Chapter 15 & 16

Chapter 15: Final Member

 

Jerry is a brave kid or a stupid one. She can’t have a clue what she’s getting into by wanting to break into the Menta-Life storage base with just the five of us; even I don’t have any idea what the defenses are like there, but mech security is not out of the question. Dayio and Odom are looking at me like they agree with her.

I reply, “We are not going anywhere.”

She replies, “Well, we’re not letting you go by yourself.”

“That’s not a demand you get to make, Jerry. We’re all going to die in there.”

“Then why are you going?”

I address them all, “Because I’m dead regardless. There is no option survivable for me, but there is one for all of you. Odom you were doing just fine in Teykrys. Dayio, you lost your team, and I’m sorry for that, but you’ll lose yourself too if you try to get revenge like this. It’s not worth your life to just throw it away for my father’s cause, Jacks. Same goes for you with my cause, Jerry. I appreciate what you all are trying to do, but this isn’t going to happen.”

They all stare at me then start laughing, but not over-dramatically. I don’t see the joke, so I stand there waiting for them to let me in on what’s so funny.

They gradually stop. Jerry asks, “Are you finished?”

I ask with an attitude, “Am I finished?”

“Yes, are you finished? You convinced us to be here and you’re not convincing us to leave. Your cause is all we have left to fight for, so we’re doing it with or without you.”

I start to walk past her as I cut her off. “Then I’ll see you guys there.”

She puts her hand out in front of me. I stop and she suggests, “Or, we can do it together. As a team, just like we planned. Five is better than one.”

I look at everyone else and they’re nodding in agreement at what she’s saying. I can’t let them do this, but I see that it is no longer my choice of whether they go or not, so I might as well make the best of it.

I ask, “Do you even have a plan?”

Jerry answers, “Don’t need one. We’ll improvise.”

“We improvised at the prison and lost someone.”

“Okay, then let’s figure out a plan. There’s strength in numbers, but since we don’t have numbers, there’s stealth… in… letters.”

Dayio notifies her, “No, that doesn’t work.”

I smile and comment also, “Good effort.” We close up the circle and I ask, “So are you guys sure about this?” Dayio, Odom, and Jerry nod. “What about you Jacks?”

He looks up at me and hesitantly answers, “Yeah. I’m with you, Van.”

He looks very nervous and shaky, like there’s something he wants to say. I don’t want to confront him in front of everyone, so I’ll talk with him offline with no one around.

Jerry asks, “So what was going to be your plan?”

Dayio answers, “She was going to run straight through the front door and get as far as she could. Isn’t that right, Van?”

Dayio knows me all too well. I would have been in there by myself and blind to what was around every corner; there wasn’t anything for me to plan around.

I answer, “Maybe, but not anymore. If you guys really want to do this, we do need a plan.”

Odom says, “I like yours just fine.”

I reply, “With my plan, you’ll never see your memories again, if you even have any.”

We all share a laugh, including Odom with only a light chuckle. This is my team. We’re not much, but there’s a feeling in me that we can move mountains together. I think back on my Life and how I was alone. I don’t want to be alone anymore and I internally blame Dayio for being there for me whenever I needed him; what a jerk.

I walk by them and they follow behind me as we head to the lobby where everyone should be, unless they’re sleeping in late at the cost of having no goal. With our plan gone and Equility already on the rise, we’ve got no one to help us. One thing I can recall is that Equility’s number one shooter wasn’t at the prison. I remember a woman of Asian descent named Ukiro who wasn’t particularly fond of me. Since she wasn’t in the prison, maybe Equility isn’t done recruiting yet. With our bad luck being as low as it is, where else can it go but up.

Entering the lobby, I say to Jacks, “There’s a woman named Ukiro. U-K-I-R-O. I need you to find her for me.”

Jacks replies, “I’m on it.”

The lobby is still occupied, but not so much as usual. I see my father sitting alone at a table typing on a keyboard. He stares at a screen. My team and I approach from the other side of the table then watch him.

He looks up at us then sighs and asks, “You’re going to go through with this anyway, aren’t you?”

I answer, “I don’t have a choice.”

Jerry adds, “And neither do we.”

My father closes the screen and responds, “Well then let’s get to it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” He stands up and calls Paul over then explains, “The storage facility is dead center between Gharis and Ferona City in an underground bunker. Topside there should only be a couple of guards, tech men hanging around to make sure their sensors are in order. Inside will be guarded better than every Menta-Life branch combined. The patrols change rotations bi-hourly, so their route is completely randomized. On those odds, getting into their camera feeds won’t be next to impossible only because no one else would be crazy enough to attempt a break-in, but you’ll have a guide.”

Jacks steps up with a laptop and says, “Her IDN says she’s in New Rellow.”

I reply, “I broke into Berkham, and Odom busted through their protective dome, possibly contaminating the pure city. Considering they traced Jacks and Dayio back to see that we arrived at the gate together, we’re all screwed out of New Rellow.”

Jerry says, “That part’s easy. Berkham has MechCi rebuilding the wall. I can take control of them and you could just walk through and join the city.”

My father asks, “Who’s in New Rellow?”

I answer, “A woman I met in my Life. She was one of Geilium’s best, but I didn’t see her at the prison. If Geilium hasn’t gotten to her yet, maybe she can help us.”

“You have seen her in action?”

“She tried to kill me a couple of times.”

My father hesitantly responds, “…Oh.”

I look around at the strange faces I’m getting and ask, “What?”

Dayio answers, “You sure know how to pick ’em.”

“It’ll be fine. She doesn’t know me yet, so I’m sure she won’t try to kill me right away. She’s good and we need her before Geilium gets to her. End of story. We need to get there.”

Odom says, “Count me out. I’m too obvious of a target.”

I reply, “It’ll just be Jerry and me this time.”

She excitedly asks, “Really?”

“Yeah. We could use a little girl’s day on the town.”

“Cool. I could hack us some aers and we could do some shopping on the way to her place. I’ve only ever been to New Rellow through the mechs.”

