Chapter 1 & 2

Chapter 1: Van

 

A very nervous female scientist hovers over me, with a syringe in-hand. Her white lab coat is lightly waving back and forth from her immediate stop-in-place at my gasp of life. My body feels very sluggish and I assume her needle contains a barbiturate that will better enhance the coma I was in. The last thing I remember is falling out of the dark skies and, almost instantly, I’m here. The woman in front of me must be wondering what she should do now that I’m conscious. Little does she know, there’s nothing she can do.

I reach my clenched fist over myself and punch the scientist across the face, then quickly get up from the Dreamcatcher, a specifically designed, self-surgical recliner that Menta-Life uses for clients’ three day stay, proof that I am inside the corporation. I notice I am wearing the same form-fitting gray one-piece outfit from prison and my hair is long again. I don’t have time to admire the brightened circular observation lab that I’m in, just in case the room can be locked down with me still in here. I see a set of double doors, so I lug my woozy body around the Dreamcatcher. The doors open automatically on my approach. I exit the lab and find myself in a hallway full of doors with a blaring alarm sounding.

The siren’s red light swirls around adding light to the already fluorescent-lit hallway. I don’t see an elevator door anywhere, so I head to the right where I see the sunlight shining through a glass window. There is a right turn that I’m passing, as I approach the small window at the cubby area and look outside. The exterior looks much different from my Life and is a lot busier, with cruisers passing by on the two higher levels of gravity. The cruisers are the same as cars, except they are run on batteries instead of engines, and use gravity pulls to hover instead of tires. They’re able to drive on two different planes of gravity, not including street level; seventy-five feet in the air and double at one-hundred-fifty feet.

I hear a male voice bawl, “There she is!”

I turn around to see four human guards wearing gray suits and they’re also carrying batons. The batons are stun weapons that juice electricity all around it. The user must wear a protective glove to operate one or touching it will electrocute them; it’s a defense tactic meant to prevent the baton from getting into the wrong hands. Why are the guards here human and was it only in my Life that they were private security mechs? This facility doesn’t even seem the same as the Gharis City branch that I thought I was in. Where am I?

As the four guards initiate sprinting towards me, the same male voice adds, “Surrender immediately!”

I turn away from the glass and take the immediate turn around the corner to see two elevators. I would love to take them, but they could lock them down with me inside and I would be a stuck-in-the-box. Looking between the two elevators, there’s a sign that says I’m on the twenty-fourth floor. I press the button to call the elevator, then continue past it to a door with a “stairs” symbol on it. The door slides open to reveal a security guard running up the stairs in front of me with an electric baton in hand. He’s in my way of going down and I have to let him come up, so I can have enough space to avoid the baton.

He reaches the top then hurriedly demands, “Surrender. Please comply.”

He approaches me, raises his hand in the air, and takes a heavy diagonal swing at me. I run around him and slide down the stairs’ handrail half of a level. I look up the rectangular center to see that the building isn’t as tall as it was in my Life; this surely isn’t the same branch of Menta-Life. I look down and see the bottom of the stairway then climb over the railing. I turn around, jumping across to the railing another half-floor below. I do the same until I reach level twenty, then start dropping from one floor to another, catching myself on every rail including the six-rail barrier before the steep one floor drop.

When I get down to sixteen I hear guards running up the stairs below me, so I climb up then exit the stairway. Entering another hallway that looks the same as the last one, I run to the left and see a room marked “security” on my right. I enter that room to see two security guards preparing to leave. I jump-kick one in his chest and he falls backwards into a chair, taking the chair down with him. The other guard jabs at me with his right fist, so I back into him and catch his right arm with mine. I swing him to my right, into the corner of the doorway, following up with an elbow to his face, then he falls.

I walk to their digital monitoring screens and see only cameras for this floor. There is a button that spells “ALARM” on the control station below it. I look behind me and see a lab coat hanging on a rack. I press the button and an alarm begins blaring through this corridor. I watch the cameras as the hallway becomes flooded with scientists calmly leaving via the stairway. I put the lab coat on, close it up, and join the ranks in the hall, staying as centered with the crowd as possible. I follow the scientists past the security guards that just entered the hallway, then back into the stairway and down the stairs.

We make it down to the first floor where everyone is stopped and it looks like they’re waiting for instruction. This floor is not the same as before, though I see the familiar crescent Earth logo under the “Menta-Life” lettering. I am in a smaller branch of a Menta-Life building, but what city is this? Every city has a branch except for one that doesn’t want to join the new world because it’s the raider home world. I see the double door exit and begin walking towards it. I approach, yet it doesn’t automatically open; it must be on lockdown.

I hear someone behind me sternly demand, “Don’t move.”

I turn around and see three guards behind me with their electric batons, ready to strike. I step towards them and they step back then surround me from three sides: front, left, and right. I get into my fight stance and the guard on the right closes in, then swings his baton at me. I move to the left. The left guard swings low for the back of my legs and I back handspring over his baton. After landing back on my feet, I see the same guard coming back for a higher swing, so I lean backwards and catch myself in a bridged position.

After he swings past me, I throw my right leg diagonally to my left and kick the guard in the face, doing another flip. He stumbles away then falls. The other two guards approach me at the same time and I move backwards to the center. The guard on the right stays, while the other moves diagonally to my left. The guard on my left forcefully thrusts the baton at me. I spin around making him stumble slightly by me. I reverse to the opposite direction and stick out my arm, then ram it back landing a crucial clothesline to his neck.

The guard on my right swings the baton at me with his right arm, so I quickly shift to the left. I kick the back of his hand with the back of my right foot. I bring my foot back forward, kicking him across the face as the baton flies through the glass door creating my escape. I run out of the door and down the four steps towards the sidewalk. An orange two-door cruiser pulls up to the curb. The passenger opens the gull wing door that reveals both the passenger and driver seat. They are both average males.

The passenger shouts, “Simon Harold sent us; get in!”

I don’t think too many people know of my father’s existence, but in the absence of any vehicles on street level to steal and security on my back, why not accept a ride? I get in the back seat quickly. The driver slams down on the pedal and takes off making the immediate left away from the building. This doesn’t look like Gharis City at all. The vibe from this city feels completely different and more compact. We head two streets down and I look back noticing two black cruisers a distance behind us make the same left turn, speeding up in our direction. Those Menta-Life guards are more persistent than I thought.

I continue to look back as my slightly English accent speaks, “We’ve got company.”

The driver acknowledges, “I see them. Check this out.”

