Chapter 9 & 10

Chapter 9: In The Dark


Surprisingly, the guests aren’t too alarmed about being drenched in darkness. They’re not having a great time; however, they’re not running each other over in a panic to leave either. Just as Gene is heading for the door, the lights go out. He is among a sea of strangers, which seems like a move that I would use to my advantage.

Feegle loudly pledges to the guests, “It’s alright, everyone. My MechCi is working to get the power back on immediately. I do apologize for any inconvenience.”

I catch a glimpse of something moving to my right. I continue toward the stairs, then catch a glimpse again of someone quickly moving through the crowd ahead of me. I start following after the person, trying to avoid touching anyone so they won’t panic and get everyone’s attention. The crook in all-black reaches the stairs before I do, then quickly starts skipping stairs to get to the top. As the crook gets halfway up, I reach the stairs and begin following further.

The person’s clothes are form-fitting like stealth gear. Is this person a thief? With the physique, I can tell it’s a man, although I’m not certain because of the mouthless black mask hiding the face. The crook reaches the top of the stairs then crouches down and quickly speeds along the railing. I follow the same path and do the same maneuver to remain unnoticed.

The crook stops by the entry to Feegle’s library, which is the door at the end of the hall just past his bedroom. I slow down and watch as the crook overlooks the party. He reaches back and pulls out a pulser pistol, then quickly aims it down at the guests. I thought this guy was actually some kind of thief, but he’s an assassin. I don’t know who he’s aiming for, nevertheless I’ve got to stop him.

I stand as I kick my heels off and run over to him. I use both of my hands to lift his hands up toward the ceiling. We start silently fighting for control of the weapon. He uses his left knee to hit me in the rib. It hurts badly in this tight dress, but I tough it out as I take advantage of his imbalance. I swing us around, away from the railing, and towards the library door.

The lights turn back on and the guests start clapping as we crash through the door and fall to the floor. The door hits the wall hard enough to slam shut again. The pistol slides over toward the desk where Feegle does his reading. The desk is in the center of the room with a globe of the old world next to it. The circular room’s walls are flooded with books.

The assassin and I both look at the pistol as it slides underneath the long wooden table. It then continues past the two chairs and underneath the desk. The assassin gets up and runs toward the desk. I quickly get up and follow behind him, reaching out for his shirt. Before he reaches the long wooden table, I get a hold on his shirt, then yank it back to stop him.

I try to yank back hard enough to make him fall backwards, but he stops himself by holding his stance forward. He turns around with a right backhand swing. I duck down as his hand swings over me, then rise up with a right uppercut. He shifts his head away from my attack as he continues his turn and hooks his left arm over my right shoulder, trapping my shoulder in front of his.

He moves over directly to my right, then pushes his left shoulder out into mine. He throws his right hand around and punches me in the face. I stumble back, but he holds me up with his shoulder. He comes back around for another swing. I tuck my head and let his arm swing past me. I close him in between my arms, then use my left foot to trip him, face first, onto the wooden coffee table.

He rolls onto his right side as I raise my left foot up to stomp on him. I bring my foot down, but he moves to the left onto his back, making me barely miss by an inch. He wraps his right arm around my ankle and I raise myself up on the table, dropping my right knee onto his chest. He gasps for air as I grab the top of his head and yank his mask off. It is one of the two men that Geilium was with during the party.

He looks stunned that I’ve seen his face. His blonde curly hair and beard have black lint in them from the brand-new balaclava mask. Is his target Menta-Life and, if so, why? He uses his left forearm to push my knee off him. I lose my balance, then fall on top of him. He grabs my dress and head-butts me rolling me over to his left.

Now that he’s on top of me, he throws his fist down at my face. I move my head and make him hit the table. He attempts a second punch and hits the table again. After this second failed attempt, starts to shake the pain out of his hands. I throw my left arm around him, then pull myself around onto his back, and start choking him. He stands and starts swinging around to launch me off him; however, I have a tight grip on him.

He runs over to the wall, then spins around and slams my back into it. He then repeats this two more times. My grip loosens at that point. He reaches over his shoulder and grabs the back of my dress. He flips me off his back onto the coffee table. The wind gets knocked out of me from landing on the table. He runs over behind the desk and disappears. He pops up and points the pistol at me. I slide off the table towards the door as he starts firing heat rounds at me. Once I hit the floor, I push the table up towards him and stick close behind it.

