L E V E L 1
Author: Blackbird

Chapter 2
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  “Devin James Chants. Where the hell have you been?”
  “Alley level.”
  “Mommy was so worried about you,”  No shit.
  “Dev, you have to stop doing this.  Staying out for Lord knows how long and then returning in the middle of the night.  You never call me when you’ve arrived at a new level, no matter how many times I tell you to and when I say it’s dangerous being-- Hey! Young man are you listening?!”  Her hair was all over the place, brown and frizzy, like one of those mammals back in the Millennium.  A grizzly bear.  Eyes as big as dinner plates too.  Mom was a funny sight, but she was a funny lady. 
   “Yes mam.”  She softened up at that.
   “Okey dokey Sweetie, as long you understand why I’m upset.”
   “OK.”
   “Oh and clean up that water from the carpet please.”
   “That’s gin.  And it’s yours.”  She seemed surprised, finally noticing the little half empty glass in her hand.  “Ah.  So it is.”  On occasions like these I think my mother seems to be losing her memory because she repeats things often.  Like just now, we’ve probably gone through the same lecture a dozen times.  As for the alcohol, it’s more for show.  She just fills it up just to get in the mood of being stressed out and once she’s done promenading her big girl drink, I down it down behind her back.
  “G’night mom.”  I kissed her on the cheek.
  ‘‘Nightie night my baby boy.”  She cooed, giving me a big smooch on the eyelid.

   *   *   *


  I was planning on sleeping in today.  But alas, it didn’t think so.  The ‘it’ I was referring to was Rowan.  A wild thing with crazy, gravity defying red hair, freckles, and an attitude that drove everybody mad.  The way he did it was by climbing through my bedroom window and pouring peanut oil down my pants.  He thought it was punny.  He talks weird too.  He says things like: ‘Yo, sup bro.’ ‘Damn Ints are yankin my chain again.’  ‘She seemed like a foxy kitten.’ ‘That’s soo sweet I wanna lick it.’  ‘Don’t suck the sack man!’  ‘Yeah, my underpants are groovy.’  Maybe I’m odd because I don’t talk like that.  Crazy.
 
   “Dude. Come. ON. For Man o’s sake you’re crampin’ my style,”  Rowan was now half dragging half carrying me out of the house after I washed the oil off my lower half and was yanked out of the shower.  Being pestered out the window, I quickly grabbed some shorts.  I wasn’t wearing underpants and felt uncomfortable.  Rowan said he didn’t wear underwear tons of times, which frankly scared me. “Dev, Devil, Diablo! ¡Caramba! You’re gonna set me en fuego bro,”  Rowan jeered, throwing me in the elevator.  Rudely and unpleasantly might I add.  Sometimes I wonder if the nurses at the hospital got our names mixed up. 

   Our mothers were labour buddies; if that’s appropriate.  They gave birth at the same time and Ta da!  Devil Chants and Rowan O’Brien.  Rowan looks more devilish than me that’s for sure.  Yeah, devilishly handsome, scoffed the Rowan in my mind.  With the wild, untameable fire of hair, maniac eyes and demented grin, it wouldn’t surprise me if he really was related to the Red Man himself.  I for one am no adversary.  Rowan Chants and Devil O’Brien.  That would have been better.  But mom said it was my father’s idea since I had the luck of the devil because she really wasn’t supposed to have children. Darn right I changed that.  Of course mom wasn’t prancing for the name either.  She wasn’t going to have a chanting devil in her house.
 