“Then come on, let’s get going.” I address everyone else, “Everybody get some rest, and Jacks, update me over Econ. I’ll call in when we get inside New Rellow.”

Jerry and I head straight for the door to the garage, then jump into one of the custom cruisers as she states, “In case they’re putting finishing touches on the dome, we might not be able to get inside with a cruiser.”

I scratch my head, “Oh, yeah.”

I look around the parking garage and notice a familiar object sticking up from under a sheet behind a car. I get out and walk toward the back-right wall. When I get around, I see an old motorcycle shaped under the cover. Today is my lucky day. I yank the sheet off the motorcycle and it has been very well-protected. The yellow motorcycle appears in mint condition, like it hasn’t even been touched. I climb onto it and see the key isn’t in the ignition.

Go figure it can’t be that easy. I look around the motorcycle for some kind of circuit box so I can hot-wire it, but it’s not the same as the lectrocycle. I catch glimpse of something shiny on the cover. I look closer to see that the key is attached to a key holder inside. That’s what I like to see. I quickly grab the key then start the motorcycle up and rev the engine. It works and sounds just fine.

I pull up to Jerry at the passenger door and say, “I found us a ride.”

She comes outside and replies, “I’ve always wanted to ride one of these.”

“Well, get on girl and let’s ride.”

She climbs on the back of the motorcycle. I rev it twice and zoom up towards the door. As it opens halfway, high enough for us to fit, I tilt back on the throttle and go flying out of the garage. We hit the sands at an alarming speed and kick up dirt as we ride as fast as we can go. I hear Jerry shout excitedly behind me as I squint my eyes to protect them from catching dust in the wind. We head southwest speeding toward New Rellow.

Motor vehicles only exist in Teykrys, so I’m the only one clouding the skies in this region. Since the disappearance of motor vehicles and the need for man to reach the moon, gasoline is no longer needed to fuel the world. Planes are obsolete, too, since the relays were created to jump from city to city, but attack helicopters are around somewhere. We arrive at New Rellow’s northeast side to see a metal filter in the hole where the mechs are repairing from both sides. The filters are used for masking contaminants that could end up in the city; like fresh air.

Jerry says, “Just pull up to the hole and they’ll let us through.”

I calmly drive up to the hole so she won’t fall off doing whatever it is she’s doing back there. The five MechCi stop working then clear the way for us and the ones on the other side slide the filter out of the way. I feel the wind come rushing out as I drive us through the gap and enter the city. The four MechCi put the wall back as the others stand out of the way and let us pass. That thing on her wrist sure does come in handy.

The MechCi let us idly pass by with our red carpet treatment as we cruise through the big plot of land. We’ve reached the sidewalk entering a busy day. People are rushing off in all different directions in their formal attire. They must be heading in to work. It didn’t take us long to get here, so shops must be just opening up. This is a very popular city, but it is still normal, unlike Gharis, the twenty-four hour hotspot.

I tap my Econ, “Call Jacks.”

My Econ connects us and he asks, “Made it?”

“Yeah. Has there been any update on purchases from Ukiro’s IDN?”

“Nothing. The most recent purchase was at a flower shop near the southwestern quadrant of the city.”

Ukiro doesn’t seem like the flower type. Having met her in a projected future means that two years in the past or present, things could be different.

I ask, “Can you hack into the Reg database and get an address on her?”

Jacks quickly answers, “Already done. One-One-Four Winks Street.”

“Perfect, thanks.” I double tap my Econ then say, “GPS to One-One-Four Winks Street.”

The male voice states, “Coordinates obtained. Make a U-turn and continue straight for eight miles.”

I tap my Econ then Jerry talks loudly over the motorcycle’s roaring purr, “Is that her address?”

I loudly answer as I drive, “Yeah. Jacks dug it up from the Reg database.”

“Cool. Do you think getting Ukiro on our side will be easy?”

“She’s not on anybody’s side, so we got a good chance as long as we get to her first.”

She changes the subject, “Are you feeling better?”

“From the fall? Yeah, I’m great.”

“I know I already apologized, but–”

I quickly interrupt, “Are you hungry?”

She asks in confusion, “Huh?”

I repeat, “Are you hungry?”

She plainly states, “You’re circling my question.”

“And you’re bringing it back up.”

“I just wanted to–”

“I know what you want to do. Jerry, this is a battlefield. People will get hurt and die, but you can’t hang onto things like that. If you dwell in the past for too long you’ll get stuck there. Accidents happen. You just have to keep moving forward.”

“What if I can’t?”

“Then you’re in the wrong line of work. Everyone was really impressed by how you controlled the mechs, right? But did anyone say you failed by not reaching me in time, or that Odom failed by firing the Greft?”

She hesitantly answers, “No.”

“Good. Then no one will need to get hurt when we get back.”

She lets out a small, yet sad laugh. I was hoping she would answer “no” to my last question or someone would have gotten much more than a piece of my mind. I am starving, so I stop for that quick bite, then, after eating, we cruise onward and reach the address; it’s to an apartment building that’s pretty extraordinary looking from the outside. The apartment is housed between a few others, all with walk-up entries where people are socializing and a few children are playing.

I park then we get off of the motorcycle and stroll between the fake grass on the concrete path towards the double door entry. The door automatically opens and we head inside not knowing which unit is hers. The entry is set up really fancy like a hotel lobby, but not as big. Walking through the lobby I notice a line-up of mailboxes on the right all labeled with first initial and last name. An older woman enters the apartment and walks towards us. She smiles and reaches for her mailbox.

These days, citizens only receive packages, and paper is meant to be obsolete altogether. Information is always sent via Econ, digitally via email, or through digital sheets. The woman places her palm on the small door, the door vanishes, and her hand eases through. She grabs her mail then, when she pulls her small package out, the mailbox reappears. Jerry and I smile at the woman as she turns to us. She smiles at us again before she walks away.