The guests probably can’t hear the shooting over the music. Pulsers and other new tech weapons aren’t used with gunpowder, so they don’t make loud noises anyway.
Even if they did, the guests probably still wouldn’t hear anything with the door closed.

The shooting stops and I hear his footsteps moving quickly towards me. The sound is coming from the right side of the desk, which means he’ll end up catching me at a disadvantage. I quickly turn over and prepare myself to pounce out at him. Once I see his head appear from the top corner of the table, I pounce up at him before he can fire a shot at me.

I use all of my might to push him back as I fall down with him. He drops the pistol as he stumbles back towards the right wall, then hits the ground. I pick up the pistol as he gets up and I shoot him in his leg. The assassin falls down to the ground and starts screaming out in pain as he also tries to hold it in. I get up, then point the pistol at him as he lies there holding his leg.

While I catch my breath, I request, “What does… Geilium want… from Menta-Life?”

The assassin looks up at me, then stands up on his limp leg and starts breathing heavily. I point the weapon down as I watch him hyperventilating and getting pumped. What’s wrong with him? He turns right, then bolts to the window.

I chase him and yell, “Hey!”

He jumps straight through the huge window. If that crash didn’t kill him, the face-plant landing definitely will. I hear a crash of glass breaking and people screaming below. I stop just before I reach the window. As bad as I want to see what happened, everyone below would see my face. If I step to the window that man just jumped out of, I’d automatically be the one responsible.

I leave the library and look downstairs at the party guests still socializing. Going through what I just went through, I’d much prefer having been down there with them. I rest my hands on the railing, then see Feegle downstairs mingling with his guests like he hasn’t noticed I disappeared in the darkness. I didn’t even receive as much as an Econ call asking where I went. He must be mad at me. If he was mad before, he’s going to be furious now.

I tap my Econ then demand, “Call Feegle.”

I watch Feegle tap his Econ to answer, “Ms. Pheros, I have absolutely no words–”

I interrupt, “I need you to come upstairs right now.”

“I still have guests here.”

“I can see that. I’m looking right at you.”

He scans the railing, then notices me and grows a stunned expression. “What on Earth happened to your dress?”

I reply, “What’s up here is more important.”

I tap my Econ to end the call, then watch him as he quickly makes his way through the crowd and up the stairs. Once he reaches the hallway and begins storming towards me, I step back into the library to wait for him. What a mess this is. The guy would much rather have killed himself than risk me catching him. What would Geilium have done to him for failing to kill Gene? I think I may have stepped in another puddle of someone’s hidden agenda. Feegle steps into the room and his face lights up with shock.

He says in a high-pitched whine, “My library… What happened?”

I can’t tell him who the people involved in this incident are. If he starts asking around, he could end up hurt.

I answer, “Someone tried to kill one of your party guests from up here when the lights went out. I stopped him and he jumped out of the window.”

“Why does it look like a little more than that happened?”

“Maybe there was a little paraphrasing.”

Feegle walks over towards the desk, then stops and gapes at the window.

I advise, “I wouldn’t recommend that. Head back down to the party and make sure you don’t mention any of what I told you. I’m going to change back into my clothes and go see Trex.”

Feegle asks, “And what do I say when the Regulators come in?”

“You don’t know anything. Act shocked like you did when you first came in here.”

“That was no act, Ms. Pheros.”

“I’ll let you know when I figure this out. Let’s go.”

Feegle follows me out of the room, then heads back downstairs to the party. He’s still very shaken up, but he’s good about keeping things to himself when it involves him. If he wasn’t, he’d be the talk of the town in a bad way. I walk into the bedroom and get myself cleaned up, then change back into my clothes. I head to the door and hear stern voices, then Feegle’s as they pass by the door.

Once the voices go silent, I crack the door open and see two Regs walking down the stairs. They’re just the standard type: blue uniforms and electrified batons. They’re at the center of the stairs and I need to get down before they come back up. I take a couple of steps out of the room and look at the library door. The other Regs and Feegle are not in sight. I tip toe to the railing, then backflip over it and grab the lower ledge.

I drop down and run into the guest bathroom door underneath the railing. It is a public unisex bathroom, so it has one urinal, two stalls with a toilet, and two sinks. I peek through the door and see the Regs looking around from the bottom of the stairs, then they both head back up. I quickly sneak out of the door and bolt straight across the ballroom to the basement door. I enter the door as quietly as possible, then make my way through the secret entrance to the tunnel.

