Chapter 3 & 4

Chapter 3: New World 2086

 

It is quite a trek through the forest. It has no name and is just an unused part of the city limits, or so everyone thinks. There isn’t any wildlife out here anymore since the war. The sun has already fallen over the horizon, so it’s just a vast darkness broken by a glowing guide, thanks to the city lights poking over the trees. As I move closer to the city, I see the massive dome through the tops of the trees.

Every city is a sanctuary protected from the outside world by an impenetrable dome. Gharis City is brightened by electronics for anyone to see from miles around. It seems like enough power to fry half of the planet if an accident of any kind were to occur with the main power structure. The dome is thick enough to protect the city from every natural disaster known to man, aside from earthquakes. Those haven’t even really been heard of by most of my generation. With the small world running entirely electronically, it eliminates a lot of natural disasters.

An unimportant reason for the dome in Gharis is that the population is mostly upper class, and upper class citizens have to look perfect. No one looks perfect soaked in water, with makeup dripping down their face, or with dirt picking up on their cruiser.

I reach the main road leading into the city. The streets are paved the same way they used to be before the war and always remain perfectly paved – not many people drive on the streets anymore, since cruisers hover.

I initiate the long walk along the single road towards the city’s border. A couple of cruisers pass over me as I look up at the night sky. In this day and age, cars have a gravitational switch that allows for high, mild, or low gravity, which is why they are now titled “cruisers.” The gravity switches range from zero to seventy-five to one hundred and fifty feet high.

The specified ranges are safe distances for the gravitational patterns to avoid interruptions and cause an accident between traveling cruisers on different planes. The invention decreased accident rates by ninety-eight percent by allowing more road options for people to reach their destinations in a safe and timely manner. Cruisers look like curved-surface cars with caps over the sides of the wheels to make them appear to not be there. The wheels only ever touch the pavement when the cruiser is parked. I look ahead and see the city’s southern border in front of me.

At the checkpoint, cruisers must drop to street level in order to check in and get sterilized before entry to the uncontaminated new world. There is a smuggler’s route that I have always used in order to get past the security checkpoints and I am heading straight there first; it’s west of the checkpoint, about a mile into the forest. I used to run with a gang that smuggled things from city to city. There’d be one driver and two passengers, preferably a couple so as to not to raise suspicion.

The couple would drop the smuggler off at this specific entry road. Afterwards, the smuggler would cross through this forest to an underground passage that comes out into an inconspicuous location in the city. That is where I need to get so I can avoid being sent back to prison by the checkpoint guards. While the two checkpoint guards are busy checking the cruiser going in, I make my left turn back into the forest. I keep an eye out for an open area with two stumps sitting side by side.

There is always someone out there by the entrance to keep an eye out for any incoming smugglers so I have to be cautious to not spook the guard. I walk fast so I can get there quickly. When I arrive at the location, I notice that the place isn’t guarded. Something fishy is going on. Where is the guard?

I step over to the two tree stumps and face the tree where the hidden entrance is. I hear a snap from a bush behind me. Someone is out there watching me and a snapped bush usually means that person is coming out. I raise my hands in the air and seven guards, armed with rifles, come out from separate hiding places to greet me. They’re all dressed in black with masks like modern day ninjas to blend in with the night forest.

I facetiously enquire, “Little much for one person, don’t you think?”

One male guard behind me calmly points out, “You’re armed.”

I clarify without looking. “It’s a pulser pistol.”

“What do you want?”

The guard sounds familiar to me. Before I went to prison, I had done countless jobs with a guy who was just as good of a runner as me. This guard sounds like him, so I slowly turn to the guard and show my face.

He looks at me in recognition as he eases his weapon, then calls out my nickname, “Van?”

I immediately recognize his voice. Dayio is a young man of Asian descent and I believe we are the same age as far as looks go. We ran jobs in the city for his boss, Trex, but I guess now he’s the gatekeeper here in the forest. It’s odd because usually the gatekeeper watches the gate alone.

He takes off his mask and I call out his name, “Dayio.”

I put my hands down slowly and he commands his crew, “Weapons down. She’s good.” Everyone eases their weapons down as he walks close to me then shakes my hand and asks, “Where’ve you been?”

Dayio puts his rifle on his back as I answer, “Prison.”

“It’s been two years since you last came through here.”

“What happened? This used to be a one-man operation and you weren’t part of it.”

“Trex’s guy slipped up one day, so I took over the gate and he thought it’d be good for me to take on trainees.”

“Doesn’t seem like it. Whoever broke the branch gave you all away.”

“That’s actually part of the plan. Someone breaks a branch in the opposite direction of the intruder so we can get a view from all angles when they turn. No one was there after that branch broke.”

Dayio has always been a good tactician. I’m okay at it, but I’m a little less subtle than he is because of my impatience. My plans usually start off immaculate, up until I mention, “Take down the guard!” The rest is pretty much a downward spiral of violence.