  “So where’s Ma?”
  “At the studio.  Where’s yours?”
Rowan shrugged. “Ellie?  Pssh.. I don’t keep tabs on her anymore,”  Can you believe that?  He calls his mom by her first name and doesn’t care where she is, yet considers mine his own.
  “Anyways, I was walkin round right, when I stumble upon Weeby Pots.  You know Weeby Pots? Big guy? Furry guy? Don’t call him Pots for nothing.  He got the best!  He grew some stuff from back in the Millennium called Mary-joo-anna.  He said this Mary J.’s even better than that gal from that oldie.  Spidey-Man! You hear that!  Better than Spidey-Man!  I thought nothing was better than Spidey-Man.” 
  “I don’t want any.”  I said flatly.
  “What? Ya bloop, I didn’t even ask you yet.  Did I say ‘Dev, would you care for some mary-joo-anna?’ No I didn’t!”
  “Well I still don’t want any.  Knowing you, you’d probably ask me again.  You shouldn’t do it anyway, it’s bad for you.”  I said exasperatedly.
  “You’re such a fun pooper.  Hey!  Cord’s cousin is havin a party tonight on his level, why dont’cha come? I’m bringin the boozquor and everything! You know boozquor? Beer and hard liquor! Or is it the same?  And that other stuff.  White, like the stuff they used to make cakes with.  Anyhow, Ellie would’ve broken her back a thousand times over with how much I have.”
  “You mean: ‘Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”  I corrected.
  “Yeah! But I don’t step on it I--”
  “So how is Cordellia.”  I knew I struck a nerve.  Rowan’s face hardened and all the blood drained from his face.  But only for a second.
  “That lunatic drove me bonkers.  We’ve been over for ages.” He said, pulling out  a cigarrette from his jeans’ pocket.  He offered me one too.  I accepted it.  I smoke.  I just don’t smoke drugs.  It’s different.
   I took a long drag. “Uhuh.”  Me and Rowan are the same.  We may not have the exact same personality traits but we share a lot of things.  We both like old things, sleep the same way, like the same sports, and do things we don’t normally do when we’re depressed.  So I know Rowan’s been really depressed lately.  He’s been going to a lot of parties.  But before, only to the ones where there’s laser tag and birthday cake, not spin the bottle and alcohol.  I’m not much of a party animal, I like to keep to myself.
  “She was amazing you know.” He said in such a soft whisper I barely heard him. The elevator stopped, and we stepped out onto the dirt trail.
  Cordellia and Rowan were a thing.  High school sweethearts you could say.  But ever since she got into that elevator accident she hadn’t been the same.  Her mind went all wonky, and she forgot things often.  A cord that got to tangled.  She’s currently in the asylum, mental ward, madhouse.  Whatever you want to call it. 
  I think relationships are a waste of time.  I concentrate more on school and keeping ‘Skid Row’ out of trouble.  Oh, and planning a rebellion against the Mareens. 
  I’m not that bad looking.  I have short black hair, tan skin and bright green eyes.  So I get a few proposes every once in a while.  Usually to see a movie or ‘hang out’ but I always say no and then they hobble off and mope in the bathroom or something.
  “That Man o’ on the alley level was stupid.  All them Man o’s are stupid.”  I mumbled through my smoke, kicking a rock.
  “Those Blue Bottles rubber-necking you again?  Why those no good nicompoopshius ninnys!  What a cretin, what a dope, what a real ignoramus.  One of these days, I’m gonna sock em’ outta the sector!”  Rowan roared with unwavering intensity.  He hates the Mareens just as much as I do but sometimes he can be a real oaf.
  “Shut up.”
  “I don’t shut up, I grow up.  And when I look at you I throw up!”  Like I said. 
An oaf. 
 

*  *  *


   We kept walking until we came across the Oak tree.  We clambered up its trunk and sat ontop of one of the thick branches.  The gentle breeze cooled my neck and the long grasses swayed in a calming rhythm.  A young creek rushed in the background and the gale whistled softly.  The whole area was full of life and vibrance.  No artificials, no machines, no plastic.  It was real.
 
 Rowan yawned and changed his position slamming his head on my knees nearly throwing me off the edge.  I gave him a glare and shoved my foot into his back.  He yelped in surprise and toppled over to the next branch below.  I heard a moan of pain underneath me followed by a bewildered look that screamed: “Don’t you know we’re 50 feet off the ground?!” I smirked as he climbed to the next branch across and turned his back to me giving me the silent treatment.  The only thing that was fake here.  Rowan couldn’t stay quiet for one minute.
  
