Tim Durocher is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor's in human resource management and a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a master's in social science. He was a sports writer for a small city newspaper, but also likes to dabble in poetry, watch movies, and read anything interesting in his free-time. He currently resides in Busan, South Korea where he teaches English.
Becoming weary in the search for medication, I pulled up to the tavern and then looked down at my wrist that was starting to ache again. It wasn’t too painful, so long as I didn’t leave it and let it spread up my arm, but more of an irritation like having to stay in wet clothes. I only had a couple of pills left and decided to wait another day before taking another one.
The place didn’t look like it belonged among the deteriorating high-rises in the city, but it was apparent that it's been kept up, and I was hungry. I turned off the engine and got off my bike. I had been here years before when the city was busy and people were scattered in the streets, but that was a long time ago and the world was different now. It has crumbled and wasted away, turning into a digital high-tech reality on the one hand, and on the other: a hopeless, metal jungle of decaying buildings and superstructures.
I was almost to the door when I noticed a young girl sitting on the sidewalk with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. Her face was lowered and she was some distance away, but I could see her expression was solemn. I couldn’t tell if she lived in one of the nearby buildings because she was far from any entry and no one else was around, but as the tavern, she didn’t look like she belonged there either and so I decided to approach her.
Slowly. You can’t be too sure of how you could get set up these days. A friend of mine was attacked when he stopped to help a lady push a cart across an alley. Some men rushed him, appearing out of a hole in a nearby building and began beating beating him with pipes, smashing the circuitry on his forearm forearm and disabling the mechanisms he could have pressed to open his wings. The wings would’ve automatically rotated around his body and ripped anyone to shreds within a twenty-foot radius before taking him up in the air. But the men held him down and beat him while trying to strip as much equipment off as possible, which wasn’t much because the newer models have automatic lock-in devices if you try to detach them without a password. I don’t know all the details because I don’t have wings and never been upgraded, except for my left hand, but technology has quickly advanced in the last ten years.
Not knowing what else to do, the men just beat him harder. He laid there unconscious for hours with electrical wiring sticking out of the ligaments of his titanium wings that flickered from damage. His torso guard protectors were also left hanging off but, other than that, it turned out he’d only broken an arm and gotten a few bruised ribs. He was lucky. It was also before nightfall so the other dark elements hadn’t noticed him yet; however, his wings were recently upgraded before the incident and he’s been kind of depressed ever since. Most upgrades were expensive, and most people were in debt because of it.
I was thinking about visiting him if I was lucky enough to find some pills, but now I was in downtown and it was getting dark. I sighed and looked around, making sure it was safe and then took a better look at the girl. She didn’t look more than seven years old and didn’t move when I walked towards her but just gazed up. Her right eye was a dark emerald green while her left one was a brighter and more solid gray. They stunned me for a moment as well as her face, which had an uneven golden-bronze complexion under the setting sun. Her thick black hair ran down, hugging the sides of her neck, and the way it was fixed along with her posture seemed as if she was some kind of edifice put there on purpose.
“Are you here alone here?” I asked. No answer. “Where’s your mom?”
I waited but she still didn’t say anything. There was dirt streaked on her arms but her face looked clean, and she was wearing a faded yellow t-shirt with a blue silk dress that went down over her ankles. She might have been homeless but I wasn’t sure, and there wasn’t any place I could take her because the shelters probably weren’t safe.
She couldn’t have appeared out of thin air but nothing surprises me anymore, and after a few minutes without any response, I reached in my jacket to pull out some credits. Her expression didn’t change but she reached out and opened up her palm, letting me drop them in before putting her head back down. I walked away and went into the cabin.
The warm air inside with the smell of pine was nice, and I smelled something deep-fried that made me even hungrier. The dimly lighted tavern, or more like cabin, was probably darker than the outside, and I took a table in a far corner with a window above it. Passing the counter, there was a waitress putting food from a steel container on a plate, and behind her there was a kitchen window to pass up orders, but I couldn’t see anyone else through the window. When I sat down I took better notice of other customers, and most looked like they had mechanical wings but they weren’t all attached to their backs. There were some standing upright in corners and laying on the floor in various areas.
Most of these people here, like everywhere else, were heavily upgraded and they stood in circles, talking and having a drink. I usually saw winged men and women flying from further away so it was somewhat strange to see so many up close. The multiple enhancements were normal compared to the one or two upgrades transhumans had about 20, or even ten years ago.
