Chapter 5 & 6

Chapter 5: Odom’s Request

 

I enter the wooden door for the bar and see that the entire right side of the place is in shambles. The chairs and tables are knocked over. Bottles that sat on the tables are now on the floor. The bar room is all wood with no paint job done to the interior to make it look nice. There’s a pool table after all of the chaos, then tables and chairs past that, dividing the bar. The opposite side of the bar is an exact replica of the right side, minus all of the damage.

There are four guys with melee weapons in front of this buff, giant of a man. The giant has short hair and a few small scars on his face; one cool scar is crossing diagonally across his entire face and deep like an animal scratched him. I stroll up towards the long bar in front of me and take a seat as the stand-off ends and the fighting begins. They have a massive variety of alcoholic drinks behind the bar and a narrow mirror on the wall where I can spectate in secret.

The scruffy bartender approaches me, then sits a dirty mug in front of me and questions, “What’ll ya have?”

I look down at the mug, “Nothing in that glass, thanks.” I look back at the guys fighting and ask, “What’s that about?”

“Who knows? With Odom, it could be anything. He’s a troublemaker to everyone he comes across.”

So that’s actually Odom? I expected him to be a little bit bigger with that name, but he’s still about twice my size in weight. I only weigh around a hundred fifty pounds. Dayio and Jacks enter the bar. Jacks quickly rushes over to sit down next to me. Dayio takes his time strolling over, observing the fight as he passes.

I ask, “Why not just kick him out?”

The bartender blandly answers, “They’re trying to now.”

Dayio sits down next to Jacks on my left, then we watch the fight and see that Odom is down to three opponents now. They have him surrounded from an upside-down triangle formation with Odom facing the broken window. One thug jumps onto Odom’s back then the thug in front of him picks up and throws a chair at Odom. Odom turns around and lets the thug on his back take the hit from the chair. The thug shouts in pain as Odom reaches back and pulls the thug over his shoulder, then slams him very hard onto the pool table.

Odom begins choking the thug as the other thug that threw the chair runs up to him from behind. Odom notices, then grabs a pool stick and swings it back, knocking the thug off track. The thug was running so fast that the smack makes him accidentally fall into the corner of the pool table, knocking himself out. The last thug approaches Odom so he stops choking the thug on the table and turns to him. The thug on the table starts coughing as the last thug throws a flurry of punches at Odom, but he accepts every punch without a flinch.

The thug stops, then Odom watches him as he throws an exhausted final swing. Odom catches the thug’s fist with his palm and starts crushing down on it to a closed fist. The thug begins shouting, then Odom pulls the thug towards him and head-butts him in the face. The thug falls over then the other thug from on the pool table uses all his might to throw a pool ball at Odom’s back. The ball bounces off and Odom turns around, breathing heavily. His facial expression is burning with anger.

The thug picks up another ball. Odom rushes over to him and grabs the thug’s arm before he could throw it. Odom starts squeezing the thug’s arm, forcing him to drop the cue, and punches him in the face. Odom lets him fall back on the pool table, then grabs the thug’s shirt and pulls him up. Odom punches him again. He pulls him up and punches him one more time. He lets the thug fall back on the table and leaves him with his limbs dangling lifelessly off it.

Odom looks around as he walks over to the bar where we are. He fights with brute strength and no strategy. Those guys could have easily taken him out if they weren’t so afraid of getting hit by him. The hesitation in their technique is what made them fall so easily; if they all would have attacked him at once, it may have ended differently for them. With a little focus and tactical thinking, he could become a more than useful addition to the team.

He sits down one chair away from me on the right and demands, “Water.”

His voice is very deep, but it definitely matches his stature. Without his slouched position, he’ll probably be some inches over six feet. The dirt on his white t-shirt and black jeans doesn’t seem like it all came from the men he just fought. He rubs his left hand over his bald head as he waits for his water.

I stare down at the bar, then look over at him and enquire, “So, you’re Odom?”

He ignores me and continues staring straight at the bottles over the bar as he puts his hand down. I get a good view of his black beard now with his arm out of the way.

I compliment him, “That was pretty impressive.”

He ignores me again. The bartender sits the mug of water down on the bar in front of Odom, then walks away with an attitude. Odom dunks his right hand in it and starts rubbing his face with it. This guy is really starting to annoy me. I’m trying to continue pulling the nice card, but he’s going the distance, and that doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I kindly state, “I’m only going to ask you once. I need muscle for a job, and you’re the one I want to do–”

He dunks his hand into the mug again then interrupts, “Not interested.”

I turn away and stare straight ahead then acknowledge. “Okay. I need muscle for a job and you are the one that’s going to do it.”

He starts rubbing his head with the water again as he reminds me, “You said you’d only ask once.”

I confirm, “I did. And now I’m not asking.”

He stops rubbing his head then dunks his hand back in the mug and states, “You got a lotta nerve.”

I quickly reply, “More than you’d know. I need you to help me and my team break into a prison… to break someone else out.”

“That guy on the end looks a little limp for a prison break. I don’t plan on going into a prison with you and your pitiful squad here.”

“It doesn’t look like you have much going for you around here, anyway. And, lucky for you, we won’t be staying too long. We break in, get my guy out, then we’re done.”

He looks over at me and asks, “What’s in it for me?”

I return a question. “What do you want?”

He looks around the bar again, then turns back to me and responds, “Someone has something I want and you’re going to help me get it. Once I get it, you got your muscle.”

“Done. Who’s driving?”

“We’re walking. And your two sidekicks stay here. This is a two man job, no offense.”

Dayio says to me, “I don’t like this. We don’t know anything about this guy or what he wants.”

I reply, “Neither do I, but we need him.”

Odom gets up from the barstool and starts walking towards the door as he says, “C’mon, princess. We don’t have all night.”

I bite down on my lip to stop myself from reacting to his rude attitude. I hate it when people call me “princess,” but I can’t jeopardize things with him now so I’ll have to settle that score when this prison break is over. I get up and follow Odom out of the bar and to the right. The daylight has faded into the ugly, dark-orange color over the nasty city.