I ask, “So, Trex is still running things?”

Dayio rejoinders, “Yeah. He won’t be happy to see you.”

“I won’t be happy to see him either.”

He turns around as he issues orders to his crew. “Everyone stay here.”

I follow behind him as he walks to the side of the regular-looking tree, then opens up a secret panel and starts pressing buttons. I already know where the entry is so I stand in front of it; it’s just a disguised tree stump that’s actually a small double door. Dayio walks over to me as the doors start to slowly open outward towards us. It reveals the well-lit, blue underground passage.

Dayio enters first, walking down the stairs. I follow behind him. The passage hasn’t changed at all since I was last here. The tunnel stretches for a half mile before getting to enter the city through a bakery. There are two rooms within this half-mile stretch: Trex’s office and the lunch room. Trex runs his operation from down here because he feels safer than topside where the Regs can possibly become suspicious of his inactivity.

Only people working for him are granted access to the smuggler’s passage to ensure no outside problems find out about it; I was one of the select few. Being on the approved list makes Trex’s contacts want to regularly use us runners for goods transport, since people don’t know the tunnel exists. For the people that know a tunnel does exist, they won’t think to check a bakery basement or an entire forest for it. We make it to the middle of the passage where the two rooms are, then Dayio walks me into Trex’s office on the left.

Trex is sitting behind his desk, typing very fast on his computer. His office is lit with the same color blue as the passage and he has a bed in here for long nights. I’ve never seen him outside of this office – ever. Trex is a thirty-seven year old man from the Islands who always wears his dreadlocked hair in a ponytail. He runs this passage and is always busy, twenty-four hours a day.

Trex questions, “What’s up, Dayio?”

Before Dayio can answer his question, Trex ganders up at me with mistrust as I stand there viewing him from the door. He abruptly stops typing.

In a moment, he continues pecking at the keys then interrogates, “What are you doing here? Came to pay off that debt you owe me?”

Technically, I don’t owe him a debt because the job I went on for him two years ago went sour after the deliverers he set me up with betrayed me. Of course, from a prison cell I couldn’t explain that to him since we weren’t allowed to send outgoing messages. He’s not the only person I owe money to; nevertheless, that list isn’t long either.

I enlighten him, “I just spent two years in prison for you. A ‘How are you’ would be a better greeting.”

“I had heard a whispered-around rumor that you were locked away, but I thought you just ran with my package and spread those rumors yourself.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because smugglers can’t be trusted and you’re smart.”

I riposte to myself, “Not smart enough.”

“Wait.” He steers his power wheelchair over to me, then reads the numbers on my suit to himself. He continues with surprise, “You really were in prison. Did you break out?”

“Yeah, and I need your help. First, I need clothes and food, then I’ll go find the people who stole the package from me and deliver it to you.”

“You’re two years too late. The package is useless to me now, and the couple was never heard from again. However, if you’re as sharp as you used to be, you and Dayio here can do a run for me tonight.”

“Who’s going to watch the forest?”

Dayio answers, “The guys out there have got it handled quite well. I did train them, ya know.”

I ask, “Can we start with the food first, ‘cause I’m starving?”

Trex answers, “Sure. Go next door and I’ll give Dayio the specifics.”

I acknowledge, “Perfect.”

I start walking towards the door, then Trex calls out to me. “Hey.” I stop and turn to face him. “My salad is on the right holder in the foodie. Don’t touch it.”

I turn back around then continue out the door and into the door across from it. The lunch room is a little bigger than Trex’s office. It has the same blue glow except there are tables and chairs in this one with a foodie box in the corner. The foodie box is a big rectangular box that opens upward; the food comes up in two wheel-shaped mechanical holders, one on the right and one on the left. I press the button in the center and the box slowly slides open, letting out a chill.

The two wheels rise halfway out of the box. I press the button on the right and the wheel starts turning slowly to reveal different foods in the box. I don’t see anything I want, so I press the button for the next wheel and watch the choices revolve. I see a steak dinner wrap that calls out to me; not literally. All of the modern day foods are combined with other foods and wrapped to form one solid for easier eating. The wrap is also edible and served in small portions to avoid waste.

I remove the plate from the holder, then walk over to the table and sit down as the box automatically closes. I’m starving and don’t feel like taking the ten seconds to cook it, so I just dig right in. The relief in my stomach is extraordinary. It has been at least sixteen hours since my last meal and that thought just makes me even hungrier. After I finish eating, I get up and go back to the foodie for another something, then devour that too. I keep in good shape, so I don’t have to worry about becoming lazy after eating.

Dayio walks into the room without his rifle. He stares at me and comments, “I see someone filled a hole.”

I reply, “I haven’t eaten since last night.”

That isn’t exactly true because my last night was his this morning; however, it’s irrelevant.

He says, “Pulser stays here, Van. You ready?”

