Chapter 7 & 8

Chapter 7: Berkham Invasion

 

I feel something nudging me as I lie in Feegle’s bed, so I open my tired eyes to see someone standing over me on my right side. Who is this person watching me? It looks like a man.

He begins speaking, “Usually you’re more–”

It clicks to me that I’m not dreaming, so I quickly reach my left arm over and grab his right hand then lift it up, as I slide off the bed. During my slide, I swoop around to his back, bending his arm up in the process.

He screams, “Hey, Van. Wait, it’s me!”

I slam him down on the bed and notice the side of Dayio’s face. Why do people love startling me? It’s not like I’m a violent person or anything. I have Menta-Life assassins after me and I’m probably the most wanted person alive, even above the other escapees with my father.

I let him go and he corrects himself as he gets up, “I guess you are more alert.”

I’m more on the side of exhausted. Getting up so fast after waking up is making me a bit dizzy.

I make a tired inquiry, “Where’s Jacks?”

Dayio answers as he heads for the door, “Outside, waiting in the cruiser.”

He exits the room. I stretch and follow him out. The ballroom is still lit and, as I walk the balcony, I see Feegle downstairs with his MechCi. They are chatting as they clean the room. I must not have been asleep for too long. I head down the stairs passing Feegle and his MechCi.

Feegle reminds me, as I near the door to the bakery entrance, “Remember, Ms. Pheros. Tomorrow night at eight.”

I wave goodbye without turning back to him as Dayio and I exit the room. The streets are full of people walking around and socializing with each other; I’m sure most of them just met, but in friendly old Gharis City, the rich always become acquainted by sight and smile. The bright lights make everything look as if it’s still daylight out even though it’s not. The illuminated billboards and street lights make combined colors as people cross under them, changing shades as they do. The MechCi walking the streets communicate with their counterparts and greet strangers and other MechCi in passing.

Seeing how these people act towards each other is sort of eye opening. I see that they act with such ignorance; like people aren’t missing and becoming Deserted. It’s not all entirely an act though, because they still don’t know what’s happening right under them, and I mean that quite literally. Beneath the city is just a collection of long tunnels that lead to big areas where the Deserted can live in peace, enjoying their final thought. Back to reality, Jacks is in the back seat of his custom cruiser parked in front of us.

I walk around the custom cruiser and get into the driver seat. Jacks mentions, “Since we can’t warp there, it’s going to be a long drive.”

Dayio gets into the cruiser’s passenger seat. I look up and notice Jacks watching me through the rear view mirror as I reply, “Good. I need more sleep anyway.” I let out a yawn as I press the buttons to drive the already started cruiser, “Once we get through the gate, Dayio and I will switch out and he’ll drive us to New Rellow. I’ll have to get us in, though.”

Dayio suggests, “Get some rest on the drive; it’s gonna be a boring day tomorrow.”

Dayio and Jacks begin talking as I lead us through the patrol at the gate. The IDN works perfectly to get us through, then, a short distance away, Dayio, Jacks, and I switch seats. Once we do, Jacks shows him how to switch the cruiser into drive. Dayio gets going. I doze off, watching the road. I awaken to Dayio pushing me from the driver side of the cruiser. It’s daylight outside and my eyes are very harshly adjusting to the bright sun outside.

I slowly get up and ask, “We here?”

Dayio answers, “Sort of. We have a problem.”

I quickly rub my eyes to wake myself up. I look ahead to see a long line of cruisers leading from the gate. I look back to see that we are the second to last in a long line. What’s happening here? Is there some trouble at the gate? There are eleven cruisers waiting ahead of us and there doesn’t seem to be any danger up there. I look at Jacks in the passenger seat to see that he is still sleeping.

I ask, “What’s up?”

Jacks lets out a yawn and stretches as Dayio answers, “I think this gate is on lockdown.”

Jacks continues to dramatically stretch his arms out and waves his right arm up toward the front seat.

I push his arm away and aggressively demand, “Would you knock it off?”

He puts his arms down as he apologizes. “Sorry. It’s cramped up back here. What’s going on?”

I answer, “I’m not sure. Turn on your radio.”

Jacks reaches ahead to press a button on the dashboard to turn on the scanner. Radio chatter starts coming through a static-filled frequency. Jacks adjusts the white noise by dragging his finger across a small black strip underneath the radio.

A man’s voice clearly says, “–breach at the northeastern quadrant. We don’t have a line of sight of the suspect but are requesting BAMech assistance. Suspect is a large male and was last seen heading west. Citizens are waiting to enter the city, but we’ve locked down. Please advise command.”

An older male voice responds, “Continue issuing protocols as normal and tighten security for inspections. It may be a diversion. Two squads of BAMechs are currently en route to your position and others to assist at gates. Acknowledge?”

“Understood. Checking in citizens now. Over and out.”

Jacks turns off the radio. A guard quickly steps out from behind the right side of the wall and starts pointing at the three armed guards issuing out orders. This isn’t good. How are we supposed to get inside now? If Dayio and Jacks get checked, we’ll probably be more than just denied access with this alert.

Dayio asks, “What do we do?”

The guy said the gate has a big hole in it so I suggest, “We have to drive straight through.”

Jacks replies, “The BAMechs would be here any minute to intercept us.”

The line begins moving as I quickly mention, “I’m open to other suggestions.”

Dayio suggests, “We can just drive around and see if another gate is still running people through normally.”

Jacks replies, “That’ll take way too long. BAMechs would beat us there before we could get all the way around.”

I wonder if this amazing gadget cruiser can do anything else. Turning invisible in front of all of these people won’t be smart, but maybe there’s something we can do.

I ask Jacks, “Can this thing do anything else besides disappear? Is there like some kind of interior camouflage?”

The line moves again as Jacks hesitantly answers, “Sort of.”

“You built this cruiser; what do you mean ‘sort of’?”

“I mean it’s only meant for cargo, or a single person, so it’ll be a very compact fit if we can both fit. I built this model with a feature that can turn the back seat into a sport’s cruiser compartment with a shell thick enough to avoid thermal detection when entering the city. The trunk gives the empty illusion of depth making them think it’s further back than it actually is.”