I catch up to Odom as he walks through the street. I ask, “Where are we going?”

He asks, “You ever been in this city before?”

“No.”

“Then it doesn’t matter where we’re going. Just follow my lead. It’s not too far.”

I still don’t like being kept in the dark. I definitely see why people don’t like Odom, but in his defense, I don’t really like anybody either. He said that we don’t have all night and mentioned having to get something he wants, so this is obviously a break-in. I can’t picture someone of his size sneaking through a place to steal something. We’ll just go steal this thing, then be on our way to the next step of the non-existent plan.

I follow him through the criminal infested city. The people here are all obviously crooks by their attire, hairstyles, scars, tattoos, and everything else people don’t see amongst a peaceful society. We come across small groups of people here and there, but they just step right out of Odom’s way as we pass. What has he done to get so many people to fear or respect him? It seems like the city is all torn down everywhere instead of just at the border, and the people look angry with never-changing faces.

We take a few turns going north, then I notice something strange at the end of a block: a two-story house. What’s strange about it is that the house is clean and all in one piece. The house has an off-white color on the outside and none of the windows are busted out. As we approach it, I get this nagging suspicion that this house is our destination.

The house stands with no other beat up houses near it; I suppose it’s to mark off its class and independence, but who owns such a nice house in this bad city? The house has grass leaking from under the wooden fence with a couple of formally-suited guards patrolling the front with melee weapons. The wooden fence is just about high enough for Odom to see over, but I’d have to jump to look. When we’re across the street from the house, he stops walking then leans up against a wall that is facing across from the street that we’re on.

I investigate, “What’s up?”

He looks to his right at the clean house, “That’s our target. We wait here until I’m ready to go.”

“We’re kind of pressed for time here, Odom.”

He looks over at me, then shares his speculation. “If you had any better option, you’d have taken it. Now wait… until… I’m ready.”

He puts his head down, staring at the ground while I pace around in circles a couple of times, then join him at the wall. What is this guy’s problem? I see too much of me in him and I don’t like it. I’m rough around the edges, and clearly he is, too. We should get along just fine, as long as we don’t have any conflict with each other’s plans. Unfortunately, he’s conflicting with mine even though I don’t have a timeframe yet. We both remain leaned up against the wall.

I keep my eyes on the people across the street walking by, as they keep their eyes on us, probably in wonder. This is really a city where people have to watch everyone because they can never know who’s watching, or for what purpose. This place would be scary for anyone in Gharis, or anywhere else, but, like I said, even the Regs avoid coming here. I look up to see the sunset passing over my eyes to the west as we both face it. The light sets down, disappearing behind the broken-down house across the street.

Odom backs off of the wall and commands, “Let’s move.”

I get off the wall and follow him north, crossing the street towards the clean house. The two guards with metal bars in their hands notice us and stare as we approach them.

When we get halfway across the street, I ask, “How are we getting in?”

Odom plainly answers, “Front door.”

I quickly speak, “Don’t you think that’s a little ob–”

Odom dashes in front of me. The guard on the right readies his melee weapon, but not fast enough to stop Odom as he crashes into the guard’s stomach. Odom picks up more speed, then rams him through the wooden gate. This guy is a maniac. He’s running ahead of me, leaving me with this guard, and I don’t even know what to look for once I get inside. I take off running towards the guard as he readies his melee weapon for a left swing.

I jump up and throw my right foot around as the guard swings his metal pipe at me. I stop the pipe with my right foot, then bring my left around and kick him across the face. He falls over and I make my way into the broken part of the gate that Odom created. The inside of the gate has a small field of grass with the two-story house beyond it. There is a trail of unconscious bodies leading up to the house with a couple of stragglers for me to take care of.

I follow the sounds of Odom’s grunts. I see him grab a guard by his shirt, then swing him around with a full adrenal rush and chuck him into a window next to the front door. It looks like he ran non-stop all the way up here, pummeling through everyone. He charges through the front door and I hear massive amounts of commotion. I charge up toward the house after him. His rage is incredible. I’ve never seen anyone in such a fury before, and it almost seems uncontrolled.

Two guards are coming towards me with their metal pipes, so I scoop one up from an unconscious guard on the ground who doesn’t quite need it anymore. The first guard and I clash pipes, then I quickly spin around and smack him in the back with it. I continue running towards the next guard as I fling my pipe at him. He gets hit with it and swept off his feet. As I run towards the house, I figure Odom has the first floor taken care of already. I should start clearing things upstairs so that we can meet in the middle.

I veer off to the left and begin climbing up a metal drainage pipe that slinks up to the roof. I scale it up close to the top, then pounce up to the right and reach up, grabbing the roof’s edge. Once I grip the edge, I continue by swinging my legs hard to the right and kick my way through the window. I crash into a bedroom with one guy in it that looks like he was about to leave until he heard me. He turns around in surprise. I sprint over to him and kick his right leg out, making him do a split. I knee him in the face and run out the door.

Entering the hallway, there are more guards on my right with melee weapons and fists ready to strike. They start running and roaring towards me in the small hallway, so I run towards them to meet in a clash. The first guard swings his weapon at me, and I duck under him. I punch the second guard in the stomach. He hunches over as I run by him, then the first guard accidentally hits him in the face with the pipe, assuming I was still behind him. The third guard takes a right swing at me with his fist, but I catch his arm and spin around, flipping him over me onto the floor.

I see the first guard is close to me, so I roll backwards to the fourth guard that’s carrying a thick piece of wood. I turn around to face him as he swings the wooden post at me, going in a downward slash. I dodge to the left, bumping into the wall, then I kick the post up and it hits the first guard in the chin. The fourth guard regains control of the post, then swings it to his right at me, so I move to the right of him and make him smack the wall. I reach past him, grab the post with my right hand, and elbow him in the face with my left arm making him release the post.

