Chapter 17 & 18

Chapter 17: Plan B

 

I should have taken the day to enjoy myself instead of coming straight back here. Some training will do some good in preparation for going up against the number one corporation in the world, though.

I answer Paul, who actually looks a little surprised to see me, “I didn’t want to keep you guys waiting, plus we’re doing this tomorrow, so I–”

They both give me a stinging, surprised look, but it’s Aleena leans in and yells, “Tomorrow!?! Did you really–”

She seems dumbfounded, so I interrupt her. “Yeah. What’s wrong with tomorrow?”

“What’s wrong is we’re not prepared for this yet.”

She lets out a sigh, then reaches down next to her and grabs a phone. Landlines are still used, but mainly to connect to others within a building which explains why she can use it down here and still get service. She dials and puts the phone to her left ear since her Econ is probably connected on the right.

She states, “Geilium, we need you down here right away. We have a problem… it can’t wait… yes, sir.” She hangs up, then turns to us. “He’s coming down.”

I grab the credentials out of my back pocket, then slide it over to Paul and ask, “What do you think about these?”

He picks it up and looks over it, holding it up to the light. Aleena and I both await his response.

After his careful examination, he supports, “These are undoubtedly authentic, down to the texture of the paper. These will pass without a second thought. How did you get a hold of these so quickly?”

“It’s a trade secret.”

He slides the credentials back to me, then asks, “You don’t trust me do you?”

“Don’t take offense, Paul, I don’t trust anybody.”

The door opens up. Geilium and Mitchell come storming in.

Geilium quickly walks around towards his seat next to Aleena as he questions, “What happened?”

Aleena answers while she stares at me. “Well, apparently we’re attacking Menta-Life tomorrow.”

Geilium doesn’t look upset at all; he just picks up the landline and dials an extension. Mitchell takes his seat on Geilium’s left side.

Geilium gives direction, “Finish up for the day. The building will be closed tomorrow. Everyone can finish their work the following day with a deadline extension.”

He hangs up the phone and Mitchell asks, “What do we do?”

Geilium answers, “We accept the cards we’ve been given.” He addresses us all. “First we go over the plan amongst ourselves. Next we go over it with everyone else. Finally, we train and rest. This is what we’ve been waiting for and we’re not going to waste this opportunity. Vanessa, you have the floor.”

Everyone stares at me, so I stand up and request, “Schematic.”

Mitchell pulls the pad from his side, then stands up and places it on the center of the table. He activates the schematic and it opens up to show the exterior of the Menta-Life building.

I explain, “So, I have the credentials, but there’s a problem with getting the truck. The usual drivers are always scheduled to arrive between six and seven at night. In order to get everyone in, we’ll need to infiltrate a little after dark. This could turn into a problem if the drivers are there already, so I came up with an alternative. Now, the drivers leave the GCRS at around six–”

Mitchell interrupts, “I’m sorry, did you say GCRS? As in Gharis City Regulator Station?”

I answer, “Yes.” Everyone grows a distraught look on their faces as I continue to explain, “As I was saying, the drivers leave at around six, depending on how much of a workload they have. We tail them to a secure location on their way to Menta-Life, then hijack the truck. But we have to keep them with us so they won’t blow our cover. I’ll be the driver and we load up the muscle into the back of the truck. We’ll use my credentials to enter the back gate to the underground parking garage. Once inside, we wait until it’s dark enough, then, once the two-man patrol passes by, two people simultaneously take out the two guards at the gate from a distance and the team of runners will run from the gate to the garage without being noticed. We make our way straight in and clear the first floor. When the outside guards rally up to come in after finding the two bodies, we ambush them. At that point, we head up to Gene Archibald. Menta-Life falls.”

Everyone at the table stares at me as if I just explained a theory of time travel. It is a very complicated plan, but I don’t see any flaws.

I add, “It’ll be a lot easier than it sounds. Take the truck, pick everyone up, then we’re smooth sailing.”

Geilium responds, “Then we’re a go. We head down and inform everyone immediately, then prepare. Let’s go.”

We all get up and head out to the main hall. Everyone is downstairs either watching a bout between two men or eating at the tables. When we all start down the stairs, the crowd starts to quiet down as they notice us. We attract the crowd’s attention and everyone turns around towards us. Moments later, the fighters stop fighting. We reach the bottom of the stairs and stop, but Geilium continues walking. The spectators clear a path for him as he passes through and stops in the center of the arena.

He addresses all of them in a raised voice, “The time for attack is upon us. We have constructed a plan of action to eradicate our enemies and finally take back our city from Menta-Life. We will divide you all into two groups; strongest and fastest and will strike when the time is right. Tomorrow, you shall all see daylight and tomorrow night, we shall all see freedom.”

Everyone begins cheering for that horribly short speech. These people have been preparing for a long time, so their excitement is pretty understandable and long awaited. Geilium signals me to come over. As I approach him, everyone grows quiet. I walk through the gap and watch everyone as they stare at me. I hate being the center of attention and now, that is quite literally what I am.

I step next to Geilium and he introduces me, “This is Vanessa Pheros, and she is a runner and highly-skilled fighter.”

He could have left the part about me being a smuggler out of the introduction. Who would feel comfortable being around a dangerous thief? Geilium then signals Paul to come join us. Paul walks over and stops on the opposite side of Geilium.

Geilium introduces Paul, “This is Paul Quentin and he has experienced something similar to all of you with the disappearance of his brother. Paul and Vanessa will both be training with you, as equal members of Equility, in preparation for the events that will transpire tomorrow. You are all under order to do as you please until that clock–” He looks up at the clock that shows the current time of 5:36 and continues, “–reaches five o’clock tomorrow evening. At that time, we will divide into our teams and change the world.”

Everyone begins cheering again. Geilium then leaves us both in the arena. We stare at him as he, Aleena, and Mitchell head back up the stairs. I guess we’re staying here until five tomorrow, so I plan to get as much training done as possible. I turn and head the opposite way to the rooms.

Paul tensely asks, “Vanessa, where are you going?”

I turn back around to see the nervous look on his face about being left in the spotlight amongst a crowd of strangers.

I answer, “I’m going to get changed.”

I turn back, then quickly head up the stairs to my room. I change back into the clothes they left for me. I need to be just as prepared as they are in case we run into some heavy resistance inside and they need me to back them up. I head back out of the room to train in the arena. During training, I find myself becoming attached to their cause as our fists collide. I can feel their anger and hostility.

