“Clearance please,” a security guard asks us without looking up from his comic book. He has a freckled face and orange hair and doesn’t look a day over twenty. He has some nerve talking to us like that.
“Come on Mike, it’s me,” the young man finally looks up when he hears Alexandria’s voice and takes the ear buds out of his ears.
“Oh, Alex, it’s you.” He presses a button on his control board and a loud alarm rings as the door slides open and we walk in. “Wait Alex,” he calls to her from behind us, “when will I get that date you promised me?”
“Soon, Mike,” she lies.
“Don’t flake on me Alex,” he says. “I have my cousin’s wedding coming up in a couple of months and I’ll need you to go with me.”
“Oh come on Mike, it’s me,” she says. “You know I always come good on my favours.”
“Yeah, but I thought the old dude might have a problem with that,” he gestures in my direction when he says that.
“Huh?” I ask while both confused and a bit insulted. “Hey wait I’m not old.”
“Don’t worry, he won’t be any trouble,” she says to appease him.
“He better not be,” he says as we move on.
Before us is a long white hallway that looks to me as if it’s endless. After walking straight in the narrow hallway for what seems like forever, she suddenly stops walking.
“Why have we stopped?” I say. “The end of the hallway is farther that way.”
“We’re here? Where is here?” I glance around to see if I missed anything. All I see is wall, wall and look, is that a vending machine? No, just more wall.
“Just wait,” she says as she turns to face one of the walls and then starts feeling it up as if looking for something.
“What are you...” I was about to ask her what she’s doing but she raised her hand in my direction so I stop talking. I decide to just wait and watch to see where this is going.
After a while, she still goes on feeling up the wall and I’m standing there a bit confused and highly uncomfortable because this looks like some kind of drunken strip tease. What if Dr. Alfred walks in suddenly and sees her? How will I explain this?
“Aha, there it is,” she pushes her hand into one part of the wall and all of a sudden it makes a whooshing sound and slides open.
“What in the world?”
“Secret wall,” she says as she walks into the room. “Hurry, the door closes after fifteen seconds.” I walk into the room quickly and the door closes just behind me.
“What is this place that’s so secret that it needs a secret door?”
“The rest of the hallway was just an illusion with mirrors. Only people with special clearance, like you, me, Alfie and some few others are granted entrance.”
“Yeah I figured that part out but not the mirrors thing,” I say. “That is genius. What is this place?” She refuses to answer so I just walk by her down the dark hallway.
We terminate in a large room at the end of the dimly lighted hallway filled with two giant screens and a few men tampering with control boards.
“This is the surveillance centre of the underworld,” she says when we reach the room.
“Wow,” I say as I stare at the two giant screens right in front of us. One of them has different little slides showing different parts of the Underworld. The second one seems to depict a dusty lifeless plain land; it looks kind of like the surface of Mars. They survey space too? This place is so cool.
“Eddie, what it do?” Alexandria makes good with the man at the control panel. “I’ve got to show my friend here something; can I poach the controls for a minute?”
He stares at me, examining me for a while so I try my best to look as non-threatening as possible. The smile I have on must look incredibly fake because he just grunts dissatisfiedly and looks back at Alex.
“Okay, I was about to take my break anyways.” He gets off his seat and Alexandria takes it. “Just remember what Dr. Alfred said about the Hawk-Eye,” he says as he gives me the evil eye then walks out of the room with two other men. What is up with people and hating me at first sight? First Dr. Alfred now this dude. Give me a break.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I won’t use the Hawk-Eye to spy on people anymore,” she says and he gives her a thumbs up then exits the room with his buddies. I drag a spare swivel chair vacated by one of the other men and sit beside Alexandria.
“What is this Hawk-Eye?” I say as she observes the screen before her.
“Oh, it’s this unbelievable technology me, Alfie and some other programmers invented. Look,” she taps a few keys and then a menu appears. “This technology is like GPS, except instead of satellites, it uses DNA to track people. For example,” she types Alfred Knoster in the name field and DNA specification as 1.
“When you do that, what does the Hawk-Eye do?”
“Just watch,” she hits a button and the screen turns black, then all of a sudden, a picture appears. A man on the toilet making some unholy sounds while reading a newspaper looks at us through the screen.
“Alex is that you?” he asks into the screen. “I thought I told you to quit messing around with the Hawk...” She quickly hits a button and the picture disappears before he continues to interrogate her.
“That was something I really didn’t need to see,” I say as I take my hands from my eyes.
“Ditto, but I guess that proves that it works.”
“Wait, was that Dr. Alfred?”
“Wow, that image is now burned permanently into my skull. Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” she says while chuckling.
“So how does this technology work exactly? I’m very impressed.”
“Well, that is quite interesting,” she says. “At first we tried wiring the whole place with cameras but that was incredibly difficult, intrusive and not to mention expensive.” I nod in agreement. “So we went the best way possible.”