We approach the mailboxes and I begin quickly scanning through the resident’s names. Jerry keeps an eye on both ends of the hallway, the front door, and the stairs directly across with the elevator to the left of it. I spot the first initial “U” with the last name “Kisomi” neighboring it and the numbers “3-14” underneath. I never knew her last name, but this first initial fits who I’m looking for.

I mention to Jerry, “This is it. Third floor. Unit fourteen.”

She nods her head, then we go over toward the stairs and face left at the odd elevator location. Jerry pushes the only button pointing up then we wait for the elevator. One thing I can’t picture from Ukiro is her living a normal life. When we fought in my Life, it was for a petty reason on my behalf. She had a look in her eye like she wanted to fight me when she blocked my path as I tried to pass by. The fight started when I threw a pair of gloves at the back of her head in front of an arena full of people.

The elevator arrives then we board facing the closing door. We ride up to the third floor. The doors open on our left to a hallway with a couple of people leaving as we exit and walk the hall. I scan the numbers to each room until we arrive at room fourteen on our left side. I look back at Jerry and see her waiting with a smile. I take her idea to not look so unfriendly myself. I put on a mild smirk then knock on the door.

Ukiro opens it then greets plainly with a smile, “Hello.”

Ukiro is slightly slimmer than me and has short, dark hair different from my brunette. Her hair isn’t down like mine, so it’s not easy to tell whose is longer. She has a strangely happy look on her face, like a leer straight through me to who I really am. She is wearing blue denim jeans and a black tank top. I also notice that she is barefoot.

I introduce us. “My name is Vanessa Pheros and this is Jerry. We’re looking for Ukiro Kisomi.”

Ukiro states with her smile, “I know who you are. Take your shoes off and come inside.”

I look over at Jerry who is looking at me with a bewildered look on her face. If Ukiro knows who I am, the last thing she or anyone should do is invite me inside of their home. We enter the apartment, then close the door and take our shoes off. We place them next to Ukiro’s then follow her path through the small hallway and into the living room. The apartment is brightly colored compared to the plain walls.

She is on our right walking toward what looks like the kitchen. She instructs, “Have a seat.”

We sit down on the three-seater couch facing the kitchen and I take a quick look around the living room. It is very spacious for an apartment. The tan couch we’re sitting on has a sister on the opposite side and a small table in the middle. I would call it a coffee table, but coffee is illegal. At the wall on our left is what looks like a shrine over the fake fireplace, and it has flowers around the picture of a familiar looking man.

Ukiro loudly offers, “Would either of you like some tea?”

I loudly answer, “No, thank you. We’re fine. How do you know me exactly?”

“You’re all over the networks. And you’re part of the reason this city was on lockdown.”

“And you let me into your home?”

She walks back out with a cup of tea as she answers, “I’m curious why you’re here and why you’ve come to find me. Getting back into the city must not have been easy for you.”

She sits down as I reply, “It actually was.”

She seems so humble, but she can’t be just an average person with that demeanor. She has a certain calmness with a criminal being in her home. The last name rings a bell to me now. The man in the picture on the shrine must be the same Kisomi from the Realm Fighter’s League. I was a big fan of his and used to reenact his techniques from vids I’d seen growing up. Ukiro’s training had to have come from him and that’s where she gets her confidence.

I walk over to get a better look at the picture and ask with excitement, “Is this the Kisomi-san?”

She answers, “Yes. We’re you a fan?”

“Was I? I was an orphan, so I never got to see him live, but I watched him every chance I had. He’s legendary. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It’s alright. It’s been a few years now and even longer with his bad heart condition.”

“As much as he trained, that was one thing I didn’t see coming.”

“It runs with all the males in my family, starting with my great grandfather. My little brother is unfortunate to have been diagnosed with it as well.” I sit back down and Ukiro enquires, “Why are you here?”

I respond vaguely, “There is a man who is after you and I’m here to make sure he doesn’t get you.”

“My father trained me well, Ms. Pheros. One man can hardly be a threat to me.”

“I wish it were just one man, or I wouldn’t have had to disturb you at home. Are you familiar with Geilium McKoy?”

“The news producer that was arrested?”

“He’s running a terrorist organization to try and take over the Menta-Life Corporation in Gharis City.” Geilium needs to be the bad guy for this to work so I ad-lib a little bit. “He is going to make you fight for him and betray you like he did me.”

She asks, “How do you know this?”

“I saw it in my Life. I know it sounds crazy, but his people broke him out of prison and I’m positive that you’re a target. Menta-Life monitored my Life and indicted him without knowing the full truth, but I found out the truth for myself. I know for certain that he will come for you.”

“What do you get out of all this?”

“He wants to take over Menta-Life. I want to destroy it. They’ve been monitoring everyone’s Life and stealing whatever they find of value to them. They’ve caused the outbreak of Deserted and they need to be stopped.”

Her face lights up with concern as she stands. She hurriedly asks, “How is that possible? How do they know what to steal?”

I answer, “I’m not sure exactly, but there are a lot of Deserted living underground in Gharis. My guess is it had to be important discoveries.”

“My brother is at a Menta-Life facility in Panoira. He’s been spending every Life working on a cure for the disease that killed my father. He’s sure that he will succeed this time. Are you sure about this?”

“I’m not sure that your brother could be a target to them, but it depends on how major the discovery is. How long has he been there?”

“He just went in today; maybe started an hour ago. The disease isn’t rare, but it’s not too comm-”

We hear a knock on the door, then we all stand and look toward the small hallway. I hope she’s expecting company, or things may get hairy with just the three of us.

I whisper, “Who is that?”

She shrugs her shoulders then we hear two loud bangs and footsteps rapidly pour into the apartment. We’re three levels high, so it seems like there’s no way out for us, but maybe Ukiro knows something.

I quickly ask, “Is there any other exit?”

Ukiro answers, “The balcony.”

