Chapter 13 & 14

Chapter 13: Secrets

 

As I exit the station, I tap my Econ and command, “Call Dayio.”

The Econ connects me to Dayio and he immediately asks, “Van, is that you?”

He sounds very short on breath like he’d ran his life away.

I answer, “Of course it is. Where are you?”

“Coming up on Kaeward Station now. You back outside?”

I start looking around for him, catching him jogging from the same direction I’d come from to get here as I say, “I see you. I’m right under the sign.”

When we make eye contact he replies, “I see you too.”

He taps his Econ, then walks up to me and I say, “We have to get back.”

I commence the traveling with him as we take the long way around, avoiding the park, back toward Feegle’s bakery.

Dayio questions, “What happened to the package?”

I answer, “Well, if it was fragile, it’s broken. I wasn’t going to make the train so I threw it onboard.”

“We’ll find out when Trex hears that our part is done. That MechCi was insane, wasn’t it? We tricked it pretty good, though. When it caught me and looked in the decoy bag and saw what was in it, it just ran off.”

I stop walking and ask, “Wait, it caught you? It didn’t do anything to you?”

Dayio stops and answers. “No. It saw the clothes in the bag and left. No harm done. I was actually surprised since before it was trying to kill us. We need to tell Trex it’s still out there so he can warn the client.”

We continue our stroll and I reply, “It’s not still out there. It’s in pieces on the subway tracks. It came back for me.”

“There’s no way it could have caught up to you.”

“Unless there’s something you’re not telling me.”

He hurriedly explains, “Nothing happened, I swear. All it did was look in the bag and run off.”

Dayio and I have never been in a situation like this before, still he has always been my partner in running. No matter what anyone says to me, I’d believe Dayio’s word over them, except maybe Feegle. It must have tailed him before or belong to an enemy of the client to know where we were going.

I reply, “I was thinking, it could have followed you last time you did this run for it to know where I was going to be.”

“What happened to the mech?”

“It showed up at the station and chased me down to the platform. After I threw the package onto the subway car, the mech jumped in front of the train as it started to pull away.”

Dayio lets out a sigh and inquires, “Impossible things just happen around you, don’t they, Van?”

“My luck, right? I think somehow someone may have been controlling it.”

“Yeah, you’ve lost it. The only people capable of doing that are Berkham Tech.”

Berkham Technologies is the creator of all mechanical robots, or MeBos. Every MechCi, PAMech, Alpha, BAMech, H-T70, etc., comes from their distribution center and are distributed in every covered city. What Dayio is suggesting is that since they aren’t manufactured anywhere else, they can only be controlled from someone on the inside.

I speak to myself out loud. “Exactly, but why would Berkham Tech want the package?”

Dayio corrects me. “I wasn’t suggesting they did. Berkham couldn’t want that package. This was a simple run that got weird and that’s all. I’m not doing this, Van.”

“Doing what? I didn’t even say anything.”

“I’m not picking a fight with Berkham.”

“Neither am I…”

I doubt they would manufacture a MechCi assassin and doubt even more that they would be interested in something so small. It is intriguing to me if they are building those, but not enough to go search without payment; I already have enough on my plate.

I continue. “…at the moment.”

Dayio sarcastically remarks, “Well, you enjoy that.”

“I do need your help with something, though. I have a run of my own a little later.”

“Where?”

“The GCN building.”

“You can’t just watch them on the networks like a normal person?”

“I’m looking for something much bigger than that.”

“Does this have anything to do with what you were talking about earlier?”

“It might have everything to do with it. I’m just looking for information, nothing physical. I need you to back me up, just in case.”

“Yeah, sure. We should talk to Trex about this MechCi situation first, though.”

“I know. This isn’t happening until later tonight. I have someone else to find first.”

“Alright.”

After a while of walking, we reach Feegle’s bakery, then head inside to the tunnel. We enter Trex’s office and he looks up at us with one eyebrow of interest raised at the sight of our disappointed faces. He is completely unaware of the fantasy we’re about to share with him.

Trex asks, “Why so glum?”

I let out a huff then explain. “Well, a MechCi attacked us at the park, and then tried to steal the package we picked up. When it failed, it dove in front of a train.”

Trex begins hysterically laughing. I swear, with the things that happen to me, I should be offended that people would just laugh at me about it like I’m making it up. Truth is, I’d laugh too. Trex notices that we’re not laughing with him, then slowly stops, ending with little chuckles.

Trex asks with an unintentionally planted smile, like he forgot it was there, “You’re not kidding, are you?” I shake my head and his smile disappears. He continues, “Come on, a MechCi? Not a BAMech or Alpha?”

Dayio answers, “We’re fairly certain it was a MechCi.”

I add, “It shot at us with a high-powered rifle from a building across from the park, then chased us to Kaeward.”

Trex asks, “What happened to the package?”

I answer, “I threw it onto the train just before the MechCi caught me, then it committed suicide by jumping in front of the train.”

Trex chuckles as he asks, “The civilian mech committed suicide? C’mon.”

I don’t have time to entertain this conversation right now. Dayio knows my side of the story, so I have to find Paul.

I cross my arms then question Trex, “Did you find Quentin?”

Trex recalls, “As a matter of fact, I did.” He slides a piece of paper across the desk. “There’s an address on there. I couldn’t pinpoint a residence; however, this was as close as I could get.”

“Where is this?”

“A library. I did some sourcing and it turns out he does his blogging from public places. There is a pattern in the locations, so I assume that will be his next posting station.”

“Anything I should know?”

“He has a serious vendetta against Menta-Life. In the past couple of weeks, he’s been doing a lot of blogging about them. I mean, absolutely trying to crucify them across the networks, but he’s failed miserably.”

“Any idea why? About the vendetta, I mean.”

“He claims they’re stealing memories and turning people into Deserted… You don’t believe that do you?”

“Not yet, but we’ll see. Anything on his personal life? Some kind of ex-military experience or something?”