I detach my pistol and sit it on the table. I answer as I get up, “Yeah.” I leave the mess on the table. We stroll into the passage as I ask, “What about clothes? I can’t roam the streets in my prison outfit and I have no aers on my revoked IDN either.”

Aers are the new form of digital money that syncs with the IDN. IDN is an abbreviation for Identification Data Network; it uses the human body as an I.D. so there is access to anything that has anything to do with the person. Every being in any city has an IDN that can be used from anywhere to prove who they are, spend aers, show criminal records to Regulators, etc. The IDN represents everything about a person and is impossible to take.

As we make our way to the other end of the passage, Dayio speaks to my concerns. “Trex is working on that as we speak. For now, we can use my IDN to get you some new threads. He should have yours all sorted out by the time we get back.”

I comment with enthusiasm, “Nice. What’s the job?”

“There’s a courier in the city that’s delivering a load of emeralds that Trex needs for a client.”

“So we’re stealing for Trex now?”

“Not exactly, Trex wants to know who the buyer is. They found a way to get the stuff into the city without using our tunnel and he wants to know how. We’re taking them from the buyer to teach them a lesson. How sharp are your running skills?”

“It’s been two years. I’m always at my top shape, but let’s run a course just in case.”

We reach the end of the passage and head up the stairs to enter the bakery’s basement through automated floorboards in the back-right corner from the door. The bakery basement is only lit by the blue lights shining from the passage. No one is ever down here, so everything seems in order. The door begins closing behind us as we use the remaining light to guide us up the stairs to the right. The gap in the secret entrance is sealed perfectly to hide the bright light from anyone who may wander down here.

The basement door can be seen by the slit of light at the bottom of the door and we can hear a classical melody oozing from underneath. We enter the door to a gathering of people in the ballroom; a socialite ball. The bakery’s ballroom is the size of a mansion entry with no walls and it is very fancily decorated. The carpeting is striped red and yellow in huge rectangles stretching across the entire room; there are two chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a long table with hors d’oeuvres on it.

We close the door and start to look around through the crowd for Feegle Tolen, the owner of the bakery. All of the guests are dressed very colorfully: bright blue suits, bright green dresses, bright yellow suits with orange shoes, etc. The fashion sense here has never been of any interest to me, which is why I always stand out. Dayio is still wearing his all-black clothing that he uses to hide in the jungle and I still have on my gray prison clothes.

Needless to say, a lot of eyes are on us as we slowly surf through the crowd; not a peek from any of the MechCi guests, though. We stop as we see the crowd parting in front of us revealing Feegle in his bright pink suit. He is a blonde, chubby Caucasian man, though not exactly overweight, and has a silly trader mustache. Feegle is also about a foot shorter than me and I am only a few inches less than six feet, so that’s saying something.

We hear Feegle’s voice as he politely makes his way towards us, “–me. Pardon me, thank you. Excuse me.” We watch his short slicked-back hair maneuver through the crowd. He reaches us and sternly demands, “You follow me.” He begins leading us through the crowd towards the back of the party as he politely acknowledges the guests. “Excuse us. My apologies. Thank you.”

I’d expected him to be much happier than that to see me. Maybe he hasn’t recognized me yet with my long hair. We reach the stairs and follow Feegle up the tall, semi-circular staircase. I look over the railing at everyone enjoying themselves as I follow Feegle and Dayio. The guests are all socializing over the classical music in the background.

They’re weirdly bright clothing makes the main floor look like a herd of rainbows at a disco. The MeBo that can communicate in a formal manner and live just like we do, are called MechCi; the name stands for Mechanical Civilian. They are built and sold as counterparts, becoming the person that the buyer trains them to be. The MechCi come in male or female and in the form of adult or child upon the buyer’s request. They blend perfectly with civilization and are meant to be used as helpers by the owners.

Some others who are more kind-hearted use theirs as business partners, lovers to share their life with, children that they weren’t able to give birth to, etc. All MechCi are created with a chip that prevents them from harming any human being under any circumstance. There were some people out there who would try to dismember the MechCi and remove the chip to use the mech to do their dirty work. Unfortunately for them, the chip is needed for the model to function and it fries upon any physical contact with it. They are as smart as the owner makes them and are better than humans in a way.

Feegle walks to the second door on the left. He unlocks then opens it as he rushes us, “Come on. In. In.”

His voice is very lightly toned as if he is shy, yet I was never fooled; this man is quite the chatterbox. We walk into Feegle’s bedroom and he quickly shuts the door behind him. His room is a decent size for that of a baker. It was his choice to have it on the small side over losing space elsewhere. Overall, it’s a great place for someone like him.

He loves his social life and he wanted there to be enough room to accommodate everyone, so his ballroom is huge whereas the rest of the interior of the bakery is not. His bedroom has a queen-size bed, a chair next to it, a vanity next to the closet, and one nightstand on each side of the bed. The bathroom, balcony, and closet are behind other doors.