He makes a quick right turn onto another two lane street then spins the cruiser around into the opposite lane and presses a button on the steering wheel. The cruiser starts changing from orange to dark green and a slit appears on the sides forming a four door cruiser. I’ve never seen tech like this before. It must be some sort of camouflage or illusion device. Where did they even develop technology like this in a cruiser?

The driver commands, “Get down.”

I lie down in the back seat and the driver begins going the normal speed limit. I hear the swerve of the speeding pursuers, feeling the quake as they zoom by the cruiser. Did they give them the slip?

After a few seconds of waiting the driver states with relief, “Okay, we’re clear.”

I sit up and look around to see that we are amongst normal traffic. That was pretty awesome tech they used back there and a great strategy. I look around the unfamiliar streets then up to the sky at the clear dome that the city is covered in. This city is very lively and much less snobby than Gharis. Gharis City is home to the wealthiest people in the world who find themselves to be more secure around the main Menta-Life branch. Why do I live there? I’m a smuggler and a few rich people do bad things to get their wealth through people like me.

I inquire, “This isn’t Gharis City, is it?”

The passenger answers, “No. This is New Rellow. Gharis is where Menta-Life abducted you. You don’t remember?”

I was abducted by Menta-Life? It makes sense, seeing as I was at one of their branches when I woke. I don’t remember anything after being set up for a fall before I got sent to prison. I wasn’t arrested in Gharis City when I did the job for Trex; however, that could be where I was transported from. The only sense that I can make of it is that my two years in prison had to have been part of a Life.

I answer, “I don’t.”

The passenger expresses comfort, “It’s alright. It’ll all come back soon. It takes time after just waking up from a Life to remember what you did last night. I’m Mason by the way.” He points at the driver. “This is Will.”

I understand the sense that he’s trying to make with that comparison. Having been in two places, I’m already confused about whether prison was real. The Life seemed so vivid; like it was just the next day being locked away for what was supposed to be life.

I ask, “Where’re we going?”

Mason answers, “We have a base a good ways out of the city. We’re going to meet with everyone there.”

“And Simon?”

Mason clarifies, “And Simon.”

I sit back and watch the world outside of the window. Everyone here doesn’t seem so cheerfully colored like Gharis citizens, though they seem to have a normality about them. The rich citizens of Gharis City dress like they’re the brightest, quite literally, but these people are a tad bit more common. I watch the cruisers above, the digital billboards displaying upcoming events, the healthy green trees, the reflective windows on business buildings, and the MechCi walking with their owners. The MechCi are a form of Mechanical Robots, or MeBos.

MechCi in particular are a civilian model of robots that were created to communicate with citizens as more than just a working tool. The MechCi are manufactured, upon the buyer’s request, in male or female gender in the form of adult or child. Socially, they blend perfectly with the citizens in cities worldwide with their advanced AI interfaces, and are hardwired to be used as helpers, but not employees; some use theirs as business partners, friends to share their lives with, kids that they can’t have, etc. All MechCi contain a chip that prevents them from harming any human being under any circumstance. The MechCi are the third lowest rank of existing MeBos, unintended for combat use.

The sun is still highest in the sky as we approach the east gate to leave the bubble covered city. Covering the city became necessary after raiders from hostile settlements began attacking the new civilized world. Where there’s peace, someone always tries to establish dominance through force. The clear dome protects the city from outside threats like raiders, airborne diseases, or animals that can still potentially exist. The gate exits are the only part of the dome that’s concrete and accessible from ground level. The two guards standing at the gate step up to both sides of the cruiser with their pulser rifles equipped.

Pulser rifles look just like the classic rifles except they are literally less lethal. These, and pulser pistols, are created with two functions for the safety of the user, ensuring the survival of the victim: one function is shock and the other is heat. Both functions are used to subdue a target. Heat is to penetrate and halt bleeding if the target is protected by shock resistant undergarments.

The driver pulls out a paper to show to the guard and the guard signals us through. Will must have fake credentials because, normally, there is a process to leaving a city. The massive, concrete gate in our path begins rising as we drive out to the desert, following the single road out. My name is Vanessa Pheros and I am a lost rebel. The “S” in my last name is silent. I was born in England; nevertheless, my country was destroyed in a war, along with a lot of others, so now I reside in what’s left of America. I was brought here by a neighbor and friend of my father, Goffrey, who died of a heart attack that landed me in a foster home.

The war was all around the world, so being in a foster home after a devastating crisis, wasn’t a great time for any of us stranded children. It was much harder on me at such a young age because I did what most traumatized, broken children would and fought back, landing me in the worst places all of my life. When I got older, I took up the criminal trade and became a smuggler for Trex in Gharis City. Going back to Feegle and Dayio shouldn’t even be on my mind right now. I need to talk to my recently un-deceased father, Simon Harold, and find out what’s really going on. I don’t trust these people, though I would like to know who’s really trying to meet me and why.

My father has been dead for seventeen years, yet waking up, I’m not sure how accurate that is anymore. I watched him die, so there’s no way he could be out there, or anywhere in flesh. Our ship was still on the ground when the missile hit and I saw him disappear in the explosion then reappear, face down, on the ground once the smoke cleared. I saw him in my Life, although that doesn’t mean he actually exists out here in the real world. People’s brains run on a live stream that anyone can tamper with by uploading something false and granting everyone access to it.

Apparently, Menta-Life has a way of playing tricks on people when they don’t know when they began a Life or how long ago they began it. Joining the new world and living Lifes was something I never wanted to be a part of for that very reason. They took me against my will and forced me to live a Life, but why? Life is long enough for someone like me already without having to live again and again like the rest of the people in the world.

We pull off of the road and speed up north for almost an hour then the driver presses a button on the dashboard. He slows down as an entry big enough for a delivery truck to fit inside begins rising up from out of the ground. Is this some kind of elevator? We pull in then I look back, watching the opening close behind us as we drive down a ramp. There are little lights above us to brighten the brown tunnel. We enter an old, burgundy-colored parking garage.

We pull to the left, next to a nerdy guy who is working on two cruisers that look the exact same as this one we’re in. The driver leaves the cruiser running then we all get out. How did they build an underground base out here without being noticed? This place is very run-down, though, so maybe they’re just squatting in here. There are a lot of rusted cars down here that are pre-war and a small herd of cruisers. All cruisers have retractable tires for parking, nonetheless the obvious difference of coloration can help anyone tell them both apart.

The nerdy mechanic excitedly asks, “How’d she drive?”

Will tosses the keys to the mechanic and answers in a weird voice, “Sweeter than candy.”

Mason and Will start walking past the mechanic. I follow behind them to a door, then they open it for me and I step through to what appears to be a hotel lobby on my right. There are a bunch of people working on scientific things that I know nothing about. It looks like they’re creating and testing chemicals. One person is going around with a clipboard checking out everyone’s work. This must be a buried hotel that we are in from before the war.

