Chapter 15 & 16

Chapter 15: Plan A

 

I should go back to Geilium and get some answers. So much for some needed relaxation in this graciously comfortable bed. I get up to head for the door, but I hear male voices on the other side. I wait for the voices to pass by and fade away; not because I’m nervous, but because I should avoid possible confrontation.

I don’t know or trust these people and I want to keep it that way. The voices disappear and I slowly open the door and walk out of the room. The hallway is clear, so I head left towards the other hall and turn right. As I walk through, I see someone on the left exiting their room.

The guy greets with a smile, “Hello.”

I return a greeting. “Hi.”

He starts walking in front of me towards the door, then it slides open. The noise pours into the hallway from the square of excitement. As he exits, I step out behind him. My best theory for avoiding being bothered is to not stare for too long and to walk with a purpose. I start with those as I rapidly walk down the stairs and to the left around the square of people watching the fight.

I get halfway around the square when a woman steps sideways out of the crowd, blocking my path. The way she stepped out was like she was waiting for me already. She is a Japanese woman with short spiked hair and a couple of small scars on her face. I squint my eyes at her. She doesn’t say anything to me and I don’t to her, although she has that “I have something to prove” look on her face. I’m not sure how things work down here yet, or I’d just punch her in the face to get a head start. I’m not ready to cause any trouble yet, so I step around her while we still stare each other down. Once I step past her, I turn around to face forward and continue walking around to the stairs.

I can feel her eyes still on me yet I don’t give her the satisfaction of peeking back. I don’t care what her problem is and this confrontation is definitely tempting. I like it. I make my way up the stairs to the guard at the door, then stop in front of him. He’s not wearing his helmet, but he has on the armor.

He asks, “How can I help you, Vanessa?”

Being the guard, I figure he’d have to know everyone that comes in here. I never saw who was under the helmets so he could have been one of the two or possibly four guards I saw earlier tonight.

I answer, “I have questions I would like to ask Geilium.”

He says, “Mr. McKoy is in a meeting right now. He will be done shortly. You’re more than welcome to hangout here and wait.”

I don’t feel like keeping this guy company, but I am curious about that square. Are there rules inside? Can anyone just join?

I reply, “No.” I look back as I say, “I’m more interested in that square.”

I look back at him as he simplifies, “The arena. It’s where we do our training in the different fighting arts. You want to learn some techniques, you come here early in the morning. You want to brush up on skills, come here after training hours.”

Sounds interesting; however, I’m a great fighter already. I don’t need a hard punch, since I’m a runner. I have agility and that always works for me.

I ask, “So you can do any kind of fighting? No rules at all?”

He answers, “Only one rule, but there are restrictions, too. No below-the-belt shots, no biting, no pulling hair, and you must wear gloves for all types of hand-to-hand combat.”

I hadn’t noticed anyone wearing any gloves down there. The most popular thing here must be grapples and quick takedowns. I like to make people hurt, so that grappling stuff doesn’t apply to me.

I ask, “Where do I sign up?”

He answers, “Just walk over and get some gloves.” He points down through the railing to the left at the small rack. “The gloves are on the left on a rack.”

The rack is three shelves high, all filled with full-handed fighting gloves.

I reply, “Thanks.”

Since I need to wait for Geilium, I might as well teach that woman a lesson in manners. I turn around and head back down the stairs, then take the left U-turn towards the rack of gloves. The rack goes along the stairs and all of the gloves on it are one-size-fits-all. I grab two pairs off the shelf and then walk towards the square as I put the gloves on. I cut through the two rows of people to enter the square.

The two guys fighting in the square stop and back away from each other, not exiting the square. I get the first glove on my left hand. I look over to the right where the woman is and see her talking to someone with her back to me. I lift my right hand, with the pair of gloves, and throw them at her. They smack the back of her head and her shoulders shrug as the gloves fall to the mat. The square of men and women quiet down as they watch her for a response. I start putting the other glove on my right hand as I stare at her, slowly lowering her shoulders and turning around with a pissed off look on her face. She speed-walks towards me and stops less than a foot away with an evil gaze.

I smile and remind her, “You forgot your gloves.”

She turns halfway around and looks at the woman she was talking to. The woman picks up the gloves and tosses them to her friend. She catches them and turns back to stare at me while she puts them on. I never let her leave my sight and I hold my smile. I wonder if she knows how happy I am right now. I haven’t been this excited about fighting since before I got sent to prison.

Inside, I’d have gotten shocked for just throwing the gloves, yet, here in this unorganized environment, things are different. She gets her gloves on then quickly grabs the top of my shoulders and grips them very hard. She presses down on my shoulder to boost herself up off the ground. I slide both of my hands upward and inward between hers then I force them outward to get her hands off me. I notice she is rising up with her knee towards my face, so I quickly bring my right arm in and block her.

She drops all the way down to a squat position, then sweeps my feet with her leg and I fall onto the mat. She is a lot faster than I thought she’d be, but I can keep up with her; she just caught me off guard. I see her raise her foot up, so I quickly roll out of the way and I hear her foot stomp the mat. I get up, then run straight back at her and thrust my right foot forward.

She dodges to my left. I continue my kick by throwing my foot back at her again, aiming for her head. She ducks under my leg to her left, then moves around behind me as I drop my leg. I feel like she is going to grab me, so I put my hands up towards my face. She wraps her arms around my chest and lifts me off the ground. I don’t know what I can use against her since there are rules to this, and I’m sure we aren’t allowed to seriously injure each other.

I start shaking out of her grip and she loses her hold. I duck as she tries to punch me from behind. Missing her forceful punch, she stumbles slightly past me. I stand and wrap my right arm around her neck. I place my left arm over her shoulder, then kick the back of her leg to get her balance down. I start choking her as I drag her backwards to stop her from using her feet against me. She grabs my arms really tight then tucks her legs in and swings them underneath me, making me bend over.

She pounces off her knees and thrusts her head into my stomach. I release my air before I forcibly lose it all; I got hit pretty hard. I release my grip on her and she moves forward and flips backwards onto my back. I feel her legs wrap around my waist and her arms around my neck. I grab her arms to try to pull them off me.

