Dark days became darker. The icy air shivered flesh deep to the bone. Students flocked to the gates heads down as they walked among the dead trees. Even though technological advancements had reached unparalleled altitude, for the most part humanity had been robbed of its fruits by the decaying economic structure and depletion of the earth’s raw materials. Cities were shattered by war and natural disasters. Buildings and structures were run down and rusty. Mari sprinted through Nalanda’s entrance, a school that was said to be progressive, but Mari felt wasn’t pioneering at all. The large old brick bunker styled buildings of the school was Surrounded by a rickety fence, and receding grassy field,. The ashen stone-walls reflected the dreary sky, she skipped upstairs into the main entryway, running down the dimly lit hallway toward opening session—useless career path stuff, when are we going to wake up and live life the way it’s meant to be lived?
I can’t get caught running. One more strike and I’ll be in detention after school again. She slowed her pace to a fast walk.
“Mari.” A sharp voice from behind stopped her cold.
She knew the voice well; it was Disa. The headmaster looked like a crooked lamppost in the dim light, her jaws jagged and her eyes piercing just like the sound of her voice. Mari had never met a person so cold, she wondered how such a person found themselves wanting to be around students.
“Shit,” Mari mumbled to herself. That witch is such a hard ass. I hope she didn’t see me running.
“Come,” she beckoned. Mari shuffled over slowly with her head down.
“Sorry, Disa.” There was no use explaining what had happened; Mari knew what was coming.
Disa’s stare pierced right through Mari. “You shall spend an extra hour after school today. This time I want you to write about how you think US President Baku can help fix the problems our world is facing.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Jesus what a waste of time, when are these people going to realize that these politicians are part of the problem, not solution.”
Disa pointed down the hall. “Get to class.”
Mari hurried down the empty hallway and the automatic door slid open as she approached. She walked into the room occupied by twenty students as Sidney, her teacher, made eye contact with her. The room was like many in the school. Gray walls tainted by rust. An attempt to breathe life into the rooms by placing barren plants in them illustrated the faded color in their world.
“Nice of you to join us, Mari. Car break down again?” he said as he giggled and marked her down as present.
Mari just glanced at him and put her head down. She sat in the chair in the back corner right in front of Justice, her best friend. He was tall and lanky, and his sandy blonde hair looked more like slices of straw then strands of hair. Justice and Mari had been friends as long since they were very young. She always appreciated his calm and caring nature—something Mari wasn’t calm, but appreciated the quality in him.
Justice leaned over. “He thinks he’s funny, but he is not. Cars have been obsolete for nearly ten years.”
Her eyes glazed over. “Don’t you think it’s strange that even though the world is crumbling, people keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? I mean, if this school is supposed to be progressive, shouldn’t they create a completely new model for learning the real life skills we need to survive during these times?”
“Good morning to you, too, sunshine. It’s never too early for you to rant about how you think most people are sheep, is it?”
Mari hated it when he called her that. She shook her head and snapped back, “We’d be much better off if people embraced change. Government is infested with corruption, yet people continue to vote those assholes into power, it’s pure insanity.”
The other students in the room were glued to holographic projections on their desks. They eagerly studied analytics from a test they had taken about suitable career paths based on their strengths.
The skinny boy sighed. “Why were you late this morning? I thought the shadow people snatched you and took you to their realm.”
“Don’t even joke about that. I ran into a crazy woman that talked about the dream world.”
“I’m surprised you made it to school at all; you love that stuff.”
Sidney raised his voice, “Quiet down, you two, and stay focused on your career path. You don’t want to end up like those lost souls at the nightclubs.”
At home Mari stared out the window looking for movement, thinking about the images she had watched during her required detention in the dungeon and the headlines she’d read about government corruption and President Baku’s alleged association with a powerful terrorist group. She got up from the couch, stood at the window and looked into the dark forest. Nothing in sight but shadow people were said to be masters of invisibility. That’s how they were able to snatch people so easily.
I wonder when the next world war is going to break out? World War III wasn’t as big as they thought it would be, it feels like another one is about to happen soon. The doorbell rang. On time as usual, she thought as she walked over to the table in the viewing room, picking up the house remote and pressing the button to open the door for Justice.
He climbed down into the house and hung his coat on a hanger. “Zara is going to meet us in front of the club at 22:30.”
“Great. It’s going to be an awesome night. C’mon, I want to show you something.”
The wood flooring creaked as they walked down the hallway toward the doorway at the end. Mari pressed a button and the wood door opened downward and the wall behind it slid open. They stepped into a rectangular shaped room made of stone. It was dry, chilly, a secured bunker for these fragile times. The room kept the cars safe from earthquake damage and bombs. Mari knew this was the place her dad kept some of his weapons, but he kept them locked away and she didn’t know where the code was.
“I love these machines,” Justice said, as he walked over to the hovercraft. “Are we driving this to the club?”
Mari winked at him, scanned her wrist over the door handle, and the hatch swung open on a black sleek machine the manufacturer had named Midnight. “Get in.”
Justice grinned. “What did you want to show me?”