I can’t let them take Ukiro or Jerry away, plus I can probably slip through them. Geilium couldn’t have sent many people to retrieve one person. If Geilium really wants to recruit Ukiro, he’s going about it the wrong way; this doesn’t seem right at all.

I demand, “Take her. I’ll catch up.”

I turn around, then run into the small hallway and see eight armed guys approaching me in two-by-two formation. They are wearing black masks making everything unrecognizable except their eyes. Something is definitely wrong, but it’s Ukiro that they’re after. They probably weren’t expecting her to go down without a fight. One guy stops in front of me with his pulser rifle in hand. The others scatter around looking for things. He stares at me as I look around at everyone else. I decide to play the victim.

I ask, “Is this Regulator business?”

He ignores me which means “no”, so I wait for some kind of questioning of who I am. They have the right apartment number, just the wrong person and they know it since they’re still searching around. This can’t be Geilium; maybe Menta-Life is still tying up loose ends from my Life.

One of the men shouts, “Clear!”

The one in front of me asks, “Who are you?” I ignore him the same way he ignored me. He shifts his rifle up and forcefully demands, “Comply immediately.”

I truthfully answer, “Vanessa Pheros.”

“Do you live here alone?”

“Yes.”

He puts a finger up to his right ear and says, “Sir, package is not secure, I repeat, package is not secure. We have the address of a Vanessa Pheros. Please advise.” His head quickly shifts straight at me with a surprised look on his face as he starts to loudly yell, “Target is-”

The cat is definitely out of the bag, now. I shift right of him and quickly throw my left arm over his right. I hook it underneath to get control of his weapon arm. I spin around to my right forcing him to extend his arm and pull the trigger on his rifle shooting at everyone around the room. The shock rounds hit a few of the men before they could return fire at me.

The smart ones that ducked for cover stand up and fire back at me. I complete my half circle, shooting the guy I’m taking cover behind. I let the guy’s body drop as I make a run towards the front door. When I exit, I get tackled by a couple of guys and pinned to the floor. More of the attackers circle around me. I get a great view of their boots.

One of the two holding me down updates, “This is team two. We’ve got her.”

I struggle to look up, then see these men have no masks on and are wearing more casual clothing. Are they working together? If so, why aren’t they wearing the same things? Lifting me up onto my feet, they begin hurriedly escorting me toward the elevator. The only conclusion I can come up with leads to Geilium’s doing.

Menta-Life wouldn’t bother trying to stage their own rescue to win someone over. Geilium’s a smart man, but his men are not. We reach the elevator and take it down to the first level. One of the guys tightens his grip on my arm and yanks me out of the elevator heading for the front entry. The other guy struggles to keep up.

I rudely say, “If you keep tugging me like that, you’re gonna owe me dinner.”

The guy ignores me. They escort me out of the building and everyone observes as I’m being taken to the fleet of cruisers that are illegally parked in the road. They are driving black four-door cruisers. Will they take me to Geilium for questioning and torture? I’m not looking forward to that, although I’m certain he wouldn’t mind.

I notice that the motorcycle is gone, so, on a good note, the girls got away. We reach the cruisers, then the guy that I said owes me dinner slams me, chest first, down onto the cruiser. The hard slam forces me to let out a gasp of air. I hear the motorcycle’s horn beep. I look ahead to see Ukiro driving and Jerry waving at us. The men get distracted and begin firing shock rounds at them.

I’d love to figure out what Geilium is up to, but I take escape opportunities every time they knock. I begin struggling against the guy that’s holding my hands, but he has a great grip. I throw my head back and hit him in the face, making him release his grip. Once he does, I quickly reach over my right shoulder with both hands and grab his tactical vest. I drop under him as I yank him down at the cruiser. His head smacks the hood, knocking him into a daze. He collapses.

A man beyond the cruiser shouts, “She’s running!”

I quickly turn and run around toward the right side of the apartment building. I enter the big alley between two of them.

Another guy shouts, “Get in the cruisers. We’ll catch her on foot!”

I hear a lot of feet trailing rapidly behind me as I sprint as fast as I can towards a sharp left turn. I’m not sure what kind of capabilities these guys have, but it’s clear they want me bad. I take a quick peek back and see a guy closing in on me. We’re coming up on a door with a bar handle on the left. I reach for the handle with my right hand and quickly yank it open in a left spin.

The guy smacks the door and falls over making two others accidentally trip over him. Unfortunately, the last two catch on and jump over the three already on the ground. I make the sharp left turn and the immediate right after that continuing forward to the alley’s exit. It leads out to a side street and another alley directly across the not-busy street.

A guy behind me shouts, “She’s exiting the alley!”

A cruiser pulls up to the alley’s exit. I quickly slide over the hood as more guys get out chasing me. As I slide off into the street, I see a cruiser swinging diagonally aiming to run me over. It’s too close to avoid. The cruiser knocks the passenger side door off of the other cruiser and sends a guy flying over me as I fall onto the cruiser’s hood. My back hits the windshield, then the cruiser crashes hard in a head-to-head collision into another cruiser that was on the approach.

The hard crash forces me off of the hood and into the front bumper of the other cruiser as it’s being pushed back. I hear another cruiser’s gravitation quickly shift, then another crash. I roll away from the fender as the cruiser gets pushed towards me. I catch a glimpse of a cruiser above in mid-air. I don’t want to get crushed by the barreling cruiser, so I stop rolling and end up under the bumper. I brace myself for being crushed and close my eyes, but instead hear a few loud crashes.

I open my eyes to the sound of someone coughing and a man causing a racket from the alley, “Get over there! Let’s go!”

The cruiser that flipped over smashed into the alley exit. I look back to see the other bumper right at my back.

I quickly scoot away from it and hear a cruiser honk. Jerry’s voice yells out, “Van! Van, come on!”

I look through the only gap available to me and see the passenger door of a cruiser open with Jerry in the back seat. I get up, run to the cruiser, and fill the passenger seat before I lose it. Ukiro presses down on the pedal, speeding off. I look back and see the running guys slowing down as they realize they can’t catch us. Better luck next time boys and hopefully better luck for me, too.

