the paper.
He gently touched her shoulder, as if afraid to wake her up. She turned and smiled at Sagittarius. Seemed like she was happy to see him, which was weird. 'Wow, she's so forgiving, I'm lucky!' — the Guard thought in surprise. Charley reached to him and hugged. Then pulled away and began to tell what a beautiful day was in the yard. Grayson silently listened to her. The whole thing seemed more than abnormal, but at the same time, very ordinary. His mind was twisted, theories were mixed together. Meanwhile, the girl managed to finish her monologue and was looking at the guy expectantly. She waited for an answer from him on a line and apparently it was impossible to skip. Grayson was not listening to the interlocutor and hadn't come up with anything better than to ask if Charley wanted to escape from this place.
Instead of answering, she looked at him as a psycho, raised her eyebrows
— You are funny! On what basis am I supposed to have such a desire? I like this new place: lovely room, delicious food, good doctors, good friends.
Gray wanted to ask about something else, however, he didn't get a chance. Charley suddenly jumped off the windowsill and ran out of the room into the corridor. Sagittarius willed to catch up with her but stopped for a second to look at the picture. When he was just in the room, it seemed to him that the girl was drawing something bright and beautiful. Now, on closer examination, it turned out the paper had red prints of the artist's hands, and on top of them, was a black inscription 'Run away. Quickly.'
Grayson almost dropped the sheet. Everything was so obvious, he could have guessed earlier. Unexpected and improbable turns of life could happen only in dreams or even worse. Of course, Sag came to Aquarius, when Zodiac was unconscious. Usually, Guardians didn't fall into the minds of Zodiacs, though if this happened, then the last one was in a situation of extreme danger. It was necessary to do something urgently, but the main question was, What exactly?'
Grayson ran outside looking for Charley. It didn't take long to find her — the girl was sitting on a bench and talking to someone. From afar, it was clear that was a guy. Sagittarius came up to them. The boy's face seemed familiar to him, but at the same time, he was sure he had never met him before. Expelling unnecessary thoughts from the head, the Guardian introduced himself and held out a hand. The guy shook it:
Charley was watching them closely.
— Gray, could you pick me a bouquet of flowers?
The boy was surprised with such a request, however, knowing that they were all nothing but imagination, silently walked away from the bench and started working. The dream was wonderful and dangerous at the same time. It was better not to anger the author, otherwise, her nightmares could become a reality. Collecting a few flowers, he felt a sharp wind. it was not really strong, though every change could lead to something worse.
Grayson looked around checking the place for any sign of alert. He almost calmed down but it was not for a while. A giant air funnel was forming on the horizon.
— Not now! — he shouted, tossing a bouquet to the ground.
As he knew, tornados didn't require a lot of time to get to the guys. Although they were in the imagination, it was quite possible to die. Dreams of an ordinary man are harmless, however, in the case of Zodiacs, everything changes. Damage in a dream won't disappear after you wake up, each cut will bleed in the morning. Gray was informed about this very well and understood there was very little time left to save everyone. Importantly, it depended on Charley, and she would hardly believe him. It didn't happen the first time.
Grayson came up with a plan. The dream is another world with another creator. Charley has to be in a good mood. Sagittarius went to her.
— Listen to me, please. You may not believe me, but at least, listen. There's a tornado coming at us. We're in your dream now, but if it kills us, we'll die in reality. It happened that it can kill us. In general, in short, try to think about ponies, — his speech was confusing, as he tried to fit the whole point in a couple of sentences. Every second was expensive, even one could not be lost.
Charley looked at Grayson like he was nuts. It was clear she was not going to think about any ponies. Scratching his left wrist, the Guard turned to Kai.
— You're our last hope. I have no idea who you are, but I still believe in you. Your task is that you need to tell a fairy tale. You know one, don't you? So tell her. We need to make it as positive as possible. Thus we...
— I got you, don't waste your time, — interrupted Kai.
Grayson nodded and stood to his feet. He clasped his head in both hands and squeezed it. The wind brought specks of dust and leaves to his face, clothes fluttered. The guy turned around to somehow hide from all the stuff, distracting from thoughts. His eyes wandered around the yard in search of at least temporary, but shelter. Everything inside of Gray cringed, hope was extinguished. He noticed that there was no Kai near Charley.
The Guard ran up to her and yelled, and there was the only chance that his words would reach the ear of the addressee because the wind was too strong, drowning out everything. He needed to know what happened. No answer. Sagittarius looked around to see Kai lying just behind the bench. Outwardly, he showed no signs of life. Grayson turned to Charley.
— What have you done?! What's wrong with you?!
She just shrugged.
— He was so boring, and I just got tired of listening to him. Why shall I suffer if I can get rid of him?
The Guard looked at her blankly. It wasn't like Charley at all, she didn't act like that. He realized the horror of the situation and clenched his hands into fists.
— Who are you?
Immediately after his question, the girl laughed and shook her head. It wasn't Charley.
— Hey, baby, long time no see.
Azalea was looking at the boy with a grin. She was faded — colorless hair, eyes, lips almost merged with skin. She all resembled a ghost, though less transparent. Despite such a nondescript appearance, the power of this lady was almost equal to the forces of Alarea.
Grayson opened his eyes wide. He didn't expect to meet that ball-buster. About a year ago, Scorpio found her in the Sahara desert and deprived her of Powers. The Universe court sent her to prison for high-risk. No one's ever gotten out of there before. Apparently, Azalea broke that rule and now, the most dangerous scum in the world was sitting in front of Grayson and looking at her manicure. Still, she hadn't returned all the Powers if the dream wasn't broken yet.
— Where's Charley? — Sag was ready to fight the intruder.
Azalea smiled and twisted a strand of hair on her finger. The hurricane stopped on its place, however, it continued absorbing different subjects. She stood up, glared defiantly at Gray, walked over to him, and clasped his head in her hands, pulling it towards her face. She smiled disgustingly, kissing him. He tried to recoil, but she only dug her nails into his skin. There were bleeding cuts on Grayson's head.
The Guard had an idea. Pretending like he wasn't against such demonstration of hate, he relaxed for a moment. It was enough for Azalea to stop digging into him. Using the chance, he pushed her on the ground. Quickly sat down on her back, wrung the hands and bent over to her ear:
— What the hell are you doing? Where's Aquarius?
— Oh, our Romeo's in trouble! Nothing to worry about, soon you won't even care, — disgustingly laughing, she vanished, and Sag fell on the ground. The storm kept coming.
If the dream still held, but Charley wasn't around, then Aquarius was unconscious and hidden somewhere around. Apparently, the initiator of what was happening was Azalea, and Charley was under her control, so Azon was able to evaporate. Grayson swore and looked around. He realized he was in a multilevel dream. The biggest problem was to understand exactly what level the guys were at, and how many more levels it had. However, before he could answer those questions, he had to find Aquarius.
Azones were not only strong but also quite cunning. At first glance, it could be taken for dignity, however, in fact, this was their only weakness. All the tricks were based on psychology, which was known, but only few people remembered about that. Grayson tried hard to think what was the basis of the Azalea's plan. Probably, it was something like 'if you want to hide something, put it in the most prominent place.' He looked around and, not finding the girl, raised his head, exhaling into the sky. Of course, Azalea covered Aquarius, making Sagittarius looking for her. He squatted down, extended his arms forward and began moving them around erratically. Suddenly his fingers touched something jelly-like. Wincing in surprise, the Guard smiled softly at him and stood on his feet.
— When it's over, you can kill me but now I'm really sorry. Oh, who cares, you still can't hear me...
With that, Grayson swung and kicked the jelly spot in the air, then again. A cry was heard, and along with it, the guy saw Charley. She was holding her shoulder and wincing. Seeing the Guard, the girl made a strange sound, however, it clearly meant that she wasn't happy about his appearance. Not giving Zodiac a chance to start an angry speech, Gray dragged her to the bench, simultaneously explaining the situation. Charley was dizzy and couldn't care less about his words. Though after seeing the hurricane on the horizon and realizing that there was nowhere to hide, tried to listen. Putting her on a bench, Grayson sat down in front of her and picked up a stone from the ground.
— You will be in much pain but trust me, this's the only way to flee. You'll stay alive, don't worry. I won't say it's gonna be okay, but at least you'll live. Just don't let yourself pass out, okay? Without you, we'll both die. And remember the rule of the double CD: calm down, concentrate, do.
Aquarius thought that she had already heard this phrase, but her brain stubbornly blocked memories. Ultimately, at that moment she was not up to a showdown with her own consciousness.
— Just do whatever it takes to get us out of here. Get your fire shit out, burn it, I don't know. All for life! I'm counting on you!
Grayson looked Charley in the eye with pity. His eyes said 'sorry.' There wasn't much time left, the hurricane was less than a kilometer away, the wind was stronger than ever. Sagittarius took the girl's hand and turned its inner side up. Brought a stone with a sharp end to the skin and began scratching two parallel wavy lines — the symbol of Aquarius — on her forearm. The hand was bleeding, Charley was breathing heavily, however, stayed still. It wasn't the right time for hysteria. When the sign was finished, Grayson threw a gaze at her and plunged the stone into the middle of the mark. The girl screamed, but her voice got lost in the wind.
Suddenly, all the skin of Aquarius lit up, her eyes rolled back and projected galaxies in miniature. The whole body froze, Charley lifted off the ground. She was getting higher and higher until she stopped a few meters above Gray. He whispered something like 'come on.'
At the next moment, she literally exploded. A huge air wave went from her destroying everything on its way. Something bright and shimmering appeared over Aquarius. It spun around her head, not stopping even for a second. From the ground it looked like a huge halo. The girl's body hung motionless, however, the powerful wind kept going never weakening. The tornado dissolved and mixed with the rest of the air, leaving no trace of it. Grayson smiled and closed his eyes with his hand. He only had to wake her up.
Along with a flash of light Grayson and Charley literally fell in the room. Ross instantly jumped to them and now looked concerned at the neighbor and the guest. The girl cried and writhed in pain, clutching her head in hands. Ankles and wrists were bandaged, her head was throbbing and boiling. Eyes were closed. Ross picked her up under the arms and with the help of Gray dragged her to the bed. Sagittarius raised his head to quickly thank the assistant but stopped his eyes on him.
— Who, in the world, are you?
The heart was still heavily pounding out of fear for Charley and the dream.
Ross was confused. He thought he should have asked such a question, but decided to remain silent out of politeness. Grayson became a boor in his eyes. If not for the sudden squeal of Charley, the guys would have started a fight. As much as both of them wanted to know what each of them had forgotten in Charley's room, there was no time for a showdown.
Sagittarius looked at the girl's bandages and began to untie them, Ross helped. When the first layer was removed, the Guard literally staggered back. The skin of Aquarius was burned and erased. Instead, there was meat and blood oozing out. The neighbor closed his mouth because of a lump in his throat but in the next second got back to the case.
— Those bastards! — Grayson shouted toward the door. Then turned to Ross, — Do you have anything that could help her? The wounds are too strong, and the bandages only aggravate the situation. I can run to my room and get the medicine, but it's only enough for one thing. You're closer to her, so choose — a migraine or cuts.
Ross didn't think long. A migraine was something too heavy to endure, while the wounds could heal.
— Fix the head.
Another time, Grayson would have laughed, but not now. The stranger also didn't mean anything bad. The Guard nodded and disappeared. Ross looked at Charley's pitiful moaning from the pain and sat down next to her. He touched his hands, came to the conclusion they were cold and put one hand to his neighbor's forehead. He tried to calm her down somehow, to tell her something but it was all in vain. The girl didn't hear him.
It took a few minutes before Gray showed up. He had a little bundle in his hand. Ross looked at him suspiciously.
— These are clipras. They are considered the best medicine in the Universe, but there are very few, almost none. In general, they can fix anything.
— It sounds strange, but it's important now. Just help!
Instead of answering, the Guard opened his bag, and a few luminous creatures flew out. They looked like fireflies. Ross frowned — 'flies' didn't cause his trust. Grayson whispered something to them, and they flew to Charley. In the next moment, they literally clung to her head, not leaving empty spaces. Suddenly all clipras simultaneously erupted and vanished. A large glowing 'helmet' literally seeped into Aquarius. Ross looked at it, fascinated and frightened, Sagittarius silently watched. Finally, all the 'fireflies' disappeared.
Charley continued moaning, quieter and quieter. Finally, she shushed, body relaxed, breathing got normal. Ross bent over her and touched the forehead — it was cold and Charley gave the impression of a peacefully sleeping man. Grayson stared at Ross, he smiled and nodded in response. Sag breathed a sigh of relief, scratched his left wrist. He really wanted to look at Charley closer, touch her head, however, he did not dare. The guy was afraid she would not like it — in his opinion, Aquarius preferred to keep a distance. Ross, on the contrary, stroked the neighbor's head and looked at her as mothers look at her sick children. Grayson bit his lip. He smiled sadly, called his assistant in a whisper. He immediately raised his head.
— When she wakes up, don't tell her I helped, okay? Let her think that everything went by itself. Can you lie?
Ross nodded in the answer. He didn't understand the point of this, but decided not to argue: if he asked him to do such a harmless thing, then why argue? Sagittarius looked at Charley again. She was sleeping, sometimes sobbing and sniffing. If not for the injuries on her arms, she could pass for a simple girl having a sad dream. Grayson didn't test himself: he knew he was not trusted, instead, the boy was annoying. It turned out comically: in fact, the Guard lived in order to always protect Aquarius, to be near, to give everything — just to prevent her sufferings. However, everything went wrong — Sagittarius was an unwanted guest for his Zodiac. All he could do was helping from a distance. In the dream, he was exposed, but Charley was unlikely to deal with the truth. Probably, she would think she had a nightmare, and due to the long social isolation she had 'gone crazy', so now the brain was getting rid of all the bad things in dreams.
A click and Grayson disappeared. Ross wasn't even surprised. The world was going crazy, he wouldn't stop it anyway. After some time, the guy thought he was drugged by the doctors, and all that happened was a hallucination. Ross felt a movement and looked down. Turned out Charley was waking up. Her eyes were puffy with tears, hair fell down, her face was swollen. She looked at her neighbor, blinked a few times, and... smiled. For some reason, the girl was really happy to see him.
Charley was starring at Ross's face. At their first meeting, he seemed funny, however, she didn't get a chance to get to know him. In the darkness it was difficult to understand something, still, it was clear that he was not a freak. The first minute she 'loaded' herself, shook off a dream and collected thoughts together. The process seemed long, but a question appeared in her head: 'what time is it?- — the patient came to life. It was clear, Ross hadn't thought to count the seconds. Of course, how would he know? Besides, he could have started at a wrong minute. Anyway, now Charley was lost in time. The only thing she knew was that it was night and there was no hint of dawn. To somehow avoid out the disappointment, Charley said:
— Ross, can we talk?
The neighbor nodded.
— About what?
He smelled like the same shampoo as Charley did. She thought it was funny, and she giggled. The guy who smelled like girls caused tenderness. However, no matter how strong they wanted to have fun they had no powers for it, but there was enough energy to chat. Charley wanted to discuss something light and unimportant, because what else can you talk to strangers about? Nevertheless, the conversation went in a little different direction.
The girl put a pillow under her back and hugged knees, wincing from the pain in the hands. In the dark, they didn't make a strong impression on her but burned well. Ross sat across from her with crossed legs. He looked like a little boy, ready to hear a big secret, although his height was about two meters, and some could get jealous of his physique. Charley smiled starting to talk.
— You know, it's no secret, life is changeable. Everything can be good and it can be bad and you can never be sure you're going through your saddest moment. It is possible that one day I will miss this day because I will get involved in something even more terrible. Although it is also possible that I don't have tomorrow, and right now I'm going through my worst. Everything is so ambiguous that my head is spinning! Imagine, a year ago I scratched my neck to the blood and I wanted to scream in pain but now I understand that gossips were not worth it. Even funny... You know, all my life I've tried to be good, kind, loving, patient. And in the end, people began to 'sit on my neck'. Apparently, friendships with many guys were based on it. When I was going through rough times that made me cold and selfish, many of them left. Yes, no one even tried to understand me! Sad, isn't it?
Charley sighed and messed her hair. Too many thoughts stuck in her head. She burst through. Now there was no one to judge her, no one to correct her. She spoke for herself, Ross was just a confidant who was allowed to listen and know. The girl had no idea why she was in so much trust with this man but knew that he would never betray anyone.
It was just impossibly difficult to explain the heaviness sitting in her chest. She couldn't find the right words. There were millions of different things that needed to be explainable but any science, any speaker was able to put them into words. Too much unspecific information was spinning in mind. In humans, it was called imagination. Of course, the fantasy is just beautiful, but when it is too developed, you want to get rid of it. If the dreamer is in a bad mood, it can pervert things so that in the end the reality is lost among the fictional worlds. Unfortunately, imagination is the most difficult and dangerous thing that can twist people in any way.
Now, the fantasy began to distort Charley's memories. It added new events to the past, changed the characters. The girl thought she was going more and crazier, and her mind was leaving. She just needed to throw everything out, even if she remained misunderstood. Charley had told Ross about everything that happened to her, starting from the school years and ending with the visit to a psychiatric hospital. Themes were barely linked, themes mixed together, sometimes even words weren't consistent between themselves. However, the neighbor listened very carefully. He did not interrupt, did not show excessive interest, but simply sat and listened. Sometimes, the girl thought by her to listen was impossible, but Ross does.
When the story was over, he moved to Charley and hugged her. From somewhere he knew that when a person didn't feel good, it was necessary to do so. He couldn't make tea because there weren't any cups and kettle in their room. Ross felt the girl, all she was saying was so familiar, like he'd lived through that nightmare. The teens grew warm and friendly feelings. None of them cared where each one of them was from, which hobbies enjoyed. The only thing that mattered to them was having each other.
It's been a few days. Boldo continued to lead Charley through doctors and dining room. Somehow, the nightmare of the experiment, after which Grayson had to bring her back to life, not remained in the memory. The guy wasn't spotted. Apparently, self-confident Azones didn't consider it necessary to monitor her room. The patient was even allowed to go out for a walk. No outstanding events occurred. Ross always stayed in the same place. When her neighbor was taken away, he slept when she returned, he was engaged in some stuff, however, never went away. Seemed like nobody brought him food, although it might have happened after she was gone.
Ross was almost the perfect friend for Charley. He listened to her as much as she talked, considered words, didn't pull the blanket over himself, stepped aside in some moments. Of course, he also had his kinks, however, they were practically invisible. At least, for his roommate. She was glad that it was possible to talk to someone, to share opinions. With a psychologist, Charley felt trapped, but with Ross became a different person.
When she couldn't sleep, he sat beside and was told something or, on the contrary, listened to a story which could be repeated in a circle for the umpteenth time. Thanks to Charley, the guy learned to count seconds and now was engaged in it when she went to doctors. This greatly facilitated the girl's life, as an endless stream of numbers got on her nerves. Some time ago Aquarius returned to her room reluctantly, as if something bad was waiting for her there. Now, it almost fled away. In the evening, a lot of things had to be shared. Ross was a shoulder to cry on, a best friend, a punching bag, a listener, and a wise counselor. There's never been anyone like this in Charley's life. Because of this, she appreciated Ross most. 'If all that stuff about Zodiacs and Guardians is true, I want Ross to be mine.'
The most favorite feature of the neighbor was his childishness. Especially when he was mimicking Charley's Russian accent. He tried to pronounce the letter 'R', but instead, it turned out like something guttural. A couple of times she tried to get him to say 'tyr-tyr-tyr'. Unfortunately, Ross couldn't remember even the sounds, so that idea had to be postponed. In less than a week the guys became soulmates. They were just uncomfortable without each other.
The door slammed and Ibson burst into the meeting room. He was very excited, his gaze jumped from one person to another, there was a feeling that the chief doctor had lost something. In fact, he expressed his joy in this way.
It's been exactly a week since Charley was dragged into the white room and tied to the chair. Wounds on the hands and feet of the girl almost healed and practically ceased to disturb. Ibson watched the patient in cold blood and noted she was on the mend. On the sixth day, there was little evidence of the recent unscheduled examination.
The doctor was wondering what kind of information owned Aquarius. For almost a week he was lost in conjectures and hypotheses. Finally, the day X has come. Ibson literally ran into the office, where usually held meetings of doctors. He was all in anticipation because his expectations could finally end.
— I'm listening! Surprise me! — he shouted from the doorway.
Some were startled by the surprise. Only a few were lucky to see the chief doctor in such a mood. No one here wanted to spoil it. A man in glasses escorted the boss to the head of the table in the middle of the room and pushed aside a chair so that Ibson could sit down. Nobody was confused that this technique was usually used in relation to women.
As soon as Ibson was ready, all the other doctors hurried to sit at the table. Only one of them was left standing. He was responsible for analyzing the information received after the survey and was the best in the business, however, this time everything went wrong. Now, he stood in front of everyone and tried to come up with a justification or proper explanation. He had no results, the special equipment persistently gave out empty sheets, in electronic form nothing was displayed. Of course, Ibson would not have put himself in the man's shoes.
Meanwhile, the other doctors had already taken their seats and were now staring at the speaker. He had to deliver news, preferably good. The speaker felt anxiety while standing there. The collective wouldn't be happy about what he was going to say.
— I'm sorry to say this but... I have no results. The computer refuses to process them.
A heavy sigh swept across the room. Everyone was expecting a storm from the boss and was already trying to find a profitable excuse for why they had to leave right now. Ibson hadn't moved. Suddenly he got up, pushed the chair behind him and approached the speaker. In fact, everything inside him was compressed into one lump, the skin was pale. The chief doctor stopped and looked attentively into the eyes of the subordinate. Fear, horror, and regret were very noticeable in them. This combination even touched Ibson, so he put his hand on the shoulder of the speaker.
— Don't worry, people usually fail everything. I hope you understand that.
The doctor was very surprised by such kindness and began to calm down. He nodded timidly, forcing out a sort of smile. The boss patted him on the head and hugged. However, this act was not friendly at all. The subordinate literally merged with Ibson. There was no screaming or sighing or anything. The man just disappeared, literally vanished into the air. Ibson just circled his head and straightened his posture. With a flick of his fingers, he turned to the rest of the audience, spread his hands to the sides, still smiling.
— Thank you so much for this evening. You are free to go.
Doctors with horror started standing up and moving back to the door. Ibson was silently watching.
He heard the voice of the subordinate who could not deal with the task. He yelled, begged for help, however, there was no one to help him. What was inside the hospital director was too cruel and inhuman. In general, it knew nothing about people, what can we say about emotions and the language of communication.
When the last of the doctors left and slammed the door behind him, Ibson sat down, stretched out his arms. He was angry that efforts and time were wasted, however, the cries inside brought a little satisfaction. What could be more beautiful than an agony of someone who pissed you off? People, people are so pathetic. Too many emotions for any reason. Overwhelming fear, terrible shame or great joy, and a sea of surprises.
Main Azones' features were cruelty, cunning, external appearance, strength and pride. They could mock people, and the latter couldn't resist. If someone upset them, he fell into the maelstrom of his own emotions, that killed this poor man. That's what happened to the speaker a few minutes ago.
Charley barged into the room. She looked tired and sad, eyes searching for something on the floor, shoulders hunched over, head lowered. The girl crossed the threshold of the room and stopped, standing still until the door closed. Fortunately, she did not have to wait for a while. As soon as she heard the lock snap, Aquarius messed her hair and, with a running start, flopped on the bed. She was smiling, humming to herself, and Ross was looking at her in surprise. She glanced at him, waving. He smiled, giving a sort of chuckle.
— What an act! Haven't got Oscar yet?
Charley nudged him with her elbow and giggled. She was afraid if the doctors found out what a good roommate Ross was, they would move him to another room, and that was the last thing she wanted. So, she was pretending to be a bit unhappy and always sad, although in fact she even started liking being in the asylum. Staff recently treated her differently than others, fed delicious food, and the room felt like home. If she didn't know she was in the nuthouse, she wouldn't have even the slightest disgust for this place.
In general, Aquarius was surprised herself. When she just got there, she tried to come up with an escape plan, however, now her manner had become much calmer. Maybe it was Ross, maybe it was the attitude of the staff. The reason was difficult to identify and name but the fact remained — the place wasn't that bad. When she told Ross about it, she didn't expect him to understand, though she was wrong.
— We can look for the reason together. I mean, thinking out loud is useful. Plus, two brains are better than one.
Now, they could spend hours speculating and thinking without being distracted by seconds. After all, before they were used as a veil of loneliness that wasn't felt by anybody anymore. The mirror in the bathroom was no longer stained with the lines from toothpaste, on the contrary, it almost glittered. Once the roommates were busy over it for an hour, so they managed to wipe away all the dirt. The entire floor was in the water, though, that was another problem.
In addition, to bring cleanliness, the guys had another entertainment — every evening they told each other stories from their lives. The creator of this tradition was Charley. The idea came after three days of living with Ross. One morning she woke up with the assurance that her situation was like something she had once read about. After thinking a little, she managed to find the necessary information. A couple of years ago, Grant slipped her a thick book called 'Decameron'. Several teenagers lived ten days in isolation from the outside world and told each other stories every evening. Drawing an analogy with her life, Charley decided to take advantage of the idea of Boccaccio. As it turned out, Ross was familiar with this novel as well, so she didn't have to explain.
Today was Charley's turn. Rummaging through her memories, she stumbled upon a story about the maple on her mother's birthday. Of course, it was a bit sad to tell, however, that day everything was fine. One way or another, no one dies until somebody thinks of him for the last time. Besides, this episode had become one of the foundations of her personality. Then Charley learned how to treat living beings, love nature, and began to help it. Although now, the point about respect for life sounded ironic — a couple of weeks ago, this girl shot the man. Of course, a thousand excuses could be found, and the most 'important' would be, 'It was self-defense! By accident! If it wasn't for her, he'd pull the trigger!' and all in such a spirit. People can always justify themselves if they want to.
Charley's excuse was unnecessary. Even if the most righteous judge and God had said she was fully justified, the girl wouldn't have heard them. Grayson insisted she had to believe she was the Zodiac, that is, one of the most decent people in the Universe. According to Charley, he was wrong. The word 'decent' meant humanity, and murder was not a part of it. The girl was sure no one had the right to break someone else's life because it was given to each by parents. The past was not amenable to change, and now Charley had to live with the thought she was the reason why someone didn't come home, didn't look at everything he wanted to see in life, didn't say some very important words. And how could Grayson stay calm if he took away more than one life?