They fight and run with so much aggression that their technique is sloppy, but they have the will. I feel sympathy enough to not tell them to forget about why they do this and focus on what they’re doing. Some of these people have lost families, lost love, and watched their loved ones regress into someone they didn’t even know. I have no family or anyone to share that kind of pity for. I have been fighting for myself since my father died and never felt a thing for anyone.

Always on the poor side of life, I mostly walked alone; now I’m here with a unified people who want to make a difference when, in all honesty, they don’t need to. For them to have lost someone to Menta-Life means that someone had to have been addicted to the dream. One thing those sessions are not is cheap, so these people should be much more well-off than most of the city folks, including me. All of these people are here because they want to be here, and that’s what I admire about them the most.

Watching Paul, on the other hand, is a different situation. His anger is better spoken than expressed through action because he’s not much of a fighter or a runner. I didn’t fight with him personally, but it seems that he just lacks the potential to follow through on his attacks. He may not be suitable to have on the frontline during the push against Menta-Life. After we finish training, we head to our rooms and sleep through the majority of the daylight that remains, even though we can’t see it.

I hear two loud knocks on the door, then hurdle out of my sleep to hear someone shout, “Five o’clock. Let’s go!”

I sit up and stare at the door as I continue to hear the banging and shouting. It reminds me of prison; wake-up calls and wake-up calls. Oh, how I hate them. I get up, get changed into my normal clothes, and head out to the main hall where everyone is waiting, talking amongst themselves. I join the ranks and make my way through the crowd to see what’s going on up front. I reach the front to see Geilium and Mitchell talking amongst themselves away from the crowd.

I approach them and ask, “What’s goin’ on?”

They both turn around and Geilium calls out to me, “Vanessa. I trust you slept well?”

“I did. What’s going on?”

“We’re preparing to go take on Menta-Life. Whenever you are ready, we will begin to move out.”

This is as ready as we’re going to be, so I reply, “Ready.”

Geilium steps halfway up the stairs leading to his office, then turns towards the crowd and puts his hands up. The crowd turns their attention to him and he puts his hands down.

Geilium begins his speech. “Okay everyone. It is time and time is not something that we can afford to waste. There will be two teams; one of fighters and one of runners. Vanessa and Mitchell will procure a truck for the job which they will load the fighters and I into. Once inside of Menta-Life, two shooters will take out the two guards at the gate from the parking garage entrance. As soon as they hit the ground, the runners will scale the gate and quickly run from the gate entry to the parking garage which is about one hundred and twenty yards away, not including the distance from the initial hiding spot to the building’s gate. If any of you do not feel up to making that run, then join the fighters in the truck, but there will not be enough space to fit us all. The runners will follow Aleena. Once we pick up the fighter group near the Menta-Life building, she will lead the runners in after we take out the guards. I will let you all use your discretion in picking a side.” Geilium turns to us and says, “Vanessa, Mitchell, we’ll see you soon. Let’s sync Econs.”

I tap my Econ and say, “Synchronize.” Geilium does the same. Serenia confirms in my ear, “Geilium McKoy’s information is saved.”

I say to Mitchell, “Let’s go.”

I start up the stairs and Mitchell follows behind me as he asks, “Where are we going?”

I answer as we make our way to the lobby, “To get the truck. Were you not listening to the plan?”

He nervously asks, “I was listening, but just the two of us? No backup?”

I assure him, “We don’t need it. There should only be two civilian drivers. It’ll be a piece of cake. Trust me.”

I hear him swallow his spit. It looks like I may be on my own for this part of the mission because he’s still on the nervous edge. Now I only have to figure out how to steal a truck, in motion, without weapons, by myself, without killing the drivers or letting them get away. We exit the elevator and turn left to the lobby where the orange sun is shining outside of the windows. We leave the building and my lectrocycle isn’t parked out front where I left it. We walk down the stairs and I look around to find it, but no luck. I hear a battery humming from my left so I look over and see a security guard driving the lectrocycle towards us from the side of the building.

He pulls over in front of Mitchell, then states, “Mr. McKoy said you two were on your way out.”

He gets off. I notice he has an electric baton. I’m unarmed and since I’m taking on two people by myself, it’ll be a good idea to borrow this.

I demand from the guard, “I need your baton and your glove.” He surrenders them to me and, as I put the glove on, I ask Mitchell, “You can either fight beside me quickly or learn to drive a lectrocycle fast.”

He quickly decides, “Lectrocycle.”

Knowing he’d pick that, I quickly demand, “Get on.” As he gets on the bike, I give him quick and basic instructions. “Slowly twist your right hand downward then go in a small left circle.”

He does as I say, very slowly, then loses his balance and shifts it back to his right leg.

I add, “Don’t stop twisting.”

He starts up again, then slowly does a left circle and stops.

He excitedly shouts, “I did it!”

I reply as I climb on the back, “Congratulations. Gharis City Regulator Station, let’s go.”

We take off for the station. It isn’t too far from the GCN building. The others will probably all split up and meet at a designated place nearby Menta-Life so we can load up the fighters. We reach the GCRS just in time to see the D.T. Feddings repair truck leaving the front gate.

We pull over a safe distance away from the left side of the station. The station is heavily fortified with Regs outside wielding automatic weapons. I’m glad we’re leaving and not having to steal the truck from inside because we wouldn’t make it in there unnoticed no matter which way we entered. The truck pulls out heading to the left where we are, then makes a right.

I inform Mitchell, “That’s the truck.”

He nods, then says, “Here we go.”

He quickly takes off in a half circle to catch up to the truck, then loses control of the lectrocycle and starts panicking. The back and forth swerving is gonna draw attention to us.

I shout, “Let go of the throttle!”

He shouts back, “What’s the throttle?!”

“Your right hand!”

He takes his hand off the throttle and the lectrocycle slows down.

I raise my voice to ask, “What are you doing?”

He apologizes. “I’m sorry, I was in the moment.”

He eases back on the throttle, then speeds up to catch the truck. We are on a busy street, but traffic on the ground is flowing fast compared to the traffic above. We are about ten miles away from Menta-Life. We head west with the sun shining brightly in our faces as it passes over the horizon. If we’re going to do this, it has to be now.

I grab the baton from between Mitchell and I, holding it back as I speak loudly. “We need to get closer.”

He starts shifting between cruisers and maneuvering us up to the front. Once we get close to the left side of the truck, I notice that the driver’s side window is down and they have a big side mirror; big enough for me to hold on to. We’re only a few minutes out from Menta-Life, so I have to make my move.