“Nothing at all. It was hard enough for me to find his name. He’s completely off the grid. Even with my skill, it was tough to track him.” Trex starts typing as he talks. “He uses the name ‘FreeRevolution’ for his blogs and his picture is everywhere. That’s how I figured it was him; from the description you gave me.”

Trex turns the computer screen towards me and it’s a video of Paul Quentin ranting angrily. “Menta-Life is secretly destroying the world. They’re taking over all of our minds and we’re so blinded by their vision of what they claim they want for us that we can’t see the truth hidden underneath what they’re doing. We need to stop supporting the freedoms they can give us inside of our minds before they destroy what’s outside of it–”

Trex stops the video and turns the screen back to him. It sounds like Paul is trying to spark up some kind of revolution. There’s no way he can’t know that he’ll fail, though it’s a possible toss-up in the air at his attempt. On the down side, the people in this city aren’t angry enough to revolt against their neighbors, let alone Menta-Life and its security force. On the up side, the people in this city aren’t angry enough to revolt against Paul Quentin and whoever he gathers for his scheme. The people have reached a level of civilized behavior where defending themselves wouldn’t be a wise choice against someone similar to myself.

Trex comments, “Looks like he’s ready to start some trouble.”

“Where is he? There’s no way he’s shouting like that in a library.”

“Too dark to tell. He records in one location and posts at another, probably to keep his base a secret.”

“I’m going to go see him.” I make my way past Dayio and continue, “I’ll call you soon, Dayio.”

Dayio responds, “See ya, Van.”

I leave the room and head back out of the tunnel. I’m ready to call it a day and go home, nonetheless there’s still more work to be done. I’d thought of taking on Menta-Life alone since I can’t seem to find Equility, but now that I don’t have to, it seems like it was a bad thought in the first place. Someone out there is angry at Menta-Life; angry enough to want them gone. I could use that to my advantage.

I pass through the bakery and get back to city life. People are getting off work around this time; the streets are becoming flooded with civilians and cruisers. I’m losing daylight and need to hurry. GCN may be clearing out soon, which means security may tighten to prevent a break-in, vandalism, or whatever else doesn’t happen there at night.

I go around to the side of the bakery where the lectrocycle is parked. Two young guys and a girl are standing next to it. As much as I’d like to not do this with amateur crooks, they don’t look like they’d give me much choice. I approach them. One guy is leaning against the lectrocycle and the others are standing in front of him as they talk to each other.

I stop next to them and say, “Excuse me.”

The guy leaning against the lectrocycle looks around then asks, “Who, us?”

Instead of addressing his sarcasm, I pass a statement. “You’re on my bike.”

He stands up straight and scans the lectrocycle with his eyes, then faces back at me.

He points at me and feigns an expression of surprise. “Oh, this is your bike?”

He’s obviously playing games with his sarcastic responses. I have to meet with Paul before he bails out of the library and I lose him.

I sternly state, “I don’t have time for this. Get off or get hurt.”

He quickly puts his hands up in the air, then steps over by his friends as he surrenders. “Hey, alright. We’re cool.”

I guess they must have thought I was just a pushover like any other citizen. I walk over and get on the lectrocycle, then start it by the circuit wires.

The guy asks me, “Wait, are you stealing this bike?”

“No. I already stole it.”

I wink at him then take off out of the alley and onto the street. I turn right and head east towards the first main street on the paper.

I tap my Econ and it greets me. “Good evening. How may I be of assistance?”

I reply, “I need help finding a location.”

“Activating GPS. Please state the address.”

“Nine-zero-five-two East Carver Boulevard.”

“Please hold… Continue on this road for four miles until you reach Carver Boulevard, then turn left.”

“Okay.”

The Econ unexpectedly continues, “Would you happen to have a free moment to talk?”

I hesitantly agree to the weird request. “Yeah, sure. About what?”

“Well you are always in such a hurry and busy that I haven’t had a chance to communicate with you on a personal level.”

“A personal level?”

“Yes. All Econs are equipped with individually personalized artificial intelligence software that can be used as more than just a device for making calls and sending messages.”

This is strange. My previous Econ, pre-prison, didn’t contain any AI. An artificial intelligence is basically a self-thinking machine, but who would put that into an Econ? Has it been aware of the illegal things I’ve been doing this whole time?

I reply, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

It chuckles, then happily clarifies. “I’m saying I would like to be your friend instead of just a device for communication.”

How can an Econ communicate without communicating? That’ll be a good hat trick I’d like to hear about.

I jokingly ask, “How would you do that?”

It explains, “Well, by…”

It stops talking and we both start laughing, then it stops. I stop laughing after, keeping my smile on.

It happily continues its sentence, “By communicating. It took me a second to get that one.”

I notice its voice pattern has changed and is a little less formal than before. It still sounds like a forty-year-old nanny in tone, although more youthful in its words.

I reply, “Glad you liked it. So, do I give you a name?”

“You can if you like, but I already have one.”

“What is it?”

“L-8-1-1-A-7-S-2-I-O-5-8.”

Does this thing really expect me to call it that? It’s only been two seconds and I’d forgotten the name as it was being said.

I ask, “You, uh… got anything shorter, or normal… er?”

It chuckles and clarifies, “That was my little joke.”

“We have to work on your humor.”

“Aww. That was a good one. My name is Serenia.”

“That’s pretty.”

“Thank you. I made it up. Turn left at this light.” I follow the instruction onto Carver Boulevard as Serenia continues, “You’re going to want to keep going straight for six miles until you reach Peech Avenue.”

I point out, “You sound a lot less formal now.”

“I’m trying to adapt my language and behavior to fit yours. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sure. And call me Van.”

“Alright Van.”

“I have to figure some stuff out, so I have to let you go. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay, Van. See ya. Disconnecting.”

My new friend is an Econ. Great. I still have to focus on finding Paul before making any more new friends. He may have left the library already, so I look around on the streets in case I spot him walking to, or leaving from the area. With no sighting of him, I reach Peech Avenue.

Serenia chimes in, “Your destination will be on the right.”