At this question, the girl stopped and buried her face in her knees. If she really was one of the most decent people, then why did life slap her in the face for so many times? Starting her story with a harmless retelling of the fragment from her childhood, she moved on to one of the most difficult episodes. The story about the maple never came out that night. Ross bit his lip. Goosebumps ran over his body. He understood she was not waiting for any comments or replies, but the guy still decided to speak out.
He reminded the neighbor how Gray, according to Charley, explained to her the purpose of the Zodiacs. Initially, they had to maintain the balance between good and evil, peace and chaos. No great good deed had ever happened without a loss. Probably some of the predecessors had already killed because there had always been those who encroached on the sacred balance. Due to the fact that Charley was 'new' in this Higher World, she couldn't know many circumstances, secrets, and stories. Her worldview was human, it was an accurate representation of good and evil, of what was right and what was not. Though who said that people's views were the truth? None of the inhabitants of Earth has ever seen the real chaos, has never been in its epicenter. This is explained the popular commandment, 'thou shalt not kill'.
Thousands of years ago, people who survived the 'hysteria' of Kotra, could not find the correct explanation for the confusion and decided to write off everything on their own wrong behavior. To avoid something like this in the future, they compiled sacred books that laid out rules they believed could help avoid the second chaos. However, they did not take into account the fact that there were always those who broke the general rules, trying to play their own — crime. The rest, even the most peaceful, were ready to respond to this aggression. As a result, there was never an absolute good but it was also impossible to not allow the existence of a large number of evil beings. When the Holy Balance threatened to be broken, the children of Alarea brought it back to normal. Yes, blood was inevitable.
Expressing his point of view, Ross messed his hair with his hand and sighed heavily. This whole higher system of the world did not fit well in his head but the more he thought about it, the better he understood. Of course, he would never be able to explain everything because his brain, like a brain of any other person, was unsuitable for learning everything, although it was possible to deal with at least a small part of it.
Ross turned around and looked in the window. It was nighttime, stars shone on the sky. He looked at Charley and called her name to get attention. He was going to tell her something important and he needed to know for sure that she heard him. When she raised her head, he smiled softly.
— You're not God, but Zodiac. And you exist here and now, so your justice may be more accurate.
The idea plastered in Charley's mind. She knew Ross was right, however, to fully comprehend this phrase, time was required. The girl nodded slowly. Perhaps, all this time she misunderstood the functions of the Zodiac?
Grayson ran up the stairs and turned left. He found himself in front of the door leading to the captain's cabin. The guy called Shet and knocked several times. There was no answer, so he had to repeat.
— For God's sake, why did you decide to wake me up this early?
— It's important!
The captain had to open the door. He looked sleepy, a little angry but worried at the same time. Without saying anything, he took a step aside so his partner could get in.
Barely after the door closed, Shet came to the table with the kettle and flicked the switch. Apparently, he realized the conversation was going to be important and now he needed to wake up. Black tea with bitter chocolate was quite a good alarm clock. Coffee used to be helpful but after some time the captain's organism got used to it and ceased to resist. He had to find a new way.
— Do you want anything?
The guy nodded — more energy would not be useful.
Literally, in a minute two cups stood on a coffee table opposite to the panoramic window. They were steaming and the scent of orange filled the room. Grayson unwittingly smiled. One of the smells — the smell of black tea with hints of citrus — was associated with childhood. For a second Sagittarius was peaceful though he quickly came to his senses and went to the case. Shet had to know what had happened. Maybe he guessed, maybe he already knew, but still, Gray decided to tell again just to get sure. He sat in front of the captain's chair and clasped his cup in his hands — it was cool in the cabin and the drink warmed him up. As soon as Shet took his place, the Guard began the story.
Briefly informing the man about how he got to Aquarius, he began getting to the dream and the meeting with Azalea. At this moment the captain frowned — Azones weren't the weakest of opponents even if they didn't have the full Power. Obviously, it was not exactly what he wanted to hear at all.
When the story came to the episode with the teleportation there and back, Shet slammed his fist on the knee. If Sag was able to move back and forth without damage, then, the Zodiac was in real danger. Azones did not put any special barriers, so they were close to the finish of their operation which would not end in a good way. No extra words were needed to understand the seriousness of the situation. It became clear, sleep was postponed indefinitely.
Without finishing his tea, the captain sprang to his feet. Going to the control panel, he pressed the 'Wake up' button and the shared alarm clock from which any could fell out of a bed began to play. Gemini, for example, jumped and collapsed on the floor.
— We begin an emergency landing to Earth. I recommend you to fasten seatbelts. Also, especially for the special guests, I need to remind about the ban on the use of Powers before we arrive. Otherwise, there will be no junk food as I'll turn on the teleportation barrier.
While the commander spoke, the ship had come to combat readiness, the engine ran with much greater force than usual, an additional shield formed around the corpus, repelling the fire and protecting from burning in the atmosphere. There was a knock, the twins came. Shet snapped his fingers, to the door opened, letting them in. He led them to the panel and put in the seats. This pair knew how to control the ship, so they didn't need any additional instructions. Even though they woke up a few minutes ago, they were ready to work. Pressing some buttons, the captain waved his hand and ran to the door, Gray followed. In a few seconds, they had to grab weapons, parachutes, and protective suits. The equipment room was located next to the cabin, so at a sufficient speed, this action was quite feasible.
While Moma was counting down from five to one, the partners managed to collect everything — a pair of titanium guns, shields from the special mixture of helium, and ammunition created for Planetary War in the Centaurus galaxy. It slightly helped against Azones, however, it could make it at least for an hour.
Grayson sat in a special chair near the exit and quickly pulled on the suit. Until the ship accelerated to its maximum speed, it was possible to have time to put it on. She didn't waste any time as well, he only had to take all the guns. For a second, the senior partner stopped and looked at Sagittarius. He was focusing on fasteners. For seventeen years he had been raising the boy by the best way, in his opinion. From each era, he took only the most necessary traits, and then applied them to Gray. In addition to the standards of conduct, the Guard was taught shooting and wrestling. Never before he had to apply these skills in reality but one day everything happens for the first time. That was the turn of Sagittarius. Shet wanted it to happen another way, not on such a responsible mission. Unfortunately, dreams didn't always come true. Catching himself on distracting, he shook himself and fastened the belt. It was too late to back off and impossible to remove Gray.
A siren rang throughout the hospital. Patients rushed out of their rooms, panicking. People bumped into each other, fell, pushed others. Sick minds couldn't stand loud sounds. The situation was going out of control, sedatives were about to end, syringes fell out of pockets.
Charley raised the head from the pillow and looked around. The window was still dark, though the other side of the door was much noisier than ever. She sniffed. If there was a fire, she would have smelled the smoke, however, nothing like that. There weren't any thunderstorms outside so that any threat 'from heaven' was also absent.
Charley nudged her roommate. He continued sleeping. Grabbing him by the shoulder, she shook the boy. Finally, he opened his eyes, turned his gaze to the window, then back to Charley.
— Why did you wake me up this early?
In response, she raised her index finger up and nodded toward the door. The guy sighed, got out of the bed and walked to the exit. As soon as he leaned his ear to hear what was happening on the other side, he was thrown back. Ibson and a few nurses stood on the threshold. It was clear they were worried and in a hurry.
One of them went up to Charley. She rolled out of the bed, falling on the floor.
— I'm not going to chase you...
The orderly jumped after the girl catching her leg. She squealed. There was no desire to get grabbed by this man. Though he was much stronger and faster. Charley's weak organism was not ready for any fights. The man stabbed her in the neck. She tried to dodge but the substance kicked in instantly, leaving no chance for resistance. In addition, the patient was a little used to such acts from the locals. Although she didn't like this approach much, there was nowhere to write a complaint.
— To the secret place. — Ibson commanded briefly.
He found out some guests were going to be there at any minute, obviously, they were unfriendly. Azalea went somewhere, Renevra and Horsa hadn't appeared for a long time and without the strongest Azones there was no superiority over the enemy, except for the quantity. However, guessing who these guests were, Ibson didn't count on the numerical advantage. Guardians and Zodiacs were trained really well so that even without Powers they could cope with several enemies while these enemies could be quite good soldiers. Practice for the Alarea's children consisted of landing on a militant planet, and each participant had to survive there alone for a week.
People compared with them were someone like defenseless cats. However, they could become a living obstacle and give extra time to Ibson himself. He immediately fixed his subordinates brains so that their main purpose was the protection of his hospital. Along with this, he slightly improved their endurance and combat skills. Unfortunately, the level of physical training of the doctors left much to be desired, though there was no time for additional improvements. It was necessary to proceed from what was available.
Patients were scurrying along the corridors, yelling and screaming. Such a sharp sound of the siren was too heavy for their nerves. If Ibson was a real doctor, he'd figured out how to get everyone to a safe place, however, he was an artificial Azon, so that humanity and compassion were foreign to him. Rolling his eyes, he slowly clenched the right hand into a fist, and as it began to shake with tension, he abruptly twisted it. There was a soft crunch, and a complete silence came. The commotion on the floors instantly stopped. Almost all the floors in the hospital were covered with people lying in different poses. Outwardly, they looked like unconscious patients, though if someone performed an autopsy, he would be shocked. Everything was inverted, tangled and twisted — one's heart could be found in a hip area, a brain — in a palm. The quickest way to kill was to mix all the organs from the inside.
White soft walls, a small room as if without a door. Charley took a deep breath. The smell of mold, dust, and dampness hit her in the nose. She sneezed a few times and opened her eyes. Pushing her hand, the girl rose to her feet. It was difficult to stand because of the softness of the floor. Before getting used to it, the patient fell several times. She reminded herself of a child who had just learned to walk. At first, it was necessary to learn how to keep balance, and then — to move.
After several attempts, Charley managed to accustom to the new place. Seemed like a fog covered everything in front of her eyes, and she felt dizzy. Suddenly, Ross's voice rang out right above her ear. He was calling out her name. There was a feeling that the guy was standing literally inches from her but couldn't touch. Charley turned sharply at the sound. Nobody was there. She turned her head, still, it seemed she was alone in the room. The girl was scared, the throat was full of phlegm, however, she suppressed it by pressing the back of the neck with nails. Physical pain distracted from psychological weakness. Realizing that standing became difficult she somehow walked to the wall and slowly slid down on it. The unpleasant smell made her wince.
Someone's hands hugged Charley's shoulders. She looked around. There was a spot in sight. In general, everything around her was vague, though most likely it was a man. The girl really wanted it to be Ross. The smell of shampoo from the room reached her nose and she smiled. The roommate was by her side.
Charley curled up next to him and put her head on his shoulder. The padding of the room was cold, so they could keep each other warm. She could not distinguish facial features of the guy, however, it seemed to her it was peaceful. How could this man combine old man's wisdom with childish foolishness? As far as Charley could see Grayson, it seemed to her that Ross was like him but still, there were differences that made Ross better. For example, Charley was very impressed when on the first day of their acquaintance Ross offered to sleep on the carpet to get her the bed. Now, he was sitting next to Charley on the floor and humming a soothing tune. None of them understood why they were sent to this cell and what was going on. There was no fire, no thunderstorm, nothing bad. For some reason, the girl was not scared but at the same time, was not calm. What she was experiencing was rather called a sense of uncertainty. It was unclear whether they were going to be fed in this cell or whether they were driven there to suffocate with gas. Objectively, this whole asylum was unusual. For all the time the girl was not given any medication, doctors only injected something if necessary; the only opportunity to communicate with other patients was given in the dining room, though it was only once when there was Kai. In addition, the atmosphere of the chamber in the style of minimalism caused mixed feelings. Deep down, Charley suspected she wasn't in a real nuthouse, however, she didn't have anything but guesses to justify it.
On the other hand, how could she judge if she had never seen a real psychiatric hospital? Among a number of these inconsistencies was one case that made the girl think more than once — a few hours vanished from her memory. The patient tried to restore actions that day but she couldn't. The only thing she remembered was a terrible headache, and the wounds on the wrists and ankles. Subsequently, they were written off for violent behavior in sleep and self-harm. Charley didn't ask Ross about it — how could he know? They crossed paths only in the morning and in the evening, so during the day none of them knew where the other was.
Now, these two were sitting in the middle of nowhere, wondering how long, and all they had was the right to hope. They were surrounded by four identical walls, probably, with no doors. Charley waited for the fog to clear. She planned to try finding a way, though, without her normal vision, this idea seemed silly. Ross continued humming something but the motive has changed. The patient did not recognize any of the melodies, although each of them was pleasant.
After some time Charley was able to see normally. Her head was still spinning, but it was acceptable and she didn't care much about it. Standing up, she made a few steps and bumped into a wall. The padding greatly softened the blow and she just fell on the floor. Having risen, she repeated the same to other walls. Ross silently watched her. With each new attempt, Charley's strength decreased. By the time when it seemed like she couldn't move, the girl got a second wind. She raised the head up and ran her eyes around the room.
— Ross, give me a boost.
The guy stared at her. The ceiling was very high. Even if Charley had risen to her full height on his shoulders, she wouldn't get to it. Besides, if dropped, she could get injured. He tried to explain it but Charley was adamant.
— Even if I fall, I'll get up again. And I won't stop until this battle, — the girl showed the quotation marks, — will not be won by me.
Ross had no choice but to obey. The neighbor's word was a law to him, so there was nothing he could do. The guy came up to the wall, squatted down. Charley put her legs on his shoulders and wrapped arms around his head. He began standing up gradually. The girl was doing her best to catch a balance. With her head spinning it was very difficult, however, Charley assured herself that her idea could work out. There was a phrase in her head which she heard a few weeks ago but still remembered well, 'Remember the rule of the double CD: calm down, concentrate, do'.
She just needed to calm down and not be nervous. The same meadow appeared in front of her eyes, the same wind, those same butterflies and dragonflies. Then there was the same bridge at the stage of concentration, though now Charley was hanging, so she had to save her own self. Everything happened quickly, she had to apply the rule before Ross straightened up to his full height. When he finally did it, she was ready. Apologized in advance to her neighbor in case of an accidental pain and when he said something like, 'uh-huh', pushed off his shoulders. It was about ten inches left to reach the ceiling when Charley flew down.
After the fall, as anticipated Ross, the girl's left leg was bent wrong. She groaned, rolled over, holding her ankle. The roommate rushed to her but suddenly stopped and hissed. Sounds of a fight and gunshots were coming from the other side of the door. They stopped after a while and a voice could be heard. It was barely audible, so Charley tried to keep silence. It was unclear what the person on the other side was saying, however, the volume increased gradually, though it remained small. Ross stood and listened, then turned and showed Charley the sign someone was calling her. At that moment she forgot about the pain and focused entirely on the voice. She could distinguish her name sounding from afar. The guy stopped his ears, and Charley, taking a deep breath into the lungs, shouted back.
Grayson and Shet stood near a huge iron door, the height of the wall. The junior partner was going to pick up a code to the lock when the captain shoved him aside and shot. A click was heard and a strip of light penetrated the dark basement. Sagittarius, without hesitation, began pulling the iron layer to the side. He did not think about anything, somewhere deep down she was sure Charley was near. When there was enough distance for a man to pass through, the Guard let go of the door and looked inside.
Across the threshold from him were Ross and Charley, who has managed to rise to her feet, despite the aching ankle. A few seconds all four of them stood, staring at each other before they heard Randy's voice.
— We'll make braids later, it is time to flee!
Shet turned to him. Zodiac didn't need any words to realize the captain was very outraged, though didn't react in any way. The boy walked over to Grayson to help. The twin was ready to reach out a hand but stopped and looked at his friend and Ross. Sagittarius nodded his head, though the captain intervened. He wasn't sure Charley's roommate wasn't dangerous.
— I won't go without him, — Aquarius stated.
Gray took it as a chance to somehow improve relations with his own Zodiac and vouched for Ross himself. Actually, Sag, too, wasn't entirely sure Ross could be trusted, however, one day this guy helped Charley, and didn't let her go crazy in general.
Shet didn't argue — every second could be critical.
— Go after each other!
Then led the 'chain'.
Aquarius didn't get how they knew the way to get out, how they didn't get confused among the stairs and corridors and why almost no one met them on the way. Ross walked in front of her, trying to keep up with the commander, Grayson and Randy closed the procession. Charley didn't know Shet nor, especially, Gemini, however, the guy with the dyed hair in a t-shirt with the image of himself in anime style definitely attracted her attention. He was trying to tell the Guard something, while Sagittarius was brushing him off and watching the road intently. The girl tried to differentiate between words unsuccessfully.
There was a sound like a gunshot. Grayson took his gun off the safety in one motion and Randy clenched his hands into fists. The chain slowed down and began walking along the wall. This continued until they were near other stairs. It was wet and very cold. As soon as the captain stepped on the first step, a buzzing came from all sides. Grayson rolled his eyes and turned around. They were surrounded by doctors, holding something vaguely resembling a gun on their shoulders. Running made no sense as well as shooting did.
It was possible to get into a fight then there was no guarantee that during the turmoil nothing would happen to Aquarius. It was possible to run away for three people, not for five. Shet and Grayson thought hard what to do, though it was difficult to put the thoughts together, as it was necessary to think about protection, a new plan, and price of mistakes. Randy was everyone's salvation.
— On the count of three hold your breath and quickly get up, — he said quietly and stepped forward. — one, two ... three!
All five simultaneously took a deep breath, however, only four ran upstairs. The twin sucked in air from the entire room until the doctors began to suffocate. Although the Zodiac's powers were limited, he was able to do such a simple trick. Not looking at the result of his work, the guy rushed up the stairs, following everyone.
A strong wind was blowing on the roof, literally, everything was knocked down. Charley's hospital shirt was sticking to her body, hair covering her eyes. Grayson and Shet stood in front of the recent patients and holding weapons. A few meters from them stood Ibson with a gun. Ross held tightly the friend's hand, the girl did the same thing. 'So it all was for the sake of dying now?' Whoever fired the first a loss was almost inevitable. Charley flinched. The events of the forgotten day appeared in her mind and it wasn't clear why. White room, discharges, wires, tea, violence — all at once ceased to be a mystery. The girl's throat tightened, stomach tensed. At one point, her idea of the place in which she had been living for the past couple of weeks has changed. No, there wasn't much of a good attitude, people just wanted to get something. 'Rotten beast', — Charley thought.
She let go of Ross's hand and stepped between Grayson and Shet. They looked at her in surprise. The captain wanted to grab Aquarius by the shoulder and back but Sag prevented it. Taking a few steps, Charley disappeared, and at the next moment, appeared right in front of Ibson. His gun rested against the center of her solar plexus. The girl looked him in the eye. Her gaze was icy, without any hint of humanity. Charley was not afraid, her emotions abruptly disappeared, their place was taken by the feeling of disgust. Finally, she ordered:
The doctor's lips were shaking with anger, he hated that some girl wasn't frightened but on the contrary, showed the audacity to approach so close to him. He took off the safety and was about to put a bullet in when Charley hit him on the knees and pushed. He fell. The first bullet went somewhere in the sky.
She saw as it passed by her, as if in slow motion. They were separated by about half a centimeter, though in fact, it was a long distance. The doctor didn't have time to reload the gun, Charley pulled it out first and now stood, directing the barrel straight to his forehead. The stare of the former patient was still cold, the face didn't express almost any emotion. Ibson knew it was the end.
— Rot alone!
It was uttered with disgust and a certain detachment. Charley pulled out the magazine and emptied it. The gun fell next to the lying doctor. Now, it was useless.
Shet smiled softly. He liked the courage and audacity of Aquarius. The man pulled out of the protective suit belt a revolver and shot into the air. Immediately a rope ladder came down from the sky and the captain ordered everyone to climb it up. No one argued. First Ross, then Randy and Grayson. Charley walked over and grabbed one of the stairs. The captain put his hand on her shoulder.
She smiled back, pulled up, and climbed up. Shet waited for a little till Aquarius didn't break the half-way point and followed her.
The ship was picking up speed, shaking a little. Shet left somewhere quickly, without even taking off his gear, and Charley was left among the peers. Grayson took out his weapon from the belt and pulled off his ammunition, Randy leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. The hospital trick was easy, however, it took a lot of energy and now he had to recover. Ross sat next to the neighbor with his head down. Nobody said anything.
Sag suddenly felt his shoulder aching. He looked up and noticed a red stain on the shirt, which was pry under the protective suit. In the center was a small hole. The guy lifted the edge of the fabric to see a bullet wound. Looking back to make sure no one noticed anything, he took out a bandage from a medicine cabinet and wrapped it around the wound. If something extra got into the bloodstream, the Guard would need a lot of energy to heal. Deciding to deal with the problem later, he turned to the others to check them. Everyone looked tired and exhausted.
— Yo, I guess you want to sleep. I may show Charley her new room, — offered Randy.
— Yeah, you're right.
Dividing the hospital neighbors among themselves, Gray went to Ross and called for him. Charley looked at Sag.
— I will lead him to his place. You know, he needs to live somewhere. Oh, — he turned to Ross, — what's your name by the way?
The girl nodded and lowered her head. Patted the roommate on the hair, Ross went after Grayson.
Randy took a few steps and got near Charley. He lightly tapped a finger on her head to attract attention. The girl made a strange sound, apparently meaning something like, 'What do you want?'
— You're, of course, very unusual nature, though I think you, too, need sleep. And I don't think the cold floor of the gun room is a good alternative to a bed.
Charley smiled. She didn't expect she would get a whole room. However, over the past few weeks, she could have learned not to be surprised. She pushed herself from the floor and tried to get up. At the last moment, she skidded a bit. The girl could have fallen, though Randy had a good reaction even in exhausted form. He caught her in a second and pulled up. Though she still got hit but this time, by a cheek of the guy. Gemini smiled.
— Huh, you are tall. Most girls are not higher than my shoulders.
Charley tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
— A meter and seventy-eight centimeters aren't very much.
She felt herself blushing. Such closeness with a stranger was embarrassing. He spotted it, took a couple steps back and waved his hand, letting Aquarius follow him. There wasn't much choice, so she went after the dyed guy. As soon as they came out of the captain's compartment of the ship, they bumped into Sandy. The girl apologized, and then, without hesitation, hit the guy on the shoulder. Charley wanted to intercede, though she didn't know how it could turn, so she decided to stay silent.
Meanwhile, her guide had already managed to answer something to the offender and their conversation got to the raised tones. However, an argument didn't start, as Randy pointed at Charley.
— Okay, can we stop bickering in front of the guest?
Sandy agreed, reached out her hand to the girl in the hospital shirt and introduced herself. Aquarius did the same thing.
— You're heading to the room, right? I'll lead you and you go get some rest, — said the Guard with a smile, and not waiting for the brother's reply, left with Charley.
A room with panoramic windows appeared in front of the guest's eyes. There was no reflection in them, so everything outside the window was clearly seen. Flying space objects, the milky way, clusters of stars, and a little further away spun the planet Earth. Charley walked up to the glass and put a palm on the smooth surface. It was cold and a bit wet.
The girl pinched herself, ran fingers around the neck from behind, strongly bit her lip. She had to make sure she wasn't asleep. Turning to the Guard, Aquarius looked her in the eyes.
— Is it true? We're really in space, and nobody's gonna hurt me? I still don't know who you are but thanks for saving me. I mean if I die because of aliens, it will be cooler than in the asylum. For some reason, I trust all of you. Weird, in all actuality.
— We are not aliens. We are Zodiacs. Not every one of us tho.
Charley's breathing sped up. She didn't understand what happened to her and why suddenly she became so gullible but the words of the interlocutor haven't caused in her any doubts. For some unknown reason, she felt safe on this ship, surrounded by these people. It usually took men about a month to gain Charley's trust, Ross took two days, and the crew — about an hour. In theory, this belief was supposed to cause at least a slightest suspicion, however, nothing happened. From somewhere there was a feeling she was at home, in a family.
Moving away from the window, Charley turned her back to the panoramic view and examined the room. The atmosphere resembled a design from a fantastic film — lighting along the contour of the furniture and around the perimeter of the room, everything was perfectly clean, a small control panel was placed in a wall and a few strange objects stood in different parts of the room. In general, it looked amazing. Charley was delighted, she held a hand over the surfaces, checking the rigidity of the mattress, trying to understand the purpose of certain things. Sandy smiled, watching her and helped to figure out what some things were for.
When the mini-tour of the room was over, Gemini came to the new friend and hugged her.
— Don't get used to this. It's really cool but we are going to another beautiful place. So, in a couple of days, you gotta leave it. You need to learn something and meet everyone else.
Aquarius stared at Sandy in surprise. She had just got out of the nuthouse, which wasn't a resort in the Maldives, and now she was about to be sent to some strange place, where most likely any rest wouldn't be provided.
The Guard understood Charley. Once she was scared and wanted to rest herself. Before getting to the training center, she went on a two-week hike in mountains, and the news hadn't brought her delight. Fortunately, everything turned out to be quite good. The host — Hans — handed Sandy a pack of vitamins almost from the threshold. Each tablet provided a good burst of energy so that training didn't bring to exhaustion. The girl pulled out a small bow with three circles and gave it to Charley. The new girl needed them more than she did. Aquarius smiled confusedly and took vitamins.
— In original, they have to be dissolved in water. Well, I prefer eating them dry.
The Zodiac definitely liked the twin. At first she thought she was a bully, however, it turned out, the Guard was acting like this only with her brother. In fact, Sandy had a mild, docile character. She spoke in a measured, pleasant voice, with a slight accent. Inquiring, Charley learned that the new friend and her brother grew up in Sweden, from where the small deviation from pure English came from. In general, Sandy felt like home. With her, the world became softer. The first desire, when the girls were alone, was the desire to hug Gemini. She looked at Aquarius and smiled so that her eyes shone incredibly. Externally, the girl didn't look like someone who could lay a huge adult man on the shoulder blades.