The line moves again as I demand, “Well, let’s hurry this up boys.”

Dayio smiles and asks, “You’re joking, right?”

I reassure him, “It won’t be long, Dayio. Prison would be worse.”

I reach over to the wheel then start pressing buttons to park the cruiser as Dayio climbs to the back and replies, “I’d rather it not happen at all, and according to you, we’ll be in prison soon anyway.”

The line moves. A cruiser honks its horn behind us as I put the cruiser back into drive and move up.

I look back and ask, “Jacks, how do I activate this thing?”

He reaches up again and presses buttons. The cruiser starts making a sound. I look back to see a metal sheet moving forward from directly between the back window and seat.

Dayio demands, “I’m not a fan of the bottom.”

Jacks lies down as the thick metal piece begins slowly sliding over top of Dayio and Jacks. It doesn’t seem like the two of them can fit, so Dayio presses himself down on Jacks, smashing him down more.

Jacks struggles out a comment, “This isn’t comfortable at all.”

Dayio recommends, “With the next design, you should probably make it bigger then.”

The metal sheet folds over them, shutting completely over the back seat. It might be crammed in there for them, but hopefully, the sheet holds a chill until we cross the gate. The cruisers guide me to the gate and the four guards approach with pulser rifles in hand. They surround my cruiser and search around the outside.

One of the left guards demands, “Retinal please.”

I look over at him. He uses his travel retinal scanner on his wrist to scan my IDN. It beeps and the guard looks over his screen.

The guard says, “Open the trunk please.”

I reach down to my right leg and realize we’re not in that sport’s cruiser anymore. I look to my left on the door panel where the trunk button should be, but it’s not there either. We’re in Jacks’ custom cruiser which means we’re pretty much arrested, because I don’t know where the button is. What am I supposed to do?

The guard repeats, “Ma’am, the trunk please.”

Think, Van, think. My father probably doesn’t even go on his own missions, so he wouldn’t have a clue. I don’t have Welktin’s Econ synced making that idea out of the question. He’s probably the only other person that leaves the base. I gotta pull out the businesswoman routine and call Jacks.

I reply to the guard, “My apologies. This is a company cruiser. I’ll put a quick call through to my office technician immediately.” I tap my Econ, “Call Jacks.”

The Econ connects us and Jacks whispers, “What’s going on?”

I introduce myself normally, “Yes, this is Mrs. Tovmasiyan. I need someone down there to enlighten me on where the button for the trunk is for this piece of crap machine.”

Jacks whispers, “The second button up from the center on the dashboard.”

I tap my Econ then press the button as I apologize, “Apologies again, officer.”

The guard ignores me while he waits for approval from the guard behind the cruiser. I can’t see through the rearview mirror, so I watch the guard. He signals me to go in with a “Welcome to New Rellow.” I drive in to see that the city is as normal as can be. When I get a good distance from the gate, I debate whether or not I should let the guys out, instantly coming to my thoughtful decision.

I press the same buttons Jacks used to close the sheet to open it, and Jacks questions, after he breathes deeply, “How’d it go?”

Jacks climbs to the front seat as I respond, “It could have been better. Is there like limited air in there or something?”

Jacks answers in disgust, “No. Dayio just smells like an old, dehydrated plant.”

Dayio pleads his case, “Hey, it’s been a long day, thank you.”

I chime in, “We’re still pretty early, so we have to get started at Berkham so we can find our guy.”

Jacks states, “You’re going to need a change of clothes first, Mrs. Traceille Tovmasiyan.”

I forgot that I have to be undercover for this one. Waltzing through the front door will be easy, but getting the info may be a problem unless I’d know where to look already. For a company that manufactures and distributes from the same place, I’d expect it to be nothing short of massive with computers everywhere.

I ask, “Does anybody have any aers?”

Jacks answers, “I do. I’ve been saving them for a time like this. Mr. Harold sent me some when I spoke to him back in Teykrys.”

“Good, then let’s go shopping. We both need suits.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re going in with me, remember? Look, all you have to do is sweet talk the person we’re going to meet with about schematics and stuff, then I’ll say I’m going to the bathroom and sneak off to steal the information we need. I’ll rejoin you and we leave happily, without buying anything. I need you for this one; you’re the only one smart enough to pull it off.”

Dayio sarcastically agrees, “Yep. I’m just Mr. Can’t Hear back here.”

I continue to Jacks, “We got this, alright?”

Jacks confidently agrees, “Yeah. You’re right. We can do this. Let’s do this.” Jacks taps his Econ. “We need direction to the nearest expensive clothing store.”

He begins giving me directions while Dayio asks, “What do I do?”

I answer, “You can wait in the cruiser.”

“Fine by me. I’ll go grab a bite while you guys do your thing. I’m not okay with waiting inside of something that I can’t use.”

Jacks offers, “I can teach you.”

Dayio turns him down, “It seems too complicated and uninteresting for me to remember, so I’ll pass.”

Jacks seems disappointed at his response, so I accept his open offer. “You can teach me a couple of tricks if you want, Jacks.”

He smiles and excitedly approves, “Yeah, absolutely.”

He begins showing me what some of the buttons mean and what different combinations to use while we make our way to the nearest clothing shop. Every now and again, I catch glimpses of the people walking around. There aren’t many MechCi here because most common folk can’t afford them like the rich hands of Gharis can. It’s hard to see that our guy would be here without such a MechCi presence to take control of. When we arrive, I look over to see a shop called “Juniper’s Fashions”. The shop is just the average hole in the wall, hidden side by side with other shops. We all get out of the cruiser and waltz into the double doored entry.

A fairly young woman greets us, “Great morning, and welcome to Juniper’s. Are we shopping for something in particular today?”

I answer, “Two business suits and–” I point back at Dayio and continue, “–a new attitude for my friend here.”

Dayio and I start laughing, but we stop, when the woman continues, “Shall I show you to the dressing rooms?”

“Yes, thank you.” I look at Jacks, “Take him first; I’ll shop around a bit.”

Dayio states to me, “I’m starving. I’m gonna go grab a bite from a place I saw across the street.”

