(This version isn’t finalized. All writings are from its origin and unedited.)
I take a hot shower to ease my mind, nervous that my attempts at recollection would try to kill me again; however, one major question is in the air: why are they after my father? I dry off, then put my clothes back on. I open the bathroom door and unexpectedly see someone standing in front of it, thus I throw a swift jab. I realize, a second later, that I just punched the spiky-haired technician in the face. My reflexes are definitely the same as they were before I was dosed.
He stumbles back, grabs his face, and quickly requests in a muffled tone, “Ow, why’d you do that? You didn’t have to hit me.”
I blandly answer, “Because you were standing in front of the door. What are you even doing here?”
He pinches his nose together with his fingers and answers, “I was waiting for you so I could take you to Mr. Harold.”
I remove his hand from his nose and demand, “Tilt your head back.” He tilts his head back and I see that he’s not bleeding, so I add, “You’re fine big guy, it’s not bleeding.”
He asks, “You sure?”
“Positive. Don’t stand in front of doors without knocking next time.”
“Right. I don’t like the sight of blood, ya know? It makes me feel faint and queasy sometimes. One time I–” He stops his started story and introduces himself, “I’m Jacks Timbelin.”
He puts his hand out for a handshake and I look down at it very briefly, then introduce myself. “Vanessa Pheros.”
I refuse his handshake because I don’t know this guy. This Jacks works for my father and appears to be a talkative klutz with good intention; nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I have to trust him, or anyone else here. Before I waste my time instigating anything with anyone, my father has some explaining to do.
He retracts his hand and clears the awkwardness with his throat, “Right. Umm, shall we get going?”
He starts by walking to my right and I follow behind him, but not as fast as he’s walking. I take view of my surroundings to get a feel for where I am. Aside from this garage, this place is completely buried, leaving me only one exit. I’m still breathing, because of these people, so I shouldn’t even be thinking like this, but I blame it on habits as a smuggler; always looking for a way out of something.
Jacks begins boasting, “I’m almost single-handedly responsible for the ideas of the weapons and technology we manufacture here.”
Here we go with a background story that I’m not at all interested in hearing. Since he’s being so nice to me, I don’t want to be entirely rude.
I sluggishly reply, “Is that so?”
He turns around then slows down for me to catch up and continues, “Yeah.” He commences speeding up again, “I’m great at developing the idea; however, not so amazing at the manufacturing process. That’s only because I’m afraid of electricity, though.” He realizes I’m not keeping up, so he stops and apologizes. “Sorry, I’m used to always being in a rush.”
I reply, “It’s no problem. I don’t plan on keeping up with you.”
Reaching the end of the hall, we enter a door then head down a spiral staircase that leads to another door in the far corner opposite of where I came in when I first arrived. We wind up back in the lobby. To the right of here is the door that leads to the parking garage. The door next to it on the right must be to another spiral staircase leading to the opposite deck above. I don’t see any elevators anywhere to reach the upper floors where guests would stay. Perhaps this isn’t a hotel, but a police station seems fit for this setting. I follow Jacks through the first door on the left into the hallway with the observation window.
I look into the window to see the Deserted woman on the other side staring at a makeshift city painted on the wall. Last time I saw her, she was running her fingers along the sides of the amazingly detailed city. She turns around and looks at me like I’m someone familiar to her. I stop, then stare at her as she casually walks over to me and the glass. I step to the glass also while we gaze into each other’s eyes. She then places her hand on the glass.
Jacks states, “She must be able to sense it.”
I request while not breaking eye contact, “Sense what?”
I place my hand on the glass over hers and she gazes at me so peacefully. Her sickly, pale-colored hand turns red as she presses it harder against the glass like she wants to become one with me. How did they get her to become so calm? Even passing by, she doesn’t seem angry with Jacks at all, which is very unusual.
Jacks answers, “She must be able to sense that you’ve lost a memory too; sense that you’re like her. The Deserted are much calmer around each other than around normal people. We think they feel inferior, which causes their aggression.”
“So you think they’re afraid?”
“Not sure, though that’s what it’s coming down to. Almost like humans and aliens. They’re the humans.”