I investigate, “What is this place?”

Mason answers, “A temporary residence. We set up shop here until we could safely retrieve you from Menta-Life.”

“You guys sure did set up camp fast.”

“Not really. It took us a little over a month to get settled in here. There was a lot t–”

I retract back to what he said and stop listening to what he’s saying. He said they set up camp here until they could rescue me, but that was a month ago. What day is it? When is it? Have I really been with them for a month? I don’t remember any of what happened.

I intrude, “Wait… You said it took a month to set up here to save me. Was I there for that long? An entire month?”

Mason quickly reassures, “No, of course not. You were there for about three months, I think.” My eyes light up with shock as he continues. “They’ve been trying to use your memories to search for Simon. You had no idea where he could be, but they never gave up trying.”

Three entire months went by and it only felt like yesterday. Why don’t I remember any of this? The Life system doesn’t allow regression, so everyone must start at their current age every time they enter then move forward from there. My first two years of Life were in prison, so that means I’m somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-four. After I was arrested, or captured, I just remember being in jail and processed. It all seemed flush at the time, and still does now.

If every three days is supposed to be ninety years, I would have had only sixty-seven years of Life and a two day break to prevent confusion. Where was I for all of those days? It’s not coming to me at all. We pass straight in front of the lobby to another door across the hall and my rescuers enter first. We step through to a hallway with a long observation window on the right side. I look over into the window and see a room painted to look like a real city.

The detail is so incredibly done that it probably does look like a city from the center of the room. I notice a female Deserted hugging the wall as she caresses the lines of a building. She looks clean, peaceful and content. I have never seen a Deserted look like that before. Her hair was most likely gone before, still it’s grown back into a light stubble now.

I stop walking, then leer into the window at her and ask, “Is she a Deserted?”

Mason halts, “Yeah. We gave her a life-like environment to study her reactions to the city until we can find a cure… or destroy Menta-Life’s memory facility.”

“There’s a cure?”

“Not exactly. We hope we can administer an anti-drug to all the Deserted so they can gain new memories, in the event that we fail with the hourglass.”

“Hourglass?”

“It’s the device that the memories are stored in.”

“Why destroy it? Won’t that destroy the memories?”

“No, the memories themselves aren’t like files to be put away, then lost on a broken hard drive. The memories are more physically held, like prisoners. Destroying the hourglass would release them. They’d get their lives back. Simon can better explain it; he’s waiting for us.”

Mason commences strolling and I shadow him around the right bend towards Will who is already at the end of the hall waiting at a door. Not that I ever wanted to try; however, I hadn’t known that there was a way to save them. Their cause seems noble, but at the same time, doesn’t feel right; like history may repeat itself with a new face instead of Geilium’s. I have a lot of questions, and one in particular: why haven’t they, not once, called Simon my father?

When we reach Will, he opens up the door for me and I enter. Everyone is in what looks like a darkly-lit lunch room, huddled around a table, looking over something. There is a chalk board on the wall with a bunch of mathematical junk written on it that I don’t understand. There is a guard standing on my right side and an immediate wall stands on my left. Will closes the door behind me. Simon looks up from the table, addressing the three others around him; he hasn’t noticed me yet, and I’m ashamed to say that I’m not too accurate on remembering his looks after all these years.

It’s the same man that I saw in my Life for certain. His short, dark brown hair and matching goatee with the same hazel eyes as I. It looks like they’re discussing some kind of battle plan and I can only faintly hear their low tones from where I’m standing. Simon double takes in my direction looking me straight in my eyes with the stare of relief. The others he’s talking to look back at me as well. There are one woman and two men at the table, not including Simon. I recognize one of the men as Hines Aldwich; a man from Germany who worked for Menta-Life and is supposed to be dead too.

Simon steps around the table and lightly calls out to me, “Vanessa?” His voice grows a small pitch as he continues. “You’ve grown so–”

Something’s not right. I grab the security guard’s left hand with my left hand then bend it up and grab his pulser pistol with my right. I use my thumb to activate the heat function on the left of the pulser. With heat active, having to shoot someone multiple times would kill them from the horrible, burning pain, which is the best I can do at the moment. I use the guard as a human shield then aim the weapon over his right shoulder and at my “father”.

Everyone starts moving away and I harshly command, “Nobody move or he dies.”

Simon puts his right hand back to his colleagues and his left hand to me, like he is going to block the heat rounds I fire.

He worryingly requests, “What are you doing?”

I sternly ask, “Who are you?”

“It’s me… Simon Harold.”

My father wouldn’t call me Vanessa. Following the war, the flow of digital information worldwide had been lost, regressing the world’s contact and our media controlled lives permanently. Vanessa Pheros was a name Goffrey and I came up with as an alias to my new identity in this new world. There’s no way my real father would call me by that name.

I quickly reply, “I watched my father die in front of my eyes seventeen years ago. If you lie to me again, I will shoot you and everyone in this room.”

Something clicks to me; it has been fifteen years. I recall thinking the same thing after two years in prison, that it was seventeen, but it would have actually been fifteen. Maybe. I’m not sure what to think about all of this. Everything feels off.

Simon states in a panic, “I’m telling you the truth.” He slowly explains, “Look at me. I’m right here. I am alive. That day, when the missile hit, it wasn’t the kind of missile like all the others. The nuclear strain didn’t hold, making it defective. It was an experimental prototype meant to destroy more than it actually did. The missile still killed a lot of people; nevertheless, I survived with just a few minor burns and that is the truth.”

I don’t know if I should believe him. A faulty missile doesn’t explain him not coming to find me sooner and leaving me alone for most of my life. I only have one test for him and he is the only person left alive who would know the true answer to it.

I ask, “What’s my name?”

He cautiously states, “Emily. Your name is Emily Harold… and you are my daughter.”

Everyone looks at him in amazement, as if they didn’t know he had a daughter. I have never told anyone my birth name since his death, and he got it right. Their reactions make it easier for me to believe him. Goffrey knew that I had no family left to return to, as our shuttle was one of the only ones to make it off of the surface of my country, and how much of my world my father was. A new name was part of what I needed to forget.

Goffrey and my father had been colleagues, but he died as well, leaving me an orphan with no past attachments. It really is my father standing in front of me and the relief is too much for me to contain. Without my mother, I clung to my father like a shoe on his foot and I was beyond devastated when I lost him. A tear falls down my face as I release the guard, then drop the pulser on the floor. The guard steps away from me and, as my father approaches me, I feel a sudden pain. It feels like something is juggling my brain around in my head.

