“Only if you tell me who you are,” Justin conditioned.
“Fair enough,” she agreed after a moment.
“My name is Justin Black,” he told her.
“Kato,” she replied.
“Just Kato?” One name… he thought, but he doubted she was from Layosha. Then he remembered her eyes, her violet eyes, and one other people he knew of that had no last names. Or rather, in their case, kept their family names a secret to outsiders. The thought made the vent shaft feel so much smaller. “You’re Cyexian, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. What’s it to you?” Of course, Kato was used to this, it happened so many places she went. “And is it okay to get out of the damn vents now?”
“Not really,” Justin muttered as he paused next to a vent grill, carefully cutting it out and slipping quietly to the floor, “but we should be okay here if we stay quiet. There are sensors in the halls and the vents, but I’ve broken most of the ones in this area.” And, while he was being suspicious, he just happened to remember something else she said in their earlier encounter. “So Kato, what was that about an Alex earlier?”
“Well…” Kato paused for a moment before answering, using her exit from the shaft as an opportunity to think. She had been hoping he hadn’t caught that in all the confusion. The only explanation she could think of was seeing his outfit, which looked so much like they did back where she came from. She still had no idea why she was telling him this, but she figured it was all in the past anyway. “Since I already said it, I once went by the name Alexandra Aremac. That’s what my father tried to name me. I go by my Cyexian name, Kato. My mother was Cyexian, so I respect her with the name she gave me.”
“Aremac…” Justin had heard that name before. “Wait! You mean Director Aremac, of Belvidere?”
“You’ve heard of him?” Then she took a closer look at his trashed Pullman Mine Camp uniform, realizing that it was more than just a passing resemblance she had seen earlier. “You’re from the Triangle State, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m from Benton,” Justin told her. There was no point in lying about his past. He was free now, the Triangle State was a million miles behind him and falling. “So what was it like being the daughter of one of the Board of Directors?”
“Don’t go there,” Kato warned him with a grim laugh. “What can I say? He was an asshole, a real class act. Took me away from my mother when I was little, even sent her away. It doesn’t matter how big that house was, it wasn’t a home. I had no freedom, so I finally stowed away on a freighter and never looked back.” She still wasn’t sure why she was talking about all this; all she could come up with was that, as a fellow survivor of the TSA, he, unlike most people, might actually understand some of it. “Bet I haven’t missed a damn thing, have I?”
“No, not really.” He didn’t know exactly when Kato escaped, but thinking back served to remind him just how repetitive the Triangle State’s history really was. “Same old shit. Rumors, mostly. TSA attacking Cyexians, Cyexians smuggling, still fighting with the Layoshans, or something like that…”
Then again, the Cyexians causing trouble for the Islands was apparently something that had been going on since time out of mind.
“Oh,” he added, “and some guy blew up Pullman Mine.”
“Seriously?” Kato looked at him for a long moment, then asked, “You don’t mean…”
“No,” Justin snapped, “It wasn’t me. Though I kinda wish it was. Still, I escaped in the confusion and stole a ship.”
“So how the hell did you get in here?” Kato asked. Her strange companion looked like he had been here for a while. Too long for her taste.
“Well, after I escaped from Pullman,” Justin explained, “I got caught in this storm and got shipwrecked on some lost island. Later, I was sucked into this whirlpool and fell into a cave. The only way I could find was a hole in the wall that went to this place. Then I got lost, and that damn NK-525 thing’s been chasin’ me ever since. Now it’s your turn.” He doubted she had ever been to the Isle of Paradise. “How did you end up here?”
“I got lost,” Kato admitted. “I was checkin’ out the Centralict Library, and I found this weird door. There was a sign saying that it was a warpgate, or something like that, leading to a place called Tranz-D. I went too far from where I came in and couldn’t find my way back. I was trying to find someone to help me when I somehow set off all these alarms, and suddenly the whole place was full of those robot guards, so I hid in a closet…”
“So there is another way out…” Justin mused. And now the nightmare finally had a name. Tranz-D. His whole experience here was like all of his years in the Triangle State compressed into a couple weeks. “All we have to do is get to this library you’re talkin’ about.”
“But how the hell are we gonna do that? All these halls look the same…”
While Justin was pondering Kato’s point, he saw something dangling around her neck, and asked, perhaps a little more sharply than he meant to, “Where’d you get that?”
“What?” Kato demanded defensively, then realized what he was talking about. She tucked the small, triangular silver medallion, which must have slipped out while she was crawling around in the vents, back inside her hoodie, saying, “It’s none of your business!”
“I was just wondering.” Justin hoped his alliance wasn’t about to crumble over a necklace. Then his suspicions turned in a darker direction. “Wait a minute! You didn’t run into a guy named Max around here, did you?”
“What are you talking about? You’re the only person I’ve seen here.”