The door to the tunnel blends in with the wall. There’s no way anyone can notice the entry, except maybe a MechCi if one were present in the room. Feegle never allows his MechCi in the basement because all MechCi are hardwired to tell the truth no matter what their loyalties. I reach Trex’s office, then knock twice and walk straight in. He is sitting behind his desk as usual, on the Econ.

He puts his index finger up to me as he continues speaking, “–making the outer perimeter of the city a better route.”

I stand and wait patiently for him to finish his conversation. It sounds like he’s going over a route with a smuggler.

Trex continues, “Okay, follow the route and the connection will be waiting.” Trex taps his Econ then apologies to me. “Sorry about that. I had to reroute a package because apparently someone was thrown out of Feegle’s window, causing a stir outside. Would you happen to know anything about that?”

I answer, “Not much, no, but I’ll get my answer from these.”

I pull out the four drives and place them on the desk. Trex looks confused. “What’s on those?”

“Information relating to the dead guys from the hotel.”

Trex grabs the drives off the desk, “Were they Equility?”
“I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think so, but someone tried to make it look like they were.”

Trex inserts two of the drives into the monitor, then activates the display screen in front of me. The display screen is a holographic second screen that allows me to see everything that he’s doing on his end without flipping the screen back and forth constantly. He opens up a couple of programs to check for encryptions and other things that can track or harm his software. After he finishes, he opens up the first file; it is the driver’s picture and background information.

Trex asks, “You seeing this? Tim Erisson, age twenty-eight, Caucasian, blah, blah–”

I interrupt, “Who does he work for?”

He starts scrolling down, then ceases his skim, “Says here his occupation is… limo driver.”

I impulsively inquire, “What? Where?”

“Down on the right.”

I look down, then search the small words and see it for myself. It’s right there as clear as day. I was expecting it to say he works for Menta-Life. There were no other pictures on the wall with tattoos on any of the dead guys in there aside from the fake ones that were removed before I got to the morgue. The only link I had that could tie them to Equility was the tattoos, but they were fakes and I’m not sure if they were drawn on before or after they died. I have to see how the others are connected first before I make any assumptions.

“Check the next one.”

He closes the file, then checks encryptions and opens the next one.

I ask, “What’s he do for a living?”

Trex starts scanning through quickly, then I spot the word “occupation” and tell him to stop.

He listens while I read, “Pawn broker.”

A limo driver and a pawn broker. They have absolutely nothing in common with Menta-Life.

I uninterestedly demand, “Check the next two.”

He takes out the two drives, then inserts the other two and does decryption on both. This isn’t adding up at all. If they worked for Equility, of course they’d need regular jobs as a cover for their revolutionary efforts, but they weren’t Equility. The false ink proves that. Trex opens the other drive, then places it on half of the screen as he scrolls down to the description of the victim. He starts decrypting on the other side of the screen.

The occupation of this one is server. I look over at the other half of the screen and see that the last guy is a retail stock associate. It makes sense now that it doesn’t make sense. These guys had no idea what they were getting into; four guys at the bottom of the corporate ladder who tried their luck in crime. If they were any type of professionals, they wouldn’t have been slaughtered by the bellman so easily.

Hines hired them to steal the package from Menta-Life, then used them as fall guys. He sent them all out of the room before we had our meeting and covered his tracks perfectly with their deaths. Why does he want me alive? Instead of trying to kill me at the hotel, the bellman let me go. I don’t think it’s coincidence that he was in the elevator just as I was going in.

Wherever Hines is, he might not be in danger of the bellman after all. More questions and no answers. Where is Hines and who does the bellman work for? I think maybe the bellman and Hines Aldwich were together, although showing up in the elevator after the meeting was too convenient. He couldn’t have known who I was or that I was with them. I don’t have any clue as to where to begin to find my answers.

Menta-Life is having the demo gathering tomorrow, so I’ll definitely be present. Naturally, I won’t be able to show my face to the group that was in attendance tonight. Avoiding them amidst the monsoon of guests at tomorrow’s event shouldn’t be hard. They only saw my formal appearance, so my informal look should conceal me for a while. Gene never told me a time for the event, so I’m going to take off and get an early start in the morning.

I rise and speak to Trex, “Trash those drives for me. I need a favor.”

Trex states, “I thought this was a favor.”

