Chapter 3 : Off The Grid & into the wastelands.
The sky traffic was its usual self. Busy, but fast moving. I zipped my hovercar into one of the high fast moving lanes, but then decided it was best to drop down several metres to one of the lower level lanes. The destination we were heading for was circa 300 kilometres away. The city itself was huge, however Celestia City was one of the smaller cities on what had been referred to as the newer continent of Australia even up as far as the late 21st century. Many of the traditional cities that had been around for a millennia or more had either been destroyed, or grown to preposterous sizes. On the Australian continent, one that traditionally had been thinly populated, was not one to have suffered much destruction over the centuries of the previous millennium or the 3rd Millennium. On the contrary its cities had grown, the older ones spanning hinterlands of up to 1000 kilometres in every direction and annexing smaller cities or towns as they had grown in to super mega metropolises.
Celestia was a relatively young city. Foundered in the early 2300s as a mining and then production centre of various industries which produced tons and tons of waste. Large areas of the city’s outskirts had become either a barren wasteland, or a jungle of abandoned low rise buildings and factories that spanned at least a few hundred kilometres inland. Yet the nearby coastal area of Celestia had never really been touched by the many factories that had produced the tons of poisonous waste. Situated on the western side of Australia, approximately 1200 kilometres northwest of the centre of the old super mega metropolis city of Perth, the actual modern day city of Celestia was a clean busy thriving populace situated in large bay. It spanned only approximately 250 kilometres in all directions, still huge by any means, but small in comparison to the cities of old. The city itself despite not being the biggest on the planet by any means of the imagination, was still considered one of the more important ones of the USS. It was the home and housed the central headquarters of Skycom, the biggest research corporation of the USS, and one owned and controlled by the very same government that controlled the entire Sol System. As one would travel inland and away from the city towards the interior of the continent, once 300 kilometres out of Celestia, the now unpopulated wasteland would begin. This is where I, along with Mako would be going to what was referred to as, “Off the Grid”. Although for the record, this wasteland only consumed a small area, as further and deeper into the Australian continent existed many other thriving cities.
The Grid itself were large areas of the planet in which one could allow themselves to remain connected, or online. Whilst on the Grid, all citizens of the USS were connected. A small microchip implant given to all humans at birth would allow for such to be. Coverage extended to very much the entire globe, except for areas that had been destroyed or contaminated well beyond repair and contained no known life. The Grid expanded well past Earth as well. One would remain connected to the star system wide network on all inhabited worlds and moons, primarily Luna, Venus and Mars, plus all artificial structures such as space stations and ring worlds, as well as many other smaller settlements on the moons on the outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. However on anything past Saturn, there would be no Grid coverage. However these areas of the Sol System and beyond were vast and thinly populated. Anything past the Sol System, such as interstellar colonies on nearby star systems, were well beyond the Grid and tightly controlling powers of the government.
The microchip implants themselves were quite versatile. Everyone had to have one. The government made out that it was not compulsory to have one, yet without one, a human being would be left helpless in this day and age. Without the microchip one would be denied basic necessities such as health and social care and benefits. Yet these hi-tech marvels came at the obvious price. Being tracked where Big Brother so to say, could be watching you at any time, no matter where in the civilised parts of the USS you were at. Fortunately for us who were part of Arjian and other sister allied satellite resistance cells, the brainiacs from within our ranks had found a way to hack and not only turn off the tracking for when need be, but also blank out the ID. Extremely handy as if Mako and I were captured by the authorities while doing a job for Arjian, there would be no way for them to know our real identities. They could torture us, threaten to kill us, we were trained and toughened not to talk and take whatever punishment would await us, including a slow, painful and brutal death.
