Chapter 9 & 10

Chapter 9: Fight and Flight

 

The Reg ships are on our backs as we attempt to speed away. We can’t outrun them because we’re in the same type of ship, going at the same top speed. I’m sure Jacks can only go so fast in his custom cruiser, meaning I need to take control, or end up dead. The Reg ships are triangulated behind us in perfect formation.

An echoing female voice from a Reg ship demands over the intercom, “Aircraft. Descend immediately or we will open fire.”

As long as I can steer, and since the ejection has already been used, I can push every button in here without worrying which one does that.

I quickly say to Jacks, “I think I got this figured out. Release the controls!”

Jacks hesitantly asks, “Van, you realize, once I release these controls, I won’t have control of any part of that ship anymore, right?”

The ships in pursuit begin firing their heat rounds at our ship. I duck my head down, then look back at Odom to see him lying down on the wing. There is a barrage of red pulse rounds flying over him.

Jacks quickly panics, “Oh, crap. Hang on.”

I hold on tightly to the handles as I shout to Odom, “Hang on!”

The ship makes a sharp left turn between two tall buildings, then makes a right out into the open skies of the lower buildings.

I shout to Jacks, “Release the controls, now!”

Jacks concedes, “Alright. Here we go.”

With my loose grip on the handles, the ship takes a steep, unexpected drop from underneath me. I reach down for the ship to latch onto something, but its drop is too abrupt, leaving me free-falling over it. I was expecting the ship to just slowly power down, but instead it just died. We’re falling fast.

Jacks yells in my ear, “Van!”

I ignore him as I close my hands and feet together, diving straight down toward anything attached to the ship in my reach; it’s heavier, so the ship is falling faster than I am, even though I’m willingly pencil-diving downward. Odom carefully stands up on the wing of the ship and lowers down into a squatted position. He jumps up towards me with his hands out, then grabs my waist and launches me down underneath him, hastening my descent towards the ship.

I reach my hands down into the control station of the ship, then latch my right hand onto the right handle and pull myself in. Once inside, I notice the ship is only dropping because it’s completely powered down. We are approaching the street in our fast drop. I hold onto the handle with my left hand and release my right quickly pressing buttons on my right side. After the fifth push, the ship abruptly stops falling into a hover.

The rest of my body slams down into the control station. Good thing there’s a bit of cushion in here, or that slam would have been a lot worse. I hear a bang and the ship tilts sideways, but I regain control with the handles and straighten it out. I look back to see Odom in a kneeling position with both hands planted down on the left wing. He stares at me. A gleam from above catches my eye, so I look past him to see the H-T70s turn the corner on the opposite side of where we turned.

They must have accidentally missed the sharp turn and had to double back after us. I look down at the buttons trying to see which one would get us going, but they don’t have any kind of labels; only colors. Precautious builders always have to make life difficult for criminals like me; as if anyone besides me would steal one of these things.

I hear Jacks’ voice say, “I’m looking at the specs from the mech network and it should be the blue button on the left.”

I forgot I never hung up the call. I look left of the small window in front of me and press the blue button. The ship speeds off in the blink of an eye. The pursuing ships are firing at us as I use evasive maneuvers to avoid being shot down by the fury-colored pulse rounds. It’s very difficult because I still have to be careful on account of Odom holding on with just the wing’s edges in his grip. We enter between more high-rise buildings as our pursuers give chase.

I’m trying to focus more on not crashing than losing my tail at the moment. Once I get the hang of the steering, I notice there’s only one ship behind me. These Regs must not be too great at chasing people in their own ships. I turn my attention back to my front and see a ship straight in front of me. We’re on a crash course. I quickly press my hands down to go up as the enemy ship begins firing at us. The ship that was behind us gets hit with the sea of pulser rounds and starts spiraling out of control. The pilot ejects up into the sky.

Before the ship can spiral into a building, the ship that was in front of me shoots it, blowing it up. I guess that’s a good way to avoid too much collateral damage down below and up above. As I continue going up, I veer off to the left of a tall building. Once I reach the top, I see the third ship is waiting for me. I slide back to the right as the ship fires at me and I’m now being chased by the two remaining H-T70’s. When I clear the building, I pull the handles up to head back down between the buildings.

Having been chased by an H-T70 before, I know that their targeting system is fully automated. If a controller had been aiming at a non-target civilian and activated the weapons, they wouldn’t fire. All the pilot has to do is hold the trigger and the computer system calculates the shots for all civilian presences to avoid unwanted casualties. We remain just above traffic on the highest gravity level.

The radio in the pilot’s nest statics on and updates, “Flight crew four, we have backup en route. I say again, backup en route.”

That’s not good. I’m not sure how many they’re sending, but all it will take is two more to literally box me in. It’s time for this ride to come to an end. This specific technology must have an autopilot feature so Odom and I can somehow bail out losing our tails.

I call out over the heavy wind, “Jacks?!”

Jacks answers, “Yeah, Van. We’re trying to keep up with you down here, but you’re all over the place.”

“Does this thing have an autopilot?! They’re sending more ships!”

“I know and it does. Let’s see here. It’s a purple button right above your view.”

“Okay. We’re coming down! I need you to pick us up then disappear fast!” I turn to Odom and he’s still lying on the wing as I shout, “Hold on!”

When Odom tightens his grip, I pull the handles up. The ship nosedives straight down between the tall buildings and cruisers.

I press the autopilot and a computerized male voice requests, “Set a course.”

I hesitantly answer, “Umm…, headquarters.”

I should have definitely thought that through first, but I’m hoping headquarters is back at the Berkham building or the closest Regulator Station.

The computerized voice replies, “Destination set. Initiate autopilot when ready.”

I continue downward. When I’m close enough to the ground, I pull up and zip left between two buildings as Jacks excitedly states, “I see you.”

I don’t see him, so I assume he’s behind us. “Come into this alley, then cross into the next one!”

I loop around the next street to the left and enter the alley I was already heading to. I now see Jacks driving towards us.

He asks, “What do we do?”

I reply, “Keep coming! We’re gonna jump!”