I become dizzy and begin to speak, “Dad, I–”

The pain instantly worsens and it feels like something is eating away at my brain. I quickly grab my head with both of my hands and start screaming uncontrollably as I turn around, then drop down my knees. What is this pain? It feels like someone is writing on my skull in scribbles with a nail. My head is burning inside.

I hear my father call out to me in great worry, “Em?”

Mason and Will burst into the room as everyone starts crowding around me. The pain becomes worse and I fall onto my back while holding my head. What is this, and why does it hurt so badly? Now my head feels like it’s on fire and my blurry eyes are burning.

My father drops to his knees at my side and yells at Mason, “What’s wrong with her?”

Mason swiftly answers, “I don’t know, we just brought her here.”

My father looks down at me and comforts in a low tone, “It’s okay honey; breathe, breathe.”

I can’t stop the pain, nor can I stop screaming. It hurts worse than anything I’ve ever felt before and I can’t stop trying to crunch my head open to get it. It’s so hard to think right now. Why does it hurt to think? Did Menta-Life do something to me? I become reminded of the man I had seen in my Life that was going through the same head trauma I am going through now.

My father looks up and demands, “Hines, hurry.”

Hines Aldwich steps up then kneels down over me with a laptop and starts scanning me with a little camera attachment. What is he even doing here? First he worked for Menta-Life, then Equility, and now my father? The pain takes over my thoughts again, hurting a little worse than before. The sharpness of it is like someone hammering multiple nails into my head at the same time and it’s making me shaky.

Hines quickly informs Simon, as he looks over the holographic screen, “The scan shows there are a lot of wavelengths detached. Menta-Life has stolen one of her memories. Her brain is rapidly deteriorating.”

My father furiously curses to himself, “Damn it, Gene. We have to give her a dose.”

Hines refuses, “We can’t give her a dose. She’ll die.”

My father quickly states, “She’ll die if we don’t. We have to give her a dose!”

Hines hesitantly agrees, “Yes sir.” Hines looks back and quickly commands, “Have Paul Quentin bring in an injection please, quickly.”

My father confesses to me in a whisper, “You’ll be okay.”

I feel my voice going hoarse, still I can’t keep my mouth closed to even mask the pain that I’m feeling. A dark-skinned man with a goatee and crewcut approaches over me behind Hines. He is out of breath like he just ran in here, perhaps from the lobby area where the scientists were experimenting.

He hands down a syringe to Hines and Hines acknowledges, “Thank you, Paul.”

Who is Paul Quentin? He’s giving me a strange look of great concern. I can see it clearly through his thick glasses. He seems familiar to me somehow; like I’ve seen or met him before. My pain worsens from trying to remember.

Hines empathizes with me, “Emily, I know that this is a lot to ask of you right now, but I need your arm.”

It is a lot because I can’t do it. My brain won’t let me move them away, stop shaking, or screaming, and my hands are the only things giving me good comfort. I close my eyes and try to calm down, quickly sticking out my left arm. I turn my head away and multiple hands hold my arm down tightly. I faintly feel the pinch of the needle as it goes into my skin. I turn my head back over and feel my body starting to shut down as my voice fades into small grunts. I can no longer move, and my heavy breathing starts slowing down as my body, very lightly, jerks.

I feel myself falling unconscious to the sound of my father’s voice, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” I begin hearing the sound of my heart slowing down back to normal as he repeats, “It’s okay, Em.”

As I look at all of the people crowded over me, my vision fades, dragging me into infinite darkness. Wherever I am, it feels like an oven. I jump out of my sleep, breathing heavily in a hot sweat. Facing up at the ceiling with the beige paint chipping off, I see an old fan that has seen better days. It looks like, if someone turned it on, it would fall down to chop me in half. I’m lying in a twin bed against the wall wearing a white tank top while the rest of my body is hidden under an itchy gray blanket.

The room I’m in is the size of a room someone would use as an office, and not the executive office either. I mean the “at home office that’s too small for the kids to share as a bedroom” kind of office. The only thing in the room with me is the bed. Am I still in the underground hotel? This seems fit for a mental asylum, and who would I be to say that’s not fitting for me? I’m familiar with those. They usually would have a door with a small window for orderlies to peek through. This one doesn’t.

I pull the blanket off me and see that I have loose black sweatpants on. I turn to the left and dangle my feet off the bed, trying to remember what happened before I passed out. They dosed me with something that could have possibly killed me, and I’m still here, therefore that’s a plus, but my head doesn’t hurt as bad as it did. How long have I been asleep or unconscious? I could definitely use some fresh air out of this stuffy, sick-colored room and some food.

I get up and feel very sluggish, like I hadn’t slept long. I take my time walking over to the wooden door, then open it. This door has a circular knob on it that catches my attention. Most interior doors we use now are automated or have a “different” lock mechanism, although this rusty gold thing is weird. The building I’m in right now was eaten by the desert sands a long time ago.

I can’t even begin to wonder how they managed to find it. I enter the upstairs portion of the lobby area. Across from me is an exact replica of this side, but I’m not sure what’s over there behind those doors. How do I even get downstairs? Looking over the wooden railing, the lobby down below is pretty quiet despite the twenty or so people down there working on what looks like chemical compounds.

I stare down over the railing at the scientists and hear someone scream, “Hey, Vanessa!”

That was obnoxiously loud. I slowly look to the right and see that nerdy mechanic from the garage earlier. He’s speeding towards me while looking up at me, waving his hand in the air, trying to get my attention, as if I’m not looking at him already. The scientists are getting out of his way since he is not looking at who or what’s in front of him.

The guy yells again, “Vanessa!”

He is yelling much louder than he should be. Any normal person would be embarrassed, since only the faint chattering of the scientists was previously the only noise being made. Needless to say, they’re no longer making noise. Why is he calling me Vanessa anyway? I figured everyone around here would know me as Emily Harold. Did my father not tell anyone?

Everyone turns their attention to him then looks up at me, as he yells again, “Hey, Vanessa!”

I rudely respond, “I can hear you just fine.”

He stops a few stairs under me, then looks up and apologizes, “Oh, sorry. How’re you feeling today?”

“I could be a little better.”

He accepts, with a big smile, “Good.”

He proceeds to stare at me with that same smile, as if he’s waiting for me to ask him how he feels or something. He has a black bandana around his forehead and a tool belt that makes him look like a technician; the blue jumpsuit may have something to do with it, also. His spiked blonde hair is quite the eye catcher with his work goggles on top of his head.

I hesitantly interrogate, “So… what do you want?”

He snaps out of his trance and excitedly answers, “Oh, I was told to come and check on you and, if you were awake, to escort you to Mr. Harold.”