There was one woman, whose wings were still attached, with purple metallic-looking shin guards on both of her lower legs, and she was in a group with a few other men that also didn’t take off their wings. I observed her group more because they looked somewhat different from the others, but I couldn’t figure out why. The “shin guards” went from her knees to the tip of her toes, or they could have actually been her legs. They looked like some kind of protective armor or even possible armor transportation devices, but stared too long because she suddenly turned my way. I turned the other way as if I was still looking around the room. Outside the window, I saw a light-rail for a sky-train twisting in the air. I didn't mind watching these trains because they reminded me of riding them with my parents when I was young. They were like roller coasters corkscrewing through the sky, although this rail wasn’t active anymore; most weren’t because of the rapid sales of transportation upgrades and other enhancements that created less revenue for them. Once I got a motorcycle years ago, I rarely took trains or gliders anymore myself as convenient as they once were. Some of the other transportation enhancements you could get included wheeled legs or speed balancers on your waist with a magnetic platform to stand on, but most preferred wings.
I was still gazing at the train rail when the waiter appeared with coffee and asked for my order. She was polite and had a nice, soft voice, but I could tell she was a full android. Her voice gave her away because of the ever so slight and unnatural dip in intonation. It dropped just enough at the end of her sentence to sound like a dying battery each time.
“What can I get you?” She eyed me peculiarly. I could tell others also glanced my way.
“I think I’ll take vegetable mixed rice,” I said, looking at the menu. “And the fries.”
She nodded and went back behind the counter I walked past when I came in. I was staring down at the coffee before noticing the woman with the purple legs approaching me with another guy in the group. The sound of her legs made a quick mechanical “wrz wrz” sound with each step, and I could tell now that they were definitely some type of device that was not just attached to her legs but made them up completely below the knees. The front of each of leg protruded some few centimetres to form form a subtle blade. When they got to me they didn’t say anything at first, then the man spoke.
“Is that your motorcycle outside?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, that’s my ride. My wings are in the shop,” I joked, but he didn’t change his expression. Of course, he would’ve known if I had owned wings because there would’ve been ligament attachments jutting out of my back and clothes like the rest of them. I guess he was just sizing me up. Then the woman asked if I had seen anything else on the roads. She looked serious, too, and more upgraded than most of the others I saw in the room, or maybe she just had different kinds of upgrades. Her right cheek blinked slowly with a soft luminous, blue-violet light that was most likely from some kind of optic enhancement or neuro attachments. Because she was standing on an angle, I saw that they went behind her ear and trailed down the back of her neck to probably a circuit box. Most moderately upgraded people had neuro lights coming from their faces, and wires from behind their head that were for either optics or some kind of other brain upgrades.
“No, just a few elevated cars in the distance but not much of anything on the road,” I replied.
“Well, you’re riding on the ground so you know that will sometimes attract unwanted entities or other creatures, especially in these areas, right?” she asked.
“Right, are you all part of a group?”
“It’s just the four of us,” She said. She was analyzing me and probably trying to figure out what kind of work I’ve had done on myself. Then there was an awkward silence; I wasn’t in a great mood for conversation and didn’t want to let them know I really didn’t have enhancements –a bike glove covered my machine hand. I tried to think of something to say to avoid a long conversation but nothing came.
My hand wasn’t my choice, by the way. I had gotten a cheap upgrade because I was unconscious when they put it on, not that I could afford a much higher quality one at the time, but the metal was low enough quality that it wasn’t even compatible with my flesh -probably impure niobium or recycled scrap metal. The ache is hard to predict when it comes and I’m not sure how it would affect my body if I let it continue to spread. The hand itself was functional up to about 80 percent and then got slightly clumsy in some situations. It was also much more difficult to take off, unlike most people who had more advanced clasping systems with their detachable limbs or add-ons these days. I cursed myself for being unconscious when it happened because finding an independent specialist to put on a compatible fit was more difficult than finding pills.
“Well anyway,” she continued. “The weather isn’t bad and you can protect yourself with your arm rods in case you run into any valacs or anything else.”
“Good one,” I thought, trying not to laugh on under my breath.
Arm rods are easily hidden under clothes, so she might’ve figured...
“You know, there are valacs out there.” She said.
“Yes, but aren’t they pretty rare in the downtown?”