Feegle shares his thoughts, “You know, I really wish Trex would make counsel with me much further in advance before he decides to send–” He looks up at me, then stops talking and grows a surprised expression on his face as he calls out, “Vanessa?”

I smile and answer, “Yes, Feegle.”

He joyfully greets me, “Oh my dear, how are you?!”

He has always adored me, from the time we first met when I was a kid to even now as an adult. He sees the beauty outside of me and the beauty inside of me; whatever or wherever that is. I used to do favors for him like walking around on his arm, as a friendly date, for profit. He’d doll me up with makeup and give me clothes to put on, then he’d chaperone me around town or here at his parties. He is the man to know in this city, garnering lots of respect. It seems that a lot of rich women, as well as men, love his outgoing personality.

He quickly queries, “Where have you been, my dear?” He takes a quick whiff. “And, gosh, what is that stench?” He steps in to hug me, then realizes the smell is me and stops. “Oh dear, the aroma is permeating from you.” He turns to Dayio, then adds, “Oh and you. Ugh.” He spins back to me as he backs away and scans me. “And what are you wearing, Vanessa?” He grabs my hand and starts walking toward his closet as he says, “Come now. Come here my dear. Ugh.”

I look back at Dayio as he sits down on the arm of the chair, smiling and watching me get dragged into the closet.

I stop. “Feegle, this isn’t a social visit. We need your help.”

“Darling that is precisely what I am trying to do.”

“We’re on a job and I need to lay low for a little while so Dayio can get me a change of clothes and I can get cleaned up.” I turn to Dayio and request, “Dayio can you go get me some clothes from Lynn’s shop? Just tell her it’s for me. She’ll know my measurements and style.”

Dayio gets up and replies, “You got it. I’ll be right back.”

Dayio leaves the room. I walk away from Feegle, over to his balcony door, open it, and step outside. Above and below me are cruisers driving through the sky, or hovering to be technical. The moonlight doesn’t even seem to be around with all of the lights beaming on and off out here. This city is kept running twenty-four hours a day with no stores ever closing, but the advertising signs do turn off during the daytime.

The city is mostly alive at night, but during the day everything is so still and calm. Most shops are watched by the owner’s MechCi while they are off doing things like attending social gatherings at the bakery. I look down at the streets over the balcony, watching the people and MeBos interact with each other; cruisers drive by on all three levels of gravity. All of the headlights flashing by on the cruisers are lightly tinted blue.

Feegle steps out to join me then asks, “Is it as you remember it?”

“Same flashy crap, yeah.”

“Why do you hate this city so? There are so many pleasant and wonderful people and things here.”

“I guess you’ve never been underground with the Deserted.”

“My dear, why on Earth would I want to go down there?”

“So you can get a taste of what the poor life feels like.”

“The Deserted are underground simply because they want to be. They are welcome to rise and join us civilized people whenever they want to. They’ve been down there happily soaking in their malevolence and leaving us alone. I despise them all.”

“And that’s why they despise you.”

“Well, it is good they commit such a meaningless atrocity from down there instead of causing turmoil up here in our fine city, yes?”

I agree to shut him up, “Yes, Feegle.”

“I will go back and attend to my guests. Please help yourself to anything here, Ms. Pheros.”

“Thank you, Feegle.”

He bows toward me, then walks away as I lean on the balcony. Underground is very much a literal term for where the Deserted live. The Deserted are people of this city who aren’t mentally stable enough to live up here with the big shots, although it seems like they have a plague upon them. It is also where I live. Underground is quiet and the people are losing their minds, quite literally, but they’re no harm unless bothered.

Bothering people is something that I don’t do much of unless I’m paid to, so it’s perfect for me. There are lots of rumors about Deserted, but I never stick my nose into things like that. Following rumors is looking for a problem that someone will be tempted to solve.

I leave the balcony and head for the closet as I begin taking off my clothes. I pick out some underwear from Feegle’s closet. He always has women’s clothing of all sizes in his closet because of the women he dresses up to show around the city. With the kind of high-class crowd he hangs around, he dresses us to impress. I head over to the bathroom, starting up a nice hot shower. I plan to enjoy it for longer than the two minutes I had in prison. I have so much dirt and grime on me, which I don’t mind as much as other people do around here.

I step into the shower and begin rinsing as the scorching hot water streams onto my semi-bronzed skin. I reach out to the sink and grab a pair of scissors, then begin cutting away at my unwanted long hair. I watch each chunk as it falls down into the dirty water at my feet. After sloppily cutting my hair down to my shoulders, I wash it and scrub my skin until it is back to the slightly-tanned color that I left prison with; the exact way I went in.

I hear a knock on the door and respond loudly, “Yeah?”

Dayio’s voice speaks back from the other side, “I have your gear! I’ll leave them here on the bed!”