Simon Harold must be the leader of these people down here in this sunken hotel miles away from civilization. Why he’s here and what he’s doing is still a mystery to me; so is what’s happened to me. I do recall Hines mentioning that Menta-Life stole my memory.

I ask, “Is there a bathroom around here?”

“There’s one to the left of your room.”

I turn around and see the door next to mine, then walk away from the railing towards it.

I hear the technician greet someone downstairs, “Hi there. How are you?”

It’s clear that he’s not one of the brilliant minds of the show. There is a chance that I’m wrong if he was the one who created those nifty cruisers in the garage. I enter the bathroom and walk over to the sink’s mirror attached above. I look horrible. I feel like I slept a long time, even though I have bags under my hazel eyes that make me look sick. My brunette hair is kind of frizzy, too, like I’d tossed a lot in my sleep.

I glare over my bronzed skin for scars and it’s as clean as a whistle. Menta-Life really took good care of me in that facility. I guess none of that Life really did happen, but why not steal all of my memory from my Life? There must be something that Menta-Life wants to keep hidden that I was exposed to. My father might be able to shed some light on everything that’s happened, yet that’s gonna have to wait until after my quick shower.

 

Chapter 2: Answers

 

I take a hot shower to ease my mind, nervous that my attempts at recollection would try to kill me again; however, one major question is in the air: why are they after my father? I dry off, then put my clothes back on. I open the bathroom door and unexpectedly see someone standing in front of it, thus I throw a swift jab. I realize, a second later, that I just punched the spiky-haired technician in the face. My reflexes are definitely the same as they were before I was dosed.

He stumbles back, grabs his face, and quickly requests in a muffled tone, “Ow, why’d you do that? You didn’t have to hit me.”

I blandly answer, “Because you were standing in front of the door. What are you even doing here?”

He pinches his nose together with his fingers and answers, “I was waiting for you so I could take you to Mr. Harold.”

I remove his hand from his nose and demand, “Tilt your head back.” He tilts his head back and I see that he’s not bleeding, so I add, “You’re fine big guy, it’s not bleeding.”

He asks, “You sure?”

“Positive. Don’t stand in front of doors without knocking next time.”

“Right. I don’t like the sight of blood, ya know? It makes me feel faint and queasy sometimes. One time I–” He stops his started story and introduces himself, “I’m Jacks Timbelin.”

He puts his hand out for a handshake and I look down at it very briefly, then introduce myself. “Vanessa Pheros.”

I refuse his handshake because I don’t know this guy. This Jacks works for my father and appears to be a talkative klutz with good intention; nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I have to trust him, or anyone else here. Before I waste my time instigating anything with anyone, my father has some explaining to do.

He retracts his hand and clears the awkwardness with his throat, “Right. Umm, shall we get going?”

“We shall.”

He starts by walking to my right and I follow behind him, but not as fast as he’s walking. I take view of my surroundings to get a feel for where I am. Aside from this garage, this place is completely buried, leaving me only one exit. I’m still breathing, because of these people, so I shouldn’t even be thinking like this, but I blame it on habits as a smuggler; always looking for a way out of something.

Jacks begins boasting, “I’m almost single-handedly responsible for the ideas of the weapons and technology we manufacture here.”

Here we go with a background story that I’m not at all interested in hearing. Since he’s being so nice to me, I don’t want to be entirely rude.

I sluggishly reply, “Is that so?”

He turns around then slows down for me to catch up and continues, “Yeah.” He commences speeding up again, “I’m great at developing the idea; however, not so amazing at the manufacturing process. That’s only because I’m afraid of electricity, though.” He realizes I’m not keeping up, so he stops and apologizes. “Sorry, I’m used to always being in a rush.”

I reply, “It’s no problem. I don’t plan on keeping up with you.”

Reaching the end of the hall, we enter a door then head down a spiral staircase that leads to another door in the far corner opposite of where I came in when I first arrived. We wind up back in the lobby. To the right of here is the door that leads to the parking garage. The door next to it on the right must be to another spiral staircase leading to the opposite deck above. I don’t see any elevators anywhere to reach the upper floors where guests would stay. Perhaps this isn’t a hotel, but a police station seems fit for this setting. I follow Jacks through the first door on the left into the hallway with the observation window.

I look into the window to see the Deserted woman on the other side staring at a makeshift city painted on the wall. Last time I saw her, she was running her fingers along the sides of the amazingly detailed city. She turns around and looks at me like I’m someone familiar to her. I stop, then stare at her as she casually walks over to me and the glass. I step to the glass also while we gaze into each other’s eyes. She then places her hand on the glass.

Jacks states, “She must be able to sense it.”

I request while not breaking eye contact, “Sense what?”

I place my hand on the glass over hers and she gazes at me so peacefully. Her sickly, pale-colored hand turns red as she presses it harder against the glass like she wants to become one with me. How did they get her to become so calm? Even passing by, she doesn’t seem angry with Jacks at all, which is very unusual.

Jacks answers, “She must be able to sense that you’ve lost a memory too; sense that you’re like her. The Deserted are much calmer around each other than around normal people. We think they feel inferior, which causes their aggression.”

“So you think they’re afraid?”

“Not sure, though that’s what it’s coming down to. Almost like humans and aliens. They’re the humans.”

I turn my head to look at him, then he looks at her. When I look back at her, she turns her head back to me from looking at him. I remove my hand from the glass and she removes hers and looks into her palm. When I lived amongst the Deserted underneath Gharis, they were peaceful amongst each other as she is to me. Trying to initiate contact with me was something they never did before. They constantly walked around and kept to themselves, murmuring things out loud; murmuring what I now know as the last memory that keeps their brain functioning.

Menta-Life did this to her, and I’m determined to make them pay for doing it to me. If I don’t stop them, eventually this will be my fate as well. I turn to Jacks, then we continue walking to the door around the corner. When we reach the door, he enters first and I follow behind him. My father is at the chalkboard on the back wall explaining a plan to three people that are standing in front of him.

They are the same ones that were here when I arrived, including Hines Aldwich. They must be his brightest colleagues. I had only seen Hines once and it was in my Life. He had worked for Equility, or so he led me to believe, and somehow was already a dead Menta-Life executive at the same time. He is a middle-aged German man with short, blonde hair. It’s weird seeing Hines out of his gray suit, though I’d only ever seen him twice: once in person and the other time on a screen.

All Menta-Life employees wear gray suits to represent their neutrality background, but it’s a shame that’s a lie. The same guard is also standing next to the door on the right, looking down at me. He must be on his defensive this time around. Had my father answered my question wrong, the people in here would be dead, thanks to him.

