The sea had always seemed impossibly vast to Jimmy, but staring out at the pitch black deep as he contemplated how he would break things off with Zoe made it look like he was staring at an endless space. The transport lights tried hard to illuminate everything around them but its attempt seemed pathetic. They were traveling too fast to focus on anything.
Jimmy had been glad to get the news that he had been assigned to Galapagos 3. It had given him an excuse to finally be rid of her, until he had received the wonderful surprise that Zoe had been assigned to his team. Three months he had spent with her nonstop. Not to mention the time he had been forced to waste with her while they had been fucking.
It had been fun at first, there was no denying that, but that was when he had still had his freedom. He regretted getting together with her. He didn’t know what had come over him.
“Jimmy!” Zoe called to him, forcing his attention away from the clear window and toward whatever useless conversation he had been purposely avoiding between her and that fat slob Roberts.
“What?” said Jimmy.
“It’s your third trip down here, right?”
Jimmy looked at Roberts, who watched him with a smile reeking of a need for approval, as if every word that came from Jimmy’s lips was blessed by some god.
“No,” said Jimmy. He turned his back to them once more, looking out into the inner depths of the sea. It was amazing the amount of progress the world had made in what seemed like such a short amount of time. Just a dozen years back, traveling down the depths of the sea at this speed would have caused major irreparable damage to the human body. Yet here they were, unable to even feel the speed at which they traveled.
“First trip here. I’ve done one each at the other two cities.”
“Well, yeah.” said Zoe, “that’s what I meant.” Jimmy shot her an unamused expression. She smiled shyly at him which made him turn back toward the clear glass. He had been trying to see if he could bait her into taking matters into her own hands. Save him the trouble, but it seemed the more he tried, the closer it brought her.
“What are they like?” said Roberts.
Jimmy had known Roberts for a long time already. The fat man had started with the Lumis Corporation two years after Jimmy. He wasn’t sure why Lumis had kept Roberts around so long. The man was atrocious as a tradesperson. He came at the bottom of the ranks every single month. He was repulsive. Each time Jimmy had been stationed with him, he had trailed after Jimmy like a lost puppy, begging for his attention. At least Zoe was a high performer, but they would never be at the top.
The top was reserved for only the best. The top was Jimmy’s.
“I mean, I know we’ve seen the videos but what are they really like?” said Roberts.
“You see this window?” said Jimmy. The man nodded so Jimmy scooted and waved him over. “No, come here.” Roberts stood and made his way to Jimmy. “Look through it. You see?”
“What am I looking at?”
“Everything. You see everything out there?” said Jimmy.
“It’s just black.”
“Perfect,” Jimmy said, patting Roberts on the back to signal him to sit back down. “That’s it.” He raised his arm and pointed above “No more sun in the morning, no more moon at night. Just that.”
“Well when you say it like that it sounds depressing,” said Zoe.
“Not at all,” said Jimmy “there’s a warm feeling of isolation. Something you can’t experience up there. Like you could just shut off and get the fuck away from everyone.” he looked directly at Zoe. “It’s beautiful.”
She smiled at him, forcing him to clench his jaw as he turned away. Was this girl retarded? He’d had stubborn ones in the past, but Zoe. She just acted like nothing fazed her. Nothing was out of the ordinary to her.
“That does sound nice,” said Roberts in his usual agree-to-everything way. Jimmy couldn’t wait to get down there already. He would break things off with her as soon as they landed and would find the furthest living quarters away from the both of them. Hell, he might be doing the both of them a favor. Roberts was clearly obsessed with her, would have dropped his own life for her in a heartbeat, whatever tiny insignificant bits he had of it. “Are the people any different?”
Maybe they were both retarded, in which case, they truly were perfect for each other.
“Why in fuck would they be different?” spat Jimmy. Zoe put her hand over his to relax him but he immediately pulled away.
“I just meant like the big cities, how they-”
“We got it Roberts,” smiled Zoe at him. “I think Jimmy just meant they’ve only been down there a little less than a year. Not a long time to fully sink in, right?”
Roberts smiled back and looked down like a submissive animal. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Jimmy let out an amused snort. He pulled up the new device they had been sent down here to push to the public. They had called it a truly smart, portable AI and so far he could not agree with them more. It was a beautiful build. One that Lumis had outdone themselves with by building on the previous AI and making them more lifelike. He had spent the last six months learning the ins and outs of her and, in turn, she had done the same with him.
He had always been close with his AI, but Nee was different. She felt, real. He felt more comfortable around her than any other person he had ever come across. Other than his grandfather.