She gave me an odd look. I wasn’t sure if I should mention that I didn’t have any arm rods or just keep the conversation going, so I just took a sip of coffee. It then surprised me when she boldly reached over and felt my arm up and down. Looking confused, she squeezed it again, then the other arm. Her eyes froze and then studied me up and down. Slanting her head, she attempted to get a better look inside my jacket. Then I froze not knowing how to react.
“Not even arm rods? What do you have for protection?” She glared in confusion.
“Nothing, it’s just me. I don’t have any enhancements.” She looked at me as if I was some kind of demon, and then her expression changed when it became obvious to her that I was a believer. This wasn’t surprising. There weren’t many like me, but she couldn’t be certain since some people who didn’t get upgrades just prioritized their credits in a different way in order to survive.
“Um ok,” she said. “Brave guy, huh? Well, stay safe out there.”
She and her friend turned away and walked back to their little group, but as she turned it looked as if she widened her eyes in disbelief. I understood her reaction. There were scattered groups of believers that wouldn’t comply with the rest of the world’s shift to mechanical and digital life. It didn’t matter too much if you were a believer or not because there were many gods and forces, mostly ancient ones, even transhumans believed in. However, if you didn’t have any enhancements it was almost a dead giveaway you were a much more serious believer, or just poor.
Although, I wouldn’t have wanted upgrades even if I wasn’t a believer. There was a period of time I considered them while I was younger but I always held back because of the constant enhancements you have to put with: getting the best aerodynamic face-shield; ultra-flex graphene wings, magnetic up-lifters for landing, sky drops, neuro attachment shifts, retinol full-adjustments, and then there were digital uploads. The list is endless. Life can be easier in many ways by being enhanced, but it wasn’t for me.
In the back of my mind, I was wondering if the woman was not so much in disbelief that I didn’t have protection in general, or that I just didn’t have protection in this area of the city. I knew it could be especially dangerous with valacs roaming in parts, but as I mentioned, they weren’t usually downtown. There were also other creatures and sinister beings, spirit or not, that were prevalent, but if you knew the roads well and were fast enough then they weren’t usually a problem. The issue with valacs is that they will be violently aggressive from the moment they spot you. If you weren’t in a vehicle then you were a much easier target because they’re fast and you would be taking a risk.
While lost in thought, the waiter brought my order and the woman and the others seemed to be in a quieter discussion now.
After I finished eating, I pulled out thirty credits. “It can’t be more than that,” I thought. It was getting late and I almost felt too relaxed, which was strange. Most of the winged-humans were preparing to leave. They were adjusting the electronics on their forearms by entering codes on small-embedded touch-screens, and you could hear distinct beeps when the vices opened and closed to attach to the hinges. It must have been easier to walk around the room without wings swinging and bumping into things, but watching them now was an interesting scene. By the expression some of their faces, it was an embarrassment to have someone help them reattach their wings. Did it not just come with the territory? Maybe they should have another device for that as well.
A man is his own god until he needs assistance from someone else and then he realizes he isn’t immortal. …But “mortality” seemed as if it was still up in the air.
The two I had the discussion looked my way again and then left out of the door in their little group. The woman I talked to was more colorful than the others were. Her short dark brown hair was tightly slicked back, and her clothes were mostly black. They were close fitting and shiny leather looking material.
The ligaments attached to her wings were an evergreen that expanded into veins spreading throughout to the ends. The three other men had similar colors, except for one man, the one who had approached with her. He was almost an all metallic gray, including his face and hair. I’ve never seen such pure gray eyes as he walked by. Depending on what kind of enhancements and upgrades you have, colors can be apt to change, and I’m not sure how much was their choice given the government or companies they got them from. He had to have a particular type of upgrade to have such unique skin and eyes, if it was an upgrade at all.
There were physical upgrades, and there were DNA upgrades, which made me think of valacs again. Being once human, they were a good example of both extremes. If such a creature caught you then you would be lucky if it killed you right away. If not, their goal was to extract energy by absorbing your blood. First, they would heat you to a certain temperature while you were still alive and then begin the absorption. In that way, I’m not sure why valacs aren’t referred to more as vampires -a valac is a reference to some kind of ancient demon.