He approves normally, “Okay.” His voice heightens to a shout. “Wait, what!?!”

I lower the ship down just a few feet above the cruiser’s level as I maintain the fast speed, then turn back to Odom and shout, “Get ready to jump!”

I rise up to a kneeling position and prepare my timing to land on the roof of the cruiser. Odom, being a genetic experiment, should be fine using the concrete for a landing zone.

Jack states his opinion, “This is a really bad idea, Van. A really, really bad–”

When the cruiser reaches a good distance for landing, I reach into the control station, tap the autopilot button, then shout, “Go!”

I jump straight out in front of the ship, aiming downward for the cruiser’s roof. My timing is perfect, but the cruiser is going at a faster speed than I’d anticipated. I turn my body sideways and land on the roof of the cruiser, then uncontrollably roll off towards the trunk. I place my hands on the back window hoping my clammy hands would have enough grip to hold me on. They don’t, but I get a finger-locked grip on the trunk’s tiny seam. I look back to see the H-T70 has flown off and, successfully, turned on its own upon exiting the alley.

There’s an open garage coming up on the left, so I quickly command, “Turn left in there.”

He does as I say, but he does it sharp enough to where I start sliding off the cruiser’s trunk. The H-T70’s shouldn’t be too far behind us, and falling off into the alley would leave me a sitting duck for the taking. I can’t stop myself from breaking grip off the cruiser, but I suddenly feel a force on my back pushing me forward. I glide into the garage instead of away into the alley.

I hit the ground rolling, then look up to see Odom taking cover at the wall inside of the garage with the cruiser pulled over next to me. I hear a loud humming sound pass by at a furious speed just above the garage. We wait in silence for a brief moment to be sure that they’re really gone. Jacks and Dayio get out of the cruiser and Odom walks over to me as I get up.

We all group into a loose circle as Jacks loudly says, “Wow! That was crazy.”

Dayio adds to me in relief, “Yeah, Van. You really had us worried back there.” As I turn my attention to Odom with my cautious eyes, Dayio continues excitedly, “I mean there were so many Regs out there. And security with pulsers and rifles pointed straight at the door and the H-T70s–”

I interrupt and ask Odom, “It wasn’t too difficult for us, though, was it, Odom?”

Jacks’ and Dayio’s excitement quickly fades at the serious tone of my question. I slowly and quietly pull out Kurtnan’s pulser then hold it at my side as I stare at Odom with currently squinted eyes of distrust. The others don’t know about his altered genes, but I haven’t forgotten. Us finding him doesn’t seem like a measure of luck or convenience.

As he notices the pulser, he stares back and slowly balls up his fists and enquires, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I start tapping the side of the pulser with my trigger finger and answer with a question, “You mind explaining what happened back there?”

“You mean me saving your life?”

He hardly saved my life. The only mechs that are allowed to kill anyone are Alphas, hence why they are rarely used. BAMechs are allowed to injure anyone for apprehension, but not kill a target once the Regs fail to do their job.

I quickly correct him, “You didn’t save my life. You prevented my capture. I’m talking about the part where you mutated and destroyed the mechs.”

Jacks lets out a small gasp and clarifies, “Mutated?”

Dayio interrupts with a question, “Wait, did we miss something here?”

While continuing my stare down with Odom, I answer Dayio. “When we were inside, he mutated like Tylyn.”

Dayio asks in a surprised tone, “You mean the big guy from the bakery?”

“Yep. His body contains altered genetics that causes a small mutation in his physical appearance and grants him increased strength. Odom has them and I saw it with my own eyes.”

Odom stands there quietly, still staring me down with the same plain expression as if he doesn’t even care that the jig is up. He doesn’t have the look of guilt, nor is he trying to deny being exposed, either. Did he think I knew before this? At the house, back in Teykrys, he seemed normal enough, except for all the excessive anger.

Jacks asks, “How can that even be possible? He has to–”

I finish his sentence, “–work for Menta-Life. Exactly what I was thinking.”

I quickly point the pulser at Odom. Dayio puts his hands out and demands, “Wait. Let’s not jump to any conclusions.”

“Why not?”

“Because you could be wrong.”

“Then why isn’t he telling me I’m wrong? That seems like an admission of guilt to me.”

“If someone had a weapon pointed at you, would you say anything?”

Dayio’s got a valid point, but this isn’t about what I would do. I ask Odom, “You got anything you wanna say?”

Odom answers, “Yeah. You saw me in action, so you should know that you can’t kill me with that thing.”

I place my finger on the trigger and ask, “You wanna test that theory?”

Dayio loudly demands, “Stop being so damn confrontational, Van.”

I ask, “Confrontational? I’m going to take him down here and now, before he decides to kill us later.”

“If he wanted to kill us, why save you?” He turns to Odom then demands, “Both of you need to relax.”

Odom breaks eye contact with me, then steps out of the garage and looks around. Jacks slowly backs away from us, probably in fear of not knowing what’s going to happen next. I can’t believe I’m the one being looked at as the bad guy. So what if I have a gun pointed at an unarmed spy?

Dayio calls out, “Odom?” Odom turns back to us. Dayio asks, “Do you work for Menta-Life?”

Odom answers simply, “No, I don’t.”

I reassure them, “I still don’t trust him.”

Odom turns around and says, as he walks over to me, “I never asked to be here, and I don’t know anything about any of you.” He stops in front of the pulser then continues, “You went to Teykrys to find me, and one thing I don’t have to be is here. Whether you trust me or not is on you. From how horribly you handled yourself back there, I’d be better off back in Teykrys anyway.”

He’s right, but genetic alteration is still a Menta-Life issue, and not knowing about Odom’s history with them makes him a threat to our operation; more importantly, my father. I am only aware that Gene Archibald has four members in his entourage and my father only mentioned the four to me, so where does Odom fit in? Keeping him around could be dangerous.

I lower the pulser and sarcastically reply, “Have a safe trip.”

Dayio quickly says to me, “We can’t break Geilium out without his help.” Dayio steps to me and whispers, “Look it is strange that he has altered genetics, but he’s right. We found him. The least we can do is figure out his side of the story and his involvement.”

