“Jay, don’t forget the spare parts kit. I packed you a first aid kit and some extra blankets incase you get cold. Also I fixed up the transcommunicator so when you reach the next city you can contact me—“
“Liam, I’m going to be fine,” an exasperated voice spoke from above. A young girl’s head peered down from the second level of their crowded cell. Long black hair fell forward, tickling her face as the blood rushed to her head. She grinned at the upside down image of her older brother. “Here, catch.”
Jaden tossed a dusty wrapped parcel, no bigger than her own hand, at the brother before disappearing back to their storage room briefly. With practiced grace, she slid down landed on her combat-booted feet with a thud. Pieces of machinery littered their floors. Piles of gears both oiled and rusted sat in the corners. The persistent smell of machine oil stuck to everything in the room.
The siblings wore similar clothing, standard issue for working class mechanics of District 9. A once white tank top was now permanently stained in oil smudges and grime. Dark grey coveralls were rolled down and tied around the waist where a utility belt sat. Their golden skin was covered in a sheen of sweat as they constantly moved in 90 degree weather due to the proximity of the underground city to the earth’s core-- that and the fact that their support system was dying. She stood at a mere 5’6” whereas her brother towered over her in his 6’0”. The sibling resemblance was obvious, especially when standing next to each other. With soft black hair and slightly tilted, warm brown eyes, they looked for the most part, Asian despite their Caucasian father.
Liam was busy coughing up he dust he’d inhaled when catching the soiled package. “The hell is this?”
“Something the Councilmen gave me to hold a few weeks back. Said I shouldn’t open it until the day I depart.” She plucked the small parcel from his hands and started to rip the wrapping.
Liam allowed a disgruntled sound escape his throat before slumping down onto his cot. He placed his head into his hands, running his calloused hands through his hair. “Why you? Why did they have to send you?”
The young girl paused for a moment. She looked down at the bags stuffed to the brim, momentarily wishing their lives weren’t as complicated as they were. “Because I’m the best of the best! It’s in our blood.”
“I know!” he wailed, cursing their misfortune. The city was in ruin and they needed an ancient, thought to be lost, piece of machinery. Their family had been mechanics for generations, going back to the original engineers that built the city’s support system. Now, centuries later, the Core was dying and the resources to build a new one had been lost ages ago. That was why the Councilmen hoped to send a team out into the frozen wasteland to search for another Core.
“Whoa, Liam. This is dad’s handwriting.” She stared at the open parcel, barely believing her eyes. Sitting inside along with a letter was a large round metal object attached to a chain-- similar to a pocket watch but nearly twice its size. It was slightly larger than her palm, covered in intricate designs.
“It’s beautiful,” she murmured, never having seen such delicate detailing on a piece of technology. She caressed the surface, feeling its cool metal under her thumb.
“What does the letter say?” Her brother asked, momentarily distracted from his mourning. Their father, dead for nearly a decade had been one of the mechanics lost to the dangers of working the Machine. They had commissioned him to fix a broken region in the Core and due to the cruel hand of fate he was crushed during his work. Jaden sat down next to him on the cot and opened the letter.
To my beloved Jaden and Liam,
If you are reading this, then it means I am dead and the city is not too far behind. If there is an afterlife, then I am missing you both dearly right now. I have no doubt that they did not tell you the true nature of my death, but that is of little importance. Judging from the look of things, they will choose Jaden as the next Engineer (sorry Liam)…
Despite the situation, Jaden laughed, receiving a light smack to the back of her head.
...While it breaks my heart at the thought of either of you embarking on this quest, I hope you understand what is at risk.
What you need to know is that you are not the only one searching for the Core. You will embark on the same journey I attempted to go on however many years ago. You will face the same dangers I faced and when the time comes, you may be forced to do things you do not wish to do, but remember that you will not be alone. And there will be the Compass.
Enclosed in this package is a piece of technology that will lead you directly to the nearest Core. The stronger the reading, the healthier the Core. You may not have realized it, but you were both trained for this. You have within you the knowledge passed down from generation to generation on how to build and destroy a Core as well as how to read the Compass.
Be careful of whom you trust and reveal the Compass as little as possible to outsiders. It is the last one of its kind since the only other one will have perished with me. I must end this letter now, but know that I love you both with all my heart. Good luck. God speed. And as much as I miss you, I hope I don’t see either of you anytime soon.
They sat there for a moment, rereading the letter in their heads. A knock on the door broke the silence and Jaden yelped in surprise. “Quick, hide it,” Liam hissed as he got up to check the door.
She stuffed the compass and letter into an empty compartment in her utility belt before busying herself with the bags again.
“It’s time,” she heard a man say. It was one of the Councilmen. Jaden lifted her eyes to meet her brother’s, allowing her emotions to flow through for just a second. He walked over solemnly to pick up a couple of her bags. She zipped close the last of her luggage and grabbed the new fur coat she had received from the Council.