“Slow down girl,” I say as she races out of the elevator ahead of me and I struggle to keep up.
“My legs aren’t what they used to be.”
We are standing on the roof of the hospital beside the hoverboard station and I am doubled over and panting profusely as I try to catch my breath. I feel really winded for some odd reason. We didn’t even run, we basically just walked quickly. Weird.
“Oh please, stop being so lazy,” she says after I take my final deep breath and return to full length. “I’m all human and you’re a super-powered half-human post-humanoid hybrid.”
“True,” I say, “but I’m still someone who has never had any fitness whatsoever and is currently pushing thirty-five.” She cracks up when I say this then she presses a button to request a hoverboard which appears within seconds.
“So, where are we going to first?” I say.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I say with a curious look on my face. “You did plan this right?”
“I don’t believe in planning,” she says while intentionally looking away from me. She then quickly flicks her vision back on me. “I believe life is a journey, full of surprises that we ruin when we try to plan out every little detail.”
“That is, incredibly...insightful.” The word that came to mind was more along the lines of ‘stupid’ but she doesn’t need to know that.
“Thank you.” She flicks her hair again in reply. “I try my best.”
I smirk at her then turn toward the docking station. This time, I don’t plan to almost fall off; I’m ready.
Please state your destination, the hoverboard voice says.
“Random tour sequence.” The thing beeps once to register her command then we start moving.
“What does ‘random tour sequence’ mean?” I ask when we are safely airborne.
“It is the code for a random journey around the Underworld.”
I turn to face her. “You were serious about that?”
“Of course,” she says. “What did you think?”
“Nothing,” I say as I think about how incredibly idiotic this whole ‘non-planning’ thing is. I’ll keep it to myself just in case it might hurt her feelings. Wow, look at me, sparing someone’s feelings. I guess destroying the world makes even a big jerk like me mature, be it just a teensy little bit.
The hoverboard flies past a couple of buildings then all of a sudden, it takes a nosedive trajectory as it drops downwards. Thankfully, I was ready for anything like that this time so only my stomach drops but on the outside I stay steady. We are finally let off in front of a building that literally seems to go miles underground. After dismounting the hoverboard, we enter it and take some flights of stairs down.
“Where in the world are we?” I say with an echo in my voice. “It feels like its ninety degrees down here!”
“It’s actually only seventy-two but the steam and the red lights make it feel much hotter.”
She starts to unbutton her lab coat while staring at me. If it was any other time, I’d not be bothered but now, for some reason, I see the look on her face as seductiveness so I begin to panic and take tiny steps back. What I see as seductiveness might actually be extreme discomfort.
“What do you think you are doing?” I finally manage to get out. “There are security cameras everywhere.” I look around and notice the unusual number of cameras surrounding us.
“Ugh get your mind out of the gutter Dr. Blay,” she says as her coat comes undone. “I’m wearing something underneath.” This heat is being brutal with my mind.
“So, where exactly are we?” I say while wiping away a bead of sweat that travelled from my forehead into my eye.
“We’re in Sector 3,” she says as I stop and scan our surroundings. Something seems amiss. “This is where the nuclear reactor is operated. We get all our power from down here. Let’s keep moving Dr. Blay.” She had started moving down some stairs while I was observing the many cameras around us.
“Why are there so many cameras down here?”
“Alfie says that this area is very secure so it needs much more cameras to ensure its safety or something.”
“It seems a bit excessive to me.”
“I know, but I guess that if it is that powerful, then it needs to be well-protected.”
“I guess so.”
When we reach the lower level of the building, which I assume is partially underground, the temperature suddenly rises by about one thirds. We walk slowly along a metal-floored hallway with steam all around us. I feel like a hard-boiled egg. Our shoes clang loudly on the floor as walk, at least her loafers do; mine are rubber-soled and I’m a bit worried they might melt and get stuck to the floor. It’s really that hot.
At the end of the steamy hallway, I seriously consider collapsing to the floor and waiting to die but Alex grabs my arm and pulls me into the next room, which thankfully is air-conditioned. The loud sound of relief I make instinctively when the cool air floods my body immediately alerts all the people who look up from their computers for a split second to look at me. When they look up to see me smiling awkwardly, they go back to their work.
“What are they doing?” I say as we take a seat on some cold metal chairs.