As I continued to fly my hovercar in the busy fast moiving fast lane, I had decided initially to keep the vehicle’s sunroof open. The weather today after all was splendid. Although we were moving at a good 200 km/h, the vehicle’s aerodynamic design only allowed for some wind to enter the compartment area of our vehicle. In fact it was a nice soft breeze, a nice calming one that tickled the back of my ears and slowly and gently allowed both my hair and that of Mako to wave behind us. I loved the feeling. It always gave me a sense of freedom, a concept that was considered rare, and a luxury in the deeply controlled society in which not only we lived in in Celsetia City, but the whole planet and all other worlds that comprised the USS.
We had been travelling for around 30 minutes by this stage, soon I would be veering off the main lane way I was in and put ourselves on a course that would see us leave the city. Mako had been quiet for the whole journey so far. I decided that now perhaps was a good time to break into some conversation with her, but about other not related things to our mission. Just to get her mind off things. “Hey Mako, you good there, you haven’t uttered a word since we left our building?” I asked her in a soft voice as I turned my head slightly to the right to look at her. “I’m okay Kixi, just love looking at the view of all the buildings as we move through it”. She responded immediately, but I could tell she was thinking of the mission and that she was feeling anxious. “Hey Mako remember that bar we went to last week. The one on that tall rooftop, we had a swell time there. The Moon Deck remember? Say we go there again on Saturday. We could invite the others too. Kajtia, Alrai, Zenon, the dudes from Hendon District, anyone you please.” I completely decided to change the topic. Last week Mako and I had gone to The Moon Deck, she absolutely loved it there. In-fact I couldn’t get her to leave, that’s how much she had enjoyed herself. Eventually we both had to be kicked out of the place once closing hour had arrived. It was Wednesday now, so I figured it would be perfect timing to go there again on Saturday. We could recover tomorrow and chill out, then work on Friday, work as in not on any other missions that is, and indulge ourselves in the pleasures and enjoyments of life on Saturday night. “Yes Kixi, I would like that, in-fact I would really like that a lot.” Mako turned her head back at me to respond and smiled sweetly at me. “You got it my little sweat heart”. I instantly replied suddenly changing the mood from a quiet and dull one, to a more happier and pleasant one, as I took the hand closest to her off the vehicle’s controls, and patted Mako on the shoulder smiling at her as I once again momentarily turned my head to look at her.
Now I realised was the time to veer away from the laneway I was travelling in. I began to slow down a little and drop our altitude a fraction as another vehicle still travelling at our original speed zoomed past directly above us as a result. As I dropped altitude even further, and was now heading a directional path that would take us to the wastelands, I once again increased our speed. As now we were flying lower, but still surrounded by the many tall skyscrapers of Celestia, the shadows suddenly made it appear as the weather had changed. Now as a result, it appeared to be somewhat darker as the sky above us seemed almost invisible. Yet that illusion would soon vanish, as the last of the skyscrapers soon left us, as we zoomed our way towards first the barren wasteland ahead of us, and then towards a group of centuries old abandoned factories. Then as anticipated, all of our gadgets fitted to our bodies, plus our vehicle’s consoles that had some kind of online connection, communication or what have you, went offline as we dropped out of the Grid and into a land where nobody usually dared to venture into.
At 09:00 hours.
I approached a group of old buildings. Some were partially standing, some had fully collapsed into a pile of rubble, while a few were still fully standing. I approached one of the still intact warehouses and dropped down to almost ground level. Slowly I brought my hovercar to a point where it was only centimetres from the ground and then stopped it at that. “Wait here Mako.” I told her as I hopped out and casually walked over the warehouse we had stopped directly in front of. On the door was a padlock, one that our own guys from Arjian had put there in anticipation of our arrival. I retrieved a small key from one of my side pockets and then proceeded to first unlock and remove the padlock from the door, and then slide the 5 or so metre long sliding door open. Then I returned to my hovercar and drove straight in which I then parked my vehicle and both Mako and I got out.