I nod my head in agreement. Dayio leaves the shop as I begin looking around at all of the clothing they have here. The shop is just a small, square shaped boutique with clothes on straight racks forming aisles and outfits displayed on the walls. This place seems perfect for the secretary type of businesswoman, but not for the kind I want to be. Seeing as it’s only for a one-time use, I guess it shouldn’t really matter too much. I make my way over to the back right corner of the store where Jacks is trying on a dark gray suit and the woman is fixing him up.

He turns to me and excitedly asks, “Whadaya think?”

I would tell him that I hate it because he looks like a Menta-Life crony, but that’ll make him change, and I’m ready to get this over with.

I answer, “It’s fine. My turn.”

I walk over to the woman as she states, “I’ve got something just perfect for you.”

I demand, “Just give me something average and comfortable.”

Jacks chimes in, “We have to look sharp for this meeting.”

I sternly remind him, “Hey, we don’t have time for dress-up.” I turn to the woman and demand, “Set me up with something comfortable like pants and a blazer so we can leave.”

The woman nervously responds, “Right away.”

She walks away and I walk into the dressing room and close the door behind me.

I get undressed, then hear a knock on the door and the woman’s voice briefs me, “I have a change of clothing for you.”

I slightly open the door reaching my left hand out. I feel a hanger hook onto my hand, then I reel in my outfit and shut the door. It’s a black suit with small, pink pinstripes going down: black pants with a matching jacket and white blouse. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but the suit will only get me in the door. Authorized personnel wouldn’t be so flashy. I put on the suit then put my boots back on and grab my clothes off of the floor. I exit the dressing room and see the woman is standing in front of the door with a pair of high heels propped up at me.

I grab the heels, then walk past her and Jacks as I command, “Pay the woman and let’s go.”

I leave the shop and see Dayio standing out front eating a burger. He starts chuckling with food in his mouth as he says, “I never knew you could be a girl.”

He said that to me once before, but it wasn’t truly him. It is shocking to know that Menta-Life has people’s personalities so tightly knit that it can make real life seem familiar.

I plainly allow, “Very funny.”

I toss my clothes in the back seat of the cruiser, then sit in the front seat and take my boots off. Dayio whistles at my feet as I switch my boots put to the heels.

He comments as he eats, “Despite all that running, you have cute feet.”

I ignore his comment. I stand up and maintain my balance in these three inch heels. This isn’t my first time wearing heels, but it has been a while since I have. Jacks comes walking out of the store with a bag which I assume his street clothes are in.

He approaches us and I say, “Let’s go get this over with, so we can get back to Simon.”

Dayio climbs in the back seat and I get in the passenger seat as Jacks reaches and gets in the driver seat. He starts the cruiser and begins driving us towards the center of the city. In every center of every city is a Menta-Life headquarters; from there, everything else branches out. This city isn’t set the same as Gharis City with its highest to lowest building formation, so I can’t tell what’s behind what.

I ask Jacks, “How do you know where you’re going?”

Jacks answers, “I’ve been by this place a few times during visits I’ve made to this city. I’m an inventor and they would hold events here for those who wish to have their work reviewed.”

“Ever been inside?”

“No. I, myself, am against the mech presence. My genius comes from my own.”

It is odd how a company that houses mechs doesn’t get much attention from the people here. It seems like they’re usage would be much more appreciated here than in other cities. After about twenty minutes of driving, we reach view of our destination. The sun is highest in the sky now and it is shining very brightly, surrounded by the endless blue with no white fuzz to distort it.

Berkham Tech is shaped like a huge dome with a lot of small gaps between it. It looks as if a giant could use its hands and mesh it together to complete the dome. There are windows that lead all the way up from the ground floor without much wall around them, but they’re not see-through. The peach-colored building is being circled by small, flying ships that seem like they could play as an automated defense or detection drones. There is also a massive lot all the way around. It is jam packed by cruisers and a metal gate circling the entire perimeter.

This seems like it might be worse than Menta-Life. The company created the entire mech presence, so it makes sense why they’d have the tightest defense known to man. This person we’re looking for better be worth all of this trouble. We circle around to the gate entrance and pull up at the guard booth.

The guard steps to the small window and hands Jacks a ticket. “Welcome to Berkham Technologies.” He points to the left of him and continues, “Drive up to the main building here to check-in. Have a great day.”

He presses a button underneath his counter. The security gate opens and Jacks slowly pulls into the lot that’s stuffed with cruisers. I look around at all of the fancy cruisers and reserved parking spaces at the entrance as we circle around to find a spot close to the entry for our getaway. Jacks finds an empty space and reverses in, then shuts off the cruiser.

I explain, “Okay, Jacks. I’ll let you do all of the talking while we’re inside. Introduce yourself and get us to meet with whoever does the mech distribution. During the meet, at some point, ask for a showing of the mech. I’ll ask for the restroom and, after five minutes, leave and wait for me back here.”

Jacks confirms, “Okay got it.”

I say to Dayio, “Dayio, you see anything out of the ordinary, call me.”

Dayio confirms, “Got it.”

Jacks and I get out of the cruiser. We fix our clothes as we walk towards the massive building’s main entrance which is a huge automatic glass door. I notice, as we walk past one of the gaps, that it leads to a sort of courtyard in the center with a square over it that seems like more floors of a smaller building. What an odd type of place to work in. We walk up the five steps and the door opens, letting out a cool breeze as we step inside to see a security checkpoint. I can see up past the checkpoint to the gray upper wall with the big, white “Berkham Technologies” lettering.

A mech on our left greets, as we walk by. “Good morning, and welcome to Berkham Technologies.”

Jacks and I approach the small stairless escalator with suited guards on each side. They are both wearing all black suits and ties like bodyguard types. They wave us in as we step on the escalator and begin going up then under a small covering. The sensors inside of the covering begin scanning us with little blue lights, quickly moving all around us like a light show. We exit the scanner and continue the short ride to arrive at the huge busy lobby.