“They are monitoring the nuclear reactor,” she says. “It takes a constant shift to keep it stable so they take turns sleeping so that the core is monitored constantly. If it melts down, what is left of mankind will be swiftly eradicated.”
“Wow,” I say reflectively. “So is that the core?” I point to a little glowing ball just past the giant glass screen.
“Yes it is,” she says. “Do you see that big metal thing which is holding the core?”
“Yeah I see it.”
“That is the reactor. The core consists of highly unstable radioactive material so if it were to meltdown, well, let’s just say that what is left of this earth will be a pile of dust floating in outer space.”
“I know. Isn’t it fascinating?”
“Sure is. You really know your stuff.”
“Thanks. I always wanted to be a nuclear physicist.”
“Yes. The feeling of wielding and controlling something of such immense power always appealed me you know.”
“Yes, I do. But why didn’t you go into nuclear physics?”
“I wanted to at first but I soon found that my true calling was in mechanical engineering.”
“That’s true, some of the technology I’ve seen so far is spectacular,” I say and she smiles at me.
We sit and watch in silence as the people monitoring the reactor work away. Typing, scanning, and periodically getting up for a glass of water or coffee. Soon, after about ten minutes, this starts to get a bit dull and also quite uncomfortable because Alex is trying to snuggle up to me.
“Ummm,” I say while softly pushing her a bit away from me, “Shall we resume our tour now?”
“Yes, you’re right.” She bounces off the seat and I do too. “We’ve got at least twenty more locations to cover.”
Gosh that worked like a charm. But I could still see the smallest twinge of hurt in her eyes that makes me feel like a jerk. I did what I had to do. Alexandria and I just cannot happen. I am still technically married for Christ’s sake.
“Where do you want to go next?” Alexandria says as we step off the hoverboard for what seems like the hundredth time today. I’m sure we’ve been on the speediest part of the tour because in the last half hour, we have visited about ten different locations around the Underworld and I’ve been introduced to approximately a hundred new people. I begin to feel a slight pressure in my lower abdomen.
“Actually, the place I would really like to visit right now is the bathroom.”
“Why? We already visited the automated bathrooms in Sector 8.”
“Yes, but now I have to, you know, use one.”
She puts her hand to her mouth then slaps her forehead. “Oh, sorry, I was just really caught up in the tour. You can take the hoverboard back to Sector 8.”
“Isn’t there any place closer to here?” I’m almost doing the pee-pee dance right now. “The dam is about to burst.”
“Well, there is the bathroom in the Hoverboard Operation Centre, just through that door but I don’t think...” I don’t even allow her to finish her sentence lest I create an unwanted, sticky puddle on the pavement.
I briskly scuttle over to the door with my hands firmly clutching my groin area. I use my waist to push open the big brown door that says push on the front. This is the first door I’ve seen that isn’t automated since I got here. I think that to myself as I descend the stairs right before of me.
The whole place is lined hither to thither with desks and computers and people dressed in white overalls with clip-on microphones manning the machines. They are frantically typing on the keyboards and occasionally speaking into the mics with those voices I remember from the hoverboards. Aha! That explains the incredibly humanlike attitudes those things had. After I finish creating my golden waterfall, I must find that lady who almost killed me on one of the hoverboards earlier and really give her a piece of my mind. I scan around the room for any sign of a bathroom but the place is too dark to see anything clearly.
I walk through the rows of desks hoping that someone will notice me and offer to help me but they all seem not to notice me or they are all very good at ignoring a man desperately in need. By the time I reach the third row, I have given up all hope of finding a bathroom so I’m now on the lookout for a dark enough corner that I can empty myself in and escape unnoticed. I spot a really promising-looking one at the far end of the room and start to walk toward it. Before I can reach my target, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn swiftly to see the face of a tall man with red hair staring at me.
“Can I help ya?” he says with a thick Scottish accent. “Are you looking for anyone?”
“Ummm, yes, actually,” I say. “I was trying to locate the bathroom. Do you know where it is?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many times we get people like ya coming in here lookin’ f’r-a baathr’m,” he says with a thick chuckle. “They’ve all learned to ignore ‘em but you looked too desperate t’ me.”
I appreciate his kindness and willingness to chat but I’m in a bit of a rush at the moment, literally. I look at my groin area to check for wetness then back into his face hoping to convey a subliminal message which he receives loud and clear.