She starts choking me, then thrusts her pelvis into my back to make us fall backwards. When we hit the ground, her grip doesn’t come loose at all. She continues choking me and I continue trying to pull away. I hear a loud whistle, then she releases me. Way to stop me just as I’m getting warmed up. Who stopped the fight?

She rolls me off her to the left, then quickly gets up as I land flat on my stomach. I look up to my right at her and see her staring up at the stairs where the guard is. I stand up, then look at the stairs, seeing that Geilium, Aleena, Paul, and Mitchell are standing halfway to the top. The guard standing near the bottom of the stairs must be the one who whistled. They are all staring at me and I’m hoping it is because the guard mentioned that I wanted to talk with him.

I turn to my opponent and sneer, “Guess you got lucky this time.”

I start walking out of the square towards Geilium. I don’t feel her eyes all over me like before, but hopefully they are.

I exit the arena, then start up the stairs towards Geilium and Mitchell expresses sarcasm, “You always this good at fitting in?”

I cast blame as I walk by him. “She started it.”

They all turn around and begin walking up the stairs. We all head back through the door to the hallway. I notice the two guards waiting.

I request from Geilium, “Is it okay if we speak in private, Geilium? I have questions that I need answers to.”

Everyone turns to look at him. He nods to me and says to everyone else, “Wait for us in the meeting room. We’ll only be a minute.”

Aleena asks, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yes. I trust Vanessa.”

He turns to the left and starts walking to the opposite end of the hallway as I reassure Aleena, “Don’t worry, princess. He’ll be fine.”

I follow him three doors to the left. He opens the wood door for me and I enter first. The small office has the regular necessities right in front of me with a couple of authentic plants and a window where he can get a view of everything in the arena below. I hear the door shut behind me. Geilium walks past me.

He points his hand at the two chairs as he paces around the desk. “Please, take a seat.”

I walk to the chair as I admire the objects he has placed on his wall. One object that catches my eye is a sword. It’s not a regular kind of blade; its length starts off small, but then it curves like a machete.

He sits down. I sit down after him. “So, I see you’re settling in well.”

I answer with a compliment. “This is quite the set up you’ve got here.”

“This is more than just a set up. This is home to a revolution of people who want to free the population from the hands of those who would abuse the great gift that they were given.”

That doesn’t add up. These people don’t seem too angry, though they are more trained than average people. When people hear the word “revolution,” they think of people that deserve to be ignored until they prove otherwise with action. Trex knew Equility off-hand as terrorists, so going after Menta-Life might not be their first hostile takeover. It explains why these people aren’t untrained fighters. But if their first takeover was a success, why continue fighting for more?

I make an observation, based on my fight with the woman downstairs. “Your people seem a little too well trained to be revolutionaries. They seem a lot more organized and more… capable.”

Geilium supports with clarification. “You are correct in your observation. We have been after Menta-Life for almost two years now and have failed in our two attempts to stop them in the past. Our mistakes have forced us to learn to become more than just revolutionaries. The area downstairs used to hold a lot more of our brothers and sisters. We lost a lot of our loved ones, family and friends, more than once in this fight. We train every day and night and have done reconnaissance on Menta-Life and its executives in order to be absolutely prepared for what’s to come when we strike again. We hope we can count on your skills as a runner and smuggler to aid us in liberating the city from Menta-Life.”

Their intentions are noble, but my reasons have not changed. I would consider fighting to support their cause, but it seems like they haven’t put much thought into it themselves. Equility is fighting so fiercely with Menta-Life to shut down a system that the people of Gharis City don’t want to do away with. The people aren’t being held captive by Menta-Life and forced into some form of slave labor; they willingly pay for Life services. Sure, the people are ignorant about the corporation stealing memories, but they are aware of the Deserted underground. Whether they ask where they came from is anyone’s guess because they all seem so happy with the way things are.

He continues, “So, you have questions?”

He must have noticed my silence and decided to change topics. I am still curious about his part in this.

I respond, “Yes. What do you gain from this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, why would someone in your position want to start a revolution? You are the face of Equility, aren’t you?”

“The hidden face, yes. Just because I have a high position in the media doesn’t mean I’m not willing to stand up against others who threaten the public. My position in the media is actually what made me aware of Menta-Life’s activities. People came to me and I couldn’t do anything about their accusations or about the people disappearing. The new world does not want that kind of news being televised anymore, so it all stays under the table. I couldn’t take it any longer, so I founded Equility. I use my position to gather information from the people who have and are currently losing their loved ones. I introduce them to Equility so they can stand and fight for those who have lost themselves.”

“Yet no one can leave?”

“Correct. However, I do a background check on everyone who brings their story to me. If they do not have children under age twelve, they qualify. If they are alone, as in no spouse, and have lost a loved one to Menta-Life, they qualify. I make decisions to recruit the right people who will fight for the right purpose and who won’t be abandoning anyone who relies on them: sick mothers, dying fathers, and so on.”

“I understand.”

He seems noble enough in his plight and his reasons seem sound enough to give him a good motive for doing what he does. I think I may have ruined his shot at Gene Archibald during the party at Feegle’s bakery. It could have ended Menta-Life, or at least left them without a founder. I’m sure the corporation can operate without Gene, but the morale may be low if he doesn’t have a successor.

I question, “So, that night at Feegle’s party–”

He finishes, “–was very unfortunate. But don’t worry; no one is aware of what you did aside from the people who were there when you told us. I made them swear not to mention it to anyone and these people are loyal to me.”

“What about Paul?”

“Paul swore as well, and if he were to mention anything, we’d deny it and make him the bad guy.”

That’s a messed-up system, but as long as it keeps me out of hot water down here, I’m fine.

He inquires, “What happened at the party?”

Should I tell him the truth? The truth is, I knew who the assassin was targeting and I’m not sure why I even stopped him. But would it put me in better standing with him if I told him I thought he was targeting my friend Feegle? The truth isn’t that bad, really. That guy could have been trying to hurt anybody because I didn’t know who he was until after I stopped him. Even then, how could I know he was Equility? I won’t gain much benefit from lying.

I speak truthfully. “The lights went out and I saw someone sneaking through the crowd so I followed. When I saw him pull the pulser out, I stopped him and saw that he was the guy you had been talking to. If I had known you guys were Equility, I wouldn’t have interfered.”

