Ring! Ring! Ring! I wave my hands frantically around in the dark while trying to get that horrible alarm sound to stop.
I sit up in my bed and wait for a while to re-orient myself with reality as the sound chimes on and I remember that it must be the AHIS so I say, “AHIS, alarm off.” The alarm shuts off as my head cools down.
Alarm turned off at 4:15am. Good morning Dr. Blay; I hope you slept well, it says to which I just grunt.
After a while, my senses begin to function properly again so I get off the bed, stretch a bit and scratch myself as is customary for a morning wake up. I feel around on the floor with my feet for my slippers and head groggily out of the room toward the bathroom to freshen up. I glance at the wall clock as I enter the corridor and the illuminated numbers ‘4:18’ are a welcome relief that I’m not late as I shuffle into the bathroom.
After brushing my teeth and finishing my shower, I go back to the bedroom and put on my clothes which I left out last night; a short-sleeved plain white shirt under a dark blue jumper, a pair of jeans and some black sneakers. Afterward, I double check my suitcase just to make sure everything is properly packed, which it is.
As I sit on my bed, probably for the last time for a long time, I can feel the peaceful slumber the Underworld enjoys now because even though this condo is sound-proof, the lack of sound and activity outside is obvious. The slightest sound also makes more than the usual echo. I do a final check of myself in the mirror and even though I look a bit overly formal, I am pretty smart-looking so satisfied with my appearance, I grab my suitcase and my key card and head out of the door not really knowing exactly when, or if, I shall return.
“See you later AHIS,” I say as I exit the main entrance.
Goodbye Dr. Blay. Safe journey, it says as the door slides behind me and I lock it with my key card.
After placing it in my suitcase, I take a moment to collect myself and look around to take in the breath-taking beauty of the Underworld at night.
The artificial sunlight has been turned down to a moonlight glow since it’s night-time so all the little lights radiating from all the houses are enchanting to stare at. After I snap out of my little beauty-induced trance due to feeling a bit chilly out on the porch, I look around to decide what I want to do next. I know we are meeting at the conference centre in Sector 2 before we leave on the mission but I have no idea when I have to get there. I definitely don’t want to be the first one to arrive since that might mean having to chat with Dr. Alfred alone which I have to avoid at all costs.
After about five minutes of just standing there, freezing and getting no differing ideas, I decide to just get going anyways. I press the button to request a hoverboard and one appears in less than a couple of seconds. I load my luggage onto it and step onto it myself as I take a moment to breathe and waste a few more precious seconds.
“Please state your destination,” the automated system says a bit impatiently after a few seconds.
“Fine, to Sector 2,” I say as the thing barely waits for me to finish speaking and we start moving.
As the board whizzes through the chilly night sky, I hug myself to keep warm. I suddenly remember something very important but it takes a backseat as we arrive in Sector 2 in almost no time and hover slowly toward the docking area. When we finish docking in Sector 2, I unload my luggage from the hoverboard and look around contemplating my next move.
I remembered as I was in mid-air that I have no idea where this conference centre is so I need ideas, fast. If it weren’t so darn early, I would have just gone up to a house and knock or something and ask for directions but at 4:56am, most people would most likely not answer me kindly for disturbing their precious sleep.
I grab the handle of my suitcase and roll it on the floor behind me as I walk around in circles trying to get some blood pumping into my brain to help a viable idea arrive quickly.
“Get in here Dr. Blay. The meeting is about to start,” a voice behind me says and I frantically look around for the source but nothing.
I look behind me and faintly see what I think is a lady with red hair bouncing behind her as as she walks and she disappears into darkness around the corner. I know that hair anywhere, it’s got to be Alexandria. I grab the handle of my suitcase and follow the figure into the darkness and low and behold, the faint outline of a huge building appears around the corner with the words, ‘Centre for Conferencing and Seminars,’ lighted above the entrance. All the lights on the outside have been turned off for obvious reasons but the inside still has an inviting glow that draws me in toward it like a termite to a lamp. Does this means that the building I was searching for all this time was just right behind me all this time? If I wasn’t running late, I would slap my forehead and let out a classic D’oh! But I can’t do that now since I’m pushing the doors of the building open with one hand and wheeling my luggage with the other so I do it in my head.