I turn my head to look at him, then he looks at her. When I look back at her, she turns her head back to me from looking at him. I remove my hand from the glass and she removes hers and looks into her palm. When I lived amongst the Deserted underneath Gharis, they were peaceful amongst each other as she is to me. Trying to initiate contact with me was something they never did before. They constantly walked around and kept to themselves, murmuring things out loud; murmuring what I now know as the last memory that keeps their brain functioning.
Menta-Life did this to her, and I’m determined to make them pay for doing it to me. If I don’t stop them, eventually this will be my fate as well. I turn to Jacks, then we continue walking to the door around the corner. When we reach the door, he enters first and I follow behind him. My father is at the chalkboard on the back wall explaining a plan to three people that are standing in front of him.
They are the same ones that were here when I arrived, including Hines Aldwich. They must be his brightest colleagues. I had only seen Hines once and it was in my Life. He had worked for Equility, or so he led me to believe, and somehow was already a dead Menta-Life executive at the same time. He is a middle-aged German man with short, blonde hair. It’s weird seeing Hines out of his gray suit, though I’d only ever seen him twice: once in person and the other time on a screen.
All Menta-Life employees wear gray suits to represent their neutrality background, but it’s a shame that’s a lie. The same guard is also standing next to the door on the right, looking down at me. He must be on his defensive this time around. Had my father answered my question wrong, the people in here would be dead, thanks to him.
I clear my throat and everyone focuses on me. My father acknowledges, “Vanessa, right on time. Come join us. We were just going over–”
I brashly interject, “No thank you. We need to talk. In private.”
He hesitantly agrees, “…Certainly.” He addresses the room, “Can everyone excuse us, please? Thank you.”
Everyone in the room walks past me as I stare at my father with curiosity. The door shuts and I look back to see that everyone is gone, including the security guard. I look back at my father. He remains standing silently in front of the chalkboard. Getting a better look at him, I notice he is a tad bit less gray-haired than I thought, still not by much. Why is Menta-Life looking for him? Why has he been running from them?
He nervously scratches at his goatee then points out, “This is, umm… I know you have a lot of questions.”
I slowly walk to the left of him, examining him for any other difference from when I first encountered his digitized self in my Life. He looks pretty much the same from our eye color to his smooth hair and average body build. In my Life, his appearance did look slightly different. For the projection of him to look inaccurate, he must have been missing for some time.
I confirm, as I reach the desk in the center of the room and cross my arms, “Mhm.”
I cease my steps and he asks, “Would you like to sit down?”
This must be just as awkward for him as it is for me; nevertheless he’s not as agitated and confused about the situation as I am. He’s got about fifteen years of explaining to do and I would like every detail answered. No excuses will get by me. I can tell he’s trying to approach the situation as gently as possible, but my insincerity won’t let him.
I plainly question, “Why did you never come and find me?”
He answers, “I’ve never left you, Emily. I have kept watch over you; however, I could not risk putting your life in danger by letting anyone know who you really were.”
“No contact for fifteen years and that is the best you can come up with? You know Goffrey died two months after we left?”
He attempts to understand, “I know it’s been hard for you and–”
I raise my voice, “No you don’t know. You have no idea how hard it was for me, and don’t pretend you do.”
“I’m sorry, Em.”
“You should be, because you weren’t seven-years-old when you were abandoned.”
He sincerely explains, “Emily, my hands were tied. I didn’t get to locate and touch base with Goffrey before he passed, so I had no idea where you were. I worked to spend every Life searching for you. It took me eleven years of secretly walking every city and land to find you. By the time I found you, I found out about Goffrey’s passing and you had already grown up. It was easier to let you deal with the citizens than the assassins who would have been after you because of who you are to me.”
Assassins? People were after my father back then? That might have every reason to do with why he’s hiding underground in a police station. What did he do to make someone mark him for death? Who did he become besides a research scientist? Was this before or after the war?
I ask, “And who am I?”
He answers, “You are Emily Harold, daughter of Simon Harold, one of the unnamed founders of the Menta-Life Corporation.”
In the business world, founder usually means creator, and it was Gene Winfred Archibald that founded the Menta-Life Corporation; at least that’s what I remember from my Life. Even with false information planted online, that’s still something unquestionable. Gene’s old face and full, gray head are on billboards in every city, along with the offer to live a Life.
I ask, “Founder? What do you mean founder?”