 

Chapter 16: The Last Piece of Peace

 

We escape capture by Geilium’s men and head toward the city’s northern exit. Ukiro is still clear of anything and so is Jerry, making me the odd woman out when it comes to being left behind. We came on the motorcycle because a cruiser can’t fit through the hole. Since three of us can’t fit on the motorcycle to get out, I have to walk out of the hole and hope they pick me up. This is Ukiro’s cruiser, so there shouldn’t be an issue with them getting out of the city.

We reach the hole, then I get out and say to Jerry, “Do your thing with the mechs. When you get on the other side, drive north of the hole until you see me.”

Jerry asks, “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with? I could clear your IDN.”

I do, but she’d want to talk. Making conversation in the desert when we have no idea how long we’ll be out is always a bad call. My IDN isn’t really an issue anymore because my face might be a memorable commodity now to gate patrols. Another thing is I’m not sure to what extent Ukiro needs us yet. She may go off on her own and do something crazy, but with Jerry there, she could possibly remember the obligation I just fought so hard for.

I answer, “I’m sure. Just hurry.”

Ukiro nods and agrees, “Okay.”

Jerry starts working the device on her wrist as I turn around and quickly walk to the hole. The mechs step aside, then open the steel covering for me to exit. When I leave, they close it up. I start walking north or east of the hole, whichever matters in this afternoon sun. Anyone working for Menta-Life would have known who I was and would have “accidentally” killed me just for that very reason. I think I’ve surpassed my father at being their biggest threat, but they can’t stop what they can’t find.

Equility took a heavy loss today and there’s no doubt that Geilium is pissed about losing his second prize under Aleena. It appears he was going to try and con her into working for him by preying on her ignorance. Those guys in masks had to be Equility since they were side-by-side with “Team Two” after catching me. Team Two must have been sent to wait in the hallway so that once Team One came out, Two could pretend to take them down and save the day. Their plan was almost flawless, except for the obvious team name call and the direction where Team Two got me.

Their plan was going accordingly, but the elevator and stairway entrance were on opposite sides. It was like they knew to catch them by surprise from behind when they left with Ukiro. She probably would have seen through it as well, even though the projection from my Life clearly showed otherwise. I got to her before he did, so now I’m fully staffed with a motive to break into the Panoira Menta-Life branch. I can’t see the mechs behind me anymore, so I decide to stop walking to take a break before I get dehydrated and pass out.

The walk isn’t too bad, but I won’t waste my energy if I don’t have to; plus I see the dust cloud coming towards me from the cruiser’s approach. It’s Ukiro’s cruiser. She stops a little ways away from me and I approach as the dust settles. I get in the passenger seat.

Ukiro asks, “Where are we going?”

I answer, “Head towards Gharis City. We have a base nearby.”

She starts driving then states, “So I had a talk with Jerry about Menta-Life. I won’t help you until we get my brother back safe. He comes before all of you, and until we rescue him–”

I interrupt, “Relax. He’s our first priority, too. We look after our own. Menta-Life isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’ll have your brother back to you tomorrow, I promise.”

She expresses gratitude with relief, “Thank you. My brother is all the family I have left.”

I comfort her by placing my hand on her shoulder, “He’ll be okay.”

Ukiro nods. I look back at Jerry as she raises a casual smile at me like I’ve done something right and gives me a thumbs up. I could be sarcastically happy about having chosen someone else’s life over mine in the heat of the moment. I smile back at Jerry then remove my hand from Ukiro’s shoulder and sit back in my seat. Truthfully, that wasn’t hard to say, but another truth is I meant it.

That corporation is the root of a lot of people’s pain and they know it. Even if I don’t survive this, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure my father does over anyone else. He spent so much of his life and Lifes looking for me. His last years of peace would mean nothing without me, but he’s the adult here. I’ve never had the bad will of losing someone so near and dear, except for him. For years I didn’t handle that well.

My father lost my mother and me once already, plus whatever other family we had left. As a child it was just the two of us, mostly. I rarely saw any other family and, if I did, I was too young to remember; I wouldn’t expect a newborn or toddler to remember my face twenty years down the line. He’d never stopped looking for me and, hopefully, I don’t have to give him a reason to stop. What am I saying? I think my nostalgia is kicking in or something. Either way, I can’t fight away the thought of how dangerous this attack will be.

We’ll have to cause a lot of trouble in Panoira to get Ukiro’s brother out, which comes off as risky. With all that’s been going on, I wouldn’t be surprised if BAMechs and Alphas are on patrols now; cities only pull that card when things get really bad to where the already useless Regs can’t handle things and that’s never happened before. The last major attack was at Ukiro’s apartment, so she will be wanted for questioning. Since Ukiro is gone, they have no choice but to wait on her brother to wake up from his Life before any questioning can happen.

Fortunately for us, waking him up early could cause some serious trauma effects to his brain. If he is close to making his cure and Menta-Life is watching him, they wouldn’t risk losing the creation. That gives us a small window to get this done, but it’s going to be even smaller if his heart fails him before we get there and he wakes up. I guide Ukiro through the desert and to the secret base entrance. We proceed inside to meet the others.

We park and exit the cruiser, then Ukiro comments, “This place looks old. Where are we?”

I answer, “A temporary base of operations. Simon found this place and set up here to find me.”

She appears confused, “Find you?”

“Menta-Life kidnapped me a few months ago and Simon’s people got me out.”

“And you work for this Simon?”

Jacks enters the garage as I answer, “So to speak.” I greet Jacks, “Hey, Jacks. This is Ukiro Kisomi.” I turn to Ukiro, “This is Jacks Timbelin.”

Jacks smiles big and joyously greets, “Hi, Ukiro Kisomi. That’s a very beautiful name and it fits you well.”

Ukiro acknowledges his compliment, “Thank you, Jacks. You’re very kind.”

