After being rescued by A-Synch soldiers, Chains and Tachyon had their weapons stripped from them as a security precaution. The riot box, their saviour, was now greater reason for them to be questioned. They were escorted in connected, armored cars that made up a kind of snake-like train; it hovered under Terracatra’s endless shadow, interspersed with colored lights that revealed faint outlines in the glossy body of the passengers’ great machine.
The inside of the long vehicle was well furnished, but the sense of being a prisoner made Tachyon quiet as death. Chains broke the silence in an attempt to be optimistic, “They call this a snake car. It runs on thorium engines, even its automated turrets. I’ve never been inside one before.”
One of the A-Synch soldiers, head to toe in black and grey armor spoke through his mask, “That is correct.”
“Could I ask.. did A-Synch ever make a snake car that could climb?
“Where did you hear that?” The soldier asked.
“Probably stupid rumors on the street.” Tachyon said, trying to signal Chains to keep his mouth shut.
The guard seemed to stare for a prolonged amount of time at Chains.
* * *
The group arrived to A-Synch Headquarters, the snake car straightening before it screeched to a halt. Chains looked up at the towering buildings. Tall, reflective structures between jagged and sleak, rotating between the middle sectors of Terracatra and building massive electric charges underground. They had changed since he last saw them. But then again, the whole city had changed.
They piled out of the weaponized vehicle.
“Can you take your suit off?” The A-Synch guard asked.
“No.” Tachyon replied.
“You will turn your suit to Level 0, basic function, and keep it there at all times. If it goes beyond that this device I’m placing on your spine will stun-phase you. This is standard A-Synch procedure for all full-body cyborgs.”
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
The group headed into a bulky, enclosed room filled with scanners, it seemed as though a door would eventually open for them ahead. But instead, when the lasers shut off and the scans were complete, the room began moving upwards.
“The technology in this building is incredible, this must be a state-of-the-art maglev elevator.” Chains said.
“This building is a place of illusion.” Tachyon quietly replied with more human tone than robotic, a side effect of his suit being at such low power levels.
The lift rose further and higher, until it seemed to click against something above, and the two large doors opened to what appeared to be A-Synch’s meeting room.
There were two women in the room. One was in her early thirties dressed in formal business attire, asian, with her black hair tightly pulled back into a bun. The other woman was older and pale with deep lines on her face, blond hair fading into white, and wires below that seemed to pour out the front of her neck. The old woman stared across the room with unmoving, glossy eyes and sat at the end of a long table with speakers in the wood, to allow her voice to come through.
“Sera, if it wasn’t for these damn wars we would have more expensive elevators in the city.” The old woman meant to say smugly, though the sarcasm of the tone didn’t come out in her expensive synthetic voice; her words sounding like a 20 year old’s.
Sera, the younger woman, was decently pretty, but particularly angry. “They almost died because they illegally broke into that elevator and broke safety regulations.”
The walls were all slanted outwards in different shades of metal and metallic brown, surrounded by tanks with people inside, with holographic media forced on their eyes and ears.
“I see two answerers have arrived.” The more aging woman said.
“The riot box was a necessity for our survival against the tyrants.” Tachyon said firmly.
Sera paced back and forth in front of the men. Behind her, people lined up in glass pods, covered with brown and white clothing proofed for the blue substance they were sunk in, which only allowed movement in slow motion. The asian businesswoman had a snappiness to her voice as though it was one of the few sounds worth listening to, “It was an illegal machine on a hacked elevator.”
Close and far soundwaves moved up through the glossy wooden table, “Sera stop. We have a new visitor and should treat him as such.. My name is Tetrin. What is your name and occupation small man?”
“I’m a mechanic. People just call me Chains. If you don’t mind telling me, why are you preoccupied with my height?”
“I’m simply afraid of you not having the humanitarian interests of this company in mind. We don’t have a tank small enough for you.” She joked. “And I have an idea of where you came from.”
Tetrin’s face showed barely a trace of a smile, and her laugh sounded like it came from some younger woman under the table.