I look over Dayio’s shoulder and Dayio turns his head to his right as Odom pitches in, “There is no story. I’m either helping you, or not helping you. It’s that simple.”

After me brushing him off and treating him the way I did, he’d still help us? This stinks of desperation, and not just on my behalf. I guess I could allow him to hang around and see what his true intentions are. It doesn’t seem like I can talk Dayio out of it; maybe he’s eager to live through my prison break plan more than I thought. Dayio turns his attention back to me and gives me a “You’d better do it” look, so we’ll wait it out.

I let out a huff and reply, “Fine–” I walk past Dayio and over to Odom as I put the pulser away, “–but if anything happens to make our mission unsuccessful, I’m holding you responsible.” I turn my head back to Dayio and continue, “And you. Our target is in Panoira City. Let’s get moving.”

Jacks chimes in from inside the driver seat, “There may be a small problem with that.”

We all walk around and half-circle to him as I ask, “What do you mean?”

He states, “This city’s on lockdown. All of the gates are closed and no one is allowed to leave under any circumstance.”

Dayio throws his hands out and rhetorically asks, “Oh, great. Now what?”

Odom suggests, “Then we’ll just have to leave out of the hole I made to get in here.”

Jacks asks, “You’re the one who broke into the city?”

Odom answers, “They weren’t going to just let me in.”

I ask, “And what reason would they have to not let you in?”

“Because I’m wanted – globally.”

Wanted? I’m sure Menta-Life wouldn’t allow anything to happen to one of their “special” people and leave their dirty laundry lying about. What is his history? Who is he really? Menta-Life knows who I am, but Dayio had to have known about Odom before I’d broken out of the facility. We’ll have to discuss that later on in private.

Jacks facetiously asks, “Am I the only one here that’s not a criminal?” We all turn our attention back to him and he continues. “Right. Well, Panoira’s not too far from here, so I’ll drive. It may be a tight fit for ya big guy.”

Jacks closes the door, then Dayio asks Odom, “Are you in? We really do need your help, but you have to understand how things can look a little strange from our side.”

Odom answers, “Yeah, whatever. I’m not just some overdramatic child who would give up on somebody after feeling threatened. I pay my debts at any cost.”

He stares at me as he walks back around the cruiser, then gets in the back seat. I am almost positive that insult may have been directed at me. I know that he and Menta-Life are connected which gives me the excuse to keep my guard up around him and, hopefully, everyone else does, too.

As I walk around the cruiser, I say with an attitude to Dayio, “You’re riding in back with him.”

Dayio gets into the back seat and I get into the passenger side. Jacks says, “Everyone buckle up and keep hands and feet inside of the vehicle at all times.”

He changes the cruiser’s color and function to four-door as he reverses out of the garage, then speeds out of the alleyway. Odom directs Jacks through the city towards the hole he busted open to get in. We reach the well-guarded hole on the northeast and see that the mechs are already rebuilding it with the area under isolation. Infections and plagues are out there, but with their protective barrier broken, potential hazards can enter; the public isn’t protected from airborne illnesses or possible surviving rabid animals that can stray in unnoticed.

When the radiation set in, most animals that were left behind didn’t survive the harsh environments, or just starved from malnutrition. The BAMechs are on guard with Regs as backup while the MechCi reform the very thick glass. The glass around each city is thick enough to protect against natural disasters, cruiser crashes, and certain types of missiles, but they don’t often get genetics breaking in. For Odom to have crashed his way through, means he had to have exerted some serious strength to get in.

Jacks says, “The only way out is through.”

Jacks smashes the pedal to the floor, charging us forward toward the hole. Everyone begins clearing out of the way as he honks his horn rapidly. Everyone except for the BAMechs that have taken up stances and are firing pulses at us. The armor on this cruiser is brushing off the barrage. The firing power of all those BAMechs would be damaging a normal cruiser much worse than this, or at least shorting a few circuits to stop us.

Jacks says to himself, “And with everyone out of the way…”

Jacks speeds through the hole, leading us back out into the desert. We continue speeding out of the city limits with no one in pursuit, yet, so Jacks activates the invisibility without slowing in speed.

I ask Jacks as I look back, “You think they’ll follow us?”

Jacks answers, “No. Even if they did, with the invisibility active, only an H-T70’s thermal can spot us. But each city has its own jurisdiction, and none includes the deserts out here.”

“How far is Panoira?”

“Not far. It seems ideal for our target to be there; that city is practically swimming in mechs.”

“I’ve never been.”

“Do you like Gharis?”

“Nope.”

“Then you’ll love this place. Panoira is more for the ingenious types, so it’s a small city. It’s my kind of place. The people there mostly stay to themselves and pretty much use the mechs as confidantes. It’s like they live their own lives there.”

“And why would I like that place?”

He scratches his head then answers with confusion, “You know what? I don’t know.”

Dayio chimes in to Jacks, “Believe me. I don’t even think she likes it in her own mind.”

I continue to face forward as I reply, “Yeah, yeah. I need some rest. Wake me when we get to the city limits.”

I stare into the desert out of the passenger side window. That mission wasn’t as successful as I’d wanted it to be, but, nonetheless, we still got the information we needed. I have no idea who we’re looking for, but it has to be a very narrow list since many people out there can’t control mechs. All mechs have a chip inside of them that fries when tampered with, so the only way to ever control one is through a wireless connection; to do that must take tremendous skill.

Even if this isn’t the right person, we can probably use them to help instead. We’ll just have to see when we get there. I hate the waiting game, but I’ve had a long day already and it’s only pushing noon. Dayio and Jacks should have Odom guarded until I wake up. Since I’m the only one with a pulser that I can easily pull out and shoot through the seat, I’ll be safe for a short nap.

My eyes open to Jacks nudging at me, “Van, we’re at the northern city limits.”

I look around to see that we’re pulled over in the desert with Panoira in the distance, so I reply with an order, “Jacks, switch seats. Trust me.”