I demand, “Get me closer to the driver.”

Mitchell starts slowly moving us towards the truck. When we get close to the driver’s side door, I realize that I can’t jump off the lectrocycle without Mitchell falling off, so I have to improvise.

I instruct, “When I say go, jam your foot on the brake and swerve slightly to the left.”

He acknowledges, “Okay.”

I slowly maintain my balance as I stand up behind Mitchell. I crouch down and shout, “Go!”

He pulls on the brake and, at the same time, I pounce off towards the truck’s mirror. I grab onto it with my left hand, then pull myself close to the driver and activate the electric baton. The driver notices me and starts to roll up his automatic window. Before it can get far up, I thrust the baton in and shock the driver. He starts twitching. He let’s go of the steering wheel and the truck swerves to the left.

The window rolls up on the baton so I switch it off as it gets stuck. The passenger grabs the steering wheel, then quickly turns it back to the right. I start to lose my grip at the sudden shift in direction, so I let go of the baton and grab the mirror to hang on while the rest of my body dangles in the wind. When the passenger steadies the truck, I grab the handle for the door and pull it up; it’s locked.

I get my balance back on the truck door. I want to use my elbow to knock out the glass, but the truck needs to be intact or the guards at Menta-Life might get suspicious. The truck is driving normally now that the passenger has control, except for the fact that he’s running red lights and honking. The passenger’s side window is open, so I climb up to the top of the truck’s cab then run across it. I do a back handspring and, while keeping my grip on the cab, I swoop myself into the passenger side window.

I punch the passenger and harshly demand, “Stop the truck!”

He cowers as he shouts back, “Okay just don’t hurt me!”

He starts trying to move the unconscious driver while holding the wheel. I lend him a hand by pulling the driver over to the passenger seat. He pulls the truck over. I reach over him with my right hand and grab the baton. In a fluid motion, I hit the button to roll down the window releasing it.

Mitchell pulls over at the side of us and asks, “Are you alright?”

I sarcastically answer, “Yeah, peachy.” I pull the keys out, then turn to the passenger and command, “Get out and put your hands up.”

He does as I ask, then I get out on the passenger’s side and walk around the truck to him.

I stop and continue, “Get your buddy out of the truck and take him to the back.” I turn to Mitchell and say, “Go open the cargo door.”

They both do as I ask. I also go back to look into the back of the truck to see a lot of electrical equipment, which is most likely broken parts.

I tell the passenger, “Both of you, inside. You won’t be harmed and you’ll be out of here within the hour. Give me both Econs now.”

The passenger takes the Econ out of his ear and out of the driver’s ear and hands them both to me. He struggles to lift his buddy up into the back of the cargo area. I shut the door behind them and lock it.

I tap my Econ and Serenia asks, “Hey, Van. What’s up?”

I walk around the truck to the driver’s seat and request, “Call Geilium.”

“Connecting.”

Geilium calls out, “Vanessa?”

“Where are we going?”

“We are waiting two blocks east of the Menta-Life building in an alleyway. The alleyway has a door and we are inside, to remain out of sight.”

“Okay, we’re coming.”

I tap my Econ. I turn to face Mitchell. “Leave the lectrocycle, we’re taking the truck.”

I get in and he speed-walks around to the passenger’s side and gets in, too. I drop the truckers’ Econs on the floor inside the cab. Mitchell buckles his seatbelt as I shift the truck into drive and pull off towards the Menta-Life building. The sun has nearly fallen completely and the city lights are coming on to lend some support to the full moon above. We’re running late, so I pick up the pace. I see the alley on the left and pull over in front of it.

I see one of the big guys from Equility keeping lookout. He notices the truck, then nods his head and I turn slightly to the right to back the truck in. As I’m backing in, I notice a lot of fighters in the left side mirror exiting the building next to us. The cargo area is big, but there are a lot more fighters than I thought. It is a short drive, but a lot of that electrical equipment is going to get dumped in this alley for them all to fit. The alley is too tight for me to get the side mirrors in, so I leave the cab hanging out while we wait for them all to load up.

I hear the cargo door open, then feel the weight of the truck starting to bump up and down. Afterwards, I start hearing a lot of noises and the sound of things breaking. There must be no other way to subtly clear out a truck full of broken mechanical parts in a hurry than to be loud. There aren’t many people left out around this area, but the few that are, are looking at us in the truck. The truck is a very tight fit to where they can barely see what’s going on as they make their brief pass. We find and use the spare uniforms behind the seats to sell our repair persona.

I hear the truck’s cargo door slam closed, then hear two loud bangs behind my seat. I take that as my signal to go. I pull out and see that they have taken out the entire cargo stock they had back there, making a complete mess of the alley. I turn the headlights on as I drive up the street towards Menta-Life and turn left at the dead end. The only street entry points are at main intersections which are the four corners of Menta-Life, then two side streets on the east and west side. We are coming up from the west side street where I’d parked my lectrocycle for the seminar.

We come within view of the Menta-Life skyscraper, then Mitchell looks up and asks, “Are we taking all of this on our own?”

I look up in amazement and answer, “Oh, yeah.”

I turn my attention to the side gate on the left, then pull up to it. One of the two guards walk to the left pillar and presses a switch to activate the gate. The other guard steps over by the other pillar with his rifle in hand while I slowly pull forward. They probably don’t get much action here, so it might be best not to make any sudden moves. I stop next to the guard and hit the button to roll down my window as the guard steps up to the truck.

The guard demands, “Credentials.”

They must have some kind of vocal enhancers in their helmets because this guard’s voice sounds distorted. It sounds like a male underneath, though. I grab the credentials from my back pocket and present them to the guard. He looks over it then looks up, past me, at Mitchell and I turn to him as well. He has the most nervous look on his face while looking straight ahead. He looks like he’s not even breathing – frozen in time. He’s going to blow our cover, so I gotta make up an excuse for him.

I turn to the guard and lie, “Rough time with the divorce. Terrible.”

The guard asks, “Where are the regular repairmen?”

“They’re out sick.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes. They drive together, so naturally…”

The guard stands there for a few seconds and looks back at Mitchell, then hands me back the credentials. I slowly drive through the gate and follow the straight path towards the underground parking garage in front of us. I drive down the small ramp slowly to avoid injuring anyone in the cargo area. There are a lot of pillars and cruisers parked here; with as many people as Menta-Life caters to, it’s not surprising this many people are still here living the dream or monitoring for good memories to steal.