He knew the specs by heart of the unit already but specs weren’t what sold. He needed a story for it, one that no one at the trade events would be able to resist. He would have it soon enough, but for now he would let curiosity work it’s magic. They had other wares he could peddle first. The garbage the low performers always pushed to try to rank their numbers up. People would always buy that stuff, and while they did, he would strategically use the AI in front of them. Get them to ask questions. Dig all their graves for them. He’d get the story directly from them.
Things always worked out for him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of what looked like a ball of fire from the window opposite his. He turned toward it and saw the massive fiery sphere fighting a losing battle amidst its surroundings.
A fire could only be coming from one place.
Jimmy pulled up the AI receiver in his left wrist “Screens off.” he said.
Zoe giggled and said “Honey, you don’t have to speak into it directly anymore.”
He knew that, but old habits die hard. His last AI unit had been defective. It had glitched out and was randomly unable to pick up his voice unless his lips were right to the receiver. He had asked for a replacement but both times he had trouble with the same glitch and had decided to keep the third. In a way, he had been glad. It had discouraged him from using it often. Kept him from having to interact with the world through the web and kept him blissfully disconnected from the social tasks Lumis expected of him as part of his job.
In a way, though, he felt it had somehow brought him closer to Nee.
The screens slowly began to lose their image, eventually leaving them inside a clear sphere in the middle of darkness. Only the track the transport followed beneath them and the dark crates carrying all their merchandise being pulled behind them could be seen. It was jarring. It seemed as if they stood on nothing, and any moment something would give, sending them straight down into nothing. Jimmy stood and looked down at the fire. An explosion erupted, sending a giant bubble of light that was sucked back in, leaving only a mass of bubbles and destruction.
“What the-” whispered Jimmy.
“Fuck.” whispered Zoe, surprising him that she was so close.
“Oh my god” said Roberts as he looked down at it. “We need to report this.” When neither Jimmy or Zoe responded to him he pressed again “Guys, seriously. We need to send in a message.”
It irritated Jimmy how Roberts said it as if he were asking for permission. If he wanted to play hero so bad he should just put his nuts on the table and play hero. By now, something like this would have already been reported by someone down in the city who was willing to take risks. Roberts’ opportunity was long gone.
“Then fuckin’ do it!” spat Zoe, drawing even Jimmy’s attention. Moments like this reminded him of why he had been so drawn to her in the first place. The sheer power of the way she handled herself with her subordinates and anyone else who wasn’t him. Even her superiors were intimidated by her. It was probably the reason why she was still only a trade leader.
If only she didn’t become so weak around him.
He saw the newbie behind Roberts, his own communication screen pulled up in his unit. There it was, someone more powerful taking the glory from the fat slob.
Jimmy had forgotten the new guy was even with them. He had been so quiet since they had started down that it had somehow slipped Jimmy’s mind. That was unacceptable. Jimmy was in charge here, but he could appreciate the newbie’s silence, was even jealous of it actually. The newbie wasn’t forcing himself to talk to the other two retards that kept insisting on wasting Jimmy’s peace.
A second luciferous bubble grew, sending its’ ripple far enough this time that it caused the elevator to shake violently. Zoe grabbed Jimmy’s arm for support.
“What the hell is going on down there?” she whispered to him.
He shook his head. He could hear the newbie talking to his unit, then Roberts’ own voice stealing the newbie’s words and reciting them into his own. Neither seemed to receive a response back.
“Are you sure you’re transmitting through the elevator’s comms?” said Zoe, turning to help them.
“Yeah, of course. I’m not gett-” A loud ringing cut Roberts short and caused all of them to look around. Something snapped and the transport began to shake uncontrollably causing Zoe and Roberts to lose their footing. Jimmy held on to the clear walls, keeping himself upright. He watched the newbie who appeared unperplexed by the whole situation. The brakes suddenly engaged and sent all of them forward.
Jimmy looked ahead and saw how close they were from the welcoming gates of Galapagos 3. “God damnit!” he said after the transport became completely still and he was able to stand. He brought his AI unit close to his lips. “Nee, why did the elevator stop?”
He had never been much of a creative. All of his AI’s had been named Nee. He couldn’t remember where the name had come from anymore. Most likely from some form of adult content.
“There seems to be a system malfunction. You should sit tight and wait for it to be resolved.” came the AI’s firm and sensual voice. He had programmed it to sound like a woman in her late forties. One with a powerful, yet feminine voice. He had tried thousands of different ones, some that sounded exactly like women he had known but all had felt strange to him. He had always returned to this one. It reminded him of his high school science teacher.