I clear my throat and everyone focuses on me. My father acknowledges, “Vanessa, right on time. Come join us. We were just going over–”

I brashly interject, “No thank you. We need to talk. In private.”

He hesitantly agrees, “…Certainly.” He addresses the room, “Can everyone excuse us, please? Thank you.”

Everyone in the room walks past me as I stare at my father with curiosity. The door shuts and I look back to see that everyone is gone, including the security guard. I look back at my father. He remains standing silently in front of the chalkboard. Getting a better look at him, I notice he is a tad bit less gray-haired than I thought, still not by much. Why is Menta-Life looking for him? Why has he been running from them?

He nervously scratches at his goatee then points out, “This is, umm… I know you have a lot of questions.”

I slowly walk to the left of him, examining him for any other difference from when I first encountered his digitized self in my Life. He looks pretty much the same from our eye color to his smooth hair and average body build. In my Life, his appearance did look slightly different. For the projection of him to look inaccurate, he must have been missing for some time.

I confirm, as I reach the desk in the center of the room and cross my arms, “Mhm.”

I cease my steps and he asks, “Would you like to sit down?”

This must be just as awkward for him as it is for me; nevertheless he’s not as agitated and confused about the situation as I am. He’s got about fifteen years of explaining to do and I would like every detail answered. No excuses will get by me. I can tell he’s trying to approach the situation as gently as possible, but my insincerity won’t let him.

I plainly question, “Why did you never come and find me?”

He answers, “I’ve never left you, Emily. I have kept watch over you; however, I could not risk putting your life in danger by letting anyone know who you really were.”

“No contact for fifteen years and that is the best you can come up with? You know Goffrey died two months after we left?”

He attempts to understand, “I know it’s been hard for you and–”

I raise my voice, “No you don’t know. You have no idea how hard it was for me, and don’t pretend you do.”

“I’m sorry, Em.”

“You should be, because you weren’t seven-years-old when you were abandoned.”

He sincerely explains, “Emily, my hands were tied. I didn’t get to locate and touch base with Goffrey before he passed, so I had no idea where you were. I worked to spend every Life searching for you. It took me eleven years of secretly walking every city and land to find you. By the time I found you, I found out about Goffrey’s passing and you had already grown up. It was easier to let you deal with the citizens than the assassins who would have been after you because of who you are to me.”

Assassins? People were after my father back then? That might have every reason to do with why he’s hiding underground in a police station. What did he do to make someone mark him for death? Who did he become besides a research scientist? Was this before or after the war?

I ask, “And who am I?”

He answers, “You are Emily Harold, daughter of Simon Harold, one of the unnamed founders of the Menta-Life Corporation.”

In the business world, founder usually means creator, and it was Gene Winfred Archibald that founded the Menta-Life Corporation; at least that’s what I remember from my Life. Even with false information planted online, that’s still something unquestionable. Gene’s old face and full, gray head are on billboards in every city, along with the offer to live a Life.

I ask, “Founder? What do you mean founder?”

He explains, “After the shuttle left and I regained consciousness from the explosion, I had no idea where you were. I traveled the rubble back to my lab looking for information on your shuttle number; however, every service worldwide had been downed; telecommunications, internet, the entire social structure was gone. After survivors began to attempt rebuilding, a Mr. Gene Archibald came to me with an idea of how we can make the process much faster than before. He had come from America in search of the most brilliant minds for the project and I was the only one who had the technical skills to manufacture what he wanted. The idea for the Life system seemed impossible at the time, although I saw it as my only chance to find you before my time would come to an end. Four years later, after testing it on one of our own with great success, we opened the system to some of the most brilliant minds in science. We all gathered information of what used to be from our memories and studies, then put it all together into a server that was able to be shared as a network between us. What they accomplished in their ninety-year Life, they shared with us, and we discovered new things to build. We were able to find remnants of what used to be based off of what the others remembered, and other findings like maps, places like this buried police station, etcetera. We expanded every time we went inside, then opened to the public during the seventh year for an even more rapid expansion. After four years of public use, Gene felt the people were using the system for more than just the information gathering he intended them to use it for and were building things on their own too fast. I was never the brawn behind the operation since it was Gene’s idea and my theories. When he started stealing people’s ideas through their memories, there was nothing I could do, but by then, I’d found you, so I fled. You have to believe that I really did want to talk to you, still in case he found me, he could have found you. I couldn’t risk it. Somehow, he did find you, and now here you are.”

Soaking his story in is tough, even though I am somewhat relieved that he is alive and I understand how he feels, regardless of whether or not he’s been gone. Can I really be angry with him for protecting me from afar? Absolutely. Being angry is more my style; nonetheless, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders since I have blood family again. My father took great care of me and always put me first before anything or anyone, business included. I’ve grown a dark heart of steel since he’s been gone, but his sincerity in creating the corporation to find me may have chipped off a tiny piece of it.

I feel like my heart is getting too warm, so I change the subject. “So… now you’re taking a stand? I mean is that… what’s happening here?”

He confirms, “Yes. Gene’s been out searching for us for four years. He hasn’t found us, but he did somehow find you. We relocated here temporarily to retrieve you.”

“Relocated from where?”

“A hidden facility underground like this one, close to Hrowen City.”

I’ve been to Hrowen before; it’s a middle-class city where most of its citizens actually do their own work and despise the MechCi.

I ask, “What happened to me earlier?”

He corrects me, “Yesterday, actually. Menta-Life stole one of your memories, thus, naturally, we can’t pinpoint which one and neither can you because you don’t remember.”

I guess that may be the whole point of stealing one; removing evidence from the crime you committed, though they’re one and the same.

I ask, “What was the dose that Hines gave me? Wait, what is Hines even doing here? Doesn’t he work for Menta-Life?”

“Hines Aldwich is a former employee, like myself. He worked on the inside to keep tabs on Gene and everything going on with the corporation. He reported to me, but they eventually discovered him and we had to get him out. The dose we gave you was a sedative that Gene developed for all of the clients he stole memories from. It drastically slows the memory loss process to make it almost unnoticeable to even the person that had their memory stolen.”

“What happens to mine? I don’t feel like I’ve forgotten anything.”

He hesitantly mentions, “About that. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”

“Neither one, honestly.”

“You need to know, Emily.”

“Why did that guy Jacks call me Vanessa? Do they not know who I am?”

“They don’t. The people that were in this room are some of my most trusted, and your alter ego of Vanessa Pheros is still safe to have until this is situation’s concluded.”

He has a worried look on his face, like he’s itching to tell me what’s going on with me, so I let out a sigh and state, “I’ll take the good news first.”