Looking back, the entire back wall is actually two-way glass that looks out to the security booth and the city beyond it. People in suits are walking around quickly with each other and sharing notes about whatever they’re working on. We pass everyone by, heading towards the long receptionist counter in front of us. I look up and see that roughly half of this slice of the dome’s height is actually the lobby; it looks like it goes up close to ten stories, which is very unnecessary.

The building goes a bit higher and I’m not even sure where I’d start looking for information about hackers they’re trying to track down. If the lobby is this big with floors still above, I’d be out of luck if every other building’s lobby was stacked with floors and offices. We approach the counter with four greeters behind it. They are all busy except for the young man in front of us who just finished talking with someone.

The person walks away as we approach, then the young man joyfully greets, “Hi there. Do you have an appointment?”

I wait briefly for Jacks to say something, but he doesn’t, so I instigate leading, “No, we do not.”

He asks, “Name please?”

“Traceille Tovmasiyan.”

“How can we help you today, Miss Tovmasiyan?”

“My associate and I are interested in purchasing a few mechs for business purposes, but we need to first see and test the functionality of your products.”

“Of course. Allow me to scan your IDN to get you signed in to our registrar and we’ll have one of our technician representatives come meet with you for viewing.”

“Thank you.”

He starts typing on his keyboard as he requests, “Look up for me, please.”

I look up above him to see a small black circle on the wall. It shoots out a horizontal blue line. The line runs up and down my body then left to right. That’s some cool scanner thingy. That must be an unreleased product they developed because I’ve never seen a scanner in that form.

It disappears, then the young man says, “You’re all set. Head to the waiting area to my left here and the technician will be out to meet you shortly.”

“Thank you.” We turn and begin walking towards the meeting area. I sarcastically whisper a compliment to Jacks, “Way to go, Jacks. That was real smooth.”

He whispers in a confused tone, “What do you mean?”

“This part was supposed to be your show.”

“I thought I was supposed to just talk about the mechs.”

“We just talked about this in the cruiser. You’re doing this from here. Just keep them talking.”

“Right. Sorry.”

We sit side by side on the black sofa at the right wall and wait. I watch the busy people walking around with that untimely sense of urgency. I notice that there aren’t any mechs here in the lobby aside from the greeter at the door. I figured a place like this would be absolutely crawling with them, but maybe they don’t use their own products as much as they should.

Another young man in a black suit comes out from around the corner at the left of the counter and starts speaking with the young man who checked us in. They both look over at us. The man in the black suit starts walking over towards us. He is handsome and clean shaven with the most suave, yet stiff hair; like if I’d touch a part of it, it’ll chip off into dust.

We stand as he approaches us and introduces himself with a handshake, “Hello, there. My name is Walter and I will be showing you the mech.”

I shake his hand, “Traceille Tovmasiyan.”

Jacks shakes next, “Allen Parker.”

Walter says, “If you would, follow me this way.”

He turns around and leads us back towards where he came. We follow him past the counter. We loop around the right corner to a set of double doors. Walter pushes open the doors and there’s just a small white room with nothing in it except an elevator door. I feel like I’m going to get lost in this place already, but I’m not backing out now that I’m so close.

He presses the button for the elevator and waits for its arrival. It opens and it appears to be just a normal elevator, but it seems very glossy looking. We step inside and turn around as he presses a button marked “C11.” The buttons have no descriptions at all; just letters with numbers next to them. The door closes and we begin going up in silence.

As we go up, I feel a faint shift in the elevator’s direction like we’re heading sideways. A few seconds later, the sunlight shines into the elevator all around us, revealing the outside. This entire elevator is made of glass and we are actually going sideways around the courtyard heading towards the right of where we left. Each piece of the building must be designed by letter and the floor being the number, but with no descriptions of where what is. I’m still flying blind.

Jacks shifts over close to the corner of the elevator and Walter declares, “We’re quite safe up here, I assure you.”

I look up above us and see a rail that we’re hanging from. We enter the inside of the next building. Everything is dark again for a brief second until we reach light underneath our feet only. We look down and see people in white coats below us working on all types of mechs, even Alphas. Alphas are the toughest mechs ever built, standing tall on two legs with four arms and an obtuse triangular shaped head. The area is quite large, like the entire building is, just for the purpose of mech creation.

We pass back into the darkness and back outside, briefly, and into the next building. This one, which should be “C”, has different floors; I can tell because the elevator is only showing the left and right side of us which just looks like a hallway of people blurring by. The elevator slows down and then comes to a stop. Both doors open.

Walter requests, “If you would both continue following me this way.”

He exits into the blue and white hallway, then turns left. We follow him through, passing more working people and closed doors with windows displaying more people having meetings. We reach an automatic door that has the label “PRESENTATION” on it. Walter enters. He turns on the light and guides us in. The door closes behind us. The room has a big meeting table pointing at the door and back wall. I look at the ceiling and see eight small black circles in an oval spacing around the table.

Walter says, “Please, take any seat and I’ll begin showing the available MechCi types.”

I sit down close to the door and Jacks sits next to me. Walter walks around us, then presses a button at the end of the table. The back wall becomes the background of a MechCi. The MechCi looks real, but I can see the light falling from the dot on the ceiling to create the projection.

Walter turns to us and introduces. “This is our class one MechCi. This mech is built with a fully integrated and hardwired AI that continually develops from its creation and onward. The functional capability of this mech matches that of most average humans to maintain a counterpart balance between the two. The name in itself stands for Mechanical Civilian and it lives just like any person.”

The digital MechCi starts walking over towards us. I look up to see the light that the circle is dripping is beginning to fade as it draws closer to us. The next black circle closer to us turns on and continues the perfect motion of the MechCi walking towards us.

It stops and looks down at us as Walter continues, “The MechCi comes in the male and female model and also adult and child form upon the buyer’s request.” The MechCi places its hand out to Jacks and waits. Walter approves, “Go ahead. He doesn’t bite.”

Jacks reaches his hand out and the mech hovers its hand over Jacks’, then passes slowly through his hand. He referred to the mech as a “he.” Is this digital mech self-conscious? Either way, it’s time for me to get going. I know the BAMechs aren’t for sale, so I’ll send Jacks a message and tell him to request to purchase one. When they deny him, he’ll leave.