He explains, “After the shuttle left and I regained consciousness from the explosion, I had no idea where you were. I traveled the rubble back to my lab looking for information on your shuttle number; however, every service worldwide had been downed; telecommunications, internet, the entire social structure was gone. After survivors began to attempt rebuilding, a Mr. Gene Archibald came to me with an idea of how we can make the process much faster than before. He had come from America in search of the most brilliant minds for the project and I was the only one who had the technical skills to manufacture what he wanted. The idea for the Life system seemed impossible at the time, although I saw it as my only chance to find you before my time would come to an end. Four years later, after testing it on one of our own with great success, we opened the system to some of the most brilliant minds in science. We all gathered information of what used to be from our memories and studies, then put it all together into a server that was able to be shared as a network between us. What they accomplished in their ninety-year Life, they shared with us, and we discovered new things to build. We were able to find remnants of what used to be based off of what the others remembered, and other findings like maps, places like this buried police station, etcetera. We expanded every time we went inside, then opened to the public during the seventh year for an even more rapid expansion. After four years of public use, Gene felt the people were using the system for more than just the information gathering he intended them to use it for and were building things on their own too fast. I was never the brawn behind the operation since it was Gene’s idea and my theories. When he started stealing people’s ideas through their memories, there was nothing I could do, but by then, I’d found you, so I fled. You have to believe that I really did want to talk to you, still in case he found me, he could have found you. I couldn’t risk it. Somehow, he did find you, and now here you are.”
Soaking his story in is tough, even though I am somewhat relieved that he is alive and I understand how he feels, regardless of whether or not he’s been gone. Can I really be angry with him for protecting me from afar? Absolutely. Being angry is more my style; nonetheless, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders since I have blood family again. My father took great care of me and always put me first before anything or anyone, business included. I’ve grown a dark heart of steel since he’s been gone, but his sincerity in creating the corporation to find me may have chipped off a tiny piece of it.
I feel like my heart is getting too warm, so I change the subject. “So… now you’re taking a stand? I mean is that… what’s happening here?”
He confirms, “Yes. Gene’s been out searching for us for four years. He hasn’t found us, but he did somehow find you. We relocated here temporarily to retrieve you.”
“Relocated from where?”
“A hidden facility underground like this one, close to Hrowen City.”
I’ve been to Hrowen before; it’s a middle-class city where most of its citizens actually do their own work and despise the MechCi.
I ask, “What happened to me earlier?”
He corrects me, “Yesterday, actually. Menta-Life stole one of your memories, thus, naturally, we can’t pinpoint which one and neither can you because you don’t remember.”
I guess that may be the whole point of stealing one; removing evidence from the crime you committed, though they’re one and the same.
I ask, “What was the dose that Hines gave me? Wait, what is Hines even doing here? Doesn’t he work for Menta-Life?”
“Hines Aldwich is a former employee, like myself. He worked on the inside to keep tabs on Gene and everything going on with the corporation. He reported to me, but they eventually discovered him and we had to get him out. The dose we gave you was a sedative that Gene developed for all of the clients he stole memories from. It drastically slows the memory loss process to make it almost unnoticeable to even the person that had their memory stolen.”
“What happens to mine? I don’t feel like I’ve forgotten anything.”
He hesitantly mentions, “About that. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
“Neither one, honestly.”
“You need to know, Emily.”
“Why did that guy Jacks call me Vanessa? Do they not know who I am?”
“They don’t. The people that were in this room are some of my most trusted, and your alter ego of Vanessa Pheros is still safe to have until this is situation’s concluded.”
He has a worried look on his face, like he’s itching to tell me what’s going on with me, so I let out a sigh and state, “I’ll take the good news first.”
“Well the good news is that the sedative worked to postpone the memory loss, as it should. The strands begin to break away from that empty memory, causing an instant spread at a single time to lose everything. Fortunately, we were able to dose you before that happened. You may still feel minor pain every once in awhile, although not often.”
“And what’s the unfortunate?”
“You were awake for too long before we gave it to you. Usually, the dose is administered before the client wakes up, but you were awake for, give or take, an hour and a half to two.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad, at least I got a shot right.”