I sarcastically add through my teeth, “Yeah, Jacks. A little too kind.”

He asks with surprise, “What?”

“We still have important work to do, ya know: Menta-Life, invasion, saving the Deserted.”

He quickly responds, “Oh, I was. That’s why I came. I have info inside.” He swings his hand from Ukiro toward the door to the main hall, “After you, Ukiro.”

Ukiro smiles and walks towards the door as she acknowledges his gesture. “Thank you again, Jacks.”

Jerry and I follow behind her, but when she passes by Jacks, he cuts us off and follows behind her. Jerry and I stop then stare at the jerk. This Ukiro has really got a hold on him. I wonder if he knows that she’s a fighter like me and could break him in two if he tries anything.

He turns around then asks, “What are you guys waiting for? Chop, chop.”

I look down at Jerry then roll my eyes as we follow them into the main hall. Everyone is back to working hard, as usual. I don’t see Odom around, but everyone else is present in the hall, including my father and his people.

When we catch up to Ukiro I say, “Welcome to the insurgency.”

Ukiro comments as she looks around, “You guys work really hard here.”

My father replies as he approaches us, “It’s all mostly research and development for experimental technology.”

We turn to Simon and his men and I introduce them. “Ukiro Kisomi, this is Simon Harold, Hines Aldwich, and Paul Quentin.” They all shake hands with her as I continue. “I’ll introduce you to the rest of the group later.”

My father asks me, “Has she already been briefed on what’s going on?”

I answer, “Very minor chat, but not in full detail. There’s another problem, Simon. Her brother has a condition that he’s been trying to cure at Menta-Life in Panoira. He’s close to discovering a cure that Menta-Life would undoubtedly exploit. With Gene being aware of my involvement with Ukiro in my Life–”

He interjects, “–they may target him. How soon do we need to get to him?”

“He’s number one on our list as soon as morning. Fill her in for me while we get everyone together. Let’s go, Jerry.”
Jerry follows me as I walk towards the groups and say, “Let our team know what’s goin’ on. I’ll go get Odom.”

Jerry accepts, “Okay.”

I continue through the main hall and to Odom’s dorm and knock on the door. There’s no answer. What is he doing in there? If he’s not here, where could he be? I knock on the door again and immediately hear steps coming towards the door.

The door swings open and Odom plainly asks, “What?”

I answer, “Ukiro’s here. We have to discuss our next move. Is everything okay?”

“Nothing is.” He steps out of the room and closes the door behind him. “Let’s go.”

He walks ahead of me towards the main hall and I follow behind him. It seems like something is wrong with him, but when is something not? His hot-head anger issues aren’t something I’d like to enjoy wasting my time finding out about. On the other hand, he is a strong muscle on my squad and I am the leader.

I ask, “What’s going on?”

He plainly answers, “Nothing that concerns you.”

And just like that, I don’t give a damn anymore. He may be on my team, but his attitude is one thing that I don’t have to deal with.

I casually reply, “Well cool. Glad we’re on the same page.”

When we reach the main hall door, he stops and says, “Look, I signed on to be an extra hand in your prison break and that’s it.”

“No one is stopping you from leaving, Odom.”

“I know that, but I’m not sure if I want to know where I’ve been. With this genetic crap, I’m not even sure if I can fit into the normal world. Having my memory back won’t solve anything for me. I’ll still be an abomination, just with a memory of who I was.”

“What do you mean?”

“I had a talk with your father. He told me in high-class words that my alteration is permanent. Even if I figure out who I am…” He looks down into his hands and finishes, “…I won’t be who I was, regardless of what I remember. I’m not looking forward to getting my memory back.”

That’s a harsh conclusion to deal with. The mutation couldn’t have altered him so much to where he’d be unrecognizable to people who formerly knew him. His anger was developed and not manifested, but I feel like he’s still anxious; like he knows he’s done bad things to deserve the fate he has now. Things that he wouldn’t want to remember.

I ask, “What if you’re wrong?” He looks back up at me and I continue. “Getting your memory back will just define you more as a person rather than an angry mutant. People, important to you, could be out there waiting. Whether you go back to the good or bad is up to you. Your memory is going to come back one way or another seeing as we can’t save the people without it. You can’t choose to forget, but we’ll all be fighting together to help you move on.”

He asks, “And when this is over?”

“When it’s over, we all move on.”

That’s the best I got. All of this talk of helping is still unfamiliar territory to me. My father is all I fight for and, once this is over, hopefully we’ll start an outskirt settlement to live life normally.

He replies, “Hopefully it’s that easy.”

I open the main hall door and reply, “We have a short road ahead. After the memory facility, everything else will settle itself.”

We both enter the hall and see mostly everyone gathered around in tight proximity organized into separate groups. We pass them all, joining my father’s huddle with his immediate team and mine.

I ask, “So how’s it lookin’?”

My father answers, “Not too bad. Jacks has come up with a brilliant plan. Right, Jacks?”

Jacks looks up at my father nervously and quickly answers, “Right, yeah. I got it all set.” He begins to explain to everyone, “So we all know that the memory facility will be guarded heavily, but I’ve found us a hat trick. Per the lovely Ukiro’s request, we’ll need to rescue her brother from Menta-Life captivity to ensure his safety and that works in our favor. I know that we’re all wanted criminals, but a small team has to get inside of Panoira’s base. The Panoira Corporation is one of the smaller facilities, which means minimal defenses to resist against attack.”

I ask, “What are their defenses?”

“There’s human security staff and a small regulator squad, just in case. The forces added will come straight from the memory facility and, with our next attack, they will undoubtedly send them. That will greatly lighten their defenses.”

Dayio asks, “How will that help the team in Panoira?”

Jacks answers, “Because they’ll be too late.”

I interrupt, “Look, I’m sure you’re very intricate plan will work out, just get to the point.”