Friends talked a bit about nothing. Sandy was a good listener, though periodically inserted some comments. A few points had to be clarified since the logic of Aquarius didn't always reach the Guard from the first time, however, despite all this, the conversation was pleasant. When Charley shared her inexplicable confidence, Sandy chuckled. The first month she thought she was too tired to trust everyone she met at the training center but then Hans explained to her there was a special connection between the Guards, the Zodiacs and the Knowledgeables. They had the ability to distinguish themselves from outsiders on the cortex of the brain. Blind faith to everyone from Alarea's children allowed them to avoid destructive mistrust, however, it had another side. No one could lie. Just somehow no one could even think about deceiving anyone. Everything was thought out thousands of years earlier, everything was built for the world.
With a light click, Azalea appeared in the room. Dr. Ibson looked up at her. After the escape of Aquarius, the last thing he wanted to see was someone from the pure Azones. He knew very well, he had screwed up, though it could have been fixed. It was unlikely that the captain with the team of youngsters could have managed to take the Zodiac far away.
The 'faded' girl stood in the middle of the office, arms crossed, and looked intently at Ibson. She was waiting for an explanation why none of her decrees wasn't implemented. Despite the fact that she looked younger than the doctor, her age was still significantly greater, and the strength much more powerful. Several thousand years she had been hanging in other galaxies, creating black holes for the sake of fun, blowing up planets, erasing periods from history. Now, she was on Earth. She liked this planet less than the others because it was the reason she lost her mother for a very long time. If it weren't for Kotra's life, which was tied to this particular space object, there would be only seven giants and a couple of big stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The news of the mother's awakening brought the eldest of the pure Azons back to where it all began.
As it happened, during her absence Horsa and Renevra — Azalea's sisters and daughters of Kotra — managed to create a couple of artificial companions. They didn't have much power, still, nobody argued. Insubordination was the only significant flaw. Deciding that Horsa and Renevra weren't dangerous, the new partners thought themselves bosses. The pure Azones didn't begin to pull up just because they were too busy with other things, so they couldn't care less about the small pawns.
Azalea didn't like how she was treated and decided to play. Pretending that she actually didn't exceed in powers any of the artificial ones, she acted like a timid girl. However, even despite this, the helpers were afraid of her.
Now, Ibson was sitting in front of the girl with a strong will to disappear, though he wouldn't have succeeded, so he decided not to try. Realizing his chance to get a strong reprimand from the Azone was very great, he attacked first.
The doctor cleared his throat, straightened his jacket, and left the table. Leaning his knuckles against the smooth surface, he stared severely at his guest.
— So tell me now. Why you didn't weaken the Aquarius's consciousness enough? We couldn't get the necessary information because of you. Oh, also, you didn't show up to prevent the abduction of the Zodiac.
He was holding a smooth cold tone. His voice never wavered, nothing betrayed fear in him. Though now, Ibson was in the place of his subordinate, who was unable to provide the results of the examination, however, the doctor still kept quite worthy. He didn't think to apologize — the fault wasn't his.
Azalea listened to the reproaches in silence. She wanted to laugh at how this clown in a suit portrayed self-confidence. The girl saw right through him. A distinctive feature of true Azones was that they could easily see the aura of any creature. No matter how confidently someone pretended to be angry, sorry, happy — bluff was always visible. And now, Azalea was watching the trembling grey glow coming from the chief doctor.
When he finally finished, she walked over to him and pushed in the chair. The man was below, causing his fear only to increase. In fact, he had no advantage. The faded looked at Ibson as he was a little wet kitten. From this view, he felt very uncomfortable. However, it was impossible to leave the image. He tried to preserve the coldness in the eyes, hoping, this could embarrass the Azone.
She didn't respond to the bluff. The girl was done with pretending to be quiet, so she decided it was time to open the real face. Pulling up an empty chair with a gesture, Azalea sat, crossing her legs. Almost completely white eyes studied the clown across the table. She turned her head to the side and squeezed fingers into the lock.
— Why are you being so stupid? Really, it was that difficult to keep one weak Zodiac under control?
For anybody from the upper world, it was not a secret that among all the Alars Aquarius was a weak link. She couldn't use Powers, didn't know how to fight, shoot, just couldn't do anything. Ibson had a bunch of doctors and nurses, however, even he couldn't hold her.
Without the age patron Azones couldn't get access to Alarea and affect her sleep. If the older Progenitor had woken up, the younger one would have disappeared again. The Azones would have been left without support, and their powers were already weakening. Their mother gave them the necessary energy, though it wasn't enough for a long time if you count on Stellar time. One charge was enough for five hundred space years, that is, two thousand on Earth. If Kotra wasn't awakened, her children could disappear in time, and it was impossible to prevent. Each of the sisters felt herself gradually weakening. The last hope for life was the mother but the missteps of the clowns in suits gradually took it away.
Ibson didn't want to feel like a little boy being chastised, so he chose the tactics of rudeness.
— Why are you being so mean? What can be less difficult than to influence a person in a dream?
This question hurt Azalea. The doctor knew about the problems of Azones, however, decided to once again sprinkle salt on the wound. Apparently, he didn't know that pissing off the boss wasn't the greatest idea ever. The faded girl smirked.
— Nothing. It's simple.
At the click of her fingers, Ibson fell into a deep sleep. He didn't have even a moment to realize his mistake. Azalea thought for a moment, stood up and approached him.
— Good night, cutie, — she whispered, touching his forehead with her hand.
At the same time, the doctor convulsed, his body temperature rose, and a scream burst from his throat. Normally, he would have opened his eyes, shake the dream off, but not this time. He got into the dark game with dark people and dark rules. Nothing normal would be ever described as normal again.
Azone blew the nonexistent dust from her nails away and straightened her hair. After a couple of seconds Ibson stopped shaking and went limp. He looked like a deflated inflatable doll. Azalea looked at the result of her work. Really, killing someone through a dream was pretty simple. She smiled smugly and disappeared.
On Earth, people used to drink or smoke when they found out very bad news or were upset. Azones preferred to torment and kill someone. Unfortunately, every creature is familiar with sadness, and each coped with it as he could.
The bed vibrated, waking up the girl sleeping on it. She abruptly jumped up and ran out into the middle of the room, away from walls and heavy objects. Charley was trying to remember what to do in case of an earthquake and where would be safer to hide. School lessons taught her something, though she had forgotten long ago. While she was pondering, her gaze fell on the window on another side of which flew meteors and a couple of planets.
Char involuntarily opened her mouth. She was sure the events of the past day were just a dream and she was still in the asylum. The girl laughed loudly and didn't really understand why. She just felt so good, warm and happy. Instead of the small window was a panoramic wall, instead of the cold floor and a carpet was a warm linoleum. For one night the girl's world turned upside down — friendly atmosphere, nice people ready to help, beautiful environment, no crazy doctors.
She saw a neat semi-circular door that matched the walls with an eye-catching glowing outline. Dancing, the girl took a couple of steps to it, and it drove off to the side. Turned out there was a bathroom. Aquarius sighed happily crossing the threshold. Turning a tap, she grabbed toothpaste and a brush, took off the nightgown, climbed under the warm water jet. No excess thoughts appeared in the head to suppress mood. It felt like the girl had been wearing a heavy rock around her neck for a long time, now it fell, allowing her to straighten up and live a normal life.
Soon she turned the water off, wiped her hair, wrapping it in a towel, returned to her room. A small stack of clothes got in her field of view. Taking it, she returned to the bed and began examining new things from the wardrobe. She didn't know who had given them, however, she was grateful. Even though they were ordinary pink joggers, loose t-shirt and simple socks, Charley was delighted. Quickly dressed, she made the bed and flopped on the blanket. The girl had forgotten what happiness was but now, as she thought, she felt it.
There was a knock. Aquarius carefully approached the front door to open it and see smiling Sandy. The Guard's hair was braided in two braids, which had already disarranged, apparently, she slept with them.
— Whoa, I wasn't mistaken in the clothes choice! — she smiled proudly, — I thought you were done with that hospital shirt. Ew, bad vibes you know.
Grabbing the friend's hand, Sandy pulled her out in the hallway and led to the dining room. Everyone was already there and only waiting for the guest. Nothing seemed to spoil the morning but something went wrong.
As soon as two girls turned into the corridor Charley froze. Ibson was walking towards her. He held a cup of tea and smiled disgustingly, heading directly to his patient. She couldn't make a move. The blood throbbed in temples, the heart was racing, her brain almost exploded. Aquarius clasped her head and knelt down, rolling to one side, breathing heavily. Seemed like her body was on fire. Sandy had no clue what to do. In the training center, she was taught to provide medical care, but Hans never said what to do in this case. A cry for help was unlikely to be heard in the dining room where Randy was cooking — he was always surrounded by noise. Telepathy was the only way.
One day he offered her a word marking alarm and she always kept it in mind, however, at the important moment she managed to forget it. The Guardian was biting her nails, tensely, remembering the signal. 'Doradora!' — Sandy cried mentally. 'Doradora, toratora, toratora, toratora!'
With an almost inaudible click, her brother appeared with the ship crew. Everyone looked scared. Seeing Charley, the dyed boy froze, his eyes wide opened.
— Jesus Christ... — he whispered.
Sag quickly pushed through everybody, picked up Aquarius on hands and dashed to the ship infirmary. The twins were instructed to prepare the main unit — Terton. The star pair disappeared. Ross ran out from the corner. He was unable to appear with everyone, however, even with a little delay, he was much needed.
By the time the tormented girl was taken to the infirmary, the device was ready to work. Shet placed her on the platform and closed by a transparent dome. Randy pressed the start button. Terton quietly hummed, a silver vapor started forming inside. Ross watched intensely what was happening. He didn't understand what was going on, however, apparently, it was some kind of treatment.
Suddenly, Charley's body began crumbling into barely visible particles. As Shet explained, these were atoms. First, the roommate of the patient had the impulse to stop everything, but Grayson anticipated his action and shook his head.
— This machine disassembles any creature into atoms and then collects them all together, except for some pieces that make one's life painful. It can be about physical or mental problems. In all actuality, pretty cool, though you need to be very careful, so nothing will be lost. Otherwise, someone can be injured, you know.
Ross stopped blinking, breathing, his body went numb. None of the crew saw it. What was happening with the guy was available to the sight of two people — himself and Charley. The girl came out of nowhere, and she was dressed differently. Her hair was flying as if a wind blew through them, the skin was very pale, the body was covered by a long nightie to the floor. She could be mistaken for an angel. The roommate walked right up to Ross and stopped. She looked into her friend's eyes as if it was the last time, trying to catch every shade, every dash. The girl slowly blinked and bit her lower lip. A tear rolled down the cheek. She brushed it away and looked at the guy again.
— I'm sorry... — she whispered quietly. Her voice trembled. Not giving roommate a chance to answer, she continued. — Ross, you're the best! I don't see any negative features in you, although they probably exist. You always listened to me, was there to somehow help me... and your accent amused me, — she sadly smiled. — You're amazing, it's a fact!... However, we both know it's time for you to leave — my best friend shouldn't be a figment of my own imagination. — The last three words Charley spoke slowly and clearly. — Something happened that I thought of you there in the asylum, to not go crazy, to not be awfully lonely. I don't know how it worked, but you materialized and became my lifeline in this ocean of pure madness... Apparently, it took my energy. Though now I really need it, so I have to let you go. I'm really, really sorry, but you have to go. Thank you for everything.
Charley cried silently. Ross said nothing, only smiled sadly. He understood, he understood once again. Nodding to Charley, he gave her his consent. The girl sobbed. She badly wanted to hug her roommate now, to tell him again how important he was to her, but the longer she delayed the moment of separation, the more pain she felt. She reached out and touched Ross's forehead. He looked down watching his legs starting turning into dust, vanishing right away. Charley closed her eyes, she didn't have the courage to watch it. The last thing that disappeared was the face. His eyes were filled with proud till the very end. He knew what she was going through, and he knew she would cope with any challenge in the future.
Charley opened her eyes a bit before her friend disappeared forever. She could see his face and reached out to touch him one last time, however, when her fingers were a couple of millimeters from him, Ross had vanished entirely. The girl slowly clenched her hand into a fist and lowered it along the body. Her ethos evaporated.
At this point, the atoms inside the Terton gathered together and Charley appeared. The machine beeped, reporting the end of the procedure. Shet immediately pressed the button, and the dome opened.
Aquarius was laying still looking from side to side. Grayson walked up to her, reached out, helping her to sit down. She felt a little differently. The scars on her ankles and wrists were gone as well as any pain. Everyone looked at Charley with a silent question 'how was it?' The brain wasn't fully functioning yet and this has caused some problems with coordination and vision. With the help of Gray, she embraced back on her feet. It seemed like the floor was floating. Shet came closer to Aquarius so that she could hear him exactly,
— Within a few hours, everything should come back to its normal state. The work of all organs and memory will be restored.
She made a strange movement with her head, vaguely resembling a nod.
Sandy was walking and whistling some cheerful melody. She was in a hurry to please her friend with good news. Judging by the Zero hours, the day was tending to evening. Aquarius hasn't left the room since the morning. No one visited her, no one tried to talk. She needed some time to get together after the healing. Charley had no memories about Ross, she had no idea he ever existed. Her happiness was imagined, in reality, it brought pain, so the machine erased it. Sandy thought solitude was good in moderation, though an excess could drive you crazy. At least the male part of the ship crew was against her visit to her friend, the Guard decided to ignore them. In the end, though some were wiser than her, and someone had a special connection with Aquarius, no one could understand a girl better than another girl.
Gemini counted to ten, inhaled, exhaled, and knocked. Within seconds, the door moved aside, and on a threshold appeared Charley. Her eyes were puffy and her face reddened, however, she looked quite normal. Smiling to the friend, she offered her to enter.
Flopping down on the bed, she clapped her hand next to her, inviting the guest to sit. Sandy obeyed. Charley leaned back against the wall, pursing her knees. She wanted to talk to someone, and the friend was a great interlocutor. After the whole day of sitting locked up, she began feeling not really good. Aquarius loved to be alone, though sometimes 'be alone' turned into 'why does no one talk to me?' It wasn't a problem to contradict others, the trouble was in contradicting herself. The border between them was very thin, it should not be crossed. When its approaching was felt, it was necessary to look for a friend.
Sandy was sitting in front of the Zodiac and very carefully looking at her face. She wondered how appropriate it was to ask about her well-being. Fortunately, the girl didn't have to think long, as Charley involuntarily came to her rescue. More precisely, she noticed how the companion hesitated and decided to help a little. Sitting back, she looked up at Sandy and spoke. The words went by themselves, there was no need to think of them.
Terton eased Aquarius from the pain, though it did not save her from the memories. She perfectly remembered the fire, two hospitals, the dream with Azalea, doctors. Charley told Sandy about everything. Now, these imagines didn't phase her. All the bad events of the past were now perceived as scenes from movies which didn't belong to her. Charley seemed to have grown in just a couple of days, although in fact, the process of accelerated maturation began a few weeks ago. Hard times didn't kill her, they made her stronger. They took away a reckless pity to everything, strengthened belief in herself and taught to be strong, completely changing her vital principles and installations.
Sandy was shocked.
— But how did you manage to get yourself together and not go bananas there?
— Almost every minute I reminded myself that despite everything I still remained alive.
Living means having at least one more chance to make a difference. In the end, the script of life is written without taking into account the views of the actors — they just need to perform their roles. To whom death is written at the end, won't die in the middle of the first act.
This time Sandy listened without comments. Sometimes she sighed, succumbing to emotions, but was interrupted by a friend once. All the horrors that Charley told her made her flinch, although the words could not convey all experiences and the whole atmosphere of the incident. When Aquarius finished talking about the asylum, Sandy could not resist and still asked:
— And you never wanted to die? Break off everything and devote yourself to eternal rest?
In response she gave a sad laugh and rubbed her neck, looking for the marks of nails. She knew that Terton removed all the damage, however, maybe the machine decided to ignore the little scratches? As it turned out, it didn't. Raising her eyes to Sandy, Charley said, sadly smiling.
— To die? No, it's too simple. I'll live.
Sandy nodded comprehendingly. With every word, it became more clear why Charley got the ticket to the higher world.
The spaceship was leaving the Milky Way galaxy. It took about eleven million light-years to reach the final destination. Knowing the capabilities of the ship, it wouldn't take more than a couple of days. Various cosmic bodies were rushing by, however, no collision occurred.
Charley and Grayson were in the living room. Each of them had a glass of fresh. The girl was staring on the liquid mistrustfully — it was reddish and slightly glittering. The guy was looking expectantly at his Zodiac. He wondered if she would like the mixture of guarana and sprouts from a planet completely overgrown with all sorts of grass.
Charley raised the glass to her nose and sniffed it. The fresh smelled good, even a little edible. She cringed, vaguely resembling a smile, 'Well, no one has poisoned in space before, so it'd be cool to be the first one...' She shut her eyes and swallowed. The drink was a little sour, though it was delicious. The girl leaned back in the chair and stared at the Guard. He grinned because he knew in advance the Zodiac would enjoy it. Besides, when you wake up early in the morning, you need some extra energy. Instead of coffee and energy drinks, it was possible to be charged with natural vitamins. Alars should have taken care of their health.
Looking at the clock, Sagittarius got up and waved his hand, thus calling Aquarius to follow him. She quickly drained the glass, set it on the coffee table and stood up. In complete silence, the guys passed a few corridors before running in a dead end. There were two ways — back and forward, to the door. Gray reached a hand to the barely visible square on the wall, and a passage in a dark corridor opened in front of the teenagers. They looked at each other, crossing the threshold. For an hour they had been communicating with facial expressions and gestures. The entire crew, except these two, was sleeping. The ship was deathly quiet, and every noise seemed like an explosion.
The guys found themselves in a small dimly lit room. Along the walls hung voluminous costumes, hats, and some strange objects, apparently, intended to be wore. Grayson led the girl to the rack and pointed to a set of things. She nodded and began silently dressing. She did not take off joggers and the t-shirt, however, it wasn't required. Costumes were big enough.
Ten minutes later, both teenagers were ready. Charley didn't understand why she did all of that but didn't express her opposition. Yesterday the only friend told her about the Guardians and the Zodiacs. And now, the closest person to Aquarius was Sagittarius, so it was necessary to become friends with him. In the depths of his soul, there was a feeling he would be gone one day. Nothing good stays forever. This has happened to Charley's loved ones. What prevented the loss from happening again? In addition, the vision constantly (or was it a dream?) appeared in her head, as a strange girl destroyed Grayson, and then pierced Aquarius. In fact, Charley was sleeping at that time. Then, where did the hole in the lung come from?
While she was dealing with her feelings and thoughts, the guy checked whether everything was okay. After verifying the normal operation of each mechanism, he took the hand of the Zodiac and squeezed it. Having counted in mind to ten, he pressed the button which was on a belt of his suit. The floor under the feet of the guys slid in different directions, and they fell into the open space. No one screamed, no one broke the silence. Even though it terrified Charley, she didn't say a word. 'Trust. I need to learn to trust,' — she repeated to herself as if reading a mantra.
Two Alars weren't falling for long, in fact, less than a minute. At some point, they just stopped, as if they were facing something invisible. Aquarius did not find any obstacle but their movement didn't continue. Grayson let go of the girl's hand and took off his helmet. She did the same thing. Now, they were hanging in zero gravity. It seemed as their bodies remained in one place, however, if looking at the flying ship, the guys moved exactly under it. Charley's hair was slowly evolving as if underwater, the hair of Sagittarius had already lost the initial appearance. The girl breathed. The air was absolutely clean and cold. It got into her lungs and filled them all. It was different from the air on Earth where it was filled with human vanity, all kinds of gases, empty talks, and anxiety. The space one was clean. A happy smile appeared on Charley's face. She thought she might not be here if one day she had snapped and made an irreparable mistake. Soaring in the open space, she realized the price of life, realized how lucky she was to be at this time, in this place. How lucky she was to have the honor of being Zodiac.
Grayson raised his index finger, urging her to listen. Charley held her breath. Space was supposed to be silent, though it was not. She heard strange sounds. They were very deaf, but at the same time, insanely loud. They surrounded the teenagers, pressured from everywhere, it seemed like their source was in the minds of the Alars. The girl listened spellbound. There was something like a whisper, a lightning gust of wind, a weird incomprehensible melody, a kind of gurgling, a trill of a pipe, a ringing of bells, running water, the sound of rain, thunder. Everything was mixed together, creating music. Charley was listening, fascinated. The joy of a child froze on her face.
Grayson was smiling and looking around. He and the Zodiac were in their natural environment. The place where it all started. He turned his gaze to his companion.
— Do you like it?
She replied, still looking around and enjoying the moment.
— Definitely. But what is it?
He took a deep breath and smiled even wider.
— The space voice. The original sound.
Charley looked at the Guard and raised her eyebrows, thereby asking a silent question.
— The sound surrounding us is the result of the interaction of planets' ionospheres and the galactic wind. It's on such frequency, that can be distinguished only by Zodiacs and Guardians. The Knowledgeables can't do it, so imagine their level of upset.
— So space is not silent?
— So, It's never been.
Charley almost shone with happiness. With every day, something new came into her life, changing the girl's views and beliefs. Now she felt as if she was the cosmos.
She got up at five in the morning, feeling good and fresh. Surprisingly, Grayson was up as well. They spent a couple of hours together in complete silence. Initially, the girl thought the Guard was crazy and sick in the head, now, her opinion has changed. Just because he knew and understood more things, the guy didn't become crazy. What an ordinary Earth dweller thought was nonsense, in fact, could be true. An ordinary earth-bound perception of the world was too primitive to face it. In this case, are mental hospitals are actually for crazy people? Perhaps, they are homes to the best minds of the System?...
For a long time, Charley thought the establishment of relations was hard work, requiring great effort. In fact, to understand someone, you just have to be silent with him.
The border of the galaxy M82 was left behind. The twins were chilling in the living room and laying Monopoly out on the table. A tense silence filled the room, as they have already managed to fight due to the fact they were unable to decide who would play for the skateboard. Now, the siblings were quietly putting cards, cubes, and money on the table. There was a knock.
Turning, they saw Charley standing on the doorstep. She seemed sleepy, apparently, she decided to take a nap. Assessing the degree of danger of the scandal, Aquarius smiled and approached the quarrel. Giving five to the guy, she crouched down, hugged her friend and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and rose to her feet. Charley dragged Sandy into the kitchen. Tonight was supposed to be the game night. Aquarius had been waiting for it. Who would have thought you could miss some small pleasures like throwing a cube and the joy when you get six dots.
Sandy clicked on the kettle switch, and the water began to boil. Charley opened the cupboard, a little digging in it then took a couple of steps back and went behind the chair. Gemini coughed expressively, looking at her friend silently asking, 'Seriously?' She slowly opened her palm. A leisurely gust of wind gently brought the girl a few packs of different sweets. Charley smiled widely.
— It's a crime to hide cookies at a height of two meters.
Sandy shrugged and turned away to pour some tea. When there was only one cup left, she lurched and spilled the water. The reason for this was Grayson, loudly announced his appearance. Originally the guy did not aim to scare someone, simply because of his mobility, an ordinary 'hi' sounded too loud and joyfully. Although Charley was able to somehow defuse the situation, it was still difficult to call the atmosphere relaxed.
Cursing, Sandy wiped the spilled tea with the edge of her t-shirt. Aquarius greeted the newcomer and began helping her friend. It was impossible to go through the evening without the calming drink — if it did not calm the two crazy relatives, it could at least stop them from bickering. By taking over everything needed, the girls have returned to the room. Randy was telling Gray something briskly, and he listened, occasionally inserting some jokes. Sandy sat back down and cleared her throat, drawing attention to herself. In principle, she had nothing against the brother, however, at the moment he annoyed her because he did not allow anyone to get to the game. Having waited for silence, the girl once again explained rules, then counted to three, and players quickly reached for a cube. Who was the first to grab, went first. Grayson started the game with a figure of the skateboard in his hands.
Sandy glared at her brother and contemptuously pursed her lips — he was too honest to take the skate before the game started. Instead, he calmly gave the token to his friend, acting on the principle 'neither for me or for my sister.' Though it was hard for the Guard of Gemini to admit it, Randy's act was logical. He did not want to concede either he wanted to bring the situation to an absurd quarrel. So the guy chose to find someone else who was a kind of compromise. As, in fact, always.
Shet was resting in his quarters. The ship was on autopilot, so there was no need for the captain. However, he sat in the main chair and did not even think to leave. It seemed like he was waiting for something, but what? He just had a feeling he had to stay tuned. This was not pleased — inaction terribly irritated Shet. At this time, he could do many different things, such as thinking or trying to write something again. His past attempts were crowned with fame throughout the world for many centuries. However, he had to leave the place in front of the control panel to do something. Here, it was simply not possible to delve into himself because it was necessary to relax, disconnect. Without it, thoughts were confused or too superficial, and superficiality enraged the captain.
A few minutes later, a soft squeak was heard, and then the main chair trembled slightly. Shet looked at the monitors to see a new message notification. The Knowledgeable was a little surprised. It was from Hans, who demanded to remove the teleportation protection from the ship urgently if it was on. The captain replied that the entrance was open. The feeling of waiting was gone.
Soon he heard a quiet click and Hans fell near the window. When they met the last time, he looked different — double chin and many extra kgs. The picture was supplemented by a red Mohawk on the head. Now, a tall, thin man with dark brown hair and stubble stood in front of the captain. He smiled, making the corners of his eyes crinkle. Though Shet was not short, he had to raise his head a little to look at the guest's eyes. Still, ten centimeters were not a small difference.
Quickly rolling from the heels to the socks the man grinned and quickly approached the captain with open arms. He did not have time to say anything, as has already been compressed. The smell of alcohol hit him in the nose. Sniffed just to make sure of the correctness, Shet somehow pulled back and grabbed the other's shoulders.
— What's wrong with you?
Hans continued smiling. He gently removed the hands of the captain and looked him in the eye.
— Such a cool thing! Imagine, you drink, and then you have no sense of shame! I seem like the coolest person in the whole damn world!
— It's called alcohol.
— Oh, so you know about it too! I thought that you and your healthy lifestyle didn't know anything except for the names of vegetables.
Shet rolled his eyes, turned around and went to a small locker, which was a first aid kit. He rummaged through a variety of boxes and found a small bag with some dried powder.
— I sprinkled cupcakes in Delft with it! Cool stuff. Where did you find it?