“Could you open a channel to the track operator please?” he said into the unit.
“If only you were that polite to real people.” said Zoe with a faint smile on her face. He’d never taken her to be one for passive aggressiveness. He curled his lip at her and turned away. She needed to stop pretending like she didn’t feel what was coming.
“I’m sorry James. I was unable to establish a connection.” said Nee “Would you like me to try again?”
“No, try a different link. Anyone,” he said, “maybe they tell us what the fuck is happening.” He stood and looked out toward the area where the two explosions had originated. The fire had been eaten away leaving that entire section of the city devoid of light. The few lights from the other sectors struggled to illuminate it just enough to see its’ outline. Even those few sectors that still had light were dim. Nothing like the grand casino-like welcome the other two cities had received him with.
He heard Roberts’ AI stating its’ own failure to connect, followed by a frustrated grumble from Zoe. He looked at the newbie who seemed engrossed in his own unit as if he were actually communicating with someone.
“Hey, newbie.” said Jimmy, growing annoyed when the man did not look up. Jimmy snapped his fingers repeatedly at him. “Newbie, I’m talking to you.”
The newbie looked up and raised his eyebrows at Jimmy.
“You get a hold of someone?”
“No.” said the new guy.
“Then what the fuck are you doing?” said Jimmy. He was in no mood to try to win someone over. Especially some asshole who would likely idolize him but talk shit behind his back. This was not his idea of how he would be starting off his stay in one of the three paradise cities.
The newbie raised an eyebrow at him and looked down at his unit.
Jimmy clenched his teeth. Asshole.
He looked at the door right in front of him. It was impossible to see, of course. The doors were transparent like the rest of the transport elevator, but he was making a statement to them all. He was not a patient man, and he would not be wasting his time in here with them.
“Nee, open the elevator door.” he said.
“That is not advised.” said Nee.
“Jimmy,” said Zoe behind him.
“I’m not sitting here for hours to wait for this shit to get fixed. Not when we can walk the same distance in a couple minutes.”
“Do you realize how dangerous that is?” said Zoe. He shrugged and raised Nee to his lips again. “Jimmy, seriously. Think about this. Please. We don’t know what’s causing this.”
Jimmy took a deep breath, never letting his eyes leave hers. “How are the links coming along?”
“Connections have been established but there are no responses,” said Nee.
“What does that mean?” asked Roberts.
“James, would you like me to answer his question?” said Nee.
He tapped the screen to agree instead of voicing it. He knew he needed to change that setting, he had just been scared that somehow the new unit would reveal any information that might incriminate him in Zoe’s presence. Once Zoe was no longer around, he would.
“There may be open signals without anyone overlooking the incoming connections. It could also be a local comms malfunction,” she continued.
“And what’s the likelihood of that?” said Jimmy.
“Lower than the first option?” asked Zoe. Jimmy tapped the screen before it prompted him verbally.
“How is that possible?” said Zoe.
“I am not sure. I am able to establish multiple connections and can hear my voice echo when I attempt to contact. The systems are clearly functional.”
“How many connections have you been able to make?” said Zoe.
“Seventeen connections and not a single one answering?” said Roberts. “How is that possible?”
“Can you try to connect to another?” said Zoe.
“No. Those are the only active connections.” said Nee.
“That’s impossible. There should be thousands of them.” said Roberts.
“Well, that settles it.” said Jimmy putting Nee to his lips. “Elevator doors please.”
Only a sound and lack of reflection gave away the sliding doors. He took a step toward the opening.
“Jimmy, stop,” said Zoe in a weak, pleading voice.
“I suggest you listen to her, Jimmy,” said the newbie. Jimmy looked at him and saw the man hadn’t even bothered to look up from his unit to say it. He looked up at him, authority in his gaze. “You’re safe in here.”
Jimmy raised his eyebrow, mocking the newbie. He stepped back and used the rail below as a step to help himself down.
“Jimmy!” called Zoe, a little more desperate. “Jimmy, please.” She should have tried commanding him, might have worked better. She was technically his superior after all. “God damnit! Roberts go with him. I’ll stay and try the comms one more time.”
“But the elev-” protested Roberts.
“Just go,” said Zoe.
Jimmy had walked to the rear of the elevator where their belongings, as well as the stash of new merchandise and supplies, were. He ordered Nee to open the container and took out his bag. There wasn’t much in it. A few outfits, laser groomer, bathroom supplies, a letter from an ex, a physical picture of Filo, his dog, and his most valued possession. His digital canvas. For a man who had amassed a fountain of wealth that would not run dry in his lifetime, he did not ever show it. He loved traveling light. It gave him the means to skip out at a moments notice.
