"Is this the place?" Marcy whispered.
"This is where the signal leads," I replied curtly.
Marcy and I were standing in front of one of the many large, monotonous metal buildings that were commonplace in the gloomy city.
"How're we gonna get in?" she asked.
I looked around for an easy entrance, but there was none to be found. Instead, I located a ledge cut into the side of the building. It was about six feet from the ground and looked like it was just as wide and deep. It was like a cube cut out of the edifice. I gestured to it eagerly and Marcy trailed behind.
"Give me a boost," Marcy demanded after we'd stared up the side of the building for awhile.
I cupped my hands in front of me and Marcy placed one of her thin boots into it. She grabbed the edge easily and pulled herself up. When she was settled at the top, she turned around and offered me a hand. I had to jump in order to reach it, but when I caught it she pulled me to her.
Marcy then turned to face the wall and crouched down. After minutes of having to look at her back, I began to grow impatient.
"Marcy!" I whispered, "Move out of the way! Jeez, I want to see too."
"Sor-ry," she said, not sounding earnest in the slightest.
"So sincere," I mumbled sarcastically, just loud enough for her to hear.
"There's not much to see anyways," she said, ignoring my comment and moving out of the way. "It's too dark."
I shuffled up to the part of the wall that had been revealed. Pressing my face against it, I strained my eyes to see through the thin slits in the vent.
I sighed defeatedly after scanning the room blindly, "You're right. I can't see a thing."
"Of course I'm right."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, I think we should find a way inside."
"I don't know," Marcy hesitated. "I don't feel like getting in trouble today."
"So don't get caught," I said, pushing myself away from the vent in the wall.
We both turned around and crawled to the very extremity of the area, letting our legs dangle over the edge before jumping. Marcy jumped out first, landing about six feet below in one lithe movement. I followed her, but managed to jam my ankle in the process. I spit a few curses and limped over to Marcy, who wasn't trying very hard at all to conceal her laughter. I narrowed my eyes at her, but she continued to snicker into her hand.
"Shut up," I grumbled, and pushed passed her.
We walked around the perimeter of the building, sending out signals to open any nearby entrances. And eventually we found a door hidden away in the wall. It probably would have remained hidden had it not opened when we walked passed it.
The interior was completely dark when we walked through it. It was a narrow hallway, so narrow that I had to pull my shoulders in in order to keep from brushing against the walls.
Marcy hummed happily behind me and I clenched my teeth to restrain from telling her to stop. Stop, because her voice was reverberating down the confined space. Stop, because we were trying to be stealthy, and humming was definitely not helping the cause. But I kept my mouth shut.
"Could you turn on the lights?" Marcy asked after we'd wandered aimlessly for a bit.
"Are you serious?" I asked, glancing back at her dark figure.
She sounded paranoid, "Well, no, we'd be caught, I suppose."
"We'd be caught," I whispered, "without a doubt."
"Okay, fine," she said resignedly. "Do you have any other ideas?"
"Uh," I grunted smartly, "find a door?"
She scoffed incredulously, but I could just imagine the dubious expression sliding off her face and being replaced with optimism. "Do you really think we could manage that?"
"Why not?" I shrugged.
"Well," she stammered, "it just seems absurdly simple is all."
"Simple shmimple, who needs to dig a tunnel when there's a door you can just pick a lock to?"
"Thanks," I said, smiling into the dark.
I ran my fingers down the slimy walls, trying to find any inconsistencies in the metal. But the farther we walked, the more desperate I became and the more I could sense Marcy's focus waning.
"Lejla," she whined behind me, "your idea sucks."
"Just a tad farther," I urged.
I could hear her groan loudly behind me. I braced myself, closing my eyes, waiting, just waiting for something or someone to pop out at us.
But luckily, nothing came, and we continued on our merry way.
I fingered the thin, metal band running across my eyebrows. It was tempting to send out the correct electrical impulses to light the hallway. I was surprised Marcy hadn't done it already. I ran my fingers over it again nervously, warming the cold metal with my fingers.