He approves. “That’s good enough for me. Gene was only the first step. His entourage and the rest of the corporation would be much harder to deal with. The others are waiting for us to go over a plan of action.”

“Why Paul? Why me?”

“You’re an expert runner. A lot of our people here are only trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat, but I saw your fight downstairs. Our people fight with anger, but you have an agility and calm that they can use to make them great fighters.”

“I’m not a great fighter.”

He quickly questions, “Then why were you holding back against Ukiro?”

The name fits her. He pronounced it with an “E”, but I’m sure it’s an “I” in the actual spelling of her name. I didn’t think, with how fast I was moving, anyone would notice my slight hesitations. I’m not sure exactly how “dirty” the rules are for the arena, so I glitched a little during the fight. I usually fight for my own life, so I’d rather keep my fighting talents to myself; plus I don’t want anyone to have an edge over me.

I lie to him. “I wasn’t holding back. She had me pinned at the end before the whistle. I’m not your great fighter, believe me. But being a runner is what I am great at.”

He has this look on his face like he doesn’t believe me, but I’m sure he knows that he doesn’t have a choice.

He stands up and suggestively asks, “Then let us go discuss things with the others? Unless you have further questions.”

I’ve heard all I can from Geilium. Every other question I have can only be answered by Hines himself, except one.

I stand and make a request, “Would you happen to have the footage from the hotel?”

He answers, “No, I don’t. It was difficult enough just seeing it, let alone obtaining a copy.”

It would have been useful to see what they saw so I can figure out what happened with the bellman. They could be keeping information from me. In that instant, I remember the four men at the morgue and want to be sure if my hunch about the fake tattoos was accurate.

I ask, “Was Aleena at the morgue stopping someone from framing Equility?”

He answers, “Yes. All members of Equility have a tattoo of anything they want on their right chest. In order to distinguish them from anyone else, we use a three-point system. There have to be three small dots in the tattoo; big enough to find, but small enough for average people not to notice. The dots have to be in any triangular pattern to show allegiance to Equility. We heard that the Regulators wanted to broadcast the chest tattoos on the networks, so I sent her in to investigate. She found and erased the phony ink. I was told shortly after that she had run into skilled resistance.”

They have to have a traitor inside their ranks for someone to know that the tattoos were a symbol for Equility. I wonder if they have any clue who it is.

I reply, “Yes, she did, I suppose. Any clue who leaked your distinctive tattoo idea?”

“There can’t possibly have been a leak. Only three people are allowed out of this compound without supervision; Mitchell, Aleena, and me. They helped me begin Equility, and will not tolerate any betrayal in their presence.”

Aleena, I can understand, but Mitchell seems a little wimpy to be someone to not tolerate betrayal, or anything else for that matter. It’s not my place to know or care anyway. For now, I will just side with Equility until I get my pay day, then I’m out of here. With this many numbers on my side, we can take down Menta-Life by a landslide.

I conclude, “That’s all for now.”

“Then let us be on our way.”

I nod in agreement. We both head back out into the hallway and to the meeting room where everyone is waiting for us. We enter the room and everyone is in their same seats as earlier. Instead of sitting in my same seat, I sit across from Paul so I can get a view of everyone, including the guards at the door on my right. Geilium walks around me to his seat at the table’s head. Mitchell reaches down next to him and pulls up a small pad, then stretches his arm out to place it on the center of the table.

Once he does, he parks himself back down and calls out, “Schematic one.”

The pad displays a 3D schematic of the Menta-Life Corporation’s exterior. The lines of the building are blue and there are little red people on the ground outside where the grass is. The schematic is slowly spinning.

Mitchell explains, “This is an outer rendering of the Menta-Life Corporation. Down at the bottom here, in red, are the guards that patrol the building. There is a gated back entrance here.” He points to the back-left corner where there is a gate and two red people behind it. “Now, a frontal approach with this sixteen guard patrol was a slaughter in our original, naive attempt, so the back gate is our next best alternative. There are four guards that circle the building in two groups. As the first two pass, we can silently take out the two security guards, strip them of their clothing, and dispose of the bodies before the second set of guards circle the building. Once the second patrol passes by, we simply let the others in and take the building by element of surprise from the inside. Menta-Life crumbles at our feet.”

That can’t be the entire plan. There was no mention of any interior security or BAMech presence whatsoever; no backup measures in case an alarm is triggered or Reg response times. This plan sounds just like a slaughter, just a little more well-thought-out slaughter.

I hesitantly ask, “Is… that it?”

Mitchell proudly speaks. “Yes. With the intelligence we’ve been able to gather, security is only tight outside. With us working from the inside out, the plan is a certain success.”

He can’t be serious. That place runs day and night with citizens that need to be watched as they sleep.

I turn to Paul for approval. “Paul?”

Paul answers, “Well, with what little information we have, if this is all, I’d be at liberty to agree.”

I burst out laughing as if I’d heard the best joke known to man. I am just a single runner and can definitely come up with an infiltration method better than that.

Mitchell questions with an attitude, “What’s so funny?”

I try and contain myself from laughing, then look around the table and notice everyone looking at me. Apparently they don’t see the humor. I see that they’re really going the distance with this plan, so I control myself.

I answer, “What’s funny is this genius plan you’ve got here.” I direct my attention to the schematic’s back gate. “There isn’t any booth for the guards to nest in, so where do we hide the bodies once the second patrol comes around?”

Mitchell begins to proudly answer, “Well–”.

I cut him off. “I’ll tell you what your three options are.” I stand up and continue. “One: Leave them at the gate for the guards to see, Two: Put them on the street for the people to see, or Three: Pick them up and run across approximately one-hundred-twenty yards to the side lot entrance, then pick the lock to get in there. Which one would you like to fail at first?”

Mitchell answers, “Neither. Do you think you could do any better?”

“Yes, I can.” I lean forward and address the table. “Anybody have a delivery schedule on them?”

Mitchell enlightens me, “After closing is usually when they receive deliveries and repairs via truck, but we don’t have the necessary credentials or a truck to enter as delivery drivers, plus there would only be two of us in the cab.”