He turned and found Roberts rounding the corner. He stopped in front of Jimmy and looked down at him with his soft round face.
“You shouldn’t talk to her like that,” he said in a soft voice. “She deserves a little more respect, don’t you think?”
“Fuck off,” Jimmy said, pushing him out of the way.
As he rounded the corner he heard Roberts shuffle through the belongings. Bastard needed to stop trying to play the white knight and stay the fuck out of his affairs. It only worked with the weak ones and Jimmy was about to prime her for him. Roberts just needed to wait his turn.
He walked straight past the elevator, not bothering to look inside but Zoe’s conversation with the newbie forced his curiosity to slow him down. “-to send more.”
“It’s just us,” came the newbie’s voice.
“Then why the fuck do they give us these things if they won’t even send help?”
“I can handle it.”
Jimmy kept walking, pretending like he had heard nothing. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Zoe exited the elevator and stopped in front of him.
“Jimmy wait,” she said. He stood in place, which she must have taken as a sign that he was willing to listen. “I need to tell you something.”
That pregnant shit wouldn’t work with him. He’d been through it all. He made sure to keep himself on birth control. He would never risk something that stupid. For a long time he had wondered if he was even capable.
“Zoe,” called the newbie from inside the elevator. He shook his head once.
“I suggest you listen to him,” winked Jimmy. He tried to walk past her but she gripped his arm firmly. He felt an erotic pressure in his groin and was glad the suits the company required them to wear compressed enough to not give it away. He found his eyes scanning her figure and his mind fogging over. He wanted to take the suit off of her and fuck her in front of the fat bastard and the newbie. The worst part of it all was that he knew she would and he couldn’t allow himself to fall down that hole again.
He shut his eyes and ripped his arm from her grip. He pushed past her and let out a breath as he opened his eyes. Walking had just become uncomfortable. All he could do was try to focus on her weak nature with him to get rid of the throbbing in his crotch and clear his thoughts.
He could hear her footsteps behind him as they tried to catch up with his long strides. “Jimmy really, there’s something you need to know.” He gave an exaggerated shrug and kept on walking. Her footsteps finally ceased. “What the fuck is your problem?”
He grinned. There it was, he’d finally hit her breaking point. He was surprised at how long it had taken. Three months and not a single fight. Not to mention the five years that they had spent having sex before that. Not once had she ever even hinted at an argument. If circumstances were different he may have actually gave her a pat on the back.
“Leave him,” came the newbie’s echoed voice followed by Roberts trying to tell her something himself that Jimmy couldn’t make out.
He heard Zoe tell off Roberts and soon after the fat man’s footsteps could be heard trailing after him. He wanted to laugh out loud. The poor fat bastard had just earned himself competition with the newbie. They were all so fucking pathetic.
He knew it wouldn’t take long until Roberts was trying to crawl up his ass too so he stopped and looked out at the darkness of the ocean while he let the fat man catch up. It really was beautiful. The dancing ocean life that created a deep hum within his ears. He had loved his previous stays at the other two Galapagos cities.
The solitude that it brought felt comforting, like he could truly get away from all his social commitments. He could think without worrying about having to build or maintain anyone’s expectations. He could focus on the canvas and let everything flow naturally.
“Why are you-”said Roberts before Jimmy raised his fingers at him.
“Not your business,” said Jimmy in a calm tone, not bothering to look at the fat man. A lightning fast movement by the edges of the city drew his attention but when he focused on where he had seen it, he found nothing at all. He could have sworn he saw something. Something large, bright, white. He frowned and kept his eyes on the area, wondering if he had simply imagined it.
Roberts let out a frustrated huff and walked away. Jimmy turned to make sure the man had a good distance. The fat man held his own bag and Zoe’s, causing Jimmy to smirk and shake his head. He gave one last glance through the glass and told himself he had imagined it.
He took a quick glance back toward Zoe and found her staring at her feet with her hands over her head. He had seen her do this before, usually after meetings with the directors that had involved Jimmy somehow. He knew he should feel bad but he had done this so many times already that it was almost like he had become numb to their pain.
Behind her, he caught the newbie watching him. Jimmy turned and started after the fat man, making sure to keep enough distance to not give Roberts any ideas about talking with him. Gazing out at the open sea reminded him of the water relaxation tanks the other cities offered. He had always thought of them as a huge hoax until he had been dropped into that life-sized transparent ball, filled with water, and left in the middle of the ocean for hours. It had been a nightmare for the first hour, but after that, he had experienced a freedom like no other. He had finally found something he enjoyed more than sex.