I see a parking space all the way to the back, next to the elevator. I drive slowly past the cruisers, looking around for anyone or any surveillance cameras and see none. This is beginning to look easy. The upper floors are probably tighter, but we’re heading straight up to Gene once we get the runners inside. I park the truck, then Mitchell and I get out. I walk around to the back and slide the cargo door up to see all of the fighters bunched inside with Geilium in front.

I state, “It’s all clear.”

They immediately start flowing out of the back and, when it empties, I see the two drivers tied up with what looks like electrical cords. It doesn’t seem like they were hurt in any way, just terrified. I smile at them, then slide the door closed. I turn to see Paul, Geilium, and Mitchell standing together, facing me.

Geilium compliments my work. “Good job, Vanessa. Now we gotta get our runners in. I have a pulser rifle that can take the guards out from a distance. Unfortunately, we only have one with a man-made scope for distance capability. It’s set to stun. No one needs to die here.”

He looks to his right and puts his hand out. A guy steps forward with the rifle and gives it to Geilium.

I ask, “Who’s your best marksman?”

With confidence, Ukiro steps up from the right and answers. “I am.”

I shift my eyes over at her and Geilium agrees, “She is the best we have.”

She grabs the weapon from Geilium. She looks to me and speaks. “Tell me where to shoot.”

I tell Geilium, “Let Aleena know to charge in fast when the bodies fall.”

He taps his Econ. I walk past him and Ukiro and start jogging to where we came in. I hear Ukiro following behind me. When we reach the other end, I stop at the left side of the exit. She does also as I peek around the corner and stare up to wait for the set of two guards to pass. I see two pass by, but I decide to stay and wait for the other two so I can match response times.

Ukiro whispers, “What’s taking so long?”

I ignore her. Shortly, the other two guards pass by. It takes about three minutes between passes, so they have more than enough time to make it in unnoticed. As soon as the guards clear the parking garage, I make my way up, take cover at the right wall, and peek around each corner.

I tell Ukiro, “The two at the gate are your targets. When they cross paths, take them down.” I turn my attention to the backs of the patrolling guards. As soon as they turn the corner, I whisper, “Try to hit them both quickly.”

I watch as she quickly releases two pulses at the guards. They get hit almost simultaneously and drop straight down. I notice something strange as I watch Aleena and the runners scale the gate, then start running towards us. The guards are faintly sparking like they’re frying. How is that possible?

They didn’t seem to be carrying any electrical components to where they can fry out like that. At that moment, it hits me. The day I came here for the seminar, the guards didn’t speak to anyone. Looking at them then, compared to now, they seem to be the same size and shape; the exact same.

The weird voice from the guard at the gate was just icing on a devastating piece of cake. The guards are mechs in disguise. Having hid this from the public must mean that Menta-Life uses them as private security under a secure network here at the building. Being connected means those two downed guards just alerted every mech guard in the building. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t risk it.

I yell at them as loud as I can, “Faster! Run faster!”

They continue at the same pace; they must be too far back to hear me clearly. I snatch the rifle from Ukiro, then step out into the open. The mech guards begin shooting heat rounds from the sides of the building and the runners begin dropping. Aleena and some of the runners have pulsers, so they fire back while running towards the garage. I aim the rifle at one corner then the other, but I can’t see the guards because they haven’t passed the corners yet.

I can’t just let the runners get slaughtered. I run out towards them so I can catch a peek of the guards around the corners. They’re definitely smart to know not to step around to where I am. I reach the runners and, as they run past me, I shoot at the five guards around the right corner, then at the three on the left corner to provide a little bit of cover fire. I follow the runners back and take down three guards in the process; two on one side and one on the other.

When we all make it into the garage, Aleena and I take cover on opposite ends of the wall. I shout, “Someone find the controls! Get this door down!”

I crouch down, then fire a couple of shots past Aleena’s corner to stall the approaching guards on her side. She does the same towards my side while standing. I hear the steel garage door beginning to close.

Ukiro demands, “Get in. Hurry!”

Aleena and I sprint down to the closing door, then duck under it to get in before it closes. I turn back and aim the rifle down at the door just in case we get some kind of surprise as the shutter door closes, but nothing happens.

I pass the weapon back to Ukiro, then shout to Geilium, “They’re coming! Take positions!”

The elevators both ping at the same time. The doors open and guard mechs come pouring out, shooting. A majority of the fighters start shooting at the mechs as they run to take cover behind the pillars and cruisers. The fighters that don’t have weapons try to fight the guard mechs hand-to-hand. They are getting beaten rather easily.

A fist versus metal fist isn’t a smart way to go. I’ve forgotten they still don’t know that the guards are mechs yet. We all run towards the fighters to help out and take cover behind the sea of cruisers as my team shoots at the mechs. The mechs take cover also and return fire at everyone shooting, including the fighters that took cover.

I stop running and take cover next to Geilium. He shouts to me over the rifle fire, “What happened?!”

Under heavy fire, I answer, “The guards are mechs!”

“That’s impossible!”

“They’re not shaped like BAMechs, so it has to be their own private security! I’m going to find a way to shut them down!”

I look to the left of the lot and see Paul leaving through a door that has a stairs symbol on it. Where is he going? I follow him. I quickly run through the rifle fire and take cover, passing by two parked cruisers. Once I pass those, I stand back up and bolt across, crashing through the door. I fall onto the immediate staircase and see heat rounds come flying in at the wall. I kick the door closed, then start making my way up the stairs to the first floor.

 

Chapter 18: Wake Up, Van

 

I exit the stairway to enter the dark floor where the entry is and where Menta-Life held the seminar. I see my way over to the elevator, but there’s no directory anywhere in sight. I decide to call in some outside help from Trex.

I tap my Econ and demand, “Call Trex.”

Serenia notifies, “Connecting…”

Trex asks, “Van, what’s up?”

I very quickly state, “I need help. If I was a server that controlled private on-site security mechs in the Menta-Life building, where would I be?”

“Menta-Life has private security mechs?”

“Trex, I don’t have time.”

“Okay, let me see if I can dig up something…”

“I may need Dayio to back me up. I’ll call you back.” I double tap my Econ. “Call Dayio.”

Serenia repeats, “Connecting…”

Dayio greets, “Hey, Van.”

I state, “I need your help. I’m in trouble at Menta-Life.”

He loudly asks, “You actually went?”

