Author's Notes: C is a scary, scary kid. Lan's not any better, only he smiles more.
The Journey Of A Thousand Miles
By Alexandra Lucas
'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.'
"I'm going outside," C said, and the Wizards did not seem in the least surprised. Their liquid crystal faces nodded in mid-air, more acknowledgement that he had spoken than assent.
"It would be best." He was not sure who said it first, but there was a ripple of agreement. C wondered if A was monitoring their conversation, but, knowing the Generals, it was unlikely. He had probably been taken to a room somewhere, heavily shielded and sedated, as far removed from any technology as they could drag him, even deeper underground than they already were. There were cavernous tunnels underneath the building that go on forever, filled with rooms containing the secrets of generations of wizards, and probably some time had forgotten.
C wondered if this was the first time one of their secrets had gotten up and walked away from them. It was possible. Most of their secrets remained here until they died, or became unimportant, which was really the same thing. Their eyes watched him as he turned away, prickling electronic awareness in the back of his brain.
"Good luck." General Shuu spoke softly, the most compassionate of them, and he almost caught a note of regret in her voice. The other holographs winked out of existence silently, abruptly. Hers flickered for a moment, and then disappeared.
The Wizards had never been particularly good at letting things go.
The door opened for him for the first time in his life when he pushed it, and he had to take a slow, steadying breath before he stepped through it.
The carpet had a different, rougher nap to it than he was used to; it was rougher between his toes, and prickled the soles of his feet lightly. He looked up - there was a ceiling, white and flat, diffuse lighting glowing from somewhere behind it, not a large arch of metal that shielded the outside world from dead, insane or merely tired Three Leafs.
He had never seen any of this before. It was strange, and unfamiliar, and it made his stomach lurch, his head spin slowly, sickeningly, and for a moment he was actually tempted to go back. C dug a nail into his forefinger, where A had bit him only hours before. The bright flare of pain brought him back, grounded him, reminded him of A, and he was all right again. He could not go back. He had known since he made the decision to leave.
He took one step, then another and another, faster and faster, until he was almost running, feeling the weight of years spent caged fall away behind him as he went, the shackles of A's twisted obsession, and the leash of the Wizards' machinations. He was never coming back, and he felt lighter than he could ever remember being.
Dr. Uzawa waited for him at the end of the corridor, smiling one of his hard, dry little smiles.
"Well, isn't this our lucky day?," he said, and pushed his hands into the pockets of his white lab coat. His teeth bit off the words viciously, though his voice was deceptively soft and modulated.
"I've been told to escort you out." Click, went his teeth, and a muscle pulsed in his jaw. "I'm sure you're just /dying/ to get out of here, aren't you?"
C said nothing, simply stood and stared calmly back.
"Well then. Shall we be on our way?" He inserted a key, large and intricate, into a keyhole in the wall, and turned it. There was a soft sound, muffled by the wall, of metal on metal, tumblers falling into place, and the door opened for them.
The elevator opened with a handprint and pass code. It whirred softly to C as they made their way up, electronic whispering that grew louder and, at the same time, more diffuse as they got closer to the surface. He could hear the machines at work in the building, a word processing program on that terminal, a communications network there, archives and military files for levels on end. Dr. Uzawa watched him throughout, and only smiled at him when he looked back.
On sub-basement level 23, a terminal was playing a song, a woman's voice clear and sweet above it, singing something about love, and he strained his ears for it, but the elevator sped past. The notes lingered in his ears. Numbers flicked - 20, 19, 18, 17.- he could almost taste the change in the air, both sweeter and more pungent, less filtered of dust than the air he had come from.
The soldiers let them pass, their eyes kept very carefully away from C, for whom the electronic locks opened as he approached, for whom the doors slid open even before the motion sensors had noticed his approach. Uzawa trailed behind, having been effectively made redundant, hatred spilling from him in slow, thick waves. C could not bring himself to care, the promise of freedom calling him like a siren song, only two more doors to go.
Uzawa had been fifteen when the Clover Project had been initiated, too old for its criteria by far, and he had never quite forgiven his body for this sin. He had been assigned as task supervisor to the Three Leafs years ago because of his fascination for the Clover's powers, his aptitude for electronics and computers, and, C was sure, his hatred for Clovers in general. No matter his expertise, he could not reach out to a computer with his mind and speak to it, could not mould it like clay to his needs. He coveted their powers, and at the same time hated it for being something he could not have himself. He gave them the impossible tasks, the trivial, the infuriatingly complex. There were times when C wondered if it were not Dr. Uzawa who had driven A to be what he was, pushing their powers jealously until they believed that was all they were, as alien and remote as machines themselves.
Uzawa enjoyed locking them away. It let him sleep at night, breathe more easily during the day. A hated him, as Uzawa hated them, with a cold, dispassionate fury, but they understood each other. Uzawa had always hated C more, because C could only feel pity for him, and it was the one thing he could not accept.
Watching C leave through doors that opened themselves for him made a corner of his brain writhe and seethe.
It was raining outside. C just stood at the door and watched it in wonderment. He could hear cars and cell phones and headsets a few streets away, and electrical lines hummed overhead.
"Well. I suppose we will not see each other again." Reluctantly, "Goodbye, Three Leaf." Uzawa walked away quickly, shoes tap-tap-tapping until they faded into the background noise of the Outside.
C took one cautious step onto the road. It was cold, and wet, and it occurred to him that he had no shoes, but they seemed like such minor prices to pay for being free. His clothes were soaked through almost immediately.
He looked up. There was no ceiling here, only a wall of clouds he knew would lift away for the sun. The alley was dim, but neon and halogen lights lit up the streets only a few feet away, garish in the greyness of the day. The road was rough and stones dug painfully into his soles. The rain stung his eyes, leaked out of the corners like tears.
He had no idea where he was going, only it had to be as far away from this place as he could get. A would be waking up soon from whatever they had given him, and he had to hide as best he could. He wondered where he could find some shoes, and a bank machine that would give him enough money to survive until he figured out where to go next.
C turned left, away from the hand that A had bitten, where the rain was washing the blood away, and began walking. Behind him, the door slid itself shut.
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