The hacker had a plan for getting us out of the city, but with Odom having possibly been seen busting in, it wasn’t worth the gamble. Here, in a different city, I can risk possible capture. Worst case scenario, I get denied access and probably attacked. I pull forward to the gate as two guards approach the cruiser.

I lower the window and the guard demands, “IDN, please.” I watch him as he raises his scanner, growing a shocked expression on his face after it beeps. “Uh, Mrs. Tovmasiyan, ma’am, please head right on through.” He shouts upward, “Get the gate open immediately!”

The gate begins opening and the guard steps back. I must be somebody important in these parts. I’ve never seen anyone expedited through a gate so quickly, even with priority clearance.

I drive us through the gate. Jacks asks, “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but why aren’t we being hauled away to jail?”

I answer, “I don’t know. Maybe the hacker did something to my IDN. Honestly, it might have worked to get us out of New Rellow, too, but I didn’t think to risk it.”

Jacks replies, “This guy must be a pro in all techs. I might have some competition.”

“Can you change IDN records?”

“No.”

“Then you lose.”

I shift my eyes around to tour this city on our drive. This place is so bright, and not just with sunlight, but even the buildings themselves. Everything here is so irregular; a lot of the buildings have weird shapes like curves and one has water falling from it as if there is a river on top. Most of the buildings are so uniquely done and there are even plants in here, also. I haven’t seen open plant-life inside of a city before, aside from at the parks, but even that’s fake; artificially tasteful, though.

A multicolored butterfly swims out from a bush and rises up above it. It’s an obvious hologram, but it’s still very unique to see something so rare like that. We continue traveling blindly through the city, not knowing what to even look for. Jacks was right about the MechCi presence here; they are all communicating with each other and there aren’t many people on the streets socializing with them. It’s like citizens just let their MechCi run free like he said.

The attire here doesn’t seem to be flashy like Gharis, but these people seem more uniformed with their average clothing. As we drive past a MechCi, I see it wave at us. That’s creepy. I hold my stare as it does the same, continuing its waving. When I lose sight of it, I face forward to see another MechCi on the curb at my right staring and signaling me to look across the street to my left. I follow the pointing to see another MechCi pointing to its right, directing me onto another street.

After turning left at the light, I continue forward. I start scanning around the foot traffic for mechs giving me obvious signals, but nothing calls out to me. I continue familiarizing myself with the city life, watching the people and MechCi walk by the shops with the holographic signs. A lot of the shop owners here seem to place a lot of work into their craft and creative projects for marketing. It’s nice to see normal, thought-driven people for a change. I notice another MechCi signal me to go right, so I turn right.

Jacks asks, “Do you know where you’re going?”

I answer, “I sure hope so.”

I hear Dayio let out a yawn as he asks, “Hey, are we here?”

Jacks answers, “Yeah, this is Panoira.”

I look back to see Dayio rubbing his eyes and Odom sleeping. I hadn’t even noticed how quiet of sleepers they are. For someone as muscular as Odom, I figured he would be snoring like an old lion.

It’s odd seeing him peaceful and unconscious, but then his mouth moves, “What?”

His eyes open and he stares at me as I answer, “Just making sure you’re not dead back there.”

I face forward and see a MechCi flagging us down. I guess I should have paid better attention. I pull over abruptly, then look back at the MechCi we passed and see it signal me to follow as it walks into an alley.

I get out of the cruiser and Jacks asks, “Where’re you going?”

“I don’t know. In case things get hot, we might need a fast exit, so be ready.” Against mechs, I may need Odom’s help, so I look in the back seat and command, “Back me up.”

I leave the gull-wing door open so Odom can get out. He follows behind me as I make my way towards the alley where the MechCi went. I’m not sure what that MechCi is trying to lead me into, but having this MechCi killer at my back will better prepare me for what’s to come. Hopefully it’s the right person and not another Menta-Life problem out to get me. I’ve got enough of those already.

 

Chapter 10: Horrible Team

 

I cautiously follow the MechCi into the alley; it is well-lit like everything else in the city, and is populated with people as if it’s a normal street. I spot the MechCi standing next to a young, pale-skinned girl that looks no older than sixteen. Her long orange hair is done in two pigtails. That’s really cautious of the hacker to hire someone to guide us to him, but I don’t have time for a run-around right now. My deadline to get back to my father is coming faster than I need it to, and we should be receiving info about Geilium McKoy’s sentence soon.

We approach the MechCi and the girl. I inform her, “My name is Vanessa Pheros. Who are you?”

She casually demands in a low manner, “Follow me this way.”

She begins walking through the small crowd, then into another less populated alley and downstairs into a neatly graffitied door. What’s odd about this door is that it isn’t worn down, nor is the building, but it’s enough of a sign to keep any pedestrian from going in. The door introduces us to a small set of metal stairs which leads down to a basement. The nice looking basement just has a bed, a lot of old computer hardware, and a few wireless devices lying around on different tables.

The young girl stops at the computers facing away from us, then starts typing away on one of them. I look back at Odom as he waits near the stairs. This is obviously a hacker’s delight, but what’s with this girl? I continue to scan the room and see just a few changes of clothes in a pile next to the door; they all look like her clothing. Where is the person who led us here?

She turns back to us and states in her child-pitched voice, “Okay.”

She stares at me with a smile and I stare back, waiting for her to update me with something like where the hacker is. She has a pretty smile and big brown eyes. I look back at Odom and he shrugs his shoulders at me with a look of confusion. He doesn’t even know what to ask, so I guess it’s up to me.

I turn back to her and ask, “Someone else is supposed to be arriving here soon, right?”

She stops smiling then grows a confused look on her face and snaps back to reality as she answers, “No. Oh, I’m sorry. I am Jerry.”

I immediately raise my eyebrow. She’s got to be kidding me. I really don’t have time for whatever game she’s trying to play. She called herself Jerry, and that’s a name I heard from Trex in my Life, which is really strange. Jerry isn’t even a girl’s name. Besides, there is absolutely no way that she can figure out how to control mechs at such a young age when adults even cannot.