“Not quite. Your memory was deteriorating away from the loss beforehand, you just didn’t feel it. It eats away faster without the dose. Simply put, you’ve only got about two weeks before your brain shuts down completely.”
That doesn’t make sense. Deserted always have that last strand to hang onto, yet mine will shut down completely; that means I’ll die. The worst case scenario should be me becoming a little worse than that woman in the room next door. Are things different now?
I reply, “That’s not right. What about the last thought that keeps my brain functioning? It can’t shut down completely.”
“The dilemma is different, Em. If they had administered the dose beforehand, there’d be a slow loss, but you were already awake and using your brain. If you look on the bright side, the time with what’s left of your memory can be used to help.”
Two weeks. Just my luck to always be on a strict timetable these days. When I first saw the Deserted woman behind the glass, Mason told me that there was a way to get their memories back; in saving them, I could also be able to save myself.
“That’s still not a good thing is it?”
He answers, “Afraid not. That’s why we need to strike back at Menta-Life soon; nonetheless, I’m afraid we lack what it takes.”
“What do you mean?”
“None of my people are equipped to deal with a force like Menta-Life. We simply don’t have the training or the numbers against Regulators and the mech presence. I’m sorry we didn’t meet again under better circumstances, still your memory is priority one to me at the moment.”
I would love to spend time catching up and getting to know my father, but unfortunately, he’s right. We can sit around sipping tea and telling stories, though I won’t remember them for long. I’m dying to get to know him more as a person instead of a revolutionary; I don’t even remember how old he is. My memory has to come first.
I acknowledge, “I understand. What are you planning?”
“I’m not exactly sure yet. I have to speak about it with the others first. Menta-Life had you in captivity for a long time and I’m certain that wasn’t your only Life. You found your way out of that building single-handedly, and that takes great skill that my people don’t have. I’ll continue the meeting and, hopefully, band together a solution.”
“What can I do in the meantime?”
“There is a city nearby, if you’d like to do some recollecting and get yourself together. You’ll just have to keep an extremely low profile.”
I turn to leave the room and he calls out, “Emily…” I turn around to him and he continues. “I’m glad that you’re here with me now, despite the circumstances.”
“I am too.”
I leave the room and enter the hallway where the others are talking amongst themselves. Silence casts out as I pass through the threshold and everyone awaits my permission to re-enter. They stare at me with fake smiles of nervousness.
I say, “He’s waiting.”
The four people, including the security guard and Hines, walk back into the room as Jacks enquires in an excited tone, “So, how’d it go?”
I lean against the wall next to the long glass window and answer, “Well, I had a memory stolen from me by Menta-Life, so it’s not looking too good.”
“That’s a bummer. Is there anything good about you, Vanessa?”
I answer with a sigh, “Not really. So what’s there to do around here?”
He shrugs his shoulders and answers with hesitation, “Work on experimental weapon’s development projects.”
I sarcastically comment as I walk by him, “Yay.”
He follows behind me as I stroll towards the door to the lobby and asks, “Where’re you going?”
“To the city.”
The door in front of me bangs open and Mason, the man who brought me here, demands, “Jacks. Vanessa. Come with me.”
He speed walks by us towards the meeting room. What is he in such a panic about? We both follow him as he knocks on the door twice and quickly opens it. Everyone looks back at us entering the room.
Mason suggests to my father in a hurry, “Sir, you need to see this.”
He places a small black dot on the wall. It’s called a projection dot. They are used to display images like a television, but in travel size, and they have a connection that can access all media. It has a sensor that reads motion to follow requests by the user. Televisions still exist, but for those who can afford the dot, they are in higher demand. He drags his hand back to bring out the screen that’s already on the news channel.
A male newscaster is speaking, “This has been the worst–”
Mason slides his hand left to a different news channel and we see another male newscaster in the news room, “McKoy was arrested by Regulator officials for what is said to be a plot to assassinate Menta-Life founder, Gene Winfred Archibald.”
The female newscaster next to him comments, “This is just absolutely ground-breaking news for such a corporate figurehead.”
A picture of Geilium McKoy on a helipad pops up on the screen. He is an older African American man with short, dark, curly hair and a black beard. In my Life, the assassination was true, but how did Menta-Life figure that out? Were they monitoring my Life? If they stole a memory from me, they must have. Geilium ran Equility for a little over two years before he recruited me, then we took down the corporation in Gharis City together.