At first, Hans stared curiously at his friend, however, after a few seconds remembered a joke and laughed aloud. The captain murmured something under his breath and mixed the contents of the sachet with warm water and went to the laughing guest. He looked incredulously at the glass, then shrugged and drank it all to the bottom. Shet gravely watched Hans and when he finished, punched in the face. There was a cry. The offended one assured such act was low, however, the captain disagreed with it.
Hans stopped talking and stared into the void. If not breathing, one would think a mannequin stood the opposite Shet — absolutely calm face, fixed position. Cheeks gradually filled with color. When their color was almost red, they suddenly became normal, and the man himself returned back to the reality. He slowly turned his gaze to his friend and let out something that sounded like 'oops'. Shet smiled quietly — 'sobriety' worked. Recently self-confident and energetic Hans now looked like a boy who was caught up in some bad occupation. If someone like Randy was in the room, the atmosphere would be less tense, as the laughter of the guy would have dispelled all the tension. Though one could laugh on the captain accusingly drilling the gaze of the big man, who stood with a very embarrassed face expression and slightly looked like a small mischievous. Fortunately for Shet and unfortunately for Hans, there was no bystander.
The captain did not understand how such a windy man like Hans, was one of the decent people. Although, if you think, this question arose not only in relation to standing in front of the guest — the Zodiacs, too, were not perfect. However, the number of their negative qualities was less than ones of people. Some representatives of the Alars gave the impression of the most inveterate hooligans and did not fit into the framework of what was allowed. Perhaps dignity is not a matter of behavior?
After finishing his lecture for Hans, Shet rubbed his eyes and looked down at the floor. Something bothered him, and it was most likely lying on the obvious spot, but it wasn't easily detected. After some thought, he realized what was the case.
— How did you get here if you and I can't teleport?
— I bought some of the galaxy's one-time teleports. Comfortable! — the visitor shrugged.
He sighed wearily, turned and walked to the chair, standing in front of the panoramic window. Teleportation was a very complex process, during which significant structural damage could occur as a result of high pressure. The Zodiacs and the Guards had a somewhat different composition of bodies than ordinary people and Knowledgeables. When moving in the space their cells didn't disappear or explodes and were able to carry a fairly large exposure from external physical forces. The rest of the creatures could only hope for the best. Hans knew this very well, but apparently, he did not give it much importance. Shet was angered with such disregard.
Randy was persistently explaining to all players why he shouldn't have gone to the jail after the game cop sent him there. The guy's monologue lasted for more than five minutes, and none of the audience had no chance to insert a word. The main arguments were spent in the first few sentences and then went frankly delusional. The rest of the players were already losing patience when suddenly Gemini's speech was interrupted.
— So I've been listening to you at the door for a few minutes and, you know, your performance was brilliant but the number of buzzwords spoken by you made null, — Hans stood at the doorway leaning on a wall.
Everyone turned around. Randy jumped up and quickly approached the Knowledgeable. They hugged and slapped each other on the shoulder like good friends. In fact, they were besties. Since Gemini left Earth and became a part of the 'Star team', Hans was almost their second father. Generally, among the Alars he fulfilled the role of an adviser — based on the experience of ancestors, Hans offered the most optimal ways of solving problems. Shet could do the same but he was too serious and more closed. Often he spent time alone with himself, away from the hustle and bustle. For the captain, calm was a greater value. Hans didn't miss a chance to hang out.
When everyone expressed their joy about the appearance of the old friend, it was time to introduce the new girl to the team. This role was taken over by Sandy. She put a hand on her shoulder,
—Aquarius is standing next to me.
Hans raised an eyebrow in surprise, then smiled amiably and reached out to Charley. They shook hands. The man bowed his head to one side, looking intently at the face of the new acquaintance. He still smelled like alcohol.
— So? What holiday is today?
— Well, there are a lot of them today. For example, I'm still alive and able to think.
Randy was satisfied with the answer, and he chuckled. A few seconds the room was silent, but suddenly Hans decided to ask the new girl about her favorite writer. For some reason, it was always the first question he asked his new friends. She slightly hesitated. Charley didn't expect that from a man who smelled like alcohol. However, her answer was quite clear and definite
Upon hearing this, Hans lighted up. His eyes shone and the mouth opened slightly. It seemed like he was ready to squeal. However, instead of screeching, the guest began actively gesticulating and shaking his hands with joy. Aquarius was very confused and did not understand what was going on. Sandy nodded slightly to her like saying that she will explain everything.
Hans cleared his throat, tousled his hair, and shouted:
— Shet, they mention you!
Then he turned to the new girl:
— Don't worry, Shakespeare didn't exist. I mean, he was, but that's not the exact truth.
The Knowledgeable's speech was slow, but at the same time, energetic. He somehow managed to combine the opposite concepts, and this made him different from everyone else. In the same manner, he continued to explain to Charley Shakespeare's story. About a month ago, she would have listened to the person who said that like he was crazy. However, now, any madness passed for normality. Probably, the Zodiac trust was the main reason for acceptance of all changes, though it was difficult to tell for certain.
Almost every day brought its surprises. Today, Charley found out she was in the same place with her favorite author. According to Hans, the captain once fell in love and devoted some part of his life to creativity. Several years passed, and he gave all his works to a certain Billy. At the same time, he taught this guy to write beautifully. Unfortunately, in the end, Shet realized it was not worth doing, but the past could not be changed.
Charley was listening and trying to figure out if the speaker was lying. The story was logical, without deviations, however, something in Hans's voice was not right, sarcasm was felt. At least, it seemed so to her. She focused all her attention on the timbre, and not on the details of the story. Usually, she could read people's mind and she did not need to think about their intonations, now, she was looking for a subtext. It seemed that in the end everyone would laugh and declare it a joke. That would be funny, Charley would laugh too. However, the story was over and nobody giggled, unfortunately or fortunately. Friends were just waiting for the reaction of the newcomer. After all, not every day could provide the opportunity to see how someone is surprised to learn the history of Shakespeare's works. Aquarius was stunned.
Suddenly Hans turned quickly, stepped into the center of the room, and spread his hands to the sides, drawing attention to himself.
— Good news! The training center has moved! Now it's on Trana, — he looked at Charley, saw her expression, and decided to explain, — Trana is a space platform, the most beautiful place in the Universe. It is difficult to get to it, however, to get away from there is twice as hard. Landscapes hold you... Oh! Incidentally, all the Zodiacs and the Guardians are hanging out there! — added he, expecting to evoke joy in Aquarius.
However, she only gave a strained smile and nodded. She was still 'digesting' the news about Shakespeare. Plus, she didn't believe that Trana was so mega-beautiful place. Probably just some kind of resort with a sea and manicured lawns or, on the contrary, a nice Alpine village. The girl did not expect anything fabulous. Though her internal borders of reality expanded, it was impossible to get rid of them completely. Now the limit of the acceptance was teleportation and air powers.
It was about midnight, everyone began to slowly go to their rooms. The twins left together, continuing to argue about something and fight. Two Knowledgeables went to the captain's quarters together to analyze the latest events that happened in the world, choose important to retell it and throw out unnecessary ones, thereby clearing the memory. Charley and Grayson were left alone. A little more than ten hours ago, the 'wall' between them began crumbling, however, a few bricks still remained. Trust wasn't enough to become best friends. It was unclear why, but Charley could hardly look into the eyes of her Guard. She was embarrassed by him for some reason. Like all the time he was freaking out, but it was she who blushed. Is it really such a difficult task to make friends with someone? Why a common language with those with whom we are not obliged to communicate is found almost immediately, and with those with whom we have to talk to, it is searched for a long time? Human nature has always been complicated. It could not be understood analytically or logically. Reflection required something commonly called a soul.
Charley tried to think of something to talk about but there were no ideas. After going through a bunch of options, she decided to start with a simple. In the end, if nothing would have happened, it was always possible to unobtrusively finish the dialogue.
— How was your day?
Gray looked up and said it was fine. There were hints of surprise and confusion in his voice as if he had been yanked out of some deep thought. Sagittarius had such a feature — he was in two dimensions at once. He spoke with everybody, smiled, however, at the same time was a bit detached from reality. Though the boy often told something, he never mentioned himself. If someone from his entourage asked to describe his personality, he wouldn't learn anything except for the external data, nature, name, and age. Origins, beloved things, principles — this all was kept in secret. The only one who knew everything about Grayson was Shet, however, even the guy had no idea about it. This was not uncommon — we may not suspect that someone knows us like the back of his hand. This is an endless conflict — we don't know too much about ourselves, but outsiders know everything.
This feature was the reason for the wall between the Guard and his Zodiac. She unconditionally trusted him, however, she was not ready to reveal herself. Her new friend was incomprehensible, inexplicable. The girl was watching him. Alone Grayson was pleasant, in the company of Randy became a fan of anime with a stupid laugh, with the captain seemed to be a good boy. These changes were not hypocrisy, they did not stand for any evil thought, but because of them there were questions, 'Where is the real he? Who is he?'
The place for the ship was illuminated with lots of lights. From the height, it was obvious it had a shape of a huge circle. It was nighttime on Trana, so it was impossible to see the nearest landscape. Charley turned from the window and stared forward. In twenty minutes she was to step on different soil, to breathe different air, to feel the new force of gravity. She had no clue what was the future place of habitat, its flora, and fauna. She knew that soon she will officially take life on a higher level. As Hans managed to explain it, there were two basic dimensions in the world, and the rest added in accordance with one or another religion, for example, heaven and hell. The general world and the highest level remained unchangeable. Zodiacs, Guardians, Knowledgeables, and Azones were parts of the latter. No matter how undesirable it might be, without them, the Balance of good and bad would not exist. There must be a drop of chaos in the sea of peace, just as there must be a drop of peace in the sea of chaos. Two opposite values cannot exist without each other. The world was too complicated to understand in a couple of minutes. Hans promised everything would get clear in a few days. Now, she just had to wait.
There was a slight vibration all over the ship before the engines went out, and Moma allowed everyone to unfasten their belts. It was turned on a few minutes ago. All the time, while Aquarius was on board, the computer was turned off in order to avoid frights and inconvenience due to the high robot intelligence. In all actuality, the main reason was Grayson because he couldn't just ignore Moma.
The captain turned off the ship's system and opened the hatch. Six people went out into the night darkness. The smell of fuel immediately hit them in noses. Something squeaked in the heads, and they felt vibration once again. Legs easily flew away from the ground. Charley looked up at the sky in surprise and opened her mouth. Millions of stars were scattered across the dark surface. They flickered, differed in color, fell, lit, and burned. Seemed like there was boiling some own, separate life. Gray smiled slightly and called to her. Standing in the parking lot for a while was not the best idea.
All six entered the hall with a glass ceiling. One wall had a reception, though there was no one behind it. Hans went up to it and pressed the bell a few times. A loud sound flew through the hall, echoing from the marble walls and floor. Everyone shivered in surprise. Suddenly there was a sound of heels. A short girl with dark skin and long brown hair entered the hall. She hugged Hans and kissed him on the cheek, then shook hands with everyone. The female looked tired. It seemed like she was about to sleep. However, everybody desired it as well — it was after midnight.
— I'm Shavon... Happy to see you on Trana!
The girl smelled like apples. She smiled and went to the front desk. The Knowledgeables checked in everyone and got the keys. All together went outside, but this time, on the territory of Trana. They were separated from the car park by the house registration and an invisible wall that filtered oxygen. Breathing was easily and freely. Beautifully trimmed bushes, palm trees grew around, fireflies flew. Paths, which were bound in different directions from the house were lightened up by the round lanterns, floating in the air. Charley fell in love with this place. Perhaps, it actually was hard to leave.
Meanwhile, Shavon explained how to use the keys as a GPS. Randy volunteered to help her. Everything worked not too difficult — it was necessary to take a small fraction of the power of your element and apply to the key. Next appeared a hologram map of the entire Trana. On the projection, you could select a destination, and the navigator would pave the route there.
— High technology. No magic and fantasy, — smiled Shavon.
Then she said a couple of informational points about the place where they all were, kissed Hans on the cheek and disappeared. Noticing the incomprehensible look of Aquarius, he clarified the situation.
— My daughter. The only exception from all people. I don't know about her dignity, but I had nowhere to put her. Besides, the receptionist for this Paradise would be a great idea. Shavon doesn't even remember Earth, I brought her here as a little baby. She's beautiful, isn't she?
The eyes of the Knowledgeable showed pride and happiness. Charley smiled and nodded. It was amazing how the father was different from his daughter, however, still they had something similar.
Everyone was about to leave when Seth suddenly stopped them.
— We need to decide who will supervise Charley. Nothing personal, but you have no idea how to manage your Powers, — he shrugged.
— Char better go to the workouts with me. For other places, we have Sandy and Randy. Rowena is also a good help, — pointed Hans, yawning.
With the latter, Aquarius still had to meet. Nobody began to argue, all arranged such conditions. Saying goodbyes, they went their own ways.
Charley and Randy passed the glowing pool where some Zodiacs and Guards were having fun. They waved the newcomer and called Gemini to join them, though he refused, citing fatigue. The guys crossed a square with a cafe, another pool with a slide and finally came to a turn next to a sign 'Zodiacs'.
— Almost 'welcome'! — happily commented on Randy and turned to the friend.
They smiled at each other. The final destination was close. Charley's heart was pounding harder as they approached a new house. She knew she would live with Gemini and Libra, with whom, in theory, she had to easily find a common language, but still the girl was worried. What if she says or does something wrong or doesn't like Rowena? What then? The excitement grew, though outwardly Charley did not show it — it would get worse if Randy began asking what was wrong. Everyone is tired of trying to understand each other or explain their emotions. It's easier to keep everything inside. Besides, there was no turning back.
Thinking, Charley didn't notice, as they came close to a two-story villa with panoramic windows on an entire wall. They were covered with curtains, so it was impossible to see what was inside. Aquarius inspected the outside of the house. The roof was in the form of a triangle, on the left side there was a terrace on which a wicker hanging chair was slightly swinging, and in front of it, there was a small coffee table. On two sides stayed pillars, paved with cut stone. The far one was wrapped in a vine. Randy pulled a friend to the entrance through the terrace on a tiled path. It turned out, panoramic windows surrounded a living room with three sides. Gemini inserted the key into the keyhole and pushed a glass door. The guys came inside.
Their ears immediately heard the sound of TV programs from Earth. After listening, they realized someone was watching figure skating. Randy rolled his eyes and muttered something like 'Again...'. He raised his hand to a white wooden bedside table beside him and knocked on it.
— Tuk-tuk-tuk! We're home!
The TV was turned off and they heard soft footsteps. A second later a tall girl dressed in a tunic and black leggings came to them. A messy bun graced her head. The hair was dark and became lighter on the ends. She wore thin round-rimmed glasses. Removing a loose strand of hair, the girl warmly said hello and introduced herself.
— Welcome! I'm Rowena, Libra, — with these words she reached out and smiled.
Randy hugged her, raising her slightly above the floor. She shrieked and giggled. Apparently, these two have been knowing each other for a long time. Now, it was time to introduce the new girl. Gemini slightly shoved Aquarius on the shoulder with his fist and winked at her.
— It's Charley, Aquarius. Now we have a complete set!
— Nice to meet you!
There was a slight pause, Rowena quickly scratched her head and turned to the new friend with an offer to show the villa. No one refused. Libra smoothly turned and headed towards the house. Part of the living room merged with the hallway. Four purple armchairs and a white coffee table were placed there. The rest of the room was behind the wall. Everybody went there.
Along the left wall there was a rack with glass shelves, many of which were free. Brown wooden boxes stood at the bottom. Here and there lied books, magazines, or lemons. On the wall opposite the window facing the main street were shelves and a TV, under which there was a fireplace. The middle of the room was occupied by a large leather sofa in the form of a right angle. Under it lied a black carpet with red stains. The floor was tiled, however, it was heated so one could walk barefoot. The living room and a kitchen were connected by a corridor, which also led to a staircase of black parquet, with glass partitions and iron railings. The staircase led to a corridor on the second floor, the floor of which was also made of black parquet.
Along the walls of the corridor were situated doors. Rowena showed their rooms but stopped in front of the Aquarius's one.
— Charley, may I ask you to wait for your room? Sweet things need to be left for the dessert.
When they reached the end of the corridor, three Zodiacs were in a lobby, as well surrounded by three panoramic windows. There were a pair of brown chairs and a couple of puffs. On the only common wall hung illuminated shelves. Looking at the street, Charley saw a part of the pool, where some of the Zodiacs and the Guards were still having fun, the area with cafes and paths, illuminated by spherical lights. Aquarius silently enjoyed the opened beauty. Rowena walked over to one of the windows and put her hand against it. The glass immediately drove off to the side, opening the entrance to a loggia with wicker sofas, armchairs, and tables. On the bedside table, standing in the corner, was a pile of blankets. Charley breathed deeply. Completely clean air got into her lungs, except that it was 'colored' with aromas of Trana's plants. After standing for a few minutes in such silence, Rowena called a new friend back into the house.
— It's time to get to know your room.
The farthest door from the stairs led right into Charley's bedroom. The girl pulled a handle.
Firstly the eyes caught a small fireplace, standing at the end of the wall of brown polished stone. Turning her head to the left, Zodiac saw an infinitely distant sky, strewn with millions of stars, the seashore, washed by water, which left blue lights on the sand. After looking further through a huge panoramic window, Charley saw outlines of hills, overgrown with forest, and a sparsely wooded area. Rowena turned on a switch and a lamp over a bed lighted up. Now, it was possible to see the whole room. The wall with the fireplace did not reach the window, there was some space between them. The made double bed stood parallel the wall. A carpet lied next to it, on the other side of which stood a small couch and a stone basket in shape of a half-shell. The floor in this room was parquet and all the walls were brick. Charley could not express how much she liked what was going on. She was thrilled. The girl once again proved that after bad things comes something really good. Of course, then everything could go downhill again. However, what's the point of worrying about the future if she was here and now? She felt tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and brushed them away.
— Why do you have so many panoramic windows? On the ship, and here, and everywhere.
— It's simple. Being surrounded by such unrealistically beautiful landscapes, it's just silly to cover them with blank walls.
— Yeah... and nobody bothers you? Not boring?
— That's what makes us special. We never cease to wonder. In addition, every moment of the surrounding nature at least a little bit changes. We are able to notice that. Space magic.
Charley caught herself thinking the scenery has really changed. There were new tracks from the sea on the sand, a branch on a tree lowered a little. The changes were small, however, evident, and it freaking pleased the girl. Rowena noticed the enthusiasm of the new friend and smiled.
— Wait! Aren't you afraid someone can watch you through the glass?
— No. These windows are arranged cunningly — from the outside it seems like there are curtains, and from the inside, everything is perfectly visible. Like tinting on a car, just cooler.
— So there are no curtains in the living room?
— They're no curtains anywhere.
Aquarius remembered she really did not notice them when she first came into the house. Alars had thought of everything. Now, she had a question, 'Where did they get it all from?' Rowena as if read her thoughts
— Neither Zodiacs nor the Guards, nor the Knowledgeables don't devote their entire lives to the hunt for evil. There aren't critical times 24/7, so the 'Star squad' can live a normal life, learning, working, and so on. Except, our activities aren't confined within a single planet.
Charley enjoyed being Zodiac more and more. She used to think it was a burden full of difficulties, but in fact, there were positive aspects as well.
Rowena pulled the newcomer's hand. The twin followed them. Crossing the room, they found themselves in a corner between the wall and the window. There was a glass door. Libra put her hand on its surface, and a wind blew inside. Taking a step, they were on a balcony. A wicker pendant chair was slightly swinging and a wicker table stood still. Charley remembered in childhood she wanted the same things, but did not find them and forgot. Now, she could sit and swing in the chair of her dreams, as much as she wanted. Aquarius was perfectly happy. In a fit of joy, she hugged her new neighbors, who were very happy that Charley was delighted. After admiring the balcony and nature around a little more, all together returned inside.
Rowena noticed the guys were very exhausted after the day. Especially, Charley — she was fortunate enough to experience a sea of emotions. Finally, showing where the bathroom was, Libra went down and turned on the TV again. Though now she used remote headphones, so as not to disturb others. Randy nudged Charley with his fist on the shoulder one more time and said, 'Goodnight'. Charley giggled, did the same thing and then went to the bathroom.
She felt herself home, surrounded by family. Yes, she almost did not know Rowena, and Gemini was also a newcomer in her life, but on a subconscious level, she knew they were ready to come to her aid, to listen, to talk, to understand, and to protect. Charley didn't want to hurt them under any circumstances. While the water was running down her back, she was going through all her traits that might irritate others. It was impossible to immediately completely get rid of them, however, the gradual work would have yielded results. Charley presented her life in a form of a book, took some of the pages, tore them and threw away. She was starting a whole new phase. Practically, the girl began to live again. This chance was given not to everyone and not every day. It couldn't be missed.
Sun rays flooded the room with bright light. Behind a huge window, a wind was beginning to worry the sea and trees around the house. Charley rolled over on the stomach and rubbed her head on the pillow. Then arched her back, slowly sat down, turned to the landscape and wrapped in a blanket. She involuntarily smiled with half-closed eyes. As a child, she wanted to wake up facing the ocean, and now, many years later, it became a reality. Dreams come true under the most unexpected circumstances. Doesn't it make life more interesting? The fire was still burning, creating a sense of comfort. Charley reluctantly got out of bed and headed for the door. She wanted to find the other neighbors if they were already awake.
Walking out the door, she walked to the stairs. Coming closer, she heard sounds of some Japanese songs coming from the bathroom. Apparently, Randy was there. Charley suggested he was styling his hair again to look like Yato. This guy's love to anime amused the rest of the Alars. Only Grayson didn't mind watching a few movies or series in this genre. He was the one who was cool about it. Gemini was just a fan of Japanese culture — he preferred clothes, interior items, demeanor in the spirit of anime characters. Charley tried to make out the words, but nothing really realizing, decided to go further down.
According to Rowena, the kitchen was to the left of the stairs. It already smelled like something delicious. Perhaps there were pancakes. Aquarius accelerated her step a little because she felt hungry. Going into this bright, spacious room, she immediately saw Rowena, dancing in front of a stove frying something in a pan. Looking over the shoulder, Charley realized she was right. She inhaled noisily. Libra shuddered and looked back. Apparently, she did not hear the steps of Aquarius. Rowena gasped, but the next second chuckled. Removed from the pan the next batch of pancakes and made new circles, shaking off the hands, finally, hugged Charley with a wish of good morning.
There was a knock. Both girls turned and saw Randy standing on the doorstep. He reached out, slowly walked to the table and plopped down on the chair. Rowena reproachfully looked at him,
— We are eating outside today! — reported she.
The guy slowly got up and went to the door. On the way, he hugged the neighbors, thus saying hello. They looked at each other, grabbed glasses with plates and went outside. It was the first day of a whole new life for Charley.
Hans pushed two halves of large doors, and they opened, tearing the passage to a great hall, with dark blue walls covered with a kind of varnish. Smelt a bit of burning. There was not a single object in the room, not even a lamp. The light came from the floor, though it was not enough because of what the room remained dark. Every step reflected from surfaces with echo. Charley felt uncomfortable.
The doors closed with rumblings. Aquarius and Hans were left alone. Rubbing his hands and rolling from heel to toe, the Knowledgeable cleared his throat and stared into the girl's face, as if careful reading a complex text. Then he clapped his hands.
— So show me what you can do.
— To be honest, nothing.
Hans chuckled. He had heard this phrase many times, and each time it was pronounced with the same intonation. People are so unsure of themselves, why no one believes he has great powers? Why does it always take someone else to open them? The man shrugged.
— Well. If you want to live, defend yourself.
With these words, he snapped his fingers, and bullets from the walls flew straight at Charley. She screamed, put her hands on her head and sat down. Simultaneously with this action around her formed a tall pillar of strong streams of wind. Flying into it, the bullets literally exploded under pressure, and their remains turned into dust. Aquarius didn't hear anything except her own voice. Keep screaming to know you are alive. Everything was happening quickly and swiftly. There were no sparks or cod.
The bullet rain stopped, the pillar disappeared, but Charley continued squealing. Hans stood still waiting until she calmed down. Soon the girl's voice began trembling. Opening her eyes, she realized she the danger was gone.
The girl looked at a coach as a traitor. She understood this was a way to unlock her potential, though this method was too cruel. At the same time, she began to understand why Grayson did the same thing during their first meeting in the hospital — Sagittarius just didn't know how to do another way. He learned this tactic from the beginning. So it wasn't him who was crazy, it was Hans. Thus from the 'wall' between Aquarius and her Guard fell off a few more bricks.
The girl stood up and dusted herself off. Looking around, she checked herself to see that nothing harmed her. In an instant, anger vanished and was replaced by an interest in what was happening. After all, everything was done for her, and she had to accept it. Powers had saved her life for more than once, so now it was time to learn how to use them. Shet once said she had a little more than two weeks to prepare. No one expected that during this time, it was possible to teach Charley to the level of the others, however, she was able to learn the basement. Nevertheless, even for a minimum level, it required a lot of work. Since the last thing Zodiac wanted was to upset the new family, she swore to herself to fulfill all of Hans's tasks, using the maximum of her capabilities. In addition, the mark on her hand, which Grayson made, increased the connection to the Universe, causing the girl's capabilities and powers' strengthening. She glared defiantly at her coach, put her feet shoulder-width apart and hands — on her waist.
— So? How does it work?
He smiled in the answer. The man definitely liked that attitude. During his life, he managed to be a teacher and instructor on different planets. There were lazybones and workaholics everywhere, though there was no one as hardworking as Zodiacs and the Guards. These guys could sacrifice everything if they wanted something. However, if there was no goal, or it wasn't the most attractive one, they turned into fully hacks.
There was nothing new in the case of Aquarius — she could use her special powers, thanks to the instinct of self-preservation, however, the girl did not know how to call them on purpose. She had to learn it. According to Hans's plan, the first five days had to be fully devoted to the development of abilities. It was necessary to know how to use them for combat and defensive purposes. The rest of the tricks for the sake of entertainment could be learned later.