“Yeah, I’m here now, but things are a little complicated. I may need you to bail me out if something goes wrong with my plan.”

“Of course, Van. I’ll be there.”

“Thanks, Dayio. I knew I could count on you.”

“That’s what friends are for. I’ll let you know when I arrive.”

The call disconnects. I tap my Econ again. “Call Trex.”

“Connecting…”

Trex says, “Okay, Van. I got some semi-good news. I found a fan’s rendering of the building.”

I ask, “Who’s Afam?”

“No. A fan. Someone out there who calls himself Jerry, who absolutely idolizes the corporation, developed a sketch of what he believes the inside of Menta-Life looks like.”

“In other words, I’m dead?”

“Not necessarily. The rendering seems like it could be accurate.”

“Point me in the right direction and tell me why.”

I press the button for the elevator and wait for it to come down as Trex says, “Okay, you’re gonna start with floor… thirty-eight.”

The elevator opens and I step in to see the six rows of twelve buttons and press number thirty-eight.

As I go up, Trex explains. “Okay, so this guy here says that according to the way Menta-Life is built, there has to be a central server floor. With all of the circuitry going through that building, plus having to keep it all near the machines that clients sleep in, they’d need the servers close to where they operate in the event that things go wrong. You following me?”

I’m as confused as ever, so I truthfully respond, “Not really.”

He lets out a sigh, then summarizes. “Basically, in order to extend power to the entire building, it’ll be less pricey to let it operate from the middle.”

“This is the richest corporation in the new world.”

“…You know, I did not think that through.”

The elevator makes a ping noise, then opens. A firing squad of mechs start shooting into the elevator as it opens, so I quickly swing to the left wall and press the close button.

Trex calls out, “Van?”

I yell over the rounds, “I’m a little occupied!”

I peek outside of the elevator and notice the electronic servers humming with blue light strips.

The elevator closes and I confirm, “I’m here.”

I press button forty and Trex asks, “What was that?”

“The floor I needed to go to.”

I look around and see a camera in the elevator with me. They’re watching me. I’ll have to fight them off to get in there.

I continue, “Stay near your computer. I’ll call you back.”

I reach up for my Econ and he says, “Don’t do anything–”

I tap my Econ to disconnect the call. I get down on my knees and put my hands behind my head. I know exactly what he was going to say: don’t do anything stupid. Little does he know, that is exactly what I am about to do. The elevator pings at forty. I watch the doors open and see a squad of guard mechs standing about twenty feet back from the door with their rifles pointed at me. I don’t make any sudden moves as one mech approaches the elevator door and steps in with me.

I notice that it has a smaller weapon attached to its coat. I shove its rifle away with my left hand then move to the side as the other mechs begin firing into the elevator, shredding the mech in the process. I press button thirty-nine then close the door. That was a close one, but now I’ve got two weapons at my disposal – an automatic rifle and a sidearm.

I strip the mech of its weapons, then open the coat and shield my eyes as the sparks fly up at me. Uncovering my eyes, I see the mech underneath. These mechs aren’t fully shaped out like the MechCi or BAMechs; they just have thick metal rods with gaps that have wiring inside of them. The coats are meant to conceal them. The rods aren’t cheap since the barrage of rounds barely scratched them.

I hear the ping, then place the pistol on my right leg and the strap appears. It attaches the pistol to my leg. I hold the rifle in front of me as the door opens. I bolt out of the elevator while aiming the rifle around and see no one. This floor is full of desks, chairs, and computers. It seems like this might be where they do all of the monitoring for the dreams; it’s odd that no one is here watching over the dreamers.

There doesn’t seem to be any windows on this floor. The floors are tiled and there are a lot of pillars for structure, of course. I hear a loud bang come from the right side of the room. I look over there and see a guard mech has busted down the stairway door. Two more guards run in and look around for me.

Once they lock eyes with me, I start shooting at them with the rifle as I run towards the center of the room. The mechs return fire. I see a mech enter the floor through the same doorway, carrying a Greft Cannon. The Greft Cannon is like a classic grenade launcher, except the Greft shoots pulses that cause gravitational explosions. The shot only impacts immediate surfaces with damage, then pulses outward in a twenty-foot radius, pushing away everything in its path.

I continue shooting and the guard fires a Greft round at me. I turn left, then sprint two pillars back. I slide into cover behind a pillar on my left to avoid the blast. When the round impacts, desks, chairs, loose files, and computers go flying rapidly past the pillar. Pieces of the pillar chip off, too. I feel the pillar vibrate on my back as it weakens.

That was a close one. I peek around to my right and see a clearing, two pillars away where the round hit, then notice the structural weakness to the floor. It stripped enough to see the wood supports underneath the concrete. The guards lock onto me all at once. They all start firing rounds at me, so I hide behind the pillar. Before they stop firing, I run to my right, passing two more pillars.

The shooting stops. I already know what’s coming next. I abruptly stop in the center of four pillars where the structure beneath me would be the weakest. When I look back at the guards, I see the guard with the Greft take aim and fire. As soon as I see the release, I turn to my left, then drop the rifle and run as fast as I can.

I jump up onto a desk, then jump from desk to desk to clear the blast radius faster. Once I feel I’ve made it at least fifteen feet, I dive off the desk. I roll up to my feet and turn around. The Greft impacts and everything gets sent flying in an outburst motion. I run towards the blast, then slide over the last desk as another desk flies over me. When my feet hit the ground, I duck to avoid another flying desk, then spin past a flying chair and see that the floor has a hole in it.

I run straight to it, then slide on my side and tuck into the hole, landing back first on top of a huge, square-shaped glass. I only fall about five feet down from the ceiling. I look to my right and see the top of the elevator, then look down to see the servers are all housed in the glass. They have green lights on them that probably mean they’re working.

I tap my Econ and demand, “Call Trex.”

I rise up to a crouching position and start making my way towards the elevator.

As I drop down to the tile floor, Trex answers. “What happened?”

“Short version, I had two weapons and now I’ve got one. These things have Greft Cannons and they’re not afraid to use them. I’m on the thirty-eighth floor, but the servers are covered by a huge glass.”

I don’t see any way to open it and get inside. These things are in the same prison that I was in.

Trex states, “It must be safety glass. With that, there’s most likely a pan–”

I grab my pistol, aim to the right side, and shoot at the glass. The round just bounces right off.

Trex speaks, “What was that?”

“Sorry.”

He continues sterner, “There’s most likely a panel on a nearby wall that you can use to deactivate the glass.”