Afterwards, he betrayed me and his followers by taking it over instead of destroying the hardware or building like he originally led everyone to believe. The building would have been more fun to watch, since it’s over seventy stories high. The newscaster said it was a plot, though, and Geilium was the only one that seems to have been apprehended. Where is Aleena, his secretary, and Mitchell, his associate? They were tied right beside him in the plot when we took the building over. Come to think of it, I had lived for two years in my Life so Equility shouldn’t even exist yet.
The male newscaster agrees, “Indeed. Mr. McKoy is known throughout Gharis City as the CEO and producer of the Gharis City News network, one of our source providers, and is accused of having ties with an alleged terrorist group forming in the city which is currently being kept anonymous. More details as the–”
My father calmly demands, “Turn it off.” Mason turns the projection dot off by pushing his palm at the screen, then my father continues, “Get Foster in here.”
Mason follows orders, “Yes sir.”
As he leaves the room, I normally ask myself, “So Geilium really is Equility?”
Everyone turns back to me and my father asks, “What?”
I explain, “In my Life… the terrorist group Geilium orchestrated together was called Equility. I helped them take over the Gharis City Menta-Life facility. How were you there?” I look over at Hines and ask, “And even you?”
Hines queries with wonder, “Me?”
“Yeah. You’re the one who hired me to help you and Equility destroy Menta-Life. It didn’t make sense because I found out later that you had been killed before we even met.”
Hines comments, “That doesn’t add up.”
I ask my father, “How do I know all of this when the world doesn’t? If this information was public, Geilium would have been arrested months ago right?”
They all look at each other as if they know, yet are waiting for the other person to speak up first. There has to be a reason why they didn’t arrest him sooner.
I look at my father and ask, “Well?”
My father admits, “We didn’t have the able force to help you escape physically, so we hacked into their server, temporarily, and granted you access.”
“I didn’t use any server.”
“You were hooked up to it, during your Life. See, there are two separate ports connected to everyone’s microdot; an all-access data server for everyone so they can live and learn what’s going on around them while they’re in a Life but then there’s the hourglass. In the event of Menta-Life wanting to steal a memory, they can’t wake you up so they connect the hourglass.”
That makes sense, though I don’t know what he’s getting at. “I don’t see your point,”
He lets out a sigh and replies, “We granted you brief access into their server by hacking it and planting a load of information onto the internet ourselves. You were able to see what they chose to keep hidden, what the real world had, and also the message we wrote.”
“But Hines is standing right here.”
“Menta-Life knows he’s alive; however, they planted information online stating that he was deceased. Your mind must have linked both streams in an attempt to make sense of the situation.”
The bellman must’ve stepped in to make sense of everything by taking him away. A guy quickly walks into the room with Mason close behind him. He has a Mohawk with a patch of hair on his chin. His head has a faded hairstyle around the Mohawk instead of being bald. He doesn’t look average and helpless like everyone around here. His muscular stature seems like bodyguard material.
My father quickly introduces us, “Welktin Foster, Vanessa Pheros.” We turn to each other and shake hands, then my father continues to me, “He is our eyes on the outside and our specialist in physical operations.” My father continues to him, “And she is our newest recruit.”
Welktin puts his hands on his hips and questions, “Recruit for what?”
His voice is deep and his English isn’t too well spoken. His demeanor and body language has American written all over it; similar to Jacks.
“She escaped from the Menta-Life facility in New Rellow single-handedly, therefore I figured she could help in ops, although we have other concerns. Geilium McKoy was arrested and claimed to be part of a terrorist plot to kill Gene Archibald.”
“The Gharis City News CEO?”
“Yes, and we have come into some new information that can give us an inside edge.” He turns to me and says, “We need to know what happened with Geilium in your Life. If you actually succeeded at conquering the Gharis City branch, we could possibly mimic the tactic, or even employ his help.”
I recall the moments out loud, “Um… I brought the idea to use the Trojan Horse tactic by loading up a bunch of his people on a scheduled repair truck, then we took the place from the inside. But he wants to take over Menta-Life, not destroy it. He betrayed and tried to kill me.”
Welktin clarifies, “He betrayed you in a Life, so it might not be the same out here. All that crap is based on projection from a person’s personality and behavior.”