I thank him and hurry to finish my shower. I wipe the fog off the small mirror above the sink and stare at my rejuvenated self. It’s been so long since I’ve seen myself in a mirror. I’d kind of forgotten what I look like: my light skin, my hazel eyes, and my brunette hair. With my strong accent, I believe I fit in perfectly with my British background again.

I open the bathroom door and exit with the steam to see my clothes placed on the bed, neatly folded on top of each other. It looks like Dayio got the right stuff. Lynn made me a custom outfit once. She said fit my personality and I’ve loved it since the first time I put it on. It’s time for me to feel normal again; to feel home.

 

Chapter 4: Welcome Home

 

Walking over to my clothes, I quickly scan the room to make sure no one is lingering around. Yes, I’m out of prison, but I still don’t know who cut the power so I can break free or why. Someone out there wants to find me and it’s unlikely for good intentions. I start putting on the tight black faded-at-the-knee jeans that fit perfectly to my hips, the tight black tank top, the dark yet obvious green leather cropped jacket, and the black knee-high boots. The boots are a special design made to fit my “running” habits, not for fashion.

I notice the last things left on the bed are a pair of fingerless leather gloves and an Econ phone. An Econ is a mobile phone made for the ear. The name stands for Ear Connect. It rests inside of someone’s ear like an earplug and it can get access to anything by tapping it, then requesting. These will definitely be a necessity for climbing and keeping up with things around the city. I put the gloves and the earpiece on, then check myself out in the mirror on the wall.

My jacket is cropped a little bit higher than the tank top and has three-quarter sleeves; the way I like it. Now that I’m no longer looking like a battered prisoner, it is time to go about the city and pay off my false debt to Trex. I exit the bedroom. Dayio is standing at the railing looking over the party, so I walk over and join him.

Dayio asks, without looking at me, “Do you ever wish you could be like them?”

I answer, “Not at all. They do the same things year round. I bet most of them don’t even like each other. Let’s go.”

I immediately start walking right toward the stairs and Dayio follows behind me as we make our way down to Feegle. As we approach him from behind, he is having a laugh with some of his guests; probably about another person in attendance tonight. No, Feegle isn’t the type for that. He loves this new world and everyone in it.

I stop and say to Feegle, “We’re taking off.”

He passes a smile with his reply, “Okay, dear, and do try not to stay absent for so long again.”

With a conclusive comeback, I walk away. “Prison will do that to you.”

His guests begin expressing subtle amusement as Dayio and I walk away. I guess they think I’m joking, but Feegle doesn’t because I don’t hear his laugh echoing behind me until he starts faking a laugh with them. We make our way through the guests, passing the basement door, toward the bakery section. The cooks are all lined up on the right side of the door to the shop. We enter the door to see the shop is only a few feet bigger than my cell was. Feegle’s MechCi is behind the counter and display, watching the store.

It turns to us and articulates, “I hope you have enjoyed the festivity. Have a great night, citizens. Goodbye.”

We ignore the mech and exit to the street as I ask Dayio, “Where’s the courier meant to meet with the buyer?”

Dayio answers, “Not too far from here. Let’s go.”

He starts walking to the left and I follow behind him. The city streets are all lit with white street lights. They’re not bright enough to blind someone, nevertheless they are very tall. I’m about five-eight, so take about eleven of me from head to toe and we got a street pole tall enough to illuminate half of a city block. The streets are packed full of friendly city folk, all properly dressed in their colorful robes. Nothing ever changes here in this city, except for the people. The rich get richer and the poor continue to work for them to make a decent living.

I’ve been smuggling since I was sixteen. The thing that made me a great smuggler back then was that no one ever saw me coming. Nobody in their right mind would suspect a teen with a backpack to be transporting packages through the city for people.

I didn’t do it much when I was younger because all of my foster parents expected me inside by curfew and out for school. Once they sent me back to the group home, there was zero smuggling for me. Not many people have packages they want delivered from door to door. The big prizes are in city to city smuggling. When I turned seventeen, I was of legal age to be on my own.

After two years of smuggling the hard way, I met Dayio at age eighteen. He introduced me to Trex and his underground passage through Feegle’s place. I had known Feegle for a long time before then and never knew the passage was right under my nose. Every pick-up after that, I headed straight to Trex for the bigger jobs he had to offer. His only charge was a small percentage from the profit. At twenty-two, he sent me on a job with a couple who acted as the travelers. They ended up betraying us.

They must have gotten into the warehouse before picking me up, jumped the deal, and left me to take the fall in a house full of dead bodies with no cruiser to escape the Regs. I was never able to explain to Trex how everything happened, but since he didn’t try to kill me when he saw me, I figure he knows. Point is, the package is still mine to make up for and I get a new identity out of it as a bonus. We reach an outdoor restaurant where a lot of people are sitting down and eating.

Dayio suggests, “We’ll wait here. Sit down.”

We sit down at a table for two and Dayio turns sideways to face across the street.

A MechCi server approaches us and Dayio quickly demands, “Two tap waters to start please, and thank you.”