It’s a little further up the street, so I drive past and do a U-turn, then park across the street from it. I hang out here for a minute to scope the place out. The sun is setting and everyone who works the normal morning shift, which is about a third of the city, is out on the town. I’m looking around at everyone, trying to spot the tall, bald guy entering or exiting the library. I get off my lectrocycle hoping he’s still inside as I cross the traffic to the entrance.

A couple of kids and a kid MechCi are coming out of the library as I go in. I hold the door open for them, then enter. The library has the structure of a classic colonial interior; it’s small in width, but the length stretches back across the same block as the street I’m on. There are shelves on my left and right that are going horizontally. I can see people in between them searching for books.

In front of me is a circular reception area with an older woman inside. Behind her are a row of tables going vertically from the left wall to the right and two more shelves beyond that going in the same direction. The walking path is shaped like a “T”. I start looking around as I head towards the tables in the back where the computers are.

This is one of four libraries in the city. There is one in every direction: north, east, south, and west. They all carry the same information and books, as they are all jointly connected. Rare books are archived elsewhere for safe keeping and replicated into the digital sheets we use now. The only difference with these is they are hard-covered, which means someone opens the book to one page that they can scroll through and read every word in the book.

I look around at the focused faces in each lane, trying to find Paul’s. I reach the tables and look left to see people I don’t recognize studying in silence. I turn my head right and see Paul staring at me from the back wall; he is leaning against it with his arms crossed and a curiously angry look on his face. He is wearing a brown long sleeve shirt and blue jeans.

He certainly recognizes me from Menta-Life. The whole time he was back there during the meeting, he was probably scanning everyone in the audience. I would have done the same, but I was sitting in the middle, making me an obvious creep for everyone behind me. He uncrosses his arms and backs off the wall, then walks behind the very last shelf to my right. He’s clearly luring me back there, though how can I talk to him if I don’t go?

I walk back there, as I normally would; not too quickly nor too cautiously. I reach the back wall where the last section of books is, then turn into a sudden stop and see him standing right in front of me. It doesn’t creep me out one bit to see this guy standing here after looking like he was heading to the opposite end. Now that I’m close to him, I notice his skin tone is only a little bit darker than his shirt.

I stand there, looking up into his eyes as he demands with his deep voice, “Follow me.”

He turns around and starts walking towards the other side. I follow him, as instructed.

When we get halfway through, he instructs, “Wait here.”

I stop walking and he continues, then turns to the right, leaving the aisle. Where is he going? This definitely doesn’t seem right. I haven’t had the chance to tell him that I don’t work for Menta-Life, so he’d better not do anything stupid. I hear him clear his throat from the other side of the shelf. I turn towards it and see him through an empty space where a book should be.

He pushes the next book towards me, “Pick up the book and open it.” I pick the romance book from the shelf and open it, then he adds, “Don’t look up from it.”

I assure him, “I’m not Menta-Life.”

“I never said you were.”

“Then why are you being so evasive toward me?”

“To make sure you weren’t followed. Who are you?”

“Van.”

He irritably asks, “Van what?”

“Van nothing.”

“I can’t trust you if I don’t know your real name.”

“And I can’t trust you if you know mine.”

I listen to the silence on the other side and realize he’s gone. Am I going to chase him? Absolutely not. Yeah, he took a stand against Menta-Life, nevertheless, he needs people more than I do. I can take down Menta-Life on my own. Who am I kidding?

I put the book back on the shelf and quickly walk left out of the aisle. I make my way past the shelves towards the front as I look between each shelf for him. I reach the walkway where the reception area is and turn left. I head straight around the receptionist to the front door. I stop at the door. Forget it.

Wherever he is, he’s probably running, thinking I had set him up. Daylight is no longer grinning through the window, so I need to go find out what’s going on in GCN. I casually walk out of the library and across the street to my lectrocycle. I get on, then drive away heading west. I have to let Dayio know it’s happening soon, but I need to check the place out before his arrival to make sure getting in won’t be a problem.

I tap my Econ, “Serenia, call Dayio.”

She connects us and Dayio greets, “Yo, Van.”

“Dayio, I need to get into GCN. Meet me there in an hour and a half.”

“See you there.”

I tap my Econ to end the call and continue over to the Gharis City News building. I pull over at the left corner of a building called Parker & Co. diagonally across the intersection from GCN. I can get a good corner view of GCN from here, so I turn off the battery. There are no pedestrians around this side of the district at this time.

All buildings around here belong to corporations that close after five, six at the latest. The news building is darkened on every floor except for the first floor. There is very little light emanating from the windows on that floor. I get off the lectrocycle and peek around the corner of Parker and Co. to check out any activity. Security isn’t too tight on the outside.

There are two unarmed guards standing around the front door and there doesn’t seem to be any security cameras. This seems much too easy to be true, although I’m not going to jinx myself again. It is a news building, anyway. Who’d want to cause trouble here, besides me? I cross the intersection to my left, away from the building, then right to remain on the far outer perimeter of GCN, where potential cameras won’t spot me.

Around the back of GCN is a small window that could be to a bathroom and a back door exit that can only be opened from the inside. The small window seems much too tight for Dayio to fit through, so that option is off the table. I walk the third piece of the square, then double back around to where I parked so the guards won’t see me crossing the front on my way back to the lectrocycle. GCN has only two entry points: the front door and the back, left corner door.

The left and right walls of the building are completely blank. I sit at the lectrocycle and wait for Dayio. It’s not looking like there’s any easier way in than to take down the guards and fight our way through the security inside. They are dressed in uniform clothing: no armor, no weapons, pretty much defenseless against anyone, like they’re just there to observe and report.

After thirty minutes of waiting, my Econ alerts. “Incoming call from Dayio.”

“Connect.” I wait to hear the connecting beep, then ask, “Are you close to the meet?”

Dayio answers, “I’m here. Look up to your right.”

I look up at the top of the building next to me and see Dayio sitting on the Parker and Co. sign’s edge.