“Another favor. I need to know what time the Menta-Life seminar is tomorrow. Find out for me and give me a call?”

“You got it.”

“Thanks so much for your help, Trex.”

“What’s going on, Van?”

“I still don’t know, but I’ll let you know when I find out.”

“Don’t go searching for something that could kill you, Van, because it will. All these dead bodies falling around you are a sign. People have been dying since the day you got out of prison.”

“And none of them have been my fault.”

“I said around you. Just be careful out there.”

“I’m always careful out there. Someone needs to answer for the letter I got in…”

I’d completely forgotten about the letter! I don’t recall seeing the address for the hotel where I met Hines on it. Where had the letter said to meet? I just assumed it was the same hotel since we so happened to show up at once. I need to drive by on my way underground and see if the address matches what I can barely recollect from the letter. I had only skimmed through the letter for a brief second since I had never planned on doing what it said. It’s going to be another long night.

I conclude, in a hurry, “I have to go. Message me with that time for the seminar at Menta-Life.”

I briskly walk out of the room and back through the tunnel up to Feegle’s ballroom. It seems that the Regs have the scene locked down from upstairs; however, the ballroom is empty so I slink around to the garage. I hop on the lectrocycle and leave back toward the Cravanaugh Hotel where the driver took me. I look right at the center of the city as I slowly cruise past an intersection. The Menta-Life building’s blue-lit lettering can be seen clearly across the dark sky.

That place seems to be at the center of everything, and more than just literally. People want to bring that corporation down to its knees; apparently Geilium and Hines are included in the pot. After the seminar at Menta-Life, I’ll have to find out what Geilium’s part is in all of this mess and why he tried to have Gene Archibald killed.

I arrive at the hotel and look at the numbers on the left side of the stairs “1690”. I wish I’d have kept the letter. I’m certainly not going back to get it, still those numbers don’t strike me as familiar. Ah, forget it. I let out a yawn, then continue driving the same route as yesterday to get home.

My Econ alerts, “Incoming message from Trex: Ten in the morning.”

I say, “Reply: Thanks Trex.”

“Message sent.”

I hate waking up early, though it seems to be becoming a habit these days. When I pass by the restaurant I stopped at last night, I notice the driver’s cruiser is gone. The Regs have definitely found it. Cruisers never really get stolen unless it’s by a smuggler on the run like me. I can still get some use out of this cycle, so I turn and make my way around the city’s northern border to a tunnel entrance.

I walk the cycle deep inside and leave it there as I make my way through the dark tunnel, following the groans of the Deserted. Everyone stays far away from the tunnels because they’re scared the Deserted will come storming out in a furious rage and pull them in. I maneuver through the zig-zag darkness, avoiding getting too close to the sounds of Deserted wandering the tunnel. I don’t know if they’re lost in here, though it is dark enough to where even I can’t see. All the daylight gave to these tunnels was heat.

I would certainly have gotten lost and bumped into one of them if I hadn’t known the path already after living here for a while. I used to just stick to the wall until I memorized how many steps to each turn. Now, I reach the end of the downward spirals and reach the light of underground. I make my way around the makeshift homes and Deserted to my shack. I move the sheet to enter then notice a female Deserted standing in the right corner, facing the wall and groaning lightly.


Chapter 10: Deserted


I immediately stop and watch her. How long has she been in here? I want to get her attention so I can lure her out, but I can’t be loud or I’ll attract the others. I’m not a loud sleeper or else they’d have attacked me in my sleep a long time ago. The real problem is that I won’t be comfortable with her lurking around me, waiting for the open opportunity. I slowly approach her.

Her attire is slightly torn and dirty from the big puddle out there that water pours into. Her skin is that same shade of dirty as everyone else’s, despite their races being different. I stop about arm’s length away and let out a whispering whistle. She quickly spins and swings her left arm up at me. As she does, I back away to avoid being hit by her unexpected fury, then continue to slowly step back and straighten my body up. She drunkenly stumbles towards me while trying to hold a stare in my eyes.

She looks like she wants to be aggressive, although she just can’t retain the thought; it’s just a struggling battle for her. I take backward steps to the sheet door, then move it with my left hand, holding it open as I move to the left of the shack. As I cling to the wall, she comes stumbling straight out of the shack, then turns and continues walking by me. Any noise that sounds abrupt like a shout might cause them to act erratically, so I do my best to keep it to a minimum.