He stumbles back past me. I flip the post around and run it into his stomach. I push him backwards into the fifth guard and they all fall over. I do a quick wall run, then push off and swipe my foot across the sixth guard’s face. He smacks his head on the wall and falls down to the floor.

I stand there panting as I stare down at the sixth guard’s body and hear a deep voice plainly compliment, “Bravo.”

I snap back into my fighting stance as I look up and see Odom standing at the end of the hallway with a bottle of alcohol in his hand. What a real relaxed guy to be drinking at a time like this. We must be all done here. He surely took down more guys than I did, and I know he’s more than capable of handling himself.

He takes a sip out of the bottle. I ask as I approach him, “Did you get what we came for?”

He dangles the bottle by its neck, wiggling it back and forth in front of his face. Is he serious? I don’t believe he made me do all of this for that. As crazy as he is, I shouldn’t be surprised if he did. It’s no longer a wonder why people here don’t like the guy, and I have a feeling I won’t either.

I irritably query, “Did we really come down here to get a bottle of alcohol?”

He answers, “No, I came down here for a bottle of alcohol. You came down here for a new recruit for your prison break mission. And you got one.”

He starts chugging away at his beverage as I look back at the guards on the floor curled up in pain behind us. Maybe getting out of here might be a good idea before they get up. I walk past Odom and head down the “U” shaped stairs on the left to see all the damage he caused. I would honestly, at this point, say the outside looks much better than in, but I could imagine the beauty that it was before. The bottom corner of the wooden staircase rail is destroyed, and the furniture is all over the place in sections they shouldn’t even have been in to begin with.

Whoever owns this place has great taste, with the fancy paintings that used to hold up these walls now holding down the wooden floorboards. I cross over the bodies of the guards, then around the chaos, and out the broken front door. Odom is closely following behind me.

I state, “All that wasn’t necessary. I could have just bought your bottle if you wanted it that badly. We were just at a bar.”

He clarifies, as he follows behind me, “Your precious aers don’t work here. Besides, this isn’t just any bottle of alcohol; this is an aged bottle, since before both of our times. It is one of the rarest American alcohols left…, but not for long.”

He takes another quick drink. I normally wouldn’t mind something like this, but he almost got me killed for a bottle of liquor, something worthless to the new world that I come from now. Most of the world has forgotten what an alcoholic beverage even tastes like because we’ve all been plunged into a civilized rebirth, but not here in this city. It seems like they thrive off the stuff.

I stop and ask, “Is there anything else I should know about you before we do this?”

He stops and answers. “The only thing you need to know about me is I work alone for a reason.”

“We’re planning a prison break. The word alone does not categorize into that conversation, whether you managed to get out on your own or not.”

He scoffs then asks, “What makes you think I’ve been to prison?”

I squint my eye at him. “Word was that you’d broken out of prison. That’s the whole reason I came to find you.”

He corrects me, “Out of a prison transport.”

He gives me a raw glare, then starts walking away. Working with this guy is going to be harder than I thought, but I don’t need him bad enough to put up with his crap. He would be a prized addition to the team, but not if he leaves us all for dead in that prison for another alcoholic beverage. I continue following Odom back to the bar where Dayio and Jacks should still be waiting. It’s night time now, and there are little makeshift lights that look like lanterns around the streets to keep the dimness going in this powerless town.

Before we arrive back at the quiet bar, I catch up to Odom. “Wait a second.” I step in front between him and the door, then continue. “I need to know whether or not you’re going to be a problem.”

“That depends on whether or not you or your people try to cross me.”

“No one’s going to cross you because that would mean crossing me, and that won’t happen. If things go bad, I’ll need to know you’ll have my back.”

He pauses. “You fight with raw anger on the inside and reason on the outside. I respect that about you. I’ll have your back, but like I said, I’ll be watching mine.”

I understand what he means because I saw that same fire in him without the reason. He’s too tough to not have a shady background, and too rough to care about my cause, but that anger doesn’t seem to be well-controlled. He’s been out here for I don’t know how long, so he is probably used to being alone and taking what he wants. His bad attitude leaves me with lots of questions and he’d refuse to answer them. He walks around me and into the bar.

I notice the cars and motorcycles are gone before I follow behind him. When I enter, Jacks and Dayio are helping the bartender put the place back together. They turn to us as Odom walks straight towards the bar. There is an overturned chair in his path, so he picks it up and places it upright in the same incorrect spot, then sits down at the bar. Jacks and Dayio turn to me, probably hoping for some kind of explanation, but I honestly don’t know what to tell them. I simply walk to the bar as well.

I sit down next to him, but then my Econ beeps. “Incoming call from Simon Harold.”

I tap my Econ to answer the call. “Simon?”

My father worryingly asks, “Emily? What happened? Where have you been?”

“Everything’s fine. Jacks is with me.”

Like that’s supposed to make my situation any better. His worry is understandable to me, now.

He replies, “I know. He gave me the connection code to reach you. Where are you?”

I answer, “I’m in Teykrys City picking up someone. Did you figure out anything about where Geilium is being held?”

“Not yet, but we’ve come up with a strategy. When can you come back here?”

How can they come up with a strategy when they don’t even know where Geilium is yet? That doesn’t make any sense.

I answer, “I still have one person left to find, so give me a couple more days.”

“Okay, but do make haste.” He whispers, “Be careful, Em.”

I can’t show affection toward him around the others or they may start to get suspicious about why. I tap my Econ to end the call. Odom is on our side, so that’s one more check in the box. I still need to figure out if the person exists that can control the mechs. I’m not sure where to even begin looking, but I won’t stop until I find them. A prison’s defenses are kept highly secret from any and every one, so we have no idea what to expect when we arrive. Human guards we can handle, but with a BAMech’s incredible accuracy and strength, it’ll help to have some on our side just in case.

Dayio and Jacks walk over to me. Dayio asks, “What happened?”

I fill him in, “We have two days left to find one more person.”

“Who?”

“I believe there’s someone out there that can control mechs.”

Jacks ask, “Someone from Berkham Technologies?”

I answer, “Maybe someone else.”

Jacks asks, “You mean like a hacker?”