The place is enormous on the inside. It has approximately 3000 seats on three swirling tiers all lit by two enormous chandeliers that fill the room with golden lights and just add to the enchanting ambience of this place. There is also an elevated stage carpeted with red velvet on which I see Dr. Alfred standing and watching me as I enter. Thankfully, all the seats are coated with soft, scarlet-coloured leather and I silently slip into one at the back row behind all the people gathered in here.
“Aha Dr. Blay, so nice of you to join us,” Dr. Alfred says on the stage and I slide further down into my seat as everybody turns to look at me. “We were just thinking of leaving you behind,” he jokes, or at least I think he is joking.
He goes to Alex who is sitting behind him on the stage to discuss something inaudible then he comes back, arranges the papers before him and begins to talk.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen, we are so glad you have managed to arrange your affairs to be here, on time,” he says while looking at me. “The purpose of this meeting is just to ensure that all the proper safety measures while we are outside the Underworld are taken, as well as providing the needed motivation to you as we embark on this mission,” he says a bit dryly and his words echo through the silent auditorium barring a few nervous coughs from the crowd.
He tries to adjust the microphone as a signal to ask if the mic is on which he thinks might be the reason for our silence but he overdoes it and the mic starts to give off loud feedback as we all cover our ears in searing pain. Alex stands up from her seat, walks to the podium and says something inaudible to Dr. Alfred and he nods.
“Okay, now we would like to welcome my sister Alexandria Knoster to the podium to give her opening speech,” he says as we applaud loudly not really for her coming but more for his going. His short speech was so dull that I couldn’t even start to doze off as some people in front of me were already doing that.
He leaves the floor to her and takes his seat behind her as she mounts the podium. She looks out onto the audience of about fifty people, including myself then she begins to speak.
“Welcome, my brothers and sisters to this launch meeting in what is a momentous day in the history of the Underworld, and the WHOLE world as a matter of, fact,” she started to choke on her words a bit so she moves her mouth from the mic, coughs and then continues. “Sorry about that. Today, we realise a dream that not only my brother and I share, but undoubtedly many of you here, if not all of you. This dream is a dream to step back out into the world which we tragically lost and reclaim it from the depths of dire destruction,” she says with her voice sounding very powerful. This seems to be true not just to me because everyone has their gaze fixated on her as she speaks. “That dream is made possible by a man, a man who in fact is the cause of this dream. As life works out, we may get a second chance to fix our mistakes. He used to be and still is the cause but now has emerged as the solution. That man is our very own Dr. Ignatius Blay, put your hands together for him ladies and gentlemen,” she says and they all begin to clap and stare at me so I just smile and wave nervously. “Yes, he is a hero indeed,” she says as the applause dies down. “Today, we not only step out of this giant hole in the earth mankind now calls home, but we go out to reclaim our sick mother, our mommy the earth from the hands of those who wish it to be a barren wasteland and return her to her former glory. I have no greater honour than to be a part of this mission and I hope you feel the same way too. Thank you.” She makes her way away from the podium to the sound of rapturous applause and reclaims her seat by Dr. Alfred who pats her on the back in commendation. That truly was a marvellous speech.
Dr. Alfred gets off his seat and walks toward the podium to sounds of annoyance as the audience makes their feelings known about him. I only sit there and smile but it soon vanishes as he stares at me with a look that permeates my very being.
“Thank you Alexandria for that truly inspiring speech. Next on the agenda are the assignments for this mission,” he says and almost every member off the crowd who was slumped in their seat sits up. This must be something important. “I have on this sheet in my right hand the names of those who will be going out with us outside the Underworld. Those names on the sheet in my left hand will be staying here and will be tasked with collating and interpreting all the data we will be collecting out there.” He pauses to adjust his glasses. “Now before I proceed to read the names for their various assignments, I want to ensure you that whatever task you are assigned to do is very useful and even more appreciated.” He puts the sheet on his left down and picks up the one in his right to read it out as a tensed hush falls over the crowd who were murmuring among themselves. “Now, here are the names of those who will be accompanying Dr. Blay, Alexandria and I outside the Underworld. If your name is mentioned, please come onto the stage. Here goes...” I see people sitting up in their seats and some even are on the edge of their seats with excited expressions on as they wait for the names to be read. “The first names are obviously Alexandria Knoster, Dr. Ignatius Blay and I,” he says as I get up and make my way to the stage. “The three people accompanying us will be,” a tensed hush falls over the crowd, “Dr. Alice Gunderson, Dr. Randy Gold and last but not least...Dr. James Whitford.”