Jacks quickly explains, “Okay, we’ll have Team A infiltrate the Panoira branch and I’ll freeze surveillance frames at key moments to not raise suspicion by the people that monitor each facility in the memory base. With the frames frozen, they will think everything is alright when the facility is really being infiltrated. Paul and I will be here controlling their surveillance.”

I ask, “They won’t realize you’re in their systems?”

“Not right away. Once the rescue is complete, I will have enough footage recorded to run everything separately to make it look like the Panoira branch is currently infiltrated, but by the time backup arrives, you’ll all be long gone and in the memory facility.”

That’s not a half-bad plan overall: minimizing forces on one end, while we’re already attacking. Both will have to be stealth infiltrations since we don’t have the numbers for a battle entry. If we can coordinate flawlessly, we could certainly pull it off.

I continue, “I assume Team B will be attacking once reinforcements leave, right?”

“We’ll be on standby. Everyone will have a part to play in this mission since we’re so short staffed here. Team A will meet with Team B with the attack already underway, then we’ll destroy the facility; everyone, except Menta-Life, goes home happy.”

I look around at everyone’s faces for approval and they’re all looking at each other’s, also. No one seems to have that “This crap won’t work” expression on their face, so it seems they agree with the plan. I won’t approve Jerry or my father being out there, though. I may be a jerk, but I still have principles.

Jacks continues, “Since Ukiro needs to make sure her brother is found, she’ll be part of Team A along with Dayio and Vanessa. They are the only two that have a chance of getting back into the city without a swarm of Regs behind them. No offense, Van. Team B will consist of me, Jerry, and Odom.”

I quickly object, “No. Jerry can’t go.”

Jerry speaks, “Van–”

I conclude, “I don’t think she’s ready for the field. I haven’t had any time to train her.”

My father chimes in, “Believe me, we went through this back and forth. There is a mech presence inside of the base and a jamming signal outside to protect any breaches within their systems. You need her.”

I ask, “I know we need her, but what if something goes wrong?”

“You’ll have her backing you up by controlling mechs and to guide you as well. Odom can keep her safe until you arrive.”

This isn’t right. Bad things can happen around those sick scientists, but if there’s a mech presence, we’d need her to control them to make sneaking in easier. An outside jamming signal can block her signal from getting in. Paul, on the other hand, can tap into their system from any other Menta-Life system through hard-lines. I’m in a real bind, but trying to talk her out of it here would only cause a scene of embarrassment.

Jerry adds, “I’ll be careful, Van.”

I temporarily agree, “Right.”

Jacks continues, “Paul will be here. We’ve already been working on the layouts for both facilities with Paul running the show on guiding us through the memory base. No one else is qualified to work their systems, so I’ll have to do it manually on our arrival. We’ll set all of the recorded footage to play and head inside of the facility once security has thinned out. Team A will meet us there. Any questions?”

Odom asks, as he looks away, “How exactly am I supposed to sneak in undetected?”

“Underground requires more room for ventilation so it’ll be a hot squeeze, but we took measurements and you’ll fit, so long as you don’t… change.”

I settle the talking, “Then, we’re a go. There doesn’t seem to be any room for error, so we’re all taking off first thing in the morning.”

My father says, “We’ll all begin packing and be ready for take-off to our original base once you all clear the facility grounds.” Everyone starts dispersing as he adds, “Vanessa, can we speak in my office when you get a chance?”

I nod then he turns and walks toward the door that leads to his office. His secret meeting can’t be good news. Before I go, I need to talk to Jerry about this mission. If she’s up to it, I won’t talk her out of it since I’m not her parent, but I can at least let her know how I feel. I notice she’s waiting on me and, also, waiting for our space to clear.

When everyone clears away she calmly asks, “Why do you still want me out?”

I clarify, “I don’t want you out. I just haven’t had time to train you on tactics. If something goes wrong–”

She explains, “If something goes wrong, I can back you up. When I control the mechs during fighting, that’s not just the mechs command. I control that.”

“Yeah, but physically you’re only pressing buttons. If they have BAMech forces and your device ends up jammed, you won’t stand a chance against them.”

“You may be as hardcore as they come, Van, but you won’t stand a chance against them either. Besides, Odom will be there to back me up.”

I clarify in a confused tone, “Back you up?”

“Yeah. Without me, getting in would be next to impossible. I’d probably have a better chance at it alone, but you guys need me.”

As much as I’d rather not argue points with her, she’s got one, so I demand bluntly, “Just don’t do anything stupid.”

She smiles and replies, “I’ll make you proud, sir.”

She walks away and joins Dayio and Jacks in conversation. I leave to go to my father’s office. I can’t believe this kid. I don’t want to wait for something to happen to her before she realizes it was a mistake. I’m really thinking like this. Now, I think I am her mother? I reach Simon’s office to engage in his mysterious chat. When I arrive he is slowly sifting through some files at the table. He hasn’t noticed that I’ve entered the room yet.

I ask, “Is everything alright?”

He doesn’t flinch as he slowly looks up at me and answers sincerely, “I’m okay.”

I cross my arms and pry, “Just okay?”

“Yeah. I mean with all that’s going on, things are okay overall.”

He seems very down about something, so I blindly pry again. “Is it about the mission?”

“No. The mission is fine. Almost perfect enough to go off without a hitch.”

“But?”

He hesitantly explains, “But… things could have been different. I have a life full of regrets: losing your mother, losing you. Now, I’m at war with the corporation that I helped build. I just wanted so desperately to find you, Emily. I had no other option. They finally reunited us, and now you’re the only one that can release everyone’s memories.”

I approach him and promise, “Then we’ll get it done. Once everyone has their memories back, Menta-Life will crumble and we’ll be long gone.”

“Menta-Life is a big corporation.”

“They also stole a lot of memories. The people won’t stand for that. No matter how big they are, the people will win.”

“I hope so.”

I change the subject, “Where are we going after we help these people get their memories back? After this, I’ll surely be wanted and hunted by every city.”

