SCENE 17 | Traversing the Distance, pt. 1

So, Utena and her party head off, looking for a way to leave the toy factory.

Not one moment later, a station-wide alert goes off. It is an announcement from the supervisor gnome, Prisha, with her squatted appearance and brightly-blue uniform – there's a vaguely human look to her, like looking into a funhouse mirror.

"Attention! Attention everyone. This is Prisha Garnett speaking. We are missing a few very important visitors: Tenjou, Utena-"

An image of Utena from her Ohtori Academy records flashes over the screens of the entire orb, where all the elves and gnomes stop from their affairs to glance at.

"Himemiya, Anthy. Kiryuu, Nanami.."

They're in the service elevator (it's a bubble like the one they've used to traverse entire city blocks) when they're struck with the public alert.

"See, I told y'all!" Nanami says. "They're on our tail already!"

Listening to the public alert grips their bodies – from the service tunnels, the elevator dips out into the outside openness. It's hard to know which direction is really up, the way the scenery spirals around them in the bubble.

/

Hans von Hozel – the Conductor. He twirls his moustache as he's just left his own fate up to pure chance, while the gnomes are scrabbling about, trying to organize the children into groups as to not lose any more. If they realised what he's done.. the Lord knows what sort of hell awaits him.

A quick investigation into the holodeck's activity logs reveals evidence of tampering. The Nutcracker performance has been reset, and the boundaries meant to keep anyone from wandering off – they're breached.

The replay footage shows Utena and the others leaving through a gap, a fizzle between the peaceful winter and the artificial corridors.

It's been a risk he's felt little hesitation about taking. If St Nicolas didn't tell him about Utena's tragedy he would have surmised it already, glancing at her eyes and the self-inflicted torture she shares with him. It's simply a matter of providing a way for her to pursue it – with Utena's friends, it does not matter besides that they help her get there, to where St Nicolas awaits.

The real story, so far as Hans is aware of, is that St Nicolas is under some kind of duress by his high-esteemed Vizier – Hap Strickland. The shadow ruler who has control coiled tightly around his fingers.

"Sirs! We have one unaccounted-for launch into airspace," a security gnome says, bringing a holopad which shows the elevator bubble leaving the factory. "Should we send a squad to investigate?"

The Conductor clenches, with his fingers sweating over the photo of his dear Liliana. What if Utena doesn't make it?

/

Shinji tries tapping the elevator console – a prism of undulating lights that seemingly make no sense, but nothing he's done so far has made the bubble stop, or even remotely change course. "Damnit, how do you control this thing?" There's no readable text, no handles, no switches like an Evangelion cockpit or anything. With each attempt, the feeling of the future's alienness trickles more into his mind.

Stevie, not being his chattery self, observes the results of what Shinji does. It seems as if the machine is based on optical technology. Light patterns reflecting, refracting, being diffused. He thinks of what Scientific American articles have been writing about, quantum computing and all that jazz, and it hits him – this is how it's implemented!

Traditional computing has always been based on the binary on/off switch. Either it's 1 or it's 0, no in-betweens, and while computing power over the years has evolved exponentially on that paradigm, it's always been limited by the fundamental fact that binary is only in black and white. You couldn't have lifelike phenomena, no matter how complicated or clever your algorithms were, but with light waves, you can do naturalistic stuff very easily – like conveying natural thought processes (artificial intelligence).

That's what they're using here, light waves!

"Do you have to be an android to do stuff, that's the thing!" Shinji shouts in exasperation, and he kicks the console, sending a sudden jolt of brightness – the bubble they're in slows to a crawl.

Utena glances outside. It looks like sunset, with that yellowy haze that's being refracted across the many crystalline buildings. It's a dazzling view, nobody could've dreamed this up. The vastness conjures a sensation in her; like when you're feeling isolated, and long for someone just to fill the void.

Even a mere hello becomes a romantic gesture-

"Eureka!" Stevie pops up from sitting on the cushioned floor, like a firecracker had erupted under his bum. "It's not buttons, it's pressure!" He brushes Shinji aside from the console, while the girls just stare on like it's some guy thing. "You're thinking of buttons to press, yes? But these are lightwaves – how hard you press is what matters!"

Stevie touches the console, and he digs his fingertips deeper into it until the undulating lights refract into a series of violets and yellows.

"State your destination," the on-board systems go.

"Uhmm.." The holographic map they've seen earlier had no names on it. "Take us to where St Nicolas is!"

"Destination is unrecognised."

Nanami, keen on conversational details (being a social butterfly is useful) remembers what the android servant earlier had said. "Orbis three.. lighthouse- take us to Orbis 3!"

"I cannot take you beyond the boundaries of this world. However, I can take you to the nearest dedicated transport."

Then, the bubble is taken. They feel a jolt, like someone had picked them up like a tiny marble.

"Connection override," the onboard systems go, "under authorization of Lt. Terry Krews."

From the distance, a security bubble whirls around the elevator, carrying the elevator in tow through invisible zero-point energy.

"We got them!" Lt. Krews says, high-fiving his partner. "Whatever game they're trying to play is officially over. Towing them back to the station."

On the elevator..

"Better do something boys- uuahh-" Sudden turbulance has Nanami lose her footing. "Or this is gonna be a real short field trip we're taking."

Utena sees the entire terrain rotating around, and it's making her really dizzy. She squints her eyes.

"If you believe this override to be unwarrented, enable manual control through the console."

Manual control? She goes over to the front without any hesitation, and smashes her hands on the panel.

This makes their bubble stop midair.

The panel transforms in dazzling flashes into something that resembles more the joysticks Shinji is familiar with, with an HUD layout.

"Manual control online."

Utena grabs the twin joysticks and shoves one of them forward – "Here we gooo.."

The bubble veers backwards. The sudden acceleration catches her unawares, before she pushes the stick back forward, with the bubble now drifting steadily – towards an enclosure of crystals; she can see the elves behind them gasping with fright.

"What the hell do they think they're doing?" Lt. Krews goes.

"Learning how to fly?" his partner guesses.

"This means one thing – war! They want to put up a fight, I'll make them squeal!" He kneads the console and it too transforms into joysticks: one pair for him, one pair for his partner.

Utena then thrusts the left stick backward, and the bubble thrusts forward; just in time enough to dodge an EMP missile that showers the radius in sparks.

"They're firing on us!" Shinji goes, and he sees the security bubble responsible for it – a puff of smoke, and a trail of light that's zooming in on their position. His piloting instincts kick in. "Utena, roll left!"

The left stick controls velocity. So the right stick..

She grabs the right joystick and tugs left and up. At Ohtori Academy, they had Microsoft Flight Simulator 95 on the library computer, and Utena was temporaily taken by it – before Professor Nemuro had to take the PC away for "research" (ppft, yeah right, he only wanted to play the damn thing for himself!).

The bubble yaws left and up, and the EMP missile brushes by their earlier trajectory.

"It's a dumb missile," Shinji says, some confidence kicking in his voice. "Just what I thought. Simple acrobatics is enough to dodge it."