“What are you, a snail?!” I called to 216894 over my shoulder.

            At a lower level of the winding staircase, he stooped over, one hand resting against the wall, trying to catch his breath.  “How...are you...doing that?”

            I shrugged, laughing as I continued running up the steps.  Finally, sunlight bouncing spectacularly off an old copper bell, I emerged onto the top landing.

            As I waited for 216894 to catch up, I leaned against the far edge to overlook the city.  Orange ceramic tile roofs covered the landscape criss-crossed by gray cobblestones.  The rainforest was no more than a green line around the city.

            216894 arrived, huffing, by my side.

            “Gorgeous, isn’t it?” I asked.

            He stayed silent.

            “It’s my favorite spot in Illagu.  I’d seen this clock tower before, but hadn’t realized we could go inside until we ran the steps in recruit training.  Best part is, it will always stay quiet.”

            “Always?” 216894 asked, eyeing the bell behind us.  “Is it broken?”

            “No,” I replied with a scoff.  “Illagwens are just so paranoid of the System finding them, they keep it off.”

            “Then why build a clock tower at all?”

            “This city was built before the System.”

            He jumped.  “What?!  Thaidkmagjhediel!  Cilkdmajeuidfhjkalmgaweuidfhiajsdehim!”

            I sighed.  “Takes some getting used to, but, being an Outcast…you find out the System was wrong about almost everything.”

            216894 paused.  “Why did you want to show me this, Dax?”

            I turned to him with a grimace.  “Because Leslie and Ramona never wanted to.  They don’t think it’s a big deal, but I figured another former byte might appreciate it.”

            “I was a city guard, Dax,” he replied.  “A view’s not exactly new to me.”

            “It’s still different,” I responded looking out onto the city landscape.

            He glanced once more at the colorful scenery before us.  216894 leaned against the wall, resting upon folded arms.  Thunder sounded in the distance.

            I looked toward the sound where dark clouds were rolling in opposite the sun.  “...peokd makjheudjkfamgheim,” said 216894 as I turned to him once more.  “Andtijedhuakmetheduiojwmie jfmklaheime.  Don’t you agree?”

            I blinked.  He stared at me, waiting for my answer.  “Yes,” I replied after a moment.  That was usually the correct response when my condition acted up.

            He smiled.  “I'm glad you see it that way too.”

            The thunder rumbled again.  “We should head home,” I said.  “Don’t want to get caught in this rain.”

            As soon as we arrived back at the apartment complex, it began to pour.  Water dumped down from the sky as I walked along the roofed walkway to my and Ramona’s apartment.  I had very narrowly avoided getting soaked; 216894 hadn’t been so lucky – I could see him running for cover across the apartment plaza.

            Muffled voices came from the other side of the apartment door.  Ramona and Leslie were probably arguing again.

            “…you’re just jealous!” Ramona said as I opened the door.

            Leslie frowned at me as I shut the door.  Both of them had fallen silent.

            “Were you…talking about me?” I asked, half-joking, as I walked past them to the kitchen.

            “Yes and no,” Ramona replied.  “Buemdakjthewidjoslkmgheidnatheir – ”

            “I just don’t trust your new friend,” Leslie interrupted.

            I glanced back at them, my hand stopped halfway in taking out some bread from the pantry.   “I noticed,” came my flat reply.  “And is there a reason you don’t trust him?”

            “Instinct.”

            I rolled my eyes, taking a bite out of the sweet bread.

            “See!” Ramona cried.  “She also thinks you’re being ridiculous.  There’s only one explanation.”

            Leslie muttered something about a stupid romance novel, then left the apartment, slamming the door.

To be continued…

Episode 24