A thick haze greeted the Epoch as it appeared near what should have been Death Peak. Another unfamiliar landscape surrounded the trio; since the craft’s damaged wings kept it grounded, it should have materialized inside Belthasar’s laboratory after stopping at the End of Time. Instead, it sat in the middle of an open, barren field. Upon exiting the craft, the children learned that the haze was a substantial layer of dust. Lucca quickly covered her mouth and nose with her neckerchief in order to keep from choking on the filthy and oppressively dry atmosphere. The lad removed his own and handed it to the Guardian heir, then covered his own airway with a cloth usually reserved for polishing sword blades.
“This is terrible,” Marle observed. “It’s impossible to see very far in this dust, and what I can see is too unfamiliar to know where we are. What happened here?”
“Maybe it was Helminthes,” Lucca suggested. “If it feeds off of the Earth’s water supply, it should be growing substantially. Maybe it’s grown big enough by now to kick up dust like this.”
“But where are the buildings, and Death Peak?”
“I don’t know,” the inventor stated, not wanting to suggest the obvious. Gazing northward, the only thing she could see was a range of mountains extending across the entire horizon. Although no peak was higher than Death Peak, had it existed, the range towered close enough to their landing site to prevent a possible view of the mainland. Crono was already heading towards it.
“Let’s stick together,” Lucca told the princess. “We’ll probably have to cross those mountains to find anything, or anybody.”
As the three hiked towards the jagged mountains, Marle scanned the desolate environs once again, and proceeded to say what her friends were yet thinking.
“This doesn’t look any better than before we beat Lavos.”
When she said that, Crono stopped in his tracks. Lucca stopped, too, suspecting that the boy was going to say something. He eyed the foot of the serrated crag in front of them, then turned questioningly to the two young ladies. Lucca began coughing, having inhaled enough dust to complicate her breathing. She staggered up to a large, nearby outcropping and leaned her arm on it. Placing a halting hand to Crono just as the boy stepped towards her, the scientist staved off her fit long enough to get a look at the swordsman.
He was frozen in mid-step, and did not look aware of the growing blood stain on the cloth over his mouth and nose; the dry air had apparently given him a nosebleed. Although his face was mostly covered by the cloth, his eyes were clearly filled with a kind of terrified awe. Bewildered, the girl glanced at Marle, and saw that she was actually stepping back, her face overcome with horror; she had dropped the neckerchief that Crono gave her. They were both looking past Lucca at the outcropping against which she was leaning. Cautiously, the inventor followed their stares and inspected the mossy cliff that she had used to brace herself.
It bore an odd flattened top, and curved widely in front of her. Stepping backwards, she saw that it seemed to form a long oval that led straight to the foot of the mountain. Scanning the horizon, she noticed what her friends had already seen: the entire range was lined with the same flattened oval cliffs. In fact, the range itself had a sort of pattern to its crests that none of the children had previously realized through the haze. Lucca found herself examining the serpentine mountain range, almost forcing herself not to make the conclusion she knew she had to make.
Suddenly, a few hundred yard away, the next oval cliff in line stirred, gouging a shallow canyon and raising a huge miasma in its path. All three jumped at the sight and sound, and it was painfully clear that these were not cliffs before them.
They were paddles.
In her shock, Lucca let go of her neckerchief and tried to breathe in deeply, but her airway had already contracted too much. She spun around and nearly fell over; Crono and the princess quickly caught her by the arms. Retrieving both fallen cloths, the boy handed them to his comrades and hastily motioned for Marle to help him carry the panicking Lucca away from the “mountains.”
“It’s not… possible,” the young scientist gasped hoarsely. “No… Helmin… not that… size…”
“Let’s get out of here,” Marle blurted. The swordsman started to nod, but received a series of slaps on the back from Lucca. Although she barely had the capacity to speak, she tried to protest.
“No… can’t go… back… yet… not…”
A bright light targeted the youths and made them stop in their tracks. A tinny voice called out to them:
“What do you kids think you’re doing over there? Don’t you know how dangerous it is out here?”
They had no idea to whom the voice belonged, but they were well aware of the answer to its second question. The voice called again.
“Get over here! I have to lock up the city soon!”
Any number of reasons could have made Crono follow the orders of a strange voice: his friend’s perilous condition, the very real danger of the hostile landscape, the incredible form that the monster worm had somehow taken, or simply the welcoming tone of the voice, which, as the trio soon discovered, belonged to a middle-aged man with a megaphone who was standing in a wide staircase that lead underground and was covered by a thick metal trapdoor.
* * * * *
“To say that I once knew Cyrus couldst begin to describe my relation to the man,” the amphibian said, almost cryptically, as he ambled to the side of the light pole and lazily kicked the bag of pots and supplies that Crono had recovered from his underground home. The dozing Guru of Time did not stir.