They just had too many digital upgrades and DNA alterations. Their brain upgraded many times over made them go haywire, and at a certain point, they turned into a desperate, demented monster. Their blind rage overcame just about any strength because of their ability to release the energy they could accumulate. A brain enhancement begetting another, and then another, in an attempt to fix previous ones resulted in horrifying outcomes.
I looked up from my coffee and suddenly realized I was the only one left in the cabin. Being in there alone with the robot wasn’t my favourite thing, but not because it wasn’t human. She lingered near the counter and stared my way a lot, giving me an eerie feeling when I was already drowsy.
I still had to get back to my flat, so I got up, walked past her with a slight nod, and stepped out of the door to look. There was no else around. The moonlight glistened off the solar panels of my bike and everything was quiet, not even a breeze. To no surprise, the girl wasn’t there anymore and the outside appeared much different in the dark. I looked down the street and at the high-rises as far as I could and nothing moved.
Pressing the auto-ignition in my hand, I walked over and jumped on my bike, then pulled up the clutch to throttle and quickly get on the road. The solar panels turned downwards and slid underneath my feet as I accelerated. I am not even sure what year my bike was but it drove great and held up nicely considering the minimal maintenance I did on it. Well, for the most part, but the speedometer just quit one day and with nowhere to get it fixed my speed is always a mystery. I could only guess how fast I was going when there were other vehicles on the road but, fortunately, there were no regulators to pull me over if I was going over the 90-kilometer speed limit. In fact, there weren’t that many drones that patrolled the city anymore.
Since it was dark and drowsiness seemed to be harassing me more by the minute, I thought about the quickest route home. I usually drove on the outskirts of the city because it was more scenic without all the crumbling wreckage, but it was also about twenty minutes longer.
The downtown was a metropolis in the early 2050s, but now it was like the rest of the degenerative world: mulled over by earthquakes and controlled by the Interim Provisional Systems. The IPS is a private international agency that was once subsidized by the world governments to assist them with different functions and enforcing policies. Without much resistance, it became the replacement government when the economies crashed during the earthquakes. Many high-ranking officials and leaders were killed, leaving a vacuum and an easy takeover. The IPS was a sort of “behind-the-scenes” body for a long time while the others were still in power, but people trusted it because it supported the current uprisings against government corruption.
When the earthquakes finally stopped, so much of the world was destroyed that vast sections of cities were easily put under control. Eventually, different regions turned up pockets of inhabitable living arrangements for survivors. While
globalization and technology had been peaking before the earthquakes, all the destruction after gave the IPS an excuse to heavily tax already struggling citizens and enforce policies it would never have done otherwise. It increasingly profited while further oppressing the people.
Deciding to cut through the downtown, I Listened to the air against my helmet and revved the throttle harder, leaning forward. The streets looked clear, and I revved it again weaving along the streets with no other vehicles in sight. Once I got out of the old downtown I went even faster, but not being able to shake the drowsiness off, the degraded buildings blurred past me in my peripheral vision and played with my head. I was in more of a trance, and I began daydreaming about obtaining my own wings that would get me to my flat in a fraction of the time it took me now. Swooping overhead, maybe landing on the tip of a jagged-edged high-rise or some other precipice, entertained my thoughts. I could have lunch on top of the old Capitol, then take off again and fly through the clouds, in the moonlight...in the sunlight.
During this fantasy, there came a glimpse of a shadow in my rearview mirror. At first, just a flicker, maybe a bird or a bat, and then something reappeared getting bigger. I tried to wipe my mirror and looked straight at it, and an enormous figure loomed forward. I thought it might have been a low flying person but when I turned my head back and gave a straightaway look behind me, a strange, terrifying humanoid creature was chasing me. With another better look, I could see it was a machine with electrical steel legs and arms bound in black wire. The wiring morphed into its chest, and although it had two legs, it looked as if it was in a half-gallop. The eyes were glazed over green and its face bared a haunting, distant grimace. As it drew closer, I could see its face was fixed with anger and fear. The metal of the creature was mostly yellow but with some gray, and its head was parts of metal and clumps of bare human flesh.
The astounding speed didn’t make sense because it didn’t have wheels, but legs, and it was catching up with me. I was in full throttle and wasn’t sure if I should try to swerve or take a quick detour on a passing street because then I would have to slow down. Undoubtedly, this thing would have its hands or whatever on me.