“Then we can use the old Trojan Horse technique. We load the truck full of fighters and drive it inside, then wait. When it gets dark enough, send two silenced shooters out to dispatch the two guards from a distance after the set of two complete their perimeter check. Then we all make a run through the gate and enter the building.”

Aleena asks, “And the two bodies outside?”

I answer, “By the time they make the trip around and inspect the bodies, we’d either be on our way up to take down Gene, or dead on the first floor from whatever security they have inside.”

Mitchell comments, “That doesn’t sound like a great idea.”

I rudely state, “It’s much better than yours.”

Paul adds, “Vanessa’s plan does seem to fit better with the current knowledge we have, and without knowing what the security situation is inside.”

I acknowledge with conceit, “Thank you. Should I bow or just sit back down?”

Mitchell sarcastically asks, “Aren’t you forgetting one last, insignificantly minor detail? The truck and credentials.”

I riposte as if he’s supposed to know the answer to his question already, “I’m a thief. It won’t be a problem to get ahold of some phony credentials for whatever company delivers to Menta-Life.”

I sit down and Mitchell attacks my plan again, “How will you get them?”

“That’s on a need to know basis and I’m afraid you don’t need to know.”

“Is that right? Well, I’m not sure if you’ve been made aware of this, but no one can leave the compound without Aleena or myself as an escort and I prefer to know who I’m dealing with.”

I don’t trust Geilium or anyone enough to introduce them to Trex. Trex runs the only smuggling tunnel in this city, which means everyone who wants to import or export, big or small, must go through him. If I were to introduce Geilium, and Trex were to lose his position because of it, more than just Trex would want me dead. As exciting as it sounds, I’m not quite ready for that fight yet.

I reply, “You’re not dealing with anyone but me.”

Geilium jumps in. “Mitchell, if she has partners that she wishes to keep anonymous, then we have to abide by those terms, but–”. He turns to me, “–we, too, would like to keep our base of operations a secret, which is why no one is allowed to leave without the company of one of the three of us.”

“Then I guess this plan is at a halt because I don’t allow any introductions to anyone that I associate with.”

Mitchell adds, “Which I hear isn’t many people.”

I quickly request, “Come again?”

Geilium explains, “Vanessa, your plan is a good one and has a much better rate of success–”

I notice Mitchell put his head down in shame. It seems like he’s depressed about not being number one on the idea list, but oh well for him. Serves him right for kissing up to his boss all the time.

Geilium continues to me, “–so I am willing to let you out under two conditions.”

I quickly demand, “Name it.”

Mitchell stands and loudly advises, “Geilium, we cannot allow her out alone without letting the others out as well. Leaving is a very strict guideline that you yourself have impressed upon everyone.”

Geilium agrees to disagree, “I understand that; however, in two days, I don’t plan on losing anyone in this attack. This time we need to succeed and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there. We are all ready to save lives and go see our families.”

“And you’re willing to chance failure on her idea.”

“With all due respect, Mitchell, we’ve failed twice with yours.”

I quickly remark, “Ouch. Low blow.”

Geilium continues, “Her plan is the best that we have, so if the rules need to be bent for this to work, so be it. Now sit down.”

Mitchell spares himself any further embarrassment and sits down with an attitude.

Geilium states to me, “The two conditions are as follows: You exit from here blindfolded and are delivered to a location somewhere in the city, with Aleena as an escort. Next, for your privacy, the two of you part ways until you are ready to be brought back here.”

I’m surprised he would even consider offering me something like that. Apparently all it takes to get out of here is a good idea. It seems that I won’t have to fight my way out after all.

I ask Geilium, “Do you really trust me to come back?”

He answers, “No, but the best I can do is hope you return to aid us further. Everyone down here needs you so we can restore the world back to freedom and sanity.”

He slipped up in his answer by saying, “Down here.” That let out a clue. Are we underground? His confidence in me sounds all fine and dandy, but without his revolutionaries, I won’t get my money from Menta-Life; and that I can’t have. I’ll see how it feels when I reach freedom’s door, then go from there.

Geilium asks, “Will you be able to get it done within three days’ time?”

“I only need one. I already know where the credentials are, I just need the name of the company and time to find the truck.”

“We can start first thing in the morning.”

“I’d prefer afternoon if you don’t mind. I’m not a morning person.”

“Then afternoon it is. Meeting adjourned… except you, Mitchell.”

We all get up from our seats. Mitchell and Geilium remain seated as we leave the meeting room. Aleena takes the long way around, then pats Mitchell on the shoulder as she walks past him. We all exit the room.

 

Chapter 16: Rules and Guidance

 

I linger around the closed door for a brief second and hear Geilium say to Mitchell, “We need her to do this for us so we can continue the ta–”

A guard next to me speaks, “Something wrong?”

I snap out of listening and ask, “Huh?” What he asked me processes in my head and I continue, “Oh, nothing.”

“Return to your room or the main hall. Tomorrow at noon we will come wake you for your task.”

He’s saying it like I was assigned to it; as if it weren’t my idea. Without me, they’d all be slaughtered by the guards at the side gate before they could get inside. I turn and follow the others towards the main hall door. The double doors slide open and Aleena stands to the side, then Paul exits the hallway.

I ask Aleena, “Not coming with us, Sunshine?”

She throws an insult, “Unlike you, I have work to do.”

She turns and starts walking towards Geilium’s office. Before she gets too far, I say, “Too bad. I thought you’d want to redeem yourself for that poor performance at the morgue.”

“Believe me. I will.”

I smile and exit to the main hall, then see Paul waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me. What does this guy want? The doors slide closed behind me as I walk down.

When I reach the bottom, Paul requests, “Can I speak to you? In private.”

I don’t like people speaking to me in private. With my line of smuggling work, private conversations are never good news for anybody because it’s usually to conduct betrayal. There’s no big deal in hearing what he has to say, though.

I accept his request. “Sure. We’ll talk in your quarters.”

He nods. I follow his lead around the square of fighters. It’s much emptier in here than it was before; it must be late. How do they know what time it is? I look around and notice a small clock on the center of the left wall. Under the clock is where the benches are. A few people are still eating there. I look to my right at Geilium’s office, but I don’t see his window.