“Yes, nanobots,” she says. “DNA-seeking nanobots to be specific. We designed them to seek any specific person using their DNA, which obviously is different with everyone.”
“Brilliant,” I say. “But how did you know Dr. Alfred’s DNA specification off-head?”
“We grouped the DNA into five types and we all have our DNA stored in the database.”
“Really? So what is your specification?”
“I’m three, you are five.”
“I am? How is the placing done?”
“I’m not sure. Alfie does the DNA specifications based on DNA structure or something. Like I said I’m not really sure.”
“Wow, honestly this technology is, incredible, unbelievable, it pushes the boundaries of what seems possible with human technology. You guys are almost too smart to be called geniuses.” She blushes a bit.
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself,” she says as we sit there observing the screen in a bit of awkward silence that has ensued between us for some reason.
“Ummm,” I try to slice through the awkwardness with the knife of my words. “You said you had something to show me?”
“Aha yeah, thanks for reminding me,” she hits another button and the screen changes back to the picture of the desert, or Mars or what ever drab lifeless place this is.
“What is this? Is that the surface of Mars, or a desert of some sort? Why do you want to show me this?”
“No it isn’t some desert or remote planet or whatever Dr. Blay okay! You are so clueless!” she just lashes out at me for no reason while still looking at the screen.
“Ummm okay,” I say. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, no Dr. Blay, I’m just sad.”
“You’re sad? Why?”
“Do you want to know why I’m sad?” she says as she finally looks away from the screen.
“I just asked you-”
“I am sad, Dr. Blay, because to see our planet in such a deplorable state, what else can I feel?” She goes back to staring blankly at the screen.
The reality of why she just lashed out at me again for no reason didn’t sink in for a few minutes until it all just clicked.
“Wait, what you are trying to say is that this, this lifeless desert, this sand trap is Earth?”
She gives me a look that translates as, “Uhhh, duh!”
“No, you can’t be serious,” I say. “There isn’t even a single tree in sight! Where are all the beaches, the soothing blue ocean and the buildings?”
“The last tree died many, many years ago. The ocean got dried up or forced underground or something soon after the blast. I just don’t know,” she says as she continues staring at the depressing picture on the screen.
“This is awful,” I say as I slump back in my seat, stare at the screen and begin to feel really bad inside.
“Sorry for lashing out at you like that Dr. Blay,” she says after a few minutes of silence. “These images always make me feel, bad.”
“I deserved it Alex but I most certainly don’t deserve you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t deserve a friend like you Alex, so kind, so considerate,” I say. “You should have just left me to die after the blast.
“Don’t talk like that,” she says. “You do, everyone does. No one deserves to die.”
“Do you see what is on that screen? Me, I caused that. That is a crime unforgivable, unpardonable, you should have just let me die,” I say as I wallow in my self-pity.
“I couldn’t,” she says as she looks into my eyes. “I couldn’t just leave you to die.”
“Well you should have,” I say. “It would certainly have been justified.”
Initially, when Dr. Alfred was telling me about how I destroyed the earth, it hadn’t really sunk in but as I stare at the actual effects of what I have done, I feel a hurt deep inside me that I just don’t know to fix or get rid of. If I ever wanted to know what toilet paper felt like, I sure feel like it right now because I feel lower that the lowest of the low.
I’ve hit rock-bottom.
She grabs hold of a joystick and begins to move the probe around the wasteland. I begin to feel worse and worse after she climbs over every sand dune until all a figure suddenly appears in view.
“Hey, look, there’s someone out there!” I exclaim as I basically smush her with my elbow as I point to the figure in view.
“That isn’t a person,” she says as she shoves my arm away, “Well, not anymore at least.”
She zooms the camera of the probe closer to the figure and it comes into full view. It most definitely is a human, it looks female and is wearing torn clothes but this one is surely mutated beyond recognition. Short, spiky black hairs shoot from random parts of its body. She, it, has a dark-red stain around its mouth that captures my attention.
“What’s that around its mouth?”
“Must be blood, from its last snack.”
“Snack? What food could there possibly be out there to eat?”
“Mostly small mutated animals and in rare cases when they get really hungry, other post-humanoids. They usually just drink the blood and suck out the innards, leaving the skin there to rot and decay.”
“Nasty.” I make a grossed-out face.
“Very. I also know they have a particular taste for human.” She raises her arm and rolls down her sleeve to reveal a dark scar in the shape of an x.
“What happened?” I grab her arm to examine it.
“Oh, nothing,” she says. “I got into an...uncomfortable situation with one of those things a while ago.”
“Why, what happened?”
“It’s nothing,” she says. “Forget about it.”
“Wait, don’t tell me this happened when you went out to save me.” She refuses to answer and just stares at the screen blankly. I grab her shoulders and turn her to face me. “Why didn’t you leave me to die Alex? You got this scar because of me. You could have died because of me! Do you see this? Look at this,” I gesticulate toward the screen. “I deserved to die.”