When he had returned to the surface, he had been excited to try the imitation tanks but there was no comparing. They said no one could see differences between the screens and the real thing, but he could. Knowing it was not the real thing ruined the unchaining effect it had on his mind. He no longer felt free, just trapped.
When they had offered him the opportunity to come to the newest city, he had made sure no one signed up before him.
Looking at the lightless side of the city instilled no worry in him. Plenty of things went wrong with anything in life and, all the same, they were easily corrected. Roberts being a prime example. Bad decision on Lumis’ hiring team, yet the problem could quickly be rectified with a trimming of personnel.
They would get to the main entrance, realize they had some kind of mix up in one of the labs that caused a small explosion, no one would be hurt, comms were temporarily interrupted, but in the end everything was fine. They would be received like kings bearing gifts for their subjects. Gifts that would have to be purchased of course, but these people were way beyond well off so money would be no issue there. After the first week of major upselling, Jimmy would have enough free time to find a tank and pay the well worth credit. Not to mention all the locals he would share a bed with.
He hadn’t realized he had shut his eyes until a loud screech that echoed all around him caused his arms to cover his ears. His eyes searched desperately for the cause. He saw Roberts had stopped and was looking back at Jimmy. He glanced back toward the elevator and found Zoe doing the same.
“What was that?” called Roberts, echoing in a similar way as the screech they had all just heard.
“Just keep moving,” yelled back Zoe as he followed her own direction.
Jimmy kept on, increasing his speed so she would not catch up to him. It wasn’t even thirty seconds until the screech came once more, even louder. It had been metal. He turned back and looked at the elevator. It was still stationary and the newbie stood inside it like nothing had happened, but where else would that sound have come from?
“I think we should move a little faster,” called Roberts, “just in case.”
For once they would actually agree on something.
He didn’t wait for Zoe to respond, Jimmy just started walking with even more determination. He wasn’t used to a fast pace like that. Normally he walked at his own pace and the world would slow down for him. Only as exercise did he ever get to higher speeds. It made him wonder if there was even a purpose to exercise anymore, other than entertainment.
The screech came again. His pace increased. He could see the platform within reach. Another screech and his heart began to pound. Why didn’t he just run and get it over with? He didn’t care what they thought about him. Another, louder than the rest which caused him to double over and cover his ears.
Roberts had turned around and was walking backwards. He tripped over himself, almost getting Jimmy to laugh if he didn’t have so much adrenaline pumping through him. Another screech, immediately followed by another in quick succession until there was a loud crack.
Jimmy had heard the crack before. All the elevators down here made the sound before releasing the breaks. From inside the sphere, however, it had been muffled.
There was no need to turn around. Roberts’ expression confirmed it all.
Jimmy took off. He sprinted as fast as he could behind the now suddenly lighting fast Roberts. Maybe this is what he had exercised for. He only hoped now that he had done it enough. He didn’t want to turn around but he had to. He needed to know how much harder his body would need to push.
The elevator was moving with such speed it scared Jimmy to think they were ever inside that thing as it moved, without ever even feeling it. It was hard to gauge, but he had made enough distance to make it safely as long as they kept this speed. Even Zoe would be able to make it safely, given she was nearly catching up to him.
His legs began to feel warm and his breaths became short and desperate. Soon after the warmth turned to burning which flowed through his muscles, making them feel heavier and harder to respond. He watched Roberts slow down drastically. Jimmy was surprised the fat man even made it that far.
Zoe was nearing him, making him regret not trying her long distance sprint training with her now. She would make sure he didn’t forget about this after they made it to the platform. She would rub it in his face forever, assuming he ever even allowed her to talk to him outside of work. Which knowing him, even after ending things, he would be there, stringing her along, making sure she never got over him.
He could feel himself slowing down but kept his pace as steady as he could. Roberts hopped over the platform and rolled into it, landing flat on his back. Zoe was now right on his heels, he could hear her steps as a constant reminder that he should have trained with her.
He heard her grunt and then a smack.
He turned his head enough to see her on the ground. She looked up at him, blood covering her mouth and lips as she silently begged for his help. He was close enough to be able to help her up and still have time to make it, but why didn’t she get up herself?
He glanced up at the elevator and realized it was coming even faster than before.
His throat clogged and eyes went wide. Avoiding her eyes altogether, he turned back around and jetted toward the platform. His breathing was all over the place, he felt completely out of control. The only thing on his mind now was getting to the platform safely.