“Oh sorry, sure you’re in a hurry,” he says. “The baathr’m is right this way.” He leads me right past the corner I was aiming for and my groin throbs in pain so I clutch it harder. In a dark corner of the room, I see him push something then another door opens and he waves me in.
“Thank you.” I acknowledge his help as I enter the bathroom. He said something in reply that I didn’t quite hear. I guess the urine has reached my ears now.
The bathroom doesn’t look at all half bad to me. That may be because I have a distorted view of what ‘bad’ bathrooms look like since I visited New York quite frequently when I was still in school. In New York, this would have been the bathroom of a prestigious hotel or restaurant.
I rush to the second stall, skipping the first one because a dead cockroach was swimming in the urinal bowl. I empty my self in the bowl and make relieved sounds as the dam is finally allowed to burst. The force and quantity of my liquids which flow is testament to how close I was to a major public accident.
After about five minutes of emptying, all the fluid in my bladder is exhausted so I zip up my trousers and rub my abdomen which hurts from withstanding such immense pressure. I walk over to one of the sinks which has a soap dish and proceed to wash my hands and I throw in my face for good measure since I am sweating profusely due to this whole bathroom incident.
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse something hanging on the wall behind me. I wipe my face with one of the towels by the sink and the smell almost makes me barf. I wash my face again to get the potentially hazardous stink off and wipe my face with my sleeve this time. I turn and walk towards the thing hanging on the wall and upon closer observation, I realise that it’s a calendar. Perfect, I need to check the date for my wife’s birthday. It was coming up after the launch so I ought to see if I need to buy her a present just in case I run into her.
I scan through the days of the month of June and see the 18th slated to fall on a...Friday? No, that can’t be right. My wife’s birthday was supposed to fall on a Saturday this year. We had a huge party and everything planned at the house. This can’t be right. How old is this calendar? Judging by the deplorable state this bathroom is in, I won’t be surprised if this calendar was more than twenty years old; even older than before Martina and I even got married.
I take the calendar off the wall by removing the thumbtack it was stuck with with a view to disposing of it since it might mislead others too. I am about to throw the calendar away when something on the front cover catches my eye. I see a lovely picture of the Underworld in the night time. Under the picture is a caption written in bold rainbow coloured letters.
“This is our year of prosperity,” I read the caption out loud. “This is...” My breath fails me and the last word, or group of words literally get stuck in my throat.
The calendar suddenly drops from my hands, which are frozen like the rest of my body, to the floor. I feel my heart rate rising and a cold sweat breaks out across my forehead. I quickly walk over to the sink and splash water from the tap onto my face but that doesn’t seem to help. I leave the bathroom almost in a full sprint.
I’m now standing before all these people really not knowing what to do next. My mind cannot think straight at the moment. I walk towards the first person in-front of me, a middle-aged balding man. He looks up from his computer with fear in his eyes when he notices that I’m staring at him and ask him the question that is burning a hole in my skull right now. He gives me the exact answer that I’m dreading. I feel the cold sweat returning, this time in droves. In confusion, I ignore all the calls around me to calm down and run up the stairs at the end of the room and out of the door. I spot Alexandria over by the hoverboard station and sprint over to her.
“Alexandria,” I say when I get to her almost out of breath.
“Dr. Blay, what’s wrong?” she says when she spots me. “Are you having a heart attack? Should I call for an ambulance?”
“No, no!” I lay my hand on her shoulder and try to catch my breath. “Now I’m going to ask you a question, and I’m going to need you to answer me as truthfully as you can.”
“Ummm, okay.” She looks a bit scared.
“What is today’s date?”
“You heard me right. What is today’s date?”
“Oh, is that what this is all about? Today is the 25th of May.”
“The year Alexandria, I’m looking for the year!” She pauses a bit and her eyes widen.
“Dr. Blay, please, I think we should get back to the hospital.”
“Alexandria please,” I tighten my grip on her shoulder, “Stop stalling and answer my question! What year is it?”
“Ouch, you are hurting me.” She pulls her shoulder away and I release my grip.
“Sorry.” She starts to rub her shoulder. “Now please Alexandria, tell me what the year is, I have to know.”
