Exiting from the building, Zade was hit with a wave of coldness.
“Whoa!” A disturbingly violet tremor ran across his body, as he almost started retracing his steps back into the building. It reminded him of his time spent wandering the cold desert.
He remembered that Sycamore had said it was November. But the frigid surroundings made him wonder if was somewhere in the Arctic.
“Someone forgot to switch of the air conditioner,” He muttered as he followed the doctor through the grey clearing. Seriously, the place could do with some heaters.
But surprisingly enough, even though it had been snowing for as long as he remembered (which wasn’t enough, anyway), there was no snow to be found on the ground. The tarmac wasn’t even wet, which confounded him. Apprehensively, Zade bent down to place his hand on the road. Even Sycamore had stopped to see what he was doing.
As his palm touched the ground, his first thought was: Warm. Indeed, it was unexpectedly comforting. Zade’s eyes widened as this realization struck him.
“Hey doc!” He yelled at Sycamore, who walked up to the young man. “Why is this road so…so damn warm?” “Well,” Sycamore eyed Zade, “You really are a blank slate, aren’t you?” The latter squinted his eyes, scurrying his eyebrows together as he looked at the elder person. “Is that supposed to be an attempt at mockery?”
The doctor, in all earnestly, raised his hands in defense. “Oh no! You’ve got me quite wrong. Anyways, we should hurry, as traffic over the Valhalla aerial network gets real tight at this time in the noon.”
Valhalla. So that’s what the name was. Zade, still immersed in deep thought, quickly got and followed the doctor, before stopping briefly. “Wait, did you say aerial network?” He jogged over to a strange vehicle that Sycamore seated himself atop. “This,” He said, “is a Scavenger.”
Its streamlined chassis was afloat along its edge, so it stood about three meters tall, with rosemary fittings of metals that provided an extravagant look to the machine. In between the wide middle, two seats were built in, one placed behind the other, looking like a floating red eye with seats instead of irises.
“Getting on or not?” The doctor asked, and Zade leapt on. The edge of the smooth, metal seat was a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t anything too unbearable. “How do you not slip off of this?” Zade asked out loud. The doctor gave a chuckle. “There’s seat belts for that. But, I suppose you don’t remember what those are either.”
“I know what a seat belt is. I’m not an idiot. I just…don’t see any.”
“Third trigger on the back of my seat.” Zade did as told. The circumference of the soft button lit up with a cerulean glow. From out of nowhere, a sturdy, callous belt strapped down from his shoulders, forming a cross on his torso. “Thanks,” Zade tugged at the belts, but they were pretty durable.
Sycamore nodded his head up front. Tapping on the curved interface panel set up in front of him, the doctor settled in. A buzz ran through the air, as the metal chassis in front of Sycamore disappeared, transforming the eye into a crescent.
Before Zade could say another word, Sycamore exhaled. “I love flying.” The vehicle lifted off the ground, and tilting backwards, shot into the sky.
As they flew over the city, Zade got an excellent view of the city. It could only be described as a masterpiece. From the amount of planning that he could determine from the way the buildings were placed, to the sort of transportation networks laid out everywhere, it was absolutely amazing.
As far as he could see, a humongous wall was lined against the perimeter of the city, several hundred meters into the sky. From four distinct corners, pillars rose higher than the wall itself, the top each pillar shaped like a dome. The city itself was a vast expanse of skyscrapers spread out in several layers. The first layer, that formed a perimeter behind the walls, had the tallest buildings, all spires of glass and metal, gleaming even in the dim atmosphere.
After that, a massive expanse of short blocks that Zade could only make out as the residential area covered a significant portion of the city, looking ridiculously small in comparison.
After every three kilometers into the city, there was a ring of dark cerulean, which looked like a giant tube. Every now and then, he could see something zipping inside it.
“Is that a train?” He blurted out loud, and the response came, “Yeah. Trams, rather. They facilitate transport in and around the city.
Finally, as he was descending towards what Sycamore called the ‘Heart of the City’, two buildings stood in stark contrast to the surroundings. The clearing itself was a massive lake, with a small, narrow bridge spanning across it. At one bank of the lake, a massive dome jutted out from the ground, encased in a raven black array of panels. Against the marble white surroundings, it was striking to the eye, and Zade noticed it easily.
The other structure, which completely dominated the surroundings, was what the pair was heading towards. It was easily the tallest structure in sight, piercing the clouds as it rose above the city skyline, and as far as he could figure out, it was at least six hundred meters. On the top, a small light continuously blinked, as if transmitting some sort of a signal.
The Scavenger finally descended to street-level, and an overwhelming sense of impunity took over Zade. From down below, he couldn’t even make out the top of the building under the cloak of snow falling, cascading against the chilly breezes. Their transport rushed past the dome in a fraction of a second, and soon, the two found themselves zipping above the crystal clear waters of the lake, sprays of water rising in their wake, which Zade found to be pretty cool. Their ride came to a stop next to the entrance of the humongous black building. Standing at its base and looking up, he got vertigo.
Sycamore nudged him. "Quietly follow me. Try not to speak." He walked towards the building.