It all started with the basics of breathing. The Knowledgeable put Charley in the middle of the room, ordered to take the most relaxed position and breathe. He started slowly counting to five and back. In parallel with the breaths, the girl had to try to feel every cell of her body. On the exhale, she was required to mentally direct all the energy exactly where Hans told her, and push it with hands. Only then the air could be released. Of course, at first, nothing worked. Charley wasn't a genius to catch everything after the first attempt.
— You have to feel your exhalation. If you do it, you will feel a bit cold.
The girl messed up her hair. She didn't sense anything.
— Imagine your body. See all the veins, muscles and tendons inside. Now, breathe in, imagine the air as a clot of energy, and then mentally direct it to where you need.
Charley decided to try it. 'Remember the rule of the double CD: Calm Down, Concentrate, Do.' — she reminded herself. Remembered the structure of a human in a textbook of anatomy, she correlated it with her body. Took a deep breath. The girl imagined as she separates the air into two parts and then mixes each of them with the blood flow in her palms, and exhaled. A cold hit her hands. At first, Charley thought it was just her, but suddenly Hans clapped his hands and smiled happily.
— Ladies and gentlemen, we got 'em.
A charge of air flew from the palms. Although it was not strong, it could be seen. The feeling was completely new. The girl could tell the air what to do and it obeyed. Either she was under drugs or the reality didn't end up on Earth.
She wanted to express her joy, but the Knowledgeable shook his head and said, 'no'. The concentration could easily get lost, and then they would have to start all over again. There was no time for returning to the starting point. Charley clenched her teeth and suppressed feelings. Now, it was not about them, this part of herself had to be locked up.
Meanwhile, Hans has complicated the task. He demanded to learn how to determine the distance to different walls. Charley thought she could figure out how many steps there were to the wall with the door as she had recently walked that distance. However, it was stupid to hope for a simple solution to the problem. The Knowledgeable approached her, put a blindfold on her eyes, twisted and then confidently led her to some other point in the room. From here, she had to determine the distance to the door. It was much harder. After a few mistakes, Hans gave a hint.
— What is your height?
— One meter and seventy-eight centimeters.
— How many your bodies will you need to make a continuous path to the door?
Aquarius did not know what to say because she could not even tell where the point was. She wanted to give up and whimper, but it was too easy. She has endured so much not in order to complain because of the door. Focusing and again repeating to herself the rule of the double CD, Charley mentally transferred herself to the place of her initial position. Slowly assembled in mind all the turns and tried to remember how many steps she made. Calculating the length of the step, mentally modeling the plan of the hall, the girl was able to find an approximate answer to the question.
Hans raised his eyebrows.
— Five. Not bad, actually.
He went back to Zodiac, turned her around and led to another place. Now, his actions were interrupted and performed at different speeds. He was twisting things. With every time it got more difficult to give correct answers, however, Char was not allowed to relax. If she was one of the most decent people, she had to match them. To the tenth question, the brain was literally seething. There was a desire to take the bandage off, but it would mean to deceive both herself and Hans. It wouldn't be fair, it wouldn't be right. Charley once again gathered in her head all the movements, designed the room, put herself in it. Nobody was in a hurry, and she could think as long as required. Several times rechecking herself, she called the number. Even though she made a small mistake, the response was counted, and Hans removed the bandage. The first steps were taken.
Next tasks seemed easier. Everything was based on breath and the feeling of being in space. Without them, there was a big chance not to cope.
Finally, he allowed Charley to sit down. Looking at the clock, the Knowledgeable shook his head — several hours had passed. It was expected that the first part would take less time. However, no matter how they wanted to accelerate, it was impossible. Otherwise, the material would not have been assimilated firmly. If Aquarius took the usual course, her result would suit everyone in one hour of training. Nevertheless, in the accelerated mode requirements were higher. Hans decided not to inform the girl, fearing that she would start hurrying, and then the training would definitely go down the drain.
Therefore, the Knowledgeable did not comment on the strong failure of the schedule. He didn't pretend anything was wrong. Instead, he sat across from Charley and moved on to the theoretical part. He had to tell about the levels of consciousness. The man assumed it would take a lot of time, after all, everyone usually got stuck on this moment.
— So. Every Alar knows the rule of double CD: Calm Down, Concentrate, Do. You may have heard it before. The thing is, it's not just words. They symbolize levels of consciousness. The first level is calm. Usually, creatures imagine sea, forest, glade, and so on. Something that's peaceful. The second level is concentration. Here, there is a situation in which you need to use all your attention. Someone presents an exam, a math lesson or a foreign language. In general, everything is very personal. The last level is action. There is no mental process here. It's connected to the outside world. That is, the third stage is the final result, the achievement of the goal.
Charley remembered the time at the hospital when she was dying. The events of that evening were hazy, but she distinctly remembered the voice telling her what to do. It still seemed familiar, though the girl could not say whose it was. Thinking about it, she missed Hans's next words, and he decided she just didn't understand what he was talking about. Scratching his head, the man began to carefully select the words to explain everything even easier. When Charley didn't react the second time, he ran his hand over his face and whispered.
— God, give me patience...
Suddenly Aquarius seemed to come to life and looked coldly at the coach, silently asking, 'What?' He gazed at her like a small child who couldn't understand why we should not poke fingers in a socket. The girl realized what he wanted from her, and tried to crack a smile.
— In all actuality, I'm familiar with the levels consciousness. Once I was dying... long story, never mind. I heard a voice telling me this rule and I got through all the stages. Practically, it was the first thing I dealt with before I even knew who I am. I'm still not really sure, they say that you have to explain it. Or Grayson. It doesn't matter because everyone continues to keep their mouths shut.
Now, Hans had mixed feelings. On one side, he was glad they had a chance to catch up on the training schedule, but at the same time, it angered him that he had already lost more than half an hour to idle talk. To let off steam, he made a strange guttural sound and stood in front of the Aquarius.
The coach took the girl by the shoulders and ordered to go to the first stage. Aquarius closed her eyes and took a deep breath. All the thoughts in her head disappeared except for one, 'Calm down'. Two people found themselves in a sunny meadow. Around them flew dragonflies and butterflies, a light breeze was blowing. Hans looked around. He liked the atmosphere, but it was not new to him. Almost all the Zodiacs and the Guardians of the air were here. The only thing that changed — grass, clouds, and insects around, though it all depended on the priorities of a certain person. The only one who was different was Randy — his first stage was a sky castle Laputa with an abundance of food, however, everyone had already got used to the weirdness of this boy. Feeling that Charley had relaxed enough, Hans asked her to move on. He was expecting some classrooms, however, it was absolutely not the case.
A moment later, both of them were already standing on the bridge with a brisk movement. The Knowledgeable tried to figure out how in such an environment it was possible to focus, but there was no logical idea in his head. He heard a call for help. Turning, the man saw Charley lying on her stomach at the edge of the bridge in the place where were no fences.
— 'To concentrate' doesn't mean 'to die'! Get back!
The girl did not listen to him or simply not heard. Now, Hans had to lay down on his stomach next to Charley to get her out if she suddenly starts falling. At this moment, he thought it was time to retire, as these crazy teenagers each time shocked him more and more, and he did not have a desire to go to an asylum for special treatment. When the Knowledgeable was next to Charley, he was surprised and horrified, even more, seeing the copy of Aquarius hanging over the water. Zodiac herself tried to pull it out. Hans was dying to step in but knew he was not allowed to do it. Clenching his teeth, he crawled a little to the side, so as not to interfere, and began to observe. If something went wrong, it was urgent to stop the practice. However, so far everything has been under control. Extending her arm forward, Charley reached for her copy until she grabbed her forearm. Straining her whole body, the girl pulled herself up. No sudden movements, otherwise there was a risk of dropping the copy. Muscles were already aching, sweaty palms, though she did not give up. She was holding on the asphalt, pressing into it. The only thing that mattered right now was saving the life. Everything else went by the wayside. Hans looked closely at what was happening. He understood why this situation became a synonymous with the word 'concentration' for Aquarius, nevertheless, he considered this method very rigid. It was still impossible to change it, so he just had to accept it.
By this point, Charley had already dragged her copy to the bridge, and now they were both lying on the ground, breathing hard and fast. Aquarius turned to Hans and nodded.
— I... I'm ready... for... the next... level...
The Knowledgeable came over, sat down. The last stage was the action, and it was necessary to come up with it. Hesitated for a few seconds, he whispered the Aquarius her mission. They took each other's shoulders and closed their eyes. One last push, you can't fail.
Taking a deep breath, Charley pulled herself from the bridge and moved into the hall. At the same moment, Hans jumped away from her as far as possible. He knew it wasn't safe to be close. A few more times inhaling deeply, Aquarius suddenly froze. Three seconds passed by before a wind with an explosion blew from the girl. It was not strong, but Hans got on its way. It was already a good indicator.
There were still four days for basic strength and skills. The Knowledgeable checked the time and was pleasantly surprised the training was on schedule. If they kept the same pace, Aquarius would have some useful skills by the Moment. Hans hoped for the best — without it, all efforts would be in vain.
A plate with a hamburger with a noise fell on the table, followed by a glass of orange soda. Grayson quickly pushed back his chair, sat down, and motioned to the table. He messed his already back hair, cracked fingers. The twins approached the table, lowered their trays and joined Charley with her Guard. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, an umbrella over the table gave a shadow.
— One of the reasons why Trana is the most Yuri place is the perfect weather. It's never too hot and never too cold. That's amazing! — Randy turned the visor cap with an image of another anime character back. His sister rolled her eyes and in one motion knocked the headdress off her brother. It fell in ketchup and got dirty. Gemini had a fit and was going to scream but instead made a strange sound with his mouth closed. Aquarius looked at him in surprise.
Sandy sighed, gave her brother a slap and glanced at the friend.
— His issues. Actually, when he says that something is 'Yuri', it means 'cool'. This moron is just madly in love with Yuri Nakamura and periodically alters the words under it. Get used. Perhaps one day it will come to him that she is nothing more than a fictional character.
The last words hit Randy.
— You're the one fictional character here!
— In fact, Yuri is that beautiful... — shrugged Gray.
Sandy kicked him under the table, causing one of the glasses to tip over and its contents spilled on the surface. A mess has begun. The siblings pushed each other, Sagittarius jumped out of the table, trying to save his clothes. At some point, a tall guy approached the friends. His hair was short, at the center it was longer and resembled a mohawk, though it still needed to grow. He leaned on the handles of Charley's chair and glanced around at the company. Cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself. Randy spotted the new member and fell silent. The others followed his example. Aquarius shrank, trying to increase the distance between her and the stranger.
— I don't know who Yuri is, but I think it's not worth the shouting in the cafeteria, — right above the girl's ear came a melodic male voice.
— You're wrong, — Randy's speech suddenly has become smoother and more measured. Charley was surprised with such a sudden change because usually, her friend spoke fast. Now, a completely different person was sitting in front of her. She thought whether he suffered from something of a split personality.
— I don't think so, — the stranger smiled and combed his hair back. He smelled like Pina colada. Aquarius realized she wanted this cocktail, however, decided not to tell anyone about her desire.
Gemini raised one eyebrow and looked at the opponent as if saying, 'come on?' Sandy friendly smiled and withdrew from the table, to say hello. The guy hugged her and patted her hair. She giggled. They both turned to Charley, and Sandy introduced the stranger. Turned out, his name was Ace.
— You may sit with us if you want. We are always happy to see you! — Sandy smiled at him.
The guy just shook his head.
— Thank you, but I have other plans now. Maybe next time. Just don't make so much noise, please, — he gave Grayson and Randy five before leaving.
When he was far away, Sandy leaned over to her friend and whispered.
— I'm a huge fan of Ace's voice. It's so perfect...
Charley glanced at her. Gemini only put a finger to her lips, winked and returned to her place. Meanwhile, Aquarius once again reproduced in memory all the phrases of the new man and came to the conclusion that he spoke really nice.
After a few minutes, silence at the table was broken. Charley decided it was time to join the team.
— So, maybe you can finally tell me the whole story of all this... something?
Grayson wanted to answer, though while he was thinking, Sandy beat him to it.
— Alright. Imagine two sisters. One of them is the older one, the second one is younger. Of course, they like fighting. Sounds ok, yes? Yes, but now, imagine they have special Powers or something like that and they use Earth as a favorite toy. Really sweet girls. People are no more than tiny details. Got it?
— I guess...
— Great! Also, there is the Balance. Basically, it keeps the good and bad equal. Zodiacs, Guards, and the Knowledgeables have to protect it from breaking. Briefly, that's all.
Charley was confused.
— Okay... but where are the sisters now?
— We call them Progenitors. The younger one is called Kotra. She didn't like the fact that she had less control than the older one — Alarea. As a common bad bitch, she started a fight. A big fight. I would call it a war. You know, all these antique wars... they were stages of the sister fight. Alarea couldn't just deal with all the chaos, and the first Alars — Zodiacs, Guards, the Knowledgeables — couldn't prevent it as well. Twenty-six people with 'benefits' — not these benefits — didn't have a chance against a couple of thousands. Take into account they were weaker than we are... dead end.
— You are such a nerd! There are at least five ways to tell this story briefly and interesting as hell! — interrupted Randy. He could not miss a chance to tease his sister.
Sagittarius came up with the idea to arrange a day of silence for Gemini and finally take a break from their endless monologues (which they considered dialogues) and quarrels. It was worth noting that these two behaved inadequately only in the company of close friends. The rest of the Zodiacs believed Randy was a pretty calm and balanced guy, his sister was a charming person with a pleasant voice. Except for the Knowledgeables and Charley with her Guardian, no one has seen this pair in their ordinary condition. So it was surprising for the rest of Alars that they were the source of the noise.
During the conversation, time flew by. Gradually, the cafeteria began getting empty. Suddenly, the friends were approached by Hans. He exchanged a few sentences with his former students, then put his arm around Charley's shoulder and dragged her behind him.
— Wait, where are we going? — she tried to stop him.
— You stole a second from me! That's a big crime. Isn't it unclear that we're going back to the training?
There were notes of irritation and jokes in his tone. The identity of this person was based on opposites, which was very attractive. Aquarius raised her hands up, backed a little, and followed Hans, deciding not to anger him once again. After all, obedience was now a better idea than rebellion.
The day wore on, and Charley still had not learned to properly use her ability to teleport. About twelve hours she had been performing all sorts of tasks aimed at improving the skills of moving in space, however, almost everything was useless. She had managed to appear near the ceiling, hit Hans, stay still and appear in the opposite direction from the predetermined point. In the end, the coach rolled his eyes, walked up to the student and put his hands on her shoulders, looking straight into her eyes.
— Imagine this room. Find your location. Now, choose a place to move to. Direct yourself to this point. Focus your energy on the move. Mentally transfer yourself, and then break away from the earth in the subconscious. Think of nothing but your purpose. Put everything else on the back burner. Got it? Now, force yourself to move to the right corner of this room!
There was a silence. In the next second the girl vanished and appeared at the other end of the room, though not where she was supposed to. Hans rubbed his nose. Teleportation has never been the easiest stage in Alars' training. Each student came up with his own ways to piss off the coach. For example, Randy constantly took a Jedi pose before going to the destination, and Grayson, during the learning process, used to sit in a Lotus position and began to meditate.
After the fifth failed attempt the girl was able to move to the right place, however, she spoiled her face — it appeared on the other side of the head. Charley was ready to fall into hysterics.
— Don't worry, don't worry. It can be fixed. Calm down. Otherwise, nothing will help you.
— Are you kidding me?! My face is on the other side of my head! What, in the world, is wrong with me?
— Yeah, not the coolest situation ever... Well, first, you have to understand how the teleportation works. The world is like a huge tangle, with threads of time, energy, etc. The Supreme beings move by them. Their bodies are split at the atomic level and then transferred along the threads of time to the desired point. The trick is that the atoms in the thread are disrupted — they are diluted with particles of the Supreme beings that make their way, regardless of the given flow of time. Roughly speaking, teleportation equals time travel — Alars, Guardians, and Azones move through time, but eventually return to the point of departure, just at a different place. In it, their bodies gather together again. Sometimes there are failures and any part of a body may not be where it has to. In this case, you should just move again, so that everything comes back to normal. The main difficulty of teleportation is that you need to constantly keep in mind the image of yourself and your destination. Here, the power of thought works literally.
When the image of the world as an endless ball of thread appeared in the head, it became easier for Charley to navigate in space. She closed her eyes, pushed all extraneous thoughts and emotions aside. Presented herself in the usual form. Then she imagined a thread leading to the right place in the room and ordered herself to merge with it to reach the desired point. She felt cold and shivered. The next moment, a soft click was heard. Charley opened her eyes and found herself in the middle of the hall. She did not want to get there, though now it did not matter. The main task was to regain the normal appearance. At least, Aquarius coped with this.
The watch on Hans's hand beeped a few times, indicating the class was over and the girl was free. However, before letting her go, The Knowledgeable announced important news.
— Tomorrow we will train only a half a day. There is a meeting of all of the Zodiacs and Guards. Yeah, days here are peaceful, though the Moment is coming and soon we will all have to fight on the same field. Therefore, it is necessary to learn the features and capabilities of each other. In addition, we need to discuss the action plan and consider options.
Despite the fact that it was not Charley's first day in the circle of the Supreme creatures, she still could not believe what was happening to her was true. Even less she could believe she would fight with the strongest one of them. She had never played any war games. Even on a computer. And suddenly she became the one on whom depended the fate of the planet. The girl felt small. Twenty-five people and a whole planet counted on her, and all that she could do was somehow teleporting, breathing correctly and controlling the air at a primitive level. You do not have to have high intelligence to understand your weakness. Charley wanted to quit, but it would be too easy. Nodding her head, she slowly walked to the door with a heavy heart.
Suddenly Hans called out her name.
— What do you want? Uh... I'm not interested in the need for food or rest, but your goal. Why do you work so hard, why did you endure in the asylum, for what are you still living?
The Knowledgeable often caught her off guard with important questions, and each time she stood in front of him, intensely thinking. Charley thought about it this time, though quickly found the right answer:
— Honestly, I don't know. I just feel like I'm needed here, needed by all these guys on Trana, you, and Shet. My life is already broken, it cannot be reassembled just because some parts are irretrievably lost. Though I have a chance to start over. It's like rewind the time back to the moment of my birth, but at the same time leave the memory of mistakes. I'm lucky, the Universe loves me. But what will happen to those people on Earth? If Kotra, or whatever it calls itself, causes chaos, none of the seven billion people will be able to reboot.
It suddenly cleared up in her head. The girl got an understanding of who she was and why she was here. She strongly added:
— Yes, this responsibility is too big, but who asked me when choosing my Zodiac?
Aquarius's eyes were shining, cheeks flushed red. Hans nodded thoughtfully. Then quietly told the girl to go, and, turning his back to the door, began to walk slowly in circles. The man still could not understand the full extent of the mission, however, in the eyes of Charley, he seemed to see the second wave of chaos and was horrified. Seven billion of deranged psychopaths could do anything to the planet, and it clearly was something bad.
The sky lit up by millions of stars. Along the tracks hung glowing spherical lamps, insects flew above the grass. Charley closed the doors of the training center, took a few steps forward and stopped, throwing her head back. At home, in England, she didn't really care about the sky. She was not interested in how many stars shone, there were clouds and if she could see the moon. The girl thought about grades, friends, books, and other household problems. The funny thing was that she treated them as if they dictated the fate of humanity. Now, when the fate of Earth really depended on her, she was standing still and admiring the sky on Trana, eleven million light-years from the home planet. Aquarius was afraid of responsibility in general, though constantly took it upon herself. It was like a game 'dare or dare'. Fortunately, usually, she was not given anything more important than an organization of a cookie sale. By the way, the girl coped with that task perfectly well. Nevertheless, the worldwide chaos was the complete opposite of a fair in the school hallway. Not commensurate at all. The chances of coping with this mission seemed illusory. However, something related fair and chaos — Aquarius was not sure in her abilities in every case. Ironically, only once her timidity was objective.
A rustle came from behind the bushes on the left. Someone's voice was heard. Charley listened, but couldn't identify the speakers. She slowly walked over, trying to breathe as quietly as possible. In the dark it was difficult to distinguish anything, however, when she looked closely, figures of two people became recognizable. One was wearing a hooded cloak and the other was wearing a t-shirt and pants. Something was going on between them, though because of the bushes it was hard to see exactly. She heard a cough and a silent moan. Her heart started beating faster. She wanted to help, but at the same time, she was afraid. Among all those creatures on Trana, she was the weakest one. It was useless to go and find some help because these two could disappear. Deciding there was nothing much to lose, Charley rushed into the bushes. Some leaves stuck in her head, hands were scratched. As if the girl wanted to be quiet, she got out from the bushes with a noise. At the same time, the hooded figure vanished.
She was late. The only person the girl saw was a guy, lying and breathing heavily. She got to him, simultaneously remembering the first aid course, which she completed in a school camp. Although her skills were unlikely to help — Alars had their own medicine.
Falling to her knees beside the man, Charley tried to see the features of his face. Finally recognizing him, she took a deep breath to call for help, but suddenly the boy coughed and tried to stand up. Charley exhaled in relief. The last thing she wanted was something hurting Randy.
— What happened?
Gemini shook his head. He leaned on the ground and somehow got up. The twin staggered. Charley looked at him anxiously. Her friend was clearly unwell.
— Don't even think about telling anyone. I'll deal with it.
The guy spoke quietly. He sounded angry. Apparently, something was wrong, but he didn't want to confess. In the next second, the twin changed his facial expression and smiled.
— Let's go home, you need to wake up early tomorrow. I hate to say it, but you have to admit it makes sense. Let's go! — he slapped the girl on the shoulder and stepped towards the bushes.
Charley did not really like the idea of crawling into the bushes one more time, however, she didn't know another way, so the girl had to silently follow her friend. Now, there were even more scratches and the hair looked similar to a nest. She wanted to ask Randy about what happened, but he would hardly give clear answers. Perhaps Aquarius was wrong and she did not want to check herself.
On the way to the house, the twin once again told the companion about some anime. He didn't care about the lack of the girl's attention, he just wanted to talk.
At the door, Charley noticed her hands were shaking. The first and only time when it happened was this morning of the final day of her previous normal life. In fact, not so long ago, but it felt like many years had passed. 'Wow, a crazy trouble's beginning!' — Aquarius jokingly thought. Slightly smiling, she walked into the house. The TV was on, the kitchen smelled like delicious food. Charley grinned. There was no place for negativity on Trana.
It was past midnight when the three neighbors went to their rooms. After several rounds of computer games, all finally got tired. Rowena promised to prepare a special breakfast and did not recommend anyone to be late. The twin grinned and raised his eyebrows up several times. His love for food and anime was not a secret for anyone. Charley swore to wake up on time, too. Waving to each other, the Air signs dispersed.
They had barely closed doors behind them when the sound of Japanese rock came out from Randy's room.
— I swear to God, I'll kick you out if you don't turn off your satanic noise.
Finally, there was silence. Charley giggled. Neighbors' squabbles amused her. Clicking the switch, she turned to the bed and prepared to jump in it, when suddenly stopped, barely stifling a cry. Gray was playing next to the pillows, with interest in examining his fingers. The only thing Aquarius wanted to know — what the hell was the Guardian doing in her bedroom in the middle of the night. Charley always thought guys only went into girls' rooms in teen movies and romance novels. She stared at the guest. He continued studying his hands with interest. Finally, the guy got tired of it.
—Did you know that we bend our fingers 25 million times in our lifetime? I've been doing this for forty minutes straight. Do you think I'll break the record?
— I think it's clearly not something you need to worry about right now.
Grayson propped himself up on his elbow and smiled provocatively.
— Really? And what's that? You're not throwing me out the window. Well, it's kind of bulletproof, if you didn't know.
Charley rolled her eyes. Her plan was to go to bed before eight in the morning. If Sagittarius had problems, she would have gladly listened to him, but he did not look like a man who was in trouble. However, she had to admit she was glad to see her friend. Unexpectedly for herself, Charley has focused on the phrase about the window. Slowly moving her gaze towards the glass, and then back to the guest, she grinned conspiratorially and nodded. Sagittarius understood her intentions and shook his head. He was warned that Aquarius is usually strange, but before he had not really noticed it, and believed in the adequacy of the Sign.
Moving close to the wall, Charley asked the Guard to stay in place. He shook his head one more time, though it had no effect on the intention of the girl. Having counted to three, she ran to the window. Grayson prayed the glass would be actually bulletproof. Otherwise, he had no idea what to do with the broken glass and a body below the villa. There was a thump. Sag closed his eyes, waiting for the window to fall. Charley was sitting on the floor rubbing her left hand. She must have jumped sideways. Seeing a dumbfounded sight of the guest, she smiled.
— You're such a lady!
— And you're crazy! — parried the guy.
Aquarius smiled even wider and straightened. Now, her voice sounded proud.
— Up to date. Been in the loony bin.
— And you are happy about it?
— Well... who said loony bins are for loonies? And my adequacy in your eyes depends only on you. Things are like that not because they are like that, but because we perceive them as such.
Grayson lightly shook his head back. Her words had some logic, though it did not work now. Anyone would call a girl who jumps out of a window abnormal — he did not doubt it. Sag would arrange with Charley philosophical discussion on this but didn't have time. He came to the girl with another goal.
The Guard looked at the glowing waves of the sea behind the glass. They were peacefully rolling ashore, leaving blue stains on the sand. Grayson thought again if he was going to do the right thing. Having come to the conclusion that his intentions were also not an example of common sense, he was only happy — another relatable feature with Aquarius was discovered. It was one more step towards breaking down the wall between them. In addition, the reasonableness seemed boring in the extreme. Going crazy is more fun.
In a few moments, Grayson appeared near the girl and took her hand. It was necessary to act quickly, otherwise, he could get hit. Without explaining anything, he teleported out of the room with Charley. She had no time to analyze something or to bicker.
In the next second, they appeared on the seashore. Aquarius looked around and her face froze with delight. She seemed like a little kid who had just got ice cream. Taking a deep breath, the girl said quietly, without speaking to anyone.
— My guardian angel went nuts. I'm lucky...