I concede, “Oh.” I walk around to the left side of the glass and see a panel attached to it. “Hey, there’s a panel here.”

As I approach it, I hear Trex chuckle. The panel just has a single button on it, so I press it and the glass forms a door shape then slides open. I step in and see that all of the servers look the same.

I state, “They’re all the same. I don’t know which one to turn off.”

He commands, “Look around.”

I hear a loud bang, then see the door on the right wall fly through and break the glass. The mech guards come dashing through it.

I point my pistol at them and loudly demand, “Trex, I need something to shoot at. Now!”

They see me, then enter the glass and start running towards me. My best guess is they won’t shoot and risk hitting the servers, which is a plus for me, but they’re going to rip me apart when they catch me.

Trex pledges, “They should all be housed on one custom server, so look for the one that’s different.”

I point and shoot at one that looks different from the rest. The light on it turns from green to red. The guards stop moving. I can’t tell if they’re looking at me because of their helmets, but I think that stopped them. I let out a sigh too soon. The mechs start bolting fast towards me and jumping over the smaller servers. I start shooting at every server as quick as I can while backing away, but they’re still coming.

Trex yells out, “Van?!”

I ignore him and keep shooting at all the servers, but they only change from green to red. One of the guards dive towards me, then drops to the floor and slides at my feet. I’m still pulling the trigger with my eyes wide open, staring down at the guard. I stop pulling the trigger and look up to see all of the other guards are motionless. Soon after, they collapse too.

Trex calls out again, “Van?”

I can’t believe that just happened and, on top of that I barely survived, but every security mech in the building should be shut down now. I start laughing, then let out a loud roar.

I update Trex, “I did it. Thanks, Trex. You saved my life. I did it. I have to go check on the others.”

He acknowledges, “Okay Van.”

I double tap my Econ. “Call Geilium.”

Geilium requests, “Vanessa? What happened?”

“I shut down their mech security systems. Are you guys alright?”

“We took some heavy losses, but we’re going after Gene while we still can. Meet us up on the top floor.”

The call disconnects. I salvage a rifle and place it on my back. The strap appears and attaches itself to me. I also attach the pistol to my right leg, then leave the server floor via elevator. There are two elevators, so hopefully we make it up there at the same time to confront Gene. I reach the top floor. Geilium, Aleena, and Mitchell are already here.

They turn their attention towards me briefly. Geilium is up a small set of stairs in the back behind a desk. Aleena and Mitchell are searching through a small meeting area on the left side of the room. This floor is solely Gene’s office and it is plainly obvious because of the old, yet fancy decor.

As Mitchell and Aleena rummage through the office, I ask Geilium, “Where’s everyone else?”

Geilium answers as he reads through a page file. “Downstairs, fortifying the building.”

“And Gene?”

“He’s not here. And according to this file here, Paul works for Menta-Life and is probably the reason we missed him and his entourage. But it doesn’t matter. This building is now ours.”

The clearing out of this building could have been a lot easier on my part, but I’m okay with the results.

I inquire, “So, where do we start in bringing this place down?”

Everyone looks up at me like I said something stupid, then Aleena and Mitchell turn to Geilium.

I see Aleena make a quick move, so I aim my pulser at her and harshly command, “Don’t move!” She freezes and stares at me. I ask Geilium, “We are destroying Menta-Life, aren’t we?”

Geilium slowly says, “Put the weapon down and let’s talk.”

I sternly repeat, “We are destroying Menta-Life aren’t we?”

“I never said we were, Vanessa.”

I think back to all the times we’d talked and only remember him ever mentioning stopping Menta-Life, but I see now that he had another objective all along. We all stare at each other in the awkward silence. I let Geilium trick me into helping him take over the main Menta-Life facility.

I reply, “No, you didn’t.”

Geilium says, “Vanessa… we can fix this.”

I hurriedly shake my head and reply, “No, we can’t. Destroying Menta-Life–”

Geilium finishes, “–won’t accomplish anything.”

“I bet Equility will think otherwise.”

“No, they won’t.”

His people fought and bled to destroy this place, but now I think I’m his last thorn. “They’re not really fortifying the building are they?”

Geilium answers, “My people are. I couldn’t afford to let the rest leave. Those who didn’t resist are being held captive. Vanessa, think of what you’re trying to destroy here. There is so much that we can use, and so much money we can make.”

“So this is about money?”

“It is for you, isn’t it? The only reason you’re here is because I offered to pay you the spoils. Here it is.” He puts his arms out and continues, “Housed here is more money than any of us will ever need. More than you will ever need. Isn’t that why you’re here?”

Geilium puts his arms down. I’ve grown attached to the idea of what Equility was supposed to bring. The promise of freedom and the fire the others had in them brought me to realize that I can fight for something more than just a paycheck. These people were supposed to be reunited with a family they’ve been longing to find; a family that they dedicated themselves to Equility for.

I timidly answer, “It was.”

Geilium sneers at me in a patronizing manner. “Has the great Vanessa Pheros grown a conscience? The only reason you began here is because a ghost paid you to be here, and the only reason you came on board with us was to plunder Menta-Life. Your treasures are in these servers.”

“People are dying, Geilium.”

He corrects me, “People have been dying. And I’m not going to let you step in and play hero now that I am where I’ve waited to be for years. I’m offering you a chance. You’re either with us or against us. What’s it going to be?”

I don’t know how many people he has left on his team, but with Aleena and Ukiro on his side, I’d have a difficult time alone. My only option for now is to run. He can’t have every floor covered yet. The stairwell door on the right opens, then Ukiro and a guy enter the room. I point my pulser at them and notice Geilium duck away.

Ukiro quickly crouches down when she sees me, so I shoot at the guy she came in with. The guy drops, then I see Aleena with a pulser pointed at me and I shoot at her. I’m cornered and there’s no cover in the room on my end. I have to get out of here fast. I take a couple of steps back, then press the button for the elevator and aim around to keep the two shooters at bay.

Mitchell is probably unarmed and, if he has a weapon, he won’t be good at shooting it. Geilium is a grab-bag of surprises and the guy that walked in with Ukiro doesn’t seem quick enough to be that capable. For now, I focus my attention on Aleena and Ukiro, who are on opposite sides of the room. I duck down against the wall to the right of the elevator with my pulser at the ready, keeping an eye out for the duo.

Geilium loudly declares, “Vanessa, it’s not too late to stop this.”