I was a bit disinterested as the names were being read and allowed my mind to wander but my wandering mind was brought back once I heard that evil name leave the lips of Dr. Alfred and echo through the auditorium. I began hoping and praying that by some remote possibility there is another Dr. James Whitford that works in the Underworld but my fears are confirmed when the same bastard that threw out my ring like a piece of garbage gets off his chair, slinks coyly onto the stage and stands at the end of the line. A cold sweat breaks out over my forehead as I get a sudden urge to grab him by the throat and squeeze the living life out of him for what he did. My muscles are very tense and start to ache so I relax my arms by swinging them around a bit to get the blood flowing in them.
I flinch and my muscles instinctively become clenched again when he moves through the line and comes to stand by me. I almost hit him in the nose with my right arm as an impulse reaction but Alexandria grabs my arm just in the nick of time and looks me deep in the eyes with those her deep green eyes that disarm me as I feel the urge to spill blood subside a bit. My blood begins to boil again when I feel the presence of a person close to my neck to the side opposite of the one Alexandria is on.
“Look Dr. Blay,” it says. “I’m incredibly sorry for what happened. I’m here to help you find the ring. Can you ever forgive me?” I don’t respond to what he whispers into my ear but just continue looking straight out onto the crowd of people who look a bit disappointed to be staying behind.
Dr. Alfred has been talking for about five minutes now but I haven’t heard a word of what he has been saying as I get lost in my thoughts, mostly very violent and vengeful thoughts. He apparently just told us to go back to our seats so I turn to follow the others off the stage but Alexandria grabs my arm and prompts me to sit by her. My senses begin to work properly once again as soon as that bastard is back in his seat.
“Now, before we draw the curtains on our meeting, literally, since these curtains behind me will drop when we leave here,” he cracks a joke but nobody laughs so he just clears his throat and continues. That was just sad. I, Alexandria and some few others even pity laughed but it just made it sadder. “We have a speech to be delivered by our very own Dr. Blay,” he says as he returns to his seat as everyone stares at me.
What, a speech? I have nothing prepared! I begin to sweat and my thoughts are very evident in my facial expression which is one of bemusement.
“Just wing it,” Dr. Alfred whispers to me as he goes back to his seat. Alex grabs and squeezes my hand then releases it as she prompts me to get up.
I walk toward the podium and look out into the crowd of people all staring at me, mostly strangers I’ve either crossed paths briefly with in the hospital or never seen before. I feel a knot form in my stomach from nervousness and tug at my collar as the sweating goes on. I try to say something but begin to feel a bit tongue-tied as Dr. Alfred’s words keep reverberating in my head.
Just wing it. Yeah, I’ll just wing it. I’ll say exactly how I feel right now and get this over with.
“Hello ladies and gentlemen,” I say as I wipe the sweat off my brow. “First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Alfred Knoster for affording me this marvellous opportunity. This mission means much to me on both a professional and personal level. On a professional level, it will afford me the opportunity to help fix a mess I created and this is something I can’t thank them enough for. On a personal note, this mission affords me the opportunity to recover an item of great value to me which was cruelly misplaced by... someone,” I look at Dr. Whitford when I say this and he looks away shyly.
I wanted to leave the podium at this point but as I was about to, I remembered those people who sat in front of me who were so excited to go but didn’t make the cut so I retrace my steps.
“Okay,” I say as I retake the podium. “I know that some of you are a bit disappointed to be staying behind here but let me assure you that the work you are doing here is just as vital as, maybe even more vital than those of us going to the outside of the Underworld. All in all, I wish us all a successful mission and when it ends after ...” Wait, I just realised that I don’t know how long the mission will last. I look back to Dr. Alfred and mouth my concerns and he displays the number three with his fingers. I breathe a sigh of relief. Wait, is it three weeks or months? I can’t turn back and ask now so I guess I’ll just have to guess. “After three...months, I hope we shall be meeting back here and talking of how much of a overwhelming success this mission was. Thank you.”