It must be a two-way mirror that only he can see through. We make it around, then head up the stairs and into the hallway. We head down the hall and take a right. A guard had to take me to my room, but he already knows his way around and that puzzles me. I need to keep an eye open with this guy. I follow him eight doors down to the left and he just waltzes straight in. I closely follow him inside, then grab his left arm and trip him down to the floor.

I drop down with him then kick the door closed and he cries, “What are you doing?!”

I bend his arm up behind his back and aggressively ask, “Who’s in here?”

I gander around the room as he answers. “Nobody.”

His room looks exactly the same as mine. The lights were already on in my room, too, so it shouldn’t be anything to worry about that his are, too. His room looks clear.

I ask, “How did you know where your room was already?”

He struggles out a response, “They told me after you left the room the first time. Right at the end of the hall, eighth door on the left, and it’ll be unlocked.”

By himself, unarmed, he can’t hurt me. He’s average built and slow to react. I’m too fast for him to handle. I get up and walk past him as he slowly gets up. I take another look around the room. Once I’m satisfied there is no one else there, I turn back towards him to see him straightening his clothes.

He sarcastically comments, “You’re an easy woman to talk to.”

“What do you want Quentin?”

He finishes straightening himself up then answers, “I wanted to talk to you about this Equility revolution.”

“What about it?”

“Do you trust me?”

“Obviously not.”

“I don’t think they are who they say they are.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean yes, they are Equility, but I feel like there is something else at play here. Like they have a second objective besides the justice they continue to push in our faces.”

And just like that, betrayal is afoot. Equility does seem a little odd in going about this revolution the way they are. When you think of revolt, you see signs being held by angry citizens, people signing petitions, and so on. Equility, on the other hand, is ready for action again with me running the show. Does that seem suspicious? Of course it does.

I inquire, “So what?”

He smiles and asks, “Aren’t you at least the slightest bit interested in what that is?”

“No, actually, I’m not.”

“How are you not? They could be planning something much worse than destroying Menta-Life. They’re not called terrorists for nothing.”

“Look, I don’t care if their intentions are good or bad. I’m here for a paycheck and some backup. That’s it.”

“People are dying. Can you seriously look at what’s going on and say you would do this only for the money?”

“I just did.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Is this what you called me in here for? Because I have better things to do than listen to you.”

“I called you in here to see if you were interested in making a difference, rather than just fattening your pockets.”

“Like you’re any better than me; you’re here for revenge.”

He hastily clarifies, “I’m here to make sure what happened to my brother doesn’t happen to somebody else. I’m here to make a difference for those who can’t make it for themselves.”

“Well, I wish you the best with that. I’ll do you a favor and not mention this conversation to anyone. That’s doing my part in saving lives.”

I walk past him towards the door and he asks, “You’d really let the world die than just accept the opportunity to save it?”

“If Geilium’s Equility wins, we’ll see.”

I exit the room and head back to the main hall. I notice the foodie boxes on the right wall next to the stairs. I grab a meal out of the foodie, then sit by myself, away from the remaining few that are still here. Something does seem odd about Geilium, but his story adds up. His intentions and reasons are so tightly knit that they’re form-fitting. The only thing I really found odd is their tattoo system, but they found a way to distinguish them from anyone else with a chest tattoo, so that makes sense.

Not many people have tattoos these days except those who had them before the war, criminals like myself, and celebrity pop stars. Geilium is aware of my objective, and teaming up with Paul won’t get me there. After I finish eating, I head to my quarters, then fall straight into the bed and doze off. The next morning, I wake up to an approaching footstep, and then a knock pounds on my door. A security guard enters and stares at me from the right side of my bed. I look past my feet at the open door, then back at the guard.

I rudely ask, “You want something?”

The guard states, “It’s almost noon. Time to get ready. Ten minutes.”

He turns and walks out, closing the door. I feel energized, like I may have slept a little too long. I get up, go to the bathroom, and change back into my regular clothes. I leave the bathroom and exit to the hallway. The guard is standing across the hall in front of someone else’s door, waiting for me.

He commands, “Follow me.”

He turns right and starts walking down the hallway. We enter the main hall and the room is full again, like everyone from last night is here, but it’s not as rowdy. Walking down the stairs, I see everyone is seated on the mat in a square and a man with a long white beard is in the center. His head is so bald that I can almost see a reflection of the light above gleaming on it. There are two men in front of him having a sparring match, but in slow motion.

The people watching are all seated in a zig-zag formation, allowing the people in the back to see past the people in front. We walk around the left side of the square and the instructor locks eyes with me as we pass. I look away from him as we complete the half-square and walk up the stairs. The door slides open and we enter the hallway. Geilium, Aleena, and Mitchell are standing at the wall across from the door. The door closes and I stop walking. That’s when I notice Aleena with that black sack in her hand.

I glance into her eyes and advise, “You’re not getting me with that one twice.”

She replies, “Lucky for you, Mr. McKoy said I can’t.”

She tosses it to me and I catch it with my right hand. Geilium takes over the conversation. “We can’t let you see the way out of here or where you are, so Aleena and one of our guards will escort you out. Once you’re out, they will escort you back to the GCN building and that will be your meeting point. Aleena will be there until midnight tonight awaiting your arrival. If you do not show, we will assume you failed and your ties to Equility will be severed for our protection.”

I ask, “What’s to stop me from saying you’re Equility?”

“Who would believe you?”

He has a good point. He’s a famed network CEO and I’m sure that he broadcasts positive stories about Menta-Life to stay under the radar.

Geilium asks, “Are you ready?”

I look at Mitchell and see his dull, blank look, awaiting my answer. He seems more okay with this than he was last night. Geilium must have convinced him that this is a good idea.

I answer, “Yeah. What’s the name of the company that delivers to Menta-Life?”

“D.T. Feddings Repair. Good luck.”

He nods his head. I already know what that means for me. I open the sack and place it over my head. Instantly, I can feel everything and see nothing.

The guard instructs, “Hands behind your back.”

I put my hands behind my back and feel my wrists slowly being drawn together. He must be using a cyber rope. It uses the same adjustment technology as the cyber strap except it’s meant to hold tightly, as a restraint. I feel a gloved hand wrap around my forearm, then start to guide me down the hallway and into one of the doors on the right. They guide me up some stairs, then into an elevator going up.