The air smelt rotten and there was an obvious stench all around us. Mako would note as she had never experienced such a horrible environment as she slowly stretched her body. Up until now, Mako had never really been outside of an urban jungle. Sure she had travelled to other cities outside of Celestia, even other large ones such as New Rome on Mars and Vocheuhiri on Venus, both on planets that had been terraformed in the 26th and 28th centuries respectively. So these cities were very reminiscent to those of Earth, thus Mako had never seen anything that was so drastically different.
“Okay Mako, time to gear up.” I told her as I got the suits we would be wearing from the hovercar. “The sooner we gear up, the sooner we can get out of this shit hole. Not that we’re exactly going to somewhere better, but hey the sooner we move, the sooner we can both get the fuck along with our pleasant lives again”. I spoke to her with confidence. Confidence that we would see the dangerous mission ahead of us through, and be back home again living life. It didn’t take long for us to put on our suits. However , it did mean that some of our stuff that was on our belts had to be temporarily taken off and put back onto our suit’s belt. The suits did not fully cover our arms though. It fully covered our torso and shoulder areas, plus extending high into our neck area, as well as covering our legs down to our knees. However it did not include any helmet or head protection. However we would be wearing plasma and laser proof glasses once we got to Skycom headquarters at Argon Central. From our knees down we wore long heavy boots. As for our arms and hands, we had heavy steel plated gloves to protect our hands and a series of steel plates on the upper arms from the shoulder down to the elbow area which included protection of the elbows. For the lower arm to the wrist however, there was no protection as both my lower arms and also Mako’s were covered with the many attached gizmos and devices we were wearing. Once we were ready, I decided to check Mako’s suit, just to make sure it was all on properly, as this would be the first time she would be entering a live mission in one so I naturally thought best to check that all was okay, and it was.
“Great Mako, we’re all geared up and set.” I told her that as I handed her pistol to her which she promptly holstered. After I holstered my own gun, I got all the other weapons out, plus Mako’s hacking equipment and slowly carried them over to the other vehicle in which Mako had removed the covers from in the short time it took me to carry all the stuff over to it. Slowly I put it all in as Mako also made sure all her equipment was there. The other hovercar we would be riding back to Argon Central District was very much and executive’s vehicle. One used by the executive and business people from Skycom. With Skycom being one of the main and regular customers of Zed’s, attaining such a vehicle and then rigging its ID was a relatively simple task for the guys at Arjian to achieve. “Okay, we’re just about set to go back to the city. You know the plan Mako so no need to recite it again for the 101th time.” I told her giggling. I found it extremely imperative that I kept her mood calm and positive. So a bit of humour at this stage I believed would be good. Mako indeed was responding well to it as she too laughed. “If I recite that plan one more time Kixi, I think you might have to take me to a psychiatric ward or something.” That was her quick sarcastic response. “Good Mako. Here help me cover up my hovercar with the cover that was on the Skycom hovercar just before.” I told her as she took one end of the cover and I the other and we quickly covered up my own vehicle. Our intention was to come back here later, after I torched the Skycom car, or whatever vehicle we would be retuning back with somewhere in the nearby vicinity, and then returning back to the city in my hovercar again.
One last thing did remain to do before we left. I looked at Mako as she starred her eyes back at me. We smiled at one another as we both wrapped our arms around each other. Even in our armoured suits, we could still manage to get close to one another as we hugged. Then we kissed each other on the lips. It felt awesome for both of us. A kiss that would last a good minute and feel like an eternity. Once we were done, we held each other for another minute or so. “I love you Mako, always remember that.” I told her as I looked into her sweet eyes. “ You mean the universe to me Kixi, telling you I love you is not enough, words are not enough to describe my love for you.” Mako responded as she then hugged me tighter. We then gave each other one last kiss, a quick one this time as we both got into the Skycom vehicle and drove out of the warehouse. Like when we had arrived, I was the one who once again got out, slid the door shut and locked it, then got back in the hovercar and without any second thoughts, rose the vehicle into the air and zoomed away back towards the very visible skyline of Celestia City.