“Yeah.”

“I can tell you right now that that’s highly impossible. Their networks are absolutely impenetrable by even the company’s standard. Have you ever heard of a refurbished MechCi or PAMech?”

“No.”

“Exactly, because once anyone touches a circuit after the mech is created, everything is instantly fried.”

“Do you think anyone can access them wirelessly?”

Jacks quickly explains, “To be able to hack into Berkham Technologies is–” He stops and begins pondering for a second, then finishes. “Actually possible, I guess. But that person could be traced almost instantly because they’d have to route a connection straight through Berkham’s network. How would we find out where this person is?”

I smile at Jacks and Dayio turns away already knowing what I’m thinking. Breaking into Berkham Technologies won’t be as hard as breaking into a prison would be, since humans aren’t denied access into the place. We at least need a city’s name to begin searching for this mystery mech controller.

I answer, “Well, we’re going to break into Berkham Tech.”

Jacks starts laughing and I smile at him, then raise my eyebrows one time. He must think I’m joking. It is a pretty dumb idea, but I’m the queen of those. They invented the technology for the four types of mechs that exist today, and distribute from that same center when they’re purchased. The mechs are all delivered by the company to avoid compromise on their property, but some people still like to see before they buy, and that will be my cover. Jacks gradually stops laughing and sees that I’m still staring at him with a smile.

Jacks sighs then asks, “You’re not even kidding are you?” I shake my head from left to right twice. He continues, “You are aware that Berkham Technologies created the mechs right? And let me mention that there is a one hundred percent chance that their entire facility is mech operated and defended.”

I nod up and down, then reply, “Yep, but we won’t be breaking in. Well, you won’t. I just need you to use your smarts to get me in the door and I’ll take it from there.”

He sighs again as he puts his head down and asks himself, “Why me?”

“It’ll be a piece of cake this time. Let’s go.”

I rise up from the barstool and so does Dayio. Jacks slowly slinks up in his depressed state. Odom continues to sit at the bar. He’s a big guy and I don’t think we’ll have space for him in our tiny sport’s cruiser unless he could squeeze in the passenger seat.

I turn my head to Odom and ask, “You coming?”

He answers, “No. I have things to take care of here, first. I’ll meet up with you later.”

“Sync Econs so I can reach you?”

“Do I look like I use Econs?”

“Right. How am I supposed to find you?”

“You’re not. I’ll find you.”

My sarcasm is thinking that’s not creepy at all. How does he expect to find me? Yeah, he heard our entire conversation, but even I don’t know where I’m going to be, unless he’s going to stand outside of Berkham Technologies until the meeting is over tomorrow. Whatever works for him works for me.

I reply, “Your call. See you whenever.”

I make my way to the door followed by Dayio and Jacks.

We exit the bar and head towards the cruiser as Dayio asks, “You sure he’ll show up?”

I answer, “I’m not sure about anything with that guy. He’s too difficult to read, but he seems more on the reliable than unreliable side. We’ll just have to see if he shows up at Berkham Tech to meet us.”

We reach the cruiser and Jacks walks around to the driver side as he asks, “Are you sure about this Berkham thing, Van?”

I answer, “You’re still alive so far, so have a little faith. My plans always work.” Jacks will need to drive his cruiser so I’ll drive this one and he can get rest, “I’ll drive.”

Jacks and I switch sides and we all get into the cruiser. Unluckily, Teykrys doesn’t have a hyper warp, so we have to drive to the nearest city to get to one. This cruiser is definitely considered stolen by now and entering a city with it will be an automatic flag. We have to drive it straight back to the forest outside of Gharis City and use the tunnel.

 

Chapter 6: Classified Intel

 

This drive is taking forever. Dayio is riding passenger with me while Jacks is in the back seat snoozing. I have a pretty solid plan going for the moment with breaking into Berkham, but I’m not sure how their defenses stand. Jacks and I could go in pretending to be interested in buying a mech, then I could slip away while they talk terms. Their facility can’t be run entirely by mechs, so I can use a disguise and find a way to their security center, then use it to figure out where they’ve tracked the hacker, or if at all. It should be an easy job with the right outfit. Berkham is back in New Rellow City, but first we need Jacks’ custom cruiser back.

I ask Dayio, “Do you think Trex can check my IDN status for me?”

Dayio answers, “Yeah. For free, no. Why what’s up?”

“I need to figure out if I’m wanted in New Rellow before I go back. The mechs at Berkham will probably be scanning me while we’re there. I might need a new IDN.”

“You got it.” Dayio taps his Econ and then articulates, “Call Trex.” Dayio waits for an answer then taps his Econ again. “There’s no answer.”

That’s not a good sign. Trex operates the only smuggler’s entrance into that city and is usually up to business any hour of the day. There were Regs investigating Feegle’s Bakery when we left, so either they found out about the tunnel, or Ryishi and Tylyn went back. I hope it was neither one.

I ask, “You think he’s alright?”

Dayio answers, “They took out our entire team and there wasn’t anyone around to keep an eye out, so I don’t know. Maybe he shut down.”

I’ve been awake from Menta-Life for two days and I’ve already ruined three of the people’s lives who have been there for me when I needed them. I haven’t heard from Feegle or Trex at all, but it could be because they don’t have my new Econ synced. They haven’t contacted Dayio either though, so maybe they blame us for what happened earlier today. My Life had such an impact on everyone around me, and I can’t help but feel bad for unintentionally doing this to them. I mean, they could be doing much worse, but Feegle will lose out on needed business for repair time, and Trex could very well be dead.

They didn’t need me, but I was there to ruin things anyway. Why is Menta-Life targeting people that could help me? Am I that dangerous to them? Before my Life, things were different for me. I was okay at a lot of bad things: smuggling, fighting, and running. Being in my Life, I feel as if I’d grown stronger in fighting and smarter. I took on the most dangerous mech, known to everyone as Alpha in my Life, and survived. Doing that is something I never could have done before.