No one understands Deserted and everyone is too afraid to figure them out. I, on the other hand, don’t have a reason to want to learn more about them; however, even I notice things. It is hard for them down here, but they don’t realize it. They’re probably thinking everything is normal because they don’t have a memory of the way things used to be. I swoop around, back into my shack, drop the sheet, then sit down on my bed. I’m starving, but I can hold out until tomorrow morning.

My hunger will make sure I get up on time to go eat before the seminar starts. I throw the rest of my body down on the bed and doze off. I wake up to a nasty rotting smell and the sound of someone groaning. The groaning is faint, but only loud to me because it’s very close to my shack and it’s otherwise quiet out there. I sit up and rub my eyes to release the drowsiness, then stand up to realize I don’t hear the usual Deserted murmuring.

I tap my Econ and ask in my scratchy tone, “What time is it?”

The female voice answers, “It is 8:12 a.m.”

I tap my Econ as I walk over to the sheet, then exit my shack and follow the groans out to the left. After passing two shacks, I turn right and see a big group of Deserted standing around in a circle. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them group together like this. One of the Deserted must have gotten hurt somehow or is dying from some natural cause. I don’t like to make a habit of checking things out, though normally Deserted aren’t in a huddle either.

Besides, I’ve been on a roll for being nosey lately. Why stop now? I slowly walk over to the crowd and carefully make my way through without so much pushing. I’m careful, just in case a Deserted decides to become aggressive and attack me. The Deserted can’t see past each other to the center of their huddle, granted they remain still and stare like they can sense what’s going on in front of them.

They’re so calm and detached from themselves; it’s strange to see. Being this close, their dirty pale skin and lightened eye colors really stand out to me. The awful smell of the dirty clothes they’ve been wearing down here starts itching at my nose. I reach the center and understand what’s going on now. They just got a new recruit. A young man is losing the rest of his mind as he lies on his back in front of us.

I don’t recognize him, but whoever he is, he could be another Menta-Life addict who stumbled upon something big just like everyone else down here. His skin looks pale like he’s been out of the sun for a long time, just like the others; his head has patches of hair missing. He’s holding his head tightly with both of his hands as he squirms around on the ground. It sounds as if he wants to say something, yet the pain won’t allow him to release his clenched teeth to free the words.

The Deserted in the center circle and one row behind are just staring at him without looking at me or anything else. Deserted seem to progressively get worse and worse until they are left with what seems like the last strand of memory that they constantly murmur about. Take away a single strand of memory and their lives are over. Watching the man suffer like this is making me understand why Menta-Life needs to be stopped. These people were probably high class maniacs who took advantage of people to get to the top and deserve what they got, but I’m sure some aren’t.

Some of them may have been using their aers at Menta-Life to search for a way to make a difference and save lives. They had that taken away from them. I’m no better than either of them. I’m simply making my way into everyone’s yard to find the man who can lead me to the man with the money. This new recruit will be up and aimlessly roaming around, talking to himself, in no time, so I’m going to leave him to his fan club.

As I turn around, I hear a suffering voice demand, “Wait.”

I spin around and glance down at the guy on the ground, yet he’s not looking at me; he is still holding his head and squirming. Can he sense me somehow?

I see his shaking lips move and hear a light tone, “Please.”

He’s talking to me. I look around to see the Deserted are still staring at him like there’s no one else in the room that he’s talking to. I step forward into the center of the circle and watch him. He doesn’t have much time left and I’m not sure what to do besides stare at him. I don’t know this man, nonetheless perhaps I can find out who he was.

I kneel down beside him, then whisper, “What’s your name?”

He lets out a cough, then painfully attempts, “My…”

I speak slower, “What is your name?”

He continues struggling to try and get words out. I’m not sure if I’m making things worse on him by trying to get him to think, or if I should just leave him be to preserve his last memory. I decide not to press him anymore than I already have. He still attempts to get words out, but he ceases movement. His hands drift off from the sides of his head. He is still breathing, but the pain must have been too much for him.

When he wakes up, he will most likely be one of the Deserted. I take notice to his wrists and they have red marks around them like he was bound with something. He must have been kidnapped and brought here. His family and friends probably have no idea where he is. Losing his mind like that, he didn’t just walk here; someone brought him and might still be around.