I reply sternly, “Listen, kid. I don’t have time to play games with–”

She interrupts, “And I’m not playing. I heard about your escape from Menta-Life and I’ve been keeping up with you ever since. Well, trying to. For a while, I lost track of you when you first left New Rellow. I’ve been inside of their MechCi and see what they do to people–” I turn from left to right, then tilt my head back and sigh out of frustration, “–in those corporations. I even helped you guys escape Berkham, when I found you again, and cleared your name.”

I look back at her and reply, “That’s a nice story, but I can tell you that’s not true. It was one of my people that hacked those ships.”

“No, one of your people hacked a ship. The ones that spiraled out of control before you took off was all me, Van.”

“What all do you know about me?”

“Pretty much everything since your first orphanage. I ran away, too. I lost both of my parents, too, but I live here now, and have been for a while.”

I don’t believe this. She knows things, but she could have heard and found that stuff out anywhere aside from the H-T70’s which the real hacker could have mentioned.

I turn around and walk to the door as I demand, “Let’s go, Odom.”

She loudly demands as we exit, “Wait. Where are you going?” I ignore her and walk up the stairs back into the alley. She then asks, “What about me?”

I ask as I’m walking away, “What about you?”

She steps in front of me. “You came here for me, didn’t you?”

I stop then sternly reply, “Listen, I don’t have time to babysit some sixteen-year-old geek.”

She proudly corrects me, “Fifteen-and-a-half-year-old genius, actually.”

I rhetorically ask, “How does that make your situation any better?”

“Well, doesn’t controlling that mech prove that I can help?”

“You sending your personal mech on a break while we talk doesn’t prove anything. And what are you trying to help?”

She excitedly explains, “For Menta-Life to have kidnapped you and for you to even break into Berkham Tech must mean you’re onto something big, and I want to be a part of it. Please, please, pleeease.”

I say to myself, “You gotta be kidding me.” I lean down into her face and sternly make myself clear to her, “I don’t have time to babysit some punk kid. Now beat it.”

Her face grows into an angry scrunch, but I ignore it and walk around her towards the alley’s exit.

Odom catches up with me and asks, “Wasn’t that a little harsh?”

I swiftly respond, “She’s a kid. She’ll get over it.”

I feel a cold embrace from behind. My body tightens with my arms trapped inside. I look down to see MechCi arms, then, to my right witness Odom being attacked by two of them. He makes quick work of them. He stops when the MechCi turns me around towards the angry kid. Odom isn’t stopping her, and I’m not resisting. Is she really controlling these MechCi?

She has a weird device on her arm. I stare at her with a look of irritation, but she has a few more MechCi on her side. I can get out of this MechCi’s grip easily because they’re weak and not created for combat. I’ll let her believe she has me; if I couldn’t break free, Odom would happily be my personal mech smasher. Maybe I could steal that device from her and control the mechs myself, if that’s what she uses.

I ask, “You think this is going to convince me? It’s just pissing me off.”

She speaks boldly, “No, but now we get to do this the hard way. If you don’t take me with you, there’s nowhere that you can hide from me. With me being able to get control of any mech, I can sabotage whatever plans that you have by using them to follow and stop you.”

I reply between my teeth, “You wouldn’t dare.”

She crosses her arms then asks, “Then give me a reason why I shouldn’t?”

Damn, I hate this kid because my hands are tied, quite literally. She has proved to me that she can control mechs, but she’s just a kid. If something were to happen, I’d hate that to be on my conscious. Then again, she’s a kid and would ruin everything after spying on me finding the perfect opportunity to make her debut. It’s not like she has anything better to do.

I whisper to Odom, “She’s right, isn’t she?”

He whispers back, “Yep. She’s controlling them with that thing on her wrist.”

I focus my attention on the strange little tablet wrapped around her arm. It’s some kind of touch-screen device. I’m not sure what it is, nor have I seen anything like it before. It’s wrapped like a cloth around her arm, but how does it operate being so flimsy? And how did she even learn how to hack a mech? I’m not comfortable with this. Maybe we can ally, for now, then dump her somewhere with a smile and some aers as a job well done.

I answer her question, “Because it might be too dangerous for you when we get into trouble.”

She excitedly states, “I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time, plus I’ll just be controlling the mechs. I’ll be watching through their eyes.” She starts jumping from side to side with her hands locked in front of her chest as she begs, “Oh please, please, please! I promise I won’t get in the way!”

How childish. I can’t think of a single person who would approve of this. With the power to ruin my father’s work in her hands, I have no logical choice, except to cooperate with the little troublemaker. I can’t believe I’m about to do this.

I give in, “Okay, fine. You can come with us.”

She screams out, “Yay!”

She runs over and hugs me and, for some reason, the MechCi is squeezing tighter too. As she yells with excitement, I start losing my breath. Is this mech reacting to her behavior? The grip becomes somewhat unbearable since my arms are now too tightly enclosed to move.

I squeeze out words, “It’s too tight.”

She let’s go and apologizes, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Odom says, “I think she means the MechCi.”

Jerry quickly says to herself, “Oh, shoot.”

She starts working magic on her wrist and the MechCi lets go of me. I let out a gasp and begin catching air to refill my lungs. When I look up at her, she has an innocent smile on her face like she didn’t just do anything wrong. I release a sigh, then start walking back to the cruiser. This kid is already getting on my nerves.

I wonder what my father and everyone else will think about this. I firmly believe that she will ruin everything out of spite, because that’s what human beings like us hold onto the most – grudges. We reach the cruiser and I get into the passenger side with an attitude and slam the door. Jacks looks at me from the driver seat like he wants to ask what’s going on, but is troubled of the answer I’d give him.

I hear the passenger door open up and Jerry’s voice pours into the cruiser as she talks to Odom, “–once they found out, I was long gone from their systems.”

As Odom squeezes in on the other side and shuts the door, Jacks looks back then questions, “Who’s this young lady?”

I plainly request, “Please, just drive.”

Jerry happily introduces herself. “Hello, I’m Jerry. Nice to finally meet you Jacks.”

I feel Jacks’ eyes peek at me, so I sternly repeat with irritation as I stare out of the passenger window in a huff, “Just drive back to the base, Jacks.”