The telebands amplified the neuron measuring nano-converters already injected into the brain. The nano-converters reformatted the brain-waves into recognizable electrical ones. They made brain-to-brain communication possible, but it was a difficult process. The user must dedicate many hours to rigorous biofeedback training, where the user learns what brain-wave and what fluctuation of that wave is used for different words.
Verbal communication was still widely used, due to the fact that it was considerably easier to converse in that manner. Telepathy was only utilized for long-distance conversations because of the immense amount of concentration it demands.
The 'bands also gave the user significant control over their environment merely by amplifying desired brain-waves. It was convenient, I'll admit, but having a direct pathway to your brain left it extremely vulnerable to harmful outside influences. We were warned of this repeatedly by our school teachers.
With my other hand, my fingers ran across something. Abruptly I stopped, and Marcy, with her eyes slammed shut in frustration, bumped into me. I grunted in discomfort, but managed to keep my fingers securely on the seam in the metal. After Marcy had recovered herself, she turned to me with interest.
"What'd you find?" Marcy whispered into my ear.
"Oh, nothing," I said, with an evident I-told-you-so undertone.
Nearly knocking me on the head, she extended her hand over my shoulder to feel what I'd discovered. To my relief, she seemed impressed.
She giggled conspiratorially, "We'll get in now, no doubt!"
"We just have to find a way to open it," I said, not letting the excitement into my voice.
"Can we try our 'bands now, Lejla?"
"I suppose we can try now…" I said, trying to calculate out all the potential risks of opening the door.
One, whoever's in this place could track down the signals from our 'bands and we'd get into a massive amount of trouble.
Two, the possible presence of people in the room on the other side. We'd be caught immediately. And again, we'd be in major trouble. Never fun.
Three, the opening of the door could set off a bomb and we'd be seared off the face of the Earth, but that theory was kinda pushing it, I'll admit.
I dug my fingernails into the thin seam and desperately tried to pry the wall apart.
"That's not working," she said unnecessarily.
"Obviously," I admitted, relinquishing my hope of opening the door without traceable technology. But then again, if they had anything that could track us it would have registered our 'band signals already.
"Can I try now?"
"Sure, sure," I said worriedly, sincerely hoping that I wasn't soon to be seared off the face of the planet.
I watched as her face relaxed and her eyes became abstracted. Her breathing was slow and consistent. It wasn't going to work, I could tell. It never took this long to simply open doors - it was usually an instantaneous result.
"Dammit," she mumbled, taking a step back.
"Try running your fingers across it. The older doors require touch," I suggested.
She complied, running the back of her hand across the door's surface. She grumbled, "Nothing."
"Hmm," I said, thinking.
"You try," she offered.
"Fine," I said, and stepped forward. And then I stood there, preparing myself to project all the electrical impulses I knew at the uncooperative door.
I nearly screamed when it unsealed with one try. The dilapidated door opened lightning-fast, cutting through the air like a knife.
"Holy crap," Marcy said behind me.
"I concur," I agreed weakly.
We both stood there stupidly, not entirely sure whether we wanted to enter or not.
Actually, I was sure. I wanted to go in. It was the reason we were here, wasn't it?
"I'm going in," I stated.
"It's kinda eerie," Marcy whispered.
"Isn't it great?" I said, oddly excited.
Marcy laughed softly, "So we go in?"
I answered her question by taking a step inside.
The room was completely dark, so we weren't entirely sure what we were discovering. All I knew was that a highly acrid, metallic smell filled my nose and mouth. I had to stop walking in order to focus all of my attention on not breaking into a coughing fit.
"Ugh, it stinks in here," I wheezed, my eyes watering.
"Don't be a wimp," Marcy chided. "Let's look around."
I muffled another cough while Marcy pulled me along behind her.
"Will you be quiet?" Marcy hissed, "There could be someone in here, you know."
I tried the best I could at swallowing my coughs.
"It really doesn't smell that bad," Marcy said, looking back at me after I made a few more gagging sounds.
"Are you kidding me? It's friggin' burning my insides."
"You'll get used to it. Your brain will stop recognizing the smell after a few minutes," she said, and then repeated, "You'll get used to it."