As I leave the podium, I return to my seat next to Alex and sit down. I was expecting absolute silence but the applause after I said my thanks indicates that I didn’t mess it up as much as I thought I did. Thank God for that. As Dr. Alfred gets off his seat again, the murmurs come from the crowd so Alex and I burst into laughter.
“Thank you for that encouraging speech Dr. Blay,” he says as he adjusts his glasses and looks out into the crowd. “Now for a final announcement; the mission is actually going to last a total of two months, one week and six days if all things go according to plan. All of those leaving for the outside are meet me on the stage and those remaining here are to meet with Dr. Liam Hemsworth in the hospital to get their assignments,” he says as murmurs run through the crowd. “I wish you all a successful mission. Let’s get to work.” People start to get out of their seats and the place suddenly bursts into life. I go to retrieve my suitcase from my seat and return to the stage where I see Dr. Alfred and Alex chatting in their seats.
“How could you do that Dr. Alfred?” I say once I reclaim my seat.
“Do what Dr. Blay?”
I lean in closer to him. “Select that, bastard Dr. Whitford to join us on this assignment.”
“Look Dr. Blay,” he says. “I know you still think he’s a no-good punk...”
“Your words not mine,” I interject.
“I’m telling you, he really regretted what he did.”
“What do you mean he has regretted it?” I say while almost insulted by this statement.
“It wasn’t my initial intention to let him go at all but he came to my home yesterday to beg for forgiveness and for me to give him the opportunity to set things straight.”
“Dr. Alfred, I thought you were smarter than that,” I say and he raises his eyebrows at me. “I’m sure he’s just trying to sabotage the mission or something.”
“I don’t usually believe any false stories but I could really see the regret in his eyes.”
“Wait, why didn’t he come to me to ask for forgiveness instead?” I say. “It was my ring he threw out not yours.”
“Yes, I know and he did think about doing that but he thought that you might hurt him so he came to me instead.”
“Hmmm,” I say reflectively. I would probably have injured him badly so going to him was probably the wisest course of action.
“Fine, but if you are wrong about him don’t come crying to me,” I say as I sit back in my seat and cross my arms in disgust. I continue to sulk in my seat by Alex and exhale deeply to let them know I’m sulking and they see this but refuse to comment.
The others who are accompanying us come onto the stage and extend their hands in greeting. I greet them back but ignore Dr. Whitford’s outstretched hand in a manner not unlike the famous Evra-Suarez snub of 2011.
“Okay men, and ladies,” Dr. Alfred says when we are all present. “It’s precisely 5:16am,” he says while looking at his wrist watch. “We should leave now for the docking area before it gets too bright out. Grab all your stuff and let’s head out,” he says and we all disperse to grab our stuff.
I grab my suitcase and purposely tag close to Alex and Dr. Alfred, trying to keep as far away from that bastard as possible and his oversized bag he’s lugging behind him. Due to the size of that thing, he’s lagging behind a bit and I breathe a sigh of relief as we exit the conference centre. We walk as a group toward the parking lot which now looks a lot more different now since everywhere is brighter due to the artificial sun. There is also a bus-type machine parked in the parking lot which doesn’t have any wheels but it rather hovers in place. We walk toward it so I guess that that is what we are using as transport.
“Welcome,” Dr. Alfred says when we all stand before the bus, “To the debut of the latest invention of my brilliant sister that will be our main mode of transport throughout this mission. Tell them a bit more about it Alexandria,” he says as he leaves the floor for her and we all turn to look at her.
“Well,” she says as she blushes a bit from nervousness, “This vehicle you see before you is the first in the line of hover-technology buses designed to fit more people than the standard hoverboards and hovercars do. It comes equipped with an over-rideable auto-pilot system, a GPS tracking system that allows our team back here to see exactly where we are as well as allowing us to see exactly where we are and also state-of-the-art bodywork made exclusively from titanium and fibreglass which makes for a very durable, as well as quick mode of transport which should come very much in handy in the rough terrain out there.”
“That’s brilliant isn’t it? I think that deserves a round of applause?” Dr. Alfred says and we all clap heartily and pat her on the back for a job well done.
“Thanks guys. My team also worked really hard on this so credit should go to them too,” she says modestly.