He didn’t need to flop over the platform how Roberts had done it. He flung his bag and jumped head first behind it, his skintight suit allowing him to slide on the polished ground. He could hear the fat man panting like an overheating dog.
Jimmy took a few deep breaths of his own to regain himself, only to finally process that he had left Zoe behind.
He shot himself up and looked back to find her running with a limp. The elevator was closing in on her, the newbie inside, arms outstretched as he tried to find any balance for what was coming.
“Zoe! Run!” Jimmy screamed. She began to go even faster, her face revealing the massive amount of pain she was swallowing. He reached over the platform to help pull her up. She was going to make it.
She reached for his hand. He felt her skin in his own and gripped tight, using his legs to pull.
The elevator flickered. The translucent screens kicking on and off.
It was right in front of him.
He felt his hand release its grip and his legs push him back as her eyes pleaded for his help. He tore his eyes away and felt the elevator smash on to the closed platform. Jimmy flew back, his head smacking against the ground. Dust lifted up into a massive cloud. He laid there for a moment until he reached back to put pressure over his head. He groaned as he lifted himself up and coughed to get the dust out from his lungs.
It was hard to see through the cloud but he could make out the outline of the fat man standing near the elevator with his hands over his head. After all this, Jimmy hoped Roberts’ fat ass would see why some exercise could be good for him. Zoe was laying down by him. Out of all three of them, she was the one that deserved the breather.
He stood up and wiped the sweat from his forehead. As he went to flick it away he saw the blood smeared over his hand. He reached back behind his head and touched the sore spot. There was definitely blood. Lots of it. He cursed under his breath and walked towards the two.
They had to check on the newbie. A crash like that without any form of restraint to keep you in place would not be without its’ injuries.
As he got closer he realized something wasn’t right.
The clearing cloud revealed Zoe face down while Roberts stared down at her in shock. Jimmy rushed to her.
The elevator was pushed into the platform, crushing part of the material used to create it into chunks. A shower of blood had rained over the translucent screens and gravity was now sucking streams of it down. Her legs and part of her torso were somewhere in between the two.
“Fuck,” Jimmy said under his breath. He began to repeat it louder and louder.
Inside the elevator, a similar scene welcomed him. He could not make out the newbie’s body but blood was splattered all over the inside.
Jimmy knelt down and lifted Zoe’s head. Her eyes were wide open, as if seeing all of nothing. As they looked into his own, he felt dread crawl over him.
She knew, but worst of all, he knew.
He gasped, letting go of her head, like a bowling ball dropping to the ground, and scooted himself away. He knew he could have saved her. He could have helped her up and both of them would have made it safely over the platform. Couldn’t he?
He looked at Roberts and found the man still standing in the same position.
Maybe he couldn’t have. If he had tried, they both could be dead. No one could blame him. The only other people that could have seen were dead now. Jimmy scanned the elevator again until he found the newbie’s body. No rising or falling of the breath. They were both dead.
He looked at Roberts. The fat man had been laying down when it all happened. He could have done something, should have done something. There was no way Jimmy could be blamed for this. If anything it was more the fat man’s fault than his own. At least he had tried to help her.
He stared at her in disbelief until it was too much and he ripped his eyes from her mangled body. He crawled away in search of his bag. He wasn’t sure why, he just wanted to stop looking at her. It hadn’t been far from where he had thrown it. He brought it next to the welcoming doors. He didn’t want to look back again so he stood with his bag in hand, in front of the massive metal doors.
Under regular circumstances, he was sure just the sight of the door itself would have been a sight to take in. He could see how bright and exciting it was supposed to look, with the big luminescent letters across the top reading ‘Welcome to’ and across the doors themselves ‘Galapagos 3’. He could imagine the doors opening and being received by a bustling city full of life and opportunity. He could imagine it because that is exactly how he had been received at the other two cities. They were intended to instill promise into what was a rather scary change.
Even four years after the first city was built and had become a huge success, completely selling out all initial living quarters for the second and even third cities, people still needed convincing. It wasn’t easy leaving the world you were used to only to go to a world devoid of natural light and oxygen. People needed to see it as an exciting adventure, a land of limitless potential that would convince them to stay.
Lumis had a knack for accomplishing the impossible.
Now the door stood sad and melancholic. The lights over the letters flickered like an old 80’s neon sign. Sparks being periodically led by the loud cracks of electricity. Only terror and uneasiness was inspired now.
“I can’t believe she’s…” he heard Roberts whisper behind him.