He starts the cruiser, then we drive back through the mech infested city towards the northern exit. I can’t help but think about how I’m going to get rid of Jerry. Can I do that to a kid who could ruin everything for me? I mean, yes, she can control mechs which is a huge plus, but, morally, this is just wrong. Befriending her, then abandoning her would be even worse. She claims she was an orphan, too, so we’re both familiar with that feeling of abandonment; well, I wasn’t actually abandoned, but I was alone and angry for a long time which started my life of delinquency.

We reach the gate and get a suspicious eye from the interior guards. With all that’s going on between the other cities, I’m not surprised that they’ve all been told to heighten their defenses. Cities don’t see trouble too often like New Rellow did today, but when they do, they don’t usually take extensive damage before letting someone slip away. There is a panic going on, but that won’t have too much of an effect on people leaving as opposed to entering; getting back into a recently attacked city will be a bigger issue, though. I introduce my important IDN to the guards for a swifter exit.

The Regs let us all pass through the gate in a hyper warp to New Rellow’s outskirts. I doze off during the warp and drive, but I find myself restless watching the sky get darker each time my eyes open. I notice that everyone else is sound asleep. It has been a long couple of days and we haven’t had a good night’s rest away from each other yet. We loop around New Rellow from the south gate to the east. After hours of going east on the moonlit road, I watch the brightened lights of New Rellow in the distance

When we leave the city’s perimeter on the east road, I ask Jacks, “So how do you know where this place is?”

He points left and asks, “You see those mountains there?” I look up at the sloped mountains in the far distance to the north, then he adds, “We have to keep moving toward the right while trying to keep a straight path towards the mountains, then you’ll see a perfect crevice. Head towards it and there is a motion detector set. When it’s tripped, the guard is alerted, and then we’re in.”

I see the large crevice between the mountains, then he turns off into the desert. Time flies and the rising entrance begins to make the dark sands lighter. He pulls into the entrance and down the ramp to the old parking lot. I notice Dayio, Jerry, and Odom in the rear view mirror wake up, then start looking around. We pull down to the left of the lot next to the other custom cruisers and exit to the emptiness. No welcome party to greet us? How rude.

I demand, as I walk towards the main hall’s entry, “Let’s go.”

I enter the door first into darkness and see only a slight red light moving up to my chest coming from the upstairs balcony. It has to be Welktin Foster with a shot on me.

Everyone else walks in behind me as I slowly raise my hands and confess, “We surrender.”

The laser goes away then the lights beam on. I quickly shield my eyes from the sudden illumination, while still looking up at Welktin. He’s still leaned over the balcony with an old sniper rifle pointed over, but the laser sight is off. I look to my right at everyone slowly rising up from cover, not sure how to feel about the strangers I brought home. I don’t see my father in the room, but everyone else seems to be here including Hines and Paul. They must have only been able to recognize the cruiser and not the number of new faces inside.

I ask Welktin, “You gonna stop pointing that thing at me?”

“I’m not pointing at you. Who are they?”

“They’re with me.”

“That doesn’t grant them clearance to be here.”

“I’m sure Simon wouldn’t mind if I left then?”

My father walks out from the room across from me and grows a shocked look of fear on his face. I notice that he’s not looking at me, but past me, so I look back to my left and see Odom scanning the room. He is a very intimidating guy to be around. I’m certain that Simon isn’t the only one that’s giving Odom the same eye.

My father enquires, “What’s going on here?”

I face him and Welktin answers, “We have unauthorized citizens in the base, sir.”

I clarify, “This is my team.”

Simon looks over everyone aside from his man Jacks, of course. I can see the overly concerned expression on his face and can already tell that he does not approve.

My father requests, “Vanessa, can I talk to you in private for a second?”

I answer, “As soon as your pet stops pointing his weapon at my team.”

Welktin states, “Not without permission of clearance.”

My father approves, “It’s alright, Welktin.” He asks me, “They’re no threat are they?”

I answer, “No. They’re loyal to me and won’t harm any of your people.”

I look back at my crew as Jacks assures, “Don’t worry. I’ll keep them out of trouble.”

Odom walks to the right and asks, “Where’s the food?”

Jerry concurs as she follows, “Here, here.”

As everyone scatters and I walk towards Simon, he turns around then heads back into the hallway he came out of. Everyone is getting back to work, leaving me to wonder if these people ever sleep. They probably haven’t been topside, for safety reasons, since they got down here. I follow Simon into the hallway and he shuts the door behind me. I look into the window with the Deserted female in her false city and see her fast asleep. Is she aware of the time up above? Deserted are very confusing, but she seems to be developing normality all alone.

When I turn to my father, he asks in a worrying whisper, “Emily, are you insane?”

I respond, “I told you I was coming back with a team, and I did.”

His voice returns, “This is your team? Do you even know who these people are?”

“Yeah… mostly. Look they’re good at what they do and can undoubtedly help us better than your lab coats can.”

“My people are reliable, Emily, but your band of misfits is not what we need. This is a delicate operation which means delicacy is required. That mutant and a child does not seem proper–”

Mutant? How does he know Odom is affected by the gene altering? They haven’t even spoken to each other yet, and Odom didn’t seem to recognize him; plus, I didn’t mention anything about it. There’s something that he’s not telling me.

I interrupt, “Wait, how do you know that?”

“Know what?”

“Know that Odom has altered genetics.”

“It’s pretty obvious. I can tell that he’s similar to Tylyn because of the stretch marks. They appear to be scars, but they will never heal as long as he constantly uses his ability.”

“Do you know what happened to him?”

“Gene was conducting experiments, without my knowledge, for a while before he presented his winning four. I’ve never heard of your friend, though.”

I still don’t know about him myself to stick up for him being a reliable member of the team. The only one I can trust fully is Dayio, and I don’t really know much about him, either, except that we took on jobs together. Simon’s right; I may have made a bad call, but I believe that they can do what we need them to. Freeing Geilium McKoy is the reason they’re all here, so everything else is irrelevant.

I continue, “They’ll be able to get the job done.”

My father states, “This goes beyond Geilium, Em. This is just a phase in the plan.”