The MechCi quickly whirls around and treads away as I question, “You know what the courier looks like?”

Dayio shares his info, “No, but I know he or she will be by themselves and carrying a bag.”

One thing that smugglers don’t like about the MechCi that would make them perfect smugglers is that they aren’t allowed to accept payment of any kind for services rendered outside of a shop. MechCi can smuggle if the smuggling party trusted their recipient; however, only within the city because they aren’t allowed to exit city limits without their owner or the manufacturer.

Dayio sparks up off-topic conversation, “So how’d you get out of prison? Ori right?”

“Yeah. I got a letter with an address on it. Less than a minute later, there was a blackout in the prison and I made a run for it.”

“What run? From what I hear you can only fly off that place. It’s built a little less than a quarter mile high off the ground.”

“Trust me; it looks taller than it is. I fought an Alpha mech and we ended up crashing down off the prison. Fortunately for me, I came out on top.”

The server brings us our drinks and inquires, “Would you like to see our menus?”

Dayio answers, “No, thank you. We’re just stopping in briefly.”

The MechCi replies, “Yes sir–” It turns to me then continues, “–madam.”

It walks away, then Dayio looks over at me and expresses, “Wow, that’s incredible. How did you survive a fight against an Alpha?”

“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. The thing is, I have no idea who sent the letter, but whoever it was wants me to meet them at some hotel tomorrow morning at eight.”

“I couldn’t even begin to guess who would have the tech to shut off the power to the prison from such a great distance, but whoever it is must really want to meet you.”

The penalty to the hacker who shut the power down in the prison would certainly be a life sentence; the guards hurt or killed in the riot would be the hacker’s responsibility.

I assure Dayio, “Doesn’t matter anyway. I’m not going.”

Dayio quickly asks, “Why not?”

“What for? Because they broke me out of the prison? It’ll take more than that to control me.”

“You’re not even curious about who it was?”

“Nope. I’m free and that’s all that I care about.”

I spot a suspicious man across the street on our right. He’s bending the corner with a bag in his hand. The man quickly starts walking toward an alley entrance just past the building closest to him.

I command, “Dayio, look.”

He looks across the street at where I’m looking. The man is alone and trying to blend in with the people by wearing the same type of flashy clothes, but he’s doing a terrible job by walking so fast. He’s not an inconspicuous courier. To top it off, a package may ruin someone’s outfit.

I ask, “What’s the plan?”

“We don’t need the package yet, we just need to tail him to the buyer. Hopefully Trex can lie his way into a new client.”

The guy approaches then steps into the mouth of the alley and takes cover by the wall. He’s obviously covering his tracks to see if he’s got a tail on him. From the way he’s acting, he might. He lifts his hand, then looks at his wrist and triggers something. His outfit gradually changes from the colorful flashy ensemble to an all-black stealth suit.

Dayio comments, “That’s uh… different.”

I hurriedly state, “We’ll lose him in the alleyway if he hides. We have to go now.”

We get up and Dayio follows me across the street. The courier disappears from the wall. We reach the other side, then see a group of three men turn the corner and are quickly marching towards us. I immediately grab Dayio’s hand and begin smiling up at him like we’re just having a leisurely stroll. I hope this will keep them off us. The three men snake their way into the alley where the courier went.

Dayio sees what I see and taps his Econ, then demands, “Call Trex.” He briefly holds, then updates. “Trex, the courier already has a tail. What do we do? … Okay.” Dayio hangs up and says, “We tail the tail, but if anything fails, the package is priority. Let’s go.”

Dayio swiftly steps to the alley entrance and sticks to the wall, then glimpses inside. I stand next to him and see his head moving up as if someone’s climbing.

He whispers, “Let’s go.”

He steps into the alley and walks straight to a metal pipe on the side of the building, then starts to climb. I follow him up closely. Once he reaches the top, he pokes his head up to see what’s going on. I wait underneath him. A few seconds later, he climbs up to the roof and I follow him up.

When I reach the top, I see him running across the roof. He jumps to the one on the left of me, which is east. I quickly take to running and follow behind him. I don’t see anyone, though he’s running like he knows where he’s going. I follow him across a couple more rooftops. He has his momentum set as he runs to jump to the next roof. Just before he jumps, I see someone stick their head out from behind a small structure on the next building.

I shout as he is about to jump, “Dayio, wait!”

It’s too late. He is already clear in the air on his way to the next building, making me instinctively follow behind him. As soon as Dayio lands on the building someone quickly steps out and punches him. Dayio stumbles and falls backwards. Oh no, he’s going to fall off the roof! I run as fast as I possibly can and spring myself straight out towards a window one floor below the roof.

Dayio falls over and we meet in the air. My shoulder smacks right into his chest as we both crash through the apartment window, landing in the tenant’s fancy living room. The hardwood floor did not cushion the fall at all. As I get up, the family of four stares at us from the couch where they were watching the news network on a projection dot. A projection dot harnesses the same technology as a projector, except it no longer needs a screen or wall anymore and has an immediate range to the tiny device.