The toughest ground soldiers are the BAMechs and I’d taken on a squad of two, surviving that as well. Menta-Life made me more dangerous and resourceful. Is that why they want to get rid of the people around me? It does make sense. I can’t take Menta-Life down on my own, but they know that I know who to turn to in order to do so. I’m not going to let them stop me from getting my memory back. I will do whatever it takes to get there and destroy the hourglass.

Dayio notifies, “I got Trex.” He taps his Econ and calls out, “Trex? Is everything alright over there? Yeah… There were some people from the Menta-Life Corporation that attacked us… We’re not sure yet, but we’re trying to find out… She saved my life and we stopped them from breaking into the tunnel… Okay, we’re actually coming now. Also, Van wanted to know if you could do an IDN scan for her background before we arrive in case we have a problem getting back into the city… We just left Teykrys… Thanks, Trex. Set up the payment and send me the details… Okay.”

Trex would charge Dayio payment on my behalf. We did break off on bad terms. It was the deal that he sent me on that got interfered with by Menta-Life, which led to my kidnapping. I thought it was the people he sent me with that set me up; maybe they did work for Menta-Life too. I did notice that Dayio didn’t mention this being my fault.

Dayio taps his Econ to end the call and I question, “Is he alright?”

Dayio answers, “Yeah. He has the tunnel locked down until we can get there.”

“How come you didn’t mention my involvement with Menta-Life?”

“What for?”

“Because this is all pretty much my fault.”

“Well, we don’t know that for sure, now do we?”

“I do.”

“According to you, you had no idea that they abducted you, so you didn’t directly tell them, making this still not your fault.”

Way to put a positive spin on it, but I’m still not convinced. Not being aware of what was going on does not deny me responsibility for what’s happening now. IDN stands for Identification Data Network and it serves as an I.D. that is traceable in any city, spelling out a person’s entire background. It also stores digital currency, or aers, to allow one to make purchases at any business that has a payment system.

I continue, “Is Trex looking into my IDN?”

Dayio answers, “Yeah. He’ll set you up with a new one if you need it.”

“He’s going to charge you on my behalf then?”

“You know Trex. He has to make money for everything he does. You can’t blame him, though. That’d make you a hypocrite.”

Trex is the definition of greedy, and probably doesn’t even believe in doing favors for his allies. He’d probably never sell his number one and two runner out for anything, but if the price was high enough, maybe he would. I don’t trust people like that, which basically means I don’t trust myself. It’s not like I didn’t have a reason for becoming the way I am; I grew up poor and the only way to get rid of that was to become a greedy smuggler.

Dayio asks, “How are you feeling, Van?”

I inspect, “What do you mean?”

“Like, how are you? It’s been a rough day and I’m just trying to lighten the mood I guess.”

“I’m alright. My head is just so wrapped around all of this. I can’t bring myself to fully understand what they did to me.”

“You don’t remember anything? No mention of what they wanted? You didn’t overhear anyone talking?”

“No. I don’t even remember being there. I woke up from my Life and just ran. I didn’t know what else to do at the time. I didn’t even know my memory had been stolen. There’s something that they didn’t want me to know, but it feels like it’s all there except for my time being awake at Menta-Life.”

“Maybe that’s what they took from you. They’ve been stealing other people’s memories, too?”

“Yeah. The outbreak of Deserted is because of what they’ve been doing to people. Menta-Life is responsible for all of those disappearances and ruining people’s lives. A lot of those people didn’t deserve what happened to them. They stole out of their greed and there has to be a way to help those people and stop Menta-Life. I lived among them, and I thought they were crazy people, but now I can sort of feel them. I can feel what happened to them because it’s happening to me.”

“Wow.” He nervously continues, “So you’ll become… you know?”

“No. Menta-Life gave a dose of something to their clients to slow down the process and make them forget little by little, but I ran. I didn’t get the dose until after my brain starting rotting away, so I won’t become Deserted. I’ll die, Dayio.”

“Oh.” He enthusiastically continues, “Well, hey, at least we’re gonna get them back right? We’ll find this hacker and stop Menta-Life without even breaking a sweat.”

“What makes you so confident?”

He reclines his seat all the way back as he answers, “Because you’ve gotten us out of worse situations.”

“No, I haven’t.”

He lets out a yawn as he disagrees, “Yeah, you have. You just don’t remember.”

He shuts his eyes and folds his arms. He’s full of it. I don’t think Menta-Life would take something like that away from me, but I understand his need to keep the levity high. My urge has grown stronger against Menta-Life. I need more than just my memories back. I need more answers from my father.

I tap my Econ then request, “Call Simon.”

My Econ alerts, “Connecting.”

My father greets, “Hello Emily.”

“Hey.”

I miss him. Every time I hear his voice I feel like a little girl again, playing around in his lab. I wanted to be just like him. When I was little, we worked side-by-side, but my experiments weren’t as dangerous as his. He set me up a chemistry area with different colors to blend together to make my own schemes, then we’d share what we gathered together. He would show me cool things that he invented and we would have competition. His inventions helped the world; my inventions helped him smile.

He queries, “Are you okay, Em?”

My eyes begin to water and a tear drops down my face. I try to stop myself from sniffling, but I can’t help it, so I do it quietly. I’m not okay and I realize that now. I wish I could be there with him and out of this Menta-Life crap.

I assuredly answer, “Yeah, I’m fine. I um… I have questions about Menta-Life. Do you know anything aside from what you’ve told me?”

“Is there anything in specific? I know all there is to know about Menta-Life from start to finish, thanks to Hines, but I only mainly discussed about you and me.”

I rub the tear off my face before it dries as I ask, “Do you think we can do this? Stop them?”

“With careful planning, of course we can.”

“In Gharis City, we ran into Ryishi and Tylyn. One of my people and I fought them and it wasn’t too good.”

He worryingly warns, “Emily, you have to stay far away from them. They’re much too dangerous.”

“Yeah, I learned that the hard way. Something didn’t seem right about them.”