There was no negative meaning to these words. On the contrary, they were a compliment. The light from the water illuminated the faces of the two teens while they were watching the mountains. In the air hovered the fragrance of plants, the space sea. Grayson threw his head back to see the sky. He lightly poked the girl in the shoulder and gestured for her to look up. There were thousands of constellations above them, but not one of them was named. On Earth, people broke space into some figures and gave them values, on Trana, were only Zodiac symbols, and the rest of the space had no name. Some things are better to be left nameless, otherwise, they lose their mystery.
Charley sat on the sand closer to the water. The waves reached her feet, making them shine. She looked up at Grayson and clapped beside her, asking him to sit down. He didn't argue. The moment was peaceful, why waste it on useless things?
For a while they sat together, watching the sea leaving stains on the sand. Charley lowered her head.
— You know, you passed the test.
Sagittarius raised his eyebrows. He still could not understand why communication with his Zodiac was difficult. They could only interact normally near the twins, in society or in complete silence. Now, Charley stated that there was a test. What did it mean? The guy was intrigued.
— I'm not catching up! What test? As far as I remember, either we don't communicate or I drag you to some cool place. Shet doesn't think it's the coolest tactic, but...
Aquarius shrugged and sighed.
— You know, you're strange, and it's cooler to communicate with strange people. I prefer them over adequates. Just so you understand. 'Adequates' are those who are not smart enough to take a potential friend on a beach in the middle of the night or throw him into an open space.
— I threw myself out with you.
— I remember.
Teenagers giggled. Still, each of them gave the other one something important. For example, thanks to Charley Grayson was able to better understand the nature of people. He realized that shocking someone at the first meeting was not the best idea. Aquarius was able to expand the scope of reality. Although at first, they seemed to each other a paradoxical combination, now, there was mutual understanding between them.
They heard a splash in the sea and glanced at the water. On the glowing surface loomed some dark spot. Charley jumped to her feet to get a better look. As the object approached the shore, it became clear it was a man. At first, she wanted to help him, but Grayson stopped her. Shaking off the sand, he went straight to the water to meet the stranger. He had already started getting out and his whole body was glowing. From the side, he resembled a creature of radiation. The man shook hands with Sagittarius. Charley did not dare to approach him, however, the Guard motioned to her.
— Remember Ace? He came to hush us at lunch.
The girl smiled and nodded. Last time, he leaned on her chair without ceremony, so she couldn't really look at him. That time she hoped to never interfere with Aries anymore. And here he stood in front of her, drawing figures on the glowing torso. It seemed like he couldn't care less about the two teens. The boy moved a few steps back, stretched out his hand in front of him and lighted a fire on it. His serious face lit up with a dim light, which made the view look a bit sinister. Ace slowly circled the flame around him, drying all the water, and ruffling his hair, went to his things. It was getting colder. Charley followed the new acquaintance with a look.
— Listen... does it hurt to hold fire in your hand? It's, like, really hot.
Sagittarius shook his head. For the Alars of his element, the flame was not scorching. It was a part of their bodies, could not harm their owners in any way. Somehow, each felt obliged to ask such a question. Why did no one ask the Waters how they managed not to get wet?
Meanwhile, Ace got dressed and already looked thoughtfully at Aquarius with Sagittarius. After thinking a little, he waved his hand, gesturing them to come.
— How about a drink? We can get to know each other better.
Grayson pretended to be upset and ran fingers across his cheek, mimicking a tear.
—We're seventeen. Sorry, bro...
If it was an attempt to decline the offer, it failed. Aries trimmed hair and grinned.
— Then, you get a coke and I get alcohol. Let's go!
With these words he grabbed Charley by the arm, dragging her after him. Sagittarius followed because his Zodiac risked being alone with Aries, which was not the best prospect. Besides, after her prank with the window, the concern for the safety of the girl has increased. Charley and Ace had already managed to speak up. Grayson sighed. Apparently, it was impossible to be alone with Aquarius.
Three glasses fell on the glass surface of a bar. The company heard disco music from the other side of the beach. Ace picked up his Mojito, clicked with the others, and took a sip. The guys followed his example. For some time all sat in silence until Aries didn't break it. He stretched his fingers and began to talk about himself. Charley even had the opinion he was very narcissistic.
Suddenly she noticed Gemini. She was walking next to a guy, talking about something briskly. Outwardly, she looked happy and relaxed, as if she didn't know what had happened to her brother. Aquarius wondered whether it was worth telling at least her about Randy. The guy asked her not to, though what if he needed help? After all, no one knew about the accident in the bushes.
Absorbed in her thoughts, the girl did not even notice how Sandy waved to her in greeting. Charley just stared at her friend for a few seconds, before answering with the same gesture and inviting her to join. Gemini said something to her interlocutor and pulled him along to the friends. The company smiled warmly and gazed at the front seats as if inviting the newcomers to sit down. Sandy slid closer to her friend and hugged her. The Guard smelled like peaches, and Aquarius took a few deep breaths to better catch the scent. An Android bartender put two more glasses of cocktails on the counter. Everyone clicked and Ace continued talking about himself.
Charley was looking at one point, contemplating the details of what happened with Randy. She tried to remember every movement of the hooded figure, every sound, every pose. Unfortunately, nothing new could be found. She interfered with a tube of coke, took a sip, repeated all over again. At some point, Grayson shoved her with his elbow, asking if she was okay. The girl nervously nodded and returned to her thoughts. Friends took the first place in Charley's life, each of their problems became her problem by default.
Sandy gently tugged at the friend's shoulder. She silently asked her to step aside, as she had to say something important. Aquarius suggested it was about Randy and was glad to have the opportunity to discuss everything. Keeping important things inside is torturing.
When the two girls left the table for a couple of meters, the twin exhaled, shook and smiled widely. Her eyes were shining, she was very happy. Turned out, the conversation wasn't going to be about Randy. It was a bit upsetting to Char. Most likely, Sandy was going to once again express her excitement about this or that guy.
— You like him, don't you?
This question led Aquarius in confusion. She thought people around saw her just as a new girl, stuck in the training center with Hans. Under entirely new circumstances, where Charley had to leave all her habits behind, she counted falling in love as a boldness. She did not know anyone, except for Gemini, Rowena, and the Guard. However, Sandy managed to suspect something.
— Ace is actually perfect! Many people like him, but oops. To be interesting for him, it is necessary to be not only nice but also inaccessible. I mean, he likes obstacles and opportunities to overcome them. If you initially position yourself as a friend, then you will remain such to him.
There was silence in the air. Only the sound of insects was heard. Charley wearily raised her eyebrows and slightly smiled. The romance of her friend amused and irritated at the same time. The girl sighed and patted Sandy on the shoulder.
— This is insane. He is twenty, and I am seventeen, he is narcissistic and loves to drink. I'm interested in training and Coca-Cola. These are only two differences. There are many more, I bet.
Gemini smiled even wider. She was absolutely certain — opposites worked out best. Besides the Knowledgeables called Aquarius sick in the head, so it was never boring with her. Aries was very suitable because they did not tolerate boredom. In addition, judging by the story of Sagittarius, Charley decided to check the strength of the window by jumping into it. Ace appreciated the stunt.
Despite all the negatives, Sandy firmly believed Aries liked her friend, otherwise, why was she sitting with red ears, as enchanted looking at the guy's face? And for all the talk except for 'hi' and 'uh-huh', she didn't say anything. This argument angered Charley. If only she could tell Sandy everything, explain her behavior and share her experiences, it would be much easier. The situation was getting tense by the second. Apparently, Gemini realized she should not continue the conversation, and offered to return to the company. Aquarius did not refuse.
However, on the way back she thought about the words of the friend. Ace was far from ideal and didn't seem a particularly interesting person, but he was pretty confident. Charley even imagined a few situations when he yelled at her or made bored with his boring conversations or standing in front of a mirror for an hour, preening. Then the fantasy shifted to positive aspects — Ace was with her friends, it was snowing, Charley was coming to him with a cup of hot coffee, and he smiled when he saw her. Or Aries taught Charley to play 'Super Mario', periodically succumbing. As much as Aquarius did not like it, she had to admit it was romantically. It was interesting because all her life she avoided relationships in every way, not finding a point in them. All people were friends for Charley, and she usually fell in love with actors or musicians. Now, for some reason, it was drawn to the 'real' person. It's funny how opinions changes. A couple of minutes ago Aquarius was sure Aries was not suitable for her at all, now she began to think about the opposite.
It was too much of a bad time. Charley wanted to focus on training and power development, but instead, all her thoughts were focused on Randy, Ace, and acts of Gray. Luckily, the friend did not pull anything, otherwise, the girl's brain would explode. Sagittarius stood up, skipping his Zodiac into place. Charley walked with his head down and was constantly adjusting her hair to cover ears (after all, Sandy's mention about Charley's red ears did not pass by). The guy wanted to ask if everything was okay, but seeing Sandy's look, decided to remain silent. The company was again in full force.
After sitting for some time, the guys began going home. Charley kept quiet, so she didn't even learn the name of the guy who came with Sandy. The only thing that was known about him — he was Aquarius as well, though the Guardian. Once she wanted to get acquainted with her 'twin zodiac', but now, when the opportunity arose, Charley safely missed her chance. Taking a bottle of Cola with them, some evaporated, and others went on foot. The longest ones were Grayson, his Zodiac, and Ace. The latter reached out his hands to the girl, with a gesture of offering a hug. She agreed, shyly smiling. Hugs never hurt anyone, instead, they made people happier. Aries smelled of alcohol and expensive cologne, obviously brought from Earth. Suddenly a voice rang out over her ear:
— One-zero in my favor!
Charley heard a frustrated exclamation from Sagittarius. She noticed from the corner of her eye how his hands sank helplessly. Estranged from Ace, the girl lowered her head, so that no one would notice her smile — did they argue who would she hug? It was sweet. Something like this had never happened to her before. Aries high-fived Grayson and disappeared. Now, the teenagers were left alone. They had to decide how to get to the villa. After some thought, they agreed on walking — at nights Trana was especially magical. The friends called the platform a 'Space Paradise’.
At eight in the morning, the alarm rang again. Charley rolled over to the other side of the bed to reach it. Behind a window began to dawn and the sky was painted in yellow-pink colors. The picture was complemented by the stars, which have not yet completely disappeared, and the glowing sea. The mountains were enveloped in a fog. The morning landscape caught her eye.
Reluctantly sat on the bed, Aquarius shook her head, stretched hands. Today she had to meet the others. Of course, some she knew, but this was not enough. The girl was worried, as before a school exam. She got out of the bed, threw on her robe and headed to the bathroom, making a man of herself before breakfast. Rowena fluttered as usual at the stove, from the kitchen came the smell of something fry. She was probably making scrambled eggs. In general, it did not matter much because, in the end, everything will be eaten — no one was a better chief than Libra. Charley promised herself to take a couple of master-classes, as she loved to spend time cooking.
Having made a tight bun on her head, Aquarius returned to her room for clothes. Pajamas needed to be changed into something more solid. Joggers with a t-shirt were perfect. Recently, the girl just loved this style. Even jeans with shirts seemed not such comfortable.
Now, she was ready to start the day. After forty minutes, the doors of the training center would open, it was necessary to have some time for eating and walking.
As usual, everyone had breakfast on the terrace. It opened a view of the mountains, creating a sense of calm. The fog was almost gone, stars were barely visible. Randy traditionally talked about his dreams, where he was the main character of another anime, Libra periodically inserted funny comments and parodied the gestures of the guy, and Charley tried to make a concerned look on her face. It was difficult to concentrate when thoughts were occupied by other things. For example, by Ace with his 'one-zero', the incomprehensible figure in the cloak. Sometimes Aquarius somehow reacted to a remark, so as not to seem too dull. She couldn't give away her fortune.
When everyone had finished and began cleaning up the table, Randy walked over to Charley.
— Yo, do you mind showing me the route to the golf fields on your key?
She was confused. He hurried to explain.
— My key is broken. You know, I'm such an idiot. For some reason, it just no longer perceives my Powers.
Charley was quite satisfied with this answer.
— Alright, I'll take you to your destination on the way to the training center.
It cost her ten minutes because of which Aquarius was late for the classes. However, for the sake of friends, it was possible to sacrifice something.
Hans boringly listened to the Zodiac's excuses. Except for Scorpios and Virgos, everyone was always late. Pisces just fell out of reality, so the concept of responsibility was more than abstract for them. Libra used to periodically forget about the time classes began. Being mad at the Alars for being late had already made the Knowledgeable tired, so he started ignoring their mistakes. It became more fun when it was time for explanations — everyone came up with something special. Now, Charley was telling him her key was broken because of what she messed up the turn and ended up near the tennis courts. At this point, Hans began to laugh.
— Sweetie, the keys on Trana can't break, — barely uttered it. He had never heard that before.
Charley was literally doused in cold water. Randy had deceived her. He used to be honest, so something had gone wrong. In one moment all thoughts of the girl were concentrated on the lie of the friend. When a close one lies, of course, no one dies of it, but the question arises, 'And if he is lying, is he a close one?'
Hans patted the girl on the shoulder, called her a jokester, and began his studies. The Knowledgeable closed his eyes on many things — Charley knew almost nothing. Quite possibly, she just couldn't concentrate. The man sat on the floor and started explaining the theory of the forces of protection. Earlier she used them based on her instincts and what her subconscious thought was the best way to save her. However, this method was a thing of the past. Aquarius had developed, acquired new skills, and now, it was required to manage her own forces, using mind. For example, in the case of circular defense, it was logical to use a balloon to ward off or dissolve a danger. If the threat was only on one side, a wall would become a better shield.
— Why don't we study natural attacks or something like that?
— We're above attack. Powers are given to us for protection, not for harm.
— But protection can hurt others.
— Yes, if you use it unwisely or if you work too hard. However, even if you hurt someone, there's a ninety-nine percent chance he asked for it.
Charley smiled and continued to listen to the coach. This was very difficult as the thoughts kept coming back to Randy's lie. Why couldn't you get a man out of your head?
Meanwhile, Hans has already moved on to defensive tremors and proper arm placement, so as not to twist one's elbow or break a bone. In fact, the issue of force was reminiscent of the recoil when shooting a handgun, though much stronger. This part Charley missed, mentally searching for the reason of the twin's act. It was time for her to learn to stop obsessing about things that were not directly related to the goal. A word about injuries brought the girl back to reality, and at first she was scared, however, Hans managed to calm her down. The activated Zodiac mark released all the Powers out. Its host became almost invulnerable. The only danger was the power of time, the strongest thing in the whole world.
Having specified some more nuances, the Knowledgeable clapped his hands and got to his feet. A part of the practice has started, they had only a few hours. Unfortunately, it wasn't very much.
— Put your hands in the right position.
Charley hesitated. Luckily for her, Hans just walked over, took her hands, stretched them forward, and bent a little at the elbows. The assignment was to produce a powerful stream of air from each palm, and streams had to be directed at an angle of three degrees to avoid trouble.
By this point, Charley has managed to cope with her thoughts and push all stuff to the side. Hans constantly reminded her of the rule of the double CD. Despite all the concentration, at first, nothing worked. Aquarius was angry with herself postponing the result for several attempts further.
An hour later, the girl could cause a breeze. To this point, she was close to hysterical. The mental load was very exhausting, her head ached, the brain almost exploded. It was the same as taking an exam in physics, in which Charley understood a little more than nothing. Seeing this, Hans decided to stuff the student with sedatives next time, otherwise, she risked to have a nervous breakdown.
After a while, a gust of wind began gaining strength, and Charley had to strain harder to keep her hands in the right position. Hans concluded it was time to add obstacles. At the first level, Aquarius had to fight some boxing pears. It was required to shake each of them so that it made a full turn. She was able to do the job with only the lightest pear. Then focusing became too difficult, and the girl's temperature rose. A headache got harder, making the girl cry in silence.
— For God's sake! — Hans rushed to her to help.
The pears were removed, the man hugged his student, and patted her on the head. He saw how hard she tried. However, he noticed Charley wasn't just thinking about the training. He made the decision so far not to climb in her vein. It was so complicated and unclear with teenagers, so sometimes it was better not to say anything, otherwise, there was a risk to bring one to tears. Usually, it was enough to pretend he didn't notice. In addition, it was time for lunch, which meant the training was over.
Alars were chilling in the spaceship living room. Some hung out in companies and laughed at something, others simply talked or read books. The official part hasn't started yet, so everyone had time to chat. Grayson waved his hand to Charley in greeting, then apologized and went to some guys. The twins were fighting in a corner. Charley knew her job was to make friends. She decided to start with the calmest guys here. A girl who was standing against the wall with headphones on was the perfect one. At least, she wasn't surrounded by a crowd. Exhaling and cleaning the t-shirt, Aquarius went to her. She was taught to make a good first impression. With Alars, this has not yet happened, though it should have been fixed. Cleared her throat, Charley smiled, reached out to the girl and introduced herself. She smiled, took the headphones off and did the same thing. The new friend was called Lisa. She was Taurus, but the Guardian. Her movements were fluid, smooth posture. Apparently, Lis was doing some kind of dance or gymnastics.
At first, communication was hard, intermittently interrupted by awkward pauses. Charley has ranked the new friend to introverts. She had a similar classmate at school. Although they studied together for several years, Aquarius could not find the right approach to this type of people. The only thing she noted was the love of introverts for 'mathematical humor'. It included jokes based on scientific facts, for example, 'You are more active than cesium.' Perhaps, something ridiculous was here, however, Charley often did not catch up because of the bad understanding of the subject. Before she thought to delve into such humor was optional, but now, a couple of scientific fun phrases would be useful. She had to look for other points of contact. A fun idea came up.
— Do you want the free service of a chick chiromancer?
For a second, Charley thought Lisa was smiling. Even if this was not so, the girl chose not to think about it in order to avoid disturbances. Taking a palm of the friend, Aquarius looked at the three main lines. Taurus's life promised to be long and happy. 'I wonder if this is even possible for us?' — Charley thought. The mindset was mathematical, which did not really surprise Aquarius. Another line pointed to the fact that Lisa did not match the definition of an artistic person. As a result, the theme of palmistry helped to talk a little to Taurus, for what Charley mentally praised herself.
Suddenly all the light, except for one lamp, went out. The Knowledgeables came in a bright circle. They solemnly turned on the hologram of the map of an asteroid, picked up a laser pointer. Hans tried his best to be very serious, but at some point, he burst out laughing. Shet looked at him sullenly, snapped his fingers and turned on the whole light. The working atmosphere was broken, and the youth quickly caught the mood change.
— May I drink something? — they heard a voice.
— Pour yourself tea, coffee, soda, but don't think about alcohol, — the coach tried to drown Zodiacs and Guardians who were already talking out loud, — especially, Leo and Ace! Leave the beer for the evening!
Disappointed sighs were heard. Aries expressively waved his hands, pretending to despair. The other Alars rushed to the kitchen for boiling water, tea, and Cola. Charley abstained. She suddenly remembered how she regularly spilled or broke something at home. There was no desire to embarrass herself in the new team.
When everyone came in and sat down, the Knowledgeable began to present Zodiacs and the Guards to each other. On the improvised stage, in turn, came the hosts of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Charley's hands were shaking. She didn't like being the center of attention. It seemed like everyone was looking for flaws in her and tried to point at them. The mountain of complexes did not allow the girl to feel relaxed. If it was possible, she would prefer to wave, but, unfortunately, that was not intended. She had to get up and, with burning cheeks, gently come in the circle with Randy and Rowena, trying not to step on anyone. A few minutes in front of everybody seemed like an eternity. Mentally Aquarius thanked Gemini for his appearance, which somehow riveted each's eyes and that meant the girl was not in the center of attention. Meanwhile, Hans called the names of the air Zodiacs and developed brief information about each of them, including the characteristics of a character, level of training, capabilities, favorite combat tactics, strengths, and weaknesses.
Finally, they were able to go back, and Charley breathed a sigh of relief. As she sat down, someone tapped her shoulder. Turning around, she noticed a blonde guy with a haircut like Ace's, but the hair in the middle of his head was curly and long.
— Hey, you okay?
The stranger looked very worried, so Charley hurried to reassure him.
— Yeah, why?
The boy smiled.
— It must have hurt when you fell from the sky.
Aquarius looked at him as if she did not understand what he was talking about. Still, she decided to make a conversation. Leaning on his side, Charley blinked a couple of times and replied:
— No. Because I crawled out of hell.
For a moment, the stranger lost all emotions. Apparently, he was not expecting such a response. Then he smiled again and continued:
— That's why you're so hot.
Charley chuckled, raising her eyebrows. 'Nice,' — she thought. Hans continued representing Zodiacs on stage. Suddenly, he paused for a second and shouted loudly:
— Adams, stop hitting on girls! Everyone but you already has boyfriends!
Alars laughed and Charley blushed. The guy said something to the Knowledgeable, and the room was swept with a new wave of laughter. Aquarius has clearly found the company of her dreams.
It's been three days since Hans started exhausting the girl with many hours of cardio and strength training. Additionally, he taught Charley how to fight. Every day Grayson literally dragged her home because she had no strength to go herself. Only the idea of the imminent completion of the sports block comforted. Now, the 'rivals' were mannequins and punching bags, which Aquarius hated ever since the air powers training. If Charley had some energy left, she would have howled in her voice, but she was too tired for that.
Rowena pushed her friend and pulled off the blanket. For half an hour the alarm had been beeping incessantly, and Charley continued to sleep peacefully. Quickly sitting on the bed, she whimpered. The whole body was terribly sick from endless workouts. Aquarius reached out to Libra with a request to pinch her. She smiled sadly.
— I know you want to wake up, but it's not a dream. Suffer. Two more days and the workload will change.
These words were not much consolation. It was necessary to endure less than forty-eight hours, however, time had a surprising ability to stretch at the most inopportune moment. Rowena stood up, patted Charley on the shoulder and told her to pack faster. Otherwise, she could get Hans banging her mind. She started packing Aquarius's training bag.
Charley couldn't find the strength to get up, so she just fell out of the bed onto the floor with a groan. Threw the blanket back on the bed and somehow crawled into the bath. From the room, she could hear cues from another anime. The girl tensed. Usually, the twin was gone for a run before breakfast and watched anime after lunch. 'Is he sick?' The guy has lately been acting very strange. In her free time, she came up with theories and guesses about this Zodiac. It took her a couple of minutes of courage to force herself to ask Randy what had happened to him. Somehow, these hundred and twenty seconds couldn't be found. A draft blew on the floor. Charley had to get back on her feet. It would make her move harder, but faster and warmer.
Morning procedures and breakfast did not take much time. Soon she was walking across the track to the center. Hans promised to make some changes. Aquarius did not like it in advance. Coming out of the locker room, Charley leaned on the door leading to the gym. She opened it and gasped. Ace and Sandy were attending next to the coach, waiting for her. It was the first shock of the morning. The second one on the list was the applause from the trio. Hans briskly approached the student.
— You stole time from us. We'll have to work it out. And yes, don't waste your minutes on excuses.
Charley nodded. The last thing she wanted was talking. The coach would better explain what was going on. He seemed to read her thoughts. Turning, he pointed to Aries and Gemini. As it became clear, those came to help to model a situation of a real fight. Hans called for this guy and the girl, so Charley could train to fight with different rivals. The Guardian and Zodiac possessed small differences in a combat technique. For example, Sandy's wrestling surpassed Ace's skills. Though Aries was better at fighting by the forces of his element. Charley has not yet been able to combine the two modes and today she had to learn it.
As usual, it all started with a warm-up. Except that now Aquarius had the company. By incorporating the right music, Hans gave the command to start. Three Alars simultaneously fell into the bar, pressed, jumped up. The cardio part has started. Ace — who seemed full of energy — coped faster than others. Compared to him, Charley was not faster than a turtle. After an hour, she was like a doormat. Hands and feet trembled as if she had an epileptic attack. Hans decided to finish it.
He put teenagers at different points in the hall and came to the center. Rules of the game were not original — everyone had to fight the others. The battle would not stop as long as one did not win. Techniques which could be used were only those that Charley studied the first three days. The one who got on two blades on the floor, lost. Aquarius thought she might not even be involved. Before she could feel sorry for herself, Hans raised his hands and whistled. At the same time, Aries and Gemini left their places and rushed to Aquarius. It was easier to protect with the air, but this was prohibited. In a split second, an idea came to her mind — she could wait for these two to knock one of them down, and then get into the final. Seemed like Hans had again read the thoughts of the student.
— You can not stand aside! Use your skills!
Charley started preparing to suffer from severe pain and tried to calculate how long it would take her to heal wounds and fractures. A totally inappropriate thought, which thrilled the girl, popped up, 'I need to look good in front of Ace!' Charley instantly remembered all her nice poses to look more attractive. The next moment she was disgusted by herself, but the female brain did not give her peace. Had to obey herself and stand as glamorous as possible. Usually, this was not Charley, however, a crush can make you do different stuff at the most inopportune moments.
She could not finish her thoughts. The Knowledgeable whistled again, stopping the game. Everyone stared at him in surprise.
— Guys, Hello. You will kill her! We said no raids!
The man snapped his fingers, and a part of the floor began getting covered with mats. Pointing to them with his hand, Hans motioned for the teenagers to come. They had to repeat all the tactics of defense and protection. Pair training would be nice. The man put all in a row, then called Sandy — as a temporary partner, she was the best one. Ace was sent to the newbie. He was hurt that the coach trusted some Guard better than him, though no one argued — during training, Hans was quick to anger. It was surprising he hasn't yelled at Charley yet. Some Zodiacs even put the girl on the pedestal of perfection.
Aries walked over to his partner, smiling conspiratorially.
— Do you know the way?
Aquarius rolled her eyes. She had expected such a joke, although deep down was hoping not to hear it.
— Russian Knuckles?
— Ugandan. Though yeah, on the subtle connection everything went there.
— Very funny.
The guy tapped her on a shoulder, chuckled. Among all the Alars, only Ace spoke pure English. That was probably why he was making fun of the others for their accents. However, according to Sagittarius, Aries used to be trolled by Adams, who laughed at the British pronunciation. In general, the situation with languages was difficult. All of Alars were born in different countries because of what on Trana, met people of Asian, Oriental and European appearance. Charley had to grow up in the Russian environment, to be brought up differently, but because of the mom moving all the plans crushed. The only thing that hasn't changed was the origin. The Knowledgeables appeared with the creation of the world. Their speech was different from all, as it mixed accents of different times and peoples. No one even tried to identify one of them.