Well, she was right on one account, my brain stopped recognizing the scent, but I didn't get used to it. The air alone bit viciously into my tongue, lips, eyes, and nose. Which was basically every part of my face coated in a fluid.
"How big is this room?" Marcy asked, frustrated.
"Turn on the lights," I managed to choke out.
"Ha," she snorted, "believe me when I say that I've tried." Then she turned to me, "You try."
I nodded weakly into the dark and then cast out, projecting the proper electrical impulse to light the room. The result was instantaneous. Dim balls of light in impossibly far off corners began to brighten.
"Jeez Lejla, you'll have to teach me how you do that."
I shrugged, "It's not any different than turning on normal lights."
"Then why can't I turn them on?"
I shrugged again.
As the lights warmed up, they grew consistently brighter, lighting more and more of the room as time progressed.
"Well…" Marcy exhaled, looking around the room with wide eyes.
I could barely see the room because my eyes were tearing up so badly. "What's it look like?"
"Lejla?" Marcy asked, finally sounding worried. "It really hurts that much?"
"Uh," I coughed, "Yeah."
"Maybe we should leave then."
"No, no!" I said, wiping away the burning tears. "Tell me what it looks like."
"Well," she hesitated, as if she didn't know where to start. "It's big."
"I've deducted that already from the obscene distance I've had to walk," I said stiffly.
"Ha, right," she laughed nervously. "Well, there are a lot of really big drawers in the walls," she described.
"Drawers? Do they have labels?" I asked.
"I can't tell from here."
"Go check, then."
I heard her run over to the edge of the room and then back. "Yeah, they're labeled," she said after returning, "but it doesn't really make sense to me. Just a lot of numbers engraved into the faces."
"What else is there?"
"Um." I could see her blurred figure glance around. "There's really not much else."
"How many?" I questioned.
"I'd have to say… more than a thousand."
I whistled. "That's a lot."
"I wish you could see them. It's really excessive."
We stood there for a moment in silence. If you could consider it that with my wheezing and all
"So how do you think this is connected with Donna?" Marcy finally asked.
I coughed, "I dunno, you tell me."
"Well, the drawers look like they're big enough to fit a person," she said decisively.
"You think…?" I whispered.
"It's a possibility," she stated simply.
"How are we going to find her?" I asked. "If she's even in here."
"You're the one that followed her signal here. We're here because of your technological hunch."
I sighed, "I know, I know. Okay look, memorize a few of the labels and we can look for consistencies between them when we get back to the apartment."
"We can do that later, but how about you try and open one?" she suggested.
"I could…" I considered.
"Come on, we've come this far."
"Fine, I'll try," I said, and then the great mystery of what was contained inside of the drawer came into mind. "Do you really think that there are people in them?" I asked tensely.
"I think so," she answered, "but I really hope not."
"I really, really hope not," I whispered.
I blinked a few times, clearing my vision somewhat.
"Alright," I said quietly, "you can pick one."
Marcy glanced over at me worriedly, and then clenched her jaw and nodded stiffly. She walked over to one side of the room and ran her fingers across the smooth faces of the drawers. While we were walking, I lifted my chin toward the ceiling and gasped. The walls extended up at least two stories before the ceiling cut it off. Marcy wasn't kidding when she called it excessive. What was this place? And what could Donna possibly be here for?
Marcy eventually stopped walking and picked a drawer three up from the floor.
"This one," she declared.
I looked over at her saw that she was shaking, expecting the worst.
Just like me.
Her thin shoulders rattled as I stepped closer to the selected drawer.
"This one?" I asked breathlessly.
She nodded without a word.
No second thought was required as I projected, and the drawer popped open without any hesitation.
Marcy drew a shaky breath beside me.
"What?" I asked, squinting. I still couldn't see what I'd revealed.
I saw Marcy's figure step forward and lean over the drawer. "Holy crap."
"Tell me!" I said, looking over the other side.
My vision cleared for a moment and I could have sworn I saw a face. "Marcy?" I asked in a low, worried voice.
She didn't reply.
I leaned in closer. When I blinked, my vision unfogged again and I realized I was nose-to-nose with whoever was in the drawer. I threw myself backwards, nearly falling to the ground.