Sera turned off the holographic presentations and walked across the near motionless human beings watching as her fingertips ran across the glass. “Its natural to criticize those who are in power. Those who hold the most power hold the most responsibility. That is why we have strict humanitarian standards here.”
“Imprisonment is rehabilitation.” Tetrin added.
“We are in a long war, and will win it with love.” Sera said.
“If these people are your prisoners, why do you put them in something as breakable as glass?” Chains asked.
“We put them in glass, in something breakable, to give them hope. We give them hope, because we are not monsters.”
“What about the gel keeping them from smashing the glass?” Chains couldn’t help but see something wrong with their philosophy.
“If you had someone protecting you, would they not stop you from pointing a gun to your head? What about hurting other people? These prisoners were taught to act on the wrong emotions, they have to stop acting to unlearn it.”
“Either lock us up or get down to business.” Tachyon said.
Static popped from one of the speakers as though it was Tetrin’s own annoyance at moral debates, “I must agree that it is time for the ladder. We are in a time of war, and we have more important matters to discuss.”
“We’ve been fighting skirmishes over water supplies in the North West, but I can’t help but see this as a distraction for a coming massacre, which like any above ground, will heavily damage our credit flow.”
“So where is it going to happen?” Tachyon asked, growing impatient.
“Where is that?" Chains asked.
“Discord is Terracatra’s largest nightclub. Open 24/7, regardless of crime. It has five levels, four of which are underneath the city.” Tetrin replied.
The asian businesswoman leaned against one of glass cells with her hand, parting her lips open as if she wanted to add something, and then deciding against it as Tetrin continued.
“Two days ago the fifth level was quarantined. The gang on the fourth level barred the entrances. They’re all so drugged up all the time we can’t tell what happened from peoples’ hallucinations.” Tetrin’s voice had a momentary rise in annoyance and stress before falling back down into a calm. “Assemble a versatile team, we’ll have two A-Synch soldiers meet you in Discord at 10 PM tomorrow.”
“What exactly is down there?” Chains asked with concern.
Sera’s expression and voice turned grim as she stared at the differently-colored wires coming out of Tetrin’s throat. “Just some new nightmare.”
* * *
The armored snake car headed for Sector 9, Section 6, first passing by engineering facilities, then massive factories topped with inexpensive, high-tech micro-apartments for virtually all of the workers who chose them.
One of the A-Synch guards was slightly more heavyset than the others, with scars on his mask where the layers of glossy black paint had chipped off revealing the intense shine of some alien metal. His head seemed to hover to the side like a drunk or druggie. This guard got out first and opened one of the doors of the snake car, his smooth voice running halfway through a vocoder, “See you tomorrow, Tachyon.”
Tachyon pulled out a smoke and lit it as the snake car disappeared beyond curves and behind buildings. He looked at the factories, lines of dirty, little windows lit up with light, “They're full of wage slaves, workers barely getting by, but all they have to do is take care of the machines.”
Chains took a deep breath, “Its sad to think in some ways I was more free with the 'Plagues. Do you care if I have one of whatever you're smoking?”
Tachyon handed him what looked like a lit cigarette, “Don't mention your connection with them. A-Synch loves bugging. And gangs love tapping into their data.”
“Where is your hideout really at? You obviously don't live in a micro-apartment.”
“Actually I do sleep there.. once in awhile. Its rather cozy sometimes.” Tachyon exhaled sarcastically.
“I never expected a cybernetic killer to find anything cozy.” Chains crossed his arms from a mysterious cold breeze that seemed to howl and whistle through the corridors of the tightly packed buildings, still barely loud enough to hide the occasional gunfire in the distance.
“We'd be better off spending the night here. Its been a damn long day.”
“This won't kill me, right?” Chains asked after taking a drag.
The two men climbed some zig-zagging steps leading above a loud factory to a bunch of apartments all compressed together with heated gel pools in the center, one large, and the smaller ones more heated. All empty, like everyone who wasn't at work was asleep, the only out of place sound was a crying infant.
“I don't have a bed, I only have a hold. I can break into an apartment for you. Just pretend like we rented it.” Tachyon laughed, raising his arm to flick his smoke off the top of the building. “Tomorrow we head into Discord.”