I revved the throttle again and the thing behind me became noisier as it, absurdly, picked up even more speed. It was closing in on me, and I revved the throttle again and then started to panic, feeling the sweat build up on my upper lip and the heat in my helmet. I smelled metal and dirt. I looked up and a shadow was suddenly right over me. Jerking my arm to try to lurch my bike right, I felt a pull on my shoulder as it yanked me out of my seat and in the air. I yelped before being crushed, but instead, my body kept rising. Something was carrying me up. The front of the helmet jutted out so I had to arch my back to be able to see what had me.
It was one of the men from the group in the cabin and his enormous metallic wings flapped with power, hoisting me many feet higher within seconds. I looked down at my bike as I continued to rise, and watched another winged human swing a leg forward and slice the humanoid in half. The creature toppled over with parts tumbling, and I noticed my bike continuing by itself for a time. It might have gone twenty meters before hitting a curb and skidding into a side of an old building. With my limited vision, it appeared as if my bike had suddenly stopped cold and exploded into a thousand tiny glittering splinters or stars before fading.
As my eyes grew heavier, I thought how a demolished bike would go well with the decomposing city, and tried to understand why I was so tired despite what was happening. The motion of the ascent and rhythm of the flapping wings lulled me into a deep sleep.
The first thing that I remembered was that my bike was destroyed and I was upset knowing my only real prized possession was gone.
I found myself lying on a couch in a studio with an old mahogany wooden floor and a high ceiling. In a far corner, there were narrow winding stairs leading up to an exit hatch. It was a comfortable and quiet place, and I heard soft, hushed voices coming from another room. I could partially make out the wings on someone’s back. They hadn’t noticed that I woke up and to keep it that way I didn’t move, at first. My eyes were half shut, and the angle of my head was twisted toward the back of the couch to get a good enough view, but I knew who they were. It also felt like I had been sleeping for a while now because my mind was hazy, and I wanted to nod off again but their voices droned on in a suspicious tone.
After another half-hour, I was getting restless and they didn’t strike me as dangerous. They apparently saved my life, so instead of torturously waiting longer I decided to sit up and take my chances. The person that was turned my way noticed me first, then the rest turned. They all had their wings on.
“Up, are you?” The woman said with her arms folded.
“Ah…yes.” I looked around the room more.
It was a spacious room with narrow hallways on each side, and there were no pictures or anything else on the walls but an enormous fireplace on the largest wall to my left.
The woman walked over accompanied by her leg sounds, and the others stayed where they were but watched.
“Still sleepy?” she asked.
“Well…kind of, but I’m alright,” I responded while stretching my back and straightening up more. “Where am I?”
“It’s our place outside the city, near the old subway in Fairfax.”
Her face wasn’t as stern under this lighting and it caught me off guard. She still displayed the same colors as last night but much more subdued, which made sense because the room wasn’t as dark as the tavern.
“So, I guess you saved me last night,” I then looked in her eyes to mean it. “Thank you.”
She raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything.
“Were you waiting for me or did you know that thing was out there?” I asked.
“What thing? We knew you might be in trouble because you were alone. Lone travelers are susceptible to being targeted and drugged at different establishments these days. Don’t you know that?” She didn’t move and waited for my answer.
“I’ve heard it was happening more lately, but I used to eat there when I was young. I just figured it was safe.”
Then she asked where I lived and if I had anything valuable.
“I have an apartment near Bethesda.” In my head, I cursed myself for not being more careful about the coffee the waiter brought me. Manipulated drinks happened constantly. Amidst my search for medication, I was tired and just let my guard down, which was unlike me.
“But how can you guys trust me?” I asked. For all they know, I could be working for the IPS. Then I thought they could be working for the IPS. “You don’t know me, and what do you guys do?”
“We seen you give credits to that homeless child and we thought you must’ve been a decent person,” another in the group said.
“We left but decided to come back later in case you did what we suspected. And you did.”
I was confused. “Did what?”
“You passed out, with the android nowhere in sight.” The woman said. “We looked for her. Your bike was gone so it probably made off with it.”
“What?” Now I was really paying attention. “What do you mean, passed out?”
“You’re lucky nothing else happened to you before we got there.”
It suddenly struck me. The monster…it must have been a dream and I apparently fell asleep at the table. But it seemed so real. Moreover, how did they know I gave credits to the child? The woman’s eyes told me that she knew I was coming to that. Her next response was that they placed a micro-camera outside the cabin in case they were being followed.