“I found a new airway track that leads to a beautiful view of the city”
Justice scratched his head. “Is it a legal track?”
She glared at him and rolled her eyes, scanning her wrist over the navigation screen to start the craft. “Buckle your seatbelt.”
Justice put his head in his hands. “You better not kill us.”
Mari flipped the trigger on the ignition. It purred like a kitten. The exit gate slid open and she sped out onto the air-track. “You worry too much.”
He shook his head. “And you’re too reckless.”
Mari laughed. “You’d enjoy life more if you would relax more. Be calm, we’re going to have a good journey tonight.”
Justice pulled his hair back and tied it in a ponytail.
As she turned on the music player she remembered her mother talking about how listening to music and going clubbing was similar to previous times in history. But in today’s world there was a major difference in the modern music culture. The music no longer pierced eardrums like it had before with the breakthrough where music was now felt through vibrations more than heard. Mari couldn’t help but think how glad she was that this technology breakthrough had happened for her generation. Music is so important in my life, but to listen to it in a way that would damage my ears doesn’t sound appealing at all.
Mari sifted through her music codes. “I just got a new sound code that I think you’ll like. I still can’t believe that people in the old world could only hear music with their ears.”
Justice looked at Mari searching through the music. “Yes, I’m glad sound engineers discovered how to unlock a technology that made it possible for us to literally feel music…the world became a better place with this advancement.”
“I think it was the most important discovery in the last 100 years I feel like I’m floating while listening to music.”
Justice nodded. “It was certainly an important discovery, but there have been many other important discoveries, too.”
“Let’s do this,” she said. Mari loaded the code into the player, and a pulsating vibration of sound waves caressed them. The bass frequencies warmed their chests and synthesizers tickled the hairs on their arms. A spectrum of long deep vibrations to tiny ones massaged their skin as the music traveled through the meridians of their bodies.
Justice closed his eyes. “This is intense. You’re were right, I do like it. Where is the group from?”
Mari was bopping her head and body to the groove. “Berlin. It’s a sonic interpretation of classic techno from the early 2000s. Perfect driving music.”
She glided the machine smoothly in the moonlit sky, a sheet of grey clouds scattered above. Mari turned the machine onto a road that passed by the Berlin Wall, and the East Gallery graffiti reflected off of the headlights. The old train station’s lights glowed in the night sky. Mari increased the acceleration and guided the hovercraft onto the main city airway. They sped by other hovercrafts as if they were standing still. She glanced out the window over at the river, the shine of the moon reflecting off the glassy waters.
“Mari, slow down. Are you trying to get pulled over?”
Mari glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “I figured out how much time I can speed on each airway before the traffic police are alerted.” She pushed down on the accelerator.
He shook his head. “Yes, but drivers can also report you. With the way you’re driving, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone already did.”
Mari laughed. “Loosen up, buddy.”
Justice closed his eyes, and leaned back as the machine sped down the airway. After a few minutes, Mari hopped onto the airtrack above where the TV tower had been, formerly one of the city’s main fixtures, but last year a terrorist attack had turned it into a pile of ash.
She nudged his arm. “Look at that, Justice. Isn’t it beautiful?”
Justice opened his eyes and he could see the entire city and the vast land beyond. “I’ve never seen this view.”
“I told you you’d like it.”.
After crossing over to the next airway lane, Mari glanced in the rearview mirror and saw a white hovercraft behind them.
“Jesus. That white craft behind us has been following us for a while.”
“How do you know it’s following us?”
“C’mon, I’m driving too fast for someone to be on our tail.”
Justice turned around to look. “Shit.”
“Hey,” she yelled at her friend. “Don’t look, you’ll give it away that we know they’re following us.” She slammed down on the accelerator and steered onto a side track.
Justice clutched his seat. “Are you crazy?”
“I know, I know, but we need to ditch them.”
She maneuvered the machine to an underground path, guiding it into a tunnel. Several years ago a network of new tunnels had been created for hovercrafts to help with traffic congestion. The narrow airway was carved into the ground and lit by lights on the base of the tunnel walls. They sped around the winding path of the clay cave, wrapping around each bend, shooting down the dim path like a stealth rocket. Mari checked her rearview mirror and saw the other hovercraft still close behind.
“Hurry, it’s right behind us,” Justice yelled.
Mari kept her focus on driving, the machines knifed around another turn, an angry driver yelling mutely through his window and honking as they passed. Mari had never driven this fast before. Beads of sweat dripped from her brow as she nervously checked the review mirror again. Just as she pushed down on the accelerator to gain separation the hovercraft rammed into their bumper and sparks flew, causing them to swerve. She regained control, but the white hovercraft lunged at them again. This time Mari dodged the blow, but she lost control and they clipped the wall. She tried to steady the machine, but it spun out of control. They shot out of the tunnel crashing into a guard rail next to a grass field as the other machine raced away. Steam leaked out of their hood.
Mari gathered herself, glanced at the car, and turned to Justice. “Are you all right?”,
He grimaced and rubbed his arm. “Who the hell was that?”
“I don’t know, but she had blonde hair.”