“Well the good news is that the sedative worked to postpone the memory loss, as it should. The strands begin to break away from that empty memory, causing an instant spread at a single time to lose everything. Fortunately, we were able to dose you before that happened. You may still feel minor pain every once in awhile, although not often.”

“And what’s the unfortunate?”

“You were awake for too long before we gave it to you. Usually, the dose is administered before the client wakes up, but you were awake for, give or take, an hour and a half to two.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad, at least I got a shot right.”

“Not quite. Your memory was deteriorating away from the loss beforehand, you just didn’t feel it. It eats away faster without the dose. Simply put, you’ve only got about two weeks before your brain shuts down completely.”

That doesn’t make sense. Deserted always have that last strand to hang onto, yet mine will shut down completely; that means I’ll die. The worst case scenario should be me becoming a little worse than that woman in the room next door. Are things different now?

I reply, “That’s not right. What about the last thought that keeps my brain functioning? It can’t shut down completely.”

“The dilemma is different, Em. If they had administered the dose beforehand, there’d be a slow loss, but you were already awake and using your brain. If you look on the bright side, the time with what’s left of your memory can be used to help.”

Two weeks. Just my luck to always be on a strict timetable these days. When I first saw the Deserted woman behind the glass, Mason told me that there was a way to get their memories back; in saving them, I could also be able to save myself.

“That’s still not a good thing is it?”

He answers, “Afraid not. That’s why we need to strike back at Menta-Life soon; nonetheless, I’m afraid we lack what it takes.”

“What do you mean?”

“None of my people are equipped to deal with a force like Menta-Life. We simply don’t have the training or the numbers against Regulators and the mech presence. I’m sorry we didn’t meet again under better circumstances, still your memory is priority one to me at the moment.”

I would love to spend time catching up and getting to know my father, but unfortunately, he’s right. We can sit around sipping tea and telling stories, though I won’t remember them for long. I’m dying to get to know him more as a person instead of a revolutionary; I don’t even remember how old he is. My memory has to come first.

I acknowledge, “I understand. What are you planning?”

“I’m not exactly sure yet. I have to speak about it with the others first. Menta-Life had you in captivity for a long time and I’m certain that wasn’t your only Life. You found your way out of that building single-handedly, and that takes great skill that my people don’t have. I’ll continue the meeting and, hopefully, band together a solution.”

“What can I do in the meantime?”

“There is a city nearby, if you’d like to do some recollecting and get yourself together. You’ll just have to keep an extremely low profile.”

“Okay, Dad.”

I turn to leave the room and he calls out, “Emily…” I turn around to him and he continues. “I’m glad that you’re here with me now, despite the circumstances.”

“I am too.”

I leave the room and enter the hallway where the others are talking amongst themselves. Silence casts out as I pass through the threshold and everyone awaits my permission to re-enter. They stare at me with fake smiles of nervousness.

I say, “He’s waiting.”

The four people, including the security guard and Hines, walk back into the room as Jacks enquires in an excited tone, “So, how’d it go?”

I lean against the wall next to the long glass window and answer, “Well, I had a memory stolen from me by Menta-Life, so it’s not looking too good.”

“That’s a bummer. Is there anything good about you, Vanessa?”

I answer with a sigh, “Not really. So what’s there to do around here?”

He shrugs his shoulders and answers with hesitation, “Work on experimental weapon’s development projects.”

I sarcastically comment as I walk by him, “Yay.”

He follows behind me as I stroll towards the door to the lobby and asks, “Where’re you going?”

“To the city.”

The door in front of me bangs open and Mason, the man who brought me here, demands, “Jacks. Vanessa. Come with me.”

He speed walks by us towards the meeting room. What is he in such a panic about? We both follow him as he knocks on the door twice and quickly opens it. Everyone looks back at us entering the room.

Mason suggests to my father in a hurry, “Sir, you need to see this.”

He places a small black dot on the wall. It’s called a projection dot. They are used to display images like a television, but in travel size, and they have a connection that can access all media. It has a sensor that reads motion to follow requests by the user. Televisions still exist, but for those who can afford the dot, they are in higher demand. He drags his hand back to bring out the screen that’s already on the news channel.

A male newscaster is speaking, “This has been the worst–”

Mason slides his hand left to a different news channel and we see another male newscaster in the news room, “McKoy was arrested by Regulator officials for what is said to be a plot to assassinate Menta-Life founder, Gene Winfred Archibald.”

The female newscaster next to him comments, “This is just absolutely ground-breaking news for such a corporate figurehead.”

A picture of Geilium McKoy on a helipad pops up on the screen. He is an older African American man with short, dark, curly hair and a black beard. In my Life, the assassination was true, but how did Menta-Life figure that out? Were they monitoring my Life? If they stole a memory from me, they must have. Geilium ran Equility for a little over two years before he recruited me, then we took down the corporation in Gharis City together.

Afterwards, he betrayed me and his followers by taking it over instead of destroying the hardware or building like he originally led everyone to believe. The building would have been more fun to watch, since it’s over seventy stories high. The newscaster said it was a plot, though, and Geilium was the only one that seems to have been apprehended. Where is Aleena, his secretary, and Mitchell, his associate? They were tied right beside him in the plot when we took the building over. Come to think of it, I had lived for two years in my Life so Equility shouldn’t even exist yet.

The male newscaster agrees, “Indeed. Mr. McKoy is known throughout Gharis City as the CEO and producer of the Gharis City News network, one of our source providers, and is accused of having ties with an alleged terrorist group forming in the city which is currently being kept anonymous. More details as the–”

My father calmly demands, “Turn it off.” Mason turns the projection dot off by pushing his palm at the screen, then my father continues, “Get Foster in here.”

Mason follows orders, “Yes sir.”

As he leaves the room, I normally ask myself, “So Geilium really is Equility?”

Everyone turns back to me and my father asks, “What?”

I explain, “In my Life… the terrorist group Geilium orchestrated together was called Equility. I helped them take over the Gharis City Menta-Life facility. How were you there?” I look over at Hines and ask, “And even you?”

Hines queries with wonder, “Me?”

“Yeah. You’re the one who hired me to help you and Equility destroy Menta-Life. It didn’t make sense because I found out later that you had been killed before we even met.”

Hines comments, “That doesn’t add up.”

I ask my father, “How do I know all of this when the world doesn’t? If this information was public, Geilium would have been arrested months ago right?”

They all look at each other as if they know, yet are waiting for the other person to speak up first. There has to be a reason why they didn’t arrest him sooner.

I look at my father and ask, “Well?”