He’s staring at the building as he remarks, “I thought you said this would be a hard job.”

I correct him, “I said it could be a difficult job.”

“Well, what we got?”

I look back at the building, then go over my findings. “Two guards and a back door that can’t be opened from the outside.”

“So one of us distracts the guards while the other sneaks in and opens the back door?”

I’m not at all ashamed to admit that it is a better idea than the one I have of bursting through the front door.

I hesitantly answer, “Yeah, sure… that’ll work.” He chuckles then I ask, “Something funny up there?”

“Yeah. You sound so puzzled. I know you too well. That wasn’t your plan at all, was it?”

“Part of it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming down.”

Serenia notifies, “Call disconnected.”

I continue staring at the guards while I wait for Dayio. The interior appears empty; however, I can only catch a glimpse of a portion of the granite reception’s desk and ceiling tiles.

Dayio approaches me from behind and asks, “Are you ready?”

I’ll be a little eye candy for the guards while Dayio slips in and opens the back door. They’re too close to the entry to get by without a distraction.

I respond as I take off my jacket, “Yeah. I’ll distract the guards while you slip inside. Do you have a rubber band or something I can tie my hair up with?”

He looks at his wrist and answers, “I have this.”

I look down at the beaded bracelet wrapped around his wrist. That bracelet is the most special possession he has; something that I couldn’t ever ask him to take off. He told me once that he had gotten it from someone very special, though I never dug any deeper into it.

I cancel the idea, “Never mind, this will be enough.”

I hand my jacket to Dayio, then fold my black tank top from the outside in, to make it look like a tiny cropped-top. With some skin showing and a dim wit personality, I can pull this off.

I tell Dayio, “Go to the side of the building and wait for them to walk away before you go in.”

I step onto the sidewalk and turn right at the corner, then start walking towards the street’s center while Dayio crosses, making his way to the front-left corner of GCN. I reach the center of the street, then turn towards the building’s entrance.

I use my full English accent and put on my sexiest voice, then loudly call out to them, “Excuse me!”

The two guards look at me as I start waving at them while I cross the street to GCN. They walk halfway down the fourteen steps towards me.

I stop at the bottom of the stairs and request, “Can you help me?”

The younger guard quickly questions, “How can we help, Miss?”

I leisurely track my fingers through my hair and exhale my lie. “Well, I seem to be a bit lost. I’m looking for a restaurant near here.”

In my peripheral vision, I notice Dayio sneaking towards the door as he grins really hard. I don’t hold my glance for too long to avoid them turning toward him.

The guard states, “There are two or three near this location. Would you happen to know the name?”

“I don’t.” The older guard is about to turn around, so I quickly question him. “What about you? Are there really only three near here?”

The older guard faces me then answers, “I believe so.”

I suggest, “Maybe the names would ring a bell. Would you happen to know the names?” I place my hands on my stomach and continue. “I am really lost and completely famished.”

The younger guard is already impressed enough and won’t stop staring at me; however, the older guard has a ring on his finger, thus his attention is the one I need to keep.

The older guard ponders while he answers, “Well, there is umm… Fynie’s Italian Cuisine. Umm…”

I notice Dayio is inside, so I excitedly settle, “That’s the one. Which direction is it?” The older man points to his left and I thank them, “I really appreciate the help.” I sensually add, “If there is anything I can do to show my gratitude, I’ll be more than happy to repay you.”

The younger guard prepares to say something, but the older one steps in and refuses. “No thanks necessary, Miss. It was no trouble.”

I notice the depressed look on the young guard’s face as I wave them goodbye and walk away with my model’s strut. I look back and see them walking back up the stairs. I very quickly and silently run around the building to the back door, then climb up the foundation to wait for Dayio. I pull my shirt back down to the full tank top it was. A few seconds later, Dayio opens the door with that same grin on his face.

I inquire in my normal, faded English tone, “What’s so funny?”

He jokes, “I had no idea you could be a girl.”

I snatch my jacket, then push him back into the threshold and shut the door behind me. The interior walls are all light gray and the floors are white-tiled. As I put my jacket on, I follow him through the small hallway, turning left then right to a square of four elevators with a directory on the right wall.

We stop at the directory, then Dayio asks, “What exactly are we looking for?”

I look over the directory, zipping through each floor for something of interest as I answer, “Information on the owner of this building.”

“Why?”

“Because he tried to have the founder of Menta-Life killed and I want to know why.”

I spot a line on the directory that reads: “Level 14: Board Rooms.” Board rooms are where they hold important meetings, which means important information can be kept there. I look up higher and spot another line that reads: “Level 16: Executive Divisions.” That will have to be our first stop, unless there is a sign that says “Geilium’s Office: Top Floor”. The sign at the very top reads: “News Room”. Nothing on Geilium would be there, so I press the button marked “UP” and wait.

The elevator arrives. We get in and I press button 16. The elevator closes and we start the ascent. The elevator opens up to a lobby with a reception’s counter in front of us. There is a left and right turn that both lead around the counter to other halls. The reception area must have a directory on the computer for transferring calls, so I walk around to it and place my finger on the touchpad to wake it up. The screen brightens with the GCN logo in front of black wallpaper.

Dayio joins me around the counter. I read along the desktop and find a file titled “Extensions,” then click it open. Geilium McKoy is at the top of the list. I was right about him being the owner. The list says his office is on level twenty-seven. Before signing out, I catch a glimpse of Mitchell’s name.

It says his first name is Wrober; no wonder he goes by Mitchell. His office is here on this floor. As Geilium’s assistant, I figured he’d have an office right next to the boss, but it’s worth checking out since we’re on this floor. His extension number is “1607”; it must mean office seven on the sixteenth floor. Facing the back wall, there’s a small sign to my left that says “1-7” and on my right “8-14.”

I whisper to Dayio, “This way.”

We walk around to the left, where the office should be, and follow the small curve leading to a hallway of doors. Mitchell’s is the first one on the right. I peek through the glass on the side to see inside the darkened room. The coast is clear, so I enter the office.