“Why would you be followed?” I looked at her, and she stared at me the same way she did last night at the tavern when I told her I wasn’t protected.
“Come on,” she said. “How can you not know the world out there? You can’t be that naïve. Anyone can be followed for any reason, mainly for an opportunity to steal credits or upgrades.”
She hesitated. “Why is just your hand protected?”
My gloves were off. They must’ve noticed that the hand was rigid and checked it.
“Oh, this was an accident.” I looked down to my hand and paused. My mind flashed back to the series of earthquakes we had.
“I lived in a high-rise in Crystal City with my younger brother during the earthquakes. During one of them, our ceiling began to collapse. We only lived on the second floor, but when it fell my hand was caught under a steel beam or something and I couldn’t free it. I was stuck there for a longtime, yelling for my brother, and then another aftershock actually freed my hand …but it was crushed.”
Staring down at my hand, I remembered the pain, cradling the deformity, and wandering around debris looking for my brother. When I looked back up, the four were staring at me. For some reason, explaining what happened seemed appropriate at this moment.
After leaving a makeshift hospital a couple of days later with a new hand, I went back to the wreckage and found my brother pinned under a wall. I always wondered if he was able to stay alive for a while or if it killed him right away.
“We took off your gloves to make sure you weren’t hiding anything dangerous,” she said, breaking the pause. “We didn’t know what it was.”
“I figured.” I gathered my thoughts. “Anyway, there are a few reasons why I’ve never been upgraded. “I like the feeling of me being who I am in this changing world. I want to keep the feeling. It’s also easier than getting involved in all the technology it takes to be an updated transhuman.”
“But you could die out there pretty easily.” She responded. “Are you sure being a believer isn’t the case?”
“So what if it was,” I thought. “And that’s another reason,” I said. “But remember there are believers who’ve been enhanced. Extremely enhanced.” I stood up to check my haziness.
“But you would get to fly,” she said. “You could live much longer.”
There are no guarantees of that. Maybe being a believer is what’s keeping me alive. I laughed under my breath of how absurd that would sound now, so I didn’t say it.
“My bike…,” my voice trailed off and I started to wonder how I would get another motorcycle or other transportation. The likelihood of finding my bike wasn’t even considered. By now it was probably miles away, chopped up and sold already.
“Well, thanks for saving me from the android and whatever else,” I said in the most sincere way I could.
She waited for a moment and asked if I had a way of getting back.
“I could give you another lift,” she said.
I would’ve been too embarrassed to ask at this point, so I was glad she offered. With my head still foggy, I couldn’t imagine walking too far anywhere and I lived several kilometers away.
“I’ll pay you,” I said, suddenly remembering my wallet and reaching to see if it was still there. It was with everything in it, and I wondered why the android just wanted my bike when I passed out. Maybe she thought someone might have seen her if she tried to take something else from me in the tavern, or she was in a hurry.
“Well, you believers sure need a lot of assistance,” she smiled. “No payment is needed.”
Without saying anything else, she turned and walked towards the table. The others turned to her and they all nodded to each other. She waved to me to follow her down one of the hallways and towards a big window that automatically opened as she approached it. It made me nervous. I wasn’t drugged anymore and realized I was going to be carried in the air (again). She flew out of the window with one swift movement and flapped her wings in front of me, waiting for me to…jump for her?
“Don’t jump. Just step on the edge and I will grab you with my leg bindings!” She yelled out.
I did, and she grabbed me and pulled me up into a secure position. It felt a little awkward at first but the grip was tight and comfortable.
With my body dangling, we began flying over the city. We were near the clouds once I felt relaxed enough to appreciate the view, and it looked like a shiny plastic model with skyscrapers under the warm sun. The city looked odd with my worn black leather boots hanging in front of me.
I thought of how strange my life was. The world looked pristine and refreshing from this height, and with a warm comforting sun I felt as if I could nod off to sleep again, but I didn’t. We barely talked on the way, which was somewhat difficult anyway, because her face was further and obviously higher up than mine was. The flapping of her wings also made noise against the breeze.
We glided over the marina and the water appeared to be sparkling and gray with no movement. A little further, I could see the area of my flat in the distance, and as we came closer, I tapped her leg, pointing towards it. She tilted and angled at a twenty-story complex on a corner block. I heard an electronic click as her wings went into position and we started to drop towards the high-rise, and then glided. It took a minute or so but we got there pretty fast, and I peered across to my window as we passed near, noticing a ghastly looking shadow inside. It faced my desk and just stood there, hunching over it.