“Nothing is right about them. Gene had them genetically altered to be his protection. They were some of the worst criminals that he captured and molded. He had test subjects and did horrible things to those people, succeeding with his top four and got rid of the remaining.”

I knew it was something strange about them. The things Gene has done to people just makes me hate him that much more. I don’t know much about genetic alteration, but I do know that it takes massive amounts of trial and error, which means a lot more lives.

I ask, “Can you tell me anything about them?”

“Of course. Ryishi is the most dangerous of them because of her speed and melee weapons training. Her genetic alteration crowned her the fastest in hand-to-hand combat.”

That explains why fighting with her was so difficult and emotionless on her part. She was attacking me with ease and didn’t even make as much as a grunt sound to show struggle.

He continues, “Tylyn is an animal of anger. He is able to physically expand his body to become much stronger than he already is, but the effects are only temporary.”

His expanded self must be why he looked different than when I first saw him in my Life.

I ask, “And what about the other two?”

He answers, “Payge is a master marksman with any weapon, from any range, and she also knows how to manufacture a weapon out of whatever she can get her hands on in a matter of seconds.”

That sounds very useful for her. If we were to trap her in a room for a few seconds with regular household products, it sounds like she’d be able to blast her way out by using them, somehow.

He continues, “And Booker, I’m not so sure about.”

I ask, “What do you mean?”

“When Hines was at the corporation, he had never come across any tests or data for Booker. He was never put in the field either; he was just there.”

Well, that leaves room for a lot of mystery. Hopefully he’s not a combination of all three of them. I’d met Booker before, and he’s not as big as Tylyn, but he’s still a built guy.

I ask, “What if we run into them at the corporation?”

He assures, “We will run into them long before we run into Gene, but not until after we’ve destroyed the hourglass that hold everyone’s memories. They had their memories taken, too, so that way they wouldn’t turn on Gene for turning them into what they are. With their memories back, they can do the job for us, or at least greatly weaken their defenses from the mechs and Regulators, making it easier on us.”

“I see. So why break out Geilium McKoy?”

“My people alone certainly can’t handle this, but if he can start Equility like you said he can, we’ll have a better chance with his force than ours.”

That’s true, but his fighters in Equility didn’t do a great job the first time around in their stand against Menta-Life. They attacked the corporation twice and failed before I came along for the third success. Maybe I can help them repeat that third success again when we attack the facility.

I grill for more info, “So the hourglass is at the Gharis City branch right?”

“No. They house the hourglass in a much more secure and separate location. There’s a base in the desert, deep underground. The base was built deep so nothing can penetrate or harm the hourglass. No missile, nuclear warhead or anything of the nature can get down so far under all of the steel and concrete. You all will have to go in on foot while I administer directions from our surveillance at our base and lead you through any interference.”

“Okay…” I nervously ask, “How are you?”

“I’m doing well, Emily. Very well. Have you felt any pain from your head?”

“No. Am I supposed to?”

“Very minor and at random, but yes. I’m still working on your scans to see if there’s a certain way to pinpoint the problem and possibly avoid any accidents. What are you doing on your end?”

“Just picking up my last recruit to help us. I have to head back to New Rellow after stopping back in Gharis.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Em.”

“Me either, but this person can be useful to our fight. Would there happen to be anything you can do to help us out in either city?”

“All of my resources are here with me. What do you need?”

“If you knew what I was planning, you wouldn’t help me, believe me. But thank you anyway.”

“You’re welcome, Em. Be careful out there, and come back soon okay?”

“Yes.”

I tap my Econ then pay attention to a marker on the road that shows how far we are from Gharis City. We’re pretty close now, and it’s the middle of the night, but I can see the ridiculously bright city off in the distance. My father’s plan seems flawless, but no plan to do something that will change the world can ever go so smoothly. We won’t be able to face off against Gene’s entourage alone from the weird mutations or whatever. With them on our side it’ll be that much easier, although I can still picture it being a lot harder than breaking Geilium out of prison.

We near the city limits, so we have to go around to the tunnel which is an even longer drive. I’m tired. I turn right at the last road before the north gate checkpoint and begin driving around the city to the south road where the forest is. I pull over at the forest’s southwestern corner and wake Dayio by shaking him. He stretches after his short nap, then I reach back to wake Jacks.

Dayio asks in his groggy voice, “What time is it?”

“I don’t know. We’re here at the forest. Call Trex and we’ll all head through to Feegle’s and get some rest.”

Dayio taps his Econ then requests, “Call Trex.”

Jacks leans up into the front seat and asks in his groggy voice, “What’s goin’ on?”

I’m jealous. I’ve had a worse day than them and haven’t got a wink of sleep yet. Hopefully, I can power-nap at Feegle’s until Jacks can get us back at the forest in his custom cruiser.

I answer, “We’re going into Gharis.”

He leans back, then Dayio mentions, “Trex it’s me, we’re here… Okay.” Dayio taps his Econ. He then says to me, “He’s going to unlock the tunnel for us.”

We all get out of the cruiser and trek through the dark forest towards the secret entrance. We reach the spot and see that the guard’s dead bodies are gone. What happened to them? I didn’t think anyone ever came through here to search this forest.

I whisper to Dayio, “Any idea what happened to the bodies?”

“No. Someone must have come through here and reported it. Every once in a while, we get a Reg patrol through here to do a search. They finally started paying attention to what’s goin’ on out here, but not much.”

That would make sense, but the forest hasn’t been restored. Whenever something like this happens, the Regs are usually picky about having an environment cleaned up so that no one knows that an accident occurred, but the trees are still bruised. They have Habitat Changers to restore wildlife back to health, but they’re still damaged from the fight earlier today, technically yesterday for them. We reach the tree where the secret entrance is, then Dayio walks over to the panel while Jacks and I stop to wait. Dayio uses the panel and the doors begin opening with that bright blue light beaming out.