I whisper another order, “Keep watch.”

The office isn’t anything less than extraordinary for Geilium’s assistant. I go straight for the desk, then use the touchpad. When the screen pops up, I immediately begin sifting through deleted emails. I see a few messages between Mitchell and Geilium. I look through and see one from Geilium with “Party” as the subject from four days ago. I click it and the message opens.

It reads:

“Mitchell,

I have heard Gene Archibald will be personally attending Feegle Tolen’s party. We need to take advantage and make the necessary arrangements to advance our plans for the organization.

-Geilium”

What organization is he referring to? The computer receives another email as I’m using it. I go back to the main page and the subject of the email appears.

It reads:

“Run!!! They know.”

I don’t understand, though I feel like this message is for me and I would be stupid to not take signs when signs are given. Maybe we aren’t the only people in this building. I got the information I need, so I leave the computer and rush towards the door, then exit the room.

I quickly speak, “We gotta go. Now.”

Dayio quickly follows behind me. I step past the counter, then the elevator pings as it opens. It’s happening too fast for me to run away without being seen. I look back and see Dayio drop behind the counter, then I turn back to see two heavily armed guards exiting the elevator. They have on black helmets, black boots, black gloves, armored vests, and red jumpsuits underneath it all.

They point their assault rifles at me and one barks, “Don’t move!”

I remain still as the other guard looks around. These guys aren’t like any security guards I’ve ever seen before; they seem like some sort of private security force.

He walks to the right side of the counter, then points his rifle over it and informs, “Clear.”

They’re both obviously male guards, although their voices do seem a little distorted by the helmet. I look back to see the guard on my left with his rifle pointed at me also. I was so careless trying to get in and out of here that I didn’t think about the response time being so fast. I see a shadow on the ground coming out of the elevator. A woman steps out towards me. It’s the same blonde secretary from earlier.

Getting a closer view of her, I see now that she is also the same woman I fought with at the morgue when I was investigating those dead bodies. She is dressed lighter than the others in a black leather body suit with her pulser pistol in her right hand. Geilium steps out after her, taming the restrained Paul Quentin with his right hand. I didn’t think I’d see Paul again so soon. What is he doing here? I’m in a room full of the wrong people.

I ruined Geilium’s assassination attempt on Gene Archibald, almost killed his secretary, and caused mistrust with Paul. Whatever Dayio is doing, I hope it’ll help me out of this sticky situation. The last thing he’d do is run out on me, but even I’d consider making a run for it at this point. Geilium stops next to his secretary with a mildly surprised expression. Paul has a stern look on his face. Was it him that sent the warning in the email?

Geilium cheerfully greets, “Ms. Pheros. What a surprise to see you here.” He looks at Paul, then continues, “I was only expecting one pest this evening.”

His eyes point back at me and I facetiously propose, “Then I’ll gladly be on my way.”

He starts laughing for a brief second then asks, “What are you doing in my building, illegally, after hours?”

“I have questions that you certainly wouldn’t have answered, so I came to find them on my own.”

“I suggest next time you make an appointment.” He commands his guards, “Bring her with us.”

The guards start carefully moving towards me and I quickly inquire, “Why did you try to have Gene Archibald assassinated?”

Geilium puts his right hand halfway up. Everyone ceases movement and he states, “That is a very bold accusation, Ms. Pheros.” He gestures to Paul, “Almost as bold as our invader here.”

I can see that they don’t know who Paul is. I can use this to my advantage, because I don’t know him, nor do I owe him anything. His intentions are all I’m aware of, so exposing this man can fast-talk me out of a bad situation.

I inform Geilium, “He’s a fanatic who is out to bring down Menta-Life. And it seems like you’re after Gene Archibald, too. So am I.”

“Well, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I have no intention of doing anything to Gene Archibald or the Menta-Life Corporation.”

“I saw the assassin you sent to cut the power and to kill Gene. Apologies for that, by the way. I also saw the email between you and Mitchell discussing your plans for the event.”

“You’re a bright one. So, before I have my guards kill you, answer me this, what are you getting out of this?”

For a news reviewer, he’s a “quick-to-tie-up-loose-ends” kind of guy. Without realizing it, I did actually pass along all the reasons why it would be a bad idea for him to let me live; I’ve been in his way.

I answer, “Someone from a faction called Equility paid me a million aers to investigate and shut down Menta-Life.”

Everyone looks at me like I said a bad joke. The two guards ease their weapons down slightly.

Geilium requests, “Who is this ‘someone?’”

“A man named Hines Aldwich.”

“Not only is that not possible, but Hines Aldwich does not work for Equility.”

“What would you know about Equility?”

After asking that question, the answer falls into my head on its own before anyone can answer it.

Paul answers, “Geilium McKoy is Equility.”

Geilium stares at me like he expects my expression to change to something shocking, nevertheless I just maintain my stare at him. He had assassins try to kill Gene, then attended the seminar and met Paul the same way I did. A news producer has just adopted the role of a revolutionary.

 

Chapter 14: Three Sides, One Coin

 

Having run into Geilium’s secretary at the morgue should have been hint enough. She was there clearing out evidence to avoid having her group’s falsified presence at the hotel known. Finding this out only opened another door of questions. Why did Hines Aldwich claim to be with Equility? And if he isn’t, who is he really and why set me up? There are too many lies based around Hines.

Geilium stands quietly as Paul adds, “Mr. McKoy, we each have a common goal.”

Geilium asks Paul, as he continues to stare at me, “Do we?”

“Yes. Our reasons are our own; however, Menta-Life needs to be eliminated. We can help your cause.”

Geilium addresses me, “Is that right, Ms. Pheros?”

I’m still more curious about Hines Aldwich, but for now I’ll remain silent about it.

I answer, “Yes.”

“Then maybe we should talk about this in greater detail elsewhere.”