"There's someone in there!" I whispered, a shaky finger pointing at the drawer.
"Lejla," I heard Marcy say faintly.
I started walking towards her. "Yeah?"
"What if there's someone in every one of these?"
I stopped dead in my tracks. The mere thought of a person being kept in every one of these drawers was unfathomable.
"What if they're being kept here against their will?" she asked, her voice cracking.
I eventually made it back to the drawer and I peered over the side again.
The person contained was a girl, with weak features and far-spaced eyes. She was pretty in a subtle way. Her hair was brown and fanned out around her head. A thin, light blue blanket was pulled up to her chin.
I leaned in closer and I could see that there were thin wires burgeoning out of her hairline and thrown back in with her hair. I ripped my eyes away from her face when I heard uneven breathing from elsewhere. My eyes fell on Marcy, who had taken a step back. Her arms were folded over her stomach and she was practically doubled over, her long, black hair shadowing her face.
"Marcy?" I called out softly.
Her head snapped up and she took a step forward.
"Have you seen this?" I asked, making a sweeping gesture with my hand in the direction of the wires.
Some of the anguish in her eyes was replaced with curiosity and she bent forward, investigating. "No," she whispered, "I didn't see those." Then she looked up at me, "What could they be for?"
I tried to blink passed the tears that were gathering again in my eyes. "I'm not completely sure…" I trailed off.
"That's probably how they're keeping her asleep," the misery was creeping back into her face.
Curious, I extended my hand towards the wires, brushing her forehead with my fingers in the process. I began fiddling with the wires intently, bending in closer to get a better look.
"Holy shit," Marcy said.
I turned my head to look at her, but when my eyes swept from the girl to Marcy I realized that I was being watched by more than one person. In my peripheral vision I could see a set of large, green eyes staring straight at me.
"Oh God," I gasped.
The girl opened her mouth to speak but only a grating gurgling sound emerged. I covered my ears reflexively.
"Stop!" I managed to choke out, but my request was ignored. I repeated it over and over without success. "Shut up!" I screamed desperately, but again, my request went unheeded.
The noise continued to increase in volume, as did the pressure in my skull. I looked over at Marcy despondently and saw that the sound was only causing a slight discomfort. She seemed unfazed as she looked down at the girl.
Her eyes caught mine and she gestured for me with a quick wave to come to her. I winced at the prospect of closing the distance between myself and the source of the dissonant noise, but I forced myself forward. The sound was unbearable this close. The pressure in my head was steadily increasing. I had to make the girl stop before I went deaf or my brain exploded or something worse.
When I arrived at the side of the drawer I reluctantly dropped my hands to my sides and Marcy said something to me, but I couldn't hear her. My clueless expression caused her to frown in frustration and repeat what she'd just said. But all to no avail, the only thing that I could gather was that her lips were moving. I couldn't tell what she was saying.
I can't hear you! I messaged her using my 'band, pointing to the girl with her mouth wide open.
Marcy furrowed her eyebrows and then brushed her fingertips across the girl's forehead. Then she nodded at me to do the same. Tentatively, I lifted a hand from my side and imitated Marcy by running my fingers across the girl's forehead.
The girl stopped screaming immediately and her eyes closed. I gaped at her for a moment and then lowered my hand in relief.
"What the hell was that?" I asked, staring down at the now silent girl.
"It sounded like she was sick," she said.
"It sounded like she was being torched alive," I mumbled to myself, massaging my ears.
"Maybe that's what those wires are doing to her," she whimpered. "Burning her alive. From the inside-out."
"That's a possibility," I said politely, "But I didn't know a human was capable of creating such an ungodly noise."
"Honestly Lejla!" she screamed, "You always exaggerate things! First the ankle, then the smell, and now this! You're being ridiculous!"
My mouth hung open stupidly at that comment. And then I clenched my jaw in restraint, focusing on what we came here to do- find Donna.
Donna had disappeared less than 24 hours ago. She was acting strangely when she did, screaming at her shadow, not moving for hours on end, mumbling incoherent nonsense, and so on. But both me and Marcy had promised that we'd watch out for her. And what did we accomplish? We let some guys come into her house and carry her off to this place.