“So, how is it the two of you are… related?” Meridio continued, wondering if this being was some sort of blood relative to the legendary knight.
Frog gripped the handle of his weapon. Keeping his head level, he admitted: “I was his squire.”
Meridio’s folded arms dropped limply to his sides and his mouth fell open. He stood from the wall against which he was leaning: the wall that lined the corridor to the Epoch’s dock. Approaching the diminutive fighter, he proceeded the thought.
“You mean to tell me that YOU are Glenn, the co-- the man that witnessed the death of Cyrus? I was told he committed suicide.”
“Mayhap he was meant to,” the knight errant replied, “But he lives in the shape thou see’th before thee.”
A puzzled glare from the mercenary scanned the swordsman over as Meridio stated: “I had heard that he was disfigured by the wizard Magus.” As he circled Frog, the amphibian paid his staring no mind, as if he was used to being studied by others.
Stopping in front of the swordsman, the soldier of fortune let a smirk run across his face as he looked down on Frog and concluded:
“It would seem fitting that one who could so easily let a legend die like that would also be so willing to take his place… and his glory.”
Barely containing a derisive snort, Meridio returned to his resting place near the runway beyond the courtyard and proceeded to wait for the other three adventurers.
* * * * *
“Are you alright?” the man said to Lucca, who was slowly regaining control of her airway as she sat on a bench near the huge stairway that led to a long hallway. At the end of the hall, one could barely see hints of a civilization: a few visible booths and some large, metallic vehicles resembling covered carts without horses to pull them, but mostly throngs of people bustling around, as if hastily preparing for something.
The young inventor nodded quickly, but kept her head bowed and stayed silent; sensing her embarrassment, Crono blurted out a question.
“Where are we?”
The man had just turned back to a small panel with buttons on the nearby wall in order to secure the lock on the trapdoor that lead to the surface, but he stopped and faced the boy. “Excuse me?”
“We… got lost up above,” Marle intervened. “It was too cloudy to find our way home.”
The answer seemed to satisfy the man. “You’re in the Southeast wing of New Karotus,” he explained, stressing the “Southeast” part, as if the location’s general name was a given. “I’m surprised you could last long enough up there to find another entrance. Why are you dressed like that, by the way?”
Marle and Crono noticed that the man was dressed plainly, in monochrome shirt and pants, with a tight-fitting jacket zipped around himself. Their baggy, layered clothing certainly stuck out.
“We’re students,” Lucca piped up raspily from her seat. Hopefully it was still common for young people to dress differently from their elders; the earth-tone neckerchief was not an unlikely symbol of youthful rebellion near the turn of the Second Millennium.
This answer appeared to work as well, though the man still eyed their togs suspiciously for a couple seconds. Wincing as he realized his rudeness, he proffered his hand. “I’m sorry; I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Klaus.”
The boy returned the handshake first, then Marle. Lucca stood, almost warily, and shook the man’s hand quickly and weakly. When he got a good look at her, Claus told the inventor:
“You know, you remind me of a cousin of mine. You’re not from the family of Calu, are you?”
“No,” she answered.
“Well, I had to ask. I can never remember who I meet at the family reunions.”
As the four started down the hall, the Guardian princess decided to make small talk. “So you come from a big family, then?”
“You’re kidding,” Klaus replied. “Everybody knows that Calu’s family is the largest in the world.”
“Of course,” Marle lied hastily with a nervous giggle.
“You kids don’t get out much, do you?” the man asked, smiling lopsidedly as if he hoped that they were all in on a joke of some sort.
Crono managed an absent “No” that trailed off as the group neared the end of the hallway and got a clear view of the expanse that was New Karotus. Stretching for what could have been miles in all directions, the domain actually housed buildings: huge cubes that reached the ceiling of the shielded cave formed a gridwork of shops and businesses. Thick crowds and strange vehicles filled the pathways among the buildings. Marle and Lucca found their mouths agape as they surveyed the subterranean metropolis.
“I’d stick around and help you find your way home,” Klaus offered, “But I’m part of the Relocation Project and we’re very behind schedule; I have to go. There’s an information booth somewhere near here if you need it.” And without an adieu, he was off.
A few minutes of searching found the Information Booth, properly labeled with a bright pink, glowing sign, a few dozen yards from the entrance hallway. An unshaven, pot-bellied man behind the booth was busy packing brochures and reference books into boxes; he regarded the three visitors with an irritated “Yeah?”
“We’re looking for a robot,” Lucca requested sheepishly.
“Sorry, kid, but all robots are being reserved until Relocation is over,” the man said, eyeing the children’s attire skeptically.
“No, we’re looking for a specific robot,” she corrected.
“His name is Robo… or maybe Prometheus,” Marle suggested.
A cynical smirk contorted the booth keeper’s face before he answered, “Kid, you name your robot whatever you want, but we can’t find it unless we have the serial number.”
