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There was a shout from somewhere above, and William realized his father was falling just above him. William’s eyes were fixed on the out-of-control starship, though. It spun awkwardly, careening towards the shattered-glass window of the Penthouse service shaft that William was falling down. It was easily the size of a large building in itself– and it was coming straight towards William.
Luckily, William fell fast enough that he ended up just below the starship as it crashed through the steel supports of the Penthouse, gliding through the building like it was butter. The wrenching of glass and steel and metal all sounded together in a screeching cacophony. William squeezed Maxis’ body in his arms.
William twisted upwards to watch the transport crash all the way through the service shaft and explode. His father was a couple of feet above him, his dark silhouette barely visible against the blinding explosion the transport had been consumed by. Fire roared and expanded frighteningly fast, shooting down the shaft almost faster than William and his father were falling. Just as William started to feel the heat burn, the increased gravity brought them out of range of the explosion. Pieces of flaming debris from the starship and the Penthouse streaked by. William realized they were probably running out of space until they were smashed into the ground. He spun around to see the floor of the Penthouse rapidly approaching.
There was a deep, bass boom that vibrated William’s chest. Gravity flipped again– but this time it really started going haywire. William was launched to the side, flying upwards and outwards. His father managed to grapple his legs and was launched with William. They flew upwards and downwards, zigzagging randomly around the air like a rapidly deflating balloon. The entire Penthouse around them had been demolished, reduced to floating debris and a mountain of rubble. William’s father clawed his way up William’s body despite William’s attempts to kick him off.
William tried to hit his father, but it was awkward with Maxis in his arms. Mr. Coldwell deftly caught his free hand and twisted it backward painfully. William was spun around and Mr. Coldwell clutched his neck. The obedience chip!
William threw an elbow behind him, and with the awkward gravity, was able to separate himself from his father. They flew apart, floating above the base of the Penthouse. A huge piece of debris, probably a floor from the upper levels of the building, came crashing down between William and his father. The debris collided with tons of other rubble beneath them and suddenly the obsidian ground quaked violently. There was a chaotic cave-in as the ground beneath the Penthouse was swallowed up into the basement levels. William and Mr. Coldwell were yanked downwards in the cloud of debris.
William coughed and squinted his eyes as he fell, not able to see much of anything through the destruction. There were flashing red lights everywhere, and blaring alarms. He felt his feet touch the ground as the dust began to settle. Gravity was tugging him forward, but he resisted.
A few moments later, things came into focus.
William stood once again in the M-level of the Penthouse.
The cement chamber was full of broken steel-truss beams, white dust from Obsius’ surface, and sparking wires. In the corners of the room, big metal rods poked through the rubble, shooting blue arcs of electricity around. Red alarms with flashing lights spotted the walls.
At the center, the Coldwell reactor shook. The ball of mass seemed agitated, its many different parts and people and things it had sucked up shifting aggressively. It heaved in a breath, expanding and shrinking as the grav-machines controlling it were breaking. Just above the reactor, light poured in from the outside world in a gaping hole.
William’s mouth was dry. He twitched, holding tight to Maxis’ body.
He was frozen.
An arm reached out of the reactor, clawing for something. A mouth with a rib cage above it groaned.
There was a shifting in the rubble ahead of William. Rocks rolled and floated towards the reactor, slowly being absorbed by the mass. A figure stood from under a layer of dirt and looked around. It was Mr. Coldwell.
The reactor pulsed again and William had to grip a beam beside him to stay rooted. Mr. Coldwell grunted and began sliding towards the reactor, a victim to its pull.
William forced himself to snap out of it. Being where it all started was sending spikes of pain through his head, his nightmares fighting to freeze him in place again.
His father was slipping towards the machine. He desperately grasped around for something to hold onto. He looked up and saw William, fear in his cold eyes. He dug his hands into a crack in the floor, but William could tell his fingers were slipping.
William closed his eyes. He should throw something at his father, make sure that he fell into the very machine he created. He should grin as Mr. Coldwell got what he deserved. He’d finally prove to the both of them that he was bigger than his father. William would escape his shadow. His mission would be complete.
Instead, William frowned, gritting his teeth. Don’t think like that, he reminded himself. That’s how Father thinks. Mom would be disappointed. Nobody deserved the torture that waited inside the reactor.
I am not my father.
I am better than that.
William looked around and found a cable sticking out of the debris. He grabbed one end of it, made sure it had some slack, but not too much, and wrapped his arm holding Maxis around it.
Mr. Coldwell looked up at William with worry in his face.
“My son!” He croaked, reaching out an arm as he lost grip on the ledge.
William leapt forward, gravity sucking him towards his father. The cable stopped just before he reached Mr. Coldwell. William reached out and clasped his hand around his father’s, sneering at the touch.
“Don’t call me son! I am nothing like you!” William shouted, trying to pull his father away from the reactor. He planted his feet into the cement floor and heaved, grunting with the effort.
He pulled his father in close enough that the man could grab hold of him with both hands.
Then, Mr. Coldwell smirked.