He brightens up a little and answers, “There’s an island that I discovered and kept secret. Far off of what used to be the Durham coast. It’s beautiful there and it’ll be great for when this is over.”

I gladly respond, “Then our coordinates are set. Back home to England after we save the new world from utter chaos and destruction.”

He quickly rushes me for a hug, then very meaningfully states, “I love you, Emily.”

I sigh and return the favor, “I love you too, daddy. I’ll make it out for the both of us. I promise.”

He releases our moment. “I have to get things finished up here.”

I remain in the moment with a smile. “Of course. No worries. And get some rest. My team will be the first out, but I’ll see you when we get back.”

“I’ll be awake to see you off.”

I walk away towards the door and say, “See ya.”

He smiles and nods then I exit the room. I’m more ready than I’ve ever been and with my motivation, I’ll do whatever it takes to finish this. Menta-Life is going to burn for crossing Simon and Emily Harold. I’m not as angry as I was before my Life. Having a goal in mind rather than money really puts things in a different perspective. Most people who want to save the world don’t live long, but that’s Simon’s dream. My dream is his survival.

I enter the lobby where everyone is back to their usual routines, but at a much quicker pace. My group is scattered around, however I’m not up for any goodbye chats right now. I noticeably avoid everyone and head to my room to be alone for the rest of the day. We’re going to be heading into the storm, so everyone else is probably taking in some personal closure time. I’m not too familiar with my crew’s personal lives and most of us have nobody in them, but maybe saying farewell to friends, or saying goodbye to regrets and sorrows is what they need.

When I get inside my room I shut the door and surrender myself to the silence. It’s so quiet that I can hear my ears ringing, although it’s just my imagination calling. I change clothes, then lie down on the floor and just stare up at the high ceiling; like watching stars in the sky. Remaining mentally motivated is easy. I just have to keep my eyes on the prize. Why am I overthinking? Jacks’ plan is so perfect that if I spit on it, the spit will slide right off.

He couldn’t have thought of it all alone. If he didn’t, I’m sure it was my father’s idea to send me to Panoira and then have us meet them after things possibly went wrong. I’m sure how trustworthy Paul Quentin is, because he did do great assisting Jacks with the prison schematics. Hines seems to be on the ball, too, with his errand boy skills in finding us equipment. They both seem reliable enough.

I’m ready to be done so I can just put all of this behind me. My eyes become heavy as I struggle to keep them open. I’m so lazy when it counts. I let my body sink into sleep, then awaken in my black and white dream room with my deceased friends. Instead of following the trail of bodies, I turn around and head toward my father’s office.

Everything behind me is as it should be, aside from the ancient film feel. I open the door to the hallway and look into the Deserted woman’s long window to see the city inside has come to a colorful life. The painted buildings are now being accessed by shoppers and restaurant patrons enjoying the nightlife. A cruiser drives towards the window so, to avoid being killed in my dream, I duck down. I wait for the crash of glass to come falling over my head, but nothing happens.

I look up to see the cruiser’s bright headlights disappearing into the window. It’s almost as if I’m the one in the other world, watching them not see me. I notice the Deserted woman standing in the center of the street between both lanes of traffic, facing away from me. I place my hand on the glass then everything stops moving. The woman in the street slowly begins turning her head back towards me.

A loud bang on the door around the corner snatches my attention; it came from my father’s office. I look back through the window to see that it is pitch black now from left to right. I try harder to see through the glass, but the glass loudly breaks. I jump out of my sleep to silence. My room still has the light on and my light sweat is coated over me as I pant heavily. What’s going on in my head? I need a shower.

I usually don’t let my night terrors get the best of me, but this one just couldn’t be helped. After my shower, I get dressed into my regular clothes and head out to the lobby to enjoy the calm before the storm. To my surprise, it’s actually empty. Everything is all packed away and ready for transportation to the next base. The room is so hollow that I can hear my footsteps as I gently walk towards the center. I see a table that’s still standing and plant myself on it.

Staring at the ground, I wait for time to pass by so I can get this over with and retire from my life of crime. Waiting, I hear the door to the dorms open behind me then close. Footsteps begin echoing towards me, but I know it’s safe so I don’t bother looking back to see who it is. The footsteps stop on the side of me.

Dayio’s voice speaks, “Can’t sleep?”

“Don’t really know if I want to.”

“Impatient as always. Some things never change.”

“Are you ready for your revenge?”

He sits down next to me and hesitantly answers, “No.” I look over at him, as he stares ahead and explains, “I don’t need it anymore. You spend enough time around people and you begin to adopt their values. Your father and his people are fighting for something great. They’re trying to change the world, and that’s what I’m ready for. There are people out there who could be depending on me.” I chuckle at his proud moment and so does he, “I mean not currently, since I’m a criminal in the eyes of the law, but one day people would see the difference we made.”

I give him the honest truth, “Dayio these people can’t function without Menta-Life holding their hands. We owe them everything we have and those people will not let them go so easily. My father is going to lose this war.”

He rhetorically asks, “And you’re only here to make sure he survives it? I get it.”

I lower my head slightly then I investigate, “You gonna court martial me?”

He quickly responds, “No, of course not. You’re stone.”

“Stone?”

“Yeah. Solid in your ways.”

“Or I could just be little harder to break than others.”

“No, not you, Van. You’re different. Even after all we’ve been through, I still can’t figure it out.”

The dorm door behind us opens and closes again. We hear more than one set of footsteps start pouring in. It must finally be about time to go take care of business.

I hear Jerry’s voice ask, “And how are you two on this lovely, uh… whatever time it is?”

I answer as I look back, “We’re good, Jerry.”

She brought Odom, Jacks, and Ukiro out with her. They all look pretty wide awake. They probably slept just as bad as I did, or it’s noon already and we missed our chance to save everyone. I’ve never had an honest job, but that may be similar to a “no call/no show,” which would lead to my termination. I’m only handing out one termination today and it has Gene’s legacy written on it.

I sigh, as I stand up and say to everyone, “Let’s change the new world.”