I clear my throat and Walter asks, “Question?”

“Is there a lady’s room that I can utilize nearby?”

“Yes, just exit to the left, then make another left and it’s at the end of the hall by the stairwell door.”

I leave the room and walk to the left while looking around for anything of interest that I can find. This seems to just be a floor where they close deals and do presentations. I follow the directions he gave me, then enter the women’s restroom. It is very fancy and has a living room type of decor with carpet, paintings, etc. I look under each stall and see that the bathroom is empty before I tap my Econ.

The female voice greets, “Hello, there. How may I assist?”

I answer, “I’d like to send a message to Jacks.”

“When ready, begin speaking.”

The Econ beeps once then I instruct, “Ask to buy a BAMech and, when they deny you, leave. End message.”

It states that the message has been sent. I tap my Econ to end the call. I need a plan. Walking around this building in a suit may not raise suspicion, but I’m not sure about the other buildings. I’d need access to all areas of every building without detection, and there’s only one kind of person who can get me there; a janitor.

 

Chapter 8: Emergency Exit

 

I’m sure this place doesn’t use mechs to handle maintenance issues, so I’ll need to search for a custodian’s office. For quick services, they should hopefully have one in every building. For even quicker service, one on every floor, but that’s just wishful thinking and an amazing budget.

I exit the bathroom, back into the hallway, and ask a female employee passing by, “Excuse me?”

The woman stops and answers, “Yes.”

“There is a small mess in the women’s room. Where is the custodian office?”

“It’s five floors below us. I can Econ them if you like.”

I quickly reply, “No, thank you. I’m new here, so I need to get familiar with all the staff.”

I rush away to the stairwell exit and take it three floors down. I enter a door marked “6.” The floor looks exactly the same as the one I came from. I notice an extra door on my right in the bathroom’s corridor. That must be my destination close to the bathrooms. I walk over to the door and see the word “CUSTODIAN” on it. I knock. There’s no answer, so I knock again. With another unanswered knock, I turn the knob and enter the door.

The office is very small, but at my luck, there are extra outfits hanging on a rack; it’s a light red jumpsuit. Definitely more comfortable than the clothes I have on now. I take down the outfit and get changed into the jumpsuit. I put on the matching hat, leaving my clothes on the floor. I notice a pair of work boots as well, so I put those on, also. I feel so much better already. I tuck my hair into the hat, then leave the custodian office and walk back towards the middle of the hallway where the elevator should be, but it’s not.

I see a button on the wall, so I press it and wait. The wall opens up to the elevator. That’s strange that they would have a wall set up to blend in the elevator. I step in and look at the sea of buttons, unsure of which one to press. If I can see into every floor, I can hit the highest button that will take me through every building, so I press “H12”. The button lights up.

The elevator goes up then I feel that sideways shift again and enter back outside briefly. It goes back inside then I see another business level floor with just people in the hallway. It takes me through some more buildings then the elevator slowly stops. The door opens and a man in a suit steps in. He presses the button to take us to the next building. The elevator begins moving again. He may have some idea of where a security station might be.

I bother him. “Excuse me. I’m filling in for the regular custodian and I’m looking for the security department.”

The man answers, “Well, there is security in every building, but the main reports all go to the building we’re heading to now.”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

“Was there something you needed to report?”

“Yeah, umm… I’d rather keep it anonymous, though. It’s a delicate issue. I believe one of the mechs could be having a malfunctioning issue, like it was possessed or something, but I think one of the staff had something to do with it.”

“Oh, then you should immediately run that by Captain Kurtnan. That sounds like a serious issue.” The man presses another button then continues, “That’s the floor his office is on.”

I state, “Thank you so much for your help.”

The man smiles, “No problem. Security is of the utmost importance here at Berkham Technologies.”

Sure it is. This guy just gave me all of the information I needed to know without me having to beat it out of him first.

The elevator opens to his floor and he exits. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks again. You, too.”

The door closes and the elevator takes me down four floors to where he sent me. The door opens. There is a small, straight hallway with a left and right turn at the end. I see the backs of two armed security officers disappear at the left end as I walk out of the elevator. The sign on the side reads “F7”. I quickly, but silently, walk to the dead end, then turn right without looking back at the guards. What’s strange about this floor is that the doors aren’t automated like the other buildings I’ve been to so far.

There aren’t many doors, but there are lots of windows where I see people constantly working inside. They are in a rush to figure something out quickly using their huge monitoring systems. It looks like they’re trying to triangulate a signal or something. I pass by the window and keep heading past the doors while checking out the sign on each one indicating what or who’s inside. I reach the door that has a plaque that reads: “Captain Kurtnan.”

With as much chaos that’s going on back in the other rooms, there’s no way he’d be in here. I open the door and realize that I was wrong. He is heading out as I’m going in. Captain Kurtnan seems very young for being captain of anything; he seems to be between mid- and late-twenties. He is clean shaven and has a short haircut, plus I can tell how much sun he gets with his somewhat tanned skin complexion. He’s not wearing a suit or uniform like the other guards here are. His clothing is more business-casual, like he’s just off vacation.

He attacks me right away with a head-butt. I quickly pull the door back and he hits his head on it then stumbles backwards. I step in and shut the door to give us some privacy. The only way I’m getting files is to go through him. As he recovers, he rushes around his small desk. I take off running towards it and slide over it. I push my foot through the holographic screen and kick him with both of my feet.

Having his hand already on the desk drawer, it slides out and flies backwards with him. A pulser pistol drops out of it and bounces to the right side of the room. Kurtnan bounces off the wall, then smacks me in the face with the wooden drawer. I, uncontrollably, spin around and plant flat on the desk. Very shortly after, I feel his stocky arms wrap around my body. My hat has fallen to the floor at the desk’s left side. He tightens his arms around me, lifts me up, and squeezes. I place my feet on the desk and push myself away as hard as I can.

He loses his balance and stumbles back at the wall while still holding me tightly. I throw my head back and hit him in the face. He drops me into a stumble. I turn back to him and he punches me across the face. The force of his punch makes me repeat my spin and plant on the desk again. He reaches down for me, but I quickly move backwards around behind him as I hook my left arm under his left arm and jump onto his back. I throw my right arm around his neck and connect it with my left arm, choking him.