  He slowly peeked over his shoulder with sulky written all over his face and I gave him one back but more mockingly.  He glowered and spat in my direction.  It arched as if in slow motion and then landed in the grass.  I counted six seconds. 
 
  He stared down at the invisible spit, his face glowing red making his freckles look like pimples.  You wouldn’t ever guess this big baby was actually the one who found this place.  Believe it or not but Rowan’s a genius.  He hacks into the Mareen mainframe and steals stuff like codes to unlock different levels.  This level is the only one of it’s kind.  You won’t find any other level with trees.  No, the trees you’ll find on other levels are the fake factory smelling kind.  The only other real trees are at the bottom of the compound where the Man o’Farmers harvest them and suck out the oxygen depositing it throughout the entire compound. 
 
  Oddly enough, the level code was found in ‘Terminations’.  I don’t really know what we were expecting when we pressed in the code.  Maybe it would say error, or a siren would start blaring, or we’d find just a blank room of nothing.  Rowan thought Mareens were going to knock down the walls of the elevator and bust our asses and carried a pocket knife just in case.   We’re glad we found what we didn’t expect.  But there are some codes he can’t open.  One of them really stuck out.  The Devil’s Level.  He said he found it in a folder called 7DS. 

  Sometimes I get worried he’s going to get caught one of these days.  I tell him to cut back on the hacking but I don’t know if he listens.  He’s not stupid though.  He knows stealing from the Mareens’ a serious crime.  He’s fifteen, so he’d be trialled as an adult and go to Marinal Prison.  Or worse.  Rowan’s a risk taker but he knows when to stop.  Right, keep telling yourself that pal.  He’s really coming to a halt with those drugs and parties ain’t he?

   I sighed deeply and turned to my oddly quiet companion.  He was busy weaving the stems of the oak leaves into what looked like to be an early skeleton of a small flying contraption. He was so engrossed with his work he probably would have stayed on that branch till his butt froze numb and he’d lose his balance and fall.  I through a twig at him but it just stuck in his hair.

  “Hey.  Hey Rowan! You smelly ol dog!”  Nothing.  I’ve witnessed Rowan in this kind of state several times.  And once he’s into something, he’s into it like a cork  in a bottle.  He’s a tinkerer and invents things.  He says he plays the whole thing out in his mind over and over again until he’s certain there aren’t any flaws.  I’ve seen a lot of his creations and they’re mind blowing.  He’s got a real gift.  He’s got ‘out of this world’ models and prototypes all over his room and blueprints for ideas of new levels cover most of his walls.  All of them run on carbon dioxide and release oxygen kind of like how trees do. 

  Sometimes when he’s working on a big project he asks me to make a good copy of his idea.  He gives me the rough sketch and tells me the details and I draw out the design or sculpt a maquette.  But other times he just makes really useless stuff like automatic nose-pickers and the ‘Super Cool Goober Glue’ which can only be applied to peanuts or else it will spontaneously combust.  I also know for a fact he has a crateful of weapons locked away in a safe somewhere.  He showed me one and it looked alien-like.  He demonstrated how it worked.  The outcome was disastrous.

  Rowan’s so good at what he does and knows so much about computers and machinery, I bet the Mareens would do anything to get they’re hands on him.  But not as a Mareen Guard, as a Man o’ Tech.  Man o’ Techs control all the levels, the elevators and basically all the technology in Sector 7.  They’re also responsible for the weapons industry supplied to the Mareens and the brain behind the Marinal Operations Division.  Or M.O.D.  Rowan would be the head cerebral if anything.  But Rowan would never do that.  It would defy the laws of physics.
  Rowan + Mareens = FAT CHANCE AND SUCK IT.  Simple.  Besides, even if he wanted to, I wouldn’t let him.  You can’t plan a rebellion against yourself.

 

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