My father admits, “We didn’t have the able force to help you escape physically, so we hacked into their server, temporarily, and granted you access.”

“I didn’t use any server.”

“You were hooked up to it, during your Life. See, there are two separate ports connected to everyone’s microdot; an all-access data server for everyone so they can live and learn what’s going on around them while they’re in a Life but then there’s the hourglass. In the event of Menta-Life wanting to steal a memory, they can’t wake you up so they connect the hourglass.”

That makes sense, though I don’t know what he’s getting at. “I don’t see your point,”

He lets out a sigh and replies, “We granted you brief access into their server by hacking it and planting a load of information onto the internet ourselves. You were able to see what they chose to keep hidden, what the real world had, and also the message we wrote.”

“But Hines is standing right here.”

“Menta-Life knows he’s alive; however, they planted information online stating that he was deceased. Your mind must have linked both streams in an attempt to make sense of the situation.”

The bellman must’ve stepped in to make sense of everything by taking him away. A guy quickly walks into the room with Mason close behind him. He has a Mohawk with a patch of hair on his chin. His head has a faded hairstyle around the Mohawk instead of being bald. He doesn’t look average and helpless like everyone around here. His muscular stature seems like bodyguard material.

My father quickly introduces us, “Welktin Foster, Vanessa Pheros.” We turn to each other and shake hands, then my father continues to me, “He is our eyes on the outside and our specialist in physical operations.” My father continues to him, “And she is our newest recruit.”

Welktin puts his hands on his hips and questions, “Recruit for what?”

His voice is deep and his English isn’t too well spoken. His demeanor and body language has American written all over it; similar to Jacks.

“She escaped from the Menta-Life facility in New Rellow single-handedly, therefore I figured she could help in ops, although we have other concerns. Geilium McKoy was arrested and claimed to be part of a terrorist plot to kill Gene Archibald.”

“The Gharis City News CEO?”

“Yes, and we have come into some new information that can give us an inside edge.” He turns to me and says, “We need to know what happened with Geilium in your Life. If you actually succeeded at conquering the Gharis City branch, we could possibly mimic the tactic, or even employ his help.”

I recall the moments out loud, “Um… I brought the idea to use the Trojan Horse tactic by loading up a bunch of his people on a scheduled repair truck, then we took the place from the inside. But he wants to take over Menta-Life, not destroy it. He betrayed and tried to kill me.”

Welktin clarifies, “He betrayed you in a Life, so it might not be the same out here. All that crap is based on projection from a person’s personality and behavior.”

“Regardless, they arrested Geilium, so that plan is blown with my escape.”

My father takes both sides, “True, granted he’s right, also. Maybe we can persuade Geilium to do otherwise and join with us.”

As much as I’d rather not trust that snake Geilium, I need to take the steps necessary and follow them to get my memory back. I won’t be able to do it alone.

I reply, “It’s your show. Just tell me where to go.”

My father replies, “I don’t want you going anywhere yet, Vanessa.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Just stay here until we can find out what’s going on. Without your memory, you could potentially be in danger if you leave. Let us handle things for now, until we can further test you for any lost effects.”

I don’t plan on doing what he says; regardless, I need to get my memory back and the only person’s hands I can trust that task in is my own. It’s going to lead up to a prison break being in order to get to Geilium and return him to people he may already have, or the people he can find for us.

I reply, “No disrespect, but your lab coats and your pretty boy here can’t handle things. You’re either doing this with me, or I’m doing it on my own. I don’t trust Geilium, but if you want to break him free, then we need to find out where he’s being held and we need a team.”

“Vanes–”

I quickly interrupt, “This isn’t… an option. I’m going one way or another and it won’t be a good idea for you to try to stop me.” I turn to Welktin and enquire, “Where’s your team?”

He proudly answers, “I don’t need a team, though it seems I’ll be stuck with you.”

I falsely clarify, “Yeah, sure. You’ll be protecting everyone here, or doing whatever it is you do. Jacks is coming with me to find some of my allies. Jacks, let’s go.”

Before anyone has a chance to disagree, I walk out of the room. That boast felt great, but I’m only fooling them into thinking I have allies; it’s been me, myself, and more me just about my entire life. Walking down the hallway, I hear someone speeding up to catch up to me.

Jacks utters, “Hang on, Vanessa.”

I state as I continue at my normal pace, “Call me Van.”

He strolls with me and asks, “What are we doing? We need Welktin.”

I quickly reply, “That guy’s a jerk. We don’t need him.”

“Hey, you’re no walk in the park either.” We enter the lobby area and he asks as we stride across, “So where are your allies?”

I stop, turning to him and coming clean, “I was honestly just blurting out stuff. I don’t have any allies or friends.”

He raises his voice, “We can’t do this on–”

I cut him off, “Shhh.” I look over and see some of the scientists staring at us, therefore I continue in low whisper, “How far is Gharis City from here?”

He calms down, “Not too far. Probably a three hour drive.”

“Good, then that’s our first stop. Do you have an Econ?”

“Of course.”

“Then we’re taking your cruiser.”

I turn around and walk across the front entrance to the door leading to the parking garage. Jacks follows behind me entering the garage and I stop in front of the three customized cruisers parked immediately through the door. The three cruisers in front of us are all a metallic orange color and two door coupes, or so they seem. They somehow changed the cruiser from a two-door to four-door and changed the color on it also. I’m not sure how, but I would love to find out.

I plainly inform to Jacks, “We’re taking one of these.”

Jacks replies nervously, “No we can’t. I created these cruisers for mission use only.”

I pace around to the driver side as I reply, “This is a mission.” I stick my head through the window and see it has a push-button ignition on the dashboard, “Jackpot.” I take my head out and look at Jacks, then proudly say, “This here is like one of those moments when a cruiser just needs to be taken. Get in.”

I enter the cruiser’s driver side as he gets into the passenger seat and asks, “Can you even drive this thing?”

“It’s a cruiser. Of course I can.” I look down at all of the extra buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard that don’t have any name or description, “Well, I have to do the planning so you should drive this time.”

He exits and walks around the cruiser as I slide across to the passenger seat. He gets in the driver seat, then presses the top right of the eight buttons on the steering wheel and the cruiser starts. He pushes three buttons on the dashboard, next to what I thought was the ignition, presses on the pedal, and starts backing up. He pushes two more buttons then pulls forward and up the ramp.

This thing is cool, but it would suck in a life or death situation. I watch the small lamps up above the tunnel as we pass under each one. The huge wall in front of us begins to slowly rise revealing the sunlight outside. He pulls slowly out of the hidden entry and into the desert sands. It’s time to head to where I recently wasn’t really: Gharis City.