He begins trying to rapidly shake me off swinging his right arm around to reach me. His arms are big enough to where he can’t pull enough power out of himself to pull me off. After his failed attempts to get me off him, he runs to the wall on his right, spins, and slams me into it. He knocks the wind out of me, but I continue to hold onto him. He starts running toward the next wall and, as he spins around to the right, I let go of him. I stumble to the side and crash into the wall and he does the same.

I hit my shoulder pretty hard, but looking back, I see that he hit his head hard, also. He’s not unconscious, but he is in a daze. I get up and limp my way over to the computer. I move my finger across the touchpad. The holographic screen pops back up from the small sensor in front of the keyboard. I begin quickly surfing through his computer for files related to hackers with success, but none of them have a name. I should have figured they wouldn’t know the hacker’s name or they’d be caught already.

They have city names and areas listed, but without a name, I could be searching for anybody. I don’t have much time left, but I have to search for another source within the building to find more information. Captain Kurtnan is slowly coming to, so I have to leave this area before security realizes anything is wrong. I pick up the pulser from off the ground and run out of the room without my custodian hat. The guards will notice me, now, but I can take them on with this pulser.

I begin jogging down the empty hallway towards the stairway exit at the end of the hall, then enter and skip steps, quickly going down to the floor below. I hide the pulser behind my back as I enter the hallway, then walk with a purpose to avoid immediate suspicion of me not knowing where I’m going. There are two suited guards doing their patrol coming towards me. They’re not reaching for their concealed weapons as we approach each other, so I think I’m good. Once we get a few feet between us, an alarm begins sounding. They both look straight into my face and I smile.

Captain Kurtnan must have done it, and without my custodian hat, suspicions must be at an all-time high between the three of us. One of the guards quickly reaches into his suit jacket, so I sprint straight into him and knock him down with my shoulder. I turn around to the other guard and shoot him down with a shock round. The other guard grabs me from behind, reaching for my pulser. I lean forward, flip him over my shoulder back onto the floor next to the second guard.

As he lies there holding his head, I turn around and take off running towards where they came from. I have no clue where I’m going, so I make a left and keep moving towards the end of the hall. This floor doesn’t have many windows to see into the rooms, but it has more than the last one and a big window at the end like the rest. As I run past a small window next to a door, I notice three guards running out, so I come to a slow halt. The door flies halfway open. I jump up and do a spinning back kick with the momentum I have left from my run. I kick the door back at the guard that’s coming out and continue sprinting down the hall. The alarm changes to a quieter sound.

A voice over the intercom alerts, “Code D initiated. Code D initiated.”

What is Code D? I slow down to a jog then look back to see that no one has exited the room. I’m sure I couldn’t have kicked it that hard to where it sealed shut on them. I stop jogging and begin walking through the hallway. The alarm stops. What is going on here? A place like this should be fortified with much more security than this. Something is definitely wrong here.

I begin jogging again, then hear a loud bang behind me. I flinch at the noise and casually look back to see a cloud of dust and a BAMech burst out of it. It bolts straight at me. The BAMechs are built in a human shape like the MechCi, but, with their combat capabilities, they’re bulkier and only come in one color – silver. I turn around to run, but I hear another loud bang and get pushed very hard through a wall.

Lying in the debris of broken wall, I feel my entire right side, especially my shoulder, cramped from the harsh push. I’m in a communication’s room with partitioned rows of seats and a sea of physical monitors on the back wall. Each seating area has its own terminal to work individually. I crawl down the steps as fast as my injured body allows me, and enter the third row. I take shelter underneath a terminal towards the center. There’s a wall on all three sides except for where the feet go in. I just have to be quiet and hope they don’t find me.

I hear the metal clanking of the BAMech’s feet stepping down the stairs very slowly as I remain perfectly still under the terminal. I slow down my breathing to a silent huff so the mechs won’t be able to zone in on my constant release. I hold the pulser in front of me. There are two mechs, but since I can only hear one, that worries me. I hear the BAMech’s steps begin fading away, so I peek out from left to right and see only chairs. I crawl out, then head to the right; the opposite of where I came in from.

I’ve seen rooms like these in old films and they always have a second exit on the opposite side of the first. Once I reach the end of the aisle, I poke my head out, looking left to see the door at the top of the stairs; it’s not far from me at all. I turn to my right and see the BAMech’s upper body appear from the bottom aisle. I quickly tuck my head back into the aisle, then hear a BAMech step somewhere behind me. I crawl under the last terminal. I hear the BAMech’s metal feet getting closer as they echo down the aisles together.

Just my luck to hide in the third aisle. I had forgotten they have patrol protocols. They’re probably going to walk through each aisle until they find me, and backup has to be coming to assist them. I have to make a run for it before they box me in. I get up, then bolt for the door without looking back. I end up back in the hallway. I turn right to run back to the stairway door. I can’t use my pulser just yet or they’ll respond back with shock rounds to retaliate.

One of the BAMechs comes surfing out of the room, blocking my path and looking around for me. I quickly turn back around and run in the opposite direction. The BAMech is trailing closely behind me while another closes in from the room I previously left. Outrunning a BAMech in a straight run isn’t possible for any human being. and I’m about to be sandwiched between two of them. I don’t know what’s where, but I’m approaching the other mech. I veer off to the right and run into a room which, unfortunately, is another office. I turn around to the door and see two BAMechs enter the room.

Oh no, I’m cornered with nowhere else to run. These mechs seem to be set to apprehend, or they’d have tried to shoot everything in their path very aggressively. Another BAMech enters the room and shoots the other two BAMechs in the back with the firing mechanism inside of its palm. The BAMech puts its arm down and slowly starts walking over to me. I cautiously step back away from the approaching mech. I inch my hand behind my back for my pulser pistol. This BAMech is obviously being controlled, but by who? Is it here to kill me?

The BAMech stops in front of me, then asks in its robotic tone, “Are you Vanessa Pheros?”

I hesitantly answer, “Yes.”

“I’ve been looking for you.”

