Chapter 1: Crash
I fell from the sky, lightning flashing all around me, zapping into me. Bursting into the ridge where my thigh met the metal of my artificial leg, the white-hot agony of it slamming me into blackness.
I woke up with my cheek lying against damp grass, facing the morning light spread across the eastern sky. As soon as I moved, sparks danced across my skin. I stayed on the ground as still as I could, dreading the moment when I would have to move my leg. In front of me, strapped to my arm, the Channel device snapped with blue fire.
At least I made it through alive, I thought. And more importantly, I've stolen the Channel back from the Conglomerate. The mission wasn't a total failure. Except that the Channel malfunctioned between our worlds, and I have no idea which world I've landed on. This is definitely not Mag City.
One thing was for sure, a professional spy wouldn't stay lying here, no matter how much it hurt to get up. Dad would give me an earful if he saw me 'not taking the initiative'.
I gathered all my strength and pushed myself onto my knees. There. Not so bad. My leg was almost numb. I breathed a sigh of relief, and looked around. Behind me, in the early morning light, stood a grove of trees—no, what was the word? A forest. We didn't even have forests on our world; neither did the Conglomerate—a choking mass of smoke and dark buildings clustered together in the rain, gray streets with soldiers always marching through them—the opposite of my world, City Magnificent. The sheer number of trees here astounded me. And in front of me lay a vast plain, the dark silhouettes of large animals of some sort moving across it near the distant hills. We didn't have many animals on our world, but I felt a twinge of longing for Sabra, my saber-toothed cat. I had been going home to see her, and Dad, and my sisters and brother, and Mom, and now—this detour.
I spat out a curse in Winged, the ancient language we'd inherited from our forebears. Those words always had more bite than words in any other language. And I climbed to my feet, favoring my left leg. I took one step on it—and my leg betrayed me. I slammed face-first into the dirt. I hated this leg, I hated the fact that the Channel hadn't gotten me home, I hated the fact that Dad was probably even now sitting on his throne, shaking his head and saying, I knew Jet couldn't handle a mission like this. That day when he lost his leg for us was a fluke, after all. A one-time-thing. How could I ever think he'd turn into a hero like his siblings? He's barely a March at all, not worthy of the name.
"Shut up, Dad," I muttered, something that would get me, even though I was a prince, severely punished. Probably more punished than Glory or Violet or Blade would get. Because they always did everything right the first time.
I took another stab at standing, wishing more than ever I had my wings. They would have been able to carry me wherever I wanted, but if I had started flying on my spy mission, it would have defeated the purpose. This leg better start working, I thought.
The sun rose over the distant hills, and I tried to get an idea of what to do next. Although I was most comfortable in open spaces, it would probably be safer in the woods. On the plain, any hostile agents could see me coming a mile away. My priority was to get the Channel working again and report to the Spire ASAP.
So I steeled myself for the pain, and took another step. My leg stabbed me as if shards of bone were breaking off and embedding in my flesh. It was almost as bad as the first day I'd walked on it two months ago. But I gritted my teeth and continued until I made it to the trees. I grasped a tree with smooth white bark, catching my breath, and took a good look at the Channel on my right arm. Nothing seemed wrong with it; it was just a sleek blue sleeve that wrapped around my arm, with one red blinking light that told me it was malfunctioning.
At least no one had been around when it happened; that could have gotten messy. This world seemed deserted; maybe no humans lived here.
I tapped the device. Holographs appeared across its skin. I spun through its code, trying to find the source of the problem, clicking through the words and numbers racing through the air.
"Hey," said a voice behind me.
I jumped, hiding my Channel arm behind me as I turned to face my foe.
In front of me stood a small girl, only a third my height, with long golden hair and large blue-green eyes. "What are you doing?" she said.
"You are too." She was, of course, speaking in her own language; the translator in my brain only let through the smallest hint of an accent. "What is that thing?"
I tugged my shirt sleeve down over my arm, obscuring the Channel. "It's a game I like to play. Now can I get back to it?"
"A game? Let me see!" And she dashed toward me. I stepped out of her way; she came to a spinning stop, her face flushed, eyes sparkling. She ran toward me again, grabbing for my arm; I held it easily out of her reach.
"Please, can I play the game?" She jumped up, trying to reach it.
I shook my head. "You should probably go home. I don't think your mom would be very happy that you're talking to a strange man."
The little girl grimaced. "You're no fun. And anyway, I don't have a mom. I only have a dad, and he's out working in the mines all the time. My sister's home though, and she doesn't let me do anything but work. I thought I found someone to be my friend, but I guess I was wrong." She crossed her arms.
"What makes you think I'd make a good friend? Maybe I'm an escaped criminal or something."
"No, you're not. I can tell." I forced myself to meet her piercing gaze.
"Well, I wish I could be your friend, but I have to leave pretty soon. I just have to get this thing fixed and then—I'm outta here."
Her face fell. "Yeah. I figured. Usually that's what happens. People never stay around here long enough for me to get to know them."
"I'm sorry. I'm sure someone will come along soon." I started to walk away. Rule Number One about spying: You don't fraternize with the locals. Not unless it's part of the mission. And no matter what you do, you don't get attached.
I'd outpace her in a few minutes, and then I could get back to work and see how much the Conglomerate had messed up the Channel's parameters while trying to reverse-engineer it. Silly me for not checking it out before creating an inter-world portal.
The only problem with outpacing her was that my leg still wasn't up to 100 per cent. Like it ever was. Stupid Con technology. It was fine the first several strides and then I stepped into a small dip and stumbled.
The next thing I knew, I was looking up at the sky, and the little girl was looking down at me, concern warring with amusement on her face.
Then, she looked off into the woods, and stood as still as Sabra when she is stalking prey.
"Soldiers," whispered the girl. "I don't think you want to run into them."
"Why would you think that?"
"You don't think like you're from around here. Come on." She grasped my hand. As if a tiny girl like that could pull me to my feet! I got up on my own, brushed the leaves off of my shirt and pants, the nondescript gray ones I'd worn for my mission.
"Come with me," she motioned to me. "I know how to get away from them."
"I think I'll just fend for myself, thanks."
"You'll regret it." And she walked off into the woods.
It was probably just a tactic to get me to follow her. But perhaps she did know the best way to evade the soldiers. No matter what, I needed to keep a low profile. And in my present condition, I wasn't up to fighting much of anyone.
And so, without further hesitation, I followed her dainty green-clad form through the woods, until we came to a small cottage, where a young woman was hanging out clothes to dry in the sun.
© 2015 Evelyn