We exit, then go down more stairs. We head through more doors and down more stairs, then back into an elevator going up again. After hearing the elevator open, I feel a small rush of heat. It is still very dark and the heat doesn’t seem to have a direct source, so we must still be indoors. After a little bit of walking, I hear a cruiser door open.

I hear something slide open and the guard instructs, “Step up.”

Great. A van. I step up with one foot and the guard tucks me down as he helps me inside. The door slides closed.

I hear the other door close and Aleena demands, “Sit down.”

I retort, “You mean fall down?”

“The fall will be harder when we start driving.”

I guide myself to the opposite side of the door against the van’s wall, then use it to carefully sit myself down. I hear the door closest to me open and feel the weight go down, then hear the door close; that must have been the guard getting in. The van starts and we begin moving. I hear a screeching echo as we turn, so I can tell we are in a parking garage.

Serenia says, “Service restored.”

We go up a small ramp and start driving a little faster, making left and right turns. The van feels hotter, but there still doesn’t seem to be any direct sunlight. The van has to be blacked out to be able to shield the afternoon sun that well. With all these twists, turns, and no directional awareness of where the sun is, I’m at a loss. After a long drive, the van comes to a stop.

I hear doors open and close, then I hear the rear door slide open. I feel weight lower the rear of the van. Next, that gloved hand stands me up and starts guiding me out of the van. I feel the sun beaming on me, from the shoulders up, and sort of see sunlight. Once I’m standing upright, the guard sits me down in the doorway of the van. He pulls the cloth sack off my head.

The brightness hits me in the face so hard that I’m temporarily blinded; they really need to stop doing that. I can’t shield my eyes because my hands are bound, so I turn away and close them. The guard reaches around me and releases the cyber rope. I turn back around to see we are parked in front of GCN. Aleena and the guard are standing in front of me.

She notifies, “You have ten hours left.”

I plainly acknowledge, “Yep.”

I take my time letting my eyes adjust to the outside, then I start stretching my arms while Aleena stands there with an annoyed look on her face. I can’t tell if the guard is frustrated too, because he has a helmet on. I’ve bothered Aleena enough for one day, so I get up and start walking away. When I get a good distance away, I turn right then tap my Econ.

Serenia inquires, “Is everything okay, Van? You’ve been out of service for a while.”

“Yes, Serenia, everything’s fine. Did you miss me?”

“I was more worried than missing you.”

“Can you dial Trex for me, please?”

“Certainly. Connecting…”

Trex inquires, “Is everything alright? Dayio told me what happened last night.”

“Yeah. I need fake credentials from D.T. Feddings and a company truck. Bill me when I get there. I’m coming to your office. And tell Dayio to wait for me there.”

“Okay.”

Serenia notifies, “Call disconnected. Would you like anything else at the moment?”

“No, thank you.”

“No problem. Let me know if you need me.”

I walk around the block and see the lectrocycle is still at the corner. I guess the city is a little more relaxed than it used to be. I peek around the corner to see that Aleena and the guard are still parked out front. They’re going to be at the building for the entire day, but they can at least park their kidnapper van somewhere else.

I get on the lectrocycle and start it up. I make a right turn to end up back in front of GCN. I look into the van and see that it’s empty. When I pass it, I see the two of them standing there talking. They notice me and stare. I wave goodbye to them as I speed away to Trex’s office. When I arrive at the bakery, Feegle is out front talking to someone.

I get off the lectrocycle and walk towards the door. Feegle greets, “Hey, Vanessa. How are you?”

For such a simple greeting, he must not have heard about what happened last night, with me getting kidnapped and all.

I answer, “I’m good, Feegle.”

He continues talking with his guest while I make my way down to talk to Trex. I open the door to his office to find Dayio and Trex waiting.

Dayio comments, “Only a small knot, not bad. You alright?”

Quickly feeling around for the tiny lump, not finding it, I answer, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“When I saw that woman hit you, I had to actually stop myself from attacking them. Did you really want me to not do anything?”

“Yeah. They’re not the bad guys; they just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t, either.”

“What’s Equility?”

Surprised, Trex asks, “Wait, you actually found them?”

Telling them about Geilium and Equility is probably a bad idea; not that they wouldn’t believe me, just that they’d know who to point a finger at if something were to happen. I don’t ask about their secrets, so I don’t have to tell them mine. I will be vague.

I answer, “Yeah, I found them. Their main goal is to stop Menta-Life and they want me to help them.” I ask Trex, “By the way, how’s it looking on those credentials?”

Dayio informs, “I have one of my guys making the pickup now to bring them here. He should be here any minute.”

I ask Trex, “And the truck?”

Trex answers, “Depends. Do you want to make one, or steal an original?”

“How hard would it be to steal an original?”

“The company just does touch-ups on hardware; it should be an easy steal, but painting a truck to match would be a little less illegal. Have you timed their routes?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, will you be in and out before the scheduled repairmen show up?”

I hadn’t even thought of that. How stupid would we look if the other drivers showed up before we did? Menta-Life security would take us down at the gate and everyone would be sitting ducks in the back of that truck.

I reply, “I guess we’ll have to steal a truck on their route to Menta-Life HQ.”

Trex volunteers, “I’ll find the time on one of their routes. When do you need to pick up the truck?”

“Tomorrow.” Trex begins typing and I ask Dayio, “How’d you make it out of there last night?”

“When they got you up and into the elevator, I scaled the stairwell down to beat you guys down there, and to see where they were taking you. I watched them as they exited the elevator, then got into another across from it and I took the back door out. I waited on a roof across from GCN where I could get a view of both sides, but nothing. I waited for, like, three hours.”

That doesn’t make sense. We were driving for at least two hours to get to the GCN building this afternoon. I know I wasn’t unconscious for that long.

I ask, “Are you sure?”

Dayio confirms, “Positive. You never came out of that building. Even if they went down to a parking garage, I made it out and up to my vantage point fast enough to catch them coming out, but I never saw anyone except for the two guards out front.”

I let out a sigh and accept, “Okay.”

So we were in the basement of GCN the whole time. Having ended up in an underground parking garage, it makes sense that we were in a big building.

Dayio interrogates, “Are you going to help them? Do you need backup or anything?”