“Who are you?”

“Right now, that isn’t important. Backup will arrive very soon. I need you to meet with me. I’m in Panoira City.”

“I can’t just venture from city to city. If you know me, you’d know I’m wanted in more cities than one.”

The BAMech turns around, walks back towards the door, then stops and faces me as it continues. “I’m aware of that. I’ll send fixes down the proper channels and freeze your identity as Traceille Tovmasiyan before it can be compromised legally. I will contact you when you–”

A BAMech rushes into the room at an alarming speed and slams into the rogue BAMech bringing it down. The two BAMechs begin fighting on the floor. Two more enter the room and walk toward me. I slowly raise my hands up, then hear a loud bang on the wall next to me. Plaster comes soaring into the room as the wall breaks down. I shield my eyes, hearing grunts through the cloud of white dust.

I wave my hand around in front of the smoke so I can see what’s going on when the smoke clears. Following the sounds, I see Odom, very savagely, tearing limbs off the BAMechs. He must have seen us arrive and came in once the alarms started going off. There is something different about his appearance, but I can’t quite put my finger on it; somehow, he looks bulkier than he did yesterday.

He turns to me and barks, “Move!”

I quickly run around him and turn left to flee towards the stairs to see more BAMechs running at me. These things are never-ending, but I have to get out of here and back to the cruiser. I turn around and bolt back in the other direction towards the big window. Another bang. I look back to see that Odom has crashed through the doorway and is now following behind me. He digs his hand into the wall and yanks it back out. He throws a thick piece of plaster past me.

My head follows it as it zooms by me, then crashes through the window. I can’t believe I am about to do this. I jump and tuck out of the window into the air. The wind breaks as I fall from one building towards the next two floors down. There is a human guard standing with his back to the window, so I aim the pulser and shoot him, shattering my way in. I fall in onto the guard’s back, then roll off of him and back onto my feet.

There are two more guards in the hallway that are coming towards me with pulsers up. We begin shooting at each other. I make quick work of taking them down, and look back to see Odom breaking the BAMechs as they enter the window the same way we did. Now I realize exactly what’s different about him, but I don’t know how that’s possible. He mutated like Tylyn, the member of Gene’s entourage. My father explained to me how Gene’s entourage is genetically altered to guard him and Odom has to be, too.

For Odom to be genetically altered means he has to work for Menta-Life just like they do. If so, why is he helping me? Something isn’t right, but if he’s willing to help me escape, I’ll play along for now. Once we succeed, he’ll get what’s coming to him after a long interrogation. More guards start shooting from different doorways while they hide behind cover.

I turn my head back to Odom as I shoot back and shout, “We have to get out of here!”

One guard runs out into the hallway as the other two fire at me to cover him. I keep my aim focused on them, since I don’t have any cover to hide behind. He runs into a room on the left and then begins shooting at me from behind the automatic door’s frame.

I shout, “Did you hear me?!”

Odom shouts back, “We’re clear! Come on!”

I look back seeing the big mess he made with the BAMech parts. He runs, then jumps back out of the window. I fire back at the guards blindly. I get a running start and follow him out the window without hesitation. Halfway out to the next building, I realize my jump wasn’t strong enough and that I won’t make it to the floor below where Odom landed. I don’t see Odom down at the broken window waiting to try and catch me, either, so I throw my hands out to latch on to the side. As I am about to miss the window, Odom comes soaring out and catches me. We fall back towards the same building I came from.

He spins around in a half circle while I aim the pulser over his shoulder and shoot the glass below. We fall into another window two stories below, again putting us in building “E” floor “2”. Odom lands on the ground, back first. I quickly get off him and shoot a startled guard. Odom gets up and we head for the stairs all the way at the end of the left intersection of the hallway. Odom begins deflating back to his normal abnormal size as we reach the door, but I don’t make it obvious that I saw. Odom leads us through the sliding door, then we head down the stairs.

I look up a few floors and see a lot of guards coming down; I guess it doesn’t do them good to have such a difficult building design when they have unwanted visitors. We reach the bottom of the stairs and exit to the small lobby. I aim the pulser around looking for more guards while Odom calmly walks towards the building’s sub-entry. The lobby is a replica of the last lobby except dramatically smaller. I guess everyone’s already evacuated.

I tap my Econ, “Call Jacks.”

The Econ alerts, “Connecting…”

Jacks quickly asks, “Van, what’s happening?”

I answer, “We’re in building E and we need a way out of here.”

“We?”

“Yeah, Odom is here.”

“Every building is surrounded, Van. There are mechs and Regs circling on ground and in air.”

I sternly reply, “Well, we need an exit now, Jacks.”

“Okay. Umm…, I have a jamming system in here. You won’t be able to make it out on foot, so I’m going to hack into an H-T70 and you guys can use that as an exit.”

An H-T70 is a flying ship created for use mainly by Regulator officials. They are sleek and thin for easy maneuverability between buildings, under sky bridges, and so on. They are only big enough to fit one person in the flight seat and the operator has to lie on their stomach, which means Odom won’t fit in one. Sleek and thin certainly doesn’t leave room for someone of his stature.

I mention, “I don’t know how to fly an H-T70.”

Jacks replies, “I’ll fly it. You’ll be riding on top. Just make sure you hold on tight because others will be in pursuit. Stay inside. I’ll call you back.”

My Econ alerts, “Call disconnected.”

I facetiously say to myself, “Great.”

Odom asks, “What?”

“We’re stuck here and surrounded. Jacks is going to try and get us out, but we need to hold out until then.”

“Well, you’re the only one with a pulser, so we need a new plan.”

The stairway door zips open and a guard shouts, “Stay right there!”

Odom and I turn around to face them. I say, “If you have a plan, feel free to pull it out at any time.”

A group mixed with guards and BAMechs approaches us with weapons ready to fire. One commands, “Drop the weapon!”

I place the pulser on the ground carefully as Odom responds to me, “This is still your show.”

“I could have sworn you broke in here to rescue me, but I guess I’m mistaken.”