William’s father swept out William’s legs from underneath him and tried to switch places with William. He grappled around William’s midsection, snarling, but because William had tied the cable around his arm, the swap was rough and William’s father ended up grabbing onto nothing but open air.
Mr. Coldwell screamed and fell upwards into his machine, waving his arms in every direction. He landed on his back into the twisting, swirling ball of limbs. He reached out a hand in fear as the reactor swallowed him and tore his body into a million different living parts.
William was in shock, wondering how his father could be so insane as to try to kill him after he’d tried saving him.
William’s feet were pulled towards the reactor, the only thing keeping him from being sucked inside his arm and the cable. The chamber rumbled again, a landslide along one wall happening. The cable was pulled taut, and William was sure whatever it was hooked to would break soon. He looked towards the reactor and watched as it heaved outwards, then crashed in on itself again.
This time, it didn’t stop crashing in on itself. It shrank and shrank, the grav-machines malfunctioning and condensing it to a tiny pinprick. The reactor tugged William towards the tiny little speck of matter it had become and then the whole thing disappeared with a pop.
Gravity returned to normal.
William fell to the ground with a grunt and lay there for a moment, taking in deep breaths.
After he could stand, he picked his way through the rubble and clambered up the landslide that had buried half of the Coldwell reactor chamber. He emerged from the Penthouse’s lower levels and found himself on top of a mountain of rubble– all that was left of his father’s business tower.
White particulate dust was still suspended for hundreds of feet above the obsidian ground in every direction.
William looked around at the port-city. The Penthouse had been razed, but plenty of buildings outside of its immediate vicinity had survived the gravitational chaos. Emergency rovers flew throughout the rubble, first responders helping those that needed help. Sirens were blaring. William felt Maxis’ body and wondered if he could find the parts to repair him. He could try.
William was shaking. He cradled Maxis, taking it all in. He’d finally silenced the screams. The innocent nobodies who’d been sacrificed to his father’s reactors had been put out of their miserable existence. The Coldwell reactors were destroyed. Nobody knew how they worked except for Mr. Coldwell, and he was gone.
William sighed. He’d done it.
He wasn’t just his father’s child. He was more than that. The piece of him that wanted to be remembered for bringing down his father, the desperate need to prove to everyone that he was better or bigger than his father was gone. He recognized it now as a piece of his father in him, hungry for fame and power.
William looked up at Mount Sica, the giant that he’d shrank from ever since he was a child and smiled.
The suspended white dust particles that normally coated Obsius began to fall out of their suspension in the sky, floating to the dark, jagged ground in an obsidian cloudwave.
Mount Sica seemed… smaller, in the distance.
It felt good to be out of Mr. Coldwell’s shadow.
TWO YEARS LATER
“What’d you say your last name was, again?” William asked the little boy, grunting as he cranked down on his drill’s spin-engine.
“Burns,” The boy repeated in an exasperated tone. The cave trembled as a mag-drill somewhere activated. William wiped the sweat from his face with his work rag and continued pumping his drill. He was happy to have located another one of his father’s indirect victims.
“Keep those arms pumping, people! The faster you drill, the more iron you’ll pull for sale!” An overseer shouted, his voice barely audible over the clamor of drills and shouts and rumbling.
“How long have you been down here?” William asked between pumps. His backpack felt heavy against his shoulders.
“My whole life,” the boy answered tersely. It was almost time for his lunch break.
“Do you remember your father?” William suddenly asked, stopping his drill. The boy blinked and then turned confusedly.
“Yes, but– how…” He asked, narrowing his eyes.
William was looking at Lucas Burns, the impoverished fourth child of a family of six. They had been sent here to work their increasing debt off, but hadn’t made much progress in their seventeen years of service. Lucas was twelve.
His father, Paulo Burns, had been kidnapped while working in these very shafts in the Ferrou Mines eight years ago.
William snapped his fingers.
“Maxis! The card,” He ordered, and the little droid came scuttling out of his backpack. Maxis blinked its purple eyes twice at William and then beeped as it spat out a blue card with a chip embedded in its side. It was a card full of money, enough to clear the Burns family debt and get them back on their feet. He handed it to Lucas and gripped the boy’s shoulder firmly.
“On your lunch break, go back to your mother with this. Get your family together and use it to get out of the Mines. Go start over. Don’t lose the card, okay? Get it to your mother,” William ordered under his breath. Lucas nodded, pocketing the card and shutting down his drill. He strapped the drill to his back, along with the iron he’d mined and warily ran back out of the shaft, confusion on his face. William sighed, feeling the weight on his shoulders lift a tiny bit more.
After the Coldwell reactors had shut down and the dust had settled, William had inherited his father’s remaining money and assets. No one knew that William had been the one to blow up the matter-gathering towers. William was terrified of becoming anything like his father, so he quickly designed ways to rid himself of the power and money he’d come into. He’d made it his new mission to try and right Mr. Coldwell’s wrongs by finding those his father had sacrificed into the machine and doing what he could to help their families.
Who’s next? William wondered, but didn’t check his data just yet.
Making amends was slow going, but William didn’t mind. In the Luna scrapyards, he’d decided he liked the work.
William cranked down his spin-engine drill again and lost himself in the labor.
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