“And it will,” he says and there is a bit of a pause as we contemplate what happens next. “Okay, let’s get in there and get our selves settled.” Dr. Alfred clicks a button on the keys and the doors slide open. The boot also pops open and we place all our stuff inside.
“Wow,” Dr. Randy says as he steps into the hoverbus.
“So sleek,” remarks Dr. Alice as she also enters.
“Truly lovely,” the bastard says.
“Wow, isn’t this something?” I say as I also join them inside. The space in here, which isn’t that much, has been maximised perfectly. All the windows are tinted and the interior coating of midnight blue leather makes it look really superb as it harmonises with the four white leather seats lining each side. The inside has a really cosy and inviting feel to it.
“Okay guys, I’m going to inform Dr. Liam and the hospital team that we’re leaving,” Dr. Alfred says as he tosses the keys to Alex. “Alexandria, please start the engine and warm it up; I’ll be right back.”
“Alfie, it’s an electric engine,” she says. “It doesn’t need to be warmed up.”
“Yes I know but still just do it, just to be sure,” he says. “I’ll be back soon.” He gets out and shuts the doors behind him.
I quickly get out and rush to the front passenger seat before anyone gets any funny ideas. I’ve called shotgun for as long as I can remember and this time it comes in handy as it enables me to get as far away from that man, to use the term as loosely as possible.
I settle into the comfy leather seat and wait for Alex to enter. She arrives in a few minutes, smiles at me as she takes her place in the driver’s seat. She adjusts the seat to her preference, puts the key in the ignition hole and presses the start up button. The car whirrs beautifully as it turns on but doesn’t whirr again since this is an electric car, the only drawback of them. I always loved the roar of an engine as it revved to top speed. I inhale and exhale deeply as the cool wave of the air conditioner hits my face. I hear Alex laughing for some reason when I do this.
“Why are you laughing?”
“You’re a weirdo,” she says.
“Me weird, why?” I say. “Is it odd to breathe?”
“No, but what you just did was very weird.”
“That’s what you think, but that’s the only way you’ll enjoy the AC the most.”
“Really?” she says in amusing surprise and she also does the same thing I did as her eyes close. She takes a deep breath as her chest rises and falls in her black top.
“I didn’t feel anything.”
“Yeah, it’s probably because you aren’t cool enough to chill out like me.”
“Oh please,” she retorts and begins to examine the numerous buttons lining the dashboard as I continue to enjoy the air conditioner.
“But all things aside, this really is a marvellous machine,” I say. “You’re a brilliant engineer.” She blushes a bit after I say this.
“I’m not that good,” she says trying to be modest again. “My team are the real workers. I mostly design and occasionally work on the finishing details.”
“Still brilliant nonetheless,” I say.
She smiles at me as we both just sit and enjoy the cool breeze.
“So are you nervous?” I say after about a minute of silent reflection.
“Nervous?” she says and I nod. “About what?”
“About this mission, about going out into the world after being so long down here.”
“Yeah, I guess a little bit, but I’m mostly excited.”
“Yeah, me too,” I say as my stomach churns a bit from hunger. “The only thing I’m a bit scared of are those post-humanoid things that roam free out there just waiting for an opportunity to taste human blood.”
“I guess, but Alfie says he has thought of everything so I think we don’t need to worry too much.”
“I hope so because I don’t want to lose anybody on this mission, even Dr. Whitford and especially not you.”
“That’s sweet,” she says. “I don’t want to lose you either.”
“Well that won’t happen,” I say confidently. “This mission will be a success, I’m certain of it.” I’m so not certain of anything of the sort.
“That would be golden.”
“Did I hear someone call me?” Dr. Randy suddenly says as I hear his voice from between us.
“No Dr. Randy,” she says. “Get back to whatever it is you were doing.”
“Okey-dokey,” he says and turns so swiftly that his mop of golden-brown hair slaps me in the face and Alex starts to laugh.
For the next few minutes, we sit and wait for Dr. Alfred to return and once he does, the bus goes silent.
“Okay people, we are all set to leave but before we do we have to do something very important.”
“Which is?” I say.
“We must draw a driving schedule.”
“A driving schedule? What’s that?” I say again.
“It’s a schedule that shows who will be driving the bus at what times throughout this mission.”
“Yes, so has anyone got any suggestions?”
“Hmmm, I have a suggestion,” Dr. Alice says.