Captain Kurtnan speeds up to the front of the group, then speed walks over to us with backup right on his trail. He has a very stale look on his face as he halts in front of me. He stares deep into the circular windows of my world with interest. He has a squad full of people and mechs behind him. He can’t do the wrong thing in front of them. He looks to my left at Odom, then tilts his head up a little bit to see his face. Odom lets out a small growl which catches Kurtnan’s attention; not a look of fear, but confusion as to why Odom did it.

Kurtnan picks up his pulser then looks at me as he demands of his men, “We detain them here until we find out what they know. After that, we’ll turn them in to the Regulators. Move out.”

The guards and mechs surround us as Kurtnan turns around and walks away. I feel something poke me in my back. It is most likely a weapon signifying me to start walking. I begin walking, then I hear the same click sound I heard when the guard tapped my back with his weapon. I look back to see Odom turn and flinch at the guard. The guards back away and ready their weapons in fear as he chuckles and follows behind me.

He’s back to normal now, but he seems less furious than before, minus the violent attitude. With BAMechs being the toughest ground soldiers, he must become pretty strong judging by the way he was ripping them apart. It didn’t seem like it was easy to do because their armor plating is dense enough to almost withstand being run over by a speeding cruiser. Kurtnan calls for the elevator. I stop behind him and wait. It shouldn’t take Jacks too long to hack a ship, so we should find some way out and soon.

Going outside the front door isn’t a good idea, but I doubt the Regs have this entire facility surrounded. Thinking back to the courtyard in the center, I don’t know if this place even has roof access. With Alphas and H-T ships being housed here, I doubt they just leave them in the parking lot overnight. My best guess would be that it’s on top of that center piece of the courtyard. We can’t all fit into one elevator, so I have to make my move, before they separate us. Kurtnan’s pulser is in his holster. I reach in and grab it, then use him as a human shield.

The guards begin shouting and I quickly shout as Odom dashes through the stairway door, “Roof!”

The elevator arrives and I hide behind and drag him back into the elevator. Kurtnan doesn’t make any moves or attempt to issue any orders at the men and women shouting for me to stand-down. The elevator door closes. I push him into the closed door and press the highest button with the matching building which is “E12”. I don’t think this elevator would take me straight up to the roof, but here’s hoping.

Kurtnan questions, “How far do you think you’ll get? Once you get to the roof, there will be no way back down. You’ll just be putting yourself into a worse corner than you were just in.”

I state, “Your helipad should do just fine.”

He scoffs and replies, “The helipad is internal. There’s nothing up there for you but an unopened platform. Perfect viewing point for your apprehension.”

Oh good, so Jacks has to have that H-T70 ready or we’re gonna be surrounded with no way out. At the very least, I can be thankful for the heads-up.

My Econ beeps. “Incoming call from Jacks.”

I reply to Kurtnan, “Maybe not.”

I tap my Econ and Jacks quickly says, “Okay, I have good news. I’ve hacked into the H-T, but there’s more than one out here, so it might be a bit of a battle once they realize it’s no longer in their control.”

I reply, “Then meet us at the roof. We got pinned down and are heading up.”

“That explains all the activity down here. They’re getting ready to go in and the flying mechs and H-Ts are heading up. We got–” Static begins taking over the call, “–make… H…”

My Econ alerts, “Call disconnected.”

They’re interfering with the signal. I hope Jacks can come through since the signal might interfere with his hacking and ruin our already ruined escape plan. The elevator stops moving. It opens to another floor of doors. Kurtnan gave me info that there is roof access, so maybe the stairway can take me there. I step out of the elevator leaving Kurtnan inside. I point the pulser at him as I watch the elevator close. When it does, I rush to the stairway door and run up the last set of stairs leading to the roof.

I step through the threshold to see nothing but the tops of other buildings with each having a stairway door. There is a small set of stairs on each roof connecting to the same middle platform where the helipad should be. Odom walks calmly towards me from behind, like he didn’t just run up thirteen stories of stairs. A group of H-T70’s hover up above the roof causing dirt already collected to begin rising around me. I shield my eyes for a protective view. The H-T70’s are triangular shaped with the sharpest point being the front.

The point up front is thin whereas it levels up thicker towards the back where the weapons and other mechanics should be housed. The mechs and guards must still be catching up, so I put my gun down. Odom and I start looking around at the H-T70’s as they just watch us. Small flying drones rise up also; they’re probably recording all of this. An H-T70 begins moving around behind the other ones and starts firing at the back of their afterburners making them lose power to their engines.

Three ships on the left of us begin bailing out as the H-T70 drops down to pick us up. The pilot ejects from the aircraft, screaming his way up into the air. I climb into the seat where the pilot was ejected. Odom jumps onto the left wing and holds on. As Captain Kurtnan enters the rooftop with BAMechs behind him, I wave “goodbye”. The ship takes off. We’re heading into the city, cruising between buildings, then I see we’re being pursued by the other three ships.

My Econ alerts, “Incoming call from Jacks.”

I tap my Econ then loudly shout over the wind blowing in my face, “Jacks we have a bit of a problem up here!”

Jacks hastily confirms, “I see it. Just hold on tight. We’re tailing behind you. Dayio is doing a horrible job at driving.”

I hear Dayio defend himself, “I’m doing my best with this piece of crap.”

Jacks says, “Van, I’m not up there with you, so you have to guide me or we won’t lose them. I can only see you from down here. I can’t see what you see.”

“Then what kind of escape is this!?!”

“Well, you’re off Berkham property, aren’t you?”

I sarcastically reply, “Gee thanks! I’m starting to think I was better off!”

There’s nothing stopping them from shooting us out of the sky unless I figure out how to shoot the weapons myself while he maneuvers. Giving him directions to avoid being shot down won’t work in my favor if it’s a last second call.

I continue, “I need control of the weapons!”

Jacks replies, “I can’t do that. I’d either have to control all of it or none of it.”

The controls down in the cockpit thing here look pretty complicated, but obvious. The interior design is made for people to lie on their stomachs, so everything I need will be in front of me. There are two horizontal handles at the very front, probably for steering, and I can figure the other things out as I go. I doubt Jacks will be able to give me an in-depth tutorial before the other ships get orders to shoot us down.