“Alfie thinks you aren’t ready for the sh-”
She pauses a bit and looks deep into my eyes. She slowly tells me the year we are in and I feel all my muscles relax as I try to process this information. It can’t be true, but they’re all saying it; it must be true.
“Are you okay?” she asks me.
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I say. “I just need a moment to let all this, sink in a bit.” I take a seat on a ledge behind me and try to recollect all my thoughts. Alexandria sits by me, rubbing my hand as I think.
After a few minutes of deep thinking, I know exactly what I have to do. I suddenly get up and start walking toward the hoverboard docking station.
“Where are you going?” Alexandria calls out from behind me.
“I have some...business, I need to take care off.”
“I’m coming with you.” I feel her presence behind me as pursues me.
“No,” I turn to her, “this is something I have to do alone. Take the next hoverboard home. I’ll meet you at the hospital tomorrow.” She stops walking and watches as I step up onto the hoverboard and enter my coordinates.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she says before it starts moving. I nod toward her in acknowledgement and the board begins to fly.
I’m now on course to Sector D3 with only one thing on my mind: Confront the man who may just have ruined my life.
“Where’s Dr. Knoster?” I practically scream at some unknown worker when I walk through the doors and they run away in fear.
I stomp over to the desk and ask another person in their face. She shrugs her shoulders and cowers in fear. I put my hand to my temples in frustration. I don’t know what to do now since intimidation was my only technique. Waiting until tomorrow to confront him is out of the question. My anger would have died down by then and I don’t want that to happen. I start pacing around the reception and after a few minutes, I feel my anger dissipating. I walk towards the elevator ready to leave in defeat.
I start to slide my hand over the panel and the doors begin to slide open. I take a step inside it but before the doors slide close, I hear a voice that reignites the fire in me. I use my hands to pry open the doors with immense force and step out.
“Judy, where is Alexandria? I asked her to lock up before she left.” I walk slowly toward the man who is the target of my anger.
“Sir, please, you have to leave here, now!” The woman at the desk apparently named Judy says while looking straight into my eyes. Dr. Knoster turns and sees me and the expression on his face changes dramatically. I charge at him with such force and speed that is very foreign to me.
He tries to dodge but I have acquired a new agility and dexterity that I don’t recognise either. My hands lock onto his collar so I raise him and pin him to the wall at the end of the room. I feel someone trying to subdue me from behind but I just shrug him or her off with an almighty movement that leaves them sprawled on the carpet. Is it me or now when I get mad, I turn into the Hulk?
“What did you think you were trying to pull Dr. Alfred?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Dr. Blay!” He grabs my hands that are locked onto his collars and tries to pry them off but my grip is iron like.
“Don’t play dumb with me! All this time I’ve trusted you and believed all the nonsense you’ve fed me that I’ve been frozen for only a few years and that radiation made you look older. You know as well as me that it’s been 66 years since the accident!”
“Where did you hear that from? Was it from Alexandria? She is lying!”
“I told you not lie to me! I will crack your skull open if you fool around with me!” I smash him into the wall behind him and his glasses fall off and hit the floor making a clacking sound. “Why did you feed me all that stuff you knew was untrue? Huh?” I shake him but he makes no attempt to answer. He just keeps looking over my shoulder. I turn my head to see a familiar figure approaching slowly.
“Alexandria, what are you doing here? I thought I told you to go home?”
“And I thought I told you not to do anything stupid!” she rebuffs. “Now please, set my brother down gently and don’t force me to use this.” She reveals her right hand which was previously hidden behind her back and in it is a little white thing that kind of looks like a cell phone.
“What is that?”
“It’s a photon taser,” she says. “It’s currently set to stun but if you force me to, I can set it to kill.” I look back in the Dr. Alfred’s face and he is smiling smugly which angers me even more.
“Why are you protecting this scum?” I start shaking the doctor violently. “He deserves everything that is coming to him!”
I feel a whirring sound as I continue shaking the doctor in anger. A sharp pain seizes my back and soon my whole body goes numb. My grip releases instantly and the he drops to the floor, clutching his chest and coughing violently. I also collapse to the floor while convulsing violently as my whole body seizes up and leaves me unable to move. I see Alexandria rush over to her brother’s side and comfort him. She then turns to face me.
“He’s family, that’s why.” That’s the last thing I hear before the shock reaches my brain and I blackout.