“Then where did you get that?” Naturally, he didn’t want to believe this Kato could betray any of this place’s almost nonexistent list of allies, but a part of him couldn’t help imagining her picking that strange medal off of Max’s broken body. Cyexians were scavengers, after all, as well as pirates. That, and he so desperately wanted to know, once and for all, if Max was still alive.
“Well, I didn’t take it from that guy, if that’s what you’re think—” Kato paused in mid rebuttal as the implication of Justin’s words sank in. She perked up as she asked him, “So who is this guy, and why do you think I got it from him?”
“Well, he had a necklace just like that… Wait a minute!” Justin, himself being something of an opportunist, knew instinctively that she was pumping him for something, and he wanted his cut of the action, or at least the info. “Why are you asking me this?”
“Okay.” Kato could tell this Justin wasn’t going to tell her anything useful unless she leveled with him. “If you tell me about your friend, I’ll tell you what I know about these medallions.”
“Okay,” Justin agreed, now that he was being let in on the ground floor. “As I was saying, his name is Max. He has a big, black-and-white cat named Bandit, and was the only person living on the island I got stranded on. You see, he fell into the whirlpool, too, but we got separated, and I’ve been trying to find him ever since.”
“Did this friend of yours tell you anything about his medallion?”
“Not really. He said he got it when he was a kid, but he had no idea where it came from. So tell me, why are you so interested in it?”
“Well, I had to do some digging just to find out what I do know,” Kato explained, opting for the condensed version. “Those things are called Tri-Medals, there are three of them, and they are ancient artifacts from a lost civilization. According to legend, they are the key to finding their long-lost treasure.”
“What kind of treasure?” Now he was glad he had pressed her for details.
“The legend is pretty obscure,” Kato admitted, “which is why I was trying to find more information at the library. I’ve been following this legend for a few years now, and if what I’ve read is correct, this treasure is supposed to be one of the biggest ever amassed in one place. But we still need to find the other two before we can even try to decipher them…”
“We?” Justin asked, surprised to have been included so soon.
“Oh, I forgot to mention,” Kato added, so excited at finding such an unexpected lead in such an equally unexpected place, she had almost forgotten to tell him the rest of the story, “that I have two friends. We call ourselves the Triad, and we’ve been searching for the other two Tri-Medals for a couple years now. Chase didn’t want to go to any library, so he probably dragged George off someplace with him. I wish they were here right now. Having the two of them here with us now would be a huge help in this crazy place.”
“More like an army,” Justin muttered. “Now that would help.”
“Yeah, probably,” she conceded, “but don’t knock it. You’re pretty good with a power pistol, but Chase ain’t so bad himself. And he’s got a lot more weapons than you do.
“Then again, George was never much of a fighter, but he kicks ass with computers and stuff. I’m sure he could find what we need— maybe even reprogram those bastards to fight for us instead of against us! But seriously, I don’t know where the hell he learned any of it, though, because he’s also mute. I don’t know what all happened to him before we met him, but he lost his tongue somewhere along the way. Sometimes I think whoever did that also did something to his brain while they were at it, because he’s kinda weird. Spacey. But he’s cool.”
“I guess it would be better than nothing,” he had to admit. “But still, I just wish I knew where the hell Max went…”
“So do I,” she told him, “and not just because of the Tri-Medal thing. We can use all the help we can get in here. Hmm… I don’t think we’re going to get far searching for him like this. I think we should try to get to the library— there’s gotta be a map around here or something— hook up with my crew, and come back here more prepared. Not to mention better armed. What do you think?”
“I don’t know…” On one hand, Justin felt something that he was starting to suspect was shame at the idea of leaving either Max or Bandit alone in this twisted place, even if only temporarily. On the other, the mere thought of being able to get out of here was beginning to overwhelm him, and he feared that just the memory of NK-525 might be enough hold him back from returning for his friend, and this bothered him greatly. He had lived most of his life on the defensive, but he didn’t like to think of himself as a coward. Telling himself that he could destroy the Enforcer once and for all with backup, he told her, “I think we need help. Let’s try to find this library of yours. Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck here as long as I have.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” As far as Kato was concerned, Justin’s strung-out appearance spoke for itself, told her all she needed to know about Tranz-D. That, and she didn’t want to embark on such an adventure without her friends, let alone by herself with this stranger. A chance to rest and re-equip before plunging into the depths of this labyrinth seemed like a good idea to her. “There must be someplace around here that has maps or something. This place is simply too big for people to just know their way around.
“So, if we do find your friend, do you think he’d be interested in a little treasure hunt?”
“I’m sure he’d be willing to listen.” As far as Justin knew, Max had no knowledge about the Tri-Medals. “Still, we’re not going to run into any trouble at the library, are we?”
“You mean the robo-guards?” Kato asked, “No. There’s none of that shit at the library.”
“Good. I think I’ve had about as much as I can take here.”
And so Justin and Kato started comparing notes, trying to come up with some kind of plan.