I squint my eyes and stare into the light as it widens from the opening door, then Dayio steps in. I follow behind him with Jacks behind me as we take the stairs down to the tunnel. We stroll down the path to Trex’s office. When we finally make it, Dayio knocks, then enters the office and we follow him inside to see Trex dead at his desk. I reach back and yank Jacks in front of me, then shut the door so no one can sneak in on us from the opposing room. What happened to him? If he just unlocked the entrance for us, this must have just happened, and the killer must still be here. I didn’t see anyone on our way through the tunnel.

Trex quickly sits up with a pulser and bawls, “Don’t move!”

He startles Jacks as Dayio puts his hands out, then shouts, “Trex, it’s alright. It’s me. Dayio!”

Trex angrily acknowledges, “I know. Move away from her.”

I realize he’s looking at me with that leering anger on his face. He has the pulser pointed just past Dayio for a shot at me, which, from the angle of his wheelchair, it’s not a good one with Dayio blocking me. He obviously wants to kill me, but why? Did something about my IDN bring him to become suspicious of me?

Dayio looks back at me, then back at Trex and asks, “Why? She didn’t do anything wrong?”

Trex shouts, “Dayio move!”

Dayio shouts back, “No, I’m not going to let you shoot her!” His tone calms, “What’s going on?”

I have no idea what’s happening or why Trex is so angry, but he lured us in here so something has betrayal written on it. If he was suspicious of me, or didn’t trust me, he wouldn’t have let us in knowing I’d be here. Did he sell us out to Menta-Life? That can’t be because he’d want Dayio, too. Maybe getting rid of me is the only reason he can come up with to keep his secret tunnel a secret.

Trex points his pulser at Dayio and angrily states, “Dayio, I will shoot you.”

Whatever this is, I can’t let Dayio get hurt on my behalf. I step around him to Trex’s desk and place my hands on it. Trex stares at me with a twitch on his trigger finger. What’s wrong with him? He must be angry about having to shut down the tunnel. Everything illegally transported, which isn’t much nowadays, has to go through him. People only smuggle the most valuable things and pay top dollar for it, but now Trex gets nothing. I did mention that I never trust people that are greedy like me.

Dayio rushes over to my right side at the desk and states, “She didn’t do anything, Trex.”

Trex presses a button on his keyboard and the second holographic screen appears on the side, then flips towards us as he enquires, “So a criminal wanted in every city just happens to show up after disappearing for three months, on the same day we get attacked, and it’s not her fault?”

I look down at the screen and it shows a file on me. They have a ridiculous bounty on my head and I am wanted dead or alive, if possible, in every city. That’s pretty extreme considering all I did was break out of a facility that I was being held captive in. But I’m the wanted one? It’s a good thing I haven’t used my IDN anywhere or BAMech squads would have been all over me in minutes. Dayio stares at the screen in silence.

I look back at Trex and answer for Dayio, referring to myself, “It is her fault. Menta-Life found the tunnel because of her and attacked and killed your people because of her.”

Trex’s face changes from angry to strangely confused as he asks, “Wait, Menta-Life? You led the Regs here.”

Dayio clarifies, “It wasn’t the Regs, Trex. The Menta-Life Corporation sent an assassin to kill the guards in the forest and me, too. She came to try and stop them.”

Trex denies, “I don’t believe you, Dayio.”

“Trex, she’s trying to help us.”

I can tell Trex’s arm is getting relaxed because it’s slowly lowering from my head to my stomach as he pays more attention to Dayio.

Trex states, “Dayio, you can’t trust her. She disappeared on us three months ago on a job that–”

I use my left hand to push his pulser away as I grip his arm, then use my right hand to grab the top of his dreads and slam his head down on the desk. Trex lets out a shout.

Dayio yells, “Van, wait!”

I hold Trex’s head and arm down tightly to the desk as I lean down to his ear and whisper, “I’ve never turned my back on anybody and I never will. If I wanted to betray you, I wouldn’t leave you alive to try and get me back.”

I let go of him and back away. He rises up from the desk as he releases his pulser.

He looks up at me and says with an attitude, “Well, there’s everything you wanted to know on the monitor.”

I read over the screen and see that the corporation has lied to make me a top priority by saying I’m helping to aid the terrorist Geilium McKoy. The Regs have no idea who they’re protecting, and probably wouldn’t believe anyone if they told them. Menta-Life has too high of a reputation to be tried anyway, even if a Reg officer did believe someone. For now, I’m pretty screwed unless Trex would actually be willing to make me a new IDN so I could get into Berkham without incident.

I say to Trex, “I’m trying to fix this, Trex, but I need my new IDN.”

Trex quickly asks, “Why should I gi–”

Dayio interrupts, “Menta-Life isn’t going to stop. They will come back, but she knows how we can stop them.”

Dayio places his palms on the desk. Trex leans back in his wheelchair and ponders for a second, then reaches towards his pulser. He reaches it, but tucks it away and presses the button making his second screen vanish. He begins typing away. I cross my arms, wait for him to say something, then look back at Jacks. He’s looking at me nervously, like he’s not sure what to expect. Dayio is looking at me angrily, as he should.

I’m not doing anything to make the situation any better for us. I need to find a way to stop letting my aggressive attitude take over when people act aggressive towards me, although that really doesn’t make any sense at all. If I want to get through this I’ll need allies, and creating problems with everyone will just leave me to fight Menta-Life alone. Despite being a greedy crook, Trex does deserve an apology for the trouble I unintentionally brought him.

Trex activates the second screen again and says, “Here’s your new IDN.”

Traceille Tovmasiyan? It sounds like, instead of British, I should be a well-spoken Armenian businesswoman running “Tovmasiyan Enterprises.” It also seems like a Russian last name, and I don’t fit either description. It’s still better than nothing, though. I could be married to a handsome hunk from either background.

Trex asks, “Anything you want me to add to it?”

I answer, “Yes. With the last name use ‘enterprises’ at the end as occupation and use Gharis as a housing city. Also, the name sounds foreign, so I’ll need to be married. Thank you for this, Trex.”

Trex nods his head then begins typing as he says, “By the time you get to the city limits, your IDN will be done.”

I ask, “How much for the IDN?”