I lie to them as I dart for the door. “Regulator business. We’ll cover the damages.”

I ditch Dayio and exit the apartment to the hallway. I see a sign at the right end that reads “Stair Access.” I hurriedly run to the door and push my way through, then continue up the flight of steps back to the roof. I pass through the door and see the three stalkers have cornered the courier a couple of roofs ahead of me. I take off and jump across the two rooftops to retrieve the package.

Aiding the courier would be the only way to help him reach his contact, but then he’ll easily be able to spot me if we follow him again. Dayio won’t be long behind me, so both of our covers will be blown. Trex said the package is priority, so the man’s bag is mine. When I reach the roof, the courier’s eyes lock onto me and his pursuers follow his sight to look at me as well. Two of the men bare my skin tone and one is darker.

The courier pulls the bag back, then hits a pursuer in the head with it, knocking him down. The remaining two start to attack the courier. I rush in to retrieve the bag that he is refusing to let go of. One of the pursuers turns toward me to try to hold me off while his partner does a tug-of-war with the courier for the bag. I have to stop them because the courier is tugging near the edge of the roof. Either way, he loses and so do I.

The pursuer steps toward me and I throw a right kick at his face, spinning halfway around. He dodges by bending back then steps in closer and returns fire with a right swing of his hand. I catch his hand between my bicep and ribs, placing us shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions. I twist my body to the right to circle him to the front of me. After forcing him around me, I yank my right knee up and make contact with his face. He flips backwards and falls flat on the ground.

The courier wins the tug-of-war, but slips off the roof with the bag. The courier shouts as he falls down to the street, then I hear a loud crash and breaking glass. Whoever’s cruiser that is won’t be happy when they get to it. I hear the people scream from down below. The last standing pursuer looks over the roof at what’s going on street side.

He rotates with a yell. “H-T!”

A bright light beams from the street below, lighting up what looks like the entire street. The Regs are the new form of peace officers that do their best to protect citizens of the new world. Regulators are their true title; their only rules are to stop crime and avoid civilian casualties. They never manage to hurt any civilians with their fun toys due to the automated targeting system. A Reg attack ship, H-T70, hovers up to us on the roof and shines its spotlight on us.

I shield my eyes with my left forearm to get a good look at the ship. It is a sleek device about twelve feet in length and about ten feet wide. Looking at it from the front, the height is only about two feet. The ship is manually operated by a single person and the person has to lie on their stomach to be able to maneuver properly. I take a couple of steps back as the pursuers run past me.

The male voice in the ship hollers, “Surrender immediately!”

I put my arm down, turn around, and start running as fast as I can. I turn left, heading north, and continue running to jump to the next roof. I hear the ship turn behind me, followed by the sound of shock pulses spraying everywhere. I slide behind the wall of a roof access door and the ship stops firing. It zooms past me. I double back around and try to open the door, but it’s locked. I continue down the path I turned to, heading west now.

I hear the ship’s humming noise behind me again. There are obstacles in my way. In one motion, I slide under a long pipe then bump into and fluidly roll over the small wall immediately after it. The small wall actually turns out to be a gap between rooftops that I didn’t notice since I was low enough to not see over it. I fall from the roof and land, back first, on an outer emergency staircase above an alley.

I lie there from the sudden loss of my wind. What happened to Dayio? I know my shoulder pegged him in the chest very hard, still he should be up and running by now. I could use some backup, but I hope he makes it out okay. I see a bright light shine from over my head. I tilt my head up to look behind me and see the ship hovering above the street.

I demand aloud, “Give me a break.”

I quickly roll myself down the stairs as it starts shooting at me. The outer stairs get knocked loose from the wall by the barrage of pulses. The pulses don’t have physical elements to them, which means this building just has weak structural integrity. I manage to get to my feet, though I can’t maintain my balance with the stairs wobbling backwards. I quickly run and jump through the window closest to me.

I land right on someone’s bed. Even though I am covered in glass, this is the most comfortable I have been in two years. I quickly pounce off the bed and run out into the hallway. The ship is already there waiting for me with its light flashing through the glass on my right. I cover my eyes at the sudden surprise of light.

The pilot quickly demands, “Surrender now!”

Prison wasn’t my most favorite place, so there’s no chance of him getting what he wants. As soon as I start running down the hallway, the ship starts shooting again, shattering glass along the hallway. There’s no way I can shake this thing, so I’ve gotta take it down somehow. The pulses start getting closer to me as I get closer to the middle of the hallway where the ship is. I get close enough to the window and when the ship’s pulse barrage shatters the window, I jump out toward it.