I don’t reply to him. Instead, I just wait for the elevator until it pings. I see Ukiro poke her head up. I take two shots at her and she ducks back down, then I take aim over at Aleena, who still hasn’t moved. The elevator door opens and two guys come walking out. I swing my left arm around and hit the second guy in the stomach.

He hunches over. I grab the back of his shirt collar, then run around to the front of him and jump to do a spinning kick with my left leg. I kick the first guy in the face, completing the circle. I pull the second guy into the elevator with me while holding his twisted shirt collar, choking him. I point my pulser over his shoulder at everyone that is currently standing up, looking at me.

Geilium shouts, “Vanessa, you’re making a mistake!”

The elevator door begins to close, so I kick the guy out of the elevator. I swiftly move to the side to avoid any rounds, but no one shoots. I press the button marked “57” as the door closes, then the elevator starts going down. I let out a frustrating punch at the elevator door.

I tap my Econ, “Call Trex.”

Serenia says, “Connecting. By the way, there is a message from Dayio. Connect to Trex anyway?”

I refuse, “Not yet. What is the message?”

Serenia relays the message, “Van, I’m outside waiting. Are you there?” Then Serenia asks, “Would you like to respond to the message?”

“Not now. Connect me to Trex.”

“Connecting…”

Trex answers, “Hey, Van.”

I greet casually. “Hi there. Does your fan know anything more about this building and its floors?”

“He has the whole layout. Why?”

“I was just double-crossed and now I need to get out of here.”

The elevator door opens to level fifty-seven and I see nothing but an empty white floor. The floor is almost blindingly white and has a never-ending feel to it, like I can walk on it forever. I step halfway out of the elevator to take a look around. It just seems to be a whole lot of nothing, everywhere. Whatever Menta-Life does in that room is their own business and is irrelevant to my escape.

Trex sounds staticky as his voice lowers, “That’s not good, is it? Well, where are you now?”

I step back into the elevator, then press floor “56” and answer, “I’m heading down to floor fifty-six.”

The elevator door closes and Trex says, “Okay, so floor fifty-six is the… ah, it’s where the people use the Life systems.”

My signal is clear again. Was it that room that jammed my signal? The elevator opens and I step out, only to be blinded again by another white floor. What is this? These floors are all empty.

I announce my surroundings, “Trex, there’s nothing here. Like, at all.” He doesn’t respond, so I call out to him, “Trex?”

There’s still no reply. Maybe the room is jamming my signal again. I turn around to go back into the elevator, but it’s gone. There’s nothing but the blank void of nothing around me. I place my hand out in front of me to feel for the elevator door and touch emptiness. What is this? What have I crossed over into?

I start walking around. There isn’t any darkness around, not even a slip of blackness to indicate any type of exit. This floor must have an end. I start jogging in one direction, then running as fast as I can until I get tired and stop. I bend over and begin panting to catch my breath. This is impossible because the building is nowhere near this big. I pretty much just ran far enough in a straight line to circle this building three times.

I hear an old English male’s accent say, “I thought I’d never get you out here.”

The voice sounds a little echoey, like he’s all over the place. I aim my hand around and realize my pistol is gone. I reach for the rifle on my back which is gone, too. Looking around the room, I see nothing except the bright whiteness.

I ask, “Who are you?”

“I am a lot of things, Ms. … Pheros. I don’t have much time to explain, but right now you are being used.”

Why did he pause before saying my name? It almost seems like he wanted to say something else instead.

I reply, “I was used already.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Am I still inside Menta-Life?”

“You are. Both physically and mentally.”

“Then what is this?”

I begin looking around for him as he answers, “This is non-existence. Things that don’t exist in the Life are voids, just like this. You need to awaken yourself, Vanessa. Menta-Life is using you to find me. They have captured you and are experimenting different ways to find me through your thoughts.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t even know who you are or what you look like.”

Suddenly, the man pops up in front of me. He is very close to me, so I take a few steps back to get a good look at him. He is a little bit taller than me and has dark brown hair with a goatee of the same color. He has a good crop of short hair and the same hazel eye color as me, as well as some other familiar features. He approaches close to me and I stare him in his eyes as he reaches up, then hovers his hand around my left cheek.

He states, “You’ve grown so much. You look just as beautiful as your mother.”

I swipe my left hand through his arm in an attempt to move his hand, but he isn’t actually in the room with me. My hand goes straight through his arm. What’s going on here? Am I hallucinating?

I take a step back and ask, “Who are you?”

He puts his hand down and answers, “My name is Simon Harold.”

That was my father’s name. He does look familiar to me, though it’s been almost seventeen years and I hardly remember what my father looked like. On top of that, he’s dead. I must be losing my mind.

He continues, “There is no time and I don’t expect you to understand, at least not yet. You have to wake up. The people here will do whatever it takes to keep you asleep, but you have to escape from Menta-Life so I can get to you.”

“You’re asking me to die.”

“You are inside of a void in the Menta-Life building. What ever happened to bring you here, you’re dead anyway. They have been putting you through Lifes and you have learned a lot. Use it to escape.”

I hear a ping sound, then I turn around to see an elevator opening. When I turn back around, Simon is gone. What just happened? I turn and walk towards the elevator as I try to make sense of what he said. A thought clicks into my head about what Kelvin Hughes mentioned back at the seminar. Someone cannot access a Life within a Life.

This must be why this floor and the others where the machines are housed are voided. Am I really dreaming? Does Menta-Life have me captive? My father is dead, but is he actually alive? This void should be all the proof I need to know that something odd is happening. Geilium and the others didn’t actually try to kill me, did they? We’ll certainly find out soon.

I’m going to head up to the roof, where they can’t capture me, and jump. Menta-Life and Equility will be hunting me if I make it out of here alive; without help, I won’t survive out there long with the Gharis Regs on my back, too, or maybe I will. I enter the elevator and press the “R” button at the top which hopefully represents Roof. I notice my weapons are still gone. Maybe it’s a preventative measure to stop me from doing what I am about to do.

Serenia randomly calls out, “Van?”

I had forgotten all about Dayio. The elevator closes and starts moving up.

I answer, “Yeah, I’m here. Can you call Dayio for me, please?”

“Of course. Connecting now.”

Dayio asks with worry, “Where have you been?”

I sadly answer, “I’m not sure. Dayio?”

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not really here, am I? This place, everyone here… isn’t reality is it?”

“What are you talking about, Van? What’s going on?”