I answer, “I’m not sure yet. This is getting too complicated and I don’t trust these people at all. I’d rather go at this alone than risk something happening to you.”

“Well I’d hate to lose my favorite running buddy. Hang on.” He taps his Econ, then asks, “You close? …Okay, I’ll meet you in the tunnel.” He taps his Econ and says to us, “Our guy’s here with the credentials. I’ll be right back.”

Dayio leaves the room and Trex inquires, “When did you become so passionate?”

I correct him, “Compassionate, and you guys and Feegle are all I have. I’d never involve any of you in anything like this. These aren’t people I’d trust enough to bring here.”

I know the feeling isn’t the same for him because of his greed, but like I said, who am I to judge? In my current situation, my greed is worse than his. The world is losing their minds and I just want Menta-Life’s treasure chest. Does that make me any better than Trex? These people are over-privileged and can afford to ignore the problems of those lower than them.

Gharis City is home to the wealthiest people left in the world. If they don’t care to help the scum like me in other cities, why should I? The Deserted are all people who just didn’t wake up and smell the coffee. Nobody can help them now anyway. Now I come across asking myself, what will I do when I become over-privileged?

Dayio walks back into the room, then places the credentials on the desk, “Here ya go, Trex. I’m gonna return to my post.”

Trex acknowledges, as he grabs the yellow envelope, “Thanks Dayio. I’ll send the runner his cut.”

Dayio mentions to me, “You’re more than just a running buddy to me, Van. If you need me, I’ll always be here.”

Dayio leaves the room. What did he mean by that? Was he really worried about me last night? If he was, he could have come back for me. Then again, I sort of told him not to. I have other things to worry about right now.

I ask Trex, “How much do I owe you for the creds?”

He answers, “Three thousand, five hundred covers credentials and one thousand, five hundred covers my take.”

I grab the envelope off the desk, then open it and pull out the credentials. It’s just a small paper that folds open like a passport. My picture and a fake name are on it, along with the company information.

I shove the credentials into my back pocket and approve, “Done. Set up the transfer and send me the details for the route on my Econ.”

Trex turns straight to his computer and starts typing away, then says, “See ya, Van.”

I leave the room then look to my right to see Dayio and his runner walking towards the forest exit. I turn left and start on my way back to the GCN building. I run into Feegle inside of the bakery, taking an order with the same customer.

He notices me and instructs, “Vanessa, hold on a second.” He rushes with the customer’s order, then articulates to her, “Have a great day.”

The woman replies, “Thank you, Mr. Feegle. You too.”

The woman leaves, then Feegle turns and stares at me like there’s something on my face. He remains silent.

I turn my head slightly to the right and inquire, “What?”

He asks, “Are you keeping out of trouble?”

“Of course, why do you ask?”

“Dayio came in late during a party I had last night, and he looked rather long.”

“Long?”

“Oh dear, umm…”

He ponders for a second and I ask, “Sad?”

He swiftly spruces up the word, “Yes, depressed.”

I smile at his correction of my correction. I tell a fib, “I’m doing my best to stay out of trouble, Feegle.”

“I needn’t remind you of the consequences of the last endeavor.”

“No, Feegle, you needn’t. I do have somewhere I have to be, though. I’m being a good girl, Feegle. Trust me.”

Technically, I am being a good girl by aiding a revolution. Wait, that doesn’t make sense.

Feegle replies, “I trust you, dear, but I do not believe you. Where are you going?”

I head towards the door as I answer, “You don’t want to know. Believe me on that one. See ya, Feegle.”

I leave before I hear what he has to say. I climb onto the lectrocycle and take off back to GCN.

Serenia states, “Message from Trex: The truck makes its way to Menta-Life from the Gharis City Regulator Station to arrive by seven.” She continues, “I hope it’s good news.”

I ask, “You didn’t hear that?”

“No. My model leans more towards privacy of the user. We are not allowed to hear our user’s conversations or messages, even as we speak them. I’m only allowed to know what you allow me to know.”

“I see. Well it is good news.”

“Trex is requesting that a transfer of five thousand aers be made from your account to his. Do you accept this transaction?”

“Yes.”

“…Transaction complete.”

“Thanks, Serenia. Goodbye.”

“See ya, Van.”

This Econ is smart. The sun is setting now and I know where I need to be. Having to get prepared for a takeover of one of the most secure buildings in the new world in only one day isn’t a great idea. I could take the rest of the day to myself, but I would like to train with some of the Equility members. I can show them a trick or two on being a runner.

That may help them live long enough to get me inside. I have no idea what we’re going to run into when we get inside of Menta-Life, but from my experience, security is always tighter on the outside than in. I have a lot of chaff at my disposal, so if things get too hot, I can always ditch them and make away with whatever I get. Either way, for me, this job will be a piece of cake. I reach the GCN building and the van is gone.

I park my lectrocycle right out front and head inside, past the two security guards as the younger one greets, “Welcome.”

I ignore him and walk into the door, then up to the receptionist counter where there is a woman sitting at a monitor. The small hall on the left of the counter must be the elevators where Dayio and I were.

She happily greets, “Greetings, and welcome to Gharis City News. Do you have an appointment scheduled today?”

“Maybe.”

“Who are you looking for today?”

So if my hunch is correct, Geilium shouldn’t be here, but if he is, he had to have left shortly after we did. I wonder if I can make up something to make them cave into telling me that Equility houses underneath this building.

I answer, “Geilium McKoy.”

She asks, “And your name?”

“Vanessa Pheros.”

“One moment please.” She picks up the landline, then dials his extension, “Mr. McKoy, Ms. Vanessa Pheros is here to see you… Okay, Mr. McKoy, I will notify her.” She hangs up the phone then relays to me, “Mr. McKoy told me that you were to report to his secretary Aleena. One moment.”

She picks up the phone, but before she can dial, I enquire, “Why can’t I speak with him?”

“He’s busy at the moment.”

Of course he is. Not making time to meet someone who is going to help you win a revolution isn’t odd at all.

She dials another extension and waits for an answer. “Hello, Aleena. I have Vanessa Pheros here for you… Okay.” She hangs up, then says to me, “Aleena will be down shortly to see you. Please have a seat over there.”