But one thing I did manage to do was track the signal from her 'band to this location. When the signal from her teleband disappeared, Marcy and I set out to find and rescue her. I was realizing that this was a much more daunting task now that I'd seen where they'd taken her.
I looked back down at the girl in the drawer, my ears still ringing from before. I extended my hand and closed my fingers around the thin blanket that covered her from the chin down, being exceptionally careful as to not touch the girl for fear of triggering the noise again.
Slowly, I pulled it down, revealing the girl's body. I heard Marcy gasp across from me. I blinked feverishly, trying again to clear my vision enough to dissect the image.
Here's what I could discern; the girl's throat was ripped open to expose a tangled mass of wires. As I moved my eyes down her body, I saw that her chest was ripped open as well.
My brain couldn't quite compute what my eyes were telling it. The girl's ribs were made of metal. Her lungs appeared to be non-existent. Instead, there were two strange, transparent balloons that vaguely resembled jellyfish. As opposed to veins and arteries, a bulk of wires ran through her chest.
"How…?" Marcy fumbled for words.
I continued to sweep my eyes across the figure in the drawer. I resisted the temptation to reach out and touch it again to see how the insides functioned while it was operating.
"I think it's a robot," I stated decisively.
"There're such things?" Marcy gaped, "I thought they were only theories, things we'd eventually manage to do, but not now. Not yet."
"Well obviously someone created some sort of robot-building assembly line." I waved at the expanse of the room around us. "Just without the public knowing, is all," I looked around again at the immense amount of drawers, each of which was potentially containing a robot.
"But Lejla?" she said softly, "Why would Donna be here?"
I scowled, trying to think of any possible explanation I could for why Donna could be here.
"Oh goodness," Marcy exhaled.
"What if they're making these to replace people?" she cried out.
"Why would they do that, though?"
"Well, Marcy was acting oddly anyways," she elaborated. "Maybe they decided to take her out and replace her because of how she was behaving."
"Still…" I hesitated, "Why, though?"
"So they could plug in 'someone' who would contribute more?"
Then the enormity of this dawned on me. If someone was plugging robots into the general population that could be programmed to do whatever the creator wanted…
The possibilities were endless. I clenched my fists in frustration. They could be swaying an election. Hell, they could get a robot be a candidate for an election. They could be manipulating us in ways I couldn't even begin to think of.
"Marcy, we have to get out of here," I said frantically.
She was watching me with wide eyes.
"If they find us here they could replace us too."
My breathing became shallow then and it seared my already damaged throat. I doubled over and began coughing, hacking up blood.
"Close the drawer, Lejla!" Marcy cried, panicked.
I obeyed and the drawer slid noiselessly back into the wall. Then she pulled me along behind her. As we ran, the air hit my eyes consistently and the scalding sensation more than doubled in intensity. I had to bite my burning lips in order to keep from crying out.
"Almost there," I heard Marcy say in front of me. "I can see the exit."
I nearly tripped over my feet at the pace we were going.
"Okay, Lejla, turn out the lights and open the door!"
I did without question, and we were thrown into total darkness. But only seconds later I was breathing in the musty scent of the hallway as opposed to the burning air of the room. I inhaled greedily.
"Now close the door," Marcy commanded.
I complied, happy to have as much separation as possible between me and the room. We ran down the narrow hallway for a bit and then as we neared the exit I projected, and the exterior door flew open. The cold, night air was a welcome relief even though it bit harshly at my ravaged throat.
"We can walk for a bit and then I'll call for a cab," Marcy said, still supporting my weight.
I nodded wordlessly.
We walked down the dark street, the hov-cars moving silently over our heads. There were strips on the road that gave off a blue, pulsing light. The strips were lateral lines, and they were what was repelling the cars off the ground. I tipped my chin skyward and I could see the strips on the bottoms of the cars mirroring the lines on the ground.
My breaths came raggedly, causing sporadic puffs of air to spout from my mouth. Marcy glanced over at me and finally decided that I was in no condition to walk any farther. "I'll project for a cab now," she said.