Aries continued telling unfunny jokes about the origin of his partner, and she could not stand it.
— Where's Grayson? Why can't I be with him?
— He is your Guardian and has no right to attack you. Even during training. I'm sorry, you have to put up with this goat. When your patience is over — signal.
The guy smiled smugly. He was amused by how Charley was angry and rolled her eyes.
—Okay, you're mine.
She pointedly looked at him, then turned to the Knowledgeable.
— Starting to signal!
The boy simply shrugged it off. The coach knew Aries would not disrupt the lesson, and his quirks would go to Aquarius for the benefit — she needed to learn how to react more calmly. Instead of answering, Hans began to explain techniques, common mistakes, and ways to avoid them.
Ace did not listen to the end of the explanation. Suddenly he grabbed his partner by the arm and abruptly threw over himself. Charley fell on the mat. Whispering some kind of a curse, she attacked Aries, and they clashed. The girl tried to wring his hand behind his back, pressed the pain points, and he tried to hold her legs and push on the floor. However, they were afraid to beat each other. Ace didn't raise his hands on women on principle (a real fight didn't count), and Charley didn't want to break his face or nose. Because of the good acoustics in the hall, every word of the guys was heard well. Hans punched himself in the face, told Sandy to cover her ears with hands, and went to separate the two Zodiacs. The last thing that had to happen was their fight.
Shet sat on the terrace of his villa, which was more like a hunting lodge in a forest — wooden walls, floor, furniture, no panoramic windows. In general, everything looked good and peaceful.
He was holding a book, the history of which was postponed for a long time in his head. He remembered how he did not sleep at night, freaked out, by what got inspired, how came up with plot twists. So many books are written in the world, and a history of each is similar to the others, though at first glance they do vary. The captain reached for a cup of tea and took it without looking. It was too light, so he had already drunk it up. The man had to postpone the reading and go to the kitchen.
Three clocks were ticking on a wall. Time on them differed, date too. Usually, the difference between the first two was a few years and a hundred days. The third dial was counting down to the Moment. It was just under a hundred and ninety-two hours yesterday. Therefore, today was supposed to be about a hundred and sixty-eight. Shet glanced at the clock and turned to the kettle. However, he had an unpleasant feeling that something was wrong. Returned and looked at the clock again. On the first dial, there was nothing suspicious, on the second as well. The case was in the third one. It showed only two symbols — seventy-two.
A few seconds the captain stood silently, looking at the numbers, trying to understand what had happened. He even pinched himself to make sure he wasn't sleeping. Suddenly he was struck by a terrible guess — the countdown was broken because... Shet put the empty cup on the countertop and ran to the space computer which tracked the status of Kotra. Some indicators of the Progenitor had increased, the rate of energy growth had accelerated. Obviously, it was going to wake up before the expected day.
When the Knowledgeable recovered from the shock, his first thought was about Aquarius. He understood she was not yet ready completely — she needed to master the firing of weapons, to learn how to properly fight using the forces of nature, and wrestling. The training program of this Zodiac had been planned for a long time, driven into the most rigid framework, and now, even they had to be squeezed. Everything happened too spontaneously, no one was ready for such a turn. Each Alar was counting on the five spare days to fully prepare. 'How will they react to the news that their most important fight is coming faster than they expected?'
There was no time to think. Shet swore and rushed out of the house, once again feeling pity about the inability to teleport. On the way, he ran into several Guards doing an evening jog and told them to urgently gather everyone on the ship. Without asking too many questions, they nodded and disappeared. The captain ran to the parking lot. On the way, he had to pick up everyone who was in the training center.
Alars were evaporating in front of his eyes, abandoning all things they had been doing. Apparently, transferring to the living room of the ship. There were two turning to the first destination. Shet has accelerated. As much as he wanted to fall and catch his breath, he wouldn't stop. 'I will have a rest after death, during life it is necessary to move.'
Finally, the doors of the center appeared. The man ran to them, opened with a single movement and rushed inside. For a couple of seconds, he stopped, remembering where was the entrance to the hall. A thud was heard. The Knowledgeable rushed there. At full speed, he opened the door and got inside the spacious room.
Everyone stopped. Charley took her head off the mat to get a better look at who came in. Aries quickly gave her his hand helping to stand up. Sandy and Hans turned their eyes to the flushed captain standing on the threshold.
— Get on Board! Urgent!
Gemini's hands shook, so the coach had to grab her by the shoulders and take out of the hall. Teleportation in this state was not allowed. Ace wanted to yell something back because he couldn't help but put in his five cents, though managed to pull himself back in time. He looked into Charley's eyes, grabbed her hand tightly, and ordered her to hold on tight. The next moment, the two guys disappeared.
There was a slight click, and scraps of conversations and noise began to be heard. When the darkness in front of the eyes had dissipated, the girl realized she was in the center of the old familiar living room. Each Alar was trying to figure out why they were all gathered with such maturity. Adams sprang over Ace's back and wrapped his arms around his friend's neck. He didn't take things too seriously. Maybe if he had run into Shet a few minutes ago, his reaction would have been different. Tension and panic filled the room. Charley felt uncomfortable.
The Knowledgeables rushed into the room followed by Sandy. In an instant there was silence. Everyone was quiet, Adams climbed down from the back of Aries, sat on the floor. The captain sadly looked around the room and sighed. He did not want to upset everyone, but, unfortunately, the truth could not be hidden. Alars were older, they could take it safely. Although who would quietly accept the news that there remained less time until the possible death than expected?
— It's very hard for me to say this, but we have only three days until the Moment. The awakening of Kotra has accelerated, it is unknown what caused this. I hope you will be able to understand and accept this information without panic. Thank you for listening.
The silence was not broken by a single breath. Everybody was shocked. Some had trembled lips, others had tears running down their cheeks. Grayson gripped his left wrist, Charley dug her nails into the back of her neck. She was desperate. She wanted to scream as she did at the London hospital. She knew she was the weakest element — new, poorly trained, had powers and martial arts at a basic level. Charley was sure she'd let everyone down and she couldn't handle it. Ironically, in this Millennium, she was the main trump card of the Alars.
Someone hugged her from behind. Nose caught the scent of a perfume, but not like the Ace's. None of her friends used one of these. The girl did not want to turn around. She was all red, with quivering lips, and tears on the cheeks. Though curiosity was very strong. Fortunately, the unknown helped her.
— Don't worry, you can do it! Nobody's mad at you. You're a member of the team. And simply brilliant.
The voice belonged to Gray, but the intonation was unusual to him. Charley heard a smile and tenderness. Suddenly the memory surfaced the episode in the hospital when her heart stopped beating for some time. Of course! She heard her Guard's voice then! So, Sagittarius was with her from the very beginning. He came to save her life, he calmed her down, he cheered her up. The shoulder, which she often dreamed of, had always been by her side. Why would Charley have to do some stupid background check, some sort of test on her Guard? Grayson was good at his job. However, in addition to them, he still had to endure all the tricks and quirks of his Zodiac. If the girl had listened to him that first night, when he came to her and told everything, there would have been no panic, haste, imaginary friends, psychiatric hospitals, Azons, and other nightmares that fell to the lot of Aquarius. She wanted to go back to the end of September and gave herself a slap in the face, to force herself to listen to the weird guy. Unfortunately, life was impossible to restart, there were not any points of self-preservation. The only one who could pull a stunt like this were Azones, but Charley was not going to ask them.
She turned to her Guard. He looked into her eyes and saw it all — sleepless nights on a sopping wet pillow, tears slowly leaking on her cheeks in the single asylum chamber, all the pain which she had almost forgotten. Her nightmares faded from her memory, but the eyes remembered everything. Not a single part of the story could be pulled out of them. Sniffing, Charley whispered:
— We're falling too fast to prepare. I'm gonna make everyone lose.
Grayson patted her on the head, kissed her on the top.
— Well, don't be too hard on yourself. What happened to the old version of you? Where are the fighting spirit and endurance?
The girl buried her nose in a friend's sweatshirt.
— They never existed.
She just cried quietly. Sagittarius hugged her, tightly embracing Aquarius. Their degree of friendship had gone so far she didn't even hesitate to cry in front of him. Periodically, the girl even voiced her thoughts, stuttering.
— I think I deserve at least a year of happiness, not this shit. Why is everything turning like that?
— All depends on your perception. If you can't or don't want to see things in rainbow light, just pretend to be happy. I'll join you.
Charley hugged him tighter. She was ashamed to soil the hoodie, but nothing could be done. Suddenly, lines appeared in the head taking shape in verse. Aquarius was sure she had never heard or read them before. Unbeknownst even to herself, she began to speak them out.
My life is burned to the ground.
Words won't break from the mouth.
I have a split eyebrow,
Tears are pouring down my soul,
It is crying, doesn't want to go on!
I'm holding it back with the last bit of the strength,
And who has never told me that
Pieces from the heart come off so easy,
Like a morning wind which's breezy.
And I didn't believe it but in vain,
This is my last dawn again.
And tears rolled down a hail. Grayson at first didn't get what the girl was mumbling but soon began to understand her speech. The boy sighed. It was not necessary to be a psychologist to know how bad Charley felt right now. Remembering the handkerchief in his pocket, Sagittarius took it out and thrust it into the girl's hand. She nodded in gratitude, took the piece of cloth, wiped her eyes. After a while, she started to calm down. Though her head was still throbbing.
While teenagers were sitting there, they did not notice the rest of Alars were gone. The only one left behind them was Ace. He was standing in the kitchen, brewing tea. Hearing the room was silent, interrupted by occasional sobs, he turned around and walked to Charley and Gray. Aries carried a cup and a bottle of milk.
— I didn't know how you prefer, so I brought everything separated, — he turned to the coffee table, on which stood a glass of water, took it out and handed to the girl, — but first, take a sip and cool down.
Aquarius could not let Ace see her in a tear-stained form. She was even going to stay cheerful, work hard, get a little closer to the level of the others. Instead, the girl was sitting and crying on her Guard's hoodie. 'Good job, well done,' — she thought angrily.
Grayson guessed the thoughts of the friend. He carefully took the glass and gave it to her. She drank a little, caught her breath, and finished it in one gulp. The girl should have thanked Ace. 'In the end,' — thought she, 'if he thinks I'm ugly like this, we're definitely not on the way.' Gently lowering Grayson's hand, who was about to pass the glass back, she turned and tried to squeeze out some semblance of a smile.
Charley thought Ace would turn away or grimace face, but, in fact, it was different. He did not pay attention to the red cheeks and nose, sweaty hair or swollen eyes. Instead, the guy noticed how Charley's iris had changed. From gray-green, they turned into bright blue. He didn't usually like it when someone cried. In such cases, Aries tried to move away as couldn't comfort people and did not want to embarrass them with his not wanted presence. This time Ace tried to do everything possible to make Charley feel better. He did not understand, whence such desire came from. The new girl somehow hooked him. It was a new feeling. So sad, the Moment was a little less than seventy-two hours away.
Charley entered the training center carrying a bag of spare clothes and water on her shoulder. According to the plan, today had to be the last day of the defense training. The girl prayed she was strong enough because the sport was very exhausting and she would not want to die prematurely.
Opening the doors of the hall, Aquarius saw no punching bags, no mats, no mannequins. Instead, there were targets, partitions with tables, headphones, and special glasses. She broke into a smile, realizing the shooting part had started. Guns have always inspired her, but parents refused to buy them, so she only could play with them in a dash. Things changed and now, Aquarius even had a teacher, although, in theory, she did not really need him. At least, with a rifle, the girl hit a target well.
Inspired, she boldly entered the room. Hans was waiting for her with a pistol in his hand, smiling a little. He seemed happier than usual. Welcoming the student, the coach proudly handed her his weapon and waved towards the targets.
— Ever shot before?
The girl nodded. It was going to be a great day.
— Alright, perfect. Put on the headphones, and glasses. It's going to be loud.
Charley obeyed and Hans did the same thing himself. Hearing, vision had to be protected. While the trainer was tightening the necessary straps, Aquarius had already aimed. She had not seen any specific differences from rifles, except, now she had to fix hands on weight, not on a special stand. Hans checked the position to convince of the strong grip of the student and gave the command to shoot. There was a rumble, and a hole formed in a target circle, giving twenty points.
Charley bit her lip. A mistake was insulting her because she was aiming for fifty. Reloading her weapon, she looked at the coach, as if asking permission to fire. He nodded. Near the desired target formed a hole. Aquarius counted to ten, adjusting. Command, 'Fire!'. A shot. Fifty points.
Charley smiled. She made it. Glancing at Hans, asking the silent question, 'So? Okay?' He nodded in approval, even clapped. The shooting was far better than other disciplines. Apparently, today Aquarius could go home earlier. Besides, on Earth people celebrated Christmas Eve, nobody wanted to spoil the day with boring classes.
Continuous monotonous target shooting was boring. The girl has already passed this stage. It was time to test herself in movement. Hans pressed a special button, posters the size of a man hung from the ceiling and began to move. Charley twisted her head until her vertebrae snapped. Took aim, pulled the trigger. The shoulder of one 'person' was pierced.
Reloading, pointing a gun, shot. A hole in the head of another poster. Changing store, removal of the fuse, sight, fire. The next mannequin received a wound in the heart, and then immediately — in the stomach. Everything was even easier than Charley thought. Hans rejoiced at the time he had saved. He decided to skip the part with near and far targets, the girl definitely had it.
— Okay, move the table. This should be fun.
He didn't have to ask twice. After a couple of minutes, the table was at the far end of the hall. The Knowledgeable started explaining the rules. Charley had to walk without stopping, periodically firing from the mannequins, appearing suddenly. If the student stopped, the game had to start over. Aiming must have happened on the go. The training became more and more interesting.
A whistle sounded. Charley began moving, constantly looking around. It was impossible to miss any target. Shot after shot, mannequin after mannequin. Walking became tiring, running attracted more. Not stopping the motion, she asked Hans to allow her to move faster. He shook his head.
— The point is not only in accuracy, but we also train patience.
Aquarius wanted to roll her eyes, but at this moment another poster appeared, so she had to aim and shoot. A hole formed in its chest.
It seemed like a few hours before Charley was allowed to go on the run. In fact, it took no more than half an hour. The first couple of minutes of rapid movement went into a buzz, but then the breathing started getting harder. Shortness of breath interfered with aiming, bullets flew by. The girl began getting angry with herself. Hans wondered why the disciple had run out of steam so quickly. After all, the mark of Aquarius on the hand had to give a supply of energy. At least, on combat training, it was this way. Apparently, due to yesterday's stress, the mark had to reload. The student only worked at the expense of own forces.
— How are your lungs? Were there any injuries or problems?
Charley kept running.
— Recently, the... the hole... lung... — stammering, she said. It was difficult to say a whole sentence. Aquarius hoped, the coach understood her.
Charley fell on the floor. The head was throbbing, the gun suddenly got too heavy.
Azalea was sitting on a rock, looking exactly in front of her. From minute to minute was to be held a long-awaited meeting and Azon waited patiently. The red sands all around her made eyes ache a little. The girl didn't feel cold, the temperature of Mars never affected her.
There were two clicks. Two people in hooded cloaks appeared slightly to the side of Azalea. She smiled contentedly. She hated it when someone was late. Well, that didn't happen very often. The arrived ones threw the cloth from their heads and approached Azon. Without a word, she waved her hand toward the nearest cave. All three went there.
Once inside, the travelers had to go a few more turns before opening a well-equipped room. Azalea turned to her guests and proposed to sit down. Although she thought the newcomers would sit together, they took two opposite sofas. A female voice rang out:
— He's freezing me out. Rotten dog.
— Nasty slut.
Azalea did not listen to the skirmish. Coldly looking at the two quarrels, she raised one eyebrow. There was a quiet crunch, the newcomers screamed and pressed their hands to the bodies, bending slightly, as if protecting the sick places.
— You may be titans for the rest of the Universe, to me you are just impatient creatures, who can be killed by one my motion.
The two fell silent, breathing unevenly in pain. However, the fractures gradually fused, the pain went away. Time was short. They should have come to Earth for Christmas presents.
Randy straightened up on the couch. Coldly staring at his sister with a glance, he began to report on the progress of the operation. The plan was to prevent Aquarius from training and gaining strength, loading her brain with extraneous problems. As planned, he played along with Sandy a scene that attracted attention and very excited Aquarius. He performed the point with the mood to scare her. Her rates on the next few workouts worsened because all her thoughts were occupied by his fictional problem and unusual behavior. He lied to her as if hinting he lost his Powers to completely confuse the girl.
— I don't think she got it. Dumbass! — he commented, — I have to continue putting on an act, — the guy fell silent for a few seconds and added, — Or to say in plain text somewhere before the Moment.
Gemini reported to Azalea about his morning delay at home, which made Charley worry. That day at lunch she offered her help if he suddenly got sick. Still, he somehow faked the girl's late, so Hans had to yell at her — the Knowledgeables hated when the time was just lost. Unfortunately, Hans did not react sharply to the delay.
Sandy stepped in. She told how she volunteered for Charley's training to find out the weak points of Aquarius not only in everyday life but also in a fight. As it turned out, she was very afraid of a direct attack, and could not control punches on legs and head. In general, the level of training of Aquarius, according to Sandy, was two out of ten.
— But we should not forget about her Guard. Sagittarius is the strongest in the element of fire, and all his life Grayson has spent with Shet. So no matter how he pretends to be a regular guy, he should not be underestimated. Many agree there is no one steeper among the Alars, — Sandy stopped, as if remembering what she had missed. Her speech became uncertain, — I think Aries likes Aquarius. Knowing his impulsiveness and love for fights, it would be silly to get to her in front of this guy...
Azalea shuddered. All this love and friendship with its idiotic devotion triggered her. She interrupted the twin, not allowing her to even finish the sentence.
— Do you think Aries will really hurt?! He is the weakest in the elements of fire! I knew that you are not the most intelligent ones, but could understand such stuff.
This faded Azon started pushing Randy's buttons. If she didn't have the time power she promised to reward the twins with, he would have already slammed her with a stream of air. Fortunately, Azalea moved on to explain the strategy on the day of the Moment. According to her plan, Gemini had to arrange sabotage to the maximum — to shoot down directions of the flow of Zodiac forces, spread false information, and so on. Aquarius was unlikely to be in the fight, so someone from the twins would have to volunteer to protect her. It was better to be Randy because he had the advantage — the skills of the Guard were more or less equal to his. When Azons would come for Aquarius, it was required to simulate a small fight, and leave Charley alone.
In general, the plan was simple and sensible. The only thing that caused concern was the affiliation of Charley to the element of Air. It was Air that was considered the strongest element, without which there would be no other ones — oxygen was a part of the water, without it fire would not burn, and in the chemical composition of the earth, it occupied a large share. In addition, Aquarius was the strongest in the air element. That's why she had to be killed. As far as Azalea knew, the Zodiac mark was already on Charley's hand, and Grayson activated it, therefore the power of the element as well. Though if he was not around, Charley wouldn't be able to use it. So, Sagittarius should be removed first. Azalea once again thanked Kotra for the lack of conscience. Without this, life was much easier.
Charley closed the doors of the training center. However, there was no joy. Hans told her the training was over, and what would happen next wasn't known. The clock showed four in the afternoon, so today the girl got free hours. She didn't have time to figure out what to do, as the answer appeared by itself. Ace was walking towards her, carrying a small bag on his shoulder. He waved his hand in greeting, Charley responded in kind. Remembering Sandy's words, she mentally pulled herself away. A show needed to be put on. She remembered in school she pulled a stunt like this a couple of times, so she was self-confident.
Not waiting for Aries to come closer, she straightened her back and went to meet him. The girl did not stop when she came up to him. Instead, she smiled and continued her journey. Ace raised his eyebrows in surprise, but did not lose his head, and followed her, starting a conversation. A couple of questions, a couple of answers. A dialogue has begun. Charley couldn't look Ace in the eye for some reason. Whether afraid of losing her confidence, or blushing. She hoped he wouldn't notice.
— I'm not that ugly to not look at me.
She stared right at him. Her ears got red. Some excuse had to be invented, even if not very logical. Fortunately, Ace defused the situation:
— That's better.
He smiled, took Charley by the hand, and walked forward. A few minutes the guys were keeping quiet, and then Aries remembered something.
— You know, it's Christmas Eve on Earth today, and Christmas is tomorrow, so... would you go on a picnic with me?
Charley was expecting something else, though not this turn. Sure, she liked Ace, but he was three years older than her. Besides, she hasn't even achieved the adulthood. Yet, the girl didn't want to refuse, although she was scary.
— Yeah, I do.
'Maybe in a couple of days I will no longer exist in this world, and I would not want to regret that I didn't go on a picnic with someone I like.'
On the way to the destination, which was known only to Ace, they had a small talk. Charley's heart was pounding, waiting for something new for her. The sun was going down, night insects appeared in the grass, lights lit up one by one. Trana was gradually transforming. The surrounding view was mesmerizing and riveting. The Zodiacs were walking and looking at the sky, breathing clean air with a touch of aromas of flowers, enjoying the magic of nature. Charley had no idea where Ace was taking her, though she was even glad — what could be better than surprises?
— Do you recognize this place?
The girl looked around and shook her head. The guy smiled.
— This is the place, where Grayson dragged you that night, — he turned to the improvised path from polished wood bricks, — and here, on these bricks, we went in the bar for Cola.
Charley nodded. On the evening of their official acquaintance, she was worried about Randy and the hooded figure. Now, the thrill was gone — the character of the girl did not allow her to think about any problem for a while. The maximum duration was two days, and the third was usually the relief one. Just by this time either the problem was solved, or Charley put up with the fact that nothing could be solved. Unless it was out of the ordinary. For example, because of the death of Charley's parents, she had been enduring for two months before Terton did not save her from the pain. Fortunately, close people do not die every day.
Ace had already spread a blanket over the sand and began to lay out some food. Aquarius sat down on the edge. Beside her stood a thermos, and she started wondering what was inside — tea or coffee? Given the British origin of Aries, it was more likely that the first option was correct. 'Right!' — Charley was glad for herself when the boy poured the liquid into cups.
From the sunset everything around was painted in yellow and pink. Charley's white t-shirt acquired a new connotation. Lights were shining in her eyes. Ace could barely keep his eyes off her. He tried not to give in to emotions, but the body seemed to be swept with a warm wave, from which a blush emerged. Previously, he saw Aquarius thoughtful, tear-stained, tired, focused, embarrassed, but never relaxed and truly happy. Still, a picnic with Charley was the best idea ever occurred to the guy.
He sat down and looked at the girl from the corner of his eye as if he had seen her for the first time. The wind played with her hair and brought to Aries a pleasant smell of ginger cookies. Aquarius was dressed in a sporty way, but looked neat — all the clothes were clean, laces on sneakers were tied with straight bows. Her hair was a little disheveled in the wind but still looked good. On the wrist, hung a red bracelet cord with a small charm in the shape of a leaf. Together, it had a simply disastrous effect on Ace.
Meanwhile, the girl took off her shoes and began eating an apple, without taking eyes off the landscape. Time seemed to stand still. The splash of water and the crimson sunset isolated the guys from the rest of the world. Suddenly, Charley jumped to her feet and stretched out a hand to Ace, inviting him. After a few seconds, they were already walking along the shore. Their feet left footprints in the wet sand, and oncoming waves washed them away almost immediately. The Zodiacs were happy.
— I would have gladly gone into the water, but swimming in clothes is not cool, — sadly said Charley.
Ace smiled at her conspiratorially.
— Watch magic! — with these words he in one motion took off his pants and socks, pulled off the shirt and threw a mischievous glance at the girl, — Catch up!
Without looking, Aries rushed into the water and dived. Charley giggled, pulling off her favorite joggers and a t-shirt. In a moment she was rushing to the sea. Perhaps such an act was quite careless, reckless, and indiscreet, but at that moment, it absolutely didn't matter for Charley. She deserved a night of happiness and didn't care what others think or how she looks in their eyes.
Chapter twenty ONE
The last day on Trana was especially beautiful. For the first time it was snowing, the mountain slopes were white, the sea turned into a huge ice rink.
Charley woke up late — the sun has long risen. She straightened in bed and scented a pleasant smell of cookies and cupcakes, which came from the kitchen. In the corridor came the sound of Christmas songs — Randy was playing the guitar downstairs. Surprisingly, the songs were clearly not Japanese. Miraculously, in the corner stood a tall tree, next to which were boxes with toys. Looking out from the kitchen, Rowena happily greeted Charley. Everyone was waiting for Aquarius to start decorating the house.
For breakfast, Libra made the most delicious Belgian waffles with cocoa, and Charley ate them up in a couple of minutes. They got to decorating everything that was possible in the house — all shelves, walls, and furniture. It felt like old days when everything was ordinary. Before the asylum, doctors, Zodiacs. Before the Moment, Trana, Ace. For the first time in a few months, Aquarius actually felt easily happy. Randy got permission to hang Totoro's toy on the tree himself.
For lunch, it was decided to go to the cafe. At this time there usually gathered a lot of Alars, so it was possible to catch up with other friends and give them gifts. Charley was upset she did not have time to prepare anything at least for someone. Fortunately, the Zodiacs have presented each other so many packages that nobody noticed the lack of gifts from Charley. After all, Christmas is a holiday when everyone has fun and anybody doesn't offense.
Someone called out to Charley. She turned around. Grayson was walking on a snowy path. A pompom on his hat swung a little to the beat of his step. The girl did not know what was brighter — the boy or the sun. Approaching his Zodiac, he took a small bundle out of his pocket.
— You know, all the best gifts are hidden in little boxes. I can't promise it'll be anything big, but I hope you like it. Merry Christmas!
She smiled sheepishly and took the parcel. Wrapping paper was decorated with deers and snowflakes, on top of it was a red bow.
— How beautiful! I feel sorry for opening it... — with a smile said Charley.
— Don't flatter me! — giggling, Sagittarius gently shoved her in the shoulder.
Charley slyly looked at Grayson and started unwrapping the present. Soon a small white box with the name of a well-known jewelry company appeared. The girl's eyes lit up. Carefully lifting the entire paper, she opened the main gift. A silver pendant with a picture of Mickey Mouse appeared in front of her eyes. Charley froze, admiring the charm.