I sit down in the elevator and explain, “I met two people who aren’t alive and haven’t been for a long time: a man named Hines Aldwich and my father. I’ve been to a place that doesn’t exist and I don’t know how, Dayio. My father just came to me and told me to wake up from my dream. I don’t know what this all means.”

“It doesn’t mean anything, Van. That all sounds crazy.”

“I know, believe me. No one is more determined than I am when it comes to dumb ideas, but I need to di…”

This is crazy and I can imagine how it sounds to him, although he’s not going to believe me. No one will, because they’re not supposed to. If the illusion of my father is correct, the Life will say anything to keep me alive.

I continue, “…I need to discover it for myself.”

Dayio screams, “Van, wait–”

I tap my Econ to disconnect the call, then take it out of my ear and place it on the floor next to me. I watch the numbers climb higher and I stand up as I approach the top floor. Once the elevator reaches “R”, the door opens and I step out onto the windy rooftop to see the dark sky outside of the clear bubble covering the city. There doesn’t seem to be anything around except for this elevator and a few big air conditioning units. I step off the elevator and start slowly walking straight ahead towards the edge. It’s raining, but of course the bubble is shielding the city from it. The Life must have brought in the water to distract me. Nonetheless, it still looks beautiful hitting the outside.

Geilium demands, “Stop right there.”

I stop walking and blandly ask, “Why?” I turn around and continue. “Why should I stop?”

They are walking out from both sides of the elevator – Geilium, Mitchell, Ukiro, and a few others, including three guard mechs. I guess they found a way to get them working on their side. Menta-Life is pushing desperately now.

Geilium answers, “Because there’s nowhere you can run now.” They all stop in front of the elevator and Geilium goes on. “Where else can you go except the bottom or top floor? Where did you plan on going?”

“Not with you, that’s for sure.”

“I figured your level of disobedience to be that predictable, so we waited you out and, honestly, it didn’t take you too long. You’ve had a good run. Needless to say, your fun is over.”

“Not quite. It’s over when I say it’s over.”

They can’t convince me that I’m doing the wrong thing; not now. I start backing up, then turn and run towards the ledge.

I hear Geilium’s voice command, “Stop her!”

I pass between the two air conditioning units, then a guard mech pops out and tries to grab me. I duck and spin around its legs and bolt straight for the ledge as fast as I can. I dive off the roof and begin my free fall down to the concrete seventy-three stories below. A few seconds down against the breaking wind, I feel a hand wrap around my ankle and I look up to see the guard mechs dove after me. The guard that grabbed my ankle holds on tight, while another grabs its ankle from above. The trailing mech uses its other hand to reach out to the building and dig its hand in, slowing us down.

Pieces of the building’s concrete and glass are breaking off, then the guard’s arm gets destroyed. A third guard grabs the guard’s leg that’s holding me, then does the same as the other guards soar down towards me. I start kicking my other leg at the guard’s arm that’s holding me to get it off so they can’t stop me. The guard’s grip is tight. I start kicking at the joint instead. It loses its hand and reaches for me with the other hand. I pull my legs in towards me as I intentionally slow down, kick my legs back out and hit the guard, making it spin out of control.

We are much closer to the ground now. The guard with one arm grabs me with it, then wraps around me tightly and the other ones do the same. The fourth trailing guard spins and lets another guard grab its feet as it throws both arms into the building, slowing us down dramatically. Its arms get torn off, then drops down in front of me and the others turn me onto my back. Tightly wrapped around me, we crash into the ground.

I can feel myself fading in and out of consciousness with tremendous back pain. I open my eyes and see the blur of destroyed guard mech pieces all around me. I fall unconscious again. The impact was hard and I can’t even stay awake. My body feels completely shut down and numb. I open my eyes again and see Geilium squatting down in front of me, watching.

He looks up behind me and speaks, “Bring her with us.”

My eyes close again for what feels like longer than before. I open them again, seeing my blurry legs and feet. I’m sitting in a chair. There is an odd steel pattern under my feet and a slight shaking feeling. I struggle to look up and see that I am in the cargo hold of an airplane. The cargo hold is big enough that we may actually be in a cargo plane.

I can’t move my hands or feet; they have me strapped in for safety, I guess, but I am in here alone with nothing around me. There is a window in front of me and I see Geilium instructing Aleena to do something. Mitchell and one of Geilium’s men are with him as well. Aleena leaves the room and Geilium looks out at me. He presses a button in front of him that I can’t see.

They all watch me as Geilium speaks over the intercom, “Vanessa, you disappoint me greatly. I thought you were much more than just a common peacekeeper. I guess I was wrong. You’ve failed to see the big picture, and now you will spend your remaining lifetime regretting your mistake. But first I have someone here who wants to see you.”

The henchman walks over to the right of Geilium, then comes back holding Dayio by his shirt collar. He looks beaten up, yet not as bad as I’d expect him to be considering he had been caught by Equility. I would have thought they’d tortured him for information, but it just seems like they captured and held him. I never told him to go in. The last thing I wanted was for him to get in the middle of this. It’s too bad I’ve convinced myself that this isn’t real.

Geilium explains, “We caught your friend trying to rescue you, and now you’ll see him fail.” He turns his head to Dayio and asks, “Any last words for your friend?”

Geilium steps away from the glass as the henchman walks Dayio up to the window where Geilium was standing.

Dayio says, “Van… I believe in you… and you’d better wake up.”

Dayio elbows the henchman in the face, then reaches straight down for the control panel as Geilium yells, “No!”

A computerized female voice articulates over the intercom, “Emergency cargo release. Emergency cargo release.”

I feel a quick burst of wind pressure followed by me getting pulled out of the back of the plane and thrown into the cold, dark sky. Dayio… thank you. I start working my way out of the ropes, feeling myself fall faster. There are no guards to save me now, and it’s better than being Geilium’s prisoner for the rest of my Life. It’s time to figure out if I’m truly alive.

Seeing my father, the dead Hines Aldwich, and the voided area points me closer to finding the truth. I won’t let myself regret this choice as I turn myself downward. I open my eyes to the dark earth below and, with my body shaking, dive down to the ground. I let out a loud shriek, bracing myself. As soon as I hit the ground, there’s is a split second of darkness, then I uncontrollably sit up as I gasp for air.

I’m in a room. The room is bright white with observation windows all around and electrical equipment everywhere. There is a woman in a lab coat in front of me who looks as if she has run all the way here with the syringe in her hand ready to fire. She is frozen in fear now that I’m unexpectedly awake. Am I awake?