He stops typing and answers, “This is a favor for Dayio. After this, I don’t want to see either one of you back here again. You’ve lost your places here and you’ve brought a stranger into my tunnel.”

I apologize, “Trex, I’m sor–”

He quickly interrupts, “That’s nice to know, Van.”

I guess that’s my sign to leave. People are going to be angry with him for not being able to take care of their business and it’s my fault. I shouldn’t feel bad, but I also feel like I don’t have a choice. I don’t want to go see how Feegle is holding up after all of this, but we have to, since the cruiser won’t make it back into the city as not stolen. The recent warp use would show up under the cruiser’s travel history to Teykrys and will be logged when it returns so we have to walk to the garage where we parked. I’ll have to test my IDN to get us out of the city because the stolen cruiser will be linked to Jacks.

I nervously say to Trex, “We’re gonna head out through Feegle’s.”

Trex waves me away. I turn to leave as Dayio says, “Thank you for the help, Trex.”

As Jacks and I leave the room, Trex warns, “Be careful around her.”

For him to even say something like that makes me feel angry in every way possible, but it’ll be better for me to not react. I turn left and Jacks follows me through the tunnel. I can slightly hear Dayio speed-walking to catch up to us. We all reach the end of the silent tunnel and head up the set of stairs leading to the bakery’s basement. Dayio steps ahead of us and presses a switch on the right wall. The door begins opening upward. I know that once we leave, Trex will never let us back in, but I probably will never have a need to come back here anyway, seeing as I have a new IDN.

We exit the tunnel and the door begins closing, leaving us in the pitch black basement. I can faintly hear music above. Is Feegle having a party? The front of his shop is pretty much missing; I’d figure he’d try to hide that eye-sore from the public. We head up the stairs and enter the ballroom to see it is empty. There is a classical melody playing. The room looks like it was just recently dined in since there are empty glasses and plates on every table.

Dayio says, “We must have just missed the party. Feegle must be up front.”

Dayio starts walking ahead of me towards the replaced door to the bakery storefront as Jacks expresses concern in a low tone, “Are you alright, Van?”

I look back at Jacks as we follow Dayio and slow down for him to catch up. “What do you mean?”

“Things got a little crazy back there.”

The truth is, I’m not alright. I never had people hate me before. Well, that’s actually very untrue, so I’ll clarify that I’ve never had allies turn me away before; it makes me feel as guilty as a murder suspect on trial. I can’t let Jacks know that, though, or he may see me differently.

I reply, “I’m fine, Jacks. It just sucks taking responsibility, ya know?”

He dramatically answers, “Oh yeah. Believe me. I know what you mean.”

He has no idea what I mean. We all enter the front of the bakery to see that it has been completely repaired. The front of the shop has been rearranged with the counter at the left wall from the front door and the display of cakes on the entire back wall. Feegle is behind the counter talking with his MechCi about remaining on watch for the night; briefing the MechCi that no more guests are in the building and to resume regular store functions. As Feegle finishes up his conversation, he turns and notices us.

He smiles a bit bigger than he was already as he greets us excitedly, “Hi there, everyone.”

He’s a touch happier than I thought he’d be considering all the repair labor I cost him. I didn’t think he’d be as angry as Trex, but still very steamed.

He walks over to us and I hesitantly greet him. “Hi, Feegle.”

Feegle asks, “How’ve you been since that despicable episode earlier this morning?”

“I’ve been a little better.” I look around as I state the obvious, “You sure patched this place up fast.”

Feegle looks around as well as he seeks praise, “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

“Yeah. How’d you get it fixed up so quick?”

“Interior decorating is one of my passions dear, you know that.”

“Feegle, your store was destroyed.”

“No, it was misshapen. I’ve been meaning to rearrange the place anyway.”

That’s a big relief. Not having a greedy snake like Trex around is bearable. Feegle has been the kindest person I’d ever known, so having him mad at me would have really dunked me in the pit. Now, I’m just left in my own shame.

I accept, “I see. Would it be okay if I rested up here for a little while? Dayio and Jacks have to go get our cruiser.”

Feegle answers, “Certainly.” He introduces himself, “Jacks, I’m Mr. Feegle Tolen.”

Jacks returns, “Nice to meet you, I’m… Mr. Jacks Timbelin.”

I turn around to Jacks and Dayio. “I’m going to need to get cleaned up and rested for tomorrow. Dayio, since you’re out of this one, I’ll need you to drive us back to New Rellow and I’ll get us through the gate. Good?”

Dayio agrees, “Yeah.”

“Alright. Wake me when you guys get back.”

The two of them leave the shop, then I turn to Feegle and show appreciation, “Thank you, Feegle.”

Feegle replies, “Ms. Pheros, you are always a prized guest in my home. By the way, will you be available to attend a party with me in a couple of days?”

By attend, he means be a trophy on his arm. Whenever he needs me for a party, he dolls me up real nice to show that I am a woman underneath this tough exterior. Afterwards, I accompany him to his or another party and pretend to be interested in his friend’s discussions. He’s looked out for me for a long time, and this is one of the main things I did for him to show my appreciation. Unfortunately, I may not be in town to attend. He’s always good for finding an easy replacement, but he always has to come to his go-to girl first.

I answer, “If I can make it, I will. I have some important business in New Rellow before I do anything else.”

I turn around and begin walking away, then Feegle adds, “By the way. I stopped over at Lynn’s shop, before the party, to pick up a piece of cloth and picked up your tab on the clothing you ordered.”

That’s a debt solution if I’d ever heard of one. Considering I have no aers to buy them from him, I’d have to at least try and come back to accompany him as payment. He’d never try and force me, but it’s a slick kind of leverage to convince me since I always pay back what I owe.

I turn around with a smirk and reply, “I’ll try my absolute best to be back here tomorrow night, Feegle.”

He excitedly comments, “Excellent news. Be here by eight and we’ll get everything started.”

I leave the room and head back toward the stairs. He sure does have a lot of cleaning up to do, so that means his bed will be free for my convenience.