— Oh my dang... — she hugged Grayson tightly. The girl wanted to receive such a gift, but did not expect that it would be presented from the Guardian, — How did you guess?
— You once said you were a fan of this mouse. So I thought...
— Show me a better friend than you.
Teenagers hugged again. Aquarius put her head on the shoulder of the Guard and watched as snowflakes fell from the sky. Her nose caught the smell of warm waffles and hot chocolate from the cafe. Charley drew a deep breath, put her arm around Grayson and held her breath. She was smiling, although eyes were dimmed with tears. She seemed enveloped in a state of serene happiness, which she previously could not even dream of. Herself, she always thought she was an ordinary girl who occasionally threw something unusual. Aquarius could never even think she would enter the ranks of the Higher creatures, the fact that she would celebrate Christmas more than eleven million light years away from Earth, in the company of real friends. She has never even tried to fantasize about it.
At some point, Grayson pulled back and nodded off to the side.
— Someone's got a present for you, too.
Charley turned around to see Ace, modestly standing a meter away from them. She smiled even wider and lowered her head down. As if she, too, would like to give something to both friends. Grayson gently pushed Aquarius in the direction of Aries. She raised her head and noticed white snowflakes on Ace's black hair.
— You'll freeze, and what are we gonna do then? — she asked jokingly.
— Probably, swallow pills and drink milk with honey, — he giggled.
Charley hugged Aries in greeting. Her nose caught the smell of expensive cologne, and Ace caught the aroma of ginger cookies. Charley looked for a hood on his back but found nothing. 'At least, he did not forget a scarf..." — with a sigh of relief thought she. The guy cleared his throat theatrically, took out a medium-sized bundle from behind him and handed it to the girl. 'Wow, this one is heavy!' It was packed a little differently than Grayson's gift — the paper shimmered, bow tied in an unusual way, Christmas tree branch was glued near it. Throwing the guy an exciting look, Charley carefully opened the wrapper. Inside was a rectangular box with the logo of an expensive firm, at the side was seen a little satin ribbon. Pulling it, Charley took out a silk dark blue dress with a lined crystals flower vine extending from the neckline to the slit that began at mid-thigh. For a few seconds, Charley had forgotten how to speak. She turned her gaze of admiration to Ace.
— God... — whispered the Aquarius, and pinned to a dress.
— I thought it would suit you. Besides, I don't think you have an outfit for today's party, — shrugged Aries.
The girl tried not to cry tears of joy. Everything was too good. At Christmas, miracles really happened.
The time was approaching seven in the evening. In the house of the Air Zodiacs began to gather the rest of the Alars. Representatives of each of the elements brought to the table something special — different hot and cold meals, sweets. Everyone could find something for his taste.
Charley was making curls in front of the mirror in the bathroom. All her life she wanted to be curly, but her hair stubbornly refused to wave in any way. The charm from Grayson was already shimmering on the hand. She did not have a special bracelet, though it looked great on the red thread. Charley borrowed some makeup from Rowena. Mascara, shadows, powder, lipstick, foundation... Looking at this set, she suddenly remembered her former life. Interestingly, what were people saying about her in Cobham? Died, returned to Russia, transferred to a special department for the disabled? In general, it was not important. The main thing — she was where she had to be, and alive.
Having finished with the last strand, Charley turned off the curling iron and returned to the room. There was the new dress on a hanger. She liked it very much but expected it to be too tight. On Earth, Aquarius always berated herself for extra kilos, so she preferred baggy clothes. However, the last time Charley had looked in the full-length mirror for a very long time ago, and she had no idea how much she had changed. There was no large mirror in her room. Sighing, Aquarius threw off her robe and began to dress. Surprisingly, the dress was easy to put on and zip. The guy guessed with the size. 'I wish I had a chance to see myself in full growth...'
Finally correcting her hair, Charley left the room. She was a bit shy, wondering about extra pounds. The girl went down, trying to be as unobtrusively as possible, but Sandy spotted her and cried loudly:
— Wow! Look at this Princess!
Now, everyone was gazing at her. Grayson smiled faintly, watching his Zodiac with an admiring look. Ace quickly approached her and gave his hand.
— Of course, I thought it would suit you, but that much... I had no idea! — he whispered to Aquarius. She blushed even more.
Soon everyone was ready. Sitting at the table and listening to the first toast from Rowena as the mistress of the house, Alars started eating. The festive mood was reigning. Zodiacs told different jokes, took selfies with each other, danced. Gemini, as usual, argued. This time, about the type of fish in sushi.
Ace bent down to Charley and quietly offered to go out on the terrace. She agreed and they slipped out. Grayson noticed it but remained at the table.
Snowflakes were still falling from the sky, the spherical lanterns illuminated the walkways, ice on the sea gleamed. Aries raised his finger up and pointed to a mistletoe hanging from the roof. Aquarius pointedly looked at him.
— Well, no, mister, I'm seventeen.
— I'm not even hinting at anything.
Charley raised her eyebrows in surprise. She didn't know where the guy was going.
— I know, the Moment is in twenty-four hours, as well as the battle with Azones, but still, there's something I want to ask you, — Ace took a deep breath and looked Charley in the eye, — will you be my girlfriend?
Her eyes widened. She was very flattered and wanted to reply at the same moment, 'Yes!' Though, as usual, doubts crept into her head.
— I'm seventeen and you're twenty.
— We are on Trana, and you still live according to Earthly laws?
— Nope. They're too boring.
Aries looked blankly at her and wondered if she would add anything. Finally, she spoke.
— You'll know after the battle. Now, you have the incentive to survive, — she said and winked.
Ace nodded and hugged Aquarius. He wasn't going to die anyway, however, now, the motivation was even stronger.
Chapter twenty TWO
The morning began with turmoil. Everyone was collecting the last necessary things. A few hours later they had to fly to the place. The way was to take a little less than a million light years towards the Earth, that was not very long.
Charley sadly looked around her room, to which had already become attached. In a prominent place hung the new dress, the fire was still comfortably burning in the fireplace, the nature of Trana was changing on the other side of the panoramic window. From below came Rowena's shout, hurrying Gemini and Aquarius. The girl slammed the door and went out into the corridor. Randy was already running down the stairs, holding a bag with images of anime characters.
Near the front door, Libra gave teenagers two sandwiches and bottles of guarana juice. When all three went outside, she sighed sadly and closed the door. Finally looking around, Rowena nodded to the rest, giving the command to teleport. If it was possible, the Zodiacs would have gone on foot, but they were already late for the ship. Libra was the first one to evaporate. Charley closed her eyes and imagined the country, then mentally drew a line from home to the destination and prepared to teleport too. At the last moment, she felt Randy firmly grabbing her shoulder.
Fortunately, the teenagers moved to the right place without any glitches. Charley had a sigh of relief and turned around, to explain to Gemini he should not joke like that, but he had already gone somewhere. Two hypotheses popped up in her head — either Randy was just kidding around, or something happened to his Powers. She was more inclined to the first option.
Suddenly Shet appeared in front of her.
— Don't worry, it'll be fine. The main thing is to believe it. Remember your part of the plan and don't rush into the battle. Gray has your back, — his calm low voice affected the girl in a good way.
She nodded and looked back. The tension was hanging in the air, the room was filled with noise — some of the Alars were saying things that didn't get to say earlier, others were cheering each other up, and others sang songs to pass the time. There was a general thrill. Charley still didn't understand why yesterday all behaved as if the Moment never comes — the Guardians and Zodiacs quietly celebrated Christmas, the Knowledgeables just locked themselves inside Shet's house, and stayed there all day. Of course, Christmas was an important holiday, but was the Moment less significant? The captain as if read her thoughts.
— Let's be realistic, tomorrow may not come. We may not even make it to the battlefield. Yesterday we all had a chance to have fun and be really happy, even for one day. Such moments should not be missed. Besides, additional training could exhaust you all. It would be superfluous, you are already ready for everything. Why should we load you before the final of the whole story?
Charley nodded thoughtfully. She would like to have a teacher with a similar approach at school. Before big tests, students were usually filled up by the probes, pumping thrill.
— By the way, no, Hans and I can't read thoughts, but if you live as long as we are, you may learn how to understand what a person thinks. Eyes and gestures give you so much information, — Shet paused for a few seconds as if deciding whether to add something, — Now, excuse me.
He withdrew and mingled with the crowd of Alars. Charley walked slowly to the window which was on the side of Trana's reception. There Hans was saying goodbye to Shavon. A small puppy was playing around them, the leash of which was in the girl's hands. 'Probably, he is a good father...' — swept in the head of Aquarius.
Half an hour later, Moma's voice came, telling to take their seats and prepare for takeoff. Grayson led Charley to their chairs.
— There's still some time before the start, — said Hans, when they all fastened seatbelts.
Absolute silence reigned on the ship. Alars were preparing to the final.
Forty minutes before the end of the flight, there was an order to begin preparations. Zodiacs of Water and their Guards were the first one to go to the room of ammunition, after them — Fires, then — Earths. The Airs were the last ones to get dressed. Charley's hands were shaking, the head was throbbing. In total silence, teenagers pulled suits, picked up weapons. Grayson gave the girl two guns, inserted the third one into a special belt on the inside of the left ankle. Nobody said anything, each one helped the others. After tightening all the belts and checking all the mounts, Zodiacs returned to the salon.
Each Alar sat in silence. Someone had closed his eyes or stared at nothing. One Indian guy was silently praying. Shet chose the best landing site. Hans stood in front of everybody. When they took their seats, he once again recalled the plan of action. The team was listening to him in a very concentrated way, no one interrupted. In conclusion, the Knowledgeable added:
— You all have an obsession with 'I want to save the world', which is why you're here. I think it's okay if you save only one person. And it's okay if that person is you because at some point you might want to give up. But remember we are not in a computer game to re-start a level. The hardest road is straight to the end. That's where we're going now. Don't give up!
Everyone nodded. In ten minutes they had to join the war for what they lived. They had to win, the Moment did not fall on the age of these Alars by accident. In fact, someone doubted, though others were not interested in his opinion.
Charley turned to Grayson:
— I thought we'd have a lot of time, but alas. Whatever happens, know that I have no one closer to you.
Sagittarius squeezed her hand. They've been through a lot, and now they were ready to die for each other. It was very important at this moment. Let tomorrow be a secret.
Moma's voice rang out:
— Landing in three, two, one.
The ship shook a little. Alars unbuckled the straps. Hans looked out the window and told everyone they had to wait. It was an hour before the explosion — signifying the awakening of Kotra — was supposed to happen in the most ancient galaxy 'Alarea'.
— Are you ready?!
— Yes! — Zodiacs and the Guards shouted back. No matter how much they wanted to make their voice cheerful, there were still notes of uncertainty.
— Well, then, go ahead... — whispered the Knowledgeable.
Shet pressed a button to open a hatch. The Earths ran out first and built a wall on the asteroid, serving as a shield. With a loud noise, the ground of the asteroid cracked letting a huge barrier grow up. Behind them came the Waters, creating waves, in an attempt to wash away enemies, who rushed toward the new arrivals. It looked incredible from the distance. Large water columns broke through the earth. Nobody made spontaneous things out of nowhere. The hosts just combined what was around them. If there wasn't any water in the ground or above it, one-fourth of Alars would be useless.
Adams was leaving with the Fires. Just before the exit, he turned back and shouted to the remaining people on board:
— If you don't find a pulse, I'm out of the game. But don't be sad, we'll meet on the next level!
With that, he jumped off the ship. Ace threw Charley a quick look and whispered something. No one heard anything, but that was not what he wanted. The guy just had to admit how much he appreciated Aquarius. The girl gave him a nod for last, and then he, too, jumped out.
Only Airs were left. Charley slipped Grayson a piece of paper.
— Read it only in case, if something terrible happens and we are no longer able to talk normally.
It was the last thing she did before all of them left the ship.
The earth of the asteroid was dry and hard. Dust was constantly going up from it. Gray grabbed Charley's arm and dragged her aside. She needed to be protected until the very end. As the Lord of the era, it was this Zodiac that represented the main weapon of Alars, though was also their most vulnerable place at the same time. According to the Knowledgeable, in a case of mortal danger, the energy of clear Alar-master of the era, could activate without any extraneous forces and turn into some kind of bomb. However, it was decided to keep Charley safe.
The teenagers ran about two hundred meters when they finally stopped behind a massive rock.
— Why do Azones need this fight? After all, they have no sense of duty or conscience, therefore, nothing to protect.
— Azons do not want to allow Alars to unite all twelve Zodiacs. Because then we will be able to wake Alarea up. She will not let their mother, — Grayson showed quotes, — wake up completely. And in this case, Azons will completely lose their powers, becoming normal humans who will die in a second. So, we can say they are fighting for their interests, and we are fighting for the prevention of chaos on Earth.
Not far from the guys on the ground fell a purple shell. Enemies were not far away, Alars' shelter was not that safe anymore. Sagittarius grabbed Charley's hand and dragged further. Suddenly Randy ran up to them.
— I'm here to guard. Seth ordered.
Grayson looked at him suspiciously — Gemini had to fight together without disconnecting. Sagittarius was sure the captain would not have taken such a step. In general, he trusted his friend, but now something was wrong.
— You're allowed? — he asked again.
— Trust me! I swear to Naruto!
Grayson shook his head and slowly pulled out a pistol from his belt.
— I do not believe you...
Randy did not have time to object, as the Guard hit him with the handle of the weapon on the head. The twin fell to the ground. Charley's gaze shifted from one to the other several times, not understanding what was going on. Grayson grabbed her again and dragged from the battlefield. The clock on his hand showed forty minutes. They only have to carry on for this amount of time.
— Okay, don't freak out. I think he's a traitor now. I'm sorry.
It was hard to hear what he said because the battlefield noise was too loud.
— But he's alive, — the Guard added, so Charley wouldn't worry too much.
Suddenly, through the sounds of the battle they heard a girly scream — someone was calling Adams. There was an explosion. The ground shook a little. Charley's heart sank. A few dozen meters away from the Aquarius fought her friends, and she, like a coward, was sitting in bushes. Without saying a word, Charley got rod of the grip and rushed into the battle. Grayson tried to stop her but in vain. He had to chase her. Thirty-five minutes left.
The first thing she saw was how Horsa grabbed Rowena by the throat. She tried to free herself, though it was useless. It seemed like in a few moments the end would come, however, the Guardian of the Libra came for help. Aquarius was not needed here. Suddenly she saw Sandy, who, for some reason, was racing straight to Lisa. The latter was holding a mountain, thereby protecting the wounded ones. Aquarius wanted to warn Taurus, but Gemini knocked her down before Charley could scream. Sandy was not better than her brother. Thirty minutes left.
Meanwhile, the mountain was left without any support and fell with a roar, the stones scattered in different directions. At the same time a hurricane blew at the field edge, a purple balloon exploded above their heads. Someone screamed. A fiery arrow whistled from the side. Charley turned around. A water Zodiac was raising a giant wave instead of the collapsed mountain. Lisa ran up.
— Your own team! — she literally growled and crouched on one knee, swinging her fist against the ground.
A huge fissure cut the earth. Sandy flew down with a scream. Charley didn't have time to figure out how to help her when she heard Grayson's voice:
The girl turned and quickly stretched out her arms at chest level. A powerful wind broke out of her palms and rushed forward. There was a feeling of déjà vu. Previously, Aquarius had already experienced something similar in the hospital, when a through hole was formed in her lung. Destroying the danger, she squatted to look around.
A fireball passed by, bringing down Horsa who was flying to her team. Azon screamed and fell to the ground. A pillar of fire broke out.
And suddenly all sounds seemed to quiet, at the background clearly sounded one voice — Azalea. The faded girl was confidently walking to Charley with a glowing purple ball in her hand. In the vision of the girl, she made a speech, and Aquarius hoped this time Azalea would also say something. That would give Charley time to take some action. Unfortunately, the hopes of the Aquarius did not materialize. Azon was breathing heavily, clearly losing strength. She reached her hand as close to Charley as possible. There were not any chance to dodge or to release a wind. Twenty-three minutes left.
All at once, the entire asteroid lit up, the space above it became bright red. There was a very loud and high sound, rather ultrasound, forcing everyone to sit on the ground and grab their heads.
Azalea looked up and whispered with delight, 'Mommy!' A voice boomed:
— Chaos is coming.
Alars clamped hands over ears, trying to get rid of the shrill sound. Their fight was over. Against Progenitors they were powerless.
Grayson crawled to Charley, tears of whom were slowly streaming down from pain, picked up a stone and struck the girl's hand in the place where was the mark of the Zodiac. Clamped hands over his ears again. It seemed that if he had been activating the mark a little longer, his eardrums would burst.
Suddenly Sagittarius felt the skin heat. The white color was added to the red color of the sky. Another voice thundered:
— Not in my era. Not this time!
Grayson slightly smiled. It worked. The true power was activated. In the hands of the guy ran down the warm liquid. The shoulder was burning from pain. He knocked out.
— Stop! — Aquarius commanded. At the same time, the ultrasound stopped. Alars removed hands from their ears with relief.
Ace opened his eyes and sat up on his elbow. On the other end of the field stood, as if on a huge pedestal, Charley. From her emanated a white glow, hair waved. Space around was constantly moving, shrinking, twisting like a living creature.
There was a loud, disgusting laugh:
— Who are you to contradict the mother of the Universe?! — contemptuously asked Kotra, clearly not taking Aquarius seriously.
Charley slowly raised her head to the sky. The eyes resembled the look of a serial killer — cold, cruel, and ruthless.
— I'm your cancerous tumor, — she said quietly.
At the same moment, she abruptly opened her arms to the sides and threw her head back. Space began darkening again, a black substance appeared over the ground, sucking into Aquarius. A strong wind swept through the asteroid. A flash of light. Darkness again. Nothing was seen, dust was flying into eyes, the ultrasound appeared and shut up. The earth was shacking. It was impossible to stand still.
In a second everything stopped. Charley fell, bent in half and coughed. Inside it was like a hurricane. By some miracle, the body was restraining the internal storm, though it was given a lot of effort. In the eyes of the girl reverberated the entire universe in miniature, with galaxies, constellations and milky ways. At the next moment, they were displaced by absolute darkness. A white light. Darkness again. Charley closed her eyes and knocked out.
Shet was running to her from the other side of the field. His leg was bleeding, every step was difficult, though he did not stop or slow down. In a minute he got to the girl and sat on his knees. In the pocket, the captain had a syringe with a powerful sedative. He knew that Aquarius needed to sleep in order to quickly regain strength. Shet understood she was going to have a heavy battle with what was inside her. Grayson, lying nearby, opened his eyes and stared at the Knowledgeable.
— What happened?
The man patted the assistant on the head.
— You can be proud. Your Zodiac absorbed the embodiment of absolute chaos and saved our Earth. I don't know how she is still breathing...
More than a month has passed since the Moment. On Earth, the calendars showed the second of February. Many Alars came to their senses. The roll call revealed the loss of Gemini, Pisces, and Adams. Their Guardians were gone as well. Shet has launched the program to search for the next hosts of the Zodiac Power.
Charley pulled away from all the Alars. Inside her was a constant battle between good and bad. Eternal opposition. Kotra, imprisoned inside Aquarius, constantly tried to break free, raised the girl in the middle of the night, forced to kill others. Charley did not succumb to provocations, though realized she could not carry on forever. She moved between galaxies, trying to find the least populated. Several armed groups from different planets were on her trail. The endless flight was exhausting.
On the second of February, the girl returned to where it all began. In Cobham, at her house. The burnt ruins were covered with snow. It was strange that anything new was not built. Maybe people turned it into a local attraction.
Suddenly, someone's footsteps were heard. 'Who even goes for a walk late at night?' Looking around, Charley saw a familiar figure in the hat with a pompom on his head. Grayson was walking in her direction, shivering from the cold.
— The coldest day of the year, and the brightest person's birthday! — came the familiar voice to the girl.
Tears came to her eyes. It's been a while since she heard a friendly tone. Sagittarius walked over to Aquarius and hugged. He missed her and wasn't afraid at all.
— You know, I believed you could do it without the prison of purification. Guess they want to send you there to free of Kotra? But I think you're doing great on your own. You're looking for your way to get rid of her, right?
The guy was shaking from the cold a little, though kept smiling and looking trustingly into the eyes of Charley. He saw her tears coming, corners of her lips hesitantly going up. When suddenly the pupils of Aquarius darkened, the emerging smile was gone. Now, her eyes were completely black. She stared at Grayson for a minute and then spoke. The voice became lower and more powerful.
— The only thing I'm looking for is a way to get rid of you and your kind! — with these words, Charley strongly pushed Grayson.
He flew off to the side and fell on the snow-covered asphalt. The next moment, the darkness vanished, eyes brightened. The girl saw Grayson and exclaimed, rushing to him, 'No!' She was shaking heavily. The last thing she wanted was to hurt Sagittarius. However, that was exactly what she had done.
Charley looked into her friend's eyes with a plea, but saw only pain and dislike in them. She realized she had just killed all the trust between them. Kotra managed to subdue her. Charley felt such a cold, which has never felt even during the biggest frost.
She sat on her knees, reached out, and touched Grayson's hand with her fingers. He flinched, looking at Charley. In the eyes he saw remorse, pleading, a silent request to take her hand, though he didn't move. Her tears flowed, eyes became sky-blue, the face was covered with red spots. Grayson sat and stared at the girl. He saw how sorry she was, he felt it was very painful for her, perhaps, even more than for him. Though he knew he could not help her. At least, not by squeezing her hand.
The earth was illuminated by the searchlights of the spacecraft. Several figures with weapons on the edge grabbed Charley and dragged her aboard. She stared at Grayson. It seemed like her 'life was burned to the bottom...'
Darkness has again covered the girl's eyes. Looking back, she rested her feet on the ground, forcing the military to stop for a moment. They had to take extreme measures. Charley raised her head to the sky and laughed hysterically. Flash, discharge. Aquarius knocked out.
Residents of some houses looked out of their windows. However, no one saw anything — by this time the ship had already swept off the ground, and Grayson disappeared in space.
Sagittarius sat down on the chair near the huge panoramic window. Meteors, comets, galaxies were passing by on the other side of the glass. On the table lied a piece of paper folded several times. The one that Charley gave him before they went into the battle. Until yesterday, the guy believed everything was not so bad. Now, he was convinced other way. It was hard to accept. Sometimes he even hated Charley for doing that to Kotra. Yet, he hesitated to unwrap the letter as if it meant renouncing a close friend. However, curiosity and another episode of wickedness got to him and Grayson grabbed the paper.
Hi! It's like I'm not around, but I still need to say 'Hello'. Etiquette... such etiquette.
Honestly, I think right now you hate me. It's just, under different circumstances, you wouldn't be holding this sheet. By the way, don't worry, I hate myself now, too.
I have no idea where I am right now, what's happening to me. At least I hope I'm not decomposing in some ditch.
Tomorrow will be the Moment and we will all die. Joke. We are the best guys ever and we will do it! Absolutely sure of that. I'm the weak link, but with the Guard like you, I'm not afraid. Here's the irony — right now the door slammed and you came into our house. Well, welcome!
If you haven't caught up yet, I'm saying goodbye in this letter. Something tells me the fight will end badly for me. Let's be honest, it's always wrong with me. For example, it was planned that I would get a Russian education, but somehow it did not work out, and I was raised in England; my training course was supposed to last like everyone else's, but it had to be cut twice. If I had believed you the night we first met, things would have been different. But, alas, the past is never to return. All my life I stumble and often fall. It's funny, though I already love it! So not wasting emotions.
One day I came across a phrase that said about home. Imagine, it may be not only a structure or a place to which you are attached. People can be home as well. And you're the only one I'd call that.
Something's happened to me, I'm different, and you know it. Even though you are my Guardian, I won't ask, 'Where were you to save me?' God, you're my age! How can one expect something from you that not even many adults can do? Grayson, you're already doing great! And I mean what I say. Show me a seventeen-year-old boy who would arrange two breakouts for an idiot like me! I know that the second one was attended by Shet and Randy, but you did most of the work.
You know, my biggest fear is to stop feeling. I guess I'm just writing this to get my emotions out for the last time. Most likely, now I would give everything to start worrying because of stupid problems again. You don't understand me, do you? Just nod, I know you don't. Though everything can change — the world does not stand still!
I think this letter has been with you for days. It's just that you've been refusing to accept the fact that I went somewhere for a long time. It hurts, but everything was predictable — you lost me in the first second of the Moment because beginners do not survive in heavy combats.
Oh boy... I've covered all the paper. (Indeed, some letters are blurred with tears.)
Now, there will be two almost identical requests (and yes, I am insolent):
Save me if I lose control over my life. If you're in the distance, please find me. And save. Whatever happens, you'll always be my best memory. In fact, if it wasn't for your efforts, I wouldn't be who I am. Trana and all the Alars were a fairy tale, but we ended up in different endings.
I do appreciate you like no one else. I got no innocence, but I still I find you next to me. So thank you for taking a chance on me. Seasons will change, life will make you grow, dreams will make you cry. Things in this world are temporary, some of them will slide and you will forget about them. But life is a dope thing, it has many times, so I hope to see you again.
— With love and hugs,
Grayson folded the letter and returned it to the nightstand. He lived to save his Zodiac. Now, Aquarius really needed her Guard. The time has come to do his duty.
Vibrant intersection. Hometown. Familiar houses and shops. The air around was also saturated with contradiction. The world was divided into two absolutely equal parts — good and evil. Surrounding things were a measure of calculation. Actions were just units of balance, and Ace had to make sure it wasn't broken.
The wind was blowing from side to side, taking branches, garbage, leaves, someone's newspaper left on a bench with it. Cars were going by. Aries stood still. He heard a familiar melody, on the next Billboard was visible a banner with a writing 'Aquarius'. Together, these little things reminded the guy about her. The one in whose eyes he so often saw himself as the real one. Like the world, Charley was full of contradictions and not fully understood what she wanted.
According to the latest information, Aquarius was sent to the prison of purification. No one thought it was going to last. A maximum of one year. Indeed, what are three hundred and sixty-five days? Practically nothing. Ace put on his hat and walked forward. He had no purpose, he just went where his eyes looked. The Universe had to bring him to Charley, and he just had to not stay in place.