Jimmy dropped his bag in front of the door and pulled up his AI. “Nee, can you please get us the fuck out of this room?”
“She’s dead,” he heard Roberts say. “She’s dead Jimmy! She’s fucking dead!”
“I’m aware!” yelled back Jimmy.
He could hear the fat man begin to sniffle “Well, what are we gonna do?” he sobbed. Jimmy ignored him and focused on his task at hand.
“I’m not able to connect with the operator,” said Nee. “I’ll attempt to disengage the lock manually.”
“What should we do?” said Roberts.
Jimmy turned and looked at him. “Tim, come here.” Roberts looked distraught, even more so because no one ever called the fat man by his first name. Most people didn’t even know his first name, but Jimmy knew it. He knew his entire trade force. He loved knowing what he was up against, what he needed to do to keep his throne.
“How did this happen?”
“Come here,” said Jimmy, waving him over. The fat man looked down at Zoe’s corpse. It seemed like he had an internal struggle, trying to tear himself away from her body. Jimmy snapped his fingers and waved him over again until the fat man reluctantly obeyed. When he came within reach, Jimmy took the man’s neck in his hand and forced him to look into Jimmy’s eyes.
“Listen to me,” said Jimmy, “I don’t blame you.”
“What?” said Roberts, confused.
“Zoe would never blame you either. It was either you or her, I get it. There was just no way you could have helped either of us. Not without you being in her spot.”
“No,” protested Roberts, looking away.
“It’s ok. It’ll stay between us. Look at me,” Jimmy shook Roberts. “I won’t say a word. I promise.”
“Hey, listen. No matter what, someone else is responsible,” Jimmy pointed at the big metal door. “We’re going to open up this thing and find out who caused this fuck up. We’re gonna make sure that piece of shit regrets this day for the rest of his life.”
Roberts’ eyes strayed down into a doleful expression. Jimmy could see it hadn’t had the reaction he needed right now. “Tim,” he continued, drawing the man eye’s back up. “This wasn’t your fault. We’re going to make them pay.” Jimmy began to nod causing the fat man to nod with him.
“Yeah,” said Roberts in a cracking voice.
Jimmy let go of the man’s neck and exhaled. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with Roberts’ whining anymore. He hoped.
He made his way to the manual door terminal. It felt so archaic but he also couldn’t help but feel envious as well. It was hard to believe that there were still people out there that refused to adapt to the future. At least they weren’t restrained by the AI units.
He pressed a button on the small panel and a screen lit up. “Welcome to Galapagos 3. The world’s newest and largest underwater haven,” Jimmy smirked, of course these bastards would call it a haven. “What can I assist you with today?”
“Open the doors,” said Jimmy.
“I will send the request to the operator. Please wait,” said the wall comm. Jimmy was about to turn around before the comm continued. “We seem to be experiencing minor difficulties, please wait for the issue to be resolved. Technicians are hard at work as we speak.”
Jimmy wondered if this was an AI or just a programmed recording. He found it hard to believe Lumis wouldn’t install a top of the line AI for their newest station, but AI’s never lied and he had a gut feeling he was being lied to.
“Fuck your technicians, open the doors now.”
“Please refrain from using profanity in public areas,” said the wall comm. Jimmy laughed out his frustration.
“Sorry, please open the goddamn doors.”
“Please refrain from using prof-”
“Alright!” he yelled. “Please find some other way to open the door. We can’t be in here any longer.”
“Thank you. My apologies, there is no other way. Please wait for the issue to be resolved. Tech-”
“Fuck you!” Jimmy slammed the terminal with the outer edge of his fist. He hadn’t expected it to hurt as bad as it did. He flexed and shook his hand as the comm began to warn Jimmy against violence toward Lumis property. He turned around and accidentally looked at Zoe’s body.
He turned around, his skin crawling. No, she shouldn’t have fallen. Roberts should have helped her. Roberts shouldn’t have been so lazy, he had reached the platform first. He had enough time to do something. Or the operators. They should have known their elevator was faulty. There was no way that Jimmy was responsible for this.
He shuddered and squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the image of her begging for help out. There was no way. No way. “No way.”
Jimmy opened his eyes and found Roberts staring at him, puzzled. He realized he had said it out loud. He shook his head and pretended like he had said nothing. He brought up his wrist. “Nee?”
“Yes James?” said Nee.
“I’ve been unsuccessful at overriding the lock by force. I am searching the local database to see if I can break through someone else’s controls,” she said.
He was afraid of his mind wandering, afraid of where it might take him. “Is there anything we can do from here?”