“But that’s not fair. You’re not even sure if you can trust Geilium. My people would unquestionably be much more trustworthy.”

“To whom? The cause or you?”

“I am part of your cause now. My memory has made that happen, so where I go, they go, and I’m with you.”

“And the child?”

“She’s a teen, but she can make it on her own.”

“No, Emily, this is unacceptable. I refuse to put a minor at risk and, if that involves you leaving, then so be it.”

“She won’t be in the way.”

“Emily, this is non-negotiable.”

“Yes it is. She has resources and skills that we can use.”

My father loudly reiterates, “The answer is no.”

He storms away back towards the small meeting room. I want to follow him, but arguing now isn’t really the best time. Making him understand will be a good idea, however, I do understand his point of view. If I had a choice, I’d let the girl go in a heartbeat. Well, I do have a choice, but the more logical one works more in my favor. I walk back out to the station lobby and become instantly stunned by what my eyes are seeing. Everyone has been slaughtered.

There’s blood everywhere and my team is nowhere to be seen. Who did this? What happened? I didn’t hear anything at all when I was in the next room. My head starts ringing, then all of the dead bodies and blood disappear within the next second, as if my mind was playing tricks on me. The ringing gets louder and my head begins feeling this harsh burning. It’s happening again.

My brain is starting to fight me and it’s winning. The pain instantly sharpens and I quickly wrap my arms around my head like I can stop what’s coming. I’m not prepared for this to happen again. I cover my ears as I scream out, but the ringing is internal. The burning gets worse until I can’t move anymore. My body drops to the ground. I black out much faster than last time. My eyes open to someone choking me.

It’s so dark and I can’t see who it is, nor can I see my hands as I try to push him off. In the blink of an eye, I arise into an uncontrollable repetition of coughing. I grab my throat and try to get a hold of myself as someone’s hands brace my shoulders. Releasing my neck, I quickly punch the person in the face then continue coughing and accidentally slip off a bed. When I hit the floor, a banging sound takes over the room. I feel a lot of hands gripping onto me, so I start trying to fight.

Dayio’s voice forcefully demands, “Van, calm down. Stop! You’re okay! You’re okay, Van. You’re okay.”

I calm down and give my vision time to adjust to the storage room around me where I woke when I first arrived. I look up at Dayio and a couple of unfamiliar lab coats in front of me. I look to the right of him to see Paul Quentin on the floor staring at me; it must have been him that I punched in the face. My mind can only feel bad about hitting an innocent man that was trying to help me.

Dayio requests everyone’s assistance, “Help me get her up.”

I say, “It’s alright. I’m alright.”

I scan the room to see my father and Jacks in here as well with all eyes on me. My memory is kind of foggy about what happened downstairs. Everyone was dead, I swear I saw it. Did it really happen?

As Paul gets up, I notice his nose is bleeding so I apologize. “I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t realize right away that it was you. I was dreaming–”

He quickly interrupts, “It’s quite alright, Vanessa. No long-lasting damage done.”

Dayio asks, “What happened to you?”

I answer, “I don’t know.”

“You gave everyone a scare, big time. You came out of that room and just started screaming and holding your head, then just dropped.”

What was that I saw? Was it a vision of some kind? Is my brain playing tricks on me now? That seemed real enough for me to believe it because of how abrupt it happened. One second, I was arguing with my father, the next there were bodies and blood everywhere. I get up then limp towards the door.

Everyone starts trying to help me, so I slightly brush them off and say, “I’m fine.”

They stop, then I exit the room to the upper balcony and see that everything is alright. There’s no blood on the walls and everyone down below is working on things. I see Odom and Jerry talking at a table. She looks up, noticing me.

Odom looks up and notices me, also, then she shouts, “Hey, Van!”

She starts waving like I’m not looking at her already, so I wave back. She’s such a silly spirit. I wish I could have been that way at her age. She lost both of her parents too, but we seem like opposites from how my youth was. My father steps next to me and looks over at them as well. Everyone leaves the room and heads to the right side door to get downstairs.

As Dayio passes me, he says, “Let me know if you need anything.”

I look back at him and nod. My father asks, “How are you feeling?”

I lean over the balcony and start playing with my fingers. I gloomily answer, “I’m alright. Did my time shorten?”

“Unfortunately. Your scan shows your condition has worsened, but the longer we take, the headaches will only decrease your timeline until your brain shuts down for good.”

The pain wasn’t as horrible as the first time, but the sedative I was given must have had everything to do with that. According to their time table, I only had two weeks before; how much shorter could it have gotten? I can’t just sit here and wait to die. I have to get something done to at least make myself feel better.

I ask, “Anything on Geilium yet?”

He answers, “Nothing, but hopefully very soon. We need him to start Equility as quickly as possible, or we won’t survive at Menta-Life’s memory base for very long.”

“There has to be something else we can do.”

“There’s nothing. Without Geilium, we don’t have a chance. It’s been three days now, something will happen soon, but for now, you need rest.”

I quickly reply, “I’m fine.”

“How? Look at yourself. You’re not even close. Every last one of us has to be ready for this and I think you’re underestimating the stakes here. This isn’t just about saving you; there are thousands of people out there suffering.”

“They’re not my problem, Simon. Just because the wealthy dreamers decided not to read the fine print on the Menta-Life waiver doesn’t mean they deserve to be saved. They’re just getting what they deserve.”

“Gene stole from people who invested their funds into making a difference for the new world. How could you even say something so selfish? One day, when you’re all alone with no one in your corner to recognize who you are, you’ll see the truth behind what you think.”

“I was alone. For fifteen years I had no one to be there for me and I managed to get through that just fine.”

He asks, “Then where’s your sense of humanity?”

He backs away from the balcony and follows everyone else’s path to the right door. In a room full of people wearing white clothing, the one person who shows up in black will stand out. I’m in a room full of people who are striving to do the right thing, but I can’t help feeling wrong. I don’t owe anyone anything, but my conflict of interest isn’t enough? Fighting myself internally doesn’t hurt more than losing myself through a stolen memory.