I was shocked. She must have noticed it too because before we got close enough for the door she took me up again, to the roof where there were some vents and other door hatches.
“What is that?” I asked, breathing heavy from the adrenaline.
“That was the window of your unit we passed? If you don’t know what it is then you probably don’t want to find out,” she said. “Androids are usually connected to others through digital receptors, and the one at the tavern could’ve transferred your bike information from her memory, whether on purpose or unknowingly. Who knows what other creatures or elements found out where you lived by either code on your bike or something else. She might have taken your bike just for that reason.”
“So what? Why? How would they know if I ever had anything important?”
“It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “You might’ve created interest or perceived as an easy target, maybe. And because some of your identity information could’ve been broadcasted among them, they may have obtained even more information on you.” I sighed and shook my head.
She went on to explain to me that the reason they didn’t do anything to stop the android at the tavern was that they weren’t sure if it was shady, and they didn’t want to alarm it by investigating. The ISP already knows who they are and they didn’t want to compromise the location by having them exposed to other entities. They decided if they left for a while, although a risk leaving someone vulnerable, they could ascertain the situation better when they got back by the android’s behaviour, or mine. Sticking around might have given away who they were.
“Anyway, it’s apparent to us that it was probably suspicious because it left when we were gone.” She said. “Now, because the tavern’s cover’s most likely blown others might be in trouble.”
Putting what she said aside for a moment, I had to ask if what was in my apartment was a valac. My heavy breathing subsided. “Or is it something else related to the spirit world?”
She looked at me and didn’t answer. I don’t think she knew.
“Why don’t you come back with us?” She suddenly said. “You would be safer, and you might be helpful because of the fact you’re not enhanced.”
I looked at her. “But, I don’t even know who you people really are,” I said. “And you don’t know me.”
“You can’t stay here,” she said. “What will you do?”
For the first time in a while, I wasn’t sure. I liked my apartment and the way I lived, and now I had to suddenly change my life again. It has already been altered several times in the past. My brother was gone, and my parents suddenly disappeared when I was young; I didn’t have any other family except some friends that were spread out in various parts of the city.
“Please, just take me away from here,” I said. “I can probably think more clearly in the air.” The thought of something suddenly smashing through a door on the roof was distracting me. If it were half as fast as the creature in my nightmare then we wouldn’t have a chance to escape.
“Good thinking.” She grabbed me from underneath my arms again and took me to another building rooftop a few blocks away. After landing, we walked around for a few minutes without saying anything, and then she faced me again. “The truth is that my group and others are a rebellion against the IPS. We fight against those upper echelons because they kill and enslave; they’re beholden to the dark elements, as you might know already. Nothing can really stop them but we can expect to slow them down from completely destroying everyone, or turning all humans into something else.”
“It was the valacs decisions to get their minds upgraded in the first place,” I said. “They turned themselves into those monsters.”
“But the upgrades were not what they thought they were. Most of them were used as experiments for the systems that control this world. Besides, there are more than valacs for us to worry about.” She added.
“But don’t you get your upgrades from them?” I asked.
“Most of our upgrades come from somewhere else.” She said with a sly but serious look on her face. “Anyway, many of their physical body upgrades are beneficial, and as they say, “Sometimes you have to use the system to beat the system. Just stay away from the mind upgrades.”
“I stay away from all the upgrades. “What’s your name?” I asked her.
“My name is Lailon. And yours?”
“One thing, If you do choose to come with us and then leave, you can never come back. We need to have full trust in someone and could never know if you or anyone else has been compromised by the IPS. Our trust is a delicate
“What about the others you’re with? Your friends? Are you sure there is room for me?”
“They knew I was going to discuss this with you.”
Oddly, I felt some kind of connection. I couldn’t tell if I could trust her because of our conversations or if it was something else, but I knew she was sincere.
She looked off into the distance at some billowing smokestacks, and then some surrounding buildings that looked like much of the same as the rest of the city. Then turned back to me, looking in my eyes. “I know I’ve asked already, but I have to be certain that you’re being honest. Are you telling the truth about being unprotected?”
“Yes. I’m a believer, among other things, but nothing nefarious.”