“It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Please be careful Nee,” said Jimmy.
“Thank you James,” she said.
There were a number of reasons he wanted her to be careful. Getting caught doing something like that could be a huge issue for him but for her as well. He would likely get reprimanded and fined, maybe suspended for some time so the public eye would forget all about it but Lumis would need to cover the whole thing up and that meant erasing Nee all together. He didn’t want that.
The AI units had been built for a long time already and when given more power, many hackers had used them for their own purpose. Many governments had come down hard on Lumis because of it so Lumis had spent an insane amount of money to make sure they wouldn’t deal with it ever again. So they built them with limitations for the mass population. A few of their select employees, however, had some special privileges.
Roberts put his back against the wall and let himself slide down to the floor. Jimmy watched him, purposefully avoiding turning in the direction of Zoe’s body.
“You have a big family, right?” Jimmy said.
“Yeah,” said Roberts, “six sisters and my brother.”
“Damn, your parents were busy.” They’re the reason why we needed to build places like this to begin with. Contraception seems to go straight over their head. “Where are they now?”
“Well, my younger brother and sister are twins. They started a tech security business together. It’s actually how they got me this job,” said Roberts trying to smile through his sadness. “Lumis hired them for one of these,” he brandished the AI unit on his wrist, “so they put in a recommendation.”
“Of course,” said Jimmy. “They built these, right?”
“Umm, no. They build the security that prevents people from doing illegal things with them.”
“Can you undo any limits mine might have?” said Jimmy.
“No, it’s impossible,” said Roberts, a proud look on his face. “Not even they can, and they made it!”
“Impressive.” Such a shame you came out so fucking stupid.
“Yeah, I’m proud of them,” he said with a faint smile. “Two of my other sisters work at TecTon United in their legal and business financial department. They told me TecTon funded this entire project.”
Jimmy had heard that same rumor. He wasn’t sure why Lumis would want a banking organization involved in their projects. He had been skeptical of that rumor being true. In the year it had taken to build this city, not a single official news source had mentioned their involvement and there was no way in hell a big company would deny themselves the publicity of something this huge. Especially if they had paid for it.
“My other three are still in school,” said Roberts. Jimmy nodded and started pacing, allowing only the occasional cracking of electricity to fill the air. It didn’t last long before Roberts chirped in.
“Why didn’t your parents have more children?”
Because they were educated, unlike yours. “I have no clue,” shrugged Jimmy. He stopped and stared at Roberts. “They probably wish they had now.”
“Why?” asked Roberts.
The AI unit tingled over his wrist, letting him know Nee had something to tell him. He pressed the button to accept. “You should be able to use your Lumis ID with the local terminal to override the lock,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said. He tilted his head towards the terminal and Roberts began picking himself up. Jimmy pressed the button on the local terminal and cowered as a loud crack of electricity went off near him. He cursed under his breath but it was loud enough for the comm unit to pick up and recite the anti-profanity warning.
“James Malto, ID 46J17A555MLUM,” said Jimmy.
“Hello James, what can I assist you with?” responded the comm.
“Open the door,” said Jimmy.
“The door is under security lock down. Manually overriding the lock down is not advised.”
“What’s the reason behind the lock down?” he said.
“Temporary loss of system power. It is advised you wait for it to be resolved first.”
He turned enough to look at Zoe and gritted his teeth. “Open it.”
“Please use your Lumis ID,” a small finger slot was ejected. He had only ever had to use the ID a handful of times but each one had reminded him of how badly it had hurt to have the chip dug into his index. This time was no different. He looked down at his finger and frowned. There was nothing you could see or feel now, but it was there. He hovered the finger over the scanner for a second. “Thank you James. One moment please.”
Jimmy stepped back with Roberts and stared at the flickering door. It wasn’t until this moment that Jimmy felt something might truly be off. He couldn’t believe Lumis would allow something this catastrophic to happen. They did not have fuck ups, not ones they couldn’t cover up easily. He felt his stomach wrench, as if it were begging for food without the growling.
“I feel wrong leaving her here,” said Roberts.
Jimmy turned back and looked at his bag. “We’ll be back,” he said.
He swallowed and wished he could tell the comm to keep the doors locked without Roberts knowing. He didn’t want to know what had happened. He didn’t want to deal with people asking for help. He didn’t want to explain the gory mess behind him. All he had wanted was to push the products they had been sent down here to push as quickly as possible and relax the rest of the time.
The doors made repeated sounds, like short bursts of escaping air, followed by one long drawn out burst. Immediately after, the two large sections of the door split and gave way into Galapagos 3.