At the entrance, there were two officers instated, both standing on elevated pedestals, and wore a thick body armor with the same insignia as the one on Zade’s jacket. The ‘V’. They asked for identification from Sycamore, who gave them a couple of microchips. They expanded into screens, which showed two photo identifications of the two. The officers nodded and opened the gates.
As Zade walked past them, they gave him a suspicious glare, as if expecting him to pull sort of concealed weapon from inside his jacket. He gulped.
“Not a very friendly place,” He muttered, “And that’s just the entrance.” Sycamore gave him a sympathetic smile, as the two entered the building. A gush of warmth washed over him, as a deep musky fragrance filled his senses. His pupil dilated because of the insufficient lighting. Inside the lobby of the HQ, there was a circular desk in the middle, amidst which a receptionist stood, giving directions to the numerous officers lined at her desk.
Empty hover-chairs were lined against the walls, while two or three kids flew around on them across the lobby, creating a huge ruckus, but no one seemed to bother.
“Those kids,” Zade spoke, “Nobody minds them flying all over the place? What if they break something?”
“They’re the kids and grandkids of some pretty important colonels and generals. So naturally, they get a free pass.” Sycamore replied quite calmly, although a twinge of annoyance could be seen in his eyes as one of the kids soared above his head. He sighed out loudly.
“Not everything is perfect, even with the most planned-out systems. Valhalla, as free as it could be for the citizens, is still under military rule.” He pushed his glasses further up his nose, the sheen in the lenses hiding his eyes. “Those who have power don’t mind boasting it, either. The fact that there have been security breaches….well, that hasn’t helped
Whatever Sycamore was about to say was interrupted by the steadily nearing sound of a child. Zade turned, just in time to leap out of the way of a kid who barreled past the duo, screeching on the top of his lungs. He couldn’t have been a day over six.
“Watch-” Zade caught himself. He almost called the kid a brat. After what Sycamore had told him, he didn’t want to mess with anything or anyone, especially since he still didn’t know what the heck was going on.
“This way, Zade.” Sycamore led him to an elevator pad, similar to the one next to Sycamore’ office. “Bot one, requesting ascent to level eleven,” Sycamore spoke, “Strategy and Analysis Floor.”
"Surely," A voice said. As they stood waiting for the elevator pad, Zade took the chance to ask Sycamore about Stanley. “Give me a couple of pointers, so that I don’t do something stupid in front of him.” As far as the doctor had described Stanley, the colonel seemed to be pretty tough and sturdy in nature.
"Whatever you do," Sycamore said, as the panel in front of them lit up, "Do not lie. Stanley can sense when a person is lying."
“As if I have anything to lie about,” Zade retorted, “I barely know anything.”
But then, he started remembering details from the field again, that ice crevice, the stupid creature that got killed...but how, Zade exactly didn't understand.
The elevator zoomed up at a ridiculous speed. At first, there was nothing but a plating of dark metal in front of them. But in a matter of seconds, as they were starting to reach the top, the metal cover disappeared, giving an astounding view of the city outside. Everything seemed to be the size of an ant. The vantage point was simply great. The skies were still constant, still the same unnerving marinade of sparkling grey, black and cerulean blue.
Staring at the skies made him remember one more disturbing detail, how the creature was mercilessly impaled by icicles. It had happened so suddenly, Zade couldn't make head or tail of it. What were those? He wondered, as the platform slowed down, coming to a smooth halt. Compared to the lower floors, the place was too bright. Instead of walls on the exterior, there was only a panel of thick glass. Walking upto the edge, Zade put his hand on surface. It was ice-cold, but then again, given the frosty spells of blizzards that blew around aimlessly outside, he’d be surprised if it weren’t so.
Towards the inside, there was a curved metal wall of rusty grey. In the middle, a large door stood. “Let’s get going. He’s waiting.”
The two emerged into what appeared to be an empty conference room, with a big table in the middle, hovering chairs surrounding it, and the walls were large monitors which showed several maps. One showed a view of the entire city, another was focused on the black dome Zade had seen earlier.
At the head of the table, Colonel Stanley was sitting, reading from one of those hovering screens.
"Colonel Stanley," Sycamore announced. The old man raised his head, and stood up. He was wearing the exact same clothes Zade had seen him in earlier; the black jacket, camouflage pants, leather boots, and a wicked looking gun attached to his belt. He was balding, but if anything, it made him look more intimidating.
"Thanks for bringing him from the hospital. You're dismissed, for now.." The colonel said, and Zade slightly flinched. He was somewhat terrified, as a lump formed in the back of his throat.
Sycamore nodded at him, then looked at Zade, and said, "Good luck." And with that, he went into the elevator, and proceeded back.
Now that he was alone with Colonel Stanley, Zade became nervous, but tried not to let him see it.
"So, Zade," He said, "Now tell me how you wound up in the Highlands, and killed the Siauhu."
Siauhu. So that’s what its name was.
"I woke up in the middle of the Highlands, without any memory except for my name." He replied, wincing as the memories of the harrowing experience reeled back in. The colonel gave a "go-on" look, and Zade proceeded to tell him about how he had stumbled into the crevice, how the Siauhu attacked him, how he escaped, and finally how it was suddenly impaled by the dark icicles that had erected from the ground.