She thought again. “So, you believe in a despot? When you look at the world around you, do you think some kind of invisible force has been protecting us?”
“It may not be that simple,” I said. “How much have you studied the ancient manuscripts?”
“Enough that I know we must not go to Saturn.”
“Right, Saturn is the last place I’m going, and another reason I’m trying to avoid the IPS. They probably don’t even know what Saturn really is and sending people there for their enhancement debts isn’t a good sign.” I folded my arms and peered over the edge of the rooftop. “They call it a safe, beautiful place, but we already know what they’re capable of. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Do you know what Saturn really is?” She asked. “Eventually, there will probably be no chance to survive here. And ironically, it might be easier to attract the IPS by avoiding them that way. You know, I was like you once. I never wanted to get upgrades and meddle with what is going on outside of my own world, but how do you not reach a point where you just need to do something? Need to fight against a regime that is taking the world down. It took the world down.” She quipped. “What do you think created the earthquakes? There could be no escape for any of us.”
“But that’s why I believe,” I said. “This being you call a despot might have let what happened because stopping it could’ve created even worse chaos. The blood of everyone is contaminated from what humans did.”
“Well then, why not fight for the world? Fight for the remaining people. Perhaps do the good you can do for this thing you believe in.” She looked into my eyes.
“I don’t know if I can help anyone, including myself, but I have nothing back at home except for my apartment, and that...whatever it was, breached any ease I have of returning. The dark elements most likely know who I am now, and I have no bike or AI upgrades. I will join you so long as it makes sense to me.”
She flew us back to their place, and instead of flying down to a door or the window, she went through an opening on the roof under a vent. I followed her down the stairs and through the hallway. The men were standing around the table and looked like they weren’t too surprised to see me. They nodded
as I walk in.
Not knowing what to say, I just stood there for a moment.
“What’s your name,” came from the guy who was all gray. His lips didn’t move much when he talked, and his voice was more of a loud whispering echo.
“Zane,” And yours?
“I’m Ragen,” and then he gestured to the two others. “And this is Jequn and Lee.
Lee handed me a cup of coffee.
“Have a seat. We need to get you up to speed, so it’s going to be a long day, and night,” he said. And don’t worry, this coffee’s not tainted with any sleeping elixir or poison. The rest of them chuckled, and we all took a seat around the table. “You can ask more questions later and we’ll get more acquainted.”
Just then, my forearm started to ache and I looked down at my hand. I began to pump my fist. “Pills” I whispered. I decided to take one and reached for my pocket. Jequn called out. “Samantha, can you come out here, please?”
Soon after, a young girl came out from a door I hadn’t noticed yet and sat next to Lailon. It was the same girl I gave the credits to near the tavern. She was cleaned up and her hair was fixed a different way.
“This was our camera outside the tavern,” Jequn smiled.
She appeared to be looking at my metal hand and reached out hers. I gave it to her. She took it and began to unscrew the electrical hinges on my wrist. I winced as she pulled to get it off. From a satchel around her waist, she took out another hand but it looked completely different, more like a gel mold. It was floppy and transparent and had bluish complex circuitry running through the wrist and palm, to the tip of the fingers.
Then she pulled out a cylinder looking tool and another smaller object that was similar to a tiny screwdriver. She started working to reattach microscopic wires on the wrist. She did this with agility and focus. The cylinder turned out to be a laser, and with some other strange-looking tools she got from her bag she checked to make sure the hand was set properly and slid on-and-off easily to my comfort. The others watched, and I couldn’t tell if they were overseeing her work or had no idea what she was doing.
The pain came when she turned on a reset mechanism near where the hand met my wrist. I yelled out, holding a frozen grimace on my face, and then slowly relaxed it. The new hand suddenly felt fine. It also had more strength when I squeezed --much more. I tested it again by spreading my fingers and making a fist. The girl put the tools back into her bag and looked up at me.
“Careful with that,” Lailon smirked.
I stared at the translucent device and wondered how I should react.
“How does it feel?” asked Samantha. Her voice was a small whisper.
“Good. Thank you, but I have a lot of questions,” I said, still not knowing what to say.
“Of course, and you will know more,” replied Lailon. “Let us begin.”
I was still looking at my new hand. “Ok, but no more upgrading me.”
“Of course,” she said. “Of course….”
The others glanced at each other, but didn’t say word.