“No you didn’t!” she finally looks straight into my eyes with such ferocity that it knocks me back. “I’ve always believed that everyone, every human being deserves a second chance; that no one deserves to die! I tried to convince them that you made a mistake and that you deserved a second chance they didn’t care and even thought that you dying would serve as some sort of sick revenge for you destroying their home! I definitely wasn’t going to allow an innocent person to die when I had the means to do something, no matter what they had done! I had to sneak out, get attacked and almost killed by a post-humanoid before they even cared!” Tears are beginning to form in her eyes. “I just had to do something Dr. Blay, I just had to. I couldn’t just stand idly by and watch you die.”
I refuse to let her continue because tears were mucking up her eyes so I decide to stop her in the only way I can think of, with my lips.
They were drawn toward her beautiful, soft-looking lips but I decided to plant them on her forehead because that is what any father would do to his daughter when she has made him proud beyond measure and she certainly did that with what she just said. I also pull her into a hug for good measure.
“You’re a good person Alexandria,” I say as we detach from the hug.
“Thank you,” she says.
“Something is still bothering me though.”
“What is it?”
“Why do you care about me so much, even though you don’t know me? I just can’t wrap my mind around that. It makes no sense to me.”
“Well, even though I didn’t know you, like know you know you, I always felt like I knew you even though I didn’t know you know you like I am beginning to know you know you now, you see?”
“No, I honestly don’t understand a word of what you just said,” she bursts into laughter and there is a little snort in there that reminds me once more of somebody very special.
I feel my finger for the only object I have left to remember her by but as I feel for it, my finger feels really smooth for some reason. I look down and begin to panic when I realise that it is missing.
“Is something wrong Dr. Blay?” she says when she sees the panic written across my face.
“Where is it Alex? Where is it?”
“Where is what Dr. Blay?”
“Your ring? What does it look like?”
“It looks like a ring Alex, what do you think?”
I get on my knees and begin feeling the tiled floors just in case it slipped off and fell onto the ground but no luck. I retake my seat almost hyperventilating from panicking.
“I know what a ring looks like but I was asking what kind of ring it was like maybe an engagement ring or a purity ring or something.”
“A purity ring? Seriously Alex? Do I look like a teenage girl?”
“I was just asking.”
“Yeah well this isn’t any ordinary ring, it is my wedding ring.”
“Your wedding ring? This is bad; what did it look like?”
“It is gold with a few precious stones on the front and it had an engraving on the inside that says, ‘Our love will burn forever, trust me, love Martina’. Have you seen it anywhere?”
“I don’t think so. Did you ever take it off?”
“No! I never take off my ring, ever! Never.”
“This is weird.”
“Weird? This is a downright tragedy! I need to get that ring back Alex, I just gotta! I don’t know...”
“Get a hold of yourself Dr. Blay,” she says as she shakes some sense back into me. “Now is not the time to panic, now is the time to think rationally.”
“Okay, I’m good,” I say as I take a few deep breaths to calm down. “So do you have any idea about where it might be?”
“Actually, I do,” she says. “I think I know someone who may know where it is.”
“Really? Who?” My eyes light up at this new news.
“I’m pretty sure Alfie might know something about this.”
“Him? Why do you think he has it?”
“He was the one that cryogenically froze you,” she says. “He might have taken it off as a precaution or something. I suggest we talk to him.”
“Then what are we doing sitting around here for? Let’s go!”
I bounce off my chair and whisk her off hers, in a similar fashion to the way she does to me.
“Bye Eddie, tell Dr. Alfred that I wasn’t the one using the Hawk-Eye okay,” she says to the man who was at his station before we took over as he re-enters with his buddies from their break.
We rush out of the secret door, basically sprint down the hallway until we are stopped by that Mike fellow.
“Whoa, hold on there,” he says. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“Just let us through Mike, we have somewhere urgent to be.”
He nods slowly. “Soon, I just gotta ask you a few questions.” I could tolerate this kid’s nonsense before but not anymore. “Question one...”
“Look boy,” I stoop down into his window, pull him by his collar and smush him into the glass, “Let us through, now, or else I will be forced to take off your hat, force it through your mouth and pull it out through your backside now do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir, sorry sir,” he says as he frantically presses a button on the control board and the gate slides open. I can be quite intimidating when I need to be.
We basically run out of the gate and out of the place. When we arrive at the hoverboard docking station, I push a man who is about to mount a board out of our way and get on the hoverboard.
“I think he was about to use this,” she says.
“No time, input the destination.” She inputs the hospitals co-ordinates and the thing flies off with that man cursing at us.
I need to get that ring back at all costs. It is the last thing I have left to remember Martina and I’m not letting it go that easily.