I stand upright and look around at all of the Deserted looking at me. Fortunately, they don’t look angry, just blank. I am curious about why, but right now the person that brought the new recruit in is getting away. I make my way out of the crowd carefully, then head over to the entrance closest to me, which is a manhole on the south end of underground. Once I get there, I see everything is normal, so I make my way to the next manhole on the southwest.

I get there and look up the ladder to see the manhole is closed. The dirt at my feet is disturbed and it looks like a lot of shuffled movement. It looks like someone was dragged or crawled for a short distance. The marks stop a few feet away. They dropped the poor guy down here and the height explains the injuries.

The marking must have been from him crawling away. Now that I can’t possibly fall back to sleep, it’s time to go feed myself. I head back to my shack and stand outside of it, looking around. Deserted are back to abnormality and are walking around again. What happened to the new guy? I stride around and make the right turn to where everyone was.

The spot where the man was is empty; he must have already joined the others. I walk back to my shack, then change my clothes and leave using the exit heading to the lectrocycle. I hop on and take off out of the tunnel, aiming to find any restaurant on the way to Menta-Life. The sunrise shines behind me as I speed between traffic lanes.

Traffic is light considering how early it is; everyone on a regular job is usually at their desk by nine. I arrive at a drive-thru for a healthy fast-food meal. All food is strictly healthy now, so there are no more risks of death from filling your stomach with low cost garbage. There aren’t many fast-food restaurants left in the city, although they keep a few for people like me who are in need of a quick bite.

I quickly chow down on a chicken sandwich at the table outside of the restaurant. My time is running short for having dealt with the Deserted. I get back on the lectrocycle and head toward the Menta-Life building in the center of the city. Going there isn’t a bad idea, though I still have this gut feeling like they already know who I am and what my motives are. The million aers I received hasn’t been asked about by anyone yet. With Hines gone, Equility won’t know where to find me to give me more, and I can’t have that.

This is the only opportunity I will have to gain some legally-obtained background information on who they are and what they do. Knowing where or how they operate can possibly fill in some holes about where Hines may be and how Deserted came to exist as well. If Menta-Life is responsible, they certainly won’t admit it to the public. Maybe I can put two and eight together to come up with my own conclusion. When I reach the building, I pull over across the street on the east side to keep my getaway transportation close, yet not too close.

The building looks ridiculously taller and wider when I saw it the other day with Dayio. I guess since I’m at the bottom, looking up dozens of stories, it seems different than looking straight across from the top of the next building over. Menta-Life is surrounded by blackened windows and a barred, black steel gate that goes up about eighteen feet high which is just over three of me. The gate has a painted white concrete wall about four feet high underneath it to hold it upright; probably so people can see the peacefulness on the other side.

I also notice a back entryway on my left that looks like a truck entry for deliveries. It is just an opening extension of the gate that’s a little bit shorter and has a couple of armed guards behind it. I turn my attention back to the south side and see there are a lot of people still lined up and waiting to go into the building. I can see the tail end of a trail of people as they disappear behind the building walking north.

I tap my Econ. “What time is it?”

The female voice answers, “9:32 a.m.”

I tap my Econ again. The line looks to be moving rather quickly, so I leave the lectrocycle parked across the street and make my way towards the building on foot. I cross the street and walk along the building to the south where the line of people is sticking out from. The place is guarded better than the prison I broke out of, minus the Alpha mech. All of the guards are fully armored and equipped with automatic weapons.

Their armor is a dark-steel gray color like the knights from legend, with helmets that are circular with a visor. I’m not sure if it’s just for this event or if this is how it is every day; it seems like if someone as much as drops a bag on the grass it’ll be filled with holes by five guards before they can pick it back up. There looks to be, at the most, twenty guards per side and none of them look friendly.

Their faces are blocked by helmets, but by unfriendly I mean they’re holding big weapons and not talking to anyone. I stroll around to the southern face of the building and see everyone quickly walking in like there isn’t even a check-in table. That works perfect for me since my credentials aren’t exactly spotless like everyone else’s here. I walk into the black gate at the center of the street and follow the straight concrete path towards the front door. People are still flowing in from behind me, so I’m not the last in line.

I join the ranks and inconspicuously examine the guards as we walk by each one. Judging by their body statures, they look to be all men, and their black trench coats look to be fluid with their uniforms as if they have on jumpsuits. They look form-fitting, which is very strange. I reach the door, then look above it to see the small blue Menta-Life sign with a crescent Earth logo underneath it. I pass through the double-door threshold into Menta-Life headquarters.