“So you can find him?” the inventor queried hopefully.
“If its tracking device isn’t broken,” the man recited impatiently. “Serial number?”
“R-66Y,” Lucca pronounced by heart.
Making no effort to hide his annoyance, the booth keeper waddled over to a computer terminal and typed a string of commands that, after an excruciating ten-second wait, gave him a series of numbers and letters. “Sector 7-B, Lane 742.”
“Thank you!” Lucca called as she giddily trotted further into the conurbation. Crono followed closely behind, and Marle joined the two after hesitating for a second to snatch a handful of information pamphlets from the booth, among them a map of New Karotus and a brochure highlighting “The History of Civilization, from Guardia to Calu.”
The Guardian princess soon took the lead of the group, as she was the first to make sense of the map she had taken. Sector 7-B was not a very far walk, but Lane 742 took a little effort to pinpoint, as coordinates within the streets of the city were not painted in uniform places among them. The alley itself was largely deserted, and the buildings lining it seemed like they had never been used. A few people hauled crates from a dusty building, and a number of cats skittered past the three as they inspected the various alcoves in the alleyway.
Lucca halted her friends when she spotted a familiar-looking object covered by a thick flannel blanket and sitting behind an empty metal box. Running to it, she felt her eyes misting over and fought to keep her head clear.
Crono and Marle quickly caught up with the young scientist, but failed to recognize the object she was studying until she uncovered it completely. It was barrel-shaped, and sported arms and stubby legs. It’s flattish domed head, however, brandished two buggy eyes that were all too familiar once they got a good look at them.
Marle folded her arms and sarcastically quoted the booth keeper. “All robots are being reserved, eh?”
Crono knelt beside his childhood comrade and inquired, “Are you sure it’s him?”
“It has to be,” she replied excitedly, kneeling beside it and fiddling with any controls she could find. “His number is the same, he was left alone just like before, and look here,” she explained, pointing to a small plaque on the android’s backside. “His serial number is stamped on crookedly, like somebody was in a hurry. It was just like this the last time we found him.”
Standing up, she flipped one last switch and stepped back, waiting for the machine to activate. After a moment’s wait, she anxiously grasped the automaton’s shoulder’s and shook it vigorously; Marle shot Crono a pained look, and the boy moved to secure the inventor. He took her left arm and tried to get her to let go. She nearly staggered backwards and covered her trembling mouth with her right hand. Just as she choked back a sob, a click resonated from the android, followed by a harsh whirring sound.
Optic sensors blinking on and off, the machine made a few jerky movements of its arms before pulling itself to its feet. Looking almost as if it was stretching its back and shoulders, the robot tested every one of its major joints before turning its attention to the children gathered in front of it. Bowing familiarly, the automaton spoke:
“Greeting, sir and madams. How may I be of service to you?”
Lucca stepped towards the robot shakily and queried, “Robo, don’t you remember us?”
“I am model R-66Y,” the machine replied. “Memory banks show that I have been inactive for five hundred and twenty-two hours prior to today. Please excuse me, but am I supposed to remember you?”
The question hit her almost like a physical blow. She cast a concerned glance to her compatriots and desperately searched for something to say to the automaton. “I’m Lucca,” she declared, “And this is Crono and Marle.”
“Greetings, Lucca, Crono, and Marle. How may I be of service to you?”
“No, no, you’re supposed to remember us,” the inventor babbled, thinking of what they had discussed before about transcending the flow of time. Fumbling distraughtly through the belongings in her pouch, she came across an item that inspired her to try once more to jolt the robot’s memory.
“You are supposed to remember us,” she stated, displaying the now-useless Gate Key that she had made herself. R-66Y swept its sensors over the wand, then froze for a moment. Scanning the object a second time, the android made a series of clicks and beeping sounds within its processor. The lights that were its eyes blinked as the spherical ornaments on the Key seemed to become fuzzy images in its memory banks: a small reptilian creature swinging the wand around haughtily; the object sparkling wildly as the robot-- he-- fell through a void with three other beings.
Suddenly, a series of other images, even more vivid than the first, ran through the android’s central processor as previously useless sectors of memory spontaneously activated: three beings-- the same three from the previous memory-- standing in front of him as he awoke from a long slumber; his fellow androids attacking him mercilessly; a bespectacled young lady-- one of the three-- repairing him. There was an odd familiarity about the humans in the images. They were exceptionally kind; he remembered that they seemed to conjure a need in him not only to be polite, but to be hopeful for his situation, and the situation of the world, which revolved around a large creature: not a worm, as his active memory would suggest, but a spiny, roundish creature…
Robo quickly realized that his optic sensors had shut off while he was seized by his memory banks. They lit up swiftly and he identified three standing before him as the same three from his memories; they had returned.
“Lucca,” he beeped slowly, “It’s so nice to see you again.”
The young inventor threw her arms around the robot and let her tears flow.
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