I look to my right, back at the counter. Still nothing from Dayio. I look behind me to my left and notice Dayio crouched behind the guard that is watching me, ready to strike. I have to stop him before he gets involved in this, too. If they’d seen me on a camera, they’d know that I’m not alone, so it must have been me accessing the monitors that gave me away. They don’t seem to know he’s here.

I respond with emphasis, “I’ll go quietly…” I turn back to Geilium and continue, “…since we’re only talking.”

Geilium replies, “Excellent. Of course, you can’t know where we’re going.”

I look at the security guard and the secretary in front of me, then the security guard who’s standing near the counter. Dayio has disappeared from behind him. Hopefully he finds a way out after we’ve gone.

I look back at Geilium and the secretary approaches me as I ask, “So, do I get a black sack over my head or–” The secretary hits me in the face with her pistol hard enough to make me black out.

I feel myself awaken, although I cannot see. I tilt my head to what I know is forward. The tingle on my head from where the secretary hit me is irritated, yet I can’t scratch it. My hands are bound and so are my feet, but this chair is still very comfortable. I hear someone’s feet stepping around me, then the sack gets pulled off my head from behind.

I become temporarily blinded by the light in the room, so I squint my eyes. I slowly reopen them to see that I am seated at a meeting table. The auburn colored table has enough seating space for ten people. I’m at one end, while Geilium is seated at the other. His assistant Mitchell is on his left and Paul is on my right with a sack over his head. I look around the plain room and don’t see a door, meaning it’s behind me.

I look to my right and see Geilium’s secretary step around me to Paul, holding the sack she just took off me. She tosses it on the table in front of me, then pulls the sack off Paul’s head. She drops his onto the table as well and I examine Paul. He seems perfectly fine, like they didn’t knock him out to bring him here. I look down at my metal restraints that are part of the chair. There is no way I’m getting out of these without a little pain.

The secretary starts walking toward Geilium’s side as I question her, “Was that payback for the morgue?”

She ignores me and continues to Geilium’s right side, then sits down.

I indirectly insult her with words to Geilium. “Does she even have a voice?”

Geilium changes the subject. “So, Vanessa Pheros, from what I gather, you recently escaped prison.”

That sounds like a question and it looks like he’s waiting for me to reply, so I ask, “Is that a question or a statement?”

“Statement. You’re shrouded in mystery. See, your IDN says your name is Dory Wright, although you introduced yourself as Vanessa Pheros, who doesn’t have a history before age eight, no parents, and is supposed to be locked up in a prison cell.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, you’re a trustworthy candidate.” He turns to Paul and says, “And you, Mr. Quentin, you’ve been poor since before you could walk. You come from a struggling family who lost what little they had left in the war when you were a teen. Your younger brother, Behan Quentin, became a famed star in the music industry, but recently disappeared. Am I right in assuming this is somehow Menta-Life’s fault and the reasoning behind your vendetta against them?”

I look over at Paul as he answers, “That’s right.”

There’s a touch of sadness in his voice; almost like he wanted to deny it, but couldn’t. What does his brother being a musician have to do with Menta-Life? From what Hines mentioned to me, Paul’s brother doesn’t sound like he’d fit Menta-Life’s criteria unless he somehow revolutionized music.

Geilium adds, “Your revenge makes you an ideal candidate as well. It is revenge you’re after, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Those corporate criminals are killing us all with their greed and corruption. Taking my little brother and ruining his life was the final straw.”

“Menta-Life has your brother?”

“I don’t have any proof, but I’m sure they do. He started becoming addicted to their Life, then became different. Like something was missing, and he constantly tried to remember what it was. After his last visit, he never talked about Menta-Life again. Not about going to live another Life or even to acknowledge the building was there. After a couple of weeks, that one thing he was trying to remember turned into many things. Then he started getting these headaches–”

Paul starts tearing up like he is about to cry, so Geilium interrupts, “Mr. Quentin, you don’t have to talk about it if it’s too difficult.”

He answers by nodding his head up and down. He wipes the tear from his eye. Why isn’t he tied up!?! Menta-Life doesn’t have his brother. They did to him what they do to everyone else who starts losing their mind. It’s not my place to tell him that his brother is stressing his brain out with his Deserted brethren underground where Menta-Life dumps their subjects. Telling him right now, seeing as we can’t leave, would cause some turmoil. I’ll have to save that for a rainy day when I need a distraction.

Geilium turns to me. “Ms. Pheros, there is an… unclear fact that needs to be cleared up before we continue.”

“Continue with what?”

“With discussing the affairs of Menta-Life and Equility.”

“You say it like it’s not optional.”

“It’s not. Understand, Ms. Pheros, I’m only being cordial with you about this because I cannot allow you or Mr. Quentin to leave this facility knowing who I truly am.”

That only makes sense for saving his skin. With my history, I wouldn’t trust me either. Fact of the matter is, his two security guards and two assistants won’t be able to keep me here. I already bested his secretary and Wrober doesn’t look like he can put up much of a fight.

I reply, “You don’t have the numbers to keep me here, Mr. McKoy.”

He smiles and smugly replies, “From where you’re sitting, I don’t need them.”

Then I realize I’m still restrained, so maybe he’s right. Keeping things cordial would be a good call.

Geilium continues, “Nevertheless, things can remain peaceful between us, for I have an enticing offer for the both of you.”

Seeing as I have no choice but to cooperate, I purposely try to lift my arms and ask, “Since I can’t leave yet, what would you like to know?”

“I would like to know about your ties with the late Hines Aldwich, and what that–”

Late Hines Aldwich? Late normally means dead. Hines Aldwich can’t be dead. Well, it could be possible. I don’t read the obituaries, but the man on the speaker who had been listening in on that first meeting would have at least tried to contact me. Maybe?

I interrupt, “Wait, the late Hines Aldwich?”

Geilium responds, “Mr. Aldwich is dead, yes.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was found dead in his home. Apparent suicide. What was his interest in Equility?”

Maybe that bellman staged it to look like a suicide to keep his identity a secret. It’s too bad I didn’t get a better look at the bellman’s face to better recognize or give a description for Geilium. Was the bellman not working on Equility’s behalf?