She points to my right at a black leather sofa. I walk over and sit down to wait for Aleena. A few minutes later, she comes strolling out from the small hallway in her secretary outfit.

She cruises around the receptionist counter to me and asks, “Did you get what you were looking for?”

I pull out the credentials, wave it in front of her, and respond with suspicion. “I did.”

I put it away and she says, “We’ll talk upstairs in my office. Follow me.”

I get up and follow behind her to the small hallway where the elevators are. She presses the button on the left side of the wall where the two elevators lead up to the higher floors.

I decide to test my theory, “Why don’t we just take this elevator here down to my quarters and discuss it with Paul?”

She answers without looking, “Your quarters are far from here.”

“Are they? Then why not take this elevator?”

I turn to the elevators across from us and press the button.

She quickly thwarts my idea, “I’d rather not have this conversation in a parking garage.”

I reply, “Well, I plan to go deeper than that.”

She walks over to me, then grabs my jacket with her right hand and pulls me close to her. The elevator to the parking garage opens up; I push her hand off me, then swing her around into the opened elevator. She prepares to attack me, but then the other elevator pings. She stops and stands in the elevator like normal and, as I walk in, the opposite elevator opens. I hear the voices of people behind me as I enter the elevator, then turn around, standing to the left of Aleena.

They are exiting the elevator, and three of the seven people come in with us. Aleena and I move towards the back to give them room. A woman presses the button marked “Park” and we all stand in silence as the door closes, then the elevator moves down. There is a second button underneath “Park” that reads: “B1.” I also notice that there isn’t a camera set up in here.

I inquire, “Anybody in here ever been down to B1?”

One man answers, “No. It’s just an archive room for old records.”

I ask him in a low tone while looking at Aleena, “Is that so?”

He doesn’t answer me and she continues looking forward with irritation. The elevator pings, then stops and opens. I notice the garage exit is pretty far away, like it connects under the next street. For the garage to not be two floors deep, there has to be something big under us. The three people get out, then the elevator closes. Aleena throws her left arm back towards my face, so I squat down and avoid it.

Her arm hits the wall where my head was, then she swings her right leg around towards me and I catch it. I quickly lift her leg over me then turn around while still holding her leg. I stand up straight and she lets out a grunt as she forces her right calf into my stomach, pushing me backwards to the right side of the elevator. She tries to hold me there with her leg pinned against me, but I grab her right sleeve with my right hand and push her hip forward with my left hand. She loses her balance. I bend her arm up and push her against the left wall.

As she struggles I state, “Your first mistake was when you took me up the same elevator twice. Your second was the parking garage. Unfortunately, putting a bag over my head doesn’t make me deaf to the screeching echoes. And your third was not taking the long drive the first time you took me down there.”

She replies, “You were unconscious and so was Paul. Neither of you could know.”

“Apparently not unconscious enough. Now take me down to Paul and Mitchell because we don’t have time for this game you want to play.”

She remains still silently without a struggle. I wonder if Dayio was really correct and didn’t just miss our exit from the building the night before. What his view didn’t give him was a direct view of the parking garage exit, wherever it is. Aleena shakes me off, then quickly turns around and I put my hands up, backing away.

She demands, “This gets back to no one, understand?”

I reply, “Your people can stay locked away down here forever for all I care. Your secret’s safe with me.”

She walks to the buttons, then reaches into her blazer pocket for a small key. She inserts it into a hole at the top of the panel and turns it, then presses “B1.” The elevator starts moving down again, then stops and opens to reveal the archive room. There are bookshelves, desks, computers, chairs and dust all over everything. She steps out of the elevator and I follow behind her. I continue to follow her as I look around slowly. Now I feel dumb because this is clearly a record’s room.

She turns right then stands in front of the first bookshelf, neighboring the elevator, and demands, “Come on.”

I look over at her and watch her pull an orange book off the shelf, then open it. She presses a button inside of the book, then the shelf slides to the right, blocking the other elevator. Well, I was right after all. I’d started to feel a little stupid for a second, but I’ve made a miraculous recovery. It’s time to head down to Equility and come up with something to say to Paul. I completely made up needing to talk to him, and now I should figure something out.

The bookshelf fully reveals the second elevator. Why hide an elevator that is able to go down to the same floor? Aleena inserts the same key into a hole on the left of the elevator and turns it. She pulls the key out, then walks to the bookshelf and places the book back in the same place. There are a lot of orange books on the shelf, but I notice the similarity is that there are three orange ones in a row and the one she picked is in the center.

She walks back over to the elevator as it arrives. She walks in and I follow, then she inserts the key into the panel. When she turns it, the door shuts and we immediately start going down. I notice this elevator doesn’t have a “B1” button like the other one. This explains why it is covered up by the bookshelf; it’s probably the only one that goes down to Equility HQ.

The ride down isn’t long and the door opens up to a small hallway with a door on the right. The hallway is the same color as the hallway by Geilium’s office, so I know I’m in the right place. Dayio definitely saved me on this one. We exit the elevator and head down to the wooden door at the end of the hall. We enter to a set of twelve stairs, then go up and enter the door directly in front of us to the hallway with the two security guards.

I ask, “Why did that seem so much longer the first time?”

She answers, “The door next to the elevator leads to more stairs. Our own little emergency getaway in case we are ever infiltrated.”

We walk the hallway and she stops at one security guard, issuing an order, “We need Paul Quentin in the meeting room.”

He quickly accepts, “Yes ma’am.”

He exits the hallway and she starts walking again. We enter the meeting room and sit down, silently, waiting for Paul. I can ask Paul about the credentials and what he thinks about stealing the truck.

I ask, “Where’s Mitchell?”

She quickly answers, “He’s busy.”

Her quick answer proves that she’s not in any mood for talking, so I inquire, “Why are you always so pissed off?”

She answers, “I’m only pissed off when you’re around.”

“Why?”

“You must have never had a conversation with yourself before.”

“I don’t make a habit of it, but I may have an idea of how you feel.”

Paul walks into the room and asks, “Back so soon?”

He takes his same seat across from me, so we are all in order again. I’ll still wait for Geilium to arrive before discussing the plan. The short notice may come as a bit of a shock, but they’ve been waiting long enough already, so one day less won’t do anything but hasten the inevitable. If they’re not ready by now, they won’t be.