Once I get through the window’s threshold, I use my foot to push myself up higher from the small wall then land stomach first on top of the ship. The ship tilts down a bit from the sudden weight shift, then starts rocking back and forth. The ship is smooth and only has a small curve in the front so I have to rely on my leather gloves to sort of stick me to it. I shift my body from left to right as the ship moves from right to left, avoiding a slip off. We end up circling over an intersection next to a tall parking structure.

If I can make it down there, I can lose it between the cruisers. The ship circles around close enough to the roof parking and I use my hands to push myself off the back end of it. I fall the thirty feet down, then land on a cruiser, shoulder first. I fall off to the side of it. This feels like an exact repeat of the Alpha and I falling from the prison. When I hit the ground, I take cover behind the cruiser.

The ship begins to circle around, scanning for me. I’m not too sure if I did, though I am heavy enough to put a dent in the roof of the cruiser that I landed on. Just in case it notices, I crawl under the next cruiser to hide. I hear the ship still whirring around up there for a while, then it takes off. I continue to lie under the cruiser.

I tap my Econ and the female voice greets me, “Good evening. How can I be of service?”

This Econ doesn’t have a start-up greeting like a brand new one should so Dayio must have already programed it for me; hopefully with his connect code synchronized.

I command, “Call Dayio.”

The Econ alerts, “Connecting…”

Dayio’s voice speaks into my ear, “Van? Where are you?”

“I’m at an outdoor parking structure hiding under a cruiser.”

“The nearest parking structure is in the Lunor District. How’d you get way over there?”

“You don’t wanna know. The courier’s dead, he fell off the roof with the bag.”

“It’s okay. I saw what happened and went down to recover it when the Reg ship showed up.”

“What happened to the tail?”

“They ran off. Do you want to meet up and take the package back to Trex?”

“No. I’ve had enough for today. Get it to him as soon as possible and let me know when you do. I’m going home.”

“Alright. Be careful out there. You’re new IDN should be ready by now. I’ll ask Trex to confirm and call you if it’s not.”

“Thanks Dayio.”

“Hey. You saved me today, Van. I should be thanking you for taggin’ along.”

“No problem. Just like old times.”

I tap the Econ to hang up then continue to lie under the cruiser for a little while longer. That was much too close. The results of my first day out of prison results are: I’ve already been shot at three times, fought an Alpha mech, dove off a roof, watched some guy fall to his death, then went toe-to toe-with an H-T70, the Regulators’ fastest and only ship model. If this isn’t a welcome back party, I don’t know what is. Reg ship or not, I’m tired of hanging out under a cruiser.

I slide out from underneath it and don’t see anyone around, so I use the stairway at the end of the roof parking to go down to the street. I use the public transit trolley, making my way toward underground. Life still goes on in the streets as if pulse rounds weren’t just soaring through the skies.

During a firefight with a Reg ship, civilians are to remain as still as possible, and it seems the standard for civilian safety has been upheld again tonight. The computer in the ship calculates a pulse’s direction faster than it can fire. The user’s job is only to speak, target the enemy, and hold the trigger if the target doesn’t surrender easily. The ships have only shock rounds equipped in their arsenal, unlike the Alpha MeBo which has cannons for missiles as well.

I get off the city train at the edge of the city. The city is the same everywhere just with different names for the type of place it is. Each corner of the city has access to underground.

With the way the city is shaped, there are five manholes around the inner city and two tunnels on the outskirts near security checkpoints. I am at the closest manhole entrance from the parking structure. I use my fingers to pull it up, then slide the manhole open. Most people don’t like the smell down here, but I love it; maybe because I’ve gotten used to it. I grab the ladder and climb down a little bit, then hold on while I slide the manhole closed over the top of me.

I climb down and walk through a small tunnel that eventually lets out to underground. The place isn’t much to look at, just a bunch of tents set up over the dirt ground. Some Deserted have even built small stone homes down here with the raw materials that came with the cave. The Deserted had done some digging of their own to have more head room. They also figured out how to get electricity down here. Soon after came water from a purposely broken pipe. The Deserted were all forced down here to live peacefully amongst themselves. Most of them used to be successful and popular people who had a lot going for them in life, but for some reason they started to lose their minds; they started to become misguided and confused. This group started to become violent towards themselves and everyone around them.

It’s like they forgot who they were somehow. In underground, they just walk around murmuring to themselves about things that don’t make sense to me. I go down another ladder and walk by everyone to my small aluminum shack. I built it myself and, instead of a door, it has a curtain. There are no windows.

Most of my time is spent in the city, so I don’t need much down here except for a bed and a change of clothes, which I lack right now. I had taken my spare clothes out of town with me where I was set up and apprehended, so for now, I am stuck with this currently dirty outfit. This shack is a little bigger than the size of the jail cell I stayed in, so, naturally, I’m able to settle in quite well. I have a softer bed here. I don’t have a foodie station down here, though, so I just go top-side to eat. I am still hungry, but I am more tired, so I just lie down on my twin-sized bed and call it a night.