"Sounds good," I choked.
A moment after I finished my response, a vehicle plummeted from the sky, catching itself a few feet from the ground. The door flew open and Marcy and I climbed inside. The driver was already strapped in, with a belt across his forehead, chest, and abdomen, as was customary for anyone operating a hov-car.
"Where to?" the driver grunted from the front.
"Not home," I whispered to Marcy. "I don't want to go back to the apartment. That's too far away."
"We can go to Maude's," she suggested after a slight pause. "I'll bet she wouldn't mind."
"You're right. She could probably care less," I smiled, and the skin on my lips split.
Marcy took her credit key out from under her shirt to use it to pay. She popped it off the string it was attached to so that she could swipe it across the payment slide between the two front seats. She leaned forward and aligned the rectangular groove on the end of the key with the protruding strip on the payment slide. They interlocked seamlessly and Marcy slid her key across with a flourish. I reclined in my seat, gently moving my fingers around the split in my bottom lip. I watched as Marcy reattached her key back to its string. She looked over at me and smiled weakly as she dropped the key back under her shirt.
Keys were approximately the length of the user's pinky finger and served mainly as a safety precaution. Instead of monetary transactions being handled directly by the 'band, which was a straight path to the brain, the key provided a roundabout route to the vulnerable nano-converters, which were attached to the neurons, that ran the 'band. Plus, the key had to be in the presence of the corresponding 'band in order to function, which made fraud virtually impossible. The key served mainly as a filter, sifting through the healthy and unhealthy currents from outside of the body.
"Whose house're we takin' you to now?" the driver asked.
"To Maude Coghlan's," Marcy replied promptly.
I could feel the lateral lines vibrate beneath my feet as we lifted off the ground. Lateral lines on vehicles are the ultimate utilization of one of nature's original inventions. Fishes are the ones that we borrowed the idea from. Fishes, sharks, and probably some other underwater creatures. That's why when looking at school of fish, they never seem to collide. The lateral lines alert the fish to any changes in direction of their companions.
On hov-cars, the lateral lines are used to repel other cars if they come too close. The lines are blue, pulsating strips that wrap all the way around the vehicle. The standard width of a line was about a hand's length, and people could pay more money to get thicker ones that provided more protection, more repulsion.
Most of the roads were lined with lateral lines so cars could hover many feet above the ground. The more expensive the car, the higher it flew. The higher you went, the less traffic there is.
I looked over at Marcy out of the corner of my eye. She was twitchy, watching the landscape flashing by with intense concentration. She was probably searching for any type of authoritative-looking car following us.
"We'll be fine," I said.
"Ugh, I hope so," she replied, slamming her head on the headrest and staring intently at the ceiling. "I really hope so," she repeated to herself.
"When we get to Maude's we can look at the numbers from the labels," I whispered. "And then we can look for Donna's replacement and shut it down."
The idea struck her like electricity and she sat forward, "I forgot to memorize them."
I stared at her for a moment. "You didn't," I said incredulously.
"I did," she said, hanging her head.
"How are we supposed to find the replacement now?" I whispered harshly.
"I'm sorry," Marcy apologized breathlessly, dropping her head into her hands.
"We'll have to go back."
"You can't go back," she said, looking up at me. "Your lungs will fill with blood, or you'll go blind, or something. We can't risk it." Then she squared her shoulders. "I'll go by myself."
"Well, that's very bold of you," I said in a low voice, "but how are you going to open the doors and turn on the lights by yourself?"
Marcy bit her lip. "Well, you can stand out in the hallway while I take a good look at the labels on the drawers."
"I suppose that could work," I said, staring out the window behind her, seriously doubting that it would work. I didn't like being left behind.
"Of course it would work!" she whispered excitedly, pounding a fist into her open palm. "We can go back tomorrow!"
"Should we risk going back so soon?"
"Sure, why not?" she shrugged, "If they're going to find us, they'll find us tonight."
"So, if we wake up and discover that we aren't replaced by a mad, screeching 'bot then we're going to where they're stored?"
"Exactly," Marcy beamed.
"Sounds like a plan."