“Yes?” Dr. Alfred says as he gives her the floor.
“I was thinking that it would only be fair if we did it according to the kilometres driven, but in order to know how that will work, we will need to know the total number of kilometres we will cover on this trip,” she says.
Everyone in the bus starts to do a bit of mental calculations to determine the number but I’m rubbish at math so I just count my fingers to show that I’m doing something but Alex spots this deception and starts to laugh.
“Approximately eighteen hundred kilometres,” Alex says from beside me with a chuckle still in her voice.
“Then we need to divide that into six people. Thank you Alexandria,” she says.
They all start their mental calculations again but this time I don’t even bother to fake that I’m working it out in my head since Laughy McLaugherton over there ensured that they have probably caught on to my deception.
“That would be three hundred kilometres per person, or am I wrong?” Alex asks.
“No, that is...correct; thank you,” Dr. Alice says as she scratches her greying blonde hair in an attempt to figure out how Alexandria got that so quickly.
“Okay so as I was saying,” she says, “Each person will drive for three hundred kilometres at a time before we change over.”
“That’s a very good idea Alice,” Dr. Alfred says. “I think we shall go with that...unless anyone else had any other suggestions?” We all stare at each other. “No? Okay. Now, about the order of the drivers as in who will drive from first to last. Any other suggestions?” I raise my hand this time as Dr. Whitford raises his and Dr. Alfred was about to call him but I gave him a stare with such malice that he chooses me instead.
“Yes, I think that for a start, Alexandria must be the one to drive since it was she and her team designed this beautiful machine. Afterwards, I think we can just go in any order.”
“Yeah, I think I like that idea,” Dr. Randy supports me.
“I was about to say that,” Dr. Whitford says. “Great minds think alive huh Dr. Blay?” He was expecting me to say something in response since he was smiling toward me but very soon, that smile disappears as I stare at him with a death stare that was meant to say, “If it weren’t for the fact that Dr. Alfred is here, I would have bitten your head off.” He got the message loud and clear as he quickly looked away.
“I like it,” Dr. Alfred says. “So right now, it’s going to be Alexandria, who will get the show on the road.” He takes his seat and buckles up as we all do the same.
She steps on the accelerator as the engine revs silently but we don’t move since the handbrake is engaged. Dr. Alfred closes and locks the door to the hoverbus then retakes his seat.
“Okay, take us to the docking area.”
She puts the handbrake down and we begin to crawl as she checks that everything is in order. She presses a few buttons and the hoverbus lifts more off the ground and turns slowly as we face the open sky. We begin to move as she steps on the accelerator and we go in a slow and controlled manner until we exit Sector 2. This was fine but she really starts to tear the air up when we enter the free airspace between Sector 2 and the docking area which is located around Sector 1. I lean back in my chair in fear as we dangerously swerve past a building or two, most likely factories but calm down when I glance at Alex behind the wheel. She looks so calm and confident that I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be too.
After about fifteen minutes of cruising through mostly unoccupied space and inhabited parts of Sector 1, we finally reach a small hill paved with cobblestones. As we ascend it, we see many security guards dressed in white uniforms lining each side. We stop when we arrive at a security blockade.
To get here, we passed through a part of the Underworld I never even knew existed and eventually we came out above Sector 1. This place just continues to throw out surprises doesn’t it?
“Please state your business,” a woman at the checkpoint says when Alex rolls down the window but she looks as if she doesn’t know what to say.
“We are the Knoster party slated to exit the Underworld at 0600 hours today,” Dr. Alfred says as he shows his face to the woman. She looks through her screen and seems to see us on the schedule as her face relaxes.
“Can everyone please step out of the vehicle into the suiting area,” the brown-haired woman says. Alex turns the hoverbus off and we all get off the bus and are led to a small room behind the checkpoint booth by the lady we saw in it.
“What’s going on? Where are we going? Are we being arrested?” I ask Dr. Alfred with a little bit of concern.
“Oh no, far from it,” he says.
“Then what’s going on?” I say as we observe him use a key card to open the door and it slides open.
“We are going for some ‘toys’ that are going to make this mission a little bit more fun,” he says with a mischievous smile on his face.
“Toys?” Alex asks what I was also thinking.“Yes, toys,” he says as he enters the dark room and we follow closely behind him.