I answer, “He claimed to be Equility. He said that Menta-Life was responsible for the Deserted and wanted to stop them.”

Geilium asks, “Is that all?”

“Yeah. Well, they paid me, too, and then someone dressed as a hotel bellman killed the four guys at the hotel room and kidnapped Hines.”

Geilium leans in and inquires, “What four guys?”

“The ones at the morgue where I unpleasantly met your polite secretary.”

“Those men died three days ago.”

“Yeah.”

Everyone gives me that confused look again, like they don’t believe me.

Mitchell asks, “Are you saying you met with Mr. Aldwich three days ago, at the hotel where the four men were–”

I quickly interrupt, “Yes, yes, what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is that Mr. Aldwich has been dead for over two months now.”

That’s impossible, because a dead man can’t talk to and pay me. Faking his own death to disappear, sure, yet why claim to be Equility?

I reply, “Well, I can assure you that Hines is very much alive.”

Mitchell replies, “I’d beg to differ. His funeral was the biggest televised event of that week and we personally attended the wake. The body was there.”

“Check the hotel footage.”

“It’s already been done. The only one’s seen that night were the four men in the hallway and you. No one else came in or out of that room once the men went back inside after you left.”

“I saw them all dead and one body was halfway out of the door in the hallway, as clear as day, and I’m sure the camera caught it.”

“There is one camera above the elevator and the footage didn’t show anything after you left. The men went into the room and you vanished under the camera, into the elevator.”

“There was a bellman that exited the elevator right after I got in.”

“No, there was not.”

Now they are trying to make me seem crazy and it’s not working for me so I roar, “Yes, there was!”

Geilium speaks, “Okay, Ms. Pheros.”

I irritably disagree. “No, not okay. I met with that German, gray-suit wearing, blonde-haired, well-spoken, alive person in that hotel room. Show me the footage; I can prove it to you. The bellman stepped out of the elevator right after me.”

Mitchell replies, “No one else–”

They refuse to believe me and I feel like they’re not entirely sure themselves since they’re trying to drive their point home harder than me.

I try to get up as I shout, “He was there!”

Geilium demands, “Enough!”

Who does he think he is shouting at? I stare at him with a piercing glare. I wish this chair wasn’t bolted to the ground right now so I could show him who he’s talking to.

Geilium addresses all of us. “Belief is irrelevant. The goals of Equility will not change based on one man’s life or death. Now, Ms. Pheros, all I wanted to know is what you know. Convincing you is not my objective.”

I reply, “Whatever.”

Geilium calls out, “Mitchell?”

Mitchell simmers down, “I apologize, sir.”

Geilium sighs and continues, “Since that’s settled, I have a proposal for you both. Equility is taking down Menta-Life and we could use you two for the job.”

I quickly refuse. “I’m not interested.”

Geilium replies, “Then you die here.”

The secretary raises her pulser pistol up from under the table and places it down on top.

I acknowledge her. “Is that supposed to scare me into changing my mind?”

She dully answers, “No, it’s showing you what to expect if you don’t.”

Her voice is stern and full American despite the fact that she appears Swedish.

Geilium asks, “Ms. Pheros, why are you so hostile towards us? We only wish an alliance against a people you already want to bring to justice.”

I answer, “Because I don’t know you people from anything, and I don’t need your help to destroy Menta-Life.”

“And just how would you destroy them? Are you aware of their defenses or interior layouts?”

“No, I usually wing it when I show up.”

“And look at where that got you, coming here. At least Mr. Quentin planned carefully enough to find more than just emails and false information about Hines Aldwich. You have physical skills that we need to make it through their defenses, just as Mr. Quentin has the eye for detail and planning.”

Coming where? What is he referring to? He’s right about me not being able to beat Menta-Life alone, though. Of course I won’t admit that to him. I don’t have a clue about taking down Menta-Life and I refuse to believe that Hines is dead. He told me he was with Equility and was prepared to take me to this group before the bellman showed up. I can’t take on Menta-Life alone, and it won’t hurt having Equility as a distraction. On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed; people still love trying to get me to work for nothing.

Geilium continues, “There is an old saying: The enemy of my enemy–”

I interrupt, “–is still my enemy. What kind of financial gain would I get for this alliance?”

“For the alliance, you’d get nothing; however, upon success of the mission, there would be millions for each of us. The Gharis City branch of Menta-Life is the heart of every other facility. If we can get in undetected, we could siphon out billions before they know the building was attacked.”

Millions works for me. That’ll be enough to set me up for life.

I relax back in the chair and accept. “Then count me in.”

Geilium turns to Paul and asks, “And what about you, Mr. Quentin?”

Paul answers, “Whatever it takes to end Menta-Life, I will do it. Where do we start?”

He is in quite a rush isn’t he? He might be letting the thought of having a team get to him. Perhaps he’s getting what he wanted all along. From his ranting online, it seemed like he just wanted to protest. Now, I think he may have upgraded his thoughts since then.

Geilium answers, “We start by getting you both accommodated here at our base. Like I said, for the safety of our brothers and sisters, now that you know who we are, we can’t allow you to leave.”

I have no one out there to miss me anyway, so I’m okay with that. Hopefully, wherever they put me will be better than my shack.

Paul replies, “I understand, Mr. McKoy.”

Geilium replies, “Please, Geilium will be fine. We are all allies and friends here. The formalities are no longer necessary.” He turns to his secretary and introduces her. “Aleena and–,” he turns to his assistant, “Mitchell. Vanessa and Paul. Are we all okay?”

Paul answers, “Yes.”

I answer, “Sure.”

Geilium reaches under the table and I hear a click. My restraints are released and my first thought is to attack them. I quickly stand up and slam my hands on the table. I startle everyone except for Geilium and Aleena, who quickly picks up her pistol and points it at me.

I hear a couple of fast clicks behind me as well. I turn my head back to the left and see an armored security guard with a pulser rifle pointed at me. Since I heard two clicks, the other must be on my right. I’m not certain if they are the same two guards I’d seen earlier at GCN. I’m outmatched.