“Regardless, they arrested Geilium, so that plan is blown with my escape.”
My father takes both sides, “True, granted he’s right, also. Maybe we can persuade Geilium to do otherwise and join with us.”
As much as I’d rather not trust that snake Geilium, I need to take the steps necessary and follow them to get my memory back. I won’t be able to do it alone.
I reply, “It’s your show. Just tell me where to go.”
My father replies, “I don’t want you going anywhere yet, Vanessa.”
“Then what should I do?”
“Just stay here until we can find out what’s going on. Without your memory, you could potentially be in danger if you leave. Let us handle things for now, until we can further test you for any lost effects.”
I don’t plan on doing what he says; regardless, I need to get my memory back and the only person’s hands I can trust that task in is my own. It’s going to lead up to a prison break being in order to get to Geilium and return him to people he may already have, or the people he can find for us.
I reply, “No disrespect, but your lab coats and your pretty boy here can’t handle things. You’re either doing this with me, or I’m doing it on my own. I don’t trust Geilium, but if you want to break him free, then we need to find out where he’s being held and we need a team.”
I quickly interrupt, “This isn’t… an option. I’m going one way or another and it won’t be a good idea for you to try to stop me.” I turn to Welktin and enquire, “Where’s your team?”
He proudly answers, “I don’t need a team, though it seems I’ll be stuck with you.”
I falsely clarify, “Yeah, sure. You’ll be protecting everyone here, or doing whatever it is you do. Jacks is coming with me to find some of my allies. Jacks, let’s go.”
Before anyone has a chance to disagree, I walk out of the room. That boast felt great, but I’m only fooling them into thinking I have allies; it’s been me, myself, and more me just about my entire life. Walking down the hallway, I hear someone speeding up to catch up to me.
Jacks utters, “Hang on, Vanessa.”
I state as I continue at my normal pace, “Call me Van.”
He strolls with me and asks, “What are we doing? We need Welktin.”
I quickly reply, “That guy’s a jerk. We don’t need him.”
“Hey, you’re no walk in the park either.” We enter the lobby area and he asks as we stride across, “So where are your allies?”
I stop, turning to him and coming clean, “I was honestly just blurting out stuff. I don’t have any allies or friends.”
He raises his voice, “We can’t do this on–”
I cut him off, “Shhh.” I look over and see some of the scientists staring at us, therefore I continue in low whisper, “How far is Gharis City from here?”
He calms down, “Not too far. Probably a three hour drive.”
“Good, then that’s our first stop. Do you have an Econ?”
“Then we’re taking your cruiser.”
I turn around and walk across the front entrance to the door leading to the parking garage. Jacks follows behind me entering the garage and I stop in front of the three customized cruisers parked immediately through the door. The three cruisers in front of us are all a metallic orange color and two door coupes, or so they seem. They somehow changed the cruiser from a two-door to four-door and changed the color on it also. I’m not sure how, but I would love to find out.
I plainly inform to Jacks, “We’re taking one of these.”
Jacks replies nervously, “No we can’t. I created these cruisers for mission use only.”
I pace around to the driver side as I reply, “This is a mission.” I stick my head through the window and see it has a push-button ignition on the dashboard, “Jackpot.” I take my head out and look at Jacks, then proudly say, “This here is like one of those moments when a cruiser just needs to be taken. Get in.”
I enter the cruiser’s driver side as he gets into the passenger seat and asks, “Can you even drive this thing?”
“It’s a cruiser. Of course I can.” I look down at all of the extra buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard that don’t have any name or description, “Well, I have to do the planning so you should drive this time.”
He exits and walks around the cruiser as I slide across to the passenger seat. He gets in the driver seat, then presses the top right of the eight buttons on the steering wheel and the cruiser starts. He pushes three buttons on the dashboard, next to what I thought was the ignition, presses on the pedal, and starts backing up. He pushes two more buttons then pulls forward and up the ramp.
This thing is cool, but it would suck in a life or death situation. I watch the small lamps up above the tunnel as we pass under each one. The huge wall in front of us begins to slowly rise revealing the sunlight outside. He pulls slowly out of the hidden entry and into the desert sands. It’s time to head to where I recently wasn’t really: Gharis City.