I’ve never wanted to make a difference and always only fought to survive, because fighting for something bigger only brings more trouble. Vanessa Pheros is wanted worldwide as a criminal, not a revolutionary. I don’t know what to do besides what I am already doing. Either way, it will get done, so my reasoning will make no difference in the end. I walk back into the room. Aside from the bed and cheaply constructed medical equipment, it’s empty.

They don’t seem to have much as far as resources go down here. I’d like to stay and relax for a minute, but I have to brief my team on what’s to be expected. I leave the room and head downstairs to the lobby where the scientists are working and my team is sitting together at a rectangular table. Dayio is sitting on the table with one foot dangling and the other on the seat. They grow quiet and turn to me as I approach.

This is awkward, so I stop and ask, “What?”

Jerry asks in a slow, high-pitched tone, “How’s it going?”

I sarcastically answer as I sit down next to Odom, where Dayio had his foot, “Just peachy.”

She asks Odom, “Is she always this mean?”

Odom answers, “I’ve only been around her for a couple of days. Yeah, she is.”

Jerry chuckles and I change the subject. “I gotta fill you guys in about what’s going on because we have a lot of work to do.”

Jerry asks, “What’s the rush? We just got here.”

“The rush is I have a Menta-Life corporation to take down.”

Odom states, “I could have sworn we were just breaking someone out of prison.”

Jerry asks, “You plan on attacking them? Like for real?”

I answer, “Yes, Jerry. Like for real.”

“Cool. I already have a layout of their interior and exterior plans stored here on my DataBand.” We all look at her with odd expressions as she starts messing with the thing on her wrist. “See?”

A small 3D projection of the main branch in Gharis City pops up from the DataBand. I’ve never heard of a DataBand before and had forgotten the reason I’d heard of Jerry in the first place. In my Life, Jerry was the one who had an online layout of the main Menta-Life base that helped me shut down their private mech security; she was a fan of the corporation, not an enemy.

I ask, “How did you get that information?”

“I created it. See, by figuring how many citizens they can cater to at the same time and how their power sourcing would be, that would give me an accurate description to develop a floor plan of how their operation should run along, with safety precautions, such as power outage and terminated network connections. Their monitoring systems would have to be close by the dreamers in the event an interruption in the flow of information would occur for immediate repair while keeping an eye on anyone who would awaken from malnourishment–”

I interrupt, “Okay, smarty-pants, we get it.”

She starts pressing buttons on her DataBand and the image of the building disappears. Jerry really is the person I was looking for. Trex never mentioned that she was a kid, but then again, he also never mentioned that he was a she; maybe he didn’t know. I have to give it to her. She is smarter than I originally thought.

I continue, “Look, the corporation isn’t you guys’ problem; that’s my own mission. Our current mission and the reason I brought you all here is a man named Geilium McKoy. He’s formerly known as the GCN producer and now an alleged terrorist. He was accused of a plot against Menta-Life; a plot that we’re not even sure exists yet. Unfortunately, he was arrested before we could find out and we have to free him so he can continue or start his recruitment.”

Dayio asks, “What makes you think he’s actually stirring up trouble if you don’t know he’s actually stirring up trouble?”

“Menta-Life is the one who sent the Regs onto him, I’m certain of it. We have the same goals in mind and he has the know-how to begin an uprising against them. I don’t trust his motives, but Simon does, and that’s all that matters.”

Dayio asks, “The man you spoke to in the room?”

“Yeah. He runs this operation down here. All of these people, including Jacks, are aiding him.”

Odom asks, “And you?”

“Menta-Life kidnapped me and used me to find Simon. They stole a memory from me. My brain will shut down and I’ll die unless I can destroy their memory storage facility.”

Odom asks, “So that’s your part in all of this?”

I answer, “To get my memory back, yeah.”

Dayio asks, “Why were they using you to find him? Who is he?”

I don’t want to rat out my father or myself, but keeping the truth from them would make them not trust me if they found out. With my background, I wouldn’t be involved with a revolutionary scientist who used to work for the corporation I’m trying to destroy. Problems later would only complicate things in the field.

I reply, “Look what I’m about to tell you guys doesn’t leave this table. You’re my team and I trust you enough to tell you and no one else. Fifteen years ago, I thought Simon Harold died in the war. Menta-Life set me up, kidnapped me, and ran me through their Life system to search for him or his whereabouts.”

Odom asks, “He was someone close to you?”

“Yes, my father. My real name is Emily Harold. Vanessa Pheros is just a name that I’ve used. Since I was born, before the IDN systems were recreated, my guardian gave me a new name. Somehow, they found out I was his daughter. Three months later, he found and woke me up. I don’t remember anything after I was set up until my last Life where I found out about you.”

I look diagonally to my left at Jerry. She asks, “Me?”

“In my Life, when I was inside of Menta-Life in Gharis, I was told about your layout and it was accurate. They were tying up loose ends starting with Geilium, then Dayio. I had to get to you before they thought to come after you next. You covered your tracks extremely well, though. Even I wouldn’t have found you if you hadn’t found me first.” I never asked what she wanted, so I do now. “Why did you?”

She nervously answers, “I saw that you had broken out of the facility and I was curious why, so I tried to follow you and see.”

Her reason seems very menial, like she was just being nosy which explains why she’s embarrassed saying it. I smile and reply, “Well, I’m glad you did. We wouldn’t have made it out of there without you.”

She smiles and remains quiet. Jacks adds, “I knew it. You jammed those other H-T70’s at Berkham didn’t you?”

Jerry answers happily, “Yeah.”

“I had a feeling someone else was linked in nearby because my software was becoming a little tricky crossing through your signal.”

“That’s why I couldn’t control them for very long.”

She’ll get along just fine here. Knowing that she was around to help us out of that tight spot at Berkham makes me think about how she’d be a useful addition. As they continue their conversation, I decide it would be a good idea to speak with Odom alone about his ties with Menta-Life. I’m not sure if he knows what Menta-Life did to him, but I’m sure he wouldn’t want that in the air around here; not like anyone here didn’t notice as soon as we stepped in the door.