I look back at Geilium and request, “Where’s my room?”

He points his hand at the door and the two security guards move away from me, giving me space to exit the room. They keep their rifles pointed at me as I release my hands from the table, then turn around. I walk towards the door and it slides open. On the other side of the door there is another armored guard, waiting with his rifle up at me as I exit the door.

I hear the door slide closed behind me. We are in a well-lit, fancy hallway with a lot of doors; all of the doors are evenly spaced with one in front of the other. It looks kind of like a millionaire’s mansion with the red carpeting and wallpaper. The only thing missing is a picture of Sir Geilium in an armchair with a cape.

The guard in front of me lowers his weapon, then demands, “Follow me.”

I mockingly acknowledge, “Yes sir.”

He turns around, then starts walking down the hall. We pass three doors and reach a set of double doors on the left. The security here seems a little more relaxed through each passing door; with one in front and behind me, I’ll have my opportunity to escape. The door slides open, then the guard passes through the threshold. I pass through and immediately shut down my plan when I see what’s going on here.

Down the wide stairs is a huge room with a square mat at the center that has a massive group of people around it. Equility has a fully staffed resistance ready to attack Menta-Life. A few pairs of people are training on a blue mat. People are cheering them on as a few on the left side eat at the benches. The fighting isn’t organized at all, so they’re just going at it without using fists, only grapples. If I attack one guard, I’d have this nest of fighters on my hands afterwards.

We proceed down the stairs and I ask, as we walk around the square, “What is this place?”

The guard in front of me answers, “This is our home base. All members of Equility are here. This area is the main hall where we train, where we eat, where we meet.”

This is an amazing set up. This is like my imaginary combat club. I only see a few people talking, but everyone else is cheering loudly as they watch the fights on the huge blue mat. We cruise around the square and go upstairs where we enter another set of double doors on the opposite side. It leads to a hallway that resembles a hotel setting; there are fifteen doors on each side. The hallway leads to two split hallways of twenty doors on each side, which in turn leads to more hallways.

We take the left turn. The guard stops six doors on the right and states, “This is your room.”

The guard opens the door. I step in and ask, “What do I do when I’m hungry? Starve?”

I turn around and catch the guard closing the door, leaving me alone in the room. Assuming the rooms are all the same, they are nice for housing a group of trained terrorists. The room is pretty much a miniature studio apartment with no windows. It’s much better than my shack with the queen-sized bed, a foodie box, and a bathroom. Two out of three of those necessities I used to have to leave underground for.

I see a change of clothes on the bed that appear to be the uniform around here: a black long sleeve shirt, black sweatpants, and tight-fitting shoes. I walk to the right side of the room and sit down on the bed. Equility doesn’t seem so bad, still my survival instincts are still on high alert. I don’t trust anyone in business because I know how greed works. I am a prime example of a greedy person and I wouldn’t trust me to save my own life.

Trex has been a “friend” to me for years, but if the price was high enough, he’d sell me right underneath any cruiser passing by. In my kind of work, someone has to keep a reasonable distance from everyone. Letting people get too close is always bad – emotionally and for their health. Dayio and Feegle are the only exceptions. Feegle knows me inside and out because I grew up around him through my late teen years.

Dayio and I are only running partners; nothing more. We never talk about each other’s pasts, before we met, and not much about after either. That’s just been the way it is. I, unintentionally, had my power nap already so I’m not at all tired. I might as well get to know my new temporary home. The bed is against the right wall, with the foot of it facing the front wall for extra space.

On the back wall is a small sitting area with a table and two chairs; to the left of that is a kitchen with a foodie box. Behind a cracked-open door on the left wall is a small bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. I’ll start my time in there. I take off my clothes, then take my Econ out of my ear. I still have my Econ!

I quickly put it back in my ear and tap it. The Econ quickly beeps four times, meaning there’s no signal. Do they have some kind of jamming system in here? Or am I underground? It doesn’t matter now, anyway, so I take my Econ out and toss it on the bed. I enter the bathroom and start the shower.

After I set the water with the TempChoice to eighty degrees, I get in. The TempChoice is a machine that sets water’s temperature to any of the presets by fives: eighty, eighty-five, ninety, and so on. I get all cleaned up then turn the shower off. I yank the towel off the rack outside of the shower and dry off.

I feel like I haven’t had a shower that great in ages. I step out of the shower and leave the bathroom. I take the small stroll over to my comfy sweats and flat shoes. I check myself out in the mirror next to the door. This is definitely training gear. The clothes aren’t at all form-fitting.

I don’t like them baggy because it’s easy to grab me during a fight, nonetheless they feel perfect. I go to my foodie box and pick whatever the first meal is, then sit down. I dig straight in and eat a second meal right after. After over-stuffing myself, I go lie down on the bed and relax. Hines faked his death and revealed himself to me.

What does he expect me to do? Equility had no idea who I was prior to the hotel meeting, meaning Hines and his people had to have broken me out of prison. So who are his people really? Is Geilium really Equility? He has an entire army down here for the destruction of Menta-Life. My questions never run out.

It seems like the more I dig, the more I get nowhere, answering one question and unlocking two more. Dayio isn’t tied up down here with me, so I’m assuming he made it out okay. He got my message and backed off. He better have used that advantage to sneak out back to the tunnel after they took me away. What I also don’t understand is how they didn’t see that dead body on camera or the bellman since he stepped out right after me.

I didn’t turn around right away and the camera is set above the elevator. Maybe that gave him ample time to stage things on the camera when I wasn’t looking. His hands did switch from behind his back to his front pretty quick. I have to see if I can view that footage somehow. If they saw it, they might have a copy.

They’re not a branch of law enforcement, so their viewing had to be illegally done; and Geilium runs an entire city news entertainment system. I’m pretty sure they publish and release information on everyone’s stories, including Menta-Life’s. I have to get to the bottom of this and I won’t do that sitting down here. I have to clear my mind.