Zade was still not sure however the heck it happened. Maybe a freak environmental accident, he thought.
"Never heard of that happening ever before," Colonel said, "but interesting. Maybe it's because of the core malfunction."
"Core malfunction?" Zade squinted, his fingers nervously drumming on the table next to him.
"Yes." He then leaned against the table, then sighed. "Do you remember anything? Anything about the planet, the one we are on?" He asked.
"Earth, of course." Zade replied. That instant, he knew he had something wrong. Stanley's facial expression went straight from curious to shell-shocked.
"What did you just say?" He tilted his head, as though he had heard wrong.
"Earth...that's the name, right?" Zade replied uncertainly. A voice was constantly nagging him in the back of his mind. What the heck? I’m amnesiac, not stupid. That’s the name. Earth.
Stanley said nothing. The expression on his face was a confused one. He got up, turned, and walked towards one of the monitors.
"Show our Solar System" He said, dead quietly. At this point, Zade was freaked out. The way Stanley reacted...if they were not on Earth, where else cold they possibly be? Zade’s curiosity got the better of him.
He edged forward, waiting for the screens to show something.
Then, the auto-voice said, "Map loaded". A 3-D hologram appeared on the center table, and Zade felt his heart stop.
Zade was pretty sure that the solar system consisted of the Sun in the middle, radiating heat, light and massive energy, with eight other planets surrounding it.
The map that appeared just threw that mental image into the dustbin.
There was no glowing sun. No orbits. Just a small, barren planetoid in the middle surrounded by a joint ring of planets. They were the same planets, but they were dull and dark. If Zade had to guess, the center rock was the sun. It was shown glowing with a dark light. Others that were marked such included Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune. The last one….
"Earth..." He said, for indeed, it was shown emanating the same shadowy aura. Zade felt his heart sink. A feeling of despair set it. Until then, despite all the crazy stuff going on around him, Zade managed to keep a bit calm, not letting most of feelings and expressions show, but this…this went beyond the level of crazy. It was ludicrous.
He looked at the map again. The planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn showed no light. They just hovered there. Then, all of a sudden, the map shrank, and it wheeled away to the left, where there was a new planet: Blue Moon.
Zade slowly turned to look at Stanley, his throat dry and voice shaky, and asked, "When did this happen?"
"A thousand and one years ago"
"1001 PED"... Sycamore had said that. Now, he knew what it meant, or at least, the truth behind a thousand and one. He still didn’t have a damn worth of a clue what PED meant.
'What happened?" Zade asked halfheartedly, sighing.
"I think it would be best if you got some rest first." Colonel Stanley said.
"Okay" he replied with a small voice. Zade felt lost. He felt confused. In short, he felt like he had when he woke up in the middle of the Highlands. Speaking of which-
"Did you find out why I woke up in the middle of nowhere?" Zade asked.
"No" Something about Stanley's answer...Zade looked into his eyes, and saw the slightest bit of uncertainty. Whatever it was, he decided not to push it. Zade would deal it when he reached the necessity to do so.
"Let me show you your accommodations. You can live right here in the building. For now, that is." The colonel added the last part as quick note. With that, Stanley walked past Zade, and headed outside to the elevator, waiting for him
Zade joined him, and Stanley said, "Residential Quarters, level nine.” Unlike Sycamore, who had to put in a bunch of requests, Stanley just bossed it then and there. Instantly, the elevator panel lit up. The elevator moved down with a great speed, though Zade’s thoughts raced faster.
A moment later, they reached the ninth level, floor number eighty eight. Zade followed Colonel Stanley through the hallways until he reached the corner room. Zade glanced around. He could see only a few other doors like those. Six, in total.
The colonel punched in a few commands, and the door they were standing at opened, welcoming them into a huge room, like a kind of a studio apartment.
"I'll leave you to it, then. Rest up, young man." He gave Zade a pat on the back, and with that, Stanley left him alone.
Zade looked at the room. It had a floating, crystal-bordered bed, and a huge screen directly in front of it. There was probably a washroom there too. The lights were happy and soothing. There was what he could call a mini-kitchen, with all sorts of weird gadgets, backed-up against a completely window-paned wall, from which one could see the city skyline, encased within the darkness.
There was a panel next to it. Upon touching it, a hologram consisting of various patterns appeared. Zade touched one that resembled the crevice he had fallen into, and the wall instantly changed to that.
For a second, he freaked out, as he took a couple of steps back. Then, Zade realized that it was the design for the wall. He browsed through the panel, and found a hologram that had an abstract pattern of midnight black and crystalline blue. Zade selected it, and instantly, the entire wall changed.
“I need to sleep,” Zade muttered. He took off his shirt, which would have normally been a stupid thing to do, seeing the weather outside, but he did so as if it was a habit, and threw it onto the floor. He quickly hopped into the bed, as the comfort of the mattress and the warmth that the room provided lulled Zade into letting go off his thoughts and fall asleep instantly.